Dairy-Free Baking: Substitutes That Are a Piece of Cake

By Sher Warkentin in Healthy Feeling

Whether you're looking to go dairy-free for dietary reasons or simply out of choice, it can feel intimidating learning how to replace the milk and butter in your favorite recipes. After all, baking is a science, and if you don't get the math right the end result can be far from ideal. But keeping a few substitutes up your sleeve (and knowing how to swap them in correctly) can make dairy-free baking a snap.

Butter substitutes and oil make great swaps for butter in baking.

Butter Substitutes

Butter is a staple ingredient in so many baked goods because it serves several functions. Besides flavor, notes the Kitchn's Baking School, butter also adds to baked goods' structure, flakiness, and moistness when they come out of the oven.

Butter can easily be substituted with a nondairy oil like canola or coconut oil, but it's important to remember that they shouldn't be used in the same amounts since the fat content is different. Butter is only about 80 percent fat, while oil is full-fat, so you'll want to use less oil than the amount of butter the recipe calls for or you'll end up with a greasy final product. Try 3/4 or 2/3 cup of oil in place of every cup of butter.

Another option for a butter substitute is a plant-based butter or nondairy spread. These offer a more similar consistency to butter than oil does, so you can make a fairly even swap. Many plant-based butters do contain salt, so you'll want to reduce the salt in your recipe if it originally called for unsalted butter. Try minimizing the salt by a 1/4 teaspoon and adjust to taste.

Finally, the temperature of your fat can play an important role in how much your scones rise or how flaky your strudel is. Use a nondairy product that is solid in the fridge for recipes that call for chilled butter, and one that is a liquid when warmed for recipes that call for melted butter.

Milk Substitutes

Soy, almond, cashew, coconut, rice—there are dozens of milk alternatives available at most supermarkets, making it easier than ever to substitute milk in dairy-free baking. With so many different options, however, it's important to keep a few things in mind when you make your swap.

The first thing to remember is that the fat content in nut milks and other dairy-free milks is different to that of regular milk. If your recipe calls for 1 percent or 2 percent milk fat, you won't have a problem using any plant-based milks. If your recipe calls for full-fat milk or half-and-half, however, you'll need to use a substitute that has a higher fat content like full-fat coconut milk or coconut cream.

Another thing to watch out for when choosing a milk substitute is to make sure that you select an unsweetened nondairy milk. Sweetened nondairy milks contain sugar, which means your baked goods will end up containing more sugar than the recipe calls for, which could affect their flavor.

Buttermilk is another ingredient that can throw a wrench in a recipe you're trying to find dairy substitutes for. If you've ever tasted buttermilk, you'll know instantly that it's nothing like regular milk. Its sour taste is caused by a high acidity, which reacts with other ingredients to help your pancakes and other nibbles rise and tenderize, writes Taste of Home. To make up for the lack of acidity, add in a tablespoon of lemon juice for every cup of nondairy milk. Whisk the lemon juice and milk together before you add the milk to the recipe.

dairy free cheese substitute

Cheese Substitutes

Cheese doesn't factor into baking as frequently as milk and butter, but for those savory chive biscuits or that cream cheese pound cake, it can seem impossible to find a good alternative. Vegan cheeses can be hard to find in stores, and even when you do find them, they don't always measure up in taste and texture to the real deal. Instead, you can try making your own nut-based cheese substitute. You might need to experiment a little to figure out the right amount and texture for your recipe, but start by combining two parts nuts, like almonds, and one part nutritional yeast, then process in a food processor until you get a fine, crumbled mixture.

While hard cheeses are harder to reproduce as dairy-free, soft cheeses like cream cheese have some great store-bought alternatives. You can hardly tell the difference once the nondairy version is baked into a muffin or bread. Just make sure that you look for a product that is also labeled casein-free to avoid any milk protein.

Dairy-free baking doesn't have to be overwhelming. As long as you are careful about how you use your nondairy substitutes, you will end up with a cookie that crumbles (and tastes!) just the way you want it to.

What are your favorite dairy-free recipes? Do you have a genius replacement for blueberry yogurt muffins? Tell us about it on Twitter!

Image Source: Flickr | Sher Warkentin

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Why It’s Good

Baking is a science, so it can feel intimidating to mess with a recipe that calls for dairy. However, there are a lot of simple substitutes that make dairy-free baking a snap.