The Unexpected Baking Staple You Should Be Using but Most Likely Aren’t, According to a Famous Chef

published Mar 23, 2024
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someone is mixing dough in a stand mixer
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Jesse Szewczyk

Peek into a pastry case or browse the menu at any of Chef Michael Solomonov’s restaurants, and you’ll find fresh chopped salads, slow-cooked meats, and gleaming laminated treats with infinite flaky layers. Solomonov is the James Beard Award-winning chef of acclaimed Israeli restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia and the co-owner of CookNSolo Restaurants, a hospitality group that owns several beloved Philadelphia-based restaurants, including Zahav, Federal Donuts, and Abe Fisher, as well as K’Far and Laser Wolf, both of which have NYC outposts.

Solomonov is known for championing Israeli food in the States. His sit-down restaurants, Zahav and Laser Wolf, offer expansive pre-set menus featuring piles of colorful salads, pickled vegetables, caramelized braised lamb and beef, and plenty of fall-apart-tender eggplant dishes. He doesn’t stop at savory, though.

All-day cafe K’Far offers an array of Israeli pastries, including a heavenly almond challah danish and a puffed-to-perfection pistachio sticky bun. But the stars of the pastry program — the borekas — have a dedicated menu section. 

Borekas are a Sephardic Jewish laminated pastry stuffed with an often savory filling and sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds or a spice blend. They are produced similarly to laminated French croissants and puff pastry. A block of butter is folded repeatedly into a soft, stretchy dough to produce dozens of crisp, airy layers when baked. 

There’s something unique about Solomonov’s borekas: They’re made with vegan butter. Specifically, Solomonov uses Violife Unsalted Plant Butter to make all of the boreka dough at K’Far. Yes, even for the ever-popular and certainly not vegan scallion-feta variation. 

Why You Should Always Have Violife Unsalted Plant Butter in Your Fridge

Although he started making pastries using traditional cow’s milk butter, he made the switch to dairy-free out of concern for the integrity of the pastry. “When the borekasim were made with cow’s milk butter and eaten at room temperature, there would be this film from the dairy butter that had solidified,” remembers Solomonov. Replacing that butter with Violife resolved this issue with both room-temperature and reheated pastries. 

Before landing on Violife brand butter, Solomonov and his team experimented with doughs made with other plant-based products. He found that “the consistency of Violife is most similar to dairy butter, and it remains on the firmer side,” whereas other dairy alternatives tended to melt easily, leaving pastries greasy and soggy. Violife Plant Butter is made from a blend of canola, coconut, and sunflower oils. 

Solomonov also appreciates the comparable flavor, which he thinks is “the closest option you have to the taste of dairy butter.” Not to mention, it’s cheaper than dairy-based butter — at least when you’re buying it in restaurant-sized quantities. 

And it’s not just borekas, either. “​​With proper recipe testing I would explore using vegan butter in most baked goods,” says Solomonov. The only exception? Yeasted doughs, like a brioche loaf. (He prefers cow’s milk.)

Aside from the structural concerns, Solomonov notes that “ultimately, my favorite reason to utilize Violife at our restaurants is to be inclusive. There is a lot of joy in being able to provide a guest with food that is safe and comforting to them, and might not be very accessible elsewhere.”

Buy: Violife Unsalted Plant Butter, $4.69 for 8.8 ounces at Amazon

What’s your go-to butter for baking? Tell us about it in the comments below.