I've read recently some articles about English toffee candy and the issue of butter separation was mentioned there.

I am looking for further information abut this phenomenon (what causes this separation of butter from the candy during cooking) and how can one prevent the separation besides using an emulsifier (like lecithin).

Someone has mentioned that salt has a stabilizing effect on the emulsion, is it true?

  • Can you link one or more of these articles? Was this in home scale toffee baking, or commercial scale toffee? And what style of toffee, hard or soft? – SAJ14SAJ Aug 12 '13 at 14:11
  • See also, at least for preventive advise: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/9371/… – SAJ14SAJ Aug 12 '13 at 14:23
  • I don't see why this has close votes. If you disbelieve that it happens, it has happened to me too, trying to stir the butter into the sugar syrup and not succeeding, ending up with caramel swimming in molten butter. – rumtscho Sep 19 '13 at 12:27

Butter separation doesn't only refer to the butter separating from the toffee (sugar), butter is make of milk fat rendered and the milk solids, when butter separates this is due to these parts separating. This is the fat that you see on the toffee, this usually comes from the components cooling at different speeds.

As with anything that you are making using melted butter, like a hollandaise sauce, adding a spoon or two of very hot water and agitating helps with the dispersion of both the fats and the heat. Stirring is an important component to ensure the heat is equally distributed throughout the mixture.

Thanks to @Aaronut for correcting the language!

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  • I'm pretty sure the fat separating from everything else is pretty much the problem. The milk solids are a pretty minor component. – Cascabel Aug 20 '13 at 4:55
  • Why the down vote? This answers the question... – Daniël W. Crompton Aug 20 '13 at 7:35
  • @Jefromi perhaps I should clarify the answer with: butter is made of 2 parts, the fat (oil) you see is one of the parts of the butter. When it separates this means the sugar and milk solids mixed, and the oil in the butter didn't. – Daniël W. Crompton Aug 20 '13 at 7:54
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    What is more likely to separate from the butter emulsion is the approximately 18% water phase, not the milk solids which are mostly either casein, or sugars (dissolved in the water). The downvote is probably because the science is questionable. For example, water is not an emulsifier. – SAJ14SAJ Aug 20 '13 at 10:45
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    I think the problem is your classification of water as "acting as an emulsifier". What you probably meant to say was just that adding water and agitating helps with the dispersion of both the fats and the heat. You're just trying to get everything to a more-or-less uniform consistency and the water facilitates stirring. It doesn't emulsify and you don't need an emulsifier, that's what the butter's already doing. – Aaronut Oct 19 '13 at 13:01

Pertaining to salt acting as a "stabilizer", I have this experience to offer - I never had a significant issue dissolving the sugar into the butter (first step), until I switched from salted butter to unsalted - suddenly I had water that could not be eliminated. Some advise that adding 1/8 to 1/4 tsp salt per 4oz will rectify this, but I found this not to be true in two attempts. When I switched back to salted butter, this frustrating problem went away.

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