Finding the right vegan butter or egg substitute for baking can seem pretty complicated, especially if you are a beginner vegan. Today I’m sharing a few tips that will help you find the best baking alternative to butter and eggs. You’ll ace dairy free and egg free baking in no time!
I’ve always been a huge fan of homemade baking. My mom used to bake delicious (but not vegan) treats all the time when I was little.
As I got older, I embraced baking at home myself but rarely tried to experiment with unfamiliar recipes.
Once I became vegan, I was a bit puzzled: is it possible to find a proper vegan alternative to butter in baking? Plus, aren’t eggs a must-have ingredient that “binds” everything together?
But before you know it a whole new world of amazing dairy free and egg free baking opened up to me.
I was surprised to find out that vegan baked goods can be delicious AND are often easier to make!
When you bake vegan, there’s no need to wait around for your butter sticks to soften, or to buy a fancy stand mixer that so many recipes call for. What’s not to love?
(Why do people even bother baking with butter and eggs if the same baked treats can successfully be made without them?)
What Do Butter and Eggs Do in Baking?
Before we go any further, let’s discuss the role butter and eggs play in conventional baking.
BUTTER adds a rich flavor and a fluffy, moist texture to the finished baked product. It also works as a leavening agent: the butter fat traps steam and carbon dioxide in tiny pockets of batter, helping cakes and muffins rise during baking.
In flaky pastries, butter fat molecules cover flour particles, preventing them from absorbing too much moisture. Without fat the dough could create stronger gluten bonds, which would result in the opposite of the light, flaky texture we expect to see in pie crusts and biscuits.
EGGS are used in conventional baking to “bind” the ingredients thanks to their ability to firm up when heated. Tiny air bubbles trapped in whipped egg whites help batter rise. Egg yolks add a rich flavor and a distinct color.
When practicing vegan baking, you may find that you need some qualities of butter and/or eggs more than others depending on what you’re baking. Because of that, some plant-based butter and egg substitutes will work better based on the situation.
Case in point. Let’s say you want to make vegan cookies. You’re looking for a vegan substitute for butter that’ll add moistness and “bind” everything together, but you don’t need it to create a fluffy texture.
For this situation, you can go with fatty plant-based ingredients like nut butter or mashed avocado. The latter is best for use in darker baked goods (like chocolate cookies) since it gives them a brownish color.
Two Ways to Replace Butter and Eggs in Baking
There are at least two ways for how to substitute butter and eggs in vegan baking:
– Replace them with their most “straightforward”, commercially available alternatives like vegan butter and boxed egg substitute. Most of the time you can use the same exact proportions as in the original non-vegan recipe.
– Experiment with a few plant-based ingredients that don’t usually come in a box, and see which one works better. This way you can reduce the fat and calories in the finished product, but the flavor may change (which isn’t always a bad thing).
Use the substitutions listed below if you’ve decided to veganize a non-vegan recipe. If the recipe is already vegan, there’s no need to replace anything – unless you’re feeling adventurous!
Tips on How to Substitute Butter and Eggs in Vegan Baking
1. Flax egg
Flax egg is a healthy substitute to regular eggs that also provides a nice boost of omega-3 fatty acids (I wrote about its health benefits in this post.) It’s good at binding all of the ingredients together.
It takes about 1.5 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 2 Tbsp water to replace 1 egg in a recipe.
Keep in mind: Using too much flax eggs can make your baked goods too gummy and add a nutty aftertaste. It’s best if you use flax to substitute less than 3-4 eggs in a recipe. Also, there’s no such thing as scrambled flax eggs 😉
2. Chia seeds
Chia seeds work the same way as ground flax. When you mix them with a bit of water and let sit for about 5 minutes, they will absorb the liquid and take on a pudding-like consistency similar to an egg.
To make one chia egg, mix one tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl or a cup. Whisk to combine and let sit for 5 minutes or longer.
In some recipes (like my 5-ingredient vegan banana pancakes) you don’t even need to pre-soak chia seeds in water – just whisk them with the liquid ingredients the recipe calls for, and then mix with the dry.
Just like flax seeds, chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Quite a bit healthier than regular eggs.
3. Unsweetened applesauce
A true darling of fat-free vegan bakers, unsweetened applesauce adds plenty of moistness to any pastries that are meant to be cake-y (like cupcakes and muffins, sometimes cookies). Applesauce is my go-to ingredient in vegan baking.
