Thursday, January 13, 2011

Baking Without Eggs

When I became a vegan, I knew it could never be a lifestyle if I couldn’t master non dairy baking. I love sweets; I love sugar; I love chocolate. My lifetime of memories is punctuated by dessert: the chocolate cherry cake my mom invented for me, and has baked for my birthday since I was a little girl; cutting out and frosting Christmas cookies with my baby sister every holiday season; baking pans of brownies for all my girlfriends on their birthdays. Giving up meat would be easy, but giving up my memories was not feasible.

At the beginning of my vegan experiment, I happily discovered that Earth Balance can do everything that butter does. It makes perfect sense; housewives have been cooking with margarine for years. My buttercream frosting turned out so well, I can’t believe it’s not butter! Eggs, however, are the real challenge to vegan baking. This is primarily because eggs are doing multiple things in any given recipe. We have to start by isolating the purpose of eggs in traditional baking. Eggs are primarily useful for leavening, thickening, moisture, and binding. For example, eggs are what give rise to a soufflé; eggs provide that rich texture in a key lime pie; eggs give a brownie its moist cakiness; and eggs hold everything together in a chocolate chip cookie. Because of the variability of the egg, it is necessary for vegan bakers to have a flexible assortment of egg replacers. First, let’s consider some common ingredients that can be utilized in egg-free baking.

Applesauce: Applesauce is the most familiar of the possible egg replacers. It is good for both moisture and as a binding agent. In fact, many brownie recipes call for applesauce as a way to cut down on the oil, so this is not especially unusual. However, this brings us to the negatives of using applesauce. Using applesauce to replace eggs, and oil to a certain extent can steal some of the richness and pleasure out of your baked goods. Applesauce, therefore, is best used for reduced fat treats, which may also mean reduced flavor.

Banana: A ripe banana is an excellent replacement for eggs, in very specific instances. It works best as a binding agent, and provides some moisture. However, the moist richness of this fruit goes hand in hand with an unavoidable banana flavor. This is fine, if you’re making banana bread, or even chocolate bread pudding, but banana oatmeal cookies would not be advisable.

Vinegar and Baking Soda: Vinegar and baking soda is a well known leavening agent, known to amateur scientists everywhere. Using this combination as a replacement for eggs is somewhat limited though. It works incredibly well in giving your baked goods rise and levity. However, it isn’t especially effective as a binding agent, nor does it provide much moisture. These shortcomings would need to be compensated for in the form of oil and water. As housewives discovered during the Great Depression, oil, water, baking soda, and vinegar can make an excellent chocolate cake when eggs and butter are being rationed. This decades-old recipe has become a staple for the vegan community.

Silken Tofu: This egg replacer is the one that gets the strangest looks from people. However, it is highly capable as a thickener in anything requiring a smooth, custardy texture. Tofu is wonderful because it takes on the flavors around it, rather than asserting its presence like the banana. I have had great success with Key Lime Pie, and Pecan Pie, using silken tofu as a base. Silken tofu is not a universal egg replacer though, as it is very dense, and thus, can weigh down lighter foods like brownies, or cakes.

Ground Flaxseed: Until I began experimenting with vegan baking, I had never worked much with flaxseed. I only knew it as some kind of health food that I probably should be eating, but didn’t look too appetizing. I had no idea that, when ground and mixed with water it could be widely useful as an egg replacer. Flaxseed, like an egg, is multi-functional, providing fat, moisture, and acting as a binding agent. I use ground flaxseed in place of eggs, in almost all of my food, for pancakes, waffles, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, scones, muffins, and more. Ground flaxseed is the most able to fulfill the role of an actual egg.

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