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Baking for Special Diets: Dairy-free, Egg-free, and Vegan

Whitney M.

Maybe you have a vegan in your family. Maybe your best friend is getting married, and you’re doing her cakes, but her fiance is allergic to eggs. Or maybe you’ve recently chosen to go dairy-free. These days, it seems like everyone has tuned in to the way what we eat affects how we feel--and as a result, every third person is on a different special diet. What’s a baker to do?

Never fear, conventional bakers! You too can join the ranks of those who are able to make delicious confections for dietary-restricted folk of all kinds. Today we begin a short series on baking for special diets, in which you will find ideas and resources that will help you expand your unconventional-cake-baking horizons. Let’s get started!

Vegan, Dairy-free, and Egg-free

I’m lumping these together because vegan, as you may know, is a diet in which no animal products are consumed. If you’re avoiding dairy and/or eggs, you can find usable recipes very quickly by searching for recipes that are vegan.

Here’s the best part: good vegan cake recipes are easy to find. You don’t even have to cook with anything weird; although some call for substitutes like soy milk, others simply happen to leave out the eggs, milk, and butter...and they’re still (I promise) really yummy.

For example:

Working with Replacements

If there’s a conventional recipe you already love, you can experiment with substitutes. I generally consider it heresy to replace butter with anything, but oil, according to The Cake Blog actually gives better results than butter in the cake itself. I recommend refined virgin coconut oil for its almost-neutral flavor that blends well with sweets; canola oil is fine for another neutral-tasting option; olive oil is delicious in the occasional citrus tea cake, but it does provide a definite flavor. Do not use vegetable oil if you want to avoid soy.

To replace milk, you can try coffee, strong black tea, non-dairy milk (I like coconut), even apple cider or another kind of juice.

Replacing eggs? The Kitchn runs you through your options.  I prefer to use baking soda and vinegar, because (1) it doesn’t change the cake’s flavor, and (2) I always have those ingredients on hand.

Time to Decorate

When it comes to frosting, you can of course make a vegan buttercream with some Earth Balance margarine and non-dairy milk. You can also use fondant, but you will have to make it yourself, and not from marshmallows; marshmallows contain gelatin, and prepackaged fondant contains glycerine, which may come from animal sources.  If you’re just avoiding dairy or eggs, you can use whatever fondant you like.

Alternately, you can top your cake with fresh or candied fruit, edible flowers, crushed Oreos, whipped coconut cream, fruit preserves, or dairy-free ganache. Liquid ganache can be made successfully with your dairy-free milk of choice; I’d reach for coconut or almond or soy, in that order, based on my own flavor preferences.

If you want a dairy-free (but not vegan) ganache that can be whipped into a pipeable frosting or filling, see the next link: experimental ganache with coconut cream (do a page search for “Addendum” to skip ahead to the recipe).

Further Reading

Happy baking!

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Oreos as vegan food still makes me giggle. So I can make Ganache with just regular soy milk? And it will thicken up? I don't often have whipping cream on hand but i usually (now) have soy milk.
5 years ago