Shortening Substitution

Ask the Test Kitchen

Many of my older recipes for cakes and cookies call for shortening. It seems that today’s recipes use mostly butter or margarine. Can these be substituted for shortening? What changes will I notice in taste and texture? —R.M., Wyoming, Michigan

Yes, butter or stick margarine can be substituted for shortening in equal proportions in cake and cookie recipes. Most folks prefer butter because of the wonderful flavor it imparts. However, you can expect some changes in the texture of your baked goods.

Cookies made with butter will have a darker color and tend to spread out more as they bake. Using part butter and part shortening will help cookies keep their shape.

Cakes made with butter can be as light and tender as those made with shortening…if the butter and sugar are creamed properly. During the creaming process, the sugar and butter are beaten together to incorporate air bubbles into the fat, which helps to make the cake texture light. For best results, start with butter at room temperature (65°). The bowl and beaters should be cool to prevent the butter from becoming too warm as you beat it. Before you begin, it’s a good idea to rinse both the bowl and the beaters in ice water. Cream the butter and sugar for 4 to 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Learn more with our comprehensive guide to baking substitutes. We cover the best cream cheese substitute, milk substitute and more.