Surprisingly enough, I’ve failed to mention the fact that I was, once upon a time, vegan. I was vegan for about a year and a half, before I began to eat dairy again. I took my first bite of vegan-diet-betrayal at Upper Crust in Brookline, MA. And it was delicious.
I link my vegan days to my New York days, mainly because it is completely effortless to maintain a vegan diet in Manhattan, especially when one lives in the East Village, as I did. Truly, it is not a challenge at all to be free of every animal product imaginable when you live blocks from restaurants such as Pukk on 1st and 4th (vegan thai), Quantum Leap on 1st and 12th (with the best vegan burgers in the universe), Babycakes on Broome and Ludlow (dairy/egg/gluten free bakery), or Counter on 1st and 6th (gourmet vegan cuisine). Not to mention walking distance from two different Whole Foods markets. There are over 50 all-vegan restaurants in New York City, which dominates Boston’s count of less than 10. Sometimes I wonder: If Boston were more veg-friendly, would I still be turning down cheese, milk, eggs, and honey? Perhaps.
That’s neither here nor there, though.
While I was vegan, I became extremely savvy at veganizing all sorts of dishes…from pizza to chili, from cookies to pies…you name it, and I could veganize it. When it comes to baking, however, it gets a little more challenging. I like to think of baking as a science, as opposed to the “art” of cooking. Measurements must be exact, timing must be perfect. Substitutions for milk and eggs are a lot trickier than just sprinkling soy cheese atop dough and tomato sauce and calling it a vegan pizza.
There are several little substitution tricks that I mastered during my vegan days…
1. SEE YA, EGGS – Eggs either work as a “binder” or a “thickener” in baking recipes. Depending upon their purpose, a different substitute is needed.
- 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch + 2 tbsp water = 1 egg. This works best in cookies or crispy baked goods.
- 1 tbsp flax seeds + 3 tbsp water = 1 egg. Use in pancakes, grain’y muffins, or oatmeal cookies.
- 1/4 cup silken tofu, blended = 1 egg. Use in cakes, pies, brownies.
- Ener-g Egg Replacer Product - this is an easy one to use in virtually any baked good.
2. ADIOS, MILK – Replace milk with soymilk, almond milk, rice milk, etc. That one is easy.
3. BYE BYE BUTTER – Margarine is a good substitute for butter, but it doesn’t always bake as well as it should. Make sure that you buy non-hydrogented margarine. Earth Balance is a great product for substituting butter.
Every once in a while, I am tempted to veganize a recipe or two just to keep practicing. Here’s an example of how to revamp Emeril Lagasse’s Blueberry/Raspberry Muffin recipe:
You will need…
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tbsp margarine, softened
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
- 1 tsp freshly grated lemon peel
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tbsp flax seeds + 6 tbsp water
- 1/2 cup margarine, melted
- 1 cup regular soymilk
- 1 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
- 3/4 cup raspberries
- 3/4 cup blueberries
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with liners or grease.
- To make the topping, mix together the first five ingredients in a bowl until crumbly. Set aside.
- In another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
- In a larger bowl, mix together flaxseeds and water until combined. Add melted margarine. Add soymilk and lemon zest; whisk to combine. Add dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined. Gently fold in the berries. Spoon mixture into muffin tins and top with streusel topping.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
In all honesty, vegan baking isn’t really that difficult. It’s about choices, taking some extra time to think things through and prepare. In the end, the results are just as delicious. And if you don’t believe me, go to Babycakes in Manhattan, order one of their red velvet cupcakes, and then we’ll talk.