Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

Vegan baking can be a tricky business. As I’ve indicated in a few different places in this blog, I’ve never really been one for desserts or sweets, so I’m far less likely to be the one to spend hours in my kitchen, figuring out the picture-perfect, veganized version of Pavlova or crème brûlée. No, I’m the twerp in the cheap seats figuring out how to make my tofu strips taste like bacon, or the perfect vegan pizza (both of which, incidentally, are nearing their eureka! moments). 

Ask any vegan gourmet with a penchant for cakes and pastry and they’ll tell you their biggest headache is replicating the properties of eggs in baking. Typically, they function as an essential binding and emulsifying agent. The albumen (the protein in the egg white), when agitated (or whisked, blended) contains leavening properties in its proteins that create multiple bonds on a molecular level with water to give cakes and pastry near-unrivalled form and structure. Yes, you’ll be quizzed on this later. 

Fear not. Fortunately for us wishing to keep our diets sans-oeufs, there’s been an enormous wealth of vegan cooks, chefs and enthusiasts doing their utmost to sort this out for the rest of us plebes. The trick is that there isn’t just one catchall substitution for eggs in all forms of bakery. Some work better than others with various types of baking. For example, eggs perform a different function in cookies than say, a cake. With the former, they serve as a quick-and-dirty coagulant or glue, but with most cakes, they work with the baking powder to give it form, structure and place pockets of air in between the various ingredients. 

There’s several vegan baking cookbooks out there, with more on the horizon. One particularly good one is The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudeau. In the meantime however, here’s the basics of egg substitution in baking: 

Flaxseed – As this is a fantastic source of Omega-3 fatty acids, this works well with items like cookies, brownies, dessert breads or even waffles. This does have a nutty, distinct flavour, so keep this in mind when planning where you’re going to put it. For each egg, use 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water, whipped in a food processor or blender until foamy. 

Applesauce or mashed banana – Both were astoundingly well in dessert breads, cakes and muffins. Again, the key here is to whip them smooth and airy before you blend them with the other ingredients. ¼ cup of each is equal to one egg. 

Ener-G Egg Replacer – This is definitely a pantry with vegan bakers, mostly because it’s so easy to use, and will last for years in your cupboard. Despite what the box says, use 2 tablespoons of water with 1.5 tablespoons of the powder. Again, give it a whisk before adding it to the rest of your mixture. Furthermore, I find that with moist cakes, muffins and quick breads, it’s worth it to add perhaps ½ tsp of canola oil for every “egg” you’re adding when you’re using this product. 

Silken tofu – The upside of using whipped, silken tofu is that it is essentially without flavour. Note that it makes for a denser texture, so it’s best to use this substitution a bit more sparingly (e.g. if the recipe calls for 4 eggs, only use 3 tofu “eggs”), and for heavier squares and cakes (e.g. upside-down cakes and brownies).  Use ¼ cup of thoroughly whisked or blended silken tofu for every egg. 

Questions? Comments? Thinly-veiled insults? JJBean’s recipe for their scandalously awesome zucchini chocolate chip vegan muffins? Email Lindsay at ‘mslindsayhutton’ at the all-powerful gmail dot com!