Baking Without Animal Products: Easier Than You Think

Evelyn Wagaman, for the Shuttle

For those with a mighty sweet tooth, eating an entirely plant-based diet can seem like a daunting task, even for the sake of the animals, the environment and personal health. Animal products like eggs, milk and butter are so commonly found in baked goods that it seems hard to believe that the cakes and cookies we crave could ever be made without them. Is the vegan, then, condemned to a life without these treats?

As someone who counts brownies and doughnuts among the world’s greatest culinary achievements, I am pleased (and relieved) to respond that no, a vegan life need not be one without dessert. There are a variety of substitutes for the most common animal ingredients found in baking.

Take milk, for example. A number of non-dairy milks can be substituted one-for-one for dairy milk. The most common options are soy milk, almond milk and coconut milk, but it is also possible to use rice milk, cashew milk, oat milk and even hemp milk. The more ambitious can even make their own non-dairy milk at home. The basic recipe is simple: Soak nuts, seeds or grains for several hours, blend in a high-speed blender with water and strain. Sweeten if desired.

Butter is another surprisingly easy ingredient to substitute in baking. In fact, the vegetable shortening already in your kitchen can be substituted for butter one-to-one with the addition of a little extra water (1 tablespoon per 1/2 cup shortening). An even better substitute for butter is vegan margarine like Earth Balance, which can be found in most grocery stores. And if these two options don’t appeal to you, there’s always coconut oil, which can also generally be substituted one-to-one for butter.

Eggs may be the most difficult ingredient to substitute, due to their important role in binding and leavening baked goods. However, the good news is that egg substitutes abound; one need only determine (by trial and error or a little research online) which option will work best in the recipe in question. One common substitute for eggs in vegan baking is to combine 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons water. Stir the mixture and let it sit for a few minutes until it becomes gelatinous before adding it to the recipe. Another popular option is Ener-G Egg Replacer, a commercial vegan egg-replacer powder sold with the baking ingredients at Weavers Way. Made from potato and tapioca starch, Egg Replacer is free of eggs, gluten, wheat, casein, dairy, yeast, soy, tree nuts, and peanuts, making it also useful people with food allergies. 

While both ground flaxseed and vegan egg replacer powder can be found in many mainstream grocery stores, the handiest solution may be right in your kitchen: Try substituting a half to whole ripe mashed banana or 1/4 to 1/3 cup applesauce. (Of course, these substitutions may give your baked good the flavor of bananas or apples!)

Be advised that you may get even better results if you seek out recipes for your favorite treats that are already designed to incorporate plant-based alternatives to animal ingredients. Online and in cookbooks, many talented bakers have devised delicious and decadent plant-based recipes for the world to try. These days, it is easier than ever to eat a plant-based diet without giving up dessert!

Evelyn Wagaman is a current Mt. Airy resident and an intern for the Humane League, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing animal suffering through public education and corporate campaigns. Contact her at