When You Can (and Can’t) Replace Mayonnaise with Butter in Baking

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Of all the suspect ingredients to add to cake batter, mayonnaise is definitely at the top of the list. Known for adorning meat-laden sandwiches and turning everything from eggs to Jell-o into a “salad,” mayonnaise doesn’t seem like a regular ingredient for brownies, yet here we are.

Yes, cooking with a scoop of mayonnaise can improve your baked goods and can replace eggs and fat in a recipe. Sometimes. But before you order this Hellmann’s 16-quart tub from Costco as an all-purpose butter replacement, you need to understand what butter accomplishes in a recipe and why (and when) it can’t be replaced so easily.

When can mayonnaise replace butter in baking?

Mayonnaise, in its simplest form, is a silky sauce emulsion eggs, acid (like vinegar or lemon) and oil. When you break it down to its roots, you can see why it makes sense in baking. Its components make it a perfect substitute for oil, its thick and creamy constitution is similar to that of softened butter, and since it already contains eggs, mayonnaise exhibits some of the binding power of eggs when cooked.

Mayo works best as a substitute for butter in batters and batters when butter isn’t the star flavor, when they get their structure from somewhere else (like flour), and when butter isn’t doing something amazing important (more on this later). Cake batters, brownie batterscookie dough and Little bread can work with the richness that mayonnaise has to offer. Mayonnaise will perform its functions and bring a lot of moisture and richness to the finished dish.

When You Can’t Use Mayonnaise as a Substitute for Butter in a Recipe

Some desserts simply require butter. Nothing else will do. Indeed, butter plays several important roles in many recipes. Butter not only helps create emulsified batters, but can help trap air and carbon dioxide, provide structure, increase texture, extend shelf life, add water, contribute to that brown color alluring golden brown and of course provide that mouth-watering flavor and aroma. . (Learn more about the the science of butter in this blog from my alma mater, the Institute of Culinary Education.)

Put the jar of mayonnaise down and grab a stick of the good stuff for recipes that rely on butter for flavor, structure, or textural reaction in the oven. In shortbread cookies — and many other high-ratio butter cookies — it does all three of those things. Flavor, structure, and texture are all mind-blowing in a shortbread cookie, and if any of them are off, then you’ll have plenty of disappointed shortbread fanatics to respond to.

Mayonnaise cannot be used for butter in pastry That is. If you happen to be rolling dough home and you’re half a pound short of butter, drop your rolling pin and get some more, because mayonnaise can’t save you. Ditto when making Danish pasta and puff pastry. Butter provides a necessary reaction in recipes where butter is manipulated to create layers in the dough. Butter always contains a water percentage, and when the butter melts in the oven, the water is available to evaporate. As it evaporates, a buttery pocket of air is left in its wake. Multiply these air pockets hundreds of times and the crescent, palm or cheese stick expands to about three times its previous size. Sorry mayo, but butter beats you there.

Likewise, butter should be used for flaky pie crusts, flaky cookies, or anything else with “flaky” in the title. The butter is worked into the flour of these short pasta and prevents the flour from absorbing too much water. The butter seals in some of the flour and prevents the dough from developing too much gluten, keeping the texture short. This, combined with lots of little pockets of butter, is what gives the puff pastry its flake. Mayonnaise is not a saturated fat that can be manipulated like butter. Instead of creating pockets, the mayonnaise will simply melt into the dough.

For those new to mayo-desserts, stick to recipes that explicitly include mayonnaise in the recipe or stick to the 1:1 replacement ratio for cake batters. If you’re worried that your cookies will end up tasting like a ham sandwich, don’t worry; the flavor of the mayonnaise will diffuse among the many other ingredients and even sweeter after cooking.

A mayo cookie recipe that really works

The following recipe actually uses light mayonnaise (I know, I really pushed the envelope with questionable ingredients this time) to replace both butter, eggs, and salt in a chocolate chip nut cookie, but you can also use non-light mayonnaise. I gave a few of these cookies to my boyfriend, but knowing my trade, he asked me what the “deal” was with them. When I told her they were made with mayonnaise, I could see her panic synapses start firing. He tasted one and quickly relaxed, pleasantly lightheaded. (Honestly, same.) This cookie recipe doesn’t have to be as good as it is, and I never thought I’d tell people that a chocolate mayo chunk cookie is quick. , easy and delicious. But here we are.

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Photo: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Walnuts and Mayonnaise

Makes 1 dozen cookies.


  • ¼ cup light mayonnaise (I used Hellmann’s)
  • ¼ cup + 2 tbsp white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup chopped walnuts
  • ¼ cup chopped dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In a separate small bowl, mix mayonnaise and sugar until blended. Add the vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients to the sugar-mayo mixture and stir until almost combined. Add chopped nuts and chocolate. Mix until homogeneous.

Drop tablespoon-sized mounds onto the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes at 350°F. Chill and enjoy the tastiest mayonnaise cookies you’ve ever eaten. This recipe can be doubled, if desired.