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Is there a decent substitute for butter in baked goods?

  • l

Years ago, I developed a wonderful challah recipe that uses butter in the dough, about 1/4 cup of butter to 4 or 5 cups of flour. I like butter in bread dough because it adds flavor and moisture, and it extends the keeping quality of the bread.

I am invited to somebody's house who is more strictly kosher than I am, so I must make a pareve challah. That means I have to replace the butter with something non-dairy. I thought about a neutral oil, such as safflower. I also thought about margarine.

Being a butter-lover, I am totally unfamiliar with the margarine market these days. Are there any credible margarines that taste fine in baked goods, or should I just stick with a vegetable oil? I don't want to add extra egg yolks, because I don't like challah that's too eggy.

Advice is appreciated!

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  1. is lard an option? it's supposed to be the best for texture in many baked goods.

    otherwise, why not look up a recipe for a pareve challah? see what others recommend...

    4 Replies
    1. re: hobokeg

      I hope the suggestion of lard was intended in (weird) jest...lard is not kosher.


      My favorite margarine is Olivio (which has actually come ahead of butter in certain Cooks Illustrated taste tests for certain uses), but it is not pareve because it has some residual dairy solids (which is probably why I like it).

      1. re: Karl S

        no, i didn't know it wasn't kosher, honestly.

        1. re: hobokeg

          Lard is pork fat. The ban on use of pork with in kosher cooking is one of the better known restrictions. The problem with butter derives from a less known prohibition on mixing dairy with meat and eggs. I believe the underlying restriction is something about not cooking a kid with its mother's milk. However, this is an outsider's understanding of the practices, so I may be wrong on the details. Complicating matters is the fact that there multiple levels of strictness.

          I wonder if this question would have gotten better responses in the Kosher section.


          1. re: paulj

            thanks. i'm pretty familiar with the laws of kishrut. i think i was confusing lard with suet.

    2. If you want to go with your recipe, I'd suggest a pareve margarine such as Fleischmann's. If you don't want to go the margarine route, there are many oil-based challah recipes around.

      My favorite is linked below. I usually use canola oil but a flavorful olive oil lends a very nice flavor and texture. Last night's dough is in the refrigerator right now, ready to be shaped this morning.

      Link: http://doctor-mama.livejournal.com/66...

      4 Replies
      1. re: doctor_mama
        Bride of the Juggler

        There are surprisingly few pareve margarines, so read the labels carefully. That said, I would probably use olive oil instead of margarine. I always used regular vegetable oil in challah growing up. Thank you.

        1. re: Bride of the Juggler

          Yes. I use Fleischmann's unsalted.

          1. re: doctor_mama

            Yes, I was raised on it--until discovered how the glories of butter--and think that's it's one of the better tasting margarines.

        2. re: doctor_mama

          I love challah bread. I'm so glad your posted your kosher recipe. The recipe I use (Puck's) does have eggs, and milk. So far it's the only recipe I've used, and it's pretty good. I am not Jewish, but always open to trying something new. I'm so glad you posted your kosher recipe, I will try it once the weather cools for five seconds.

        3. Why not just use Crisco? It's kosher, at least per the (not very p.c.) website for the product. And you can sub Crisco for butter pretty much one for one in recipes.

          Link: http://www.crisco.com/recipes/celebra...

          6 Replies
          1. re: DanaB

            Whatever you can say for or against margarine, a decent one tastes WAY better than Crisco.

            1. re: MikeG

              I don't know about that, it must be personal taste, because I can always tell when margarine is in something, but Crisco is kind of flavorless. And whatever else you might want to say about it, you can make a perfectly fine flakey pie crust with Crisco.

              1. re: MikeG

                But any extra taste in margarine is likely to come from milk solids.


                1. re: paulj

                  Good point - that occurred to me well after I'd posted since I so rarely eat margarine.

                  The more I think about it, the more I think there really is no way out of the quandary if it must be parve - one of the things that makes trying to produce good parve baked goods other than basic bread and rolls an exercise in futility...

                  1. re: MikeG

                    Now hold on just one second. I'm not kosher but much of my family is and I was raised in a kosher home. We ate LOTS of EXTREMELY delicious homemade pareve baked goods - made with margarine, vegetable oil, whatever. I'm not saying that these things wouldn't maybe have been better with butter, but it is not an exercise in futility to try to bake tasty pareve things.

                    In fact, when you look at some of the truly nasty things that we all eat - yes ALL of us - a home-baked cake or bread made with margarine or whatnot is so much superior that there is simply no comparison. Packaged cookies. Cake mixes. Crapola galore. It is totally unfair to say you can't bake well without dairy ingredients. A good cook can make delicious food out of the most pathetic ingredients, if absolutely necessary. Let's not get all high falutin' here.

                    I don't mean to snipe at anyone in particular, but I think we need some perspective here. The OP asked what to use instead of butter in a recipe - I'd wager that 9 out of 10 of us couldn't tell what it was made with if we didn't know. No, I don't use margarine myself. My husband uses it sometimes because he's lactose intolerant. And, yes, I occasionally have to use it in baking if I need to bring a pareve item to a family dinner. It can be done.

