Oil vs. butter in quick breads


I'm giving the Easy Pumpkin Bread recipe a try and it got me thinking. I try to use butter whenever possible. In some recipes, especially quick breads and muffins, specify oil. Is there a particular reason to use oil vs. melted butter? Does it add texture or moistness? Or is it like using vegetable shortening in spice cookies -- not worth it because you can't taste the butter anyway?



badge posted by: tigerlily09 on October 09, 2011 at 3:44 pm in Q & A
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reply by: Mrs Cindy on October 09, 2011 at 4:39 pm
Mrs Cindy

Deirdre, I'm not sure I can explain this in a way that makes sense, but since nobody else has answered you, let me at least try.

The Easy Pumpkin Bread is considered a quick bread. As a general rule all quick breads are made with vegetable oil. By definition, vegetable oil has no water in it. Butter, on the other hand is 17% water. So, if you substitute butter for oil you are adding water and decreasing the fat content of the recipe. This will affect the amount of liquid the flour absorbs. (Man, I can hear KidPizza climbing up on his soapbox with whip in hand! I'm in soooo much trouble here.) There is a reason for using oil in quick bread recipes. They were written that way specifically because of the way the oil coats the flour and changes the way the flour absorbs the liquids. With quick breads everything goes into the bowl, with no over mixing(!), is poured into the pan and baked, with no over baking(!). And eaten! That's why they call it quick bread.

When you substitute butter, you change the mixing directions as well as the liquid ratios. I'm not sure why you would substitute butter for oil in quick breads. Can you tell me why you do this? Is it a flavor thing? I think changing from oil to butter would mean the finished product would not be as moist.

Maybe if one of our more learned members sees me making an utter fool of myself, will take pity on me and help me out. MikeNolan, swirth, KidPizza, anybody?????


reply by: omaria on October 09, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Kidpizza,Mike Nolan,Swirth, anybody ??? Yes me. And I can not give any better advice than you did. To me you make perfect sense. So Deidre, don't let Mrscindy fool you . She is a very accomplished woman,who can bake up anything she wants. Ria.

reply by: Mrs Cindy on October 09, 2011 at 5:24 pm
Mrs Cindy

Thanks for the vote of (misplaced) confidence, Ria. You're a doll! :-))


reply by: KIDPIZZA on October 09, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Good sunday afternoon to you. I am not coming to the rescue of our dear learned friend "MRSCINDY" She is correct in her explaination.... I think she has been very accurate & thorough in her assessment & explanation. I will only explain a few items further. Cake /muffins/quick breads, ete that employ oil are very very moist & tender. Just think "CARROT CAKE" & or BANANA NUT MUFFINS, they employ oils as well as you know.

Oil doesn't have air holding abilities like solid fats have soooo, they cannot aid in leavening like butter can & does.

Oil coats flour proteins very well & inhibits them from absorbing liquid from the batter to make gluten...(prevents a tough baked product)

The EGGS must do that they have great leavening properties in them or sometime fruit purees when added like apple sauce can aid in that function.

Deirdre, oils used in cake type batter are used as shortening/liquid shortening.
beyond this in prof. bake shops the usefullness of oil is limited to greasing pans & frying dounuts.

Good luck to you & enjoy the rest of the day young lady.


reply by: Mike Nolan on October 09, 2011 at 6:13 pm
Mike Nolan

I agree, Cindy explained it very well.

I have seen quick bread recipes that say you can use clarified butter in place of oil. The process of clarifying butter removes the butter solids and most of the water evaporates, so you're left with nearly all butterfat.

If you do that, let the clarified butter cool a bit, when hot it reacts with flour differently than tepid clarified butter does. If you cool it all the way to room temperature and it solidifies again, you have something that is similar to ghee. I'm not sure if that would affect how it binds with flour in a quick bread recipe.

