Being vegan means avoiding all animal products, from meat to dairy and from eggs to honey. Leaving eggs, milk, and honey out of your diet can make it seem impossible to enjoy your favorite baked treats, such as cake and brownies. But vegan baking is an amazing thing. A vegan cake may be healthier for the environment and it may contain fewer saturated fats than a non-vegan cake but it's not a health food and shouldn't be eaten too often. However a slice of vegan cake is healthier than having two slices of vegan cake.
Different proportions and methods of combining and heating the basic ingredients of flour, sugar, fat and a liquid give you different baked goods. Think of it as science in your kitchen. But without a periodic table, and with results you can eat. Below I’ve put some common categories of baking and a summary of how they work so you can get a better understanding of why what you are doing gives you these particular results. So regardless of why you’re baking vegan, these three lessons can help you succeed. Let’s take a closer look.
Most pastry is made from rubbing fat into flour and then adding just enough cold water (I add mine a teaspoon at a time) to make a pliable dough. Making shortcrust pastry - The process through which the fat and flour work together is called shortening, hence the name shortcrust pastry: the dough is ‘short’ rather than long, stretchy bread-type dough. It gives a tender, flaky, crumbly product. The dough is shorter and therefore bakes better if it is kept cool right up until it goes into the oven. Keeping it cold minimizes gluten development. Make sure you use cold water and vegan butter from the fridge. Pastry also benefits from ‘resting’ after it has been handled so putting it in clingfilm and letting it sit in the fridge for 20 minutes or so before rolling out and baking is a good idea.
Be gentle when you are handling pastry. When it’s the right size, use the rolling pin to transfer it to the greased baking dish (or on top of the filling if you are making a pie crust), glazed with a liquid that includes some protein, such as soy milk. If you are cooking pastry for the bottom of a quiche or pie, prick the surface with a fork so air can escape, and bake without filling. Some recipes ask you to weigh the pastry down by covering with some greaseproof paper and dried beans and then partly cook. Then they'll ask you to remove the beans and parchment and cook the pastry alone for a few minutes: this maintains a nice and flat pastry layer and avoids it burning. When it’s done, pastry should be golden brown and come away from the edges of the dish easily. You can then add filling once the pastry is cooked.
Here are some tips for making the best shortcrust pastry
Many biscuits (like shortbread) and scones are also made using the rubbing method. It’s a good way of combining fat and flour when you have proportionally less fat – this was especially common during rationing, and many recipes from the 40s and 50s use rubbing techniques.Most of these recipes will therefore start in a similar way to pastry. However, unlike pastry, biscuits and scones have more liquid, sometimes more fat and almost always sugar. Extra fat makes the final product richer and more moist. The extra liquid makes a softer, more pliable dough which gives a moister final product. Liquids also add volume when baking as the steam expands when heated. Sugar obviously provides sweetness and hence flavor. It also caramelizes when heated which gives a crunchy result, a delicious smell and a golden-brown color. Darker sugars tend to be more moist and give darker finishes with heavier, caramel flavours. This is why you would use paler sugars for a delicate scone, but a brown sugar for a ginger biscuit.
Biscuits are generally crunchy, sweet and something of a British obsession. The main methods for making biscuits are rubbed (like pastry) or melted: instead of rubbing the fat in you add liquid fat, often melted with sugar or syrup, into the flour and create a dough that way. Shortbread is a rubbed method biscuit and is a nice and easy to make. A melted biscuit like the gingernut is another simple classic. Biscuits are endlessly variable, which is part of their charm, so once you have the hang of it you can make them exactly how you want, e.g. with extra flavorings or swapping the golden syrup for black treacle. As long as you keep the proportions of fat, flour and sugar about the same you will end up with a similar physical finish. There are some soft biscuits, usually American style chewy cookies, and tray bakes like flapjack which have more fat and liquid and thus don’t crisp up as much.
Scones are essentially a type of cake, unless you are in the US, in which case they are a biscuit and a biscuit is a cookie. There are lots of variations including adding dried fruit like sultanas or glace cherries (make sure they don’t have non-vegan dyes) or savory scones. A scone’s start in life is similar to pastry, with fat rubbed into flour. However, the flour used is a self-raising flour and often the recipe calls for additional baking powder to make the scones extra light and fluffy. Instead of water, there’s a richer liquid (like plant milk) which adds fat, lift and flavor. The dough should be wetter than for pastry and needs to be rolled out much more thickly – around 2cm. Scones also do not like to be handled too much. Just roll them out once, cut out your circles using an upside down glass or biscuit cutter, then place directly onto a greased tray. Brush with plant milk and bake until they rise up and go golden brown. You can tell scones are done because they will come easily off the tray and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. They are best eaten almost as soon as they are out of the oven, and do not keep very well due to their relatively low fat content. This means the water in them evaporates out and they go dry.
