The fascination of DIY Cool Whip.

thYesterday I made a bowl of raspberry Jell-O because cooking – even if it’s just boiling some water – is a great work-avoidance tool. So much easier to postone sitting down at the computer if you can tell yourself, “I’m fixing dessert.”

I ate so much Jell-O as a kid that I rarely indulge, save for turning the powder into a scary-looking (but delicious) rhubarb cake. But it’s a big treat to DF. Whenever he opens the fridge and sees a bowl of the stuff he’ll sigh happily and say, “You made Jell-O!” as though it were a tremendous culinary achievement.

We didn’t have bananas or even fruit cocktail to jazz up the gelatin, let alone Cool Whip (another of DF’s faves). That’s when I remembered Amy Dacyzcyn’s recipe for homemade whipped topping.

Oil or cream?

I’d been fascinated by the idea – DIY Cool Whip! – since I noticed it in “The Tightwad Gazette II” a couple of months ago. Nobody kicked frugal patoot like Amy Dacyczyn, so I was inclined to follow where she led.

The ingredients: powdered milk unflavored gelatin, sugar, oil and water. Lots simpler than commercial Cool Whip, whose label contains more than a dozen ingredients – including high-fructose corn syrup, skim milk, light cream, sodium caseinate, natural and artificial flavors, xanthan and guar gums, sorbitan monostearate and polysorbate 60.


Initially I had a hard time reconciling “oil” in whipped topping. I’m not the only one: In an ad for Reddi-wip, a waitress asks whether a customer would prefer “oil or cream” atop a slice of pie. The voiceover says that Reddi-wip is made with real cream, not “hydrogenated oil.”

Yet the pie’s crust was likely made with hydrogenated shortening. Plenty of cakes contain either oil or shortening. While real whipped cream is clearly a superior product, it’s also a more expensive one. There’s a reason that Cool Whip has been such a consistent seller since its introduction back in 1966.

How Amy did it

For the record: I’m not a huge fan of Cool Whip, either on or off Jell-O. But I’d been wondering what the Tightwad topping would taste like, and now I had a chance to find out – and to justify it as part of our goal to use up the stockpile. For the past few months we’ve pared shopping down to the absolute essentials in order to use up the accumulated meats, vegetables, grains and fruits.

Running out to buy Cool Whip would not have been a smart use of resources. Besides, I didn’t have the car and the nearest supermarket is several still-slippery miles away.

Here’s how Amy did it:

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

2 teaspoons cold water

3 tablespoons boiling water

½ cup ice water

½ cup dry milk powder

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons oil

Chill a small bowl. Soften gelatin in the cold water, then add the boiling water and stir until gelatin is dissolved; cool until tepid. Beat ice water and milk powder at high speed in chilled bowl until soft peaks form. While still beating, add the sugar, then the oil and then the gelatin. Freeze for about 15 minutes, then move to refrigerator. Stir before using.

Would “soft peaks” form if I used nonfat instant milk, I wondered? Didn’t it need some fat content to fluff up? But I had to go with the milk I had on hand. This was also the first time I’ve ever used unflavored gelatin.

To my surprise, it turned out pretty well. Probably the high-speed beating incorporates enough air to churn peaks out of plain water. I also added about a tablespoon of extra sugar, on the theory that I didn’t want to taste oil.

A non-dairy revelation

What I wound up tasting was…milk. Almost creamy milk. The oil didn’t come through at all except for a slightly oleaginous mouth feel. Then again, I get the same feeling from real whipped cream. It was unctuous, but not icky.

The consistency was different than commercial Cool Whip. Something like a puffy pudding – what I imagine Peeps would taste like if you ate them before they gelled.

But again, there was a light but definite flavor of cream. That surprised me, since I think nonfat milk tastes like the water they used to wash a cow.

It was good with the raspberry Jell-O, and I’m thinking about making gingerbread to use up the rest of the two cups of finished product. (Again: You beat a lot of air into it.)

Would I make it again? Maybe, maybe not. But now I can cross DIY Cool Whip off my culinary bucket list. Next up: Learning to pronounce “Cool Whip” the way Stewie does on “Family Guy.”

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  1. When you can say “Whil Wheaton” with a straight face, you’ll have it down. 🙂

    But honestly, I think Cool Whip and any attempt to recreate it is an affront to the gods. Nature gave us the perfect whipped topping with fresh cream, beaten to soft peaks. Why do we have to use chemicals, gelatin, and oil to recreate what can be made from nature?

    If I can’t make fresh whipped cream, I’ll do without, thank you very much. 🙂

    • Donna Freedman

      I love real whipped cream. It’s probably best if I stay away from it — and from Cool Whip, for that matter. But every now and then I want a banana split or some Jell-O with whipped topping.

  2. We never had Cool Whip or whipped cream when I was a child that I can remember. Meringue is what I remember. I think I will try this. My children did not even care for Cool Whip on strawberry shortcake, so I used little. I suppose I ought to make Jello, so I will have somewhere to put the fake Cool Whip.

  3. Oh my, you mentioned my idol, Amy Dacyczyn. And here I was thinking she had all but been forgotten. I became a huge fan of hers back in the early ’90s when she started The Tightwad Gazette. At that time I didn’t know other frugalistas existed. There was warmth and light in the world and I finished raising my children with her contribution.

    One of my contributions is in her book. I mourned the day she stopped publishing.

    • Donna Freedman

      You’d think that she’d start a site — these days, she’d really clean up because of the Internet’s wide reach. Apparently she’s happy in retirement and doesn’t want to go back to the grind. Can’t say that I blame her, but I’d certainly love to read more of her work.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

    • Amen!

  4. Cathy in NJ

    I loved the Tightwad Gazette. Amy introduced me to the joys of thrift shops and yard sailing. But the bit about the bread bags as plastic pants for babies was just too hard core for me. The other truth that I remember is how advertisers try to make every household activity a problem in need of their overpriced product.

  5. It’s so neat to see the comments from everyone, that they are Tightwad Gazette fans too – I thought I was the only one! 🙂 Those books saved me a ton of money; I still use the pizza recipe all the time. They made me realize that it was ok to be frugal on wasn’t important so I could splurge on what is.

    Kinda like another writer I admire; right, Donna?

    • Donna Freedman

      Aw, shucks, you plumb embarrass me.

      • Teresa

        I second Caron’s statement. I like your writing style Donna and your memories of growing up resonate with me. Different countries, different stories, same values of resourcefulness, thrift and ingenuity.

        So much of what you write is yes about thriftiness, but especially it is about attitude and insight.

        Thanks Donna.

  6. Thanks for the recipe. I’ve not tried, but I guess replacing cold water and milk powder with evaporated milk would work too?


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