We cook up some vegan meringues and discovers some surprising substitutes for traditional ingredients
Who needs eggs when you have aquafaba, chia and flaxseeds?
The Great British Bake Off had its very own Vegan Week this month, proving that veganism has well and truly moved into the mainstream. The segment challenged contestants to make a variety of saccharine treats using their own replacements for butter, egg whites and milk.
“If you are a vegan or you’re thinking about it, and are just worried about how it is going to change your life, watch this episode and see. It fascinated me, totally shocked me as well,” says Paul Hollywood, the show’s presenter. “Veganism is something that seems to be growing. That’s why it is in,” he adds, to explain the rationale behind dedicating an entire week to plant-based baking.
Nutritionist Mae Algethami, at The Vegan Spot Dubai, agrees. “There’s still room for improvement, but the vegan presence in Dubai is slowly growing,” she says, referencing Aussie eatery Common Grounds and its wholly vegan menu for the month of October.
The power of aquafaba
I have never attempted to make a vegan dessert in my life, but am adamant that I will be making the conversion to veganism over the next 12 months. So I set about conquering a vegan meringue after tuning in to see contestants whisking up a replacement for egg whites out of chickpea juice.
Aquafaba (bean water) is a vegan miracle solution that can be used instead of egg whites in meringue, pavlova and mousse recipes. It takes a great deal of whisking, but that leftover brine from your chickpeas may be a saving grace if you’ve either swapped to a plant-based diet, or left eggs off your shopping list and are desperately looking for replacements online before your dinner guests arrive.
Just three tablespoons of aquafaba is enough to replace the egg white from one egg. And aquafaba isn’t just the brine from a tin of chickpeas. You can use the juice from any legume (including kidney and cannellini beans), but chickpeas are the preferred option, owing to an almost nutty-tasting result, which I found to be the case when whipping up my own egg-free meringues using the aquafaba technique. The key lies in the whipping, of course, which requires a lot more energy if you are doing your baking without the aid of a mixer. Still, there’s real joy to be had from retrieving a meringue, perfectly crispy on the outside and oozing a satisfying marshmallow texture on the inside, which has been made with the unsuspecting leftover remnants of a tin of chickpeas.
It isn’t just meringues that aquafaba can be used for, either. Look to this unexpected egg replacement for other vegan sweet treats, including baked Alaska, strawberry ice cream, buttercream, macaroons, brownies, nougat and fudge, according to the Vegan Society website. On the savoury side, you can use it for egg-free mayonnaise.
If you’re not a fan of chickpeas and aren’t prepared to waste an entire tin just to get your hands on the juice, there are other solutions. Dubai-based vegan vlog The Newby Vegan Diaries uses flaxseed for exactly the same results: “You whizz up flaxseeds and add water and let it thicken up, which is a great egg replacement because it goes a bit gooey and you also get the fibre and omega-3 goodness of the flaxseed.”
Non-vegan Katie Davidson has a third option when baking for a growing circle of vegan friends. “I soak half a cup of dried chia seeds in a cup of water for an hour, until they go jelly-like, then I can add this instead of eggs to make any cake recipe,” she says. Half a cup of chia seeds is enough to replace two eggs. Her tried-and-tested muffin recipe has a fairly simple egg replacement, too – for a super-moist spongy texture, try unsweetened apple sauce instead of eggs.
Far from just being the preserve of the home baker, though, vegan baking (and cooking, in the wider sense) is being adopted by an increasing number of establishments across the UAE. Healthy Patisserie in Dubai, for example, specialises in vegan, gluten-free and sugar-free desserts, taking a trial-and-error approach to recipe development. “We are very happy with flaxseed as an egg substitute,” says the outlet’s Maryna Qureshi. The professionals don’t use aquafaba, presumably because of the amount of chickpeas that would go to waste.
Still, Qureshi extols the virtues of vegan baking, citing the creativity involved when omitting all dairy from our favourite desserts as an exciting prospect. “The beauty of the vegan kitchen and in vegan baking, especially, is that you get to experiment a lot, and you never know what one product can give you in terms of flavour and texture,” she adds.
As well as the wider-known flaxseed replacement for eggs, chefs at the patisserie have also developed a whipping cream using coconut cream. “It’s a secret recipe developed by our chef, which is just so delicious, with no strong coconut flavour.” Their vegan cheesecakes also swap out cheese for cashew nuts, while dairy milk is replaced with almond milk and soy milk in tiny amounts. They’re also in the process of developing recipes using agar-agar, a red algae extract with a gelatinous texture, in place of gelatin.
“As far as swaps go, it’s definitely a bit of a trial-and-error approach you have to adopt, but once you find something that works, it’ll never fail you. Most importantly, it tastes just as good (if not better) than the original,” says Algethami, who also runs a health-coaching programme for those looking to adopt a plant-based lifestyle in the UAE. Going off my perfectly peaked aquafaba meringues last week, I would have to agree with her. Up next on my dairy-free dessert mission? Chickpea-juice chocolate mousse.