Shortening vs. butter in baking: Making your best baked goods

Vegetable shortening can be a mysterious ingredient. I’d never plunged my spatula into the cloud-like stuff until a few months ago when I was baking in the test kitchen. Growing up, I always reached for a trusty kitchen staple instead: butter. But recently as I whipped up batches of cookies and a plethora of pies, I began to wonder about the difference between using shortening vs. butter in baking.
Shortening vs. butter in baking via @kingarthurflour

The ingredients

Butter

Butter is a familiar ingredient. We know it comes from cows, and it’s delicious on toast. It’s made by churning fresh or fermented cream, and then separating solids from the liquid (which is then sold as buttermilk). It’s about 80% butterfat, plus 18% water and 1% to 2% milk solids.

Shortening

Shortening on the other hand is a bit more complicated, starting with the name. “Shortening” actually refers to all fats and oils, but what we’re talking about here is hydrogenated vegetable oil shortening (such as Crisco).

This kind of shortening is typically made from soybean, cottonseed, or palm oil. It goes through a special process called hydrogenation so it remains semi-solid at room temperature. It’s 100% fat, unlike butter.

Even though these ingredients are clearly different, shortening and butter are often used interchangeably in recipes with acceptable results. But if you’re looking to make the very best baked goods, like so many of us King Arthur Flour bakers, which should you use?

Shortening vs. butter: the ingredient to reach for depends on what you’re baking. Click To Tweet

Shortening vs. butter in baking via @kingarthurflour

Cookies

If you’ve ever had a tray of cookies morph into one huge mess in the oven, it’s time to listen up.

Cookies made with butter, especially high-sugar recipes, tend to be flatter and crispier than cookies made with shortening. Because of butter’s low melting point, the dough tends to spread during baking before the structure sets.

To see just how different the spread would be, I baked two batches of our Self-Rising Crunchy Sugar Cookies (one made with all butter, one with all shortening), for another shortening vs. butter in baking comparison.

As predicted, the cookies made with shortening spread less and remained slightly rounded, thanks to the higher melting point. These cookies had what’s called a “short” texture. You might recognize this slightly sandy, crumbly feel as the characteristic texture of shortbread. (Yum.)

If you’re having problems with cookies spreading, you might try replacing some of the butter with shortening. Keep in mind this is just one reason why cookies spread; there’s a multitude of factors you can adjust if you’re committed to using butter for its rich flavor.

A quick fix? Consider chilling your butter-based cookie dough to help control spread (and bonus, you’ll also experience a wonderful depth of flavor, too!).Shortening vs. butter in baking via @kingarthurflour

Cake

What about cake? We know shortening adds tenderness since it’s 100% fat, so some of us curious bakers started wondering what would happen if it was used to make cake.

Would the cake rise in the oven? Or would it collapse? Would it have a large crumb? We needed to find out!

Our Back-to-Basics Moist Yellow Cake was the recipe of choice for this experiment — it’s a standard butter cake that uses a cup of fat. One cake was baked using all butter, while shortening was the fat of choice in the other.

The result? The difference between shortening vs. butter was underwhelming when judged by appearance alone. The height was comparable, as were the color and crumb.

The texture of the cake made with shortening, however was quite pleasant — tender, lofty, and light. When shortening is creamed with sugar, it traps air molecules, which helps to leaven cakes and make them tender. A fork slides through a slice of shortening-based cake easier than one made with butter.

You might be thinking, then why don’t more cake recipes call for shortening?

Flavor. What’s a cake if it doesn’t taste great? The rich creaminess of a classic butter cake is hard to replace.

Shortening vs. butter in baking via @kingarthurflour

Buttercream frosting

It might seem like butter would be the obvious choice when making buttercream frosting, and if you’re going for best flavor, it’s a worthy option.

But shortening might have its place in your frosting recipe too. Because it’s 100% fat, it helps make buttercream more stable than an all-butter buttercream, which can begin to separate at warm temperatures.

It’s a sad sight to see a beautifully piped cake wilt in the sun as the baker stands by watching helplessly. We replicated hot, summery conditions (when so many of us cake bakers are called upon) by putting frosted cupcakes in a low oven for 10 minutes.

The results were drastic: the all-butter buttercream melted and spread down the sides of the cupcake, while the buttercream made with shortening held its shape.

But you trade stability for flavor.

So if heat isn’t a problem, you might want to stick with a Classic Buttercream recipe.

Shortening vs. butter in baking via @kingarthurflour

Making the choice: shortening vs. butter in baking

It’s clear that both shortening and butter have their virtues and vices. They can both be used to make delicious, tender baked goods that are full of flavor and richness.

There might be certain cases when it just makes more sense to use butter, like in a classic cake perhaps. There are other times when a can of Crisco is now the thing I reach for: when making pie crust, frosting, and even sandwich cookie filling.

The virtue of butter vs. shortening is a passionate topic for many bakers, and we explore both here for their distinctive baking qualities. Each baker brings unique needs and perspectives to the table, and it’s our sincere hope everyone will choose ingredients that best embrace their personal goals.

Interested in more baking science? Check out our post on cookie chemistry, covering how to attain the perfect bendy/chewy/crisp/crunchy cookie texture you want!

A special thanks to fellow employee-owner Nic Doak for taking the photos for this blog.

