Baking is almost the ultimate hobby: it’s fun, there are many different techniques and recipes to explore and it usually ends up with something delicious. However, if you have a dietary restriction such as lactose intolerance or veganism, baking can be difficult, as most recipes call for some type of milk, butter, eggs or gelatin.
Go to any vegan recipe website and you will face a barrage of ads for animal product replacements. As veganism becomes more popular, the number of vegan-safe alternatives has skyrocketed. For example, according to Euromonitor, global sales of non-dairy milk have more than doubled in the last 10 years.
While trends shows that substitutes for dairy products are common, the best vegan meals are based on plants from the beginning. Instead of just replacing milk with an alternative like as soy or almond milk, look for recipes that use moisture from fruits and vegetables. Carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin muffins are all easily veganized because they incorporate fruits and vegetables right into the batter — no need for milk at all.
If you’re allergic to soy or simply don’t like the taste of soy milk, using fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to go. Even if you’re not strictly vegan, using less dairy in your baking is healthier, because dairy products can be high in sugar and fat.
However, even the healthiest baked goods still need some fat. Fat is what makes food rich and savory, and without it, cakes can start to taste more like cardboard. That’s why butter and cream are a standard in most kitchens.
Luckily, there are many ways to inject a little fat into your food without dairy. Vegetable and sunflower seed oil are both common and fairly cheap, and they can be used for both sweet and savory dishes. Peanut, olive, coconut and sesame oils are great options as well, but be careful— they all have strong flavors that can linger in the food.
Another great way to incorporate some fat into your cooking is by using ingredients that are already high in fat, like avocados. Nuts are also a good source of fat and have the added bonus of a little protein.
There are dozens of reasons why bakers use animal products, some more important than others. Dairy is easy to cut out of the recipe, but when it comes to eggs, lard and gelatin, the effects are much harder to replicate.
Animal products contain high levels of protein, which helps to provide structure to baked goods. This is why eggs are used in meringues and mousses; they provide a stiff matrix to trap air bubbles and create that light, airy texture. Replacing eggs in this context is tricky, so the safest route is to use meringue powder or egg white substitute that is marketed as vegan. These products often use aquafaba, which can also be used to replace gelatin.
The average college student isn’t usually making meringues in their spare time, so you’re more likely to run into eggs when making a cake or something else that requires a batter. The eggs are still providing structure here, but it’s much easier to replace them. Bananas work well and are easy to find, but they tend to leave everything tasting faintly of banana, so tread wisely.
A simple and tasteless solution is flax egg. One flax egg consists of one tablespoon flaxseed meal and two tablespoons water, and works to replace one normal egg. Mix flax eggs separately and let them sit for a few minutes before you add them to your batter. This gives the flax meal time to absorb the water and get nice and gooey, just like a real egg.
Flax eggs are also less expensive than chicken eggs. A 16-oz bag of flaxseed meal from Safeway costs around $5, according to Safeway’s website, and will make over 30 flax eggs. Make sure to get flaxseed meal, because it must be finely ground in order to absorb water.
With all of its limitations, a vegan diet can feel overwhelming. After spending so much time carefully checking ingredients on bread and passing over the pastries at Goudy or Starbucks because none of them are vegan, it might seem impossible to be a vegan and a baker. However, not only is it possible, but it’s actually quite easy. Just replace your eggs and butter with flax meal, oil and avocados, and you’re good to go.