Christmas Cookies: Baking with Butter vs. Vegetable Shortening

Terry asks: I would like to bake some cookies for Christmas and I’m confused.  I haven’t baked for many years, and the recipes call for butter and Crisco.  I have the butter, but I don’t have the Crisco. Could I substitute all butter? I want to bake: thumb prints, snow balls, twice-baked cookies, oatmeal, and several others. I would appreciate your help.

Baking S.O.S. says: Sure, you can certainly substitute butter equally (meaning use the same amount) in place of Crisco in cookie recipes. In fact, I prefer the taste of all butter over vegetable shortening.

There was a time when it was believed that vegetable shortening was actually better for your health than butter, so many old cookie recipes call for vegetable shortening for at least part of the fat. But now that we know that hydrogenated oils are actually worse for our health than butter, there has been a shift back to baking with all butter. So it’s perfectly fine to make that adjustment yourself, regardless of what the recipe calls for.

Here’s what might happen if you bake with all butter instead of half butter/half Crisco: Butter contains about 20% water, so as it heats and the butter melts, it tends to spread more, making your cookies thinner & flatter.

Vegetable shortening does not make cookies spread as much, so the benefit to using shortening is that cookies will be more puffed and thicker.

To prevent cookies from spreading as much, I always bake on parchment paper, so that can help alleviate some of the spreading when you bake cookies with all butter, and you will have cookies that taste better, too! (Vegetable shortening has little to no flavor.)

I will say that I have a few recipes that I still prefer the results of baking with vegetable shortening over butter, but the only way to know is simply to try both ways. With the cookies you listed, it sounds like you will be fine baking with butter.

Happy holiday baking!

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