New to vegan baking? There’s no need to toss out Nonna’s cookie recipes just yet!
Thousands of blogs on the internet specialize in vegan/plant-based recipes, and a simple search for a specific cookie with the word “vegan” will undoubtedly yield more than one reliable recipe. I only cook plant-based food these days, but I still follow tons of food publications and cooking blogs that post incredible recipes that are not vegan. The holiday season means many of those recipes are for baked goods and the recipes that usually call my name are for the ultimate holiday-time baked goods….COOKIES! I’m not here to convince you that cookies are the ultimate holiday treat of all time (they are) but to share my tips as a long-time baker with lots of experience in “veganizing” recipes. None of these tips are fool-proof, so remember that it’s just an experiment if you don’t get your desired result. Being a great baker takes practice, especially when you’re modifying recipes.
- Use vegan butter or margarine. Most cookie recipes start with creaming softened butter with sugar. Vegan butter instead of dairy butter is a simple swap and works just as well as regular butter (in my experience). I’ve said it before, and I will say it again… Miyoko’s Cultured European-style butter is by far my favorite plant-based butter available at the grocery store. But any vegan butter available to you will work! Remember that most plant-based butters are already salted, so adjust the amount of salt in the recipe accordingly. Also, take note that vegan butter typically softens at a lower temperature than regular butter and may even start to melt slightly, so let your butter soften in your mixing bowl and check it periodically. Coconut oil is also usually an acceptable substitute for fat in vegan baking. It’s not always a one-to-one swap, though — do some research and consider a recipe that calls for coconut oil specifically if you do want to use it.
- Substitute the eggs! Many cookie recipes call for eggs. Depending on the recipe, you can use either a flax egg (ground flax seed mixed with water turns into a gelatinous egg substitute for baking) or a commercial product like Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer. There are other options, but I have had the most success with flax eggs. I have used flax eggs with no issues in all kinds of cookies, from recipes loaded with mix-ins like oats or chocolate chips to simple cookies like sugar or gingersnaps. This substitute only works if the eggs are being used as a binder. For example, you will not be able to use flax eggs to make meringues (but vegan meringue recipes do exist!).
- Check the labels on your other ingredients. Not all chocolate chips/bars are vegan (even dark chocolate sometimes contains milk), but plenty are vegan — just read the package. Regular marshmallows contain gelatin, but vegan marshmallows are available at certain stores (I found mine at my local health food shop) or online. Some brands of sugar are processed with bone char, so look for one labeled vegan (most organic brands are).
- Be flexible! My new favorite cookie recipe is based on Bon Appetit’s Brown Butter Toffee Cookies. I was drawn in by the brown butter (Miyoko’s butter does brown!) and the fact that this recipe went viral when it was originally shared a few years ago. The recipe calls for chopped toffee bars (which sounds dreamy!), but a vegan version of toffee isn’t widely available, so I substituted an equal weight of toasted chopped pecans. The nuts add a little complexity and earthy sweetness, and they work so perfectly in the cookie that I will probably never attempt to recreate the toffee version. It may not be the cookie that the recipe author intended, but it is now my favorite cookie, and I never would have discovered it if I weren’t willing to make some substitutions. If you’re trying to recreate your Grandma’s toffee chip cookies, you could always go the extra step and make your own vegan toffee!
- Have fun with your baking experiments! Don’t be devastated if your family’s cookie recipe doesn’t turn out just the way you remember. I have shared tried-and-true recipes with friends that just didn’t work for them for whatever reason — baking is both a science and an art, and there are a lot of factors when it comes to evaluating a “failed” baking experiment, especially when making substitutions. Fortunately, unless you burned your cookies, the end result will still be delicious. Happy baking!
Angie Carson is a writer specializing in fermentation, craft beer, cannabis, and food (especially vegetables). @grisettemenot // www.grisettemenot.com