Substituting for Milk in Baking/Cooking (Part 2: Non-Dairy Cream, Butter, Yogurt, Buttermilk, cream cheese, and Cheese)

Hello, again! I hope you all enjoyed my last post on non-dairy milks! Today we will be discussing how to substitute for additional dairy ingredients in recipes, including cream/heavy whipping cream, butter, yogurt, buttermilk, cream cheese, and cheese. I have a lot of information to cover in this post, so I will be keeping today’s intro brief. If after reading through this post, you have any questions, or anything you would like to add, please leave a comment at the bottom of the post. Now, let’s get started! ๐Ÿ™‚

*Note: All substitutions should be used at a 1:1 ratio, unless otherwise noted. This means you should use equal amounts of your non-dairy substitute when swapping out for a dairy ingredient. For example, if a recipe calls for 1c milk, you should substitute 1c non-dairy milk.*


Substitutions for Cream, Heavy Whipping Cream, and Whipped Cream:

  • Coconut Cream: Cream is a surprisingly simple ingredient to substitute for in a recipe. My absolute favorite non-dairy alternative for cream is canned coconut cream. Coconut cream is very rich and creamy (similar in texture and consistency to heavy cream), and most brands do not have a strong coconut flavor, making this an excellent option for cooking. I have used coconut cream to make soups, sauces, and curries, and even people who regularly consume dairy swear they cannot tell these foods are dairy free! It can sometimes be difficult to find coconut cream specifically, but no worries! It is actually extremely easy to get coconut cream from canned coconut milk. This is good to know, as coconut milk is generally much easier to find. To do this, simply take a can of full fat coconut milk (it has to be full fat), and put it in the refrigerator. I like to let it sit overnight, but you can usually get away with letting it sit in the fridge for just a few hours. After the coconut milk has had some time to cool, open your can up. You should see a thick, somewhat solid, substance at the top of the can. Scoop this out and use it to replace cream in any recipe. After removing the cream, you may use the coconut water that is left in the can for other things. Some people like to drink it as is, but I think it is yummiest in smoothies! *Depending on how much cream you need, it may be necessary to use more than one can of coconut milk. For reference, one 15 oz can of coconut milk will yield approximately 5-8 oz of coconut cream, sometimes more or less.*
  • Coconut Milk: If you don’t have time to chill your coconut milk, or you want a lighter, leaner option, you may use coconut milk instead of coconut cream. Coconut milk will result in a thinner consistency in soups and sauces, but it is still yummy! When baking, I recommend using refrigerated coconut milk, and when cooking, I recommend using canned coconut milk. in both instances, I recommend using unsweetened coconut milk, unless you specifically want a sweeter than typical finished product.
  • Coconut and Soy based coffee creamers: While these are available in powdered form, in this instance I am referring to the liquid creamers (available in both refrigerated and shelf stable. These are typically sweet, so I recommend using them in desserts and sweets, but not when cooking or baking savory items. As they are sweet, you may want to cut back on the sugar inย  your recipe. Some stores also offer dairy free creamers in assorted flavors, such as vanilla or Hazelnut. If you can find these, they could add a fun twist to your baking! These are also great options for coffee drinkers that are looking for an easy way to add flavor to their morning cup o’ joe.

*Note: Be careful with non-dairy creamers. While there are a lot of safe coffee creamers for people with dairy allergies, many (especially powdered creamers), that are labeled “non-dairy” actually contain casein and caseinates (milk proteins and milk derivatives). These ARE NOT SAFE for individuals with milk allergies. Always read labels carefully, and do not assume anything is safe, just because it says “non-dairy” on the package.*

  • Coconut and Soy Based Whipped Creams: These can be easily substituted for whipped cream in any recipe. They make an excellent addition to pies, sorbets, smoothies, and other desserts. They are also delicious in coffee. I often add a spoonful of coconut whipped cream to my coffee, and the result is similar in taste and consistency to a latte. As these tend to be very sweet, I do not recommend using them in lieu of cream for anything other than desserts and sweet beverages. The only downside with these, is that they can sometimes be difficult to find. Luckily, more and more grocery store chains have started carrying them.


