I have all sort of opinions about parve desserts, opinions I've only begun to regale the internet with, but among the strongest of my convictions is that dairy substitutes are to be avoided whenever possible. I'd rather serve buttery fish and crème brûlée than steak and Earth Balance. Unfortunately, that doesn't so much work for the dairy intolerant, and/or Sefardim who don't roll like that, and/or vegans, and/or the carnivorously inclined, some of whom happen to be near and dear to me.
So it's with that particular bee in my bonnet that I set out to find a solution for summer cookouts that practically require a buttery pound cake topped with billows of whipped cream and fresh berries, a no can-do after the requisite burgers and dogs. This dairy-free (though not egg-free/vegan) version delivers the essentials of those flavors and textures, complete with a cream on top that's stabilized so it won't melt on you. The texture is pure pound cake and it's completely deserving of its place on the patio table.
The lemons, zested and juiced, along with some optional almond extract, give the cake great flavor that it's not getting from butter. The coconut-milk yogurt keeps the cake moist and springy (more on that in a minute). As for the cream topping, coconut cream—the kind that comes in a little, tomato-paste-sized can—stands in for the dairy stuff, lightly sweetened with powdered sugar. Just a bit of instant vanilla pudding mix stabilizes the cream and flavors it subtly.
The Secret to Dairy-Free Pound Cake: Coconut-Milk Yogurt
The key ingredient to making this cake work are coconut-milk yogurt, a stroke of genius that belongs to The Nosher. I've experimented with other non-dairy yogurts in cooking and baking and have never gotten results to write home about. However, coconut milk yogurt is a game changer, especially in this kind of tart, fruity cake. I've since trialed coconut yogurt in a coffee cake (like the original recipe) and while the texture was great, it was a touch sour-tasting: in other words, begging for a citrus situation.
So, what I'm saying is: you need to schlep out and get coconut-milk yogurt to make this dairy-free cake amazing. I know that's annoying, because it annoys me. It's worth it, though, and the cake won't work the same way without it. On the other hand, once you're out at the store (I know, so peopley out there), just grab whatever coconut-milk yogurt you can find. I've made this cake with both the sweetened and unsweetened vanilla-flavored coconut yogurt made by So Delicious, and both came out great. I didn't find their plain unsweetened coconut yogurt to try out, but I imagine it would also work well; I'd add a teaspoon of vanilla extract if using it.
Two More Key Ingredients (and Substitutions)
Okay, all right, this is a borderline fussy recipe now that I'm getting around to admitting you need Meyer lemons, which are, inconveniently for us, in season during the winter. Apparently, most of the Meyer lemon trees in the US are growing in California backyards such as mine, where unsuspecting homebuyers are initially perturbed by the size of the thorns on their vintage lemon tree, only to be in turn delighted by the bright, fruity flavor that one gets in exchange for multiple piercings. In my discursive way, I'm saying that I accidentally used Meyer lemons in this cake because that's what was growing outside my kitchen, and all the rains and unusual weather we had this year apparently tricked my tree into producing well into summer.
Let's say you don't have a backyard Meyer lemon supply, don't despair yet, okay? There are workarounds, and also, would you like some of mine? Because fecund does not begin to describe our tree.
The deal with Meyers is that they're, most likely, lemon naturally hybridized with orange, making them sweeter, juicier, and thinner-skinned. That's why I can use a whopping half-cup of lemon juice in this cake, from two humongous Meyers (thanks, tree). If you are working with regular lemons, I'd stick with one: zest it all over and then juice just one half. If you're a fan of Meyers, you could also stock up when they're in season at the markets and freeze some juice. Use the juice, thawed, along with fresh zest from a regular lemon.
Finally, there's the almond extract, which you may have lurking in the pantry. This is a nice place to use it; there's something about the pairing of lemon and almond. That being said, unlike vanilla extract, which melds in and contributes subtly, almond extract is full-on diva, taking over the whole show. So if you're just not in the mood for that, skip it. It's lovely both ways, or so say my unempirical panel of taste-testers.
Which Pan to Use
I attempted this cake in a bundt cake pan—twice. I had a vision of mounding up the cream in the center and pelting the cake with juicy, dripping berries. That vision ended, both times, in apocalyptic-level cake disaster. But it's okay, because it turns out that the cake bakes nicely in a loaf pan (standard or English cake) and serves better when it's sliced and then topped with the coconut cream and berries.
Lemon Pound Cake with Coconut Cream + Macerated Berries (parve)
- English cake pan or standard loaf pan
Lemon pound cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ cup granulated sugar - bump it up to 1 ¾ if you like things sweeter
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¾ cup vanilla-flavored coconut yogurt - 150g, from 1 single-serve cup
- ¾ cup extra-virgin coconut oil
- 4 eggs
- 1 Tbsp lemon zest - save the lemons for juicing, below
- ½ cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice, from 2 lemons - or the juice of ½ regular lemon* (see note)
- ¼ tsp almond extract - optional
Coconut cream topping
- ⅔ cup coconut cream (from 1 small can) - 160ml
- 1 Tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 Tbsp instant vanilla pudding mix - omit if you prefer; the cream will be thinner
- 1 cups sliced strawberries
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar - optional
- 2-3 sprigs fresh mint, for garnishing - optional
- Before beginning, place the can of coconut cream in the freezer to chill while you prepare the berries and cake batter.
Macerate the berries:
- In a medium bowl, place all the berries. Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar (if using) and gently toss to coat the fruit. Set aside while you make the cake and cream; the berries will soften and release juices.
Next, make the cake:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease an English cake pan (long loaf) or standard loaf pan, then line it with a parchment paper sling for easier removal.
- Using a mixer, beat the four eggs well, 1-2 minutes. Add the sugar and lemon zest to the mixer bowl and continue to beat for another 3 minutes or so, until pale yellow and fluffy.
- Add the coconut yogurt, coconut oil, the lemon juice, and the almond extract (if using). Mix to combine.
- Add the flour and baking powder to the mixer bowl and mix on low speed until just combined.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake 50-55 minutes for a English cake pan or 1 hour, 5-10 minutes for a loaf pan.* Remove when a tester comes out with moist crumbs attached and the edges are beginning to turn golden.
While the cake is baking, make the coconut cream:
- To make the coconut cream, remove the small can of coconut cream from the freezer and empty it into small bowl. The coconut cream will be stiff, with just a bit of milk at the bottom. Using the whisk attachment of a hand-held mixer or immersion blender, whip the cream by itself to aerate it for 2 minutes, until it's well-blended and looks smooth and creamy, like sour cream.
- Turn off the mixer and add the powdered sugar and instant vanilla pudding mix to the bowl with the coconut cream. Begin whipping, first at low speed, then working up to high, for another 2-5 minutes. The coconut cream should be whipped and creamy, though it won't stiffen up as much as dairy whipping cream. Cover and place the whipped coconut cream in the rerigerator until serving.
Assemble the cake:
- To serve, slice the cake and plate each piece you'll be serving. Spoon the coconut cream over the cut side of the cake, making an indent in the center with the back of the spoon. Ladle a bit of the berry juices over the coconut cream, then add berries over the cream. Garnish with mint leaves, if you like.