Baking Dairy Free: Tips and Tricks

Any baker will tell you that baking is a science. It can be tricky to get the ingredient ratios right to produce the perfect results. It’s not surprising that baking dairy free presents its own set of challenges. Whether your customers have an intolerance or refrain from dairy ingredients for ethical reasons, it can be very valuable to master dairy free baking if you're opening a new bakery.

Top Dairy Substitutes for Baking

You don’t have to operate a dairy free bakery to try some changes in your recipes. Recent food trends show customers turning away from dairy for a variety of reasons. Be sure to appropriately label your baked goods, as not all non-dairy recipes work for a vegan lifestyle if other animal byproducts are present. Below, we’ve included some of the most common non-dairy baking substitutes.

Lactose-Free vs Non-dairy vs Dairy-Free

When it comes to dairy substitutes, it's important to clarify the distinction between the terms dairy-free, non-dairy, and lactose-free. Dairy free products do not contain any dairy ingredients, like milk, cheese, yogurt, lactose-free milk, or whey, and they are considered vegan. Lactose-free products do not contain lactose, which is a type of sugar in dairy products that can make them hard to digest for those with lactose intolerance. They are not vegan or suitable for those with a dairy allergy. Non-dairy items may still contain whey and casein, which are milk derivatives, and would not make the product vegan or dairy-free.

Dairy Free Substitute for Milk

Milk Substitute

One of the most common ingredients you’ll need to substitute if you’re looking to bake dairy free is milk. Try the following milk substitutes in baking to make your menu accessible for all of your customers.

Lactose Free Milk

The first question to address is if your customers need dairy-free or lactose-free substitutions. If your patrons have an intolerance to dairy ingredients, lactose-free milk can be a simple replacement for milk when you’re baking. Lactose-free milk can be used as a 1:1 replacement in baking recipes and shouldn’t alter the final results. It is important to note that lactose-free milk is still an animal byproduct and would not make your baked goods vegan.

Seed and Nut Milk

Use non-dairy milk alternatives like nut milk and seed milk in your baking to accommodate alternative diets. Swap out whole milk with cashew milk and skim to 2% milk with a thinner option like almond milk. Many store-bought nut milk varieties are flavored or sweetened, so be sure to reach for unsweetened versions or adjust your recipe accordingly.

You can even make your own nut milk by soaking the nuts or seeds of your choice in water overnight. Strain the nuts and put them in cheesecloth before pressing the contents into a bowl. Soft nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and cashews are great options for nut milk. You’ll want to make sure you clearly state which alternative you used in case any of your patrons have a nut allergy.

Grain Milk

If you’re looking for non-dairy baking substitutions that also avoid nut allergies, grain milk varieties could be good options for your recipes. Oat milk and rice milk are popular milk alternatives in baking. Because of its thickness, oat milk is great at providing a creamy, full-bodied texture, while the thinness of rice milk is best for replacing skim or 1% milk.

Shop All Non-Dairy & Dairy-Free Milk

Dairy Free Substitute for Butter

Butter Substitute

Most baked goods call for the addition of butter, from moist cakes to flaky French pastries. Swapping butter out in non-dairy recipes may sound intimidating but we have some alternatives that will help you render similar results with your delicious treats.

Vegan Butter

The simplest butter substitute for baking is vegan butter. Made with vegetable oils, vegan butter can be used as a 1:1 substitute without altering your recipes. Vegan butter is available in salted and unsalted varieties so you can find the best option for the baked goods you plan to serve in your shop.

Plant-Base Oil

If you’re looking to swap out butter for a non-dairy option, you can use a plant-based oil that may already be in your kitchen. Olive oil, canola oil, and coconut oil make great dairy free butter substitutes for your baked goods with some ratio adjustments. Use the following conversions in your recipes:

  • Olive Oil - 3/4:1 ratio. This means 1 stick of butter (8 tablespoons) can be replaced with 6 tablespoons of olive oil. You’ll want to use regular olive oil instead of virgin or extra virgin olive oil since the flavor is milder in comparison.
  • Canola Oil - 3/4:1 ratio. Use 6 tablespoons of canola oil for every stick of butter you’re replacing.
  • Coconut Oil - 1:1 ratio. Coconut oil hardens and melts like butter giving the two similar consistencies and textures. This is the best option for flaky pastries as it can be worked into dough in the same way as butter.


