Dairy-free pie crusts and fillings: a primer

Do you ever wonder how to make your favorite recipes dairy-free? Let us show you how to make some of our most well-loved desserts without dairy. In this post we explore how to make delicious dairy-free pie crusts and fillings, including fruit pies, as well as custard and cream-based pies. Note: For the sake of this post, eggs are not considered dairy ingredients. If you’re looking to bake without eggs, check out these vegan recipes.

If I could only have one baked good for the rest of my life, it would be pie. Hands down. It has everything a dessert needs: a crispy exterior and a rich, satisfying filling. I can’t imagine anything standing in the way of my love of pie, even dietary restrictions. With ever more pie-lovers needing to bake without dairy, we’re going to show you how to make show-stopping pies while avoiding dairy.

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

From the crust to the filling, you can make delicious dairy-free pie that will have everyone asking for a slice. Click To Tweet

Dairy-free pie crust

The best pies start with fantastic crust. Usually, that means lots of butter — but don’t fret if dairy-free pie is what you’ve set out to bake. There are non-dairy ingredients that can impart a similarly luxurious, flaky texture in pie crust.

While a handful of dairy-free fats can be used to make pie crust, we’ll focus on four of the best choices in this post. Vegan butter, shortening, coconut oil, and lard are all dairy-free alternatives that can be used in place of butter in pie crust recipes.

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

Each option imparts a slightly different flavor and texture, so choose the ingredient based on what you’re looking for in your final pie. 

Vegan butter

This is an all-around excellent choice; it can be used to replace butter without making any other changes. We found it to be just as flaky as butter in our All-Butter Pie Crust. It’s hard to tell the difference flavorwise unless you have a butter version to taste side by side.

Shortening

Vegetable shortening (like Crisco) has a higher melting point than butter. This means pie crust made with shortening will hold its shape better than an all-butter crust. Choose either butter-flavored or regular shortening based on your taste preferences.

Shortening-based crusts tend to have a mealy, “short” texture (rather than flaky). It’s a great option to use in conjunction with another fat, as shortening will help stabilize the crust.

Coconut oil

Crust made with all coconut oil tends to be slightly heavy and less flaky than butter-based crust. It pairs well with cream-based pies as it forms a sturdier crust. If you’d like little to no coconut flavor to come through in your pie, use refined coconut oil (as opposed to virgin). Use coconut oil in its solid form for best results, chilling it in the fridge if necessary.

Lard

This ingredient varies wildly in flavor, moisture content, and consistency from brand to brand. Generally, you can expect at least a slightly savory flavor, so lard is a suitable option when making dishes like quiche or pot pie. The texture will be a bit sandy (like shortbread) and holds up well when used along with shortening.

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

Pie crust made with vegan butter is by far the flakiest, followed by shortening, then lard and coconut oil.

You can substitute any of these dairy-free fats in your favorite pie crust recipe. Replace the butter, by volume, with your dairy-free ingredient of choice. If you typically weigh your ingredients, you can then look up the weight of the dairy-free alternative in our Ingredient Weight Chart.

Another option for your dairy-free pie crust? Our No-Roll Pie Crust recipe uses vegetable oil (olive, canola, sunflower, or your choice) for the fat. It comes together quickly, so it’s perfect for when you’re in a pie pinch. It’s not a delicate crust by any means — it’s crisp and sturdy — so you can use it to build a generously filled pie.

Once you’ve decided what kind of dairy-free pie crust you’re going to make, it’s time to focus on the all-important filling.

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

Chocolate and fruit are a perfect pairing if you’re considering serving a duo of pies — Chocolate Midnight Pie and Rustic Fruit Tart are pictured here.

Dairy-free pie fillings

There are more kinds of pie than there are stars in the sky. To keep ourselves organized, we’re going to look at four different categories of pie based on just how much dairy they contain: dairy-free pies, dairy-light pies, pies with a moderate amount of dairy, and finally dairy-based pies. Soon you’ll feel prepared to make practically any pie recipe dairy-free. Let’s bake!

