How to Successfully Make Vegan Cookies
Plus, several delicious cookie recipes (for Christmas or anytime!) that just happen to be vegan-friendly.
I feel a protective connection to vegan baking; my own vegan period was shortly after my son was born. When it became obvious he had inherited my genes for childhood food allergies, I had to eliminate all the top allergens from my diet, including dairy and eggs. My sweet tooth was raging but when I mentioned I could only have vegan baked goods I was often subject to an eye roll or the question: what’s the point? As if those of us avoiding certain foods should be deprived!
Luckily this was many years ago and since then the quantity and quality of vegan recipes has exploded. And even though I no longer need to avoid dairy and eggs, I often still enjoy eating and baking vegan to keep my diet feeling balanced, and because I've found some truly delicious recipes! But I also learned first-hand that vegan baking can be tricky. The structure and flavor of butter, eggs and milk in recipes can take some work to successfully replace without compromising the end result.
Want to try your hand it at it? Here are some tips I picked up along the way for blissfully successful vegan cookie-making.
It's often easier to look for recipes that are inherently vegan.
When I was in culinary school, we baked some classic Italian biscotti made from little more than flour, ground nuts and a sweetener. They were hearty and crunchy and the nuts were the star in texture and flavor! Just in the way that Oreos and Thin Mint cookies have always been vegan (though not certified vegan), there are many great cookies that just so happen to contain no animal products because that’s just how they work best. Eggs and butter can tenderize cookies, but oil makes them crisp which is exactly the texture required for biscotti. If you want to start baking vegan but feel overwhelmed by some of the substitute products available, try these "accidentally" vegan coconut biscotti.
Substitutions will not always be equal swaps.
I get it — there is a divine butter cookie you grew up eating and it’s just not the holidays without it! But before you dump two sticks of non-dairy "butter" into your mixing bowl to try to replicate your family's recipe, pause. An equal-parts substitution may not be the best choice.
Oil and non-dairy butter simply do not perform or taste the same in baked goods as dairy butter. Which is not to say they aren’t great options, but since the makeup of the products are pretty different, you might need to make an adjustment so the cookies are rich and tender — not greasy or heavy. No one wants vanilla, cinnamon or brown sugar overwhelmed by the flavor of oil. These crunchy gingersnaps have a coconut oil base, but while a comparable gingerbread cookie recipe calls for 1 cup of butter (2 sticks), these cookies only need 2/3 cup oil to achieve the right kind of crisp snap without overwhelming the spice in the cookie. It may take a bit of experimentation to figure out the right substitution for your favorite recipe, so don’t be afraid to play around a bit until you get it juuuust right.
Moisture is your friend.
It’s not uncommon to see a liquid ingredient in a vegan cookie recipe that might not be there in a comparable dairy-friendly cookie. Butter and eggs have both water and fat so if you replace them with something that is made up of all or mostly oil, you are missing the moisture your cookies likely need to bake well. The good news is that you can simply add it back in with a little water, nondairy milk or even applesauce. Not enough to turn your flour into paste, but enough to hydrate it and balance the structure of the cookie. Sometimes the liquid will keep the cookies soft, like in these sugar cookies, and sometimes it’s just needed to bind the dough together to it doesn’t crumble.
Embrace the unexpected!
Sometimes the road to homemade vegan cookies is a little twisty. You might end up using tapioca flour and xanthan gum to replace the eggs like in this chocolate cookie recipe. And who would have known that chickpea liquid was the key to a crisp eggless meringue cookie? Between different flours, vegan chocolates, sugars and marshmallows and oils, the vegan baker’s pantry might look a little different to some. But at the end of the day it’s all about delicious cookies.