Since You Asked: Olive oil can replace butter in baking

I have been told to cut dairy from my diet and use olive oil as much as possible. Can I substitute olive oil for butter in baking?

— Rae Anne R., via email

Yes, you can use olive oil in baking, but you should keep two things in mind.

First is flavor. Olive oil can have mild to assertive flavors, so go for the mildest taste you can find. But even the lightest flavor still will be a bit fruity, so steer clear of recipes that would not be compatible.

The second caveat is that while olive oil can substitute directly with vegetable oil or melted butter, olive oil is not a direct substitute for solid butter. Using less oil keeps the ratio of liquid to solid but still risks a flatter baked good. In substituting, the general rule is to replace 1/2 cup butter with 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Olive oil highlights the flavors of citrus in this recipe.

Citrus-Olive Oil Shortbread

1 cup light-flavor olive oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
3 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 375 F. In a bowl, combine the oil, sugars, juices and zest. Beat with an electric mixer to combine.

In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to liquid mixture a cup at a time, mixing between additions. Dough should be firm but not rock-hard. Add more orange juice, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to make dough workable.

Roll dough into balls and place on a baking sheet 11/2 inches apart. Bake in preheated oven for 11 to 13 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool slightly in pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 48 cookies.

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