After a brief hiatus… I’m back! Wedding planning is going beautifully and it looks like it’s really going to happen – I’m really going to get to bake my own wedding cake. Our caterer has graciously offered to let me use their kitchen to bake it. Given religious restrictions, however, we have to have a completely dairy-free cake. Yup, everything from the batter to the icing to the sprinkles on the top has to be completely dairy-free. I knew that would probably end up happening, but I have to admit, it scared me away. But I’ve done some reading and a little research, and I’m back and ready to make the best dairy-free cake you’ve ever had.
Today’s base recipe comes from a tried and true favorite – Sallys Baking Addiction. Sally’s Vanilla Naked Cake is similar to the Vanilla Bean Birthday Cake I made for our engagement party – it uses buttermilk and a lot of vanilla flavoring, but this recipe uses whole eggs, rather than egg whites and omits the use of an actual vanilla pod. Oh, also, I made them as mini-cupcakes because of the space constraints in my kitchen. I also made two actual layers of cake to taste test as a whole cake, but not to decorate because all of my supplies are at home.
First Steps to a Dairy-Free Cake:
I started by looking into dairy-free cake recipes, hoping that I would not have to alter a cake recipe that is not actually meant to be dairy-free. As Sally, herself, says: it’s really best to always follow the actual recipe. But after searching high and low, it seemed like the only dairy-free cake recipes I was going to find were vegan cake recipes that got into complicated egg substitutes. This cake does not need to be vegan. Eggs are totally allowed! So I decided, hey, I have time, I’m going to essentially try and craft my own dairy-free but still egg-filled recipe based on a few different base recipes. I decided that I can’t do this all in one fell swoop, and that it would be best for me to start with individual pieces, creating “hybrid” cakes that may have dairy, but are focused on the replacement of individual dairy-based ingredients, one at a time, for the most “controlled” (using this term loosely…) experiment I can reasonably make. So I decided to start with a butter substitute. Margarine seemed the best bet at first, but after reading more about its use in cakes, I learned that margarine has an incredibly high water content as compared with butter, and that makes it not ideal inside a cake. As someone who has always believed in Crisco’s ability to make a good pie crust, I decided to read more about Crisco and learned that the water content of Crisco is considerably lower and much closer to that of actual butter. What’s even better, apparently, Crisco now makes “butter flavored baking sticks” designed specifically to take the place of butter in baking! So for these cupcakes, I followed Sally’s recipe precisely, except that I substituted out the butter with the Crisco baking sticks.
Overall Pros & Cons: I’m super happy with how these cupcakes turned out. They taste really great. They’re moist and fluffy without being too airy and light – you really feel them as you bite into them and can feel the flavor take over your taste buds. The taste doesn’t disappear the way it sometimes does with cakes that are supremely airy and light. And, to my surprise, it didn’t taste like I had used a mediocre butter substitute. I’m sure, had I tasted them side by side (butter substitute vs actual butter), I may have been able to taste a difference, but for what I had, it was more than satisfactory. The vanilla flavor is really apparent, which I think helps to distract from the fact that there isn’t any real butter in it. Right now, I’m feeling pretty confident in my choice of butter flavored Crisco sticks as my butter substitute, but will definitely be trying this recipe out again with a buttermilk substitute. I’ll need to do some research into what substitutes provide similar tastes and textures, but I’m happy knowing that I was able to really evaluate the butter substitute first, before changing a bunch of things at once.
Taste Test: A-
A really solid vanilla cake. As compared with the Vanilla Bean Birthday cake I made for our engagement party, I think the texture is much closer to the sort of texture I expect in a classic dessert style vanilla cake. It isn’t too close textured, which sometimes happens in batters with butter milk. It isn’t wide and airy, either. The texture was really spot on and is really what stuck out to me about this cake. It was moist but not wet, dense but not hard, fluffy but not too light. I think I might like to try the recipe with vanilla bean pods in addition to the vanilla extract, but the cake tasted like a very classic homemade vanilla cake.
Decoration Test: ?!
How did I frost these without dairy?????
Stay tuned for a follow-up post discussing the substitutions I made with the frosting and how that affected my ability to pipe the frosting and the frosting’s taste.
Batch Test: A-
It’s hard to truly state whether I think the cake recipe really lends itself to making in large batches, but the recipe really makes a LOT of cake batter. From the recipe, as written on Sally’s blog, I got 48 mini cupcakes and 2 (albeit) thin 9-inch round layers. The fact that this recipe uses the entire egg also makes it a bit easier to double or triple, because not having to separate eggs really cuts out time. As with any cake, you need to sift the flour, but Sally recommends you sift flour before you measure it for this cake, which I think, relieves some of the stress of sifting specific amounts of flour. For this cake, I just sifted a bunch of flour into a bowl, then measured it out.
Overall Score: A-