Miss Ginsu: About/Bio

 

On Bread (and Butter) Alone

Butter is butter is butter, right? Sweet cream butters are all made with cream (from cows) that's been whipped into a frenzied state in which the fats glob together and the water falls away. So it should all pretty much taste like butter, yes? Well... yes and no, actually.

After reading a piece on Endless Simmer, in which Brendan goes crazy for Kerrygold, I really wanted to know whether I'd be able to detect appreciable differences between butter brands... particularly the "higher end" brands (read: imported).

So, before the wimpy dollar dropped any further against the powerful Euro, I biked to my local Key Food (Greenpoint, Brooklyn). I knew they carried lots of crazy European brands.

Bread and Butter

Are there differences? You betcha. I can say (or type, rather) this with conviction now, because I just tested nine different butters in rapid succession.

Taking one in the gut (ow!) and another one in the wallet (oh!) for scientific research, I'm publishing my results for you, dear reader.

The Method

Just so you know a little bit about the process here... I made every attempt to purchase the sweet cream/unsalted butter varieties for maximum flavor range. (I'd hoped to use Plugra, a "European-style" US brand as the tenth contestant, but the only type on hand was salted, unfortunately.)

I'm listing the lineup in the random order in which they were sampled. Super-thin slices of a "French" loaf were used as sample-carriers and sparkling mineral water was the palate-cleanser. (And just in case you were wondering, "Yes... I do feel ill now. Thanks for asking.")

The Lineup

9 Butters

1. Lurpak
Weight/Price: (8oz/277g) $3.99
Origin: Denmark
Color: Pale white-yellow
Sweet and creamy with long-lasting pleasant flavor that lingers in the mouth.
Score: B

2. Spomlek
Weight/Price: (7.05oz/200g) $2.99
Origin: Poland
Color: Pale yellow
Creamy. Buttery. Nothing distinguished.
Score: C

3. Delitia (Parmigiano-Reggiano Butter)
Weight/Price: (8oz) $4.99
Origin: Italy
Color: Pale white-yellow
This is a funkier butter flavor. Is it possible it's not as creamy?
Score: B-

4. Mantuanella Farmstead Butter
Weight/Price: (200g) $5.99
Origin: Italy
Color: Pale white-yellow
Again, this one has a funky-farmy flavor. For some reason, I like it slightly better than the Delitia. Maybe a little sweeter?
Score: B

5. Krowka Maslo Wiejskie from Lieberman Dairy
Weight/Price: (200g) $2.99
Origin: Pennsylvania, USA
Color: Pale white-yellow
With a flavor that's fresh, sweet and creamy, I have sudden visions of buttercups for no apparent reason. Not sure if I like this one more than others because it's whipped, so there's a little extra air in it? Maybe it's actually fresher because it's from PA? Whatever the case, I like it.
Score: A-

6. Celles Sur Belle
Weight/Price: (8.82oz/250g) $4.99
Origin: Poitou-Charentes, France
Color: Pale white-yellow
It's... buttery. But it tastes kind of flat. Nothing to write home about. Maybe it's old?
Score: C

7. Elle & Vire
Weight/Price: (200g) $3.99
Origin: France
Color: Pale white-yellow
Wow! Yum! This butter tastes sweet and fresh with crazy high notes that make it taste... lively. I was just wondering if I was experiencing butter fatigue, but WOW! I want to eat the whole packet. I'm a little shocked.
Score: A

8. Land O' Lakes
Weight/Price: (16oz, 453g) $4.29
Origin: USA
Color: Pale white-yellow
Ah, the butter of my youth. It's fine. It tastes pretty flat, actually.
Score: C

9. Kerrygold
Weight/Price: (8oz/227g) $2.50
Origin: Ireland
Color: Yellow
This tastes like it could be a good, creamy butter, but they put salt in it (is that just for the ones they stamp "Imported"?) so most of what I'm tasting is salt. I'm actually pretty disappointed.
Score: C+

The Summary

I know people go crazy for European butters, but some of those brands just don't seem like they're worth the money or the hype, particularly with the dollar in the doldrums these days.

Land O' Lakes is the best dollar value among these samples and it's probably fine for baking. The Pennsylvania brand, Krowka, made a surprisingly strong showing. And I don't know what kind of crack they're putting in the Elle & Vire brand (maybe I just got a very fresh batch?) but I like it. A lot.

I suspect that freshness has a lot to do with quality, so I'd bet that any butter tasted at the source is going to be simply delightful.

Yours in food exploration,

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4.03.2008

The Donut Wars

I will preface this piece by letting you know this: I'm not a donut person, per se. That said, I will also tell you this: I love donuts in concept.