Butter is such a fascinating ingredient to work with, at different temperatures it behaves so differently!

reply by: easyquilts on October 09, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I want to try that bread, too! It looks so good. I want to use raisins and maybe dates, though... Or raisins and nuts. Dn't have any rum, so will plump the raisins in hot water. Although... The bread does give one s reason to buy some rum..... hmmmmm

reply by: easyquilts on October 09, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Oh Cindy... You did an excellent job.... I understood every word, and will NOT use butter instead of oil in quick breads! Good job, girl.

reply by: swirth on July 19, 2012 at 7:44 am

Bringing this back up for Elsa...my email is still not fixed so this will answer part of your question re oil for butter.

reply by: Livingwell on July 19, 2012 at 7:54 am

I don't get science at all - one reason I watched Good Eats for the recipes and himself (my hubby) watched it for the science. It's all too technical for me and I don't understand what does what, how, or why. Since I don't make substitutions in baking, all I really want are good recipes :) All but my banana bread recipe call for oil; the banana bread uses butter and is super moist (must be the sour cream in it). So, since you're talking about subbing oil for butter, can you tell me if I can sub the 1/2 cup butter in my red velvet cake recipe with oil to make it moister? Sometimes it comes out perfect, and other times it's a bit on the dry side. If not oil, then solid shortening??? Sorry to hijack your post, Deirdre, but your question is one I've been wondering about, too!

reply by: KIDPIZZA on July 19, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Good morning. I do have a few moments for you, but I hestitate providing you with the information you are asking for. Why????, it seems to me that you are very very selective about various ingredients. You do not care for this one & or the other. There is one ingredient that will cure your dryness problem. On the other hand....YES!! you can subst. oil for butter in your banana nut recipe. As you know, oil doesn't have any water in it.... but & however butter does. Sooo, some adjustments must be made. Therefore then you need to identify the RED V, recipe or post same.

Good luck in your baking & enjoy the rest of the day.


reply by: KitchenBarbarian aka Zen on July 19, 2012 at 2:02 pm
KitchenBarbarian aka Zen

Butter cakes tend to be a little heavier than an oil cake. That's because butter is a lousy emulsifier. Emulsification is very important in cake batters. Cake batters are actually foams - so the better you can keep all the ingredients from separating (that's what emulsifiers do) the lighter your cake will be. If you can keep all the little air bubbles in the batter long enough for the cake to set up in the oven, it will be fluffier and lighter.

I would actually switch to Crisco instead of oil - I haven't liked the oil RVC recipes I've tried.

I have an RVC recipe (using veg. shortening, eg Crisco) that is super moist but I've only tested it with actual cake flour so far - still, I can post it if you would like - if so, let me know how many layers and of what size. The original is for 2 9" layers, but I've scaled it for either one layer or 2 in any of 9", 8" or 6" round pans.

It will be different if you use other than cake flour with it - I was in the process of just starting to translate volume recipes to by weight, and to test them with different flours until I got results I liked, when I decided I absolutely had to go on a diet RIGHT NOW! LOL! But it was very moist with the cake flour, and I can give you some ideas for how to sub other types if cake flour isn't something you want to have to go out and buy.

reply by: Livingwell on July 19, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Thanks, Zen! My recipe uses cake flour (I buy King Arthur), so I'm not sure what the problem is, as my oven temp is spot on and I am careful not to overmix the batter. I only make red cake at Christmas time, but would love to have your recipe for a two layer 9-inch round cake! Maybe Crisco will make all the difference! I'm on a diet right now, too, and everything looks and sounds good. I've eaten so much salad that I feel like I'm going to turn into a rabbit!

Kidpizza, I don't mean to sound dense, but I don't understand your answer. Thanks, anyway, for taking the time to answer.

reply by: KitchenBarbarian aka Zen on July 19, 2012 at 9:47 pm
KitchenBarbarian aka Zen

Is it the Queen Guinevere, or the unbleached cake flour blend?

