Vegan baking: The low-down on animal-free ingredients

A closer look at three vegan bakeries in Toronto and the GTA to talk about how they make terrific-tasting vegan baked goods.

By: Tamar Atik

Tori Vaccher loves to bake. She did it as a hobby for years and now she bakes for a living. Tori’s Bakeshop opened just a year and a half ago in Toronto, and has already experienced transitions in the vegan baking process.

Courtesy of Tori's Bakeshop

Tori Vaccher/Photo courtesy of Tori’s Bakeshop

“A lot of [the baked goods] started off from my family’s recipes. We have things like the ‘Nana’s Loaf,’ which is actually my great-nana’s recipe, which I veganized. A lot of them- even the pie dough- are veganized recipes,” says Vaccher, who’s been vegan for eight years.

For Vaccher, flax is a number one ingredient. “I think flax is in every single baked good that we have; it’s our egg substitute,” she said, adding she uses a lot of coconut milk and oil. “It’s just so fatty and a good replacement for a butter or milk.”

Tamar Atik/Say Vegan

Muffins in Tori’s Bakeshop
Tamar Atik/Say Vegan

Lili Khan, vegan for five years, says she puts a vegan spin on traditional recipes, too. She and her sisters Shannon and Lisa opened the Vegan Danish Bakery in Thornhill four years ago.

Their danishes are based in a classic recipe from the 1950s, minus the animal products or synthetic vegan substitutes. “We don’t use any bakery bulk fats and all that kind of nasty stuff,” Khan said, referring to ingredients such as butter, for example. “We have veganized these products of course, which have a non-vegan origin, but we have veganized them to perfection.”

Blueberry vegan danish Tamar Atik/ Say Vegan

Blueberry vegan danish from the Vegan Danish Bakery
Tamar Atik/Say Vegan

And the only way to veganize is to change the ingredients, both Vaccher and Khan said. Vegan and front of house manager at Kelly’s Bake Shoppe in Burlington, Laurie Syer, says their vegan baked goods are the result of hours of experimentation.

Laurie Syer/ Photo courtesy of Kelly's Bake Shoppe

Laurie Syer/ Photo courtesy of Kelly’s Bake Shoppe

Kelly Childs and Erinn Weatherbie are the mother and daughter co-owners of Kelly’s Bake Shoppe. Syer said the pair “experiment continually to bring the best product forward.

Erinn Weatherbie (left) and Kelly Childs/Photo courtesy of Kelly's Bake Shoppe

Erinn Weatherbie (left) and Kelly Childs/Photo courtesy of Kelly’s Bake Shoppe

“For instance, they’ve just perfected the butter tart. That took a lot of experimentation to get that perfect. The butter tart with no butter of course because it’s vegan,” Syer said.

“Most of our flour mixes are garbanzo bean and fava bean mixtures; that’s one of our main components in the flour base,” Syer said. “We add pureed vegetables to some of our cupcakes. For example, sweet potato puree in our chocolate cupcake [and] every colouring and flavour is 100% organic and natural. For instance, we’ll use plant-based colours as opposed to chemical colours.

Black and white cupcake/Photo courtesy of Kelly's Bake Shoppe

Black and white cupcake/Photo courtesy of Kelly’s Bake Shoppe

Khan and her sisters use different substitutes for their baking.

“As an alternative to milk, we use soy milk and as an alternative to eggs, we use corn starch and baking powder,” Khan said. “So, it’s all natural, it’s all good and it’s all yummy.”

But it wasn’t always easy to find readily available ingredients for vegan baking. Vaccher said it was hard to find what she needed in the quantities she needed just a couple of years ago.

“It was really expensive when we first opened; I wasn’t buying things bulk, I was buying things just from grocery stores,” she said. “But now we have a good handful of distributors.

Khan agrees it’s not hard to find baking substitutes anymore. “The alternatives are so good and so widely available,” Khan said. But that doesn’t mean the learning curve has ended.

Vaccher said she took an evening baking course in the beginning, to perfect her skills and continues to experiment.

“When we close, I’ll be here still working on recipes and it gets frustrating, but I love it,” Vaccher said.

Vegan donuts in Tori's Bakeshop Tamar Atik/Say Vegan

Vegan donuts in Tori’s Bakeshop
Tamar Atik/Say Vegan

All three bakeries started off vegan.

Vaccher, Syer and Khan all said they love spreading awareness about vegan baking and influencing their non-vegan community in the process.

“We don’t put a big sign up saying that we’re vegan. If you come in, then we’re happy to talk about it with you and we just want it to be comfortable for everyone to come in and enjoy delicious, conscious food,” Vaccher said.

“The reason for being is compassion,” Khan said. “Everything we make is animal-product free and because of that, it is compassion to the animals. Nobody was hurt making our products.”

Flaky vegan pie dough (makes two full pies, shells and lattice)

-Courtesy of Tori’s Bake Shop

Ingredients:

4 ½ cups unbleached organic hard flour
2 ½ cups non-hydrogenated shortening (I use Earth Balance) OR organic coconut oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. organic light brown sugar (I use Wholesome Sweeteners, a fair trade organic sugar)
250 ml cold water

Directions:

1. Using a measuring cup, measure out 250 ml cold water and place it in the fridge (this will guarantee you have very cold water).

2. Sift flour into large bowl. Mix in salt.

3. Cut shortening into flour until you have medium pea-size balls (you can use whatever tool you have on hand, two knives or forks or better yet a pastry cutter. I recommend not using your hands — you want to keep the dough as cold as possible).

4. Take water out of fridge and whisk in brown sugar until partially dissolved.

5. Mix cold water/sugar mixture into flour mixture. At first you can use a wooden spoon to mix together, then when dough starts to form you can use your hand to help combine everything (just make sure you are working fairly quickly — you do not want the shortening to start melting).

6. When ball is almost formed, flip onto a tabletop and lightly knead into a ball, making sure you are not overworking the dough.

7. Once the ball is formed, divide into two balls, cover and place in fridge.

Tips:

– Keep everything cold. If you have to step away from making the dough make sure you pop everything into the fridge.

– Do not overwork the dough. You want all those little buttery, pea-sized balls to stay that shape for as long as possible. That way, when the pie is baking, all these amazing butter pockets will make your dough nice and flaky.

– Use care with the dough. If you show your food love while you are making it then there is no way it will not turn out lovely in the end.

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