I love the way donuts are round. I love the way they curve in the palm of the hand. I love the hole in the center. I love that you can sometimes peek through that hole in the center and peer at the someone with whom you're sharing donuts. Maybe you also make a face or a silly noise at that moment. Donuts can be funny. But donuts also show up at wakes and church socials. Donuts can be somber.

Tres Leches Donut
The delightful Tres Leches Donut from the Donut Plant

What I love best about donuts is the idea of donuts and coffee. There's something so classically Americana about donuts and coffee.

The donut of my platonic ideal is the fresh-outta-the-fryer, crisp and steaming cake donut handed to me on a paper towel by an elderly someone who warns me that it's hot, and that I should be very careful not to burn my mouth. Said elderly someone has imbued this donut with his or her old-fashioned care, affection and pride. Needless to say, those donuts are rare as hen's teeth.

Donut Plant Dozen
A recent Donut Plant Dozen... Top left, clockwise: Pomegranate, Ginger, Coconut, Classic Glazed, Valrhona Chocolate, Rose Petal. In the back, Tres Leches, Blackout and another Valrhona.

My next-favorite donut is much more accessible. It's down at the Donut Plant and the cherubic counter man will sell it to you for a dear, but ultimately quite fair, price. Donut Plant donuts will not arrive hot from the fryer, but they are made with old-fashioned care, affection and pride as well as inspiring seasonal ingredients. Donut Plant donuts are taste adventures, and I like that in my food.

My boss liked Donut Plant donuts when I brought a tasting into work recently. He especially liked the Tres Leches donut. But what he REALLY likes are donuts from Peter Pan Bakery on Manhattan Ave. in Greenpoint.

After inhaling his first sampling of Peter Pan donuts just recently, he returned the next day. And the next. He demanded to know why I'd been holding back valuable Peter Pan donut insights for so long. It's not like I was plotting against his happiness. It's just that I'm not a donut person and because Peter Pan donuts were not my first-choice or second-choice donut, their little jellied and powdered gems made a much smaller blip on my personal radar.

One fateful day last week, my boss brought a stack of boxes into work. Boxes filled with donuts. Chocolate Glazed, Powder-Dusted. Some filled with berry jam. Some filled with Bavarian Cream. Cinnamon-Apple Cake Donuts. Strusel-Topped Donuts. Coconut-Flake Donuts.

A Mountain of Donuts from Peter Pan
A Mountain of Donuts from Peter Pan... Top left, clockwise: Chocolate-Glazed Eclaire, Cream-Filled Coconut, another filled eclaire, two custard-stuffed creampuffs, a Glazed Donut and a Strusel-Topped Donut

My coworkers went into a Peter Pan donut frenzy. They yelped. They swooned. They gorged. They ran to their phones and texted significant others with messages like: "OMG!!! We're getting up early Sat 4 DONUTS!" One coworker claimed that these were the long-lost donuts of her childhood, the like of which she hadn't seen in decades. She wrote to her mother about them.

And, yes... They're great donuts. Everyone says so. They're actually much closer to iconic American donuts, raised and glazed, fried fresh every day with good-quality fillings and (presumably) good-quality dough ingredients. (And they're dead cheap. This is Greenpoint, after all.)

The Peter Pan donut is probably very similar to the goods that the very first Dunkin' Donuts shop made waaaay back before they went corporate and started using cheaper fillers, cheaper sweeteners, cheaper fats and mass manufacture. The Peter Pan donut may not be available at every corner, but it really is the pastry of the people.

Admittedly, I felt crushed that my beloved Donut Plant donuts had so quickly rolled to the wayside in favor of a mighty Peter Pan onslaught. It was immediately clear that most people weren't really interested in pomegranate donuts, rose-petal donuts, Valrona chocolate donuts, ginger donuts, coconut-cream donuts or peanut butter and jelly donuts. They didn't want experimental donuts. They wanted donut donuts. They wanted tradition and comfort and sugary cream fillings.

So it seems the traditionalists won the war for the (clogged) hearts of my coworkers.

Down in the trenches, covered in a dusting of powdered sugar and sweating off the sugar-crash shakes, I reflect and find I've learned a few things.

I have strong donut opinions. I may have a delicate donut ego. And I guess I just happen to have a slightly off-the-mainstream donut perspective. And if I have all that, well... hell. Maybe I really am a donut person after all.

Peter Pan Doughnuts & Pastries
Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop on Urbanspoon
727 Manhattan Ave
Brooklyn, NY
718.389.3676

Donut Plant
Doughnut Plant on Urbanspoon
379 Grand St
New York, NY
212.505.3700

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3.06.2008