One of the first foods that I learned to make was buttercream frosting. When I was only five, the lady who lived down the lane taught me to make it. The recipe she taught me all those years ago is the same recipe I use today. Over the years, I’ve been out of milk but still wanted to make frosting. So, I learned what all the good replacements are.
The best substitutes for milk in frosting are dairy options, including buttermilk, cream, half and half, evaporated milk, goat milk, and reconstituted powdered milk. Non-dairy options include almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, soymilk, and other substitutions like alcohol, fruit juice, and water.
In regards to flavor, to make frosting without milk, you can use:
- An alternative dairy product like cream, half & half, evaporated milk, goat milk, or powdered milk.
- A non-dairy alternative like almond milk, rice milk, or soy milk.
- A juice such as orange, lemon, or lime.
- A fruit puree like strawberry or blueberry.
- A mocha taste by using brewed coffee.
- A boozy flavor by using a liqueur.
- A more neutral-tasting frosting by using water.
Even though the substitutes listed above do not constitute a comprehensive list, we will discuss in the following paragraphs these and other options for milk substitutes in making buttercream frosting.
Best Dairy Substitutes For Milk In Frosting
If buttermilk is the only milk substitute that you have on hand, just be sure to use it sparingly because it will add a tart taste to your buttercream, which is normally not the taste you are going for when making buttercream frosting.
Buttermilk is a very nutritious milk substitute, but because you only use a small amount of liquid in the buttercream, the nutrition factor may not play such an important role.
2. Evaporated Milk
Evaporated milk is a milk substitute that many people keep on hand at all times because it is so easy to store long-term. So, if this is the only milk substitute you have when making buttercream frosting, rest assured that this is a good option.
When reconstituted, evaporated milk is very close in texture to whole milk and can be used in just about any recipe you are making. The taste of reconstituted evaporated milk, however, is not popular as a beverage, but especially for the small amount used in buttercream, this is an excellent option and you should not be able to detect a flavor change.
3. Half & Half
If you have half & half on hand as a milk substitute for making buttercream, it will add a thick creaminess to your frosting and will make a delicious topping for your cake.
Half-and-half, the combination of equal parts whole milk and cream, contains 10-18% fat, which will create a rich buttercream frosting without the added fat and calories of heavy whipping cream.
4. Heavy Whipping Cream
By using heavy whipping cream, you will be able to beat the buttercream into a light, fluffy frosting because the nature of heavy whipping cream allows you to incorporate some air into anything made with the cream giving you a lighter-than-air texture. But, the high fat content (36%) of heavy whipping cream will make a much creamier frosting.
5. Powdered Milk
Powdered milk is whole milk from which the moisture has been removed through evaporation or dehydration so that once it is reconstituted, it has the same nutrients and properties that the original whole milk had and can safely be used in any dish that calls for milk.
While many people do not like the taste of reconstituted powdered milk for drinking, it works very well as a milk substitute in most dishes without significantly affecting the taste or texture of the dish. So, the small amount that would be used to make buttercream would not be enough to significantly affect the taste of the frosting.
Pro Tip: A mixture of 50% Cream or Half-and-Half and 50% water can be substituted for milk at a 1:1 ratio.
Related Article: 12 Easy Ways to Fix Runny Frosting.
6. Goat Milk
Goat Milk is very similar in texture and flavor to cow’s milk and should make buttercream frosting that is indistinguishable from buttercream made with cow’s milk.
Even though the small amount of milk used in buttercream frosting should not create digestive issues, goat milk is known to be much easier to digest than traditional cow milk. This is because it has less lactose and alpha-s1-casein protein. If for no other reason, this makes goat milk a great milk alternative for any dish.
Best Non-Dairy Substitutes For Milk In Frosting
If you are using a non-dairy milk substitute because you choose to follow a Vegan or other dietary plan that excludes dairy or whether your substitute is for health reasons such as lactose intolerance, there are now many options for you. Some of the non-dairy substitutes are hard to find, and some are quite expensive, but the ones mentioned here are available in most supermarkets, and the prices are more reasonable:
7. Almond Milk
Almond Milk is one of the non-dairy milk substitutes that is easiest to find and is one of the most popular. Also, of the non-dairy substitutes, almond milk has one of the most neutral flavors but is also quite a bit thinner than regular milk.
