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What properties of margarine makes it better as a schmear in cinnamon rolls? According to an online source:

The oil-based fat holds up better than butter under the oven’s heat, so the goo doesn’t ooze out into the bottom of the pan.

What's so special about oil-based fat? Why is this type of fat different? And does margarine with a higher fat content act as a better schmear?

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    If you're going to quote something online, please link to it! – Cascabel Aug 6 '14 at 15:00
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The claim is probably based on the higher melting point of hydrogenated vegetable oils. While butter melts between 90F and 95F, hydrogenated oils can have melting points up to 120F. This can give an advantage when baking as proteins begin coagulating at around 120F and starches start to gelatinize around 130F. This is easily observed in cookies: cookies made with all butter will spread much more in the oven than cookies made with shortening as the butter has completely melted long before the starches and proteins begin to catch up.

In something like a cinnamon smear using butter, if your oven temperature is lower than expected it can cause the butter to melt out the bottom of the cinnamon rolls, carrying a lot of the sugar and flavorings with it. This leads to empty rolls and a layer of toffee on the bottom of the pan.

To say that one fat is better than another is very subjective though. While hydrogenated fat has an advantage in melting point, butter has much more flavor. You can also counteract the low melting point of butter by adding a starch or protein to the smear to help bind it, or by mixing butter and shortening together for the smear. Since margarine is usually a blend of oils, this also means that your baking results will be dependent on the blend of oils in your specific product.

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    My take on that ('cause Cinnabons are awesome) is that Cinnabon has a proprietary or specially chosen blend that melts just right for their purpose, and since they buy it in huge quantity, they can get it cheaply. – Jolenealaska Aug 6 '14 at 15:39
  • That's very possible. There are a lot of special blends for professional use, for instance blends of oils, hydrogenated fats, and water that are used for sheeting applications. You get a softer melting curve and a bit of steam to puff things. – SourDoh Aug 6 '14 at 15:43
  • Which is to say: It's almost guaranteed that there is A margarine that works better than butter, but I wouldn't extend it to say that ALL margarine works better than butter. – SourDoh Aug 6 '14 at 15:45
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To call one fat superior to another because it is "oil based" is ridiculous on its face. That quote is prefaced with "The choice of margarine has nothing to do with calories..." Well of course not, average butter and average margarine have the same calorie density. Their choice to use margarine instead of butter is not about quality, it's about economy. Cinnabon Article

In any kind of side by side comparison of texture and flavor, I can't think of a single application for which margarine would be superior to butter. Margarine is significantly less expensive and is usually a reasonable substitute for butter. Some margarines are also acceptable to vegans, whereas butter is not. But for them to say it makes a superior schmear is dubious at best and most likely just marketing horsehockey.

  • Do you not buy into the higher melting point argument? – CookingNewbie Oct 18 '15 at 18:30

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