Food & Drink

Perils of trans-fat-free baking

Q. My mom used to make the best pound cakes and other goodies, but now with the trans-fat-free shortenings, her cakes have “sad streaks” or just crumble. Can you give any substitutions to make when using the no-trans-fat products?

Trans-fat-free baking is still a developing science. In New York City, where a trans-fat ban went into effect July 1, there actually is a Trans-Fat Help Center – headed by a former editor for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia – to help bakeries make the transition.

The center's work is focused on bulk baking used in the industry, but we may eventually get good information for home bakers from that project.

Wanda Cropper, assistant dean of the baking and pastry program at Johnson & Wales University's Charlotte campus, says they tried several trans-fat-free shortenings before settling on one made with palm oil.

“What we found was the key was creaming. Palm oil makes the shortening hard and more plastic-like. So you really need to mix that shortening well before you add anything to it.”

She also says shortening and the other ingredients need to be at room temperature to keep the shortening from being too hard to mix well. Adding chilled eggs, for instance, can make the shortening stiff and hard to beat smoothly.

There are other things that could cause the trouble with your mother's cakes. Sad streaks in pound cakes – underbaked batter – can be caused by oven temperature, for instance. Since home ovens typically are off by 25 to 50 degrees, you can get an inexpensive oven thermometer in a kitchen-supply store and check.

In the meantime, try a pound cake recipe that uses only butter. That's closer to the traditional pound cake (and all-butter pound cakes taste really good).