Vegan Baking Cheat Sheet

Karina's Vegan Baking Cheat Sheet

Baking gluten-free and vegan translates to one simple truth that is hard to teach. Because it can only be learned by experience. This one simple truth?

Unlearn everything you think you know- or thought you understood- about baking.

All those mandatory Home Economics classes about kneading bread dough for ten minutes to improve elasticity or leavening a cake with beaten egg whites won't help your inner Betty Crocker to bloom if you're gluten-free and vegan. In fact, clinging to old notions about what works- and what doesn't- might lead you down a rather prickly circuitous path to ruin. Not to mention, your personal Culinary Museum of Failure. But don't let this bare bones truth inhibit you.

In fact, let it free you.

Embrace your unlearning. Cast your tightly gripped assumptions about butter and cream and spelt and yolks out the kitchen screen door. Give them a boot. Wish them Vaya con Dios, because Kansas, Dorothy, is going bye bye. Welcome to Oz.

Some gluten-free folks bake vegan for ethical reasons- they don't eat anything with a face. Others are dairy-free or egg-free due to additional food allergies (common among celiacs and those on the neuro-diverse autism spectrum).

Whatever your reasons for baking g-free vegan, I welcome you with open arms. I've been baking without gluten for seven-plus years. And June 2009 marks my second anniversary for baking strictly vegan- no dairy, no eggs, and just to keep life interesting, no soy. Or beans. My body is less than fond of anything in the legume family. That's why you won't find me using tofu, soy milk or chick pea flour in my recipes. (But if they float your boat, have at 'em.)

One important note about gluten-free treats and ingredients-

My philosophy is that a treat should taste like a treat- especially if you bake with a limited palate. For sweetening I use organic golden brown sugar. I don't pretend my Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookie is health food. It's a cookie. If you need to balance your diet, make a soup chock full of seasonal veggies. Eat a crisp green salad topped with hemp or salba seeds. Whip up a fruit smoothie with rice protein powder. And if you crave a cookie, then go enjoy a cookie. Take a walk. Stretch. Breathe. A little sugar is not going to hurt you- unless you need to eat low glycemic; the choice then, is to use organic raw agave nectar (basically, fructose, which is metabolized by the liver and impacts blood sugar with less of a bang). But- and you suspected there was a but, right?- too much agave, like too much sugar, isn't necessarily a "healthier choice", either. Fructose- in any form- is still sugar, and should be enjoyed in moderation.

In the spirit of moderation, I follow two approaches- a traditional Mediterranean Diet approach to cooking that emphasizes extra virgin olive oil as the main fat (I use olive oil in place of butter as an Italian inspired bread dip, drizzled on baked potatoes, and whisked in salad dressings), plenty of fresh vegetables,  gluten-free whole grains, and garlic with herbs. In cooking I use a higher smoke point avocado oil. The second approach I favor is a fusion of Asian and California vegan cooking that features fresh stir-fries, rice, and rice noodles, Thai-inspired sauces with coconut milk, salads, seaweed, non-GMO organic tofu, soaked nuts and vegetarian sushi.

For shortening in baking I use raw organic coconut oil, or sometimes Spectrum Organic Shortening made from palm oil. If you can use one of the organic non-trans fat vegan margarine spreads on the market, they should work in my recipes as long as the blend is suitable for baking (some light blends contain too much water for use in baking or cooking).

I'm starting to experiment with more nut flours and coconut flour in baking. If you'd like to add a nut flour to your g-free flour mix, feel free to replace 1/4 to 1/2 cup of one of the higher protein flours I use (such as quinoa or buckwheat) with nut meal or coconut flour. Note: nut meals create a chewier texture; and coconut flour absorbs liquid, so use less liquid with coconut flour, or the result will be heavy.

Karina's Vegan G-Free Baking Cheat Sheet

My favorite protein rich gluten-free flours in vegan baking:

Sorghum flour
Almond flour
Hazelnut flour
Buckwheat flour
Millet flour
Quinoa flour
Brown rice flour
Coconut flour

More choices:

Cornmeal (certified GF)
Teff flour
Amaranth flour
Chick pea and bean flours
Soy flour

A blend of at least two gluten-free flours is best. Add a little starch or two to help the heavier g-free flours rise and stretch. In summer heat and humidity keep flours stored in the fridge (bean and brown rice flours especially can spoil quickly).

Starches for lightness and stretch:

Arrowroot starch
Potato starch (NOT potato flour)
Tapioca starch

Add some flaxseed meal for fiber.

You need a gum:

In gluten-free baking, xanthan gum helps add viscosity and stretchy give to batters and doughs. Some folks are highly suspicious of xanthan gum, a mold derived additive grown on cellulose (usually corn), but to me, xanthan isn't all that scary; it is odorless and tasteless (if it isn't, you've got a bad batch). It doesn't come cheap; but a bag will last you for months; store it in the fridge.

