New Recipe: Vegan Baking Tips for Substituting Ingredients and Veganizing Recipes

In 2021, “plant-based” food is hip, smart, and socially responsible, and it’s possible to find not only a really good vegan croissant, but a copycat Levain Bakery cookie. I’m thrilled. But back in 2009, when I first went from vegetarian to vegan, there was little to look forward to in the way of baked goods. I didn’t miss the meat or the mozz, I missed birthday cake, my grandmother’s butter tarts, and banana cream pie.

Out of necessity, I rolled up my sleeves, put on an apron, and started to bake, nearly once a week for the past 12 years. My guides were Veganomicon, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and pretty much everything else Isa Chandra Moskowitz published, too. I followed recipes obsessively, never swapping and never substituting. And I learned—a lot.

Fast forward to today, when I can’t even remember the last time I baked from a vegan recipe. I’m always riffing to make baked goods that suit my tastes, what I have in the pantry, and the season. I feel empowered to take snacking cakes, scones, cookies, loaves, bars, and muffins that weren’t intended to be vegan and customize them to what I’m craving.

While tweaking a recipe takes more understanding and knowledge of the baking process than following it exactly, it also gives you the confidence to dig in and experiment—and it opens up a whole range of non-vegan recipes that you vegan-ize. Maybe after a year of being at home, baking your way through the pages of Bon App, you’re looking for a new challenge?

With the seven steps below, which take you through how to veganize a non-vegan baking recipe, every cookbook and internet archive is your baking oyster and you won’t be relegated to the “vegan” section any longer.

1. Choose a recipe carefully.

This is the most important part. If a recipe calls for 8 eggs or 12 egg whites, things like flourless chocolate cake or angel food, it’s an uphill and likely unsuccessful battle. Angel food is my white whale. If anyone has figured it out, let me know. The same goes for baked goods that rely heavily on butter for their flavor and/or structure: Think flaky pie crust or those glistening laminated croissants. They’re not impossible to veganize—but they’re probably not where you should start. Begin here instead, with these baked goods that all take well to substitutions:

  • Cakes (the cupcake was my gateway, but a snacking cakes, like this or this are great places to start)
  • Muffins
  • Brownies
  • Loaves and quick breads (pumpkin, lemon, banana)
  • Cinnamon rolls or morning buns
  • Many cookies (shortbread, anything with oats or a lot of textured adds-in like nuts, seeds, etc.)
  • Scones

2. Embrace the different!

After choosing a recipe carefully, this is the second most important thing. Almost all of the ingredients I mention in the following points have flavors that aren’t the same as butter, milk, eggs, or refined white sugar. And that’s okay! Lean into it. I’ve never been able to make the quintessential Toll House chocolate chip cookies to my satisfaction—and believe me, I have tried. There is something about the taste and melting point of dairy butter in combination with the pliability of an egg that I don’t think can be replicated—but who cares?! I can make a killer shortbread, chocolate crinkle, and many sorts of nutty, oaty, chocolatey combinations.

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