The Great and Epic Butter Battle





Introduction: The Great and Epic Butter Battle

Last year when i started to do my Christmas baking i noticed that my cookies were spreading out, sticking and were crunchier then years before.  I thought it might have been the temperature of the oven or something like that so i tried different temps, bought a thermometer for the oven no luck some cookies would puddle out some wouldn't.  I didn't know what was going on.  But then got a clue with my first cookie entry in the cookie contest.   I was typing the recipe and remembering back to when i was a kid and most recipes would butter or margarine on the ingredients.  Being dyslexic and not being able to spell Margarine, I of corse went to the fridge (thank god for spell checking but they are only so good) where i did not find Margarine but Vegetable Oil Spread.   When did this happen?  Turns out a few years ago the powers that be started cracking down on labels.  Butter by definition has to have 80% fat.  Margarine also by definition has to have 80% fat.  Vegetable Oil Spread is unregulated, Price right has 70% , Imperial has 53%  but there could be as little 40% this is all well and good for fat Americans who worry about cholesterol and don't know why.  Well what does fat and the cookie and baking them matter.

Stand back I'm about to do Science
Dramatic science back story:  Most cookies will have you beat(cream) the butter and sugar first why you ask? The butter which is 80% fat (apparently by government say so) gets mixed with the sugar.  The sugar rips holes or pockets in the fat.  The next step is to add the eggs.  The eggs have protein and water the protein surounds the pocket and because oil and water don't mix the water gets trapped in the pocket.  You then add heat and the water turns to steam blowing the pocket up like a ballon making a moist and chewy cookie.   If you don't have enough fat in the cookie these pockets don't form the cookie don't rise the steam escapes and your left with a dry cookie.

Step 1: The Battle (Experiment)

On to the epic battle:

Now being from New England I will be making the best chocolate chip cookie ever "Nestle Toll House" Massachusetts state cookie.  Nobody has yet to make a copy of this recipe as it is on the back of every Nestle semi-sweet Morsels bag (this is very convent).  So i don't need to post it.  Look at the pictures if you don't want to by the chips.  The only change I will be making is I'm not adding the nuts.  This is a cost saving move an should not effect the results.  

Each recipe will have a different fat source: Butter, Margarine, Oil Spread 53% and 70%.

Step 2: Land O Lakes

Land O Lakes is margarine and is not required to say it has 80% fat its a given (government requirement)

All cookies were cooked for 10 min at 375o

good rise, nicely browned around the edge.

Step 3: Price Right

This was some what a surprise.  I originally thought that this was the problem because this came from a new store and i never tried this brand before but on the label its 70% vegetable oil.  

You can see the cookies are starting to puddle out around the edge.  They were a little dryer and stuck to the cookie sheet slightly.  

Step 4: Imperial

I bought this brand because the label said "Good for Baking"  Not!  Keep in mind I'm not out to promote any brand or bad mouth them only to make good cookies through science. 

The label said 53% oil 

The Cookies puddled out, stuck to the cookie sheet and were very crunchy.  (Note: This did not stop people from eating them.)

Step 5: Butter

This was the control real butter.  

Fluffy, No puddling, More browning than Margarine, No sticking  

Step 6: The Results

Well there you have it.  Bottom line read the package you want Butter or Margarine not Oil Spread for good cookies.   The only difference between the Margarine and butter was the browning but i could have cooked the Margarine ones longer or used a darker baking sheet.   I will think twice before grabbing the cheapest sticks in the case at the supper market.  i will note that Land-0-lakes was the same price as butter and that as the oil percent goes down the cheeper the sticks.  (after all your paying for water)



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    20 Discussions

    The first 3 batches look more appealing then the last one. Also this is rude "there could be as little 40% this is all well and good for fat Americans who worry about cholesterol and don't know why. "

    Thank you so much for this. For years now I've been wondering why all of my cookies turned out really thin and crunchy. I thought it was the recipes I was using, but I would look at other people's pictures and theirs would look fine. Imperial. Blegh.

    I am puzzled as to why anyone would consider using anything else than real butter for baking.

    This is definitely a great experiment. However, it does not really consider the effect on taste. In my opinion butter will give the best results. Margerine is useless in cooking.

    3 replies

    I only substitute oils instead of butter when I'm making vegan recipes, or when I'm having problems with my lactose intolerance. Otherwise, like you said, butter is best for baking, always. (failing that, a high-melt shortening like copha is still better than margarine)

    The main reason is cost. There is a taste difference. If you had been using margarine all your life then using butter would make your cookies taste heavy and a bit greaser. I cooled the cookies on paper towels and the butter one left large oil spots on the paper.

    Pretty sure something went wrong if you ended up with heavier tasting and greasier cookies using butter.
    In my experience in hospitality butter always yield the lightest flavor, and least greasiness.

    Came across a great article on OChef ( about the differences between margarine and butter.

    the only use I've found for margarine is removing grease from your hands after working on the car or lawn mower

    5 replies

    this isn't the place for this convo but... I learned a long time ago that used motor oil will quickly remove the imbedded grease from your skin and even from under your nails and it's cheaper than gojo or fast orange. I tried the margarine when I didn't have any of the others available and IT WORKED...

    Sorry for hijacking your interesting thread Turbo with what was supposed to just be a laugh....

    i won't take it personally. i wasn't offended by the comment when i found out you eat pickled hot dogs.

    lol... personally, I wouldn't touch margarine even for that purpose. ;-D

    This is really interesting, and something I'd been thinking about recently. Thanks a lot for posting! : )

    I love a good kitchen experiment! Thanks for this nifty instructable. I really like your explanation of how the fat contributes to the rise of the dough.

    Interesting! I'm going to have to keep this in mind. I'm usually a cheap margarine grabber.

    Interesting to see the results of the different fat sources.

    For more in depth information on the food science (including ingredient and cooking information), I highly recommend, "On Food and Cooking," by Harold McGee.

    Cooking- the first science, and still the most important! Well done.

    Next, you're going to tell us why there are a few things where shortening is not a replacement for lard...