VJ's 2007 Winning Student Essay


By Jennifer Thornburg, 18 yrs, North Carolina

When I was younger, I always wanted to help my mom bake in the kitchen. Together, we made "secret family recipes" and not-so-secret recipes, such as chocolate chip cookies. What I enjoy the most about baking is watching all of the ingredients come together to form a tasty treat; ingredients that you wouldn't eat alone are transformed into elegant desserts when combined.

When I went vegan, I thought that I was giving up the joy of baking. In fact, this was one of the hardest parts about transitioning to a vegan diet - saying no to my mom's cheesecake, Christmas cookies, apple pie, peach cobbler, pound cake, homemade bread, pizza crust, and so many other special treats. It didn't take me long to start experimenting with vegan ingredients and trying to make similar pastries. I would stand in the kitchen next to my mom and cut in my cheap vegan margarine while she cut in butter, and together we would compare our mixtures in an attempt to make the best pastry. Time and time again, I failed to produce an edible result. I nearly gave up (and probably would have) if it wasn't for muffins. Muffins just worked for me. They were fast, easy, and could be eaten for breakfast; but besides all of that, they always came out.

Re-enegized by the muffins, I signed up for Culinary Arts at my high school. By this time, I was more familiar with vegan substitutions for dairy and eggs. As I learned the art of making non-vegan baked goods at school, I would feel confident enough to go home and attempt the same food with my vegan ingredients. Slowly, I moved away from muffins and into many of the foods that I missed.

There are a few important facts of vegan baking that make a huge difference. The most important, in my opinion, is a good recipe. If you are using the wrong recipe, your food isn't going to come out in a way that you would be proud to share with friends. First of all, check out vegan cookbooks and search for vegan recipes online. Compare these recipes with the "real thing" to see how they match up. If you're making chocolate chip cookies, for example, the recipe should basically be the same; however, for more complicated pastries, such as cheesecake, stick to a vegan recipe that uses firm tofu and non-dairy cream cheese. For many of your easy, less elegant baked goods, you can take any recipe and switch out the non-vegan ingredients with vegan ones, such as soymilk instead of cow's milk.

The second most important factor of vegan baking is the ingredients you use. For example, I find it more helpful to use soymilk than rice or almond milk while baking heavy foods; soymilk gives your finished product a full texture, instead of leaving it crumbly and bland. On the other hand, if you are wanting something that feels light, rice milk is ideal. On the same note, the egg substitute tha tyou use is also very important. I personally prefer Ener-G egg replacer for most of my baked goods. You can also use 2 Tablespoons of flaxssed and 3 Tablespoons of water, ½ of a banana, 3 Tablespoons of applesauce, or ¼ cup of silken tofu for each egg that a recipe calls for. When not using Ener-G egg replacer or a banana, keep in mind that your food will not have the same form; for this reason, I recommend only using Ener-G egg recplacer and bananas in recipes such as cakes. When using Earth Balance or a different vegan margarine, find one that is not watery.

Another factor to keep in mind is not only for vegan baking, and it is the trial-and-error factor. If you want to bring baked goods to a potluck, party, family function, etc., make it for yourself first. If it comes out well, make it for the event. Don't give up if your first attempt doesn't come out right! See if you can pinpoint why: in my opinion, the most common reasons for a failed pastry are a bad recipe or bad ingredients. You may need to find a new recipe, or just experiment with the old one.

Being vegan doesn't mean that you don't have to give up all your favorite baked goods! Apply what you already know about bakng to what you know about different vegan ingredients! Your layering, mixing, blending, crushing, baking, steaming, and so forth can result in an extraordinary product that leaves you and the vegan-phobic people in your life excited and accepting of vegan food. So, what are you waiting for? Get going!