i posted last weekend about my standard go-to baking - cupcakes. however, i've been making cupcakes less and less in the past few years, because i seem to have more and more vegans in my life. obviously standard cake mixes don't work for vegans, since they're full of dairy and eggs.
a couple of years ago i ran across this recipe for vegan sugar cookies. i have to tell you guys, there are THE MOST AMAZING SUGAR COOKIES EVER. i LOVE sugar cookies. i am constantly whining about the lack of ready made sugar cookies to purchase. i learned how to make them in grade 5 or 6, and i've loved them ever since. these sugar cookies? they leave all other sugar cookies in the dust. i've made regular sugar cookies since, once, and hopefully i'll never have to do it again. these are incredible, and once you try them, you'll be hooked.
(the first time i tried this recipe)
vegan baking is not nearly as scary as you think. i promise!
there are some awesome products out there for vegan baking, and tons of incredible recipes available online and in the growing number of vegan cookbooks. if you have access to a grocery store with even the most basics of an "organic" or "healthy" section, you'll be able to bake vegan. i live in a suburb with a really minimal selection available to me, but it's come leaps and bounds in the past 5 years.
the ingredients that you might be unfamiliar with in this recipe are the vegan margarine, the egg replacer, vegan cream cheese, and the soy milk.
soy milk is the easiest, you can find it at pretty much every grocery store. the recipe calls for vanilla soy milk, but i always buy regular, because that's what i use for cereal. (soy milk tends to only come in 2litre cartons, but it is actually freezable. i'm not sure i'd drink it after it was frozen, because the texture might change, but it's perfect for smoothies) i only buy organic soy, because the way soy is grown can be quite nasty, depending on what country it's grown in. it may or may not make a difference, but it makes me feel better!
for vegan margarine, i highly recommend Earth Balance brand. AWESOME. it comes in tubs and in "buttery baking sticks". the baking sticks are best for baking, but in a pinch, i've used tub margarine and measured it using the water displacement method (remember that from home ec?), and it's been fine.
the vegan cream cheese i've always used is tofutti brand, Better Than Cream Cheese. i got hooked on this stuff years ago when it became blatantly obvious that as much as i pretended it wasn't true, i totally couldn't handle dairy, but i was still hooked on cream cheese. it comes in tons of flavours (including salmon, which amuses me), but you'll want the plain for this, obviously. you'll have to go to the health food store for the fancier flavours, but almost every big chain grocery store around here carries the plain.
and the last ingredient is the egg replacer. i've tried two brands, and honestly, i can't tell the difference. the most common one is Ener-G, and the other one might be only in Canada, it's by Pane Riso. this stuff is MAGIC! you buy a box and it's equivalent to 100 eggs. that makes it hella cheap, and it lasts way longer than real eggs. i'm usually only cooking for myself, and i really don't go through eggs fast enough to bother keeping them in my fridge, so i actually use egg replacer for most non-vegan baking that i do as well.
these cookies are a fabulous intro to vegan baking because these products make it a breeze, and they're pretty much guaranteed to be amazing. honestly, if i can bake it, you can bake it!
(when i was a teenager, i got banned from using the oven. my parents got fed up with me wasting supplies, i was THAT bad)
a few things i've learned about baking vegan -
- there are different kinds of vegans. some vegans are super-duper strict about what they eat, while others will make exceptions for something that doesn't have direct animal products like meat, dairy, eggs, etc, and some (who sometimes mistakenly refer to themselves as freegans) won't buy or cook with animal products, but if the food is offered, they'll take it. generally speaking, the super strict vegans will let you know in advance, or will be fine with skipping your offering. if you're cooking for an event where specific vegans that you know will be attending, or vegan food has been requested, it's worth sending a quick note to verify their perspective before going out of your way to accommodate them.
