A Budding Molecular Gastronomist

Reader Nicole writes:

You mention in several places the importance of relatively dry butter, and it got me thinking – could you make laminated dough with cooled browned butter, since the cooking process will drive off some water? How about something more solid at room temperature, like cocoa butter or coconut oil (the kind that comes solid in jars)? I plan to try this myself at some point, but I live in swamp cooler country, so I’ll have to wait for things to be a little less damp in my kitchen before giving it a go. I thought I’d see whether you knew anything about this, though – I’m sure the crystal structure of butterfat must change after browning and resolidification, but the thought of a brown butter croissant leaves me weak-kneed, as does one made with cocoa butter.

Very interesting issues you raise, Nicole. I know that it is possible, under the right conditions, to melt butter and remove both the water and the solids. This is frequently done on the Continent to make specialty, extra-dry (virtually 100% butterfat) pastry butters. I’ve never produced anything but butterfat slush melting and cooking butter at home. This, I believe, is due to the fact that heat destroys the protein film around fat globules, creating too much flowing “free” fat which doesn’t crystallize. I need to do a little more research on that to make sure, though.

Concerning cocoa butter and laminated dough, you anticipate Hervé This perfectly. He too fantasizes about all-chocolate croissants. The trouble with using cocoa butter itself is that it’s essentially flavorless. However if you and Hervé put your heads together, I’m sure you’ll come up with something. Thanks for the terrific email!

UPDATE: Chef Camillle writes:

Just had to respond to the question about making laminated doughs with cocoa butter. In my view, the biggest problem is not the flavor, it’s the texture. Pure cocoa butter, as you may know, is rock-hard at room temperature. I’ve never really seen it in a malleable form like dairy butter, it’s either hard or liquid in my experience. As for the flavor, the lack thereof is not an intrinsic quality of cocoa butter, but a result of manufacturing practices. The trouble is that cocoa butter is more valuable as a cosmetic ingredient than as a foodstuff, so the general protocol on most plantations is to deodorize it all. If you’ve ever had white chocolate made with non-deodorized cocoa butter (El Rey and Askinosie are the only companies I know of that
make it this way), you’ll taste the difference immediately.

One thought on “A Budding Molecular Gastronomist”

  1. I know this is an old post, but firstly I want to say that I’ve been a huge fan for years! I remembered reading this and realizing I wasn’t alone in dreaming of a brown butter croissant, and thinking that if others had thought about it too then I wouldn’t be the only one to appreciate it if I was able to create it. So I started experimenting.
    After many trials, I have finally figured out how to make croissants with brown butter! I used some European butter along with the brown butter so that the structure isn’t compromised, and I worked as fast as possible to prevent it from getting too soft. I really hope you get the chance to check the recipe out on my blog and let me know what you think! (I used a variation of your detrempe recipe as well.)
    Now to get my hands on some non-deodorized cocoa butter….I don’t have much experience with cocoa butter, but if I were to combine it in it’s liquid state with softened butter and then chilled that until solid, do you think that could work in a laminated dough?

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