When making buttercream icing, butter is a key ingredient that provides the rich, creamy texture. However, there may be times when you want or need to use a butter substitute. The good news is there are several options for making dairy-free buttercream frosting that tastes just as delicious!
The most common substitutes for butter in buttercream icing are:
- Margarine or non-dairy margarine
- Vegetable shortening
- Coconut oil
- Dairy-free butters (made from oils like coconut, avocado, etc.)
Each substitute has its pros and cons in terms of taste, texture, and how it impacts the finished buttercream. Margarine or non-dairy margarine provides the most similar flavor and texture to real butter. Vegetable shortening makes a very smooth, stable icing while coconut oil gives a hint of coconut flavor. Dairy-free butters work well but tend to be more expensive. Reducing the milk or cream used can also help compensate when omitting butter.
What Can Be Used Instead of Butter in Buttercream?
When deciding what to use instead of butter in buttercream icing, consider the following popular alternatives:
Margarine is one of the most direct butter substitutes due to its similar fat content. Standard margarines are made from vegetable oils so they are naturally dairy-free. Look for varieties without trans fats. Margarine provides comparable flavor and texture to real butter. The icing may spread slightly softer than an all-butter version.
Non-dairy margarines are a great option for vegan buttercream icing. These are made without any animal products whatsoever. Common brands are Earth Balance and Miyoko’s. Check labels to confirm the margarine is 100% plant-based. Non-dairy margarines mimic both the rich taste and creamy texture of butter well.
Vegetable shortening is pure fat derived from vegetable oils. The most common version is Crisco. It makes buttercream extremely smooth, light, and stable. The icing will be denser than a version made with butter or margarine. Vegetable shortening has a more neutral flavor.
Refined coconut oil is growing in popularity for icings and frostings. It whips up light and fluffy. Unrefined coconut oil has a noticeable coconut flavor, so be sure to use refined coconut oil. The icing may get firmer in fridge storage compared to other vegetable oil options.
There are now several brands of dairy-free “butters” on the market. These are made from plant oils, often coconut, palm, or avocado oil. Look for products with a creamy consistency when softened, not liquid oils. Brands like Melt Organic and Miyoko’s make quality options. Dairy-free butters provide excellent flavor and texture.
How to Make Buttercream Icing Without Butter
Here are some tips for making great tasting buttercream without butter:
- Use margarine, shortening, coconut oil, or dairy-free butter for the fat component
- Reduce milk or cream by 1-2 tbsp when omitting butter to account for less fat
- Beat until light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes with a stand mixer or 8-10 by hand
- Add extra vanilla, almond, or other extract to boost flavor
- Consider adding a fruit puree for flavor and moisture
- Chill the finished frosting before decorating for optimum spreading consistency
This simple buttercream recipe uses dairy-free margarine. It whips up beautifully smooth and creamy.
- 1 cup non-dairy margarine, room temperature
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1-2 tbsp non-dairy milk
- 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
- With a mixer, beat the margarine on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 2-3 minutes.
- Add confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla extract.
- Mix on low at first, then increase to high speed. Beat for 5-8 minutes until light and fluffy.
- Add more milk if needed to reach the desired consistency.
- Use to frost cupcakes, cakes, and cookies.
How Different Butter Substitutes Impact Buttercream
When choosing what to use instead of butter, consider how each substitution impacts buttercream icing:
|Margarine||Very similar to butter||Nearly identical to butter||Slightly softer set|
|Non-dairy margarine||Similar to margarine||Comparable to margarine||Slightly softer set|
|Vegetable shortening||More neutral flavor||Denser but still smooth||Very stable; firm set|
|Coconut oil||Light coconut flavor||Fluffy and soft||Can get firmer when chilled|
|Dairy-free butter||Rich, buttery flavor||Very similar to dairy butter||Good stability|
Frequently Asked Questions
Does margarine work the same as butter in buttercream?
Yes, margarine substitutes well for butter in buttercream icing. Standard margarine has a similar fat content and provides comparable flavor and texture. The icing may spread slightly softer than with butter.
Can I use oil instead of butter to make buttercream?
Oils are not recommended for buttercream as they will not provide the proper structure. Solid fats like butter, margarine, or shortening are needed. If using oil, try whisking in some powdered milk to improve the texture.
Is coconut oil buttercream smooth and creamy?
Yes, coconut oil makes a smooth buttercream with a rich texture when whipped properly. Be sure to use refined coconut oil to avoid a strong coconut flavor. The icing may firm up more than vegetable oil-based frostings when chilled.
What gives buttercream frosting its creamy texture?
The creamy, smooth texture of buttercream comes from beating solid fat (like butter) with confectioners’ sugar. Tiny air bubbles are incorporated during whipping that lighten the texture. The solid fat coats the sugar crystals, preventing grittiness.
Should I use salted or unsalted butter for buttercream?
For flavoring purposes, unsalted butter is preferred for buttercream so you can better control the exact amount of saltiness. A pinch of table salt can be added to achieve the ideal flavor if needed.
Troubleshooting Buttercream Made Without Butter
Buttercream is too soft and won’t hold its shape
- Chill the icing for 30-60 minutes to firm it up
- Whip it longer to incorporate more air
- Add a bit more confectioners’ sugar
Buttercream has a greasy texture
- The margarine or shortening may have been too warm. Use room temperature next time.
- Try reducing the margarine or shortening slightly.
- Whip longer to add air and reduce greasiness.
Buttercream is too firm and stiff
- Make sure your margarine substitute is softened to room temperature before using
- Add a splash more non-dairy milk to loosen it up
- Avoid over-whipping once all ingredients are combined
Buttercream has a grainy texture
- Sift the confectioners’ sugar before using to remove lumps
- Make sure the margarine is fully blended in before adding sugar
- Add milk/cream gradually and whip to fully dissolve sugar
Storing Buttercream Frosting Without Butter
Properly stored, buttercream made with non-butter substitutes should last 1-2 weeks. Here are some storage tips:
- Place in an airtight container, smoothing the top for optimal contact
- Refrigerate for long-term storage
- If refrigerated, let come to room temperature before using for ideal spreading consistency
- Can be frozen for 1-2 months; thaw in fridge before using
- Bring to room temperature then re-whip briefly before using frozen buttercream
Buttercream doesn’t have to be off-limits for those avoiding dairy. Swapping butter for alternate fats like margarine, shortening, coconut oil, or dairy-free butter allows you to achieve a rich, creamy frosting without the butter. Each substitution does impact the end result slightly, but with a few tweaks and proper whipping, delicious dairy-free buttercream can be achieved.