Substituting for Butter or Margarine

  • Vegan butter/Dairy Free Margarine: As I mentioned in a previous post, when our family first eliminated dairy, there wasn’t much in our area to be found in the way of dairy-free products. Luckily, a lot has changed since then and we can now find Dairy-free butter substitutes at most grocery stores in our area, including Walmart, Kroger, Target, and Meijer. If you can find them, these are the products I most highly recommend for using in place of butter. Earth Balance is my favorite brand, offering a variety of options, including Vegan, Soy Free, and organic. You can purchase it in stick form, as well as in tubs. I prefer the sticks for baking (due to convenience, and ease of use), but they do taste slightly different from the tub version (the taste difference is not noticeable when baked). For this reason, I use the tub version for everything else. Dairy-free margarines are usually derived from a combination of coconut, palm, olive, and/or flax oils. If using a margarine that contains flax oil (such as Earth Balance Vegan), you should be aware that flax has a slightly lower burning point than most other cooking oils. For this reason, I recommend stirring frequently when cooking with a margarine that contains flax oil, and I do not recommend using it if the oil will be directly in contact with high heat for an extended period of time (such as when it has been used to grease a pan, or when making a roux). If you are mixing the butter with other ingredients (such as in a cake) the predisposition to burn should not be an issue.

*Butter substitutes are among the only milk substitutes I do not always recommend using at a 1:1 ratio. The oil content in Dairy free margarine can be much higher than in actual butter. When cooking you can often get away with equal amounts of substitute, but baking can be a lot trickier. If a recipe calls for melted butter, use equal amounts of Dairy-free margarine. If a recipe calls for softened or cold butter, use slightly less than the amount called for. The exact amount you use will depend on what exactly you are baking. Cookie recipes, you can usually get away with 75%-100% of the amount called for. Same with cakes. In something that has a greater ratio of oil to dry ingredients (such as brownies), I recommend starting with half as much butter as the recipe calls for, and increasing in the future, if necessary. Unfortunately, this type of substitution can be highly variable, and will take some degree of trial and error.


  • Cooking oils (Coconut, Olive, Soybean, Canola, etc):ย Before I discovered Dairy-free butter, I always subbed butter for cooking oils. Olive oil has always been a favorite of mine. While not always as flavorful as Vegan butter, these can still make excellent substitutes for butter. They are readily available in most stores, and many (such as olive and coconut) may offer unique health benefits. If using coconut oil, I recommend the cold pressed, non-fractionated variety (these oils are solid at room temperature, and melt when exposed to heat). As with Dairy-free margarine, you will want to use slightly less oil than the amount of butter you are substituting for, in order to avoid too much oil in your finished product.
  • Vegetable based shortenings:ย Shortening may be used in place of butter in baked goods, but if you go this route, I recommend buying a good quality, organic shortening. Personally, I do not use shortening often, but many others swear by it. I do occasionally use shortening when making frosting, as the colorless nature of shortening will produce a bright white decorating frosting when added to confectioner’s sugar. Generally, though, I prefer Vegan butter even when making frosting, as I feel it imparts a significantly better flavor.


Dairy-free Yogurt

  • Coconut, Soy, Almond, and Pea Based Yogurts:ย There are so many dairy-free yogurt options nowadays, made from a variety of non-dairy milks, including coconut, almond, soy, and pea based. Out of them all, coconut milk yogurt is my favorite (in case you guys haven’t noticed yet, I’m a big fan of coconut based products), but again this is a matter of individual preference. There are so many flavors available for Dairy free yogurts, depending on the type and brand you decide to go with. The last time I went to the store, I came home with all sorts of yummy flavors, including chocolate, pineapple, key lime pie, strawberry-banana, peach, and blueberry! These yogurts are delicious on their own, but they also make an excellent addition to desserts and smoothies. You can also bake with them! If you have a recipe that calls for yogurt, try substituting plain (unsweetened) dairy free yogurt.
  • Applesauce:ย Did you know you can substitute applesauce for yogurt in a recipe? Applesauce is an incredibly versatile ingredient, and can be used in place of yogurt, oil, or eggs. I do not recommend using it too much in the same recipe, though. If you are already using applesauce as a substitute for one ingredient, hold off on using it to replace another, if possible.


