Some equate “vegan baking” with flavorless, cardboard-like, “healthy” desserts with bits of fruits or vegetables hidden inside. While there are plenty of terrible dairy-free desserts out there, many vegan treats are actually indistinguishable from their traditional counterparts. Another misconception involves ingredient-swapping: not all substitutions are appropriate for all recipes. Not all standard recipes can be “vegan-ized” by simply replacing eggs with applesauce, for instance. Every ingredient serves a purpose, and using the wrong substitute can be disastrous. Starting with an already-vegan recipe ensures the best possible outcome.
Plenty of vegans have sweet tooths, and have become inspired to invent alternatives to conventional favorites. The best vegan baked goods are easy to make, and do not compromise flavor or use any unusual ingredients. Whether you’re currently following a plant-based diet yourself, want to try cutting out dairy, or know someone who is vegan, these recipes are for you.
These cookies from Vegan Huggs are simple to make with only one substitution: vegan chocolate chips. These are easy to find at most grocery stores or online. Even many dark chocolates still contain milk, or a milk-derivative, but there are certainly some hidden gems in the baking aisle. It is important to note that many brands are not labeled as vegan, so checking the ingredients list is crucial. I made these cookies with white chocolate chips from Nestle Toll House’s Allergen-Free line of products.
From my batch of cookies, non-vegans were shocked to learn that these were vegan. The added spices make these cookies taste like any traditional pumpkin spice cookie—especially with a little extra cinnamon sprinkled in. The chocolate chips add even more moisture and flavor.
With this recipe, it is important not to over-bake. By taking them out of the oven while they’re still a bit puffy, they will firm up while cooling but still be soft enough to enjoy. The outsides are slightly crispy, a perfect combination with the soft inside. These cookies are perfect for a cool fall day, and the chocolate chips mix perfectly with the fluffy, cake-like texture of the cookie.
This recipe from AllRecipes creates a dessert far from what is expected of the phrase “zucchini brownies.” While this recipe does introduce the unusual pairing of chocolate brownies and a healthy green vegetable—an arguably “weird” ingredient for a dessert—the flavor and texture of the final product are not sacrificed. In fact, the pieces of zucchini are barely noticeable if they are grated small enough. The baking process causes them to nearly disappear. These brownies are also incredibly simple: the hardest part is waiting for them to come out of the oven.
Zucchinis are also called “summer squashes,” making this an ideal treat for mid-summer, when gardens are overflowing with them. This recipe requires mixing all other ingredients together first, and saving the grated zucchini for last. Before incorporating the zucchini, the batter will be extremely dry and concerningly crumbly. This is because zucchinis are made up of approximately 95% water, and adding a few cups will immediately hydrate the batter. The fully-prepared batter also looks somewhat questionable, with tiny noodle-like strands of green poking out from the chocolate, nearly resembling worms. Do not panic – after baking, they are almost undetectable. Despite literally being full of vegetables, these brownies are moist and have a rich chocolate flavor.
This recipe from “Loving It Vegan” is great for fall, and perfect for tricking non-vegan friends and family over the holidays. This pie is filled with pumpkin puree and canned, full-fat coconut milk. (Make sure to get full-fat!) Of course, the coconut slightly changes the flavor of an otherwise traditional pumpkin pie, but some think this makes the dessert even better. Coconut milk is generally lower in calories than cow’s milk. It is lower in protein, but most people aren’t baking pies for the protein content.
Besides the flavor, the texture of this pie is surprisingly normal. Without egg, the coconut milk and cornstarch mixed with the pumpkin are responsible for the thicker texture. This is another dessert that can fool non-vegans, as it’s only slightly different from a traditional pie texture.
While the recipe includes instructions on making a pie shell from scratch, you can also use frozen ones from the store. Many of them are “accidentally” vegan, so a quick skim of the ingredient list can help find a suitable crust. Another optional addition is the whipped cream topping: some stores offer dairy-free whipped toppings, but it is also fairly easy to make from home. Loving It Vegan has a great recipe for this. A properly prepared whipped topping adds to the pumpkin pie experience.
Another one from Loving It Vegan, this recipe is definitely one of the best cookie recipes. The only substitutes required are plant-milk (such as soy, almond, or coconut), vegan butter, and dairy-free chocolate chips. Each of these can be found in most grocery stores. Because this recipe is so close to “normal” cookies, it’s the perfect quick and simple recipe for late-night chocolate cravings.
Similar to the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, it’s important to take these out of the oven a bit early and allow them to firm-up while resting on the hot tray. Baking too long will produce more of a crisp, burnt-brownie texture. Delicious, but lacking the best feature of these cookies: the soft, chewy, fudge-like texture. By tasting these cookies, you would likely never know they’re dairy-free. As with the pumpkin cookies, I tried these with white chocolate chips, and enjoyed the contrast between the rich chocolate cookie and the white chips.
These cookies also serve as a solid base for creative cookie-experiments. There are plenty of possible ingredients to throw in the batter in place of, or in addition to, the chocolate chips. Peanuts, marshmallows, sprinkles, or even candies would blend well with the chocolate base.
Last but not least, this recipe from The Big Man’s World yields a moist, delicious, and versatile chocolate cake recipe. The texture makes it a prime candidate for a layer cake, because it’s light and fluffy, yet sturdy enough to hold itself together. This also makes decorating a breeze, since the cake does not crumble easily. Whether you use it for a layer cake, cupcakes, or a bundt cake, the flavor of this cake tops all others.
This recipe is also special because it is inherently dairy-free: no substitutions or whacky ingredients needed. This makes it extremely convenient, as most of these ingredients are typical pantry staples.
The recipe calls for apple cider vinegar, but turns out just as well using white vinegar. I originally stumbled across this recipe while making (non-vegan) blackbottom cupcakes, and noticed that the chocolate base of the cupcake was “accidentally” lacking any animal products. Since this discovery, I’ve paired this cake with a variety of frosting flavors—from traditional vanilla and chocolate buttercreams, to strawberry, blueberry, and peanut butter. Because of the moist texture of the cake, additional add-ins would work well, like chocolate chips mixed into the batter.
As with most of the recipes in this list, this cake is close enough to traditional chocolate cakes that even non-vegans would not question it.
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Photo: Cassidy Klingman