In recent years, the vegan lifestyle has caught on in everyday, mainstream society for a number of reasons. Many people simply believe it is a more ethical way of living in terms of reducing cruelty to animals raised in modern, mass-production agricultural systems. Others point out its environmental benefits, noting that a plant-based diet generally consumes fewer natural resources and leads to less pollution. Still, others do it for health benefits, as the vegan diet has been shown to be a lifestyle that is easier on the heart, and can reduce many types of disease associated with the traditional Western diet.
While being vegan can be a beneficial and healthy lifestyle, most vegans do not want to completely forgo all the foods they once loved. This can mean eating a vegan Boca “cheeseburger” or making a faux “pepperoni” pizza once in a while. And, of course, there are the desserts, because who wants to live without their favorite treats?
Natural food stores and even vegan bakeries have popped up all over the country. If you’re a lucky vegan, there’s a tasty store or bakery near you where you can grab a cupcake, muffin, or cookie when you get a craving for sweets. Sometimes though, you just want to be able to bake up some chocolate chip cookies in your home and eat them warm and fresh out of the oven with your favorite non-dairy beverage. And really, who doesn’t like it when their home smells like sugar cookies or chocolate cake?
When it comes to vegan baking, there are some easy parts, and then there are the trickier elements. Of course, you can easily substitute any milk a recipe calls for with your non-dairy beverage of choice. I’ve had a lot of success with Silk soy milk in baking, although some people prefer to use almond, hemp, or rice milk. I find that plain soy milk has a consistency and flavor that doesn’t detract from the taste of baked goods, but that is a matter of personal preference, and most non-dairy choices will work perfectly fine.
The next ingredient that vegans often replace in traditional baking is butter. The simple substitution there is vegan margarine or shortening. My favorite brand to use is Earth Balance, and I find the whipped variety works best to make treats light and fluffy. It also seems to work better when it is slightly cold to begin with, not melted down or at room temperature. I’ve also had good luck with Spectrum non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening. Again, any type of vegan margarine or shortening will typically work well.
Flour is straightforward. Some vegan bakers opt to use whole wheat pastry flour in part, or all, of their recipes. This does give treats more fiber, but it typically also gives them a heavier, denser taste, and makes things a bit drier. I recommend substituting only half of a recipe’s flour with whole wheat pastry, but if you’re a die-hard-no-white-flour type of vegan, then go with what makes you happy.
Then there’s sugar. This is a controversial topic for some vegans. Some sugar is bleached in a process that uses animal bi-products. If this is something that concerns you, you may want to do some research or contact the sugar manufacturer in question. I avoid this dilemma in my baking by using dehydrated cane juice. You can get it in the bulk section of many natural food stores, and it has a nice, fine texture and it is less processed than traditional white sugar.
And how could we discuss vegan baking without mentioning the eggs? Egg substitution can be the trickiest part of vegan baking. If you want to go for a quick fix when trying to “veganize” a traditional recipe, buy Ener-g Egg Replacer off of the shelf of your natural market. If you follow the directions on the box exactly, substituting eggs in most recipes for baked goods will go fairly well. And the newbie vegan baker is in luck because many people have done the homework for you. The Post Punk Kitchen has some great recommendations for when and how to use egg replacers such as soy yogurt, bananas, and silken tofu. It’s a great resource.
Another direction that I often take is to find tested, proven vegan recipes that don’t necessarily call for a complicated egg substitution. There are amazing recipes out there that somehow just work without the eggs. Who knew it could be done? There’s nothing complicated about many of these recipes–except maybe trying to keep your kids or roommates from eating all the cookie dough. Good luck with vegan baking, and making the world a happier place one vegan treat at a time!
By Crystal Hansen
Crystal has been vegan for fifteen years and is currently raising two young boys on a plant-based diet. She shares some of her favorite vegan baking recipes at http://www.bestvegancookierecipes.com.