Butter is one of those key ingredients making cake so good.
That’s what I believed before becoming vegan and what I still believe in. Actually, discovering that there are indeed tasty vegan butters available is what made me go completely vegan.
Around 6 years ago, I had been living a vegetarian lifestyle for a couple of years already. Milk I bought was plant-based most of the time as well, and I did not really eat eggs anymore – except for when they were inside a cake.
Vegan baking occurred to me as something obscure and disappointing at that time. In my imagination, trying to bake something delicious, using bland-tasting margarine instead of butter and egg-replacer powders with mysterious ingredients instead of eggs could only fail.
So at this point I had understood that a completely plant-based lifestyle would be worth striving for (for so many reasons, I might explain another time), but the fear of only being able to bake shallow copies of cakes, using not-so-tasty substitute products scared me away and kept me from going completely vegan. Especially living without butter I could not imagine, not without the buttery, crumbly texture of shortcrust pastry, not without the wonderful aroma of browned butter.
At around the same time, I started volunteering at the Kü-Ché (fb) and baked different things for the people there every week. Soon I realised that quite a few of the people dropping by were living a vegan lifestyle, and I felt bad for not being able to offer them some cake. That’s when I remembered a friend had recommended me some kind of vegan butter and decided to give it a shot, despite all my scepticism.
My first baking results using vegan butter were surprisingly satisfactory. For example, in Vanillekipferl, one of my favourite Christmas cookies, in which butter plays an important role for both texture and aroma, I could not taste any difference to the cookies baked with cow-derived butter. So, this was the end of my baking with animal-derived butter. And I was tempted to master vegan baking.
As a next step, I tried all kinds of egg substitutes for my at that time proven recipes. Mashed banana, applesauce, soy flour, flax eggs … all the kind of things that people recommended on the internet as egg substitutes at that time. Here I got disappointed – more than once – as the baked goods I produced were never quite right, having either an odd off-taste, an unexpected change in texture or both. So I started to look closer into vegan baking and baking theory in general.
I baked and baked, tried to “veganize” my trusted recipes, tried lots of new ones and served the results at the Kü-Ché. Okay, to be honest, some of the cakes I did not serve, as they did not turn out to my satisfaction. But slowly, cookie by cookie, cupcake by cupcake I realized that vegan baking was possible, and that was the last obstacle on my very personal way to veganism – conquered. If I could bake vegan, I could also live completely vegan. And it all started with the discovery of plant-based butter.
What I learned during that time is that vegan baking is not just about creating substitutes, using substitute ingredients. It’s a lot more about using different recipes, making delicious sweet goods that are not bland wanna-be versions of traditional cakes, but equally tasty and pleasant – if not even more, as they’re cruelty-free! ^_^
Veganizing recipes (by substituting animal derived-products with plant-based ones) is something that should be done carefully, though can be successful as well. Especially when working with egg replacers, a bit of thought should be given on which functional aspects the egg components fulfil in a certain baked good and which plant-derived ingredients to choose as replacement. As for vegan butter, the brand my friend recommended to me all these years ago worked – and still does – pretty well for all the things I like to make with it. It’s a mixture of different plant fats with a hint of limonellol, tasting just as good as the cow’s milk’s butter I grew up with. And with this, I’m not missing out on the scent that arises when I start working sugar into (vegan) butter, or that heavenly smell when croissants are baking in the oven. I’m not missing out on the wonderful crumbly texture of shortcrust cookies, or nice and flaky pie crusts . And I managed to make brown butter, opening up a new universe of delicacies for me.
When I saw this recipe for peach streusel shortbread on smitten kitchen, using brown butter, I knew I had to try to veganize it. Peaches, one of my favourite treats in this time of the year, sitting on a thin layer of shortbread, topped with brown-butter scented streusel – a heavenly sweet, indulgent but light treat, perfect for late summer days. By now, fall is starting already, but – at least where I live – perfectly ripe peaches are still available. So if you happen to have a few of those gems on hand, go to your kitchen, and make this shortbread. I promise, you won’t regret it 😉
Note: my preferred vegan butter is organic Alsan (*no paid advertisement, only private opinion), but feel free to try this recipe with any other vegan butter – I’d love to hear about your experience using different brands!
|Brown butter peach streusel shortbread
makes one baking tray, approx. 20 bars (depending on how large you cut them :)), adapted from smitten kitchen
460 g vegan butter
350 g granulated sugar
8 g baking powder
720 g all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (1 g) cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
15 g soy flour
90 g aquafaba
3 large or up to 6 small peaches (= enough to cover one baking tray), pitted and thinly sliced