is better—butter, oil, or shortening?
We admit to a prejudice
for butter. We love the flavor of butter and we avoid the hydrogenation
in shortening. By melting butter, we can substitute butter for oil in
most bread product recipes—though we admit to making plenty of
muffins with oil instead of butter. Butter, oil, or shortening--what
are the advantages of each?
There are some products—many
pastries for example—where only butter will do. We would hate
to be without olive oil in some of our breads. (Olive oil is a healthier
oil that we like to use where the flavor is appropriate.) But in many
baked goods, you can choose which fat product you want in your breads,
cookies, or muffins.
and Quick Breads
You can make lighter
muffins by creaming the butter or shortening with the sugar since you
are entraining air into the mixture that will help the muffins rise
during baking. Muffins made by the creaming method—with either
butter or shortening--tend to be lighter.
to make a light, tender crumb. You can substitute part of the shortening
with butter to retain some of the butter flavor.
Muffins made with
oil will keep longer. If you are using the muffin method of mixing,
oil is convenient.
Which makes for
the better muffin? That depends on the recipe—some recipes tend
to work better with one than the other.
that the recipe developer made the best choice. The developer may have
started with butter, made an acceptable product, and never tested further.
If you are not perfectly happy with your recipe, try substituting. You
can always substitute oil for butter and vice versa.
If you are making
breads outside of a bread machine, you have a lot of latitude. Melted
butter can be substituted for oil. You will get the flavor of butter
with most of the tenderizing effect of oil. Unless you use unsalted
butter, the butter will add a touch more salt but it’s unlikely
that you will be able to tell. Breads made with oil tend to keep a little
If you use melted
butter, let it cool until it is warm to the touch. Hot butter--above
140 degrees--will kill yeast upon contact. If you are adding enough
warm butter to affect the dough temperature, the heat will accelerate
the yeast growth.
We use olive oil
in nearly all of our savory breads—it adds a rich flavor that
is incomparable. We keep our olive oil refrigerated to stay as fresh
as possible. But cold olive oil creates the opposite problem of hot
butter—it will lower the dough temperature and retard the growth
of yeast. If we’re not pushing the clock, we don’t mind.
A slower growth of yeast creates a little different nuance of flavors
that we like. We usually stick the bottle of oil in a bowl of warm water
until it is viscous enough to pour.
Switching fat ingredients
in the bread machine is a different story. There just isn’t much
margin for error in a bread machine. When the timer goes off, the bread
is going to bake—ready or not.
or hydration (the amount of liquid) will affect the rise time. yeast
growth is very sensitive to temperature. Hot melted butter or cold oil
will give very different results. Whether using melted butter or oil,
the temperature should be between 80 and 100 degrees for most recipes.
All else being equal,
a soft bread dough—one made softer with more moisture--will rise
more quickly than a stiffer dough. A little bit more or less water will
make quite a difference—enough of a difference to spell success
or failure in your bread machine. (Always measure water carefully and
make sure that your measuring cup is accurate. We continue to be amazed
at the number of measuring cups on the market that are substantially
inaccurate. Test yours at different levels to make sure that it is accurate.)
Margarine has a water content of about 15%--but differs significantly
with different brands--and may affect the hydration of the dough.
We have heard reports
from Iraq and Afghanistan of soldiers using squeeze bottles of liquid
margarine with our bread machine mixes. They may be tinkering with the
water amount just a bit but we haven’t heard of them doing so.
easily substitute butter for oil or shortening in most cookie recipes.
Most cookie recipes require creaming the sugar and butter or shortening
together so using oil is not an option. We’ve substituted butter
for shortening in recipes. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes it works in a 50--50 split.
In general though,
cookies made with shortening tend to be crisper, cookies made with butter
tend to be softer and spread more, and cookies made with butter tend
to brown easier.
Much of baking is
trial and error. We hope this gives you the freedom to do a little experimenting
and the guidelines for doing so. You might just make that favorite treat
Fats and Oils” is a food storage bulletin that will tell you
how to store your oils so that they will be fresh and healthy when you
Troubleshooting Cookie Guide” will help you experiment with
your cookies. If you would like the entire cookie guide, it is available
for download—free—by clicking the above link.