For those who can handle legumes, guar gum is a cheaper, similar binding product made from guar beans. Note: those with sensitive digestion may react to guar gum (some report it works as a laxative).

For those of you baking gum-free, one alternative is to add a tablespoon of arrowroot starch to your basic g-free flour mix. It doesn't exactly replicate the viscosity that xanthan gum gives dough and batters, but. Hey. It helps. Flax seed gel helps a bit, as well.

Replacing eggs:

For most egg-free recipes, I use powdered Ener-G Egg Replacer mixed with warm water. 1 tablespoon powdered replacer whisked with 4 tablespoons warm water equals 2 eggs. This works in cakes, cookies, muffins, and breads. It does not replace eggs in a custard based recipe, unfortunately.

If avoiding corn or potato starch, substitute 1 tablespoon tapioca starch or arrowroot starch plus 3 tablespoons water for each egg called for in recipe to help binding. You will need to increase leavening a bit to compensate; add 1/4 teaspoon baking powder.

Flax seed is a choice (for those not allergic to flax seeds). Use two tablespoons ground flax meal plus 1/8 teaspoon baking powder blended with 3 tablespoons of water for each egg called for in recipe.

Chia seeds can also- theoretically- be used as a gel for gluten-free baking. From the genus Salvia hispanica, chia is a plant in the Mint family- an excellent alternative for those of us allergic to flax seed.Just be careful it doesn't make the batter too gummy. Bake thoroughly.

Banana: Try a half mashed ripe banana plus 1/4 teaspoon baking powder for each egg.

Mayo: Use 3 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise in place of one egg, for binding. I would add a little extra leavening- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder.

Tofu: Try using 1/4 cup silken tofu for one egg for binding; I would add a little extra leavening- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder.

Replacing Dairy:

This is the easiest part of vegan baking. Use your favorite non-dairy milk alternative in place of milk. To create a sour buttermilk taste, add a 1/2 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice or light tasting vinegar to the non-dairy milk. Or add a tablespoon of Vegenaise. You can also use juice- in an apple cake or muffin, try apple juice or cider. In cakes and scones try orange juice, pineapple juice, or pear juice.

For replacing yogurt, any g-free non-dairy yogurt should work.

Replacing butter:

As mentioned above in the introduction, I use light olive oil or organic coconut oil in baking and it works like a charm (as well as being good for you). Start with LESS oil than the butter called for. At least 1 to 3 tablespoons less.

Other choices include Spectrum Organic Shortening (you can sub one to one for butter), or grapeseed oil, canola and safflower oil (use less than the amount of butter called for).

Fruit puree can also work as a fat sub, but some tinkering may be necessary. Start with only subbing half the fat and go slow. Mix up the batter and make sure it's not too heavy. Applesauce, pumpkin, squash and sweet potato puree can all add low fat body to batters and breads. You may have to compensate for the added flavor- use extra spice (ginger, cinnamon) or more vanilla extract. Choose your pairings for compatibility- stronger tastes like sweet potato go better with deeper flavors like molasses, ginger and pie spices, for instance.

Storing G-Free Vegan Baked Goods

Freeze it. If you're not eating all of it, it's best to slice, wrap in foil, bag, and freeze it. Even cookies. It seems like a pain to do this for simple things like cookies and brownies, but it's worth the effort. It will keep your goodies fresh. And one advantage is you'll have a store of ready-to-go treats on hand.

Troubleshooting in vegan g-free baking:

The cake or bread did not rise; or it rose and fell:

Too much liquid and not enough structure (sugar is structure, if you lessen it or replace it with agave, your batter may be too wet or too gummy), or too much leavening (it rose too fast then collapsed). Try using less liquid.

The oven temperature was too high or too low (every oven has its own personality). Test your oven with an oven thermometer- you might be surprised.

The pan was too small. If there is too much batter in a pan, the middle is thicker and takes longer to bake.

The pan was too big. A larger pan than called for results in a thinner, flatter end result.

You used frozen fruit and the batter got cold. Or you chill your flours or liquid ingredients; next time bring all ingredients to room temperature; use hot liquid.

Or mix your batter and let it sit for ten minutes.


Batters should resemble slightly thicker, stickier versions of their wheat based counterparts. If a batter is too thin, add more g-free flour (not starch). If a batter is too thick add a tablespoon of warm water at a time until it reaches the right consistency. How will you know it when you see it? After baking awhile, you will develop an intuition about batters, and how they behave in your oven, at your altitude, season, and weather.

Karina's Notes on gluten-free vegan batter:

Gluten-free vegan batters are a tad different than wheat and white flour batters. They are stiffer at first, then stretch and get sticky as the xanthan gum and egg replacer do their thing.

