5 Substitutes for Butter When Baking Cookies

If you find yourself in the middle of baking but don't have butter, don't panic — just turn to this guide.
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Savvy cooks don't have to skip out on cookies and other tasty treats while trying to protect their health. You can learn tricks to transform recipes with a butter substitute for cookies.

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These tips aren't just for the health- or weight-conscious. Any time you're in the mood to bake but are short on butter — or if you're looking to make your cookies a little healthier — you can use a substitute.

1. Margarine

Margarine can be used for butter replacement in baking. It tastes similar to butter and contains fat like butter, but it may offer you some health advantages when you use it in your baking.

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Margarine is made from plants, not animal sources, which means true margarine has more heart-healthy unsaturated fat and no cholesterol, according to the Mayo Clinic.

You can replace all of the butter in your baking with margarine or just replace some. Substitute margarine for butter in equal amounts — use 1 cup of margarine if your recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, per the Colorado State University Extension.

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Tip

Avoid those that list hydrogenated oils in the ingredients, as these types of margarine contain unhealthy trans fats. Stick margarine is more likely to contain trans fats than soft margarine, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

2. Applesauce and Other Fruit Purees

Fruit purees provide bulk and flavor as a butter substitute in baking. Applesauce, mashed bananas, pureed dates, prunes or figs are just a few examples of nutritious, fibrous and low-fat butter substitutes.

To retain the true texture and preserve the flavor of your cookies, it's best to replace just half of the butter with pureed fruit, per the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Keep an eye on your cookies while they bake — using fruit can reduce your baking time by up to 25 percent.

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Experiment with a fat-to-puree ratio to find the balance that gives you the best taste and texture while still reducing the overall fat content.

3. Mashed Avocado

Avocado is technically a fruit, and it can work just as well as a butter substitute, according to California Avocado.

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Replace it in a one-to-one ratio and enjoy lower-calorie, softer, chewier cookies.

4. Oil

You can substitute liquid cooking oils as a butter replacement in your cookies or use virgin coconut oil. But note that coconut oil has more saturated fat than butter, per the USDA, so if your goal is to limit saturated fat, you'll want to choose a different type like olive oil or avocado oil.

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If the recipe calls for salted butter, you may want to add 1/2 teaspoon of salt per cup of butter, and when using oils, you should substitute 7/8 cup for each cup of butter, according to the Colorado State University Extension.

5. Plain Yogurt

If you have a bit of butter on hand — and your goal in swapping out butter isn't to eliminate dairy — you can sub in yogurt for some of the butter.

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Replacing some of the butter with yogurt will not only reduce the calories and fat in your cookies but also increase the protein and calcium, according to the Michigan State University Extension. Opt for plain yogurt, and choose Greek-style yogurt for even more protein and an especially creamy texture.

When you're baking, use 1/4 cup of yogurt and 1/2 cup of butter where a recipe calls for 1 cup of butter, according to Michigan State University. This swap will cut about 366 calories and 46 grams of fat in your entire recipe.

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Tips for Replacing Butter

Subbing out any ingredient always comes with the risk that your cookies won't turn out as expected. But with a little bit of expertise, you have a better chance of success.

Here are some tips to follow for a better final product.

  • Add flavors:​ It's helpful to compensate for the lost buttery flavor by adding some extra cinnamon or vanilla (or another spice or extract of choice), according to the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE).
  • Go slow:​ If you're planning to swap out other ingredients, such as eggs or sugar, replace only one ingredient at a time, per the ICE. That way, if your finished product doesn't turn out as expected, you have a better idea of which substitution is the culprit.

Keep this chart on hand to help you with your butter substitutes when you're making healthy cookie modifications.

How to Substitute Butter in Cookies

Substitute

How to Use

Health Benefit

Margarine

In equal amounts (1 cup margarine for 1 cup butter)

Reduced saturated fat

Applesauce + oil

Replace butter with equal parts applesauce and oil of choice (1/2 cup applesauce + 1/2 cup oil = 1 cup of butter)

Reduced fat and calories

Mashed avocado

In equal amounts (1 cup mashed avocado for 1 cup butter)

Reduced saturated fat and added fiber

Oil

Use 7/8 cup for 1 cup of butter

Reduced saturated fat

Plain yogurt

Replace half the butter with a quarter amount of yogurt (1/4 cup yogurt + 1/2 butter = 1 cup of butter)

Reduced fat and calories; added protein and calcium

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