My venture into vegan baking started about two years ago. One of my best friends Tracy, who has dedicated her life to animal welfare and made the difficult and awesome commitment to veganism, would complain about the lack good vegan dessert options. My first thought was “challenge accepted!” and after a lifetime love of traditional baking I made the switch to exclusively vegan recipes.
This post is what I have learned over the past two years to build a foundation for great vegan bakes. I have spent hours testing different techniques and ingredients. At one point I had our entire apartment floor covered in a hundred drying macaroon shells and Im pretty sure my husband though I lost my effing mind. But it is all for the love of baking and bringing happiness in the form of amazing desserts. Hopefully these tips let you skip that step of losing your mind and take you straight into a master vegan baker that would make Mary Berry proud.
Yes, all sugar isn’t vegan. This came as a huge surprise to me since sugar came from the sugar plant, right? So how could it not be vegan?! Well, the process to refine sugar is to sift it through charred animal bones. I know this isn’t a super scientific explanation and there are people on the internet that can explain the process a lot better than I can but it’s definitely something to be aware of.
The good news is, there are definitely vegan sugars to choose from. These are the clues and products to look for that remove that bone process and create a vegan sugar.
- Organic – Any type of sugar that is certified organic is vegan
- Beet and coconut sugars are vegan
- Check your brands – here is a list of sugar brands that don’t use the bone char process.
Egg replacers can be tricky. A lot of traditional vegan recipes use ingredients like applesauce and bananas to replace the eggs. While the work in certain ways, they don’t fully replace all the qualities of eggs needed for consistantly good bakes. I have tried most of the egg replacer on the market (and they are always coming out with new ones – so this post may be updated in the future) and these are the two I recommend always having in your pantry (they both last a long time!!)
- Flax Meal – My favorite egg replacer. You can get this at most grocery stores, but make sure to get the meal and not the seeds (or get the seed and grind them very finely). Use 1 T of flax meal with 3 T water and whisk well to equal one egg. I use flax meal when I really want something to bind well, so in recipes that I don’t want to crumble and I don’t care about have flecks of flax in them.
- Bob Mill’s Egg Replacer – This is my second favorite egg replacer. It rises really well in cakes and is my go-to in sugar cookies when I don’t want any any flecks in my bakes. The big downside to this product is it can make the finished product crumbly and doesn’t bind as well as the flax seed. To get the best of both worlds, use half Bob’s and half flax.
What the heck is aquafaba?!?
Aquafaba is this beautiful magical science thing where the drained water from a can of chickpeas mimics egg whites. Which means you can whip it into a meringue. Pretty cool, right? I use this for my swiss meringue buttercream and tons of other recipes, but I do have some tips when working with this stuff.
- Wipe your mixing bowl with vinegar before mixing. Put a little bit of vinegar on a paper towel and wipe your bowl and the whisk really well and let dry before starting your meringue. The reason for this is oil and meringue are not friends, so if they hang out the meringue wont form. This ensures that your tools are oil free and ready to whip.
- I don’t love Aquafaba for straight whip cream. I have tried this a couple of different times with different ingredient ratios and chickpea types. It just tastes beany. If you are looking for a whipped cream, definitely use coconut cream. Now that is SO. FREAKING. GOOD. (The recipe is a little further down).
- VOR – If you are thinking about making more than one batch of meringue in your baking career, I can recommend this product enough. It is dehydrated chickpea powered that you mix with cold water to make the chickpea brine. It works so well and it saves you from having to eat so many chickpeas. I mean, I like chickpeas but sometimes enough is enough. A jar of this last about two years and is worth every penny. You can get it here: Vor Aquafaba Power
- Soy Protein Isolate – After doing a lot of research on vegan frostings, I found Sawsen’s Egg free recipe. While my swiss buttercream recipe is quite a bit different, I found that a small amount of the soy protein isolate really stabilizes the aquafaba. I never use more than about a tablespoon because it starts giving the recipes a protein bar taste, of which I am not a fan. But one bag of this has lasted me over two years and is definitely a pantry staple. You can get it here: Bulk Supplements Soy Protein Isolate.
This is going to be a personal preference for most people. There are so many different plant milks out there – soy, cashew, coconut, oat and on and on. But I will share what is my favorite one to use for baking. Silk Original Almond Milk – It is a light and mild flavor that doesn’t alter the taste of the bakes or frostings. It’s also great in a bowl of Cap’n Crunch. This is always in my fridge and you can get it in most grocery stores for about $4 a carton.
Butters, Creams & Shortenings
Spectrum Shortening – All shortening is not created equal – just think of that Crisco frosting on birthday cakes that coated your tongue like wax. That doesn’t have to be your shortening experience anymore. My favorite brand is Spectrum Shortening and you can buy it online and in most stores for around $7 per 24oz tub. It has no hydrogenated or trans fats and is 100% organic palm oil with a creamy, light and non-greasy texture. I always have a tub or two of this ready since it is so versatile – I use it in everything from my buttercreams to my favorite sugar cookies. It stores at room temperature for a long time and has a long shelf life.
Miyoko’s Butter – You will hear me talk about this product a lot. I have to admit that I don’t like most vegan butters and I have tried a fair amount of the ones on the market. A lot of the butters really alter the taste of whatever you are baking or the have odd and unpredictable melting properties. Miyoko’s is one I have found to have a constantly great outcome; it doesn’t alter flavors and bakes nicely, melts well and works in caramels and I love it on warm homemade bread. It is starting to become available and most natural grocery stores and you can buy it online. An 8 oz box of butter runs about $5-7, so making it may be a more budget friendly way to obtain it. You can watch Miyoko herself make it here. I make two batches at a time and divide it into a cupcake pan, measuring a 1/2 cup into each portion and freeze them. Then remove the butter bars and wrap each one very well with plastic wrap. They will store in the freezer for a year.
Thai’s Coconut Cream – This is the key ingredients to one of my all time favorite things – whipped coconut cream. Keep a can or two of this is the fridge, they usually last a year or two, and you can just whip up cream whenever you want! To make this beautiful thing, carefully open up the can and remove the solids from the liquids (you can use the liquid in smoothies) and whisk in a mixing bowl on high until creamy. Add 2-3 T of powdered sugar and 1 t. vanilla. Whip for a minute and serve – keep it cool and it will last in the fridge covered for a week. But coconut CREAM, I like it so much better than coconut milk. It’s about $3-4 a can and you can buy it online and most grocery stores.
Trader Joe’s Cream Cheese – This is hands down my favorite vegan cream cheese. It makes a cream cheese frosting that will make you cry tears of joy. It’s can be difficult to find if you don’t have Trader Joe’s in your area, but they are coming out with more vegan cream cheese brands every year, so I will keep you updated!
An honorable mention is going to go to my favorite vanilla puree that just happens to be one of the most affordable – Olive Nation’s Vanilla Bean Puree. I go through this stuff like crazy and I love it – their Key Lime Extract is also a purchase you won’t regret. Olive Nation is a great place to find new ingredients to experiment with in the kitchen.
I would love to hear from you with any questions about anything I use or comments about your favorite vegan products. And to all of you always…