Vegan Gingerbread Cookies

There is nothing like watching the delight in a person's face as he or she realizes that a gooey cookie or moist slice of cake is actually vegan.
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Gena Hamshaw of the blog Choosing Raw eats a mostly raw, vegan diet without losing time, money, or her sanity. Let her show you how to make "rabbit food" taste delicious and satisfying every other Thursday on Food52.

Every day till Christmas, we're bringing you 12 Days of Baking: 12 all-new baking recipes to lift holiday spirits -- from breakfast pastries to dinner rolls, and all the desserts you can handle.

Today: Gena shares a recipe for vegan gingerbread cookies, and some baking tips.

You may have perfected soups and stews, veggie burgers and wraps, hummus and kale salad. You may even have tackled—and mastered—a perfect vegan pie crust. But cookies, quickbreads, and cake--without the butter, milk, or eggs? It may be possible, but surely it's going to take a lot of work.

That's how I felt, anyway, when I first became vegan. Every attempt I made to explore vegan baking ended up with me reading an online list of egg substitutions that made my eyes gloss over. After a few failed experiments with flax seeds and water, I figured I’d just call baked goods a thing of the past. Fortunately, a few brilliant cookbooks showed me the error of my ways, and vegan baking was soon my favorite new project. For someone who had never relished baking in the first place--the precision, the rules--I was suddenly enchanted with my mixer and spatula.

My friends and colleagues were pleased, too. There is nothing like watching the delight in a person’s face as he or she realizes that a gooey cookie or moist slice of cake is actually vegan.

This holiday season, you may find yourself fielding questions or criticism from family members who aren’t quite sure why you’re interested in this whole vegan thing, anyway. Rather than formulating a wordy answer, you may want to simply share a crispy and delicious vegan cookie. Good food speaks for itself.

Before you get down to baking, allow me to share some general vegan cookie-making tips:

Coconut oil. As I’ve mentioned before, you can use coconut oil (solid, at room temperature) to replace butter in most recipes. It even beats up nicely in a mixer!

Biscotti, anyone? Biscotti are traditionally made either without butter or without eggs. For this reason, it’s easy to veganize them because you’re only facing one animal product substitution, rather than two. Try making them with a combination of vegetable oil or coconut oil and soymilk. They’ll be crispy, crunchy, and delicious.

Flax eggs. Flax “egg” is a common substitution for eggs in vegan baking. Whisk one tablespoon of ground flaxmeal with 3 tablespoons warm water and let it “gel” for a few moments before adding it to your recipe. One of these is the equivalent of a single egg. It can take a little time to perfect this method, but once you get it, it works.

Icing on the cookie. Try mixing certified organic powdered cane sugar with almond or soy milk and a touch of vanilla for an easy sugar cookie glaze.

Chocolate craving? Have no fear. Many dark chocolates and dark chocolate chips on the market are vegan: typically those labeled 75% or higher. Be sure to look for labels that include no butter or milkfat, as well as certified organic ingredients to ensure that the sugar used is vegan-friendly.

If you’re looking for a particularly traditional recipe this holiday season, then consider making these crispy, sturdy, and flavorful vegan gingerbread men. The nice thing about these cookies is that they require no egg replacer, and very little non-dairy milk, so they’re a gentle and forgiving way to begin your vegan baking adventures. They’re packed with molasses, which gives them a deep color and a rich, unmistakable taste. Perfect for icing and turning into a gingerbread house, or for putting under the tree, they are sure to make you fall in love with vegan baking. One crispy bite at a time.

Stress Free Vegan Holiday Gingerbread Cookies

Makes 25-30 small cookies or one small gingerbread house. for a larger house, double the recipe.

2 2/3 cups all purpose flour (plus extra for rolling)

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup melted coconut oil

1/2 cup demerara sugar, coconut sugar, or evaporated cane juice

1/4 cup almond milk, soy milk, or rice milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract