Fall is here, which means the holidays are right around the corner. This has a lot of people wondering how they can enjoy their usual holiday treats in a whole food, plant-based way. I’m someone who believes a little treat here or there is perfectly fine, provided you do it the right way. At home, I make an effort to regularly bake some goodies for my girls. This way they don’t feel left out at school while all their friends have sweet treats in their lunches, and I don’t have to worry about what all those processed foods are doing to their little bodies. Win-win!
I know some people miss their old favourites. So, today I’ve got a guide to help you convert your traditional recipes into WFPB treats! We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get our plant-based baking on!
Respect the Recipe (To an Extent)
When you’re trying to convert a recipe, there are certain things you need to respect in order to maintain the texture of the dish you’re about to make. The type of sweetener is one of them. If you’re recipe calls for dry sugar, you’re going to want to sub with a dry sweetener (examples later in this post). If it calls for wet sweetener, you’re going to stick to a wet sweetener.
You’re also going to want to sub your fat in the same way the recipe describes. For example, if the recipe says to cream butter with sugar and you just throw some applesauce in there, chances are good the recipe is not going to turn out the way you intended. Instead, you’re going to use a thicker fat substitute, and you’re going to cream it with the dry sweetener as the recipe says. Don’t worry, I’ve got both butter and oil subs for you later in this post.
Let’s Get Converting!
Here are some healthier plant-based alternatives that you can substitute for common baking ingredients.
Use Quality Bases
Here’s something you can do quickly that will automatically make your baked goods healthier. Walk over to your pantry, find the white or all-purpose flour, and toss it in the trash. Seriously, there is nothing for you in that heavily refined flour.
Instead, you can use a better-quality base for your baked goods. Whole wheat flour is a great start. You can also use things like rolled oats, or oat flour. Oat flour is quick and easy to make if you can’t find it in the store. In fact, you can check out this post where I show you how.
You can also find some other flour options at health food stores, bulk food stores or well-stocked grocery stores. Flours made from other grains like spelt flour, brown rice flour, quinoa flour, buckwheat flour and more. You can also get things like sprouted grain flours or even some with milled lentils mixed in for some extra nutrition. (You don’t taste it, I promise).
There will be some instances where you need something a little more delicate than whole wheat or oat flour. For those cases, you can use whole wheat pastry flour. It’s milled longer so it’s a finer flour.
See? No need for that all-purpose stuff.
Thankfully, there are tons of these on the market available in just about every grocery store around. Nowadays you’ll find things like rice milk, almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, hemp milk, cashew milk, coconut milk and more. Some are sweeter than others, some are flavoured, and some have more fat, so there’s an option to match just about anything you’re looking for.
If your recipe calls for cream, you’ll want to use a higher fat plant milk like cashew milk. If it just calls for regular milk, you can use one of the other options available. I tend to use almond milk for most things, or soy milk if I’m making something that needs to be nut-free.
Even buttermilk can be made from plant milk with some added acid. So, use an almond or soy milk, add in some lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and let stand for a few minutes. A ratio of one tablespoon acid to one cup of non-dairy milk works well.
Just because you are avoiding refined sugars does not mean you can’t have baked goods now and then. There are many options you can use to replace white sugar and corn syrup in your recipes. Fruits do a great job of adding sweetness to your dessert, while also providing some fibre to offset any big sugar spikes. Fruits like dates, ripe bananas, mangoes or berries can add a beautiful sweet flavour to your desserts.
Dry sugars like coconut sugar or date sugar are a good substitute as they are less processed and still contain some nutrients found in the fruit they came from. Coconut sugar has a flavour similar to brown sugar, so it works well as a substitute for that. Date sugar works as a sub for most dry sugars called for in your recipes, but it does tend to thicken a little in a wet batter, so you may need to compensate with an extra tablespoon or two of liquid.
If your recipe calls for a wet sugar like corn syrup, you’re going to want to substitute with something like maple syrup or date syrup. Again, these are less refined and processed than the concentrated sweeteners dreamed up in a lab and made with 100% natural ingredients. Just check the label to ensure that the brand you’re using doesn’t add any unnecessary ingredients.
There are lots of quick and easy substitutes for eggs in baked goods (amounts are equivalent to 1 egg), like:
- Half a banana, mashed
- ¼ cup applesauce or fruit puree
- ¼ cup soft or silken tofu
- Flax egg – Mix 1 tablespoon of ground flax meal (just ground up flax seeds) with 2.5-3 tablespoons of water. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to thicken.
- Chia egg – Similar to the flax egg, mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit 10-15 minutes to thicken.
- 3 Tbsp of aquafaba – Aquafaba is the liquid leftover in a can of chickpeas. You can use the cooking liquid from chickpeas as well, but it will need to be reduced down if it isn’t thick enough. Aquafaba behaves a lot like egg whites, so they can be whipped into a nice meringue as well.
The nice thing about WFPB substitutes for fat is that they are coming from whole food sources. This means they still contain those protective plant properties rather than causing inflammation and stiffening of the arteries. If you’re wondering why you would need a substitute for oil, check out this post and then read on.
As I mentioned before, when substituting fats in your baked goods, you’ll want to pay attention to the consistency of the fat you’re substituting. To make it easy, I’ve divided this section up into butter alternatives and oil alternatives.
- Nut butter – Like peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, etc. Used in a 1:1 ratio. These are a good option in baked goods like cookies, where you need some fat to get that pleasing texture.
- Banana – Use under-ripe (very yellow) bananas, mashed, as a sub for butter. Use a 1:1 ratio
- Beans – Use mashed beans as a great low-fat option. This will result in a dense, cake-like texture. Use a 1:1 ratio
- Avocado – Mashed. Use a 1:1 ratio
- Apple sauce – Or fruit puree. Adds moistness without the fat. Works well in muffins, quick breads and cakes. Use a 1:1 ratio. Be aware that too much may make your baked treat mushy. Be sure to check with a toothpick to ensure it doesn’t need some extra baking time.
- Aquafaba – A good replacement for oil due to its neutral flavour. Use a 1:1 ratio
- Silken tofu – Blended. Use 1/3 cup for every ½ cup of oil called for. Works best in denser baked goods with a strong flavour (like chocolate).
- Bean puree – Just beans blended with enough water to get them to blend well. Or use a can of beans, including the liquid instead of draining them. Use a 1:1 ratio bean puree for oil.
Eating a whole food plant-based diet does not mean you can never enjoy baked goods again. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a sweet treat now and then? The idea is to replace the harmful ingredients with whole food substitutes so you can enjoy the occasional treat without the guilt.
The Bottom Line
Cooking or baking in a new way can be daunting. But with a little practice, you can be confident that your plant-based baking will always turn out well. With these tips and conversions, you can be converting old favourites into WFPB treats in no time.
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Feature image credit: Photo by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash