What Is Shortening And How Do You Use It In Baking?

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Butter, shortening, lard, cocoa butter, margarine-all of these are used in baking, but if you've ever encountered a recipe that called specifically for shortening, don't be discouraged if you don't have it on hand. If you're unsure if butter or margarine would be a good substitute, it is. You can easily sub shortening out and use butter or margarine in many recipes. But there are times when you shouldn't because the resulting baked good won't be the same.

But first, what exactly is shortening?

Just like butter, shortening is a fat and is interchangeable with butter in most baking recipes. In fact, it's more similar to lard in consistency because it's basically a fat that remains a solid even at room temperature. That's why it doesn't have to be refrigerated unlike butter, which will melt at room temperature. Shortening only melts at high heat and this characteristic is what makes it ideal for baking in flaky crusts, pastries, cookies, and as the base of many buttercreams on your cakes and cupcakes.


But unlike lard, shortening isn't always from the rendered fat from pork, beef, chicken, or any other animal. The most common shortening, in fact, is vegetable shortening. This general term can mean it can contain a number of oils, from coconut oil to palm oil to soybean oil. It's processed to have no water content, resulting in a fat that is completely a fat. That's what makes it fantastic replacement for butter in baking recipes.


However, one of the biggest downsides of vegetable shortening is that it's flavorless. Butter cookies, for example, require butter, not just for the fat, but also for its flavor. Replacing the butter with shortening will result in cookies that are less than tasty. This is easily remedied by using shortening that has flavor added to it which is why butter-flavored shortening was developed.

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So don't be discouraged when a recipe calls for shortening. Be bold and get your hands on some because here are more reasons why shortening is a great butter and margarine substitute:



 Shortening is a complete fat, so there is no steaming from any water evaporating as it bakes.

This reduces the instances of soggy crusts and results in flakey, crispy edges. Perfect for making flakey pie crusts and cookies.


 Shortening melts at a higher temperature, so unlike butter, the formed dough will stay high longer and not melt so quickly.

Your cookies will be one with height with little spread. Cookies made with butter, when not chilled before baking, will result in flat cookies with a bigger spread. 


 Shortening, unlike butter, has a higher smoke point.

Shortening is an easy substitute for lard when deep frying. You can't easily use butter in sautéed recipes as it easily smokes. But use shortening, especially one that's flavored with butter, and it will be like you were using butter.


 Vegetable shortening is made from vegetable oil.

This makes it vegan, and that alone makes it especially important for those with diet restrictions. So, yes, you can have your cookies, cakes, and other baked goods and like it, without the worry. 


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May 14, 2014

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