Q. I'm making what I call Breakfast Cookies, a somewhat nutritious cookie based on an old spice cookie recipe. I'm trying to find a way to eliminate, or at least lower, the 1/2 cup of shortening required for each 3 dozen cookies. I thought maybe I could add buttermilk or yogurt. The leavening is 2 teaspoons of baking powder. Will they become runny? What can I use without changing the taste?
First off, let's not be Nervous Nellies. You're talking about two-thirds of a teaspoon of shortening per cookie, or 24 calories, 2-2/3 grams of fat, two-thirds of a gram of which is saturated fat, or 4% of the daily allowance of fat for a person who consumes 2,000 calories a day, and 3% of the recommended allowance of saturated fat. So your cookies are not exactly lardballs as they are.
But, you can take steps to reduce the shortening, if you like. The first and simplest experiment is simply to cut the fat by a quarter to a third. So instead of using a half-cup, use 5 or 6 tablespoons, and see how you like the cookies. The flavorless shortening is not added to your recipe to improve the taste, simply to give the cookies good, light texture, tenderness, and that indescribable quality of good "mouth feel." If you find that the cookies are too dense or floury with the subtraction of the fat, you can try something else.
Another possibility is to use one of the fat-free shortening replacements currently on the market, such as Sunsweet's Lighter Bake or Smucker's Baking Healthy. Each is fat free and has about a quarter of the calories of most fats. For information on using these products and substituting fruit purees for fat in baking, click here.
Using buttermilk or yogurt works well in a cake, where they add tenderness as well as flavor. It works partly because the batter is contained in a cake pan the whole time the cake is setting up in the oven. On a flat cookie sheet, a cookie does not have that level of support, however, and relies in large part on the shortening for its structure. If you add buttermilk or yogurt to your cookies, you'll have to add more flour or other dry ingredients to keep them from being too runny. And your cookies will be too dense.