On the Limits of European Butter

Reader Lars writes:

I do a lot of baking and I was wondering if you would be willing to impart some wisdom to me. I tend to prefer the higher fat European butters. What I was wondering is how much adjustment in my baking recipes need to be made for these extra fat butters?

Interesting question, Lars! Would you believe that on average American and European butters only differ in fat content by two or three percentage points? Given that, you don’t need to vary your formulas at all (moisture isn’t an issue). They are a little more acidic since the cream they contain is slightly fermented, but not enough to throw off chemical leavening reactions.

Something I have noticed about the European (or European-style) butters I use, however, is that they have sharper melting points than America butters (that is, they go from solid to liquid faster when heated). That causes cookies to spread more than normal. The sharper melting point also causes the bubbles created during creaming to collapse sooner than they normally would, resulting a dense, crumbly cookie.

Now that I think about it I tend to avoid European butters for creaming-type applications generally. I don’t use it for cookies, creaming method-type layer cakes or most muffins (which actually aren’t made strictly via The Muffin Method, at least if they have butter in them). European bakers tend to have a lot of trouble with these sorts of classic American preparations. Their butter is probably a big part of the reason.

23 thoughts on “On the Limits of European Butter”

  1. I don’t find any problem using it for everything. The only thing is I reduce the amount by a small percentage for some cookies because the extra fat causes some problems occasionally, or makes the cookies taste richer than they should be.

    1. “…makes the cookies taste richer than they should be.”

      I know it’s April Fool’s and all, but you have to at least make it believable. (That’s like saying ‘this gold is too darn pure to be worth my trouble!’)

  2. We use cultured butter at the table but it’s far too expensive for me to use in baking. Do you even notice any difference in flavor to make the additional expense worthwhile?

    1. Hi Rainey!

      Personally, unless butter is the feature ingredient (brioche, laminated doughs, butter cookies, etc.) I just use supermarket flour for everything. Euro butter might make an incremental improvement in a muffin, but not enough to justify the expense for me either!

      – Joe

      1. Yeah. I thought mabbee shortbread but even then I don’t think I’d waste cultured butter on it. ;>

        1. I’m the fence with that one, though shortbread spreads a lot as it is. Hmmm…

          – Joe

  3. I did have some European style left over and thought it would be appropriate for a Scottish shortbread. I had a little trouble with it sticking in the stoneware shortbread pan–not sure if that could be a factor but I tricked it into releasing by putting it back in the oven for 10 minutes to relax the cooled butter and it dropped right out pretty as a picture without losing any part of the design or cake/cookie. I probably wouldn’t buy it to bake with but if I had some I couldn’t eat at the moment it was a good way to use it.

  4. I wonder if you have preferences when to use sweet cream-butter and when to use sour cream-butter. It does make a huge difference when used as a spread on bread, but in baking… hmmm!

    1. Hey Tom!

      I like cultured butter just to eat, like you. I think it’s essential for recipes where butter is the star, especially laminated doughs. Buttercreams are another terrific application. Where it’s just another player on the team, mass-market butters are perfectly fine, I think.

      – Joe

      1. Interesting answer, Joe. Over here, cultured (sour cream-) butter is the mass-market butter, sweet cream-butter is somewhat harder to get. I take it in the US it’s the other way around.
        I prefer uncultered butter and regard it as something special… maybe just because it’s not so easy to get. Can’t escape the tricks of the mind… harder to get = better 🙂

        1. Ha! That may very well be true, Tom. The key probably lies in the fact that it’s different from what you grew up with. Also I think they each provide some functional advantages when you’re making pastries specific to those same regions. But yeah, there’s also the pride in the getting too! 😉

          – Joe

          1. I actually grew up on margarine, real butter was considered too expensive. Post-war-crisis, you know.
            Today margarine is an absolute no-go for me. I’d rather eat dry bread.

  5. I did use butter in a crust bought at the local farmers market from the dairyman. It added a nice tang that I could never get with store-bought. (I’m wondering if I was about to get butter alcohol.)

  6. Hello

    I think European fats (Magarine or Butter) of 80% works for all baking works, another product I recently saw is Palffy 300H Vanilla Buttery Margarine 85% Fat for Baking, Creaming, Pastry. It has a higher content.
    I’m yet to use this fat, but if I have to use it, I will combine it with Vegetable shortening in equal proportions just to offset that sharp melting point and spreading of cookies.

    I always thought higher fat content results in quality cakes. Will check with Shirley Corriher.



  7. Joe! You’re a genius! I’ve been living in France for the past several months, and I’ve been trying to figure out why the chocolate chip cookies I’ve made to introduce my host family to American culture have been spreading so much. None of the typical tricks helped much, and I’d chalked it up to some weird interaction of less gluten in the flour/higher fat in the butter/weird countertop oven, but I think you’ve finally cracked the mystery! Hurrah!

    PS- Long-time silent fan of your blog 🙂

    1. Hi RS!

      Aw, genius…go on. My suggestion is to try acidifying the dough, which is to say, add 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice. That’ll help the egg proteins to coagulate early, keeping the dough in shape…in theory. Keeping the dough cool, even cold, will also help. Keep me informed! We’ll perfect the Franco-American chocolate chip cookie yet!

      – Joe

      1. Thanks Joe! Perfect excuse to make cookies again tomorrow. The kids will be delighted, regardless of how they turn out!

        1. I’m so pleased to hear it, RS! Together we may have cracked the age-old European chocolate chip cookie problem.

          Tell me please, how much acid did you add, and of what type?

          – Joe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *