Dairy-free Cooking, The Basics

Dairy ingredients:

Since all of my recipes are dairy-free I thought I should take a minute to write about the basics of dairy-free cooking. If you are new to the dairy-free diet there are a few ingredients to beware of. Casein or any ingredient with that word in it is dairy. I have seen several cheeses advertised as “dairy-free” but have casein in the ingredients. Not cool! Lactose (or anything resembling that word i.e. lactal, lacto, lactulose, etc.) whey, and anything with the word butter in it are all dairy products. Finally, the most obvious, milk; non-fat dry milk, milk solids, milk protein etc.  Ingredient labels have come a long way. Most products will have an “allergen” statement at the bottom of the ingredients list. It may say something like “Contains soy, dairy, and wheat products.” Or “May contain trace amounts of dairy or nuts.” So handy! When i’m checking out a new product that is the first thing I look for. If there isn’t an allergen statement then I have to check the ingredients list, and then check it twice. I have purchased bread that has dairy somewhere in the looooong list of ingredients and missed it countless times.

Dairy Swapping:

First, and obviously THE most important thing: Chocolate!

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There are many dairy-free options out there. Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa Powder is dairy free. Yes, the most obvious choice for cocoa… no dairy! There are others. If you need chopped chocolate or chocolate chips I really like Guittard chips. They come in semi-sweet and dark and honestly I can’t tell the difference. They have the right texture, flavor, and they melt just like a chip should. Also, they are cheap! Much less expensive than Bakers German Chocolate Baking Bars, my other favorite chocolate source. Just so you know, I can’t stand carob chips. Terrible texture, they don’t melt right, and the taste just isn’t chocolate. ‘Nough said.

Second ingredient replacement is milk. There is a huge selection of dairy-free milk in regular old grocery stores. No need to schlep across town to the over-priced natural foods store. My favorite is almond milk. It bakes just fine, I use it in gravy and it tastes great, it’s very low-calorie, and it has a light flavor. The coconut milks are pretty heavy, I certainly wouldn’t make a gravy with it. But, hey. To each their own.

The Third ingredient to replace is cheese. I swear cheese is in everything that I want to cook. Not so much baking though. I love pretty much everything that Daiya makes. Their cheddar is a little sharp but it certainly does the trick. I usually use about 1/2 of what the recipe calls for if it’s just used as a topping. Tofutti makes a killer cream cheese as well as some fantastic ice cream sandwiches.

The fourth ingredient I am always replacing is Greek yogurt. It’s everywhere in baking. It is crucial to replace it with something similar in moisture and texture which is why I use Tofutti’s sour cream. The flavor seems to be a pretty even swap as well. Most recipes call for plain yogurt but if you have one that needs a flavored yogurt you could just add an extract to your ingredients.

The last, and certainly not least, ingredient swap I do on a daily basis is butter. Buttuh! It makes everything better, right? But it has dairy and so must go. Instead I use Saffola Margarine sticks. They are dairy-free and by far the most inexpensive option out there, around $1.90. Earth balance makes a vegan butter stick but they are over $5. Smart Balance also makes a vegan margarine using flaxseed oil but it too is around $2.75 a piece. Heads up, not all margarine is dairy-free. In fact, most have dairy products in them so check that label.

So there you have it, the basics of dairy swapping. Now let’s go bake!