Substituting for Buttermilk

  • Believe it or not, the first time I made dairy free buttermilk, it was completely by accident! I was making a lemon cake and just happened to put my coconut milk in my mixing bowl immediately before the fresh squeezed lemon juice. Imagine my surprise when my milk began to curdle right before my eyes! If you would like to try your hand at making your own “buttermilk” here’s how!

Non-dairy Buttermilk Recipe

*yields aprox. 1c of “Buttermilk”

  1. Add one cup non-dairy milk to a bowl.
  2. Add EITHER one tablespoon fresh lemon juice or one tablespoon vinegar (white or apple cider) to the non-dairy milk. Gently stir, to combine.
  3. Allow this mixture to rest at room temperature until the milk begins to curdle (this process usually only takes a moment, but may take up to ten minutes.
  4. Use in place of buttermilk in your favorite recipes, stirring once immediately before use.


Dairy-free Cheeses

  • Cheese slices, shreds, and blocks: Nine times out of ten, when I tell people that our family is dairy free I get a reaction along the lines of, “What?! How awful! I could never live without cheese! You poor thing!” To this, I usually respond, “We’ll actually, we eat a lot of dairy free cheese. It’s really quite tasty!” This is most often met with a skeptical look from the other party, immediately followed by an expression that suggests they have a bad taste in their mouth (presumably the result of trying to imagine what “fake” cheese tastes like). Truly, there are a lot of excellent cheese options for Dairy free folks, nowadays! There are so many brands with different ingredients, so I recommend you try more than one. You may not like one particular brand, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like another! Also, if you have tried dairy free cheese in the past, and didn’t care for it, them I highly recommend trying again! Many of the most popular brands have drastically changed their recipes over the past year, and the results have been very yummy! As far as options go, there are a lot! Most dairy free cheeses are made from soy, coconut oil, coconut milk, pea protein, almond milk, and/or potato starch. They are available in blocks, slices, and shreds, and include varieties such as cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, American, Havarti, pepper jack, Gouda, and Provolone. Not surprisingly, my favorites are the cheeses that are coconut milk or coconut oil based (such as Soups Delicious, Daiya, and Follow Your Heart). Cooking with dairy free cheese is pretty straightforward. The only thing that is sometimes a little different the way the cheese sometimes melts. You can achieve both melt and stretch with dairy free cheeses, but it can sometimes take longer for nondairy cheese to melt. Some brands also melt from the inside out, meaning it may not look melted, but in actuality, it is!

*Note: While most cheeses labeled “non-dairy” are truly non-dairy, there are some cheeses that despite being labeled this way, actually contain casein or caseinates (milk derivatives). As always, I recommend reading all ingredient labels thoroughly, even if at a glance at product seems safe.*

  • Cream Cheese: While I have yet to find a cream cheese substitute that tastes exactly like dairy cream cheese, the non-dairy cheeses are getting better all the time. Currently, there are two main types of dairy-free cream cheese: Tofu (soy) based and coconut based . Daiya also has chive and onion and strawberry flavored varieties available, at some locations. When used in baking and cooking, Dairy free cream cheeses can impart a mild cheesy flavor to whatever they are used in. I find that more often than not, they also taste very different when heated, or melted into something, as opposed to the way the taste when eaten cold. In our house, dairy free cream cheeses are a staple for mashed potatoes and casseroles.

