Ingredient Intelligence

Need a Butter Substitute for Baking? Here Are 3 Easy Swaps

updated Nov 1, 2022
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Stick of butter, one opened
Credit: Joe Lingeman

The flavor of butter is incomparable. Smear it on toast and you have a meal; use it to make cake and you have a rich, decadent confection. So, what to do if you don’t have butter? Much of butter’s flavor comes from its unique combination of fat, milk solids, and water, which means it can be tricky to replace or replicate in recipes calling for it.

Luckily, your kitchen is packed with alternative fats (and fruits!) that can replace salted or unsalted butter— in whole or in part. Here’s every butter substitute you can use in baking, including oils, applesauce, and even yogurt.

Credit: Kelli Foster

How to Substitute Oil for Butter

Canola, vegetable, and olive oils are pure fats and can be wondrous substitutes for butter in baking. What they may lack in flavor, they make up for in moisture. If you can, use a 50/50 combination of butter and oil in recipes calling for butter — this way you get a some butter flavor and the moisture from the oil. But, if you need to replace the butter for oil completely, use 7/8 cup oil for every cup of butter called for.

The exception to the rule is coconut oil. Like butter, coconut oil can be soft and pliable at room temperature and melts to a beautiful consistency. Many people love baking with coconut oil for its light, sweet flavor that makes it an ideal 1:1 substitution for butter. Coconut oil has slightly more fat and less water than butter, so to prevent dry baked goods, up the liquid called for in cakes, muffins, and quick breads by just a few tablespoons to compensate.

As for flaky pastries like biscuits and pie crust, make sure your coconut oil is super cold before mixing and give the dough extra time to chill before baking to ensure the tender, crackly texture you crave.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: Pearl Jones/Kitchn

How to Substitute Applesauce for Butter

While applesauce is the most ubiquitous of the bunch, fruit purées of all kinds (think: bananas, baby food, or mashed avocado) can all be used to replace butter. Fruit purées are best for baking when used in tandem with butter. Swap half of the butter in your baked goods for smooth fruit purées to get the best flavor, moisture, and texture.

Skip this swap, though, for baked goods where a crispness is key, like shortbread cookies. And keep in mind that you’ll want to use smooth, unsweet varieties of applesauce, mashed banana, or sweet potato when substituting it for butter in baked goods.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How to Substitute Yogurt for Butter

We all have that tub of yogurt in our fridge that needs using up, and what better way to use it than with baking? Yogurt is rich in fat and flavor, but also has more moisture than butter which gives it some limitations as a butter substitute. Substitute plain, unsweetened yogurt as a 1:1 swap for butter in recipes calling for less than 1 cup of butter. Greek yogurt can also be used as a butter substitute, although it will create breads and muffins with a more dense texture.

Swaps and Substitutions

Even the most well-stocked kitchens run out of pantry staples from time to time. Whether you’re trying to limit your grocery shopping or you need to make a last-minute ingredient substitute for staples like butter or buttermilk, we’ve got you covered. This series will walk you through the best substitutions and replacements for common cooking and baking ingredients.