Baking Cookies: Shortening vs. Butter

By: Bob's Red Mill | February 5 2018
When it comes to baking and cookies, two fats that seem to find their way into most recipes are butter and shortening. Fat works to add moisture to your cookies and allows them to come together and create a tasty end result. When the fat is combined with sugar, it gives your treats a fluffy texture and adds loads of flavor. Recipes tend to call for one (or both) of these ingredients, though it can be difficult to decipher what the difference between the two is and when to use each one. First, let’s talk about butter.

Benefits of Butter

Butter in the United States is composed of 80% fat (at least) and 16% water (or less). During the process of baking, the water turns into steam and increases the production of gluten. This is what gives you a cookie with just the right amount of crispness and richness. It’s packed full of natural flavor (as opposed to shortening, which has no flavor)--which is key for things like sugar cookies and shortbread. Butter also gives cookies that “melt-in-your-mouth” texture we all love. Here are some ways butter is used in our own cookie recipes to enhance their flavor, shape, and texture.

Butter Pecan Cookies

butterpecancookies Recipe and photo courtesy of Jen Tilley from How to Simplify. For these Butter Pecan Cookies, the texture is crisp and light—yet the butter when it’s combined with the pecans is what creates the rich cookie flavor reminiscent of butter pecan ice cream. It calls for six ingredients—salted butter, sugar, vanilla extract, organic unbleached white all purpose flour, pecans, and a pinch of salt. The balls of cookies are flattened with a cup before baking, making it the perfect choice for a fun activity with little ones.

Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

almondchocolatechipcookies These Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies are gluten free, grain free, paleo, and soy free. They’re also dairy free, as they use coconut oil in place of butter. Substitute butter for an end result that is nutritious and delicious thanks to the blanched natural almond meal.

Carrot Cake Cookie Sandwiches

carrotcakecookiesandwich Carrot cake is known for its amazing spices like nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. In this recipe, it takes a twist by being turned into moist and tender cookie sandwiches loaded with sweet carrots, vanilla, raisins, and butter. And then there’s the filling—mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar, pure vanilla extract, and unsweetened coconut flakes.

Soft Orange Sugar Cookies

softorangesugarcookies These cookies are soft and thick, made creamy with a layer of sweet orange icing. As an added bonus, they include a blast of all things orange: orange zest, orange extract, and orange juice. Butter is included in both the cookies themselves as well as the frosting.   easysugarcookies These sugar cookies are the ultimate ode to Vermont, a place known for its maple syrup (the recipe creator actually uses maple syrup from the trees in her backyard). With a cookie made from sugar, softened butter, maple syrup, egg, organic unbleached white flour, and baking soda and a frosting made with powdered sugar, maple syrup, and milk, these easy cookies are quick to make and quicker to eat!

Lemon Blueberry Cream Cookies

lemonblueberrycookies In Maine, the changing of the seasons is celebrated by taking advantage of the ability to harvest certain foods (like blueberries). These cookies give appreciation to the famous Maine blueberry and use butter in both the cookie batter and the blueberry cream filling.

Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies

molassescookies The strong flavor of molasses is balanced out with the creamy taste of butter, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger in this recipe for Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies out of the Bob’s Red Mill Baking Book.

Prickly Pear Orange Pecan Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

pricklypearcookies The flavor of butter works beautifully in this recipe, alongside ingredients like prickly pear and orange. In these thumbprint cookies, a few of Arizona’s native ingredients (including pecans) come together with cactus jelly for a unique and amazing treat.

White Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

whitechoccrancookies For a perfectly chewy oatmeal cookie, combine butter, sugar, eggs, and rolled oats with cranberries and white chocolate chips. The sweetness of the sugar and white chocolate in combination with the mild flavor and texture of rolled oats is all brought together by the butter.

Snickerdoodle Cookies

snickerdoodlecookies Snickerdoodles are known for their crispy edges and tender centers, in combination with their sweet and cinnamon-dusted taste. This particular recipe is found on the bags of Bob’s Red Mill Cane Sugar, and is given its classic texture through a cup of softened butter.

