When it comes to healthy cooking, it’s relatively easy to swap out common allergens or conventional ingredients such as butter, milk, cream and cheese with dairy-free alternatives. Many cooking recipes are fluid and flexible – that means switching dairy milk for almond milk in your cream of broccoli soup isn’t going to dramatically alter the consistency or flavour of the dish.
Dairy-free baking is somewhat trickier. Since baking is a scientific process that relies on specific properties of ingredients to help with shape, consistency, texture and rise of baked goods, it’s not always as simple to work with dairy-free baking substitutions. We have experimented a lot with gluten-free and dairy-free baking (it’s a tough job, we tell you), and have discovered several dairy-free ingredients can generally be swapped 1:1 and no one will be the wiser.
An important thing to keep in mind about dairy-free baking is to fine tune your expectations. Dairy-free ingredients are beautiful, delicious and sumptuous in their own right, and shouldn’t be viewed as inferior to their dairy counterparts. If you are constantly comparing a vegan cheese sauce to traditional alfredo, it’s likely that you will be disappointed based on deep-seated emotions and attachments to the latter. Instead, celebrate and appreciate dairy-free baked goods for what they are: wonderful.
Here are our 5 favourite dairy-free baking substitutions for you to try.
Instead of Milk: Use Homemade Nut or Seed Milk
Ditch the dairy milk and try a homemade nut or seed milk. Non-dairy milks are very easy to make: simply soak your nuts/seeds for several hours, drain and rinse, then blend with water. The more water you use, the thinner your milk will be – so if you need a thick, creamy consistency then add less. We use homemade nut milk in a ratio of 1:1 in baked goods. Also, if you are looking to create buttermilk, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to your dairy-free milk to help it ‘curdle’.
Instead of Butter: Use Coconut Oil
For a completely vegan and dairy-free option, opt for organic unrefined coconut oil. Coconut oil hardens in cold temperatures, softens at room temperature, and melts to a liquid, so what consistency you choose will depend on how you plan to use it. When chilled and grated or cut into cubes, coconut oil can be worked into crusts and doughs just as you would with chilled butter. In its softened form, you can cream coconut oil with a dry sugar such as coconut sugar as the base for a variety of cookies and cakes. Melted coconut oil helps moisten batters for muffins, breads, cookies and cakes, too.
Plus, as a healthy saturated fat, coconut oil is anti-bacterial, great for digestion and appetite control, and benefits our skin. Who wouldn’t want an ingredient like that in their cookie?
Instead of Cream: Use Coconut Milk or Cream
Sometimes a homemade nut or seed milk just won’t cut it, and you’ll need something thicker and creamier. Enter coconut milk or coconut cream. Coconut milk, a blend of coconut milk and water, is quite thick on its own and add richness to dairy-free baked goods. Coconut cream is much thicker than coconut milk. Essentially, it’s the ‘cream’ that rises to the top of coconut milk. You can buy coconut cream separately, or make your own by chilling a can of coconut milk and skimming off the thickened part (save the water for another use, like smoothies).
Coconut cream is a great option when making frostings or fillings for your dairy-free baked goods. Simply whip it with your flavouring of choice (cacao powder, maple syrup, almond butter, jam, etc.) and spread over your goodies. The more ingredients you add to your coconut cream, the heavier it will become and this may affect your ability to whip it up. If this happens, simply chill your coconut cream and then re-whip it.
Instead of Cheese: Use Nut Cheese or Nut Parmesan
If you are making savory baked goods that use cheese, instead of unappetizing processed vegan cheeses try making your own. For a cheesy flavour, try blending 1/2 cup of nuts or seeds with 1/4 cup nutritional yeast in your blender or food processor. You can then adjust the amount of nutritional yeast or add salt to taste. Nut cheeses (or fermented nut cheeses) are also a great option – simply chop them up and add them to breads or muffin batters.
Instead of Butter: Use Ghee
Although ghee, also known as clarified butter, is derived from butter (which has dairy in it) ghee doesn’t have milk solids, making it a great substitution for butter. It has some amazing health benefits, too, so don’t be afraid to use it in dairy-free baking (remember that ghee is still an animal product, so it’s not suitable for vegans). Ghee helps us make amazing pie crusts, cookies, muffins and cakes, and we tend to use it 1:1.
What are your favourite dairy-free baking alternatives?