Lactose free dessert recipes?
November 20, 2023 1:45 PM   Subscribe

I like to bake for my roommates. I have a new one who is lactose intolerant. As someone who is obsessed with dairy, this is a challenge… all my favourite recipes call for copious amounts of milk, cream, and/or butter. I can do a couple vegan things but they’re not amazing, and they don’t need to be vegan anyway - eggs are fine, and I know some dairy has little lactose.
posted by wheatlets to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I know I said dessert, but savoury baking would be great too!
posted by wheatlets at 1:45 PM on November 20

Butter has almost no lactose in it, and ghee (clarified butter) has none. My lactose intolerant roomie doesn't have to worry about butter, does yours? For the milk/cream aspect, it's a little tougher. We use almond milk instead of cow for recipes that call for milk-qua-milk. Buttermilk is just almond milk plus lemon juice. Cream is harder to replace if you need its specific properties of whipping, I don't have specific suggestions for it, I'm sure others will. Also for special occasions, your roomie can take lactase enzyme pills and enjoy a reprieve for real cheese/milk etc.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:51 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

In this situation, I would pick foods where the eggs do a lot of the work and just sub in my favorite non-dairy milk and Earth Balance Buttery Spread in stick form. I'm a fan of hemp milk if price is no object and almond milk for budget reasons.

Lady Baltimore Cake has a spectacular cooked frosting, for instance.

When I was doing vegan baking a lot, I made Williamsburg cake all the time - Buttery Spread, especially the whipped spread, makes a great frosting that multiple people have believed to be a real buttercream.

Chocolate fig cake might be another option.

People often believe that you really need butter and milk to make a cake that doesn't taste "vegan". I've found that with many cakes, the real substitution issue is the eggs.

Oh, hey, what about meringue pies? If you feel iffy about making a truly vegan pie crust, you can make it with pate brisee or pate sucree. I used to make a vegan pate brisee that stood up to serious food-snob scrutiny.
posted by Frowner at 2:00 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Generally easy enough to do in cookies - swap margarine for butter and oat milk for dairy milk. Texture and flavor will be a little different, but not massively.

Those substitutions work fine in cakes, too. And while I don't usually make brownies, I'd think the same applies. I can't think if I've used oat milk to thin frosting, but I don't see why it wouldn't work, since it's a small amount of liquid.
posted by EvaDestruction at 2:01 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

IIRC cream has less than half the lactose of milk by weight.

There is also lactose-free milk and lactose-free half and half (these have been treated to remove lactose). I also see dairy-alternative creams. I would experiment with all of these 1:1 in a normal recipe.
posted by muddgirl at 2:01 PM on November 20 [4 favorites]

You could also make chiffon cake. There are about fifty million variations because this cake was heavily marketed by General Mills in the forties and fifties - I have a mid-century rather cake-heavy cookbook which has a whole chapter for them.
posted by Frowner at 2:06 PM on November 20

This Mexican chocolate tofu pie is amazing. I've served it to omnivores, and it blew them away.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz is the queen of vegan baking. This is her website.

If you have specific things you'd like nondairy versions of, there are probably people here who can help with that. I specifically brought in the pie since you said you cook things with a lot of dairy.
posted by FencingGal at 2:34 PM on November 20 [6 favorites]

Pumpkin pie and various other custard-type desserts can be made using coconut milk instead of evaporated milk - I like this pumpkin pudding recipe because I tend to cook for a crowd that includes dairy-free and gluten-free people, but you can do one with a crust too.

I'd also recommend Rainbow Plant Life's vegan dessert recipes - the author has YouTube videos for some of them, and in general she's good at teaching technique as part of the recipe. So if you make a few of them, you'll know more about how to adapt other recipes too.
posted by dreamyshade at 2:43 PM on November 20 [3 favorites]

I do custards with coconut milk/cream, and that stuff is pretty darned good. Just had a request for dessert and based on what I had in the cupboard I did about a third of a cup of piloncillo (brown sugar), a can of coconut cream, a tablespoon of rose water, and three tablespoons of corn starch, and my audience was duly impressed.

