Caramel Dairy Free Frosting

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This is an easy and completely homemade Caramel Dairy Free Frosting recipe made with maple syrup caramel sauce, coconut oil and coconut cream, and powdered sugar.  The butter free buttercream is fluffy, creamy, and perfectly flavored with caramel.  Use it to frost small batch cakes, cupcakes, or even as a filling in cookie sandwiches!

Butter free frosting, buttercream recipe

This post contains A LOT of helpful information on how to successfully make the frosting.  You may want to skim through it before you start to make it!

If you are here, chances are you are looking for a caramel frosting recipe to frost some fall cupcakes or cakes.  Or, like me, you have asked yourself ‘is there a dairy free frosting’, or do I always have to make buttercream using butter?

To answer your question:  Yes, you can make a buttercream that is made without butter.  In fact, this recipe makes frosting with oil instead of butter.  Coconut oil to be exact.  And we add coconut milk solids to make the frosting creamy.

Furthermore, you may be surprised that a lot of the frosting you buy in the tubs at the grocery are also dairy free.  However, there is nothing better than whipping up your own homemade batch of butter free frosting.  Plus, it doesn’t have all the extra ingredients we can’t pronounce!

What Does Frosting Made Without Butter Taste Like?

Frosting.  And in the case of this recipe, caramel frosting.  I jest a little, but really, this recipe for dairy free frosting can easily compete with any traditional buttercream.  And it can certainly compete with any store bought frosting.  The frosting is:

  • Smooth – We heat the coconut oil and coconut milk solids to make them homogenous and smooth.
  • Creamy – The coconut milk helps make the frosting creamy, plus the powdered sugar.
  • Sweet – This is a frosting made with powdered sugar and caramel sauce.  It is designed to be sweet and we balance that out with a little salt.
  • Easy To Pipe/Frost – Which means it works for simply frosting a cupcake or cake.  To make more intricate designs and flowers, I can’t say for certain how it will work.  Mostly because intricate designs are out of my expertise!
Fluffy caramel frosting made without butter on a whisk.

Caramel Frosting Recipe 

So, we know we can make frosting dairy free.  It is possible.  In fact it is delicious, and like any frosting made with powdered sugar, this caramel frosting is light and creamy.  Chances are, you won’t even know that the frosting was made with oil, not butter.

To get the promised caramel flavor into the frosting, we will make homemade maple syrup caramel sauce.  It is incredibly easy to make, and one may argue even easier than making traditional caramel. 

But, if you are looking to mix things up a bit, and get a little crazy with the color and flavor of your caramel, you can try the candy corn caramel sauce as well.  I think my teeth just twitched from all the sugary sweet goodness!

here’s what You Will Need To Make the Caramel Frosting

Ingredients

  • Maple Syrup Caramel Sauce – I have provided a link in the recipe itself.
  • Coconut Oil – Another link is provided in the recipe.  You will use refined and cold pressed coconut oil.  As pictured below, it is solid.
  • Unsweetened Coconut Milk – A can of unsweetened coconut milk is what we need.  You can also use unsweetened coconut cream.  This just means there is (should be) a higher ratio of coconut solids in the can.  Either way, it must contain guar gum to help stabilize the frosting!  Links below on the brands I prefer.  These are the same brands I use to make Whipped Coconut Cream.
  • Powdered Sugar – If you are looking to ensure the frosting is vegan, choose a powdered sugar that is labeled as such.  I like to use Wholesome powdered sugar.
  • Tapioca Flour – It is also called tapioca starch, and they are the same thing.  This helps to thicken the base slightly.  Plus, it also acts as an emulsifier – meaning it will bind the coconut oil and cream together.  You can also use corn starch.
  • SaltPlease, please, please – do not omit the salt.  This is frosting and it is designed to be sweet.  The salt balances out the sweetness.  And you can go as far to call this a salted caramel dairy free frosting!

Kitchen Equipment

  • Small Saucepan 
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Hand Held Mixer – My Breville hand mixer is my favorite kitchen appliance because it is a workhorse.  You can also use your tilt-head kitchen aid stand mixer with a 3-quart mixing bowl.  It works with the standard attachments and will give your arm a rest!

Coconut Milk Brands I Recommend To Make Butter Free Frosting

Good and Gather

  • Where to buy: Target
  • Description:  
    • It whips up nicely, is thick and creamy, and I successfully use it to make frosting and whipped cream.
  • Pros:
    • Does not have a strong coconut flavor, includes guar gum which acts as a stabilizer, and the coconut solids are smooth and creamy.
  • Cons:
    • It can be hit or miss on how much coconut solid you are able to get from can to can.

Simple Truth Organic

  • Where to buy:  Kroger grocery (i.e. King Soopers, City Market
  • Description, Pros, Cons:
    • All of the same features as Good and Gather.

Thai Kitchen

  • Where to buy:  Walmart or Amazon
  • Description:  
    • This used to be my go-to, but it has become harder to find. It whips light and fluffy and I had success making frosting and whipped cream. 
  • Pros:
    • Does not have a strong coconut flavor and includes guar gum which acts as a stabilizer.  
  • Cons:
    • Some may find the texture chalky. But I find this unnoticeable when whipped into frosting or whipped cream.

