It is almost inevitable. At some point during the holiday season, every avid baker will face some sort of baking dilemma — dough that’s too sticky, a cookie press that won’t function, sprinkles that won’t stick to the top of the cookies, cookies that burn on the bottom before they’re done on top.
If you’ve done holiday baking, you know what I’m talking about. When you’re cooking, you can throw in a pinch of this or a dash of that; baking is a much more exact science and things can and DO go wrong.
Well, a few weeks ago, a small tome came across my desk that offers balm for such baking blues. “The Baking Answer Book: Solu-tions to Every Problem You’ll Ever Face; Answers to Every Question You’ll Ever Ask,” by Lauren Chattman (Storey Publishing; www.storey.com).
Chattman is a cookbook author and former professional pastry chef who trained at the Institute for Culinary Education in New York City.
“Instead of burying the failures in the trash and trying to forget them, I’ve been able to consult with some very knowledgeable baker-mentors, and I’ve acquired a shelf full of wonderful baking books to help me proceed when I’m not sure about a recipe’s direc-tions or what to do when things go very wrong.”
If you’ve got a specific baking question, I’d be happy to look it up in “The Baking Answer Book,” just drop me an e-mail at email@example.com; or leave the question in the comments section here on the blog. Otherwise, I plan to pull out a few excerpts with holiday baking applications from the book and share them here in the days leading up to Christmas — perhaps every other day or so.
QUESTION: Can I substitute vegetable shortening for the butter in a cookie recipe? How will the cookies differ from cookies made with butter?
ANSWER: Vegetable shortening in an equal amount will work in any cookie recipe calling for solid butter, but there will be differences in both texture and flavor. Cookies made by creaming shortening with sugar will rise higher and have a lighter texture than cookies made by creaming butter with sugar. Shortening captures more air during creaming than butter and already contains gas bubbles which will expand during baking. But if you prefer light, high cookies to flat chewy ones, I would beg you to stick with butter. Vegetable shortening is neutral in flavor, adding nothing to the taste of your cookies. Butter not only adds its own fantastic flavor, but also enhances the flavors of the other ingredients, making your chocolate more chocolaty and your spices more piquant.