Pastry Chefs Face a World Without Shortening

New York City's latest health crusade could put an end to the classic pastry chef dilemma: butter or Crisco in the pie crust? As any Midwestern grandma knows, shortening is the secret to a flaky crust. But in a blow to artery-clogging comfort food, the New York City Board of Health voted unanimously last month to ban trans fats from the city's 20,000 restaurants. Is this the end of down-home cooking?

And the Mystery Ingredient is...

And you thought nutrition was the guest's responsibility, not the pastry chef's. The FDA and health advocates have already issued new labeling regulations to help the public avoid trans fats. When it comes to eating out, however, the diner is at the mercy of the chef. Who knows what's in that devil's food cake?

Somewhat Less Guilty Pleasures

That's why it's up to the pastry chef to trade in fatty ingredients for healthier alternatives. Chef schools already feature nutrition classes; in time, pastry chef schools may incorporate health-minded culinary training too. Some bakeries already cater to the health-conscious eater with low-fat, vegan, gluten-free, and low-sugar alternatives.

Chef School Tips for Heart-Healthy Desserts

Of course, as a pastry chef, your first loyalty is to the good life. Temptation and sensual pleasure are dessert's defining features, but there are ways to have your fluffy cake and not eat partially hydrogenated fat, too. Here are a couple pastry chef school suggestions for achieving structure, loft, and flaky texture without trans fats:

  • Let Them Eat Cake. When baking a cake, whisk the eggs until they form peaks before folding them into the batter.
  • Easy As Pie. Use a food processor to prepare your pie crust. The blades not only make quick work of cutting in butter (yes, butter--toss that shortening), but they also prevent the warmth of your hands from softening it. Solid fat pieces make for a flakier crust.

If you're headed to pastry chef school, chances are you won't encounter much shortening. Restaurants and chef schools are moving away from hazardous ingredients. Of course, you'll still get to create sinfully rich desserts; they'll just be a little less sinful than before.


  • "New York City Plans Limits on Restaurants' Use of Trans Fats," The New York Times. (Sept. 27, 2006)