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Jun 1, 2010 06:51 AM

Shortening vs. butter in a layer cake

I'm trying to develop a pineapple margarita layer cake for a party in a few days. I am not looking to use a boxed mix or bottled margarita mix. I believe I've got the flavorings worked out but I'm a little uncertain of the cake recipe itself.

I am looking at two different cake recipes, one which calls for buttermilk as the liquid and uses the one bowl method, and another which uses pinepple juice and the creaming method. What surprised me, though, is that both recipes call for shortening rather than butter. I don't believe I've ever made a layer cake with shortening. Will there be any difference in texture or volume due to the shortening? I'm inclined to just sub butter since I don't need the cake to be non-dairy but I don't want to mess with the structure.

I'm going to stop by the library at lunch to check out Shirley Corriher's Bakewise to see if she addresses this question, but in the meanwhile, does anyone have any thoughts on this matter?


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  1. Nothing beats the flavor of butter, but shortening makes a taller, moisture cake. But, it's not a substantial difference. FWIW, I've made the Elvis banana cake w/ both shortening and butter and actually prefer it w/ shortening, despite the mouthfeel of the shortening. I think you'd be fine just substituting butter for the shortening. I'd love to read about your final product.

    1. mmm.... your cake sounds delicious.

      I don't know if your already intending to do this or not, but if it were me i would DEFINITELY bake a practice cake before hand. That way, you'll know if the shortening or butter works fine for the recipe AND you'll know if you have the flavouring just right. Sometimes for trial recipes i just bake half a recipe. Sometimes i can't be bothered with the math and bake a whole one.

      Also, I've never ever made a cake with shortening, and i wouldn't. Shortening is GREAT for greasing the cake pan and just about nothing else. It doesn't, in my opinion, qualify as food.

      happy cake making!

      4 Replies
      1. re: LukesBride

        I was going to bake a half recipe last night but it got too late. I'll have another try tonight.

        I did get BakeWise from the library and it sounds, from what Shirley Corriher says, like there are some structural advantages to using shortening (like chowser said) but they're not really huge. She doesn't talk too much about it but does mention that shortening will hold up better at "American" room temperatures. Since I live in the South and we've had 90+ degree weather for quite a while already, I may do it just so that I don't have to cracnk up the AC really high. I'm still debating that vs. the taste of real butter.

        1. re: rockycat

          You could also try half and half. You might get the best of both worlds but you'd also get the worst of both worlds. I can detect that mouthfeel w/ even a little shortening. I have never tried Spectrum, all natural shortening, though, and that might be better. I used to feel the same way about shortening but over the years, CHers have convinced me it's not the devil.;-)

          1. re: chowser

            I love Spectrum Naturals Organic shortening, especially in pie crusts. I also use it in icings. Prefer it to other shortenings I've tried, although I've never tried it in a cake.

            1. re: addicted2cake

              Does it give you that slimey mouthfeel that Crisco does?

      2. i've also never made a cake with shortening, but would love to hear how it turns out (or try it soon heh heh). but all the cakes i've made with buttermilk have been amazingly moist. some of my favs. does it call for "butter flavored shortening?" that sounds a little ghastly to me but i'd do as others say and try it - maybe that would prevent having to make 3 layers of shorter cakes, though there's nothing wrong with that.

        in the end it comes down to preference for taste/texture, right? i really dislike cakes made with oil, for example. texture is just not cake. more like a spounge.

        1. Concerning the use of shortening, you might want to read through this article about "emulsified" shortening. Evidently, not all shortening = Crisco.

          3 Replies
          1. re: CocoaNut

            Oddly enough, I do have high ratio shortening at home, but it never occured to me to use it.

            From "BakeWise":
            "However, shortening such as Crisco has an advantage over other solid fats in that it already contains millions of fine bubbles to aid in leavening." and
            "Also, many shortenings have emulsifiers such as mono- and diglycerides that aid in better distribution of the fat in the batter." page 69

            Now, I don't know that my store-brand shortening is the same as Crisco but FWIW, Corriher seems to feel that Crisco works justs fine as far as shortenings go.

            So here's the report on the test cake. The pineapple flavor came through very clearly and there was a slight, distinctive bitter aftertaste from the key lime juice. I thought the flavor needed to be more tart to play up the margarita aspect but my testers were happy the way it was. I inadvertenly halved the amount of lemon oil I meant to use so correcting that mistake might punch up the tartness.

            The cake was pleasantly moist with an average crumb. It did not rise quite as much as I hoped it would, though. If I had another day I'd try baking it as a two-stage cake but I'm not certain I want the increased density here.

            And, since I want the citrus flavors to come through cleanly, I probably won't use butter here. I'll also be using a seven minute frosting as the cake will have to sit outside in high 80's heat for a while. I'm a little concerned about the humidity but better that than melted, sliding buttercream.

            I really wish I had the time and funds to test all of these variations. This could be a lot of fun.

            1. re: rockycat

              If you want more of a lime taste, would you consider using a lime simple syrup to brush over the cake? I've done the epicurious lemon layer cake w/ lemon curd and mascarpone (mouthful to say) with key lime and it was excellent. The lime simple syrup upped the citrus taste. You could use that on the pineapple cake.

              1. re: chowser

                Thanks. That makes perfect sense. I believe I will do that.

          2. lime zest will amp up your citrus flavor without more liquid.