Apron owner or not, you would have had to be one tough cookie to resist all those two-for-one sales and high-piled pyramidal displays of canned pumpkin, shelled nuts and pie fillings at the supermarket this holiday season. So now that January’s here and your pantry is packed with a small bakery-worth of ingredients, why not crank up the oven and start cranking out those muffins and cookies you’ve been meaning to make?
For those of you shunning dairy and eggs – whether due to ethical issues or dietary health – limiting your mixing bowl ingredients doesn’t have to mean your desserts can’t be as moist, fluffy or creamy as non-vegan versions. With a little tweaking and a basic understanding of how traditional ingredients work in recipes, you can whip up tasty, plant-based treats that look and taste the same—if not better—than those made with milk, butter and eggs. Here’s a quick guide to making it work:
Ditch the dairy
Milk and cream are added to baked good recipes to create a liquid consistency which translates to a moist texture and rich flavor (if full-fat varieties are used). Luckily, there is no shortage of non-dairy milk products to choose from, making replacing cow’s milk a cinch.
- Whole milk — Use an equal amount of soy or rice milk, avoiding “light” versions for best results. Flavored non-dairy milks such as almond or vanilla soy are fine to use, but keep in mind they may affect taste.
- Buttermilk — Whisk together a cup of non-dairy milk with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice; let stand for 10 minutes before using.
- Evaporated milk — Use an equal amount of coconut milk.
- Cream — Use an equal amount of coconut milk or make a simple cashew cream by soaking raw cashews in water overnight, straining, rinsing and blending in a food processor.
Like milk, butter enhances the richness of baked goods, adding slightly sweet or salty flavor along with a tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture. It also plays a part in how batter rises. When heated, butter’s water content turns to steam, creating a light and fluffy or “spongy” density.
Vegan margarine (such as Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks) is the easiest way to go when swapping out butter, but any of the following can be used. For one cup of butter, try:
- 1 cup of coconut oil, plus 1 tablespoon water
- ¾ cup of canola, olive or untoasted sesame oil
- ½ cup pureed fruit such as unsweetened applesauce, canned pumpkin, drained baby-food fruit or prunes (blend ½ cup pitted prunes with ¼ cup hot water)
When dry ingredients are combined, they need something to hold them together – a binder. That’s where eggs come in. They add moisture, create thickness and, when baked, pull everything into a coherent whole. But there are plenty of other ingredients that can easily pull off the same feats. Instead of one egg, use:
- 1 tablespoon ground flax seed mixed with 3 tablespoons hot water
- 1 tablespoon ground chia seed mixed with 3 tablespoons water (let stand for 10 minutes to form gel)
- ¼ cup chickpea flour mixed with ¼ cup water or non-dairy milk
- 2 tablespoons applesauce mixed with 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- ½ mashed banana (medium sized) with ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 1-1/2 teaspoon egg replacer powder (such as Ener-G Egg Replacer) mixed with 3 tablespoons water
- ¼ cup non-dairy yogurt
Resist refined sugar
Besides its obvious role in sweetening, sugar adds texture and golden brown color to baked goods. It also plays a part in some aspects of the baking process. For example: when creaming together butter and sugar, rough sugar granules “cut” through butter fat, creating air bubbles that help batter to rise.
Rather than using refined sugars (which are not vegan due to the use of bone char in their processing), consider these alternatives:
- Unbleached cane sugar or dehydrated/granulated cane juice
- Beet, date or maple sugar
- Maple syrup – use 3/4 cup in place of 1 cup of white sugar and reduce other liquids by 3 tablespoons per cup of maple syrup used. Reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees
- Brown rice syrup – use 1-1/4 cups in place of 1 cup of white sugar. Reduce other liquids by half
- Barley malt syrup – use 3/4 cup in place of 1 cup of white sugar. Reduce other liquids by 1/4 cup
- Stevia – available in powdered or liquid forms. Refer to package for conversion information
Hold off on honey
Sweet and sticky, honey is often used as a sugar substitute in baking recipes. It also helps with browning, moisture and moisture retention—acting as somewhat of a natural preservative. Achieve similar sweetening and softening effects with any of these syrups:
- Maple syrup – substitute equal amounts or try mixing 3/4 cup maple syrup with 1/2 cup granulated vegan sugar
- Agave nectar – substitute equal amounts and reduce other liquids by 1 to 2 tsp. Reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees and slightly increase baking time
- Molasses – substitute equal amounts with the understanding that the flavor will be noticeably stronger and richer
Author: Rebecca Chopin for Vitacost.com
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