The Regrettable, Forgettable Egg

(originally published April 2002, in Co-options, the newsletter of Sevanada Natural Foods Cooperative in Atlanta, GA.

Whenever I tell anyone that I bake vegan cakes, the first question they always ask is “How do you do that? Without eggs, I mean. What do you use in place of the eggs?” My usual answer is to hem and haw and say, “Well, that depends.” I realize that this is not the most enlightening answer, but without going into a fairly long explanation of the whys and wherefores of eggs in baking in the first place, I don’t feel that I can give an adequate answer. Maybe I can do a better job here.

One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is to “veganize” old favorite or traditional cake recipes. Here are some hints to help you do the same, and some recipes that already have the guesswork taken out for those of you who never really liked chemistry class!. When trying out a new “veganized” recipe, please try to maintain reasonable expectations. Some recipes simply rely too heavily on eggs for their structure to allow easy substitution. Old-fashioned pound cakes, “flourless” cakes and tortes, and angel food cakes are all things I haven’t been able to adequately replicate in a vegan form. I usually use the “three-egg rule” as a guideline. If a recipe has three or more eggs in a standard cake size, then I usually won’t bother with it.

Eggs serve three main functions in baking. They work as binders, leaveners, and enriching agents. In order to decide what best to substitute for eggs in a particular cake recipe, you need to understand which of these functions that the eggs performed in the original formula..

The simplest solution when veganizing most cake recipes is to simply use “Ener-G Egg Replacer.” This is a powdered product available on the baking aisle at Sevanada. It is all-natural and animal-product free. (Many of the low fat or non-cholesterol egg “substitutes” available in the dairy section of supermarkets are actually just colored, flavored egg whites.) Ener-G Egg Replacer is mostly potato starch (binder) and baking powder (leavener). It has been my experience that it works pretty well in most standard-size recipes that call for 1 or 2 eggs. The directions are to mix 1 1/2 teaspoons of the dry powder with 2 tablespoons of water for each egg in the original recipe. For best results, use a whisk to mix the powder into the water. Otherwise you can end up with lumps. I have found that in many recipes, it works perfectly well to just mix the dry powder with the recipe’s dry ingredients and the water called for into the wet ingredients. If you’re trying it in a recipe for the first time, however, mix it according to the package directions so you can see how well it works. The next time, you can experiment with the simpler mixing method and see if it makes a difference.

Another possible egg replacer is 4 ounces of pureed silken tofu. It works well as a binder, but doesn’t have much leavening power. You might want to add an extra half-teaspoon of baking powder per egg replaced to improve the “lift” in the cake. I have used this with good success in several recipes, and it’s what I reach for when I’m out of Egg Replacer. Sometimes, neither Ener-G Egg Replacer nor the tofu/baking powder combo work perfectly. Combining them, however, allowed Bryanna Clark Grogan to come up with this delicious, light Pound Cake. It might not taste exactly like your grandmother’s “pound of butter, pound of sugar, pound of eggs, pound of flour” recipe, but it also won’t pack pounds onto your hips and thighs (or pump cholesterol into your arteries) like hers would, either!

Bryanna’s Heart-Healthy Pound Cake

Recipe By: Bryanna Clark Grogan
Serving Size: 16
Preparation Time: 1:30

1/4 c. very light olive oil
1 1/4 cups unbleached sugar

Dry Mix
1 3/4 cups white cake and pastry flour organic
2 T. oat bran
2 T. wheat germ
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

Wet Mix
1 Box Mori-Nu firm or extra-firm SILKEN tofu (12.3 oz.)
1/4 c. soymilk
2 T. Ener-G egg replacer powder
1 T. vanilla
1 tsp. grated lemon zest OR 1/2 tsp. pure almond or lemon extract
1 pinch mace or nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8 tube pan (preferably with a removable bottom) or 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan.

Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. Process the Wet Mix ingredients in a blender or food processor until very smooth. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar and olive oil with an electric mixer for about 3 minutes. Add the Wet Mix and beat briefly to mix. Fold the Dry Mix into the Wet Mix/oil-sugar blend with a wooden spoon or a spatula just until you can’t see the flour anymore, then beat with the electric mixer for about 7 seconds – no more (or it will be tough). Scrape the batter into the prepare pan and bake in the center of the oven 50 minutes for the tube pan, 1 hour for the loaf, or until the top is golden and it tests done with a cake tester.

Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then carefully remove from pan to rack. Cover with a clean tea towel while it cools, to keep the outside from forming a crust.

Another way to substitute for eggs in recipes that already have plenty of binding power (like the carrot cake recipe I printed in January) is to simply increase the amount of leavener in the recipe. For each egg replaced, you can either add a half-teaspoon of extra baking powder to the recipe, add a quarter teaspoon of baking soda if it’s an acidic recipe, or you can do what the following “classic” vegan cake recipe does – use baking soda and a bit of vinegar to aid the formation of those little carbon dioxide bubbles that make baked goods light. If you remember making a “volcano” in the fourth grade, you’ll see how this works. The “Spicy One-Bowl Chocolate Cake” I published in February is a variation on this recipe. This one is called “Wacky” because you don’t even mix it in a bowl – you can mix it right in the pan. Vinegar in a cake mix also sounds pretty wacky unless you understand why it’s there!

Wacky Cake

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup unbleached sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons white vinegar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix together first 5 (dry) ingredients. place in an ungreased 8″ square pan. Make 3 wells in the mixture. Pour vanilla into the first well, vinegar into the second, and oil into the third. Pour water over the entire mixture; mix well. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until cake pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool, cut into squares and serve straight from the pan, or you can add your favorite frosting to the top while the cake is still a little warm and serve it that way. It’s also really good with Organic Soy Delicious ice “cream”.

Another suggested substitute for eggs in baking is fruit puree. One-half a mashed banana, one-quarter cup of applesauce, or one-quarter cup of prune puree per egg replaced can all work as binders in baking. The prune puree is especially nice in chocolate cakes. The following recipe is a good example of how good a vegan applesauce cake can be. It’s moist and delicious and gets even better when allowed to sit for a day or two.

Applesauce Cake

Recipe By: The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, 1988 (2nd Ed.)
Serving Size: 12
Preparation Time: 1:00

1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup unbleached sugar
2 cups unbleached flour
2 cups applesauce
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins optional

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9 X 13 pan or a loaf pan with non-stick pan spray. In a large mixing bowl, whisk oil and sugar together. Add applesauce. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients. Add to the applesauce mixture and beat until smooth. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 9 X 13 pan for 30-35 minutes or loaf pan for 45-50 minutes (or until done).

Ground flax seeds make a rather ingenious egg substitute. Fresh whole seeds, ground to a powder in a perfectly dry blender, then blended with liquid, make a gummy, gelatinous “goo” that resembles egg whites in texture. (Try blending then in a damp blender and you’ll see why it won’t work. The seeds stick immediately to the glass and cling there very tenaciously!) They work very nicely as a binder in baking. Lorna Sass uses them to good effect in this wonderful cake. They’re also nice in muffins and other hearty-textured baked goods. They make light-colored cakes look like nothing so much as home-spun linen, however, with little flecks of dark color, so if this would be problematic you might want to try one of the other substitutes instead.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Recipe By: Lorna Sass, The Complete Vegetarian Kitchen

Serving Size: 16
Preparation Time: 1:30

5 tablespoons flax seeds
1 cup apple juice
2 cups whole wheat flour pastry
1 cup flour unbleached
1/2 cup poppy seeds
4 teaspoons baking powder (Rumford brand)
2 tablespoons lemon zest finely grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup lemon juice freshly squeezed
2 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons lemon juice freshly squeezed

Spray a 9-inch tube pan or bundt pan with non-stick spray or brush with oil. Dust lightly with flour, tip out the extra, and set aside.

In a blender, grind the flaxseeds. Add the apple juice and process until you achieve a slightly gummy texture, about 30 seconds. Pour the mixture into a measuring cup or small pitcher and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, poppy seeds, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt.

In the blender, blend the oil and maple syrup for about 15 seconds. Add the lemon juice, then the flax seed mixture, processing for about 10 seconds between additions.

Stir the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. Transfer the batter to the prepared tub pan and gently smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake on the center shelf of an oven preheated to 375 F until the top bounces back to a gentle touch and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 35 – 40 minutes.

Set on a rack to cool for about 30 minutes. Run a knife along the outside and center edges (if using a tube pan) and unmold. Set the cake on a rack to cool completely.

If using the glaze, combine the maple syrup with the lemon juice. Poke holes into the top of the cake with a toothpick or skewer, and brush the glaze onto the top of the cake. Brush the sides with any remaining glaze.