Quick bread or flavored pancakes, muffins have multiple names according to the way you bake them. There are endless variations to the recipe and one of the most important choices is choosing between oil and butter. I’ve experimented a lot to get to the perfect tender, soft, textured muffins. Dozens of trials have yielded a definite answer to the question: oil vs butter, which is tastier?
The short answer is definitely butter. Butter will give you tastier and richer muffins for it contains milk plus the fat content. You’ll get that savory taste we’re all after. This doesn’t mean that oil won’t be as good, though. You can substitute oil for butter and get pretty satisfactory results.
In this article, we’ll explore the role of fats in baking -especially muffins- and we’ll walk through the differences between butter and oil in detail, seeing the pros and cons of using each of them in baking muffins. I’ll also be advocating the use of butter in muffins for a richer taste!
Before we cut to the chase, we’ll take a step back to understand the purpose of using oil and butter in your muffins, or the role of fats in baking, to get a better grip of which one to choose.
Oil and butter play a couple of vital roles in baking; they’re the source of fats that hold the ingredients together without sticking to each other. More importantly, they’re the source of moisture in the dough and they contribute to the texture of your final baked goods.
Fats create that tender component in baked goods as a result of separating protein from water, and thus, slowing down the formation of gluten.
Not to mention the levity of the goods, whereas butter -creamed with sugar- is responsible for the rising of baked goodies by aerating the dough during and after the baking process. Do you know those videos of puff pastry leveling up in the oven? This is probably because of butter, where the water content of butter evaporates, lifting the puff pastry dough up!
Butter is a solid fat that’s composed of 75-80% fats, namely oils. The other 20-25% is milk solids and water. As you probably know, butter has a distinct flavor that adds to the overall flavor of the end product. So, apart from using it as a fatty agent, it does provide flavor.
Speaking of flavor, there are two common types of butter that you can pick up on your supermarket’s shelf; unsalted butter and sweet cream butter. Unlike their names, the sweet cream butter has salt in it, that’s why it’s suitable for bread spreads and so, while unsalted butter is more suitable for baking.
There you go with your first choice, unsalted butter is better than sweet butter for baking muffins.
Some recipes call for adding salt to the butter and that’s okay. Yet, adding a controlled amount of salt to your unsalted butter is way better than trying to adapt to a predetermined salt percentage that’s randomly added by the manufacturer.
Although richer, the muffins baked with butter will be a bit drier than those baked with oil due to the lower fat content of butter. This also means that the butter muffins will stale faster than the oil ones. Their shelf life is shorter too. All that given you use equivalent amounts of butter and oil.
So, to get a soft texture and moisty feel to your muffins using butter, you might need to increase the amount of butter used. Keep in mind that whatever butter amount you use, it’s equivalent to 75% of the corresponding oil amount. In other words, if you’ll substitute, use 125 gm of butter for every 100 gm of oil. To get the ratios right, you should calibrate on melted butter.
Butter is also the better option when it comes to healthy choices and calorie counting, where oil is arguably the densest food ever on earth since it’s 100% fats.
If you cream the butter or shorten it with sugar, you’ll be introducing air bubbles to the mix, which helps elevate the muffin during the baking process. This way, you’ll be reaping the benefits of both the texture of butter and the fluffiness of oil without having to actually add oil to your mixture. Shortened butter might be the answer you’re looking for!
[Related Article: Butter Vs Ghee in Baking – Which Is Better?]
Unlike butter, oil has a neutral flavor. In baking, it has one mission only that is being a source of fat that moistens the dough and creates texture at the end baked product.
The argument for using oil in baking muffins is making use of the oils neutrality, in case you don’t want any flavor, like the butter’s, to predominate your muffin’s flavor. Also, butter produces denser muffins, whereas oil produces lighter and fluffier ones. The choice here is according to your preference. The same applies to cake and other bakeries.
Because it’s purely fat with no water content, using oil instead of butter in baking extends the shelf life of your products. This is an aspect you might want to consider if you’re baking for a lot of people or for a long weekend.
For vegans, substituting oil for butter is a necessity. When it comes to muffins, a one-to-one ratio will do, but we’d advise you to reduce the amount of oil compared to butter so as not to get an unnecessarily soft feel. The perfect oil for one to one substitution of butter is coconut oil.
Coconut oil is dense and changes its form from liquid to solid according to temperature. Moreover, it has a desirable sweet noticeable flavor that adds to your baked goods. You can think of it like butter but with a little more fat.
If you decide to go down the route of using oil to bake muffins, we’d recommend you use canola oil for its low content of saturated fat. Besides, it’s one of the most tasteless oils, so it won’t affect your recipe. Unlike olive oil, for example, that has a pungent taste. That’s why we don’t recommend using it in baking unless it’s required in the recipe.
[Related Article: 5 Top Quality Substitutes for Peanut Oil That Enhances Your Food]
We’re not trying to avoid giving an answer here, but actually one of the solutions of avid bakers is that they mix both butter and oil; butter for the taste, and oil for the texture.
Butter has a relatively low “smoke point” which is the degree of heat when the butter starts to burn. Oil has a much higher smoke point. Thus, mixing oil with butter protects the butter from being burnt, producing these smokey black bitter particles.
There are no strict rules when it comes to baking in general, and muffins are no different. Yet, if you’re asking which is tastier for baking muffins oil or butter, the answer will definitely be butter.
Throw in texture, softness, tenderness, and toastiness to the equation and you’ll need the presence of oil. That’s why a mix of both with a larger percentage of butter might be the golden ratio you’re looking for.