Vegan Baking Basics

Butter, eggs, and milk, essential staples of traditional desserts, no longer need apply when it comes to baking up the best treats. Vegan alternatives have come a long way in recent years, making it effortless to create sweet delights that are not only as good as the traditional recipes, but often even better. The results may seem magical, but there are no tricky secrets to unveil here! A few simple swaps will reveal just how easy to is to bake completely plant-based delicacies.

When it comes to converting classic recipes, there are no hard and fast rules, but guidelines to help steer you in the right direction. It may take a bit of fine-tuning to get just the right combination, so don’t get frustrated if it’s not perfect on the first try. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

To replace butter, the options available on the mainstream market have never been more abundant or more delicious. Some name brands contain whey or other milk-derivatives, while others conceal the elusive, animal-derived Vitamin D3, so be alert when scanning ingredient labels. For ease, I prefer to use it in stick format, such as Earth Balance Buttery Sticks or Miyoko’s Creamery European Style Cultured Vegan Butter. Never try to substitute spreadable butter from a tub! These varieties have much more water to allow them to spread while cold, and will thus bake and cook differently.

  • Alternatively, if the recipe calls for melted butter, you can often substitute melted coconut oil at a 1:1 ratio. Just be careful to select refined coconut oil, as virgin coconut oil will impart a distinctive tropical taste.

To replace milk, an unlimited range of perfect replacements beckon from the dairy aisle! Once limited to sour, beany soy, you can now choose from milks made of hemp seeds, oats, almonds, cashews, flaxseed, and more. They’re all mostly interchangeable when it comes to baking applications, as long as you opt for a variety that is unflavored and unsweetened. Rice milk is the only sort that doesn’t make the cut for me, personally, as it tends to be watery, and in the worst cases, gritty.

  • To recreate buttermilk, simply place 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar in a 1 cup measuring scoop before filling the rest of the way with your non-dairy milk of choice. Stir gently to combine and let “curdle” for a few minutes before proceeding.
  • To replace cream or heavy cream, pure, full-fat coconut milk is the answer. Shake well and use it straight for ice cream, but if you want to make a light whipped topping, let the can chill in your fridge overnight. Scoop out the thick white cream on top and place it in the bowl of your stand mixer, leaving the clear water at the bottom. The water can’t be whipped, but don’t discard it; It’s fantastic in smoothies, curries, and many other recipes! Beat the cream on high speed for about 5 – 8 minutes until fluffy. Sprinkle in a touch of sugar, if desired.

To replace eggs, the possibilities are vast. Bear in mind that the greater number of eggs you try to remove, the more difficult it will be to achieve consistent results. I would feel comfortable replacing up to three eggs in most recipes before needing to do more invasive structural rewiring for the rest of the formula. Bear in mind that the average medium egg is about 3 tablespoons in volume, whereas a large is closer to 4 tablespoons, so adjust accordingly.

  • My favorite eggless binder is aquafaba, the not-so-secret ingredient taking the world by storm, dubbed a “miracle” by some and a food science breakthrough by others. Believe it or not, it’s simply the excess liquid found in any ordinary can of chickpeas. Any bean can produce aquafaba, but the unique ratio of protein and starch found in garbanzo beans has been found to best mimic the unique binding and whipping properties previously only seen in egg whites. For more delicate applications like meringues or marshmallow fluff, you can always concentrate your aquafaba to create a stronger foam matrix by cooking it gently over the stove and reducing some of the water.
  • Otherwise, flaxseed or chia seed gel performs beautifully in most applications, particularly savory baked goods and breads. It takes a ratio of 3:1, water to ground seeds, mixed up and let sit for a few minutes to thicken. Make sure the seeds are ground very finely for the gel to be most effective, and least noticeable in the final texture.
  • Old-school alternatives include mashed banana, applesauce, and pumpkin puree, which work fine in heartier muffins and cakes, but inevitably contribute a denser texture and influence the overall flavor.

Rewrite your grocery lists, skip the animal products, and begin preheating your oven. Happy baking!

Braised and Confused

It used to be a running joke that my seal of approval was more like the kiss of death to any burgeoning product or brand. I’d fall madly in love, declare it to the world, and that would be the end of it. Overnight, packages would quietly disappear from shelves, replaced by something different entirely. The object of my affection would vanish into thin air, ghosting me like all the misguided suitors on Hinge.

