Tag Archives: butter

I Can’t Believe That’s Butter

20 Nov
Make these with a compound butter, and you rule the world.

Make these with a compound butter, and you rule the world.

I’m in charge of the turkey for our pre-Thanksgiving feast on Saturday, so I was making a compound butter to stuff under the beautiful bird’s skin.  Shallot, kosher salt, white pepper, lemon zest, savory, marjoram, flat-leaf parsley and some Old Bay ’cause I love it. (By the way, if you can’t get Old Bay in your area, get it here).  Anyway, it got me to thinking that there is absolutely no reason why we can’t make compound butters for pastry and baking use!

The Following is a Public Service Announcement from Pastry Chef Online:

Think about blending softened butter (real butter, please) with some cinnamon and sugar and using that to top the morning pancakes or waffles? Or, let’s say that lemon shortbread is your favorite.  Go ahead and mix up lemon zest and butter and freeze it in the amounts needed in your recipes.  Next time you make lemon shortbread, get that butter out and you’re good to go!  Here’s my sneakiest idea:  what if you blended butter with some sugar and cinnamon and then used that to make homemade puff pastry or croissant dough?  You could make killer palmiers with the puff, and the croissants would be stupid good, especially if you wrapped the dough around some bittersweet chocolate for pain au chocolats.

End, PSA.  What do you think?  I hope I’ve inspired you, and I’d love to hear your ideas!

Know Your Fat! (Part, the Third)

10 Nov
Butter melting on the stove.

Butter melting on the stove.

As I start this, I’m hoping that three parts will be enough.  There is, after all, more to baking than just fat.  But fat is such a critical ingredient that I feel like I need to take the time to explain it.  Butter is by far my favorite fat to use in baking.  It’s a natural product, it melts in your mouth.  It is rich, and it tastes good.  Plus, it is a very versatile ingredient.  You can use it at so many different temperatures–from cutting in cold butter to make tender biscuits to rubbing in room temperature butter to make a tender cookie to melting some butter into a ganache for added richness to brushing melted butter onto bread before baking for a soft rich crust.  See how long that sentence is?  That’s at least how useful butter is in the bakeshop!

Frozen butter is hard and splinters when you cut it.  Refrigerated butter is firm.  Cool butter (65-70 degrees) is plastic, malleable and extensible.  Warmer room temp butter (75-85 degrees) is very soft but still emulsified, and above 95 degrees, butter melts.  As soon as it hits 212 degrees, it sizzles and bubbles–that’s the water evaporating from the pan.  When the butter stops sizzling, that’s when you know all the water is gone.  Separate the milk solids at this point, and you’ve got clarified butter, or ghee, the Indian word for it.

Want to go farther?  Melt the butter and let the water boil out.  The next time it starts sizzling, it’s because the milk solids are frying in the butterfat.  Leave it alone, and watch the butter carefully, removing it from the heat when the solids are toasty and brown and straining out the solids, and you’ll have buerre noisette, or nutty and wonderful brown butter.

Use chilled (or even frozen) butter to make a flaky pie crust.  Use cool butter to cream together with sugar for cookies and cakes.  Use very soft butter to brush into pans or to mix with cinnamon and sugar for cinnamon rolls.  Use melted butter to brush onto bread–before or after baking.  Use clarified butter or buerre noisette in genoise and madeleines.  Buerre noisette is one of the main ingredients in the buttery-rich financier.  Oh, but you must make these.  They are incredibly rich (hence the name), but my are they tasty!

Please take a look at The Creaming Method for a discussion of creaming for cookies versus creaming for cakes.  It is riveting reading and good information.

Know Your Fat! (Part Deux)

6 Nov
That's what I'm talkin' about!

That is what I'm talkin' about!

When last we spoke, I talked just a bit about butter, shortening, lard and oil as fats used in baking.  Not only do all four of these products look, taste and smell different, they also behave differently in baked goods.

For the purposes of a post of reasonable length, and also because oil and lard are used less frequently than are butter and shortening, let’s just look at those two and the way substituting one for the other can effect a final product.

As I said in Part 1, butter has some water in it, along with some milk solids.  It is very firm under refrigeration but is nice and plastic at about 68 degrees, F.  Once it starts to melt, it melts very quickly.  Shortening, on the other hand, is 100% hydrogenated vegetable fat.  It behaves about the same at refrigeration temperatures as it does at cool room temperature.  It begins to melt at a slightly higher temperature than butter, and it tends to melt more slowly.

