Vanilla Butter Free Frosting

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Vanilla Butter Free Frosting is made with coconut milk and coconut oil, and just as tasty as traditional buttercream.  The vanilla frosting without butter is exceptionally creamy and perfectly flavored with vanilla.  Frost your favorite cakes or cupcakes with the frosting or use it as a filling between two cookies!

When you think of frosting you may automatically think of American buttercream.  At least I do.  And while I love a silky buttercream (strawberry buttercream is the best!), I often find it can be too rich.

However, I’m not going to give up on a frosting that includes the blog’s namesake.  Rather, I’ve come up with an alternative that is just as delicious and versatile. 

First, technically speaking, there is a fundamental difference between frosting and buttercream.  While both contain fat, sugar, and flavor, buttercream is truly what it implies; butter that is creamed.  Whereas frosting doesn’t contain butter, and is usually made with shortening, oil, or even cream cheese.

Though, I think folks use the term buttercream interchangeably.  Kind of like how some call any tissue Kleenex, or any lip balm Chap Stick.

Vanilla Frosting Recipe Made Without Butter

This recipe is dedicated to solving the riddle of how to make buttercream without butter.  The vanilla frosting is made with only 5 ingredients:  Coconut Milk, Coconut Oil, Powdered Sugar, Vanilla, Salt.

There are some specifics to the coconut milk and coconut oil, but nothing that is too complicated.  And the details in this blog post are intended to guide you to success!

This recipe has served as the base for the different butter free frostings on the blog – like the dreamy and rich chocolate frosting, a bright strawberry frosting, and seasonal caramel frosting or peach frosting.   

Vanilla butter-free buttercream frosting on a spatula

What Does Frosting Made Without Butter Taste Like?

Sweet vanilla frosting.  But if you want a comparison of this butter free frosting and American buttercream – I find this frosting is lighter, thicker, and just as creamy.  And for the texture – if you have ever tried the frosting in the little tubs from the grocery, that is the consistency of this frosting.

Fun fact – did you know that a lot of those little tubs of frosting from the grocery are also made without butter?!  While that seems intriguing, they also contain a lot of extra ingredients that you certainly don’t need with this homemade frosting!

Uses For The Frosting

Well, the possibilities are just about endless.  Because of the thick and creamy consistency of the frosting, it is great for frosting cakes and cupcakes.  Like a classic chocolate cake or yellow birthday cake

I also like to use it on gluten free vanilla cupcakes and chocolate cupcakes.  And just like any other frosting, this one works wonders in sandwich cookies together, or amp up your favorite brownies or blondies.

Butter free frosting in a bowl with spatula

Coconut Milk Brands I Recommend to make butter free frosting

  1. Good and Gather from Target – It whips up nicely, is thick and creamy, and I successfully use it to make frosting and whipped cream.  Pros:  not a strong coconut flavor and contains guar gum.  Cons:  it can be hit or miss on how much coconut solid you get from can to can.
  2. Simple Truth Organic from Kroger grocery (i.e. King Soopers, City Market) – This brand has all of the same features as Good and Gather.
  3. Thai Kitchen from Walmart or Amazon – This used to be my go-to, but it has become harder to find.  It whips very light and fluffy.  Pros:  not a strong coconut flavor and contains guar gum.  Cons:  some may find the texture chalky, but I find this unnoticeable when whipped into frosting or whipped cream.

Are there Brands of Coconut Milk that you do not recommend to make butter free frosting?

Yes, and I’ve outlined those below.  I’ve tested all of these a few times, and have not been successful in making thick and creamy frosting.
  1. 365 Organic Coconut Milk from Whole Foods – It does contain guar gum, but I don’t care for the strong coconut flavor.  I find the flavor off-putting when trying to make a flavored frosting.
  2. Native Forest Organic Coconut Milk from Whole Foods – No guar gum and it wouldn’t whip up thick and creamy.  Plus, it has a pronounced coconut flavor.
  3. Andre Prost Unsweetened Coconut Milk from Target, Walmart, Amazon – While I’ve seen this brand at almost every store that sells groceries, I’ve yet to find a can that had any separation of coconut solids and liquid.

Let’s Talk About The Ingredients To Make Vanilla Butter Free Frosting

  • Coconut Milk – Unsweetened canned coconut milk to be exact, and it should contain guar gum.  The guar gum acts as a stabilizer and helps to make the frosting thick and creamy. 
  • Coconut Oil – Cold pressed and refined coconut oil.  This coconut oil is solid and does not have a detectable coconut flavor. 
  • Powdered Sugar – My preference is organic powdered sugar for the quality of ingredients.
  • Vanilla – A must for the vanilla flavor!  You can use extract, paste, or even a vanilla bean!
  • Salt – The salt balances all the flavors.

Plus, A Couple Kitchen Essentials

  • Small Saucepan – To heat the coconut milk and coconut oil.
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Hand Mixer – I love my Breville hand mixer with whisk attachments.  It has a digital display, timer, and helpful mixing light!

