Ask Peter: Lactose-free desserts
I’d like to create some refreshing desserts for my son’s birthday party. Unfortunately he is lactose intolerant and I was wondering if you could give me some ideas for ice cream or cold desserts that don’t include milk or cream?
I don’t mean to sound flippant, but if you had to pick a time to be lactose free, 2016 isn’t a bad year at all. There are so many alternatives out there that are pretty delicious I must say.
Looking at milk replacements alone (and I am no fan of milk — I’ve been drinking black tea since my early teens), there is my stand-by soy milk in a huge range of varieties of that pulse-liquid alone. Almond milk seems to almost have overtaken that in cafes around New Zealand — though oat milk and rice milk aren’t far behind.
While I’m no fan of milk, I am a huge lover of other dairy products from cream and ice cream through to butter and cheese. For the lactose-free, these of course are out of bounds. For decades, butter could easily be replaced with margarine, but now nut butters would seem to be the alternative of choice for many — although if you are allergic to nuts this simply won’t work for you.
Coconut waters and milks are available for those who want or need a break from dairy, and there are vegan cheeses, dairy free custards and ice creams and a huge assortment or alternative foods on the market. So your child absolutely needn’t have a pudding-free birthday at all.
I’m a great fan of coconut milk in desserts to replace dairy. And rather like dairy there is coconut milk and coconut cream — just like that from the cow. Coconut will help pile on the calories but you can pretty much use coconut milk in place of dairy milk without having to tweak a recipe.
They both boil without splitting, they emulsify the same way in the same volume when using egg yolks (for custard or ice creams use 1 yolk per 100ml liquid) and the flavour isn’t too far off either.
I’ve made custard from soy milk, but depending on which brand you use the end result can be either quite delicious or rather like a badly flavoured smoothie. In fact when making smoothies the end result can be quite different for the same reason.
When making a cooked dessert make sure you use a soy milk that is suitable for heating, as some can split. A “barista-recommended” soy (or nut milk) will be a good bet and shouldn’t split if heated.
Some lactose intolerant people fear they’ll never have chocolate again too as most chocolate contains dairy, either in the form of milk or cream, or milk powder solids. However there are more and more dairy free chocolates on the market — and if you were to make a coconut milk and dairy-free chocolate mousse based on your usual recipe you might be pleasantly surprised at how delicious it will be.
Likewise something as simple as swapping filo pastry for a buttery puff or short pastry means you can still have a pie. Italian biscotti have no dairy in them as a rule, so biscuits don’t have to be ruled out, and in my book on vegetables many years ago I even gave a recipe for a chocolate, tofu and beetroot cake that was dairy, gluten and egg free — yet rich, moist and delicious.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.