Fat, yup, fat, that’s what we are talking about today.
Fat in your baked goods, unlike your behind is a good thing. Fat serves different roles in baked goods from flavor, to tenderness, to helping it leaven (rise).
Which fats should be used, and is it OK to make substitutions? I hope that I can help answer that, or at least shed some light.
Butter– sweet sweet butter! This one is my favorite, butter adds lots of flavor. Standard butter here in the good ‘ol USA is around 80% fat which makes it great for a lot of applications. Butter comes in both salted and unsalted. I use salted most of all, I always have it around and it is my go-to fat. Sometimes I will reduce the salt in my recipe slightly if the recipe calls for unsalted butter, usually 1/4 teaspoon per stick called for in the recipe. Unsalted butter is also available, and it isn’t just for people with high blood pressure, but for recipes that have a very delicate flavor like a butter spritz cookie or a European style butter cream. If you want the best butter, get a European style, often found under the brand names Plugra, and Kerrygold, they have a higher butterfat and richer flavor. Always buy butter in sticks, not in tubs, very often butter in tubs has been whipped and is full of air, this will throw off your recipe.
Margarine– Likely my least favorite fat to bake with and the one that you have to be the most careful with. NEVER and I feel strongly about this, should you ever use “Tub”margarine spread in baking recipes. Tub spreads often have too much water in them and not enough fat. These can cause very bad results especially in recipes like chocolate chip cookies where fat performance is crucial. If you are going to use margarine in sticks, look for ones that are marketed specifically for baking or contain 80% fat. Most stick margarine here in the USA, is still contains trans fats, a very bad thing, to get a good baking margarine without trans fats will cost as much or more than butter.
Lard– great fat for making pie crusts, and biscuits. It has fallen out of fashion since vegetable shortening came to the market as a “healthier” alternative, but we now know that isn’t really true anymore. Lard is 100% fat.
Shortening– best known from the brand name Crisco. Shortening is pretty much great for the same things as lard and they are used interchangeably. There is also “butter flavored” shortening, used as a replacement for butter. Now that artificial trans fats have been shown to be very unhealthy, shortening manufacturers have reformulated their product to be “trans fat free” per serving, which only means that they have 1/2 a gram or less of trans fat per serving, they still have an unhealthy dose of partially hydrogenated oil in them, the source of trans fats. With that said, I have used an organic shortening from Spectrum Organics that is not hydrogenated and works really really well, it is expensive but a good alternative to hydrogenated shortening. shortening is 100% fat.
Oil– this is fat that stays liquid at room temp. Popular varieties are “vegetable oil” which is mostly soybean, safflower oil etc. There are blends and canola. These are flavorless oils that are great for baking. Oils are great for cakes and quick breads because they will produce very moist products. Cakes will stay nice and soft even when chilled, unlike cakes made with butter which are best eaten at room temperature. You should never replace butter or any solid fat with oil unless instructed to do so. They are not always interchangeable, especially in baked goods like cookies. Oil is 100% fat.
Applesauce– APPLESAUCE IS NOT A GOOD SUBSTITUTION FOR FAT! I feel strongly about this. Applesauce is water (or mostly so) and water and fat are two different things. Many people use applesauce in quick breads, and while these are still moist, they are more gummy, less tender and don’t rise quite as high. You will not find me using applesauce as a substitution, I don’t make “diet” desserts. I like to eat desserts in their full glory, but in moderation, I like to enjoy the real deal. If you are looking for lighter desserts, I would search for recipes specially formulated to be lower fat, and not try to adapt a recipe. Low fat baking can be tricky, remember, baking is chemistry and it is really easy to mess up a recipe with incompatible substitutions. Applesauce is 0% fat
Hopefully you will find this post informative!