Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies--An Experiment in Fats (Coconut, Shortening, Lard)

(these are the shortening/butter combo)

Last year I came to grips with the fact that my chocolate chip cookie soul mate contains shortening (half shortening and half butter to be precise). Even though shortening and I are not usually BFF, I'm at peace with that. However, I realize that there are people in this world who would really rather not use a trans fat in any of their foods, even if it is an already unwholesome cookie. Of course, they could use all butter (which is tasty, but tends to produce a flatter, less dense cookie), but I did wonder how other solid fats would hold up in a cookie--namely lard and coconut oil. These are considered more natural, whole foods than shortening and though lard might never gets its wings back after the '80s/'90s, coconut oil is soaring about with a halo right now. Then this weekend I had a gaggle of boys (is that what you have when it's boys or is it just geese and girls that get to gaggle?). Anyway, we had some boys here and I was making cookies and I had some lard hanging about that needed to get used. I decided to make up a batch with half lard, half butter. I thought it might appeal to that whole bacon with sweet things craze. And then I tasted the batter. Worst chocolate chip cookie batter ever. It had a smoky, almost bitter aftertaste. Convinced I had ruined my cookies, I figured 'what the heck' and made up half batches of coconut oil/butter and my now favorite shortening/butter combinations. (Do you think my high school chemistry teacher would be disappointed that my chemistry experiments are limited to only cookies and cake these days? Hmmm.) I should note here, too, that the coconut oil was not virgin extra nice coconut oil. If it had been, it would have had an undertone of coconutiness that my cheap oil didn't. That can be good or bad depending on whether you like coconut flavor or not.

From left to right: Coconut, lard, shortening. The coconut weren't as pale as the light made them out to be.

Of the batters, the coconut oil one tasted the best. Hands down. Almost as good as an all butter batter, which is really truly the best if batter is what you're after. The shortening was a bit blander. And the lard was (imho) blech.

Cooked, however, the playing field leveled a little bit more. I felt like the shortening/butter cookies were still the best in both flavor and texture--soft middle, edge with a bit of crisp. It also held its shape best (i.e. didn't go flat). Perfect.

But the coconut oil/butter combo also tasted pretty good. Most of the children at my house (of course I made them all do a taste test; what else would I do with a bunch of kids) preferred the shortening/butter and coconut/butter equally. The lard pretty consistently came in last. BUT. It didn't flop on its face. Everybody was still perfectly happy to eat it and the abrasive, smoky aftertaste that had bothered me so much in the batter was mostly gone in the cooked cookie. Oh, it was there just a bit, but not in an unpleasantly overpowering way. The coconut oil and lard cookies were both a bit flatter than the shortening ones, but not ridiculously so. And the coconut oil cookies had a little more chewiness to them than the lard.

So there you go? Want to do some kitchen chemistry of your own. Here is my soul mate (Happy Valentine's Day, Katie's cookies) recipe. Try subbing the shortening with an equal amount of coconut oil or lard if you wish for a cookie without trans fat.


  1. I am so afraid to experiment with cookies because I hate ruining a batch! So thanks for doing it for me. :) I've been using a lot of coconut oil lately so I'll have to give it a try in my next batch of cookies. I've given up shortening altogether although I agree with you that the shortening/butter combo makes a pretty good cookie. Didn't Sister Brewsters chocolate chip cookies do half shortening/butter? I remember those being delicious!

    1. I actually only use shortening now in chocolate chip cookies. They are just too too good that way. However, the coconut oil really was pretty darn good too. And if yours is the virgin good stuff it will add a hint of coconuty, which I think is even better.

    2. What I mean is that I don't use shortening for anything but cookies, not that I use it by itself in cookies--I like the shortening/butter combo.



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