Butter versus margarine: Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

With my newly acquired tub of Becel Omega-3 Plus margarine and my recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, I set about that evening to bake two batches of cookies. I made two batches – one made with margarine and one made with butter.

Ingredients:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter (or margarine), softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

A couple tricky things:
Most margarines tend to have salt in them so this can be a little tricky since a lot of baking recipes call for unsalted butter. I decided to use salted butter for this recipe so I wouldn’t have to tweak the recipe to account for the fact that there is salt in the margarine.

Margarine, because of it’s higher moisture content, it’s a little tricky to work with. When it came time to drop the cookies onto the cookie sheet, the batch made with margarine were a lot harder to work with. The batter was stickier and harder to roll into balls because the batter kept sticking to my hands.

My theory:
I figured that because margarine has a higher moisture content, that the cookies made with margarine will come out a lot tougher. I also think that the flavour difference will be obvious between that of butter and margarine.

The reveal:
Thank you everyone for you comments. Here is the type of fat that was used in each batch:
Batch A: Becel
Batch B: Butter

The results:
Batch A: Becel (3 people’s favorite)
Batch B: Butter (6 people’s favourite)

The majority of people who took part in the taste test preferred the cookies that were made with butter. However, most people thought the cookies were equally good and that there were no obvious differences between the two cookies. Most people admitted that they both tasted pretty much the same but the ones made with butter were slightly chewier in texture.

My thoughts:
In my opinion, both cookies tasted equally good. The textures were both acceptable but it’s the subtleties (carrying of slight flavours like nutmeg and cinnamon) that set butter apart from margarine. The texture is also more consistent with a more tender crumb. However, if you brought them to a party, people would think that they both tasted great (and wouldn’t be able to tell the difference).

The batch made with butter results in a slightly chewier cookie. The dough is also a lot more moldable and easier to work with. The batch made with margarine results in a slightly crispier cookie but is much more difficult to work with.

It’s interesting that margarine is cheaper than butter and can result in a greater yield (the dough is more watery and spread outs more whereas butter holds its form more). You also don’t have to wait for margarine to soften as it’s pretty much always soft. Butter is more expensive and has less yield. However, it is easier to work with and you can alter the end product by rolling the batter into balls which results in denser and chewier cookies. From a taste and texture perspective, they are very similar but I still prefer butter because of the subtle taste and texture differences and the fact that it’s easier to work with.

Bottom line:
You can use either butter or margarine when making these types of cookies. They are both acceptable. If you need to make a large batch of cookies right away for people who aren’t cookie connaisseurs or need to watch their cholesterol and saturated fat intake, go for margarine. If you want *slightly* better tasting cookies and can afford the extra expense and time/planning it takes for the butter to soften – stick with butter. Butter is also easier to work with and more moldable so you can play around with the density and form of the cookie more.