Dairy-free cookies and brownies: 9 tips you need to know

Have you ever wondered how to make your favorite recipes dairy-free? Let us show you the way by making some of our most well-loved recipes without dairy. In this post we explore how to make dairy-free cookies and brownies, as well as a few other sweet treats. Note: For the sake of this post, eggs are not considered dairy ingredients. If you’re looking to also bake without eggs, check out these vegan recipes.

Cookies, brownies, and bars are some of the most well-loved treats in the world of baked goods. Whether you need a sweet pick-me-up or you’re celebrating a special occasion, these treats fit the bill. But what about those who can’t bake with dairy products? What are they supposed to reach for when a cookie craving hits?

Bake delicious dairy-free cookies, brownies, and bars using these nine tips. Click To Tweet

Almond Cloud Cookies via @kingarthurflour

1. Look for recipes that are already dairy-free.

Surprise: Dairy-free desserts are all around you! Some of our favorite cookie and bar recipes are naturally dairy-free. Almond Cloud Cookies, Deep-Dark Fudgy Brownies, Meringues, Macarons, and even some biscotti can all be made without butter or other dairy products.

The key? These recipes use other ingredients to make them chewy and yummy sans dairy — usually eggs and something like sugar, honey, or even almond paste.

2. Bake crunchy/snappy cookies with shortening.

Butter isn’t the only fat that makes perfect cookies, especially if you like crispy treats. Vegetable shortening (like Crisco) can be used to replace butter in most cookies — they’ll spread a bit less and have a sandier mouthfeel (like shortbread; it’s pleasant).

A handful of our crunchy cookie recipes already call for shortening. Gingersnaps, Ranger Cookies, Butter Toffee Crunchers, Almond Cookies, and Snickerdoodles are just a few of the cookies that fall into this (delicious) category.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars via @kingarthurflour

Bar cookies — like these Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars — can easily be made dairy-free with vegan butter.

3. For classic cookies and bars, use vegan butter.

If you’re just beginning to explore dairy-free baking, meet your new best friend: vegan butter! This is something worth getting excited about. It’s creamy, usually easy to find, and makes fantastic dairy-free cookies and brownies.

Simply replace the butter in your recipe with your favorite vegan butter. (We like Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks.) Voilà, your baked goods will be practically indistinguishable from their butter-filled counterparts.

Dairy-free cookies and brownies via @kingarthurflour

Photo by Anne Mientka

Can you tell the difference between these two Sprouted Wheat Vanilla Chai Bars? Our taste testers can’t! Both are delicious.

4. Bake brownies using oil (or vegan butter).

Oil makes baked goods moist, tender, and in the case of brownies, super fudgy — yum! Some brownie recipes call for vegetable oil as the only fat, in which case you’re all set to bake dairy-free. Other recipes call for butter, and some even call for both butter and oil, like our Quick and Easy Fudge Brownies recipe.

This is another opportunity to whip out that vegan butter. Or if you don’t have any on hand, you can make your brownies using only oil instead. Really, it works!

Dairy-free cookies and brownies via @kingarthurflour

Photo by Anne Mientka

We learned that brownies are practically foolproof and can easily be made with whatever dairy-free fat you have on hand.

Dairy-free cookies and brownies via @kingarthurflour

Photo by Anne Mientka

5. Look out for hidden sources of dairy.

Beware of chips and chunks — most chocolate chips, cinnamon chips, and butterscotch chips contain dairy to impart a creamy texture.

Some baking ingredients obviously contain dairy (like malted milk powder). But there’s also a category that discreetly contains dairy (like caramel or lemon wafers), so be on the lookout and check the ingredient list before baking.

Don’t fret: there are lots of other tasty mix-ins that are dairy-free. Dried fruit, dark chocolate, coconut flakes, and toasted nuts are all flavorful options to add to dairy-free cookies and brownies.

Whoopie Pies via @kingarthurflour

6. Use your favorite plain, unsweetened non-dairy milk in “cakey” cookies.

There are a number of cakes masquerading as cookies: think Whoopie Pies, Black and White Cookies, even Baltimore Berger Cookies. Milk is one of the ingredients responsible for their cakey texture.

First, make a simple swap for the butter if necessary; then use your favorite non-dairy milk to replace the regular milk in your cookies.

Any kind of dairy-free/vegan milk will do (soy, coconut, almond milk) — just be sure it’s an unsweetened, unflavored variety for best results.

Dairy-free cookies and brownies via @kingarthurflour

Cookies made with dairy-free ingredients may spread just slightly more than regular cookies, but the difference is minimal and the flavor is still delicious. Photo by Anne Mientka

7. Use plain non-dairy yogurt in cookies that call for sour cream or yogurt.

Similarly, don’t let sour cream or yogurt scare you away from a recipe you’d like to make dairy-free (like our Super-Chewy Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies). Make good use of the non-dairy section at the grocery store and look for soy, coconut, or even almond-based yogurt. Again, unflavored and unsweetened are best.

