Reader Sara writes in from Spain to say, first of all, how delicious xuixos are when they’re made with love. And more important than that, butter. She observes also that when she was younger, bakers in Spain used lard instead of butter as a laminating fat. So most croissants (and, by extension, xioxos) would contain lard instead of butter, or perhaps a mix of the two fats.
This isn’t as odd as it may sound to come ears, since good quality lard — i.e. leaf lard — stands in very well for butter. It has more or less the same consistency, and about the same melting point. So from a functional standpoint, you come out even when you trade lard for butter. But then lard tastes rather different, quite “piggy”compared to lighter, sweeter tasting butter. So why use it?
In a word: economics. Butter costs more than lard. Depending on the times, much more. No surprise then that lard has always been considered a poor man’s fat. It’s common in places than have historically seen a good deal of poverty: the American South, Southern Italy, Spain. The American South doesn’t have a tradition of laminated dough (they make biscuit and pie dough with lard, though), but both Italy and Spain do, which is why you find lard in Spanish croissants and in Italian cornetti. Lard is the go-to fat for Argentinian croissants also, because well, you guessed it, poverty and pigs.
Those who find such talk off-putting should remember that the all-butter croissant is a rarity these days, even in France. The vast majority of croissants there are made with margarine. Why? Because most of the laminating done in France these days is done by machine, and margarine is far more machine-friendly (not to mention less expensive) than butter. The good new is that you can easily spot a margarine (or other non-butter) croissant when you’re there, as French law mandates that non-butter croissants be made in a crescent shape, and butter croissants in the straight tube shape.
I’m not sure, but I think in Spain does it that way too: lard croissants (medialunas de grasa) are the crescent shape, and the butter croissants (medialunas de manteca) are straight. Or maybe there’s no law regulating that. Reader Sara, help me.
The main thing to remember is that there is more than one way to roll a croissant. I like all-butter croissants quite a bit, but the margarine kind can be very nice too. A lard croissant is also a splendid thing, especially in a savory setting, though I can easily imagine one for breakfast as well. Contrary to the myths you read on the internet, they do not have a greasy mouthfeel. Though they do taste like bacon. And your problem is…?