For vegetarians, baking is no problem. It’s one of the few types of cooking where you don’t have to adjust recipes too much, or rule out half the search results (or more) when looking for recipe ideas — although bacon is becoming surprisingly popular in both savory baking and desserts!
For vegans, though, baking is another story. Milk, eggs, and butter are key ingredients in the realm of baking. So unless you’re working from a specifically vegan cookbook, you’ll need to learn some key tricks for making substitutions in baking recipes. Here are our top 3 vegan tricks to use in baking. With these tips on hand, you’ll be able to whip up biscuits or a cake that will even please your non-vegan friends.
Top 3 Vegan Baking Tricks
1. Bring Out the Vinegar
If you’ve never tried it, it might sound strange to learn that you can make a truly delicious cake (or cupcakes) using vinegar and baking soda instead of eggs and milk. The best part of this trick is that you can mix the cake right in the baking pan – no mixing bowl to wash!
This method, called the “crazy cake,” became popular during the depression, and has been a secret trick of busy mothers ever since. (The original chocolate was the go-to birthday cake recipe in my non-vegan household as a kid. The extra bonus was the recipe was so easy my mom had us baking cakes before we got to high school.)
You can find a recipe for the depression-era chocolate version here.
2. Learn Which Non-Dairy Product to Use
When it comes to baking, not all non-dairy milks and other dairy substitutes are the same. Here are the best substitutes for each dairy ingredient.
- Milk: Almond or soy milk. Avoid rice milk, as its lack of fat will create less-than-exciting desserts.
- Buttermilk: Add 1 Tbsp vinegar or 2 Tbsp lemon to juice to 1 C soy milk and allow to sit for five minutes. Or, mix equal parts tofu-based vegan sour cream and water.
- Butter: Vegan margarine. Yes, many regular margarines actually contain some dairy, so you’ll need to check the label. While doing so, have a look to make sure you’re buying “non-hydrogenated” margarine to avoid potential trans fats. For savory recipes, you can also try using vegetable shortening instead of butter.
- Cream: Try using pureed silken tofu, or coconut cream (you can buy coconut cream, or skim the cream off coconut milk that has been allowed to settle).
3. Learn The Role of Eggs
Eggs are a big deal when it comes to baking, but they don’t serve the same role in all recipes. In some recipes, their job is just to help all the ingredient stick together (called “binding”). This is usually the case in recipes for pie fillings or other items that don’t need to rise. In other recipes, such as cookies and muffins, the job of eggs is to help make the finished product light and soft (“leavening”). In still other recipes, such as popovers, eggs are used mainly to add extra liquid, which creates steam in the baking process. Here are the best choices for each purpose.
- Binding: For each egg, the easiest substitute is 1/3 C fruit puree, such as unsweetened applesauce, or pureed silken tofu. Another option is to mix 1 Tbsp ground flax seeds with 3 Tbsp water and allow to sit for a few minutes to develop a texture similar to an egg (but note that this will add a distinct nutty flavor to your recipe). If you have agar agar (vegetarian gelatin) on hand, try whipping 1 Tbsp with 1Tbsp water, then whipping again once it has set.
- Leavening: Try mixing 1/4 C soymilk with 1 Tbsp lemon, or 1/4 C tofu-based vegan sour cream with 1/4 tsp baking soda. You can also take a cue from the crazy cake recipe above and try mixing 1 Tbsp vinegar with 1 tsp baking soda.
- Moisturizing: The absolute simplest replacement is 1/4 C water, but you can also try fruit juice or pureed fruit.
For all of these options, you will need to experiment a bit to see how the ingredients used impact the final taste and texture of your recipe, then make a note of which option works best for each product.
The Bottom Line
Vegan baking presents a few challenges, it’s true. But with these tips, you should be able to recreate your favorite recipes without the baking staples of milk, butter, and eggs. Remember to allow time to experiment and try things out a few times before getting frustrated. The end result will be worth it!