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Excursions in vegan baking

My youngest kid decided to become vegan a couple of years ago. I have been teaching healthful, plant-based cooking classes for over a dozen years, so it is easy to cook vegan meals when my kid comes home from college to visit.

But baking is a completely different story: I love butter, eggs, and dairy in my baked goods! Making substitutions for dietary restrictions is always challenging.

I have at times experimented with vegan baking and gluten-free baking, but I haven’t yet perfected many recipes. My advice used to be: Start with a recipe that has already been developed to be vegan (or gluten-free), rather than trying to adapt a traditional recipe to be vegan. Surely, if a chef or cook has taken the time to develop a vegan recipe, it must work and be good, right? Sadly, I have discovered – through much trial and error – that my assumption was wrong.

So now I have gone back to the original plan of taking a traditional baking recipe that I know works well and making vegan modifications to it. Some adaptations I have found to be very successful; others, I am still working on.

Here is what I have learned so far:

  • Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer is an excellent substitute for eggs – particularly in quick breads. They seems to turn out moister and a little more dense – delicious!
  • Coconut milk (the full-fat kind) works great as a cream & other dairy substitute for recipes like chocolate ganache and frostings – YUM!
  • I don’t care for the flavor of vegan butters in baked goods (i.e. Earth Balance). But it is also hard to find a true plant-based margarine now that trans fats are no longer acceptable. When I was a kid, all my mom’s hand-written recipe cards called for “Oleo,” but that product is since long gone. What to use now? Imperial seems to be the only brand of non-dairy margarine available in my local groceries.
  • I’ve tried using good old-fashioned Crisco and butter-flavored Crisco to replace the butter in cookies, but shortening makes the cookie dough crumbly. I have to work really hard to get the cookie dough to hold together in the shape of a cookie, so I still need to experiment more to try to solve this problem.

I tried searching the Internet to see if vegan food bloggers have any suggestions for dry, crumbly cookie dough, but all I found was a “vegan” website that looked like it copied and pasted answers from other websites – giving answers that called for using ingredients like milk and eggs to add moisture to the cookie dough (insert eye roll emoji here).

I will continue to experiment with vegan baking to see if I can perfect some more recipes using non-dairy substitutions. I’d love to hear from you if you have any successful suggestions I can try!

Happy baking!
Chef Laura

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