Truly Dairy Free Cake – An Experimental Baking Project

How to make a successful cake with one molecule of dairy in sight.

*note: I am not a cake expert. I rarely bake cakes, to be honest. If you don’t bake often and have often been intimidated, don’t be. This recipe is not difficult or fussy and the frosting is very forgiving when you apply it. The cake will look beautiful but home-made.

Objective: To bake a beautiful and tasty cake for a little girl’s birthday party. Some of her family members have a very bad allergy to milk products.

Project restrictions: 1)Cake must be 100% dairy free -lactose free is not enough. 2)Cake must look like a traditional birthday cake – chiffon and angel food style recipes not acceptable because of cake shape (hole down center). 3)Cake must have a traditional looking frosting – icings not acceptable

Hypothesis #1: Vegan recipes online will be easy to find

Result: 1) Most of the cake recipes still used margarine, which contains casein (a milk derived protein which is not safe for people with a true milk allergy). 2) ALL of the vegan frosting recipes I found use margarine, soy margarine, etc. All brands I looked up contain casein.

Hypothesis #2: Devise my own recipe for the cake and make a home-made marshmallow fluff frosting

Result: Success

Method: I used a standard oil-based cake recipe and modified it. Starting with an oil based recipe allowed me to avoid the trouble of finding a suitable solid fat replacement (i.e. shortening or coconut oil) for the butter or margarine. In previous experiments coconut oil gave me only moderate results. It melted too easily for the creaming process and gave the cake a coconut flavor, which is only good if you want your cake to taste like coconut. Soy milk was used in place of real milk. Powdered freeze-dried strawberries were used to flavor and color the cake. Strawberry preserves were used in between the cake layers to add flavor, color, and moisture. Home-made marshmallow fluff was used to simulate the look of buttercream frosting.

Analysis: The cake tasted pretty good with the frosting and strawberry preserves. I was not happy with the slight soy flavor (though no one else complained while they gobbled it down). I was also a little disappointed in the denseness of the cake. Apparently soy milk keeps a cake from rising as well as real milk. In the future, I will use rice or almond milk, for a better flavor, and add a little extra baking soda for more rise. The strawberry powder gave the cake a nice strawberry flavor but turned the cake a muted brownish pink after baked. It was a good choice for a natural looking cake but next time if I want a colorful pastel cake I will leave it out to keep the color brighter.

The strawberry preserves really helped boost the flavor and moisture of the cake. In the future, I will try making my own strawberry filling using pureed strawberries, sugar, and a touch of thickener (pectin or corn starch). I think it will give me even better results, and more control over the ingredients.

The marshmallow fluff frosting was the true saving grace. It turns a creamy bright white, takes color well, takes flavor easily, holds its shape once put on the cake, and had a pleasing soft but firm texture. Although I am not usually a fan of food coloring, I decided to use some in this recipe because it resulted in the “little girl cotton candy look”. I was very happy with the results.

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 2.5 c. AP flour
  • 2 c. evaporated cane sugar (granulated size)
  • 1 c. soy, rice, or almond milk – depending on preference
  • 3/4 c. vegetable oil – neutral flavor type of your choice
  • 4 eggs
  • 2.25 tsp baking soda (this is what I used, but in the future I will use more to give the cake extra rise)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c. freeze dried strawberries – pulsed in a grinder to a fine powder.

Natural Strawberry Powder.


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two 9 inch round cake pans with parchment paper and grease and dust the sides.
  2. Into a large mixing bowl or kitchen aid mixer add the eggs and sugar. Mix for about 1 minute until thickened. Add all the other ingredients and mix until just combined. Be careful to not over-mix.

    Strawberry Cake Batter

  3. Pour batter evenly into the prepared pans. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for a few minutes in the pans, then gently remove and cool completely on wire racks.
  4. Onto a piece of parchment paper and a piece of cardboard, trace the shape of the cake. Use scissors to cut the paper and cardboard. Using a large serrated knife (bread knife works well), cut each cake horizontally into two even layers. I usually spin the plate as I go and work from all sides towards the center.
  5. Place the pre-cut cardboard onto a cake decorating stand or large plate. Place the pre-cut parchment paper on top of the cardboard, covering it. Place your first layer of cake over the top and spread a layer of strawberry preserves. If your preserves are too thick, you can warm them up a bit or thin them with some liquid (I recommend lemon juice for some tang). Do not use too much or you risk having the preserves oozing out of the cake when you place the other layers on top. Do this to the other layers except for the top one. If your cake is not perfectly flat on top or has imperfect sides, you may choose to use the knife to fix it up. Once you’re happy with the shape, set the cake aside and start working on making the frosting.

Ingredients for the frosting:

  • 1.5 c. evaporated cane sugar (granulated size)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/3 c. water
  • small pea sized amount of red food coloring gel (this is the super concentrated version of food coloring)
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Find a glass bowl that is heat safe (pyrex) and will fit over the top of a large pot. Into the pot, fill it partially full with water. Make sure the water line is several inches from the bottom of the glass bowl, when the bowl is placed on top of the pot. Bring the water to a boil.
  2. With the large glass bowl (not over the boiling water yet), add all the ingredients EXCEPT for the vanilla. Using a hand mixer on high speed, mix the ingredients together for 1 minute.
  3. Place the bowl over the boiling water. You have now made a double boiler! Making sure the water keeps boiling away, set a timer for seven minutes and mix the ingredients using the hand mixer until the timer goes off. If your glass bowl is very thick, you may have to keep mixing for another minute or two. Your frosting will be ready when it thickens up to the point where it doesn’t run off of a spoon readily. It will also turn a bright shiny white (or pale pink if you color it).
  4. Take the bowl off the heat. Stir in the vanilla (or flavor of your choice) by hand. Frost your cake while the frosting is still warm and soft, being careful to not pull crumbs off everywhere. You should have enough frosting to frost the whole cake generously. Feel free to leave beautiful fluffly looking swirls all over. It adds to the beauty of this type of frosting.
  5. Decorate it with cake toppers, candles or anything you like. The frosting will hold its shape pretty well once it has cooled.
  6. Using a large spatula, you can now lift your cake and place it on a display platter or cake carrier. The cardboard placed underneath it makes it easy to move without breaking the cake. If you are traveling, a little bit of jam or frosting placed UNDER the cardboard will help “glue” it in place and help to keep the cake from sliding around during transport to your party.

Fluffy marshmallow goodness.


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