Whether it’s homemade fruit pie crust, light and airy croissants or decadent puff pasty – no matter what kind of baked goods you love, for many it’s the flakiness of the crust that makes or breaks the taste.
But is butter or pastry margarine the best option to get the delicious texture you want and why?
The answer is that it kind of depends on the situation you’re in because even though both can work well, they each have their pros and cons.
The truth is that for all but the most discerning pastry loving palates, it can be difficult to tell the difference in a recipe that’s used pastry margarine instead of butter.
While most know that the two are not the same, there are some who may think that pastry margarine is the same as stick or tub margarine that you buy at your local grocery store.
It isn’t and there are substantial differences that we’ll touch on a little later.
First though, we’ll talk about what makes pastry margarine unlike butter.
Basically, the main difference between pastry margarine and butter are the ingredients in each. Pastry margarine is an emulsified spread made from vegetable oil comprised entirely or fat and no water, whereas butter is a dairy product that has fat and water. Because of the ingredients in pastry margarine, it is often considered to be preferential in commercial baking applications where consistent taste and mouthfeel must meet consumer expectations on a large scale.
In the end, which you choose to use will depend upon your own preferences but in this article, we’ll do our best to educate you about them both so that you can pick the one that best suits your recipe.
Table of Contents
Butter vs. Pastry Margarine – The Differences
On pure taste alone, butter is hard to beat.
Butter’s strength in baking comes from the fact that it is naturally created from the process of churning fermented cream or milk into a solid form. However, even though it’s solid, butter still contains water which evaporates when the butter is included in baked goods.
Most of the time, this is a good thing and exactly what we want to make those tasty treats as irresistible as possible.
This is because the evaporation of water leads to the creation of steam, which causes the dough to rise and later flake. In addition, the high fat content of butter adds richness and texture, giving baked goods the taste we all love so much.
In fact, most restaurant pastry chefs use butter and for those of us playing along at home, that’s usually the best thing to do as well but pastry margarine has its place.
Pasty margarine is specifically made to mimic the desired effects of butter (flakiness, richness, and mouthfeel) without the limitations (shorter shelf life, less durability and plasticity in dough and narrower temperature cooking ranges).
Also, most pastry margarine is all fat, making it even higher in fat than pure butter. Again, this gives the professional baker more flexibility and results in the ability to produce pastry or other baked goods that are every bit as tasty and delicious.
As useful as pastry margarine is, it’s not nearly as widely available as stick or tub margarine so for the at home chef, it’s almost always more practical to use butter for most recipes.
Pastry Margarine vs. Other Margarine (Stick or Tub)
Of all types of margarine, pastry margarine will be the best option to use if you can’t or don’t want to use butter.
The reason is that pastry margarines have a higher fat content than ordinary stick or tub margarine which brings them closer, but not the same, to the consistency found in butter.
With stick and tub margarine, the manufacturer is focused on a producing a product that spreads or cooks easily straight from the packaging whereas the needs of chefs are more demanding.
Because of that, the fat content is slightly lower in stick or tub margarine and the oils used are aimed health conscious goals of retail margarine buyers. Examples of these kinds of oils include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated that have higher levels of omega 3 and omega 6 oils.
In contrast, pastry margarine have higher levels of saturated fat to make them more palatable for baked goods. The types of fats used include palm oil (and its derivatives) and inter-esterified fats which translate into making pastry with more “structure”.
Structure in baking terms means improved layering for puff pastry, bread that is easy to slice and dough that develops well. Adding structure like this also keeps baked goods fresher longer and adds not only improved texture but also volume.
Pastry margarine is also easier to work with at room temperature and has a higher melting point that tub or stick margarine which is another reason it’s preferred over the grocery store variety.
Should I Use Butter or Pastry Margarine?
Most of the time, you’ll probably be better off using butter.
Foremost, butter is more readily available than pastry margarine which is usually sold for commercial or other large-scale baking purposes.
For the casual cook, this isn’t very practical.
However, if ordering large quantities of pastry margarine doesn’t matter to you, then you should find it just as good to butter for all of your recipes.
But if you don’t have any interest in purchasing enormous amounts, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll get the same results with store-bought margarine because you won’t for the reasons we discussed earlier.
In short, stick with butter.
Hey there, I’m Melody! I’m a lifelong foodie and love talking about it to anyone who’s willing to listen (or read!) about my opinions. My favorite pastimes include cooking, eating my cooking and thinking about what I’m going to make next!