How to bake dairy-free: 5 tips for success

Do you ever wonder how to make your favorite recipes dairy-free? Let us show you the way by making some of our most well-loved baked goods without dairy. In this post we offer you a concise guide on how to bake dairy-free, from breakfast pastries to decadent desserts. 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.

The art of dairy-free baking can be distilled into five key tips. Use these pointers to guide your baking, and you’ll soon be making desserts and dishes everyone can enjoy.

No dairy, no problem! Learn how to bake dairy-free with these five essential tips. Click To Tweet
How to bake dairy-free via @kingarthurflour

Our 2018 Recipe of the Year, Whole-Grain Banana Bread, just happens to be dairy-free!

1. Start with recipes that are already dairy-free.

Some of our favorite recipes don’t call for any dairy ingredients at all; we wager that’s true of some of your favorites, too. From Almond Cloud Cookies to Angel Food Cake to Whole-Grain Banana Bread, there are many delicious choices that don’t require any adjustments.

Choose your recipes wisely based on how much substituting you’d have to do. Remember that while there are some fantastic dairy-free alternatives available, the fewer adjustments you make to a recipe the more likely it is to turn out as expected.

How to bake dairy-free via @kingarthurflour

2. Substitute vegan butter 1:1 for regular butter

We love Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks, but you can use whatever kind of vegan butter is available at your local grocery store. Most come unsalted because they’re made for baking — but it’s worth double-checking to be sure.

Vegan butter is almost indistinguishable from butter when used in most recipes. We tested and tested, and honestly, we couldn’t find a recipe where we wouldn’t recommend using vegan butter. We did, however, find some recipes that worked particularly well with this substitution.

Ideal for vegan butter:

  • Classic cookies and bars
  • Pie crust and fillings
  • Cakes
  • Pastries

Dairy-free bread via @kingarthurflour

We even made croissants with vegan butter, proving that this dairy-free substitute can hold its own even in butter-rich recipes. (Read more here.)

How to bake dairy-free via @kingarthuflour

3. Substitute unflavored, unsweetened non-dairy milk 1:1 for regular milk

If a recipe calls for milk, use your favorite plant-based milk instead: coconut, soy, rice, etc. Start by choosing the non-dairy milk you enjoy drinking, as chances are you’ll also enjoy it in your baked goods.

Here are some specific substitutions we found successful:

  • Whole milk: Use soy, cashew, or well-shaken canned coconut milk for its higher fat content
  • Skim, 1%, or 2% milk: Use almond or rice milk, or coconut milk beverage
  • Buttermilk: Make your own buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup non-dairy milk. Let it rest for about 5 minutes before using in your recipe.
  • Dry milk powder: Use non-dairy milk to replace the water in the recipe, omitting the dry milk powder

How to bake dairy-free via @kingarthurflour

4. Explore dairy-free alternatives at your grocery store 

What about recipes that call for ingredients like sour cream, cream cheese, or yogurt? There are (surprisingly tasty) dairy-free products that can stand in for each of these ingredients. They’re likely clustered together in the grocery store — check them out next time you’re shopping.

  • Plain, unsweetened soy, almond, or coconut yogurt:
    • Substitute 1:1 for sour cream or yogurt in recipes
    • Substitute 1:1 for cream cheese; reduce any liquid in the recipe by 1 to 2 tablespoons per 1/2 cup liquid
  • Plant-based half & half (like Ripple brand):
    • Substitute plant-based half & half 1:1 for light cream or regular half & half in recipes like cake, caramel, and sauces
  • Canned coconut milk:
    • Substitute the top half (the thickest part) of a can of coconut milk 1:1 for heavy cream or whipping cream in recipes like pie and cake fillings, as well as in scones and biscuits
    • Substitute well-shaken canned coconut milk 1:1 for regular milk in enriched bread recipes, like our Japanese Milk Bread Rolls or Soft Cinnamon Rolls
  • Lard, coconut oil, and shortening:
    • Substitute any of these ingredients 1:1 for butter in bread, pie crust, pastry, and cake, expecting slight flavor and textural differences. (See details here.)

How to bake dairy-free via @kingarthurflour

5. Call the Baker’s Hotline if you have substitution questions

We have a full team of friendly, experienced bakers who are ready to answer your questions. They’re creative thinkers who can come up with solutions when you’re trying to adjust a recipe at home. Give us a call at 855-371-BAKE (2253) with any questions about how to bake dairy-free.

Other dairy-free baking resources

Whether you love to bake dairy-free or you’re just beginning to explore these non-dairy alternatives, we have resources for you. We investigated the most common kinds of baking in our dairy-free baking series, where we reveal the best way to make classic baked goods dairy-free. Here are some highlights to get you excited about baking without dairy — it’s a delicious venture, I promise!

How to bake dairy-free via @kingarthurflour

Dairy-free breakfast

Start your day off with a delicious, (vegan) buttery scone, and perhaps a waffle or two. Learn how to make a full breakfast spread without any dairy products: Make biscuits, pancakes, and even a blueberry breakfast cake dairy-free following the tips in our dairy-free breakfast post.

How to bake dairy-free via @kingarthurflour

Dairy-free cookies, brownies, and bars

When you’re ready for a sweet midday snack, treat yourself to a dairy-free cookie or brownie. Find out how to make your favorite staple sweets (like chocolate chip cookies) without dairy in our cookies, brownies, and bars post.

Bonus: Our naturally dairy-free Deep Dark Fudgy Brownies are the only pick-me-up you’ll ever need from here on out!

Dairy-free bread via @kingarthurflour

Dairy-free bread and pastry

The dairy-free baking doesn’t stop with sweets. Find out how to make dairy-free bread and enjoy your morning toast, everyday sandwiches, and even dinner rolls without dairy.

OK, you caught us. We also threw some sweets into our dairy-free breads and pastries post — we couldn’t help but explore a few yeasted treats. (Hello, Sweet Cheese Coffee Bread!)

Hot Milk Cake via @kingarthurflour

Dairy-free cake

Ready to wholeheartedly embrace the sweet side of dairy-free baking? You can make all kinds of cakes without using butter, milk, or cream. We’re talking Fudge Pudding Cakes, Ultra-Vanilla Cupcakes, and Easy Cheesecake too. We don’t even shy away from Hot Milk Cake topped with crème anglaise (made with coconut milk).

The sky’s the limit when you’ve got the right tips and ingredients. Discover how to bake dairy-free cake, cupcakes, and frosting.

Dairy-free pie via @kingarthurflour

Dairy-free pie

We saved the best for last, in my pie-loving opinion. We start by exploring different options for making flaky, tender pie crust and move on to sweet and savory pie fillings. From fruit pies that only contain dairy in the crust to full-on cream-based pie, you can bake a plethora of delicious dairy-free pies. We show you how in our dairy-free pie post.

Dairy-free cake via @kingarthurflour

Let’s bake!

The best part of baking is sharing the final products with others, and now you don’t have to let dietary restrictions limit your generosity.

You can even make many of the recipes featured here gluten-free simply by replacing the flour with our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour. (Use Measure for Measure in non-yeasted recipes. For gluten-free yeast dough, use a designed-to-be gluten-free recipe.)

As you explore the world of dairy-free baking, let us know about ingredients, tips, and recipes you find most useful. We love hearing what works for you in your kitchen at home. We’re a community of bakers who like to share knowledge just as much as we like to share treats!

Thanks to Anne Mientka for taking the photographs 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 Marketing Team.

comments

  1. Stella S

    Olive oil is also suitable for some, but not all, recipes. Those that call for melted butter for instance. There are some delicious olive oil shortbread recipes out there. I have no qualms with milk products, but I intensely dislike the taste of butter. Heresy, I know.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      One of my favorite cakes is our Olive Oil Bundt Cake recipe because of its unique, floral flavor and rich crumb. I haven’t experimented with using olive oil as a substitute for butter in many recipes, but it can definitely be used 1:1 in place of vegetable oil (assuming you’re ready to welcome a more assertive flavor). It’s also fantastic in our Dried Fruit Focaccia. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. Patty Beyer

    I have an allergy to cow dairy and have been experimenting with dairy free ingredients for the last 10 years. Thanks for publishing this article to better help us to convert existing recipes. We have been making dairy free white bread for ages using Earth Balance and rice milk in our Zho bread machine.
    Thanks for helping us to not have to eliminate tasty desserts from our diets!

    Reply
  3. Ellen Oppenheimer

    WOW! FINALLY! I PARTICIPATED IN SO MANY OF THE KA BAKING CLASSES. THIS IS AN AMAZING AWAKENING FOR KA. WHEN I TOOK MY LAST CLASS AND ASKED FOR SUBSTITUTES AND ALTERNATIVES FOR DAIRY INGREDIENTS, I WAS TOLD BY THE INSTRUCTOR LIZ AND THE DIRECTOR ELLEN I COULD HAVE MY MONEY BACK FOR THE CLASS. THEY WERE UNWILLING TO MAKE SUBSTITUTIONS! WELCOME TO ENLIGHTENMENT IN BAKING WITHOUT COW DAIRY. LIVE AND LEARN KA…

    Reply
  4. Deb

    I just want to say thanks again for the recipe ideas for dairy free. I used the Very Berry scones from you and made them with the vegan butter and unsweetened Almond milk and my guests raved about them and asked for my recipe. 😉
    I love that you all are always available on line and so encouraging, helpful with suggestions and ideas. Thanks again you all are great!

