Several years ago I returned to a dairy-free diet when I discovered that I had not outgrown my childhood milk allergy. Since I had never been fond of milk or cheese (I know, its just me and the cows on the cheese) there were only a few rough spots in the transition. The primary issue was that milk was in everything, including my favorite breads and cookies. Not willing to sacrifice the carbohydrate department, I eagerly took up baking from scratch.
Nonetheless, butter emerged as a challenge. Margarine would seem a simple substitute, but trading one evil for a trans fat loaded other was not a good enough option.
Luckily, I was not alone. Millions of people have banished butter for weight loss, to lower their heart disease risk, or to follow a vegan diet. This growing demand has prompted several new products and inspired numerous ideas for butter substitutions. Below are some of my favorite suggestions as taken from the dairy alternatives and product sections of my book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living:
Straight Butter Replacement – There is one non-hydrogenated brand I have found that tastes and behaves remarkably close to butter in a one to one ratio, Earth Balance Buttery Sticks. I have trialed it in cookies, cakes, and frostings with excellent results. The Buttery Sticks come in stick form, and the package of four is a respectable $2.50 to $3.50 at most stores. Earth Balance Buttery Sticks are vegan, certified OU Parve, and cholesterol free. Though it should be noted that the overall fat content is similar to butter, and the saturated fat is reduced to 4.5g per serving versus the 7g per serving in butter. This may not be enough of a savings for some individuals.
Vegetable Shortening – Earth Balance and Spectrum Organics (also soy-free) have come out with mainstream shortenings, which are free of trans fats, and well suited to baking. The rule of thumb is to reduce the amount of vegetable shortening by up to ¼ cup for every 1 cup of butter that a recipe calls for. However, I have had great success with many recipes when I actually cut the amount in half. Like the Buttery Sticks, these two products are still relatively high in saturated and overall fat. Although, less is required in most recipes, and both are vegan and cholesterol free. Crisco also has a zero trans fat shortening that may be an option. As Crisco is still made with fully hydrogenated oils, I opt to avoid it.
Cooking Oils – This often takes a little experimentation, but oil can successfully be utilized in place of butter, even in baking. Of significant importance, replacing butter with an equal amount of oil will typically yield a very “greasy” product. As a fat equivalent in baking, they say that 3/4 to 7/8 cup of vegetable oil equals 1 cup of solid butter. However, I bake chocolate chip cookies using just ½ cup of oil rather than the 1 cup of butter the traditional toll house recipe calls for (I also up the flour by ¼ cup). The results are not a bit greasy, and my cookies are constantly on request. For my all-purpose oil, I like extra-light olive oil (not extra-virgin). Its very light flavor is undetectable in baked desserts, and it has a smoke point that is suitable for relatively high-heat baking or sautéing. Vegetable, canola, or rice bran oils will also work well. The saturated fat in oils (except for coconut) tends to be quite low, and though the overall fat is higher per serving than butter, much less is required for your recipes.
Fruit Puree – Now onto the top heart-healthy and weight conscious option…fruit! Blend up that apple pulp or a handful of prunes and you have an excellent, low fat butter substitute for baking sweets and quick breads. In fact, pureed bananas, pineapple, pumpkin, and pears also give an excellent “fat” consistency to recipes with an added jolt of nutrients and flavor. Here are a few tips to help maximize your results:
- Because the fruit will add more sweetness than butter, reduce the sugar in your recipes a touch.
- Think of the flavor of your recipe when judging which fruit will work best. For example, prune puree works best in rich desserts such as chocolate, gingerbread, or carrot cake. On the contrary, pineapple will add a light tropical flair to most quick breads.
- Use ½ cup of pureed fruit in place of one cup of butter. You may need to add one to four Tablespoons of vegetable shortening or oil back into the recipe to achieve the best results.
- If you don’t have fresh fruit on hand, drained unsweetened applesauce, strained baby food fruit, or a puree of water with any dried fruit (apples, apricots, peaches, etc.) will work in a pinch. For dried fruit help, try the following recipe:
Prune (Dried Fruit) Puree for Baking
Equivalent: 1 cup of Butter in Strong Flavored Desserts
- ½ cup pitted prunes
- ¼ cup hot water
Directions: Puree the prunes and water in a blender until smooth. Substitute other dried fruit such as apples, peaches, and apricots for half of the prunes for a flavor and nutrient variation.
Finally, if you aren’t in a huge Betty Crocker mood, but need a low fat alternative, then pick up a jar of Sunsweet’s Lighter Bake™. Though not quite as economical as homemade, it is a made-for-baking jar of apple and prune puree, directions and all.
For even more butter alternatives and dairy-free recipes, order a copy of my book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living.
Article by Alisa Fleming, founder of GoDairyFree.org. Go Dairy Free the book is available to purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Overstock, Buy.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, Whole Foods and through other book retailers. Need Go Dairy Free now? Order the E-Book for immediate delivery or download it to your Kindle.