It makes a difference - maybe not a whole lot but some. Queen Guinevere is conventional cake flour at 7% protein, the unbleached cake flour blend is a bit higher protein at 9.4%. It's just a little bit different.

reply by: elsa on July 19, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Thanks, swirth - I'll be baking the quick breads using Crisco oil.

reply by: Livingwell on July 20, 2012 at 7:38 am

Zen, it's the Queen Guinevere, which I have great success with in my other cake recipe calling for cake flour. I bought the unbleached cake flour blend, thinking I could use it as a sub for all-purpose. I emailed the Bakers asking if it was a 1-to-1 sub and they said it should only be used in recipes that specifically call for it. I tried the tender white cake and it didn't work for me at all. The cake was both crumbly and sticky at the same time (I posted a review on 9-2-10). My other cake recipes use all-purpose flour, so I threw away the cake flour blend and haven't bought it since. What a waste, huh? Are they now saying the cake flour blend CAN be used as a sub for all-purpose? If so, is it a 1-to1- sub?? After all the years I've been baking, I still don't know the why and wherefore of the science behind it. I just want good recipes that work without having to be a chemist to figure them out!

reply by: Livingwell on July 20, 2012 at 7:51 am

Here is a link that shows cake texture with various fats used:


Looking at the cake made with shortening, I am anxious to try your red cake using it, Zen, and see if it makes a big difference for me.

reply by: Livingwell on July 20, 2012 at 7:57 am

I forgot to say that I had heard so much about Duncan Hines red cake mix being very good and less trouble than homemade, that I broke down and bought a box right after Christmas last year. I never make cake mixes, but was so frustrated with my red cake recipe that I thought I'd try it. Guess what? It's still sitting on my shelf and the expiration date is next month. I just have this 'thing' about cake mix with all of its chemicals, preservatives, and artificial flavor. Good thing I got it on sale for 99 cents so I won't feel too bad when I throw it away!

reply by: puppyfuzz on July 20, 2012 at 9:26 am

Donate it to the food bank before the exp date....lots of people love cake mixes

reply by: KitchenBarbarian aka Zen on July 20, 2012 at 11:02 am
KitchenBarbarian aka Zen

Personally I wouldn't use it as a direct sub, but some people do. I haven't tried it myself and I'm unlikely too, if only because it's just not available locally - or at least I've not seen it.

But yes, in the main, you CAN sub other flours - with changes to the recipe. You may still prefer the cake flour, but you can make a pretty decent cake with regular AP flour too, but a southern bleached-with-chlorine flour such as White Lily is a better substitute for cake flour if you can't get cake flour or find it too expensive. There are reasons why cake flour is better for cakes, its not just a labeling ploy, LOL!

I have to go out just now but when I get back tonight I'll type in the recipe.

reply by: KitKat79 on July 20, 2012 at 4:15 pm

FWIW, I started subbing in (by weight) the unbleached cake flour blend for AP in several of my (non KA) cupcake recipes that originally called for AP. My results have been fabulous in that the sub finally got me the texture and structure I'd been trying to get forever in my cupcakes. I also used it in a cream cheese poundcake recipe that called for AP flour. Best.Poundcake.Ever.

ETA: I have not tried subbing the unbleached cake flour for regular cake flour yet, so I'm not sure how well it would work there.

reply by: KitchenBarbarian aka Zen on July 22, 2012 at 5:00 am
KitchenBarbarian aka Zen

The unbleached cake flour blend is lower protein than most AP flour, so that's one plus for using it for cakes.

It's also most probably more finely milled (although I've never checked that for sure with KA - but I can't imagine they wouldn't have, it does so much to enhance a flour's performance for cakes). If my supposition is correct, this also enhances it's performance as a cake flour by increasing the ability to absorb water and partially breaking down larger starches to enhance gelatinization and some other characteristics we want in cakes.

It probably does perform better than standard AP flour for cakes. However it is unlikely to perform as well for cakes as conventional cake flour, which has been bleached with chlorine. Other than some southern type flours like White Lily, AP flours haven't been bleached with chlorine for decades. Chlorination enhances a flours performance for cakes by breaking down the protein structures that form gluten (weakening gluten development) and altering starch structures as noted above, in addition to similar effects from the finer grind. But you should still be able to get some pretty decent cakes out of it, by slightly modifying the recipe to make up for the differences. It'll be different, but it can still be good.

It really doesn't matter that it's unbleached, when compared to conventional AP flour like Pillsbury or Gold Medal - technically, they are bleached, but not with chlorine, so the bleaching has no effect as far as cake making goes.