I am a pretty good cook, but never tried baking until last week. I got fed up with the AWFUL buttertarts that the grocery store sells and decided to make my own. WOW and unqualified success. Now I'm hooked :-)
I bought the Betty Crocker Cooky (sic) book and am a bit confused. I googled and found out the difference between baking soda and baking powder and understand what they are and why they are used. Acid or no acid. Question......why would some recipes call for both???
Another question.....Most of the recipes call for Crisco. I am not a fan of hydrogenated vegetable oil. I understand you cannot substitute butter because of the water content. How about Ghee, clarified butter or possibly lard?
I am sure these questions are simple to you experienced bakers, but remember...I am a virgin. Be gentle with me.
From what I understand when both baking powder and soda are ingredients, the powder does the bulk of the leavening while the soda neutralizes acids and gives you a nice texture. I also avoid hydrogenated oil. Whenever I see shortening I just skip the recipe so I am unsure of substitutions. They sell shortening that isn't hydrogenated. Whole Foods sells their own house brand and even Crisco came out with one in a green can.
Re the Crisco in cookie recipes: get a better cookbook! Seriously, you're going to want to start with a recipe that specifically calls for butter, not margarine or shortening. HOWEVER, cookies made with butter will have a very different texture than those made with margarine or shortening. Margarine/shortening produces a much softer, chewier cookie than does butter.
As for the Crisco sold in the green can, please avoid this product---it's just plain AWFUL!!!
Good to know about the Crisco green can! I have used the Whole Foods shortening in pie crust with great results though the texture is stiffer than regular shortening. Specifically in the recipe below which uses half butter half shortening (it even calls for non-hydrogenated):
FYI: Martha Stewart has a cookie book that is awesome. I checked it out from my library and will likely buy it. Your library is a great source for cookbooks if you don't want to commit to buying since they usually aren't cheap!
Sorry if this proves only minimally helpful but maybe if I chime in someone more knowledgeable can elaborate.
You might not necessarily steer away from recipes with shortening. In fact, I generally tend to substitue shortening for half the amount of butter in a recipe that calls for butter only anyway. I learned this from my mom but read an article from some baking expert (forget who, sorry) about what each of butter and shortening contribute to baked goods. I honestly can't remember the details, other than to come away with an appreciation for both, so hopefully someone else can fill in those details. Obviously butter adds that inimitable butter flavor. I want to say that shortening contributed in a positive way to texture - adding desirable lightness, rising, flakiness (more the case for pastries) or something like that. You might try the recipe as is even if only to compare it to another version (say with all butter) to see what you presonally prefer.
I go the other way - butter all the time, every time, regardless of what the recipe calls for. If the texture is different, fine. I'm more concerned with flavor and browning (a plus, for me) than chewy texture. Shirley Corriher's always-informative "Cookwise" has an excellent section on cookies, with a handy chart of how to adjust a cookie recipe to make it crisper, chewier, flatter, fluffier, etc. If you don't want to purchase the book you can always go to the library/bookstore and make some noates on that chapter. I imagine that the same info is in the newer book, "Bakewise", which I always mean to look at (a couple of the Amazon reviews say it duplicates what's in Cookwise.
Check the CH article on Michael Ruhlman's book "Ratios". Scroll down to the chart on baking ratios, which will show you the basic construction of cakes, tarts, cookies, etc., so that you can develop enough confidence to customize recipes by changing your add-ins.
Here are 3 sources containing the answers you are seeking and a lot more useful information on getting your cookies to turn out just the way you want.
Cookie Tips from Melinda Lee
NY Times: Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies That Sing
NY Times: Perfection? Hint: It’s Warm and Has a Secret
The writers of all three of these articles credit Shirley O. Corriher, biochemist and cooking author, as a source of their information.