Throughout history, there are those individuals who discover delicious ingredients and think: This is good, but what would make it even better? It’s a curious cook who bites into a traditional beef pie and considers experimenting with a Thai curry filling next time. Or, a dairy innovator looking for all the groundbreaking ways to use milk.
Like cream, they rise to the top. That’s the story of the New Zealand dairy industry.
Dairy production started quite simply in New Zealand when British missionary Samuel Marsden brought over the first cows in 1814. Within two centuries, it grew into a dynamic dairy-producing nation starting with its first export of cheese across the Tasman Sea in 1845 (in fact, New Zealand dairy co-ops just celebrated their 150th birthday, as the first one was established in Central Otago in 1871). Some 25 percent of the world’s dairy exports come from Fonterra, a dairy co-op formed in 2001 through a merger of legacy dairy cooperatives by around 13,000 New Zealand farmers.
The difference in dairy begins from the grass up in New Zealand. The pristine landscape is one of the few places in the world where cows can graze on green pastures year-round, meaning almost all of New Zealand’s dairy products come from grass-fed cows. This special care results in milk that is creamy and full of flavor, as well as nutritious. In line with the deeply rooted Māori philosophies of kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga, or caring for and respecting the environment, the local dairy industry has carefully guarded its precious resources.
Complementing a reverence for tradition and craftsmanship is modern ingenuity. The dairy community or hapori has also supported a rich history of research and development, including sustainability efforts and reducing their carbon footprint to one-third of many other nations.
To make the best dairy products, these farmers have explored new ways of doing things, from being the first to breed cows which produce low-fat milk rich in omega-3 fatty acids to improving infant formula.
This innovative outlook has constantly pushed the industry forward and improved some of the most beloved dairy products making them even more delicious and easier to use. Taking on the challenge of making smooth, delicious butter even better, New Zealand brand Anchor was the first in the world to develop a spreadable butter in 1970, forever changing the toast game. This luscious butter has a soft texture right out of the fridge.
While New Zealand’s dairy industry has continually spearheaded cutting-edge technology, they’ve done so without cutting corners on taste or safety. These farmers uphold rigorous health and hygiene practices, including advances in tracing which allow consumers to know exactly where and when a product was made, an increasingly common ability among New Zealand-produced goods.
So at last: If you’ve got some New Zealand butter—or cheese, or milk—in front of you, what can you do with it?
This sweet spot where science and culinary arts meet is perhaps most evident in baking. After all, the secret to making pillowy croissants and flaky crusts is understanding the ways simple ingredients interact.
One person who understands baking from both sides—as a scientist and a baker—is Erin Clarkson. Originally from Nelson, located at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, Clarkson has a degree in geology and worked on an oil rig before moving to Brooklyn and launching a baking blog from her apartment.
As a kid, she grew up in a tight-knit family surrounded by food, where she developed a love for baking. “Most baking in New Zealand is done by scratch, and I grew up baking at home with my grandma, so the 'from scratch' mentality definitely influenced the way that I bake a lot.” Her science background also inspires her to figure out how and why ingredients work.
Through her website Cloudy Kitchen, Clarkson often complements beautiful images of baked goods with clever explanations of how ingredients add to a recipe. Breaking down garlic butter dinner rolls for instance, she explains that “butter provides softness and richness in the dough.”
One common thread you’ll find—whether the recipe is sweet, savory, or a mix of both—is her preference for New Zealand butter and cheeses. “There is a richness and depth of flavor in New Zealand dairy that is unparalleled,” she says. “Using great butter makes such a huge difference in baking.”
In her recipes, Clarkson has a penchant for giving Kiwi classics a New York spin and vice versa. Case in point: her smoked salmon and cream cheese hand pies with everything seasoning is an ode to bagels and lox encased in a flaky dough typical of Kiwi pies and rolls. (It also nods to New Zealand’s renowned smoked salmon and trout.)
Good cheese starts with great milk. We always had a big block of cheese in the fridge like my fave, tasty cheddar
While piemaking in both the U.S. and New Zealand originated from the U.K., in New Zealand, pies are typically savory—although you will find sweet ones as well. They have a golden, buttery crust with a plethora of fillings ranging from traditional beef and chicken to globally inspired curries. Much like the all-American apple pie, a New Zealand meat pie is the ultimate comfort food for a quick and satisfying meal you can find pretty much anywhere.
Another Kiwi treat Clarkson insists that every American baker try is the slice; in this case, vanilla custard slice with homemade puff pastry. Slices, which are a staple of the New Zealand baking landscape, are perfect showcases for butter, cream, and milk. “In New Zealand, the cows eat grass and live outside, and in turn make the most amazing milk. We have friends who have dairy farms and my husband's family are sheep and beef farmers. Most places in New Zealand are within close proximity to rural areas and you drive past farms all the time.”
To get an excuse to eat even more New Zealand butter, Clarkson recommends making vanilla buttermilk cake with Swiss meringue buttercream. This rich, creamy masterpiece gets a lovely tang from a homemade cherry compote and has plenty of butter in both the cake and the frosting.
“I am lucky enough to be working with the U.S. branch of Lewis Road Creamery this year, so I get special butter deliveries,” she says. “There is currently about 15 pounds of Lewis Road in my fridge—no joke, it takes up a whole shelf. It is just so, so good!”
The brand launched in the U.S. in 2019 and has quickly gained a loyal following with its eight ounce blocks of unsalted butter, sea salt crystal butter, and garlic and chive butter (which is a great shortcut for making insta-garlic bread any night of the week).
