“Dairy”licious: Substituting Dairy Products

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“It’s chocolate.  How bad can it be?”

My oldest had been diagnosed as lactose intolerant, and I had purchased a soy yogurt for her to try.  It looked and smelled like chocolate pudding, but apparently it did not taste like chocolate pudding!

Feeling a bit frustrated by the vehemence of her refusal to eat another bite, I grabbed the spoon, dipped it, and stuck some yogurt into my mouth.  Let’s just say that my oldest is turning 17, and she still laughs today about the face that I made at the taste of that chocolate soy yogurt.   To say it was unpleasant is a definite understatement.

For many of us who have grown up with the tastes and textures of dairy products, it can be an adjustment to have to switch from milk to almond, rice, soy, flax, or coconut milk or from milk yogurts to soy or coconut yogurts or from regular cheese to soy cheese.  I myself have simply given up on cheese.  After trying too many types to name, I’ve admitted that I will never like the taste of a non-dairy cheese.

Substituting for Dairy

I have, however, found yogurts, milk, and ice creams which I like, and I’m grateful that I have.  I’m even more thankful that I can still cook and bake all the foods I love even without dairy.  I simply make a one to one switch for all products such as milk, yogurt, cream cheese, or sour cream in any given recipe.

If you’re substituting with a soy product for dairy, you won’t often find much of a difference in your desserts or cooking.  If you use a rice product, you will find that you may have to increase your dry ingredients by a tablespoon or two because rice produces a thinner, runnier milk, and you’ll need to increase your fats by a tablespoon or two because rice milk has no fat in it, unlike the milk you’ll be replacing.  If you’re using an almond or coconut milk or yogurt, make sure you like the taste of either, because the subtle taste will underlie whatever you’re baking or cooking.

Substituting for Heavy Cream

The most difficult recipes to substitute for are if you want to make something which requires heavy cream.   For soups and anything else you would normally thicken with cream, pureed cooked veggies work really well as a substitute.  For cakes, whipped cream, mousses, and other such goodies canned coconut milk does the trick, providing you have no allergies to coconut and also like the taste of coconut.  I know some folks who say that pureeing raw cashews with water is also a good substitute, but I haven’t tried that myself since I’m allergic to tree nuts. Another option is to use aquafaba which is the liquid formed from cooking chickpeas. You can purchase no salt, no sugar added canned chickpeas and use the liquid as you would heavy cream by putting it into your mixer and whipping it.

Replacing Liquid Dairy

If you simply want to replace the dairy produce altogether, though, you can also substitute with other types of liquids and foods.  For baked goods calling for milk, substituting water or 100% fruit juice works excellently.  Simply decrease the amount by 1/4 since milk tends to be a thicker liquid.  As with rice milk, though, you sometimes need to add a tablespoon or two to your fat amount to compensate for the fat that would be in the milk.

Replacing Solid Dairy

If you want to substitute the dairy in something like a pumpkin pie or cheesecake, silken tofu works well.  For pies, you’d replace the 14 oz can of evaporate milk with one package of silken tofu.  For a cheesecake, if a recipe called for four packages of cream cheese and I didn’t want to substitute all four packages with soy cream cheese, I would substitute with two packages of the soy cream cheese and two packages of silken tofu.

Replacing Cheese

And if you really do need to use a vegan cheese, which I do in a lasagna, for pizza, and in a macaroni and cheese dish, there are the Daiya and Chaou brands.  Their cheeses do tend to melt similarly to real cheese, and if you flavor them with your herbs, garlic and onions, the taste is similar to real cheese. My tip for you, though:  After you bake your dish, broil the top for a couple of minutes to fully melt the cheese into that gooey-ness you like from a real cheese. Another tip, if you mix just a tiny amount of olive oil in with the cheese, when you bake it, it will become more crusty like mozzarella.

Dairy Free Dark Chocolate Snack Cake


3 1/2 cups 100% whole wheat flour or 3 cups favorite gluten free flour blend

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup Hershey Special Dark unsweetened cocoa (or regular unsweetened cocoa if you prefer)

10 oz package Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips

1 cup chopped dried cranberries (or another dried fruit like cherries or raspberries or blueberries — if you have a food processor, chop the dried fruit into even smaller pieces to more evenly distribute the flavor through the cake)

1 cup Agave or honey

3/4 cup your favorite plant based oil (I like avocado oil with anything chocolate)

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups water (or fruit juice if you’d prefer)

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar (or another type you prefer like white or raspberry)

Baking Instructions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 11 x 15 pan.  (I would use “If You Care” parchment paper, but you can Pam spray it or coat it with oil or butter and flour.)

2.  Mix together the flour, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder.  Stir in the mini chips and chopped dried fruit.  Set aside.

3.  Blend together the Agave, oil, vanilla, and water.

4.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet with the vinegar, and mix quickly just until the dry ingredients are moistened.

5.  Pour into the prepared pan, and bake for 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

6.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack, or if you’re like my children, dig into it while it’s still warm!