Looking for the best butter substitute for baking? Welcome to my Baking 101 Guide to butter alternatives. Whether you need to replace butter in a recipe due to a dairy allergy or for other reasons, I’ve got you.
Butter is a dairy product, and many people have lactose intolerance or allergies, not to mention the fact that butter is also an animal product and therefore unsuitable for those on plant-based diets. But regardless of whether or not you need a dairy-free substitute or if you have simply run out of butter, here are the best butter substitutes you can use instead of the real thing.
- The function of butter in baking
- Considerations when replacing butter in baking
- What can I use instead of butter?
- 1. Margarine
- 2. Lard
- 3. Vegetable shortening (eg. Crisco)
- 4. Vegan butter
- 5. Cream Cheese
- 6. Greek Yogurt
- 7. Nut butters
- 8. Neutral oils (vegetable oil, canola oil or corn oil)
- 9. Olive oil
- 10. Coconut oil
- 11. Mashed avocado
- 12. Mashed potatoes
- 13. Pumpkin puree
- 14. Mashed banana
- 15. Apple puree
- How to make butter at home
- What is the best butter substitute?
- Butter substitutes FAQS
- The Best Butter Substitute
The function of butter in baking
Simply removing butter from a baking recipe will result in a dry, crumbly, and pretty flavorless dish so it is important to find the right replacement. When choosing a substitute we must compensate for all of the qualities that butter brings to a bake, and butter actually plays a few different roles, depending on what you are baking:
- Butter adds fat: Butter is at least 80% fat, and we need fat in baking to tenderize the product as it shortens the gluten strands in flour. Fat also helps other ingredients to blend together, adds a smooth texture to bakes, and has a creaming ability which is especially important in cakes. So the fat in butter is essential.
- Butter provides moisture: The remaining 20% of butter is water, and when baked this water turns to steam, creating air pockets, and therefore a rise in baked goods like choux pastry and puff pastry. So butter also has leavening properties which can be vital.
- Butter gives flavor: Butter has a creamy taste that adds depth and a lot of flavor to baked goods like pastries, cakes, and bread. Ever seen a cookie packet or pie crust labeled ‘all butter’ and you just know they’ll taste good? Butter is, simply, delicious.
Here at Spatula Desserts, we bake with good quality, high-fat, unsalted butter made from cow’s milk. But what do you do when you want to bake without butter?
Considerations when replacing butter in baking
It’s important to consider both fat and water when replacing butter in baking, and remember that some butter alternatives might contain one and not the other. For example, oil does not contain any water, it is a pure fat that is in a liquid state at room temperature.
Butter is roughly 20% water which means that your bake will be lower in moisture and will lose leavening properties if you use just oil as a butter substitute and you may need to compensate in other ways. For example, in some pastries and baked goods like eclairs and apple turnovers, steam is the rising agent in the pastry so having water present in baking can be very important.
However, baking without any fat at all also has major drawbacks. Butter is at least 80% fat, and fat is what stops flour and water from interacting too much during mixing and forming gluten strands, and gluten is what toughens the product. Ever heard the phrase ‘shortening’? This is what fat does in baking, it shortens the gluten strands. Baking without fat entirely will result in a dry and tough baked good. Imagine a cake or cookie that is stiff and dry in texture and crumbles like sawdust.
Then in some recipes, we need to cream the butter with sugar, so this quality is important to look out for when searching for a butter substitute for cakes and in sweet pastries too.
In other recipes, butter temperature is a key factor like in cookies or puff pastry so looking at the melting point is key. Butter melts at approximately 35 C / 95 F and this can be an important factor in oven temperature and what you are baking. However, it also means that using butter replacements with a higher melting temperature can result in a crispier, flakier finish which could actually improve the outcome!
Choosing butter alternatives for baking needs a lot of thought, but thankfully we have done the work for you. Here is our ultimate guide to the best butter substitutes for baking.
What can I use instead of butter?
You might be surprised at what you can use instead of butter in baking. It is helpful to know at this stage that you can also partially substitute butter, or use a combination of the options below to suit you and create the perfect baked product.
Margarine is a thick and creamy spread made from vegetable oils, and it has a similar consistency to butter. It contains water content which makes it a contender for baking puff pastry and choux pastry, but try to look for margarine with 80% fat content, similar to butter.
Margarine also works well in cakes, giving a very soft texture that stays moist on the shelf. Margarine is high in trans fats, however, so it is not the healthiest swap for butter. Margarine can also sometimes contain milk - so check the label carefully.
