How to Veganize Any Recipe: Sweet Edition

Dying to revamp a favorite dessert, but don’t know where to start? These expert tips will help you convert any recipe vegan.


The old stereotype of vegan baked goods tasting like shredded wheat squares has been replaced with vegan cupcakes dominating Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, dairy-free doughnuts being crowned the best doughnuts in New York City by the NY Daily News, and dairy-free bakeries popping up all over the country. When it comes to veganizing sweet treats, Allison Rivers Samson of Allison’s Gourmet is an undisputed expert at taking desserts to the upper echelon. Here are her top substitution tips for vegan baking.  

Better Than Butter
While commercial vegan margarines and shortenings exist for baking ease, Rivers Samson loves to use unflavored coconut oil (also called coconut butter in cooler climates). When substituting for dairy butter, you’ll need to replace it with 3/4 coconut oil and 1/4 water—for example: if a recipe calls for 1 cup dairy butter, substitute 3/4 cup coconut oil and 1/4 cup water. Mix the coconut oil and water together before adding to your recipe.
Try These:
Chocolate Peanut Maple Bars
Oatmeal-Raisin Cookie Dough
Vegan Strudel 

Binding Agreements
For desserts that call for gelatin (a by-product of meat processing), try using agar agar powder or flakes. This great thickening agent is made from seaweed. When purchasing agar agar powder, be sure to read the ingredients list—it shouldn’t have any additives in it (a common one to look for is tapioca flour). Citrus-based desserts will need more agar agar because the acidity of the fruit makes it harder for agar to set. Arrowroot powder can replace processed cornstarch. Tapioca flour or starch works well as a lighter option than arrowroot, which can have a stringy texture. Kuzu root starch is ideal for pudding-like desserts.
Try These:
Crème Brûlée
Gluten-Free Chocolate Strawberry Pie
Vegan Samoas

Dairy Doubles
With the wide variety of non-dairy milks on the market, you can easily replace dairy milk in any recipe in a one-to-one ratio. Rivers Samson likes to use almond milk for a creamy, light flavor, but mainly uses coconut milk for its richness. She suggests opting for unsweetened varieties so you have more control over the sweet levels. Full-fat canned coconut milk or soy creamer is a great stand-in for heavy cream. To replace buttermilk, combine 1 tablespoon of a sour liquid (lemon juice, lime juice, or apple cider vinegar) and 1 cup non-dairy milk, whisk, and let sit for 10 minutes.
Try These:
DIY Almond Milk
Hot Chocolate Ice Cream
Vegan Lemon Curd

Egg Exchange
Replacing eggs in baking can be tricky, but Rivers Samson has some simple guidelines.

If you only need to substitute one egg, use 2 tablespoons water.

To substitute 2 to 3 eggs, for each egg that the recipe calls for, use one of the following:

  1. 2 tablespoons water plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  2. 1 tablespoon agar agar flakes dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water then blended until smooth
  3. 1/4 cup plain non-dairy yogurt
  4. 1/2 teaspoon baking powder plus 3 tablespoons applesauce or pumpkin purée (best for pumpkin- or apple-based recipes)
  5. 1/4 cup mashed potatoes  
  6. 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds plus 3 tablespoons water (let rest for 5 minutes before using)
  7. 1/2 of a banana, puréed (best for banana-based recipes)

To substitute for 4 eggs or more, for each egg that the recipe calls for, use 2 tablespoons water mixed with 1-1/2 teaspoons egg replacer (such as Ener-G Egg Replacer).

Pantry Basics
When transforming desserts, Rivers Samson recommends keeping the following ingredients on hand: baking powder, baking soda, agar agar powder, arrowroot and tapioca starches, kuzu root, coconut milk, coconut oil, and high-quality cocoa powder and chocolate. Opt for organic and pure versions of these ingredients whenever possible.
Try These:
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Gluten-Free Lemon Cookies 
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Sweet Substitutes
White sugar isn’t among Rivers Samson’s must-have items. Instead, she stocks her pantry with coconut sugar, brown rice syrup, and stevia as sugar substitutes. She uses agave nectar in small amounts as well.
Try These:
Apple Dumplings
Chocolate-Covered Peppermint Sandwich Cookies
Pear & Fig Tart

Now that you’ve learned some secret tricks to substituting for dairy and eggs in tasty treats, it’s time to get in the kitchen. Peruse the VegNews Must-Make Vegan Desserts Pinterest board for even more drool-worthy recipes. Happy baking!

More substitution guides:
Vegan Baking Substitution Guide
9 Simple Substitutions for Common Food Allergies
How to Veganize Any Recipe: Savory Edition

Photo by Garrison McArthur Photographers

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