In pastry school, one of my chef instructors was ex-military…. If I remember it correctly he was a sniper… though I might be inflating with the advancing years. Chef Sniper told us very early on, “I make pastry.  Pastry has sugar, white flour eggs and butter.  Don’t even ask me about replacing them. That’s not what I do.”  I agreed with him completely.

Do I still agree with Chef Sniper?  Hmmmmmm…. I was convinced of a few things…. For one thing, cakes have butter.  It’s flavor, structure, color, body….  It does so many things that it seemed sacrilege to me to think of doing it any other way.

I often say that everything I do is custom, right down to the flavors.  But generally I stop there. I’ve spent years refining my recipes, and it seems people really enjoy them.   I’ve learned the hard way, and from no less than Hugh Jackman, not to mess with a good thing.  So customization ended with flavor profiles.

Recently an incredibly lovely couple contacted me for their son’s birthday cake.  After we brainstormed a super fun pirate treasure cake, they mentioned that their son had a dairy allergy and asked if I could accommodate that.  Like I always do, I said yes, to worry about it later.

Intrigued I started testing immediately.  Yes, this is my idea of fun. Because it was more of a challenge, I was more worried about creating a yummy dairy free icing than the cake, so that’s where I began.  I tested soy, soy creamer, coconut milk….  So many yummy tests side by side.  I was blown away by how good they all were.  It was a matter of degrees, which I liked better.
I was even more surprised to have found my way to the most delicious chocolate cake I’d ever made!   So yummy that I served it in consultations without mentioning its special nature, and time after time, it was gobbled up.  An empty plate is a always a good sign.   So I switched.  I switched my chocolate cake to this new dairy free one.  I don’t always keep it dairy free, but you wouldn’t notice the difference either way.

Not everything is as easy to replace successfully as dairy is, and even that is not suitable for every kind of cake. Carved cakes require a different kind of structure in the cake than tiered ones. But I’m up for the next challenge.  Test me! Who knows what I’ll stumble on next…  And hearing from my lovely client that she loved the cake, as was so happy to have found options for her dairy challenged son that she couldn’t wait to order the next one.  And that’s just the best thing to hear.  And yes, Sugar Couture now makes dairy free cakes. And, might have a surprise for Chef Sniper.

Yummiest Ever Dairy Free Chocolate Icing

The best way to make this icing is to start it the day before so that it sets well.  It calls for solid coconut cream.  In full fat cans of coconut milk… Thai versions are the best…the rich fatty cream of the coconut milk will separate and float to the top. You’ll want to scoop this off and use only it, reserving the remaining coconut water for another use.   Avoid shaking the cans, to keep this cream in tact. If your can is emulsified, you can place it in the refrigerator and it should set up and solidify.

This batch will ice about 32 cupcakes.

16 oz             best quality semi sweet chocolate

13 oz              solid coconut cream

¼  tsp           salt

16 oz             powdered sugar

-Chop the chocolate finely, either by hand with a serrated knife or in a food processor. Place in a medium sized bowl.

-Scoop off the cream from the cans of coconut milk get 13 oz.  Place cream in a sauce pan and bring just to a boil over medium high heat.   You need to bring it to a boil for it to properly melt the chocolate, but you don’t want to boil it for any length of time.

-Pour the hot coconut cream over the finely chopped chocolate and let it sit for 5 minutes.   Add the salt… chocolate is always better with a bit of salt, and whisk the mixture until fully combined, luscious and glossy.

-Cover the top of the chocolate with a piece of plastic wrap touching the entire surface and let this sit at room temperature for 8-24 hours until firmly set.    If you simply can’t wait, you can refrigerate it a bit to help encourage the firming, but you don’t want it to get too hard or you’ll have to re-warm it and start over.

-When the chocolate is set, beat the powdered sugar into it to sweeten it up a bit.   Don’t add it all at once, but add to taste.  Depending on the strength of the chocolate you’ve used, it may need a bit more or less sugar.  If doing this on a mixer, take care not over beat it or the icing will stiffen and be difficult to use.  Use this immediately to ice cooled cakes or cupcakes, fill eclairs, or eat with a spoon… your call.