Anyone who has ever tried making a vegan or gluten free baked good knows the extra challenges it poses. Most traditional baked desserts involve milk, eggs and butter. All things plant-based and vegan lifestyles avoid using. This beginners guide to vegan baking is a tool to help easy those challenges. Read on for 32 Tips for Substituting Vegan Baking Ingredients!
Vegan Baking Ingredients Swaps
Vegan baking doesn’t have to be difficult. With a few easy swaps you can bake that vegan cake and eat it too! Let’s look at all the different vegan baking ingredients you get to work with and when to use them.
Milk: Uses in Baking and the Vegan Baking Ingreident Substitution
We are lucky enough to live in a time where plant-based milks literally come in abundance. Not only can you get a variety of type of milk options – soy, almond, coconut, oat – you also have options such as flavored or plain, sweet and unsweet, cold or shelf stable.
We live in a plant-based milk paradise compared with only a few years ago. Not only can you walk into about any grocery store and pick out the milk of your choice, plant-based milk is also incredibly easy to make at home!
Keep scrolling for instructions on how to make your own plant-based almond milk! When baking you can use a plant-based milk as an equal replacement when a recipe calls for traditional cows’ milk. The 1:1 swap makes altering recipes to dairy free easy as vegan pie!
For example, if your favorite chocolate cake recipe calls for 1 cup of milk you can swap this out with 1 cup of plant-based milk of your choice. Some things to remember. Using flavored or sweetened options of plant-based milk will alter flavor of your baked goods so I always keep unflavored, unsweetened almond milk in kitchen.
Now let us examine the different types of milk called for in traditional recipes and their dairy-free alternatives.
- Milk – skim through 2% milk can be swapped 1 to 1 in any recipe by your choice of plant-based milk.
- Heavy Cream or Whipping Cream – Swap out one-to-one of coconut cream for heavy cream. The coconut cream can be found in most baking isle or Asian section of the grocery store.
- Buttermilk – use vinegar (white distilled or apple cider vinegar are the 2 I use) and add to your plant-based milk. It will curdle just as traditional buttermilk curdles. Use the ratio guide of 1 tablespoon per 1 cup of milk. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 5 minutes to curdle.
- Yogurt or Sour Cream – My suggestion is to find a good vegan brand of yogurt ( I highly recommend So Delicious plain, unsweetened non-dairy yogurt.) As for sour cream I use a little vinegar with my yogurt to enhance the sour notes. This swap is a one-to-one ratio keeping recipes easy to adapt. You can also purchase vegan sour cream from specialty and health food stores.
- Cream Cheese – Soaked cashews in hot water for 5 hours or soak overnight in cool water. Then just drain the cashews, add in some coconut oil and blend until smooth. This makes a silky smooth butter that is a great replacement for cream cheese in baking. There are also some really great dairy-free cream cheese options in specialty and health food stores, but they can get a bit pricy.
Butter: Uses in Baking and the Vegan Baking Ingreident Substitution
Just like milk we live in a world of vegan butter substitutes readily available. Use can swap out vegan butter for traditional butter in a one-to-one ratio. For example, your chocolate cake recipe calls for “1 stick of butter” just swap out 1 stick (8 tablespoons) of vegan butter and use as directed.
The downside of these vegan butter substitutes is that they can get expensive compared to traditional butter. They are also a highly processed food so if you are staying away from those do not fear there are alternatives. If you are looking to save some cash, there are ways to make your own vegan butter substitute.
To make your own vegan butter at home try this recipe! There are some recipes I would advise sticking to the butter substitute as they really add the flavor of butter to baked goods. Also, you will want to be careful when swapping some oils for butter as they each have their own flavors.
One of my favorite butter swaps is to us refined coconut oil. This coconut oil does not have the strong coconut flavor as unrefined, but I can still pick-up hints of coconut so keep that in mind when deciding which oil to swap in your recipe. If your recipe calls for:
- Butter – vegan butter substitute (store bought or homemade). A one-to-one ratio is used with vegan butter so swapping out the traditional butter is a cinch! If your recipe calls for the creaming method this is by far the best option.
