Welcome to Part 2 of The Science of Baking! Since this is the second installment of the series, I would recommend going back and reading part 1. This article will go through an experiment of baking a flaky pastry using two different types of fat: butter and coconut oil. There are accompanying pictures that I took myself showing in detail the two pastry doughs!
Step 1: Mix flour, salt, and sugar.
Step 2: Break the fat up into 4 equal portions and add one portion of the fat component to flour mix.
Step 3: Mix and add water slowly until a dough forms.
Step 4: Roll out dough into flat sheet
Step 5: Break up the next portion of fat and spread along sheet of dough
Step 6: Fold the end without fat over 1/3 of sheet and fold the other end over the top.
Step 7: Roll out the dough exactly like in Step 4 carefully.
Step 8: Repeat steps 5-7 two more times with the next two portions of fat.
Step 9: Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for 30 minutes.
Step 10: Preheat oven to 450° F and bake pastry for 8-10 minutes.
There were many, many differences between the butter pastry and the coconut oil pastry not only during the preparation, but after baking as well. Although coconut oil and butter have very similar structure at first glance, the butter was much creamier and incorporated into the flaky pastry dough much easier than the coconut oil. The oil melted super quickly, making it difficult to keep very doughy as it was getting way too wet. The coconut oil was also much harder to de-clump while the butter of course, had real clumps. Another huge difference between the doughs was their size. As seen from the photos, the coconut oil dough had a much larger size than the butter dough. My theory for this stark difference was that the butter was much thicker than the coconut oil, making the dough much more cohesive and elastic. The coconut oil pastry was clearer flatter and more spread out, due to the silky nature of the coconut oil. The butter pastry was also much taller than the flat coconut oil version; my thinking tells me the butter allowed for the pastry to rise better than the oil did.
In terms of taste, texture, and overall flakiness, both doughs performed relatively well but the butter dough definitely outshone the coconut oil. Though the butter dough was better in taste and more compact, the coconut oil pastry was also quite delicious as a substitute for butter. For any coconut lover, this is the perfect pastry substitution for fat. All in all, both doughs baked into beautiful flaky pastries with multiple light layers of crisp pastry, but the dough using the butter cooked better and tasted more like a pastry would normally taste.
This experiment was so much fun to do considering I love to bake and have never made a flaky pastry dough before! I learned so much from the experience- not just how to make a flaky pastry but also so much new insight on how the science of baking really works together to create a magnificent dessert when heat is introduced to a couple of different ingredients. I encourage anyone reading this post who enjoys baking to try this experiment out for yourself to see if your results are the same! Not only did this experiment make me want to bake even more, but now I have an urge to try this recipe with all possible substitutes for fat like ghee, vegetable shortening, even lard. The possibilities are endless and we are just getting started!