My experience with almond milk is that it has a good flavor and will not adversely affect the taste of the food you use it in, but it can affect the color of some dishes to the extent that they may take on a slightly gray color. So, if making a vanilla-flavored frosting, the color may be just a little off if using almond milk.
Almond Milk can be substituted for milk at a 1:1 ratio.
8. Coconut Milk
Coconut Milk is one of the thickest, creamiest non-dairy milk substitutes that can be used in many dishes traditionally made with dairy but will significantly alter the taste. For cooking, you will want to select canned coconut milk since it is more concentrated than other coconut beverages.
Coconut Milk can be used as a non-dairy milk substitute for making buttercream frosting that is Vegan friendly and gluten-free but will be better suited if you are making coconut frosting because your frosting is sure to have a strong coconut flavor.
Just be sure for the Vegan option to also use non-dairy Vegan butter.
Pro Tip: Coconut water is the liquid found in the center of the coconut, while coconut milk is made from the flesh of the coconut.
The coconut milk to dairy milk replacement ratio is 1:1.
9. Rice Milk
Rice Milk can be used in almost any dish that calls for milk, including buttercream frosting, but it is a little thinner than cow’s milk and will not create such a thick and creamy frosting.
It offers a refreshing alternative to coconut or nutty flavors in your dairy-free treats and is probably the nearest flavor match to cow’s milk.
10. Soy Milk
Soy Milk is a plant-based substitute for dairy that is made from soybeans and filtered water and is the only dairy substitute with almost the same amount of protein as cow’s milk. This is one of the more common milk-replacement options that is easy to find and is affordable. It is a thicker substance than almond milk because thickeners have already been added in an effort to mimic milk’s volume and expand the product’s shelf life.
Soy Milk can replace cow’s milk in most foods, including buttercream frosting, but be sure to use unsweetened plain soy milk to avoid a flavor change. This is especially true when using soy milk to make any dessert dish, like frosting for a cake, because the sweetened version would make the frosting too sweet.
To substitute alcohol for milk in buttercream frosting, just add 3 teaspoons of your favorite alcoholic beverage as the liquid in place of all or part of the milk used in the frosting. Some of the better-tasting alcoholic buttercream frostings are:
- Amaretto Liqueur, which is made from apricot kernels, has a bitter almond and brown sugar taste.
- Bailey’s Irish Cream has been described as the perfect blend of creamy, nutty, chocolate, and vanilla flavors.
- Bourbon tastes amazing with chocolate or fruit and nuts.
- Coconut Rum added to the frosting and topped with grated fresh coconut will make an amazing coconut cake.
12. Fruit Juice
For an amazing fruit-flavored buttercream frosting, just add from 3 teaspoons to 1/4th cup, or as much as needed, of fruit juice of your choice to mix the buttercream frosting. Then garnish with a piece or two of fresh fruit for an amazingly beautiful cake.
Here are some suggestions for fruit-juice-flavored buttercream frosting:
13. Fruit Puree
Instead of thinning buttercream frosting with milk, try adding ½ cup of fruit puree like strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, or a combination of fruits to buttercream frosting to make an absolutely fantastic frosting that can be spread on a yellow cake, a strawberry cake, or any number of cake and fruit-filled buttercream frosting combinations.
A common question is can I really use water instead of milk in buttercream frosting?
You can use water to mix buttercream frosting. A liquid is required to bring buttercream to the right consistency for spreading, and any liquid will do. However, some liquids that you use will make the buttercream fluffier, and some liquids will make a flavor difference.
Water, however, will make a more bland-tasting buttercream frosting which will be good but will not have pizzaz, if you know what I mean.
If you are using a milk substitute like cream or half & half, you could use part cream, and part water, and the water will not cause a flavor or texture change in that case.
What Is Buttercream Frosting?
Buttercream frosting is a very popular and easy-to-make frosting that consists of only five or six ingredients: fat (butter, margarine, oil, or shortening), confectioners sugar, vanilla extract, additional flavoring, such as cocoa, lemon juice, or almond extract, and milk or a milk substitute.
What Are The Best Flavors For Buttercream Frosting?
The beauty of buttercream frosting is that there are unlimited flavors that you can use in the frosting. Here are a few examples that I have tried:
- Almond: Use 1/8 teaspoon almond extract to spread on a spice cake.
- Chocolate Mocha: Add Hershey’s cocoa, vanilla extract, and 2 tablespoons of brewed coffee for chocolate mocha frosting. Shown above.
