The Reason You Should Start Using Margarine When Baking

Baking is one of those fields of cooking where the choice of ingredients is often based on long-held beliefs and traditions, sometimes passed down over generations. And while many purists are diehard butter partisans, one of the world's top bakers has said you should consider margarine instead.

Paul Hollywood, best known as the longtime judge of "The Great British Baking Show," made the case for the oil-based alternative in an interview on Christopher Kimball's Milk Street podcast. Hollywood said that while butter provides a better flavor for some baked goods, margarine often produces an improved, softer texture for cakes or similar items. When the taste of butter is still required, Hollywood sometimes uses a mixture of the two for the best of both worlds. The improved texture results in part from margarine's higher water content, which converts to steam in the oven and helps the baked goods rise. Margarine also produces a richer golden color that can visually enhance your cakes in ways other fats can't.

Versatile, affordable, but more processed, too

Texture and flavor aside, margarine is also an excellent choice for making baked goods more accessible to more people. It's available in dairy-free and even vegan-friendly versions and is almost always vegetarian. In addition, shoppers know that margarine is almost always a more affordable choice than butter, a potentially significant factor for frequent bakers following notable price increases at the supermarket. 

While Hollywood certainly has the experience to back up his suggestion, it's vital to remember that margarine also has some drawbacks. Most margarines contain a variety of extra ingredients, including additives, emulsifiers, colorings, and other artificial substances that may be less desirable for some. Even Hollywood, in his answer, conceded butter is the "purest thing." And as noted above, margarine doesn't provide any flavor other than artificially added flavors many cooks would prefer to avoid. Finally, some baked goods simply don't benefit from the softer texture produced by margarine.

Don't take Paul Hollywood's word for it — try it out yourself in one of the best cake recipes you can make for any occasion.