Lamination. Melting point. Emulsion. And why European butter is fat and proud of it.
A little bit of fat makes a world of difference. It has that special je ne sais quoi.American butter has an average of 81% fat, while European butter can contain up to 85% fat. Four percentage points doesn’t sound like much, you say? Well, whatever isn’t fat is water, which can be detrimental to fine pastries like croissants.
European-style, or “dry” butter, is prized for its creamy, rich taste. Its fat content also works behind the scenes by staying cold longer than American butter. When you make croissants, you need to laminate the dough (see video below about lamination’s effect on how dough rises). This consists of encasing a thin sheet of cold butter in the dough, then rolling it out and folding it repeatedly to achieve multiple layers of fat and dough.
If the butter melts prematurely and seeps into the dough, you’ll end up with a tough pastry. With a higher melting point, European butter is better equipped to act as a barrier between the many dough layers.
Butter is a water-in-oil emulsion, meaning it’s tiny water droplets dispersed in fat. In the oven, the heat makes the butter melt and the water in the butter turn into steam. The steam pushes up and separates the layers as the dough bakes and hardens, leaving the croissant’s famous flaky layers.
The science behind all of this is why you should keep your butter in the fridge until the moment you need to use it, then work the dough quickly to make sure the butter doesn’t melt.
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