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So I have a recipe for simple pastry dough that takes four cups of flour, 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 cup vinegar and water little by little - after combining, we open the dough up and spread margarine on every layer, fold - once done we cool for it to harden the repeat.

My question is regarding the fats and acidity. Whats the difference of using butter vs margarine in this recipe? Also, to help with creating flakes, how does vinegar compare with bottled (store bought) lemon juice? does it make any difference at all? lastly, am I adding enough acid/oil considering the amount of flower in base dough?

Thanks in advance

  • Do you like the taste of margarine? Where does the vinegar come in? Can you link to this recipe? A quick search of reputable sites reruns no usage of either margarine or any sort of acid. – Catija Feb 13 '18 at 15:48
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    its a friends recipe so I don't have a link. Traditional french puff pastry takes a bit of lemon juice and uses butter. Margarine is simply a non-dairy alternative. I was more curious about the end result and texture than flavor. Puff pastry is broken down to fat, flour and water - the acidity helps creating flakes. – AnchovyLegend Feb 13 '18 at 15:52
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    As they struggle to remain relevant in a more informed market, margarine makers have been altering their own recipes to rely a lot less on vegetable (and other chemically-extracted) oils. It might sound silly, but could you specify the kind of margarine? One made primarily of olive oil is going to have a completely different effect than, say, "Country Crock", or the new "soft baking sticks" that are mostly some form of margarine. – Tim Post Feb 13 '18 at 17:36
  • The brand I used is 'imperial' margarine sticks. – AnchovyLegend Feb 13 '18 at 18:24
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The 'puff' effect in puff pastry is produced by an alternation of fat/dough layers. When heated, the water in the dough will become steam and try to scape (hot air go up). Since steam and fat don't mix, this effectively creates pockets of trapped air in between the fat layers. The steam eventually manages his way out leaving behind a layered dry gluten skeleton.

With this picture in mind, the type of fat used plays two roles:

  • Workability. The fat needs to be soft enough to be spread over but hard enough to be trapped without 'sleeking' when layering. The traditional recipe asks for butter, but many commercial brands use hydrogenized vegetable oil as well, which are fairly stable. In principle, you could use lard or lamb fat.

  • Taste. Well, unless you are making a lamb pie, lamb fat might be a bit too strong.

As for the acid, I don't see how it could play a role in this process which is mostly mechanical. I also disagree with the claim that traditional French puff pastry takes a bit of lemon juice. Marie-Antoine Carême, the "chef of the king's and king of the chefs" don't mention lemon or vinegar in his treatise about puff pastry. More on the modern side, neither do Alain Ducasse, Pierre Hermé (who curates the Larousse des desserts) or Michel Roux. So maybe some recipes ask for it, but it is definitively not the rule.

Most of the industrial puff pastries do contain either lemon or vinegar, which they label as 'acidity regulator' in the ingredients list. I believe this acts as an anti-oxidant to increase shelf life and prevents rancidity. Another explanation (a long shot) might be taste. The traditional method for making butter in France involved fermenting the cream in a clay pot before buttering. One of the distinctive aspects fermentation brings is acidity.

  • I appreciate your comment and referencing the 'king of chefs', I'll look in to that. Also, the adding of the lemon juice is included in this recipe youtube.com/watch?v=g-dF_j3AVTw for example, if you go to the 1:40 mark. – AnchovyLegend Feb 15 '18 at 20:26
  • And from the comment section someone said: "the acid in the lemon juice prevents too much gluten forming and starts to break it down, making your puff pastry flaky, tender and have clear defined laminated layers of beurrage and detrempe. It also stops the pastry turning an off colour, sometimes pastry goes from a golden buttery colour to a dirty beige over time. However it is not a necessary ingredient, it just aids the flakiness. " – AnchovyLegend Feb 15 '18 at 20:27
  • @AnchovyLegend, thanks for the clarifications! If you are interested in the history of cooking you will enjoy Carême's treatise! Funny to think someone was taking puff pastry so seriously already back in the 18th century... I will have a thought on the gluten part. About the colour I totally agree! I think this is the anti-oxidant effect :) . – greedyscholars Feb 16 '18 at 10:26

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