Substituting Oil for Shortening in Cake Recipes

Learn how to (and when you can) substitute oil for shortening when baking.

It's a familiar scene for many home chefs. You land on the ideal, delicious-sounding recipe perfect for your occasion. You grab all the cooking or baking tools you need, then start rounding up ingredients. You're plugging right along and almost ready to channel your inner celeb baker...until you discover you're one or two ingredients shy of what you need to complete the dish. Perhaps this exact situation is what inspired you to search "Can I substitute oil for shortening?" and land right here. Fret not: We have the answers you need about vegetable shortening vs. oil that will likely save your baking day.

pressing shortening into measuring cup with spatula
Kritsada Panichgul

Shortening vs. Oil and Other Fats in Baking

Before we dive into the topic of shortening vs. oil in baked goods, let's talk about the essential role fat plays in cake recipes and other baked treats. Fat is an element that lends a tender texture and boosts flavor. Depending on the solid or liquid fat source you use, the results will vary.

There are at least 20 different fats you could choose from, such as coconut oil, vegetable oil, lard, or butter. All oils (except for coconut, which is solid at room temperature and more akin to shortening) work about the same in baking recipes that call for oil, since they are 100% fat. Shortening is also 100% fat. By comparison, most American butters are about 80% fat, 15% water, and 5% milk solids.

Oils cannot, however, play a role in leavening so they are not always an equal swap in baked goods that originally call for all solid fats.

Can I Substitute Oil for Shortening in a Cake?

As a general rule, yes, you can substitute vegetable oil for shortening in cakes. If you substitute oil for shortening, it's good to consider the instructions for your specific layer, sheet, pound, or bundt cake recipe, then go from there.

Cakes are most often made in one of two ways:

  • Using the creaming method, which calls for beating the fat with the sugar to create a fluffy, light batter. Air is incorporated into the batter and the volume of the batter increases. The solid fats help amplify the aeration process.
  • Using the all-together method, which involves mixing all the liquid components in one bowl, then all the dry components in another. Next, you would slowly incorporate the dry into the wet mixture and the fluffy texture is the result of the leaveners (baking powder and baking soda).

Any cake recipe that calls for the all-together method should be a safer one to try to substitute oil for shortening, but either should be fairly safe.

So go ahead and substitute oil for shortening cup for cup. Just be aware when you're choosing vegetable shortening vs. oil, the oil will result in a more dense (though still delicious) structure.

So what about swapping solid fats for liquid ones? You can absolutely do so by melting the solid fats first. Just keep in mind that the fats will solidify once the baked good is cooled, so the texture may be slightly different than you're used to. The water that's present in butter strengthens the gluten in a cake's flour, resulting in a crumb that's denser and not quite as tender as a cake made with oil.

Now that you know you can substitute oil for shortening, go forth and mix, bake, and devour; you'll be pleased with the results regardless of the tiny textural differences.

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