Butter versus margarine: Shortbread cookies

With last week’s results from the butter vs. margarine: oatmeal chocolate chip cookie taste test, I decided to take the butter vs. margarine debate one step further. I would choose a cookie where there would be less flavours interfering with the buttery taste. What better cookie to choose than shortbread? I suspect that this cookie will be much less forgiving from a flavour standpoint. Will people be able to guess which batch of cookies is made with magarine and not butter?

To make things even more interesting, I decided to take this taste test one step futher by including another type of margarine that tries to mimic the taste of butter. I made three different batches of shortbread using the exact same recipe. The only thing I changed was the type of fat that was used. I have listed them below:

Shortbread made with “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” margarine
Shortbread made with “Becel Omega 3 Plus” margarine
Shortbread made with butter


2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter (or margarine), softened
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp granulated sugar

My theory:
The shortbread cookies made with butter will still be the most tender overall. However, I have a feeling that the batch made with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter will give the original recipe a run for it’s money from a flavour standpoint. I think that the panel will favour either the cookies made with butter or the ones made with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. I don’t think anyone will choose the batch that was made with the Becel margarine.

Taste testers:
Please submit your comments on the following: What do you think of the flavour/texture of each batch? Which batch do you like the most? Which batch do you think was made with butter?

The reveal:
Thank you everyone for you comments. Here is the type of fat that was used in each batch:
Batch A: Butter
Batch B: Becel
Batch C: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter

The results:
Batch B: Becel (6 people’s favorite)
Batch A: Butter (5 people’s favourite)
Batch C: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (2 people’s favourite)

Of the 13 people who took part in the taste test, most people actually preferred the taste of B (the cookies made with Becel) followed very closely by the batch made with butter. The least favourite batch were the ones made with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

My thoughts:
In general, I didn’t find there to be huge differences in the taste/texture of the different batches (however, shortbread connoisseurs would disagree). Having said that, you could ‘technically’ get away with substituting margarine for butter even when making shortbread.

Margarine is still a lot trickier to handle when baking. Because it’s so sticky, it’s very difficult to roll out and cut into shapes. If I were using margarine, I would have to use the method of patting down the dough onto a cookie sheet and slicing it into wedges. It wouldn’t be realistic to expect to be able to cut them into shapes as they would just stick to the counter.

The bottom line:
For most people, I can see them still choosing butter over margarine for shortbread recipes because there is still a taste difference and butter is much easier to work with. Although margarine is a healthier type of fat, using it in this recipe isn’t worth the extra hassle.

*** Update: September 26, 2014 – A tip I’ve learned for getting margarine to handle as well as butter is to pop it in the freezer before you use it. It becomes more solid so you can grate it into the mixture similar as you would butter.