As you know, I belong to the bestest baking group the world has ever seen, The Bakers Dozen. If you love to bake, whether you make money at it or not, you can join. We have 4 meetings a year, and they're all worth calling in sick for. A wealth of inspiring information buzzes through the meetings, and questions and answers and friendships and better cakes and jobs and cookbooks are just a few of the benefits of being a member.
One of my favourite parts about being part of the Bakers Dozen is the opportunity to be in a room full of my heros and heroines, and becoming the same for others. Eggbeater's Guest Author of today's post, Anastasia Kellow, Bakers Dozen member extraordinaire, is one such person!
I feel forever grateful to be in her field of vision. I have no idea where she came from, but Anastasia has been a support and mentor and idea maker for me for a few years now. Not to mention that she brought her entire family to one of my classes a few years ago.
The Bakers Dozen has a Yahoo Group for sharing ideas, asking & answering questions, finding equipment and professional kitchens to rent, looking for staff and announcing wondrous events within the greater Bay Area baking community. (No I am not being paid to do PR for the BD.) recently someone started a thread based on "alternative baking," and Anastasia's answer/comments were so down-to-earth, funny, practical and knowledgable, I asked her if she would be willing to expound more and give a piece to my blog.
Please brew a cup of tea with almond milk and give a warm welcome to Anastasia Kellow, first time guest blog author to eggbeater ~
Vegan Baking Tips
I am not a vegan. I was born with heavy cream coursing through my veins. My grandmother had a Hobart in the garage, and would buy unsalted butter in huge 20 kg blocks. I had a diet rich in both animal and plant sources. One day my body betrayed me. Unable to distinguish friend from foe, it started panicking and doing crazy things. In order to appease it, I started following a whole food, organic, plant-based diet for nearly a year. I’m no Nazi though– I follow a 97/3 rule: 97% of the time I’m on the straight and narrow and 3% is for when, for instance, I’m at Ubuntu, and I have to have the lemon parfait with citrus granita. I've used gelatin for panna cotta, and sometimes eat butter on popcorn. You can eat whatever you like. I may judge, but I’ll never mention it.
I am not a baker. I was formally trained and have worked in professional kitchens, but I can no longer eat any of the primary building blocks of baking. No butter, sugar, eggs, or wheat. In baking terms, that’s like trying to build a house from sand. It’s risky, and you need to approach it very, very carefully.
Clearly these are Shuna’s top two reasons for asking me to post my vegan baking tips.
Vegan baking can be rough going. Most of the cookbooks are written by vegans in search of baked goods, rather than by bakers in search of vegan alternatives. This can mean the focus is not on flavor and texture; it’s about creating a faux product.
In the real vegan world, Earth Balance butter is a rock star. Substitutions like Earth Balance and Ener-G egg replacement are easy, and are the crux of many recipes. If you use margarine in your every day life, have at it. But if like me you’re of the “food should taste great” camp, these sorts of ingredients fall short.
I don’t eat faux meat, and I’m certainly not eating what I consider to be faux cookies!
Rather than rely on vegan baking books, I have found it much more satisfying to create my own recipes based on excellent conventional recipes I trust.
Below are some starting points for converting recipes. Many of the ingredients are expensive, making them unsuitable for most production baking. You have to rely on your knowledge of baking science, instinct and some amount of tinkering. In the case of substitutions like tofu for eggs, you may also need to alter your technique.
Focus on flavor. Use best quality fats, spices, grains, chocolates, extracts, etc.
Have all your ingredients at room temperature.
Don’t try to make crazy stuff like angel food cake or soufflé that totally rely on eggs for their execution.
You are creating a new recipe. Don’t expect the same result when you’re altering ingredients.
Aim for deliciousness by any standard. Vegan food should not have a lesser standard.
Feature fruit. It’s super easy and delicious to roast fruit, or make a vegan pie or crisp. Fruit at its peak of flavor takes some pressure of your other elements. Fruits and veggies add moisture and flavor. Pumpkin, zucchini, apples, bananas, and carrots are all good additions..
disclaimer is that I have not done vast testing. I only bake once or
twice a month (see 97/3 rule). I don’t use all-purpose flour
and mostly use agave nectar. Multiple substitutions often mean
trouble, so start with one element at a time.