Now that you have had a chance to read about the aforementioned substitutes for dairy, here is a list of a few great dairy free products that I use and recommend:

          1. Thai Kitchen Coconut Cream
          1. So Delicious Dairy Free Coconutmilk Creamer, Original
          1. So Delicious Dairy Free Barista Style Coconut Milk Creamer French Vanilla (1 QT)
          1. So Delicious Dairy Free Coconut Milk Coffee Creamer, Hazelnut
          1. So Delicious Dairy Free Cocowhip Lite
          1. Pompeian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
          1. Spectrum Naturals Organic Shortening
          1. So Delicious Dairy Free Coconut Milk Yogurt, Unsweetened Vanilla
          1. Silk Cultured Soy Blueberry Yogurt
          1. So Delicious Dairy Free Coconut Milk Yogurt, Strawberry Banana
          1. Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds
          1. Daiya Provolone Style Cheese Slices
          1. Follow Your Heart American Style cheese slices
          1. Daiya Plain Cream Cheese Style Spread
          1. Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese

*NOTE: Please check (and double check) any and all labels before you consume a new product if you (or your child) has a food allergy, and if necessary call the relevant manufacturer to confirm that the product is safe for you (or your child) to consume. Please consult your (or your child’s) Dr. before making any dietary changes. While I hope that all of you reading this will find the information I have supplied above to be helpful, this information is not intended to in any way replace, or supersede, the care and advice of your allergist, nutritionist, dietician, or other medical professional.


That’s all for now! Thank you for taking the time to read my post. Did you learn anything new from the suggestions above? Is there anything you would like to add (perhaps a tried and true substitution I failed to mention? Either way, comments are welcome in the section below this post, and I look forward to hearing from you guys! Be sure to check back soon to learn all about baking and cooking substitutions for wheat!


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Great tips and helpful advice – thanks for sharing! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are very welcome! Thank you for reading ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for posting this great content! I especially appreciate the tips on making allergy friendly buttermilk…I have wondered how to make dairy-free buttermilk…will try your recipe at some point! ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m glad to hear it! I have a list a mile long of recipes I plan on sharing soon. I hope you will find them helpful as well! ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. This is brilliant, so many useful tips thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! ๐Ÿ˜Š


  3. Jayne says:

    Really useful summary – thank you. Two of my husband’s granddaughters are allergic (anaphylactic) to both milk proteins AND eggs (and one of them to all types of pulse and potatoes, which rules out using a lot of things like egg replacer). The last 10 years have been a rollercoaster of culinary triumphs and disasters. But we’ve seen huge progress in the amount of dairy/egg-free stuff available and the two mums and I are getting pretty good at the recipes now.

    I find lemon juice and vinegar to be so useful – like you, I add it to non-dairy milk to make buttermilk for breads and muffins, and I add a little to a cake recipe (only a teaspoon or so) which it makes the baking powder extra efficient – pretty useful when you don’t have an egg helping with the rise, and you can’t taste it with all the other stuff going on.

    I’ve also found tinned custard powder (eg Birds) to be such a useful thing (do you get that in the US?) I make it up using cashew or rice milk, but doubling the powder quantity (but keep the sugar quantity the same) so that you get a really thick custard, and adding a little extra vanilla extract (or other flavour of your choice – elderflower is delicious). Chill it in the fridge then add a little whisked soy cream – it makes a passable (though not quite set) ‘creme patissiere’ for tarts, or it can be mixed with roasted soft fruits to make a summer fool.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Jayne, for your response! I haven’t heard of Birds (I don’t think we have anything comparable here in the U.S), but it sounds like a wonderful product! I will have to see if I can find anything similar to that here.

      Also, I will be doing a post on replacing eggs in baking and cooking soon. I would love to get your thoughts on it when I do! I will make sure to include some potato free options.

      I imagine potato is a very difficult allergen to avoid, as it’s in so many of the foods that cater to other allergies (especially dairy, wheat, and egg free products). It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job managing your granddaughters’ allergies, though! They are very lucky to have such an understanding and resourceful grandmother ๐Ÿ™‚


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