Butter vs. Shortening

Butter Versus Shortening for Cake Frosting Recipes

While working as a pastry chef here in the U.S., I’ve noticed that many Americans prefer shortening-based cake frosting over real buttercream.

Butter Versus Shortening for Cake Frosting Recipes

Probably because it’s what’s used in supermarket cakes, it’s in the center of so many cream-filled goodies, and is the basis of the frosting-in-a-tub that you can buy at a grocery store, shortening-based products, for many, is a household staple.

Butter Versus Shortening for Cake Frosting Recipes

However, let’s explore the question: Is shortening the best choice for cake frosting? Or not?

Why Bakeries Use Shortening

Besides being cheaper (up to 1/3rd the price less) than butter, shortening also has a longer shelf life and is more a more stable ingredient, able to be stored in a bucket at room temperature for weeks/months/even years without spoiling. When it comes to cake frosting, shortening whips up to a fluffier volume and is better at withstanding heat. In fact, this type of frosting usually doesn’t even require refrigeration. It’s also bright white so you can achieve any colors with it.

The Drawbacks of Shortening

If you’ve ever used shortening, you may have noticed how hard it is to wash off your hands and utensils. When it gets inside the body, it leaves a similar kind of grease trail behind. Beware that shortening is a hydrogenated fat, which contains – at the very least – traces of trans-fats, which cause heart disease. Like preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial flavorings, shortening is one of those ingredients that you use at your own risk or at the risk of whomever eats your baked goods.

Some people complain of shortening-based frostings being “too sweet.” Since shortening does not melt at body temperature, when it gets inside the mouth, it coats the palate and clings there for a while. That can result in an undesirable cloying sensation. Sometimes the solution to complaints of a frosting being “too sweet” is not to tinker with the sugar but rather to switch from using shortening to butter.

Butter Versus Shortening for Cake Frosting Recipes

The Benefits of Butter

Although it’s high in saturated fat and cholesterol, butter has been proven to be healthier to consume than shortening and margarine. Butter not only has a pleasing taste but it melts at body temperature so it has an appealing mouth feel too.

Butter Versus Shortening for Cake Frosting Recipes

Because butter is soft at room temperature and hard when cold, a cake can be frosted, chilled, then smoothed using the blade of a bench scraper or metal spatula. My preferred technique for finishing buttercream-frosted wedding cakes involves using a bench scraper, a turntable, and a few rests in the fridge. In the end, I scrape off excess buttercream until the surface is smooth.

Butter Versus Shortening for Cake Frosting Recipes

Why Butter is More Challenging

Butter is a perishable food item that is far more sensitive to heat and cold than shortening. Because it contains water, it expands when frozen and contracts when warmed, which can cause a cake to crack if it transitions from one temperature extreme to another too quickly. Whenever dealing with a genuine buttercream cake, make sure that the transitions from hot-to-cold or from cold-to-hot happen as gradually as possible to prevent fissures.

Buttercream Frosting Recipes

The recipes for my favorite vanilla and chocolate buttercreams frostings are included in my Buttercream Cake Frosting Course.

Smooth Buttercream Frosting Course

The recipes are also in the back of my book, Cake Decorating with Modeling Chocolate. If you are looking for a great wedding cake frosting, there it is.

Cake Decorating with Modeling Chocolate by Wicked Goodies

You might also enjoy these articles:

Chocolate Glaze Recipe by Wicked Goodies

How Chocolate is Made by Wicked Goodies

Chocolate Buying Giude by Wicked Goodies

Wicked Goodies

Subscribe to Wicked Goodies


Comments

Butter vs. Shortening — 14 Comments

  1. The only question I have is how do you make a white, (possible traditional, wedding cake).. I have used a half butter , half shortening icing before and with just half butter it wasnt white, so I opted for all shortening with butter flavoring to get the white. Im not completly happy with any icing recipes ive found, the consitency is there but not the taste, so im def gonna try this all butter recipe (fingers crossed) but I did wonder about the color and also the sweetness as stated before in some one elses post.i feel like the more shortening in my recipe the more it cut the sweetness and also the grittiness ive found in my icings,, do you taste any gritiness with the all butter recipe? Thanks hopefully I dont seem negative toward all butter..I havent found my perfect recipe so I am def gonna try this all butter just ?s after my long road of trial and error..

    • I have made pure white wedding cakes while working in bakeries that used commercial fondant or non-dairy whip (like whipped cream but more synthetic). Both of those finishes were as white as can be. When it comes to all-butter or real white chocolate, you always have that yellow tone to make a more ivory finish. It just depends on which matters to you more: that the finish be all natural or that the color be bright white. It can only be one or the other.