How to use it:
Use a 1:1 ratio when cooking or baking with margarine instead of butter.
Lard is pure fat, taken from animal meat (normally pork) so it can work really well in recipes like savory pie crusts and yeasted bread doughs because of its large and stable fat crystals. It is not so good in sweet baked goods, as it does have a slightly savory, almost porky flavor.
Lard is a great tenderizer and gives baked goods a lovely flaky texture but as an animal product, it will not be suitable for those on plant-based diets or for people with religious dietary restrictions. However it is suitable for people with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance and also, surprisingly, contains less saturated fat than butter.
How to use it:
Since lard is 100% fat vs butter is 80% fat, you will need less lard than the required amount of butter in a recipe. For every 100 grams of butter required in a recipe, use 80 grams of lard, or multiply the quantity of butter by 0.8. In cups, for every 1 cup butter use a little bit more than ¾ cup lard.
3. Vegetable shortening (eg. Crisco)
If you want to make puff pastry, Danish pastries, or croissants without butter, then vegetable shortening might be your best option, especially if you buy pastry shortening. Made from vegetable oils, it is very stable and doesn’t crack, and has been specially formulated to create puff and rise and a flaky finish.
Vegetable pastry shortening is an ideal vegan substitute for baking pastries. Shortening also results in a taller bake, making it a good butter swap for muffins.
How to use it:
Use a 1:1 ratio of vegetable shortening instead of butter in baking.
4. Vegan butter
Vegan butter is similar to margarine but never contains animal products, and is often made with oat milk, or oils like avocado, flax, vegetable, or soybeans. Vegan butter performs well in pie crust dough or biscuits and some claimed in trials that they could not taste the difference between vegan butter and the real thing! Some of the most popular vegan butter is Earth balance vegan butter.
How to use it:
You can make a direct swap baking with vegan butter instead of dairy butter using a 1:1 ratio.
5. Cream Cheese
Cream cheese, mascarpone, ricotta, and potentially cottage cheese can all be used in place of butter in some baking and cooking recipes. It is best to choose high quality so they are not too watery (or strain through cheesecloth) and check the fat content which can vary.
Sometimes cream cheeses have lower fat content to butter so you may need more to achieve the same effect in baking. Cream cheeses make excellent cake frostings without or instead of butter, just like this cream cheese frosting without butter. Cream cheese or cottage cheese is also an excellent butter substitute for toast.
How to use it:
Substitute 1:1 cream cheese for butter but check the fat content on the packaging to get a more accurate swap.
6. Greek Yogurt
You can use full-fat Greek yogurt instead of butter in baking, and Greek yogurt works especially well as a butter replacement due to its thick and creamy consistency. Other yogurts can have higher water content which affects the bake, but Greek yogurt performs well as a butter alternative in cakes, bread, cookies, and muffins. You can even make shortcrust pastry with yogurt as a butter substitute.
How to use it:
Use thick and full-fat Greek yogurt in place of butter in baking using a 1:1 ratio.
7. Nut butters
Butters made from nuts like almond, hazelnut, peanut or cashew butter can work instead of butter in baking recipes, and they are especially useful in baking brownies or cookies. They will lend a nutty and rich flavor to your bakes, but they can be heated and melted too, so if a recipe calls for melted butter, nut butter could be the right butter substitute for cookies!
How to use it:
To use nut butter instead of dairy butter in baking, use a 1:1 ratio.
8. Neutral oils (vegetable oil, canola oil or corn oil)
Baking with oil instead of butter is one of the most common ways to substitute butter and using neutral vegetable oil in cakes can contribute to an incredibly moist texture. Baking cakes with oil instead of butter also keep a cake moist for longer, making them ideal for use when baking ahead of time.
Oil is, in our opinion, the best substitute for butter in cake. Neutral oils like vegetable oil can also be used in cake frostings! Neutral oils are also the best butter alternatives for cooking.
How to use it:
To swap out butter, substitute oil using ⅘ of the amount. So if the recipe states 100 grams of butter, use 80 grams of oil meaning instead of 1 cup of butter use a bit more than ¾ cup of oil.
9. Olive oil
Olive oil makes an equally good butter substitute, but it has a strong flavor that needs to be acknowledged before swapping it into a baking recipe. Olive oil works especially well in savory recipes like bread or savory muffins.
Olive oil with some sea salt or oregano can be the best healthy butter substitute for toast.
