Friday, January 04, 2019

Delicious Without Dairy

It's been about three years now that I have known that I have a severe dairy allergy. It does limit the ingredients available, especially for baking, but that has challenged me to see what I can do with alternatives to dairy while still baking delicious things to eat.

A few days ago I visited a wonderful bakery where everything is made from scratch with high quality ingredients. They make super special cakes for special occasions so I wanted to see if they ever bake without dairy so that I could order something. I was told, kindly, that they never bake without dairy because they don't feel that they can maintain the quality and 'if it was easy everyone would be doing it'. Fair enough. It isn't easy, but I know that most people can't tell if I've baked with butter or not. Baked goods carefully made with non-dairy ingredients can be really delicious!

Last Wednesday I provided cookies for a punch and cookies reception after a meeting our our scholarship group, P.E.O. In case you have forgotten...or never knew... receptions for things like baby or bridal showers and sometimes even for weddings used to be fairly simple and the refreshments were usually punch and cookies or cake, plus tiny pillow mints and maybe a small bowl of nuts. I wonder if we should think about going back to that low key style of entertaining for more occasions. It's is relatively inexpensive and easy.

I made lemon bars with non-dairy margarine (located near the punch in the photo above). They were the first thing to go so obviously no one knew that there was no butter in them. I also made a refrigerator cookie with red and green cherries (yes, baked for Christmas, but still delicious since they had been stored in an airtight cookie tin) that had butter in them. Those went quickly too. Some Spritz cookie in the shape of a flower also made with butter didn't get eaten very much at all, but Linzer Bars without butter were eaten right up! This leads me to believe that cookies can easily be delicious without dairy.

Cakes and pies can also be delicious when made with non-dairy margarine and with soy milk creamer or almond creamer instead of whole milk or half and half creamer. I have even successfully made ganache (chocolate melted and mixed with whipping cream) using chocolate and soy creamer. A friend makes a whipped cream substitute from chickpea canning liquid (aquafaba) but I find that it doesn't hold up very long, so is OK if you are eating it right away.

I also cook savory things with the unflavored soy creamer, but it still has a slight sweetness to it, so I always check the seasonings and add some lemon juice or vinegar or salt and pepper as needed.

My most favorite non-dairy cake of late is this lovely one that has custard and apples on the bottom and a light sponge layer on top. Do try it with either dairy or without dairy - it's a winner and perfect for winter when apples are so delicious. One of the key bits of this recipe is to microwave the sliced apples a bit until they are pliable, so don't skip that step. Also, remember to remove part of the batter to another bowl so that you have it for adding the flour to for the top sponge layer.

French Apple Cake
from The Perfect Cake, America's Test Kitchen
serves 8-10

1 1/2 lbs Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 8 wedges, and sliced 1/8 inch thick crosswise
1 tablespoon rum
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup (5 oz) plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup (7 oz) plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil (I used 1/2 cup [1 stick/8 tablespoons] non-dairy margarine, melted and cooled, plus 1/2 cup plain vegetable oil)
1 cup whole milk (I used Silk Original [unflavored] soy creamer)
1 large egg, plus 2 large yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
confectioners' sugar

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray 9-inch spring form pan with vegetable oil spray. Place prepared pan on aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.

Place apples in microwave safe pie plate, cover, and microwave until apples are pliable and slightly translucent, about 3 minutes. Toss apples with rum and lemon juice and let cool for 15 minutes.

Whisk 1 cup flour, 1 cup granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt together in bowl.  whisk oil, milk, whole egg and vanilla in second large bowl until smooth. Add flour mixture to milk mixture and whisk until just combined. Transfer 1 cup batter to third bowl and set aside.

Add egg yolks to remaining batter and whisk to combine. Using spatula, gently fold in cooled apples. Transfer batter to prepared pan, using offset spatula, spread batter evenly to pan edges, gently pressing on apples to create even, compact layer and smooth surface.

Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons flour into reserved batter. Pour over batter in pan, spreading batter evenly to pan edges, and smooth surface.

Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon granulated sugar evenly over cake.

Bake until center of cake is set, toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, and top is golden brown, about 1 1/4 hours, but check at 45 minutes and keep checking until done.

Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes. Run thin knife around edge of pan to loosen cake, then let cool completely 2-3 hours. Remove sides of pan and slide thin metal spatula between cake bottom and pan bottom to loosen, then slide cake onto platter. Dust cake lightly with confectioners' sugar before serving.


  1. Larger Whole Foods have bakeries which have cakes made totally vegan. No, it's not easy, but it's POSSIBLE, and I'm vexed on your behalf that they wouldn't even TRY.

    ...but, I'm often vexed on my own behalf. It's easier to be a vegetarian in public now, but growing up, not being able to have a hotdog or whatnot when other kids were having them... that was a bummer! But, we survived.

  2. Yes, it's amazing what we survive, but being a kid and different from the rest of the kids is still traumatic. Thanks for the tip on Whole Foods...will check them out.

  3. Anonymous2:50 PM

    Beautiful write up!
    The cake looks fabulous! I'm always looking for apple cakes because we live near a wonderful man with an apple orchard who lets us pick.