- Melted Butter – oil of your choice (coconut, canola, sunflower, avocado, olive oil, vegetable oil. All these work in vegan baking. Make sure to heat the coconut oil to liquid state before adding to any recipe calling for melted butter or oil.
The substitution on oil is a little more complicated than on butter substitutes. Some bakers say you can use the oil as a 1 to 1 ratio substitute, but others say to use 1/4th less of the oil than you would butter becasue traditional butter is 20% water. I have tried it both ways and prefer the 1/4th less rule.
I feel it makes the baked goods less greasy and I also feel better about using this fat substitute.
- Creaming Butter Method – vegan butter substitute (store bought or homemade). Again, use as a one-to-one ratio. Use can also use coconut oil at room temperature or colder as it is a solid in this state.
You are not going to get that same buttery flavor as with the vegan butter substitute, but the recipe should work, as it’s a great source of fat.
Eggs: Uses in Baking and the Vegan Baking Ingreident Substitution
I find replacing eggs to be the most challenging aspect of vegan baking. In traditional baking eggs provide a few essential functions. First, they act as a binder for the other ingredients. When eggs are stirred into cake batter for example the eggs provide proteins that then hold the fat and other ingredients together as they bake. They form a sort of glue for the cake.
Secondly, eggs act as a rising agent in baked goods. Thirdly, eggs add moisture to baked goods. One large egg has the equivalent of about 3 ounces of liquid (2 ounces for the egg whites and 1 ounce for the egg yolk).
Egg uses break down even further when you look at each part of the egg. The egg whites for example not only add liquid (i.e., moisture) to the batter, they can be whipped into a stable foam that adds even more leavening power (rising power) to baked goods, custards and tarts.
The egg yolks on the other hand add fat, protein, flavor and texture (think about rich moist cakes). Because eggs play so many different rolls in the making of baked goods there have been a multitude of substitutions created and they even break down by what type of baking your recipe calls for. Let us look at some of the egg substitutes and their uses.
- Whole Eggs – One of my favor swaps for a whole egg in a baked good recipe is to use a flax egg. To make a flax egg combine 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed meal with 3 tablespoons of water and let set for at least 5-10 minutes. The mixture will gel up with time and you will be able to use it as a one-to-one ratio substitute for the eggs.
Again, I would not use this option for recipes calling for more than 2-3 eggs. I should also note that while this alternative is very healthy (flax seed has an abundance of nutrients, healthy fats and fiber) it does give your baked good a more earthy/wheat taste so make sure your recipes flavors can hold up to this substitute.
I find it disappears when making chocolate cakes, but vanilla based cakes tend to have a stronger flax seed flavor if you are also using AP flour (all-purpose). I personally like the flavor, but it is not for everyone.
2. Whole Eggs for Leavening – Eggs work as a leavening agent especially in baked goods. A good swap for this is vinegar + baking soda. Try replacing each egg with 1 tablespoon of vinegar mixed with 1 teaspoon of baking soda.
The baking soda requires the acid to activate its leavening power. Do not use more than 2 eggs worth. If a recipe calls for more than 2-3 eggs, then it is unlikely you will be able to get the same volume with this replacement method.
I would save yourself the headache and pick a recipe to convert with less eggs.
3. Whole Eggs for Binding – Fruit purees, bananas, and pumpkin puree are all good egg substitutes for baking. These add the binging properties you will be missing without eggs. When using these substitutes remember they are not adding leavening power so if you want to avoid flat or deflated baked goods make sure you increase the amount of baking powder or baking soda called for in the recipe.
A general guideline to use is to add in the same amount of puree in ounces as the missing eggs, while doubling the leaven powder of choice. For example, a recipe calling for 2 eggs (3 ounces of liquid each) and 1 teaspoon baking powder would use about 6 ounces of applesauce and 2 teaspoons baking powder.