- Coconut: Use only vanilla extract to make a white frosting to spread on a yellow cake and then top with grated coconut for an excellent coconut cake. An option would be to add coconut milk to really make the coconut flavor pop.
- Lemon: Add approximately 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest to spread on a lemon cake.
- Orange: Add approximately 3 tablespoons of fresh orange juice and 1 tablespoon of orange zest to spread on a yellow or orange-flavored cake.
- Red Vanilla: Use red food color and vanilla extract for a red velvet or strawberry cake.
- Strawberry: Use on a strawberry cake.
- White Pecan: Make a white frosting with chopped nuts to spread on a banana nut cake.
What Is The Difference Between Frostings, Glazes, And Icings?
- Frostings are made with butter or some type of fat and are usually thicker coverings for cakes that complement or add to the flavor of the cake and which cover the top, sides, and between the layers of cakes.
- Glazes are thin and are made from confectioners’ sugar and milk or juice and are drizzled over the top of the cake.
- Icings are usually thinner and lighter than frostings and can be used to make decorations for cakes. They are sugar based instead of butter-based frosting, and tend to set more quickly and harden when dry. A good example of icing is the White Mountain Icing, also known as the 7-Minute Icing.
My “Secret” Ingredient For Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
The chocolate buttercream frosting that I learned to make at the age of five has an additional ingredient, my secret weapon, so to speak, that is guaranteed to give your frosting an amazing flavor. That ingredient is coffee that has been perked or brewed.
I’m going to share that recipe with you. Just keep in mind that I don’t use a definite recipe; I just take the ingredients and put together the amount I need, and taste often throughout the mixing until I get the right combination. But here is as close as I can come to giving you a recipe to follow.
Jelly Grandma’s Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 lb of confectioner’s sugar
- 1 tablespoon of Hershey’s cocoa
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons of brewed coffee (approximate)
- Milk (as needed)
- Bring butter to room temperature or melt it in the microwave in a large mixing bowl.
- Sift the confectioners’ sugar to make mixing faster.
- Add approximately half of the confectioner’s sugar to the butter and begin stirring.
- Add cocoa and vanilla extract and continue stirring.
- Add about half a cup of confectioner’s sugar and 1 tablespoon of coffee and continue stirring.
- Add the rest of the confectioner’s sugar, a small amount at a time, and add the additional tablespoon of coffee when needed. Continue stirring.
- Add enough milk, a small amount at a time, until it reaches the right consistency for spreading.
- Stir well until the frosting is smooth and thin enough to spread without tearing up the cake.
- This recipe will frost a 9×13” sheet cake with frosting to spare, or it will frost a 2-layer cake, top, between layers, and sides liberally, but if you are making a 3-layer cake, you might consider making one and a half batches of this recipe to give you plenty of frosting to frost liberally all around.
Pro Tip: Most of the time, I now reduce the amount of butter in the buttercream frosting to ½ stick to lower the calories in the dessert. I have been known to use less than that, and it really doesn’t detract from the excellent taste of the frosting.
Note: This frosting can be beaten with a mixer, but this will change the taste and texture of the frosting. I prefer my frosting hand-beaten, while my mother liked to use the hand mixer. My suggestion is to try it both ways and see which you prefer.
Here’s a video of me making this frosting:
For all these years, I have been under the impression that my method of making chocolate buttercream frosting was somewhat little known. You can imagine my surprise when I found that one of my daughters-in-law (Both of whom are excellent cooks, I might add) puts coffee in her buttercream frosting. I suppose this means that my extra ingredient isn’t such a “secret” weapon after all.
My take on this subject is that there is such a small amount of milk used in buttercream frosting that it really doesn’t matter what kind of dairy or non-dairy substitute you use, just as long as you have a liquid that will bring the frosting to the right texture and consistency for spreading on the cake. Just refrain from using something that has an overpowering taste that would detract from the kind of cake you are making.
As a matter of fact, a substitution can be beneficial. For example, if you are making a coconut cake, using a little coconut milk in your buttercream could enhance and add a little boost to the coconut flavor of your cake, and the coffee in the chocolate buttercream adds a mocha flavor to the frosting.
Thanks for stoppin’ by!
For more, don’t miss The 32 Best Milk Substitutes for Recipes (Dairy & Non-Dairy).
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.