Imagine baking a cake without eggs. Cookies without butter. Bread without milk. These simple ingredients add taste and texture, give shape, add color, and help browning to occur. But for those committed to a vegan or vegetarian diet, the traditional baked good can easily become a culinary conundrum.
Does this mean those scrumptious and beautifully-crafted, artisan and signature desserts and breads are only for carnivorous customers? Absolutely not.
"There is no reason not to indulge vegetarian and vegan students, however there are concerns to be aware of when baking for these customers," says Dorothy Flowers, general manager at the University of Oklahoma, where a vegetarian station offers both vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
The recipes take some tinkering, but as Flowers and her OU baking team discovered, vegetarian and vegan baked items can be as well received as the products derived from more traditional baking methods.
"When you remove animal products like butter and eggs from baked goods, there is always the worry that the product will turn out bland, colorless and rock hard," says David Annis, executive director of foodservices at OU. "Dorothy has done a fantastic job working with her team and the students to adjust the recipes so they taste and look delicious."
The vegan baked items offered at OU's Vegetation Station—the selfservice vegetarian concept within the university's central residential dining facility—feature, among other things, brownies, coconut pudding, chocolate cake, biscuits, peach cobbler, white cake, banana cake, apple cobbler and different types of cookies. The key is variety.
"We try to provide a great deal of variety both for our vegan customers as well as our non-vegan customers," says Flowers. "When the vegetarian concept opened two years ago, we discovered a special need for vegan baked goods. We started with one standard white cake. Using this basic recipe as a foundation, we experimented with different flavors and add-ins. The students recognized our efforts and were really appreciative.
"I also did a lot of online research to find different recipes and educate myself about the types of foods and ingredients that are and are not a part of the vegan diet," says Flowers. "From soups to desserts, I was able to find all sorts of recipes for each daypart and expand our menu offerings within this particular concept."
Experimenting with what tastes good is Flowers philosophy, be it through in-house recipes or student suggestions. And, according to Annis, she's right on track.
"Until we opened Vegetation Station, vegan and vegetarian students had to fend for themselves. These students were truly grateful when we began making food specifically within the bounds of their diets," says Annis.
But why stop there?
Gluten Free Foods
"We also knew of at least two students with celiac disease (also know as gluten intolerance), and we wanted to make dining for those customers as easy and 'normal' as possible with a lot of variety," says Flowers. "We started offering gluten-free foods and found a number of other students also had been looking for these types of products. Once the concern was raised, we reacted."
Beyond satisfying customer demand, it's important to pay extra attention to the products that come from vendors, according to Flowers.
"If product compositions change, we must be made aware of those changes or we could risk the health and/or beliefs of our students unknowingly. For example, we were purchasinga gravy mix, and the vendor changed some of the product's ingredients without notifying us. One of our staff members was checking the labels and, thankfully, identified the change before we served the gravy."
HOW TO: Bake without Eggs, Milk or Butter
Hold the Egg
Silken Tofu, with it's silky smooth texture, is available in soft, regular and firm styles. Try 1/4 cup blended silken tofu to replace one egg. Blend until completely smooth and creamy, add another wet ingredient, such as vacuum-packed extra firm silken tofu, for best results. Best used in dense cakes and brownies and in smaller quantities for lighter cakes and fluffy things (if the recipe calls for 3 eggs, only use 2 "tofu" eggs). Whizzed tofu leaves virtually no taste, and can be an excellent replacement in cake recipes. In cookie recipes, add 1 tsp. of starch to combat "cake-y" cookies.
Bananas work wonders as an egg replacement in baking. Try 1/2 banana blended until smooth or mashed well as to one egg. Bananas hold the air well— similar to egg whites—make things moist, and impart a nice flavor. Best used in quick breads, muffins, cakes and pancakes.
Soy Yogurt is similar to whizzed tofu as an egg stand-in. Try 1/4 cup soy yogurt for one egg to create baked goods, like quick breads, muffins and cakes, moist and delicious.
Sans du Lait
Smooth, like Butter...