Cookie bakers know that butter makes cookies moist, flaky, rich, tasty, and downright fluffy and decadent. But what happens when you absolutely need to make cookies and you’ve run out of butter? What if you can’t eat butter?
Do you have to give up your cookie-eating habits? How do you make cookies without butter?
To make cookies without butter, you either need to find a recipe that doesn’t use butter or use a butter substitute. Common butter substitutes are other dairy products (e.g., ghee, yogurt), fats (e.g., shortening, vegetable oil), or pureed fruit and vegetables (e.g., applesauce, avo, pumpkin).
If you’ve decided to avoid butter because of a milk allergy, lactose intolerance, or for health and lifestyle reasons, the good news is that you can still bake your favorite cookies.
There are many possible replacements for butter in cookies that will still perform the function of butter, adding moisture and acting as a binding and rising agent.
Can You Make Cookies Without Butter?
It is impossible to make cookies without butter – in other words, you can’t take a cookie recipe and make the cookies just leaving out the butter. You will be left with a heap of dry ingredients or a dry, crumbly, eggy paste that would taste of very little except flour.
Butter is an essential ingredient in cookie recipes as it helps to moisten the cookies, creating a soft texture through its water and milk solids. It also helps bind the other ingredients together.
In a cookie batter, the butter coats the flour and prevents it from absorbing moisture and thus creating gluten. (Gluten is the stretchy molecule that creates the structure of bread but will prevent your cookies from being crisp and crunchy.)
Butter is also the ingredient that gives cookies their rich, decadent, indulgent flavor.
However, you can make cookies by substituting or replacing the butter with another similar ingredient, such as another dairy product, another fat, or a fruit or vegetable puree.
These substitutes can play the role of butter in cookies, making them moist, chewy, and rich – so, yes, you can make cookies without butter after all.
How To Make Cookies Without Butter – Use Butter-less Cookie Recipes
There are plenty of cookies designed not to use butter, which are delicious just as they are. The moisture and richness in these cookies are usually provided by eggs rather than butter. However, vegan cookies avoid both eggs and butter, so are often made with nut butters, vegetable oil, or applesauce.
Recipes for these cookies are all over – do a quick search and pick your favorite. Here are some of the best.
Crisp, traditional Italian biscotti are made without oil or butter and get their moisture from eggs. These pared-down, after-dinner delights go well dipped in coffee and can be plain or flavored with chocolate or dried fruit.
Macarons, those exquisite French confections, are meringue-like rather than traditional cookies. Recipes for macarons usually have these essential ingredients: egg whites, sugar, almond flour, vanilla, coloring, and salt. Note that most macarons are stuck together with buttercream icing, though.
Because of their similar name (they have a distant origin in common), these coconutty morsels are easily confused with macarons. However, macaroons are chewy, yummy cookies all of their own. Macaroons are also made with egg whites and include coconut, condensed milk, sugar, and vanilla.
Less traditional than other butter-less cookies, but just as tasty, cake-mix cookies are made using store-bought cake mixes. To make cookies rather than cakes from these mixes, you either add oil or eggs, not both.
How To Make Cookies Without Butter – Use Other Dairy Products
For the best flavor, replace your butter with another dairy product.
How To Make Cookies With Ghee
Ghee or clarified butter is a valuable butter substitute for people who have a milk allergy or lactose intolerance as it does not contain casein or lactose.
If you make cookies with ghee instead of butter, your cookies will still have a buttery flavor, with an additional nutty tinge from the ghee.
You can replace your butter with the same amount of ghee when making cookies.
How To Make Cookies With Yogurt
If you are not milk allergic or lactose intolerant, you can replace the butter with an equal amount (or less, depending on the cookie batter) of unsweetened, full-fat Greek yogurt.
Yogurt is lower in fat than butter, so it is a slightly healthier choice but still keeps your cookies tender and delicious, with a lovely tangy flavor.
How To Make Cookies With Buttermilk
Another butter alternative – especially for when you have run out of butter – is to use buttermilk. Buttermilk is a beneficial substitute as it won’t influence the taste of the cookies, whereas many other butter substitutes do.
