How to Substitute Dairy
Alright, so, today is Part 4 of the 5 part Series on Substituting Ingredients. Part 1 was Understanding Gluten Free Flours, Part 2 was How to Substitute Eggs, Part 3 was How to Substitute Sugar, and tomorrow will be the last instalment with How to Substitute Fats/ Oils. Nothing but love, peeps. I hope this helps in your baking- these bits and pieces I’ve gathered so far have totally been through trial and error and maaaan some expensive mistakes ( eugh.. I’m thinking of the time I spent like 20.00 on cashews and another 20.00 on ridiculous ingredients to make a casserole. Note to self. Ground cashews do NOT bake like a cream sauce. SO DISGUSTING. Hopefully I can save you from stuff like that). For more baking tips, visit the Helpful Resources section.
Ok Onwards…. Here is the stuff I’ve learned so far about substituting dairy in your baking. For the vegan or dairy-free bakers out there, please let me know if you have more tips to share!
HOW TO SUBSTITUTE MILK AND MILK PRODUCTS
When it comes to replacing milk, butter, or cream in a recipe, not everyone knows the complex role milk plays in the baking process. Milk causes a chemical reaction with baking powder/soda that non-dairy milks can’t achieve. When you replace milk, make sure to add to it 1-2 tsp of apple cider vinegar (Making something chocolate? Try balsamic vinegar). Butter replacements are a little more straightforward, and they are also discussed below… You’d be surprised at my suggestions for cream replacements :)
Almond milk tends to cause GF crumbs to hold together very well, and gives them some body. Unfortunately many almond milks contain stabilizers like soy lethicin or emulsifiers like xanthan gum or guar gum. Make sure to read the label, or you can make your own by soaking, blending and straining 1 cup blanched almonds with 4 cups hot water and your choice of sweetener (try molasses, honey, a tiny pinch of salt and a chai tea bag). If you want it thicker or creamier, use 2 cups water instead. Add 1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar when baking.
If you can’t find an almond milk without stabilizers, go for a rice milk without stabilizers. It will result in a less rich crumb, but still tasty. Add 1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar when baking.
Coconut milk is high and fat and therefore perfect for desserts, making vegan caramel, ice cream, hot chocolate, sweet sauces and chocolate desserts. Its best for sweet rather than savoury dishes, and lends a thick creamy dairy-like consistency to food. Because its so thick, it may not always be the best choice for lighter baked goods like cakes, although it might be worth a shot. Its a great substitute for cream. Make sure to check if there are emulsifiers in it- there often are. In baking add 1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar. If you want to make your own, I just found the coolest recipe for it. If you want to substitute sweetened condensed milk, use only the thick cream at the top of the container, reduce the water in it by simmering it for a few minutes, add a bare pinch of salt, 1 tsp of vanilla, and your preferred sweetener. (Thanks for the question Steph!)
For nut-free folks, you can now purchase flax milk (which I imagine will also be great for baking with the binding capacity!). If you try to make it at home, grab a handful of flax seeds, add to a high powered blender with some water, blend, and strain (add your preferred sweetener and a touch of salt).
Great for a little festive occasion, (I like it at Easter!), Pistachio milk has a terrific flavour and its great for desserts and to give yourself a little variety (sometimes I get a little tired of almond milk!). Pistachios are very creamy nuts so the blend really well- you just have to remember to take off their skins to eliminate any bitter flavour. Soak them over night in water, slip off the skins, and then add to a high powered blender with just barely enough water to cover them (or a touch less), some salt, and your favorite sweetener. Blend till its very fine/ pastey and add more water to get to your preferred consistency. Strain the remaining pieces out, and you may want to re-blend them for another batch.
Of all the dairy-free milks, this one comes the closest to tasting like real dairy milk. Unfortunately, its also the most expensive! However, for a special treat, once in a while its worth it. You’ll want to soak the macadamia nuts over night in water (make sure they’ve been blanched, otherwise, slip off the skins after soaking). Throw into a blender with just barely enough water to cover them (or a touch less), some salt, and your favorite sweetener. Blend till its very fine/ pastey and add more water to get to your preferred consistency. Strain the remaining pieces out, and you may want to re-blend them for another batch.
