When we were kids we never measured when making frosting. We literally used to dump a bunch of icing sugar (we call it icing sugar where I grew up, not powdered sugar) in a bowl, add butter, add vanilla, and repeat to some degree until we had a decent consistency. Not exactly a precise method but it worked for us! I tend to be lazy and do the same these days when making vegan icing, so it’s hard for me to pin down a recipe for it. I’ve just been throwing everything together and adjusting until it’s about right which is fine but a) it doesn’t always provide the exact same result and b) it would take less time and be more efficient if I just had a recipe to follow,
This weekend I had to make a lot of icing for cupcakes for a market I was attending so I decided to do a bit of research beforehand and look into what makes a good buttercream so successful. I find with vegan icing it’s verrryyy difficult to get just the perfect consistency (creamy enough to pipe yet firm enough to set yet not firm enough that it sets or hardens at all and remains soft… you know what I mean.) I watched a few youtube videos and read a few articles and one piece of advice I found was to have all ingredients at room temperature, most importantly your milk and butter.
Let me take a step back here and say that it is impossible to get vegan butter in Korea. It’s not available in stores and you can’t order it online. Therefore all my icing is made with coconut oil! And all my coconut oil is of course already solid at room temperature so I just let my almond milk sit out on the counter for it to warm up. I set to attempting the temperature method and it failed completely.. I beat the coconut oil for a while as instructed in one video, then added the sugar a bit at a time until all in along with vanilla and milk. The icing ended up separating and going very weird and oily so I panicked and put it in the fridge hoping that would make it go away. It did end up fixing the problem as it allowed the coconut oil to set up again. For those who don’t know, coconut oil is solid at temperatures below approximately 25 degrees Celsius. At temperatures above that it will melt.
I removed it from the fridge after a while, continued with adjustments and all was good again! Creamy vegan buttercream ftw! It’s not perfect, but with the resources I have I think it’s pretty darn good and my friends agree.
What I learned:
1) Butter and coconut oil: Not the same thing
Obvious I know, but butter is naturally hydrogenated (and some margarines artificially hydrogenated) so that the bonds of hydrogen in the product allow it to remain solid at room temperatures. Butter at room temperature is soft but not melted which allows you to get that perfect creamy, pipe-able texture. Coconut oil however is not, and is very very sensitive to influxes in temperature which means I have no choice but to keep it on the cool side.
2) You cannot have the same process and be successful with both
Looking back I’m not sure what I was thinking, warm almond milk in icing? I’ve never done that before but wanted to test and see what would happen. The warm almond milk just contributed to increasing the temperature of the coconut oil causing it to melt and separate. I was left with chunky oily icing instead of creamy buttercream. Oops!
3) Vegan icing: KEEP IT COLD!
Yup. Lesson learned! I may even start refrigerating my coconut oil to make sure it’s even colder to begin with and see how that turns out instead. I’m not sure if there is an ideal temperature for coconut oil to be mixed or combined with other ingredients since it seems like it doesn’t matter much and it will still separate if it gets warm. So for now I’m keeping it cold and enjoying my yummy creamy buttercream!
I don’t honestly think it matters much to beat the coconut oil beforehand much either so to be honest the habit of throwing everything together in a bowl probably won’t go away any time soon. As for the recipe… I’m working on that!