Disclaimer: This information is purely subjective and my own opinion based on testing the product. Others may have different experiences. Additionally, I find canned coconut milk is not consistent from can to can. Ratio of coconut solids and liquid can vary.

How To Make Buttercream Without Butter

  1. Refrigerate the can of coconut milk – Overnight is best.  This forces the separation of the coconut solids and liquid in the can.
  2. Make the maple syrup caramel sauce – The recipe is easy and straight forward.  Just be sure to give yourself time to let the maple syrup caramel cool and thicken.
  3. Heat the coconut oil, coconut milk, maple syrup, and tapioca flour – And I reiterate heat.  We don’t want to overcook or boil the mixture.  The simple heat allows all of the ingredients to melt together.
  4. Chill the caramel mixtureThis is important and can’t be skipped.  Otherwise, you may end up spending too much time beating the frosting.  It needs time to cool so it can beat light and fluffy.
  5. Add the powdered sugar in increments – I find this works best to avoid a mess, and it gives the powdered sugar the opportunity to incorporate smoothly.
  6. Don’t forget the salt! – The salt balances out the sweetness.  And it will make the caramel flavor more prominent.
  7. Beat until fluffy and smooth – It may be tempting to throw in the towel after 30 seconds of beating the frosting and it isn’t fluffy.  But be patient, it will take a few minutes before you get the light, creamy, and fluffy frosting!

Uses for this frosting

It may seem intuitive that you can use the frosting to frost just about any baked treat.  For holiday baking, it would be delicious on the small batch of spice cupcakes, and vanilla orange layer cake.   

But, if you want to keep the flavors traditional, try it on a small batch of chocolate or vanilla cupcakes.  Or the classic 6-inch yellow cake for a birthday celebration.   

A bowl of butter free caramel frosting.

Troubleshooting Tips For Making Dairy Free Buttercream Frosting 

  • Why is the coconut cream in the can soupy? – Perhaps the can wasn’t refrigerated long enough.  Or you are trying a brand I have not tried and that is the way it was packaged.  The other reason could be the can was shaken too much (in transit, or at the store).
  • There is not enough coconut cream in the can of coconut milk – This can happen, and I have experienced it.  You will need to try another can.  I always keep at least 3 cans of coconut milk in the fridge at all times, for this reason.  
  • My sauce isn’t getting thick when I heat it – We aren’t looking for pudding consistency.  More like a creamy soup. 
  • The mixture is taking too long to cool – Patience is key here!  I once waited close to 30 minutes for my mixture to cool down.  Try using a larger bowl so the sauce has more room to spread out and cool.

And, the #1 question I get on how to make frosting with coconut oil:

  • The frosting is not getting thick or fluffy – Key tips below:
    1. Use coconut milk that has guar gum – I have tried brands without, and the frosting didn’t come out as desired.
    2. Refrigerate the can of coconut milk – We want to avoid unnecessary liquid in the coconut solids.  Refrigerating the will do this.  
    3. Only use the coconut solids – Depending on how much is in the can, it may seem inevitable to get a little coconut liquid in with the solid.  This is ok, just do your best to get just the solids from the can.
    4. Use tapioca flour – This acts as an emulsifier to bind the ingredients.  Thus, contributing to the success of whipping into frosting.
    5. Chill the mixture after heating it – Hot liquid is naturally going to take longer to whip up because it needs time to cool down.
    6. Add a little more powdered sugar – A couple more tablespoons may be all you need to get the fluffy consistency.
    7. Don’t give up on the mixer – The frosting may just need a few more minutes on high speed to get more incorporated, which will result in a fluffy frosting.
Top view of a bowl of creamy caramel frosting made without butter.

FAQ’s: Caramel dairy Free frosting

Can I make a larger batch of this frosting?

While I have not made a larger batch, I think it would turn out fine!

Will store bought caramel work instead of the homemade maple syrup caramel?

You can certainly try it, and let me know how the frosting turns out. My only concern would be how will all the extra ingredients in the caramel factor into the end result.

Can I use a little less powdered sugar to make the frosting not as sweet?

You certainly can. Just know that the frosting may not whip up as light and fluffy.

Does the dairy free frosting set up hard?

Yes, the frosting will set firm. And it will get even firmer if you refrigerate it. I recommend allowing refrigerated frosting come to room temperature, and give it another stir before using.

How many cupcakes can you frost with a small batch frosting recipe?

It will certainly depend on how much frosting you like to use, but you can easily frost 6 cupcakes, and 1 6-inch layer cake.

Can I make different flavors of the dairy free frosting?

Yes! I have chocolate, strawberry, peach, and traditional vanilla recipes on the blog!

How do I store leftover frosting?

You can cover and refrigerate the frosting. Before using, allow it to come to room temperature and whip it up again to make it fluffy.

Will the frosting be ok on cupcakes/cakes set out for a while at room temperature?

