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Sub butter for shortening in cookie recipe?

rorycat Dec 18, 2009 12:38 PM

I'll preface this by saying I'm not really a baker, but I have a yen to make one of my beloved late grandmother's cookie recipes. The dough is a soft one that has to be refrigerated overnight before use, and it calls for shortening. Can I safely substitute butter for the shortening? I'd honestly rather use butter, but I'd also like the cookies to come out well.

It's not even five degrees outside, but if the verdict is that I should stick to the recipe then I guess I'd better start preparing to strap on my boots and zip up my parka for a trip to the grocery store...

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  1. b
    bakerboyz RE: rorycat Dec 18, 2009 12:40 PM

    I can only imagine that they will be far better with real butter (unsalted).

    1. r
      rorycat RE: rorycat Dec 18, 2009 12:52 PM

      Everything's better with butter! I think I'm going to give it a whirl, because the directions read like making a pie or tart crust, including cutting in the fat and liquid. I just really loathe the idea of shortening, even if it is called for in a beloved family recipe.

      1. coll RE: rorycat Dec 18, 2009 12:56 PM

        No, there was just a long thread on this, shortening lightens up the dough while butter makes it more greasy and dense. You can "safely" substitute but it won't be like you remember. Crisco makes a non trans fat shortening if that helps you.

        3 Replies
        1. re: coll
          bakerboyz RE: coll Dec 18, 2009 01:01 PM

          I never thought of butter making a recipe "greasy" mostly rich, creamy and natural.

          1. re: bakerboyz
            bushwickgirl RE: bakerboyz Dec 18, 2009 01:05 PM

            It has to do with the water content of butter, that Crisco doesn't have.
            Shortening will give you a lighter cookie but I think butter is better, flavor-wise, so it depends on what you want, according to what you remember.

            1. re: bushwickgirl
              RGC1982 RE: bushwickgirl Dec 18, 2009 01:53 PM

              I have subbed butter for the original family cookie recipe that called for Crisco (which, ironically, was called the Butter Cookie recipe). The dough is wetter and more oily in texture, but the flavor is sooo much better. Oddly, I the cookies also tasted better with margerine, but not as good as butter, but we don't use margerine anymore.

        2. chowser RE: rorycat Dec 18, 2009 01:31 PM

          It depends on the recipe but butter will give it more spread. What is the ratio of flour to fat? If it's high, then I'd sub as is, if lower, I'd consider adding a little more flour. And, refrigerate the dough well before baking to slow the spread.

          1 Reply
          1. re: chowser
            alkapal RE: chowser Dec 20, 2009 04:32 AM

            chowser speaks wisely.

          2. w
            Whats_For_Dinner RE: rorycat Dec 18, 2009 02:06 PM

            Can't hurt to try! Even if it doesn't work as well, you'll know for next time.

            I'm in the same boat, kind of. Ever since I was a tiny kid, my aunt made the most spectacular chocolate chip cookies I can remember -- soft, chewy, just salty enough, just dense enough -- as good as it gets, at least to me.

            For years I tried unsuccessfully to get the recipe but she was steadfast in her refusal. ;) Until last year!
            And man was I ever dismayed to find that her secret was not just Crisco, but GOLDEN CRISCO. Ew. I know.

            And to this day that's the only recipe I'll never even think about subbing in butter. Somehow the Crisco makes all the difference in the final product.

            If I were you? I'd try it once with shortening, just for sentiment's sake -- to see if they really are the way that you remember. Then try with butter -- maybe you'll like them even more!

            Let us know how it turns out. A well-kept family cookie recipe is a wonderful thing!

            1. p
              pcdarnell RE: rorycat Dec 18, 2009 02:36 PM

              My grandmother's cookie recipes refer to shortening, but she referred to margarine as shortening. I substitute unsalted butter with no problems.

              1. MartiniGenie RE: rorycat Dec 18, 2009 02:36 PM

                My grandmother had a great recipe, too. I remember writing it down from her original card as a young girl (no, I will not say what year that was <GRIN>). I still have the copy; i just went and grabbed it. Same style, soft dough, refrig over night, roll, cookie cutter and bake.

                Her recipe called for 1/2 shortening and 1/2 butter. As to what kind of shortening, it doesn't say. I remember when Mom made them, she used margarine. Can't recall what Grandma used. Wonder what the non-hydrogenated Crisco would do here?

                I'm betting the mix of the two would do the trick...who's ready for a throw down? Tee Hee Happy Holidays!

                1. w
                  weezycom RE: rorycat Dec 18, 2009 05:17 PM

                  In most cookies, subbing one for the other won't wreck anything. The texture and flavor will both be a little different and you may prefer one to the other. The moisture and milk solids in butter makes for a better chewier cookie, to me. When I want a really crispy cookie, though, I'll go for the shortening.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: weezycom
                    greygarious RE: weezycom Dec 18, 2009 09:03 PM

                    Using melted butter, cooled to room temp, will make cookies flatter but crisper than creaming softened butter and sugar.

                  2. f
                    foiegras RE: rorycat Dec 18, 2009 06:44 PM

                    I used to be known for Snickerdoodles that were half butter, half shortening. Then I quit using shortening, and I can't make that recipe any more. In fact, I don't make Snickerdoodles at all.

                    The cookies don't set up the same. These cookies had great height and a particular shape, and they can't hold that shape without the shortening. So just thought I'd mention that additional side effect ...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: foiegras
                      sqboo RE: foiegras Dec 18, 2009 09:10 PM

                      My chocolate chip cookie recipe uses both butter and shortening, though a little heavier on the butter. They have a softness and a chew that all butter recipes don't.

                      I vote "mix". And wear a hat.

                    2. r
                      rorycat RE: rorycat Dec 19, 2009 02:08 PM

                      Just wanted to say thanks for all the input. Normally I am fearless in the kitchen, but that's when I don't have to measure things precisely or worry about fat:flour ratios. Like I said, a baker I am not.

                      I decided to try three different preparations -- staight shortening as the recipe calls for, all butter, and then half-and-half. I strongly suspect that the half-and-half will be the best. The filling for this particular, jelly roll-like cookie is already fairly wet, which leads me to believe that the mix of fats will be ideal, both for texture and flavor.

                      If someone knows where the link is for the debate on butter versus shortening and the roles they play in baking, a link would be much appreciated. I did a search before posting and didn't find that. I am sure there will be others looking for similar info over the next few days as ovens are cranked up and mixing bowls are pressed into duty.


                      2 Replies
                      1. re: rorycat
                        coll RE: rorycat Dec 19, 2009 02:34 PM


                        1. re: rorycat
                          chowser RE: rorycat Dec 19, 2009 02:47 PM

                          Try this--I think Shirley Corriher does the best job explaining the difference. Personally, crisco coats my mouth and leaves an oily residue but when baked isn't as bad, though still not as good as butter. There's nothing like the melt in your mouth taste of butter in baked goods to me but I find some people don't notice the feel of shortening.


                          I've tried Alton Brown's cakey chocolate chip cookie recipe and while i like that they remain taller, I missed the taste of butter. But, I brought them to a function and people loved them. Since the filling for your jelly roll is already wet, butter might spread too much and not be able to contain it. I'd go by feel but possibly add a little flour to it to prevent the spread and refrigerate it so the dough doesn't spread as much.

                        2. Chocolatechipkt RE: rorycat Dec 19, 2009 03:08 PM

                          I substitute butter for shortening all the time! I might be missing something from the original recipe, but it's all seemed just fine to me.

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