If the batter "climbs" the beaters, slow down the speed and slightly lift the beaters to encourage the batter to move back down into the bowl. Move your beater around the bowl in figure eights, at a slight angle. Practice your technique- soon you'll be winging around gluten-free vegan baking like a pro.

Vegan G-free Dough:

Yeasted g-free bread dough (and pizza dough) is less like traditional dough and more resembles a thick cake batter; you spread it with wet hands or spatula. If it's too thick, I find the loaf turns out too dense. Check the consistency while mixing and adjust the wet to dry ratio if you need to.

Weather and humidity can influence dough; I find I need to tweak dough from time to time- adding an extra tablespoon of warm water if it's too thick, or a tablespoon of sorghum flour if it's too thin- like a thin cake batter. It needs to be more like thick cake or muffin batter.

If the weather is very humid, use less honey or agave- they are both humectant and attract moisture. Use less liquid as well- too much liquid makes a loaf gummy or sunken.

Use metal pans for baking. I use (Chicago Metallic).

If you use glass baking pans, read the manufacturer's guidelines for glass pans; you may need to alter oven temperature by lowering it 25 degrees F.

I don't care for silicone baking pans. I'm not sure gluten-free flours do either.

Trouble: The cake, bread, cookie, muffin wasn't done in the center; or it was gummy in the center.

Check the cake, bread etc before removing it from the oven. If the center of a cake, muffin or bread is soft, wiggly or depressed, bake it longer until it is firm to a light touch. Don't be afraid to bake it for another ten minutes or more if it needs it.

Test with a wooden pick. It should be clean when it's done.

Note that every oven is slightly different, and your oven temperature may be hotter or cooler than mine; adjust the baking times to your oven. If you consistently need 5 extra minutes baking time, expect that. Or if you seem to need less, check for doneness sooner.

High altitude baking needs longer baking times. Some egg-free recipes, such as brownies, are really tough to bake at high altitude. You might try increasing oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

Your pan might be too large, or the batter too wet.

Using seed gels for an egg replacer can produce a gummy center. Even hemp seed "milk" might do this.

Too much fruit puree, frozen fruit, or too much liquid can all produce a gummy center.

I find that agave increases moisture in a recipe- like honey, it's a humectant. If the center is gummy, cut back on the agave- especially if it's humid.


Measure the dry ingredients with dry nested cups - not glass liquid measuring cups.

Measure wet ingredients in glass measuring cups for liquid- not dry nested cups (there is a difference in volume!).

Spoon or pour dry ingredients into dry measuring cups and level off- do not scoop the cup into the flour bag.

Make sure your ingredients are room temperature.

Let your batter or dough rest after mixed. Gluten-free flours often benefit from a little extra batter time. Let the batter sit in the baking pan ten minutes before baking it.

If cookies spread too rapidly, chill dough for an hour first. Try using a silicone baking sheet liner. Try using a dark metal cookie sheet.

Weather affects ingredients. Flours can absorb humidity. Storing them in the fridge also adds dampness. You may need to use less liquid on rainy or humid days. Start with two tablespoons less.

The Vegan Baking Cheat Sheet is © 2009 Gluten-Free Goddess. All rights reserved.


Lacie said...

Hi Karina,

Thanks for all you do. I've found this post to be very helpful.

I thought you might be interested to know that Earth Balance now has a dairy and soy free buttery spread made from expeller-pressed oils. It just came out this month here in Tulsa, OK. I have not baked with it yet, but it works great for frying or sauteeing. I found it at Whole Foods Market.

Micco said...

It's really funny that you posted this because I was looking for something like this all day today. I am so glad someone received my psychic messages.

Also, Earth Balance just came out with a soy-free version (though I guess the previous poster beat me to that announcement...). I've baked with regular EB, and everything comes out great, so I can only imagine the soy-free EB is just as good. I always feel good about eating it because all of the oils it blends are expeller-pressed good for you oils, like grape- and hemp seed oil. Subsequently, it's an excellent source of omega-3s.

Alisa said...

Awesome post Karina!

Kalyn said...

Great post! I'm always amazed by your knowledge about gluten-free baking.

makingloveinthekitchen said...

Karina- This is such a great reference. I will most certainly be sharing this post with my clients. Thanks!

Lauren Denneson said...

Awesome post. I had been experiencing too-moist-in-the-middle baked goods (especially bread) and learned to reduce the liquid in most recipes. I thought it was something about the temp of my oven or the weather where I live. Now I think it's because I don't use regular sugar in my bread (or maybe a combination of all of the above). I usually use agave or honey as the sweetener. Also, sugar creates gas, which makes things like muffins and breads poofier. It all makes so much sense now. Thanks for taking the time to compile all of this!

veggievixen said...

this is so fantastic! i dealt with a stomach condition a few years ago that i thought was caused by a gluten allergy, so i baked g-free for about four months. i didn't really experiment all that much, just used bob's red mill gluten-free baking mix as a straight replacer for flour. this is a really great post though, because i am now vegan! i was thinking about replacement flours and it's a good idea to use them because they contain so much more protein than regular flour. although usually i use whole wheat or a combo of ww and regular flours. i would really love to learn the "chemistry" of vegan baking replacements so i could make my own recipes.

moonwatcher said...