4. Whole Eggs for Binding – Silken tofu blended to a puree also works as a good binder for baked goods. A good guideline to use is for each egg replace with ¼ of pureed silken tofu. Do not forget to add 50% more of your leavening powder (baking powder) to create the lift you need.
5. Egg yolks – If a recipe calls just for egg yolks it is being used to add fat. Added fat not only adds flavor but works to help bind liquids and fats together. Therefore, egg yolks are called for in most emulsions (think mayonnaise or hollandaise sauce).
For emulsions you can replace the egg yolk with added fat from liquid oil. You can use a multitude of oils; just be sure the taste of the oil is subtle so as not to overpower the flavors of the baked goods.
6. Egg whites – I find replacing egg whites in recipes is the most fun of all the substitutes because you get to use aquafaba! If you do not already know aquafaba (literally bean water) is the brine from cooked beans. What wacky vegan baking ingredients will they find next?!
The most used source of aquafaba is from a can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans. I have not experimented with other bean water substitutes but theoretically you could use the brine from other beans as well.
Just remember beans with strong flavors such as black beans will have a thicker, stronger bean flavor. As for the chickpea brine it has a subtle bean taste that is easily masked by sugar or other sweeteners and extracts.
If you are like me and only stock dry beans in your pantry you can make aquafaba at home using this recipe.
Just like egg whites, aquafaba can be whipped into a stable foam. It does tend to be more delicate than its egg white alternative so adding in a little cream of tartar will help it hold it’s shape. Generally, for 1 can of liquid chickpea brine you will need to add a teaspoon of cream of tartar.
It is also good to remember that it takes aquafaba more than twice as long to whip into a foam. I have found it takes approximately 6-10 minutes to go from liquid state to achieve a stiff peaked mixture.
I have had much success using whipped aquafaba in meringues and other delicate bakes, however I have not had success in subbing whipped aquafaba in recipes calling for egg whites to be folded into batter.
When you fold the aquafaba it loses its structure and results in deflated baked goods. It works in theory, just maybe not for me!
7.Egg wash – If you want to give your baked goods that glossy, crispy finish without using eggs try substituting regular plant-based milk. I used unsweetened, unflavored almond milk to wash the tops of my pies and they come out nice and shiny every time!
General Baking Tips for Better Vegan Baked Goods:
Vegan baking is not all about the vegan baking ingreidents. Sometimes it’s about baking method. Here are some general tips for vegan baking.
- It is best to avoid using coconut oil in recipes calling for refrigeration as it solidifies when cooled.
- Vegan baked goods do best with shorter baking times. So, it is very important to watch your bakes and know when to pull them at the right time. For example, you’ll want to pull your 9” cake pan out when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Vegan baked goods will have a lighter color than their egg containing counter parts. This is another reason to keep a close eye on your baked goods while in the oven. You might not get that golden brown color you are expecting, but the cake will still be done, and you should not notice a difference in texture or flavor, just color.
- A lot of plant-based recipes use alternative sweeteners, either for the added health benefits or to avoid highly processed foods. Some sugar products are even processed using animal bones, making it not an option for vegans. I have found cane sugar or coconut sugar to be an acceptable substitute personally, but if you are feeling more adventurous there are several options available.
You could try swapping granulated sugar for a liquid sweetener such as brown rice syrup, date fruit, monk fruit sweetener, agave nectar, maple syrup or coconut sweetener. You will have to play around a little to find the right ratio of liquid sweeteners to granulated sugar. For a dry sugar substitute coconut sugar comes in granules as well.
- Do not try swapping all the ingredients for healthy alternatives. For example lets say a recipe calls for all-purpose flour, granulated white sugar and 2 eggs. If you just swap out the all-purpose flour for wheat, the white sugar for dates and the eggs for flax seed eggs well…let us just say the chances of your baked good coming out anything like the original recipe are slim to none.