Here are some tips for biscuit & scones baking
I love cakes. They are the thing I am most likely to bake when I’m in the mood for making something. Cake methods fall into one of six main types: rubbed cakes, melted, creamed, oil-based, folded and vinegar. There is also a seventh type of cake making which is my favorite as it’s super simple, the ‘all-in-one’: just put everything in a bowl and blend. The difference in methods are about the amount of fat in the cake and how you mix it in with the other ingredients. Rubbed cakes generally have less fat and more flour. Most fruit cakes are made using the rubbed method, as the fruit gives the recipe extra moisture. Melted cakes, like a chocolate cake, involve melting the fat and sugar to a syrup then adding them to the dry ingredients. Creamed cakes involve beating sugar into the fat until you get a pale, fluffy mixture (the mixture will actually become paler, so do spend a few minutes beating this with an electric blender). Then liquid is added, with flour finally sifted in. Classic spongecake is a great example of the creamed cake method. Oil based cakes are common in vegan baking and involve mixing oil with flavorings in one bowl then adding this liquid to your sifted and mixed dry ingredients, then baking. You usually have to add a bit more raising agent to oil based cakes as you don’t get the lift created by blending margarine, but the recipe will let you know how much to use.
The folded method is sometimes also called a ‘whisked fatless sponge’ which doesn’t sound particularly enticing. It’s traditionally made using whisked egg whites and no fat. Ingredients are carefully folded in to preserve the air bubbles. You can use aquafaba - the result is a very light, very delicate sponge which needs to be eaten almost straight away. Vinegar cakes are rather old fashioned but are making a comeback in vegan baking. The vinegar replaces the moisture and lift given by eggs, and so they were very popular during rationing. Vinegar cakes involve making a liquid mix with vinegar plus other liquids and blending it together with the dry ingredients.
Here are some tips for cake baking
First of all, yes, yeast is suitable for vegans. Yeast is a fungus, like mushrooms. As long as the yeast has not been prepared using animals or animal products, the yeast itself is perfectly fine. Yeast baking can be a bit hit or miss, so usually comes into the ‘more complex’ category of baking. If you are already used to baking with yeast and have recently switched over to being vegan then it should be more straightforward as you will just need to swap a few ingredients (usually fat and/or eggs). Whether you are a seasoned pro or a new baker, this list of tips will help you perfect the art of making cinnamon rolls. You must be very careful with the yeast. Keep the milk between 43° and 46°. Any cooler and the yeast may not activate properly. Any hotter and you may kill the yeast before it has a chance to help the dough rise. Yeast likes a warm environment, so using room temperature ingredients will keep the dough at the perfect temperature for optimal yeast activity. Plus, room-temperature butter will also mix easier and more evenly into the dough.
The key things about working with yeast
• Make sure you use in-date yeast. I once baked some out-of-date bread from a packet mix and made some very sad rocks
• Know which yeast you need!
• Yeast needs liquid and some kind of food (sugar, either as sugar or more usually in starch) to respire. The carbon dioxide produced by yeast causes the dough to rise
• Temperature is really important. Cold temperatures puts yeast to sleep and too hot temperatures can kill the yeast. Yeast wants to be at a warm temperature. Get a thermometer and follow recipes correctly. Generally speaking you want to mix yeast with warm liquids (between 40-50C) and leave the dough to rise at room temperature (20-25C)
• Adding too much salt or adding salt in high concentrations can kill yeast, so add salt in with the flour rather than adding it directly to the yeast.
There are two types of dry yeast: (Regular) Active Dry Yeast and Rapid-Rise Yeast. Though there are some minor differences in shape and nutrients, Rapid-Rise Yeast is (pretty much) the same as Instant Yeast and Bread Machine Yeast. This is where understanding yeast can definitely get confusing. These two types of dry yeast can be used interchangeably, with some limitations. Though Bread Machine Yeast is faster-rising and is specially formulated for bread machines, as its texture is finely granulated to hydrate easily when combined with flour, Active Dry Yeast may also be used in bread machines (though it but may not yield completely equal results). The advantage of the Rapid-Rise Yeast is the rising time is half that of the Active Dry and it only needs one rising. Though this is an advantage, you do sacrifice some flavor and texture by speeding up the rising process as the yeast does not have time to develop its own flavor. Also, Rapid-Rise Yeast is a little more potent than Active Dry Yeast and can be mixed in with your dry ingredients directly.