Kye Ameden
About

Kye Ameden grew up in Fairlee, Vermont and has always had a love of food, farms, and family. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, she became an employee-owner at King Arthur Flour and is a proud member of the Digital Engagement Team.

comments

  1. MartinB

    It might be worth mentioning the enormous contribution to rainforest deforestation made by palm oil plantations and the huge amount of green-washed palm oil that masquerades as ‘sustainable’. Maybe it could also be a factor worth considering before using a shortening made from palm oil.

    Reply
    1. Roy Joned

      Yes, and add to that: soy is mostly GMO. So you’re killing yourself as well as the planet with shortening.

    2. Barbara

      My mother had always used crisco in her pie crusts. I of course learned from her so I still do the same; although I have tried KAF butter recipe.

    3. Judith DiBiase Bennis

      Not to mention that palm oil is high in saturated fat. PLUs, think about the fact that Crisco (and it’s ilk) were invented as airplane lubricants. How about lard? It’s natural and high in vitamin A.

    4. Nance

      I will use a tablespoon of veg shortening may use corn oil for the fat. Low fat recipes cut butter in 1/2 and add 4 oz of apple sauce. Light moist but use lower temperature

  2. Denise

    My mother always made her buttercream with shortening. Not sure what she did, but it tasted great. She was a professional cake decorator and everyone raved. I wonder if my sis has her recipe. I am definitely going to try using some shortening in my holiday sugar cookies. Great suggestions here.

    Reply
    1. JOAN

      I WAS BORN AND RAISED ON CRISCO FOR EVERYTHING. OVER THE YEARS I HAVE SWITCHED TO BUTTER. AFTER RECENT HEART SURGERY AND HEART REHAB WE WERE PREACHED TO WHAT TO EAT AND NOT TO EAT. THE WHITE SOLID HYDROGENATED FATS ARE NOT GOOD FOR HEARTS IF WHAT THEY SAY. I KNOW THAT WILTON RECIPE FOR FROSTING USES CRISCO. IT IS NOT WORTH MORE SURGERY TO ME SO I WILL STICK WITH THE BUTTER, FLATTER COOKIES, ETC. LOL. JUST A THOUGHT WHEN SWITCHING AND YOU MIGHT CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR.

    2. Margie

      I have been wondering which is better health-wise.
      Crisco, these days, has 0 trans fat and 16% saturated fat, so that seems better than butter’s 36% saturated fat/ 0 trans fat.

  3. Debi

    For those of us who cannot use dairy products for a variety of reasons, shortening is a necessary option. I would be interested in reading a post on shortening versus other non dairy options such as earth’s balance or margarine. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden , post author

      Thanks for the suggestion, Debi. We compared the results of baking with butter, vegan butter (Earth balance), and coconut oil in our blog called Fat substitutes in gluten-free baking, which you might be interested in reading. Our findings apply to all kinds of baking, not just gluten-free. We think it could be interesting to include shortening in this comparison next time. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Zira

      Those of us allergic to soy, have to stick to butter. Easily found shortening is all made with soy. I can’t walk into bakeries anymore…a huge disappointment.

  4. Kelly Jamieson

    Pie crust with shortening is tasteless. My Mom always made it that way..great flakiness but downright yucky.Any ideas ?

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden , post author

      Kelly, try using half shortening and half butter to make your pie crusts. The butter will contribute a lovely flavor while the shortening will make it more stable. You can also consider using butter-flavored shortening to see if you find this flavor more appealing. I hope that helps! Kye@KAF

    2. Larraine Claudio

      I agree Kelly, why have toxins with no taste. And in regards to the cookies, I disagree with the picture of the cookies. I only use butter, and my famous molasses gingersnaps and snickerdoodles have that same look as the shortening cookies shown on this blog. (nice plump perfect texture). Possibly the receipe was whipped too long. I am sticking with butter (no pun intended).

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Larraine, it’s true that it’s possible to achieve puffy cookies made with butter by chilling your cookie dough and using a recipe that is designed to produce this texture. (The leaveners and ratio of sugar to flour will help them remain tall.) As for the cookies in the photo, the dough was mixed for the same amount of time with both the shortening and butter batches; the only variable was the difference in fat. If you’ve found a prefer fat and cookie recipes that work for you, that’s great! That’s just what we’re hoping for. Kye@KAF

  5. Brigid

    One thing you do not mention is the issue of using trans fats, which are linked to heart disease. The FDA made a determination in 2013 that trans fats, found in partially hydrogenated oils, are no longer generally recognized as safe. There is still research being done on the matter, but considering the rise in heart disease in this country, it is an important issue which should be noted.

    Reply
    1. Gloria Todd

      Excellent comment! You beat me to it. I will never use shortening in baking/cooking again, except to grease a pan. For pie crust, you can’t beat good, old lard. High quality, non-hydrogenated lard is available through some health food stores and online. It makes the best and tastiest crust. Worried about the health qualities of lard? Look online for “health benefits of lard”. Remember, the lard sold in grocery stores is almost always hydrogenated (for shelf life) and should be avoided.

    2. Julie

      Conventional shortening no longer has trans-fats. Check the label. In my opinion the new formulation tastes terrible and makes dough that is less flaky so I will be switching back to butter and lard. My grandmother and mother used lard. Their piecrusts were awesome. Any grocery store with a “Mexican Food” section should have lard because it is used to make torillas. Lard is shelf-stable.

