Baking with oil rather than butter is easier, faster and just as delicious

Jessie Sheehan

THE WASHINGTON POST – I am the queen of the baking shortcut, for despite my deep and powerful love of all things sweet, I’m impatient and awfully fond of instant gratification. I gravitate toward recipes with short ingredient lists and instructions that don’t require any heavy equipment (stand mixer, I’m looking at you) and can be assembled using only one or two bowls.

So, although I enjoy the texture achieved by creaming together butter and sugar in a mixer for a fluffy yellow cake or a chewy sugar cookie, what I really dig is a baked good that calls for oil rather than butter.

Baking with oil not only requires less work, and results in fewer dirty dishes, than butter, but it also produces tender, moist baked goods that get better with age and boast an impressively long shelf-life. As such, I not only search out baking recipes calling for oil, but when developing such recipes myself, which I do for a living, I try to create those that are oil-based.

Below is a breakdown of some of the impressive attributes of an oil-based baked good, as well as tips for substituting oil for butter in your favourite baking recipes.

Substitute oil in any of your baking recipes calling for melted butter. I always get a little giddy when I see a recipe calling for melted butter, like a cake or even some cookies, because I know I can substitute oil in its stead. Because they are both liquid fats, not only will subbing oil for the butter not negatively affect the baked good, but it will actually improve it. However, if a recipe calls for creaming butter, you may indeed run into trouble if you substitute, as the texture of the baked good is probably dependent on that creaming process.

Hazelnut chiffon cake with nutella ganache. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
Cacio e pepe olive oil popovers

Substitute three-quarter of the melted butter in a recipe with oil. Because butter is about 80 per cent fat and 20 per cent water, and oil is 100 per cent fat, when substituting oil for melted butter in baking recipes it is a good idea to use a little less oil, about three-quarter to seven-eighth the amount of butter. So, if a recipe calls for eight tablespoons of butter, you would substitute with six or seven tablespoons of oil. Some bakers recommend a one-to-one substitution, but in my experience, a touch less is just about perfect.

Substituting oil for butter when you bake, contributes so much at every stage of the game: from assembly to flavour and texture to shelf-life. And on top of that, many consider oil to be a healthier alternative to butter (although I’m team “everything in moderation”) and is a great choice when baking for someone with a dietary restriction that includes butter.

So consider giving oil a try the next time you come across melted butter in a recipe. You may discover that butter might just need to watch its back.

CACIO E PEPE OLIVE OIL POPOVERS

Active time: 15 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Servings: Six to 12

Popovers are not only one of the most impressive-looking baked goods you can make, eliciting “oohs” and “ahhs” every time, but they are also one of the easiest. A simple batter of flour, eggs, milk and, traditionally, melted butter is whirled about in a blender, poured into a hot pan and baked for about 25 minutes. The popovers rise tall while in the hot oven, ballooning over the edge of the pan and emerge with crispy outsides and custardy insides.

A popover pan makes for the tallest of popovers, but if you do not have one, a muffin tin will work, too. Be sure to bring your eggs and milk to room temperature before assembling the batter, as cold ingredients will hinder the popovers’ dramatic rise.

Storage: Popovers are best eaten hot, but leftovers can be stored in an airtight container and rewarmed in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Notes: Olive or vegetable oil will work in this recipe, but a fragrant, peppery olive oil, such as Frantoia brand adds wonderful flavour.

If using a regular muffin tin, fill the cups two-third to three-quarter of the way full and bake them for 20-25 minutes, reducing the oven temperature to 350 degrees Celsius after 15 minutes and checking on them at 20.

INGREDIENTS

Four large eggs

One-and-one-third cups whole milk

One-quarter cup olive oil

One-and-one-third cups all-purpose flour

One cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese

One teaspoon kosher salt

Three-quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

Place a six-cup popover pan on a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees Celsius.

In the pitcher of a blender, combine the eggs, milk and olive oil and blend for 15 seconds to combine. Add the flour, cheese, salt and pepper and blend for another 15 seconds, scraping down the sides of the blender with a flexible spatula, if necessary.

Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and brush with olive oil or spray with cooking spray, if using. Evenly pour the batter into the cups; each one should be about three-quarters full.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees Celsius and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the popovers have risen considerably and are golden brown. Do not open the oven while they bake.

Remove from the oven and jab each popover with a paring knife to release steam. Remove the popovers from the pan and transfer to a wire rack. They should slip out easily, but if they do not, run the same knife around the edges.

Popovers are best eaten within minutes of being pulled from the oven, generously spread with softened, salted butter.