If you can find non-dairy sour cream, score! You can use it if your recipe calls for sour cream; it’s typically just a bit harder to find than non-dairy yogurt.

Rugelach via @kingarthurflour

8. For cookies with a pastry base, use dairy-free cream cheese.

Some pastry-based cookies call for cream cheese. This gives them a super-tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture (think Fig Segals). Despite “cream” being right in the name, dairy-free cream cheese exists and is actually quite tasty.

Daiya, Vegan Gourmet, and WayFare all make dairy-free cream cheese that can be used in baking. You can even use it in conjunction with Earth Balance or dairy-free sour cream if you’re baking a recipe that calls for more than one dairy ingredient (like Rugelach).

Nanaimo Bars via @kingarthurflour

9. Use coconut milk when making toppings/glazes.

Time to top off your dairy-free cookies and brownies! There are a plethora of glazed bars to choose from: Nanaimo Bars, Thousand Dollar Bars, or even chocolate-dipped cookies and ganache-coated brownies.

This is when you can put all the tips to the test: Use vegan butter in creamy fillings and non-dairy milk in frosting or icing. (Avoid using non-dairy milk in fillings that are thickened with cornstarch — it won’t set properly.) Use dairy-free ingredients like yogurt or sour cream if necessary, and avoid other dairy-based components like caramel.

You can do this — you can even make dairy-free ganache! It’s typically made with heavy cream, but you can use full-fat coconut milk (the kind that comes in a can) instead. The results are luscious and glossy.

And simple glazes, like the kind you’d use to flood cookies or drizzle on scones? You can use practically any liquid in place of the milk. Dairy-free milk, water, or even juice works. You may need to adjust the amount of liquid that’s added in these cases since they’re lower in fat. Just add liquid slowly until you get the consistency you’re looking for.

Dairy-free cookies and brownies via @kingarthurflour

Photo by Anne Mientka

Dairy-free cookies and brownies: Treats everyone can enjoy

Time to invite over family and friends, regardless of dietary restrictions, and treat the crowd to something delicious. (Need to bake gluten-free too? No problem, use our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour in place of the regular flour in your recipe.) And for those who want something a little less sweet, check out our post about making the staples of breakfast dairy-free.

But let’s be honest: No day is complete without a little dessert. Now you’ve got all the tools you need to make some fantastic dairy-free cookies and brownies. Happy baking!

Kye Ameden
About

Kye Ameden grew up in Fairlee, Vermont and has always had a love of food, farms, and family. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, she became an employee-owner at King Arthur Flour and is a proud member of the Digital Engagement Team.

comments

  1. Martin Belderson

    Excellent advice save for one thing. The Earth Balance spread and most margarine blends contain palm oil as their major ingredient. It’s our demand for this product that is driving huge deforestation and habitat destruction (especially of our closest relative, the orang-utan). There are plenty of recent investigations showing that “ethically-sourced’ palm oil is nothing more than greenwash. So I’m afraid baking with it comes at a major wildlife conservation cost.

    A better alternative might be to pop some soy margarine in a saucepan then heat it gently so that the water whipped into it separates out. Let the pot cool, pour off the water and repeat the process one more time. What you are left with is a solid vegan shortening that is stable at room temperature. At the bakery, I use it in all my vegan patisserie and cakes.

    Reply
    1. Tina

      I actually use pureed avocado to substitute for the butter and black bean aquafaba to substitute for the egg. Not only is it vegan and so good for the planet, it’s practically health food! 🙂

    2. Patty Poston

      Martin, the only problem with using a soy-based shortening is that many of us are also allergic to soy, thus anything soy-based can be an extremely big problem. I know because I am one of the many. Luckily for me, I can still use regular dairy so I do not need to substitute a vegan source. I could never be vegan (medically cannot eat a vegan diet) but I am careful to buy organic, grass-fed meats in a limited amount, mostly chicken. On the flip side, I am Celiac so I also must alter my recipes to be gluten-free. No problem there. King Arthur Flour has an excellent line of GF mixes and other ingredients to make my life very easy.

  2. Susan

    This post has been so helpful for me. My family doesn’t even know I am making things dairy free now. I haven’t tried the dairy free ganache yet but I don’t like the flavor of coconut. Is there something else I can use to make it creamy and delicious?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      No problem, Susan. Keep your eye out for Soy Milk Creamer and use that in place of the full fat coconut milk. If you’re only able to find lower fat or nonfat soy milk, the ganache will still have great flavor, but it’s more likely to split and have a grainy texture. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  3. Jeff Colt

    I recently ate some brownies with whole oreos in each square. Would have be a fun way to go without dairy if I didn’t dip it in milk first!