If you want non-dairy milk that’s thicker than rice milk but not nut-based, use hemp milk. Make sure its without stabilizers or preservatives, and add 1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar when baking. To make your own, soak hemp seed hearts for a few hours in water, then add to a high powered blender with a pinch of salt and your preferred sweetener. Strain the solid pieces, and serve.
Try using apple juice in your baking. It will result in a less ‘rich’ crumb, but will turn out pretty decent for most recipes. For added sweetness, use instead apple juice concentrate. It will also double the pectin. Just don’t forget the 1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar.
Making cashew milk is great if you don’t tolerate almonds or almond milk but still want a creamy dairy-like taste that results in a thicker crumb. Use 1 cup cashews soaked over night in water, then rinsed. Blend at high speed with 4 cups fresh water (use half for a cream substitute), and honey or agave to sweeten with a tiny pinch of salt. Strain if needed. If you want it thicker or creamier, use 2 cups water instead. This milk has a faintly sweet taste, and is less messy than making almond milk. In baking add 1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar.
Nut and seed butters work well to replace cream/ dairy in sauces, ice cream (keeps ice cream softer), making ‘cream’ soups, and other ‘cream based’ sauces. Tahini is the thinnest consistency but works well with chocolate desserts. Cashew is great in ice cream, soups, and non-dairy cream sauces. Sunflower seed works also in smaller amounts. Cashew butter and sunflower butter and even tahini work well diluted by a bit of vinegar or lemon juice as a replacement for cream in cream-based salad dressings.
If you are making a dairy free cream dessert, ground raw cashews are the best choice. Grind them as finely as possible. Soak 1 cup ground cashew in ½ – ¾ cup water or non-dairy milk over night, add your choice of sweetener, and extracts. It freezes well in a crumb crust. You can also mix it with agar agar or gelatin powder that was dissolved in boiling water, to see if it holds its shape when thawed. Ground cashews added to soups and sauces makes them taste ‘cream-based’.
Solid Palm Oil
Solid Palm oil is a very cheap alternative to unsalted butter in a recipe. Its solid but maleable at room temperature, and leaves baked goods moist and pliable. It is a bit heavier than butter- I find its terrific for chewy cookies, shorter breads, and things like pancakes. It doesn’t let your baked goods get crispy- you will need to bake your baked foods for a bit longer because it has a much higher burn point than butter. Spectrum products sells it online, and if you live in Ottawa, the cheapest place to get it is Pantry Plus in Orleans (like, its 1/5 the price of butter!).
Grapeseed oil is a flavourless, light oil that can be bought at your local grocery store. Its great for fluffier baked goods like muffins or cakes instead of using milk. It doesn’t add as much moisture as the heavy palm oil, but allows your lighter baked goods to rise better because it doesn’t weigh it down. A nice point about it- at high heat it doesn’t change to a trans fat.
Virgin Coconut Oil
Virgin coconut oil also works as a butter substitute in baking. Virgin coconut oil is different than regular solid coconut oil. It hasn’t been processed nearly as much (and therefore is healthier). It has a fresh coconut scent to it and adds a hint of sweetness to baked goods. Solid and stiff at room temperature, it actually has a low melting point, lower than butter. It will allow your baked goods to get crispier. If you let your cookies or product cool, you’ll notice the next day they are muh firmer- this is from the coconut oil solidifying at room temperature. I really enjoy it in cookies, and pancakes- lends a beautiful taste to them. Its twice the price of regular coconut oil though. Locally, the cheapest place you can get it is Loblaws.
Last but not least is trying to find a dairy free and soy free alternative to yogurt! Believe it or not, its actually possible to grow a yogurt culture in coconut milk. The extra fat helps give it shape, and you can use it in parfaits, breakfast shakes, baking, and just about anything that you would normally put dairy yogurt into! If you want to know how to make it, visit www.thespunkycoconut.com – she has a great recipe for it, and I think she’s also working on a sunflower based version as well, for nut free folks.