Nutrition per serving (1 popover), based on 12 | Calories: 157; Total Fat: 9g; Saturated Fat: 4g; Cholesterol: 71mg; Sodium: 309mg; Carbohydrates: 12g; Dietary Fibre: 1g; Sugar: 1g; Protein: 7g

HAZELNUT CHIFFON CAKE WITH NUTELLA GANACHE

Active time: 30 minutes

Total time: Three hours, 15 minutes Servings: 12-16

A chiffon cake is a splendidly tall, wildly easy, oil-based cake. It is rich in flavour from egg yolks, yet wonderfully light in texture because of copious amounts of stiffly peaked whites. The cake is whisked together in a single bowl (you’re welcome) except for the whipped whites, which get added at the end.

Here, ground hazelnuts replace some of the flour and contribute wonderful texture (and colour) to the cake’s moist, airy crumb. And a ganache made of Nutella, or your favourite brand of hazelnut chocolate spread, not only adds some welcome sweetness, but also beautifully compliments the toothsome, flavour and texture of the ground hazelnuts in the cake.

Notes: Chiffon cakes are traditionally baked in an ungreased tube pan with a removable bottom, in a low oven, for a long time. And it is when the cake emerges from the oven that the drama really begins. Rather than cool the cake right-side up on a rack, the cake is turned upside down to cool.

Make Ahead: Make the cake up to 36 hours before you want to serve it and store it at room temperature, unglazed and covered with a large bowl or tightly wrapped in plastic wrap.

Storage: Leftover cake can be lightly wrapped in plastic wrap or covered with a large bowl, and stored at room temperature for up to three days.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CAKE

Seven large eggs, whites and yolks separated

One-and-two-third cups granulated sugar, divided

Three-quarter cup cold tap water

Half cup vegetable or hazelnut oil

One tablespoon baking powder

Two teaspoons vanilla extract

Half teaspoon kosher salt

Two cups cake flour

One cup whole hazelnuts, finely ground, or one-and-a-half cups hazelnut flour or hazelnut meal

One-quarter teaspoon cream of tartar

Chopped hazelnuts, for decorating

FOR THE GANACHE

One cup Nutella or another chocolate-hazelnut spread

Half cup heavy cream

One tablespoon vegetable or hazelnut oil

DIRECTIONS

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees Celsius. Have ready an ungreased 10- to 12-cup tube pan with a removable bottom.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, one cup of the sugar and the water for about 30 seconds, until the mixture lightens slightly in colour. Whisk in the oil, baking powder, vanilla and salt.

Sift the cake flour into the bowl, add the ground hazelnuts and whisk until just combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low until the egg whites become frothy, about two minutes. Next, whip the mixture on medium-high until, when you lift the whisk out, a soft peak forms and flop over at the tip, about three minutes. With the mixer on medium, slowly add the remaining two-third cup of granulated sugar to the egg whites. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue whisking until stiff peaks form, about three minutes. If they flop over, they need more time; if they hold a point, you’re set.

Gently fold a third of the whipped whites into the batter until they disappear. Be sure to fold with the lightest touch, so as not to deflate the whipped egg whites. Add another third and fold them in, followed by the final one, folding until just combined.

Transfer the batter to the pan, smooth the top with a small offset spatula and bake for one hour to one hour and 10 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed with a fingertip and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out with a moist crumb.

Remove from the oven and, if possible, invert the cake onto a thin-necked bottle. Cooling the cake upside down keeps it from slightly deflating. Let cool for about one-and-a-half hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

To remove the cake from the pan, gently run a long knife around the outside edge of the cake and around the inside tube. Remove the sides of the pan, run the knife between the bottom of the cake and the pan, and carefully lift the cake off the pan. Place it on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet.

To make the ganache, place the Nutella in a small bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream until tiny bubbles appear around the edges, about three to five minutes. Pour the cream over Nutella and let it sit for about one minute. Using a fork, begin stirring from the centre of the bowl until the cream and Nutella are thoroughly combined. Add the oil and continue to stir until emulsified.

Generously drizzle the cooled cake with the ganache, letting it decoratively drip down the sides. You will have some ganache left over. Let the glazed cake set briefly, about 15 minutes, before serving. Slice and serve with more ganache.

Nutrition per serving (1 slice), based on 16 slices from a cake baked in a 12-cup tube pan | Calories: 406; Total Fat: 23g; Saturated Fat: 8g; Cholesterol: 92mg; Sodium: 151mg; Carbohydrates: 45g; Dietary Fibre: 2g; Sugar: 31g; Protein: 6g