V-day: Sugar? Yes. Dairy? Not necessarily.


I didn’t get around to making lots of cookies at Christmas; we tried cookie press cookies, and I attempted to make them dairy-free. Come to find out, cookie press cookies can be really hard to press (cold cookie sheets and “wrist-twist” included), especially when you’re attempting to do so without butter. The episode was definitely not a snapshot of familial holiday cheer — most especially since the words I was uttering would’ve gotten me a hefty fine if our activity had been aired on network television.

So here we are at Valentine’s Day. I know this because we took our snow day on Tuesday and collectively cut and pasted the cards for my son’s preschool Valentine’s Day party (this activity was actually a perfect snapshot of familial cheer — the 6-year old helping her little brother make cards, check names off the list, etc. — enough to make a mama wonder how she could ever be frustrated with these little angels she birthed). Seemed to me like the perfect time to make cookies — classic, iced sugar cookies, like the ones we did at our friend Caroline’s house last year. But this time, the challenge was to make them so everyone could eat them.

It wasn’t that big of a challenge — though the dough is a little harder to roll out than regular butter-laden cookie dough. I used as a base the recipe from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, just switching out the butter for a combination of coconut oil and Spectrum shortening (a dairy-free fat with no corn!). And while I sometimes try to make recipes healthier by switching to unrefined sweeteners, I decided that they’re called sugar cookies for a reason — so we chose the opportunity to embrace the white sugar and flour. It’s not like we’re eating a half-dozen at a time, and this was one of those recipes where I felt like further changes would compromise the integrity of the confection.

The biggest hurdle ended up being the icing — most specifically, the coloring. I do have store-bought, artificial food coloring in my house, mainly because I’m not ready to drop $40 on four bottles of the all-natural stuff. But I rarely — like, once a year — use it, and yet when I do it still creeps me out, especially since the allergic guy is sensitive to those things. So I attempted homemade food coloring for the first time, with little success: I tried to use beet juice to color our icing pink. Not only is this the answer I find when asking google, but it’s also a logical conclusion based on the personal experience of beholding the bright-red and pink stains left on my baby’s clothes (like this) and my hands after feeding/eating them. Everything is bright pink — fuscia, even. So I boiled some chopped beets, took a tablespoon of the juice, and added it to my icing. What that gave me was a small bowl of burnt orange icing. Probably would’ve been lovely in October for some Martha Stewart-esque fall leaf sugar cookies, but not what I was going for for V-day.

So I pulled out the fake stuff anyway. The good news was that, with my burnt-orange base, it only took a couple drops to make the icing an odd shade of pink/red (as opposed to the half-bottle it can seem to take at times). Each kid got a stack of ingredient-appropriate cookies (I made half butter, half non-dairy), a bowl each of (off-)white and (oddly-)pink icing, and utensils to create. Outside of the fact that after coating three cookies each they were already out of icing, I’d say it was a successful activity.

Oh — and, the non-dairy cookies were so close to their butter counterparts, next time, I’m doing a whole batch of them. No one would miss the butter.

So, for your dairy-free Valentine, the recipe:


Classic Iced Sugar Cookies (dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free)
Makes about 14 cookies using 5″ cutters (about twice that for standard-sized cookie cutters)

I used part coconut oil for the fat, since it has many health benefits and I try to use it as much as possible. It imparts an extremely subtle coconut flavor, even using just a small amount — so feel free to use all shortening if coconut is undesirable (or you don’t have it on hand).

For the cookies:

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup Spectrum organic shortening (a non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt

(Can be mixed in a standing mixer, with a handheld mixer, or by hand with equal results.)

Preheat oven to 375º, and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Cream the coconut oil, shortening, and sugar together until well-combined. Add the eggs and vanilla, and stir until fully incorporated (if using a mixer, stop at scrape down the bowl). In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring until a cohesive mass of dough is formed and no streaks of flour are visible.

Cover the bowl of dough, and chill for about half an hour (this might not be necessary on a really chilly day).

Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface (the dough will have a tendency to crack and stick underneath) to a thickness of about 1/8″. Using cutters, cut the dough into desired shapes. Using a thin floured spatula or knife, carefully transfer cookies to prepared baking sheets. Once dough is used up, roll the scraps into a ball and re-roll, cutting more cookies, until dough is used up (there’s no worry about over-working dough).

Bake for about 5-8 minutes, until just browning on the edges. Let cool on cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (feel free to ice while they’re still warm).

For the icing:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar (Trader Joe’s Organic is cornstarch-free)
  • 4 Tbsp rice milk (or water, but the icing will be more transparent)
  • food coloring of choice

Using a fork, stir the rice milk and sugar until well-combined and lump-free. Divide into separate bowls, and add desired colorings (if using homemade colors, reduce the amount of rice milk added to sugar if your dye will be liquid-heavy). Ice the cookies while warm, or after they have cooled. The icing will dry hard and smooth.


6 thoughts on “V-day: Sugar? Yes. Dairy? Not necessarily.

  1. Question for you:

    I use coconut oil (virgin, centrifuged) for most cooking and pretty much all baking, but hate to roast with it b/c I feel like it’s wasting the oil–esp if not all the oil will be used up. So I just ordered some red palm oil. Have you ever used this? I’ve heard the taste can be strong–but I may not mind that in savory dishes?

    Love the beet juice for food coloring (tho more of an autumn coloring agent apparently)! I’m pickling some beets right now and the jar is so beautiful on my counter each day…

  2. Jen, are you opposed to butter for roasting? Do you mean roasting a chicken?

    I’ve never used palm oil (is red palm different than what’s in Spectrum shortening?) for anything other than baking. But I’m no purist — I still used olive oil, and also sunflower (for things such as nut butters). I don’t like it when everything tastes like coconut — and maybe I’m hyper-sensitive to it, but I can taste it in everything. It’s not so bad in some recipes — such as soaked granola — and I use it a lot for the kids (they don’t mind it) but I don’t want to eat an egg fried in coconut oil. Or a chicken roasted in it.

    BTW — I used the beet juice again today to color more icing, and it was less orange — not sure what made the color change after a couple days in the fridge. It was still an earthy pink, but one I wouldn’t mind using as-is.

  3. They are pretty cookies. I am about to bake Pillsbury’s Simply Chocolate Chip Cookies. That is as healthy a sweet as I am getting today. Wish you were here, we could share.

    BTW-It’s currently snowing outside. When will spring come?

  4. Spring? It’s not even March! C’mon, Mel — embrace the snow!
    Wish I was there, too — I’d surely eat a Pillsbury cookie ; )

  5. Not so much roasting a chicken–I like butter for that–but high heat roasting like veggies in the oven…or wok cooking. Savory cooking where I don’t care as much for the coconut taste or even more, feel like the oil is gonna burn up and hate to waste the pricey stuff. I’ve never thought to use butter for roasted veggies (is that dumb of me?), but I have used olive oil in the past and want to get away from that b/c of it’s lower smoking point than other oils like coconut and red palm.

    Red palm is the same as the spectrum shortening, just in the virgin form. But with the minimal processing also comes with flavor and color… It’s in the same family of tropical, highly stable, cooking oils. I just hope the taste isn’t too off-putting!

    I sure did feel like our beets for lunch the other day stained EVERYTHING that passed them with a bright fuchsia! Glad to hear they work for food coloring…I’ll have to try that soon. Red dye weirds me out 🙂

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