How to use it:
To swap butter for olive oil in baking use ⅘ of the amount. So if a recipe lists 100 grams of butter, use 80 grams of olive oil or multiply the quantity of butter by 0.8. In cups, instead of 1 cup of butter use a bit more than ¾ cup of oil.
10. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is another great alternative to butter and has a lot of health benefits too, but similar to olive oil, it has a strong flavor so isn’t suitable for everything. Coconut oil is delicious as an alternative to butter in brownies and sweeter baked goods like muffins, but it contains more fat so adjust your quantities accordingly to avoid a greasy bake.
Coconut oil works especially well in vegan cake frostings as it is usually firm at room temperature.
How to use it:
If a recipe calls for 100 grams of butter, use 80 grams of coconut oil or multiply the quantity of butter by 0.8. In cups, instead of 1 cup of butter use a bit more than ¾ cup of oil.
11. Mashed avocado
Now we are moving on to fruit and vegetable alternatives for butter. Mashed avocado is one of the best plant-based butter substitutes and it’s a healthy alternative to butter too as it is packed with nutrition. Avocado has a creamy texture and creaming abilities and contains both fat and moisture. It does have its own flavor but it is quite mild and works very well in fudgy brownies, for example.
The best avocados to use for baking are ripe avocados, as they are not too hard and will cream effectively. You may also need to bake at a lower temperature for a longer time if baking with avocados.
How to use it:
To use avocado instead of butter in a recipe, use a 1:1 ratio so make a direct swap for the amount of butter listed for the same weight of mashed avocado.
12. Mashed potatoes
Starchy vegetable purees like mashed potato, or mashed sweet potato can be used as butter substitutes too. Be mindful of flavor though, and these butter replacements perform best in savory recipes like bread, pancakes, or savory muffins. There is also little to no fat content, so this can affect the texture and tenderness of the bake.
How to use it:
Substitute ¾ of the amount of butter for the potato, or multiply the amount of butter in a recipe by 0.75 to get the right measurement of potato to use.
13. Pumpkin puree
Similar to sweet potato, pumpkin puree has nutritional value and natural sweetness which makes it a healthy alternative to butter in baking muffins, cupcakes, and cookies. However, it has a strong flavor of its own and can contain a lot of water. To use pumpkin puree in place of butter in baking, make sure you either strain it first or cook off the excess liquid before weighing and using it. Check my homemade pumpkin puree recipe if the stores are out of canned ones.
How to use it:
Use ¾ of the amount of pumpkin puree instead of butter, or multiply the weight of butter by 0.75 to get the weight of pumpkin puree. Remember there is little to no fat content, so you may need to make other adjustments to create a tender bake.
14. Mashed banana
Bananas are a great ingredient to use in baking and can be swapped in place of butter and eggs as well. They contain little to no fat content though, and also have a strong flavor so do not work for items with delicate flavors that can be easily overpowered. Banana puree works well in muffins as a substitute for butter.
How to use it:
Use a 1:1 ratio when swapping banana for butter in baking. In very general terms, one banana equates to a stick of butter but in baking, we are all about precision, so always try to weigh out your ingredients by the gram using a digital scale.
15. Apple puree
Apple sauce or apple puree has long been revered as a baking hero, being able to work as a substitute for butter and also for eggs too! It is a healthy butter alternative and works very well in muffins. Be mindful of the fact it does not contain fat, however, so the overall texture of your bake can be a little dryer if you do not add any other fat. Also, ensure that you use unsweetened apple sauce to avoid upsetting the sugar balance in the rest of the bake.
How to use it:
Use a 1:1 ratio of applesauce instead of butter in baking.
How to make butter at home
Butter is made by churning heavy cream (also known as double cream) until it separates into two mixtures, a thick, creamy, and spreadable solid mass and the leftover liquid, which is called buttermilk. This means that you can make butter yourself at home and all you need is heavy cream and a food processor or electric whisk.
To make your own butter, simply add heavy cream into the bowl of your stand mixer and whip it - whip other words churn it - until it forms a thick, spreadable mass. Strain off the buttermilk and store it in the fridge in an airtight container. Check my homemade butter tutorial for more details.
You can add salt, or even other flavorings like herbs or spices to your homemade butter too. Homemade butter can be frozen in blocks or in ice cube trays for easy use, and you can expect a lot of impressed faces at a dinner party when you say you made the butter yourself!
What is the best butter substitute?
It is hard to choose one overall winner for the best substitute for butter in baking as every bake is different and butter serves different purposes within them.
The No1. butter substitute is definitely homemade butter, so if you have heavy cream at hand, make your own butter!