Some recipes call for dissolving the yeast first in a warm liquid and then adding this active yeast mixture to the flour while others call for the yeast first being added to the flour, followed by the liquid. Why is this? The dissolving of the yeast first in a warm liquid is done to make sure the yeast is fresh and active. Since yeast is a living organism, it is possible the organisms have perished which would result in no leavening. Though this step probably doesn’t really need to be done any longer because of how reliable dry yeast is today, some bakers still feel it’s a good idea to test the yeast to make sure it is still active before adding it to the flour. Active Dry Yeast works just as well as Instant Yeast, but its instructions require you to activate it in a little bit of warm water before being added to the rest of the ingredients.
Granted, purchasing yeast can be a confusing process due to different manufacturers not using the same names for their products or using the same names for different types of yeast. That being said, here’s a general guide to purchasing yeast using popular labeling and product instructions:
Yes, aquafaba is the liquid in canned chickpeas (and other beans) and it actually works as a vegan egg white replacer. Aquafaba can act as an emulsifier, leavening agent and foaming agent because it has properties similar to those of egg whites. That means a new way to make vegan macarons, marshmallows and meringues. Vegan baking gives you the opportunity to add extra nutrients (and extra tastiness) into your baking by adding a few secret, magic ingredients. My personal favorite is beans. Whether it’s chickpea blondies, blackbean brownies or this incredible white chocolate bean cake these little pods of protein give a lovely squishy moist texture to your cakes. And whatever you do, do not throw away the liquid from your empty bean can. Aquafaba (bean water) is a miracle worker for vegan bakers because it behaves almost exactly like egg whites. That’s right! You can whip it up into fluffy peaks and make all kinds of treats, including meringues and ice cream. The starchy liquid is a great binder directly from the can, but what really makes it magical is that it whips and creates a foam. Aquafaba is therefore able to trap air, giving items structure at the same time it delivers a fluffy crumb and lift.
Aquafaba has taken on a bit of a cult status in the vegan cookery world, and rightly so because it really is amazing. Aquafaba is nearly flavorless when baked! When you first open the can of garbanzo beans it will, obviously, smell like beans. The aquafaba will have a slight bean flavor/smell when unbaked. Once baked into your recipe it's undetectable. Homemade aquafaba will keep in a Mason jar in the refrigerator for two to three days. You can also freeze it in convenient ¼-cup or ½-cup portions for up to two months. (Don't forget to rinse and drain the chickpeas, and refrigerate or freeze them until ready to use.)
A few tips for making Aquafaba
• Always use clean bowls and spoons
• Add a couple of drops of flavoring such as vanilla to mask any lingering bean smell or taste
• An electric whisk will save you lots of time
• Using a stabilizer like xanthan gum will help keep the peaks glossy and the finished product will hold together much better
Sometimes it goes a bit wrong and things don’t turn out how you expected. That’s OK, there’s a good chance we can still rescue it for you. Below I’ve put a list of common problems with baking and what to do about it. It has cooked unevenly. This is likely caused by your oven. Always make sure you preheat properly first and place the item to be cooked in the centre of the oven. Never put anything directly on the bottom of the oven, always put it on an oven shelf, otherwise the entire bottom of your baking will be burnt black. If it’s only a little uneven, rotate your dish by 180 and cover the more cooked section with greaseproof or tinfoil. This will mean that the undercooked section is now in the hotter part of the oven and the overcooked section is protected from the heat. If you are in the sad situation of having a half raw and half burnt cake then you can scoop out the raw filling into a new greased dish and bake that separately and deal with the burnt cake as per the section below.
It has burnt. Caused by a too hot oven, too long in the oven or not being protected whilst cooking. Some ovens run really hot and to get a decent result you will need to use a lower temperature and/or cover your baking with some foil or greaseproof to protect it. Some burnt things are beyond help and you will just have to feed them to the birds or put them to compost. Sometimes it’s a question of just cutting the burnt bits off, and this works particularly well for cake, though do let it cool first so you can take the burnt section off without breaking the cake into pieces. If you do break the cake into pieces then you can very easily cover the nice pieces with custard and call it pudding – a technique I have used many times, and also works for cakes that are a bit too dr. Just add a bit of melted jam or golden syrup before you pour over the custard and no-one will be any the wiser.
Pie base is soggy and under-cooked. Although cooking the pastry without filling (baking blind) can seem like a bit too much effort, it really does prevent soggy bottoms. In this instance there is nothing that can be done about the pastry but you can scoop out the filling and serve it in a different way. Quiche fillings will generally cook quite happily without a pastry case (call it tortilla if you like), stewed fruit is great with custard or ice cream and savory pie fillings are just as good with some potatoes and veggies.
So let me know what you think of the above article and if you have any suggestions for future topics, then please leave your message in the comments section below -thanks so much!