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Are European-style butters better?

Posted By Nicole On February 7, 2008 @ 2:08 pm In Baking,Cooking | 19 Comments

plugra, european-style butterWalk into just about any grocery store and, in the dairy aisle, you’ll see several butter packages labeled “European style.” The descriptor was seen rarely only a few years ago and now brands like Plugra are all over the place. Some cooks swear by these specialty butters – but are they better than the standard American-style?

The difference between European-style and American-style butters is butterfat content. It has nothing to do with the actual origin of the butter or the cows that made the milk that went into it, as there are plenty of American producers who make “European-style” butters here. Regular butter is 80% butterfat and 20% water. Plugra is around 83% butterfat. It might not seem like a huge difference, but this slight increase gives the butter a creamier taste. If you do a side by side taste test with toast or bread, you may notice that Plugra tastes richer than regular.

When baking, however, this flavor difference is usually lost because it is subtle and masked by other flavors. It generally only comes out when you are making a very butter-heavy dish, like a very rich shortbread. In regular chocolate chip cookies, there may be a slight difference between two otherwise identical batches, but it will be the sort of difference that is incredibly hard to pin down unless you already know the secret. Since the water content of butter is what produces flakiness when baking pie crust (the butterfat produces tenderness), a traditional crust made with Plugra might be slightly less flaky and a bit more tender, similar to the way a crust made with part shortening and part butter is. Overall, however, the difference between the two when it comes to baking and cooking is nearly negligible. If you like the richer flavor of European-style, feel free to substitute it in any recipe, but consider sticking with regular when the butter flavor is going to be masked by something stronger from a cost-effectiveness standpoint.


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