As an erstwhile dairy lover who has recently entered the dairy-free world, I can tell you that some dupes are better than others: The “sour cream” isn’t fooling anyone, but the shredded “mozzarella”? I would—and do—eat it by the handful.
And one of the very best dairy imitators of all requires no nuts and no heavy processing: It’s coconut whipped cream and you can make it with one can and a bit of arm strength. Chill a can of coconut cream (or milk), skim off the creamy white layer, discarding the watery remains, then whip the fatty part by hand or with a mixer, add sugar and vanilla if you like, and that’s that.
Before you rush to the kitchen to crack open your can of coconut cream, consider these keys to success. Begin by choosing a high-quality coconut product—some will whip up whiter, while others will take on a grey hue. Christian Reynoso, who serves coconut whipped cream with his Tropical Babas, likes Let’s Do Organic; vegan cookbook author Gena Hamshaw usually turns to Native Forest. You can use either coconut milk or coconut cream, but Reynoso and Hamshaw both go with cream—since you’ll be getting rid of all of the watery stuff anyway, cream generates less waste.
Whatever you choose, chill it thoroughly to encourage the separation of fat and water and promote easy whipping. Hamshaw recommends chilling the can for two full days, though Reynoso takes a shortcut and sticks the can in the freezer for 30 minutes. Set a timer, though—if you leave it in the freezer too long, it will become too solid to manipulate.
Follow all of these guidelines and you’ll get a glossy, voluptuous mass—thicker than real whipped cream, and with more body and weight—that holds its shape beautifully and makes a logical accompaniment to pie, ice cream (dairy-free or not), and cakes. When I tell you that I enjoyed a hefty dollop of unsweetened coconut whip on a slice of a very rich dairy-free chocolate tart, I am NOT—I repeat NOT—lying.