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Jul 1, 2010 04:43 AM

Advice: Can I Add Shortening for a Moister Cake?

I am making a two layer 1/2 sheet cake this weekend for 4th of July. I tried the cakes out a couple of weekends ago and thought they could be moister. One layer is Red Velvet and the other is White. Both call for butter as the fat- no oil.

I don't have time to test out the cakes again; but want to make it moister. Will subbing half of the butter for shortening do the trick? I don't want the cake to fail, so I am looking for a moist maker that is tried and true. I was also thinking about cooking the cakes a little less- pulling them as soon as I get moist crumbs on the toothpick.

Your thoughts and advice are appreciated!

Thanks- Dana

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  1. "soon as I get moist crumbs on the toothpick." At that point the cakes are done and should be removed; I never bake cakes past that. Baking them beyond that point will result in overbaked cake; which, without seeing the balance of fat, sugar and liquid in your recipe, might have been the problem in the first place. The two rules of moist cakes are 1) a good recipe and 2) do not overbake. Good recipes come along via tria and error, and a good oven thermometer is essential to regulate your baking temp and time.

    Baked goods get their moisture from liquid ingredients and retain it best when fat and sugar are present, as both tend to hold on to moisture and prevent it from slowly leaving the cake. Did you use whole milk, as opposed to lower fat liquids? Was buttermilk called for in the Red Velvet?

    I prefer cakes made with butter than oil, although I have a few oil-based cake recipes I like, including a red velvet cake, but butter has better flavor. Why sub half the butter for oil or shortening (when you wrote shortening, did you mean oil or vegetable shortening?) Using half oil is not going to give you more moistness than butter already does. Fat is fat. Since you made a white cake, which doesn't have egg yolks in it, there's a little less fat in the recipe, but use whole milk, and bake the cakes for less time. Worse comes to worse, a good icing and /or ice cream covers dry cake sins. Hope it comes out well for your holiday, enjoy!

    1. Dana,

      I don't think I've ever made a white layer cake (or similar layer cake) with oil. It's always been butter. (and sometimes buttermilk, but never oil).

      Have you considered how you are mixing your ingredients? Read about the different mixing methods -- including how each method produces a different texture in the cakes -- here:

      Good luck.

      1. Were the cakes cold or at room temp when you ate them? Butter cakes straight from a fridge will taste dry because butter is solid at that temp. Oil based cakes will taste moister when cold.

        1 Reply
        1. re: sbp

          I tasted them both cold and at room temp. I think maybe I just baked them too long- one is a Martha Stewart cake and the other a red velvet recipe that I got here on CH. They both received great reviews.

          Thanks ipsedixit for the link, I will check it out.


        2. i've always thought shortening was best for cookies. i tend to use oil in cakes and they are always moist. i am lactose intolerant so i avoid using butter in baked goods when possible, but oil really does seem to work better in cakes, muffins, and cupcakes. i know the butter flavor isn't there then, but if it's a flavored cake (like red velvet), i don't think it should matter that much. the finished result is usually lighter too.

          every time i used to bake cakes with butter (including several martha recipes), they were denser and crumbier than oil-based cakes. and drier.

          i would sub half the butter for vegetable oil. usually you can use a 1:1 ratio. good luck, hope the cakes turn out well!

          1. How about the tres leches cake method of basting the finished cake with sweetened milk? You'd want to have the red velvet layer on the bottom so the color won't bleed into the white cake.

            2 Replies
            1. re: greygarious

              Good for a sheet cake. Not so much for a layer cake. Tried that once and it kind of imploded.

              1. re: sbp

                OP specifies a two-layer half-sheet cake, which shouldn't be any thicker than a 9x13 sheet cake, since a half-sheet pan is less than an inch deep.