Baking Fat Basics

Learn about the basics about baking fats using this guide’s explanations on the uses, advantages, and disadvantages of commonly used fats.



Fats play many roles in baking. They add moistness and tenderness. They create barriers between layers of flour, letting crispy pastries develop. They help gluten stretch in bread, and stop things from sticking to pans.

Unsalted Butter

What is it? A golden block of dairy goodness made from churning cream to concentrate the butterfat. It is an emulsion of butterfat (about 80%), water, and milk proteins. Unsalted butter is normally used in baking, having a sweeter flavor.

What is it good for? The most common baking fat, butter is solid at room temperature and can therefore be used to make all kinds of flaky pastries. It melts at body temperature, so it doesn’t taste greasy.

Is it good for me? Along with suet, butter is mostly saturated fat and is therefore high in calories. These foods used to be considered the devil’s work, but they are all natural and recent nutritional research suggests that (within reason) they will probably do us less harm than processed alternatives. Because it is a saturated fat, butter can also be heated without changing its structure and becoming more harmful. Butter contains little lactose and is therefore rarely a problem for people with lactose intolerance.

Salted Butter

What is it? Butter that has had salt added as a preservative and to change the flavor.

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