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Kids Want Sugar Cookies But You’re Out of Butter? Here’s How to Save the Day

Kids Want Sugar Cookies But You’re Out of Butter? Here’s How to Save the Day

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Between making pound cake regularly and testing buttercream icing recipes, I go through a lot of butter. And I mean a lot of it.

But my kids also go crazy for sugar cookies all year round.

Every now and then, I find myself in a pickle: Fresh out of butter and surrounded by an angry mob of kids who really want their chewy treats.

Here’s how I get by and make a batch of sugar cookies without butter!

5 Ways to Make Sugar Cookies When You’re Out of Butter

Bananas, yogurt, mayonnaise, pumpkin puree, and even hummus can all be used as butter substitutes. But for sugar cookies, the list of options is significantly narrowed down.

Here’s a quick overview of the popular alternatives and the hiccups to expect:

Substitute1:1 Swap Ratio?Main Drawback
Sunflower oilYes, but only for recipes that use melted butterNot as flavorful
Refined coconut oilYesNot as flavorful
MargarineYesLess healthy
ShorteningYes, but a bit less shortening is also okayNot as flavorful and changes the texture
GheeYesLacks the full buttery kick
Plant-Based ButterYesNot easy to come by
Homemade butter (made with heavy cream)YesRequires effort and not consistently good

If you’d still like some help choosing an alternative for your sugar cookie batch, you can check out this detailed breakdown:

1 – Use Oil (Preferably Not Olive Oil, Though)

Most oil types will keep the cookies moist, but not all of them will work flavor-wise.

I recommend neutral-tasting stuff, like sunflower oil or refined coconut oil. The key word here is “refined” because raw coconut oil will add a nutty scent and flavor.

Some folks go for extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) in their sugar cookie recipes. However, I think it’s a risky move—its taste and flavor are just too characteristic to miss in the finished batch.

Now, back to the vegetable oil substitution, where the swap ratio can be tricky.

If your original recipe calls for softened (but not melted) butter, a 1:1 ratio will leave you with too much liquid, potentially ruining the batter’s consistency. Instead, you’ll want to use ⅔ or ¾ a cup of oil for every cup of butter.

But if your recipe calls for melted butter sticks, you can go for a 1:1 swap.

Coconut oil, on the other hand, can solidify and soften a bit like butter. That’s why a 1:1 ratio will do the trick, either way.

2 – Throw in Some Margarine Instead

Margarine is mostly vegetable oil, so it’ll work as a replacement for butter in a 1:1 ratio. In fact, it might even work better than oils because you can cream it with sugar just like butter.

The catch?

Well, let me put it this way: Margarine isn’t the healthiest thing in the world—it has lots of trans fats.

You might want to avoid using this substitution for every batch of sugar cookies. Or maybe limit your serving size to a cookie or two.

3 – Shortening Will Do in a Pinch

Unlike butter and margarine, shortening doesn’t contain water. It’s just 100% fat.

Putting the nutrition aspect aside, it’s possible to use shortening in a 1:1 ratio in your sugar cookies recipe.

The cookies will come out thicker and more tender (thanks to the extra fat) but less flavorful than a batch made with butter, though.

To balance the texture, some recipes call for less shortening. Think around 90 g for every 110 g of unsalted butter.

4 – Give Ghee a Go

Ghee is basically butter sans the milk solids, which I thought would ruin the cookie texture.

Still, I tried replacing butter with an equal amount of ghee in an almond-flour sugar cookie recipe to see what would come out of it.

To my surprise, it turned out fine!

Side Note: If you want to make a perfect cookie with your ghee, I recommend trying ghorayebah instead.

5 – Make Your Own Butter

I know making butter at home sounds like a laborious task. But I promise you there’s little physical effort involved here.

Rather than manually churn butter with a plunger or a paddle like it’s the 1800s, you’ll use your mixer.

You also won’t have to leave milk undisturbed for a while just to skim its cream. A couple of cups of heavy cream will do.

How to Make Homemade Butter – Gemma’s Bold Baking Basics Ep 19

The general idea is to beat the heavy whipping cream in the mixer. As you beat the cream, you should notice it forming peaks before finally separating.

Once it’s separated, you’ll have solids (butter) and liquids (buttermilk).

That’s good buttermilk, so don’t throw it out! Just pour it into a container and use it later to make some frosting.

You can use a sieve or cheesecloth and “squeeze” the liquids out.

To make sure the butter is as rich as can be, whip the strained butter with a bit of ice-cold water for 10 seconds and strain again. You’ll repeat this until the water comes out clear.

All that’s left is to use the homemade butter in your sugar cookies recipe in a 1:1 ratio, of course.

Alternatively, some people take the more literal approach by mixing oil with water and milk to make homemade butter.

You see, store-bought butter is around 80% fat and 20% liquid. So, I can see the logic behind this approach, but I’d rather make a chunk of butter from heavy cream than do the math.

The Golden Tip for Using Butter Substitutes

If you look back at the alternatives, you’ll notice that almost all of them lack the richness of butter.

And you want this richness in your sugar cookies for the moisture, rise, crumb, and, most importantly, the flavor.

One hack that will help you mimic butter’s iconic taste is to use a few drops of artificial butter flavoring.

I know it’s not exactly a pantry stable, and you probably don’t have one at home right now. But it’s worth buying if you plan on making more no-butter sugar cookie batches later.

Salted Butter for Sugar Cookies: Yea or Nay?

Making sugar cookies with salted butter is entirely possible but not necessarily recommended (more details on the “why” later).

If you’re following a recipe that calls for unsalted butter, odds are, it also calls for salt as a separate ingredient to balance the sweetness.

To use salted butter instead, you can skip the salt or use a tiny portion of the listed amount.

That sounds good, doesn’t it? So, why do many people frown against baking cookies (or anything else, for that matter) with salted butter?

Well, it’s all about consistency and control.

The amount of salt added to the butter sticks varies from one brand to another. Sometimes, the amount is even doubled between brands!

This makes it particularly hard to share a recipe that people around the world can replicate.

So, cookbooks and baking blogs often find it easier to use unsalted butter and adjust the saltiness with a specific, measurable amount of table salt.

Final Thoughts

The safest way to make no-butter sugar cookies is to use refined coconut oil as your fat source. Just don’t forget to add a few drops of butter flavoring for an extra kick!

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