We all need treats. When you make the switch to a plant-based diet, going without traditional birthday cakes, brownies, and cookies can be tough. The solution is learning to whip up homemade vegan baked goods that everyone will love.
But vegan baking skills don’t materialize overnight, even if you’ve had years of practice with conventional baking.
Trust me, I’ve been there. After transitioning to a vegan diet a few years ago, I had to relearn how to make the basics without dairy milk, butter, or eggs, like the humble but essential chocolate chip cookie. To be honest, it’s a process and I’m still learning. But here are the tips I wish someone would have given me before I unwrapped my first stick of vegan butter.
Tip #1: Choose Your Recipes Wisely
The most important step in a successful vegan baking project is choosing a well-designed and tested recipe from a trustworthy source. There are a lot of vegan recipes out there, and unfortunately, many of them simply do not work. I’ve tried a large sample size of online recipes for vegan baked goods, so I bring this information to you firsthand.
You could start with the vegan brownies or banana bread on this very website. Other trusted sources include cookbooks from experts in the field like Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Fran Costigan. In general, years of professional experience matter more than the number of social media followers a recipe writer has.
Tip #2: Test in Small Batches
When you’re just starting out or attempting a new recipe, make a half or even a quarter of the recipe. This is much easier to do in vegan baking since you don’t need to divide up any eggs. Vegan baking is a new skill, and you will have some early failures. Smaller batches make those mishaps less painful.
If you happen to get it right on the first try, you’ll have a few cookies that you love and want to make more of. That’s a good problem. Small test batches will save money and time.
Tip #3: Get to Know Egg Substitutes
Eggs are the most difficult thing to replace in vegan baked goods. They provide structure, add richness, and help leaven baked goods. Luckily there are many workarounds. Though many people don’t seem to like them, I have had very good luck with commercial egg replacers, including Bob’s Red Mill and Just Egg.
On the recommendation of my favorite vegan bakery, I use Ener-G egg replacer in their chocolate chip cookie recipe and the results are nothing short of perfect.
Other common egg replacers include ground chia or flax seeds, mashed bananas, and cornstarch. A vegan baking newbie should follow the recipe and use exactly the egg replacer called for; it was chosen for a reason. But if you’re sizing up a possible recipe that would typically use eggs and the ingredients don’t list anything to replace them, that’s a recipe red flag.
Tip #4: Taste-Test Vegan Butter
A surge in new and phenomenal vegan butters has been a huge help to bakers in recent years. Earth Balance Baking Sticks are much loved for a reason: they work well and it taste good. But there are also offerings from Miyoko’s and Flora that taste as good as fancy high fat European cultured butters.
To determine your personal “house” vegan butter, taste and bake with as many as you can. There is something out there for every budget. I personally like Earth Balance for everyday baking and Flora when the butter flavor takes center stage.
Tip #5: Try Unrefined Sunflower Oil
Part of the reason people go vegan is health. Vegan butters are definitely delicious, but in terms of saturated fat, they are just a little better than plain old dairy butter. Coconut oil, another common sub for butter, is even higher in saturated fat.
For this reason, when possible, I use a flavorful unrefined sunflower oil in my baked goods instead. It has a rich buttery flavor and never bakes up greasy. If a recipe calls for oil or melted butter, this is my go-to oil.
Tip #6: Keep It Simple
Especially when you’re starting out, “keep it simple” should be your mantra. Cookies are easier than cakes. A single-layer cake is easier than a multi-layer cake. Glazes are easier than frosting. If you’ve never baked a single vegan item, start with pancakes, muffins, and quickbreads. As your confidence and skills grow you’ll be able to tackle more challenging baking projects.
Tip #7: Pick the Right “Milk” for the Job
Again, you want to use the milk called for in a recipe, if at all possible. I realize it’s not practical to keep half a dozen plant-based milks on hand, so I suggest stocking oat milk. It browns very well, which can be a challenge in vegan baking, and its flavor is lightly sweet but mostly neutral. Soy milk and almond milk are also good choices.
Avoid rice milk: It’s too watery for most baking projects. Whichever milk you choose, make sure you use an unflavored option without added sugar.
Tip #8: Read Your Chocolate Labels
When you start trying to bake vegan, you realize there are quite a few ingredients that aren’t as vegan as you may have thought. First on this list is chocolate, even dark chocolate, and especially chocolate chips. Scan the ingredients list for milk, milk solids, and whey.
Enjoy Life seems to be the most widely available brand of vegan chips, but your favorite chips may already be vegan. Check the ingredients.
Tip #9: Buy Organic Sugar
Most conventional cane sugar is processed with animal bone char, making it decidedly non-vegan. It’s filtered through the char, removing any trace of color so that the sugar is snow white.
Sugar with a USDA organic label does not go through this bone char processing, so you can always rest assured it is vegan. And don’t swap in honey for sugar. Made by bees, honey is an animal product and not considered vegan.
Tip #10: Accept the Process
Vegan baking is different from conventional baking. If you’re an accomplished baker, remember how it felt when you were first learning. There will be frustrating failures interspersed with triumphant wins. The key thing is to keep practicing and learning – and to keep a pint of vegan ice cream in the freezer for when all else fails.