I am constantly asking my students at ICE, “What role does this ingredient play in the recipe we are making?” In the case of butter—an ingredient most cooks take for granted—there are many answers. Most students immediately respond that butter adds flavor and richness to a recipe, which is correct. But did you know that butter could also be considered a leavening agent? (Think about puff pastry!) Let’s take a closer look at what—beyond flavor—butter is adding to all the fabulous baked goods ICE students are making in our classrooms.
Butter is nothing more than an emulsion of butterfat, water and 1% or so of milk fat solids. In the United States, there is a minimum federal standard of 80% butterfat content needed to label and sell a product as butter. Your average supermarket brands will go no further, squeaking in at 80% butterfat. Butter labeled “European-style” generally has more butterfat, upwards of 83%. And artisanal butters—usually made by very small, local dairy farms—will produce butter with even higher amounts of butterfat, sometimes between 85% and 86%.
Read on to learn more about the role of butter in baking.