In the next two posts, I will be talking about kittens and sunshine and chocolate and sparkles and fireworks and, um… vegan egg substitutes.
Ok, so it’s not the most exciting topic in the world but one that is helpful to know about if you want to cook exciting things. Like cake. And more cake.
In this first post I will give a little background on vegan egg substitutes and briefly discuss vegan, gluten-free baking. In part two I will share a recipe for chia seed egg substitute – the one I use most often.
As I have mentioned, I am not vegan myself; I just melt in a puff of smoke leaving nothing but my shoes and pointy hat when I’m exposed to lactose. When I am cooking for myself I can therefore use eggs and Lactofree products (which behave just like normal dairy products, minus my personal kryptonite). I do love cooking for other people though and I have a lot of vegan friends. As a relative beginner to fully-vegan cooking, eggs have been the thing I have struggled with the most. I have experimented a fair bit now, with varying degrees of success, and would like to share what I have learnt so far. As I learn more and as I try new substitutes for eggs I will let you know the results.
What on earth is a vegan egg replacer and why should I bother?
In baking, eggs have various functions. These include:
- Acting as a binder to give structure to a mixture
- Helping a mixture to rise (leavening)
- Thickening a mixture
- Adding moisture
- Adding flavour
There are also many other functions of eggs in cooking, depending on what you are making. The science behind the role of eggs in cooking is explained here, far more efficiently that I would be able to.
If you cannot use eggs in your recipe and want it to turn out the same, then you will need to find an ingredient that mimics what the eggs do. (With some recipes, you can simply omit the eggs but with most it will significantly change the result. With something like a cake, it would be a disaster)
The good news is, there are lots of things that you can use, including, apple puree, tofu, oil, banana, flax seeds and chia seeds. There are many more. There are also lots of pre-made vegan egg replacers on the market. I haven’t tried any of these yet and have heard mixed reviews. All of these substitutes have different properties and the best one to choose will depend on what you are cooking. For example, apple puree may add lovely flavour to a cake but it won’t bind pastry together effectively as chia seeds. It’s a matter of looking at your original recipe and deciding what property you most require from your egg substitute.
If you want to know more about the properties of various vegan egg substitutes the easiest way is actually just to google it – there are hundreds of cheat sheets and guides out there comparing them all. Once I have tried enough to speak with authority on it, I will make one for this blog.
“Well, this is all excellent”, you might think. “It seems a little confusing at first but once you get your head around the idea, it really is ok. Er, will it matter that the recipe needs to be gluten-free as well?”
The short answer is… yes. And no.
The thing I am slowly learning is that with free-from cooking there is rarely a short answer. Or a simple one. Or one that works every time and in all circumstances. Free-from cooking is kind of a nice analogy for the rest of life really. Despite a loud background chorus of people all claiming to have the “one perfect answer”, the whole thing is completely subjective and experiential. It is a journey across a vast grey area, interspersed with serendipity, personal bias, utter chaos and a lot of time spent on Wikipedia. In the words of Monty Python, “You’ve got to work it out for yourselves.”
So, what should you do about gluten-free vegan cooking? Well, it is mostly ok. It’s only really in baking that things get tricky and that is down to the properties of eggs and gluten that provide binding and leavening.
In baking, gluten and eggs are a dream team. They interact in just such a way as is perfect for things like holding pastry together and getting a sponge cake to rise. You can often get away without one, but if you try to omit both things start to fall apart, literally.
If you don’t need something to rise, a vegan egg substitute with a lot of binding power like chia will do the job well. Chia is great for things like pastry and I have had a lot of success with it in gluten-free recipes. When it comes to leavening however, it is surprisingly useless.
Gluten-free Vegan Cake
A lot of vegan cake recipes rely on the assumption that you will be using wheat flour to do the hard work of leavening. Xanthan Gum can be used with gluten-free flour to do the job of gluten but it does not do it perfectly. When you bake a cake with gluten free flour and xanthan gum, you will still lose a significant portion of the rise and structure. A lot of gluten-free cake recipes therefore use the leavening power of eggs to fill the gap.
I am yet to find a vegan egg replacer that leavens sufficiently to get a gluten-free sponge cake to rise. I read that the chemical ones may be able to do this and I have heard whispers about arrowroot powder but so far, I have not tried these. I know that it must be possible because a wonderful local vegan café has managed it but they won’t divulge their hard-earned secrets. (And who can blame them?) I would love to hear from anyone who has had success making a vegan, gluten-free sponge. Comments section anyone?
Currently, the only tips I can give from my direct experience are the following:
- If you don’t have to, don’t torture yourself. I have given up trying to make light gf/vegan sponge cakes and instead go for brownies, tiffin or other dense, traybake type things when I want to treat people.
- On that note, dark chocolate is your friend.
- If it’s just regular wheat and not gluten that’s the problem, try white spelt flour instead. Check that whoever you’re cooking for can eat spelt first.
- Using a little extra baking powder can help but doesn’t solve the problem completely. Take care not to use so much you get a nasty, chemical taste however.
In Part Two I will share the recipe for chia seed egg substitute.