You need to substitute half the amount of buttermilk for the butter, so half a cup of buttermilk to replace one cup of butter.
If you don’t even have buttermilk and still want to bake, you can create your own buttermilk in a flash by adding a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of milk and then letting it stand for five minutes.
How To Make Cookies Without Butter – Use Other Kinds Of Fats
The simplest way to make cookies without butter is to replace the butter with non-dairy fat. However, not all fats replace butter on a 1:1 ratio because butter is only 80% fat and 20% water, whereas other fats are 100% fat – your cookies may turn out greasier unless you adjust the fat: flour ratio.
How To Make Cookies With Shortening
You can substitute shortening (e.g., Crisco, I Can’t Believe It’s Not butter, margarine, or another non-dairy shortening) for butter by replacing the butter in the recipe with the same amount of shortening.
Your cookies will probably end up a little thicker than usual since shortening has less water content than butter.
The advantage of using shortening as a butter substitute is that you don’t have to adapt your cookie recipes, and there will be very little change in flavor. However, you won’t get that buttery richness and tenderness that butter creates in cookies.
How To Make Cookies With Coconut Oil
The wellness community has embraced coconut oil as a healthy alternative to butter. You can replace the butter in your cookie recipe with coconut oil on a 1:1 ratio, as coconut oil is solid at room temperature and creams with sugar to a similar consistency to butter.
Coconut oil also creates cookies with a great crunch. However, unless you use refined coconut oil, you will be able to detect a coconutty flavor and slight sweetness in your cookies.
How To Make Cookies With Vegetable Oil
It is possible to use vegetable oil (such as sunflower, rapeseed, avocado, or canola oil) instead of butter when making cookies. It is possible to use olive oil as a substitute for butter, but it does have a distinct flavor, so is best left for savory baked goods, like muffins.
Vegetable oils are a healthy choice because they are lower in sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat than butter. Their flavor is also neutral. The other advantage of using vegetable oil instead of butter in cookies is that it’s about six times cheaper!
You can’t substitute oil for butter in identical amounts. Because vegetable oil is liquid at room temperature and has a higher fat content than butter, you will need to adjust the ratio of flour to fat.
Instead of a 1:1 ratio, replace the butter with ¾ of the amount of oil. For example, if you need one cup of butter, use ¾ cup of oil.
If you are nervous about your cookies coming out a bit greasy, choose a recipe specifically designed for vegetable oil, or reduce the ratio to half the amount of oil.
When using oil in cookies, you don’t need to grease your cookie trays or baking pans – the oil in the batter will prevent your cookies from sticking.
Cookies made with vegetable oil are wonderfully soft and moist, have a puffy shape and a delightfully crumb-like texture.
How To Make Cookies With Nut Butter
Nut butters, including the ever-popular peanut butter, are helpful substitutes for butter in cookie baking. In fact, many recipes for flourless cookies also include nut butter as an ingredient rather than ordinary butter.
Nut butters contain far less fat than butter, making them healthier, as they also pack a protein punch but are still high in calories. However, being 50% fat to butter’s 80% fat means that you need to combine nut butter with another fat (such as coconut oil) to replace butter in a cookie recipe.
Use half nut butter, half coconut oil to replace your butter. For instance, if your recipe lists one cup of butter, replace it with half a cup of peanut butter combined with half a cup of coconut oil.
You would only use a nut butter if you were making a cookie that could handle a nutty flavor: think of choc chip cookies or oatmeal and raisin cookies, not snickerdoodles.
Experiment with alternative nut butters, like almond, cashew, or macadamia butter, to add a delicious flavor to your cookies. Because these butters are naturally sweet, you can also reduce the amount of sugar in your cookies.
How To Make Cookies Without Butter – Use Fruit or Vegetables
It sounds a bit crazy to say that you could use mashed or pureed fruit or vegetables instead of butter in a recipe, but you can, with tasty and healthy results.
