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New cookbook’s a boon to vegans

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CONCORD, N.H. — The challenge of baking without butter, milk and other animal products is the number of substitutions needed.

By the time vegan bakers finish replacing the eggs, butter, cream and who knows what else, they often have thrown off the delicate chemistry needed to whip up wonderful baked goods.

Something as simple as a vanilla pan cake can turn dry, flat and crumbly if the required amounts of fat and liquid aren't precisely replicated.

That doesn't begin to account for the many ways ingredients such as rice or soy milk and butter and yogurt substitutes can react and bake differently than their dairy counterparts.

However, in her recent cookbook, "My Most Favorite Dessert Company Cookbook," (HarperCollins, 2001, $30) New York baker Doris Schechter accounts for those differences and takes the difficult science out of substitutions.

For Schechter, whose book is named after her New York bakery, the motivation was easy — she's Jewish and wanted to enjoy rich, tasty desserts while still adhering to a Kosher diet.

Schechter's recipes are pareve, which by Kosher law can contain no dairy products or meat — but they can contain eggs.

Such is the case with most of Schechter's recipes. Still, as substitutions go in baked goods, this is an easy fix for those who want their desserts free of animal products.

"I wanted to prove to myself that pareve baking could be delicious and elegant," she writes in her book. "So I set about adapting recipes and testing them."

It paid off. The beauty of Schechter's book is that it leaves vegan cooks with only one substitution to make, rather than the usual three or four needed to convert conventional recipes.

And eggs are easy to replace. Many natural food stores carry powdered egg replacers, which are vegan substitutes made mostly of potato starch and tapioca powder.

These powders bake well but aren't appropriate for anything where eggs play starring roles, such as meringues. They are wonderful in Schechter's marble loaf cake.

Alternatively, try making a substitute from flax seeds and water. Grind 1/3 cup of seeds with 1 cup of water in a blender. Substitute 1 tablespoon of the mixture for each egg in baked goods.


Preparation 10 minutes, baking 1 hour

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup soy milk

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted margarine, at room temperature (soy margarine works well)

1 cup sugar

3 eggs, or egg substitute

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil the bottom and sides of a 9-inch loaf pan. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and set it in. Do not oil the paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a small glass, stir together the vanilla extract and the soy milk.

With an electric mixer, cream together the margarine and sugar on medium speed until light. The soy margarine may not cream smoothly at this stage but will mix well later.

Add the eggs or egg substitutes one at a time, beating the batter between each. Slow the mixer and alternate slowly adding the flour and soy milk mixtures to the margarine.

Once all ingredients are combined, beat the batter until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Spoon the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Pour the warm chocolate over the cake batter and use a spatula to swirl it thoroughly through the batter.

Bake the loaf for 1 hour, or until a cake tester, knife or toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Makes 8 to 10 servings. Recipe is from "My Most Favorite Dessert Company Cookbook," by Doris Schechter, HarperCollins, 2001, $30.