Benefits of Shortening

The term shortening, though it often does refer to hydrogenated vegetable oil, actually refers to all solid fats used in baking. It’s called shortening because it works to coat the protein molecules of flour, making it more difficult for long strands of gluten to be created. The strands that are created are, well, shortened! Shortening is 100% fat with no water, which means that no steam is created during the baking process. Gluten production is not increased and the baked goods tend to be more tender. Because butter has a low melting point, it causes cookies to spread. Shortening, however, has a higher melting point and enables cookies to be taller.   Vegetable shortening was traditionally made by changing oil to a solid by way of partial hydrogenation (which resulted in trans fats). Today, however, you can find shortenings on the market that have been completely hydrogenated (which results in saturated fats instead). Shortening can be easier to work with and less expensive, with a longer shelf life than butter–here is how we use it in some of our own cookie recipes.

Apple Pie Stuffed Snickerdoodles

applepiesnickerdoodlecookies These apple pie stuffed snickerdoodles celebrate all things apple and upstate New York. They incorporate a mix of butter and shortening to ensure that they are both tall and flavor-filled. Pair that with a hint of cinnamon and light brown sugar, and you just may have a new cookie favorite.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies

chocolatechipwalnutcookies These cookies are crispy on the edges, soft in the middle, and a perfect blend of sweetness and saltiness. It’s a recipe from Michelle in Missouri that uses strictly shortening (no butter) in combination with sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, salt, chopped walnuts, and semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

lavendercookies These beautiful lavender shortbread cookies are perfect for tea parties or springtime birthdays. They’re small, not too sweet, and adorned with an edible flower—created mostly with butter and a bit of shortening to hold their shape.

Old-Fashioned Iced Oatmeal Cookie

oatmealicingcookies These old-fashioned oatmeal cookies are made with shortening, brown sugar, and quick cooking rolled oats before being dipped in a simple glaze of heavy cream and powdered sugar. As an added bonus, they can also be used for making ice cream sandwiches.


biscochitoscookies The crunchy Biscochito originated in New Mexico and is a shortbread-like cross between sugar cookies and snickerdoodles. This recipe is made with an equal mix of shortening and butter, so you still get the benefits of both.

Oatmeal Cranberry Lemon Cookies

Cranberry and a subtle hint of lemon combine to create these oatmeal cookies. They’re big, slightly crunchy, whole grain, gluten free, and vegan, and call for butter-flavored shortening.

Gingerbread Cookies

gingerbreadcookies For these festive gingerbread cookies, all you have to do is mix together your flour, sugar, and spices before cutting in the shortening. Once combined, you’ll have delicious gingerbread cookies to share with family and friends.

Skinny Chocolate Turtle Thumbprint Cookies

turtlecookies These unique and tasty candy-like cookies use butter in the cookie batter, heavy cream in the caramel, and shortening mixed with semi-sweet chocolate chips for the chocolate drizzle. To achieve the perfect drizzle, the chocolate and shortening are placed in a plastic zippered bag to soften and then melt.

Walnut Thumbprint Cookies

walnutcookies These cookies are dense but moist, rolled in walnuts and topped with icing made from powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and whipping cream. The dough is made with an equal mix of butter and shortening, vanilla extract, brown sugar, organic unbleached white all purpose flour, salt, eggs, and of course, walnuts.

Sour Cream Cookies

sourcreamcookies For these cookies, shortening is combined with sour cream, sugar, and flour before being rolled out or dropped onto a cookie sheet. In this recipe, the shortening helps the cookies to puff up a bit for a chewy texture just waiting to be frosted and eaten. With cookies, most recipes you’ll find will call for some sort of fat. Whether you choose to go the route of butter (for natural flavor and a crispy texture) or shortening (for a tall cookie that refuses to fall), we hope your baking adventure leads you to all things delicious and delectable. Whatever ingredients you choose, we’re sure you’ll find the right balance for your cookie-creating needs. Happy baking!


  1. cookiefan
    Then would using a 1/2 butter-1/2 shortening ratio work the best?
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      It really depends on the recipe and what the fat is used for. We suggest contacting our recipe specialist at 1-800-349-2173 for specific information on how to use 1/2 butter and 1/2 shortening in your recipes.
  2. Gurpreet singh
    How much shorting we should use in cookies
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Gurpreet, that depends on how much your recipe calls for. In general, shortening can be substituted for butter in the same quantities but the resulting texture will be a bit different. If you have more questions our Customer Service team is happy to chat! They can be reached at 1-800-349-2173 or [email protected]
  3. Carolyn Zaucha
    What day would you use for a hard cookie like a ginger snap?
    In grade school in the sixties the cafeteria ladies made a cinnamon cookie that was very hard. The most perfect cookie I've ever had. I have searched everywhere for a recipe

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