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Vegan Chocolate Frosting and Ganache

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

Not many chocolate desserts are dairy-free. Heavy cream, milk, and butter are such a natural partner for chocolate that finding a substitute seems like an impossible task.

Until now.

That's where coconut cream comes in. Basically, it’s liquified whole coconut that has the texture and consistency of heavy cream. My preferred brand for making vegan chocolate frosting and ganache is Kara, from Singapore. It contains thickeners such as guar gum, xanthan gum, and carrageenan. I find this works fine for this recipe. There is another brand of coconut cream that has no added thickeners, Arroy-D, but I have not tried that brand in this recipe.

Coconut cream is thick, rich, and delicious—thicker and more flavorful than coconut milk. I now use it in my coffee. It behaves a lot like heavy cream, probably because it has roughly the same percentage of fat—about 30%, compared to about 35% for heavy cream. It will separate, but a quick stir brings it all back together.

Don’t confuse coconut cream with cream of coconut. The latter is a heavily-sugared, cloyingly-sweet product (e.g., Coco Lopez) for making cocktails. Kara coconut cream doesn’t contain added sugar, so you can control the sweetness level to suit your taste. It also works in savory Asian dishes such as coconut soups and curries.

I’ve been experimenting with coconut cream for awhile now. When I hit upon this vegan version, I realized I had a versatile product that could work not just as a frosting, but also as a stand-alone ganache in individual portions, or as the base of chocolate truffles. The recipe remains the same in all cases. It's just a question of how you want to use it. If you frost and decorate a cake with it, it's a frosting. If you serve it in small cups, it's a ganache. If you roll it into small truffles, it's a truffle recipe. I've also churned it into ice cream, and stirred leftover spoonfuls into coffee for an instant taste sensation.

Make sure the chocolate you use is actually dairy-free, otherwise it defeats the purpose. I've used Valrhona 85% Abinao, but other brands also work, including Scharffen Berger 62% and Lindt 70%. Do not use chocolate chips or Hershey's. Use a high-quality chocolate.

Two things to remember. First, the higher the cacao percentage in the chocolate you use, the less sweet the final product will be, unless you add more sweetener to counteract this effect. 

Second, higher-percentage cacao makes the final cream stiffer at room temperature. You can correct this by adding more warm coconut cream to the warm mixture until you get the consistency you want (keeping in mind that it will firm up as it cools, and will be super-firm at refrigerator temperature). You can gently re-heat the chocolate coconut cream over a very low flame or over a double boiler until it softens to the consistency you need for frosting or piping or pouring.

You can serve it as a stand-alone in small desert cups. Chocolate coconut cream is very rich, so a little goes a long way. Pipe or pour no more than about one or two ounces into a small serving container, such as a demi-tasse or a tiny cocktail glass. Serve at room temperature, with fruit, shredded coconut, or nuts on the side.

To make truffles, roll about a cherry-sized amount into a ball, then roll in cocoa powder or chopped nuts.

Agave is my preferred sweetener in this recipe because it incorporates easily and it is sweeter than sugar. I’ve also used honey. You can use sugar, but it's riskier. Make sure it actually dissolves—otherwise, you’ll end up with a gritty texture.

One last thing. Because coconut cream is sold by the liter and half-liter, I’ve kept the recipe in metric measurements. Don’t panic. Just pull out your scale and weigh everything. Easy.

Chocolate Coconut Cream

  • 500ml coconut cream, such as Kara brand

  • 500g high-quality dark chocolate that is dairy-free—either semi-sweet or bittersweet—coarsely chopped

  • Sweetener such as agave nectar or honey -- amount depends on your preference and the amount of sugar in the chocolate you are using

In a heavy saucepan on low heat, gently heat the coconut cream until it is warmer than body temperature. Do not let it get too hot. Add the chocolate. Whisk frequently until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is uniform. Keep an eye on the flame and keep scraping up the bottom so the chocolate that collects there doesn’t scorch. As soon as it is melted, remove from the heat.

Taste. If you think it’s sweet enough, leave it at that. If not, start adding agave or honey until it is the sweetness level you want. This recipe makes enough frosting for about 15 to 20 cupcakes (depending on how heavily you apply it) or a double-layer 9-inch cake not too thickly iced.

Store in a closed container in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for about two months.

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