Do you ever wonder how to make your favorite recipes dairy-free? Let us show you how to make some of our most well-loved desserts without dairy. In this post we explore how to make delicious dairy-free pie crusts and fillings, including fruit pies, as well as custard and cream-based pies. Note: For the sake of this post, eggs are not considered dairy ingredients. If you’re looking to bake without eggs, check out thesevegan recipes.
If I could only have one baked good for the rest of my life, it would be pie. Hands down. It has everything a dessert needs: a crispy exterior and a rich, satisfying filling. I can’t imagine anything standing in the way of my love of pie, even dietary restrictions. With ever more pie-lovers needing to bake without dairy, we’re going to show you how to make show-stopping pies while avoiding dairy.
Dairy-free pie crust
The best pies start with fantastic crust. Usually, that means lots of butter — but don’t fret if dairy-free pie is what you’ve set out to bake. There are non-dairy ingredients that can impart a similarly luxurious, flaky texture in pie crust.
While a handful of dairy-free fats can be used to make pie crust, we’ll focus on four of the best choices in this post. Vegan butter, shortening, coconut oil, and lard are all dairy-free alternatives that can be used in place of butter in pie crust recipes.
Each option imparts a slightly different flavor and texture, so choose the ingredient based on what you’re looking for in your final pie.
This is an all-around excellent choice; it can be used to replace butter without making any other changes. We found it to be just as flaky as butter in our All-Butter Pie Crust. It's hard to tell the difference flavor-wise unless you have a butter version to taste side by side.
Vegetable shortening (like Crisco) has a higher melting point than butter. This means pie crust made with shortening will hold its shape better than an all-butter crust. Choose either butter-flavored or regular shortening based on your taste preferences.
Shortening-based crusts tend to have a mealy, "short" texture (rather than flaky). It’s a great option to use in conjunction with another fat, as shortening will help stabilize the crust.
Crust made with all coconut oil tends to be slightly heavy and less flaky than butter-based crust. It pairs well with cream-based pies as it forms a sturdier crust. If you’d like little to no coconut flavor to come through in your pie, use refined coconut oil (as opposed to virgin). Use coconut oil in its solid form for best results, chilling it in the fridge if necessary.
This ingredient varies wildly in flavor, moisture content, and consistency from brand to brand. Generally, you can expect at least a slightly savory flavor, so lard is a suitable option when making dishes like quiche or pot pie. The texture will be a bit sandy (like shortbread) and holds up well when used along with shortening.
You can substitute any of these dairy-free fats in your favorite pie crust recipe. Replace the butter, by volume, with your dairy-free ingredient of choice. If you typically weigh your ingredients, you can then look up the weight of the dairy-free alternative in our Ingredient Weight Chart.
Another option for your dairy-free pie crust? Our No-Roll Pie Crust recipe uses vegetable oil (olive, canola, sunflower, or your choice) for the fat. It comes together quickly, so it’s perfect for when you’re in a pie pinch. It’s not a delicate crust by any means — it’s crisp and sturdy — so you can use it to build a generously filled pie.
Once you’ve decided what kind of dairy-free pie crust you’re going to make, it’s time to focus on the all-important filling.
Dairy-free pie fillings
There are more kinds of pie than there are stars in the sky. To keep ourselves organized, we’re going to look at four different categories of pie based on just how much dairy they contain: dairy-free pies, dairy-light pies, pies with a moderate amount of dairy, and finally dairy-based pies. Soon you’ll feel prepared to make practically any pie recipe dairy-free. Let’s bake!
Dairy-free (or almost dairy-free) pies
Fruit pies are some of the most well-loved pie recipes; and aside from the crust, they usually don’t contain any dairy at all. Sometimes fruit pie recipes will call for 1 to 2 tablespoons of butter to be added atop the filling. (My mom always taught me to do this with apple pie to make it extra delicious.) While it may make your pie special, it’s not necessary. You can forgo the butter without compromising the pie. Add a dusting of cinnamon-sugar on top of the crust to make it special instead!
