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Best butter for baking?

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suse Dec 31, 2007 10:20 AM

What do the expert bakers out there consider to be the best butter for baking? I recently made the same recipe twice - once with land o' lakes and once with plus gras. I have to say the plus gras version was significantly better. I suppose it does have a higher fat content, but I didn't expect it to be that much better. Has anyone else experimented with this?

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    Diana RE: suse Dec 31, 2007 10:40 AM

    Frankly, I had my best result this year in a pie crust with a french unsalted butter I found at Whole Foods.

    Really, though, land O lakes unsalted is fine for most baked goods that are flavored with other spices and such.

    Plugras is good, lower moisture and higher butterfat! But then again, can be kinda pricey to use all the time

    I am far from an "expert baker" though.

    1. t
      Tay RE: suse Dec 31, 2007 10:44 AM

      I'm no 'Martha' either, but I have to say I notice when I use the Amish "block butter." foods, including baked goods, seem to have a richer taste.

      1. maplesugar RE: suse Dec 31, 2007 11:07 AM

        Interesting - Just curious, what was the recipe? Btw "plus gras" literally translated means "more fat" in french. :)

        7 Replies
        1. re: maplesugar
          Ruth Lafler RE: maplesugar Dec 31, 2007 11:50 AM

          But the actual name of the product is Plugra. The SF Chronicle did a piece on using different butters for different applications a while back. The found that indeed, for most baking applications it really did make a difference what kind of butter you used. Here's the article (although I disagreed with some of their conclusions: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article... )

          1. re: Ruth Lafler
            chowser RE: Ruth Lafler Dec 31, 2007 12:01 PM

            I wonder if Plugra came from "plus gras." I've never made that connection before. I like the taste when I use Plugra for baking but can't get the right texture because of the higher fat amount. Even I cut back on butter, or add slightly more flour, cookies tend to spread too much.

            1. re: chowser
              Ruth Lafler RE: chowser Dec 31, 2007 12:09 PM

              I believe it's a deliberate play on words, yes. "Plugra" is a nonsense word in English, and since it's an American-made product from an American company, there's no other reason for it to have a "foreign" name.

            2. re: Ruth Lafler
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              suse RE: Ruth Lafler Jan 1, 2008 09:57 AM

              Oops - I guess my misspelling reveals that I know a bit of French. Thanks for the link to the artlcle - very interesting. What conclusions did you disagree with? - just curious. I haven't really tested them myself.

              1. re: suse
                Ruth Lafler RE: suse Jan 1, 2008 10:12 AM

                Basically, although I haven't tasted all of the butters they tested, my criteria for plain table butter are a little different than the panel's. They appeared to be leaning heavily toward very "pure," "clean" dairy butters, which I tend to find bland.

                1. re: Ruth Lafler
                  oakjoan RE: Ruth Lafler Jan 9, 2008 08:45 PM

                  My biggest and most important step up the ladder of fine butter was to finally start to prefer unsalted over salted. At first I thought it tasted like Crisco. Was I ever wrong! Now I can't stand salted butter.

                  Btw, I only use Plugra. It's especially fine for baking. I

                  1. re: oakjoan
                    chowser RE: oakjoan Jan 10, 2008 03:40 AM

                    Do you use equal amount, or cut back a little from what the recipe calls for? If I use the exact amount, the extra fat flattens the cookies. I've tried using less but can't get it just right.

          2. JK Grence the Cosmic Jester RE: suse Dec 31, 2007 12:14 PM

            From what I can tell, the best butter to buy is the one that has the expiration date farthest in the future. Or rather, the one made as close to today as possible, judging by the Julian date on the package. Somewhere in the printed codes on most butter, there will be a 3-digit number. That number is the day of the year that the butter was made; 1 is January 1, 31 is January 31, 365 is December 31. I always root through the butters available wherever I shop and find the one with the highest Julian date (or since it's almost the new year, the highest one- or two-digit number starting in a couple of days)

            3 Replies
            1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester
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              Tay RE: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester Jan 4, 2008 01:04 PM

              Jk
              That's very interesting. I thought they only did that on tires and batteries :-}

              1. re: Tay
                JK Grence the Cosmic Jester RE: Tay Jan 6, 2008 10:38 AM

                Eggs, too.

