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Butter vs. Vegetable Shortening


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I just received a 1953 edition of Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book. I have to make cupcakes for a wedding this weekend and was looking up various cupcake recipes in my "new" cook book. I noticed the cupcake recipes call for shortening instead of butter.

Does anyone know which turns out better? or what the differences are?

Thank you!

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I just received a 1953 edition of Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book.  I have to make cupcakes for a wedding this weekend and was looking up various cupcake recipes in my "new" cook book.  I noticed the cupcake recipes call for shortening instead of butter. 

Does anyone know which turns out better? or what the differences are?

Thank you!

Cookies made with butter spread more in the oven.

Cookies made with shortening seem to retain their crispness longer.

There are certain advantages to each and this has been debated by cooks and bakers for 50 or 60 years.

I just know that there are some cookies I make with butter and some I make with shortening. In all of these cases I have tried both and I came to the conclusion that the recipe authors knew what they were doing when they composed the recipe.

This site has answers and advice.

Also, certain ingredients have a significant effect. Sugar will keep any bakery item moist and will retard staling. If you can't use sugar, you have to make some adjustments. Oatmeal helps retain moisture - it is the nature of the grain. If you use a sugar substitute - grind some dry oatmeal (or steel-cul oats are even better) in a blender until nearly flour-like in texture. Substitute this as part of the flour, up to 1/4. You will have a result closer to the original and really won't taste the oatmeal.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Each has their place in baking, and I'm certainly no shortening-phobe, but one thing that just about everyone will agree on is that butter is vastly superior in terms of flavor, especially in recipes where butter is a major component, like in puff pastry

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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I might be talking out of my butt here, but I think I remember some things that I've read about cookbooks in that day and age.

I'm a collector of those old cookbooks......that feature some of the worst food photography known to man. The old obsessions with Jello molds and molded salads, and more things you could do with weenies than you could shake a stick at. The era of "Regrettable Food" as referenced by James Lileks. I'm a huge fan.

I remember reading somewhere that cookbooks at the time focused on using shortening, because it was (and still is) cheaper than butter. It doesn't strike me that people were overly obsessed with taste at the time, because, well, look what else they were eating!!! The housewife of the 50's was more concerned about feeding her family cheaply, rather than well.

I truly think the recipes in your 1950's cookbook have no other reason for having shortening in them other than it was the trend at the time. Remember too, that there were no health scares about fatty diets, trans fats, high cholesterol or any of that then either. :smile:

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I certainly agree with Patrick - Not only in puff pastry but in Danish pastry, in crossiants and other goodies. In fact, I am presently making some whole-wheat shortbread, using the Kerrygold Irish butter (found a place that will ship it in one-pound blocks) and whole-wheat pastry flour.

Butter is the ONLY thing to use in this context.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I might be talking out of my butt here, but I think I remember some things that I've read about cookbooks in that day and age.

I'm a collector of those old cookbooks......that feature some of the worst food photography known to man. The old obsessions with Jello molds and molded salads, and more things you could do with weenies than you could shake a stick at. The era of "Regrettable Food" as referenced by James Lileks. I'm a huge fan.

I remember reading somewhere that cookbooks at the time focused on using shortening, because it was (and still is) cheaper than butter. It doesn't strike me that people were overly obsessed with taste at the time, because, well, look what else they were eating!!! The housewife of the 50's was more concerned about feeding her family cheaply, rather than well.

I truly think the recipes in your 1950's cookbook have no other reason for having shortening in them  other than it was the trend at the time. Remember too, that there were no health scares about fatty diets, trans fats, high cholesterol or any of that then either. :smile:

Actually it wasn't so much the substitution of BUTTER that was the concern back then for most home bakers. Butter was expensive (we weren't that long out of the depression and butter was rationed in WWII) and margarine was still iffy, in fact it was still sold in bags, uncolored and with a food colorant "bubble" which one had to massage into the white goop.

If you check many cookbooks printed in the 40s and 50s you will see that many of the cake recipes were made with LARD. Charleston Receipts is an anomaly because almost all the recipes it contains were from an earlier era when butter was less expensive and for farm families, homemade.

In fact, some of these cookbooks have instructions for beating lard (by hand, no less) in a bowl set in icy water which would have the effect of making it more fluffy and whiter because of the air incorporated into the mass.

Many homemakers found shortening to be an acceptable substitute and the fact that it did not become rancid rapidly (as did lard) and the cakes and cookies had a texture similar to those made with butter, was a plus for them.

Butter may seem expensive to us today, but if you consider the price in relationship to take-home salaries in those years, it was far more costly back then.

I remember well the early '50s when butter was 60 cents a pound while a dozen eggs was just 29 cents, a loaf of bread was 14 cents and a pound of "ground round" was 35 cents. (I have a newspaper with a grocery ad with these prices.)

