Avid bakers and cooks know that shortening such as Crisco is the secret to the flakiest pie crusts and biscuits, the fluffiest cakes, and the creamiest icing.
When a recipe calls for it, is Crisco the only option? What else can you use for shortening? Are there alternatives that are healthier or lend a richer flavor?
Before we answer these questions, it’s important to have a good understanding of shortening. Knowing what it’s made from, how it works, and why it is used in certain recipes will help you choose the best substitute for your favorite recipes.
What is Crisco?
Crisco is a type of shortening, which is fat that is solid at room temperature. Other examples of shortening include butter, margarine, and lard.
Crisco is a shortening used in baking and cooking that dates back to the early 1900s. It is made from hydrogenated vegetable oils. These oils can include cottonseed, soybean, or palm oil.
Since vegetable oils are naturally liquid, they go through a process called hydrogenation to make them solid fats at room temperature.
How and Why is Crisco Used
Shortening such as Crisco is preferred over liquid oils in baked goods. Incorporating shortening in a dessert yields a fluffy, flaky product in pie crusts, cakes, and cookies.
How did shortening get its name? It has to do with gluten.
During traditional baking, the gluten in flour creates a stretchy, chewy texture in baked goods. When added to a recipe, shortening coats the gluten, which keeps it from lengthening or creating a strong matrix. This is how baked goods get their tender crumbly texture.
Besides baking, Crisco can be used in place of oil to fry foods. It can also be used to make buttercream frosting.
Pros and Cons of Using Crisco
Vegetable shortening such as Crisco is more affordable and shelf-stable than butter or lard.
For many years, vegetable shortening was also considered healthier than animal based shortening because of its low saturated fat content. This viewpoint has changed in recent years with the discovery that vegetable shortening that has been highly processed may actually be less nutritious.
Crisco is made up of 100% fat, unlike margarine and butter which contain about 80% fat, the rest being water. Because of this, Crisco is high in calories and is not known to be a source of vitamins or minerals. Since trans fats have been banned in the United States, shortenings have been reformulated to remove those.
Crisco is nearly tasteless, which can be viewed as an advantage or a disadvantage. It can be added to both sweet and savory recipes without affecting their taste. On the other hand, Crisco’s neutral flavor does not lend the richness to baked goods that another option like butter does.
Best Substitutes for Crisco
When looking for a substitute for Crisco, consider options that have a similar texture and flavor. Other solid fats often make the most appropriate choice, but keep an open mind. In the following list, there are probably a few options you never considered.
Let’s dive into some of the best replacements for Crisco, so you can choose the one that will give you the best result in your baking or cooking.
Butter is the most popular substitute for shortening. It is widely available and most people already have butter in their refrigerator, but it is more expensive than Crisco.
Butter adds a rich flavor to baked goods. It can be used as a replacement for Crisco in pie crusts, cookies, and pastries.
- Cakes: When making a cake, either butter or Crisco can be used. Less air can be creamed into cake batter when using butter, so it will rise less than when you incorporate shortening.
- Cookies: Butter makes a great addition to cookies because it will give the cookies a delicious buttery flavor. It also gives cookies a crunch, so if you prefer crispy cookies, use butter instead of Crisco.
- Frosting and Icing: Aside from baked goods, butter can be used to make buttercream frosting. One disadvantage is that butter has a lower melting point, so icing made with butter does not hold up as well in warm weather. In addition, it is difficult to get a pure white color of frosting when using butter, but this is possible with Crisco. Icing made with butter does not crust as well as Crisco-based icing, making Crisco a better choice for delicate decorating such as making roses on cakes.
Keep in mind that butter contains a small amount of water, unlike Crisco that is completely fat. This may yield a slightly different texture than shortening. Most cakes and breads won’t be affected, but pie crusts will be less flakey.
You can experiment by substituting half of the called-for Crisco with butter to see how it affects the texture of your dish.
You will need to add more butter to your recipe when replacing Crisco. If your recipe calls for 1 cup of shortening, substitute it for 1 cup of butter plus 2-3 tablespoons of butter.
Clarified butter, also known as ghee, is a type of butter that has most of the water removed. At room temperature, it is often in solid form similar to the texture of Crisco. It, too, can be a great substitute for baking and frying.
It can be used in a 1 to 1 replacement to shortening since it has a texture similar to Crisco.
Coconut oil is a healthy alternative to Crisco that has some nutritional benefits. It is derived from mature coconut meat and has a mild nutty flavor.
You can use coconut oil to make flaky pastries and pie dough, and add a deep flavor to cakes.
Coconut oil can be used for stir-frying foods. Be careful when deep frying, since coconut oil has a low smoke point.
If using a combination of coconut oil and shortening, you need to melt the coconut oil for savory recipes or beat it with sugar for baked goods.
