The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why add butter last?

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whatever868686's picture
whatever868686

Why add butter last?

Hi guys, every recipe I read I have been instructed to add butter last. Does anyone know what is the true reason behind such a move?

Janedo's picture
Janedo

I read something about the fat in the butter coating the flour and rendering it "water-proof" so water absorption is limited. Adding it later resolves the problem as the flour has had the time to absorb all the water.

But there may be another reason as well.

Jane 

dolfs's picture
dolfs

To make good bread, you need gluten development. Gluten can form (but does not develop, i.e. make long, organized strands) by hydrating flour. Adding fat early makes the hydration more difficult (as Jane says), but perhaps more importantly it coats the, as of yet, not fully formed gluten strands, and reduces friction. That makes it so much harder (not impossible) to get the gluten organized into long strands (which is what we achieve by kneading).

Fat makes it harder, not impossible. So, if you add it early you wil find yourself doing more kneading (or your machine). That, in and of itself, might be a reason, but the more important reason is that, generally, you will always want to knead dough as little as possible while reaching the right gluten development. The reason is that the action of kneading oxidizes the flour (over time), and this oxidization negatively affects bread crumb, color and flavor.

Earlier in my baking career (haha, home baking career that is), I used to throw butter in right at the start and my bread came out just fine for my purposes. I did use a mixer (KA), so the extended time was not as much of an issue and flavor was still good. Now I have a much better mixer (Electrolux DLX) and I've noticed that I can mix much shorter than with the KA, and at lower speeds/impacts to get good dough. Because of that, the overall difference in kneading time is even more pronounced, and I do not add fats at the start anymore. I can see (dough quality) and taste (crumb) the difference though. So, if you are just starting, I wouldn't worry about it too much!  


--dolf


See my My Bread Adventures in pictures

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I've forgotten whose book it was, but one book suggested some breads do better with butter added at the beginning of the mix, others at the end.

 

Emily Beuhler in "Bread Science" points to research that says solid fats (butter, margarine, shortening, lard) tend to help bread rise better than liquid oils.  Also, if the normally solid oils are added after having been melted, they act as liquid oils.  (I'm still working on verification of that for my own purposes, but I do believe her.)

 

I have a rye bread recipe that definitely prefers the butter be added up front.  One reason, I think, is that oils, whether liquid or solid or even eggs, are part of the loaf's overall hydration.  Keep the oil out, and your dough is dryer than it otherwise would be.

 

Mike

 

dolfs's picture
dolfs

I haven't read that book (or don't remember it), and I am no expert, but my science background tells me that this is more believable for butter than for some other fats. Butter and typical margarines have about 18% water in them, while liquid oils typically have close to 0 water in them. So yes, I can see how butter (and eggs as well) contributes to hydration and in particular for stiff doughs it could make quite a difference.

As far as adding solid vs. liquid (melted) butter  I have a hard time seeing how it would make a real difference in hydration. At the typical ending temperature of a dough butter would melt anyway, and a good thing too, otherwise it would never incorporate. Some other solid fats may require a higher temperature before melting completely, don't know. Now if the butter does not completely melt (cake crusts, biscuits, laminated doughs) you get another effect during baking (steam baking out of the butter created air pockets), but I would not count that as part of the rise, but perhaps as part of loaf volume. I just don't think this happens in a typical bread (possible exception brioche).

As far as solid/liquid fat and loaf volume, here is something I found: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-4549.2004.23079.x?cookieSet=1&journalCode=jfpp. It does not explain in the abstract why this is, but sure is interesting. Another interesting page is: http://www.baking911.com/pantry/fats_role.htm

--dolf


See my My Bread Adventures in pictures

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

Especially if you're making a bread with a lot of butter, doesn't it take longer to rise?  I'm thinking brioche, and possibly sweeter breads.

Janedo's picture
Janedo

Oh my gosh! This discussion is making me think of different recipes that I do and the different fats used. I did a brioche-type recipe once and remember thinking how long it took to rise. That used softenend butter. Now reading Mike I was wondering if it makes a difference when the butter is nuked a bit and some is a bit melted and most still firm. Maybe these details can really change the outcome of the recipe.

I always add the oil up front for most breads that call for it but I make a walnut bread that calls for the oil late in the kneeding. The oils is mixed in by hand and the dough goes squish, squish and then little by little it incorporates the oil and the dough is extremely soft. The resulting bread is excellent!

This simple question is actually very complicated.

Jane 

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

I tried rolling out a preferment sourdough to make puff pastry. All went well and the dough behaved during the butter interleaving process. A sugar cinnamon mixture was spread over the dough rectangle followed by a rollup into a log. Sections of the log were cut and layed on parchment and left to raise for 3 hours after which they were baked. The result still needs work but it's difficult to eat just one. I am now wondering if the butter failed the leavening action of the dough or the fact that I just was not patient enough? Maybe a layer of high butter content crumble spread over the dough before the folding action?

Wild-Yeast

TRK's picture
TRK

Shirley Corriher actually has a section on this in Cookwise.  She has two versions of her brioche recipe to illustrate the point.  What she says is that if you add the butter before the gluten develops, it never develops very well because the strands are coated with butter and you get a more cake-like result.  If you add the butter last your gluten is already developed and you get a more bread-like result.

 

I haven't tried the two recipes, but I expect they work much the way she says they do.