The best fats for holiday baking

6 Dec

One of the frequent questions we receive at the Extension Service is “Why use vegetable shortening instead of butter, or margarine instead of shortening when baking goods?” To answer this question, I use the information below, which helps people decide what fat to use or how to substitute one for another.

  • Butter and stick margarines are best for baking cookies and cakes; they make products tenderer, and give pie crusts that beautiful golden brown color.  Butter contains some cholesterol, but it also contains some calcium, potassium and lots of Vitamin A. The melting point of butter is just about at body temperature, which is why it has such a wonderful “mouth feel.”   cookies
  • Vegetable shortening is made from vegetable oils. To make it a solid fat, these oils have been “hydrogenated,” chemically treated to change their polyunsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids. It is used for such things as butter cream icings.
  • Lard its significantly lower in saturated fat than butter. The best lard is known as “leaf” lard which comes from the fat around the kidneys of a pig. It tends to be milder in flavor and more homogenous in texture. It works well in biscuits and pie crusts; you can’t find anything better for frying doughnuts.
  • Liquid fats are oils that come primarily from plants: seeds, nuts and vegetables. Choose an oil like olive oil that has a high percentage of polyunsaturated and/or monounsaturated fats, however, its flavor usually isn’t suitable for baking. Liquid fats won’t provide any structure in your cookie, cake or pie but it will enhance the texture of sandwich breads, muffins, and quick breads. 
  • Margarine like whipped butter, can’t be used successfully as a solid-fat substitute in baking.

I always want to find the right balance between a great tasting baked good and making a healthy choice for myself and my family. Visit for great holiday baking recipes!

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