Two key baking ingredients—butter and eggs—fall far outside the vegan realm. But you can still make awesome desserts without them or any other animal products. Here are five tips and tricks to get you started on enjoying the best vegan desserts ever.
1. Think outside the box.
Rather than try to simply recreate classic desserts, create entirely new ones. Start with seasonal fruits and vegetables and experiment from there. In my cookbook Better Baking, I turn avocados into a creamy pistachio pudding and blend almonds, dates, and coconut flour into chewy no-bake cookies.
2. Swap in good fats.
If you're creating recipes on your own, you can't always do straight substitutions for fats, but you can experiment. Coconut oil in its solid form can stand in for butter in most cases and add a tropical nutty note at the same time.
When dealing with liquid oils, such as olive, nut, or grapeseed, you want to mimic butter's composition. American butter is generally about 80 percent fat and 20 percent liquid. Oils are 100 percent fat. You can swap oil for butter when butter is used in its melted form. In that case, make a mix of 80 percent oil to 20 percent water, juice, tea, or coffee for the total amount of butter.
3. Feeling nutty.
Tree nuts, peanuts, and coconut work wonders in all their delicious forms, from whole to chopped to ground to flour to butter. Because they're fatty and flour-y, they can fill in for the richness of butter and the structure that eggs provide.
You can't do any straight substitutions, but you can try out different combinations to take advantage of their tasty and technical advantages. Because they can't bind quite like eggs, they're best used in flat goodies like cookies and bars. In Better Baking, ground peanuts, coconut, and sesame become the tastiest, toastiest shortbread ever.
4. Go for flax.
There are a number of egg substitutes out there that range from aquafaba, which is starchy chickpea water, to various chia combinations. While they work in certain circumstances, they're not as consistently reliable as flax seeds.
Ground flax seed mixed with liquid, usually in a 1-to-2 ratio, can provide some of the structure that eggs' strong proteins do, and the resulting cakes, muffins, and pastries most closely resemble the classics.
5. Let there be leavening.
Eggs not only bind together ingredients, but they also help baked goods rise when air is whipped into them. Baking powder and baking soda are chemical leavenings that can help baked goods rise as well. To activate them, you need to mix them with acid. A bit of apple cider vinegar can do the trick. It's mellower than other vinegars, so you don't taste any sourness in the treats.
Vegan baking is as much science as art, so it's important to both methodically test recipes and to relish the resulting deliciousness. Happy baking!