Helpful Information About Coconut Milk and Coconut Oil

Coconut Milk

  • Refrigerate the can of coconut milk overnight – We only use the coconut solids from the can and chilling the can aids in the separation of liquid and solids in the can.
  • In fact, refrigerate a couple of cans – No two cans of coconut milk are alike.  Even with my favorite brand, sometimes the whole can is coconut solids, and sometimes only 1/3 of it is.  I keep extra cans available in case I need to open two.
  • Leftover coconut milk is great for smoothies – Chances are you will have extra coconut milk/solids in the can.  Save it for your favorite smoothies, use it in creamy overnight oats, or whip it up into a flavored whipped coconut cream, like blueberry whipped cream, or cinnamon whipped cream.
  • Use full fat coconut milkWe need the full fat variety to create a thick and creamy frosting.
  • Canned coconut cream works too – Technically, canned coconut cream should have more coconut solids.  In my experience, the difference between the milk and cream cans is negligible.  But, if that is all you have at your grocery, it will work!  Just make sure it contains guar gum.

Coconut Oil

  • I recommend refined coconut oil – You will see refined and virgin coconut oil. Virgin coconut oil will taste like coconut.  Refined goes through a little more processing to remove the coconut flavor.
  • Refined coconut oil is widely available – I have seen my brand of coconut oil at my grocery, Target, and Amazon.
  • Store your coconut oil in your pantry – This is just good for the product as it is sensitive to temperature and can loosen in warmer environments.  
A bowl of creamy dairy free buttercream.

And Tips For How To Make The Dairy Free Frosting

  • Do not overheat the mix when melting it together – The mix of coconut solid and coconut oil just needs to melt together.  We don’t need to overheat it.
  • Add a little powdered sugar to the mix when melting – I find a little powdered sugar gives all of the fat particles something to attach to, and not separate.
  • Allow the mix to cool to room temperature – This will give the mixture some time to start setting back up.
  • Add powdered sugar in 1/2 cup increments – I have found this makes for a creamier texture.  
  • 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.  Bring it to room temp and stir/mix before using.
  • If you want to make the frosting truly vegan – I would recommend looking for organic powdered sugar.  Sometimes the process of manufacturing the powdered sugar may not be 100% vegan.  No animal product in the sugar itself, just the processing of it.
Fluffy vanilla butter free buttercream frosting in a bowl

Common Questions To Make vanilla Butter Free Frosting

Can this recipe be doubled?

I have not tested a larger batch, but I think it would be ok.

What does dairy free frosting taste like?

In my opinion, like a creamy vanilla frosting. I find that it does not leave a greasy residue like dairy buttercream sometimes can.

What is the texture/consistency of butter free frosting?

At room temperature, it is thick and creamy, like store-bought frosting in a tub. When it is refrigerated, the frosting sets up firm. If you are refrigerating the frosting, I recommend letting it come to room temperature and stir/mix before using.

How many cakes or cupcakes will the frosting frost?

The frosting should easily frost 6 cupcakes, or a small 6-inch layer cake.

Why do I have to melt the mixture at the beginning? Can’t I just whip all of the ingredients together?

Even though cold-pressed coconut oil is solid like butter, I find it doesn’t whip up smooth. Melting the coconut milk and oil creates a homogenous base for the frosting.

My frosting is still loose. What did I do wrong?

A few questions/thoughts: Did your can of coconut milk have guar gum? Was the coconut truly solid from the can, or was it soupy and loose? Did you use cold-pressed coconut oil? Did you try refrigerating the frosting for a few minutes, and try to whip again?

Can I make pretty decorative flowers or designs with this vanilla butter free frosting?

This butter free frosting is not identical to dairy buttercream, and I don’t think it would make intricate designs like dairy buttercream. I find this frosting is similar to the store-bought frosting in tubs.

Is the butter free frosting the same texture and consistency as American buttercream?

I find this butter free frosting to be creamier and thicker than American buttercream.

Whipped butter-free vanilla buttercream in a bowl

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Vanilla frosting on a spatula
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5 from 5 reviews

Vanilla Butter Free Frosting

Yield: 2 Cups
Vanilla Butter Free Frosting is made with coconut milk and coconut oil, and just as tasty as traditional buttercream.  The vanilla frosting without butter is exceptionally creamy and perfectly flavored with vanilla.  Frost your favorite cakes or cupcakes with the frosting or use it as a filling between two cookies!
Prep30 mins
Total30 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. You will have extra coconut milk solids and liquid which can be used in smoothies.
  • In a small saucepan, add the coconut milk solids, solid coconut oil, and 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar. Heat over medium-low heat and stir the mix with a spatula until it has completely melted together – this should only take about 1 minute. Do not boil. The mixture will resemble a creamy soup.
  • Transfer the mix to a small mixing bowl and stir in the vanilla extract. Let cool to room temperature – about 10 to 15 minutes. You still want the mix to be be liquid when you add the powdered sugar. Note – You can also refrigerate it for a few minutes to speed up the cool down.
  • Add the remaining 2 cups of powdered sugar in 1/2 cup increments at a time. Using a handheld mixer fitted with the whisk attachments, add a 1/2 cup of the powered sugar and salt to the coconut 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 – 3 minutes, until it is 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, 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.
Liked the recipe?Please leave a review and star rating for the recipe! This greatly helps me continue to provide FREE recipes!