Also known as clarified butter, ghee is often used as a lactose-free alternative to butter, though it is still considered a dairy product. Ghee is butter that has been simmered and strained to remove its milk solids. It can be used as a 1:1 replacement for butter in lactose-free baked goods. Because it is derived from butter, it is still an animal byproduct and is not suitable as a vegan alternative.

Dairy Free Substitute for Heavy Cream

Heavy Cream Substitute

Cream is a key ingredient in decadent desserts like some puddings, mousses, pies, and many types of frosting. There are some options you can try for a dairy free alternative to heavy cream.

Coconut Milk

When a recipe calls for heavy cream, full-fat milk, or half-and-half, you may want to reach for canned coconut milk or coconut cream as a non-dairy alternative. The texture and sweetness are perfect for frostings and filling while adding that desired richness that full-fat milk offers. To thicken the coconut milk, place the container in the refrigerator overnight to separate. The dense coconut cream that separates from the coconut water can then be scooped out and used in place of heavy cream. You can use canned coconut cream if you do not have time to wait for the separation. Just be sure to choose canned coconut milk and not the boxed variations, as the two are processed differently and won't produce the desired results.

Non-dairy Milk and Oil

If you have dairy free milk on hand, you can combine it with vegetable oil to create a heavy cream substitute for your non-dairy recipes. To yield one cup of your heavy cream alternative, just blend 2/3 cup of the non-dairy milk with 1/3 of oil. It is important to keep in mind that this will not whip up so it would not be a suitable option for dairy free whipped cream.

Non-dairy Milk and Silken Tofu

Achieve a rich dairy free heavy cream alternative by adding your favorite non-dairy milk to silken tofu. Add 1 cup of the dairy free milk of your choice and 1 cup of plain to a blender and mix until creamy. This is best for recipes with pudding textures like cheesecake or mousse pie.

Dairy Free Substitute for Condensed Milk

Condensed Milk Substitute

For sweet and creamy desserts, you may need to swap out your condensed milk for a non-dairy alternative. Give the following dairy free condensed milk substitutes a try. It is important to note that honey is not a sustainable sweetener option if you are planning to make your recipe vegan.

Coconut Milk and Sweetener

To achieve that rich taste of condensed milk in a vegan recipe, combine 1 can of full-fat coconut milk with 1/3 cup of a sweetener like maple syrup. After the mixture boils, let it simmer for 45 minutes. Allow this vegan condensed milk substitute to cool fully before using it in your recipes. It can be stored in the refrigerator for about 10 days.

Cashews and Nut Milk

Create a creamy and sweet mixture to replace your condensed milk by blending cashews with milk and sweetener. Start by soaking the cashews overnight or using a high-speed blender to process the nuts. Blend 1 cup of cashews with 1/2 cup of your nut milk of choice. Add in a 1/2 cup of maple syrup or other sweeteners.

Dairy Free Substitute for Cheese

Though not often used in baking, some savory treats like cheesy scones might call for the addition of cheese. Here are non-dairy substitutions for cheese to try in your baked goods.

Vegan Cheese

Keep your cheese substitutions simple by reaching for vegan cheese options. There are various types of vegan cheese to match the needs of your recipe. It is important to note that vegan cheese doesn’t always melt and stretch the way dairy-based cheeses do, so check the instructions on the packaging to achieve the best results.

Nuts and Nutritional Yeast

You can make your own dairy free cheese substitute by combining nuts and nutritional yeast. This is best for recipes that call for soft cheeses to impart a similar flavor profile. Blend two parts nuts to one part nutritional yeast in a food processor until combined into a fine crumble. Almonds and cashews work best when baking savory muffins or bread.

Dairy free baking has become a popular and healthful alternative to traditional baked goods. With a bit of creativity and experimentation, you can make delicious treats that are both dairy-free and delicious. By incorporating these substitutions, you can make sure that all of your customers can enjoy the same delicious treats.

Posted in: Bakeries|By Janine Jones
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