Keep in mind: Do not use more than 1 cup of applesauce in any recipe, or your baked goods may turn mushy in texture.
4. Mashed banana
Both under-ripe and very ripe mashed bananas can be used in vegan baking: ripe bananas add lots of moistness and bind the ingredients very well while adding a distinctive hint of banana flavor (see my Banana Nut Bread recipe), and under-ripe bananas can be used for those baked goods that you don’t want to taste like bananas.
I was very impressed with the idea of substituting a stick of butter with a cold underripe banana in biscuits and scones recipes in one of my favorite cookbooks, The Happy Herbivore Cookbook by Lindsay S. Nixon.
Keep in mind: Too much mashed bananas can make your baked goods gummy. I often substitute some of the banana puree with applesauce in recipes that call for a lot of binding ingredients. Also, you may need to reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe if using very ripe bananas.
5. Pumpkin puree
From my experience, pumpkin puree is the best binding ingredient for baked goods because it makes them moist and velvety smooth-tasting (I enjoy it immensely in my Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies). In fall and winter, Libby’s canned pumpkin puree – not pumpkin pie filling – rarely runs out in my house, and neither do all kinds of pumpkin-flavored pastries 🙂
Keep in mind: Pumpkin puree adds a distinct pumpkin flavor to all baked goods, which is nice if you need it but can be overwhelming if you don’t.
6. Avocado puree
Avocado puree makes a good replacement for butter and margarine thanks to the buttery smooth flesh of ripe avocados. It’s best if you mash it completely with no chunks left by using a food processor while mixing it with the rest of the wet ingredients in a recipe.
Keep in mind: During baking, avocado puree gives pastries a brownish color, so it’s optimal in recipes for chocolate baked goods. Also, please don’t use it in 1:1 proportion when replacing butter.
7. Grated zucchini
Interestingly, grated zucchini can be quite useful in vegan baking: it binds everything together while adding moist texture to the final product. Grate an unpeeled zucchini if the little green skin specks in your baked goods don’t concern you (like in zucchini muffins), or peel it before grating if you’re after a more uniform color.
My favorite Chocolate Zucchini Muffins are egg and butter free, yet they taste just divine!
Keep in mind: For baking, it’s best to grate a zucchini by hand using a box grater, not a food processor. Zucchini releases too much juice when grated in a food processor – you may not notice it right after grating, but your baked goods might not rise well.
Mashed beans may sound like a surprising ingredient in baking, but they are pretty good!
I learned this making one of my favorite recipes for chocolate chip cookies from The Great Vegan Bean Book: More than 100 Delicious Plant-Based Dishes Packed with the Kindest Protein in Town, a wonderful cookbook by Kathy Hester. Kathy’s recipe calls for a whole can of chickpeas – now that’s a serious addition of protein and fiber to a decadent cookie!
Keep in mind: Mashed beans can give your baked goods a dense, even fudgy texture, which is ok if you’re making something like black bean brownies. If you’re after a fluffier texture (like in muffins and cakes), you may need to use something else.
9. Vegan yogurt
Vegan yogurt is another way to add a moistness-producing binder to your vegan baked goods. I personally rarely use it because it’s hard to find in Southern Alabama, plus it tends to be pricey. Vegan yogurt works well in brownies and some muffins.
Keep in mind: Yogurt can be too heavy in baked goods, so use it sparingly.
A Little Bonus: Substitutions for Dairy Free Baking
If a recipe you’re veganizing calls of milk, you can freely substitute it with just about any variety of non-dairy milk. I love almond milk, but a lot of bakers swear by soy milk as their favorite.
If a recipe calls for buttermilk, measure out the same amount of non-dairy milk, add 1 tsp of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, stir and let stand for a few minutes. The acid helps curdle the non-dairy milk (almond and soy milks work well, although I haven’t tried other varieties for curdling).
Recipe example: my vegan Irish soda bread is made with vegan buttermilk, and it comes out just as delicious as the traditional Irish treat.
If a recipe calls for cream, canned coconut milk makes a wonderful dairy free substitution. Chill a can of full-fat coconut milk, then open it and scoop out the thickened white solids from the top. Note: this isn’t a low-fat cream substitute.
I hope you got a good idea on how to substitute butter and eggs in vegan baking from this post! If you used these tips in your dairy free and/or egg free baking, please let me know how things turned out!
(Photo credits: image #2 – Charles Deluvio, image #3 – Thought Catalog, image #4 – Deryn Macey on Unsplash.)
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