Dairy-free frosting alternatives, please.
January 29, 2009 1:44 PM   Subscribe

What are some non-dairy alternatives to cake frosting?

Step-daughter's birthday is coming up, and I want to make her this cake. However, she is allergic to milk. According to her mom, she is "not just allergic to dairy products and lactose, she is allergic to the milk proteins."

Because of some messy, messy divorce issues (see past posts), her mom won't give us a detailed list of what she can and can't eat, but we do know that she can have baked goods, like cake and cookies, and things with some butter in them (e.g. mashed potatoes), because her mom often sends those along as snacks.

So, to be safe, what kind of frosting can I put on this cake that will be fun and edible? Normally we substitute things like peanut butter, but that would be disgusting on a cake. I'm willing to make some sort of icing, but I want to err on the side of caution, and not make anything that includes an overload of butter.
posted by messylissa to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
while i didn't look at the linked recipe, here is a recipe for vegan buttercream frosting; truly beyond amazing. if nothing else, this should serve as a starting point.

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening, such as spectrum
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated margarine, such as earth balance
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup plain soy milk or soy creamer
posted by austere at 1:48 PM on January 29, 2009

This vegan fluffy buttercream frosting (scroll to bottom) is delicious. And the book it came from--Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World--is a really good resource for dairy free cakey goodness.
posted by hecho de la basura at 1:49 PM on January 29, 2009

Here is one recipe for dairy-free buttercream frosting. And here is another. I'm guessing that, with vegetable shortening, sugar, and some variety of soy milk, you can make a perfectly nice frosting. I've had frosting made with the first recipe, and you would never know the difference.

posted by teamparka at 1:49 PM on January 29, 2009

If you don't feel like making your own frosting, you can usually find dairy-free frosting with the cake stuff in your average grocery store. A lot of those cheap, shelf-stable cans of frosting are dairy-free - really just oils and sugar.
posted by gnutron at 1:57 PM on January 29, 2009

Meringue frostings are tasty and very white, which looks nice if you have something colorful to contrast against it (I think that's what the last cake photo is).

The ingredients are egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and maybe a little vanilla, so totally milk-protein free. The recipe I use is from The Dessert Bible and I can't find it online, but I'm sure pretty much any meringue frosting recipe will be equivalent.

One caveat is that it won't looks so great after a day or two.
posted by aubilenon at 2:00 PM on January 29, 2009

cool whip!
posted by slograffiti at 2:03 PM on January 29, 2009

I like austere's recipe as an approach. Variations on it could include using almond milk, or substituting a little lemon or orange juice for some of the liquid.
posted by gimonca at 2:15 PM on January 29, 2009

Another option is boiled frosting, aka 7-minute frosting--similar ingredients to the meringue frosting above. Here are a couple of versions from Food Network and Epicurious.

It's sort of like frosting a cake with marshmallows. Don't tell my mom, but I like red velvet cake with boiled frosting better than the shortening-based frosting she uses.

Finally, boiled frosting also takes food color really well. We used this recipe (sub milk with water) and several colors of frosting for mini cupcakes. Don't know that you'll need more color with that cake, but then again, why not?
posted by fogovonslack at 2:16 PM on January 29, 2009

I can vouch for the icing (and the cupcakes) in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. Y U M.
posted by inigo2 at 2:16 PM on January 29, 2009

If the cake will fit the flavors, there are some great vegan peanut butter frostings. Here's one. More broadly, though, vegan baking is pretty big, and there are plenty of vegan frosting recipes out there.
posted by box at 2:24 PM on January 29, 2009

If you're looking to avoid any exotic ingredients...in middle school I learned cake decorating using a buttercream icing that was made of Crisco, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. I think it may have included some milk to thin it, but that could easily be replaced with rice/soy milk. Unfortunately I don't have the recipe anymore, but googling buttercream icing + Crisco turns up some recipes with those ingredients.

Some of the more complex recipes might taste better, though. And they'd definitely be healthier. But sometimes it's hard to find margarines that are entirely dairy-free.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:57 PM on January 29, 2009

You can use margarine instead of butter to make traditional icing. You can make gingerbread, and glaze it with lemon glaze (Lemon juice & confectioner's sugar)

strawberry meringue frosting.
posted by theora55 at 3:05 PM on January 29, 2009

I don't mean to derail this, but allergic to milk and "she can have ... things with some butter in them" are contradictory statements.

One of my sons is very allergic to milk (as in a recent emergency room visit). For him, allergic to milk means absolutely no milk or any of its derivative forms, things like whey, casein, sodium lactate, lactic acid, etc. And you'd be amazed at all of the things that have something milk-based as an ingredient. Most margarine brands, for example, have some dairy ingredient like whey.

Vigilance is key, and her mother not giving you information about what she can and can't eat is potentially life-threatening if your step-daughter's allergy is serious. And even if it's not, repeated exposure to the allergen can make it more serious over time, sometimes very abruptly.

