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How to Make Vegan Buttercream With Coconut Oil

Vegan buttercream
Photos via CakeSpy

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The words “dairy-free” or “vegan” in front of buttercream might sound like a contradiction — possibly even sacrilege. But once you try this tutorial on how to make an easy vegan buttercream using coconut oil, you might be singing a different tune. It’s so creamy and luxuriant that even though it’s devoid of dairy, it definitely falls in to buttercream territory.

This vegan-friendly recipe yields a smooth, luxuriant buttercream which employs coconut oil instead of butter for its creamy flavor and texture. It’s an ideal medium for vegan cake decorating. Whether you’re vegan or not, though, this silky-sweet topping is bound to make your next cake experience one to remember.

So break out the mixer and get ready for a new taste sensation.

Recipe notes

Coconut oil is not butter, and needs to be treated a bit differently to ensure success. Here are some considerations to make sure your buttercream comes out beautifully.

Coconut oil consistency

At room temperature, coconut oil will be solid; if the weather is warm or your kitchen is hot, it will quickly turn to liquid. For this recipe, it’s vital that you use coconut oil that is completely set. See the coconut oil pictured below, which is partially solid but partly liquid?

Too much liquid is not good for buttercream

It’s no good for this recipe: If you try make buttercream with it when it has this consistency, it will taste good, but the texture will separate a bit, like the buttercream on this cake:

Cracked icing

For best results, use coconut oil which is completely solid. If it is too hot for this to happen at room temperature, put it in the refrigerator until it is solid (this will only take a few minutes). If you have already mixed your buttercream and it appears to be separating, put the entire mixing bowl (off the stand mixer) in the refrigerator for several minutes and then try mixing again.

Make sure your cake is cooled before icing

Only use this buttercream to ice cakes which have been baked and completely cooled. It is very sensitive to heat, and if you start to ice a still-warm cake, it may start to melt. If in doubt, pop your cake in the refrigerator for a few minutes to ensure a cool icing surface.

Once your cake is iced, store the cake in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. This buttercream will come to room temperature more rapidly than its butter-containing counterparts.

Flavor notes

Cake icing

In spite of the coconut oil, this buttercream icing has only a gentle coconut-y taste. It’s there, but subtle. If you want a strong coconut flavor, use coconut extract as your flavoring, and you can even consider topping your cake with toasted coconut to bring the point home.

On the flip side, the somewhat mild flavor means you can combine this icing with other flavors and they won’t be overpowered by the coconut. So go ahead, stir in some melted chocolate, fruit, peanut butter, or other flavoring of your choice if you’d like.

Decorating with coconut oil buttercream

This buttercream can be used to pipe, but it is not appropriate for hot weather, as designs will “wilt” and melt. In general, this buttercream is sensitive to heat, so it might not be the right medium for extremely intricate piping projects.

Another consideration for decorating is the color of the finished icing. Vanilla extract will give the buttercream a slightly ecru tone. On certain cakes this can be pleasant, but if you want pure white, use clear vanilla extract or coconut extract.

If dairy is OK

If you’re not vegan, you can use half butter in this recipe.

Pairing this buttercream

As previously noted, as-is, this buttercream has a sweet yet mild flavor. This means it plays well with other flavors and won’t take over with extreme coconut-iness. It can be used on any number of cakes, from coconut (of course) to chocolate and vanilla to even more assertively-flavored cakes.

Coconut oil icing

Coconut oil buttercream

Yield: about 2 cups

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or coconut extract
  • pinch salt
  • Optional: coconut cream or soy milk, to thin

Step 1:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the coconut oil until it has become smooth and lump-free.

Step 2:

Add 2 cups of the confectioners’ sugar, and resume mixing on low speed. Increase the speed once the sugar has been absorbed, and add the vanilla or coconut extract and salt.

Buttercream with coconut oil

Step 3:

Add in the remaining sugar, one cup at a time, until the buttercream has reached your desired spreading consistency. If it becomes too thick, add 1-2 teaspoons of coconut cream, soy milk, or other dairy alternative “milk” to thin.

