How To Make Easy Vegan Icing Without Butter Or Dairy

If you’re trying to make a dairy-free cake, you’ll also need to make icing without butter in it.

Or you might want to maintain a vegan diet, which isn’t going to work with a lot of butter-free icing recipes.

A lot of recipes for icing without butter have softened cream cheese or other dairy-based ingredients like whipping cream, which means that they’re not really vegan.

It’s not hard to make icing without butter, I did it pretty frequently when I was making wedding cakes, so read on for the details!

vegan buttercream dairy free icing recipe with a photo of two cupcakes

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Basic butter-free frosting.

There are a lot of vegan frosting recipes, but they’re all basically variations on basic dairy-free buttercream.

The basic version of butter-free frosting uses simple ingredients, just powdered sugar, vegetable shortening (Crisco), and water or a non-dairy creamer.

And you can still call it “buttercream” even if there’s no butter, you just can’t sell it that way if you’re selling cakes!

We used the version with water to practice with piping bags and to ice dummy cakes for photo shoots because there’s nothing perishable in it.

You can use and re-use the icing without worrying about refrigeration or spoilage.

The problem with this super basic decorator’s icing is that it’s really sweet, and you can’t make it less sweet by adding less sugar.

Using a non-dairy creamer will give it a little flavor and a smooth texture, and you can also adjust the sweetness a little by adding a pinch of salt.

If a really sweet icing is your favorite part of the entire cake, you’ll probably be really happy with it, but a lot of people prefer something that’s not as super-sweet.

Ingredient options.

When you make butter-free frosting (or icing, it’s the same thing,) you basically need sugar, fat, and liquids.

Traditional buttercream like Italian Meringue is made with a cooked sugar syrup, butter, and egg whites.

Those ingredients give you a less-sweet frosting than American buttercream, which is made from confectioner’s sugar, fat, and liquids.

Buttercream frosting that’s made with confectioner’s sugar and dairy products like milk or cream as the liquid will give you a delicious and fluffy frosting, but you can easily swap out ingredients to get a similar result.

Non-butter fat options:

  • Vegetable shortening
  • Vegetable oil spread or other butter substitutes
  • Vegan butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Nut butters like peanut butter or almond butter.

The softer the fat, the softer the finished icing will be. You’re going to get a really soft icing if you use any type of fat that’s really soft at room temperature.

If you need something that has a thicker consistency (like for piping flowers) you can use a little less liquid and adjust the amount of fat to adjust how thick the finished icing is.

The amount of fat that you use will also affect how soft the finished frosting is.

Non-butter liquid options:

  • Water
  • Flavored non-dairy coffee creamers
  • Almond milk or other nut milk
  • Soy milk
  • Lemon juice or lemonade (for lemon icing)
  • Other fruit juices (for flavored icing)
  • Liquer
  • Coconut water
  • Soft Drinks
  • Coffee or tea (cold!)
  • Fruit jam or reductions

Any liquid that has fat in it (like soy or nut milk) will give you a creamy and fluffy texture if you whip the icing with a hand mixer or a stand mixer.

Liquids with no fat won’t end up being as smooth and they’ll crust over faster as the icing sugar crystallizes.

Anything that has a flavoring in it will give the frosting different flavors, and can change the “drying time” of the icing as far as how long it can sit out without getting crusted-over and hard.

I have some cupcakes that I’ve bought to use as photo props that have no butter in the icing, and they basically petrify after a while.

I use them to take pictures of the cake decorations that I sell, and they’ll last forever (or at least a year or so until they dry out completely.)

slice of cake and fork on a plate

The base recipe for icing with no butter.

mauve icing

Vegan Icing With No Butter Or Dairy

These are the basic proportions for an easy recipe to make a spreadable icing that has no butter or dairy. You can adjust the flavorings and the final texture by changing the type of fat and liquid that you use.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American


  • 1 hand mixer or stand mixer You can make this by stirring the ingredients by hand, but the icing won't be as fluffy.


  • 1 pound confectioner's sugar
  • 1 cup solid fat
  • 1/4 cup liquid


  • Put the fat in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl.
  • Beat the fat with an electric mixer using the paddle attachment.
  • With the mixer on low speed, add the liquid a little at a time, reserving a little.
    Beat until the liquid is incorporated with the butter, pausing the mixer to scrape the bowl to make sure all of the fat is incorporated.
  • Add the powdered sugar a little bit at a time and mix on low speed to avoid flinging the sugar outside of the bowl. If you have a mixer shield use that to prevent the beater from throwing the sugar out of the bowl
  • Add the sugar and beat until it's incorporated into the butter. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure that all of the fat mixture is incorporated. Keep beating it to make it fluffier and stiffer, or don't beat it for as long to make it smoother.
  • If you need the icing to be thinner add more liquid. If you need it to be thicker, add more sugar.
  • Store in an airtight container in the fridge, but use the icing at room temperature.


The softer the fat that you choose to use is at room temperature, the softer the finished icing will be.
You can adjust the texture of the icing by changing the types of fat and liquid. 
If the liquid that you use has fat in it, that will make the icing softer too.


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Tips for making and flavoring the icing.

Making icing with no butter can give you different results each time if you change the ingredients a little.

The first time you make it, take notes so that you can change things and adjust the balances of the different ingredients the next time you make some. The best way to find a recipe that you like is to experiment,

You can adjust the amount of fat if the fat that you’re using is really soft. The softer it is, the softer the final icing will be, so using a little less will stiffen the icing up.

Flavoring this kind of icing can be done if you choose a specific liquid that has a flavor, or by adding flavoring to a neutral-flavored batch of frosting.

If you’re making a layer cake, you might want to use a more neutral base like regular vegetable shortening without a flavor to it.

You can add some flavoring to part of the icing to make the filling for the inside of the cake, then add some vanilla extract to the rest to make a basic vanilla buttercream for the outside of the cake.

There’s also an artificial butter flavor that you can buy if you want the flavor of butter without the actual thing. Just check to make sure that any flavorings or fat that you buy don’t have whey or milk byproducts in them, because a lot of them do!

For chocolate cake a vanilla flavor is good for frosting, but you can add some cocoa powder to the icing to make a light chocolate frosting. It won’t be as dark as fudge, but it will pair nicely with the cake.

There’s also an artificial cream cheese flavoring that would be good with red velvet cake or carrot cake.

Using jam or a fruit reduction for part of the liquid in the icing will also add that flavor to it, and won’t add any animal products to it.

The good news is that experimenting with different flavorings and ingredients gives you an excuse to bake your favorite cakes and pair them with different icings.

Sometimes the best frosting recipes come with trial and error, but when you’re testing out cake and icing, even the mistakes will be good!

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