Ask Marilyn – “Butter and Shortening”

by Marilyn Markel in Learn

Have questions about a recipe, cooking techniques, cooking tools or ingredients? Hosting your first dinner party or holiday gathering and need some ideas or tips?

Marilyn, our Cooking School Manager, is here to answer all of your cooking questions. We will protect your anonymity so feel free to ask anything, even the questions you never dared to ask about cooking. From novice to pro, this advice column is for food people, by food people.

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Reader Question:

Can you interchange butter and shortening in pastries and biscuits?
- Sarah

Marilyn’s Answer:

I, as many southerners, use shortening for biscuits.  However, that is about the only time I use shortening.  Shortening or lard in biscuits is traditional and produces a much flakier biscuit.  Butter is delicious in biscuits, but the final product is denser and crisper.  My preference is to use butter in pie dough and other pastries.  We do both biscuit and pie classes at Southern Season (an upcoming one is our “Basic Biscuits” class in Mt Pleasant on 12/29 at 12pm). Both are easy to make once you have practiced a few times!  Here is one of my favorite pie recipes from Nick Malgieri for Corn Pudding Tart.

Corn Pudding Tart

Recipe courtesy of Nick Malgieri, from “The Modern Baker”
Makes one 10- or 11-inch tart, about 8 generous servings

Rich Pie Dough Ingredients:

1½ cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk

Rich Pie Dough Instructions:

1. Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the butter and pulse about 20 times to finely mix in the butter.
2. Add the egg and egg yolk and pulse until the dough just begins to form a ball.
3. Invert the food processor bowl over a floured work surface to turn out the dough. Carefully remove the blade and transfer any dough on it to the work surface. Use your hands to press the dough into a disk about ½ inch (1 cm) thick.
4. Roll the dough out, fold it in half, transfer to the pan, and flute the edges. 

Corn Pudding Ingredients:

5 ears of fresh sweet corn, yellow, white, or mixed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 bunch scallions (green onions), white part and about half the green, finely sliced
1 small bunch chives, finely sliced
1 small hot chile pepper, such as a jalapeño or a Serrano, stemmed, halved, seeded and finely sliced, or ¼ teaspoon crushed pepper
1½ cups heavy whipping cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
1 10- or 11-inch tart crust, unbaked

Corn Pudding Instructions:

1. Set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 350ºF (180ºC).
2. Set a box grater over a shallow bowl and grate the kernels from 3 of the ears of corn, using the large teardrop-shaped holes. After grating the corn, use the back of a knife to scrape any remaining juices from the cobs into the bowl. Use a knife to cut the whole kernels from the remaining 2 ears of corn. 
3. Stir in the butter, and then the scallions, chives, chile, cream, and salt and pepper, one at a time. Taste for seasoning and add more salt to taste, keeping the filling a little overseasoned to make up for the addition of the eggs. 4. Whisk the eggs in a bowl, then stir them into the filling.
5. Pour the filling into the tart crust. Bake the tart until the crust is baked through and well colored on the bottom and the filling is set and puffed, about 30 minutes. 
6. Cool the tart on a rack until it is no longer red-hot and serve it warm. After the tart has cooled slightly, unmold it by removing the sides of the pan.