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.

16 thoughts on “Butter versus margarine: Shortbread cookies

  1. A: Lacks flavor compared to the other 2. Also leaves a funny dissolving taste in the mouth, a bit grainier than the other two, not as smooth.

    B: Smoother both in flavor and texture. Fills the mouth nicer. Not so grainy, doesn’t “crumble” as easily as A.

    C: Feels like this one has a bit of A, and a bit of B’s qualities, but still not as good as B.

    I think A is margarine, B is butter, and C is I can’t believe it’s not butter.

    I definitely enjoyed B the most.
    Thanks for the tasting! Let us know once the results are in!

  2. A) flakiest, smoothest tasting, tender
    B) has an odd after taste
    C) okay, but not as tender as A
    I think A is made with butter and tastes best
    Ranking A>C>B

  3. Thx Lisa for baking all those goodies! ;p I think A – I can’t believe it’s not butter. B – Butter. C – Margarine with Omega.

    They all taste the same to me with some subtle differences … my favourite will be B.

  4. A – seemed a bit more dense than B.
    B – melted in my mouth. Very light in texture and my favourite.
    C – similar to A, but seemed a bit more ‘wet’.

  5. Appearance -No difference between the cookies. A consistent creamy white colour.
    Texture – B – most tender crumb –melt in your mouth, followed by C and then A
    Flavour – Significantly Prefered A (butter)over B&C. I found the flavour profile of B&C very similar but I preferred B

    Overall I prefer A – richer flavour with a toothier texture. Great Job Lisa. Thank You!!!

  6. I like C the most.
    I guess A is made from butter.
    texture – not much different
    flavour – B and C has a salty taste

  7. B = Becel; least buttery flavour and very different sandy texture.
    A = butter re: flakiness – A is flaky but C is not. also stronger buttery aroma and it’s browner.
    C = ICBINB

    GREAT job Lisa. They were all made very well.

  8. my favorite would be C (and my guess is that this is the one with butter), seemed a little tastier. I’m thinking A is margarine and B is I can’t believe it’s not butter… But overal I think they were all very good and comparable! Texture was a bit softer on C and A smelled a bit stronger than the others, but I’m just getting over a cold so I’m not sure how reliable I am at the moment! :p

  9. What a great taste test!!Thanks Lisa.

    Here are my observations:

    Cookie A – found it to be the driest of all of the 3, and had a more distinctive flavour – Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter

    Cookie B – found it to be quite moist,tasted sweeter, liked it the best – Butter

    Cookie C – I found that this one wasn’t as moist as cookie B and didn’t have the strong flavour that Cookie A had – Becel

  10. rita said…
    A- initially very creamy but with a dry finish, can really taste the corn starch.
    B- uh well uh like it tasted like um the catch of the day…sorry
    C- stayed moist and creamy throughout the taste process

    I think C is butter and I liked A the best, followed by C and final choice B
    Thanks so much Lisa

  11. Cookie A – definitely made with butter…I feel 100% certain about that. This cookie tastes very much like the shortbread I make with butter. I like the rich buttery taste. This is my favourite cookie even though I found it a bit dry.

    Cookies B & C have the same oily flavour and I didn’t like the aftertaste. I believe these are both made with margarine. I found the texture of B to be the best; but also detected a fishiness. So, I think B was made with omega-3 margarine.
    Thanks Lisa…great idea.

  12. (I had a different numbering system because a coworker categorized the cookies for me so I wouldn’t know which batch was what).

    1. I found this cookie bland, flat, chemically, fatty, lard after taste, crumbly but not exactly tender, not delicate. I don’t think it’s butter.
    2. This one I found to be worse than #1 in terms of flavour. The flavour tasted poorer and muted. I did not like this one at all. I think that this one might be Becel.
    3. This one was crisp with a more delicate and tender texture, tiny crumbs and has the essence of butter. I think this one is butter. I also liked this one the most.

    My own reveal:
    1 = Becel
    2 = Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
    3 = Butter

    Well, what do you know – I liked the one made with butter the most. =) The one made with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter was the one I liked least. What a surprise! The Becel one was pretty good as well.

  13. I didn’t taste anything Lisa, so I can’t say 😛

    I can say that pastry dough works better with butter given the higher fat content. Pastry made with margarine tends to suffer more because of the higher water content and doesn’t deliver flavour as well (say from vanilla extract or cocoa or lemon zest). Fat is a better flavour carrier than water, so your shortbread will taste just better with butter. Food for thought…

  14. Cookie A – tastes ok. I think this one is butter. It is a good texture.
    Cookie B – this is my favourite of the 3 cookies. It has more “depth” in it’s flavour. Good texture.
    Cookie C – more crumbly texture than the other 2. Not as tasty as cookie B but tastier than cookie A.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.