    3. Tammy Spencer

      That’s why I’ll compromise on some of butter’s shortcomings (no pun intended) instead of using shortening. I avoid using any trans fat products as much as possible.

    4. Jeanne

      I agree with you regarding the trans fats. Is there a substitute for shortening that doesn’t contain trans fats

    5. Nicole

      I agree shortening is a terrible health risk. And for those of us with soy allergies we can’t use regular shortening as its main ingredient is soybean oil . In light of that I have been using the Spectrum brand of shortening. It is a non-hydrogenated organic all vegetable shortening the only ingredient is Palm oil. It is much firmer at room temperature so handles well in pie crust and is soft enough to be used in any type of cookie or cake. I would say the results are indistinguishable from regular shortening. Although I’m not sure I agree with the claims it’s healthy it certainly is less health risky than regular shortening.

    6. louise thompson

      Absolutely! In case you missed it, trans fats are killers of the epithelial cells lining vascular tissue. How in the heck is ANY company, much less this one, advocating trans fats????!!!

    7. The Baker's Hotline

      Louise, it was our hope to illustrate how these two ingredients behave while baking different recipes. We encourage bakers to choose the ingredients they’re most comfortable using and to always bake in ways that align with their personal preferences and dietary needs. Kye@KAF

  6. Elianna Quatro

    I totally agree – sometimes you truly want the texture shortening lends. That’s where butter-flavor shortening has come in for us. When my husband and I were dating, two of his brothers had milk allergies. I was able to bake nearly all of my specialties without losing too much flavor, simply by using butter-flavored shortening. It seem sis fake, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden , post author

      Butter-flavored shortening is a great option for those who need to bake dairy-free! A bakers gotta bake… Kye@KAF

  7. Viv

    I switched from butter to half butter/half butter-flavored Crisco in my favorite cookie recipe years ago. It really made a worthwhile difference in my cookies’ texture, and using butter-flavor Crisco meant there was little to no change in the great taste. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden , post author

      That’s a great point, Viv. Butter-flavored shortening is often a good option if you want some of the holding power of shortening plus the delicious creamy flavor of butter. Thanks for bringing this up, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. Kye Ameden , post author

      We’re happy to talk biscuits, anytime Vic! We love the flakiness and rich flavor that comes from using butter in biscuits. Also, people don’t tend to mind if your biscuits are a bit slumped or not quite shaped perfectly: it’s more about flavor. We’d say choose butter, but if you decide to experiment, feel free to share your results with us! Kye@KAF

  8. Kim

    I learned a hard lesson on shortening a year or so ago: Don’t bother with the cheaper, off-brand shortening. I buy 90% of my groceries at Aldi and I needed shortening so I bought their brand. NEVER again. It was still soft in my pie crusts after being in the fridge for hours and my buttercream frosting melted in my hands while I was trying to decorate a cake. (The cake wasn’t for a special event so I didn’t need perfection.) I did my best to use up the remainder in snickerdoodle cookies. I will always buy Crisco from now on and I ordered high ratio shortening online for buttercream frosting.

    Reply
  9. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez

    You follow disappointing me…abandoned the breads??? Y only compilations and not more bread recipes anymore??? Where are the bakers??????

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Ricardo, don’t give up – holiday time in the States is ALL about sweets, but we do have four yeast posts scheduled over the next three weeks and trust me, you’ll see more yeast-based blog posts come the new year. PJH

  10. Lyle

    You owe readers the full truth on shortening. It may have some convenient qualities but with huge health risks. Hydrogenated oils are horrible for you even in small amounts. A comparison article like this should include the health implications so readers can make an informed choice.

    Reply
    1. TC

      I’d like to second Lyles concerns.

      I am a novice baker and when making pie crust I use butter and Crisco brand Solid Coconut Oil.

      I have read the label and it doesn’t say
      ” hydrogenated ” on it but I still wonder just how it is made.

      While I understand this isn’t a health blog , maybe you could do a Crisco Shortening vs Solid Coconut Oil comparison ( or other alternatives ) ?

      And include the health concerns / benefits that some of us are concerned about…….

      Thanks

    2. Cali

      I second this! I scrolled to check the blog. Our bodies did not evolve to readily break down a fat product that has had non naturally occurring hydrogen molecule infusion.

    3. Lyle

      Per serving but that just means for the little amount in a serving there is just under .5g trans fat. No amount of trans fat from hydrogenated oil is okay for you. It’s important to understand that. It’s still your choice to use products with this ingredient.

  11. sandy

    I decided that this was the year I was going to learn to make really good pie. I focused on the crust first. I tried many things – all butter, oil, all shortening, etc. In the end the best combo for me was a 60% shortening and 40% butter ratio. I had to cut back on the water (I was using a 100% shortening recipe) just a little because the butter has some water in it. The dough is easy to work with, holds its shape when baked, and has the nice taste of butter. Having baked 18 pies since the beginning of September I am happy to say I am finally pleased with my pie crusts. Also, the videos here at KAF and the KAF baker’s hot line helped a lot. I was having trouble rolling my dough out, but the video showing how to roll pie dough was very helpful. Rolling out dough… Seems like such a simple thing to do, but I was not doing it well. The video helped a lot.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Aline, wait about 5-10 minutes depending on how warm your kitchen is. You should be able to roll it out easily but your dough should still feel cold to the touch. Happy pie baking! Kye@KAF

  12. Lee

    Thanks for an interesting post. I am a big butter fan, but find there are some things where you get much better texture with at least partial shortening, such as with pie crust or snicker-doodles. I stopped eating vegetable shortening a few years back because, in my opinion, it is an unnatural, processed food that is not healthy. I have been using organic lard instead, and it has worked great. You may want to include info on the lard option for those who use it, though I understand it is not for everyone.

