A Baker’s Guide to Vegan Substitutes: Turn Traditional Baking Recipes Into Plant-Based Recipes

Homemade vegan strawberry toaster pastries with sprinkles
Homemade vegan strawberry toaster pastries with sprinkles. istetiana / Moment / Getty Images
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Vegan, dairy-free, and egg-free baking is booming, but for the occasional home baker who wants to make more sustainable treats, finding the right substitutions isn’t always easy. Sure, you could swap in some applesauce or your favorite plant-based butter, but baking is scientific — even a minor change can leave you with rock-hard cookies, soggy pies, or dry cakes.

Before you grab the mixing bowl and a whisk, check out some of the top plant-based alternatives for ingredients like eggs, butter, and buttermilk, and learn how to make savvy swaps that won’t sacrifice taste or texture.

Substitutes for Milk in Baking

Baking vegan oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Grace Cary / Moment / Getty Images

These days, there’s an abundance of milk substitutes on the market. Thankfully, in baking, they can almost always be used as a one-for-one replacement. If a recipe calls for 1 cup of milk, simply add your preferred dairy-free alternative, like almond, oat, pea protein, cashew, soy, hemp, rice, or even banana milk. 

Just remember to consider the flavor of the milk and how it will work with the recipe. Save sweetened dairy-free milks or banana milk for desserts, and choose a more neutral milk alternative, like almond or soy, for savory baking recipes.

Substitutes for Buttermilk in Baking

Extra-fluffy biscuits and pancakes need a little bit of buttermilk, but this isn’t a product you can easily find veganized and ready to purchase. That means you need to get a little scientific in the kitchen and make your own vegan buttermilk for recipes that require this ingredient.

There are a few different ways to make a plant-based buttermilk:

  • For each cup of non-dairy milk, add one tablespoon of lemon juice. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, and it will begin to thicken up.
  • Follow the same measurements above, but instead of lemon juice, use any type of vinegar (such as white vinegar, red vinegar, or apple cider vinegar).
  • Combine each cup of non-dairy milk with 1.5 tablespoons of cream of tartar. Let it sit to thicken and curdle.

If you’re not confident in your abilities to make your own plant-based buttermilk, you can also substitute in your favorite store-bought plant-based yogurt. The results might not be quite as fluffy as the homemade buttermilk, but it’ll still add some height and moisture to the final product.

Substitutes for Cream in Baking

A vegan cashew-based raspberry ‘cheesecake.’ Lucy Lambriex / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Cream makes for indulgent desserts, or, when whipped, a delightful topping for all types of treats. One common swap for cream is full-fat coconut cream, but be aware that the strong coconut flavor may influence the final taste of the baked good (if you love the taste of coconut, then there shouldn’t be a problem!).

Another option is to soak cashews in water, then blend them into a thick, creamy substance that can work as a dairy-free alternative to cream. This has a more neutral taste compared to coconut cream.

You can also use a silken tofu and blend it into a creamy texture to swap in for cream in many baking recipes.

Substitutes for Eggs in Baking

Like butter, eggs can add moisture and help bind ingredients in baked goods, but they aren’t always the most intuitive product to swap for vegan alternatives. It’s not as difficult as it seems.

  • Bananas: Swap one egg for about ½ of a large-sized or one whole small- or medium-sized mashed banana. This may influence the final taste though, so save this swap for sweeter recipes.
  • Applesauce: Swap one egg for about ¼ cup of applesauce. Again, this is a swap to use for sweet, not savory, baked goods.
  • Aquafaba: Whipped egg whites can be stirred into a batter for fluffiness or baked to make meringues. The liquid leftover in a can of chickpeas is an ideal substitute for egg whites, and even whips up into a lovely meringue. Use about 3 tablespoons per egg called for in a recipe.
  • Flaxseed: One of the most popular egg alternatives that works for sweet or savory recipes is to mix about 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed with one tablespoon of water. The mixture becomes gelatinous and will substitute one egg.
  • Egg replacers: There are also store-bought vegan egg replacers if you’re not feeling confident in trying to swap eggs for mashed fruit or flax eggs. Bob’s Red Mill and Ener-G make some of the most popular and widely available egg replacers for baking.

Substitutes for Butter in Baking

Butter is essential in most baking recipes. It can help bind ingredients, add richness and moisture, and adds the final flavor (buttery biscuits, anyone?). Good news — there are some very convincing, baking-friendly butter alternatives available at grocery stores today. If you’d rather use something you already have on hand, opt for oils. Vegetable, avocado, or olive oils work in place of melted butter. 

For recipes that require chilled butter, go for solid coconut oil or try vegetable shortening, which is easy to refrigerate and can make for perfectly flaky pie crusts. For cookies, try margarine. Just check the label closely. Most margarines are vegan-friendly, but some may contain animal products like whey.

Substitutes for Honey in Baking

Veena Nair / Moment / Getty Images

Honey can be a controversial ingredient, but most people do consider this an animal-based product that isn’t vegan-friendly. Honey is easy to replace in baked goods, and you may already have some vegan honey alternatives on hand. Swap this liquid sweetener for maple syrup, agave nectar, rice syrup, sorghum syrup, or barley malt syrup.

Substitutes for Chocolate in Baking

Whether you’re sprinkling some chocolate chips into cookies or banana breads or melting chocolate into icing or for brownies, this ingredient is important for many sweets. If you love dark chocolate, you’re in luck. Most dark chocolate bars or dark chocolate chips are vegan, but as always, double-check that label to make sure there aren’t any animal-derived ingredients.

Dark chocolate can be too bitter for some palettes, but there are dairy-free “milk” chocolates available these days, too. For example, Trader Joe’s offers both almond- and oat-based chocolates that taste like the real deal, and you can simply chop these bars into smaller chunks for cookies or other recipes that require chocolate chips.

Based in Los Angeles, Paige is a writer who is passionate about sustainability. Aside from writing for EcoWatch, Paige also writes for Insider, HomeAdvisor, Thrillist, EuroCheapo, Eat This, Not That!, and more. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Ohio University and holds a certificate in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She also specialized in sustainable agriculture while pursuing her undergraduate degree. When she’s not writing, Paige enjoys decorating her apartment, enjoying a cup of coffee and experimenting in the kitchen (with local, seasonal ingredients, of course!).

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