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Baking Substitutions For Dairy Free Desserts

red velvet cake

I love baking non-dairy desserts.  Most recipes I come across are dairy, though.  So I challenge myself to develop perfect non-dairy versions. Sometimes turning a recipe from dairy to dairy-free is as simple as replacing the butter with margarine.  But unfortunately, that doesn’t always work.  When developing a recipe, I never start from scratch.  I always take an existing, tried and true, recipe and tweak it.  I try to look for recipes that don’t need too much changing.  I prefer to try and change two ingredients or less.  For example, if a recipe calls for butter, milk, and sour cream, I usually stay away from it.

General Substitutions

In order to tweak a recipe, you always need to replace the dairy ingredient with an equivalent non-dairy ingredient.

  • Butter is a fat so it needs to be replaced with another fat like margarine, vegetable shortening or oil.
  • Milk can usually be substituted with soy milk.
  • Buttermilk has a little zing to it so it should be substituted with an equal amount of soy milk plus a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice.
  • Sour cream should be replaced with an equal amount of tofutti sour cream.


Here is my usual cookie process.  If a cookie recipe calls for butter, I try replacing it with an equal amount of margarine.  Sometimes it works out and I do a little cheer!  If the cookies spread too much, I will chill the dough sufficiently before baking and try again.  If the cookies still spread too much I start over.  This time I replace the butter with half margarine and half vegetable shortening.  Vegetable shortening is a little more solid at room temperature than margarine so it usually helps to give cookies a nice shape.


For cake batter I usually replace butter with equal amounts of margarine or vegetable oil.  Since cake gets baked in a pan, I don’t worry about it holding its shape in the oven.  The milk gets replaced with soy milk.  I usually have success with most recipes.

Challenges and My New Secret Weapon

My toughest challenge is tackling yellow cake.  I have yet to develop the perfect non-dairy yellow cake recipe.  I’ve come close but I’m still not satisfied with the results.  Butter and milk are really the main ingredients giving dairy yellow cake its perfect flavor and texture.  The one trick I have up my sleeve is pudding mix.  I tried adding a packet of instant vanilla pudding mix to my typical non-dairy recipe and was so pleased!  Then I started wondering what other recipes would be improved with pudding mix.

I added a packet of instant vanilla pudding mix to my classic chocolate chip cookie recipe and I got a fluffy, cake-like cookie.  The pudding mix seems to stabilize the cookies and retain the moisture.  I already have a perfect non-dairy chocolate cake recipe but it yields a pretty soft cake.  I need a firmer cake for stacking tiered cakes.  I added a packet of chocolate pudding mix and voila!  Magic ingredient!  I am hoping that instant pudding mix will work in many more recipes because the biggest struggle in changing a recipe from dairy to lactose free is keeping the texture.  If pudding mix can help with that, then I will be a very happy baker.  My secret is out!

Here is an example of how I converted a recipe for Red Velvet Cake.

You can see that all I had to do was replace the buttermilk with soy milk and extra vinegar. The results were fantastic. Enjoy the full recipe for my Non Dairy Red Velvet Cake.