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Shortening, Butter or Margarine – What is Best for Baking Cookies?


There is so much controversy about what is best to use for baking cookies. You may find your self having a difficulty trying to figure out this dilemma. What type is healthier to use versus the other? With a little research we could solve this dilemma.

First, what is shortening? It is a semisolid fat and refers to a hydrogenated vegetable oil. There is a great deal controversy about what is good for use for baking cookies. You might find yourself scratching your head racking your brains on this dilemma.Hydrogenation is a process of bubbling hydrogen through vegetable oil, changing its chemical structure. This process turns the liquid to a solid at room temperature and below. Shortening is 100% fat. Butter and margarine contain 80% fat. Hydrogenation produces trans fats, the unhealthy fats known to cause heart disease. The advantage of shortening over butter or margarine is its smoke point (higher temperature before burning). Another advantage is its features a higher melting temperature. Through the baking process of cookies it can help dough hold its shape longer. This allows the flour and eggs to set, keeping the dough from spreading too much. There are some new shortening products on the market that contain no trans fats or hardly any.

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2nd, what is margarine? Margarine is again made from vegetable oils and contains no cholesterol. Margarine is high the in good fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated), but contains some saturated fats. Some margarine is worse than others. Hydrogenation solidifies the margarine. The harder the margarine the more trans fats it includes. Trans fat raise degrees of bad cholesterol and lower the levels of good cholesterols, which makes it worse than saturated fat. Tub margarine is lower in trans fats than stick margarine.

Third, everyone knows that butter is made from a dairy cow’s milk cream fat. Being that, it is animal fat, which is loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol. Butter and margarine are equal in kcalories and fat. Each contains about 35 calories and 4 grams of fat per teaspoon. Butter is believed to contain traces of hormones and antibodies fed to the dairy cows. On the bright side butter contains fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

OK, since you are confused now as part of your let’s compare. Margarine is a lot better than butter when it comes to our heart, but falls flat in the flavor department. Butter also adds a creamy texture. Shortening helps to keep your cookies from deflating or spreading out, but again it does not enhance the flavor. Actually shortening has no flavor. If you should be a fluffy cookie fanatic use half shortening and half butter. You get the raised cookie with the buttery flavor.

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Finally, what should you use, salted butter or unsalted butter. Salt in butter acts as a preservative, so butter won’t turn rancid when left out at room temperature. The down side is you’re adding extra salt to your recipe. The problem with reducing salt in a recipe to substitute for salted butter is different brands of butter has different salt contents. The rule of thumb is when using salted butter reduce the salt added ½ teaspoon per cup of salted butter. The purist baker will always utilize unsalted butter. That way they may be in control of the salt being added to the recipe. Salt in butter is also believed to add flavor, overpowering the sweet butter taste, and mask butter odor.

When it comes right down to the decisions between shortening, margarine, salted butter or unsalted butter is a personal preference. But at least with information we could make an informed decision. The ultimate way to decide what is best for you is experiment. Decide to try different ways to bake cookies and have fun. As the saying goes, “The journey is the most effective part of the trip.”

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