- Apart from homemade butter, based on performance, the best thing to use instead of butter for cakes is oil.
- Good butter swaps for healthy brownies are either nut butter or mashed avocado and for pastries use vegetable pastry shortening instead of butter.
- Bread can be made incredibly moist with Greek yogurt, and lard is excellent for savory pastry that has meat filling like a pork pie.
- For making muffins without butter, fruit purees work very well as long as you remove the excess water content first, but they can lack tenderness so it’s best to also add a form of fat to the bake like vegetable shortening.
Butter substitutes FAQS
Vegan butter, no flavor vegetable oil, and margarine are the best options if you want to substitute butter but still want the final baked goods taste like butter.
Oil, shortening, margarine, lard, vegan butter products, high fat yogurt, fruit and vegetable purees, and nut butter can all be used instead of butter in baking. But, nothing beats homemade butter that is made in less than 5 minutes using one single ingredient (heavy cream).
Using Greek yogurt or mashed avocado will give the most similar effects to butter in baking whilst being a healthier substitute. Using fruit purees like apple sauce or mashed bananas could be the healthiest alternatives to butter, but the end result will not be similar to baking with butter.
Use ¾ cup of vegetable oil instead of 1 cup of butter. Or, multiply the amount of butter in the recipe by 0.8 to get the right amount of vegetable oil to substitute butter.
For baking cookies without butter that have a crisp exterior and some crunch to them, you will need to use oil rather than a fruit or vegetable puree.
Yes, you can make pastry without butter, use vegetable pastry shortening instead of butter for puff pastry, choux pastry, shortcrust and more.
Hummus has been used as a butter replacement by some, but the flavor is strong and hard to integrate with a bake. Personally, I do not feel that enough tests have been done for me to recommend using hummus instead of butter.
Mayonnaise contains both fat and eggs, so technically speaking can work as a substitute for both butter and eggs in a recipe, meaning you do not need either ingredient. However, results can be greasy and unreliable, so we do not recommend it without a lot of trial and error! The butter alternatives listed above are tried and tested with consistent results.
It’s always best to start with the ‘why’ when looking for a butter substitute. Are you working around a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance? Are you searching for a plant-based or vegan butter replacement? Or have you simply run out of butter and need the next best thing? The most common alternative that people think of is oil, but there are so many other options including fruit, vegetable purees, and more, as we have shown.
Thankfully, there are a lot of butter alternatives in stores now that cater to allergies or dietary restrictions and create very similar results, meaning that no one has to go without delicious baked goods just because they can’t eat butter.
Partially substituting butter or using a mixture of two butter replacements is often the best way to go when you want to create a healthier bake that still has the qualities of a butter-made product. Avocado may have the most nutritional content, but it is also high in fat and calories so choosing it as a butter substitute may not fit your health goals. Fruit purees are healthy butter swaps but give the best, most similar results to butter when used in conjunction with a fat, like oil.
What has been your best result when using butter alternatives in baking? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to know.
The Best Butter Substitute
- 600 g Heavy cream use min 36% fat content cold heavy cream
US customary cup measurement is an indicative figure only. Measure the ingredients with a digital scale by weight (gram). Baking is art but also science which requires precision and accuracy.
- Whip cold heavy cream in a bowl with a hand mixer, or in the bowl of your stand mixer using the whisk attachement
- The cream will go through the following stages: 1. it will turn into whipped cream, then 2. stiff peaks form, and then 3. begin clinging to the beaters as the butterfat separates from the liquid. Then, 4. the butter will be solid with liquid on top.
- Pour the liquid (butter milk) off of the top of the solid butter and put the solid butter in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and begin squeezing the butter with your hands to remove the rest of the buttermilk.
- Place the butter into a bowl of ice cold water to remove any leftover buttermilk. You may need to do this a few times until the water is fairly clear.
- For the best taste and consistecy, store the butter refrigerated up to 3 weeks.
- Use it instead of butter 1:1
- 600g / 2.5 cups cream will make about 240g butter / 1 cup butter
- For the best flavor and creamiest butter use a high-quality heavy cream with at least 36% fat
- Use heavy cream, not heavy whipping cream. Heavy cream has a slightly higher fat content that is needed to make the butter solidify better
- Squeeze out as much buttermilk as you possibly can once the butter is solid. You can also press the butter against the side of a fine mesh sieve with a rubber spatula.
- Keep washing the butter off in the cold ice water until the water is almost clear. This is how you know that the buttermilk has been completely removed.
- The water must be ice cold to wash the butter or it will melt the butter.