“What I Learned about Dairy Free”

Julia Collin DavisonMany of the recipes in the new The How Can It Be Gluten-Free Cookbook Volume 2, have a dairy-free option. Julia Collin Davison, Executive Food Editor at America’s Test Kitchen, talks about developing the dairy-free gluten-free recipes.

Many people who are gluten free also want recipes to be dairy free too. Why?

Many people with a gluten allergy also have other food allergy issues, such as oats, nightshade vegetables, and dairy.

The ATK all-purpose gluten-free flour blend contains milk powder. Can I simply leave that out?

Yes, you can leave out the milk powder and all of the recipes will work just fine. The milk powder adds a little extra flavor and helps baked goods brown more in the oven. We did test replacing the milk powder with soy milk powder, but didn’t find that it was worth the expense. In fact, in side-by-side tests, we couldn’t tell the difference between baked goods made with soy milk powder and those made without any milk powder at all. By the way, our new whole-grain gluten-free flour blend in the book is dairy free.

Why did you avoid using store-bought blends when making recipes dairy free?

We did a lot of testing for each of the recipes in this book. Every finished recipe (that uses our all-purpose blend) was tested an additional five times before we called it done; we either substituted a store-bought blend for the ATK all-purpose blend (King Arthur, Betty Crocker, and Bob’s Red Mill) or various diary-free ingredients that pitted soy against almond. Cross testing all of the possible variables, however, was simply too much.

What was your biggest surprise when attempting to make recipes dairy free?

We thought that replacing the butter would be a huge hurdle since its texture and flavor play such a big role in many baked goods. We tested a number of dairy-free butter options and found that vegetable oil and Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks both worked quite well in the recipes. In general, we had great success making our recipes dairy free with the exception of a few recipes loaded with butter like pie dough and shortcakes or recipes that use multiple types of dairy, like cheesecake.

Sometimes you use butter replacement sticks and sometimes vegetable oil when making recipes diary free. Are there any easy guidelines for the home cook about when to use which one?

Vegetable oil is our preferred substitution for melted butter and browned butter in most recipes. It works particularly well when the recipe has another strong flavor. Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks are a good substitution for solid or softened butter. It also works well when a “buttery” flavor is important to the recipe but it does taste fairly salty so it’s necessary to reduce or eliminate salt called for in the recipe.

There is a dizzying array of alternate milks on the market today. How did you limit your testing given the choices and what did you learn?

Dairy-free milks include those made from soy, rice, hemp, oats, quinoa, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, and coconut. We took hemp, oat, quinoa, and cashew milk out of the running because they were too hard to find. After extensive testing we found that soy milk and almond milk worked best. Soy milk is leaner than almond milk, which makes it an ideal replacement for low-fat milk. Rice milk is more watery and gave the baked goods an overly starchy and gummy texture. The flavor of coconut milk is too specific to make it a basic milk substitute.

What did you find out about the dairy-free creamers on the market?

There are dozens of dairy-free cream options, including coffee creamers made of hydrogenated oil. We tested the more natural creamers made of soy, almonds, cashews, or coconut and preferred the mild flavor of plain soy creamer.

Non-dairy yogurts have a very different texture than dairy yogurts. How did you work around this and what did you learn?

We tested coconut milk yogurt, soy milk yogurt, and Greek-style almond milk yogurt. The almond milk yogurt was the least successful, producing biscuits with strong, funky flavor and a gummy texture, and muffins that were mushy. Soy milk yogurt worked fine in the muffins, but the biscuits turned out drier and crumbly. In general, however, we found soy milk yogurt to be a decent substitution for plain whole-milk yogurt even though it produced slightly dry baked goods. We prefer coconut milk yogurt, which worked well in both recipes; surprisingly, we could not taste the coconut flavor.

What do you think about dairy-free chocolate?

Finding dairy-free chocolate is not easy if you want to make sure that it was produced in a gluten-free facility. We tested a few brands we found online, including Scharffen Berger and Milkless, and found that all of the dairy-free bar chocolates worked well in our cake recipes. The bars could also be finely chopped and used in place of chips in cookies. Dairy-free chips worked well as stir-ins for cookies but didn’t work as a swap for the bar chocolate in any of the cakes.

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