So you just found out that you can no longer digest dairy or you have given it up for various reasons that remain personal and your very own. Where do you go from here? First off, a very warm non-dairy welcome is in order so…Welcome!! The world of dairy-free cooking and baking can be a very creative and delicious one, it just takes time to acquaint yourself with what is out there and how to substitute them. It is my intention to help simplify dairy substitutions and make it less overwhelming, especially if you are just a beginner. For those who are a little more seasoned, it might help you find new recipes to match your dairy-free life. (Hooray! Something for everyone) So without further ado, here is your very own guide on how to make dairy substitutions a little less mysterious and little more informative. 

If you missed the first conversation to the baking series, we discussed egg-free baking and you can find the post here

Guide to Dairy Substitutions - Fork & Beans

The easy part: milk. Milk is very simple to find substitutions. You have several choices to choose from: Coconut, Rice, Soy, Oat, Hemp, and all Nut Options. Part of your choice will be dependent upon personal preference and taste, the other part will be the desired results in your baked goods. The rule of thumb is the more fat in the non-dairy milk the better for baked goods. Not only does it help with texture and flavor, it also enables with rise (and you need all the help you can get with gluten and egg-free baking). This is why coconut milk can be an easy go-to choice for some. I’m not a big fan of coconut typically (unless it’s an Almond Joy or Pina Colada) and I don’t like the flavor it imparts in my baked goods BUT I will say that it truly does give beautiful results.

Having said that, 2 of my favorite milk choices are unsweetened almond milk and vanilla soy milk. Now before you start to judge me for choosing soy (I hear the grumbling) I must say that soy milk really does create beautiful baked goods–its creaminess is wonderful. I also choose almond milk (Original Unsweetened Blue Diamond is my favorite brand) for baking (it’s my primary go-to). It also is by far the best tasting non-dairy milk to drink by the glassful to wash down cookies. The closest to milk in taste in my opinion. Test around to see which flavors you like the best. I like the flavor or hemp milk but I know it’s an acquired taste

It starts to get a bit trickier from here.

Guide to Dairy Substitutions - Fork & Beans

Creams, both savory and sweet, require a little more creativity. Think of foods that have a naturally creamy taste that blend well. You narrow it down (though not limited) to: squash, cauliflower, avocado, white beans, cashews, and coconut milk. You will not believe the incredible things you can make from cashews! Allergic to nuts? Give cauliflower or a butternut squash (think nacho sauce) a chance. You will be surprised at how creamy a cauliflower puree can be with just the right blend of flavor. Throw some nutritional yeast in there–the perfect cheeze sauce alternative.

Here are some recipes that uses alternatives to the typical dairy fare:

Raw Cashew Milk

(with Plain, Strawberry and Chocolate options)

Raw Cashew Milk


Cauliflower “Risotto” (thickened with a white bean puree)

Cauliflower Risotto


Creamy Vegan Pasta with Kale

(the sauce is made from a cauliflower puree)

Cauliflower Cream Pasta


Raw Vegan Cilantro Lime Dressing

(made from cashews as the cream base)

Raw Vegan Cilantro Lime Dressing


Raw Chocolate Mousse

(creamy mousse filling created by soaked cashews)

 Raw Vegan Chocolate Mousse


Macadamia Nut Whipped Cream

Raw Vegan Whipped Cream

Butter is another fairly easy thing to substitute in a recipe. There are very good substitutes these days that continue to get better in baked goods and in flavor. Do keep in mind that non-dairy butters tend to have more water in them so sometimes when you are replacing it in a heavy butter recipe, the results might differ (ie: cookies might spread when the recipe calls for the cookies to keep their shape). 

Coconut oil can be a very good substitute. Be sure to get the unrefined version if you do not like the flavor of coconut. Earth Balance carries a good butter alternative that tastes great spread over a slice of gluten-free bread or even used in sautéing or baking. It is made from various oils, including soy. Avoiding soy? They have a soy-free version too! Trying to stay away from palm oil? No problem! Here is a very comprehensive guide on making your own butter. As if that wasn’t enough, here are 2 more fabulously homemade butter  recipes here and here. See now? The possibilities are endless…

Guide to Dairy Substitutions - Fork & Beans

A few examples of using vegan butter in lieu of dairy-filled butter. It yields beautiful results: 

Rich, Buttery Trefoil Girl Scout Cookies

(made with Earth Balance vegan butter)



Gorgeous Caramel Sauce

(Earth Balance gives this sauce it’s buttery flavor)


Vegan Caramel Sauce


And then we get to one of the most difficult aspects to non-dairy eating/baking: Cheeses. In all forms. It’s the hardest thing for most people to give up. This is not the place to debate why this is or to shame anyone for it–this is a judge-free zone and the truth is for most of us, it truly is so difficult to find something that tastes remotely like it. Thankfully, the creativity abounds in this area to create great alternatives to this often missed item in our diet.


Guide to Dairy Substitutions - Fork & BeansAgain, cashews (or even other nuts) provide a level of creativity that you wouldn’t believe. Raw cheeses are possible due to heavily soaked nuts blended smooth and chilled until set which imparts a wonderful spreadable cheese of all types and flavors. Buy this book if you really want your mind blown. Visit this site for some incredible creative (and tasty) recipes on vegan cheeses. Can’t have nuts or don’t have the time to make your own? There are also some great cheese substitutes that you can buy at the store–Daiya being the more popular of brands. The great thing is that they provide their cheese in a variety of forms: shredded, wedges, slices for sandwiches, etc. 

 Some out-of-the-box ways to create a smooth, creamy cheese-like deliciousness for desserts, entrees or appetizers:

Gluten-Free & Vegan Mac n’ Cheese

(Daiya shredded “cheese” was used for the cheezy filling)

Vegan Mac n' Cheese


Raw Vegan “Goat” Cheese Dip

(created thanks to soaked cashews)



Raw Cheesecake

(cashews were used for the cream cheese layer)

Raw Cheesecake


Vegan Chili Fries

(topped with an easy cashew sour cream)



Raw Herbed Cream Cheese

(made from soaked cashews and herbs)

Raw Vegan Cream Cheese

The rest is up to you now.  If you have any suggestions on what you like most for certain substitutes, leave it in the comments section. This is not the end-all information to dairy-free baking/cooking and I would love to hear what you favorite go-to’s are. Plus, you never know if it can help someone else out reading this. That is why we are here after all–to help each other!