Add sugar until the cake reaches your desired consistency

You might also enjoy our vegan baking guide and our vegan ice cream recipe.

Get Creative Decorating Ideas for Your Vegan Buttercream!

craftsy buttercream guide

Get insider tricks & inspiration to make beautiful, one-of-a-kind buttercream goodies with this free PDF guide, available exclusively on Craftsy.Get My FREE Guide »

42 Comments

Donna Rodgers

Hurray! This is a great, simple recipe. Yummy 🙂

Reply
Julie

This is not working at all. I am trying to make it now, following the steps exactly and the sugar isn’t coming close to being absorbed by the coconut oil. This recipe does not work

Reply
Jessie Oleson Moore

Hi Julie, I am sorry that you are having difficulty with the recipe. I am trying to figure out what the problem is, and my best guess is that the coconut oil might be too liquid. In that case, you may be able to salvage the recipe by adding more confectioners’ sugar. It’s also possible that different types of coconut oil might wick more of the sugar than others. Or if you are in a humid climate that may affect it, also.

Can you describe a little more what is happening? Is the sugar disappearing into the coconut oil and making more like a paste? Or is it more like a liquid?

Sorry for the hard time you are having.

Reply
Marci

I used a hand blender with the whisk attachment and found that it only needed approx. 1 cup of sugar. I added it by 1/4 cup each time, and felt like I should be adding more since the recipe called for 4-6 and I wasn’t even close. But when I added more, it got far too dry, so I whisked some more coconut oil and added that. It turned out perfect, and I was even more pleased at how delicious it was after whisking in a good handful of fresh raspberries. I will ice by cooled brownies soon and top with fresh mint. Can’t wait to share and eat them! Thanks for the recipe. Super easy, even if I did have to play with it a bit (being patient and flexible in the kitchen makes it a lot more enjoyable!). 🙂

Reply
Marci

*my (not by)

Reply
Michelle

Mine done the same thing so I took my hand and mixed it in then continued to beat it worked great and really good.

Reply
Johnnie Beach

How would using powdered Xylitol work in this recipe?

Reply
Jessie Oleson Moore

Johnnie: I have never tried it so unfortunately I can’t say with confidence. However, if you’ve successfully used it in buttercream recipes before, I think it would be fine!

Reply
Gayatri

Would you be able to tell me if this will crust at all?

Reply
Jon

This recipe will crust

Reply
Debby

Should I put the beater attachment and bowl in fridge before I start creaming coconut oil. I don’t want it to melt on me but can it be too hard??

Reply
Samantha

You don’t want the oil too hard or it won’t combine with the sugar

Reply
Jon

This recipe worked great for me and was a big hit. The slight tweeks I made were: I melted and measured the coconut oil, then put the bowl into the freezer to solidify. I used whisk attachments on a hand-mixer instead of a paddle attachment on a stand mixer and it worked without problems. Also, I added 2 Tbsp of cocoa powder to make chocolate frosting. This recipe was so awesome that I have already made it twice. Thanks!

Reply
Samantha

Like the cocoa idea … Yummy

Reply
Rebecca

Can I ice cake with this recipe before I want to eat it? 24hours before? Or should it be eaten straight away? TIA

Reply
Samantha

It worked for me just keep the cake in a cool place once iced

Reply
rebecca

Hello there,

Will this go inside a sugar-pasted cake please? Or will it melt?

many Thanks
Rebecca

Reply
Samantha

Should work as long as the cake is kept cool

Reply
~Kris

this is delicious! I needed a frosting for my daughter’s birthday cupcakes tonight, and had run out of butter. Thankfully I had a whole jar of coconut oil. I don’t think I’ll even go back to “normal” buttercream frosting again (i’m vegetarian, but eat a mostly vegan diet, but the rest of my family is not, and no one can tell the difference!). I plan on making this again for Christmas cookies next month (and with refined coconut oil, there is no overbearing coconut flavor, if that’s a turn off for others)

Reply
Samantha

Brilliant icing – it took a while to get it to mix but I realised that the coconut oil needs to be warm (not liquid though) so that it binds the sugar – once I worked that out hey presto Devine … Everyone loved it!