Please be very careful and take this very seriously.
posted by johnvaljohn at 3:06 PM on January 29, 2009

I just made this as a filling for whoopie pies:

5 egg whites
4 tsp vanilla
8 tsp flour
4 tsp milk (substitute soy milk)
4 c confectioner's sugar (I used extra, to thicken the filling)
2 c Crisco

Beat egg whites until frothy, then add other ingredients. Beat until very thick (add extra flour or confectioner's sugar to thicken the consistency).

Makes a boatload of frosting.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:13 PM on January 29, 2009

Just seconding that some store-bought frostings are vegan (non-dairy) -- just check the labels. Of course, homemade is probably better.

Also, if you want a future alternative, these chocolate cupcakes using bananas (instead of eggs) and soy milk are delicious. I used a store-bought chocolate frosting, mixed with peanut butter and a little powdered sugar (to replace the sweetness the PB took away).

Lastly, Mocha Mix rules as a milk sub in cooking. It's not really healthy (oils and chemicals, yuck), but it provides a nice thick alternative to soy milk for things like soups and mashed potatoes.
posted by faunafrailty at 3:28 PM on January 29, 2009

posted by jgirl at 3:57 PM on January 29, 2009

Cool whip is a "non-dairy whipped topping", which, maddeningly, does not mean it contains no dairy. It means it does not meet the legal definition of "dairy whipped topping".

Confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar), lemon juice, and the minimum amount of water you have to add to make it spreadable. Works better on cookies/streusels, maybe, but has the advantage of not triggering my gag reflex.
posted by quarantine at 4:05 PM on January 29, 2009

@johnvaljohn - I completely agree with you about the contradictions in these two statements, and I appreciate your derail, actually. We've had our attorney request a comprehensive list of prohibited foods and allergist reports from the mother because of her contradictory statements and actions. Unfortunately, she often exaggerates the children's health concerns to use as bargaining to prohibit visitations and drive court orders, so she is reluctant to produce a list that would prove her to be lying.

@everyone else: I think the meringue and boiled frostings sound most equivalent to the coolwhip/pudding combo used in the recipe, but am curious for feedback on that. I want something that will match with flavors, and I don't think buttercreme is it.
posted by messylissa at 4:08 PM on January 29, 2009

Avocado frosting?
posted by fearthehat at 4:16 PM on January 29, 2009

Cool Whip contains casein. So do most margarines. Shedd's Willow Run is probably the easiest-to-find casein-free margarine.

Meringue will look most like the cake in the picture. However, my favorite dairy-free cake topping is marzipan. Roll it out like fondant and wrap the cake in it.
posted by jillsy_sloper at 5:13 PM on January 29, 2009

Shedd's Willow Run is probably the easiest-to-find casein-free margarine.

In my area, it would be Earth Balance. And I swear by the stuff. Whole Foods should have it.
posted by quarantine at 5:33 PM on January 29, 2009

@messylissa - I feel your pain. You're in a very difficult position.

Shedd's Willow Run is probably the easiest-to-find casein-free margarine -

Fleischmann's Light Unsalted has been our go-to margarine for many years. It's "parve". When dealing with a milk allergy, kosher dietary labeling is definitely your friend.
posted by johnvaljohn at 5:53 PM on January 29, 2009

Here's the recipe I've used (from the Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery, a treasure trove of retro-cooking lore):
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp white corn syrup
1/2 cup water
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
a few grains salt
1 tsp flavoring
coloring, if desired

Boil together the sugar, corn syrup, and water until the syrup "spins a long thread" or reaches 240F on a candy thermometer. Beat the egg whites and salt until stiff but not too dry. Pour the hot syrup over them, beating steadily and constantly until the syrup is all used and the frosting is of spreading consistency. Add flavoring or coloring if desired and spread on the cake (makes 2 cups).

It tastes just like Marshmallow Fluff. You can't however, just use Marshmallow Fluff, because it is insufficiently viscous and will slowly flow from the cake onto the cake plate. There is a recipe for frosting on the Marshmallow Fluff jar, but it looks like just as much trouble (including cooking sugar to 240F) as making your own.

I think the flavor would work fine--it's not a very strongly flavored frosting. I'm not sure I'd hold up fat-free nondairy topping and sugar-free/fat-free vanilla pudding as a paragon of flavor, but a boiled frosting won't be distractingly strong, and (at least to my tastes) an improvement over the diet flavor.

Here are photos of said frosting in multiple colors on chocolate cake and cupcakes. (Both also dairy-free so all the kids in my son's class could enjoy.)
posted by fogovonslack at 7:23 PM on January 29, 2009

When dealing with a milk allergy, kosher dietary labeling is definitely your friend.

Be careful with this if you have extremely severe dairy allergies. When it all boils down, "parve" is a halachic [Jewish law] definition, not an allergic-people definition. And although kosher certification agencies strive for *no* trace remnants of dairy in a product labeled parve, something like airborne dust from a previous run of a dairy product in the same factory wouldn't be a problem from a halachic standpoint (but might be a problem for a severely allergic person). There's more about this here.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:42 PM on January 29, 2009

Jam or preserves
posted by gt2 at 10:56 PM on January 29, 2009

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