Margarine is the refuse of baking fats.
I know, I know—this is a strong opening statement. I’d feel a little bit bad about it (okay, not really) if our resident dessert expert, Erin McDowell, didn’t agree with me.
“Margarine often contains no dairy at all,” Erin explains. “It’s an emulsion made from water and vegetables oils" and lacks what we call flavor.
But this isn’t a margarine rant (as much as I’d like to be). We’re here to talk about baking fats. It’s a big, big world of margarine, butter, shortening, and lard (and oil, but there’s more on that here) and things can get confusing—and especially when flour comes into play and pastry’s the name of the game.
But it doesn’t have to be so overwhelming. We made pie dough with each of the fats (and gave taste test verdicts) to demystify the different options.
Here are the baking fat basics:
Conclusion: Whether you’re making an all-butter, butter-shortening, or all-lard pie crust, the important thing is this is your pie. Experiment with the baking fats (with the exception of margarine), don’t overmix the dough, keep the crust chilled, and find which fat fits you.
And the same can be said for cookies, biscuits, and cake. You’re eating dessert! This is a happy time.
Photos by James Ransom and Mark Weinberg