Baking is perhaps the quintessential holiday activity. Not only can you share your sweet treats with visiting loved ones, but you could potentially even gather together in the kitchen and bake en famille. Baking is a great bonding activity - that is until grandma dribbles a little too much ice water into the pie dough. But not to worry... Why not throw a wrench in it this holiday season and apply an added constraint: go vegan.
Vegan baking is even more fun than regular baking because it adds an element of mystique - how exactly will all of that pureed tofu taste, when mixed with sugar and spices and so forth? It can be especially gratifying if you experiment by converting your stalwart winter recipes yourself, and ultimately realize that there was no need to exploit those poor little chickens and cows after all: your coconut cream pie is just as tasty made with soy-margarine. Here are a few beauties to get you started from our in-house expert. From pumpkin pie to sugar cookies, your every baking whim should be covered in this run-down of superb vegan renditions of holiday favorites.
1) Pumpkin Pie
Vegan baker extraordinaire Lisa Lacy first tackled pumkin pie:
I can't say blended silken tofu smelled all that good -- just really beany -- but when the pumpkin, spices, coconut milk and soy milk were added, it certainly looked the part. And when I licked the spatula, it definitely tasted coconut-y, but pleasantly so. And I'm not even a huge coconut fan.
As it baked, it didn't emit much scent - as opposed to that "come hither"-smell that many baked goods do. But it turned out pretty.
When everything was mixed together, it was a frothy, almost mousse-like consistency that didn't want to pour. I actually had to scoop it into the crust in heaping spoonfuls. But when I licked the spatula, it tasted like regular sweet potato pie (albeit slightly muted).
It cracked in the oven - much like my cheesecakes always do because I refuse to go to the trouble of using a water bath - but, again, it was a pretty good looking pie in the end. And it went to a good home -- it will be spending Thanksgiving with my yoga-loving friend in Park Slope.
3. Gingerbread Men and Ladies
Her vegan gingerbread experiment yielded delicious - and extra-handsome - results:
Because they were so much easier to roll out, the vegan dough produced much prettier bridges, statues and snowmen. After setting the butter/egg version on racks to cool, I ended up with a wonky Ikea cart full of broken noses and torches. Plus, they were all wrinkly because the dough was cracked. (While I was struggling to roll it out, my friend Googled "what to do when your dough is tough" and came up with: 1) check the date of your baking powder; and 2) add a tablespoon of milk.)
The spices were perhaps not as readily apparent in the vegan version, but the cookies are so much more beautiful, it's hard to care. If this was a scientific experiment, I'd do the butter/egg version over again without screwing up the flour to see if it makes much difference. But as far as I'm concerned -- human error aside -- the vegan version is the gingerbread victor.
It was my intention to ice both batches as well -- before I even knew one would be ugly. But, I ran out of time on that particular night...so I will have to save vegan icing for another day.
4.) Chocolate Pecan Tart
A chocolate pecan tart trial - Lacy made one half vegan, the other half egg-and-butter fortified, and brought the tart to a holiday party - proved the prowess of vegan ingredients. Guests took to taste-testing the decadent concoction, testing each others' ability to distinguish soy margarine from butter...
My plan was to offload this tart at a holiday party and even though the vegan side sort of muscled its way over and I could have just told everyone that the bigger half of the tart was vegan, I wanted a more creative solution. Then it hit me: I won a set of disembodied Santa and snowman heads (that are supposed to be used to decorate cupcakes) at the Cupcakes Take the Cake 4-year blogiversary party. And I had been thinking I should make cupcakes, too, so I could at least use them once before I had to put them away for a year...but! Then I realized that I could fashion little speech bubbles out of post-it notes and write, "I'm vegan!" on one and "I'm not!" on another and then stick the notes to one lucky Santa and one lucky snowman and put them on each side. (For some reason, the snowman seemed like the vegan one.) I was very proud of myself for coming up with this.
I was still worried it would be completely weird to show up at the party with a tart...but people actually ate it. And they even started doing a taste test to see who could tell which side was vegan...most people got it right. But the consensus was that the vegan version by itself was still pretty darn tasty. And that's always nice to hear.
5) Cookies Galore
Lacy's vegan mission prompted her to tackle the requisite Christmas sugar cookies.
When I decided I would actually *do* it this year - I would jump on the holiday cookie bandwagon - I didn't know what cookies to make. Sugar cookies seemed an obvious choice (as did gingerbread, frankly)...but beyond that, who knows? Epicurious offers its 25 top Christmas cookies - billed as "a sweet treat for every day of December." Martha's holiday cookie photo gallery includes 50 recipes and her Web site even has a quiz about what Christmas cookie you are. (For the record, I am "undoubtedly molasses-gingerbread cookies" because I am "warm, spicy, and multifaceted.") FoodNetwork.com has a cool 100. The staggering number of cookie options reminded me of a story a friend sent me about a woman's quest to bake every single cookie recipe in Martha Stewart's holiday magazine by the end of the year...
Pumpkin cheesecake seemed like the ultimate vegan challenge to Lacy - with a dairy product right there in the name. Indeed, things got a little sticky...
I remember thinking that the crust seemed awfully thick, so I wasn't surprised when I couldn't fit all the filling into my springform pan (perhaps I should have used the square one after all). It was supposed to be in the oven for an hour and a half, but I decided to check every 30 minutes as I haven't really baked with tofu before in such an overt way. About five minutes later, I realized I had forgotten the vanilla, so I had to bring the poor sucker out again and pour vanilla in and try to stir it up IN the pan. Shameful. After that, the cake darkened quickly, but was still jiggly for pretty much the entire time. I had to put a tray under it toward the end as it was leaking all over the bottom of my oven and burning something crazy (but this isn't all that unusual at my house).
When I took it out, I admit it had a beautiful almost caramel-like texture to it. And it smelled wonderful. After a night in my fridge, it looks substantially gooier...but I hope if I take it out an hour or so before serving that it will lose some of that cold, wet goo effect.