Notes

Serving Size – This recipe is developed as a small batch to accompany other small batch cake and cupcake recipes on the blog.  However, you should be able to double it to accommodate larger bakes.
  • The recipe makes enough frosting for 6 cupcakes or a small 6-inch, 2 layer cake.
Unsweetened Canned Coconut MilkUse 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.
  • Do not use light or low-fat coconut milk or cream.  We need the full fat variety to create a thick and creamy frosting.
  • 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.
  • Brand recommendations are in the Blog Post.
  • The coconut milk (or cream) solids must be solid.  Any extra water could impact the way the frosting turns out. 
  • 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 The coconut oil for this recipe is solid – not liquid.  It almost resembles a lighter shortening.  
  • I keep my coconut oil in the pantry – away from heat and light.
Frosting Tips
  • 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.
  • Allow refrigerated frosting to come to room temperature and give it a good stir before using.
  • 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.
  • The texture and consistency of the frosting is similar to the store-bought frosting in the small tubs.
  • This frosting is great as a filling in cakes, cupcakes, or cookies.  Or to simply frost cakes, cupcakes, or bars.
  • 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

12 thoughts on “Vanilla Butter Free Frosting”

  1. Thank you for this beautiful yummy tasty recipe!!!
    My experience went 50/50!!
    I doubled the ingredients because I needed it for a carrot cake decoration, the letting it melt and cool down took naturally much much longer, for me living in already a cold climate I probably wouldn’t have needed to keep the ingredients in the fridge that delayed the process for me. At first once my liquid mix cooled down I thought it would never ever frost, once I added the icing sugar (I kept the 2 cups qty for double of everything else and the sweetness was perfect). It frosted and it was perfect, the peaks were a little on the soft side but that’s maybe due to the fact I put a lot less icing sugar and I was so worried to cuddle the mix I stopped maybe a bit early. Now here’s where I went wrong I believe, I was worried my frosting would melt at room temp so I put it in the fridge and when I realised it would be far to hard to spread (10min later) I took it out and mixed it again…. and that’s when it curdle leaving me with a watery frosting! My own fault though, the taste was delicious but my skills messed it up 🤣 I will definitely try again on a smaller batch this time 🙏🏽 Thank you

  2. Hi! I attempted to make this earlier today. The taste is great, but the texture is off. It’s a bit grainy/gritty as of all the ingredients didn’t incorporate correctly. I have reread the instructions and feel I followed them. Any tips or suggestions of what I may have done wrong? The canned coconut milk was solid and my coconut oil was solid. Any thoughts/tips would be appreciated. The taste is amazing, I just need some help getting a smooth creamy texture. 😊

    1. Erin | Butter and Bliss

      Hi Katie – thank you for trying the recipe! A few things I can think of – perhaps the coconut oil didn’t melt all the way? It can leave little bits if not fully melted? Or, the liquid mix cooled too long before being whipped and the coconut oil started to firm up. You could try just letting it cool for 5 minutes on the counter rather than the fridge. Another thing that may be the culprit is the powdered sugar – sifting it helps get out any persistent lumps. If all that doesn’t seem to work, you could try adding a bit more powdered sugar to get it fluffy – a tablespoon at a time. Just taste it as you are whipping it up – it can get very sweet quickly. Hope some of this helps!

    1. Erin | Butter and Bliss

      Hi Brooklyn – since I have not tested the recipe with shortening, I can’t say for certain how it would turn out. I know that there are frosting recipes that just use shortening and they turn out nice. I think Crisco may even have a recipe on the back of their container (or they used to!) Thanks for visiting the blog!

  3. This icing is AMAZING. I am so thankful I found this!
    I am wondering if you have ever made ice cream with similar ingredients? After storing this in the fridge it tastes so similar to ice cream just wondering what you would add to shift the consistency and keep it vegan? It’s SO good I’m tempted to eat it all by itself 🤣

    1. Erin | Butter and Bliss

      Hi Braci – I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed it! I’ve been known to eat it by the spoonful 🙂 I do have a couple of ice cream recipes that I use canned coconut milk too – Strawberry Ice Cream, and Pina Colada Ice Cream. I used honey in the ice cream, but you could swap in maple syrup to make it vegan. Thank you for visiting the blog!

  4. This frosting is incredible! It’s like ganache when it’s fully set. I am so thrilled it’s the best vegan frosting I’ve come across so far! Thank you!!

    1. Erin | Butter and Bliss

      Hi Steph – I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Every time I make it, I think I eat more by the spoonful than what goes on my cakes! 🙂 Thank you for trying the recipe and visiting the blog!

  5. Seems like people need to use the Coconut Cream & start from that point from comments on Pinterest. My only question is how many cups of frosting this makes? Need to fill & cover an 8″/6 layer cake + piped decorations.

    1. Erin | Butter and Bliss

      Hi Laurie! This is a small batch recipe and will make approx. 1 and 1/2 cups. For the size of the cake you are making, I don’t think that will be enough. You could double the recipe, just please note I have not tested doubling the recipe.

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