Reply
Desiree

This was very good, just what I was looking for. Goes great on so many cakes, cookies ect.

Reply
Kayla

Why would you ever put salt in frosting?

Reply
Darcia

Because salt cuts any overbearing sweet taste and deepens the flavors. It’s not enough salt to taste salty. Just enough that the sweet taste will be a deeper, richer taste.

Reply
Amy

About how many cupcakes would you say one batch can frost? This recipe looks great! Can’t wait to try it!

Reply
Jess

wow, this was a horrible recipe. i followed the directions to a tee. the only difference is that i used a hand-held mixer because that’s all that i own. the moment that i added any sugar, the entire mix turned into what looked like a bowl of sand. i tried to melt it. it didn’t work. the only thing that helped was adding a little bit of water. it came together in a less-horrible way, but it still never tasted right. it’s overly sweet, and it definitely doesn’t taste like frosting or buttercream. i added the chocolate powder as well. basically, i wouldn’t advise risking four cups of powdered sugar and some coconut oil. i buy expensive and high quality ingredients, and this was definitely a disappointment.

Reply
Anne

Sounds like your coconut oil was too cold, and you added too much sugar at one time (from your syntax it sounds like you added it all, but that might not be the case) The other problem might be your powdered sugar. Even expensive high quality powdered sugar can have too many anti-caking agents to work well in a tricky recipe. This is a simple, but high technique recipe, it might take more than one try. The first time I made normal buttercream icing it didn’t work out for me, but by attempt three, I had it down. Cooking is often a trial and error process as the conditions in the recipe users kitchen can vary widely from the conditions in the recipe makers kitchen. Blaming a recipe that so many people have had work without trying it more than once is pretty unfair to the person who wrote it.

Reply
Sky

Waaayyyy too sweet

Reply
Ksv

Then add a tad more salt to cut and enhance the flavor.

Reply
Liam

I followed the recipe to the letter and it clumped together and essentially turned in to sand. Neither adding more smoothed coconut oil nor adding more icing sugar worked. I would not recommend this recipe – its looks like the simplicity means it’s very hit-or-miss. It is also far, far too sweet. I’d like to be able to taste the cake, not obliterate my teeth.

Reply
Elise

My family loooooved this icing! I didn’t have and soy or almond milk on hand so I used a little apple sauce to thin it out a bit and I was pleasantly surprised! Will definitely be making this again. Thank you for the recipe!

Reply
Sarah

This turned out great, though the process was so weird haha. I used old, old cheap powdered sugar and room temperature (slightly soft) refined coconut oil. Fluffed the oil alone, didn’t melt it first, then dumped the sugar in all at once. Started on low as the recipe says, with my hand mixer, until all the sugar was crumbly and seemed to have oil on it. Then I added the vanilla and went to high (which on my little mixer isn’t very powerful). It slowly turned into bigger and bigger crumbles until it was trying to be one extremely dense blob. Took longer then I expected, but I don’t think I’ve made frosting for years, so what do I know ;). Then I remembered to add a little milk, which softened it beautifully. It was way to sweet for me and I couldn’t taste the vanilla, so I kept adding salt and mixing and tasting until I got it perfect! Thanks for a great, no-butter recipe!

Reply
April

I tested this out to use for my son’s first birthday cake since he can’t have dairy. It’s the winner! I don’t think it needs as much sugar as it says. I used less and it’s still very sweet. I also got to the sandy/clumpy mixture part as other people complained about and it wouldn’t go beyond that. Being that I have a brain, I used it. 🙂 Your recipe says optional to add a milk source, so I added a little almond milk and then it came together perfectly! Your recipe is great. Thank you so much!!

Reply
Kay

Fantastic recipe. This is the first time I’ve used non-dairy products and am impressed. Like others above, just needed to add a little almond milk to get right consistency. I didn’t use as much sugar as recipe stated as only needed enough frosting for a small cake.

Reply
Cherry

Does this recipe take gel food coloring? With just fat and sugar I am guessing the gel will have a hard time incorporating?

