Vegan baking has something to teach even the most seasoned baker. Since vegan baking is as much about what you can use as it is about what you should avoid, it's a rich topic that introduces us to swap-ins for eggs, a world of alternative fats (coconut oil, we're looking at you), and ideas for sweetening recipes without standard white sugar.
So regardless of why you're baking vegan, these three lessons can help you succeed. Let's take a closer look.
Vegan Bakers Skip Eggs with Ease
Classic home bakers rely on eggs for binding, but vegan bakers know that eggs aren't the only binding ingredient in their arsenal. "Vegan egg" replacements are available in most grocery stores, but common pantry staples like flaxseed, applesauce, and even the liquid from a can of chickpeas can be used to replace the egg. What's better? Many of these egg alternatives add fiber to the baked goods. Here are the details on a few of our favorite vegan egg replacers and where to use them.
A flax egg is a combination of ground flaxseed and water that gels as it sits. It can be used one-to-one for replacing eggs in most baking recipes. Flaxseed imparts a slight nutty flavor, so I find it tastes best in baked goods like cookies, muffins, and quick breads rather than cakes.
Make a flax egg: Mix one tablespoon of ground flax seeds and three tablespoons of water; let sit for five minutes. Makes one egg replacement.
A chia egg works much the same as a flax egg, using the same ratio, but you'll need to grind the chia seeds before soaking. Buy white chia seeds for baking so the seeds don't impart their dark color in your cookies. Like the flax egg, chia eggs are perfect for cookies, quick breads, and hearty cakes.
Aquafaba is the starchy liquid left over from cooking chickpeas. It is most often whipped up like egg whites for meringues, whipped toppings, and frostings, but just three tablespoons of aquafaba can also replace a whole egg in a recipe. The liquid is mostly clear and won't impart much flavor, making it a great egg substitute in cakes.
Applesauce or Mashed Banana
Fruit purées do double duty as an egg replacer and a sweetener, but bear in mind that applesauce and banana will add their unique flavor to whatever you bake. Take advantage of the flavor and moisture imparted by putting these egg substitutes into muffins and quick breads.
Vegan Bakers Use Nuts and Non-Dairy Milk for Flavor
Vegans know how to use coconut oil, avocado oil, nut butters, and even cashew cream (a silky cream made from softened and blended raw cashews) to add fat and consequently loads of flavor with little effort.
- Coconut oil: Coconut oil can be used as a one-to-one substitute for butter in cookie and cake recipes that require creaming. Just use it in its solid state. Coconut oil does impart a distinct nutty flavor, even when baked, so it partners well with chocolate and fruit flavors.
- Neutral plant oils: Unrefined canola, vegetable, and olive oil are sometimes preferred in baked goods. When substituting oil for butter in a recipe, use 3/4 cup for every cup of butter called for. Aside from olive oil, these oils have neutral flavors that won't affect the taste of the resulting cake or pie.
- Nuts: Whether replacing the fat in a cookie recipe with nut butter or tahini or using nut flours to thicken a cake, vegan bakers rely on nuts for more than just studding a cake batter or cookie. While you can't simply swap cashew cream for butter, you can seek out recipes that use nut as fats and flours to get, ahem, a taste of their nutty prowess.
Plant-based milks — from canned coconut milk to almond milk — also bring more flavor to baked goods than traditional dairy. As plant milks vary in their thickness and sweetness, try to make smart choices for what you're cooking.
- Canned coconut milk: Coconut milk has plenty of fat and is best in recipes calling for full-fat milk or cream. It makes the best vegan whipped cream topping, too.
- Other plant-based milks: Soy milk has the best reputation for mimicking milk in baked goods because it has a slightly thicker consistency. I've had great success baking with both almond milk and cashew milk. Avoid sweetened and flavored versions of these milks when baking.
Vegans Are Sweet on Less Processed Sweeteners
Many vegan bakers avoid honey because believe that honey is made by bees for bees and that we need to help these pollinators in any way we can. But did you know that vegan bakers prefer to skip refined cane sugars as well? Bone char (an animal byproduct) is often used in the whitening and refining process — even for brown sugar. Instead many vegan bakers prefer unrefined cane sugars like demerara or turbinado. There are sugar companies skipping the bone char refining process, so you can always look for vegan sugar in granulated, brown sugar, or powdered sugar options.
In addition to the unrefined cane sugar, fruit (like dates) and liquid sweeteners (like molasses, maple syrup, and golden syrup) are used as well. Here's what to expect from them in your baked goods.
- Dates: Baking with dates can be as easy as swapping brown and granulated sugar for date sugar (one-for-one on both) or using date syrup where you'd normally use honey or maple syrup.
- Maple syrup: You can substitute maple syrup for granulated sugar in most recipes. Use 3/4 cup maple syrup for every cup of sugar, but you'll also need to reduce the amount of other liquids by 3 tablespoons for every 3/4 cups of maple syrup use.
- Golden syrup: A byproduct of cane sugar production, golden syrup is a liquid sweetener with a mild, neutral flavor. It is a perfect substitute for honey! You can replace sugar in baking recipes with the same ratio as maple syrup by using 3/4 cup of golden syrup for every cup of cane sugar.
- Agave nectar syrup: Agave nectar is derived from the agave plant, a cactus also responsible for tequila. The nectar is cooked down into two types of syrup — light and dark agave syrup. Light agave syrup can be used as a substitute for granulated sugar without a huge change in flavor, but like other liquid sweeteners it requires some conversion: Use 2/3 cup agave for every cup of sugar and reduce the liquid by 2 tablespoons. Dark agave, like molasses, doesn't make a reasonable substitute for sugar and should only be used in baking recipes formulated for it.
- Molasses: Another byproduct of sugar manufacturing, molasses is a dark, thick syrup sweetener. Unlike other liquid sweeteners, molasses can't readily replace all of the sugar in a recipe, as it has distinct mineral and bitter flavors. Use this substitute in partnership with other sweeteners for flavor.
Read more: 5 Important Tips for the Vegan Baker