posted July 25, 2023

Filling base made from cashews. Photo Credit: Jessica Langenhan

Baking—vegan or otherwise—is a science. And when faced with the prospect of having to omit cow’s milk, eggs, butter, and animal-fat shortening (lard), vegan baking may seem like making the leap from middle school biology to astrophysics. But I’m going to provide some tips and tricks, and soon you will be tasting the sweet fruits of your labor.

Basic Substitutions

The primary items we need to substitute are those I noted above: cow’s milk, eggs, butter, and animal-fat shortening (lard).

Cow’s milk is an easy one, as any plant-based milk can be used as a direct substitute. I recommend unsweetened, plain milks. Coconut milk, with its thicker consistency and more distinctive flavor, is one exception that may not work with all recipes.

For eggs, butter, and lard, there are vegan versions, but it is possible to use more basic ingredients instead. Eggs, butter, and shortening provide moisture, binding, and consistency to baked goods, and these effects can be achieved with substitutions such as:

  • Ground flaxseed mixed with water
  • Plain applesauce
  • Cornstarch
  • Arrowroot powder
  • Tapioca flour
  • Neutral oils such as canola, sunflower, or safflower
  • Coconut oil or butter; or coconut manna.

A quick internet search can give more specific guidance in terms of the best substitutes and measurements for your particular recipe, such as found here.

Beyond Basic Substitutions

Cake ingredients include avocado. Photo Credit: Jessica Langenhan

Other products that can replace animal-based binders include tofu, canned beans, vegan yogurt, and aquafaba (the viscous water resulting from beans or legumes—often chickpeas—being cooked). More information on aquafaba can be found here. The flavors of these ingredients are mild enough that they won’t be detectable in the final product. So don’t run from that brownie recipe that directs you to open a can of black beans!

But, Substitute Rationally

For all my encouragement about substitutions, they need to be done mindfully. You need to consider the texture and consistency of what you’re trying to replace. Blended beans are not going to have the same properties as eggs. Those beans, however, could stand in for the butter usually used in a brownie recipe.

Adjust Baking Times

Even with thoughtful substitutions, the moisture content of your vegan creations will likely vary from that of the non-vegan versions. This, in turn, will affect baking times. If you are following a vegan recipe, this should already be accounted for, but if you are adapting from a non-vegan recipe, I would not rely on the stated baking times and instead assess for doneness with old-fashioned approaches—sight, smell, and wooden toothpicks. Keep in mind that factors like weather/humidity, altitude, and the type of flour you use can all affect baking times as well.

Embrace Different Flours and Sweeteners

Cupcakes made with spelt flour. Photo Credit: Jessica Langenhan

Once I started vegan baking, gone were the days of nothing but all-purpose flour and white granulated sugar (some of which is not actually vegan because it may be processed using bone char). The list of options is expansive with examples including rye, spelt, oat, and amaranth flours and sweeteners such as maple syrup, molasses, date syrup, coconut sugar, and monk fruit.

Maybe Start with Making Granola

If you are new to baking, you probably don’t want to start off with vegan macaroons. So, try your hand at vegan granola. Granola is a great vehicle for experimenting with different flavor combinations and spices. It involves minimal equipment (translation: easy clean-up). You can adjust to make smaller or larger batches, and it’s easy to divide up for sharing.

Be Mindful of Storage

Your vegan desserts will be so delicious that you won’t have much left over to store but do make sure to keep them in sealed containers. Especially in areas where it is warm and/or humid, I recommend refrigeration; they can then be left out at room temperature before eating, or quickly warmed in an oven or microwave.

Don’t Tell People It’s Vegan

Perhaps a tip best suited for those of us with a more wicked sense of humor, it can be fun to share your desserts and wait for the rave reviews and then reveal that it was made 100% free of animal products.

Accept Accidents

With any type of baking, things won’t always go according to plan. Sometimes this can result in happy accidents. Other times, the accidents are less-than-happy, and that is the cue to break out the emergency stash of Oreos.



Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero (2009).

Whole Grain Vegan Baking by Celine Steen & Tamasin Noyes (2013).


Photo Credit: JCPenney Portraits

Vegetarian since 2005 and vegan since 2013, Jessica Langenhan, MD, is a Board-Certified psychiatrist based in Southern California. Having learned basically nothing about nutrition in medical school, she has followed an individualized curriculum in plant-based nutrition not only to enhance her own journey but also to allow her to guide her patients in making lifestyle changes.

She is a certified vegan lifestyle coach and educator through Main Street Vegan Academy, and she has received certification in plant-based nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Foundation Center for Nutrition Studies. Jessica is a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and completed the 200-hour certification for teaching yoga (RYT 200) in 2018.

In addition to baking, Jessica’s hobbies include reading, running, taking OrangeTheory Fitness classes, practicing yoga, and making jewelry. Connect with Jessica through LinkedIn.


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