Help yourself and others.
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In my contacts as a founder of the Vermont Vegetarian Society, I find that a big concern of people who either are vegans or are considering becoming vegans is what to do about family celebrations. The solution I propose is certainly not acceptable to all, but it has worked well for me. It is one way out of the dilemma.
You have adopted a vegan diet and are enjoying your kinder, gentler lifestyle. That is, until the day that little Janey comes home and announces that she wants a "real" cake for her birthday party with her fourth-grade friends. You and she have already settled on a memo of Tofu Pups, potato chips and apple cider. What to do about the cake?
You could take the absolutist position: "We don’t eat cakes in our house. They are unhealthy - too sweet, too much fat." The result? A crying child, who may forever associate vegetarianism with deprivation. You could offer to bake a "health-food" cake, full of whole wheat flour, tofu and molasses, maybe with dried fruits and nuts. Again, Janey cries. "The other kids will think it’s yukky! I want a real birthday cake." You reach for your Betty Crocker Cookbook. Is this an appropriate time to forget about vegan principles and get out the butter, eggs and milk?
If we are just talking nutrition, maybe yet. Dr. John McDougall (a vegetarian medical lecturer) assures us that it is eating royally three times a day which does us in, not the rare feast. However, the issue of animal exploitation is not so simple to resolve. Birthday or not, when we buy eggs and dairy products we are supporting the slaughter and suffering which inevitably accompany these animal industries. We do not give a good message to Janey if we ignore cruelty for our (and her) convenience and comfort.
There is another alternative. We can make a sweet, rich, unhealthy but real birthday cake using all vegan ingredients. I have made several of these cakes for family birthday celebrations. In every case, the cakes were enthusiastically eaten by militant non-vegetarians. None suspected the cakes were vegan until I told them.
If you had a favorite "butter cake" recipe in your pre-vegan days, you can probably adapt that. Standard chocolate cakes, yellow cakes, spice cakes and so forth lend themselves well to a vegan version.
The non-vegan ingredients in such cakes are usually butter, eggs and milk. White flour may be a nutritional loser, but it is not an animal product. White sugar is a close call. It is normally considered vegan, but actually it is often whitened in a process that uses animal bones. Try using other sweeteners such as rice syrup. Use vegan soy margarine in place of shortening or butter, soy milk in place of dairy, milk and Ener-G Egg Replacer (available in natural foods stores) for eggs.
If your recipe calls for buttermilk, just put one tablespoon of vinegar in your measuring cup and add soy milk as required. Mix the Ener-G Egg Replacer with water as directed on the box, according to the number of eggs in the cake recipe. If I am making a traditional cake, where the margarine and sugar are creamed first, I add the mixed Ener-G with the last addition of liquid (while adding the flour and liquid near the end of mixing.) IF the recipe is a Quick-Mix (not cake mix) cake, I add the Ener-G Egg Replacer whenever the recipe says to add the eggs. I usually bake a two-layer cake in 8-inch pans, in order to have higher layers. For frosting, I use a standard buttercream (confectioners sugar) recipe, substituting soy margarine and soy milk for the animal ingredients.
Doubtless, some will be horrified at the notion of serving such a nutritional disaster to one’s loved family and guests. We need to remember that no one course of action is perfect for everybody. If you have a family of committed vegetarians, everybody may actually prefer a healthy cake or no cake at all. If, however, you are dealing with a reluctant child (or grow-up child) to whom "birthday" means cake and "cake" means only one thing upholding your pristine principles may lead to resentment and anger. I find it life-affirming that I can produce and unmistakable real birthday cake without contributing to the exploitation of farm animals.
On the following page are two recipes I have used successfully. If you cannot tolerate using white flour, you could probably substitute whole wheat pastry flour for some of the white flour. I have not tried this, and so cannot guarantee the results.
SHORTENING OR BUTTER: Use soy margarine. Make sure there is no whey or other dairy product in the soy margarine.
DAIRY MILK: Try soy milk. This is available in your local health food store, food co-op, Asian store and some supermarkets.
EGGS: Use Ener-G Egg Replacer. If this binder is not available in your local health food store, write to Ener-G Foods, Box 84487, Seattle, WA 98124-5787 and ask for their mail-order catalog. (There may be other brands of egg replacer you may be like better.)
BUTTERMILK: Place 1 tablespoon of vinegar in your measuring cup and add soy milk as required.
FROSTING: You can use a sugarless apple butter.
SWEETNER: Because white sugar may be whitened using animal bones, some people may not want to use it. Try a sweet juice instead of water called for in the recipe. For an even sweeter taste, use juice concentrate in the mixture. Also, try rice syrup.
This sure to be a party pleaser!
Put vinegar in cup and add soy milk. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 round layer pans, 8" x 1-1/2", with Pam, or slightly oil and flour.
Place flour, cocoa, sweetner, baking soda, and salt in large bowl of electric mixer, and mix together well with spoon. Mix Ener-G Egg Replacer and 1/4 cup water until smooth. Add margarine, vanilla, soured soy milk, 1/2 cup water, and mixed egg replacer to dry ingredients in bowl. Beat with electric mixer for 3 minutes at medium speed, scraping bowl frequently. Pour into prepared pans.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes at 350 degrees, or until wooden toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on cake rack until cold Frost as desired.
Here’s a simple white cake recipe.
Spray two round 8" x 1-2/3" pans with Pam, or lightly oil and flour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. Mix Egg Replacer and 1/4 cup water and set aside. Mix soy milk and 1/2 cup water, and set aside.
In large bowl of electric mixer, beat soy margarine until it is creamy, about a minute. Gradually add sugar until well creamed. Beat in vanilla. Add mixed dry ingredients and mixed soy milk/water alternately to creamed margarine, sugar, and vanilla, beating after each addition. Begin and end with flour mixture. (Add flour in 4 steps, liquids in three.) Add mixed Ener-G along with the third addition of liquid. Turn evenly into pans.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, or until done (wooden pick inserted into cake comes out clean). Remove from oven and let cool on cake rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and let cool on rack until cold. Frost as desired.