Non-dairy baking often requires making substitutions for more standard dairy ingredients. Sometimes the substitutions are straightforward (like substituting margarine for butter) while other times more tinkering is necessary to get good results. Below I have complied a list of some of the ingredients specific to parve baking that I always have on hand. Some are easy to find in most grocery stores, others might take a bit more looking or an online purchase. Every product is certified kosher. There is a wide variety of quality on some of these ingredients so I am also sharing my personal brand preferences where I feel they make a difference. Feel free to let me know if there are things I have forgotten or other natural products I should be aware of. I generally try to stay away from artificial ingredients like non-dairy creamer and margarine with trans-fats so that is why they are not on my list.
In the Pantry
To my taste almond milk has a more subtle, neutral flavor than soy milk so I like to use it in places where the flavor of the milk is front and center (like in puddings and ice cream). I always use unsweetened plain almond milk and add the sugar and flavoring myself according to the recipe. It can be used in baking as well if trying to avoid using soy. It is available in many grocery stores and also online.
I like to use coconut milk in recipes where I want the creaminess associated with rich whole milk or cream. The coconut flavor does come through a bit in most recipes so use it in places where the flavor compliments the dish (like chai spiced rice pudding). Chocolate ganache is the exception. When made with coconut milk the ganache is creamy and delicious and the flavor of the coconut doesn’t come through until several days later. There is a wide variety in the fat content of different brands of coconut milk, so depending on the brand the recipes may need to be tweaked a bit to get the perfect texture. The brand I use is Natural Value which I like because it has no additives and comes in a BPA free can. I order it by the case from Amazon. (Shipping is free with prime. Click here to sign up for a free 30 day trial of Amazon prime. I use it for everything.) It separates more than brands that are emulsified with starches or gums so if I am using it in a recipe that needs to be refrigerated without separating, like panna cotta, I emulsify it with a bit of starch first using the method for homemade coconut milk.
The gelatin I use in all my recipes is kolatin kosher gelatin. It is real gelatin rather than the other kosher gel products (like kojel) that are vegetable based. Kojel or Agar-Agar might be a possible substitute in some recipes (such as panna cotta), but they work differently and need to be treated differently. They will not work as a simple one-to-one substitute using the written directions without some changes to the process as well. Do not use anything but real gelatin in the marshmallow recipes, they will not work. If anyone tries substituing vegatarian products in the recipes please leave a comment on the recipe so we can all learn from one another.
The standard replacement for butter, margarine is a staple in the parve pantry. For health reasons I only use non-hydrogenated margarines such as Earth Balance. I most often use Earth Balance Buttery Sticks. Margarines labeled “light” do not work for baking because they have a much higher water ratio, but I have gotten good results in many recipes with full fat tub margarines. (Smart Balance Organic Whipped Buttery Spread is my favorite tub margarine). Because they are whipped there is more air in these margarines so it is important to measure by weight rather than volume. Also, many of them are salted so they cannot be used in recipes that have a large amount of margarine or the finished product will be too salty, unless the recipe calls for salted margarine. For something like frosting where the texture is critical I only use stick margarines.
This is a great product made from almonds and cashews that has a richness lacking in many non-dairy milk alternatives. It comes in three varieties; unsweetened, sweetened and Healthy Top. The unsweetened is used as a cream alternative in cooked applications and the sweetened makes a great ice cream base. Healthy Tops works for whipping and can be used in recipes needing whipped cream. The taste of the nuts is noticeable if there aren’t other strong flavors so I mainly use these when there are other strong flavors (like chocolate) or in things where the nut flavor enhances the dish (like in almond pastry cream) It is available in some stores but is not widely distributed so I order it online (amazon is a good source). Unfortnately the company that was making Mimic Creme has gone out of business and the product is no longer available. I will be gradually updating my older recipes that call for mimic creme to work with other non-dairy milks that are available.
This is a great all purpose milk substitute. It behaves similarly to milk in culinary applications, so it sets nicely when making a custard or bread pudding. This is my standard go to “milk” for baking, and it works well in most recipes where milk is not supposed to be the dominant flavor.
Soy Milk Powder
This is a great thing to have in the pantry. I use it both as an ingredient on its own (like in hot chocolate and in many of my ice cream recipes) but also when I need only a small amount of soymilk for a recipe and don’t want to open a whole carton of soymilk that might go bad before I use it up. I know that it is available in some grocery stores, but I rarely see it in the stores near me, so I buy it from Amazon.
Vegan Cream Cheese
The only brand of vegan cream cheese I use is Toffuti. In my experience the others taste chalky and have a strange texture. This is a useful ingredient not only in making cream cheese frostings and cheesecakes but also buttercream frostings that don’t taste like pure margarine and sugar. Tofutti cream cheese is not as tangy as real cream cheese, so if using it in a recipe that calls for cream cheese a bit of lemon juice helps make the flavor brighter.
Vegan Sour Cream
The only brand of vegan sour cream I use is Tofutti. Like the cream cheese it is not as tangy as the real thing, so a bit of lemon juice brightens the flavor here as well. It can be baked and used in recipes such as coffee cakes with good results.
White Chocolate Chips
There are several brands of parve “white chocolate decorating” chips available. They contain no cocoa butter and in my opinion these are useful only for small decorations on cakes or candies. I don’t use them as an ingredient because to my taste they are just sweet and waxy tasting. The only brand of parve white chocolate chips I use is Oppenheimer. They contain some real cocoa butter and have a much better flavor and texture than the other brands I am familiar with. In all of my recipes these are the chips I recommend, other brands will not yield the same results.