    Reply
  13. Expat

    We don’t use hydrogenated fats in any food preparation due to health and environmental concerns, but shortening in the form of lard has a special place in the pantry. The best pie crust is made with 80% lard and 20% butter, and a homemade donut fried in lard is a treat not to be missed.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Many bakers like to use the logic, “Grandma knows best!” to guide their baking. You’re welcome to try making a batch of dough with lard and make a second with shortening to see which you prefer. For that matter you could even include butter in your experiment if you’re really trying to find the best overall flavor and texture. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  14. Betsyros

    I never use shortening. For me baking is all about taste and butter is the ultimate. And more importantly, health considerations should trump all. Why be ingesting a product that clogs your arteries?

    Reply
  15. Wolf

    The only thing hydrogenated vegetable shortening is used for in my household is making vegan soap bars. I use butter for any food product requiring a shortening content. The hydrogenation process makes shortening very unhealthy. In this instance, Mother Nature really does know best.

    Reply
  16. Lynn Celing

    My sister and I. ALWAYS use 100% butter in cookie recipes and get rave reviews and repeated requests for cookies, especially at Christmas.. Everyone comments how great they taste. One trick we do is refrigerate the dough after mixing for several hours or overnight before baking. Sometimes even rechilling during the baking process. This solves the spreading problem with butter. The flavor is awesome and appearance is good. I’d burn in hell if I used shortening in my Swedish Grandma’s Spritz Cookie recipe. Would never use shortening in cookies because it tastes disgusting, even the butter flavored ones, and the health risks of hydrogenated oils are serious. Butter is basically 100% natural, shortening is man made with a chemical process. If God wanted me to eat shortening, he would have created it.

    Reply
  17. Jan Hines

    The huge risks of Crisco need to be clearly stated by KAF! The deforestation and health issues are clear. Of course there are health issues with too much butter too, but at least it’s closer to real food. Spectrum makes a shortening that is NOT hydrogenated AND uses palm oil (organic) that is pressed in an environmentally sustainable manner. The ingredient list reads: “mechanically pressed organic palm oil”. That’s it.
    Of course it is not as cheap as crisco BUT I wish KAF could uphold a few environmental considerations as well as how they are owned! I have never responded to a blog but I feel we must hold those we trust (KAF) to higher standards. This is one of the few in the world of baking!!!! You use pure vanilla. You source many (not sure I can say all) of your flavors naturally, so PLEASE let’s take this BIG BAKING CHALLENGE to the best level for us and our world!

    Reply
    1. TrisJ

      I love ❤️ Spectrums shortening and it works amazingly! I’m glad someone else brought this product up. Crisp isn’t the only contender out there for shortening and definitely aren’t the best.

    2. Nena G.

      Spectrum is terrific; it’s expensive, but not hydrogenated, and environmentally sustainable. I buy mine at Whole Foods.

  18. Tammy

    I loved reading your article. I never knew there was such a debate between the two items.
    My grandmother (who acted like we were still in the depression) did not buy a lot of groceries as they grew and raised what they needed, always made sure she had her Crisco on hand. She did not use much butter when baking and whenever I asked why I was told it was better. Her recipes always say lard but she was particular about which one she used. (Of course she also kept it for when needed for meals.)
    I still use Crisco for my main cooking and baking today but I can’t say I only use it though as I do use butter for some of my recipes. I do refuse to use butter for cookies though due to the spreading as you stated above, I love a good chocolate chip cookie, lol.
    Two quick notes on shortening people should know.
    1. Not all shortenings are the same, each brand has their own version which tastes and works differently. I prefer Crisco my self and won’t use anything else.
    2. If you find yourself really missing the butter flavor Crisco has a butter version which is good, it’s even yellow instead of white, lol.
    I hope this helps someone.

    Reply
  19. newbie

    This is my first blog, and I found it to be very interesting. Due to a life altering event about a year ago, I now have a lot of time on my hands and despite being a life long non-baker I decided to give baking a try about a month ago. I’m hooked! Since I’m a newbie to baking any and all info is much appreciated. I think this blog finally explained the huge difference between my Mother in Law’s persimmon cookie recipe vrs. mine. Mine stay fluffy and puffy, hers always thin out and are dense. The difference? She uses butter and I use shortening. I’m sticking with the shortening and now I know why. Thanks!!

    Reply
  20. Cecilia freeman

    I like the taste of butter especially in sugar cookies. Shortenings are not alike!
    Taste your shortening before using. It should be tasteless. If it has an unpleasant taste it will ruin your baked product. I use shortening in recipes with strong favors such as spices and molasses I do not like butter flavored crisco. Using half butter and half shortening may be a very good option. Many recipes in my collection of cookbooks call for equal parts butter and shortening. I bake a few test cookies, If the cookies spread too much, I add a little more flour

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Erika, it would act more like shortening than regular butter, but not entirely; I suspect ghee’s melting pint is lower than shortening, though I’m mot certain. At any rate, give it a try; you know whatever result you get will be delicious! PJH

  21. Mark

    When I use shortening in my baking I buy the shortening in stick form. It’s so much easier, and way less messy, to measure out the required quantity.