Skip these substitutes if you are after a crisp cookie, like shortbread, as the texture of your cookie will be softer and with a cake-like crumb. Or, use half the amount of fruit or vegetable puree and half coconut oil.
How to Make Cookies With Avocado
Avocados are very rich in heart-healthy fats, vitamins B, C, and K, and fiber, making a wonderfully nutritious butter substitute when making cookies. Use equal amounts of mashed or pureed avocado to replace your butter.
The only issue with using avocado is that your cookies might have a slightly greenish tinge – you can’t taste the avocado at all. To avoid the odd color, use avocado when making chocolate cookies so the luscious brown hides the hint of green.
How to Make Cookies With Pumpkin
Pumpkin puree is not only good for pies – it makes a handy butter substitute as well. Pumpkin will act as a fat and add a delightful sweetness to your cookies: it goes well with gingersnaps. The substitution ratio for pumpkin is 1:3/4, so for one cup of butter, use ¾ cup pumpkin puree.
You can use butternut, hubbard squash, or ordinary pumpkin. Just remember that using pumpkin will turn your cookies orange – great for Halloween!
How to Make Cookies With Sweet Potato
Cooked, pureed sweet potato is another excellent butter substitute, which adds both moisture and sweetness to your cookies. Sweet potato is nutritious and naturally sweet, so it is a good choice. Substitute one cup of butter with ¾ cup sweet potato.
How to Make Cookies With Applesauce
Smooth applesauce is an excellent choice if you want to reduce fat and sugar in a recipe – it is a seriously low-calorie alternative to butter. Applesauce is a perfect substitute when making sugar cookies because of its tart sweetness.
Use half the amount of applesauce to replace your butter: for a recipe that requires a half a cup of butter, use a generous quarter cup of applesauce. However, this substitution can leave your cookies slightly dry, so combine applesauce with another substitute as well.
For example, use half a cup of applesauce and half a cup of buttermilk to replace a cup of butter.
How To Make Cookies With Bananas
Mashed banana is also a suitable butter replacement, adding vitamins and fiber as well as moisture to your cookies. However, the banana flavor will come through, so only use this substitute for those who enjoy a slightly banana-breadish cookie.
Cookies made with bananas will also be a little denser and less crunchy than those made with butter. One banana is roughly equivalent to one stick of butter.
How To Make Cookies With Prunes
Another butter alternative that is also a sugar alternative is prune puree. Either cook your own or use jarred baby food. Substitute ¾ cup of prunes for 1 cup of butter.
Prune puree will change the color of your cookies to dark brownish purple, so it’s best used in chocolate cookies.
How To Make Cookies Without Butter – Substitution Ratios
|Ghee||1:1||1 cup butter = 1 cup ghee|
|Yogurt||1:1||1 cup butter = 1 cup yogurt|
|Buttermilk||1:1/2||1 cup butter = ½ cup buttermilk|
|Shortening||1:1||1 cup butter = 1 cup shortening|
|Coconut oil||1:1||1 cup butter = 1 cup coconut oil|
|Vegetable oil||1:3/4||1 cup butter = ¾ cup vegetable oil|
|Nut butter||1:1/2 (+ coconut oil)||1 cup butter = ½ cup nut butter + ½ cup coconut oil|
|Avocado||1:1||1 cup butter = 1 cup avocado|
|Pumpkin, sweet potato||1:3/4||1 cup butter = ¾ cup pumpkin|
|Applesauce||1:1/2 (+ buttermilk)||1 cup butter = ½ cup applesauce + ½ cup buttermilk|
|Banana||1:1||1 cup butter = 1 cup mashed banana|
|Prune puree||1:3/4||1 cup butter = ¾ cup prune puree|
To make cookies without butter, choose a butter-less cookie recipe, such as traditional Italian cookies, like biscotti, or meringue-style cookies, like macarons.
However, you can also make cookies without butter by substituting the butter with another vegetable-based fat, such as vegetable or coconut oil, or replace the butter with a fruit or vegetable puree, such as avocado or applesauce.
However, be sure to use the substitute ingredient in the right ratio, as not all butter substitutes can be replaced in the same amount as butter.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.