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Shortening- Not All Are Created Equal

This week I'm talking about buttercream icing which is a staple in cake decorating and when prepared correctly will save you much frustration and allow you to focus on the fun part of caking; decorating! If your buttercream is made incorrectly you will end up fighting with your icing rather than being able to focus on piping beautiful art!

There are a number of ways to make buttercream. Some recipes call for butter only some call for shortening only and some call for half and half.  Today I will be talking about shortening based buttercream recipes.


Shortening usually can be purchased in your local supermarket two ways. White shortening, which is unflavored shortening or yellow shortening which has been flavored to taste like butter. If you are making white icing you will want to make sure that you do not use butter flavored shortening otherwise your icing will not be white. I will tell you that since Crisco changed their recipe in an effort to cut out trans-fats it has effected the way the buttercream icing tastes and feels. The trans-fat found in the original Crisco is what made your buttercreams tasty and didn't leave a greasy film on the roof of your mouth.

There is also another type of shortening that will make your buttercream tasty; High Ratio Shortening, which is a little harder to find but whips up smoother, creamier and is less greasy than traditional shortening. What's the difference you ask? High ratio shortening contains emulsifiers that allow your buttercream to hold more sugar and liquids before breaking down.

I will tell you that High Ratio Shortening is very expensive compared to Crisco but you will use less in your recipe and once you've tried it you'll have a hard time going back to Crisco. Use 2/3 cup of high ratio shortening for every 1 cup called for in the icing recipe unless otherwise noted on the recipe.

Where can you buy it? Well that can be a little tricky. It's not readily available at the grocery store and if by chance your store does carry  it, it will be packaged as just "High Ratio Shortening". It can be found online (packaged as High Ratio Shortening) or through a bakery supply company (or Cash & Carry/Smart and Final) as Sweetex. Sweetex also makes trans fat free shortening so be sure you check that label.

I have been told by other decorator's that a less expensive route is to purchase store brands of shortening. Just check the label and if it contains trans-fats then that shortening will be like the old Crisco before they changed the recipe. However, keep in mind this route will not have the same flavor as a Sweetex, but it will be easier on the pocket book and give you some of the other qualities that the new Crisco recipe no longer has. 

The other thing I wanted to say when making your buttercream icing is that you don't have to use 100% shortening in your recipe. If you want to make it a little tastier, you can take the shortening amount called for in the recipe and split it in half using real unsalted butter for the other half. Check out the recipe section for buttercream recipes.

So go whip up a batch of buttercream and go create beautiful art!

Make it sweet or savory, but always delicious!


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