Many baked good recipes call for unsalted butter, and there are simple solutions if you don't have any on hand. For instance, you can use salted butter in its place. There are additional unsalted butter substitutes that you can try when you want to make a recipe dairy-free, vegan, or lower in fat. However, the recipe will have to be adjusted and some substitutes will slightly alter the results.
Substituting Salted for Unsalted Butter
This substitution is extremely simple: Replace the unsalted butter called for in your recipe with an equal amount of salted butter. Then, adjust the amount of salt in the recipe to account for the extra salt in the butter. To do this, simply reduce the recipe's salt by 1/4 teaspoon for every stick (1/2 cup) of butter used.
One caveat to this substitution is that different brands of butter contain different amounts of salt—a single stick of butter could have anywhere from 1/8 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon of salt. There's no need to sweat the difference. Just give your recipe a quick taste, and make any necessary adjustments. In most cases, having a little more or less salt in a dish won't make a bit of difference because it's divided among all of the servings in a recipe.
Why Unsalted Butter?
Since the amount of salt varies from one brand of butter to the next, many bakers develop their recipes with unsalted butter. This allows them to add the salt as a separate, measured ingredient. It gives the baker precise control over how much salt is included, so the recipe delivers reliable results that are easy for others to replicate.
In general, recipes don't call for unsalted butter to decrease the amount of sodium in your diet. However, this can be another reason for unsalted butter to be specified in a recipe. This is especially true if you're working on a recipe that you found in a health-focused magazine or website.
If you don't bake or cook often, consider keeping unsalted butter in your freezer. You won't have to worry about it going bad, and you can thaw it out as needed. To use butter straight out of the freezer, just microwave it in 10-second intervals until it's soft.
Substituting With Butter Alternatives
If you're looking for an unsalted butter substitute because you want to make a recipe dairy-free or vegan, there are some options to consider. Keep in mind that these substitutes will introduce new flavors to the recipe, and may also change the texture of the finished dish. You may find that you get better results by starting with a recipe that was written with that diet in mind since someone will have already tested and perfected it.
Still, if you're trying to tweak a favorite family recipe to fit within a new diet or lifestyle, it's well worth experimenting a bit. Here are some things you can try as you work to eliminate butter from foods:
- Vegetable Shortening: Replace the butter measure for measure. For baking, this would be preferred as it's likely to best preserve the consistency of the finished product.
- Vegetable Oil: Use 7/8 cup of vegetable oil for each 1 cup of unsalted butter. This is not a good choice for baking since it will considerably change the consistency.
- Lard: Use 7/8 cup of lard for each 1 cup of unsalted butter. Lard is an animal product, so will not work with a vegan diet, though it is suitable for both baked and cooked dishes.
Cut the Butter to Cut Fat
If you're trying to reduce the fat (or saturated fat) in a baked good recipe, there are options as well. For instance, you can substitute half of the unsalted butter called for with avocado, applesauce, or full-fat Greek yogurt. Just know that your baked goods are likely to come out denser and moister than intended. Give it a try in a few recipes, and you may decide that it's actually a good thing.