How to Adjust Your Baking Recipes to Be Dairy-Free

With all of the nondairy products out there, it's important to understand how subbing them for dairy will change a recipe. Here's how to get the dairy-free baking results you crave.

Soy, almond, cashew, coconut and oat milk are just some of the nondairy milk alternatives in the refrigerator case these days. Each of these options varies in flavor and amounts of fat, sugar and protein. Because of the differences, a one-to-one substitution in recipes for baked goods (like those cookies you’re eating with your milk) is not always a wise idea.

Baking with nondairy alternatives sometimes requires a little extra thought. Let’s break down how you can substitute non-dairy milk for dairy-free baking.

Swap baking soda for baking powder

Cow’s milk is slightly acidic, so it reacts with baking soda in a recipe to form carbon dioxide and create lift. Many nondairy milks are alkaline, so if you’re looking to swap dairy for soy, you’ll also want to swap baking soda for baking powder to get that rise. Baking powder doesn’t require acidic ingredients to activate.

Add extra fat

Some nondairy milks have less fat than regular cow’s milk; cashew and almond milk in particular. That lack of fat means baked goods made with these alternatives will be drier and denser than versions made with cow’s milk. Adding a bit of extra butter or, if you’re going completely nondairy, vegetable or coconut oil, will create a better texture.

It’s worth noting that these two milk substitutes will also impart a slightly nutty flavor, but that works great in some recipes, like these coconut treats.

Start with soy products

Soy products have higher levels of protein than other nondairy alternatives. Because of this, soy milk can often be used as a direct replacement for cow’s milk. Recipes in which milk is the primary ingredient (rice pudding or chocolate cream pie) may taste noticeably different and could require more thickener. Soy creamers can also stand in for heavy cream, and silken tofu is ideally suited for cheesecakes since it’s soft and very easy to blend.

When in doubt, reach for coconut

Coconut products are good for a variety of applications. Coconut milk, in contrast to other nut milks, has more fat than cow’s milk and a sweet coconut taste, so it is best reserved for richer desserts, like these decadent chocolate masterpieces. Full-fat coconut milk and coconut cream are excellent nondairy substitutes for heavy cream.

Coconut oil can be used in pie crusts because it’s firm at room temperature like shortening, lard and butter. In baked goods, if you’d rather use olive or vegetable oil in place of butter, it’s important to compensate for the difference in solidity and use slightly less oil. It may take some experimenting to find the ideal amount.

Using nondairy products in baking can be easy and result in delicious lactose-free fare. There may be a difference in flavor and texture, but tweaking the ingredients can lead to some satisfying sweets!

Going dairy-free? Get started with these dessert recipes.
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Grace Mannon
Grace is a full-time mom with a Master's degree in Food Science. She loves to experiment in the kitchen and writes about her hits (and misses) on her blog, A Southern Grace.