When it comes to baking, there is no one-size-fits-all ‘best’ oil for it. It depends on your recipe and what that might call for. I use butter, animal fats, avocado oil, macadamia oil, and olive oil, and most recently, I’ve started using some vegan butter that I made to see how that works!
So why so much versatility when it comes to oils for baking? Let’s talk about it.
The Role of Oil in Baking
Oil plays a key role in baking, performing various functions that contribute to the texture and taste of baked goods. It primarily maintains moisture, capturing gases released from the reaction between baking powder and baking soda. At the same time, oil slows down gluten formation, resulting in fluffy baked items. Fats and oils also enhance the flavor and shelf life of baked goods!
Oil also acts as a non-stick agent when used to grease baking dishes. This helps in the easy removal of baked goods from containers. Oil doesn’t solidify when cooled, leading to softer cakes. When cooking meat, oil aids in searing, which helps retain juices. Similarly, baking vegetables with oil can produce crisp edges and prevent sticking.
Aside from the above, fats and oils can also tenderise, leaven, assist browning, conduct heat, and create creaming textures.
What Oils Should Not Be Used For Baking
You can use plenty of oils for baking, but the number one thing to avoid is oils with a smoke point lower than your baking temperature. Baking typically requires a temperature of around 350 degrees, but this can vary depending on the specific dish.
The smoke point of an oil or fat is the temperature at which it begins to emit smoke when heated. This temperature fluctuates significantly among different types of oils.The smoke point also indicates how rapidly an oil breaks down into free fatty acids. When you cook with oil that has reached its smoke point, not only does it impair the flavor of your food, but it also releases free radicals, which can be harmful to your health.
Fats and oils are best used according to their respective smoke points. Those with low smoke points are ideally not heated at all, instead being incorporated into smoothies and salads. Conversely, oils with high smoke points suit cooking methods requiring higher heat. Oils with smoke points that fall in the middle of the spectrum are perfect for cooking at moderate temperatures.
Choosing The Best Oil For Your Baking Needs
Many recipes call for neutral, refined oils such as canola or vegetable oil, particularly for standard wheat breads. Many cakes contain animal fat, such as butter, which gives a superior texture….. But you can mix things up a little, as most oils can be substituted 1:1 in baking!
For a different taste, try pecan oil when making cakes instead of vegetable oil or butter. It will add a lovely nutty taste and increase the density. Other oils I like to use when baking cakes are olive oil with citrus and macadamia oil with chocolate.
Olive oil is also great for savory dishes like focaccia or roasted veggies and for baked lemon, olive oil and oregano chicken. Peanut, sesame, and coconut oils are good for Asian dishes. For BBQ or grilling, use a neutral oil or butter to keep the original taste of the rub or marinade. In southern baking, butter, ghee, and animal fats are often used.
Substituting Oils in Baking Recipes
When it comes to cooking and baking, the type of oil you use can significantly affect your meal. Generally speaking, most oils can be substituted on a one-to-one basis, though this might alter your dish’s overall taste, baking properties, and nutritional profile.
Take baking cookies as an example; in this case, you’d require a fat that remains solid at room temperature, such as vegan butter or butter. If you’re adhering to a specific diet like keto, paleo, or Whole30 or have allergies, this will also influence your choice of oil. Always remember the key to a successful oil substitution is understanding the properties of the oil and how it interacts with your recipe.
I can’t tell you why everyone likes it, but I can tell you why I like it. Baking is an enjoyable and therapeutic activity. I call it my meditation. It requires focus and being in the moment, preparing everything with care. And then, when you make something delicious, you do feel proud of yourself! Plus, the eating part is pretty great too.
I would argue that the most important part of baking varies if you are a beginner or have been baking for a long time. If you are a beginner, finding and following a good recipe exactly is best until you learn more about what goes with what and how things all work together.
For a more experienced cook, it is important to understand the properties of your ingredients and how they interact. For example, when using oil, you should understand what flavor it will impart on the dish, particularly if you are creating your own recipes.
Oh, and the correct measurements help, too!