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The Function Butter & Other Fats in Cake Batter

Welcome to class #6 of 7 in the “Cake Batter” course. We’ve been using the traditional “quatre quarts” pound cake recipe as a tool to understand the science of cake batter.

This post will explore another ingredient in cake batter, butter.

Five slices of pound cake lined up at a diagonal set on a marble board.

Pound cakes made with butter, shortening and oil

After experimenting with mixing technique and how to use salt and leavening to improve the cake texture and flavor, we began to look at each of the core ingredients of the basic pound cake and their respective roles in cake batter – butter and other fats is the subject of this class.

To learn general information about the science of butter and other fats please visit the Baking Ingredients – Butter & Other Fats page. This class is specifically about butter and fats in pound cake batter.

The ingredients that strengthen the cake structure (flour and eggs) need to be balanced with the ingredients that weaken the cake structure (sugar and fat).

To create a moist, sweet and tender cake that bakes up with a nice even crumb the four main ingredients have to work together.

In classes 3 & 4 we looked at the two structure builders, flour and eggs. Class 5 was all about one of the tenderizers, sugar.

Now we’ll learn about the other tenderizer, butter (and other fats).

A cup of oil, a stick of butter and a stick of shortening on a marble slab.

Fat is a Tenderizer in Cake Batter

Fat acts as a tenderizer in cake batter. First, because it adds moisture and richness to the cake and, second, because fat interferes with gluten formation in the flour and with coagulation of the eggs.

Solid fats, like butter and shortening, are also the vehicle for creating air pockets in the cake batter. A light and airy cake will fall apart more easily in your mouth, which creates an impression of tenderness.

The three main fats used in cake batter are butter, shortening and oil. Certain fruit purees can also used to replace some or all of the fat in some cake recipes.

Lets look at each and find out the advantages and disadvantages.

Testing Butter in cake Batter:

So, I went back to the kitchen for more pound cake testing. I baked 5 pound cakes using various amounts of butter, shortening and vegetable oil. Otherwise I kept to the traditional quatre quarts recipe, using of 8 oz of each ingredient.

Five slices of pound cake baked with different fats on a marble board. Text overlay displays amount of fat used in the batter.

You can see from the shape of each cake slice that the cakes rose differently.

Butter and fats in pound cake comparison
So, as I pretty much already knew even before running the tests, for a pound cake, butter is the only way to go.

Using oil, shortening and even fruit purees can work in other cake recipes, but not for pound cake.

When we’re done experimenting with all the ingredients for this “cake batter” course, we’ll use all we’ve learned to create Pound Cake Perfection.

In This comprehensive post about creating a great cake recipe you’ll find the perfected pound cake recipe, and lots of great information to help you adapt and create your own cake recipes.

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