Why You DON’T Want to Substitute with Cooking Oil!

Have you ever wondered about, or actually tried to substitute cooking oil for the lard or butter that’s called for in a recipe? You’re not alone. This is a common question of a lot of cooks. I’ve tried this and haven’t had much success. Here’s why:

One of the failings of oil is that, unlike fats such as butter and lard, it is inclined to collect instead of remain uniformly distributed through the baking dough. For that and other reasons, baked goods tend to be too grainy, an effect that is undesirable except in a few specialties. Fat gives baked items a fluffy, moist texture and, as a bonus, a commendable flavor.

Professional bakers and chefs do not recommend the all-purpose oils—the type that have been engineered to be suitable for both baking and deep-frying. These products do not give the best of both worlds: good baking properties plus a high smoke point for deep-frying.

In order to give the oils improved baking quality, food manufacturers use additives that appreciably lower the oil's smoke point. An all-purpose oil, therefore, is a compromise, noticeably inferior both to regular oils for frying and to fats for baking purposes. No matter how hard the food technologists may try, their laboratory quest for a truly all-purpose oil has been futile.

There’s one other option when you’re out of butter or lard, though (albeit with limitations). This is coconut oil. While it’s mostly ideal for searing, sautéing, and, depending on the grade, even frying (stove top popcorn, for instance), it IS a better substitute for butter than liquid-at-room-temperature oils (like olive or canola oil). Still, the fact is, nothing performs exactly, or as good as butter (although my Aunt Annie would lobby for lard).

So, what do you do then, when you’ve started a batch of cookies and realize mid-stream, that you’re out of butter or lard? Please, go to your neighbor and beg for some. Don’t even think about trying cooking oil. Substituting cooking oil will only be disappointing at best.

BUT, the best thing to do is what those professional bakers and chefs do in the first place—they read their recipe all the way through then check their cupboards and pantry to verify they have all needed ingredients. If anything is missing, they find a new recipe that calls for what they DO have. Simple idea, but too many times I forget to do this and wind up short. That’s when I say, “DANG!” and scrounge for a substitution. Anyone relate to this?

Lastly, speaking of butter, I’ll close with one of our very favorite cookie recipes featuring this all-star ingredient. Shortbread! Shortbread cookies aren’t just for the holidays! These delicious, perfectly sweet treats have a wonderful crisp texture and just dissolve in your mouth. They’re the perfect pairing for a cup of coffee or hot cocoa. But fair warning, if you make a batch you’ll be snacking on them ALL day long!

Buttery Shortbread Cookies


12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt optional

1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and vanilla extract until creamed.
2. Add confectioners sugar and salt; mix until combined.
3. Scrape bowl down and add flour while beating on low. Scrape bowl once more and mix until combined.
4. Shape the dough into a rectangular prism, wrap in plastic and chill until firm. At least an hour.
5. Preheat oven to 350F (177C). Use a sharp knife to cut 1/2 inch thick slices.
6. Place slices, spaced at least an inch apart onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
7. Use a fork or skewer to indent a pattern onto the top.
8. Bake for about 10 minutes, rotating baking sheet in the oven halfway through.
9. Transfer to a wire sheet to cool.

Recipe formatted with the Cook'n Recipe Software from DVO Enterprises.

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    Alice Osborne
    DVO Newsletter Contributor since 2006
    Email the author! alice@dvo.com

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