Thus, another beloved product bites the dust. Hodo, my favorite tofu maker the world over, recently scaled back production of this rare treat, selling in only limited markets. While certain parts of the country remain unaffected, immersed in a wealth of soy-based delights as always, I find myself without access to some of my cherished favorites.

Photo by colin price

Braised tofu, tender yet toothsome, was affected by that merciless culling. Nutty, complex, and creamy firm tofu infused with a savory and sweet Chinese five-spice blend, its subtle nuances set it apart from the pack. Plenty of renditions exist in Chinatown, as a classic staple of the cuisine, but none care so much about quality ingredients as Hodo.

Heartbroken, the only consolation is the ease of DIY replication. Though instant gratification is now off the table, they’ve generously shared the secret formula to recreate this braised beauty at home.

Once seasoned, it’s ready to eat as is, adding heft and flavor in spades to any stir fry, salad, or platter of crudités, even. Flavorful and satisfying all by itself, there are far worse snacks than a few thinly shaved slices draped delicately over crisp cucumbers or slices of toasted baguette.

Braised tofu is dead; long live braised tofu! It’s up to us home cooks to carry the torch now.

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20 Soup-erb Vegan Soup Recipes

Every season is soup season if you ask me, but January is legitimately designated as National Soup Month. Considering the colder temperatures, it really is the best time to cozy up with a hearty bowlful, be it creamy, brothy, chunky, or otherwise. Just like salads, almost everything can be categorized as “soup” if you try hard enough, so where does the intrepid, undecided cook start?

When you want to get something on the stove without stressing over the best recipe, I’ve got you covered. These are my 20 most popular plant-based soup recipes that are all tried and true. I’ve made each of them scores of times myself, and if you don’t believe me, the glowing comments don’t lie.

Pull out your biggest stock pot and get ready to stew up a double batch. These foolproof formulas will bring you comfort and joy all year long.

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Fig Newton’s Laws

Physics are not my strong suit, but I do know one thing is for sure: Sir Isaac Newton understood the laws of cookies. It was all cleverly disguised as the principles that govern motion, but I can see through that ploy. It’s all written out, clear as day.

Law #1: A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion, unless it is acted upon by an external force.

Unless you start preheating the oven, it will never get hot. These cookies won’t bake themselves, you know.

Law #2: The force acting upon an object is equal to the mass of that object multiplied by its acceleration.

A rolling pin must be wielded with both gentle yet firm pressure to properly flatten the dough.

Law #3: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Though tempting, if you eat a whole batch of cookies by yourself, you WILL get a stomachache.

Whether or not Fig Newtons were named for the mathematician is still up for debate, though we can all agree that they’re logically sound snacks. They’ve been around since the 1850’s, changing very little over the years. Take a wholesome, lightly sweetened pastry dough and wrap it around a whole fruit filling for surefire success. Sure, they’re not as glamorous as chocolate-coated, sugar-encrusted, or sprinkle-topped sweets, but they’re deeply comforting in a way that such flighty trends can’t even touch.

For their latest evolution, I’m bringing healthy back and taking out the gluten and refined sugars. With a touch of lemon juice mixed with the lightly simmered fig jam, these humble little bars taste so much brighter and fresher than anything sitting around on grocery store shelves.

I think Mr. Newton himself would be proud.

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Icing on the Birthday Cake

Birthdays were so simple as a kid; you had a party, got cake, played with all your friends, and opened presents. What’s not to love? Fast forward a few years and those same joyous rituals began to feel trite. Maybe you were too “cool” for all the fuss or had more complicated relationships. As time wore on, getting older didn’t seem like a thing to celebrate at all, for the daily slog of adulthood and the aches to come with it. Birthdays transformed from the best day of the year to the absolute worst.

Here I am now, observing the 33rd anniversary of my creation, and I think I’ve entered into the next part of the cycle. Finally breaking through the gloom, I realize how lucky I am to have such a “problem” of getting older. Yes, it’s difficult and so much of it is a pain, literally and figuratively, but it sure beats the alternative. It’s a day that I can use to treat myself to all the things I love, for no particular reason. Why not take the excuse to indulge?

That’s why I’m throwing a little virtual party right here, right now, with all things cake and cake-inspired. If it’s got sprinkles and sweetness, I’m all about it, whether it’s a cookie, a candy, or something else entirely. Here are just a few of my favorite treats that are worthy of any celebration, no matter what stage of birthday appreciation you find yourself in.

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