Vegan, gluten free baking: The proof is in the pudding

Sharing desserts with family and friends is a treat to love and cherish. But these days, more and more people are avoiding longtime staple baking ingredients such as wheat flour, butter, and eggs. Fortunately, your favourite sweets can be just as delicious without them. Sceptical? Our easy tricks and recipes will convince you.  Story and recipes by Robin Asbell

gluten free pecan pie
Look delicious, doesn't it?

 

Vegan, Gluten Free baking

Baking gluten free, vegan goodies is so much easier than you’d imagine. Try these tips plus a delicious recipe.

Animal-friendly sweeteners
Strict vegans often avoid white sugar because it’s filtered through cow-bone charcoal. However, raw sugars aren’t filtered that way and are considered vegan. Instead of honey, which vegans leave to the bees, you can use agave, maple syrup, or a fruit-based honey replacement. Naturally gluten free.

Replacing eggs
To bake without eggs, you need to replace the binding power of egg whites. Use binders made from ground flaxseeds or starches, such as arrowroot, potato starch, or tapioca – all are naturally gluten free. To replace 1 egg, whisk 1 tablespoon of finely ground flaxseeds with 1/4 cup water. Or whisk together 1 teaspoon arrowroot, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon guar gum, and 3 tablespoons water. A shop-bought egg-replacer powder combines a few starches with some leavening. For moisture and body, use a purée of banana, pumpkin, or tofu. Silken-tofu purée is great in cheesecakes and can replace half the fat in biscuits and muffins.

Pantry staples
Vegan sugar, ground flaxseeds, maple syrup, egg replacer, pumpkin purée, silken tofu, raw cashews.

Flours
Most supermarkets now carry at least a few gluten free flour blends. They typically contain four kinds of flours, including starches like potato or tapioca to help bind and tenderise. If you are trying to go low-carb, seek out nut- or bean-based blends, which are generally higher in protein, fibre, and other nutrients; use them in recipes with chocolate, spices, or other strong flavours that mask the flour’s slight beany notes. For lightly flavoured cakes, such as angel food, choose a mild-flavoured blend with white-rice flour at the top of the ingredients list. Single flours like almond, coconut, and quinoa work well, too, but be sure to add a binder.

Binders
When baking without wheat, you need to add a binding ingredient to recreate the gluten-based structure that forms when wheat flour is mixed with liquid and that serves to hold ingredients together. Otherwise, your goodie will fall flat or crumble. Replace 1/4 cup liquid with one egg. For a vegan alternative, mix 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds with 1/4 cup water in place of one egg, or try xanthan or guar gum, powdered binding ingredients sold at health food shops. For bread, use 1 teaspoon of gum per cup of flour; for cakes and biscuits, it’s just half a teaspoon; any more and they turn out rubbery.

Pantry staples
Gluten free flour blend, eggs or flaxseeds, xanthan and guar gums

Vegetable oils
Replace butter with liquid plant-based oil rather than using margarine, which contains processed or partially hydrogenated oils. It’s an easy swap in buttery biscuit recipes: Just use 1o tablespoons oil for each cup of butter. Choose a heart-healthy option like extra-virgin olive oil (rest assured, the grassy flavour bakes off), or walnut or canola oil. For flaky results in pastries, such as pie crusts, scones, and biscuits, chill the oil first and drizzle it into the flour slowly, then quickly add any remaining liquid and shape the pastry. Or replace butter in pastries with equal parts chilled and solidified coconut oil. To use, simply grate oil into flakes and toss with the flour. Try raw-nut purées or nut butters to add richness in baked goods: Replace half the fats with peanut or almond butter in granola bars, cookies, and cakes.

Creaminess
Replace milk or cream with non-dairy milks; almond and coconut are the most neutral tasting and have good body for baking fluffy cakes and muffins. Higher-fat canned coconut milk is more like cream, great for ganache or ice cream. To make “whipped cream,” chill a can of coconut milk overnight. Pour off watery liquid and scoop solid cream into a chilled bowl. Add 1–2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar and whip until fluffy. Chill until ready to serve. For a stand-in for cream cheese or sour cream, make cashew cream: Soak 2 cups raw cashews overnight, drain, then purée in a food processor, gradually adding water until creamy. This yields 2 1/2 cups thick or 3 1/2 cups “pourable” cream. Sweeten with agave or maple syrup.

Pantry staples
Olive or canola oil, non-dairy milk, canned coconut milk

 

Vegan maple-pecan pie

Serves 12

Cashew cream combined with a hint of apple and cinnamon creates a luscious filling perfect for tasty treats. A maple-pecan topping adds a sweet crunch. 

3 Tbsp. refined coconut oil, plus extra for greasing

225 g. sweet biscuits

1 cup maple syrup, divided

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 1/2 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight and drained

1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

3/4 cup raw cane sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbsp. arrowroot

1 tsp. vanilla

1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Heat oven to 175°C. Grease a 25-cm springform pan with oil. In a food processor, grind biscuits to fine crumbs. Drizzle in ¼ cup syrup and 3 tablespoons oil; add cinnamon, and process to mix. Sprinkle crumb mixture into pan. With damp fingers, press firmly into pan, leaving slightly thicker edges. Bake, 10 minutes. Let cool.

In a food processor, grind cashews until they form a thick paste. Gradually add almond milk, processing until smooth and creamy. Add sugar, applesauce, lemon juice, arrowroot, vanilla, and a pinch of salt, and process to mix. Spoon cashew mixture into crust, spreading it smoothly. Bake 30 minutes.

In a saucepan, bring remaining ¾ cup syrup to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, stirring frequently, 5 minutes. Arrange pecans on top of pie in concentric circles to cover the surface. Drizzle hot syrup neatly over nuts.

Bake until pie is slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean, 20 minutes. Let cool on a rack, then refrigerate to chill. Serve cold.

NUTRITIONAL INFO 65 calories per serving, 25 g fat (6 g saturated), 56 g carbs,
3 g fibre, 7 g protein, 161 mg sodium

Robin Asbell is a chef and author of eight cookbooks, including Sweet & Easy Vegan.