What Can I Substitute for Butter When Making Frosting?

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While butter is a delicious ingredient in many frosting recipes, there may be times when you don't want to use it. Fortunately, a variety of ingredients can stand in for butter. Choose a substitute with the taste, texture and appearance that you want for your cake creation.


Some recipes for buttercream frosting call for vegetable shortening plus butter. Whether your recipe calls for both or butter alone, you can substitute all shortening for the butter. You will lose two things, however, when you trade butter for shortening -- color and flavor. Shortening will give you a pure white frosting, which is ideal if you want a bright white cake, such as for a wedding or birthday. Shortening has a neutral flavor, so add in butter flavoring if you want the frosting to have a buttery taste. On the positive side, shortening can withstand higher temperatures than butter and will produce a stiffer frosting.


Substitute margarine for butter, but pick the right type of margarine. Avoid the spreadable type, which is usually sold in tubs, because it doesn't contain enough fat to make frosting. Instead, choose the stick variety, which should be at least 80 percent fat, or comparable to the amount of fat found in butter.

Heavy Cream

If you want a lighter and fluffier frosting, trade the butter for heavy cream to make a whipped cream frosting. Use about 3 cups of heavy cream for every cup of butter you would usually use. Whipped cream frosting is not as stable as frosting made with butter or shortening, so you will need to keep it in the refrigerator until serving time, especially on a hot day. Add cocoa powder for chocolate frosting or a tablespoon of lemon juice for a citrus frosting.

Other Substitutes

Some butter substitutes change the flavor of the frosting considerably. Use cream cheese in a frosting recipe if you want an icing with a tangy, cheesy taste. To make a nutty frosting, trade half of the butter in a frosting recipe for peanut butter and use margarine for the remaining half. For a frosting with a tropical flavor, substitute an equal amount of coconut oil in place of butter. Be aware that coconut oil contains more saturated fat than butter.