A Case for Butter

Butter has a fairly low melting point – around 95°F. Shortening, on the other hand, melts around 118°F. It’s easier to make puff pastry with shortening because there’s less risk it will melt, eliminating the need to keep cooling the dough between rounds of folding and rolling.

But have you ever tasted shortening by itself? It’s made from mostly flavorless vegetable oil that’s been hydrogenated to make it a solid. What little flavor it has isn’t pleasant. And unlike butter, which melts so nicely on your tongue, shortening has a kind of sticky, gummy texture – after all, your mouth isn’t warm enough to melt shortening.

Puff pastry dough uses more butter than anything else – one batch calls for 1.21 pounds of butter and 1.07 pounds of flour. Using shortening results in a pastry that lacks the rich flavor and delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture achieved with butter.

When choosing a butter, look for one that’s unsalted. In addition to giving you more control over the level of salt in your baking, butter is sold by weight, and salt is cheaper than butter. The more salt has been added to the butter, the less butter you’re actually buying. When possible, it’s also a good idea to choose a butter with a higher butterfat content. Legally, butter must be at least 80% butterfat by weight (the rest of the weight being water and, if it’s salted, salt). Butters with higher butterfat are creamier and create more luscious textures when you cook or bake with ’em. At BAKE!, they recommend Plugra, which has 82% butterfat.

By the way, lard’s not a great option for puff pastry either: the melting point for real lard is around 86°F, making it even tougher to work with. I bet it would be tasty, though!