Shortening is a semi-solid, deodorized fat extracted from a vegetable or animal (called Lard) used in food preparations, like Deep Frying, and especially in baking where it gets its name because shortening promotes a "short" or crumbly, flaky texture in crusts or cookies.
As compared to Butter, shortening stays more solid at room temperature and because it contains monounsaturated fats and diglycerides, it creams better. The same characteristics help it disperse more evenly in dough, minimize gluten development and efficiently coat flour particles.
Vegetable shortening, unlike butter, can be used in frying as it has a relatively high smoke point. However, you should purchase “pure” shortening, i.e. shortening made entirely from animal or vegetable fats. If “pure” is not on the label, there are additives, and the shortening will have a lower smoke point. Once it is opened, shortening can be stored up for a year in a dark, cool space.
Frequently, shortening compounds are composed of both animal and vegetable fat (derived from various oils) and are mechanically blended to give the final product an acceptable elasticity and satisfactory baking quality. Hydrogenated vegetable oil shortenings, such as Crisco first made in 1911, were developed to withstand higher oven temperatures. Generally, shortening comes in two forms: Solid or Liquid.
Solid Shortening: Solid fat, as in butter or shortening, when beaten with sugar can hold air bubbles in its creamy, mass. Solid fats can also be used as a spacer, such as in a pie crust or for leavening, such as in puff pastry. Solid-type shortening is recommended for use in dough because it will not saturate the flour (as the liquid will) and will in turn more thoroughly disperse throughout the dough. Liquid shortening can be used, but only once the dough is more completely formed so the liquid doesn’t interfere with the dry flour.
Liquid Shortening: Liquid fats, such as oil, cannot hold air. Liquid-type shortening is suggested for recipes that call for melted shortening, such as some cake and bread recipes.
Shortening is usually used either in pastry dough or as a butter alternative or complement. But remember that deodorized and neutral tasting shortening does not have the same rich flavor as butter in recipes. Consider adding some butter (30% to 50% of the shortening recommended) to your baked goods for richer flavor. Be careful if substituting for a liquid fat like, vegetable oil, because the recipe can be adversely affected. The reverse is also true. Swapping in a liquid fat for a solid one can impact the resulting taste and texture.
Because of the milk solids and water in butter that will “set” in your baked product, melted butter won’t directly stand in for a liquid fat in a recipe. The best rule of thumb to hold to is to substitute a solid fat for another solid fat, like butter for shortening, and a liquid fat for another liquid fat. Also hydrogenated vegetable oil (like Crisco) contains no water. If you want to use it as a substitute for butter, you will need to add in some water as well to achieve a similar result.
Store Shortening in: Refrigerator, Freezer, or cool dark place like a pantry or cupboard for up to a year once opened.
Use Shortening: at room temperature or warmer.
Uses: Deep Frying, Baking
Shortening’s Fat Breakdown: 32% Saturated Fat, 11% Monounsaturated Fat, 52% Polyunsaturated Fat.
Shortening’s Smoke Point: 356 to 370°F (180 to 187°C)
To Measure Shortening: Use a rubber spatula or spoon and pack it into a DRY measuring cup so that the shortening sits level with the graduated line representing the amount you need. For example, for one cup, pack it into the dry measuring cup and level off the cup with a straight edge.
You may also come across Emulsified Shortening which can hold more sugar by weight than traditional shortening holds.
The worry about vegetable shortenings is that most on the market are made with partially hydrogenated oils which are high in the bad trans fats and are reputed to be a risk to heart health and healthy metabolizing of other fatty acids. Spectrum Naturals has introduced an organic and trans fat free shortening that you might consider.