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Baking with a healthier fat substitute: Smart Balance 50/50 Blend

A while ago, I received a question about what kind of fat could be substituted for butter to make cookies healthier. At the time, I did a little bit of research and discovered that Smart Balance had recently unveiled a new product called 50/50 Butter Blend sticks which are formulated specifically for baking. [See this post for the complete answer.] However, I was unable to find the Smart Balance Butter Blend sticks in my grocery store for many months afterwards, so I could not take my own advice and try baking with this new product.

Finally, the product has now arrived in my local grocery store, and I bought a package to test it out. First, I should mention that the Smart Balance Butter Blend sticks cost about the same as a pound of regular butter. The retail price for the Smart Balance sticks is between $3.49-$3.99 per pound. In comparison, store-brand unsalted butter costs around $2.49-$2.99 per pound, and name-brand butter tends to be about $3.99 per pound.

Cost aside, though, I decided to put the Smart Balance sticks to the test by make 2 batches of Scottish Shortbread cookies at the same time: one with unsalted butter, and one with the unsalted variety of Butter Blend sticks (which are 50% Smart Balance, 50% butter). I chose this recipe because it relies heavily on butter to deliver it’s characteristic rich taste and flaky texture. There are only 3 ingredients in the recipe: butter, flour, and powdered sugar, so it would be easy to discern if the Butter Blend sticks produced any undesirable taste or texture differences from the all-butter recipe.

When working with the Smart Balance sticks, their consistency–at room temperature–was a little bit softer than butter. But once incorporated into the cookie dough, the texture of the dough was virtually the same as that made with all butter. So there were no problems with mixing or shaping the cookie dough. The two batches of cookies also baked the same: the cookies made with the Smart Balance sticks held their shape and did not spread any more than the cookies made with all butter. So the Smart Balance sticks function the same as butter in the mixing, shaping, and baking of cookies.

Once baked, the cookies looked nearly the same in appearance. The cookies made with the Smart Balance sticks were just a little bit more yellow in color than the cookies made with all butter, but the difference was negligible. The true test, then, came when we tasted the shortbread cookies. Some taste testers said they could not tell a difference in taste at all. However, I and a few others did notice a difference in taste, but it was not even an unpleasant taste difference; it was simply, well. . . different! I preferred the taste of the cookies made with all butter because I know that is how they are supposed to taste. But if I had never tasted the two recipes side-by-side, I would say that the cookies made with the Smart Balance butter blend sticks were delicious! There was no unusual or undesirable flavor to the cookies. They tasted great. They just weren’t quite as good as the cookies made with all butter.

When I used to teach courses in nutrition, I would ask my students: “Is the healthier product an ADEQUATE substitute for the real thing, given the added health benefit?” And in this case, I think Smart Balance has developed a fabulous product that does MORE than serve as an adequate substitute for butter in baking. If you need to cut back on saturated fat and calories in your diet, then consider baking with the butter blend sticks instead. Your baked goods will still taste great, AND you don’t have to feel quite as guilty about indulging in dessert!

Now I just need to find the time to test the Smart Balance butter blend sticks in a few other recipes. . .!

Here is the test recipe I used:

Scottish Shortbread cookies


From the “Bentley Farm Cookbook” by Virginia Bentley

Yield: 36 cookies

NOTE: My mom used to make this a lot when I was a child, and it was always a favorite—buttery and rich—delicious! But now that I am a parent, I have found that this recipe is also great to make with your children: it’s almost impossible to make it “wrong,” and it’s very tactile—the kids can handle it as much as they want (think play dough).


½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
½ C. confectioner’s sugar
2 ¼ C. all-purpose flour


1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (do not grease the pan). Preheat oven to 300 degrees Farenheit.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and confectioner’s sugar together by hand using a wooden spoon. Stir zealously until the mixture is completely blended. [NOTE: It is very important to do this by hand instead of using a mixer because the mixer will incorporate too much air, thus making the cookies airy and light instead of dense and rich.]

3.Gradually add the flour in stages, stirring thoroughly after each addition.

4. When all ingredients are completely combined, set the mixing spoon aside and knead the mixture (in the bowl) with your bare hands for at least 5 minutes. You may squeeze, pat, pound, press, etc. (This is the fun part for the kids! Nothing can hurt the dough!)

5. Gather the ball of dough up with your hands and place it on the cookie sheet. Press and pat the dough with your buttery hands until you have a rectangle that measures approx. 7 x 9 inches and is smooth and crack-free. [note: I found a rolling pin to be helpful just for smoothing the fingerprints out of the surface, but I didn’t actually roll the dough out because you don’t want it to get too thin.]

6. Using a fork, poke vertical rows up and down the rectangle. Then use a sharp, slim knife to cut the rectangle in 6 even columns from top to bottom (make 5 cuts in the dough). Then make another 5 cuts across the rectangle, yielding 6 rows across. You will have 36 rectangular cookies when finished. [note: Do NOT separate the cookies before baking. Bake the entire rectangle as one big piece.]

7. Bake for approx. 1 hour, or until LIGHTLY brown on top. [note: You may want to check your cookies fairly early, say after 40 minutes or so. I found that my oven was too hot and they were done quickly.]

8. After removing the pan from the oven, carefully score the cookies again by going over the existing lines with a sharp knife to cut the cookies apart.

9. When completely cooled, separate cookies and store in an airtight container with waxed paper between the layers.

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