How to: Baking without Butter


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 Go Dairy Free the book is available to purchase from Amazon and other major booksellers. Need Go Dairy Free now? Order the E-Book for immediate delivery or download it to your Kindle.

About Author

Alisa is the founder of, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.


  1. Very useful post for all the people who actually somewhere want to use dairy free products for baking and cooking.

    My suggestion would be to go with margarine because it has less saturated fat than butter and helps to reduce blood cholesterol. It is good for baking cookies. I would also recommend to check the nutrition facts related to margarine before purchasing it. Please remember to choose non-hydrogenated margarine.

  2. Rhonda Mansoor on

    This has been very helpful! I was searching to find if veg shortening was dairy free and came across this site. My son is allergic to milk, egg, cheese, butter (all diary products) along with all nuts, seeds, peas and beans and cinnamon! It’s been a struggle for him since the diary products was added this year and he’s had to cut out all the things he liked to eat.

    Do you know any cheese or butter substitute that I can use to put on bread for him?? I live in the caribbean so availability of products is a problem but I can try and bring in whatever he needs.


  3. Christa Moses on

    Hi there! I just found out recently that my son has food allergies…a lot of them! My dilemma is that he is also allergic to sunflowers and the oil that is in every kind of butter substitute I have found on the market. So when I am making sauces from scratch and have to use butter and flour as a base we are using lard, but this leaves the meal tasting greasy insead of buttery… how do I fix this so my beef stroganoff tastes like it smells and not like a bland boring dish? Can I use a fruit puree instead or would that just make it too sweet? Any insite would be helpful.

  4. I had to start eating dairy free a year ago and it has been a challenge baking.

    I have tried the Earth Balance sticks as a substitute for baking and here’s my problem. It smells HORRIBLE when mixing it and worse when baking! The over all taste is not too bad but my family can definitely tell the difference. I looked at other margarines, willing to sacrifice a bit of healthy living for a good substitute for holiday baking but of the two I could find they both had milk in them.

    I can’t imagine how oil is going to make my holiday cookies taste. Any other suggestions?
    I have a great substitute for milk if anyone is interested.

    • Elizabeth, oil works amazing in cookies and is my go to. Everyone devours them, dairy-free or not. I think I cover it pretty well on my site, but you can also find oil-based cookie recipes in GDF the book. There are definitely some great oil-based cookie recipes here on the site! My preferred oils for cookies are coconut oil, grapeseed oil, or extra-light (not extra-virgin) olive oil.

  5. Finally! I am so happy to find a site with someone who is also allergic to milk. I didn’t know as a child that not everyone had itching around their mouth when they drank milk and that not everyone had a tingly sensation on their teeth from it. I thought that was how everyone felt when drinking milk. I broke out in hives and since I lived on a farm, I was tested and treated for all kinds of things but never for a milk allergy! I don’t know why except I guess there wasn’t much knowledge about it back then. So…I want to thank you for the information on your site. I find, thanks to a doctor’s knowledge, that I can have small amounts of hard cheese. The further from fresher milk the product is, the more likely the protein had been altered to where it will not affect me, or at least as much. I LOVE cheese so its been very hard to keep the amounts low…but then ya gotta do the same with chocolate, right?! Also, baked goods with low amounts of milk baked longer are usually okay for me. But I long for a scone…. The recipes use whole milk and heavy cream and lotsa butter! I luckily found your site looking for butter alternatives and I’ll use vanilla flavored soy milk and about 1Tbsp oil to replace the milk and cream. Hope it works out okay.

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