A disadvantage of using coconut oil is that it has a distinct coconut flavor that may come through in the final product. Make sure that this flavor complements your recipe.
Coconut oil can be substituted in a 1 to 1 ratio for shortening.
Lard is an animal product and a versatile fat that can be used in place of Crisco in most recipes. Usually made of pork fat, it is virtually tasteless and is a solid fat at room temperature.
Unlike butter, lard makes an excellent substitute for shortening when deep frying because it has a high smoke point. Like Crisco, lard contains minimal water. This limits smoke and splatter during frying.
Because lard contains monounsaturated fats, it is slightly healthier than Crisco.
Besides being an excellent choice in pie crusts, lard also makes great fried chicken and can be used to cook a delicious savory breakfast of eggs and hashbrowns.
Lard can be substituted for Crisco in equal amounts.
A type of lard, bacon fat, offers a unique flavor and smell. This alternative will work best in savory dishes, such as bread or biscuits.
Keep in mind that bacon fat is very salty. You may need to reduce the amount of salt called for in your recipe when using bacon fat instead of Crisco.
Besides baking, bacon grease can also be used in place of shortening when frying foods.
Bacon grease can be purchased or saved when cooking bacon. Cooking with an animal fat like bacon grease can produce really flavorful results.
Liquid Vegetable Oils
There are a variety of liquid oils that can be used in place of Crisco in certain recipes. Crisco itself is made from vegetable oil. Vegetable oil, along with olive oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, and grapeseed oil can all be a good substitute for Crisco and are options to consider.
Olive oil is a healthier choice than many other oils. Since it has a strong flavor, it works best in savory dishes.
Olive oil can be used for deep frying, but peanut oil works better. Olive oil has a lower smoke point, so you will need to use the exhaust fan above your stove.
Liquid oils do not work as well in baked goods. They will not contribute to the fluffiness of baked goods in the same way that shortening does.
Olive oil is also more expensive than Crisco or many other types of shortening, but other vegetable oils are inexpensive.
Shortening made from pure palm oil has a spreadable solid texture, similar to that of Crisco. Palm shortening is made from palm oil, which is a vegetable fat that comes from the tropical palm oil tree.
A healthier alternative to Crisco, palm shortening does not contain any trans fats or cholesterol. It also has a neutral flavor and is colorless and odorless.
Palm shortening can be used in place of Crisco in deep frying and baking. When used in baking, palm shortening will give your desserts a flaky pastry.
Palm shortening can be used in place of Crisco in a 1 to 1 ratio.
Keep in mind that palm trees are in the same family as other nut trees, so this is not a suitable alternative for someone allergic to tree nuts.
If you're on the hunt for healthier alternatives, applesauce is a great alternative to Crisco in desserts. The flavor works well in cakes and cookies.
Since applesauce is naturally sweet, you may need to reduce the amount of sugar used in your recipe.
Keep in mind that using applesauce will make your final product more dense and chewy and less fluffy. Your desserts also may not brown as easily.
Applesauce is a healthy alternative for those looking for a low fat or low cholesterol option.
In order to end up with a texture similar to that of shortening, substitute applesauce for Crisco at a 1 to 1 ratio. Then add 1 tablespoon of butter per cup of shortening called for in the recipe.
If looking for another fruit substitute, banana puree can also be used in place of Crisco in the same manner as applesauce.
Although it may not sound exciting, prune puree is a creative substitution for shortening.
This alternative works well as a baking ingredient because it contains two helpful baking properties, sorbitol and pectin. Sorbitol is a natural sugar alcohol that retains moisture. Pectin also retains moisture and forms air bubbles when creamed, in the same way fat does.
Cookies made with prune puree may not be as crispy as those made with Crisco, but they will remain chewier longer.
Because of prunes’ dark color, using them in a recipe may result in a darker end product. The flavor will be slightly different as well.
Prune puree can be substituted for shortening in a 1 to 1 ratio, while reducing the overall amount of sugar or sweetener in the recipe.
Margarine is a more affordable replacement than butter. It also has a milder flavor.
Margarine can be used in place of shortening in equal amounts. It will lead to a texture in foods that is very similar to Crisco.
When using margarine for baking, make sure to use solid margarine sticks, not the soft spreadable margarine sold in tubs. This solid stick margarine will cream with sugar and can be used to make cookies, cakes, or pie crusts.
If looking for a rich buttery flavor, margarine may not be the best choice. A disadvantage of margarine is that it is more processed than other options.
Use this list to find a suitable replacement for shortening in your favorite recipes. Try a fruit substitute for chewy cookies. Or opt for an animal-based fat or another form of vegetable oil to recreate flaky biscuits or pie crusts.
With some minor adjustments, you can bake or deep fry your most-loved sweet and savory foods using one of the listed Crisco alternatives.
Do you have any other tried and true substitution recommendations? Please let me know in the comments!