Any fat that is solid at room temperature. This means a "saturated fat," i.e, one whose fatty acid chains cannot incorporate additional hydrogen atoms. Some types of shortening include lard, palm oil, cocoa butter, hydrogenated vegetable oil (aka Crisco), margarine, butter.

Shortening is invaluable for making pie crust, biscuits, and lots of different manufactured crumbly baked goods including Oreos or Ritz crackers.

To measure shortening: Get a liquid measuring cup that holds at least twice as much by volume as the amount of shortening you need. Fill it halfway with cold water. Scoop shortening into the measuring cup, making sure to submerge it. When the level of the water in the cup has increased by the amount of shortening you need, dump out the water and use your shortening. For example, if you need half a cup of shortening, put a cup of cold water into a two cup measure. Add the shortening to the cup, making sure it's all underwater, until the water reaches the 1 1/2 cup level. Dump out the water, retaining the shortening. Make baking powder biscuits.

Fats have the ability to "shorten" gluten strands in flour, resulting in baked goods that are tender and friable. "Short" pastries are flaky or even crumbly; good shortbread is the essence of shortness, practically melting in your mouth. So shortening is a fat that is used to render your baked goods "shorter".

While mneek is correct that shortening includes any fat that is solid at room temperature - lard or butter, for example - most products sold today under the label shortening are white tasteless affairs which are processed from animal fats or refined and hydrogenated vegetable oils, though they may contain colouring or flavouring to simulate butter. Commercial shortenings are whipped to give the product a fluffier texture and emulsified to permit better sugar absorption. Unless shortening is clearly labelled vegetable shortening, it will contain some animal fats.

If you don't have shortening when you need it, substitute another solid fat rather than a liquid fat like oil; a liquid fat will give very different results, especially with finicky recipes like pie crust.

Short"en*ing, n.

1.

The act of making or becoming short or shorter.

2. Cookery

That which renders pastry short or friable, as butter, lard, etc.

 

© Webster 1913.

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