A Recipe For Vegan Sugar Cookies (and When to Use Vegan Substitutes)

December 10, 2015

People often ask me how I feel about vegan products, like faux meats, vegan mayonnaise, or vegan butter.

The answer is that I like them, and I think they're fun to explore and experiment with.

Photo by Linda Xiao

When I first went vegan, I couldn't really imagine a vegan cheese that would achieve a melty texture (rice and soy cheeses didn't quite cut it), a vegan “chicken” made of pea protein, or vegan mayonnaise that would actually taste better than the stuff I was accustomed to. In the last couple of years, though, all of these things have emerged on the scene, making vegan pantries and kitchens a little more diverse.

Vegan "paneer,' made from tofu. Photo by James Ransom

Of course, there’s a time and a place for these foods. For the most part, I prefer to cook with whole food ingredients, like legumes and grains and traditional soy foods. I love their heartiness and texture, and I think they encourage me to be more creative than I would be if I relied on faux meats or other products for most of my dinners.

There are also cost considerations: Vegan cheeses and faux meats can add up. And then there’s the undeniable culinary satisfaction of making a meal from scratch, using whole foods ingredients and one’s imagination.

Vegan cashew cheese, made from—you guessed it—cashews. Photo by James Ransom

If you’re curious about using vegan products in your meatless cooking, think about recipes for which they offer you something really indispensable. If I’m looking for something to replace cheese in a salad, whipping up a batch of homemade tofu feta or cashew cheese is every bit as good as a commercial vegan cheese, if not better.

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But if I want to make super traditional pizza, with cheese that melts authentically, some of the new vegan cheeses can be a useful trick-of-the-trade.

Vegan pie crust, made with coconut oil instead of butter. Photo by James Ransom

These vegan sugar cookies are a perfect example of recipe for which commercial vegan products can be really helpful. I use Earth Balance as a butter substitute in my sugar cookies. It's been around for years, and I find that it's the most authentic, reliable non-dairy butter available. I use coconut oil (or other vegetable oils) in a lot of my baking, and it works nicely (my vegan pie crust is a great example of what coconut oil can do).

But for delicate cake or cookie recipes, Earth Balance will give you the most authentic and consistent results, especially if you’re veganizing a non-vegan recipe: in fact, you can substitute the Earth Balance buttery sticks in a 1-to-1 ratio for butter. One tip about Earth Balance: It’s on the salty side, so you probably don’t have to add extra salt to recipes in which you use it.

Gena's carrot cake is made with a flaxseed egg replacer. Photo by Bobbi Lin

This recipe also calls for Ener-G Egg Replacer. Ener-G is a simple mixture of potato starch, tapioca flour, leavening, and cellulose. It’s a time-honored and excellent substitute for eggs in vegan cooking. Once again, there’s a homemade option: If you mix one tablespoon ground flax meal with 3 tablespoons water, you’ll get a homemade vegan flax “egg.” But my experience is that flax eggs work best in quick breads and muffins. For more delicate baking, like cookies, pastries, and cakes, Ener-G is invaluable.

More: All about vegan egg replacers—and a test to see which one works the best.

Making a flax egg. Photo by James Ransom

If you want to rely exclusively on your own pantry for vegan cooking, you can. There’s certainly no need for vegan butters or cheeses or meats, and if you prefer to work entirely with whole foods, great.

But if you’re a new vegan or dairy-free eater who’s missing some of the foods you no longer choose to eat, having just a couple of vegan products in your home can help to make life convenient, fun, and evocative of tradition.

These cookies—which are crispy, sweet, and infused with the classic flavors of vanilla and sugar—are tradition at its finest. They’re adapted from a Martha Stewart sugar cookie recipe I grew up with, and every time I make them, their buttery aroma brings me right back to childhood. Thank you for that, Earth Balance.

Are there any vegan substitute products you rely on? Share with us in the comments!

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The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Nosherium
  • Arleta
  • Sara from Brooklyn
    Sara from Brooklyn
  • Cat Martin
    Cat Martin
  • andrew woeppel
    andrew woeppel
Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.


Nosherium March 2, 2017
I used your awesome recommendations to develop my new vegan hamantaschen recipe! Thank you!
Arleta January 8, 2016
Becel "vegan" Margarine is delicious and can be used in baking.
Sara F. January 7, 2016
Has anyone found a vegan margarine they like? I can't stand the taste of Earth Balance (either plain or in baked goods) and I also find cookies made with it to be too greasy. I used to use Willow Run but I think it went out of business a few years ago. These days, the only cookies I make are Ovenly's secretly vegan salted chocolate chip cookies, which are delicious, but I'd like to have a cookie recipe that doesn't have to sit for hours before baking.
Sara F. January 8, 2016
Thanks for the suggestion. I'll see if I can find it.
Cat M. December 13, 2015
Sorry - I googled the Earth Balance info I needed. Unfortunately, it also has pea protein in it, which is on the "no eat" list. Would just plain coconut oil work? I was really hoping this young lady could have her "own" Christmas cut-out cookies.
Cat M. December 13, 2015
Hmmm... I haven't found it yet. Do you know what color the package is, or how they label it? Our local store has limited supplies of anything that doesn't seem to be mainstream. Perhaps they'd order it and carry it if I knew what to ask them to get. Thanks for your help!
Arleta December 13, 2015
Earth balance makes a soy free vegetable spread
Cat M. December 13, 2015
Just curious what other people use for a "butter" substitute if they also need to avoid soy. I'm teaching a teenager how to bake some things since she needs to avoid gluten, dairy, soy and a number of other foods. I'm having difficulty finding something to substitute for butter in cookies and cakes that doesn't have soy in it. Will coconut oil substitute for everything?
Arleta December 13, 2015
Appreciate the recipe but my granddaughter has EOE and needs gluten free, no wheat. I've tried the commercial gluten free/wheat free flours and the result is bitter sandy flavours probably due to the ground brown rice component. Ideas for a flour replacement?
andrew W. December 10, 2015
Re: the ener-g egg replacer ingredients, isn't cellulose quite inflammatory and in general to be avoided?
Marmalady December 11, 2015
I'm not sure about that, but I've used flax in cookies with excellent results. I haven't tried in sugar cookies, but it's worked beautifully in my go-to chocolate chip cookies and in Posie Harwood's ginger sugar cookies from this site. You also may try the liquid from a can of beans (aquafaba). I've experimented less with this, but if you google it, you'll see a lot of people are really excited about it!
sharon December 13, 2015
Cellulose is what gives plant cells their rigid structure; it is an insoluble fiber. Nearly impossible to avoid, especially in a vegan diet.