If you've ever wondered, "If a baking recipe calls for shortening, can I use butter or margarine instead?" you're not alone. Shortening and butter substitute questions come up all the time, especially in baking when the food science matters more. Here's our best advice.

By BH&G Food Editors

If you ran out of either butter or shortening, want to use up a package, or simply prefer the texture or flavor of one over the other you can substitute butter for shortening and shortening for butter in your baked goods. Be wary that the end result will be a bit different depending on which fat you use because they are fundamentally different products.

How to Substitute Butter or Margarine for Shortening

There is no magic shortening to butter conversion, generally, you can use butter or margarine in place of shortening as a one-to-one swap. Making this substitution may slightly alter the texture of your baked goods. When substituting butter for shortening, use the same amount called for in your recipe.

Why will you get different results swapping butter for shortening?

Shortening is 100 percent fat. Butter and margarine are about 85 percent fat and 15 percent water. This additional liquid may change the consistency of the sweets you bake. Butter and margarine's rich, pleasing flavors and texture usually make a desireable substitute though.

What differences will you see in your baked goods if you use butter instead of shortening?

  • Cookies made with butter or margarine may be softer and spread a little more. Cookies made with butter are usually crisper than chewy cookies made with shortening, but the flavor is richer with butter. So if you need a substitute for shortening in cookies, a one-to-one butter swap will work great,
  • In cakes and breads, the substitution is rarely noticeable when using shortening vs. butter.
  • Piecrust made with butter or margarine will not be as flaky as one made with shortening. If you're a fan of flaky, you may not want to substitute butter for shortening in pie crust.

Do not use whipped butters, margarines, or blends in baking.

How to Substitute Shortening for Butter

On the rare occasion that you run out of butter (how could you let this happen?!), shortening with a little salt makes an excellent fat substitution.

If a recipe calls for:

  • 1 cup butter use 1 cup shortening plus, if desired, ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup butter use ½ cup shortening plus, if desired, ⅛ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup butter use ¼ cup shortening plus, if desired a dash of salt

Adding the optional salt will give you more of a salted butter result than unsalted butter.

Tip: If you've got open packages of both shortening and butter, you can use a combination of the two in your baking. Just combine to measure the amount called for in your recipe.

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Comments (2)

November 24, 2018
Butter and margarine has about 15% moisture and shortening very little. I wouldn't use margarine because of the type of oil. Butter is a better alternative because it is closer to the shortening in consistancy. Lard is a good alternative as well. I add a little less liquid and a little more butter to compensate for the extra liquid in the butter and it works out very well. People forget to take this into account when substituting. I bake with whole wheat flour and this helps as well because you need more moisture with whole wheat substitution. Baking is a science more than an art, and the artistic side comes in when experimenting or trying new ideas...
July 30, 2018
So would maybe putting in a little oil instead of equal parts butter for shortening help with the density issue? (Like 4/5 c butter & 1/5 c oil to sub for 1c shortening?