    Reply
  22. Mary

    I have been the official baker in my family and with my friends for 30 years. When I first started baking I used Crisco for my, but not anymore. I only use butter or lard. They both taste so much better and they don’t leave that disgusting film on the roof of your mouth like shortening does. It first dawned on me when I finally made pie crust I didn’t have trouble with, I didn’t have to adjust the recipe at all. It was so much better tasting too. After all the information about trans fats and partially hydrogenated fats came out, I felt even better about my choice. No Crisco for me, ever again, thank you very much!

    Reply
  23. Gina Knight

    What about lard? My mother was famous for her pie crusts and always used lard in combination with butter or Crisco (about 2:1 ratio). I stopped using lard due to health concerns years ago. I use Crisco and butter in a 1:1 ratio, but I think I’ve lost some flavor by eliminating lard. I’e been tempted to boost the flavor with coconut oil. Any thoughts? Also, I’ve learned that replacing 1-2 tablespoons of water with Vodka increases the flakiness lost with the addition of butter since the alcohol evaporates quickly.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Coconut oil has a mild flavor if you use the virgin variety (rather than refined coconut oil), and it’s also 100% fat like shortening. However, it melts at low temperatures (around 77 degrees F), so it’s best to use it in combination with another fat like butter or shortening. Feel free to experiment and compare the taste of each fat to see what you prefer. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  24. David

    Can one directly substitute shortening for butter? Since butter is 80% fat and 20% liquid and shortening is 100% fat and 0% liquid, a recipe made with shortening will contain more fat and less liquid than one made with butter. [I believe Alton Brown first pointed this out in recipe development.] Shouldn’t some adjustment be made to account for the differences?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re right, David, that these two ingredients differ in the amount of fat they contain, so when substituting shortening for butter you get a higher percentage of fat in your recipe. If you’re trying to keep the overall amount of fat in the recipe exactly the same, you can use 80% as much shortening. However, because of shortening’s higher melting temperature, we find that the extra amount of fat usually doesn’t harm the recipe but adds additional tenderness. We tend to make the substitution in a one-for-one ratio. Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  25. Virginia Clifford

    I use butter for my biscuits, BUT my mother used Crisco, she made the very BEST biscuits! No recipe, she could tell by the way the dough felt if they were going to be good or as she used to say,”hard tacks”. I will continue to use butter, but her biscuits were special.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      This would be a question for a nutritionist, dietitian, or doctor — sorry we can’t help you. PJH

  26. Jean

    How do the non-hydrogenated organic shortenings (such as Spectrum brand) compare to Crisco in baked goods? I am so wary of any man-made hydrogenated fats!!
    Also, what about organic lard in some of these baked goods? That was the traditional fat in pie crusts, biscuits, corn bread, etc, before hydrogenated fats were ‘invented’?

    Reply
  27. Nancy

    I have banished shortening from my kitchen (along with margerine and other highly processed oils) because it is bad for our health. Lard is one alternative for shortening. Pie crust made with half-lard/half-butter turns out flaky and tasty. (The idea that lard is bad is old, erroneous information.) However, I have found another good substitute–coconut oil. I replaced the shortening with coconut oil in the cake part of my great-grandmother’s recipe for crumb cake. (The crumbs are made with butter.) The cake is moist, the crumb is as good as the shortening version, and the taste is great. I also use coconut oil to grease my cake and bread pans. I haven’t tried it in pie crust yet, but I will this week. Perhaps the test kitchen folks at KA would do some comparisons with coconut oil.

    Reply
  28. Sadie

    You need to know when doing a comparison and a write up like this that there is butter flavored Crisco that is sold in round containers and also in sticks. It’s right there at the grocery store where the original Crisco is. It gives that buttery flavor when used instead of the original. Just had to inform you because you mentioned on each experiment about sacrificing the buttery flavor when in fact, you don’t have to sacrifice that buttery flavor when using Crisco. I have been using it since about 1980…yeah..it’s been out there a long time now.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Lard, like shortening, is 100% fat so it will behave more like shortening than butter in baking. However, it tends to have a slightly savory flavor and isn’t suitable for vegetarians, so you’ll want to take those two things into consideration before making the swap. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  29. Kendal

    Give me lard for my pie crusts any day! I know it’s not a choice for veg or vegan…but cold, fresh lard makes a flaky crust that tastes divine & browns nicely.

    Reply
  30. Tammy Spencer

    The thought occurs to me that if the main problem with butter is it’s water content and lower melting point, would using clarified butter or ghee solve those issues?

