Baking is a science experiment based off of a reaction between flour, eggs, dairy, a variety of baking fats and oils, and everything else in between. Each item plays a particular role that provides a particular outcome when each one is combined. In allergen-friendly baking, things begin to become a bit more complex however. In this baking series we have talked about gluten-free flour: how to substitute it, its role in baking, and how to create a gluten-free flour blend of your own (click here for that post). We chatted about dairy, from butter to whipped cream, and how to substitute for each one (click here for the post). We gabbed about the great egg substitutes that are available and how to use each product in a particular recipe (click here for that post). We even gossiped on the topic of sweeteners and how to interchange them (click here for that post). Today, we are discussing non-dairy baking fats and oils–what they are, what your options are, and how to use them.
Butter does wonders in baking. In fact, if your body can handle it I am a strong proponent of using butter for all baking (stick with me, vegans) due to its fat content that provides a great boost in texture and incredible flavor in baked goods. In my opinion it is superior to any butter alternative out there. But what if you are unable to consume milk whether you are allergic, are vegan, or are trying to get your health on track? My opinion above is utterly useless in this situation. Good thing I know a thing or two in regards to this topic. You see, about two years ago I found out I have a dairy allergy so I was forced to figure out how to bake with non-dairy products myself. Thankfully butter is not the end to this concept of baking fats and oils.
Baking Fats and Oils are typically divided into two different categories: Liquid and Solid. Liquid Fats are your basic oils (these are fats that are in liquid form–I know, a real brain buster there) and the Solid Fats are well, fats that are in solid form (ie: butter, shortening, solid coconut oil, etc.). Choosing which one to use is a rather simple procedure based off of a few things:
- Desired texture
- Health benefits/needs
- Preferred taste
The following is a list of great baking fats and oils as well as substitutes that I rather enjoy experimenting with in my kitchen:
Bean Puree – A rather unorthodox usage for baking fats, beans can actually do some good in certain baked goods. Notice that I said certain-not all recipes would work out well. Brownies that have pureed black beans are all the craze–they provide great moisture and texture. I have also tried using a bean puree in cookies (see below) with great results.
Applesauce – A great substitute for oil, applesauce gives a lightness to the texture of the baked good that I particularly like. I try to never sub out 100% however because I find it beneficial to keep some fat reserved in the recipe for flavor and texture purposes. See the bottom for more tips.
Non-Dairy Butter – A wide variety of store-bought companies to choose from, my go-to typically is Earth Balance. Do keep in mind that even if a butter alternative claims to be vegan, it is still highly processed and should be used in moderation.
Vegetable/Fruit Puree – Avocado, pumpkin, and banana just to name a few, using a puree from vegetables or fruits is a great way to impart moisture and texture into your baked goods. Like applesauce, I like to use a small amount of desired baking fat along with the puree.
Coconut Oil – A great option if you can have coconut–this is one of my go-to oils. I particularly love coconut oil for icings due to its ability to go from liquid to solid so rapidly, leaving a nicely firmed up icing. (Note: I’m not necessarily one for the flavor of coconut in my food so I buy the refined kind because it is flavorless).
Mild-Flavored Oils - The reason an oil should be milder in flavor for baking is so it won’t emit too strong of a flavor that overpowers your baked good. Rapeseed (Canola), Grapeseed, and even some light Olive Oils can be great mild-flavored oil options. Below you will see a more comprehensive list of baking oils.
Non-Hydrogenated Shortening – Shortening is a solid fat made from vegetable oil. I prefer to buy mine organic and in non-hydrogenated form. You will have to pay a little more for that but it’s something you will want to splurge on. Shortening, in my opinion, is a great baking solid fat. I love using it in pie crusts, frostings, and some cookie recipes.
Here is a great reference for what baking fats and oils you can use in which type of baked good:
These Chocolate Chip Cookies were successfully made with vegan butter:
Using shortening keeps shape for the cookie base for these Gingerbread Houses:
Beans & applesauce create a fatty composition in these Healthy Cookies:
This Blueberry Coffee Cake touts only 1/4 c. oil:
Thanks to applesauce and a little oil, these Brownies turned out perfectly:
A mild-tasting oil gives these Waffles the perfect texture:
The Strawberry Rhubarb Pancakes get their richness with a small amount of oil:
Pumpkin puree & oil makes these Pumpkin Muffins light, airy, and delicious:
The coconut oil for this Gingerbread Donut recipe allows the icing to set perfectly:
The “buttercream” frosting in these Samoa Cupcakes is created from vegan butter:
The only fat needed in this Sandwich Bread is oil:
The base for these Pop Tarts are a mix of vegan butter & shortening, making the crust flaky and melt-in-your mouth tender:
These Shortcake Biscuits use blend of vegan butter and shortening to create a lighter bite:
Cooking oils are made from various seeds, plants and vegetables. Used for deep-frying, baking, sautéing, dressings and marinades understanding each oil helps you figure out which one works best in which situation. When purchasing the proper oil, you will want to consider their smoke point (the temperature at which a fat begins to break down and smoke), flavor, and cost. For example, if you want a good oil for deep-frying you are going to choose an oil where the fat has a very high smoke point.
There are several oils that you can use for baking like canola or grapeseed oils which make for great butter substitutes due to their mild flavor and ability to be in higher heat. Using oils that have a stronger taste, such as olive oil may mildly to wildly change the flavors of the baked item. This does not mean that you shouldn’t use them, just be aware of what can happen. Below is a list of oils, though not limited to, that work great when using in baked goods:
*Please note: I have not listed vegetable oil, a common oil found in grocery stores, because vegetable oil really is any form of fat that is obtained from plants which exists in liquid form at room temperature. A few examples of the most commonly used vegetable oils are the olive oil, the coconut oil and the almond oil.
Things to Remember:
- Anytime you are subbing out butter from a recipe and replacing it with any of the following, you are always running the risk of a variation in texture and flavor no matter what.
- When substituting oil in baking, you would keep a 1:1 measurement for the butter. In other words, one cup of butter is substituted by one cup of oil.
- Shortening is a great replacement for butter in baking, though it might not be the healthiest. Make sure you look for a non-hydrogenated version that is vegetable based. Shortening gives great results in cookies, biscuits, and pastry dough when combined with non-dairy butter.
- Margarine, spreads, or any alternative butter substitute that has less than 80% fat content is typically not a good idea when choosing a butter replacement due to its high water content. For reference vegan butter has typically a fat content of at least 80%; shortening has 100%; and for a spread or margarine we are looking more at 70-75% fat.
- For sweet baked goods, you can substitute applesauce with good results. In general, use the same amount as the butter called for in the recipe. A good rule of thumb is to use 3/4 applesauce (or other fruit/veggie puree) and 1/4 butter or fat of choice. This will help keep a good texture/flavor balance in your baked good.
- If you enjoy the flavor of coconut, coconut butter, which is basically coconut meat that has been blended to a creamy base, can also be a great baking substitute. Try slathering it on anything that you would put butter on as well (toast, etc.).
- Smell the oils you are purchasing to get an idea of what flavor and taste it will emit once baked. Typically it will be a little more mild than what your nose detects.
- If you can, buy solid and liquid fats that are organic, non-hydrogenated, and as unrefined as possible.
- Experimentation is always key! Try oils that are off the beaten path like coconut oil, grapeseed, and even nut-based oils. Play around with the different flavors and see what you like.
I hope this guide is of help to you as you discover the many possibilities in your own kitchen. Is this the last word on Baking Fats? Absolutely not. Did I leave out an oil or butter alternative that you love? Help out the community here and leave a comment–we would love to hear what you have found great success with in baking!