The Facts about Fat

The chocolate cake is rich, moist and full of flavor. The pastry is flaky, soft and buttery sweet. We owe it all to fat! Fats tenderize and soften textures, add moistness and richness to baked goods, increase keeping quality, add flavor, and add flakiness to puff pastry and pie dough. But which fats are best for what you want to create. Use this practical overview as guide.

  • Butter is made from sweet cream and contains about 80% butterfat. Salt may be added. Because of its low smoke point, it should not be used for deep-fat frying. 
  • Light or Reduced-Calorie Butter has about half the fat removed, possibly through the addition of water, skim milk or gelatin. It shouldn’t be substituted for regular butter in baking. 
  • Margarine is made from vegetable oils and emulsified with milk or nonfat dry milk solids. Color and salt may be added. It contains 80% fat and may be substituted for butter.
    • Soft Margarine (tub margarine) is made with all vegetable oils and remains soft and spreadable when cold. It is not recommended for baking.
    • Liquid Margarine is soft enough to be squeezable when cold and comes in pliable bottles specifically for that purpose. It, too, is not recommended for baking.
    • Reduced-Fat Margarine ranges from about 25% to 65% less fat than regular margarine. Since this product contains water, it cannot be substituted for regular margarine for baking or frying.
    • Fat-Free Margarine is made up of gelatin, rice starch and lactose. It is not recommended for baking, either. 
  • Vegetable Shortening is made of vegetable oils that have been hydrogenated under controlled conditions to change a liquid to a solid. It has no flavor and will keep at room temperature. It is ideal for deep-fat frying because it has a high smoke point. It may also be used in baking. 
  • Lard is rendered pork fat. It is used in pie crusts and makes a tender, flaky crust. Keep in mind, the pronounced flavor of lard does interfere with some delicate food flavors. 
  • Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. They are extracted from seeds or vegetables. They may be used in baking when a recipe calls for oil but usually may not be substituted for butter or margarine in a recipe. Oils can be used for deep-fat frying.

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