Friday, November 2, 2012

How I Bake

I've been thinking about this post for a long time. Well, a few months at least. Mainly because it occurred to me that the way I bake and write about baking is different from everyone else out there in the food blogosphere. It's not different better or different worse, just different because every baker is unique in their own small ways. And that's awesome, because new perspectives are how recipes morph and improve. For instance, I adapted my oreo recipe from Sassy Radish, who adapted hers from Smitten Kitchen, who got it from Retro Desserts. And now it's waiting for you to adapt.

So whether you're new here (welcome!) or one of my very first readers (thank you!), here are a few details about how I bake which may help as you navigate cookies or cakes or bread or pies.

I'm kind of a loosey-goosey baker. I know, I know, bakers are supposed to be all about precision, but, in my experience, very few recipes require absolute, precise, perfect measurements. The quantities I use in my recipes are what work for me. It might not work exactly the same for you- you may need a dash more flour or a teaspoon more of liquid - and sometimes, it doesn't work exactly the same the seventh time I follow my own recipe.

So I guess I'm trusting you here. I'm trusting that you are smart enough and observant enough to notice if your bread dough is really sticky and then know to add some more flour. That being said, if you try something and it tastes weird, looks funky, or completely and utterly fails, please tell me! The best way is to comment on the recipe post. I will see it, I will reply to it, hopefully it will become a conversation, and maybe we'll all learn something in the process. Update 10/27/13: Also, Deb's answer to "why didn't this work?" is pretty great.

When I first started trying out vegan recipes, I relied fairly heavily on vegan butter and egg replacer. As I've become more comfortable with baking in general and vegan baking specifically, I've tended to stay away from those replacements, especially the butter. I've moved toward substitutions that are real food, like oil or applesauce, rather than chemically created replacements.

My go-to butter replacement is olive oil. It doesn't have to be fancy, and in fact cheaper might be better here. The less expensive olive oils tend to have a less pronounced olive taste which you might like better for, say, Pumpkin Spice Cookies or Peach Streusel Muffins. Sometimes you can substitute fruit puree for some or all of the butter/oil like I did for my One Bowl Brownies, but most baked goods benefit from some fat. There are vegan shortenings out there (I have Spectrum in my cabinet), but I haven't experimented too much. I think shortening works best as a substitute in things like pie crusts, where you want flakiness.

Replacing eggs is a different ballgame. In baking, eggs often are important leaveners- they help things rise. I have two usual replacements that I employ: baking soda+vinegar or applesauce (or other fruit puree). I usually use these on their own, but you could use both if you need.
  • I use baking soda+vinegar when I want the results to be light and fluffy. When baking soda is combined with an acidic ingredient like vinegar or citrus, it releases carbon dioxide. This chemistry forms bubbles in the food, which when heated expand and help lighten the final product. When choosing what to use instead of eggs, I take into consideration the original recipe. Is there already baking soda in it? Will more alter the taste of the final product? That might depend on whether you're substituting for one egg or four and the volume of the recipe. To replace one large egg, use 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. I usually use apple cider vinegar, but white or any other kind OR lemon juice will do. 
  • My other usual egg replacement is applesauce, or any other fruit puree (banana, pumpkin, etc). Applesauce is the most neutral of the three, followed by pumpkin then banana, so be aware of how their flavors will interact with the rest of your ingredients. I tend to use applesauce in recipes where the final product needs to be moist. 1/4 cup of applesauce equals 1 large egg. 
Next, you should know that I don't have all-purpose flour in my kitchen. I exclusively use white whole wheat flour when recipes call for all-purpose. Or a combination of whole wheat and white whole wheat. I have had great results from using white whole wheat, and I don't miss my all-purpose at all. Bonus: I think it's healthier. Other Bonus: one less flour to keep on hand. If you're trying to get healthy whole grains in your diet, try substituting just a portion of wheat flour for white (no more than half). They have different properties, and cookies you make with all whole wheat flour might not hold together like the same ones made with white.

Milk. We have a small kitchen and a small refrigerator. Therefore, I try to keep clutter (and this includes extraneous ingredients) to a minimum. 99% of the time, I use almond milk instead of regular milk in recipes. The reason is quite simple: I like it. It's the milk I drink when I mix up some chocolate milk and it's the milk I use for my morning oatmeal. Sure, it may lend some of it's flavor to my muffins, but it doesn't worry me enough to buy another, more neutral, non-dairy milk to use exclusively for baking. So my advice here is to keep one on hand because it's easy. Just pick whichever one you like the best and use it for everything. Buttermilk is easy to create. Just combine 1 cup non-dairy milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice in a non-reactive bowl (like glass). Let it sit for about 10 minutes, and voila, it's curdled and acts just like buttermilk in recipes. 

Finally, you're not going to find recipes here with obscure or outrageous ingredients. The most expensive ingredients I can think of are good chocolate (used sparingly since it more than carries it's weight), and pine nuts, which I buy in tiny quantities from the bulk bins. I'm a normal person with a tiny kitchen, so I'm not going to worry about finding money and space for Himalayan salt or truffle oil. Frankly, I'd rather spend the time and real estate on the aforementioned chocolate. And, really, does anyone actually need Himalayan salt?

I hope that helps you understand me and my methods a little better. Tell me, what are your favorite substitutions? What have you learned along the way?


  1. Another egg substitute that I've had luck with is flax seed and non-dairy milk. 1 tbsp ground flax seed (or chia seed) + 3 tbsp non-dairy milk + 1 egg. Plus, you get tasty omega 3 fatty acids from the flax!

    1. I have heard such a substitute exists, but I haven't tried it yet. Once your chickens turn into hens, you won't need it!


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