- an example of the previous point is sugar. technically, not all sugar is vegan. some white sugar is bleached using animal bone char, and while it's supposedly only be about 30% of the sugar on the market, you don't know which is which unless you buy sugar that is explicitly labeled vegan, usually organic. however, i don't know anyone who actually cares about this. i used to go out of my way to use organic sugar, but it doesn't always fit my budget, and once i realized that no one cared, i stopped driving across town to buy it.
- speaking of secretly not vegan ingredients... quite a few things can be either animal, plant or synthetic based, and you won't always know which is which unless you contact the company. one instance of that it glycerin, which is in practically everything. however, you will be happy to know, since we're talking about baking, that the glycerin in Wilton brand products, such as their awesome gel food colouring, is plant based. plus, it turns out that only the pickiest of vegans care about the teensy amount of glycerin in their cookies anyway. i figured that out after i contacted Wilton, but i guess it's good to know?
- you can't just turn a recipe vegan by removing the eggs. sometimes you can, but other times you most definitely cannot, and you'll have a huge baking fail on your hands. if you're new to vegan baking, stick to recipes that are specifically designed to be vegan. there's plenty of time to get creative once you've got the basics down.
- vegans will eat things that you won't. obviously, if it's disgusting, no one will eat it, vegans included! but sometimes you'll think that what you made didn't turn out, and the vegans will love it anyway. first of all, they'll love that you made an effort, but in addition to that, they're not used to the same things us non-vegans are used to. it's kind of like eating all healthy - your palate gets accustomed to different flavours and textures. most folks who have been vegan for awhile won't be expecting your cake to have a super light and airy texture, because a lot of vegan baking is denser. if you hadn't had dairy ice cream for 15 years, you probably wouldn't even realize that there is a difference between it and soy ice cream, right?
for instance, i made these cupcakes for a party. when you compared the two cupcakes in the photos, the vegan one looks kind of sad. it's smaller, the icing isn't fluffy... like i said in that blog post, i didn't think the vegan ones were awful, but they weren't particularly good either, at least to me. however! the vegans at the party loved them! someone who'd been vegan for a million years even asked me to give them the recipe!
and a few things that i've learned about baking sugar cookies, vegan or not -
- every recipe i've ever used has made way more cookies than it says it will. for this one, i usually separate the dough into two. i cut cookies out of half of it, then roll the rest into a log and freeze it. much easier than freezing extra cookies!
- if you're finding that your cookies are spreading into each other as they bake, your kitchen is probably too warm. i found this trick on a foodie blog last year, and it works like a charm - pop the baking sheet full of cut out cookies into the freezer for 10-15 minutes, then put them directly into the oven from the freezer. it made a HUGE difference in the spreading, and if you're using those cutters with indented details, they'll be a lot clearer.
- keeping your cookies a consistent thickness is key to having them all cook consistently. and rolling cookies too thin will take away the chewiness, leaving them too crispy. a lot of rolling pins, especially the handled ones, will row the dough thinner at the edges, without you even realizing it. you can buy fancy rolling pins and accessories to prevent this, but i use two strips of thin wood, about 1/4" thick, and run my rolling pin along them. i've also seen suggestions of wooden dowels (wouldn't they roll around?) or the metal hanging file folder rods (but they're hollow, wouldn't they flatten when you use pressure to roll out chilled dough?). honestly, i think i spent $1 buying the wood in the balsa section at michaels, and it was totally worth it.
- using lots of flour on your countertop will keep your cookies from sticking, but it can also make them taste, well, floury. parchment paper is an awesome surface to roll on, with no sticking!
- also while rolling, only remove a bit of dough from the fridge at once, let the rest keep on chillin until you're ready for it. it totally cuts down on sticking.
and that's pretty much all i know about sugar cookies. sadly, i don't have a bunch of pictures of cookie themed crafts to show you, like i did for the cupcake post. unexciting, i know!
don't fret, this isn't turning into a cooking blog. this is post 2 of 3, and the third post will be about an INCREDIBLE vegan and gluten-free cupcake recipe. and then i'll stop talking about food! if you'd like to check out the first post, about baking fabulous cupcakes from s mix, it's here.