Butter vs. vegetable shortening: How they differ, how to swap and more

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There are some ingredients that will almost always raise questions when required in a recipe. Vegetable shortening is one of them. I have responded to inquiries from lots of readers who say they simply will not use it.

I do not blame them completely. After nearly a century of popularity, the tide turned to shortening in recent years. To convert vegetable oils to solid fats, they can undergo a process called partial hydrogenation, which changes their chemical structure. This process also creates trans fatty acids, which eventually turned out to be bad for you, especially in terms of cardiovascular health. Partially hydrogenated oils were found in shortening, as well as a number of other processed and restaurant foods. (Some objections to vegetable shortening also stem from the common ingredient in palm oil and the environmental consequences of harvesting it.)

In 2018, however, the Food and Drug Administration’s ban on artificial trans fatty acids came into force, although products are allowed to claim to be trans fat free if the amount is less than 0.5 grams per serving. portion. Crisco, labeled synonymous with shortening, changed its formula to use fully hydrogenated oil, while others, such as Nutiva and Spectrum, use non-hydrogenated oils. Remember that trans fatty acids occur naturally in dairy products and other products from ruminants (cows, sheep), however, generally at levels lower than 0.5 grams per. serving, according to the FDA.

Is shortening a health food? Of course not. But is it better for your health to use butter? Not necessarily, as butter poses its own set of dilemmas, including saturated fat and cholesterol. And it is worth noting that almost every time the issue of butter versus vegetable shortening arises, it is in the context of baked goods that we know we should eat as an occasional treat anyway.

So how do they stay from a culinary point of view? Here’s what you need to know about these two fats, including how they differ, whether they are interchangeable, and why you might still want both in your pantry.

Fun facts: Butter is also a form of shortening. As Harold McGee explains in “On Food and Cooking”, the term has since the beginning of the 19th century referred to “fats or oils that ‘shorten’ a dough or weaken its structure and thus make the final product more tender or scaly . ” That effect makes the difference between, for example, a butter-heavy shortbread that melts in your mouth and a loaf of bread with a stretchy, tough bite.

Butter is made after the cream has cooled and churned, causing the fat to begin to consolidate, after which the mixture is kneaded together and shaped. As I mentioned above, vegetable shortening is often dependent on the hydrogenation process, although others are formed through cycles of pressing, filtration and cooling.

Shortening is 100 percent fat, while American butter is closer to 80 percent fat, with 18 percent water and 1 to 2 percent milk solids.

In something like pie crust, fat is essential for soreness, by interfering with the formation of gluten. Gluten is formed when proteins in flour meet water, one of the reasons why you can get a slightly harder result with butter (more water) compared to shortening. Fat also contributes to peeling when it melts, leaving air pockets, says Lauren Chattman in “The Baking Answer Book.” With its higher amount of fat, “vegetable shortening incorporated into flour creates more air pockets when the crust bakes than butter,” she says. As King Arthur Baking also says, shortening will also help your crust to better keep its shape (more on that below), especially your beautiful shrinks.

How to use the smart, fatty butter in the best possible way

Putting butter and shortening for each other in pie bases developed with certain fats in mind can affect the taste and texture, as well as the amount of wiggle room you have before the fat starts to melt (shortening gives you a little more time). To take advantage of the best of both worlds, Chattman recommends 60 percent shortening and 40 percent butter to achieve “the flag and tastefully in just the right balance.” You will find a good example of a butter shortening combination in my colleague Olga Massov’s Cornish Pasties.

Abbreviation is neutral in taste. It is useful if you use it to lubricate a pan, for example. In dough or batter, a tasteless fat is not ideal. While Chattman acknowledges the benefit of cookies that spread less with shortening, “I would ask you to stick to butter,” which she says contributes its own flavor and enhances the flavor of other ingredients, such as chocolate.

What about butterfat fat? The reviews are mixed from my sources. In a 2007 test, tasters at Cook’s Country found the “artificial margarine” flavor of pie crust made with butter flavor Crisco deterrent (the “awful chemical aroma” under a french fries drove some out of the kitchen). Shirley Corriher would beg to be different. “The taste of butter-made cookies can be unique. Butter-flavored cookies can beat butter in blind tastings with some recipes, such as chocolate cakes,” she says in “BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking.” Your call!

Butter has at least one other flavor advantage thanks to these milk solids. As Kye Ameden explains in a comprehensive peek test at King Arthur Baking, the sugar in these milk solids caramelizes at high temperature (sugar and milk proteins also go together in the flavorful browning reaction known as Maillard, which occurs at a lower temperature than caramelization). This leads to the more improved browning Ameden observed, but can also provide additional complex flavors you would not get with pure vegetable fat.

The Maillard reaction: What it is and why it matters

Hydrogenation helps make shortening ideal for incorporation at room temperature, as it does not soften as quickly, McGee says. Air is best whipped into butter at cool room temperature, around 65 degrees, while “shortening creams most effectively at a warm room temperature, between 75 and 80” degrees, he says.

Similarly, once baked goods go in the oven, the difference in melting points is just as obvious. As my former colleague Jane Touzalin wrote: “Butter begins to melt before shortening does; a cookie made with butter will sink and become flat because its fat gives off before the structure of the cake has had a chance to set. Shortening melts at a higher temperature; when the melting begins, the cakes will have been in the oven longer and will be set to keep their shape better. ” You can see the power of vegetable shortening that helps cookies stay thick in these Billy Goats.

If you are particularly concerned about the buttercream on a cake becoming soft at warmer temperatures, consider adding a little shortening to the mixture. As a side benefit, trimming can help add a more radiant white hue to the frosting. Check out the way shortening is used in the filling for Classic Chocolate Whoopie Pies.

In addition to the melting point, there is at least one more major difference in how fat and shortening perform during cream treatment. Cream is an important step in baking, such as cookies or cookies that you want to leaven. The air pockets you form during cream formation expand during baking thanks to leavening agents (baking powder, baking powder, yeast) and evaporation of water.

Baking powder vs. baking powder: How are they different, which should be used when and more

As McGee explains, fats hang on these air pockets that are inserted on the back of sugar crystals that are wrapped around them. “Animal fats – butter and lard – tend to form large fat crystals that collect large air pockets that rise in the dough and escape. Vegetable fats are made to contain small fat crystals that trap small air bubbles and these bubbles stay in the dough. ” In addition, shortening is due to the cream because it is pumped with small bubbles of nitrogen, giving you ready-made air pockets that are ripe for expansion.

These benefits are the reason why some cake recipes, such as Joy Wilson’s Grandmother’s Pound Cake, require shortening and butter. The shortening helps to make the cake particularly high and tender. Changing in butter can lead to a squatter cake with a less velvety crumb.

Are butter and shortening interchangeable?

At this point, it should be pretty clear that butter and vegetable shortening are not necessarily an easy one-on-one change, at least not without triggering changes in the end result of a recipe. Before making a change, make sure you understand their functional differences. In some ways, shortening is more of a problem solver than butter. Mixing a little in a butter recipe will not dramatically damage the taste, but can do enough to improve texture, shape and stability. You are more likely to swap butter for shortening, that it causes problems other than solving them, other than adding more robust flavor. If you do, pay particular attention to the temperature-related differences.

My suggestion: Consider continuing to shorten for the recipes that require it, and for times when you find yourself struggling with an all-butter recipe. Shortening also has a long shelf life, at least a year (or more, depending on your point of view) at room temperature. It is at least very useful for lubricating pans. But at some point, you may find yourself using it for more than that.

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