The What, Why And How Of Vegan Baking


Most of us have heard the term, but many of us are still not clear about what it is and how to do it. We are talking, of course, about veganism. Those who live the vegan lifestyle (and yes, it is a lifestyle) tend to be passionate about it. They know the rules, they live it every day. Those who do not are mystified.

Case in point: I was recently corrected regarding an ingredient in one of my products. I, being one not living the vegan lifestyle, was unaware that honey is not vegan. Did you know this? I did not. According to The Vegan Society, "Honey is made by bees for bees, and their health can be sacrificed when it is harvested by humans. Importantly, harvesting honey does not correlate with The Vegan Society's definition of veganism, which seeks to exclude not just cruelty, but exploitation".

And this is at the heart of veganism. Unlike the gluten-free choice, which is one that many make out of necessity, the choice to live vegan is made primarily out of a desire to end the exploitation of animals by man. It is essentially a cause.

What does this mean for bakers? Well, it means that anyone who wants to bake, but doesn't want to support the meat and dairy industries, has to change the way they do things. Here at The Country Oven we are introducing vegan products to our customers and plan on expanding the selection as demand grows. If you are a home baker, and want to explore vegan baking, here is some info you should know:

In the dairy industry, calves and their mothers are separated shortly after birth

Animal products are not allowed. Think about that for a moment. Animal-sourced ingredients are staples of traditional baking, and essential to its success. This includes milk (and all its components such as lactose, casein

and whey), butter, eggs, honey, gelatin and possibly some kinds of refined cane sugar. Nothing that came from an animal--including insects--is permitted in vegan baking. For a more complete list of foods to avoid click here.

So substitutions are necessary.

There's no getting around it. Without eggs, butter and milk you will need to use other ingredients to make vegan baking work:

Eggs: Replace this essential binder and thickener with flax or chia seeds, tofu, mashed banana, potato or tapioca starch. Keep in mind that certain kinds of baked goods do better with certain kinds of egg substitutes. Here is more info on suitable vegan egg substitutes.

Milk: Luckily for vegan bakers, there are now several good cow milk alternatives available. You can usually sub in soy, almond, coconut or rice milk in any recipe with no discernible effect.

Butter: Margarine can usually be substituted for butter, but check the ingredients to make sure there is no whey in there. You can also use pureed prune juice, unrefined coconut, canola, sesame or olive oils. There are also new vegan butters on the market that make replacement easy.

Sugar: The process of refining cane sugar involves something called bone char, animal bones used to give white sugar its pure white color. Check out these vegan alternatives to refined white and brown sugars.

How easy is it to make a vegan cake?

And methods and results may vary.

Some vegan baking methods vary from traditional baking, while some remain the same. The differences can determine whether or not your vegan baked goods are light, fluffy and tasty, or dense, flat and dry.

Always preheat your oven and bake immediately after combining dry and wet ingredients. Anything that you normally bring to room temperature--such as eggs and dairy--should also be brought to room temperature. This applies to vegan butters and margarine.

Prepare your flax gels and vegan buttermilk in advance so that you can quickly add them at baking time. Sift flours and don't overbeat when mixing or you will end up with a dense product. And here's a pro vegan tip: traditional recipes rely on eggs for their structure, but need to minimize the effect of gluten in order to be light and fluffy. In vegan baking it's just the opposite. Utilize the power of gluten (assuming you are not also gluten-free) by adding more flour and less water, and by experimenting with egg replacers (see above). Finding the right ratio of liquids, binders and gluten is the secret to light and fluffy vegan baked goods.

Like all baking, vegan baking is a science. Knowing the what, why and how of it will get you started in the right direction. There are plenty of online resources out there, but the best teacher is practice. So get to it, and happy vegan baking to you!

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