Baking is, quite literally, my whole world. There’s nothing like whipping up a perfect meringue, torching the top of a perfectly smooth creme brûlée, or piping pastry cream into an eclair. But in 2013, I went vegan. Now there are two problems with being a vegan in a pastry kitchen packed full of eggs, sugar, & butter:
- I felt really uncomfortable serving something to people without knowing what it tasted like.
- I was jealous that I didn’t get to eat the desserts I was making.
But a few months into being vegan (and once the “missing out” feeling went away), I started looking at things a different way. I spent my days making these desserts but imagining how I could translate the ingredients, the taste, and the textures into a decadent vegan dessert. My whole goal as a vegan is to find a way to enjoy food without sacrifice, and it’s my favorite challenge in the kitchen.
I get a lot of questions about how I make my desserts taste so… not vegan. And honestly, it’s not that difficult once you figure out some basic ingredient swaps!
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A list of my favorite vegan baking essentials, aka the ingredients I use in almost every recipe:
- Sugar. Believe it or not, most sugar isn’t vegan. That pure white color of sugar is achieved by using “natural carbon”, aka bone char. (I’ll let you read all about it HERE) My favorite brand of raw sugar is Zulka (sold at Target, WinCo, & Walmart), but I also like Trader Joe’s brand (both raw sugar & powdered sugar).
- Flour. I always use all-purpose flour in my recipes, simply because it’s so easy to find & there’s nothing worse than starting a new recipe without realizing that it calls for a different type of flour (and yes, flour type does make a huge difference!). I switch between bleached flour (lighter, softer, and fluffier) and unbleached flour (slightly denser, creates a better structure), but my favorite brand is King Arthur Flour.
- Flaxseed meal. Hold on, please don’t leave! Flaxseed has a horrible reputation as being a gross diet food, and yes by itself it smells a little like what I feed my hamsters. But flaxseed is my favorite egg substitute in baking, & I promise you can’t smell it or taste it in anything once it’s baked.
- Nondairy milk. I use Silk brand, always. Original unsweetened almond milk for most things, cashew milk for creamier things (like frostings or puddings).
- Yeast. I switch between brands, but I always use active dry yeast. Usually I’ll just get one of the little packets in the baking aisle of the grocery store, but when I have a lot of baking to do it’s cheaper to buy a jar of it. I’ve used Fleischmann’s brand and it works perfectly every time!
- Chocolate. My favorite chocolate is from Trader Joe’s (big surprise). Their chocolate CHIPS (not chunks) are accidentally vegan, as well as the Pound Plus dark chocolate bars.
- Butter. My favorite butters are Smart Balance & Earth Balance. I use Smart Balance for most of my recipes, but I use Earth Balance for anything I want to have a rich, buttery taste (like butter cookies or vanilla cake).
- Cocoa powder. I use a ton of cocoa powder in the kitchen, and my favorite is Hershey’s brand. Most cocoa powders are usually vegan, but double check the ingredient list because sometimes they contain a small amount of dairy.
- Lemon juice. Lemon juice is the unsung hero of my kitchen. It’s like salt, it enhances the flavor of almost anything with just a small amount. I almost always add it to my frostings, plus you can add a small amount to nondairy milk to make your own veganized buttermilk! Magic.
- Coconut oil. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I use coconut oil for everything. I won’t go into the details about how it saved my damaged hair, but just know that coconut oil is a miracle worker both in and out of the kitchen. Not only does coconut oil contain healthy fats (aka the good kind), but it also has a higher melting point which makes it great for cooking. I use coconut oil in several of my recipes to replace unhealthy vegetable oils. I also add a small amount to melted chocolate when I make chocolate-covered anything (I’ll explain why in another post!).
- Vanilla bean paste. I know it’s expensive, but it’s so worth it. Vanilla bean paste gives such a rich, delicious flavor to baked goods, much more so than regular vanilla extract. Plus it adds cute little flecks of vanilla bean into everything! Yum. Nielsen-Massey is my favorite.
- Sprinkles. Last but certainly not least. Without going into too much gross detail, most sprinkles aren’t vegan & you can read why HERE. But I like to put sprinkles in everything I possibly can, so I’m really grateful to have found the Betty Crocker Parlor Perfect brand. Only the Parlor Perfect series is vegan, regular Betty Crocker brand sprinkles are not.
And there you have it! What’s your must-have vegan ingredient?
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