Baking is a science. I’m sure you’ve heard, and perhaps said, the saying before. It’s the excuse we use for our tragic dessert failure and the bragging right we claim for our amazing baking success. Love it or hate it, the saying is the truth. Each ingredient in a baked good serves a very unique function, from providing structure and leavening to contributing moisture and color. Eliminate or drastically change the quantity of a particular ingredient and you may just end up with a sad excuse for a cake. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? But that doesn’t mean you throw in the towel and completely give up the experimentation of baking. Definitely not. It does, however, help to understand the rules of the game before you start trading out the players.
And that brings me to my latest baking project. While studying for the food science portion of the RD exam, I ran across an interesting tidbit of information: in muffins, the primary ingredients that provide structure are 1) flour (a.k.a gluten) and 2) egg. Does that mean that it’s impossible to make a well-structured gluten-free, vegan muffin? That’s two strikes right there: no flour and no egg. In the game of baking, does two strikes mean you’re out?
There’s only one way to know. It’s science time!
Subject #1: Gluten. We already know quite a bit about this guy. Gluten is responsible for the elasticity and the structure of a baked good. When mixed with water, the gluten proteins form an elaborate network that gives strength to the product and allows it to rise properly. If these critical proteins are eliminated, the product will end up crumbly and flat. And who wants to eat that? When substituting for gluten in a baked good, it’s important to use a variety of different flours (e.g. sorghum, brown rice, tapioca), starches (e.g. potato, corn, arrowroot), and gums (e.g. xanthan, guar) to mimic the elasticity and structuring power of gluten. That’s why we have the GF Flour Mix*!
Subject #2: Egg. Eggs act as a binder and stabilizer in baked goods, holding the product together so it doesn’t fall apart. Seems rather similar to gluten, doesn’t it? In my five years of gluten-free baking, I have learned the true power of the egg. I went through three batches of shortbread that all tragically turned to dust before I realized an egg would magically make the cookies tender and crumble-free. So if you can substitute for the structuring ability of gluten, can you also substitute for the binding of egg? Definitely! In egg substitutes, you want to make sure that you are providing both moisture (which is present in the egg white) and binding power. For example, you want to combine water with the gelling ability of starch, utilize a thick fruit purée such as pumpkin or banana, or try a liquid-containing yogurt.
Here are some examples of natural ingredients that can function like an egg in muffins:
Substitutions for 1 large egg:
1/4 cup silken tofu
1/4 cup yogurt
1 Tbsp flax seed + 3 Tbsp water
1/4 cup applesauce + 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup mashed banana + 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup pumpkin purée + 1/2 tsp baking powder
For my little project, I decided to try out applesauce. The beauty of a fruit purée is that it imparts its own natural sweetness and subtle flavor to the product (just be sure to choose an unsweetened purée so that you don’t go on sugar overload!). Fruit purées also tend to be fairly dense, so extra leavening (e.g. baking powder) is needed to give the muffin a lighter texture. And because going gluten-free and egg-free means eliminating not just one structural agent but two, I also recommend adding a small amount of xanthan gum to give your baked good a little extra strength.
And there you have it: a muffin that can be made without gluten or eggs! And deliciously so! With a dash of coconut and spice, these muffins taste more like dessert than breakfast. But don’t let your taste buds fool you, these treats are packed with nutritious ingredients, from heart-healthy olive oil and walnuts to vitamin-rich carrots and apple.
Who knew health could taste this good?
Trying to bake for someone with a food allergy? These muffins will do the trick! They are egg-free, milk-free, wheat-free, and can easily be made nut-free and soy-free, too! Just eliminate the walnuts and coconut for a tree nut allergy and use an alternate non-dairy milk if you can’t handle the soy.
Vegan Carrot Cake Muffins
Yield: 12 muffins
1 ½ cups GF Flour Mix*
½ cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ cup coconut
½ cup applesauce
⅓ cup olive oil
⅓ cup soy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup shredded carrot
½ cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the first 10 ingredients. Stir in applesauce, olive oil, soy milk, vanilla extract, and carrots, whisking until smooth. Stir in walnuts.
Evenly distribute batter among 12 muffin cups. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean.
Remove from oven and let muffins sit in pan for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, transfer muffins from pan to wire rack to cool completely.
*GF Flour Mix:
1½ cups sorghum flour
1½ cups potato starch
1 cup tapioca flour