I’ve had my share of difficulties when it comes to dairy-free icings. Often, I find it hard to get the icing stiff enough, as I tend to favour coconut oil over vegan butters. The reason for that is because I am allergic to peas, of all things, and pea protein shows up in a surprising amount of butter replacements. I think the pea issue is an unfortunate side effect of the peanut allergy (did you all know that peanuts are legumes, not nuts? I did know this, but it still somehow caught me by surprise when I started having allergy symptoms when eating things like peas, soy, and chickpeas). I have found a coconut oil based “butter”, but it’s hard to find so it’s often easier for me to use coconut oil than to go searching for the hydrogenated butter replacements.
Those of you who have experience using vegan butters, you’ll know that they tend to be more solid than coconut oil at room temperature, so they tend to make a more stable icing. In the past, I’ve ended up with a fairly runny coconut oil icing, so I wanted to make something a little closer to a normal buttercream consistency.
I started with this recipe, but I unfortunately had some issues incorporating my coconut oil and sugar. I don’t think this is the fault of the recipe at all; reading the comments, I think my coconut oil may have been too cold, which can lead to problems with how the coconut oil absorbs the sugar. I thought that my coconut oil was a little too soft so I put it in the fridge for a while before starting this icing, and that may have been my downfall. Many people in the comments section for that recipe say they made it and loved it, so I think this was just a fluke on my part, or maybe something about the dryness of my apartment (I swear you could make mummies in this place). I’d recommend trying this recipe as-is if you want a good coconut oil icing, but if you make a mistake like I did, you can see how I was able to salvage it below.
I compensated for the dryness and lack of absorbancy by adding more coconut oil. I did a half-batch, so my ratios were closer to 3/8c + 1 tbsp coconut oil to 2 cups of powdered sugar (I estimated that quantity a little bit; I added about 3 extra tbsp of coconut oil, one spoonful at a time, until I got close to the consistency that worked for me. Depending on your own conditions (humidity, temperature, coconut oil temperature), you may also find you need to make some adjustments). I found that my icing started coming together at this point, whereas it looked like sandy, dry crumbs before I increased the coconut oil.
I added in a splash of vanilla (around 1/2 tsp) and coconut milk to tweak the consistency. Unfortunately I didn’t record exactly how much I added, but I think this amount will also vary depending on conditions and on how soft the icing already is at this point. I still had a little trouble getting the icing to come together at one point, but I just switched to stirring by hand for about a minute and was able to get it to all stick together. After that, everything went smoothly with my mixer.
I used these to top some gluten-free vegan cupcakes (recipe from Sarah Bakes Gluten Free). I tried to keep it simple: on the left, I used a French tip and piped from the centre of the cupcake, slightly twisting from side to side as I lifted the piping tip; on the left, I used the same piping tip to pipe a swirl, then added some sprinkles. I also included some mini cupcakes, which I frosted in a yellow lemon flavoured icing (same recipe as above, but with some yellow food colouring and two drops of lemon oil).
Just for fun, I topped the lemon icing with some edible glitter:
The only thing I dislike when using coconut oil and coconut milk is that the coconut flavour ends up overpowering whatever else you add to the icing. I really want to experiment more with coconut oil frostings for cakes and cupcakes, so I will also experiment with flavour as I do so. I would also like to try this recipe again and see if I can avoid the same mistakes; if my coconut oil and sugar meld right off the bat, I can likely avoid adding the coconut milk, which probably accounts for most of the coconut flavour here. With the coconut oil and milk, I found the vanilla flavour ended up being fairly subtle, so I think these could benefit from some additional vanilla (or some powdered vanilla bean, which I was lucky enough to find for sale at Winners earlier in the year. This has the benefit of adding a cute speckled pattern to the icing). I also think I should have added several more drops of lemon to the lemon flavoured icing, as it is definitely hidden beneath the coconut. It’s there, but it’s barely there.
Overall, I still quite enjoy the flavour. There might not be for you if you don’t like the taste of coconut, but I really do love coconut so I don’t mind that it’s the main event here. But I do want the option for other flavours if I need a more versatile frosting in the future. The texture was also nice and light; the benefit of coconut oil is that it almost gives a melt-in-your mouth consistency. I’ve often found that butter-free frostings are lighter and airier than their buttery counterparts. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that this buttercream piped beautifully and held its shape on the cupcake. Just to be safe, I am storing these in the fridge so the coconut oil stays firm and the frosting stays in those beautiful swirls.
Does anyone else have experience with coconut oil icings? Or do you prefer a more solid butter substitute? Let me know in the comments!