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Tammy, I’ve been unable to find any information on clarified butter’s melting point — while it has a higher smoke point than regular butter, I suspect its melting point would be the same. But it would be an interesting test, trying it in pie crust — let us know if you bake with it and discover anything interesting, OK? Thanks — PJH

  31. Sara

    The observation that cookies made with sugar tend to be crisper than those made with shortening seems at odds with the following quoted from the KAF gingersnaps recipe: “Can you substitute butter for the vegetable shortening [as listed in the recipe]? Yes; but the cookies will be soft, not crisp.” What else is at work in that recipe to reverse this view? Or would the gingersnap dough made with butter be as crisp as if made with shortening if the butter-based cookie dough were chilled before baking?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sara, while shortening tends to make cookies more tender and “sandy” in a shortbread-like sense, if the cookies are baked for longer this will turn into an almost crunchy texture. The gingerbread recipe calls for baking the cookies for 11 minutes for a “bendy” cookie and 13 minutes for crispy/crunchy cookies. Using butter will make the gingersnaps a bit softer and will lose some of their snapiness, but they’ll still taste delicious. It’s worth noting there are a number of factors that contribute to the overall texture of cookies, including the amount and kind of sugar plus the moisture in a recipe. You can read more about this in our cookie chemistry post. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  32. Mary Ann

    I agree with your readers about the health and environment problems with shortening. For these reasons I discontinued using Crisco and all shortenings years ago. I am 77 and have no cholesterol problems with using strictly butter.

    Reply
  33. Stevie

    I swear by Crisco in my pie crusts and baking powder biscuits. Heart disease, obesity….just don’t do it! For the rest of us moderation in fats and not having to give up flavor is how I roll. Cookies made with Crisco or margarine are not in my cook book. I think butter is worth the price in flavor alone. I took multiple classes in cake decorating and found out that 100% buttercream icing is the best flavor but you just can’t do all the fancy stuff with it like you can with Crisco. We seem to be left with a choice of do you want a delicious iced cake (butter and sugar) or do you want a fancy, fun cake (Crisco or the more horrible fondant)? Isn’t it wonderful to have these choices?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Stevie, we agree it can be a challenge to decide between these two options. That’s why we often recommend a combination of the two to get the best of both worlds: great flavor and holding power too. Kye@KAF

  34. Bob Strippy

    The human body is not set up to digest vegetable shortening very well. On the other hand, it recognizes and enjoys butter, which Ruth Wakefield insisted on in making her Toll House cookies. However, this choice is something of a false dichotomy. There is a third option, which I think is an absolute must for pie crust and biscuits: lard. Its latest forms are healthier, and what it does for pastry is irreplaceable. I should have listened to my grandmother and never bothered with artificial shortening. Pigs know what they’re doing. Not all bakers do. Once you use lard, you’ll never go back.

    Reply
  35. Beth Mathewson

    I have a “Favorite Brand Names Recipes” Cookie Cookbook for Butter flavor Crisco.
    In the tips and hints section, it says to add a tablespoon of milk or water when converting a recipe calling for butter or margarine.

    I thought you might be interested. I haven’t tried it yet so I don’t know what the result would be.

    Beth

    Reply
  36. Janice Grimes

    Looks like some of you need to read the latest labels on crisco. Haven’t you heard “everyone” is eliminating trans fats? Dietary rules seem not to be set in stone anymore…eggs and potatoes are back on the good side…hard to keep up. When I was decorating cakes and making crisco icing, the most important ingredient was butter flavoring. Of course that was before butter flavored crisco. When I read all the outrage about ingredients I sometimes wonder how I made it to my 70s!

    Reply
  37. meyerly

    I use margarine in my pie crusts. Everyone always tells me how yummy they are.
    Cookies, I use 1/2 butter, 1/2 margarine. Sometimes butter flavor Crisco for part. depends on the recipe.
    Your information is very helpful on these subjects. will continue to read your stuff.
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Nancy, I haven’t heard of New Balance, but Earth Balance shortening should work just fine as a shortening replacement. PJH

  38. Cyndy

    I just checked the Crisco package and it contains (in order) soybean oil, fully hydrogenated palm oil, and palm oil but no trans fats. From what I read on the Consumer Reports site, fully hydrogenated is better than partially hydrogenated because there are no trans fats but there is still some health risk because they contain saturated fat. According to the Crisco web site, Crisco has half the saturated fat of butter, but as the blog post points out, butter definitely tastes better.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Cyndy, most vegetable shortening still contains some trans fats, but in amounts too low to qualify — i.e., below .5g per serving. PJH

  39. Bob

    I have enjoyed the many varied comments about butter, lard and vegetable oils. If taste is paramount, then use what your palate likes best. If you want healthy, then avoid fats–all fats. They have a similar about of calories for one. Avoid saturated fats (animal fats which includes butter and lard) and trans fats (which have been eliminated or changed in vegetable oils as others have noted). Don’t want chemically altered foods, stick with butter–commercial lard has been treated in various chemical ways such as stable shelf life. Want healthy, stay away from cookies and pies no matter how they are made. Want to enjoy the season’s goodies, everything in moderation as someone else has said. Also, be sure your parents gave you the right, “good” genes too so you can enjoy theses fats that are literally deadly over time to others.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Bob, thank you — I love this approach, which reminds me of Julia Child’s common-sense approach to eating. Don’t deprive yourself of anything you love; but don’t eat too much of anything. Thanks for sharing — PJH

  40. Jake Sterling

    Wait a minute: butter versus shortening? Butter *is* shortening. (That’s why short bread is called short bread.) Lard is also shortening and so are duck fat, goose fat, and even rendered suet. What you should be saying is, “butter versus vegetable shortening.”

