If there’s one thing I love… it’s a good baking session.
That’s where this excerpt from GOOD comes in handy.
I am a firm believer that desserts have the least room for imperfections. If I’m going to splurge on sweets, they better be worth it. Vegans are restricted from many different foods, making their choices somewhat limited and the search can be discouraging as well as exhausting. Frequently, as a result, sweet-toothed vegans become the Ultimate Dessert Critics and not many recipes can live up to their exacting standards.That is, until now.
Finally, my classmates and I have achieved the long-dreamed-of Pinnacle of Perfection for vegan desserts! On “Conversion Day” at the Natural Gourmet Institute, we baked a single recipe nine times, each time converting an additional ingredient to a more health-supportive or vegan alternative, and ultimately transforming the dessert into a completely vegan, mouthwateringly delicious, less refined version of its former self.
Here’s the order in which we made our conversions:
1. Bake original recipe as is
2. Convert flour
3. Convert milk
4. Convert additives
5. Convert sugar
6. Convert butter
7. Convert eggs
8. Make it better
9. Make it mo’ better
The list starts from easiest to hardest in terms of how challenging it is to replace a key ingredient with a substitute and have the treat still maintain its integrity. Replacing flour and sugar is easier because their key properties are not difficult to find in alternative ingredients.
Forbidden ingredients were unrefined sugar, white sugars, corn syrups, and artificial sweeteners. Conversion ingredients we could use included maple syrup, maple crystals, date syrup, coconut sugar, succinate[sic], rappadura, barley malt, rice syrup, molasses, agave, and stevia.
The conversion task got trickier when it came to finding the vegan counterparts for butter and eggs because they can provide moisture, flavor, fat, shine, work as a binder, leavener, and emulsify a baked good. Since these ingredients contribute many qualities, it is generally more difficult to replace them.
Some good butter replacements are: coconut, canola, olive, sesame, and nut oil (Note: These do not have milk fat like butter, so use 20 percent less than you would butter). Vegan egg replacers that work well are fruit and vegetable purees, starches like kuzu or arrowroot (2 tbs kuzu or arrowroot plus 3 tbs water equals 1 egg) or a “flax egg” (1 tbs flax seed, ground and then added to 2 tbs water equals 1 egg or 2 egg whites).
We converted chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, peanut butter cookies, black and white cookies, brownies, banana cupcakes, carrot cake cupcakes, and gingerbread cookies from traditional to vegan recipes.
One of my classmates and I were assigned to work on creating vegan banana cupcakes and since my buddy is a vegan, it was on me to be the sole taste tester of our partnership for the first six batches—let the tummy ache begin. Our final batch ended up being more delicious than the one we started with, which was loaded with white sugar and butter. We replaced those ingredients with maple crystals and coconut oil. Instead of using eggs, we used more banana puree. This step perfected our cupcake’s moisture and texture while giving it more of a banana taste that was otherwise dulled out by the dairy in the original recipe.Finally, to make our banana cupcakes “mo’ better,” as outlined in our ninth step, we added chopped walnuts and dark chocolate chips to the batter. Our chef instructor told my partner and me, “You wouldn’t have to tell people these were vegan—they’re that good.”
One of the things that draws me to vegan cooking and baking the most is the fact that if you’re an unprocessed vegan, you are required to be extremely creative with your cooking. No butter? What’re you gonna use in its place? No milk? Oh, tough cookies. Literally.
I mean, unless you were born into a vegan family, you know the goodness of baked cupcakes, cakes, cookies and pastries. And if you don’t know any better, you will think that giving up animal byproduct means giving up all the fun stuff that goes along with it. Not at all, baby!
The thing about approaching baking this way is that it also encourages cleaner eating. I know that lots of vegetarian and vegan cooking options are extremely processed and questionable, but if you restrict your options to only things that are minimally processed you’re still golden.
It just takes a lot of creativity, a lot of patience and a lot of “getting familiar with your google.” That being said, the Babycakes NYC books “BabyCakes: Vegan, (Mostly) Gluten-Free, and (Mostly) Sugar-Free Recipes from New York’s Most Talked-About Bakery” and “BabyCakes Covers the Classics: Gluten-Free Vegan Recipes from Donuts to Snickerdoodles” are both great starts. Almost everything is covered in those two, and as little processed ingredients as possible are used. Give ’em a shot!