Trying to make a batch of cookies, but ran out of butter?
Wondering, “can you make cookies without butter?”
In this cookie troubleshooting guide, we’re talking all about making cookies without butter, including whether it’s possible to do it and what you should do if you don’t have butter for your cookies.
Always remember that what you technically can do in baking is often different than what you should do if you want optimum results.
Baking is more like a science than an art, as it requires a lot of complex chemical interactions to make things happen, so unlike in cooking, you can’t always just swap out similar looking ingredients and expect the same results.
Ultimately, the answer to if you can make cookie without butter is yes, but you have to either use a cookie recipe that doesn’t ask for butter or use substitutions instead.
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Is it Possible to Make Cookies without Butter?
Let’s start with the basics.
Is it technically possible to make cookies without butter?
If you are wondering if it’s possible to make a cookie recipe that asks for butter and leave out the butter completely, the answer is no.
Butter is a key component for the structure of the cookie, and otherwise you would likely end up with a weird dry mix of flour and other dry ingredients, along with possibly a few clumps of egg, that doesn’t even form together into a dough to be baked.
However, plenty of cookies do exist that either were formulated to not need butter, and there are substitutions you can try, so keep reading!
Must-Have Baking Tools (seriously)
- Silicone baking mats – I use this brand and my cookies slide right off without burning!
- a cookie scoop – get this one. It makes the perfect rounded cookies every time!
- silicone spatula – try this set. It’s the best way to get the most out of your dough and batters
- rolling pin guides – I use this one. Genius way to roll your dough out evenly!
What Does Butter Do to Cookies?
Butter is an integral part of many cookie recipes, particularly sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies.
It is a fat that, when introduced with the flour, helps coat the flour and protect it from liquid, which helps lower the gluten amount created (making your cookies chewier instead of tough).
It also has a lower melting point, so keeps your cookies sturdy, and adds a bit of softness as it introduces some water and milk solids from the butter.
In addition, butter helps give cookies their rich and indulgent flavor!
What Happens if You Leave Butter out of Cookies?
Again, let’s pretend there is a world where you can completely leave out the butter without substituting it with anything (a stretch, but I said pretend!).
Your cookie would be hugely lacking in flavor, be completely dry and crumbly, and likely would be tough as lots of gluten would have formed.
The tender richness would be gone, and instead you’d be left with a bit of a hockey puck of flour and egg and it wouldn’t resemble what you think of as cookies.
Substitutions for Butter in Cookies
While you can’t leave butter completely out of a recipe if the recipe asks for you, there are substitutions that you may be able to make to help replace some of the qualities you have lost.
Especially if you are already making peanut butter cookies, or are perhaps making chocolate cookies, you can swap in peanut butter and still end up with a decent cookie result.
People sometimes do this on purpose if they want even more of a peanut butter flavor!
This wouldn’t make sense as a substitution in something like sugar cookies, but can help keep that moisture and structure in other cookies.
Canola Oil or Olive Oil
Canola oil or olive oil is another fat that can be added to a cookie dough to give it some moisture and structure.
There are plenty of cookies that are only made using olive oil or canola oil.
If you want to substitute olive oil for butter in a cookie recipe that asks for butter, you should expect a much different texture to your cookie and for it to lack the rich flavor that it would have had with butter.
However, in a pinch, it can be used.
Shortening is a very popular substitute for butter in cookie dough recipes.
This is more of an “even” swap than the others listed here, in that you’re going to get a cakier cookie with a bit less flavor, but it should hold structure similar to if you used butter.
Some people actual prefer to make their cookies with shortening instead of butter every time, as they prefer the puffiness and even softer texture that shortening gives, or you could swap half of the butter amount for half shortening to get the best of both worlds.
Spread Butter (Sometimes)
Note that when we say “shortening,” we mean shortening that is specifically used in baking, like Crisco, not margarine or spread butter (you know, the kind that comes in a plastic tub and you spread it easily with a knife).
While spread butter is easy to put on toast and use as “butter” in cooking or in some everyday applications, it’s not a great swap for butter in baking.
The contents of the spread butter are usually way too much water, leaving you with sloppy cookies that spread all over the baking tray if they hold their structure at all.
However, it is listed here as some people do have success with it, but we’d always suggest any of the other substitutions for butter in cookies before we would suggest this one.
How to Make Cookies without Butter
So what are the options when it comes to making cookies without butter?
In order of our recommendations, here are the options!
1. Find a cookie recipe that doesn’t call for butter.
There are plenty of them, and our favorite are cake mix cookies or crinkle cookies.
2. Use a butter substitution, like shortening or peanut butter, instead of butter in a recipe that asks for butter.