I love baking: making your house smell like home, creating edible art and enjoying the simple pleasure of homemade cakes, cookies and breads. But if you are worried about baking for dairy-free or vegan friends or working to make some healthy changes in your diet, fear not. Vegan baking is not only healthier, cheaper and easy, it's infinitely more delicious than the old-fashioned butter and eggs way. Here are five healthy swaps you can make for your baking.
- Coconut Oil: Truly, the most delicious and arguably most nutritious oil to use for all your cooking and baking (heck, I actually use it as my only moisturizer on my skin too). Choose an organic, virgin coconut oil that is processed naturally (not with hexane). Any natural foods store should have a wide variety. I've tried them all: Nutiva, Dr. Bronner, Spectrum, Whole Foods 365 and Artisana, and they are all equally great. Choose the unrefined variety for a rich, coconutty flavor; if you don't love hint o' coconut in all your baked goods, Spectrum makes a refined version with no coconut scent. Coconut oil, a saturated fat, is naturally solid at temperatures below about 75º, which is why it always comes in stout jars and not tall bottles. To warm, submerge jar in a bowl of warm tap water until it melts. Coconut oil can go from solid to liquid and back a million times and not get weird, so don't worry about that. How to Use it: Coconut oil can replace butter or oil in any recipe. Use a liquid coconut oil when a recipe calls for canola, soybean or (eek) vegetable oil. Use solid in any recipe that calls for cold butter, like a pie crust. You can also use coconut oil, which has a medium-high smoke point, for light saute of veggies and other foods. Sample Recipes: Chocolate Coconut Macaroons, Banana Date Cakes, Hemp Protein Bars, and Strawberry Macadamia Nut Scones.
- Flaxseeds: Teeny flaxseeds really give you a lot of bang for your buck. They are super cheap (find them in the bulk section of your natural foods stores) and they have good dose of fiber, healthy fats and protein that helps our bodies stay healthy. So it's just a bonus that flaxseeds are an excellent egg replacer. Flaxseeds have natural mucilaginous properties that help bind your cookies, quick breads and more. How to use: Brown and golden flaxseeds are similar nutritionally, though I find the golden flax have a milder flavor. You can eat flaxseeds whole on oatmeal, blended into smoothies or sprinkled onto your salads, but they actually need to be ground for us to take advantage of those health benefits. You can purchase already ground flaxseeds or buy the seeds whole and grind in your coffee grinder. Keep ground flax in the freezer to keep it fresh. To use for baking, you can substitute 1 egg with 1 Tablespoon ground flaxseeds mixed with 3 Tablespoons water. Whisk and set aside until it gels, then proceed with recipe as directed. Flaxseeds do not leaven (rise) the baked good, so it works best for cookies, banana breads and muffins. Sample Recipes: Divine Oatmeal Cookies, Chocolate Peppermint Cookies, and Almond Butter Cookies.
- Coconut Sugar: Created from natural coconut sap, coconut sugar has a deep brown color and rich caramel flavor. It's often called palm sugar, and is granulated like a sucanat. Allegedly it's a low-glycemic sweetener (which means it won't spike your blood sugar too much), but it is still a sugar so use with discretion and in moderation. Choose an organic brand to ensure there are not any chemicals or pesticides on your coconuts. How to use: You can use this any way you would use regular sugar: in your coffee or herbal coffee, in baked goods and for sauces. It's dark color may affect some baking, so do keep that in mind.
(If you are looking for more healthy baking swaps, check out this vegan baking cheat sheet from PETA. )
Coconut Banana Muffins
2 cups whole spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 cup mashed bananas
2 Tablespoons ground flaxseeds
¼ cup plant-based milk + 2 Tablespoons more
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup coconut sugar
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
½ cup toasted coconut flakes
⅓ cup coconut flakes
- Preheat oven to 350º and grease muffin pan with coconut oil.
- Mix spelt flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl.
- Peel and roughly chop the bananas; to measure the bananas gently mash with a fork into the measuring cup to make 1 cup. Add bananas, flaxseeds, milk, oil, sugar and vinegar to food processor and blend until smooth.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined. Stir in ½ cup coconut flakes.
- Fill muffin liners almost full with batter. Gently sprinkle with extra coconut flakes and sugar. Bake for 23-25 minutes. Let cool slightly in pan, then remove from pan and move to cooling racks.