A Look at Vegan Butter

a look at vegan butter
a look at vegan butter

When I first started adapting recipes to be vegan, there was only one option for substituting butter — margarine. Not being a margarine fan, I was disappointed because it can make baked goods greasy and oily tasting. These days more and more companies are introducing their versions of vegan butter, and some of them are absolutely amazing. Miyoko’s Creamery stepped into the limelight first with a “butter” so grand it could be eaten plain, on toast, without any complaints about it being vegan. Although I still have a great fondness for Miyoko’s dazzling array of vegan dairy products, I’ve looked into other choices.

One selection I have shared in recent recipes is Flora Plant Butter. This butter comes in salted and unsalted versions, like Miyoko’s. It works beautifully in baked goods, making tender cupcakes and delightfully chewy cookies, and it is moderately priced. It’s not as phenomenal on toast, as Miyoko’s is, but I often prefer the results it produces in baked goods.

Milkadamia is a brand of non-dairy milk I enjoy, but I have not sampled their Buttery Spread. An article on vegan butter from Veg News has piqued my curiosity and Milkadamia’s offering may soon be up for experimentation in my kitchen. The post goes through a run-down of 11 butter substitutes, with Miyoko’s and Earth Balance topping the list. Also mentioned are Melt Organic, Country Crock, Forager, I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter, The Cultured Kitchen Better Buttah, Califia Farms, New Barn Organics, and Kite Hill. I hope to explore these new “butters” one day.

While I don’t have the means or opportunity to try all of the vegan butters out there, I have baked with a few. King Arthur Baking also tested a couple of substitutes, and compared them to the same goods baked with butter (a test I won’t be doing). When using Land O Lakes butter as a control in recipes for biscuits, crust, cookies, cake, puff pastry, and frosting, they concluded:

“Miyoko’s European-Style Cultured Vegan Butter and Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks are both highly recommended substitutes for dairy butter. In recipes where they’re the only vegan substitute, both vegan butters will produce baked goods with texture similar to that of dairy butter, with flavor being the main difference.”

So, I go in search of new butters in an effort to make extraordinary decadent treats. And, no, I don’t work for any of these food companies. I just wish I did.

Different Fats in Vegan Baking

Fats in Baking

Image courtesy of Slice of Chic at flickr.com

When I started to bake vegan, I thought the easiest substituting would be for butter. Earth Balance makes a vegan margarine and it seemed to be an easy swap. It looked like butter and acted like butter until I tried to bake brownies with melted margarine and made a chocolate blob. Then I realized that all fats are not butter.

Butter adds not only flavor to baked goods, but also texture. “Liquid oils can sometimes work in place of solid fats, though your end product might be a bit oiler. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, though a bit more solid than butter or shortening, so you might not get that flaky texture. … (And there’s) naturally fatty ingredients like avocados and nut butters.” I discovered recipes for brownies made with nut butters, and now I know that they can be the fat source.

After the brownie debacle, I searched for tricks with substituting fats. King Arthur Flour reports that “if you’re looking for a dairy-free fat substitute … choose a fat that most resembles the one used in the original recipe. For example, a recipe that calls for butter would be best made with a vegan butter substitute. For a recipe made with vegetable oil, you could use coconut oil in its place.” They tested this theory in a cookie recipe. Their favorite fat was butter, but I think that might be because it is considered the norm. Their next choice was vegan butter. They concluded that “since vegan butter was … soft at room temperature, we were able to easily beat the fat and sugar together (to help) keep the cookies light. The dough … was a little soft (and) when scooped onto the baking sheet, the cookies didn’t hold their shape. … These were a bit cakier and less chewy (but) the edges were crisp and golden brown, while the centers remained chewy and soft.”

So I learned how to make a great cookie, but was still stumped on what went wrong with my brownies. I got a hint on Earth Balance’s website. They recommend: “To achieve a rich, spongy texture in cakes and quick breads, don’t skimp on the creaming step. Beat sugars with Buttery Sticks … just as you would butter, until the sugar aerates the fats and creates a fluffy batter that will give loft.”

Here was part of my problem – my brownie recipe called for melted butter so I could not beat it with the sugar until creamy. I think when that was combined with the fact that the recipe had no leavener, then I was stuck with brownies with no lift at all.

Although there are several choices for fat substitutes, they are not created equal. If you can cream the butter substitute with sugar to aerate it you will get the best results in recipes calling for butter. Or you can experiment with other fats. Or you can follow one of my recipes and leave the heavy lifting up to me.