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

Vegan butter holds up surprisingly well, even when making more elaborately topped pies like this Apple Pie with a lattice top.

Dairy-free (or almost dairy-free) pies

Fruit pies are some of the most well-loved pie recipes; and aside from the crust, they usually don’t contain any dairy at all. Sometimes fruit pie recipes will call for 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter to be added atop the filling. (My mom always taught me to do this with apple pie to make it extra delicious.) While it may make your pie special, it’s not necessary. You can forgo the butter without compromising the pie. Add a dusting of cinnamon-sugar on top of the crust to make it special instead!

Chocolate Midnight Pie via @kingarthurflour

A classic “dairy-light” pie, this Chocolate Midnight Pie has vegan butter in the crust and filling.

Dairy-light pies

Next come pies that have non-dairy ingredients as their base (cocoa, eggs, nuts, fruit, etc.), but are enriched with a notable amount of butter (more than 4 tablespoons). In these cases, it’s not a good idea to simply omit the butter. Instead, you’ll need to use another dairy-free fat to add richness and help set up the filling.

Vegan butter is always a first-rate choice to replace butter. (It works beautifully in our Chocolate Midnight Pie.) You can also use coconut oil in recipes like Pecan Pie or Lemon Chess Pie, where there’s close to a stick of butter in the filling. Just be sure to melt it first so it incorporates easily into the other ingredients in the filling.

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

Pumpkin meets coconut in this pie. Coconut milk thickens the filling and coconut oil tenderizes the crust. Coconut whipped topping is the best way to garnish this dairy-free Pumpkin Pie.

Pies with a moderate amount of dairy

Some pie fillings are thickened with more than one kind of dairy, like heavy cream as well as butter or milk. We consider recipes like Pumpkin Pie and Maple Sugar Pie to have a moderate amount of dairy — you’ll have to substitute some ingredients, but dairy isn’t the star of the show.

You’re just a few steps away from making these recipes dairy-free: Instead of heavy cream, use well-shaken, canned coconut milk. (This is higher in fat than refrigerated coconut milk, known as coconut milk beverage.)

To replace milk in the filling, use any of your favorite butter alternatives and whatever dairy-free milk you have on hand.

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

Plant-based half & half (like Ripple brand) add creamy texture to dairy-based pies, like our Custard Pie.

Dairy-based pies

On to the challenge: pies that are based on dairy. Think Custard Pie, Buttermilk Pie, and all your favorite flavors of cream pie: banana, coconut, and chocolate might be among them. You can either avoid these recipes and choose from the crowd-pleasers in the other three categories, or you can forge forward and bake dairy-free pie!

These dairy-forward pies often call for all kinds of dairy products, including heavy cream, butter, milk, and perhaps even a whipped cream topping. In these cases, it’s helpful to break the recipe down and find a suitable substitute for each of the dairy ingredients called for. Here are some of the most common dairy products and the best alternatives to use when baking pie:

  • Heavy cream: Use canned coconut milk. The semi-solid coconut cream that forms on top can even be whipped to make whipped cream!
  • Whole milk: Use soy or cashew milk for their higher fat content.
  • Skim, 1%, or 2% milk: Use almond, rice, or coconut milk beverage.
  • Buttermilk: Make your own buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of dairy-free milk.
  • Butter: Use vegan butter or coconut oil.

*All plant-based milk should be plain and unsweetened for best results.

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

Lard is a perfect ingredient to use in savory dishes, like this Roasted Butternut Squash & Spinach Quiche.

Wild-card pies

We won’t pretend that all the pies in the world fit into these four categories. We also acknowledge the “wild-card” pies out there. Recipes like quiche, hand pies, galettes, or tarts are all dishes you might find yourself wanting to make dairy-free. You can do it! Use the general substitution guidelines we’ve offered and apply them to your recipe.

If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t let any amount of dairy stand in your way. Or if you’re looking for something that’s guaranteed to turn out well, maybe don’t choose Ricotta Pie as your first recipe to try baking dairy-free. Remember, there are plenty of naturally dairy-free and almost-dairy-free pie recipes that are pure treasures.

