The requirements for this dairy free frosting are:
- not too sweet
- looks similar to the italian meringue buttercream used in the other two tiers
- no butter, no milk, no dairy whatsoever
- needs to be heat stable to at least 85°F, but preferably up to 90°F (a girl can dream)
- 30g egg white
- 58g sugar (divided 14g/44g)
- 15g water
- 91g butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Then I started substituting non-dairy butter substitutes in the IMBC. I used Earth's Best butter-flavored stuff in a tub, and Canoleo in a tub, and Spectrum shortening. I also started increasing the amount of sugar syrup to counter the saltiness of the margarines, and the weird "butter" flavors. This just resulted in soft, marshmallow fluff-like frostings.
The shortening test was interesting. I used the normal amount of sugar syrup and could barely get 41g shortening emulsified into the italian meringue. The shortening had the best flavor (sugar, vanilla) but like most shortening-based frostings, left a greasy feel in the mouth.
I went back to the drawing board.
I decided to chuck the eggs as well and look for a totally vegan frosting. Searching around, I decided to try a vegan cream cheese frosting. Then I found a really awesome vegan baking website, veganbaking.net. The founder, Mattie Hagedorn, is the kind of baker I like. He's inquisitive, scientific, and creative. Just look at his post on how to make vegan butter and I think you'll agree. I want to make the cocoa butter butter, and play around with that!!
Anyways, he posted a couple of interesting frostings that he said were warm weather appropriate. He used soy milk powder to add creaminess and a sugar syrup for stabilization and silkiness. He had a version for butter flavored sticks as well as one for shortening. I was excited to try them out. Elsewhere on his website I learned that, when baking with vegan butters, it is important to use the sticks not the tubs. The margarines in the tubs have more water and salt apparently. I wish I had known that before my initial tests! I ran out and bought Earth Balance buttery sticks and non-buttery sticks.
Mattie's Rich Buttercream Frosting and Rich Vanilla Frosting both start with combining sugar, water, soy milk powder, and either agave or corn syrup. This is slowly heated to 230°F, cooled down to about room temperature, and then the butter or shortening and flavorings are added in. When using shortening (the rich vanilla frosting), you add apple cider vinegar, vanilla, and a little almond extract. This actually gives the frosting an intriguing flavor, almost butter-like. In fact, much more butter-like than those buttery flavored sticks, which continue to taste like maple syrup to me.
My initial tests were failures as I forgot the sugar syrup needed to be heated slowly at medium heat, and was heating it on medium-high. At that heat, the soy milk powder kept burning. Initially I used agave syrup but that turned the frostings from white to a caramelly brown.
My second round of tests, two days later, came out much better. By this time I had fired the buttery flavored sticks and was working exclusively with the rich vanilla frosting, using the non-butter flavored earth balance sticks and the spectrum shortening. The spectrum frosting had a really pretty creamy white look to it; a good match for the IMBC. The earth balance shortening sticks had a better mouthfeel--less greasy.
The vegan cream cheese is from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and is dead simple. I halved the amount of sugar and it resulted in a creamy, lightly sweet, lightly tangy product. (You can find the recipe, probably posted without permission, here.)
The question was now, which one would stand up to hot weather the best? Unfortunately the weather here took a turn for cool and rainy, so my initial plan of frosting some cupcakes and putting them out in the sun for a couple of hours was out. So I heated the bathroom to 85°F, frosted some cheap box cupcakes, and left them alone for a couple of hours.
I have to add a caveat here. Of the four frostings I tested in my hot bathroom, the IMBC and the VCC had been refrigerated for at least 24 hours before the test. The two shortening frostings had been made just before the test, and I think that is why they suffered so badly in the test. The shortening frostings didn't hold up so well. The Earth Balance shortening sticks began to break down pretty quickly. The Spectrum shortening held on for about an hour but began to break down too. The control, the IMBC, never broke down but did get all shiny and turned a yucky yellow color. Shockingly, the vegan cream cheese frosting never batted an eyelash. It didn't melt, or break down, or get oily/greasy, or deteriorate in any way. Totally not what I was expecting!
|italian meringue buttercream after 2 hours in the hot bathroom|
|vegan cream cheese frosting after 2 hours in the hot bathroom|
The next morning, the sun was out so I frosted a couple cupcakes with the now refrigerated shortening frostings, and left them out for a couple of hours. It was about 84°F and the Earth Balance frosting began to break down after about an hour. The Spectrum shortening started to break down at about 90 minutes, but not too badly.
I am still undecided about the frosting. The cream cheese tastes good, has a good mouthfeel, and stood up to hot temperatures better than I imagined. However it seems a little lowbrow for a wedding. If the temperature isn't too hot, I might go with the Spectrum frosting. It resembles the IMBC the best and is a close runner up in taste and appearance. Plus, it seems a little more appropriate for a wedding. Stay tuned, readers.