Less fat, more flavor, better baking: Clever substitutes for butter and oil

In the Fall 2018 issue of Sift Magazine, we look at ways to lower the fat in some of our favorite baked goods without giving up one bit of flavor. We put several household staples to work: low-fat dairy, applesauce, apple butter, and pumpkin. The results? Moist, delicious, better-for-you versions of the treats you love.

Butter and oil are a big part of the architecture that makes cakes and muffins so flavorful. They also prevent them from getting stale, keeping baked goods soft and giving them a delicate crumb. But there are other ingredients to reach for that make recipes flavorful and full-bodied, without relying so much on fat.

All of these riffs call for ingredients you probably have on hand. Once you taste them, they’ll become a regular part of your rotation. These simple swaps help you reimagine how you can approach traditional baked goods: less butter, but better!

Less fat at breakfast

Cake for breakfast makes perfect sense when yogurt steps in as the dairy component. This lower-fat alternative takes the place of butter in our Yogurt Cranberry Coffeecake (pictured above) and balances the sweetness in the batter. With a tender crumb, spiced streusel, and tangy cranberries, this coffeecake is a delight with every bite.

less fat via @kingarthurflour

Combining oats and yogurt isn’t new at the breakfast table, but when you turn them into pancakes you get a light, tender, and delicious short stack. Drizzle a bit of honey on our Oat and Yogurt Pancakes and top with fruit.

The recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups plain yogurt, but you can swap in Greek yogurt. Just whisk together 3/4 cup Greek yogurt with 1/4 cup milk.

More interested in pancakes for dinner? Top these pancakes with a savory salad or serve them next to stew.

less fat via @kingarthurflour

Apples working miracles

Most of us know the basics of brownies by heart: Cocoa, sugar, eggs, a little bit of flour, and butter. A lot of butter. Get ready for an amazing changeup. Meet our Better (for you) Brownies.

Fruit — in this case, apples — is a brilliant substitute for fat, adding both moisture and a subtle sweetness. Draining the liquid from applesauce (we use a strainer lined with a coffee filter) before adding it to this batter creates a dense, moist, VERY chocolatey brownie. You’ll be amazed.

less fat via @kingarthurflour

Applesauce’s more-concentrated cousin, apple butter, is another key to baking with less fat. These Apple Cinnamon Bars are a lower-fat, make-more-often spin on apple cake. Apple butter is the key to their flavor and texture, which is nicely spiced and luscious.

less fat via @kingarthurflour

Vegetable purées? Pure genius.

Pumpkin purée is an unexpected star in bran muffins, a recipe that often relies on a hefty pour of vegetable oil for its signature moist crumb. Pumpkin is 85% moisture, tastes great with a hint of spice and sweetness, and replaces a lot of the fat in a typical bran muffin recipe. Pumpkin Bran Muffins have a bit of spice, are studded with dried fruit, and make for a great on-the-go snack.

Baking and cooking with less fat can be easier than you thought. Because you probably have most of these champion ingredients handy, we think you should give these recipes a try.

Do you have any other favorite ideas for cutting the fat in your recipes, while keeping great flavor? Let us know in the comments below; we’ll have our forks ready!

Susan Reid

Chef Susan Reid grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Bates College and the Culinary Institute of America, and is presently the Food Editor of Sift magazine. She does demos, appearances, and answers food (and baking) questions from all quarters.


  1. Judy M Brewer

    We’ve found that you can substitute a good, unsweetened, applesauce (all apple) for at least 1/2 the oil in almost all muffin recipes. Sometimes you can exchange all of it.

    Apricot puree (whizzed-up from dried apricots) works the same, with a slightly different flavor.

  2. Michele Potts

    For the “Better (for you) Brownies” do I measure the applesauce BEFORE straining it, and then just dispose of the liquid that strains off? So the amount of applesauce that actually goes into the batter will be less than 1 cup? Thanks.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Start with 1 cup (227g) of applesauce and then strain it for about 4 hours. You don’t need to weigh it again at this point; simply add the thickened apple purée to the brownie batter. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  3. Pat G.

    I use all these things, but also use a light margarine stick in some recipes. Not only doe it have less calories, it is a little softer, so I use less. It can be creamed without softening, which saves time.
    BTW, when a recipe already uses some of these ingredients you talked about, the recipe may still call for 1/2 cup or more of butter or oil. I just cut the amount down, and sometimes add a little milk or water.

