Dairy-free cake: cupcakes, frosting and more

Do you ever wonder how to make your favorite recipes dairy-free? Let us show you the way by making some of our most well-loved desserts without dairy. In this post we explore how to make dairy-free cake, as well as cupcakes, frosting, and a few other special treats. Note: For the sake of this post, eggs are not considered dairy ingredients. If you’re looking to bake without eggs, check out these vegan recipes.

Special occasions call for cake. It can be simple or decadent, but most importantly it should be something that everyone can enjoy. The best part about celebrating with cake is sharing it with others! That’s why it’s valuable to know how to make delicious dairy-free cakes, so dietary restrictions don’t hold up the party.

Check out these tempting recipes and clever tricks to make the best dairy-free cakes and cupcakes. Click To Tweet

Cake Pan Cake via @kingarthurflour

Before we take a deep dive into substitution tips, let’s enjoy a moment of appreciation. Have you ever realized that some fantastic cake recipes — Cake Pan Cake! — are 100% dairy-free? It’s very possible that your standby cake recipe is already dairy-free. In that case, skip down to where we talk about frostings so you can top off your cake with style (while also avoiding dairy).

But if your favorite cake recipe starts by beating butter and sugar together, or calls for a block of cream cheese, read on! You’ll be able to make a delicious dairy-free cake in no time.

Types of cake

When it comes to types of cake, there are more than a baker’s dozen. Each kind uses a unique process to incorporate the ingredients. For the sake of making dairy-free versions, we’re going to break them down into four categories.

Olive Oil Bundt via @kingarthurflour

Many blended cakes are made with oil instead of butter (like this Olive Oil Bundt Cake), making them easier to convert to dairy-free.

Blended cakes

The ingredients in these cakes are simply stirred together. Sometimes the wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately and then combined, but it’s still pretty straightforward.

These cakes are typically made with oil instead of butter, often making them dairy-free! This category includes one of my favorite oil-based cakes, Olive Oil Bundt Cake, but there are other more traditional choices too, like Fudge Birthday Cake.

Some of these blended cakes call for liquid to be added to the batter. Often it’s coffee or another flavorful liquid (beer!), but sometimes it’s milk. The swap here is simple: use your favorite unflavored, unsweetened non-dairy milk instead. If all you have on hand is sweetened milk you can use it, but expect a slightly sweeter final product (or reduce the sugar in your recipe by a few teaspoons).

I like using almond milk because of its creamy flavor, but soy, rice, cashew, and coconut milk are all suitable choices too.

Angel Food Cake via @kingarthurflour

Foam cakes

These delicate cakes get their structure from beating together eggs (either whole eggs or the whites and yolks separately) rather than butter and sugar. Some kinds of foam cake don’t call for any dairy ingredients at all. Angel Food Cake, as well as some sponge and chiffon cakes are naturally dairy-free. Bake away!

However, milk is sometimes called for in the batter of foam cakes. Case in point: Chef Zeb’s Hot Milk Cake.

Same substitution rules apply here: Pull out that dairy-free milk and make the swap.

Hot Milk Cake via @kingarthurflour

Hot Milk Cake is delicious topped off with coconut milk crème anglaise. Yes, really: you make this creamy sauce without cream!

No cakes are off limits if you’re willing to make just a few changes, even if there’s milk right in the name. This Hot Milk (dairy-free) Cake is scrumptious.

Victoria Sandwich Cake via @kingarthurflour

Creamed and paste cakes

The base of these cakes is a solid fat, usually butter. The fat is mixed with either the sugar (as in creamed cakes) or with the dry ingredients (like with paste cakes). Both methods produce cakes that are fluffy and typically have a fine crumb. (Think the ideal birthday cake or a Victoria Sandwich Cake.)

There are a number of dairy-free solid fats that you can choose from when making a dairy-free cake. You can use vegan butter, vegetable shortening (preferably butter-flavored), or even coconut oil.

Dairy-free cake via @kingarthurflour

Vegan butter and shortening both produce a nicely structured cake. Coconut oil doesn’t cream quite as successfully as either of these options, but you’re welcome to experiment if you love using coconut oil in your kitchen. Just be sure to use it in its solid, room temperature form.

The flavor of the cake made with vegan butter was most similar to a dairy-based cake. We recommend using vegan butter as it provides the most consistent, delicious results.

