No matter what you use in cakes – butter, oil, shortening – the goal in using any of these ingredients is the same: to bake a deliciously moist cake. Oil is what makes cake super moist, but subbing in butter as the fat can make it taste even richer.
Whatever the reason may be – perhaps the pantry is running low – it is possible to use butter instead of oil in a cake or as a substitute for vegetable oil in brownies. With a few tips to keep in mind, sub butter for oil like a pro in your cake, cupcake and brownie recipes for a fluffy dessert that tastes delicious.
Using Butter Instead of Oil in Cake
Using butter instead of oil in cake can work wonders because butter does more than keep cake moist when baking. Most baked goods, including cakes, call for the butter to be creamed with the sugar. This causes the tiny granules of sugar to cut into the butter, which adds air to the otherwise dense fat. By creaming together butter and sugar, the cake will rise more evenly, creating a fluffier cake and lighter crumb.
The advantage of using oil in a cake is that the batter is looser, which helps the texture of the cake as well as makes the cake lighter. There are two ways to reach the same results by using butter in place of oil. First, whip the butter and sugar a little longer than you typically would to add more air into the mixture, which will lighten the density of the cake and keep the texture as it should be.
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Next, add water to the batter if it is too thick and needs to be thinned. Add 1 tablespoon of water at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add as many tablespoons as you need to reach the right consistency of the batter to bake your cakes. Remember to make the additions slowly. It is much easier to add more water to a thick batter than it is to remove the water or add more dry ingredients to thicken it again.
Butter in Brownies
If using butter as a substitute for vegetable oil in brownies, be sure to melt the butter first. Once melted, the butter should sit for a few minutes to cool a bit before it is added to the batter, but do not allow the butter to cool so much that solids form again. By melting the butter, the dense fat will more closely resemble the vegetable oil in texture, making the consistency of the batter as it should be.
What's a Good Substitute for Butter?
Vegans or those avoiding too much butter can use other substitutes for butter like vegan margarine, vegetable shortening or coconut oil. All of these will act like butter. Do, however, be careful to avoid heating the coconut oil too much. It should have some solids even if the oil has separated a bit. These substitutes can be used as a one-for-one trade for both butter and oil.
Mayonnaise is another common substitute in cake, though it often replaces eggs. Mayonnaise is known to make chocolate cakes incredibly moist, but the taste is too overpowering to use in vanilla or other subtly flavored cakes. Try adding the same amount of mayo for butter or oil, though the cake will be denser.
Typically, 3 tablespoons of mayo are used for every egg in a cake, so try adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of mayo to replace the oil or butter that a cake calls for to keep the cake lighter and more fluffy.
Molly is a freelance journalist and social media consultant. In addition to Leaf.tv, Molly has written for Teen Vogue and Paste magazine. She is the former assistant editor of the Design and Style section of Paste magazine. View her work at www.mmollyharris.com.