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What Is Shortening, Anyway?

Know Your Ingredients: Shortening

While baking apple pie, I enlisted the help of my boyfriend, who took notice of the substantial amount of Crisco that was going into the pie dough. What exactly is shortening? he wanted to know. When I couldn't give him a solid answer (no pun intended), I decided it was time to find out.

The term shortening generically refers to any baking fat that's solid at room temperature, like butter and margarine. But more often, it describes a semi-solid fat made from hydrogenated vegetable oil that's used in baking to achieve a "short," or flaky, texture.

By adding hydrogen gas to vegetable oil at a high pressure and temperature, the flavorless substance goes from being a liquid to a solid at room temperature.

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Although shortening has fallen out of favor in recent years because it contains trans fat, the ingredient remains a staple around the world for many reasons. It has a higher smoke point than butter or margarine, meaning it won't burn in a sauté pan. It also requires no refrigeration, and can lengthen the shelf life of baked goods. What do you use shortening for?

Source: Flickr User VirtualErn

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