Yes.

My frosting is not whipping up fluffy, or just not working. What did I do wrong?

Please read the Troubleshooting Tips I provided in the blog post.

Caramel butter free frosting piped onto a cupcake sitting on a small cupcake stand.
Fluffy caramel frosting made without butter on a whisk.
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Caramel Butter Free Frosting

Yield: 2 Cups (approximately)
This is an easy and completely homemade Caramel Dairy Free Frosting recipe made with maple syrup caramel sauce, coconut oil and coconut cream, and powdered sugar.  The butter free buttercream is fluffy, creamy, and perfectly flavored with caramel.  Use it to frost small batch cakes, cupcakes, or even as a filling in cookie sandwiches!
Prep45 mins
Total45 mins

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Refrigerate the can of coconut milk at least overnight. This causes the liquid and coconut solids to separate – we are only using the solids from the can. Note – You will have extra coconut milk solids and liquid which can be used in smoothies.
  • If using the Maple Syrup Caramel Sauce – You can make this ahead of time, like the day before. Or, give yourself time to make the caramel sauce and have it cool slightly to room temperature before making the frosting.
  • In a small saucepan add the caramel sauce and tapioca flour. Over medium-low heat, stir the caramel until the tapioca dissolves and there are no lumps. Add the coconut solids and coconut oil. Heat the mixture until the coconut solids and oil have completely melted, and the mixture starts to thicken slightly. This should only take about 2 to 3 minutes. Do not boil. The mixture will resemble creamy soup.
  • Transfer the mix to a small mixing bowl. Cool the mixture in the refrigerator until it is completely cool. This may take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. The mixture should still be liquid when you add the powdered sugar.
  • Using a handheld mixer fitted with the whisk attachments, add a 1/2 cup of the powered sugar to the caramel mixture. Start at low speed to incorporate the powdered sugar and avoid having it spray everywhere. Turn up the speed to high and beat for 1 minute. At this point, the frosting will look sticky and gooey.
  • Continue to add a 1/2 cup of powdered sugar at a time – beating for at least 1 minute after each addition. With the final 1/2 cup, beat the frosting for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until it is fluffy, light, and creamy. The frosting should be thick and creamy and resemble the store-bought frosting you buy in the small tubs at the grocery.
  • If the frosting still looks loose, you can 1.) continue to beat the frosting for a couple more minutes, as this incorporates air into the frosting. If that doesn't work, 2.) add more powdered sugar in tablespoon increments, or 3.) refrigerate it for about 10 minutes, then beat for a couple more minutes until it thickens. See Notes and the Blog Post for more tips and faq's that are helpful for making and troubleshooting the frosting.
  • The frosting is ready to use right away or can be refrigerated. If refrigerating, the frosting will firm even more. Allow refrigerated frosting to come to room temperature and stir/mix to fluff before frosting.
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Notes

The blog post has A LOT of helpful troubleshooting tips and faq’s to successfully  make this dairy free frosting!
Caramel Sauce
  1. I have only made this frosting using the Maple Syrup Caramel Sauce on the blog.  I am not certain how store bought caramel will work because of all the extra ingredients in it.  You can certainly try it.  Just note it may not be dairy-free.
Unsweetened Canned Coconut Milk
  1. Use unsweetened canned coconut milk that includes guar gum.  The guar gum works as a stabilizer to help the frosting set.  Do not use carton coconut milk.
  2. Do not use light or lowfat coconut milk or cream.  We need the full fat variety to create a thick and creamy frosting.
  3. Unsweetened canned coconut cream will work too, as long as it has guar gum.  It separates into a solid and liquid just like canned coconut milk does, and I have not found significant differences between the two.
  4. Brand recommendations are in the Blog Post.
  5. The coconut milk (or cream) solids must be solid.  Any extra water could impact the way the frosting turns out. 
  6. It can be hit or miss sometimes on how solid the coconut milk (cream) is in the can.  If your can does not have coconut solids, you may want to save that can for another recipe and try a new one.
Cold Pressed Coconut Oil
  1. The coconut oil for this recipe is solid – not liquid.  It almost resembles a lighter shortening.  
  2. I keep my coconut oil in the pantry – away from heat and light.
Frosting Tips
  1. Refrigerating the frosting will set it even more.  You can make it ahead of time and refrigerate for up to 1 week in a sealed container.
  2. The recipe makes enough frosting for 6 cupcakes or a small 6-inch, 2 layer cake.
  3. I have piped this frosting into a simple swirl on cupcakes and as a filling in cookies.  Do not expect the frosting to work for intricate designs or flowers.
  4. The texture and consistency of the frosting is similar to the store-bought frosting in the small tubs.
  5. This frosting is great as a filling in cakes, cupcakes, or cookies.  Or to simply frost cakes, cupcakes, or bars.
  6. If you want to make the frosting truly vegan, I would recommend looking for organic powdered sugar.  Sometimes (it’s hard to say), the process of manufacturing the powdered sugar may not be 100% vegan.  No animal product in the sugar itself, just the processing of it.
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Erin Cernich

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