Hi Karina,

Thanks for these excellent tips all in one place. I've learned so much from you about baking this way.

One observations about the Spectrum Spread. As a person with MS who follows the Swank Diet for MS, I must scrutinized labels extensively to make sure I'm not eating any forbidden saturated fats. On the Swank Diet for MS, palm oil is "forbidden," as is coconut, due to their high saturated fat content, which must be strictly curtailed on the diet. The container of Spectrum Spread I happen to have in the fridge reads that the ingredients are:"expeller pressed canola oil,water, sea salt, xanthum and guar gums, soy protein isolate,annatto, citric acid, sorbic acid at 1/10 of 1 %, natural butter flavor (from non dairy soy based) and tumeric." So no palm oil in that one, but a couple soy ingredients. Earth Balance, on the other hand does have palm oil. Sounds like this new version your other comments mention is soy free, though I'm thinking it probably still has palm oil (which in general gives Earth Balance its denser, harder in consistency as compared to the Spectrum Spread). So anyway, thought I'd mention this.

Thanks so much for all you write and cook and offer us here. I have returned to my love of baking with your creative gluten free guidance!



Julia said...

what a fabulous post - thanks for sharing your knowledge :)

Dough Maven said...


Thank you, thank you, thank you. I really needed this info.
I have been baking vegan for a couple of years, as I have a daughter with allergies to dairy and eggs (among other things). And, recently another daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease. Just when I thought I had vegan baking "in my pocket", so to speak, a new wrinkle was added.
I am chronicling the ups and downs of this experience on my blog:

Thank you again.


Mandee said...

Such a great, informative post, Karina! Thanks for putting all that info in one easy-to-read-and-find spot!

julie said...

I have been buying a GF Bavarian bread made with cornmeal, rice flour, and LUPINE flour. I haven't heard of lupine flour before this, but have the lupine flower in my garden. It is a weird, hard little loaf of bread, but I like it toasted. Anyone seen, heard, know anything about lupine flour?

allergy mama said...

Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience in this post. I always learn something new here. Just curious- is it just hot water that is so wonderful? Do you think heating the other liquids would effect their performance in the recipe in a similar manner? Sometimes the extra bit of nutrition that comes in with that 1/2 cup of whatever does matter at our house.

CulinaryJen said...

Thanks for the info! I am interested in Gluten-Free and Vegan Baking to help family and friends and to have healthier desserts for my family. I appreciate all of your knowledge!

NovaGirl said...

Karina-I just discovered your blog and it is amazing! My husband has problems with gluten and we just decided to vegan so finding recipes has been a challenge. I am still learning but you have made it much easier with so much information in one spot.


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Johanna said...

thanks for some really useful information - I am doing a little messing around with gf flours because my niece is celiac so this guide is very useful for that

Norelle said...

This blog was already great, and now it's even better. Thank you for thinking of tasty vegan GF recipes!!! I anxiously await tasty delights!

Scrumptious said...

Karina, this is marvelous! I have followed your recipes for a few years now but only just discovered this page.

I've been having a serious problem with egg replacer that I am at a loss about and thought you might have some ideas on. Once when making a ginger-chocolate torte and once when making brownies (both gluten-free and vegan - one with almond meal/earth balance and one using Rebecca Reilly mix of brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour/canola oil) the baked good came out of the oven as a gushy mess with a lake of bubbling oil on top! Then cooled down to a hard, overly chewy brick just oozing with oil.

I'm not clever about baking chemistry and just don't know what could be causing this. Any thoughts you have would be deeply appreciated!

Vicky said...

Oh my goodness, thank the lord I found you! I'm just about to embark on what I thought was going to be the most difficult culinary experimental journey in the world. My husband has, after a few years of gastric illness, been diagnosed as having food allergies to eggs, gluten, dairy, buckwheat and (weirdly) kidney beans. ALL AT ONCE! I'm determined to be able to cook tasty things for him so he doesn't have to rely on some of the tasteless supermarket offerings that we've found but I was becoming a bit scared as most of the gluten and dairy free recipes I'm finding contain eggs. He is fairly miserable about missing out on cakes, breads and sweet treats that he used to love, so hopefully with some of your tips on vegan baking I'm sure I'll become a bit braver in my attempts to feed him nice things. (He just got extremely excited about the vegan mac n cheese recipe.) Thank you. Keep 'em coming!

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