Baking Vegan Holiday Cookies: Expert Tips & Recipes from Annie Shannon

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If you're used to baking with lots of butter and eggs, making several batches of vegan cookies for the holidays might seem a little intimidating — which is why we turned to an expert for help. Annie Shannon and her husband Dan are the authors of Betty Goes Vegan, a compendium of vegan recipes based on the classic Betty Crocker cookbook. Having spent months developing the best vegan versions of Betty's iconic cookie recipes, Annie has tons of helpful tips, from choosing the right vegan ingredient substitutions to her best piece of advice for baking soft, chewy, irresistible cookies every time.

What are a few of your favorite vegan cookie recipes to bake for the holidays?

Of all the cookies we make, these three are our most popular: Snickerdoodles, Peppermint Russian Tea Cakes and Coconut & Chia Seeds Macaroons.

This the vegan cookie Dan's Aunt Marie makes us every year for Christmas (they're perfect with coffee): Aunt Marie’s Wine Cookies.

My friend, food photographer Vanessa Rees, sent this recipe out last year in her Christmas cards. It's a simple cookie that's also really pretty without relying on colorful frosting: Vanessa's Pizzelles.

Growing up, Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies were my favorite. This recipe comes close to those in a homemade kinda way: PETA's Vegan Milano Cookies.

When adapting non-vegan recipes, what are some of your favorite vegan substitutions eggs?

My personal favorite way to replace eggs in any baked goods recipe is to use fruit purees like applesauce or mashed bananas. They're inexpensive, easy to find and good for you. They are also great for adding a chewiness and a little sweetness while binding so you can decease the amount of sugar you're using a bit. But they can make a baked good a little soft by themselves, so I also add a small amount of EnerG Egg Replacer, Beyond Eggs or just cornstarch to give a little more firmness and to get that perfect texture. I think this works best in brownies and bars.

For more traditional cookies, you can also use ground flaxseed or chia seeds mixed with water in a recipe to replace eggs as a "binder" in a recipe. I like adding a little more olive oil to a recipe where I use ground flaxseed to make the dough a bit more moist and keep the cookies from getting too hard.

If you've struggled with your vegan cookies coming out too hard because of the egg substitutions you've been using, you an also replace half of the sugar in your recipe with brown sugar to add more chewiness.

What about butter substitutions?

Using olive oil in baked goods instead of butter is something pretty common in Mediterranean cooking and an easy way to veganize a recipe. When you substitute olive oil or coconut oil in a recipe instead of butter in a cookie recipe, you'll have to adjust the amount, using a little less because they are softer and more liquid. This is the most common conversion:

→ 3/4 teaspoon of olive or coconut oil per 1 teaspoon of butter

Vegan margarine is the obvious substitute for butter because you can do a straight up switch and some products like Earth Balance have captured that "buttery" flavor, so they won't add a faint additional flavor like coconut oil will. Margarine can also make a cookie get that golden color better than using olive oil, but I don't recommend using margarine to make a "brown butter" recipe — it's just doesn't have the milk solids in it to get that toasty flavor.

Instead, to make a vegan "brown butter," I would recommend toasting a few pinches of finely ground hazelnuts or cashews in a skillet over a medium heat until lightly browned and combining them with olive oil. It won't be exactly the same but it can give your cookie that unique nutty flavor you're trying to get with browned butter.

What is your best piece of advice for making great vegan cookies?

I really like chewy cookies and since there aren't any eggs in vegan cookie batter to worry about, I like to under-bake my cookies a little so they stay chewy the next day.

I would also recommend giving your cookie batter a taste test. Take advantage of one of the benefits of vegan cooking and check your batter before you commit to baking. You might find you like more cinnamon or it needs a pinch of salt to bring out the sweetness.

Thank you, Annie!

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More from Annie Shannon:

→ Read her book: Betty Goes Vegan: 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Family
→ Check out her website: Meet the Shannons
→ Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest

(Image credits: Annie Shannon; Vanessa Rees)

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