6 Must-Have Ingredients for Fabulous Vegan Baking

CC BY 2.0. veganbaking -- Chocolate coconut cookies

Who needs butter, milk, and eggs?

Going vegan in everyday meals is one thing, but learning how to bake without milk, eggs, and butter is another challenge altogether. Thanks to the clever folks at America's Test Kitchen, their detail-oriented "Vegan for Everybody" cookbook delves into the realm of vegan home baking and proves that it's not impossible. Once you grasp a few basic concepts, you'll be whipping up baked goods that rival, or even surpass, their traditional counterparts. It all starts with a few key ingredients.

1. Coconut oil

Think of coconut oil as vegan butter. Both are saturated fats that stay solid at room temperature, making them highly versatile. The cookbook authors write:

"Unlike butter, which is about 16 to 18 percent water, coconut oil is 100 percent fat; it lubricates the flour granules with fat, limited gluten development, which occurs when flour meets liquid and which makes baked goods chewy. That means fluffy, not ready, biscuits and tender pie crust."

2. Organic sugar

This might come as a surprise: conventional sugar cane sugar is often not vegan because of the animal bone char through which it is sometimes processed and bleached. The only way to be safe is to buy organic sugar, which is never processed this way. Sometimes organic sugars have a coarser consistency than regular sugar, but this doesn't usually have any effect on baked goods. If you're concerned, you can always give it a whirl in a blender.

3. Oat milk

All plant-based milks can be used in baked goods, but, according to the ATK authors, oat milk is the absolute best. This is because it has a high sugar content, which allows it to brown nicely when baked. It also adds a subtle sweet taste, as cow's milk does.

"Without the milk proteins from dairy, vegan baked goods, even when baked to the upper time range, can be pale -- even white. Coconut milk tended to make pale, bland-tasting cakes."

4. Aquafaba

aquafaba meringues

© America's Test Kitchen -- Making meringues with aquafaba (canned chickpea liquid)

You're forgiven for never having heard of aquafaba before. This under-appreciated ingredient is the thick starchy liquid in a can of chickpeas, that syrupy stuff that most of us pour into the sink without thinking. Aquafaba is an amazing egg substitute. It can be whipped like an egg white and will hold a stiff, fluffy foam when beaten with cream of tartar.

5. Vegan chocolate

If chocolate contains milk or non-organic sugar, that means it's not vegan, so be sure to read the ingredient list carefully. Unsweetened chocolate is almost always vegan, but chocolate chips can contain milk fat. Look for dairy-free, organic, or vegan labels.

6. Lemon juice

Usually buttermilk is used in baked goods to boost baking soda's ability to leaven and tenderize, but that's not an option for vegan bakers. The best substitute is lemon juice, which is 10x more acidic than vinegar. Because of this, it does a great job at mimicking buttermilk's abilities, helping your cakes to rise and biscuits to be fluffy.