  4. Pua

    In case others are not seeing the mentioned photos in KAF blogs, pictures load when using Chrome (not Firefox.) This is disappointing since my primary search engine is Firefox. The KAF chat line tipped me on this. I contacted KAF because those detailed steps with photos are handy. This means I have to paste the link from the Sunday email into Chrome.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re sorry to hear you’re having technical errors with our page, Pua. We’ve shared your experience with our technology team to look into further, as we realize it can be inconvenient to have to switch browsers. We hope to make our full step-by-step instructions clear and easy to read, including those helpful photos! Kye@KAF

  5. Kathleen

    Have you got a way to make a flaky pie crust without butter (or any dairy)? I want to bring my traditional sour cherry pie to Thanksgiving, but this year my elderly Mom is on a strict no-dairy regimen.

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Kathleen. You can use the same method with shortening or lard; there’s no reason it won’t work. Just leave some of the bits of fat a little larger instead of working them all the way into the dough, and fold the dough in thirds before rolling it out. Susan

    2. Linda A.

      I just yesterday made a delicious apple pie with non- dairy pie crust, using King Arthur’s recipe, which uses a bit of shortening, and vegan butter instead of regular butter. I don’t use Earth Balance vegan butter, as that leaves a bit of an aftertaste, I use Miyokos brand. My son said it was the best vegan apple pie I’d ever made!


    really good suggestions and recipes for lower fat- I am thinking about previous blogs about cutting sugar in them as well as I for one do not care for overly sweet in baked goods- the brownies for example any issue to recipe if I 1/2 sugar amt?

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Sherry. You will have a finished product that is much more like cake than a brownie if you cut the sugar back that far; I’d suggest trying a 25% cut first and see how you like it. Susan

  7. Marliss

    Due to high cholesterol numbers, I’m currently following a diet highly restricted in saturated-fat, which means limiting it to 11g per day. That has been a major issue for me in my heavily butter-based baking, as a tablespoon of butter has 7g saturated fat. Most of the recipes in this article are still too high in saturated fat for me, especially as I kept 1% milk in my diet, as I’ve been told to consume more calcium as well. I’m also keeping eggs, which are each 2g saturated fat but add protein and nutrients.

    I’ve had to stop baking scones and most cookies. I have been sticking mostly to recipes that use canola oil, which has 1g saturated fat per tablespoon. I’ve found that I can often substitute buttermilk for 25%-50% of the oil in some recipes. For example, in the KAF Pumpkin Espresso Bundt Cake, I substituted 1/4 cup buttermilk for that much of the oil. (I also added 1/4 cup powdered milk for calcium.) I’ve worked out how to substitute oil in the KAF Whole Wheat Sourdough Crackers. I found a pumpkin quick bread recipe that uses oil, from an old issue of Bon Appetit, to replace my butter-based one, and I used some buttermilk in it and made it more than half whole grain.

    In yeast breads, I find that I can usually substitute canola oil for lesser amounts of butter, as in the KAF Ginger Pumpkin Bread.

    King Arthur is great about offering some gluten-free and vegan recipes. I’m sure that the people with those diets appreciate the effort. I would like to see more offerings of baked goods not just lower in saturated fat, as in these recipes from Sift, but actually low enough to accommodate people who have to watch cholesterol closely most of the time. I suspect there are also a lot of bakers who need to get more calcium in their and their family’s diets, and suggestions on doing so would also be appreciated.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We appreciate you sharing your feedback with us, Marliss. We realize there are challenges inherent to baking for certain diets, and we’re happy to provide what help we can. While our team is unable to make specific dietary recommendations, we do make nutrition information available for all King Arthur Flour products and for many of our online recipes. Simply select “Nutrition + ingredients” on a product page, or “nutrition information” on a recipe to see total sugars, carbs, calories, and more. If there are adjustments you’re hoping to make to a recipe, consider giving our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE (2253) so we can point you in the right direction based on what you’d like to bake. Kindly, Kye@KAF

  8. Hilary

    Thanks for lightening up some of the recipes. I have Crohns disease therefore I can not have milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese. Are there any substitutes you can recommend for those ingredients?
    BTW, I have tried almost every recipe that King Arthur Flour has put out, yummmmm!
    Thanks, so much 🙂

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      Hi, Hilary. Not sure if your diet allows it, but for milk almond or soy milk generally work fine. There are some very good vegan cream cheeses on the market now. Cottage cheese is probably the hardest thing on your list to find a substitute for; my first thought for that is a firm tofu. Susan

    1. Susan Reid, post author

      You’re right, Christine! I will put an avocado in any food I can get away with! The color can be an issue in some lighter things, though…Susan

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