Reply
Laura

I tested this frosting with Wilton gel pots, Wilton liquid drops (from their Color Right system) and CK Squeeze Gel colour. Just mixed them with a fork. There was zero colour separation even left overnight at room temperature. Seems to take colour (both gel and liquid) as well as any buttercream!

Reply
Amber

I have made this twice now and it is easily my favorite frosting recipe! It’s so simple and SO delicious. I find that I definitely only need 2 cups of powdered sugar, and I do have to add four teaspoons of milk to get the perfect consistency. But overall this tastes unbelievable. I was lucky to find butter flavored coconut oil at a health food store, so I use that for this recipe and no one would ever know that this is made without butter. I love it!

Reply
Zainav

I’m making this right now, have added about 5 cups of sugar to 1/2 coconut oil and every time I taste it, I start gagging. It smells overwhelmingly of coconut oil and frankly, tastes disgusting.

Is something wrong with my oil or is it supposed to be this awful?

Reply
Anna

Tested it on today’s rose wine cake, added some coconut pulp for flavour, it was purely amazing

Reply
Laura

I’ve never tried making a vegan frosting before, but my friend can’t have dairy or eggs or chocolate (all the good stuff) and I always feel bad when I bake things she can’t have. So I gave this frosting a try tonight.

I have to say, the texture is really beautiful. It’s smooth and creamy, with no bits or grittiness. It wasn’t a difficult recipe to follow; I just added a bit more powdered sugar or a bit more coconut milk as required to get the right consistency. Extremely basic stuff.

I have to wonder about the people saying it’s too hard or tastes disgusting. This is not a difficult recipe, so I’m assuming they aren’t following the instructions, or they’re substituting things they shouldn’t, or they don’t know what coconut oil is, or they actually don’t even like coconut and are for some reason trying to make coconut frosting while expecting it to taste like regular buttercream.

HELPFUL HINTS:

– Yes, this is absolutely SWEETER than regular buttercream. The ratio of butter to sugar in regular buttercream (all butter, no shortening) is approx. 1:4. The ratio in this recipe is at least 1:8 (necessary to get the right consistency). Expect to add salt unless you have a crazy sweet tooth. In one stick of butter (1/2 cup) there is approx. 1/4 tsp of salt. I used 1/2 cup coconut oil, 5 cups powdered sugar, several tablespoons canned coconut milk (forgot to count!), and added around 1 teaspoon ground sea salt. I’m considering adding a bit more salt; will taste it tomorrow and see if it’s settled/changed at all.

– Coconut oil is VERY TEMPERATURE SENSITIVE. If you’re like me and have warm hands all the time, you will not be able to pipe this stuff. It’ll melt in the bag. Don’t make it when your kitchen is warm. Don’t put it on warm goods. Don’t use a warm bowl right out of the dishwasher. Etc etc. If your oil is liquid at all, chill it for a few minutes. It’ll behave.

– Don’t give up! Too dry/stiff? Add liquid. Too runny? Add powdered sugar. Too oily? Pop it in the fridge for a couple minutes to firm up your coconut. Keep tweaking it, bit by bit, and it will come together. Don’t add more than 1 tbsp of liquid at a time; let it mix for a bit to see how it does. It doesn’t take much to change the consistency!

This is a great recipe. It won’t replace regular buttercream for me but it’s delicious and simple to make, and anyone who can’t or won’t eat dairy will definitely appreciate being able to eat frosting for a change.

Reply
Suzie

I made it with melted chocolate to put on my favorite dairy-free chocolate cake recipe. I had a hard time getting it right, but in the end, it’s very yummy.

I had to add coconut milk because it wouldn’t get creamy (I tried soy milk at first, but it wasn’t helping much). I added about 1 tsp at a time, for maybe 1/4 cup total. The texture went from wet sticky sand to whipped peanut butter, so I guess it worked. Chocolate and coconut, mmm. Can’t wait to taste the finished product.

Reply
Lety

Hi there, can I use food coloring. I ‘d like to use this cream on cupcakes for kids? Thanks

Reply

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