Serve that in chocolate bowls with a little bit of fruit accent and I think it'd be a show stopper.
posted by straw at 2:45 PM on November 20

My favorite easy vegan dessert is a chocolate cream pie that is pretty amazing. Warm a can of coconut milk in a pot, pour in a bag of (vegan) chocolate chips, whisk on low until melted. Pour into a chocolate cookie crust (either premade, or make with vegan shortening and Oreos). Chill until set, top with Cocowhip or other non-dairy dessert whip. No one ever believes it is dairy-free!
posted by LKWorking at 2:45 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

There’s lots of great advice in this thread. You can use butter and lactose-free milk in your recipes and for heavy cream, lactase enzyme drops are available to treat the cream before you cook with it. I have not found a non-dairy whipped cream that I like; coconut milk tastes (to me!) inescapably coconutty and reminds me of school cafeteria desserts from the 80s.
posted by corey flood at 2:55 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

We just discovered kraft cheese shredded is lactose free. Just the shredded kind!

Lactase pills can be hit or miss.

Lactaid milks, ice creams, and yogurts or items marked lactose free are safer because the amount of lactaid to lactose has been carefully measured.
posted by aetg at 3:29 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

I have not found a non-dairy whipped cream that I like; coconut milk tastes (to me!) inescapably coconutty and reminds me of school cafeteria desserts from the 80s.

I'm a vegan who loathes coconut flavor in desserts, but more stuff is being made with other kinds of nondairy milks now. Reddi Wip makes a good almond milk-based whipped cream, but I've only been able to find it once.
posted by FencingGal at 3:49 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

My mother is very lactose intolerant so I’ve had to find various workarounds, too. Agree with the chiffon cakes - even simpler are the family of vegetable oil & baking soda cakes that became popular during WW2, sometimes known as “wacky cakes”. There is an excellent recipe for one of those in Regan Daley’s In the Sweet Kitchen that is completely vegan.

The main challenge in dairy free baking and confectionery is the fats. There are shortening-based cookies and pie crusts, and even lard crust, if you’re okay with that. One interesting corner to explore is gianduja, which can be made with dark chocolate and has wonderful mouthfeel.
posted by graphweaver at 4:10 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

this chocolate olive oil cake is rich and delicious and vegan without relying on specialty ingredients. olive oil cakes in general might be worth looking up; some, like this blood orange one, involve yogurt or buttermilk, which some lactose-intolerant people can tolerate, since the bacteria consume most or all of the lactose.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 4:40 PM on November 20 [5 favorites]

One way to identify if a margarine is completely dairy free is to check if it is marked kosher parve - "parve" means neither meat nor dairy in the product. (Here is a discussion of the various symbols signifying that something is certified kosher, written specifically for dairy free consumers.)

Some brands that have kosher parve options include Fleishmann's, Imperial, Smart Balance and Earth Balance.
posted by metahawk at 4:46 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

A fun cheesemonger fact is that supposedly Buffalo Milk Cheeses and Sheeps milk cheeses are generally better tolerated by folks with lactose intollerance than cheese made of cows milk- different types of proteins, different types of lactose (as i, a happy lactose lover, understand it)
ymmv,ianad,iamycm etc
posted by wowenthusiast at 5:03 PM on November 20

Joining the chorus of lactose-intolerant people for whom butter is no problem.

I have just been making lactose-free pumpkin pie from the can, which is dead simple. First way: Just use the recipe on the can of pumpkin purée, use lactose-free milk in place of the evaporated milk, and add an extra egg. It’ll be slightly airier than usual, in a pleasant, custardy way. (Note: make sure the recipe on the can calls for sugar and evaporated milk, not sweetened condensed milk.)

