Shortening is a baker’s best friend. This solidified fat makes for flaky crusts, crispy baked goods and tender pies, according to Britannica. Fat like this is often incorporated into baked goods to produce manageable dough and crumbly cake textures.
Crisco may be synonymous with shortening to many people, but the company didn’t start making its famous product until 1911. Before Crisco came on the scene, lard, an animal fat product, was used in cooking and baking. But Crisco found a way to make an all-vegetable solid fat that was deemed more economical, according to Crisco’s website.
The word shortening itself refers to any type of fat that is solid at room temperature (via The Spruce Eats). This type of fat gets its name from its role in creating “short” doughs that have less elasticity than what we call “long” doughs. Food Network explains that shortening separates the gluten strands in a batter, resulting in tender, flaky baked goods; instead of having longer strands which would result in chewy products like bread. The longer shortening, or fat, remains solid, the more pockets of steam are created, resulting in that melt-in-your-mouth flaky coating on many cookies and cakes.
There are four different types of shortening, and they all have different fat-to-water ratios: solid, liquid, all-purpose, and shortening for cakes or frosting, according to The Spruce Eats. Each has a unique purpose and thrives on specific types of recipes.
Solid shortening is perfect for pie crust.
Solid shortening comes in a can or in sticks like butter, explains Spruce Eats. This type is especially good for pie crusts because it holds its shape while baking, unlike butter, which softens as it heats and causes the dough to fall apart, according to the Food Network..
This is because solid shortening is 100% fat and has no water in it, which means no pockets of steam will form unless mixed with something that has water in it, like butter. However, baking cookies with shortening will result in a softer batch than using butter (via Bob’s Red Mill). Another advantage to using solid shortening is that it has little to no flavor, according to the Food Network. For this reason, it is adaptable to recipes of any flavor profile.
Liquid shortening is good for frying
Liquid shortening is great for frying, but Spruce Eats notes that it’s also good in cakes or recipes that require you to melt solid shortening, since oil is a more common household item. This type of shortening is sold in bottles because these fats remain liquid even at low temperatures. They are typically derived from corn, soybeans, palm nuts (such as coconuts), and peanuts, according to Britannica.
They have a mild flavor but have been processed so that both the flavor and color are lighter. Unlike pure white solid shortening, these liquids are usually light yellow in color. Aside from frying, this type of shortening is great for recipes like bread, rolls, or other firm baked goods (via Britannica).
All Purpose Shortening is for commercial use.
The all-purpose shortening boasts a trans-fat-free nutrition label, according to Prospect. A keen awareness of the effects of trans fats came on the scene in the ’90s and was then banned by the FDA in 2020 (via Healthline). Due to the underlying health concern of trans fat consumption, all types of shortenings are now trans fat free.
According to Spruce Eats, all-purpose shortening is universally used for baking and frying and contains no emulsifiers, making it extremely versatile. This is an important distinction between it and shortening for cakes, which contains emulsifiers.
Cake butter to make a fluffy frosting
Cake shortening makes bakery items and their toppings fluffy and voluminous. Pro Natural Resources says that this type of shortening “supports the structure of baked goods with higher proportions of liquid and/or sugar.” Frosting isn’t much more than fat and sugar, so what exactly does shortening do for frosting?
Using shortening as the fat component will keep the frosting stable; whereas a butter-based frosting would melt over time even at room temperature (via Food 52). In addition to adding stability to your perfectly placed frosting, cake butter’s white color and neutral flavor make it perfect for including in any recipe, explains Spruce Eats.
Although there are many small differences, you don’t have to stick to just one type of shortening when baking! According to Food 52, you can combine cake shortening and butter to find a happy medium between rich flavor and structural integrity.