Like the happily grazing cows referred to on the Lewis Road Creamery label, baking with traditionally churned New Zealand butter and cheeses creates melt-in-your-mouth treats, from your cherished family recipes to globally inspired meals.
Place flour and salt into a large bowl. Cut butter into chunks, and add to the flour. Toss lightly to coat. Working quickly with your fingers, fold the butter into the flour mixture, squishing each cube between your fingers once. There will be big lumps left in the dough but as long as they are flat in shape this is fine—they get all rolled out during the folding process!
Combine ice, water and cider vinegar in a bowl. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the ice water into the flour and butter mixture, and using a stiff spatula or your hands, mix in well. Continue adding water a tablespoon at a time until you have a dough that holds together well, but is not too wet. Squeeze together with your fingertips to make a homogenous dough.
Shape into a rectangle and wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and rest in the fridge for an hour.
After the dough has rested for an hour, unwrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle, adding extra flour as needed (it doesn’t have to be perfect), and then dust off any excess flour and fold the dough in thirds like you were folding a letter. Roll out again into a rectangle, then repeat the folding process.
Re-wrap the dough and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes, then repeat the rolling and folding process two more times (for a total of four folds), then wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and leave to chill for at least a few hours, or ideally overnight.
Place the Regal Smoked Salmon, cream cheese, lemon juice, chives, salt, and pepper in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until smooth, scraping down the edges as needed and adjusting for seasoning if necessary. Transfer the filling into a piping bag or a ziplock bag.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pie dough into a large rectangle (at least 15”x16”—you want it to be able to fit 20 3”x4” rectangles). If you are worried about it getting too warm and soft, you can cut it in half and do this in two parts, or I like to roll it out and then cut it into two pieces and chill those briefly before cutting the smaller rectangles out.
Using a ruler and a sharp knife or pastry cutter, cut the pastry into 3" x 4" rectangles. You should get 20 rectangles. Place the cut rectangles carefully onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and refrigerate for 10 mins or freeze for 5 mins to help firm up the pastry slightly.
Remove the pastry rectangles from the fridge and match up into pairs. Lightly brush the edges of one piece of pastry with egg wash, then pipe a rectangle of the salmon mixture. Top with a second piece of pastry, pressing down lightly around the edges to seal, ensuring that there are no air bubbles.
Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, then use the tines of a fork to press down around the edges to help seal. Repeat with the remaining rectangles of pastry until all the hand pies are assembled.
Place the baking sheet in the freezer and freeze for 30-40 minutes, or until the dough becomes very firm. If you are planning on freezing them for a longer period of time, freeze solid then transfer to an airtight plastic bag.
While the pies are in the freezer, preheat the oven to 375°F. Remove the pies from the freezer. Using a sharp knife, cut two slits in the top of each pie, brush with egg wash, and sprinkle with everything seasoning.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the pies are deeply golden brown on the tops and bottoms (lift one up the check the bottom) Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers wrapped in foil at room temperature. Reheat in the oven to help keep the pastry crispy.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the milk, water, sugar, and yeast, and leave to stand for 5 minutes until foamy.
Add the egg, bread flour, all-purpose flour, milk powder, salt, and butter, and mix with the dough hook attachment on low speed until combined, 2-3 minutes, scraping down if the hook is having a hard time reaching any dry flour.
Increase the speed of the mixer to medium-high and mix the dough for 15 to 20 minutes, until it is smooth, supple, and is pulling away from the sides. It will go through stages where it looks like it will never come together—this is fine, just leave it to keep mixing and it will develop strength. It may not pull fully away from the sides but you will see that the gluten is developing and the dough generally moves as one mass. It will be very smooth and stretchy and will pass the windowpane test.
Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface, and shape into a tight ball. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave to proof in a warm place until doubled in size, which will take anywhere between 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into 12 pieces of equal weight. The dough should weigh about 600g so you want to shoot for 50g per piece. Weigh your dough first just to check and divide that number by 12 to work out your weight per ball.
Working with one piece of dough at a time, flatten out the piece of dough, then tuck up into a ball, then turn the ball seam side down and roll into a tight ball by cupping your hand to create a 'claw' shape, using the tension from the counter to roll the dough tightly. Place to the side and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, grouping the balls together on your counter with a little space between them so they don't touch.
Grease or line a 9"x13" pan.
Leave the dough balls to rest under the plastic for 10 minutes, then give them a quick re-roll to tighten the ball back up, and arrange in the prepared pan. There will be a little space between your dough balls.
Cover the pan with plastic and leave to rise in a warm spot for about an hour, until the dough balls are puffy and when poked gently, an indentation that slowly springs back is left.
When there is about 20 minutes to go on the second rising period of the rolls, preheat the oven to 375°F.
Brush the rolls with egg wash, and place in the oven. Bake uncovered for 15 to 18 minutes, until the rolls are evenly golden brown and register 190°F internal temperature on a thermometer (checking the internal temperature isn't super important, just bake until nice and golden brown).
When the rolls are done, remove from the oven. If serving immediately, brush with the garlic butter and sprinkle with extra flaky sea salt.
lPlace the butter and garlic into a small saucepan and place over medium low heat. Cook until the butter is melted, then cook for a further 1-2 minutes, stirring often, to infuse the butter and take the edge off the garlic.
Add a big pinch of salt, then stir to combine and use.
This can be made ahead and then just re-melted prior to use.