Lisa is a Toronto-based graduate student who is the procrastibaker and photographer behind Je suis alimentageuse. Her blog is a nerdy, vegetarian blog that also explores many vegan dishes and desserts.
VEGAN BAKING 101
What does "vegan" mean? According to Vegan.org, "A vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is someone who, for various reasons, chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products. While vegetarians choose not to use flesh foods, vegans also avoid dairy and eggs, as well as fur, leather, wool, down, and cosmetics or chemical products tested on animals."
So vegan baking does not use any dairy (so no milk, cream, or butter) or eggs.
I know, I know. As Julia Child puts it, "With enough butter, anything is good." Butter is the key to beautifully flaky croissants. Eggs are the key to beautiful meringues, or beautifully glazed pastries. Whipping cream makes the luscious topping that is perfect for hot chocolate.
But I'm here to tell you that vegan baked goods can be just as delicious as baked goods with eggs, milk, and butter. If not even better.
The best chocolate cake I've ever had was vegan. My most popular cupcakes on Je suis alimentageuse are vegan. I feel a little less guilty when I eat vegan baked goods. And contrary to popular belief, just because something is vegan, it doesn't mean that it is totally guilt-free. Take Oreos for example. Totally vegan. Totally not good for you. But totally delicious.
The roles of butter, eggs, and milk
Let me break it down for you. BUTTER acts as a fat in baked goods, which makes baked goods moist. There are TONS of vegan fats: olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable shortening, vegetable oil, vegan butters (like Earth Balance or Vegan Becel), heck, sometimes you can even replace the fat with fruit like applesauce or bananas!
EGGS act as the glue for your baked goods, or can produce a lovely glaze on your pastries. In your baked goods, you can use egg replacers, flax meal mixtures, or again, applesauce or bananas! (Although if you're replacing the fat in your recipe with puréed fruit, you cannot also replace the eggs with fruit. Gotta be one thing or the other). As a vegan "egg-wash" you could use non-dairy milk like soy or almond milk, or an oil on top. Heck, you can even make vegan meringues using a combination of xanthan gum and soy protein, or even flax meal!
MILK partially acts as a glue but also acts as a catalyst for the structural integrity of your baked creation. Milk adds moisture to a batter which lets the gluten in flour (or xanthan gum in GF goods) expand and relax. It also adds a certain degree of moisture to your final product. Luckily for you, there are TONS of non-dairy milk alternatives out there, the most popular being soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, rice milk. I've also seen oat milk, coffee, or even water to replace the liquid in a recipe (although water doesn't really lend any flavour to the batter).
Don't re-invent the wheel
You don't need to start baking without any guidance. There are countless vegan recipes and resources available online. Websites like Finding Vegan are great for, well, finding vegan recipes; and foodgawker, and Tastespotting have search filters and keyword searches that can help you find vegan baked goods.
And while these alternatives may sound complicated, you can play around with the ingredients/ratios as you would with eggs/milk/butter, and you'll find out what works or doesn't work for you. Some people don't like using processed egg-replacers while some others don't like the texture of flax meal. Allergies to soy or cashews may prevent people from using those dairy-free alternatives. Some people may not have access to all of these alternatives, but more often than not, you already have many of these things in your pantry (oil, soy milk, or applesauce/bananas).
If you don't always have these ingredients on hand, you may find them easily in your local grocery store (although xanthan gum, soy protein, and flax meal are more common in health food stores). The great thing about vegan baking ingredients is that they last for a long time and are very affordable. For example, a big bag of flax meal at your local food store can range between 4-8 dollars. That big bag could last you months as an egg alternative for your baking, but you could also add it to other baked goods, smoothies, or to the crumb topping of a casserole for extra fibre.
Why bake vegan?
The great thing about vegan baking is that while it may be challenging, it can also be really rewarding in the end, because you know that your baked goods are animal-cruelty-free, often better for the environment, and accessible to people with food allergies.
If you have any questions, please feel free to visit my blog (Je suis alimentageuse), send me an email (lisa[AT]alimentageuse[DOT]com), message me on my Facebook page, or ask me via Twitter! I'm not a vegan-baking-expert, but I've had my fair share of vegan baked successes, so I'll try to lend as much vegan-baking guidance as I can.