Next come pies that have non-dairy ingredients as their base (cocoa, eggs, nuts, fruit, etc.), but are enriched with a notable amount of butter (more than 4 tablespoons). In these cases, it's not a good idea to simply omit the butter. Instead, you'll need to use another dairy-free fat to add richness and help set up the filling.
Vegan butter is always a first-rate choice to replace butter. (It works beautifully in our Chocolate Midnight Pie.) You can also use coconut oil in recipes like Pecan Pie or Lemon Chess Pie, where there's close to a stick of butter in the filling. Just be sure to melt it first so it incorporates easily into the other ingredients in the filling.
Pies with a moderate amount of dairy
Some pie fillings are thickened with more than one kind of dairy, like heavy cream as well as butter or milk. We consider recipes like Pumpkin Pie and Maple Sugar Pie to have a moderate amount of dairy— you'll have to substitute some ingredients, but dairy isn't the star of the show.
You're just a few steps away from making these recipes dairy-free: Instead of heavy cream, use well-shaken, canned coconut milk. (This is higher in fat than refrigerated coconut milk, known as coconut milk beverage.)
To replace milk in the filling, use any of your favorite butter alternatives and whatever dairy-free milk you have on hand.
On to the challenge: pies that are based on dairy. Think Custard Pie, Buttermilk Pie, and all your favorite flavors of cream pie: banana, coconut, and chocolate might be among them. You can either avoid these recipes and choose from the crowd-pleasers in the other three categories, or you can forge forward and bake dairy-free pie!
These dairy-forward pies often call for all kinds of dairy products, including heavy cream, butter, milk, and perhaps even a whipped cream topping. In these cases, it's helpful to break the recipe down and find a suitable substitute for each of the dairy ingredients called for. Here are some of the most common dairy products and the best alternatives to use when baking pie:
- Heavy cream: Use canned coconut milk. The semi-solid coconut cream that forms on top can even be whipped to make whipped cream!
- Whole milk: Use soy or cashew milk for their higher fat content.
- Skim, 1%, or 2% milk: Use almond, rice, or coconut milk beverage.
- Buttermilk: Make your own buttermilk by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup of dairy-free milk.
- Butter: Use vegan butter or coconut oil.
*All plant-based milk should be plain and unsweetened for best results.
We won't pretend that all the pies in the world fit into these four categories. We also acknowledge the "wild-card" pies out there. Recipes like quiche, hand pies, galettes, or tarts are all dishes you might find yourself wanting to make dairy-free. You can do it! Use the general substitution guidelines we've offered and apply them to your recipe.
If you're feeling adventurous, don't let any amount of dairy stand in your way. Or if you're looking for something that's guaranteed to turn out well, maybe don't choose Ricotta Pie as your first recipe to try baking dairy-free. Remember, there are plenty of naturally dairy-free and almost-dairy-free pie recipes that are pure treasures.
Topping and enjoying your dairy-free pie
I consider it a crime to serve a slice of pie without a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream on top. If you want to serve your dairy-free pie à la mode, you sure can! There are some fantastic dairy-free ice creams and whipped toppings available. (A coconut milk-based topping is extra luscious and creamy.)
If you're baking pie for a dairy-free and gluten-free crowd, no problem. Most pie fillings are naturally gluten-free. If all-purpose flour is used to thicken the filling, consider using another pie thickener instead, like cornstarch. Use our Measure for Measure Flour to replace the all-purpose flour in the crust, or use our Gluten-Free Double Pie Crust recipe from the get-go.
If you find yourself enjoying the world of dairy-free baking, check out our comprehensive collection of posts about making your favorite recipes dairy-free.
But for now, let's focus on pie— I'm ready to whip up a Chocolate Midnight Pie and top it off with a scoop of vanilla almond milk ice cream. We hope you'll try some of these tips in your kitchen, and let us know which dairy-free pies you like best. Happy baking!
Thanks to Anne Mientka for taking the photos for this post.