Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Brioche--Is Butter Really Better than Margarine?

I'm catching up on some of my posts, and thought I'd share this one with you.  Around Thanksgiving, I went into test kitchen mode.  Zoe Francois, one of the AB5 and HB5 authors, posted a step by step instruction for making Zoe Francois' AB in 5 Soft Thanksgiving Dinner Rolls

Zoe's recipe calls for butter.  She's a wonderful, talented pastry chef, and I wondered if she cringed when I asked about using margarine in brioche. (Her later post said that she didn't.).

However, we have dietary restrictions.  Therefore, we usually use margarine instead of butter or water/soy milk instead of "regular" milk.  However, I began to wonder if there really was a taste difference....   I decided to make a half batch of AB5 brioche dough with margarine, and a second batch with butter and compare.  Just this once.  

Brioche dough, using margarine
I began by making a half batch of brioche dough with margarine, a week earlier.  I made a change by adding a bit more flour to the dough, so I could make a braided bread.  After refrigerating the dough overnight, the dough looked like this.  It made a really nice braid:

Braided loaf from brioche dough

The bread was good, but not fabulous.  Due to all the eggs and the extra flour, the bread had a very firm feel and mouthfeel to it.

Last night, I made another half batch of brioche dough.  This time, I followed the recipe exactly.  I used butter. The dough looked a bit different from the one made with margarine--different color:

Brioche dough made with butter
Brioche dough, using margarine
 It's a bit looser looking because I didn't add the extra flour.
Brioche dough, after gluten cloak
Zoe's instructions didn't say anything about doing the gluten cloak, but all Jeff and Zoe's recipes call for it.  I did the gluten cloak with the 1 1/2 of dough I was going to be using.  I did the same with the 2 ounce pieces of dough for the rolls.  Maybe it's overkill, but I was looking forward to some special rolls!

I placed the pieces of dough in the prepared pan and covered them with a tea towel:

I know the recipe says to use plastic wrap, but I love tea/flour sack towels.  They work well, and are more environmental in my opinion.

While the rolls were rising, I used the rest of this butter-dough to make a loaf of brioche bread.  Since this dough wouldn't have butter added on top, it would be a better comparison for my loaf made with margarine.    
Brioche loaf, with butter
I covered this loaf with a tea towel and let it rise about 1 1/2 hours--till the rolls were out of the oven.

After about an hour, I put the egg wash on the rolls and placed them into the 350 degree oven.  I usually put the timer on for 10- 15 minutes less than the rise time, so I turn on the oven at about the right time.

The rolls looked heavenly after about 30 minutes in the oven.  My mini egg poacher seemed perfect for melting the butter!

It was going to be tough to wait to taste them!

I put the loaf into the oven.  When it was done, it looked just beautiful:
Buttery Brioche Loaf

And the taste?  I broke open the first roll and ate from the inside.  The rolls, made with butter, had a slight more "buttery" taste.  

I brought a roll out to my hubby, who was wrestling with our leaf blower's vacuum attachment.  He gave the rolls a "9," which means he felt they were really good.  He couldn't tell the difference between the dough of the margarine and the one from the butter. 

The next step would have been to taste them both at the same sitting, but we were too full!  Both were really good.  However, some butter purists may enjoy the batch made with butter.

Stay tuned...


  1. Great experiment and beautiful bread and rolls. I too am watching butter intake. Have you tried Land O Lakes Light Butter?

  2. Hi Guff, Have not tried Land O Lakes Light Butter. Have you tried it in baking?

    I had a bad experience making Toll House cookies with diet tub margarine when I first moved out. I just figured I couldn't bake.

    It wasn't until years later that I learned (from the Nestle Test Kitchen) that it was the type of shortening/butter I used. Now I don't use anything reduced calorie in baked goods--they whip in water to the product.

  3. Judy,

    I'm a confirmed butter user in baked goods. But there are times when I do use margarine.

    I use half butter half margarine in Chocolate Chip Cookies. If I use all butter my CC cookies flatten out too much and are crispy and we like our cookies chewy.

    I've also discovered that it makes a difference if cookies spread out or not depending on the baking sheet. Just a plain aluminum baking sheet is best for most cookies.

  4. Really good tips, Michelle! Thanks. Nice to know they both have a place in your baking.