So what?  Well, let’s say you’re making some oatmeal cookies.  You make 1/2 with butter and 1/2 with shortening.  The ones you make with the butter will be crisper at the edges and a little chewy, will spread a fair bit and will be nicely browned.  The ones you make with the shortening will be softer and puffier, a bit lighter in color, and they won’t spread as much.

This is why: the water in the butter mixes with the flour in the recipe, forming some gluten.  Gluten=chewy cookie.  The butter melts to a thin liquid quickly.  Melted fat=lots of spread=thin cookie.  The milk solids brown in the oven.  Browned milk solids=well, you know, brown cookies.

Since there is no water in the shortening to mix with the flour, there won’t be any gluten development, and you’ll get a more tender cookie.  Since the shortening melts at a higher temperature and more slowly than butter, the cookies will tend to hold their shape and be puffy, rather than thin.  No milk solids to brown=lighter cookies.

I’m not a fan of shortening, although if you want to refrigerate your cookies, they won’t get too hard if you’ve made them with shortening.  I like the way butter tastes.  The way it behaves is part of its charm.  Knowing how it behaves gives us some power to make it behave the way we want.

If you use all-butter but don’t want a thin cookie, refrigerate the dough before baking, and make sure you’re baking on a cool cookie sheet.  If you have to re-use a sheet, make sure you let it cool before placing more dough.  If you want a thinner cookie, have your dough closer to room temperature.  If you’re portioning your cookies with a disher, make sure to press down on the balls to flatten them a bit.  They’ll spread more evenly if you do.

I thought two parts was enough.  But I have ideas.  Part Trois coming up later!  Don’t be shy–leave a comment.  Butter or shortening?  Cookies or cake?  Whatever is on your mind (within reason)!

Know Your Fat! (Part 1)

5 Nov
Something to sink your teeth into...

Something to sink your teeth into...

As far as I am concerned, fat is essential, both in cooking and in baking.  Even an extremely fit person has maybe 5% body fat, so I am comfortable with this statement:-)  Fat does amazing things in foods:  it is a medium for heat transfer, as in deep-frying, but it also carries flavors, add depth and richness to a dish and assists in the rise of baked goods (see:  creaming method)

What type of fat you use can significantly effect the flavor and final texture of your baked good.  Here is an abbreviated fat primer for your enjoyment:

Butter:  I will say it–I love butter.  Butter is a natural product and contains fewer trans-fats than margarine.  But, I’ll get down off of that soapbox before I get good and riled up.  Butter is a solid at room temperature.  By USDA standard, butter contains at least 80% butterfat.  The remaining 20% or so is composed of milk solids and water.  It has a relatively low melting point, and once it starts to melt, it melts quickly.

Lard:  Not used so much in cooking these days, our grandmothers used lard for everything from frying chicken to making pie crusts.  It has a crystalline fat structure that makes it perfect for making a the flakiest pie crust ever.  Lard is 100% fat and should have a clean, fairly neutral flavor.

Shortening:  Shortening is a man-make hydrogenated fat that is 100% fat.  It is a solid at room temperature, and it melts fairly slowly at temperatures somewhat higher than butter.

Cooking Oil:  Is comprised of 100% fat and is liquid at room temperature.  Depending on the oil, it may or may not solidify or thicken under refrigeration and it may or may not contain saturated fat.

And now we conclude this portion of Know Your Fat!  Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we discuss the pros and cons of using each kind of fat in the pastry kitchen.  Please weigh in (thank you–I’ll be here all week)!  What’s your favorite fat?  Or do you try and stay away from all of it?  I’d love to hear what you have to say.

The Creaming Method

3 Nov
You really need a stand mixer to do the creaming method.

You really need a stand mixer to do the creaming method.

The creaming method:  probably one of the most referenced cooking methods in baking in the US.  You’ve seen it, whether you know it or not:  “Cream together butter and sugar.”  Or “Cream together shortening and sugar.”  Seems like an easy enough method, really, but as with all easy stuff, it’s rarely simple.

Here’s how it goes:

  1. Cream together fat and sugar.
  2. Add eggs, one at a time.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients.
  4. Mix wet ingredients(milk/water/cream/sour cream/extracts)
  5. Alternate adding dry and wet ingredients, beginning and ending with dry.

Sounds straightforward, yes?  There are a couple of things to remember about it, though.  Here’s the most important one:

The speed at which you cream the ingredients and the length of time you cream your ingredients and the temperature of your ingredients will all effect the final product.

And that, friends, is the fly in the ointment, the raisin in the peanut butter cookie, the clove in custard.  When making cookies, make sure you cream slowly–low speed is great.  Stop the mixer as soon as you no longer see butter and sugar, but a homogeneous paste.  Unless you’re making a cakey cookie, you’re not looking for “light and fluffy” here.