                    1. re: Nyleve

                      I agree with you, Nyleve. I was especially surprised at how soundly rejected my suggestion of Crisco was. It's pareve, and you can make a good pie crust with it, for sure. It's a reliable substitute for butter. People who are going whole foods have problems with it because it's got trans fats, but geez, it's become like lard used to be. It's not going to kill you.

                      But whatever. Let them, with their absolutism, think what they want and discourage people from trying to bake with fats other than butter, despite the dairy limitation.

                      I'm all about the chowhound mentality of making the very best tasting thing, with the very best ingredients, but in this case, butter was excluded. So telling somebody, no, you can't make good challah without butter was kind of unhelpful.

            2. I have no idea if it is Kosher, but if it is coconut oil makes a decent butter substitute in baking. It has surprisingly little flavor, so you won't end up with challah that tastes like coconut. Spectrum makes it and Trader Joes also sells it - in jars.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Junie D

                Also available in Indian grocery stores.

              2. No, I don't think so. The only tasty substitute for butter in baked goods that I know if is other animal fats (lard or suet) and it doesn't sound like those are good choices.

                Fake fats, such as Crisco, generally produce a better texture than margarine but it won't have that flavor. Margarine has no qualities to recommend it.

                Perhaps you could buy the challah as a lost cause and focus on a non-dairy dessert such an olive oil cake?

                1. For the small amount of butter that's probably in the recipe, definitely use pareve margarine. Of course it won't have the exact same flavour of butter but it's certainly preferable to Crisco or vegetable oil. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that even in a side-by-side comparison you won't be able to tell which challah has butter and which margarine.

                  I am not a margarine user - don't get me wrong - but under the circumstances it's the best choice.

                    1. Just diagnosed completely lactose intolerant, must strictly avoid all dairy products unless labelled lactose-free. Feeling very sorry for myself as I'm a real foodie, love to cook and especially bake. Cooking's not a problem, margarine should work fine in place of butter, but what I want to know is how can I tell which types of baked goods I can substitute margarine for butter without having to go by trial and error and risk messing up a recipe and wasting food. Can I use it in all cookies? In cakes? Frostings? Any solid advice would be great - I haven't baked in weeks and baking is my therapy, so I'm slowly losing my grip on reality (kidding).

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: hoary bat

                          Hi HB,

                          Here's a link to a post I put up a while back for a great pumpkin pie without dairy:

                          Let me know if you want any other lactose-free recipes. I also have a terrific chocolate cake.

                          Good luck!

                          1. I like to use Smart Balance in replace of butter when I cook/bake.
                            I think that it might contain whey though, I don't know how that would stand on being kosher..

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: beccabones

                              Regular Smart Balance does contain whey, but Organic doesn't. I used Organic Smart Balance when I needed to follow a dairy free diet.

                              From http://www.smartbalance.com/ButterOrg...

                              *ORGANIC INGREDIENTS

                              1. re: Chris VR

                                Yeah, I knew some of them were completely dairy free... I just couldn't remember which one's.

                                1. re: beccabones

                                  Organic Coconut Oil is a much purer ingredient; please give it a try!
                                  Though coconut oil is a saturated fat, and like all fats, should be used in moderation, its health benefits are unique and remarkable. Unrefined, organic coconut oil is 50 percent medium-chain fatty acids, which the body funnels towards metabolism for energy, rather than adipose tissue (fat stores). Most extraordinarily, it contains lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid (also found in breast milk), which enhances brain function and boosts immunity. Coconut oil is one of the few significant plant sources of this amazing compound! Unlike most oils, coconut oil also makes a great frying oil, able to withstand high-temperature cooking without becoming unstable and forming toxic trans-fatty acids. Additionally, since coconut oil is solid at room temperature, if desired, one can use it in place of shortening, lard or butter in pastries and the like – simply reduce the fat measurement by about 20 percent. Store coconut oil in a cool, dark place.

                              2. re: beccabones

                                The water in Smart Balance makes it tricky to bake with.

                                We spread Smart balance organic and bake with Mothers margerine

                              3. Look out for some butter flavored crisco. I dont keep Kosher but I believe it is an all-vegetable product. My mother uses it in pie dough sometimes - I would say it is acceptable and gives a somewhat yellow color and a buttery flavor

                                worth a try, anyway.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: jen kalb

                                  I was surprised to see Shirley Corriher recommend it in Cookwise - I tried it when it first came out and didn't like it, but that was quite a while ago and the company has probabaly fiddled with the flavor since then, if the eminently trustable Corriher uses it.

                                  1. re: buttertart

                                    I laughed at it myself, especially the color - not too much of an improvement over her usual all-Crisco crust - with which she won multi blue ribbons for her pies at the Ohio State Fair during my teenage years - I much prefer a mixture of butter and crisco, but for someone with as few options as the OP it would have to be worth a try.

                                2. I don't know if you are still looking two years later, but I've never had a dairy challah only pareve and this is my go-to recipe. Gil Marks' Eier Challah. It's never failed for me, and I've made it for years.


                                  1. Has anyone tried the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter for Baking"? Fairly new product here in Texas, altho' it may have been on the shelves in other parts of the country. I haven't personally tried it because I'm a butter freak, but if you need to bake kosher, it might work.