Vegan baking

During one of those discussions that makes me sound like my life’s mission is to suck the joy out of a room, I was reminding my students that when baking with eggs, it’s not a good idea to lick the beaters.  The risk of Salmonella from the uncooked dough is high enough to just wait out the 20 minutes while the cookies bake in the oven (and before you even suggest it, cookie dough in ice cream is actually a cooked substance of some kind).  Or, I suggested, there’s always vegan baking.

And there was a bit of interest.  And so, students of Spring 2010, this by no means expansive post is for you:

Vegans leave out the eggs and butter and milk (along with the animals and leather and honey).  I’m all for it, even though I’m a vegetarian.  I don’t like butter — it never comes off of your hands, so what kind of job is doing with your insides? — and I can’t be expected to remember to buy eggs all of the time.  That’s how I got started with vegan baking (and, it’s a challenge), and now I just prefer stuff baked this way because it’s as good or better tasting than regular bakery.  Unless it’s made badly, in which case it’s really awful.  And don’t kid yourself into thinking this is health food, even though overall it’s quite a bit lower in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Before the jump, here are some cookbooks I recommend to get you started:

Ellen Abraham, Simple Treats

Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar (or Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, or Veganomicon, or for great advice and recipes)

Fran Costigan, Great Dairy Free Desserts Naturally

Start simple — Pick a recipe with a few ingredients and try it out.  Read the entire recipe, and assemble all of the ingredients before you begin.  I love cookies because you can make a lot and share (or freeze if you’re alone or tend to be greedy!).

Experience has taught me that the less liquid in a vegan cookie the less likely you are to get something resembling a bouncing hockey puck.

This is because eggs provide structure and work as an emulsifier.  Emulsifiers bring fat and water together — in traditional baking, egg yolks are the uniters, combining the butter and milk in a very pleasing way; Without eggs, the addition of water or soy milk to a cookie usually just builds the gluten (the stretchy protein) in the flour and the likelihood of your disappointment (but happily, this is not so much of a problem with a cake, where the ratios of wet to dry are different).

A little bit – 1/4 cup liquid or so for most recipes –  can still work, but oil and/or maple syrup should provide most of the moisture.  I have found that other ingredients — apple sauce and tofu — are not terribly good stand-ins for eggs, and usually make baked products heavy and funky.  (Bananas — banana bread — are an exception that work really well).  If you’re going for baked goods you could feed even your pickiest carnivore, start with reading books written by some serious talent (like the ladies I’ve listed above) and see what works.   After a while, it becomes easier to evaluate the success of a recipe without having to make it first.

One other tip: I favor flours that are not white all-purpose.  Try Barley flour — it’s naturally sweet and adds actual flavor!  Play around with this idea once you’ve gotten a few solid recipes down.

It’s a good idea to read through the opening sections of Isa and Terry’s book, as they share a lot of good information about what to do and what not to do.  And then there are ingredients.   And even then, the quality of ingredients matters.  A lot.

I used an organic peanut butter from Ralph’s (emergency run yielded this) and organic natural sugar from Trader Joe’s to make Isa and Terry’s Peanut Butter Pillows, and they came out…good, but not good enough.  The peanut butter was not as good as the organic creamy we usually get from TJs, and the sugar was too granular.  Regular, small grain sugar, or even baking sugar (smaller grain sugar), and better peanut butter makes the difference between all right and truly FAB.

The recipe above is really fun if you have a kid lying around who likes to roll peanut butter into balls and wrap them up in very gooey chocolate.  Oh hell, it’s fun anyway, but it’s not like I have a choice in the matter.  And, she’d like you to know, it’s great to be lickin’ the beaters.

Questions? Post ’em here.


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