If you’re making a cake, make sure you cream on a higher speed for a longer period of time.  You want “light and fluffy” here.

So, what’s the big deal?  What happens during creaming is that the sugar crystals cut into the fat, making wee little pockets full of air.  The air in the pockets expands in the oven, assisting with rise.  The more pockets, the lighter and fluffier the mixture.  The lighter and fluffier the mixture, the more air.  The more air, the more rise.  Get it?  Cool, huh?

Now you can troubleshoot.  Were your cookies too puffy the last time you made them, try creaming at a lower speed for less time.  Was your cake kind of leaden and sad last time?  Try creaming longer at a higher speed.

So, Jen–what’s this about the temperature?  All your ingredients should be at cool room temperature.  That means milk, butter and eggs (and any other refrigerated ingredients) should be taken out of the fridge well before baking time.  Cool room temperature–about 68 degrees–is the magical temperature at which butter (a very yummy and useful fat) is soft enough to blend easily with other ingredients but still firm enough to keep its shape.  It’s “plasticity,” if you will.  That means that the butter can “stretch” to hold a lot of air.  In the creaming method, this is a Very Good Thing.

Why does the milk and eggs have to be at room temp, too?  Well, you’ve worked so hard to keep your butter plastic, the last thing you want to do is have it seize up again and get hard when you add 40 degree milk or eggs.

Now, go forth and cream away!

For an even more in-depth look at The Creaming Method along with my recommendations for some essential kitchen tools, please see my Squidoo lens:  The Creaming Method.

Here’s my Creaming Method video from my PMAT Live! video series:

The Biscuit Method

1 Nov
Lovely, high-risen biscuits!

Lovely, high-risen biscuits!

Sorry about that downer of a Halloween post.  Let’s get back to pastry, shall we?  Ah, yes…the biscuit method.  The biscuit method is a method for making quick breads such as scones and, well, biscuits.  That’s American biscuits, not cookie-biscuits, if you’re visiting from across the Big Blue Ocean.

The biscuit method is one of the only mixing methods that does not require you to have all of your ingredients at room temperature.  Your fats and liquids should be cold for the biscuit method.  The colder, the better.  Why?  Well, the whole point of the biscuit method is to keep discrete little pieces of fat dispersed throughout your dough.  That way, when they melt in the oven, the steam the little pieces creates assists in with the rise.  Also, you get all of these wee little buttery pockets.  I love me some biscuits.

So, here’s how it goes.  I’m not going to give a recipe–there are a billion recipes out there.  I will give a method though.

  1. Mix all your dry ingredients together with a whisk:  flour, baking powder and/or baking soda, salt, sugar, dry spices, etc.
  2. Cut your very cold fat into about 1/2 inch chunks (if you’re using shortening, or part shortening, put that stuff in the freezer.  I vote all butter, personally, for flavor and for no trans fats, but do what you want).
  3. Toss the butter/shortening with the dry ingredients.
  4. Using your fingers, break up the butter/shortening, rubbing it into the flour.  When you’re done, the pieces should be anywhere from the size of grits to the size of peas.  Nothing too much bigger than a pea.  If your hands are warm, throw everybody into the fridge to firm up.
  5. Pour in your liquid (milk/cream/half and half/buttermilk–whatever the recipe calls for).  Toss together with the dry.  Don’t mix viciously.
  6. Turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a square about 1/2″ thick.
  7. Cut into squares (no waste) or circles.  (You can re-roll the scraps, but those biscuits will be tougher.  I vote squares).
  8. Brush with cream/butter/egg wash.  Bake at about 400 degrees, F, until risen and golden brown and lovely.

I will now take your questions.  Yes?  You in the back.  “Why can’t I mix viciously.  I need to get out my aggression.”

Me:  If you need to take out your aggression on something, make some bread or take a kick boxing class.  You want to handle your dough gently once the liquid is in there.  Biscuits are supposed to be tender, and a bunch of mixing will just activate the gluten in the flour and you’ll end up with chewy biscuits.

Yes, sir.  You there, in the brown sweater.  “Can I use my stand mixer or food processor?”

Me:  I would stay away from the food processor because it can generate a bunch of heat, and you don’t want your butter to melt.  You can use a mixer as long as you use the paddle attachment and stop and check the consistency and the size of your butter pieces every 30 seconds or so.  You don’t want to end up with paste.  Once you get the liquid in there, I would take the bowl off the mixer and fold the liquid in with a spatula.  You don’t want to develop that gluten.”

That’s enough for today.  Thank you all for coming.  On your way out, check out this and this.

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