Ask Karen Your Baking Questions

Taste of Home attendees While on the road as an instructor for the Taste of Home Cooking Schools, I often receive questions from our attendees. I look forward to the questions, because they let me know what’s on your mind, and they are great teaching opportunities. Today I thought I’d share answers for some recent questions.


When a recipe just calls for vinegar, what type of vinegar does this mean? 

Several summers ago while recipe testing for a cookbook project in the Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen, I asked that same question. I noticed the kitchenette where I was testing had a standard set of baking ingredients — including things like baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract, flour, sugar, salt, and so on.

In with the supplies I spotted a bottle of apple cider vinegar. This prompted me to ask, “Do you use apple cider or white vinegar when a recipe calls for ‘vinegar’”? I learned that apple cider vinegar was used as the default vinegar when a specific type was not designated in a recipe.

Apple cider vinegar (made from fermented apple cider) has a slightly fruity flavor and is milder than a distilled white vinegar. So, if your recipe doesn’t specify a particular type of vinegar, using apple cider vinegar is a great choice.

Butter versus Shortening

Can you substitute butter equally for shortening in a recipe for baked goods? 

In general, yes. These are both fats and serve the same function in most recipes for baked goods.

Keep in mind that shortening is 100 percent fat and butter is typically about 85 percent fat and 15 percent water. Shortening also has a higher melting point than butter, so when baking something like cookies, those made with shortening will not spread as quickly as those made with butter.

Using butter will add flavor to your baked goods, and the texture will be slightly different. For instance, cookies made with butter are usually crispier and those made with shortening are more soft and tender.

If altering a recipe that originally calls for butter, you may want to try using half butter and half shortening. That way, you’ll have he added flavor from the butter and the tender texture from the shortening.

One final note — I’ve been noticing that formulations for margarines have been changing over the years. Some companies are increasing the ratio of water to fat (vegetable oil in margarine). So, if you have a favorite recipe for cookies (made with margarine) and it flops, it might be the margarine.

When baking, look for margarines with 80 percent vegetable fat and 100 calories per tablespoon.