    Reply
  41. JerseyGirlForever

    When substituting shortening for butter, is it 1:1 ratio?
    I am trying to use KAF’s Egg Nog Sugar Cookie mix with Springerle molds. I have reduced the butter by half and added 1 extra egg, chilled the dough after pressing them with the mold, and baked. Still came out a bit spread but I’m on to something. Will definitely try the shortening but would like to know the correct ratio. If you have other suggestions for sugar cookies to hold the mold impression, please let me know. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If measuring by volume, free to make the swap one-for-one when making your sugar cookies. If you use weight, you should note that shortening weighs less then butter (3 1/4 ounces for a 1/2 cup of shortening vs. 4 ounces for a 1/2 cup of butter), so adjust the weight accordingly keeping the volume amount the same. Shortening will help your cookies hold their shape so you can see the pretty design better. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  42. Whittled Peas

    I have used Spectrum brand shortening, organic butter and lard in different baking recipes. I made the best huckleberry tartlet shells with a combination of the three and IMHO it was the greatest!

    Reply
  43. sherry

    If you’ll research how Crisco and “vegetable oils” are made you will never eat them again. All vegetable oil, including Canola Oil, and Crisco are made using a chemical process. Originally Crisco was made from the cotton seeds left over from the cotton process. Cotton crops are treated with poison! And vegetable oil is made from the seeds of plants. The oil is extracted using a chemical called Hexane and then they use another chemical to “deodorize” the oil so it is odorless and tasteless. I grew up with Crisco and those “healthy” vegetable oils. I will never serve my family any food that is man made now that I know the facts. The FDA sold us a bill of goods that sadly too many people still believe are healthy. If you Google “how vegetable oil is made” you can read the entire article.

    Reply
  44. Victoria

    Hi there can I replace the butter to shortening in any normal cake???? Or half to half. Please advise me ,there is engagement n wedding cakes order in I would like to give a try.
    Victoria

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Well, Victoria, we wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a blanket yes to that question, since there are SO many different cake recipes in the world. In general, you can replace butter with shortening in a cake that calls for beating the fat and sugar together, then adding eggs and remaining ingredients. I’d suggest trying your specific recipe with shortening on a test basis (i.e., don’t make an entire wedding cake amount) to see how you like the result. Good luck — PJH

  45. Lorraine

    I am a vegetarian so Lard is out for me. I wouldn’t eat Crisco either. Too processed and unhealthy. My doctor recently told me to eliminate dairy from my diet as well which brings up the question, can I use coconut oil if I keep it in the fridge or make my pie crusts outside in the cold? I have both organic unrefined and refined types. Thanks giving is later this week and I’m stuck. Help!

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Lorraine, we’ve heard from others making pie crust with solidified coconut oil, so this should work just fine. Try to get it to a temperature where it’s solid, but not rock hard. Good luck — PJH

  46. PJ Hamel

    Hi Readers: As a long-time baker and contributor to this blog, I’d like to offer my own comment about shortening, its nutritional status, and why we deliberately choose not to focus on this aspect of its attributes here.

    We appreciate everyone’s comments: the information you’ve shared, and the time you’ve taken to post them.

    There are potential health dangers in just about everything you eat, be it an improperly washed apple, a glass of ginger ale, or a cookie made with shortening. It’s every person’s right to pick and choose which ingredients to include in his or her diet, based on personal preference and particular disease risk. For this reason, we choose not to condemn outright any type of food on the basis of health issues, focusing instead on food’s baking qualities.

    There are plenty of nutrition-oriented websites out there that can inform the curious reader about any particular ingredient. We hope interested readers will take the time to consult these sites, including downloading a copy of the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

    Whatever ingredients you choose to use this season, I hope there’s one common to everything you bake: happiness. Have a great Thanksgiving — and remember to eat the pie first!

    PJH @ KAF

    Reply
    1. itsmce

      PJH…I was feeling a bit bad for the blogger as I started reading the comments. SO MANY people were bashing the mere idea of using shortening. I love your reply here. Sure there are reasons people choose to use or not use various ingredients. I, for one, appreciate the original blog post. It’s great to see how different ingredients affect the same recipe. Kudos!
      My mama taught me to use half Crisco and half butter in the traditional Toll House Cookie recipe. That, along with using ALL brown sugar makes for a softer, chewier, cookie that holds up well.

    2. Tiara

      PJH, I want to thank you and all your other bloggers who take the time to write, experiment and take the pictures for your articles. I’m a self taught home baker who is and has family members that can’t eat dairy (mainly butter). So many times I just quietly make my own changes and if that includes Crisco then so be it. Plus, it also about portion control, too. Main point, I love to read your blogs and learn the TECHNIQUES more than the ingredients and they’re nutritional values. So please continue to write about the differences and how certain ingredients work. Thank you again!

    3. PJ Hamel

      Tiara, thanks so much for your kind words. I know Kye did a lot of work coming up with this post, so kudos to her and to all of our bloggers who figure out what’s going on in the kitchen, and then share with all of you out there. We will definitely continue to write about how ingredients work — personally, its’ one of my favorite subjects. Happy holidays from all of us on the blog team! PJH

  47. Reneé Slazinski

    Thank you P.J.!!
    I hope you and your fellow employees have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
    It’s wonderful that we have so many choices! Everyone can be happy!