(Don’t forget to use your dairy-free milk in these recipes as well, if necessary.)

Ultra-Vanilla Cupcakes via @kingarthurflour

These Ultra-Vanilla Cupcakes are ultra-delicious when made with coconut milk both in the batter and in the simple chocolate ganache.

Most cupcakes are also made from either blended, foam, or creamed/paste cake batters. The same dairy-free cake tips apply when you’re making cupcakes. Just think of them as miniature cakes — which is exactly what they are!

Dairy-free cake via @kingarthurflour

Dairy-free cake: special cases

There are a handful of cakes that don’t fit into the three categories above. We’ll call these special cases. Some might be trickier than others (we’re looking at you, cheesecake) to convert to dairy-free, but you can make practically any dessert without dairy if you know how to substitute ingredients successfully.

Dairy-free cake via @kingarthurflour

Treat each cake as an individual case, and see if you can find a non-dairy equivalent of the dairy ingredients in the recipe. Read our other posts about dairy-free baking to learn about some of the dairy-free ingredients we’ve had success with in the past.

And if you’re still not sure how to make a dairy-free cake, give our Baker’s Hotline a call: 855-371-BAKE(2253). Our hotline folks are substitution pros.

Easy Cheesecake via @kingarthurflour

Believe it or not, dairy-free cream cheese holds up surprisingly well in our Easy Cheesecake recipe.

We tackled some of these special-case cakes for you, to give you an idea of what substitutions we found successful in the test kitchen.

  • Cheesecake: Use vegan butter in the crust and non-dairy cream cheese.
  • Berries and Cream Cake: Use vegan butter and unsweetened non-dairy yogurt instead of sour cream. (You could also use dairy-free sour cream — it just tends to be a bit more difficult to find.)
  • Pudding Cakes: Use a high-fat dairy-free milk like coconut milk or cashew milk for a rich, custard-like texture.
  • Clafouti: Any kind of non-dairy milk will work here. Choose your fancy!
  • Bienenstich (Bee Sting Cake): Use vegan butter, canned coconut milk instead of heavy cream, and make pastry cream with coconut milk. (Confession: coconut milk pastry cream is my new favorite treat. It’s rich and slightly floral in flavor.)

Use these special-case examples as a launching pad to dive into your favorite recipe.

Dairy-free cake via @kingarthurflour

Clockwise from top left: Vanilla Buttercream made with vegan butter, Fudge Frosting made with dairy-free yogurt, and pastry cream made with coconut milk.

Dairy-free frosting

Now that you’ve made your delicious dairy-free cake, it’s time to gild the lily. There are surprisingly a lot of delicious dairy-free options when it comes to frosting.

If you’re not into scouting the grocery stores for alternative ingredients, choose from a handful of recipes that are naturally dairy-free. Egg white-based Seven-Minute Frosting is a fantastic choice. Or you can top off your cake with a simple glaze. (Use the same liquid in the glaze that you used to make the cake: coffee, water, dairy-free milk, etc.)

You can also make chocolate glaze from dark chocolate (which is usually dairy-free) and water, or opt for a peanut butter-almond milk frosting instead.

Not ready to give up your buttercream just yet? Use vegan butter or butter-flavored shortening in lieu of butter in your frosting. You can make our Quick Buttercream Frosting, or even Italian or Swiss Buttercream if you’re looking for something a bit fancier and fluffier to top off your dairy-free cake.

Two of my favorite frostings are Fudge Frosting and Cream Cheese Frosting. Here you’ll need to use a combination of dairy-free alternatives: vegan butter as well as non-dairy yogurt and cream cheese. Don’t worry, they still turn out delicious when made with dairy-free ingredients.

Dairy-free cake via @kingarthurflour

Dairy-free cake and desserts for everyone

Dessert is best when shared with others, and we promise these dairy-free cakes are worthwhile to show off at the next special celebration. Whether it’s a simple Cake Pan Cake, a time-tested Hot Milk Cake, or even a cheesecake, you can make it sans dairy.

Need to avoid gluten too? No problem. Simply follow these substitution tips and use our Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour to replace the all-purpose or cake flour in your recipe.

Now go on and bake a dairy-free cake! We hope you’ll choose one of the well-loved recipes highlighted here. Or try converting your own recipe, and bake it for the next cake-worthy occasion. Please share some of your favorite ways to bake tender, delicious cakes, cupcakes, and frosting without using dairy in comments, below.

