A stack of Funfetti pancakes. A mug of steaming hot chocolate. A bowl of bright red strawberries. An unadorned Frappuccino. What do these items have in common? If you answered “they’re all missing a big plop of whipped cream,” we’re on the same page. However, if you’re avoiding dairy—for veganism, lactose intolerance, Paleo-ing, or some such dietary restriction—you may have thought you were SOL when it comes to foods in need of whipped cream. We hear your pain, and this madness stops now. Nondairy vegan whipped cream is simple to make, plant-based, and calls for just one main ingredient: coconut cream.
Not to be confused with cream of coconut (that sweetened white stuff squeezed into piña coladas), coconut cream is the thick white substance that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk. That’s where the nondairy magic happens.
The vegan whipped cream process actually starts at the grocery store as you select cans of coconut milk. Some brands add stabilizers to their coconut milk in order to keep the coconut milk and coconut water from separating, so it’s imperative to inspect the cans before taking them home. Pick up a can of full-fat coconut milk and hold it to your ear. Jiggle the can the can ever so slightly—the way you’d play with those weirdly enthralling can-shaped animal noisemakers—and listen for sloshing. If you can hear a lot of noise, the can is a whipped cream flop. While it will still work in that Thai red curry you’re planning to make for dinner, lots of noise coming from a can of coconut milk likely means the coconut cream and coconut water have already blended. Since you need pure fat for whipped cream, move on to the next can. If you hear barely anything, you’re probably good to go. Grab two cans and head home.
The second most important element of the coconut-whipped-cream process is chilling the coconut cream. Cans of coconut milk must chill in the fridge for at least 24 hours for the cream to firm up. Annoyingly, this step cannot be sped up by sticking the can in the freezer, so you should get the coconut in the fridge as soon as possible if you want whipped cream tomorrow.
When the coconut cream has been sufficiently chilled, open the cans and scoop out only the thick fatty cream that has risen to the top. Save the leftover coconut water for smoothies—you have no need for it here.
Whip the coconut cream with an electric mixer until smooth, then drop in a tablespoon or two of powdered sugar and a splash of vanilla extract. If you’re feeling festive, add other flavors like instant espresso powder, bourbon, or almond extract. Whip the cream for another 30 seconds or so, and serve immediately. Leftovers can be stashed in the fridge, but will need to be re-whipped when ready to use again, as coconut whipped cream will firm up when cold.