I am the queen of the baking shortcut, for despite my deep and powerful love of all things sweet, I’m impatient and awfully fond of instant gratification. I gravitate toward recipes with short ingredient lists and instructions that don’t require any heavy equipment (stand mixer, I’m looking at you) and can be assembled using only one or two bowls.
So, although I enjoy the texture achieved by creaming together butter and sugar in a mixer for a fluffy yellow cake or a chewy sugar cookie, what I really dig is a baked good that calls for oil rather than butter.
Baking with oil not only requires less work, and results in fewer dirty dishes, than butter, but it also produces tender, moist baked goods that get better with age and boast an impressively long shelf-life. As such, I not only search out baking recipes calling for oil, but when developing such recipes myself, which I do for a living, I try to create those that are oil-based.
Below is a breakdown of some of the impressive attributes of an oil-based baked good, as well as tips for substituting oil for butter in your favorite baking recipes.
Why you should be baking with oil
Baking with oil is faster and easier than baking with butter. Because oil does not need to be melted and then cooled, or creamed for 5 minutes until fluffy, and is instead added straight-up to the recipe’s wet ingredients, assembly is faster and there is no need to dirty a saucepan or pull out your mixer.
Baking with oil produces moist and tender baked goods. Because oil is liquid at room temperature, it produces exceptionally moist baked goods. Butter, on the other hand, is solid at room temp, and therefore baked goods made with it are (arguably) a tad more dry. Baked goods calling for oil are also extra tender because there is less opportunity to develop the gluten in the flour by overmixing the batter. Overmixing a thicker batter, like one with creamed butter, is hard to avoid and can result in a tougher treat. Moreover, butter contains water, which also contributes to gluten development. Oil, on the other hand, has no water and is 100 percent fat.
Baked goods made with oil have a long shelf-life and actually age better. A baked good made with butter typically begins to dry out after a day or two on the counter, while the flavor and texture of those made with oil intensify over time. In short, nothing says “make-ahead dessert” like an oil-based baked good.
How to substitute oil for butter
Substitute oil in any of your baking recipes calling for melted butter. I always get a little giddy when I see a recipe calling for melted butter, like a cake or even some cookies, because I know I can substitute oil in its stead. Because they are both liquid fats, not only will subbing oil for the butter not negatively affect the baked good, but it will actually improve it (for all the reasons listed above). However, if a recipe calls for creaming butter, you may indeed run into trouble if you substitute, as the texture of the baked good is probably dependent on that creaming process.
Substitute 3/4 of the melted butter in a recipe with oil. Because butter is about 80 percent fat and 20 percent water, and oil is 100 percent fat, when substituting oil for melted butter in baking recipes it is a good idea to use a little less oil, about 3/4 to 7/8 the amount of butter. So, if a recipe calls for 8 tablespoons of butter, you would substitute with 6 or 7 tablespoons of oil. Some bakers recommend a one-to-one substitution, but in my experience, a touch less is just about perfect.
Substitute the melted butter in your recipe with nut, seed or olive oil for more flavor. Adding flavored oils to baked goods makes them extra flavorful in ways butter can only dream about. For example, try substituting walnut oil in a banana bread that calls for walnuts and a peppery olive oil in a muffin recipe calling for cheese and prosciutto. Using a complementary flavored oil subtly enhances the ingredients already present, elevating them.
Substituting oil for butter when you bake, contributes so much at every stage of the game: from assembly to flavor and texture to shelf-life. And on top of that, many consider oil to be a healthier alternative to butter (although I’m team “everything in moderation”) and is a great choice when baking for someone with a dietary restriction that includes butter.
So consider giving oil a try the next time you come across melted butter in a recipe. You may discover that butter might just need to watch its back …
Cacio e Pepe Olive Oil Popovers
Popovers are not only one of the most impressive-looking baked goods you can make, eliciting “oohs” and “ahhs” every time, but they are also one of the easiest. A simple batter of flour, eggs, milk and, traditionally, melted butter is whirled about in a blender, poured into a hot pan and baked for about 25 minutes. The popovers rise tall while in the hot oven, ballooning over the edge of the pan and emerge with crispy outsides and custardy insides.
A popover pan makes for the tallest of popovers, but if you do not have one, a muffin tin will work, too. Be sure to bring your eggs and milk to room temperature before assembling the batter, as cold ingredients will hinder the popovers’ dramatic rise.
Storage: Popovers are best eaten hot, but leftovers can be stored in an airtight container and rewarmed in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.
NOTES: Olive or vegetable oil will work in this recipe, but a fragrant, peppery olive oil, such as Frantoia brand adds wonderful flavor.
If using a regular muffin tin, fill the cups 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes, reducing the oven temperature to 350 degrees after 15 minutes and checking on them at 20.
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 1/3 cups (315 milliliters) whole milk, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan (see NOTE)
- 1 1/3 cups (167 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (100 grams) freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Cooking spray, for greasing the pan (optional)
Place a 6-cup popover pan on a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.
In the pitcher of a blender, combine the eggs, milk and olive oil and blend for 15 seconds to combine. Add the flour, cheese, salt and pepper and blend for another 15 seconds, scraping down the sides of the blender with a flexible spatula, if necessary.
Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and brush with olive oil or spray with cooking spray, if using. Evenly pour the batter into the cups; each one should be about three-quarters full (see NOTE).
Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the popovers have risen considerably and are golden brown. Do not open the oven while they bake.
Remove from the oven and jab each popover with a paring knife to release steam. Remove the popovers from the pan and transfer to a wire rack. They should slip out easily, but if they do not, run the same knife around the edges.
Popovers are best eaten within minutes of being pulled from the oven, generously spread with softened, salted butter.
Per serving (1 popover), based on 12
Calories: 157; Total Fat: 9 g; Saturated Fat: 4 g; Cholesterol: 71 mg; Sodium: 309 mg; Carbohydrates: 12 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 7 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
From food writer Jessie Sheehan.
Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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