How to Make a Shortening Substitute

Shortening
••• Veganbaking.net/Flickr 

Have a recipe that calls for shortening but you don't have any or would prefer to avoid it? There are simple substitutes that are commonly used, depending on which qualities of shortening are desired.

What You'll Need

An equivalent amount of lard, butter, margarine, or oil.

Preparation

  • Lard: Lard is the best equivalent substitute for shortening. You can use slightly less lard than you would shortening, so for every 1 cup of shortening called for, use 1 cup of lard minus 2 tablespoons. This will generally give you the same result for texture and deep frying.
  • Butter or Margarine: Butter or margarine can be used instead, adding a couple extra tablespoons per cup of shortening called for in a recipe. So for every 1 cup of shortening called for in a recipe, use 1 cup butter or margarine plus 2 tablespoons. Butter has a lower melting point than shortening and might change the texture of your recipe slightly—making it more or less crisp, less flaky or less fluffy. Experimentation is recommended. Butter shouldn't be used for deep-frying but it works fine for greasing a pan.
  • Oil: When frying, a one-to-one substitution of oil for shortening can be used with good results.

Why Recipes Call for Shortening Over Oils or Fats

Shortening is used in baking for short doughs—ones where a stretchy dough that forms gluten is not desired. If you want a flaky pie crust, for example, you don't want the gluten forming in the dough or the crust won't have the right texture. The fat in shortening coats the flour and keeps water from activating the compounds that form gluten.

Before vegetable shortening was invented, lard was commonly used for this purpose in baking. Both are almost entirely fat, without water that would activate gluten formation. Another advantage of using shortening and lard in flaky, tender pie crust and baked goods is that, as solid fats, they don't mix as completely with the dry ingredients as oils do. This leaves streaks of solid fat in the dough that when they melt during baking, they produce that light and flaky result.

The Virtues of and Downsides of Lard vs Shortening

Lard is a perfectly acceptable substitute for shortening in most recipes. It got a bad rap, in part by the marketing efforts of the shortening producers. But lard is an animal product and if you want to eliminate animal fats from your diet, you might have switched to vegetable shortening.

Meanwhile, shortening got its own bad reputation as it was high in trans-fatty acids. Manufacturers such as Crisco and Cookeen reformulated their products to reduce trans fats. 

Both lard and shortening are used in deep-frying. They have a higher smoke point than butter and spatter less because they contain less water. 

Some recipes call for shortening just to grease a pan. In that case, you can substitute cooking spray or use oil, butter or lard to grease the pan.