Keep in mind that these are all substitutions that work well for me. Plant-based diets are a very personal thing. They range from super healthy to shockingly unhealthy. Please use what works for you, and leave the rest behind.
For butter, substitute 75% oil or coconut oil. (1 cup of butter – ¾ c. oil)
Butter is not just a fat – it is a huge flavor enhancer. Consider how much flavor butter usually brings to the table when making your substitution.
Nut oils lend a great flavor if you can afford them. I use walnut oil over something like grapeseed. I don’t use canola, because I find it coats the tongue. If I use oil, I fall back on the quick bread technique – mix liquids, sift dry ingredients, fold together.
Nut butters, like almond, hazelnut, or peanut, can be substituted for a portion of the fat.
Coconut oil is delicious, and can be creamed like butter. It does have an underlying coconutty flavor. Despite being called oil, this fat is solid below 76 degrees Farenheit. [click here for a farenheit to celcius converter] I believe the melting point for butter is 90-95F, so it’s going to bake differently.
Also, Coconut Oil is a saturated fat. There is much brouhaha these days about the nutritional viability of saturated fats. Harbinger of death or nutritional messiah? I can’t say. My nutritionist says it may be a lesser evil than butter, but even she’s not sure.
Coconut butter is not the same as coconut oil. It includes both oil and coconut meat, making it drier and slightly textured. In baking, coconut butter needs to be supplemented with extra moisture. I have used it successfully in pie crust, but mostly I stick to the coconut oil.
For eggs, 1 egg = 1/4 c. firm silken tofu = 1 T ground flaxseed + 3 T water whisked together. I have only done up to 3 eggs.
Tofu adds more structure than flaxseed. I like it better for cakes and some muffins. The tofu needs to be blended until completely smooth so you don’t end up with lumps. I usually blend all the liquids together, and then fold them into the dry ingredients. I despise the smell of tofu (and most soy products), but the flavor and aroma mostly bake out (or are at least camouflaged by other elements.) Though, as of yet I have not been able to make a successful vanilla flavored item.
Flaxseed is more of a binder than a leavener. It has an earthy flavor that's not always desirable. It works well in cookies that can take the unique flavor-- oatmeal, nut, spice. You can grind up flaxseeds in a coffee grinder, then whisk in the 3T of water. Whisk until you get the gloopy egg white-like consistency. If a cookie has only 1 egg, you can usually go commando.
For buttermilk, 1 c = 1/2 c almond milk + 1/2 c soy yogurt
For cream, equal part (= direct conversion) coconut milk. This works well for ganache as well as caramel. I have never attempted whipping it up like cream, but I think it would work if you removed some of the water. David Lebovitz has a great recipe for chocolate-coconut sorbet in The Perfect Scoop.
For milk, equal part alternative milk. I use almond milk because I like the flavor.
Grains: before going off wheat, I was using sprouted spelt flour, sprouted wheat flour, oat flour and barley flour. Alternative flours can have strong flavors, which can be a benefit or detriment depending on your perspective.
I often substitute up to 1/3 nut flour, which helps bring some added flavor to the final product. You can certainly stick to AP. If you switch up flours, expect some adjustments in your liquids. Different flours absorb moisture differently.
Though not technically baking, pancakes are an excellent place to start substitutions. They come together quickly, so you can see and taste your results in minutes. If they fall flat, there is still time for toast.
Here is my go to pancake recipe ~
Sprouted Grain Pancakes
-- makes around 12 4” pancakes
½ c. sprouted spelt flour
½ c. sprouted wheat flour
1 t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
¼ t. salt
1T agave nectar
¼ c silken tofu
¾ c. plain or vanilla soy yogurt
3/4c. almond milk
2 T coconut butter, melted
½ t vanilla
Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Pour all the liquids (agave nectar through vanilla) into a blender, and mix on high speed until tofu is completely smooth. This might take a couple minutes. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients, folding gently, taking care not to overmix.
Heat a non-stick griddle over medium low heat until water beads dance on the surface. Pour 1/3 c. (or any size you like) pancakes on the grill and brown on each side.
Serve with genuine maple syrup.