Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vegan Baking As Cheaply and Easily As Humanly Possible

The Topic: Vegan baking for dunces on a budget with Editorial Assistant Hilary Pollack

The Dish: As a child, nothing mystified me more than watching my mother mix together a baffling concoction of powders and liquids in a giant bowl, pop gobs of the resulting batter in the oven, and reveal fresh chocolate-chip cookies in just a few minutes. Baking never gets stale, and making cookies, cakes, and brownies at home is beyond satisfying. Even better, it’s often less expensive—and tastier—than going store-bought, as vegan pastries are often attached to unsavory price tags. Working from scratch doesn’t have to mean bank-busting trips to the grocery store, and many traditional baking mixes can be veganized as well. A tray of fresh-from-the-oven muffins, cookies, or cupcakes is guaranteed to result in many pleases and thank-yous from bystanders, and doesn’t require loads of time or moolah. Filling your kitchen with the irresistible aroma of impending sweets alone warrants the effort.

Six Ingredient Wonders
If you’re baking from scratch, pick a recipe with a short ingredients list to avoid stress and waste. Whether for a friend’s birthday, an office party, or just a Tuesday afternoon, homemade cookies are always crowd-pleasers, and there are many recipes that only require a few things that are probably already in your pantry. When my wallet is barren but my resolve to bake is high, I stick to the six-ingredient rule, which dictates that whatever I’m making requires only six or fewer ingredients. Although this may sound challenging, it is oddly doable. For example, Super Easy Thumbprint Cookies require only vegan butter, sugar, vanilla, jam, and two kinds of flours, plus about 15 minutes of your precious time. As a bonus, their colorful fillings feign fanciness, so they make a sweet gift with the added value of looking time-intensive. VegWeb’s Best and Easiest Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies also have a mere six components, and resemble the childhood classics to a T. If you can’t be bothered with oven time, No-Bake Cookies are a delicious alternative that are so simple, you could make them in your sleep. Sleepwalkers beware, you might awaken face-first in a batch of these chocolaty delights. If you’re feeling ambitious and willing to go just one element beyond the six-ingredient rule, give these seven-ingredient blueberry muffins a whirl. Who can resist a warm blueberry muffin, spread with jam, agave, or melted Earth Balance? No one. That’s who.

(You Can't) Beat Box (Mixes)
Have no fear if you don’t have a knack for getting crafty, or if your funds are so limited that multiple ingredients stretch your budget; there is no shame in the boxed-mix game. Vegan baked-good mixes are plentiful and inexpensive, such as Wholesome Chow’s cake mixes, which will set you back a mere $4.50 and come in gourmet flavors like lavender and chai spice, in addition to classic chocolate and vanilla. Just add oil, nondairy milk, and vinegar. Or, try Cherrybrook Kitchen’s cake, cookie, and brownie mixes, which call for only margarine, oil, and water to make delicious vegan, nut-free, kosher creations. Surprisingly, Duncan Hines also has several vegan mixes, such as their Classic Yellow Cake Mix. As an amazing bonus, several of their frostings are vegan too. They even sport a recipe for vegan chocolate cupcakes on their website, decadently topped with their pre-made chocolate or mocha icing.

Sub Smarts
Learning to get down with substitutions is another crucial aspect of vegan baking. While the box or recipe may call for eggs, milk, or butter, cruelty-free replacements are available for virtually every need. Soymilk and almond milk are obvious choices for ditching cow’s milk, and bananas and applesauce are well-known as being great for replacing eggs. PETA recently released an Ultimate Vegan Baking Cheat Sheet that makes swapping ingredients a breeze, as it offers specific suggestions based on purpose. Even better, easy proxies may already be lurking in your fridge or cupboard. Looking for leavening? Puréed tofu is here to help. Want a denser texture for cakes or cookies? Instant mashed potatoes are a surprising egg-free way to achieve it. Once you’ve gotten the hang of vegan replacements, baking mixes that call for dairy are no longer a problem. 

The Final Word: Even if your bank account is sputtering and your baking talents are questionable, homemade or semi-homemade baked goods are not beyond your abilities or funds. Whether whipped up from scratch or out of a box, oven-fresh vegan cookies, brownies, cakes, and cupcakes are an easy and affordable way to treat yourself or your friends to a taste of cozy kitchen goodness.

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