                1. re: Tay
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                  rusticcajun RE: Tay Dec 25, 2008 08:23 PM

                  Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chips too. (Or they used to, at least.)

              2. t
                tinarina RE: suse Jan 1, 2008 01:42 PM

                I'm not an expert baker, but I do consider myself a good pie maker. My favorite new pie crust is the one using high-fat butter (like Plugra) from the NY Times. The Plugra makes a huge difference--the crust is very buttery and flaky, AND the dough is much easier to work with than regular all-butter crusts. I highly recommend the recipe:

                http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

                14 Replies
                1. re: tinarina
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                  Diana RE: tinarina Jan 2, 2008 05:38 AM

                  gotta try it!

                  1. re: tinarina
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                    dolores RE: tinarina Jan 2, 2008 05:58 AM

                    Plugra. Interesting. I have to look for it and give it a shot.

                    I use store brand, Land O'Lakes, or any butter on sale. As long as it's unsalted, I find all my baked goods to be just fine.

                    1. re: dolores
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                      suse RE: dolores Jan 2, 2008 05:50 PM

                      I grew up using Land O' Lakes and I want to not be snooty patooty about butter, but I find there's just too much water content and the cake I made with LoL was much drier than the one with Plugra. Give it a go. It comes one big ole 1-pound chunk wrapped in red.

                      1. re: suse
                        JK Grence the Cosmic Jester RE: suse Jan 6, 2008 10:45 AM

                        I highly doubt that the water/fat content of the butter is going to make much difference in the moistness of your cake. Much more likely is accidentally overbaking one.

                        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester
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                          suse RE: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester Jan 7, 2008 05:38 AM

                          It was in no way overbaked. Don't you think that the percentage of fat (substance which does not evaporate) vs. the percentage of H20(substance which does) makes a difference?

                          1. re: suse
                            d
                            Diana RE: suse Jan 7, 2008 05:47 AM

                            I agree with suse.

                            1. re: suse
                              JK Grence the Cosmic Jester RE: suse Jan 7, 2008 10:48 AM

                              The higher amount of fat is going to create a richer mouthfeel but not have as much to do with the moistness of the cake. And you just said it: Water *evaporates*. If you bake the cake too long, too much water evaporates out, and it becomes dry.

                              Butter has to be at least 80 percent butterfat solids. Premium butters like Plugra will generally be 82 to 88 percent butterfat solids. The two-layer cake recipe I have uses 8 ounces of butter, two sticks. So, the regular butter has 6.4 ounces of butterfat solids, the premiums anywhere between 6.56 and 7 ounces of butterfat solids. The extra up to .6 ounces is going into a 42 ounce double layer cake. If the extra tablespoon of butterfat solids was going to make that much of a difference, it would already be written into the recipe. The luxury butters are going to make more of a difference where butter is *the* main ingredient, such as the buttercream frosting or spread plain on toast. It's sort of like using vanilla extract versus vanilla beans; in things like crème brûlée, using vanilla beans gives it a lot more vanilla flavor, but in something like cake or cookies, nobody would be able to tell the difference between vanilla beans, top-shelf vanilla extract, and cheapo imitation vanilla extract.

                              1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester
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                                suse RE: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester Jan 7, 2008 02:53 PM

                                Well, considering I baked the cakes the exact same time and that the only variable was the butter, I suppose it may have been the butter. Also, I gotta say - I made some "Vanillkipferl" (vanilla crescents - classic German Christmas cookie) recently with a real vanilla bean and the difference between the bean and extract is staggering. Sure, there may not be a huge difference in a chocolate chip cookie, but in a delicate cookie it can make all the difference in the world.

