Pushing Puff Pastry Margarine Performance

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

If there were ever a competitive sport for margarines, puff pastry margarines would be the elite athletes—powerful, flexible and able to perform almost on command, delivering a top-quality result every time. But keeping up with competition would mean making the most of new practices and technologies. What factors drive these changes and how can they best be addressed? By Cai Christensen, Business Development Manager, Lipids & Fine Foods, Palsgaard A/S

Pastry’s Prima Donna


Let’s face it. Puff pastry margarines have never been easy to produce. They might look like any other margarine, taste like them and pour with similar consistency, but there the comparison stops. Unlike your run-of-the-mill margarines, a puff pastry margarine must be specially formulated to have certain characteristics.

For example, it should have a non-greasy surface, making it easy to work with by hand and in the extrusion process. It also needs to be very plastic so it can be folded without breaking (avoiding insufficient lift and flakey structure). Further, it needs to provide high functionality for optimal expansion.

In recent years, this list of demands has grown to include new, health-oriented needs, such as:

  • Reduced fat content
  • No trans fats
  • Sustainably sourced ingredients
  • Less or no lecithin
  • More lean declarations

If the need to maintain or raise product quality weren’t an issue, then answering all these demands would be much simpler. But quality is very important - which is why sourcing the right products from suppliers who have deep expertise is a must-do rather than a nice-to-do. This article examines what it takes to resolve some of the most important issues.


Baking Basics


First, let us remind ourselves what happens during the baking process. Puff pastry is characterised by its laminated structure of baked layers of dough separated by single, thin layers of margarine or fat—just as Figure 1 shows.

Figure 1: Puff pastry dough with layers of dough and margarine

When baked, steam expands each layer. The degree of expansion and height achieved are then key to describing the quality of the pastry.


Testing Plasticity


We decided to put theory into practice, examining the effects of three distinct emulsifier blends on a margarine with 80 percent fat content:

  • Blend 1: Distilled mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, and lecithins.
  • Blend 2: Distilled mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, fully saturated fats, and lecithin.
  • Blend 3: Distilled mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, partially unsaturated fats, and lecithin.


The puff pastry margarines were produced on a scrape surface heat exchanger and the margarines were tempered one week before evaluation. The results are summed up in Figure 2, which shows that the choice of emulsifier has a direct impact on the margarine’s surface and consistency. And, therefore, its suitability for producing both doughs and baked puff pastries.


The trials demonstrate the differences in expansions when different types of emulsifiers are used. The results partly reflect the different qualities of the margarines and partly the functionalities of the different emulsifiers during baking.

More Is Better?


Finally, we wanted to know whether increasing the amount of emulsifier would make a difference. In theory, because of the lamination process, the emulsion in the margarine will be stressed—a strong emulsion is therefore necessary, so that no free water from the margarine will occur. And, as a basic rule of thumb, the more emulsifier used, the stronger the emulsion will be.


To test this, we decided to determine the optimal dosage of emulsifier. In this trial, the dosage of lecithin was 0.50 percent and the pH was 3.8. And the results are summarised in Figure 3. Perhaps not surprisingly, we managed to confirm that a higher dosage of emulsifier will improve the baking result. But there is more to the equation, including the effects of different dosages of lecithin and the pH of the water phase—both with a marked impact on pastry expansion.


To test these dimensions, we created a test that used 1.00 percent of a Palsgaard emulsifier and a lecithin content from 0.00 to 1.00 percent. And again, a margarine with 80 percent fat content was used. As shown in Figure 4, the combination of 0.50 percent lecithin and a pH of 3.8 performed best. One note of caution, however: when lowering the pH, the oxidation of the fats and oils needs to be carefully monitored!


From the above-mentioned trials that involved making a puff pastry margarine with 80 percent fat content, it can be concluded that using combinations of emulsifiers makes the margarine more suitable for use in pastry production. And that an emulsifier dosage of 0.80-1.00 percent, with a lecithin dosage of 0.50 percent and a of pH 3.8 is likely to provide the best baking results.


Reducing Total Fat Content


Most puff pastries are high in fat—around 35 percent is typical. And most of that fat comes from traditionally formulated puff pastry margarines with a fat content of at least 80 percent.


Today, both from consumer and production cost perspectives, fat reduction is a serious and urgent priority for bakers. Reducing fat, however, if no other adjustments are made, will certainly affect the quality and performance of both the margarine and the baked product. So, what does it take to make it happen without losing your customers?


To get to the heart of the matter, we decided to conduct yet another trial. The aim was to see if we could reduce the fat content of the margarine from 80 percent to 60 percent (and fat content in the final product with 6-7 percent) without affecting its quality or performance in the final, baked product. We were also interested in seeing whether we could do this with a similar process to that used for a higher fat content margarine.

We chose the non-trans fatty acid containing fat blend fat blend shown in Table 1 and the recipes shown in Table 2.


The two resulting types of margarine with different fat content were then evaluated and both showed a good and similar plasticity and a non-greasy surface. We then ran the two trials, producing puff pastries with 288 layers to compare their height and expansion. As Table 3 shows, there was very little difference between pastries baked with high or low fat content margarines. Both also showed good distribution of layers and a crispy surface.

Answering The Sustainability Trend


Recipes based on sustainable ingredients help to answer consumer and manufacturer health, safety and environmental concerns. And they can open doors to new markets, too. But sourcing and incorporating trustworthy, fully sustainable ingredients is not easy. But there is a quick win for margarine manufacturers looking to introduce sustainable ingredients: sustainable emulsifiers.


A sustainable emulsifier must as a minimum fulfil two main criteria: its palm oil ingredients comply with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) ‘Segregated’ (SG) level—and it is produced in a 100 percent CO2-neutral factory.


Sustainable, vegetable-based emulsifiers are a perfect way to lift your recipe’s sustainability. They are a minor part of the ingredients list, yet they figure just as clearly on the label. They are easily documented as being sustainable; although labelling as an SG product does require SG certification, and they are usually a replacement rather than a reformulation.


A Workable Balance


In conclusion, it is very important to choose the right type of emulsifier in order to obtain the best puff pastry margarine and the best baked goods—in the right dosage, as the tests have shown. Determining the right ingredients and processes for producing puff pastry margarines can deliver what the markets of today—and tomorrow—demand.