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

Topping and enjoying your dairy-free pie

I consider it a crime to serve a slice of pie without a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream on top. If you want to serve your dairy-free pie à la mode, you sure can! There are some fantastic dairy-free ice creams and whipped toppings available. (A coconut milk-based topping is extra luscious and creamy.)

If you’re baking pie for a dairy-free and gluten-free crowd, no problem. Most pie fillings are naturally gluten-free. If all-purpose flour is used to thicken the filling, consider using another pie thickener instead, like cornstarch. Use our Measure for Measure Flour to replace the all-purpose flour in the crust, or use our Gluten-Free Double Pie Crust recipe from the get-go.

If you find yourself enjoying the world of dairy-free baking, check out our comprehensive collection of posts about making your favorite recipes dairy-free.

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

But for now, let’s focus on pie — I’m ready to whip up a Chocolate Midnight Pie and top it off with a scoop of vanilla almond milk ice cream. We hope you’ll try some of these tips in your kitchen, and let us know which dairy-free pies you like best. Happy baking!

Thanks to Anne Mientka for taking the photos for this post.

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. Liz

    I am lactose intolerant and want to share a bit of info. There is NO lactose in butter so there is no need to look for substitutions. Also there is no lactose in cheese that has been aged over 18 months. Cheddar, Gouda, Parmigian and Romano are all contenders and there might be others of which I am unaware. Some people with lactose interance can use goat and sheep cheese, sadly I cannot.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Thanks for bringing up this intriguing topic, Kim. We’re glad you pointed out that some people can bake with butter, in which case, making delicious dairy-free pies becomes even more of a cinch! It can still be helpful to know how to replace the milk, cream, and other dairy products in your favorite recipes, and also how to replace even the butter in case you’re in need of an entirely dairy-free dessert. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Kompyuteran

    Recipe: Pre-heat oven to 400 Crust- 1 12.5oz can chunk chicken 1/2 container (about 1 cup) shredded Frigo Parmesan cheese 1 egg -Drain chicken best you can, spread out on parchment paper on cookie sheet, smash with knife or fork, and bake for 10 minutes to dry out more. Remove from oven and mix with one egg and your shredded parm. Spread out back on parchment and form into crust shape, this will spread and and make one big pizza (half filled me up). Back into oven for 10-12 minutes to bake crust. Remove and top with your favorite toppings, based on your specific diet, or not 🙂 then back in oven for about 8-10 minutes just long enough to melt the cheese and heat everything up evenly. Enjoy! *Pre-cook toppings before spreading them on the crust. If I am using usual pizza toppings such as sausage and pepperoni, I cook the raw meat first, then stir fry everything together for a few minutes before putting on the crust.

    Reply
  3. Martin Belderson

    Excellent advice but please be aware that the dairy-free shortening and butter you recommend contains palm oil. It’s hard to find a better example of greenwash than palm oil. A small percentage of the palm oil we use comes from sustainable sources but it is mixed–before you buy–with the vast proportion that comes from plantations where virgin tropical rainforest was destroyed to clear the land. Orang-utans, for example, now face the threat of extinction because of this practice. It would be great if King Arthur Flour could take an ethical stance on this issue and no longer promote the use of palm oil. Better still, maybe at KAF you could actively educate your customers (and yourselves) on this issue? It is our increasing demand for palm oil that has created this problem, nothing else.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Martin, thanks for writing and for being an informed consumer. We appreciate customers like yourself who ask hard questions and probe others to consider food-related choices more holistically. While in the test kitchen we focus on baking-related information, we encourage readers to take it upon themselves to evaluate ingredients and choose products that align best with their personal values and baking needs. During test baking, we try to use a full range of ingredients in order allow bakers to choose what’s right for their own kitchen. We hope you’ll note that we do value and support responsible agricultural practices and consider the planet to be an integral stakeholder in our business. We currently limit our scope to wheat, but we hope bakers will explore the many avenues related to food choice and ultimately bake with what’s best for them. Kindly, Kye@KAF

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