Butter or Oil – What Should I Use While Making a Cake

Internet today is full of cake recipes and at times you get confused which version to try. You search for one cake recipe and you get thousands of recipes. Almost all recipes are same with one or two variations here and there. You can understand most of the variations but one thing that stands out is the use of oil in some cake recipes. So, the question arises – Why some cake recipes use oil, what is the difference between the cakes made with butter or oil, can we substitute butter with oil or vice versa, which oil should we use for cakes? Let’s find out answers to all these questions.

Why Some Cake Recipes use Only Oil  

You use oil as a fat component in such cakes where you want your cakes to be moist and tender with extended shelf-life. You can also use oil in all such cake recipes where creaming method is not used for aeration (natural leavening process). If you are making a cake which needs to be covered with icing or where you need to layer the cakes one over the other, you should go for butter as a fat component because butter holds the cake structure strongly esp. if it has been refrigerated. Therefore, birthday or wedding cakes should ideally be always butter cakes. 

Can we Substitute Butter with Oil and Vice Versa and How?

Some cakes call for the creaming method where the sugar and butter are creamed together to make butter light and fluffy and to introduce more air into the butter. In such recipes, we cannot substitute butter with oil as oil cannot be creamed and we cannot create air packets in the oil. Therefore, if you substitute butter with oil in a recipe, where creaming is required, your cake will be dense and flat.

However, for the cake recipes where you do not need creaming process, you can substitute butter with oil. The chemical composition of butter is 80% fat, 18% liquid, and 2% milk solids. If you wish to substitute butter with oil, you will have to take oil equal to 80% of the quantity of butter. To substitute 18% of liquid present in butter, you may have to add buttermilk or sour cream or yoghurt to your recipe.

Also, when butter and sugar are creamed, it introduces lots of air into the batter. This makes the batter light and airy. However, when you use oil, you need baking soda to introduce air into the batter and to make it light. And since baking soda needs acid to get activated, we need buttermilk alone or supported with Apple Cider Vinegar to get the light and airy batter.

If your cake recipe has oil as the fat component, you can substitute it with melted butter. You can also substitute oil with clarified butter or Ghee in such recipes. Here’s my latest recipe of Vanilla Sponge Cake wherein I have used oil – Vanilla-Sour Cream Sponge Cake

Difference between the Cakes made with Butter and Cakes made with Oil

Cakes made with ButterCakes made with Oil
Butter adds flavor to the cake especially if you are making plain vanilla or pound cakeOil is flavorless and you need additional ingredients like chocolate, cocoa, fruits, or more vanilla to add flavor to your cake
Cakes made with butter harden when refrigerated and if kept outside for long, my start shedding off dry crumblesCakes made with oil remain moist and you will not get dry crumbles when kept outside for long
Cakes made with butter are fluffier and lighterCakes made with oil are soft, moist and dense
In many cake recipes, butter creamed with sugar acts as natural leavening agent. In such recipes, you need very less baking soda.In the recipes where we use oil, we need artificial leavening agent like baking soda
Butter is a good option when you are making sponge cake.Oil is a good option when you are making chiffon cake, which has lighter and softer crumbs than the sponge cake.
Cakes made with butter are structurally strong and are mostly used with icing and frosting.Cakes made with oil are very tender and too soft to hold icing or frosting on their top.