Monday, July 15, 2019

Butter-Rich Baking

Melting Moments cookies
At Afternoon Tea, we used to call our cookies "Butter-Rich Cookies."  It wasn't just in our cookies, we used only real butter in all of our baked goods.  All of our cakes, breads, scones and cinnamon rolls, too.  We wanted people to know that we used real butter in our baking, and that it made all the difference.

How so?  In the flavor.  In the texture.  In the mouth-feel of our products.  One of the most obvious places where this difference was most apparent was in our cake frostings.

For the most part, icings are composed almost completely of fat and powdered sugar (with just a teeny-tiny bit of flavoring and milk thrown in).  Many bakeries use vegetable shortening for at least most, if not all, of the fat in their frostings.  (And they dare to call their shortening-heavy frostings "Buttercream!"  Lies!!)

Real buttercream made with all real butter!
They have a good reason ... vegetable shortening is more stable, it requires a higher temperature to melt (about 115°F) than butter does, and it doesn't tend to go rancid as quickly.  Bakeries know that they can depend on vegetable shortening to remain solid throughout handling.

Butter, on the other hand, melts at about 90°F.  The temperature inside our mouths is 98°F.  That means that butter melts in our mouths much more quickly than vegetable shortening does (if it does at all).  Before the shortening in their frosting even begins to melt, you've probably already swallowed it down.  Butter, on the other hand, melts in your mouth almost immediately, for dreamy goodness.  You can literally feel shortening coating your mouth and tongue, in a way that butter never can, since it may never reach its melting point in your mouth.  Not pleasant.

That's just one of the reasons why our customers loved and preferred our cakes over everybody else's.  They would tell us time and time again that they loved our cakes and wouldn't dream of getting one elsewhere.  It was the pure butter we used in our baking and icings that made all the difference.
An Afternoon Tea wedding cake

Were there perils involved in using only butter in our frostings in South Florida?  You'd better believe it!  Customers would ask us if they could leave the cake in their cars for just a moment while they went to run just one more tiny errand, and we would always say, "Absolutely not!  Come back to Afternoon Tea and get your cake on the way back home."  Their iced cake would definitely not survive a blazing hot car.

We delivered many a wedding cake with dry-ice packs in the boxes, to keep the frosting from melting in the scorching tropical heat during the ride.  I once even wheeled a melting wedding cake directly into a walk-in freezer at a hotel kitchen.  It was an unavoidable emergency measure needed to save the cake and quickly make repairs ... and ultimately salvage the wedding reception!  Butter is a very dangerous ingredient in the South Florida sun, but we wouldn't have had it any other way.  Taste mattered more than convenience.

Because shortening has a higher melting point than butter, cookies remain thicker, as the outside bakes faster than the interior cookie dough can melt, so the cookies tend to be fatter.  It is no wonder that most bakeries prefer to use vegetable shortening.  Some folks will argue that they prefer shortening to butter for this very reason.

Flavored butters pressed into fanciful molds
look gorgeous on the table.
However, what you may gain in appearance you definitely lose in flavor.  There is just no substitute for the taste of butter.

We often hear chefs say that we should always use a wine we enjoy drinking to cook with, as well.  The reason is obvious: flavor.  If we use an inferior-tasting wine in our recipe, the flavor of our dish will suffer.

The same applies to butter, as well.  Most of us would never dream of taking a dab of vegetable shortening and putting it in our mouths.  Yet we have no reservation whatsoever with slathering a piece of toast with butter and licking our lips to get every last golden drop.  Butter is delicious.  Shortening is not.  It's as simple as that.

One pat, or two?
Butter-rich baking is more delicious, too.  Ingredients matter.

Ask any honest chef or baker ... when flavor counts, there's no substitute for butter.  Everything just tastes better with it.  These days, we even have our choice of local, grass-fed, Irish, French or European butter at our local supermarket, because taste makes a difference!

Luckily, bakers and chefs have been using more butter these days.  In fact, butter consumption in the US is up, in general, over the last few decades.  Some people are even putting butter in their coffee nowadays!

The reasons are many.  Not only does butter make everything taste better, but medical experts have re-evaluated their previous stance, since new studies have failed to indicate a direct negative linkage between the saturated fats in butter and heart health.  They may not be ready to call butter a health food yet, but at least they're no longer labeling it such a villain.  In fact, fat is an absolutely critical nutrient in our diets, and natural fats are always better for us than those fake trans-fat-anythings created in a laboratory.

Half-sticks of butter are much too little to be useful,
but sure look adorable!
That was always our point of view at Afternoon Tea, even back in the 80s.  Real, natural, wholesome products are always better for our bodies than fake-food.  Looks like the science is finally catching up with us.