Second method: same thing, except use silken tofu instead of the evaporated milk, in a one-for-one substitution (12 oz of tofu for 12 oz of evap milk, etc).
posted by telophase at 7:14 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

I've had a really excellent vegan chocolate pie that used avocado in place of any dairy. Delicious.
posted by hovey at 7:21 PM on November 20

And hovey's suggestion reminded me of the Cafe Gratitude cookbooks. Those recipes are work, and some of the ingredients are hard to source, but those various pies are fully the equal of traditional dairy based pies.
posted by straw at 9:26 PM on November 20

Cream is harder to replace if you need its specific properties of whipping

Tahini can be persuaded to adopt a whipped cream texture. So can just about any nut butter using much the same method.
posted by flabdablet at 11:08 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

Classic French Chocolate mousse. This is my new favorite dessert recipe. It is quite intense, so a serving is like a half cup.

You can also make a lemon mousse.

When I make crêpes, I don't use milk in the batter, I use plain water or carbonated water, or beer, depending on the mood. I've tried using vegan butter instead of butter for baking them, and it works just fine. You can layer them with nutella or jam for a pancake-cake.

Our local vegan baker makes excellent croissants, you can try this recipe for a similar result.

They also make a delicious Moroccan orange cake. Now I'll have to go and buy one, since I don't remember was is in it, but meanwhile, here is a olive oil orange cake
posted by mumimor at 12:13 AM on November 21 [2 favorites]

One way to identify if a margarine is completely dairy free is to check if it is marked kosher parve

The extension to that, of course, is that ‘parve’ is a useful word to use while googling for recipes. Lots of traditional Jewish recipes like honey cake, but also other recipes adapted for people keeping kosher.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:32 AM on November 21

I make two versions of a concord cake; one vegan, one classic. Both are showpieces and get oohs and ahs and deep appreciation (especially the vegan version). Both incidentally gluten free as well.

A concord cake is essentially two components;a deep chocolate mousse, and piped chocolate meringue layers and logs. Both are delicious, and I think that the vegan one has a deeper chocolate flavor in the mousse, though the texture on the classic mousse is slightly better.

I've actually had better luck with the meringues that use aquafaba rather than classic egg whites, but that may just be me. The vegan recipe I linked isn't the one I've always used, but I can't seem to locate that recipe at the moment. I do know that the vegan mousse I've used in the past is prepared using just melted chocolate and water and is very good, but I may also try using the mousse recipe mumimor linked above next time I make the classic version.
posted by newpotato at 2:40 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]

Spainish almond cake. Many recipies on line.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:30 AM on November 21 [2 favorites]

All the cakes I have ever made can be adapted for lactose-free baking, it's not often that the recipe is structurally dependent on milk or cream, and butter is usually ok and very easily substituted. Toppings and fillings are harder. I am lactose intolerant and partially as a result don't actually like the taste/texture of cream or custard. I much prefer toppings and fillings which are going for an entirely different approach compared. This might mean something more fruit-based or a simpler style of icing. You might want to check in with your roommate about specific preferences if you're going to go to the trouble of making something you want them to eat.
posted by plonkee at 6:16 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]

Lactose intolerant dessert baker here, reporting for duty. There are lots of great desserts that are naturally dairy free, and many more desserts whose only dairy is the butter. On that front, you have several options.
- Butter may be fine as is, since butter has very little lactose in it
- Lard is a very tasty & traditional option for pies, if pork products are ok with you & your friend. It also works well in some cookies, depending on their flavor profile.
- Shortening or vegan butter also produce perfectly tasty results. Miyoko's Plant Milk Butter is expensive but worth it for a special occasion; Trader Joe's Vegan Buttery Spread is cheaper and pretty good; Earth Balance is ok but has a distinctive taste that some are not fond of. Stay away from the whipped/spreadable stuff, as its water content is too high for most baking.

Non-custard pies and tarts are a great option and require very little modification, since the main source of dairy is the fat in the pie crust (and sometimes a little in the filling). Here are some of the pies and tarts that I love best:
- Apple Galette
- Summer Fruit Tart with Almond Cream (not actually cream, just frangipane)
- Maple pecan pie
- Tarte Tatin is a showstopper (and a bit of a fun challenge for the baker, as it involves caramel and some unusual techniques)

Zabaglione is a naturally dairy-free dessert I love -- it's fancy and mousse-y and way easier than it looks.