                                1. re: suse
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                                  Shayna Madel RE: suse Jan 7, 2008 05:12 PM

                                  Quick question--were the cakes in the same part of the oven? Were the pans rotated? I know that my oven tends to be hotter in the front, where there appears to be some sort of air vent or something like that. Could locations of pans in the oven explain at least a part of the difference?

                                  1. re: Shayna Madel
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                                    suse RE: Shayna Madel Jan 9, 2008 06:50 AM

                                    The butter was really the only variable. I didn't treat the cakes any differently.

                                  2. re: suse
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                                    foiegras RE: suse Jan 9, 2008 07:03 AM

                                    Actually there is a noticeable difference in chocolate chip cookies between top shelf vanilla and the crummy stuff.

                                    1. re: foiegras
                                      s
                                      Shayna Madel RE: foiegras Jan 9, 2008 09:45 AM

                                      Interesting, and I am not surprised. Although I always use Madagascar vanilla (usually Neilsen-Massey) I can't say I notice a taste difference, as I have been using "better" vanilla for so many years and it's just what I do. I figure that on the overall, it's a little bit about each ingredient, so if you use all cheap stuff or all better stuff, you will taste the difference, but most people won't be able to put their finger on exactly why some people's stuff tastes better than others.

                                      1. re: Shayna Madel
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                                        foiegras RE: Shayna Madel Jan 10, 2010 03:50 PM

                                        I know this because I use the same vanilla as you, and my mother bought cheap stuff, so that's what I used until I left home ;)

                        2. re: tinarina
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                          HazelShade RE: tinarina Jun 15, 2010 02:07 PM

                          Has anyone made this suet crust? I am positively intrigued!

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                          Aloo0628 RE: suse Jan 2, 2008 09:54 PM

                          I love using Plugra for my cooking uses (i.e. garlic bread, pan sauces, etc.) when I feel like the butter is the star of the show. I've never been brave enough (money-wise) to use it when I bake, but it sounds like I should definitely give it a try!

                          Just FYI, in my neck of the woods (Philly), Trader Joe's sells Plugra at a better price than 'normal' grocery stores like Acme, etc.

                          1. f
                            foiegras RE: suse Jan 4, 2008 03:06 PM

                            I used Land o' Lakes before I started buying the organic (usually Organic Valley) butter I usually use now. I recently made a favorite pecan shortbread recipe with Plugra, and ... I was disappointed in the results. It didn't taste "like it's supposed to." It was still good, but I didn't feel it was an improvement. My guests who'd never had the recipe before loved them.

                            1. g
                              gabby29 RE: suse Jan 7, 2008 04:23 PM

                              I believe it really depends on what you're baking and your willingness to use more expensive ingredients. I have LOL on hand but the majority of my butter is French - La Baratte des Gourmets and Beurre D'Isigny Extra-Fin. I prefer the latter in items that place a spotlight on butter or richness. Especially pound cakes and the like.

                              1. Infomaniac RE: suse Jan 9, 2008 08:25 PM

                                Not an expert but I like Lurpak Unsalted. It has no salt in it at all, and a very low moisture content.

                                1. r
                                  Roland Parker RE: suse Jan 10, 2008 03:53 AM

                                  I use Wegman's house brand butter. It's cheap at around $2.50 a pound. I do a significant amount of baking, especially around the holidays, and all the cakes and pies and cookies I made have gotten rave reviews. Despite the low price, Wegman's house brand is actually quite a superior butter in terms of flavor and quality.

                                  I will buy premium European butter to use on the table with breads and some pastries. At one time I did bake with Plugra, but I stopped since Wegman's opened up a store outside Baltimore, and also because I read in Carole Walter's Great Cookies that the richer butters have a higher butterfat content, which affects not just the flavor of cookies (making some of them too buttery), but also the texture. She advocated using American butters for baking, and saving the European butters for table use.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Roland Parker
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                                    gabby29 RE: Roland Parker Jan 10, 2008 04:32 AM

                                    Thanks for the resource information. I'm just beginning to bake and prepare desserts on a frequent basis (3-4 times per week) and I can't imagine using the expensive butters for these dishes. While I have considered doing so for a plain pound cake, for everyday baking I think I'll stick with the organic butter from Trader Joes.