    Reply
  5. Janis

    Still looking for an egg substitute in recipes for my 2 vegan family members, do appreciate your dairy free ideas in these recipes.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Janis. You’ll find a link to our vegan recipes in the first paragraph of this blog post, if you’re ever looking for a recipe that wouldn’t need any substitutions. In addition, if you search “egg replacer” on our website, you’ll find several recommendations for egg substitutes that can be made right at home. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  6. Barbara Anne

    I became lactose intolerant several years ago. My only problem has been identifying how to substitute for coconut milk. It is in a lot of the non-dairy recipes which are easy to find but I’m allergic to it. Thank you for showing options here so I can reverse engineer a few! I did not know about the top half of a can of coconut milk separating out like that.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Allergic to coconut milk and also dairy-free? That’s tough, Barbara, but we think we can help. We recently discovered a handful of plant-based half-&-halfs, which are rich and luscious like coconut milk (but often nut-free). We especially like using Ripple brand half-&-half, which you should be able to find in most grocery stores along with other dairy-free creamers. This ingredient would work well to replace coconut milk in sauces, soups, pie fillings, and custards. In recipes like cake and bread, you might be just fine using something like cashew milk. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  7. Sarah

    I would like to find a better buttermilk alternative. Using non-dairy milk with a tablespoon of lemon juice doesn’t work well.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Have you tried using plain, unsweetened soy milk yogurt and adding some dairy-free milk to thin it out to the right consistency? We find that soy yogurt is the tangiest of the dairy-free yogurts, so it tends to be a good choice to make the buttermilk base. Next time try using about 3/4 cup of yogurt and 1/4 cup of milk to see if that gives you the results you’re looking for. Good luck and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  8. Dave B

    I appreciate the tips in this article, but to be honest I’m a little offended that you think so little of your readers’ intelligence that you felt the need to point out that eggs are not dairy.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Dave, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. We genuinely respect readers and their feedback with the utmost regard, and we apologize if the disclaimer about eggs didn’t come off in the right way. It’s our intention to provide baking information that’s as crystal clear as possible, and we realize that often eggs and dairy are categorized together in the world of baking ingredients. (Heck, they’re often found right in the “dairy isle” in the grocery store.) To eliminate any possible confusion and to assist bakers who might be looking for both dairy-free and egg-free (possibly even vegan) recipes, we wanted to offer a link right at the beginning to make sure folks found what they needed. We’re sincerely sorry if you were left feeling discouraged, and we appreciate your feedback. Kindly, Kye@KAF

  9. Viv

    Curious, what is the difference between vegan butter and a good brand of baking margarine (not spread)?

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Good question, Viv. We learned that while margarine is not a dairy-based product (it’s usually made from soybean oil or a blend of oils), it sometimes includes trace amounts of different animal products like whey or lactose. People with severe dairy allergies may not be able to have some brands of margarine, so therefore we turned to vegan butter as a dairy-free substitute. We especially like using Earth Balance because unlike most kinds of margarine, it has no hydrogenated oils. As always, we recommend checking with a doctor or nutritionist before using a product to find out if its right for your specific dietary needs, if necessary. We hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  10. Dianna

    I’ve been an avid follower of your blog for many years, but I wanted to comment and say how much I appreciated this series on dairy-free baking. My 4 kids all have several food allergies including milk and this has really encouraged me to look beyond the few recipes I’ve always used. Thank you for your support of moms and bakers!

    May I also suggest your original Cake Pan Cake as an particularly notable addition to the dairy-free list? Particularly since it’s doesn’t even contain eggs, it’s a good quick recipe for allergy families: https://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/king-arthur-flours-original-cake-pan-cake-recipe

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      Hi Dianna, thanks for reading and for taking the time to share your positive feedback with us. We know there are lots of families who work hard to make delicious dishes within dietary limitations. We hope this series of posts helps make your daily tasks in the kitchen just a bit easier, and hopefully more enjoyable too.And of course, we’re so glad you mentioned our well-loved Cake Pan Cake! We shined a deserving spotlight on the Cake Pan Cake in our article about dairy-free cakes. It’s a fantastic choice that doesn’t require any substitutions at all. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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