Full of flavour

Stefanie Wallace
August 29, 2012
Written by
The rich, decadent flavour and flaky, melt-in-your-mouth texture of a croissant is hard to resist. To a patissier, the quality of a croissant is paramount, and it’s easy to spot a component that’s just not quite right.

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A croissant’s flaky, melt-in-your-mouth texture and decadent flavour is dependent on butterfat content.

 
Nadège Nourian’s baking experience and expertise allows her to be a pretty good judge of croissant quality. Nourian is a fourth-generation patissier from Lyon, France, who prides herself on the high calibre of her products. When she moved to Canada three years ago, Nourian opened Nadège Patisserie in Toronto, with the expectation that she would be able to market and sell the croissants, pastries, cakes and confectionary items in Toronto as she did in France. She quickly realized that something was not quite right. As she layered her thin sheets of butter and dough to make her croissants, she noticed the butter was cracking, and as they were baking, the layers didn’t puff up and separate as they should. Her ganache suffered too.

“The ganache was pleating all the time. I couldn’t understand, I thought it was the cream,” she recalls. “Then, I realized on top of the big block of butter, I could see water [gathering].” Since butter is an emulsion, the increase in butterfat results in an offsetting reduction in moisture. The high moisture content of Canadian butter was affecting the baking process. When Nourian saw water gathering on the butter, she knew something was not right. “Instantly I thought, wow, we have a problem with the butter.”

After a bit of research, Nourian realized exactly where the problem stemmed from. “The fat content [of the butter] was 80 per cent,” she said, which is the standard minimum of butterfat content in Canada. In France, however, the minimum is 82 per cent, and for her croissants, Nourian typically used butter with at least 84 to 86 per cent fat. A taste test of the butter was another sign: the taste of the Canadian butter was nothing compared to the full, rich flavour she was used to. “The more fat you have, the more flavour – and I will say that the most important thing is the flavour, for sure,” she says Nourian began experimenting and adapting her recipes. “I tried different types of butter, but it didn’t change at that point because all I could find was 80 per cent,” she says. After trying several different brands, Nourian concluded she would have to create a brand new croissant recipe, adapting her technique to suit her Canadian ingredients (even the yeast and flour were different than what she was used to). Several test batches later, Nourian had eventually created a brand new croissant recipe that she was satisfied with – for the time being. “In France I had better results, but I think we reached a very high quality. I know they could be better, but I’m happy with the results,” she says, adding, “I’m always in search of perfection.”

Her search is constant, and she has come one step closer to her goal. Earlier this year, Nourian heard that Stirling Creamery in Stirling, Ont., was beginning to produce higher-fat butter. “Right away I contacted Stirling to get a sample of it,” she says. Before even baking with it, Nourian could taste the difference. Her croissants reaped the benefits of it, too. “With that butter, I will say, the quality is certainly better in terms of the layers, but the taste is the big thing.”

Nourian has not found another company in Canada that is producing higher-fat butter (Bakers Journal was unable to locate any either). Stirling’s higher-fat butter is named Churn84, referencing the company’s old-fashioned barrel-churn process, and the product’s butterfat content. But while Canadian law stipulates butter must have a minimum butterfat content, there is no maximum butterfat content outlined. So why hadn’t anyone thought of producing a higher-fat butter?

Greg Nogler, the director of corporate marketing and sales for Stirling Creamery, says the potential demand for the product prompted him to start researching it.

“I certainly felt there was a need for it,” he says. “I noticed a number of retailers in downtown Toronto importing a high fat product, coming in primarily from France and a little bit from Italy . . . the prices, to my way of thinking, were exorbitant.”

Nogler wondered why a similar product hadn’t yet been produced locally, and began discussions with Stirling’s production team to find out if it was possible to create a high-fat butter.

“I had a discussion with Chet Blair, he’s our master butter maker, and he felt pretty confident that he could produce the product even though we had not done it previously, so I let him have a go at it,” Nogler says. Blair’s first batch tested at 84.5 to 85 per cent butterfat – not bad for a first try.

“Mostly the bakers are using this in laminated dough applications [like croissants and danishes], so it’s layer upon layer of butter and pastry,” he says, noting that higher-fat butter works well in a chocolate ganache, or shortbread. The increase of butterfat means about 20 per cent less moisture content. “As you bring up the butterfat content, the moisture content has to be reduced accordingly . . . it really has a key impact on the performance of the product.”

Churn84 is available to the food-service sector in an unsalted version in 25-kilogram packages, and in a salted version available in select retail locations as well. “I am looking at alternate formats as we start to get this established,” Nogler says, noting that bakers should expect the unsalted version of Churn84 to be between 20 and 25 per cent higher in price than standard butter.

In developing Churn84, Stirling was not restricted by a maximum butterfat law, but Nogler says one thing the company had to consider was the return on the product. “If you produce a butter with higher butterfat, it’s hard to get the value back from it, because the question becomes, will people pay for it?” he says. The answer, he says, is yes – “If there’s a specific need for it, and people understand what you are offering them.” So far, Nogler says the demand is small, but growing. “We’ve had requests for the product all across Canada, all the way out to B.C.”

Nourian expects the demand to grow as word gets around, and has a feeling other companies may begin to offer similar products. She has already had anonymous phone calls asking her questions about her use of the product and expects that other creameries will be developing their own version of high-fat butter. “Now that it’s available, [companies] should be more approachable for bakers who want it.”

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