Thanks to Anne Mientka for taking the photos for this post.

Kye Ameden
About

Kye Ameden grew up in Fairlee, Vermont and has always had a love of food, farms, and family. After graduating from St. Lawrence University, she became an employee-owner at King Arthur Flour and is a proud member of the Digital Engagement Team.

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We apologize for any misunderstanding, Nancy. All of our products have best-by dates on their packages, and we recommend following them for best results. Annabelle@KAF

  1. Jacqueline

    Thank you. I’ve had to adjust since acquiring dairy and nut allergies, I wish your products like pie enhancer were available dairy-free!

    There are products I’ve successfully used, including Earth Balance bars (skip the spread, too soft for baking), and vegan non-hydrogenated shortening. Most times my guests and friends are delighted with results and shocked to learn its dairy-free. One important point, if you’re subbing nut milk for cows milk, you must alert guests. Someone with nut allergy may not have told you. Could be a deadly omission.

    Reply
  2. Faye

    I’ve made dairy free cakes since I was a kid- as Mom instructed. I keep kosher and after a meat meal, cannot serve a dairy cake. I realize it isn’t healrhy, but I’ve always used non-dairy margarine in place of butter in layer cakes with buttercream frosting ( fleishmans unsalted) . I’ve read of mixed results with earth balance, though never tried. (I don’t eat cake every day, and neither do my guests, so a slice with margarine once in a while won’t hurt – sugar likely worse!). I don’t convert cake recipies calling for milk to dairy free, only because I dislike taste of milk substitute. For buttercream frosting liquid, I use either coffee or coffee liquor. I get raves for dairy free chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies. (Though lately I’m serving fish for dinner parties and Friday nights -just so I can make lucious dairy desserts!!!)

    Reply
  3. Susan

    I have never used vegan butter before but now I will. I hope I don’t have trouble finding it. Your photos are so good. My baked good never look as good as yours do.

    Reply
  4. Barbara Stump

    There is no dairy-free cream cheese in PA.unless you consider some soy (tofu) stuff. Lact-aid now makes lactose free ice cream and sour cream and milk. they need to make lactose free cream cheese.

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      We hope real dairy-free cream cheese comes to PA soon, Barbara. We did some side-by-side testing with dairy-free cream cheese and tofu-based “cream” cheese, and we liked the flavor of the non-tofu based spreads better. WayFare brand makes a really nice dairy-free spread that baked up beautifully as a cheesecake. It’s made from their proprietary blend of dairy-free ingredients (water, organic butter beans, organic oats), vegetable oil blend (coconut and safflower) and a few other ingredients. If you get the chance, we hope you give it a try. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      It’s our sincere pleasure, Claudia. We understand that more bakers (and cake-eaters) are looking for dairy-free options these days, and we hope we can help make those options decadent and delicious. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. Marjie

    Thank you, Kye, for this fantastic post.

    I’m using perhaps five per-cent of the the amount of dairy products I used to use in the past. My cakes are just as good, if not better.

    Lately I’ve been making the Strawberry Almond Flour cake from KAF.

    Keep exploring!

    Reply
    1. Kye Ameden, post author

      The Strawberry Almond Flour Cake is most definitely one of our favorites, Marjie. Thanks for bringing it up here so others looking for recipes that are naturally dairy-free can give it a try. Thanks for baking with us! Kye@KAF

  6. Alex

    Actually, I haven’t found most dark chocolate to be dairy free. Vegan for 17 years, and I still have to read the ingredients to check for milkfat on every package. (Also I remember the days when dairy free sour cream was easier to find than dairy free yogurt – we’ve come a long way!)

    Otherwise, solid article and excellent tips 🙂

    Reply
    1. Faye

      Go to kosher section of food store or look on line. there are dairy free chocolate chips and dark chocolate. I’ve never found great chips, but kosher Swiss chocolate brands are decent, and the basic elite bar okay ( they have a higher grade bar now too)

  7. Annette

    I will have to say that coconut oil is not in a “solid form at room temperature” when it’s 80+ in FL. The hotter it gets here the more liquid the coconut oil. When I coat my cast iron pan with coconut oil all I have to do is just turn the jar and the oil runs out of the jar. Lol

    Reply

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *