vegan bakingHere at BakeryBits we embrace vegan recipes whenever we can, and help veganise ("veganize" with US-spelling) recipes, as it allows us to put more of the world’s extraordinary vegetables, fruits, grains and seeds in our diet, rather than ever being denied great food.

For many of us, our baking and cooking approach can get stuck in a groove. Food traditions are built on habit and to some extent that’s a great thing as it keeps old recipes, skills and tastes alive. But habits can be narrowing too, stopping us from seeing the full view of possibilities around us. With many of the great flours, grains and ingredients we sell at BakeryBits customers will often be surprised, saying “I didn’t know you could buy this” or even “I live right by this miller and didn’t know they existed”. There are so many ingredients and possibilities we can all discover.

So think about vegan eating as a way to broaden and enrich your diet, help stop terrible cruelty to animals within our heavily-industrialised food system, and support small millers, farmers and makers doing their best to produce ingredients ethically.

Now some recipes need a little planning if you are to do what’s known as “veganising” (or "veganizing" with US-spelling) a recipe: that is, swapping out animal ingredients like eggs, butter, cheese, and of course meat and fish, for vegan alternatives or work-arounds.

So here is our BakeryBits guide to veganising ingredients and methods in baking!

At the very minimum eggs enrich, bind, soften, colour, flavour, aerate and emulsify ingredients together, and each one of these aspects is best considered when you leave an egg out. You may not get the same result with a workaround, but if you are imaginative you can create something that is interesting in a new way and perhaps even better.

Enrich: microdosing your dough with flavourful stimulating ingredients is a great way to help the tastebuds think something without eggs is richer in flavour - black pepper, cayenne, vanilla, rosemary, saffron, cocoa etc – so try adding a tiny amount so that their flavour isn’t immediately apparent but it triggers the tastebuds into thinking the overall flavour is richer and more complex. A gentle boost to sweetness helps here too, try adding a tsp of raw sugar to enhance the flavour.

Bind: often white wheat flour whisked into a liquid mixture, like a custard, will replace the thickening power of an egg, or add less water into a dough. For a more powerful effect a gum like Xanthan, or a mucilage-grain, like linseed (ground fine if you like) or psyllium is helpful, in holding mixtures together.

Soften: egg yolks in particular help to give a softness to the crumb, and make each bite more tender. Mashed banana, and pureed fruit in general, is good at imitating this softening effect. I like to soak dried fruit in boiling water then puree it: this resulting fruit paste can be added to a simple dough (try 10% of the recipe's flour weight to begin with, and see how that works for you). In savoury recipe mashed vegetables like potato, pumpkin, and sweet potato work well.

Colour: egg yolks, especially if the chicken has been fed a carotene-rich diet, add a golden colour to baking mixtures. Well, carotene is also available in other ways and, you guessed it, carrots are a great source. Carrot juice can replace 1/3 to 1/2 of the water in a recipe; or if the recipe is low on water then a puree of cooked carrot will do the trick (try 10% of the flour weight to begin with). Otherwise a microdose of ground turmeric and paprika will work very well.

Flavour: it’s impossible to match the flavour of an egg yolk but what you can do is replace the flavour “space” the egg yolk would have added to with something extra. In sweet things vanilla, citrus, cinnamon, all help give a bolder sense of flavour; in savoury baking garlic and onion, spices like cumin, carraway, paprika help too.

Aeration: adding an egg makes things lighter, often, and helps them to rise well. Ingredients to think about adding in doughmaking to replace this are ascorbic acid (orange juice is a good natural source) as this will help maximise the gluten available from the flour via a complex chemical reaction; baking powder, added in conjunction with yeast, will give you a lighter result (so long as the rising time and warmth don’t exhaust it, better for quick bakes); and simply adding more yeast and keeping the dough warm. Now you might want to ask: what about aquafaba, the liquid left over from cooking beans, can't that be used an egg-replacer? Kind of. It contains a foaming substance called saponin, and when concentrated and whipped it will mimic the foam you get with egg white and in some circumstances (like folding it through a chocolate mousse) have lighten very well. But in bread dough it’s even better as an emulsifier (see below).

Emulsify: Gluten is great at this, so in most bread recipes you can just leave the egg out and you won’t notice a difference. However, if the recipe contains fat you light find you get a smoother texture if an emulsifier is added. Vegetable lecithin is excellent at this, and aquafaba is very good here too. But another source easily available is vegan butter replacers, as these often contain emulsifiers that will help bind ingredients together. Gums like Xanthan will also help emulsify fat and water together.

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Three elements are most noticeable when you add cheese to a recipe: richness, fat, and flavour. And often, if the cheese is cubes or grated in, there’s a layering effect to consider (butter is like this, see below).

Richness: if a recipe has cream cheese in it then a small amount of a oil with lemon juice helps to give a slight acidic richness to the dough. If the cheese is melted on top then a rich oil-based white sauce flavoured smartly with onion, garlic, or something sweet like vanilla and orange zest, will help give a soft cheese-like meltiness to the surface. This can work very well in the case of something like cheese on a pizza, assuming you don’t want to use of of the many vegan cheese now available: an olive-oil based white sauce made with almond milk, flavoured with garlic, chilli and herbs, is delicious.

Fat: if the cheese is used to add extra fat to the dough, then add a little extra oil to mix to compensate, and think about brushing the surface of the baked item with oil when finished.

Flavour: this is tricky as there isn’t anything exactly like cheese flavour, but the tart flavour of some ferments – water or coconut kefir – are very good if cooked with flour until thick, then chopped up for the recipe. Marinating firm tofu in lemon juice, chopped rosemary and oil is useful if you want to crumble it onto a focaccia before baking.

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Firstly there are great vegan-friendly cooking “butters” you should check out as that’s the easiest substitution. Though some people think of dairy butter as simply fat, about 20% of it is milk solids and proteins that help to emulsify it. Also the butter oil it contains is curious as it stays rather solid at room temperature. So, to replace it with vegetable oil, you need to combine it with other ingredients that will thicken the texture, and help emulsify it. Many supermarket vegan-friendly foods use a vegetable-based fat called “palm oil” as it stays fairly firm at room temperature, and sometimes coconut oil and cocoa butter are used for the same reason.

Using oil as butter: One trick you can do is to combine oil with flour to makes a soft “dough” and use this for layering in pastry dough. Otherwise, for flaky pastry especially, think about changing the method you use for your recipe, and brush oil over very thinly-rolled dough before rolling it up: there are many Indian and Asian flatbreads that use this sort of technique to achieve a flaky texture.

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Milk: There are many different vegan alternatives to milk available today – like soy, oat, almond, coconut – and they taste delicious. When using them for custards try cooking them first with a little flour whisked through (say 20g flour per 300g liquid) and bring this to the boil before cooling.

Sour cream: in the case of cream things are slightly more complex, though this also opens up many new possibilities. The combination of a diluted white sourdough starter, cooked first if served cold, with melted vegan friendly “butter”, lemon and a little sweetening (raw sugar is good) to taste, works well; and to make it extra special mix grated apple through at the end, this tastes delicious.

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If you’re new to vegan baking you might wonder about what all the concern is about honey. Well there are terrible practices going on, often in the name of providing "authentic" honey and of course many are causing huge stress, harm and death to the honey bee population. Do read this fascinating article by Megan Thornberry about the good, bad, and frightening practices done to honey bees just to provide a sweet spread for eating. And the crazy thing is that you can make the most extraordinary sugar syrups at home, utterly vegan and cruelty-free, in minutes just by boiling raw sugar and water together.

Home-made sugar syrup: easy to make and a perfect substitute for honey in any recipe. For 100g thick sugar syrup put 100g raw cane sugar in a saucepan with 15g water (or orange juice, or other flavoursome liquid), bring it to the boil then cool it. As this recipe uses cane sugar it might crystalise on cooling (it can be warmed again to turn it liquid once more) or you can add some glucose to it.

Honey-alternatives: certainly golden syrup, agave nectar, barely malt extract, rice syrup and many others are available online, all delicious with unique flavours.

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Ok, why are you here? Honestly, if you’re looking at vegan baking and wondering how to replace eating dead animals, you might want to go back and ask yourself are you ready to do this? Trust me, I understand because I am that person: I’m not vegan but equally horrified at the killing of animals to provide food for us, and somehow still eating them.

What to do? Well, my approach right now is to just think about the extraordinary variety of vegetables that nature offers us, a lifetime of eating them still wouldn’t cover the range the world has to buy, and let that tempt me. I’ve never eaten a great tomato soup and thought “gosh, I wish it had chicken in it” because that rich intense tomato flavour is enough on its own. Ditto olive-oil roasted sweet potatoes, sprinkled with Cornish Sea Salt and rosemary, happy to eat my weight in those. The secret, I suspect, is staying in that place of desire and deliciousness when planning vegan meals.

Ready-made meat substitutes: there is a huge variety available, and so much puff about the quality and “identical flavour to meat/fish” we’re told, but really the secret to passing it off as meat is in letting the way it’s served do the heavy lifting. Put a faux-meat burger in a fantastic bun or wrap, make an exceptional mayo-style dressing packed with herbs, pickles, crisp salad vegetables that you like best (don’t add anything you don’t adore) and suddenly it’s like the way an airplane can fly mostly because of the design of the wings: let baking and vegetables lift your meal upward, making it delicious.

Home-made meat substitutes: I’m a bit old fashioned in that I will happily eat a homemade beanburger over supermarket faux-meat any day. Now you might get challenged when you leave the egg out, but this is where a seed-powder called psyllium is brilliant. Sprinkle it into your beanburger mix, squish it together and let it sit 5-10 minutes until it thickens (you’ll have to experiment with the quantity as it depends on how wet you beanburger mix is) and then shape and fry as usual.

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You’d think it would be obvious to tell if an ingredient is vegan-suitable, but not always. There are many surprising processes used in the manufacture of food and drink to be aware of. The animal rights organisation PETA has a list of all animal-based ingredients that they know of. Beers, wines and ciders need to be checked for use of animal products, for example in any clarifying process, as a substance called isinglass (a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish) was traditionally used. Cane sugar sometimes uses animal-bone charcoal in the refining process, according to PETA. But then there are also animal by-product ingredients, like milk-based ones (whey, casein, lactose), or bee-related (beeswax).

Always best to check with the manufacturer or suppliers when using a new ingredient, to be sure. And if there's anything on the BakeryBits website that you're unsure about then let us know and we'll find out.

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