In the kitchen, my role has always tended to be chef rather than baker. The whole "measuring ingredients" thing was always way less my forte than licking the spoon to see which spices the dish needs more of. That said, when I heard Fort Lauderdale vegan mecca Sublime was having a "Vegan Baking 101" class, I signed right up, hoping to get inspired to start actually making the amazing vegan dessert recipes I keep coming across.
Sublime's head pastry chef, David Kalas, led about 30 (mostly female) folks interested in learning new ways to bake animal-byproduct-free and the many ways you can replace the role of an egg in traditional baking. Baking, as it's been said, is a science, and clearly the eggs are there for a textural/binding purpose as opposed to being eggy-tasting.
The handy fact sheet they gave out lists soy milk with a touch of apple cider vinegar (or soy yogurt), ground flaxseed, silken tofu, puréed banana, and the renowned Ener-G Egg Replacer (made from potato starch) as more than suitable vegan and therefore cholesterol-free substitutes for eggs. Which one you use depends on what you're making -- flaxseed has a subtle "woodsy" taste so is fine in pancakes and muffins; meanwhile, you wouldn't want to use banana in anything you don't want to taste like banana.
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Replacing the milk part in the recipes is easy-peasy because you can just use your favorite non-dairy milk -- soy, almond, rice, coconut, hazelnut, cashew, hemp -- all of which seem to be gaining popularity and becoming more readily available. For the butter, simply swap it for Earth Balance, one of the best products of all time.
In the baking demo, Kalas showed us how to re-create one of the butteriest, least-vegan-seeming desserts possible -- traditional English scones with currants. In this recipe, he used the Ener-G Egg Replacer, soy milk, and Earth Balance to replace the eggs, cow's milk, and dairy butter. Once his scone mixture was cut into triangles, Sublime staff brought trays of oven-fresh scones he'd prepared earlier, and served them to us with organic coffee and soy creamer. It was one of the best scones I've ever had in my life. I honestly didn't even think I really liked scones that much because I'd found them to be dense and boring, but these were warm, flaky, and delicious.
Kalas, a Philly native and a vegan himself, started off training to be a chef at the Cordon Bleu. However, midway through the course (which includes stuffing sausages into intestinal casings, dissecting all sorts of creatures, and "hacking things"), the whole process grossed him out to the point that he became a vegetarian and shifted his concentration to baking and the pastry arts. He told me the most pleasant surprise of vegan baking is that not only can you make desserts that equal the taste of their traditional counterparts, but also you can make them better. One taste of Sublime's sumptuously rich desserts will handily attest to that.
P.S.: After the workshop, I told my friend about the class, and she asked, "But this Egg Replacer stuff, it's expensive, right?" Actually, one box costs $5.99 at your local health food shop and is the equivalent of 113 eggs, not to mention the fact that it can hang out in your pantry for ages without turning into rotten eggs.