Alexa is working toward a vegetarian diet, and is loaded with questions. Jennifer’s got answers. We talk about anything as long as it is vegan. Are tattoos vegan? How do I politely not eat Thanksgiving dinner? How do I order without pissing off the waitress? We know you are dying to ask!
Wow. It sounds like your friends are terrible bakers. I’ll give you a quick example of an everyday vegan baked good. Oreos. Bet you didn’t know those were vegan? It’s been that way for years. So why are there so many bad vegan baked goods? Although vegan alternatives can work well replacing butter, eggs, and milk, there may need to be minor changed to original recipes. That means converting Grandma’s chocolate chip recipe might not be as simple as 1 cup dairy milk to 1 cup almond milk. There is a lot of trial and error. It helps to understand the role of each ingredient in a recipe.
Eggs: These guys are a binding agent in cakes and cookies. There are a huge array of replacements out there including, tofu, fruit, veggies, powders, flax seed, and more. Egg replacement is a little more tricky in frostings and meringues. Fork and Beans has a great in depth page on egg replacements.
Butter: It adds flavor and fats. Traditional baking is already making a shift away from butter as oils make a more moist and tender cake. But vegan margarines and shortenings are available and can be subbed pretty easily. Again, Fork and Beans has a great page about non-dairy fats in baking.
Milk: Usually milk is used to add more protein to baked good but most essentially moisture. Since protein is important sometimes soy milk triumphs over other substitutes. But sometimes, it doesn’t make a difference and any other milk replacement works fine such as rice, almond, oat, or hemp milk.
So what are the major pitfalls of baking and picking a vegan recipe? Well, for starters, implement good baking practices. Weight flours, level measuring cups, completely preheat the oven, etc. If you are making bad cake with butter and eggs, you’ll make bad vegan cake.
Pitfall #1: Getting Too Healthy
Many people are switching to a vegan diet for health reasons. Sometimes it is loose weight. What people then do is try to “health up” their treats. You start having people cut the fat down, no sugar, gluten-free, spirulina added, blah blah blah. Hey, some “healthy” snacks are yummy, but usually you can only take away ONE thing. So if you take away fats, you probably want to keep the sugar or gluten. Some of these healthy changes make baked goods gritty and less tasty.
I had a co-worker making gluten-free vegan muffins for our store. They were at first yummy. Then she would add wheat germ and they started to get gritty. Then she cut out all the fat. Then she took out the refined sugar. Point is, she kept pushing the muffins further to healthy. They also got pushed closer to being shitty. There are healthful tips, but there times and places for them.
Pitfall #2: Not Having the Right Recipe
I mentioned how your Grandma’s cookies might not be as simple as replacing eight tablespoons of butter for eight tablespoons of coconut oil. In fact, baking is a lot more fine tuned than cooking. I wouldn’t say hard, but it might take a few times before you get Grandma’s cookies to the right consistency. There is a reason why we keep talking about GRANDMA’s cookies instead of your friend Becky’s cookies. Becky has made 100 cookies, your Grandma has made 1,000 cookies. Grandma is a fucking pro. So I always recommend using an existing recipe when you are starting vegan baking.
That said some bloggers aren’t very good at baking. There is a difference between a tasty cake and a tasty cake with the right texture. Some people don’t care. I’ve eaten under baked muffins, and it seemed like I was the only one who noticed. Unfortunately the internet is flooded with recipes and blogs, some with not so great recipes. The trick is finding out which ones have the best recipes.
You may want to stay with popular sites such as Oh She Glows, Oh Lady Cakes, The PPK, etc. Read the blog post before the recipe, does the author mention how she tweaked the recipe or baked it a few times? If so, you are on a good path. You can also use a *gasp* cookbook! Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero have great books on cakes, cookies. and pies. Stick to books dedicated to desserts when starting out. Read reviews and comments before baking! Once you get the hang of the different nuances, branch out!
Pitfall #3: Veganizing all Ingredients
By this I mean sometimes you want to stay away from “faux” things. Just because the recipe calls for heavy cream, doesn’t mean that you should buy vegan creamer for the recipe. Hey, everything has it’s place but sometimes it isn’t so simple. Soy creamer has lots of extra ingredients to achieve a certain texture. Baking is not kept in mind when it was being made. This might interfere with the recipe.
A lot of bakers have been working with vegan ingredients and already know great replacements. For example my boss asked if I used soy creamer for a vegan ganache. I said a lot of people use coconut milk instead. She seemed shocked, for some reason. Coconut milk has less fillers and additives letting the ganache do it’s “thang.”
Pitfall #4: Expecting the EXACT Same Dessert
Vegan ice creams are awesome but I understand it doesn’t taste the same. So be patient and don’t expect your vegan cream cheese frosting to taste exactly the same. Sure they might be pretty damn close, but taste it next to the original, I know people will be able to taste the difference. Baked goods and pies are pretty undetectable with their differences, but cream based baked goods are a little different. Cream pies, cheesecakes, ice creams, macaroons, etc, etc, are a lot more complicated and needed to be eaten with an open mind!
That said, never except crap. It shouldn’t taste lumpy, gritty, underbaked, or flat. Work to improve but don’t get hung up on perfection. Work with the ingredients you’ve got!
If all else fails, eat more vegan goods for inspiration! Got to a vegan bakery. Buy vegan snacks from Whole Foods. I always find that people are surprised how similar vegan baked goods are to it’s original counterpart. I am sure most people at my wedding didn’t know our cakes were vegan. Even with our vegan cream cheese frosting.