Remember, baked goods are a treat and should be treated as such. If we are kind to ourselves and our bodies, we should have room in our diets for vegan desserts and snacks in addition to the main dishes. Life is about balance, and it is too short for desserts that taste like cardboard!
- Vegan baking is like regular baking in that oven temperature is very important. Always pre-heat your oven to the correct temperature. Every oven is different therefore investing in an oven thermometer can not go amiss.
You may think your oven reached 350 degrees F after 15 mins, but you may find it take longer to heat up, or even needs to be set higher to achieve the desired temperature. A multitude of oven thermometers are available (some even have Bluetooth!).
So do some research and pick something in your price range with good reviews. I love my Kitchen Aid Oven Thermometer. I got it for about $15 on Amazon.
- Do all your pan prep work prior to starting your recipe. This is especially important if you are using the baking soda and vinegar as your leavening agent. The baking soda will start to react with the vinegar as soon as they are mixed.
You will see it start to bubble up and foam. You need those bubbles to help raise your baked goods, so you do not want to spend too much time between activating the reaction and getting the baked goods in the oven.
All your pans should be coated with something, cooking spray, butter substitute, and/or parchment paper. Use something to prevent the baked goods from sticking to your pan. If you are using non-stick pans you might get away with skipping this step, but I would not recommend it.
- Going along with making sure your oven is the correct temperature, make sure it stays at this consistent temperature through the whole bake. How to achieve this? DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN. It is that simple.
Every time you open the oven door to check your baked goods the oven temperature drops significantly. Doing this often will decrease the oven temperature and you will likely end up with underdone baked goods even if you follow the baking time for the recipe.
You will know your baked goods are underdone if they are sticky, or if they sink/deflate when removed from the oven.
- Make sure your leavening agents and spices are all fresh. Baking soda, baking powder and all ground spices lose their potency with time. I would suggest keeping these no more than 6 months for the leavening agents.
For spices my guideline is longer, say no more than one year.
- Be gentle with your batters. Vegan batters are less stable due to the lack of eggs. To avoid cakes that sink and cookies that spread make sure you gently fold the wet and dry ingredients together, being careful not to overmix.
- In recipes calling for the ‘creaming method’, opt for butter replacements that are solid at room temperature. This would include vegan butter substitutes, vegetable shortening and even coconut oil.
I would note that the coconut oil has a relatively low melting point so may be greasier when creamed with sugar.
- Do not skip the salt in baked goods. To be honest I do not know why salt brings out the flavors in food better (something important fact about sodium I am sure). But I do know that if you decide to skip the salt, you will have dull tasting baked goods so use sparingly (a pinch or two will usually do the trick), but do not leave it out altogether.
- Keep a clean kitchen while you work. This may seem like an inconvenience. Before I got really into baking, I was the sort of person to leave all the packages and used bowls and utensils simply laying wherever I placed them last.
Now that I have really embraced vegan baking, I find a tidy kitchen to be the absolute best way of making sure you do not forget an important ingredient or important step in vegan baking. My advice is always start with a clean kitchen and clean up after yourself as you go.
I also find baked goods taste better and are more enjoyable when I have already done all the dishes, but that could just be me!
- Do not be afraid to experiment! I will be posting some pictures of my baking ‘fails’ so you can see that even well thought out recipe choices can sometimes end in disaster. And that is okay! The more you fail, the more you will learn what do differently for your next baking project.
- When searching for a good egg replacement do a little research on your baked good first. For example, if you are substituting eggs in a cake that does not call for any other leavening agent, you will see that the egg acts as both a binder and leavening agent so you may need to use 2 egg replacement options to get the texture you are wanting, light and fluffy.
- Mix it up a bit. Try different varieties of dairy and egg replacers to find what works best for you. I personally favor the flax egg but like to add in applesauce as an added binder. You may prefer pureed sweet potato or ½ a mashed banana.
Mix, match, try a few things out and make sure you take notes on how you feel the baked goods turned out. And remember to have fun!!!