Oils are liquid fats. They are derived from plant sources (seeds, nuts, that sort of thing) and like animal fats have been in use by human beings for thousands of years. Speaking generally, they’re used more by cooks than bakers — solid fats are where it’s at for pastry types — but come in quite handy from time to time.

In the pastry kitchen oils are most valuable when they bring little-to-no flavor to the party. Though a walnut or a sesame oil might occasionally be used specifically for its flavor, most of the time pastry makers use oil solely to introduce richness and/or a moist texture into a cake or muffin formula. The same goes for frying, where the aroma of, say, peanuts or corn can muddle the profile of a fritter or a doughnut.

So the oils most commonly found in the pastry kitchen are neutral-tasting: vegetable (made from soybeans) and Canola (made from pressed rapeseed or mustard seeds). If they’re neutral in flavor and have a high smoke point, so much the better. As it happens vegetable oil has a smoke point of around 370 degrees Fahrenheit and Canola can take heat up to about 435. Gotta love those Canadians.

Other useful oils include corn oil (if you make a lot of corn bread) or olive oil which, even though it has a very distinctive flavor, is very nice for little Italian cakes. Olive oil is also rich in emulsifiers, and that can be extremely handy when you want to produce a cake with a very fine crumb.

Of course the word of pastry is wide, and the potential applications for oils of all types are legion. But I’m a simple man with simple needs. Give me a nice big jug of Canola oil and, for the most part, I’m good.

16 thoughts on “Oil”

  1. I use extra virgin olive oil to make biscotti, and oh the flavor is incredible. I’ve tried the recipe with butter, and it just isn’t right. They puff too much and it’s too hard to slice them for the second bake.

  2. Any thoughts on coconut oil? I feel like it’s become a darling of food blogs and pinterest lately, but I haven’t actually tried to bake with it myself.

    1. Yes, ever since the failure of the Women’s Health Initiave in 2006, fats have been all the rage, the more saturated the better. It wasn’t long ago that coconut oil was consider the demon seed (or at least the oil thereof), one of the most saturated fats there is. Now it’s hip. More that that, it’s stocked in health food stores. For my part I’ve never used it, although Mrs. Pastry consumed quite a bit of it when she lived in the Dominican Republic in the Peace Corps. One thing I will say about it is that it’s once of the few oils that’s actually solid, which is weird. For more on the WHI go here:


  3. If I remember correctly, movie theaters used to use coconut oil to pop popcorn. Then the Center For Science in the Public Interest (bunch of killjoys) got their knickers in a knot over saturated fat. Movie theaters switched and the popcorn has been dreadful. It’s been burned the last couple of times I bought it. No more.

    1. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is on my all-time sh*t list. They’re the ones who lobbied so hard in the 80’s to get McDonald’s to switch from beef tallow to vegetable shortening, and ruin their fries forever. CSPI’s base premise back then: that trans fats are good for you. I used to have a link up to their paper on the subject, but last year they finally took it down, probably out of abject humiliation. Of course the good folks at CSPI were the ones leading the charge against trans fats a mere ten years later…when they themselves were largely to blame for spreading them around in the first place! Are they fools? Knaves? Either way, the mind boggles.

      – Joe

  4. It seems like the food industry needs a demon in its midst. My new eating regime goes by “it’s not what you eat but what is in what you eat”. Lard smeared on bread doesn’t sound that great to me but then I’ve a vegetarian and most meat on bread doesn’t sound good to me but I’d prefer a less chemical laden lard to a more chemical filled spread if I had only those two options. I don’t want to obsess about organic food vs. non-organic but I will say I feel better eating a more diverse diet of quality food with carbs and fat and protein instead of a poor diet removing any of those options. I think our bodies need a portion of all of them to really be healthy. I have heard good things about coconut oil being a clean burning fat long before the rage hit to use coconut oil in the diet. Fat is definitely the baker’s friend. Baked goods would certainly be different without fat bringing it all to the party. Great blogs on all the fats…even the pork and chicken fat varieties that make a vegetarian a bit queasy…

    1. Hey Linda! Sorry about that. But thanks for a very trustful comment!

      – Joe

  5. I recently found out my cholesterol is too high, and decided to radically change my diet for the short term to get it down. My beau and I figured out we were going through over a pound of butter a week, and ya know, olive oil is a decent substitute. Eggs – meh. On the other hand, my grandfather joked years ago that his cholesterol was high, and he figured out over the years he’d had around 100,000 eggs, including the two he had for breakfast each day. He said he thought he thought he’d be killed off soon by cholesterol. He did die about two years later, at age 102. I will be adding butter and a few other ingredients back soon, just with moderation.

    1. Love that story, Naomi! Something will get us all in the end…and probably not what we think!

      – Joe

    2. Dietary cholesterol doesn’t make much difference – if you cut it out completely you only reduce blood cholesterol a tiny bit. Your body is making the stuff all the time.

      1. Such are the findings of some of the biggest studies on the subject — that diet matters a lot less than we thought even a few years ago. It’s very interesting stuff. Thanks for mentioning that, Bronwyn!

        – Joe

  6. What about grape seed oil? I tried it after going to a middle eastern market and I love it. The only weird thing about it is the green color. But, then again, I use it mostly for cooking rather than baking.

    Also..didn’t get the Canadians comment above…do they produce Canola oil? Sorry, I may have read it too quickly.

    1. Oh, right, that was something of an opaque reference, wasn’t it? Canola is Canada’s great contribution to the world of oils. The “Can” in Canola stands for “Canada.” The other bits mean Oil, Low Acid…or something like that.

      Thanks for the question,

      – Joe

      PS – I agree about grape seed oil. Delicious stuff.

  7. Just saw an interesting recipe for a sorbet with olive oil added. Have to say I would have never thought of adding oil to a sorbet. Supposedly it helps to keep the sorbet more smooth and less gritty like a granita.

    1. Hey Linda!

      I’ve seen those before and they do indeed cut down on graininess, which is of course a factor of crystal size. They’re a bit of an acquired taste…at least to me…but some people love them.

      – Joe

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