Substitutes for Butter When Baking Cookies

Savvy cooks don't have to skip out on cookies and other indulgent treats while trying to protect their heart health or their waistlines. You can learn tricks to transform recipes with a butter substitute for cookies. These tips aren't just for the health- or weight-conscious.

Margarine can be used for butter replacement in baking.
Credit: Claudia Totir/Moment/GettyImages

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.

Read more: How to Replace Butter for Coconut Oil in Baking

Butter Alternatives for Cookies: 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 your baking. It is made from plant sources, not animal sources, which means true margarine has more heart-healthy unsaturated fat and no cholesterol.

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, as advised by Colorado State University Extension.

Make sure to read the product label carefully because not all stick or tub butter substitutes are real margarine. Look for the word "margarine" instead of "butter substitute" or "vegetable oil spread."

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

Make It Healthier: 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, as advised by 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.

Fats help create part of the chemical reaction that makes cookies their best. 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.

Add Some Oil

The fat component of butter is really all you need to provide the chemical reactions that take place in your baked goods; the buttery flavor just adds a tasty bonus. You can substitute liquid cooking oils as a butter replacement in your cookies or use virgin coconut oil.

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.

Read more: Healthy Substitute for Heavy Cream

Skip fat-free or low-fat margarine or butter substitutes, because these products don't hold up the same as other fats, don't hold their bulk like fruit purees and will likely destroy your cookies' texture.

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