The only thing I can think of that we made with vegetable shortening was pie crust.  If pie crust is made with only butter, it can be heavy and tough.  In order to keep pie crust flakey, shortening is required.  Still, a touch of butter or cream cheese in your pastry dough provides melt-in-your-mouth goodness, and of course, there was always butter in the filling!

Besides pastry crust, we used butter exclusively in all our baking.  We made butter-rich cookies, butter-rich cakes and pound cakes, and all-butter frostings.  The taste was exquisitely delicious, and that was what we were after.

Compound butters, always gourmet
Another manifestation of this resurging love affair with butter is the availability and popularity of epicurean or compound butters now at the supermarket.  It was always a bit of acceptable decadence to enjoy compound butters at restaurants ... whipped gorgonzola and butter melting over a grilled steak or baked potato at our favorite steakhouse, or a garlic-and-herb butter served with fresh-baked bread while waiting for our entrées.  But now we can buy them in the grocery store and enjoy them at home anytime, which shows how pervasive they have become.  Who wouldn't love a boost of extra-flavorful butter melting over our roasted vegetables, corn-on-the-cob or homemade biscuits?

But why buy them in the grocery store, when you can whip them up so easily at home?  Compound butters can be sweet or savory, and made in the most ah-mazing flavors ever.  Imagine orange-cardamom butter melting over carrots, horseradish butter dribbling over steak, pumpkin butter swirled into your oatmeal, or cranberry butter disappearing into every crevice of an English muffin.

A lovely table setting for brunch
My sister, Ana, once made a Miso Butter that I just couldn't get enough of.  She made extra and gave me a big, generous dish full of the heavenly stuff that I took my time thoroughly enjoying.  Did I mention what a great gift compound butters make?

You can whip together softened butter with honey, cinnamon, ginger, maple syrup, mashed berries, or any combination of those, for a delicious flavored butter for your pancakes, bagels or croissants.  Every cheese, herb, spice and aromatic is a good candidate for a savory butter blend.  Just a quick search brought up tons of incredible compound butter ideas, which will make every meal a stand-out.

The most delicious things melt in our mouths when we eat them.  Butter melts in our mouths.  Chocolate melts in our mouths.  Ice cream melts in our mouths.  And the most delicious cakes and cookies in the world melt in our mouths when we take a bite, as well.

There's always an opportunity to add extra flavor and interest to your dishes, and butter is one of the easiest ways to do so.  Whether you just use lots of butter to caramelize sliced onions low-and-slow on the stove, or create compound butters that take your meals to another level, butter is an easy vehicle to bring your dishes to their most flavorful potential.

While you're out there enjoying the month of July, the height of summer's heat, make sure that you don't leave the butter out!


Enjoy previous seasonal blog posts:

Men's Favorites
The care-and-feeding of hungry men is always a priority ... especially on Father's Day!
Happy 4th of July!
Honoring our Independence, our freedom, and the men and women who serve!
Outdoor Spaces
Bringing the indoors outside is just how we want to live in the summertime.
Summer Entertaining ...
the perfect way to entertain.
Camp Summertime!
a.k.a. What did you do during your summer vacation?
The Soundtracks of Summer
What music will be playing through your head this summer to get you into vacation-mode?
Fruit-Infused Waters
Well beyond lemon, refreshing flavored waters for summer
Sunshine In A Jar
Preserved lemons are a game-changer!
Fruit-Picking Season
There's nothing quite as satisfying as growing your own food
The Fruits of Summer
There's fruit in my salad!
Family Heritage Tour
A trip back to the old country in search of the abuelos
Ice Cream Socials
We all scream for ice cream! 
The Buzz About Bees
Bees are precious, industrious and endangered.  We can do our part to make sure we don't lose these amazing creatures.
Get Jiggly With It!
Make every summer party a whole lot more fun with these colorful & spirited shots!
One-of-a-Kind Design
Create your own fabric, gift wrap and wallpaper to take custom designs to a whole new level.
Herb Harvest
There's nothing like growing your own fresh herbs!
Cooking with Herbs
Herbs are making a tasty appearance in some of your favorite desserts!
Food Porn
It has become a national obsession ... we're salivating over food and all the food shows on tv
The Icing on the Cake
Does a bakery really need to make frosted layer cakes?
What's Your Favorite Cake?
If only I could pick just one!
Ana's non-profit, Healing Warriors Program, gives away a state-of-the-art electric wheelchair!
Congrats, HWP!
Healing Warriors Programreceived a huge honor, and we were invited to the Pentagon to see it!
Taking Care of Those Who Serve The suicide rate among our Veterans is tragically sky high.  We can do something about that. Donate if you can!
Healing Warriors Program,
my sister's nonprofit, does very important work for our service members' complete health and wellbeing.

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