Vegan Cooking

Ten Tips for Perfect Vegan Baking
Baking Vegan by Allison Rivers Samson

If you want your vegan cookies, cakes, and muffins to come out tasting heavenly, the following ten tips will help you perfect your vegan baking skills so you get scrumptious results every time.

1. Use fresh ingredients.
Fresh ingredients are a must in vegan baking. If you have ingredients that have been sitting on the shelf or in your refrigerator for many months, they may not work like they're supposed to. Baking powder, soda, and yeast are good examples. Use fresh baking soda for baking, not the soda that's absorbing odors in your refrigerator. Fresh baking powder will ensure your baked goods are properly leavened, not left flat. Expired yeast may not give the lift you desire and you could end up with disappointing results.

2. Accurately measure your ingredients.
Baking is like chemistry with a delicious outcome. Accurately measuring your ingredients will help ensure that your treats come out perfectly. To properly measure dry ingredients like flour, use the dry measuring cups that are level at the top (i.e. the type that would allow you to use the back of a butter knife to level). Spoon the dry ingredients into the measuring cup to ensure accurate measurement. Be sure not to pack the flour or you'll end up with too much of it, and don't shake your flour in the cup for the same reason. For wet ingredients, use wet measuring cups that have measurement lines on the side. Always view the cup at eye level; if you're standing up and looking down, you'll probably end up with too much.

3. Make sure your oven temperature is accurate.
If your oven temperature is off by even 25 degrees, your baked goods could burn or stay flat. Baked goods rise properly when the batter is at the correct heat, so you need to make sure your oven is calibrated correctly. To do this you'll need an oven thermometer. Here's a simple test: Set your oven to 350 degrees and place the thermometer in its center. Wait 10-15 minutes and then see if the thermometer reads 350 degrees. If it's below 350 degrees, wait another 5-10 minutes and check again. If it turns out that your oven is not calibrated correctly, you can either have the oven professionally recalibrated or you may be able to take the knob off and make a quick adjustment yourself. Barring this you could always remember how much your oven is off and set it to the needed temperature. For example, if it's 25 degrees cold, set it to 375 and know that it's really 350 degrees.

4. Use room-temperature ingredients.
If some of your ingredients are cold, such as margarine or maple syrup, they will affect the overall temperature of the batter. The result could be that some parts of the batter bake faster than others, or you may get improper blending. When you're planning to bake, set out the refrigerated items ahead of time and allow them to reach room temperature before you begin baking.

5. Blend with a light touch; don't over-mix.
Over-mixing your batter causes it to be tough because the proteins/gluten in your flour get over-developed, resulting in a gummy or tough outcome. Blend your batter until it just comes together so your cakes and muffins will be light and airy. Don't worry about lumps; they will work themselves out in the baking process.

6. Put your batter in the oven immediately.
As soon as you finish mixing your batter, put it in the oven immediately, because as soon as the wet ingredients merge with the dry ingredients, the leavening activates. You don't want all the leavening to occur out on the counter; rather, you want it to occur in the oven. This will help ensure that your muffins and cakes rise properly. Important note: Make sure your oven is preheated and ready to go as soon as your batter is ready.

7. Know your pans.
Most baking pans are either dark in color or they're lighter and shinier. Dark pans absorb more heat, so check your goodies 5-10 minutes before the directions suggest. Lighter pans reflect the heat and may need the full baking time or even a little longer. You still may want to check them earlier than recommended because you can always bake them longer, but once they're over-baked, you can't go back. Either type of pan is okay to use; just adjust baking times according to the type of pan you use.

8. Use parchment paper.
Parchment paper is a baker's best friend. You can buy it at most stores. My favorite is the unbleached parchment paper, found in natural food stores. Parchment paper is specially designed for use in your oven and won't burn. The benefits of using parchment paper are many. Line a cake pan with parchment paper and pour your batter right on top. When you flip your cake out onto a cooling rack, it will come out easily! Then just pull the paper off the finished cake. Place a sheet of parchment paper onto your cookie sheets and drop your cookie batter on the paper just as you would a bare pan. After baking, simply slide the paper off the pan and let the cookies cool on the counter. Parchment paper also saves wear and tear on your pans, keeping them in good condition longer. You can spray your cake pans with non-stick cooking spray and put the paper on top of that if you like, but it's usually not necessary.

9. Make cookies a uniform size.
So that your cookies bake evenly, endeavor to make your cookies a uniform size. This will prevent some cookies from being under-baked while others are burning. The best way to accomplish this is to use an ice cream scoop to portion the dough. Uniform size is also important for muffins.

10. Take cookies out of the oven before they look done.
Cookies continue to bake even after you take them out of the oven, so if you wait until they look done while still in the oven, they'll probably be over-baked by the time they have cooled. For chewy cookies, it's generally good to remove them from the oven a minute or two before they "look done." They'll firm up after they're out of the oven. If you're using parchment paper you can slide the cookies off the hot pan immediately so the bottoms of the cookies don't burn.

Follow the advice outlined above and soon you'll be a master baker! Say goodbye to gummy, soggy, over-baked, or dry vegan treats; say hello to light, airy, moist vegan baked goods that will have everyone raving!

Allison Rivers Samson is the President of Allison's Gourmet, an organic vegan online bakery. She has been baking vegan treats since 1989. She lives in Northern California.