    Reply
  48. P. Doyen

    Hi, just wanted to point out that there actually is shortening available in the US that is non-hydrogenated (no trans-fats), organic (which means no gmo), no soy and using certified sustainable palm oil. Not to say that anyone should use or not use shortening, but facts are handy. And I appreciate PJ’s comment because this is a baking blog, and I don’t really want to bog it down with nutritional opinions. Thanks

    Reply
  49. Marguerite Rodgers

    Well, I’m English and have lived in the US for 42 years, I’d never heard of shortening before I moved here. We always used lard and butter, and I still make my pastry with 1/2 lard and 1/2 butter, usually rough puff pastry. However, when I need it to be vegetarian, I now substitute shortening for the lard and the pastry turns out OK. I think that 100% butter would also work for the rough puff. Also, since I’ve been here, I’ve had cakes with 100% shortening for the frosting and it’s got a real fatty taste, I much prefer real buttercream frosting, especially in a Victoria sponge, a classic British cake.

    Reply
  50. Maria

    Shortening is bad for the heart. So I always use butter. However, I’ll try coconut oil as sub for shortening. It’s healthier option.

    Reply
  51. Diane Kratz

    I was always a pie maker with shortening until someone reminded me of the hydrogenated fats in it. So this Thanksgiving I followed the butter pie crust recipe to eliminate that issue. The crust was oddly crispy but greasy. I chilled the dough before baking. Used cold butter. I might try the 60/40 shortening to butter combination. I was happy with the taste and flaky texture of my shortening only crusts but I would like them to be less of a (perceived) health hazard.

    Reply
  52. Martha Forrest

    I use butter exclusively in baking from pies to bread. I live at 8,200 ft so adjustments have to be made in cookies and cakes particularly. I find cutting the sugar helps a lot. Cookies with a lot of sugar I cut the sugar from 1/4 to 1/3 cups. Same with cakes. It keeps the cakes from sinking in the middle because the structure to hold them is there. I do know that buttercream frosting melts if the day is warm so I always put it in a cool place until ready to serve. It also helps to keep eggs in the frig until ready to use and not to overbeat

    Reply
  53. sylvia hines

    I Love using Organic Spectrum’s Shortening. Much healthier and, makes a gorgeous flaky pie crust. The texture is the same as crisco..only I think it holds up better when mixing. I have also used it combined with butter to make a little more flavorful butter crust. It is pretty much flavorless. Use it as you would any shortening.

    Reply
  54. sylvia hines

    Just wanted to add about the Cholesterol and Trans fat. Organic Spectrum Shortening…0 Cholesterol, 0 Trans fat..just read the label. I’m never going back to crisco..use it and it works just the same..I think better than crisco. I made 3 gorgeous apple and 2 pumpkin pies for thanksgiving with it. Flakey, Flakey, tender perfect crusts on all!.

    Reply
  55. Katie Sandoval

    I didn’t read through every comment so I do not know if this was mentioned but there is butter flavored Crisco! Lol flavor issue solved

    Reply
  56. Barb Ratliff

    I use butter in my cookies and they don’t come out flat. I only soften the butter, not melt it, which might make the difference. If I’ve softened the butter too much, I’ll place the cookie batter in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and the cookies come out great. And, I always use butter when making butter cream frosting and have never had a problem with that. Over the years I’ve finally mastered making a great tasting, and easy to use, pie crust by using butter instead of shortening. And, as some people have mentioned here, shortening is really not healthy for humans.

    Reply
  57. carol Keller

    While I do a Lot of baking, I don’t often make pie crust. At Thanksgiving, I read some recipes saying Lard was the way to go so I tried it. I thought it was just awful. It made a nice easy to manage dough but the taste ruined it. I usually use just butter in my baking and putting dough in freezer for a few minutes after scooping onto cooky sheets is totally the way to go. BTW, I don’t know why but mixing by hand will make a very different dough than using a mixer so its fun to experiment

    Reply
  58. Mike

    These comments are awesome.
    Some used lard while others used butter.

    I guess that’s why some comments left a nasty taste in my mouth.
    Anyway, more people die from texting than eating lard fried pies while driving.

    Why do cookies spread?
    Thanks again for the info.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That’s a great question, Mike. Cookies spread for a number of reasons, which can vary based on the recipe. We actually wrote an article on our blog illustrating one reason why cookies spread: too much sugar. In most cases, however, the oven temperature is too low and it causes the fats to melt and spread rather than set the structure of the cookie. You can try adding a few tablespoons of extra flour, chilling the dough before baking, and increasing the temperature by 25 degrees. Be sure to check for doneness earlier than the recipe calls for if you make this adjustment. You might want to bake off just one or two at a time so you can adjust the dough as you go. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  59. Sergei

    My main reason for cooking and baking is to avoid “shortening” and similar ingredients in my food. It is cheaper, it might look better and it even might taste o’key but it is very bad for your diet and health.

    Reply
  60. Dee

    If flavor is the issue, what about using butter powder in the shortening? Is there a halfway decent butter flavoring available? What about butter-flavored shortening?

    Curious minds …

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Dee, we haven’t come across any decent butter flavorings at this point, but if you find one that pleases your taste buds be sure to let us know! There is some shortening that’s available in a butter-flavored variety, which you can consider trying. We just adore the taste of pure and simple, creamy butter! It’s hard to beat. Kye@KAF

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