Welcome to the third episode of Vegan Kitchen Simplified series! Today we are going to talk about vegan baking.
I’ve always been a huge fan of homemade baked goods thanks to my mom: she used to bake delicious (but not vegan) treats all the time when I was little. As I got older, I embraced baking at home myself but rarely tried to experiment with unfamiliar recipes.
Once I became vegan, a whole new world of amazing vegan baking opened up to me. I was surprised to find out that vegan baked goods could be not only much healthier than their conventional versions, but also quite delicious! I mean, why do people even bother baking with butter and eggs if the same desserts can be successfully made without them?!
What Butter and Eggs Do in Baking, and How We Can Replace Them
Here’s the deal: butter/margarine/shortening and eggs are widely used in conventional, non-vegan baking because they bind all of the ingredients together and add moistness to the final product. Unfortunately, they also add lots of saturated fats and cholesterol to our cookies, muffins, and other pastries, thus making them unhealthy and fattening.
(Recently there’s been a lot of talk about saturated fat and cholesterol being safe for us. Please don’t believe the hype: According to Dr. John McDougall, the ONLY study supporting this information has been sponsored by the National Dairy Council, and it’s widely used by the low-carb movement to endorse eating animal products. Healthy vegan and vegetarian nations around the world have been setting a good example for generations, and this can’t be just a coincidence.)
There are at least two roads we can take in trying to substitute butter and eggs in baking:
- - Replace them with all-vegan margarine and boxed egg substitute following the same exact proportions as in the original non-vegan recipe. While this method works, it won’t make your vegan pastries much healthier: hydrogenated oils and questionable ingredients are still not good for us.
- - Experiment with a few plant-based ingredients that usually don’t come in a box (okay, some of them might!) and see the difference for yourself.
Since I’m a big fan of taking the road less traveled, today I’ll be covering the second method. If you’ve done some vegan baking before, you’ll know what I’m talking about; if not – read on!
You can use the substitutions listed below if you’ve decided to veganize a non-vegan recipe, or to make over a vegan recipe that calls for added fat like margarine or oil. If the recipe is already vegan and fat-free, there’s no need to replace anything – unless you’re feeling adventurous!
Healthy, Plant-Based Substitutions for Butter and Eggs in Baking:
1. Flax egg. It takes about 1.5 Tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 2 Tbsp water to replace 1 egg in a recipe. Flax egg is a healthy substitute to regular eggs that also provides a nice boost of onega-3 fatty acids (I wrote about its health benefits in this post.) It’s good at binding all of the ingredients together.
Keep in mind: Using too much flax eggs can make your baked goods too gummy and add a nutty aftertaste. It’s best if you use flax to substitute less than 3-4 eggs in a recipe. Also, there’s no such thing as scrambled flax eggs
2. Unsweetened applesauce. A true darling of fat-free vegan bakers, unsweetened applesauce adds plenty of moistness to any pastries that are meant to be cake-y (like cupcakes and muffins, sometimes cookies). Applesauce is my go-to ingredient in vegan baking.
Keep in mind: Do not use more than 1 cup of applesauce in any recipe, or your baked goods may turn mushy in texture.
3. Mashed banana. Both underripe and very ripe bananas can be used in vegan baking: ripe bananas add lots of moistness and bind the ingredients very well while adding a distinctive hint of banana flavor (see my Banana Nut Bread recipe), and underripe bananas can be used for those baked goods that you don’t want to taste like bananas. I was very impressed with the idea of substituting a stick of butter with a cold underripe banana in biscuits and scones recipes in one of my favorite cookbooks, The Happy Herbivore Cookbook by Lindsay S. Nixon.
Keep in mind: Too much mashed bananas can make your baked goods gummy. I often substitute some of the banana puree with applesauce in recipes that call for a lot of binding ingredients. Also, you may need to reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe if using very ripe bananas.
4. Pumpkin puree. From my experience, pureed pumpkin is the best binding ingredient for baked goods because it makes them moist and velvety smooth-tasting (I enjoy it immensely in my Peanut Butter Pumpkin Cookies). In fall and winter, Libby’s canned pumpkin puree – not pumpkin pie filling - never runs out in my house, and neither do all kinds of pumpkin-flavored pastries
Keep in mind: Pumpkin puree adds a distinct pumpkin flavor to all baked goods, which is nice if you need it but can be overwhelming if you don’t.
5. Avocado puree. The buttery flesh of a ripe avocado makes a good replacement for butter and margarine. It’s best if you mash it completely with no chunks left by using a food processor while mixing it with the rest of the wet ingredients in a recipe.
Keep in mind: During baking, avocado puree gives pastries a brownish color, so it’s optimal in recipes for chocolate baked goods. Also, please don’t use it in 1:1 proportion when replacing butter.
6. Beans. Mashed beans may sound like a surprising ingredient in baking, but they are pretty good! These days, my hands-down favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies came from The Great Vegan Bean Book: More than 100 Delicious Plant-Based Dishes Packed with the Kindest Protein in Town, a wonderful cookbook by Kathy Hester. Kathy’s recipe calls for a whole can of chickpeas – now that’s a serious addition of protein and fiber to a decadent cookie!
Keep in mind: Mashed beans can give your baked goods a dense, even fudgy texture, which is ok if you’re making something like black bean brownies. If you’re after a fluffier texture (like in muffins and cakes), you may need to use something else.
7. Grated zucchini. Interestingly, zucchini can be quite useful in vegan baking: it binds everything together while adding moist texture to the final product. Grate an unpeeled zucchini if the little green skin parts in your baked goods don’t concern you (like in zucchini muffins), or peel it before grating if you’re after a more uniform color of your pastries. My favorite baking recipe with zucchini is Chocolate Zucchini Muffins from the above mentioned Happy Herbivore Cookbook - my husband is crazy about those!
Keep in mind: For baking, it’s best to grate a zucchini by hand using a box grater, not a food processor. Zucchini releases too much juice when grated in a food processor – you may not notice it right after grating, but your baked goods might not rise well.
8. Vegan yogurt. Another way to add a moistness-producing binder to your vegan pastries. I personally rarely use it because it’s hard to find in Southern Alabama, plus it tends to be pricey. Vegan yogurt works well in brownies and some muffins.
Keep in mind: Yogurt can be too heavy in baked goods, so use it sparingly.
A little bonus:
If a recipe you’re veganizing calls of milk, you can freely substitute it with just about any variety of non-dairy milk. I love almond milk, but a lot of bakers swear by soy milk as their favorite.
If a recipe calls for buttermilk, measure out the same amount of non-dairy milk, add 1 tsp of lemon juice, stir and let stand for a few minutes. Lemon juice curdles the non-dairy milk (almond and soy milks work well, although I haven’t tried other varieties for curdling).
I hope you got a lot of value from this post on vegan baking! You can see other posts in Vegan Kitchen Simplified series by clicking here.
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