Ask any vegan what they truly miss about their previous non-vegan life, and chances are you’ll hear cheese, cake or dessert as the answer!
While I can’t help out on the cheese front (apparently there are some cashew-based alternatives though!) but I certainly can with the dessert front! Vegan baking is trickier for sure, as without the safety net of eggs and dairy butter even the most basic of sponges can be more temperamental. However it can be a lot simpler too, and whipping up something delicious, egg free, dairy free and full of flavour relatively quickly is also totally possible, especially if you are always prepared with some staple vegan baking essential ingredients in your cupboard/fridge!
The 12 essential vegan baking ingredients you should always have handy:
1. Plain Flour
Duh, no brainer. Plain flour is used for vegan cakes, vegan pancakes, vegan doughnuts, vegan cupcakes...you get it. Store in a cool, dark and dry space, ideally air tight (but whom are we kidding - I leave it in its paper packaging at home as we go through so much of it pretty rapidly).
2. Baking soda
AKA sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda. It acts as a strong raising agent in cake sponges when combined with an acid such as vinegar and lemon juice. And since vegan baking does not involve fluffed up eggs and butter we need as much help in the leavening and raising department from baking soda as we can get!
3. Baking powder
Also acts as a raising agent and is essentially a blend of baking soda, cream of tartare and corn starch. It doesn’t need an additional acidic ingredient to be activated as a leavening agent (gosh, I do sound rather geeky there don’t I! Bear with me, this stuff is interesting) but is “weaker” than using straight up baking soda and is best used in cookies where not as much rise is needed. Sometimes it’s used together with additional baking soda is some recipes too.
4. Cocoa powder
An all-rounder ingredient to whip up chocolate sponges, frostings, biscuits etc. And pretty much everyone loves chocolate, vegans and non-vegans alike so #veganwinning.
5. Vegetable oil
As vegan baking excludes all dairy products and eggs, using a neutral plant-based fat becomes imperative to add and preserve moisture and tenderness to vegan cakes, vegan doughnuts, vegan pancakes etc. Also, it’s a very commonplace ingredient to have around for cooking anyway.
6. Apple cider vinegar
The acid in cider vinegar helps activate baking soda in vegan cake recipes and helps raise light sponges whilst adding a slight tang in flavour. You could also use white vinegar but I find the tangy tinge from the cider vinegar adds depth of flavour especially to vanilla bakes and pancakes.
7. Corn flour
Aka corn starch. When added to plain flour it stunts the gluten and adds structure and springiness to the rise in vegan cake sponges and inhibits it from becoming “dense” as vegan cakes can often suffer from that. It can also be used in other fluffy vegan treats such as pancakes.
8. Dairy free milk
There are so many varieties of dairy free milk alternatives! Almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, oat milk, rice milk, cashew milk. My go-to dairy free milk choices are almond and coconut but you can go with any. Most are available as tetra paks that can be stored ambient in the cupboard unopened - hurrah!
9. Dark chocolate
Most dark or plain chocolate bars tend to be dairy free but always check the ingredients label to be sure. Some may have a disclaimer of “May contain traces of milk” or similar, and that is generally due to the possibility cross contamination on premises and equipment handling dairy ingredients to produce other products. This does come down to personal preferences and tolerances so it’s up to the individual. As our bakery caters for non-vegans and we handle dairy and eggs our vegan cakes too come with the same disclaimer and our vegan customers are comfortable with that BUT if you’re not then there are some vegan chocolate brands out there too (but don’t be surprised if they happen to be more expensive, understandably so). Anyway, dark chocolate can be used to chop into chips for cookies or melted into a vegan ganache for vegan chocolate drip cakes and glaze for vegan doughnuts.
10. Caster sugar
Sugar adds sweetness and much-needed moisture too to vegan cake sponges, and that’s an undisputed fact. Controversially however, not all sugars are considered truly vegan. Sure, by just looking at the ingredients label of a packet of sugar anyone would think it’s all good and green in the vegan hood, but some vegans are also concerned with the actual processing of cane sugar which may use animal-derived bone char in refining. Tate & Lyle and Billingtons’ brand sugars however do not use bone char in their sugar processing. Silver Spoon brand white sugar also does not use bone char however they cannot confirm regarding their brown sugar. So that’s that. Do look up your sugar brands and decide for yourself before lugging that sack of sugar out of the shop!
11. Vanilla extract
A good quality one. Really! Vegan vanilla cakes are tricky enough and the flavour does rely heavily on the quality of vanilla extract so don’t go through the process only to be let down by a weak essence. Nielsen Massey brand is always a good shout! You’ll also find you’ll use it for many other sweet items such as vegan doughnuts, cookies etc.
Not strictly a pantry item as it needs storing in the fridge, but it is a basic ingredient for a lot of vegan desserts whether it is vegan shortcrust pastry for pies, doughnuts or frosting for vegan cakes. Stork baking blocks (not the softer spread as that's not dairy free) and Trex are what you’ll find in my fridge.
With the above list of vegan baking essentials you’ll be set to whip up something delicious and vegan. Of course, as it’s an “essentials” list of stuff that could be supplemented with additional items if you’d like to get more adventurous or advanced for example icing sugar, fresh fruit, apple sauce, coconut cream etc but you won’t be caught out when you’ve got these basics and planning something more complex would be a whole lot easier with these bits covered. If you’re really stretched for time and effort though you can always browse and order a vegan cake from our vegan cake collection for delivery in London!
I’ll shortly share my “vegan cake decorating essentials” list too so watch this space.