                                  2. s
                                    suse RE: suse Jan 11, 2008 05:56 AM

                                    I should mention that the cake I baked was from a german recipe, so it makes some sense that the European butter might work better when considering the chemistry of it all. I'm guessing American butter works best then for American cookies.

                                    1. w
                                      wizarddrummer RE: suse Jan 2, 2010 06:37 PM

                                      I have to say, that in all of my years (i'm 58) of LOVING butter, the best butter I have ever tasted and used in cooking is a butter that I had not ever seen before, mostly because of my location.

                                      It's called Challenge Butter.

                                      http://www.challengedairy.com/
                                      http://www.challengedairy.com/where-t...
                                      Not available on the East Coast yet.

                                      Food is a passion and good, if not great ingredients are an even bigger passion for me.

                                      I've grew up in Jersey, bout 22 miles from NYC. My cousin lived in Brooklyn. I've been to many countries. I lived in Palo Alto, and LA but I was younger and was not into cooking at the time so I am not sure if Challenge Butter was around then or not.

                                      I used to think that the restaurant grade of "Hotel Bar" butter was great.
                                      I've used:
                                      Danish Butter Quarters
                                      Kerrygold Irish Butter
                                      Land O Lakes (why America's test kitchen pick this one as being really great is beyond me - they obviously didn't know about Challenge Butter
                                      )Pulgra and some other highly overrated European butters.

                                      None of them at least in my opinion, came close to this butter in taste, creamery qualities that make it simply magnificent for finishing sauces, creaming with sugar in cakes, butter icings. It's unbelievable.

                                      I have made butter several times. I have acquired some great cream. The only thing I have not had the opportunity to get is cream directly from the cow (all natural and unprocessed in any way) to make butter.

                                      Nothing I have ever done has come close to this either.

                                      My fondest wish is for those who like butter and cooking and baking, that they get a chance to try this butter.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: wizarddrummer
                                        Ttrockwood RE: wizarddrummer Mar 14, 2014 09:17 PM

                                        I was a teenager before i realized that there were other brands of butter out there.....! My parents only ever bought challenge (unsalted for baking, salted for the table) and decades later are still loyal.....
                                        The illustration of the buck on the label is also rather regal looking.

                                      2. Adagio RE: suse Jan 10, 2010 09:10 AM

                                        One would think that Plugra at 82% fat would not make that much of a difference over it's cousing Kellers at 80%. However, there is a difference in the manufacturing process and moisture content that really comes through when making items like Croissant and Brioche where the butter is just about the most important item.

                                        ...but it does

                                        Ralph
                                        Adagio Bakery & Cafe

                                        1. vvvindaloo RE: suse Dec 14, 2010 05:08 PM

                                          I use Kerrygold Unsalted for all cookie recipes. For cooking, I tend to use Land o' Lakes Sweet Cream Unsalted, since that's one we always have on hand. Lurpak is another favorite for all uses, especially pie crust for some reason. I think the best butter I have ever tasted is Straus Family Creamery butter from the Sonoma/Bay area in California. But that is a butter I would use for nothing but spreading on the best baguette I could find :)

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: vvvindaloo
                                            Adagio RE: vvvindaloo Mar 14, 2014 06:57 AM

                                            Kerry sent me samples to test.

                                            I used it in Croissant and Brioche.

                                            I found it to be somewhat greasy.

                                            For spreading...Cabot is way up there in my opinion.

                                            Ciao,

                                            Adagio

                                          2. Adagio RE: suse Mar 14, 2014 06:55 AM

                                            Plugra is European style butter with an average of 81% fat. Regular butter is 80%.

                                            However, it's not the extra fat as much as the method by which they got that extra fat that makes this butter special.

                                            Plugra is what we use in our yeasted products always.

                                            Ciao,

                                            Adagio

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