Many cookies can be made without any dairy other than butter (or substitute). Chocolate chip cookies are actually amazing made with lard, dark chocolate, and a wee sprinkle of salt on top. Claire Saffitz has these amazing Pistachio Pinwheels -- the nuts and egg yolks make them rich and delicious even with non-dairy butter substitutes.

This Almond Cake is my favorite cake of all time. Again, no dairy other than butter (or substitute), and it's delicious as is or dressed up. I often slice it in half, spread some raspberry jam in the middle, and decorate the top with scattered almond slices and sifted powdered sugar.

Apple Sharlotka is another of my favorite cakes, and it's naturally dairy free. It's a very light cake -- mostly apples, held together by a little bit of eggy batter -- and perfect for tea and snacking.

Baklava is another dessert that requires only butter (or substitute) -- and it's a lot of fun to make.

There are lots of olive oil cake recipes out there -- but I've had very mixed results depending on the quality of the olive oil I use. I'll be checking out the olive oil cake recipes in this thread with great interest.
posted by ourobouros at 6:17 AM on November 21 [2 favorites]

I don't eat dairy except when I can't resist, and then there's a price. Butter, lactose-free milk, hard cheeses, etc., cause trouble. In many recipes that call for baking powder, OJ or Cider, or Vinegar if you want extra tartness, will work like milk so things rise. Earth Balance vegan butter is pretty good(not as good as butter, but good). In most things, I add a little extra fat to make up for the lack of whole milk, more if a recipe called for cream. Substitute milks have specific flavors and don't necessarily work as milk in baking; it's case-by-case. .

Fruit pie with a vegan crust. Pumpkin pie with cider instead of dairy and some oil is quite good; a gingersnap crust is nice. Maybe add a meringue, because pumpkin meringue pie is good, esp if you can't have cream. Pecan pie.

Try making gingerbread with a lemon glaze; gingerbread is old-fashioned and out of favor, but absolutely delicious. and doesn't need dairy.
posted by theora55 at 6:58 AM on November 21

I make on the regular a Tarta de Santiago, a Spanish almond cake. No additional fat (other than the eggs), no dairy and is gluten free. I swap the cinnamon for cardamom (freshly ground with a small addition of coriander seed to temper the camphorness that comes with cardamom) and the orujo for a vodka flavoured with green cardamom pods (of my own making). Can be served with whipped cream or a glaze I suppose but I think it is fine with icing sugar or nothing at all. Holds up reasonable well over a period of days.
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:00 AM on November 21 [2 favorites]

Nigella Lawson’s lemon tender cake with blueberry compote is delicious and happens to be vegan (even though that’s not your requirement). But I don’t feel like it is a compromise, it is just good in and of itself.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:00 PM on November 21 [1 favorite]

Like others mentioned, I make this Spanish almond cake often. I also like the chocolate version of Spanish almond cake from this recipe Chocolate Almond torte . It’s very easy to make.
posted by SunPower at 7:04 PM on November 21

Unfortunately, the bakers don't make the cake anymore, this is the closest I could find:
Tunisian Orange and Almond Cake
posted by mumimor at 2:52 AM on November 22

Fage makes a lactose free yogurt now, so you could make French Yogurt cake! It would probably work with most non milk yogurts, and I can confirm it also works with Bob's Mill gluten free flour if you ever need a GF cake recipe. You can fill and frost it with practically anything, I usually do a fruit jam in the middle and whipped cream on top.

If you have a whipped cream charger, the kind that uses nitrous cartridges, you can make whipped cream with a can of coconut milk well shaken and chilled. It needs to be a brand that uses guar gum as a stabilizer. You want to keep the charger in the fridge and shake it really well before dispensing. It's the only way I've found to recreate the pillowy texture of real whipped cream. I sweeten it and add plenty of vanilla, which seems to disguise most of the coconut taste.

Oh, and If you're making cookies and subbing margarine, just refrigerate the dough before baking so it doesn't spread out as much.
posted by ananci at 5:59 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]

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