Friday, February 6, 2009

Natalie Slater on Vegan Baking



Ready, set… vegan!
By Natalie Slater

It wasn’t too long ago when a baker could take pride in owning an all-butter bakery. Pastry cases filled with cream pies, cupcakes and cookies invoked images of the fresh eggs, cream and butter used in every item and the customers clamored for it.

But with all the buzz about trans-fats, food allergies and now, a surge in vegan diets, it’s getting harder and harder to be a successful old-fashioned bakery. The availability of commercially produced vegan products is on the rise and smart bake shop owners are learning a few new tricks in order to keep up.

The Vegan Diet

Simply put, a vegan is a strict vegetarian who eschews consumption of all animal products. This includes meat, milk, eggs and butter and extends to include gelatin, honey and a few other animal-based ingredients. Unfortunately, it’s hard to say exactly how many vegans there are world-wide because censuses are only conducted once every 10 years, and even then citizens can only choose vegetarian as a differentiator, vegan is not an option. To put it in perspective, though, there were over 600,000 vegans living in the united States alone in 2006. Surely, given the movement’s popularity thanks to popular film stars and musicians this number has dramatically increased world-wide.

In most major cities there are already all-vegan bakeries finding success even with non-vegan customers. This doesn’t mean it’s time to cancel your dairy shipments and change your entire menu, but incorporating a few vegan options into your rotation is a great way to drum up new business. You might even find some of your old recipes being replaced by vegan ones. Such was the case for Jodi Rhoden, owner of Short Street Cakes in North Carolina. “My vegan chocolate cake is my standard chocolate cake. It’s so good I use it for everything and no one notices the difference,” she says.

The Science of Vegan Baking

Vegan baking can be as simple as replacing a dairy ingredient with a non-dairy- soymilk for dairy milk and soy margarine for butter. But when it comes to replacing eggs, vegan bakers get creative. Many vegan recipes call for egg replacements such as applesauce, canola oil or bananas. For more tips on replacing eggs and other items in your recipes see the tips below.

Agar agar powder, a natural gelatin, makes a great replacement for animal-derived gelatin in marshmallow recipes. Silken tofu adds itself nicely to vegan cheesecake and custard recipes and most major grocery stores now keep vegan cream cheese on the shelves for frostings and fillings.

Vegan Best Practices
Many bakers find themselves intimidated by vegan baking, but try not to see it as a limitation. Once you understand the rules, the flavor and texture possibilities are endless. Learning at least one great vegan recipe is well worth the effort, vegan customers are very grateful to have choices and word-of-mouth among them spreads fast.

Because many vegans have chosen this diet for reasons they feel very passionate about it’s important to adhere to certain practices when baking for them. Here are some steps for successful vegan baking:

General Practices

-Educate yourself about animal ingredients. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals website offers a list of animal ingredients you can print and keep in your kitchen.
-Make sure pans and utensils that were used for making dairy items are washed thoroughly before using them to make vegan products. Consider using separate, vegan-only pans and utensils for added piece of mind.
-Clearly label all vegan items as such so they aren’t confused with dairy versions. This is especially important if you keep buttercreams or cake mixes on hand.

Commercial Practices

- Minimize the number of vegan items you offer to ensure product freshness.
- Train your bake staff to avoid recipe mishaps and educate your counter staff about your vegan options.
- Create a separate, different-colored order form for vegan cake orders.

Putting It Together
Regardless of which recipes you choose, there are a few special items you need for all vegan baking:

- Plain or vanilla soy or rice milk
- Soy margarine, most bakers prefer Earth Balance for it’s butter-like flavor
- Vegetable shortening
- Apple cider vinegar, combined with soy milk, it helps cakes to rise

There are several vegan dessert cookbooks to choose from including Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Home Romero, The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and My Sweet Vegan by Hannah Kaminsky. Like most recipes. vegan recipes are easy to tweak into your own, unique creations.

Vegan Tips and Replacements At-A-Glance

If you can bake a cake, you can bake a vegan cake. Here are a few hints to help make it the best vegan cake possible.
Most vegan bakers will warn you against commercial egg replacers. They’re great for bread making and for cooking, but in cakes they’re too dense and gummy. To replace one egg try:

- 1/4 cup mashed banana (products made with banana may brown quickly)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/4 cup pureed silken tofu
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 3 tbsp water
- 1/4 cup soy yogurt

To replace a 1/2 cup of butter try 1/3 cup of canola or other vegetable oil.

Vegan cake batters tend to be lumpy, don’t try and mix the lumps out. Like all cake batters, over mixing will result in tough cakes. Learn to live with a few lumps.

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