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Dec 31, 2007 10:20 AM

Best butter for baking?

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

        7 Replies
        1. re: maplesugar

          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: )

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            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

              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

              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

                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

                  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

                    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. 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

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

                1. re: Tay

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

              1. 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:


                14 Replies
                  1. re: tinarina

                    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

                      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

                        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

                          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

                              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

                                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

                                  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

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

                                  2. re: suse

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

                                    1. re: foiegras

                                      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

                                        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

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