When you consider that the average annual salary for a single earner household was less than 3000.00 that is a significant cost for an ordinary family.

At one time margarine was half the cost of butter, the prices have gotten closer together over the years and now the price of margarine is only about 30% less than the price of store brand butter. Of course, the premium butters are more expensive.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I have been experimenting a lot with butter, shortening and different oils in my cake recipes. It all depends on the type of cake, but sometimes one is better than the others. I like to use oils, such as canola or nut oils, in nut cakes (almond cake for example) or cakes that have to be refrigerated due to the fillings and icings. Oil does not harden up like butter and shortening when cold and so your cake is edible straight from the fridge. Oil also seems to make a cake more moist and for longer. It also keeps permeating the nuts or grains (cornmeal), making the cakes better the next day, and thereafter.

Alton Brown did an episode on yellow buttercakes and used shortening in his recipe. He says that with either butter flavoring added or butter flavored shortening, you can actually get more of a butter taste than actual butter in a cake recipe. Shortening is 100% fat, butter is 80% fat, leaving the other 20% to liquids and other solids, but mostly water. So I guess you could say that with shortening, you are getting about 20% more fat in the recipe, which is always a good thing, except for your waist.

I use butter for most of my recipes, just because I have a love relationship with it, but even in my meringue frostings, I am beginning to add a bit of shortening for not only stability, but also for mellowing out the pure butter taste a bit.

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I just can't abide the way shortening coats my tongue. There is no melt-in-your-mouth sensation with shortening the way there is with butter, and I find that, because shortening has no flavor, I fail to see any trade-off based on texture. Then, of course, there's the whole trans-fat thing going on with shortening. Oil, on the other hand, is healthful (depending on the type used) in addition to its ability to lend moistness to baked items.

Butter was expensive in the 50's, but my grandmother still used it, along with lard, as a staple in her baking. She was raised on a farm and could never get used to the whole Spry or Crisco thing.

I like to use butters with higher fat (and less moisture) especially in pie crusts, where many people use shortening to get a flaky texture. I've had great success using higher fat butters in that way.

As for adding butter flavor to a recipe using shortening...what's the point? Use two unnatural products for what purpose? When one bakes with butter it's not so there is a distinct, loud, butter flavor...it's for the overall, balanced flavor of the baked product, which I think is in no way enhanced by tasting like some kind of concentrated "butter" flavor.

Eileen

Edited by etalanian (log)

Eileen Talanian

HowThe Cookie Crumbles.com

HomemadeGourmetMarshmallows.com

As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

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Pie crust? Unless I am baking for people who have dietary restrictions, religious or otherwise, I use lard.

This has always produced the flakiest and most tender pie crust for me. However, I do render my own or buy the lard that is produced in small batches by specialty producers.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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At one time margarine was half the cost of butter, the prices have gotten closer together over the years and now the price of margarine is only about 30% less than the price of store brand butter.  Of course, the premium butters are more expensive.

Here I can buy Imperial Margarine for $.50/lb and the cheapest store brand butter is $2.50. LOL is about $3.00/lb. (That's the best we get around here.) Although I much prefer baking with butter, I test some recipes with margarine or half and half and then make the "real thing" with all butter. Do you have "fancy" margarine in your area? :laugh:

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I just can't abide the way shortening coats my tongue. There is no melt-in-your-mouth sensation with shortening the way there is with butter, and I find that, because shortening has no flavor, I fail to see any trade-off based on texture. Then, of course, there's the whole trans-fat thing going on with shortening. Oil, on the other hand, is healthful (depending on the type used) in addition to its ability to lend moistness to baked items.

Yes, yes, and yes. Shrotening has no place in my baking at all. It is horrible tasting and has that icky tongue coating thing that never goes away for the next hour. I would use butter instead of shortening in any recipe that asks for it. I've never had a problem, and made a much better tasting product.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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And I use shortening or margarine in certain recipes all the time.

Mostly it's an issue of needing the final product to be non-dairy.

Some recipes I find, are better with shortening. That's not to say that all recipes that call for butter can use shortening/margarine instead. But I think there is a place for it.

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Some recipes I find, are better with shortening.  That's not to say that all recipes that call for butter can use shortening/margarine instead.  But I think there is a place for it.

I agree. Using some shortening (especially the hi-ratio shortening) in pie crusts makes them so flakey. If you want a pristine white cake, use shortening. There is a place for it at times.

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I just purchased a baking book utilizing palm fruit shortening, which supposedly has less trans fat than other vegetable shortening, and is different than palm oil. Anyone played with this type of oil/shortening?

Like Rodney, I like oil-based cakes (like chiffon) because you can store them in the fridge without drying the crumb out too much. I use Enova oil, which is flavorless and somehow less fatty than other vegetable oils.

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