      There is zero grittiness in my buttercream frosting recipes because of the way that it’s processed.

  2. I definitely prefer the taste of real butter buttercream. Can you tell me what the shelf life is of real butter buttercream? How long can a cake be left out on the counter in an air conditioned room? How long will it last in the refrigerator? Thanks!

    • My all-butter buttercream lasts for 7-10 days at room temperature and for 1-2 months in the refrigerator. How long it lasts seems to depend on the freshness of the butter. Here in the US, our dairy products are highly processed to give the butter a longer shelf life so if you are using a farm fresh butter, keep in mind that the shelf life may be as short as 4-5 days. For longer term storage, you can also freeze it.

      A cake covered in all natural buttercream can sit out in an air conditioned room for hours. As long as the cake was cold to begin with, it will remain somewhat cold on the surface for quite a while. If the room is 65 degrees F, that buttercream should hold well. However I prefer to rotate cakes in and out of the fridge during the decoration phase so that they never completely thaw out or end up sitting out for too long. Big cakes take longer to get soft than small cakes because they have a larger core, which insulates the cake. Smaller cakes will start to get soft in a shorter amount of time.

      When it comes down to the displaying cakes at the event itself, they need to be able to sit out for up to 3-4 hours and using this buttercream, they are still okay. I prefer to let them come to room temperature before serving anyway because cake tastes much better when it’s soft.

  3. This is the first post I came across that suggests all butter icing for cakes.I am planning to make a cake shaped of an animal that requires froating /decorating. The Wilton pan suggested using veg shortening and butter for butter cream icing using diffent tips to decorate the animal. Initially I was worried as I do not want to feed my child veg shortening which initiated my search for an alternative method. My question is if I use this all butter recipe for piping do you think it would keep up? I plan to make the cake on the same day and store in a cake box in the refrigerator will that work? or would I need a different recipe for a “stiffer” icing? your help is greatly appreciated.

    • You make a good point that all-butter buttercream is more challenging to pipe with because it gets softer from the heat of your hand. Shortening-based frosting does make piping easier since shortening doesn’t melt at body temperature so you don’t have to worry about softening. Nevertheless, I still stick with the all-butter stuff and do what it takes to make it work.

      I often use parchment paper cones for piping, and with that method, my hand makes less contact with the frosting reservoir in the cone, so I find that works well. When using larger piping bags with tips and couplers, I make a point not to hold onto the bag any longer than I have to. Any time I’m not piping, I put the bag down. I also don’t fill it up very much; instead I put just enough frosting as is needed in the bag. First, that allows for more control while piping and second, that prevents the whole supply from getting soft before I’ve had a chance to use it. It’s important to pipe rather swiftly with this type of frosting and I don’t mind the extra challenge because I think that ethically, it’s well worth the effort to avoid hydrogenated fats.

      It always helps to finish a cake one day in advance so that it has time to set up before you transport it or put it on display for a party but I understand this is not always possible. If you plan to make a cake and eat it on the same day, start early and make sure your fridge is nice and cold. If the box is very thick, allow it to vent so the cold air can get in. You can also put some metal sheet pans into the fridge a few hours before the cake is done so they get nice and cold. If you set the cake on top of them, they will help cool it down faster and if you transport the cake on top of them, they will act like ice packs.

  4. Just an interesting fact: Crisco was invented as a cheap way to make soap and candles. Not something I want to ingest. And btw, many people are fearful of butter because they think saturated fat is bad for us. It isn’t, but rancid, industrialized oils are. It is such a pleasure to see a baker who enjoys working with REAL ingredients.

  5. OH!! you are so correct about butter! The jello/crisco/mushroom soup recipes of the fifties still dominate the baking of many. Having never or rarely tasted butter in a baked good, they have no idea what a difference it makes. If you’re going to spend the time, money and calories to bake, use the butter!

    • You are so right! Butter is the best. Yes, it does soften easily but your technique of “in-and-our-of–the-fridge” while smoothing works.

      Thanks for all the good advice. I love your book.

  6. I usually use a combo of butter and shortening for my American buttercream. I love butter. There is a picture of me standing butt naked in the fridge eating a stick of butter (i was two). My family had a dairy for the majority of my childhood so I grew up eating real butter. I don’t know why but, to me, all butter buttercream tastes sweeter than the shortening kinds. I have found that I can add more sugar, thus making it thicker, to the shortening based buttercream compared to all butter. Of course shortening has none of the great taste that butter has so I use 1-2 parts butter to 2-3 parts shortening depending on the weather. I currently use shortening with 1 trans fat because the hi ratio shortening is so expensive. It costs more than butter! At my cake supply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Optionally add an image (JPEG only)