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      No kidding, Jeff! I was introduced to oreo-stuffed brownies just this week. It’s such a delightful little surprise inside an unsuspecting brownie. (P.S. For those who don’t know, those classic chocolate cookie sandwiches are usually dairy-free!) We bet you could stuff a handful of those cookies into our Quick and Easy Fudge Brownie recipe and it’d be just delicious. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      You’re so welcome, Debi. Like I said, in my opinion no meal is complete without a little sweetness at the end. We hope this allows you to enjoy your kosher meals more fully. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Suzanne

    You missed my favorite dairy free baking tip–coconut oil. You can often use it in place of butter in recipes from scones to muffins to cookies. It is richer than canola oil, think like shortening, and doesn’t have that off taste of margarine. We have actually found a bunch of butter recipes that taste better with coconut oil, and we are a household that will use butter.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Thanks for writing in and mentioning that you love using coconut oil in baking too, Suzanne. Don’t get us wrong: we sure do enjoy using coconut oil in certain instances as well. We find it perfect for baking dairy-free biscuits, scones, or in other cases where the fat should be at a semi-solid state. We’ve found it also works in recipes that call for melted butter or oil (like our Quick and Easy Fudge Brownies) if you warm it slightly. If this is your preferred oil of choice, we encourage you (and other bakers) to use it in your favorite recipes when making them dairy-free. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. Annie

    I am making a dairy free groom’s cake for my son’s wedding in July. And we decided on carrot cake as this is already dairy free. The problem is the cream cheese frosting. So far I tried vegan cream cheese with dairy free margarine, powdered sugar, vanilla and lemon juice. It is very runny and even after sitting in fridge overnight it was still soft. Do you have any other suggestions? I was thinking coconut cream i/o margarine.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Annie, you might consider adding some butter-flavored shortening to your frosting to help it keep its shape. It has a relatively high melting point, so it’s handy for preventing frosting from melting or getting soft. You also might want to experiment with different brands of dairy-free cream cheese, as some tend to be softer than others. We ended up using WayFare Dairy-Free Cream Cheese in some of the recipes here, and it behaved very similar to conventional cream cheese. Last resort? Opt for a frosting recipe like Swiss Buttercream and use Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks in place of the butter. We hope this helps, and good luck! Kye@KAF

  6. RPRP

    these are great. I second Debi’s comment because i often have to prepare meals that don’t mix meat and dairy for kosher cooking. remember there are lots ofcake- baking recipes that use oil instead of solid fats. And for yeast breads that call for small amounts of butter, neutral tasting vegetable oil can be substituted. Liked the hint on how to get the water out of other vegan shortening. KAF always great for baking education, even for non-beginners!

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      You’re a mind reader, fellow baker! We’re going to explore dairy-free cakes next. For a sneak peek, check out some of our favorite dairy-free cakes like our Original Cake Pan Cake, or this Carrot Cake. Thanks for reading, and happy (dairy-free) baking! Kye@KAF

  7. DD

    You may want to suggest that people trying to avoid dairy look for kosher symbols that are common on baking/cooking products. If you see a letter D next to the kosher symbol, you’ve got your answer. And if you see the word “pareve,” that means it contains neither dairy nor meat ingredients.

    Reply
  8. Michele W

    I have been baking “non-dairy” for 40 years. My go-to butter substitute is Fleishman’s Unsalted Margarine (formerly corn-based, now soy-based). I also use shortening in some cookie recipes, and I use canola oil in some other baked goods. I have used tofu-based cream cheese and sour cream substitutes. They’re not bad but you do have to watch for moisture content (they add a lot of water to the mixture). I also use water instead of milk in many recipes – just need a bit less of the liquid – and things still taste good. Many decades ago I met Julia Child at her book signings, and had a quick 20 second chat about how I modify her recipes to be non-dairy. She told me that’s great and keep on experimenting. I still am. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      A brush with fame, how fun is that Michele? We’re glad to hear you’re keeping up the good work in the kitchen, and we’re intrigued by your tofu-substitute. We might explore this in our post about making cakes dairy-free when we dive into cheesecake. We’ve heard it can make a deliciously creamy and tasty substitute. We’ll find out! Kye@KAF

  9. Michele W

    Also, don’t forget about clarified butter. Since research had found that hydrogenated margarines are not a healthy substitute, I have been using clarified butter more often. The milk protein is removed from the fat during the straining process. I make great shortbread using clarified butter. It makes a soft dough that has a tendency to crumble a bit more easily, but it tastes fantastic.

    Reply
  10. Carole Mason

    Hello Kye ~

    What would be a good substitute eggs? A friend cannot eat dairy.
    I wanted to take something tasty that doesn’t require eggs or butter. I will use the coconut oil for butter replacement; but, what to replace for eggs is my puzzlement.

    Reply

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