Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Baking woes

Got butter at Wegman's rather than Whole Foods. Land o Lakes rather than 365. Took it out of the wrapper and was inundated with that horrible fake-butter smell that was a sudden reminder of precisely what it was about butter I always found so nauseating as a child. An only slightly less intense version of the artificial butter that goes on popcorn, that's pumped into Penn Station, and that has the proven capacity to make me gag. As an adult, though, I've cooked/baked with (salted, Whole Foods store brand) butter all the time, and not found it to be a problem. It occurred to me that the one difference, other than the brand, was that this one was unsalted. But could salt impact the smell of something? That didn't seem likely, so I checked the sell-by date. Definitely still good. How could some butter smell so much more intensely like butter than other butter?

Then I noticed the ingredients. "Natural flavor" turns out to be a second ingredient in what I would have assumed was a one-ingredient food. I looked up what this meant, and to the best of my knowledge, it's the kind of thing that's unnerving to food purists, and that wouldn't necessarily bother me in, say, a candy bar, but a) with baking, you kind of want to know what you're working with, and b) I have this odd, visceral reaction to that particular smell, one that certainly does not encourage me to include it in more work-intensive pastry. At this point, the butter was already rolled out and partially folded into the dough for chocolate croissants. Or would have been, if the dough itself had formed properly.

After much discussion (and Googling) of whether, once cooked, the smell would disappear, I made the executive decision that if I could still smell it after chilling the dough in the freezer, I'd accept that loss of one egg, one cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar. And so it went.

4 comments:

PG said...

Inspired by this post, for the first time in my life I inspected the ingredients in butter at the supermarket before buying any. Every single box and tub of butter at the ShopRite that's the nearest grocery had "natural flavor," and there were about 10 different kinds.

Phoebe said...

Ha! But if you're not bothered by the taste, I guess it's OK? But it just seems so odd for such a basic ingredient to be tampered with. They mark if there is or isn't salt...

PG said...

I'm really puzzled as to what makes the difference. I notice *artificial* butter flavor, as on popcorn, but I'm pretty sure I was buying the tampered butter for years before a Whole Foods became the nearest grocery. I'm tempted to buy a box of each kind and see if I can smell or taste a difference.

I think part of the food purists' gripe is that so much of what we'd expect to be "plain ingredient" isn't anymore. Your salt is iodized, your milk vitamized... although at least those are for the population's health. I don't know of any good done by adding "natural flavor." I'm not even sure what that means.

michael said...

yeah, that is weird... isn't butter natural? so why does it need "natural flavor" for? lol