Here’s the fat and thin of today’s options:
Butter offers what most bakers feel is the best for baking. Butter is saturated fat made from cream that must be at least 80 percent butterfat by USDA standards. It’s high in flavor and has a melt-in-your-mouth texture. Butter is sold in lightly salted and unsalted (also known as sweet butter) sticks, whipped in tubs and as butter-flavored granules.
If you want the ultimate in tender, flaky biscuits and pastry, use lard. It’s a saturated fat made from rendered and refined pork fat. Look for new options for organic and no-trans fat lards in coops and select supermarkets.
Margarine is an unsaturated butter substitute made with at least 80 percent fat by weight and flavoring from dairy products. Most margarine uses vegetable oils made from soybeans, cottonseed and corn. It’s sold in sticks and as soft spreads in tubs. Soft spread margarine in tubs is not recommended for baking because it has more water and less fat.
Blends are available in sticks and tubs, and usually are a combination of 60 percent margarine and 40 percent butter and are interchangeable with butter or margarine.
Reduced-Calorie (or light) Butter or Margarine
Water and air have been added to these products, and they contain at least 20 less fat than regular butter or margarine. We do not recommend them for baking. The higher water content causes cakes to stick to baking pans, creates coarser textures, brown less, become tougher, and become stale more quickly. Cookies become more cake-like, tend to stick to baking sheets, brown less and become stale more quickly.
Vegetable oils are hydrogenated so they’ll be solid at room temperature. Use butter-flavored and regular shortening interchangeably. Shortening is sold in cans and easier-to-measure sticks.
Vegetable Oil Spreads
Margarine products with less than 80 percent fat (vegetable oil) by weight usually are labeled as vegetable oil spreads. They’re sold in sticks for all-purpose use, including some baking if they contain more than 65 percent fat, so check the label. Also sold in tubs and in squeeze bottles, which should not be used for baking.
Bottled oils are a blend of oils from various vegetables, such as corn, cottonseed, peanut, safflower, canola and soybean. Use them in recipes that call for vegetable oil.
This oil is made from pressed olives and classified in several ways: extra-virgin, virgin, olive oil and light olive oil. It can be used for vegetable oil but expect a difference in flavor and sometimes texture.
Spray is available in regular (unflavored), butter and olive oil varieties. It can be used to spray baking pans for a quick-and-easy way to prevent food from sticking.
Baking spray with flour
For baking, this product combines unflavored cooking oil with real flour and is used for spraying baking pans to prevent food from sticking.