You've heard it time and time again: baking is a science. What does that mean? Well, that unlike cooking (where you can be a bit more spontaneous), it takes just the right combination of ingredients—and the right amount of them—to produce a tasty result that satisfies in both flavor and texture. That's not to say you can't get creative with your recipes, but you have to think carefully about substitutions to make sure you're replacing like with like.
While I do believe certain baked goods and pastries shouldn't be messed with (croissants, for example, just shouldn't be made vegan), I do enjoy playing around with sweets to make them more health-supportive. Cakes and quick breads, for example, can be made with whole grain flour and natural sugars, and the results are often even better than the original. Frosting, on the other hand, has proved more difficult: a good vegan frosting is just not an easy endeavor.
Until now. After a number of experiments, I made a recipe in class at the Natural Gourmet Institute that beats out any vegan frosting I've ever attempted. It's not too sweet, it pairs well with any cake flavor, and it's just as smooth and creamy as a traditional frosting. The secret? Agar flakes, which is vegan gelatin made from seaweed. When you cook the agar flakes in boiling water, they melt (just like gelatin) and thicken the liquid, and when it sets in the fridge or freezer it becomes Jello-like in texture. The last step? Putting the mixture in the food processor, where it whips up into the perfect vegan frosting. Don't be intimidated by this weird ingredient! It can be used to thicken pie fillings and custards, too. The cake in the photos is a ginger-orange cake, but feel free to pair the frosting with your favorite cake recipe.
Vegan Coconut Cashew Frosting
Makes: 4 cups (enough to frost a sheet cake or a two layer 8-inch cake)
- 37 ounces (4 1/2 cups) coconut milk
- 9 tablespoons agar flakes
- pinch sea salt
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup pure maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons cashew butter
- 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract (optional)
Combine the coconut milk and agar flakes in a large pot. Let sit for 10 minutes, then add salt, vanilla, and maple syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat (watch it carefully so it doesn't boil over), reduce heat to very low and simmer, partially covered, stirring often, until agar is dissolved, about 20 minutes.
Pour the mixture into a shallow pan and freeze until set, about 20 minutes. (Alternatively, refrigerate for about 40 minutes). Scoop the mixture into a food processor, add cashew butter and coconut extract, and process until smooth.
Note: this frosting is the perfect consistency for frosting a cake, but is a bit soft for a piping bag. If you do plan on piping, fill your bag and place it in the freezer until the frosting firms up enough to pipe neatly.
Recipe from Natural Gourmet Institute.