The vegan chef and author shares how to get started
Vegan baking has a reputation for being difficult or, dare we say, finicky? But Isa Chandra Moskowitz, vegan chef, Post Punk Kitchen blogger and author of several vegan baking and cooking books, including "Vegan Pie in the Sky: 75 Out-of-This-World Recipes for Pies, Tarts, Cobblers, and More" and "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Dairy-Free Recipes for Cupcakes that Rule," brings attitude and spice to all of the vegan-friendly meals and sweets she creates while also taking out the mystery of why cakes might fall or cookies over-crisp. Whether its morals, health or even just feeding diet-restricted relatives during the holiday season, Isa offers those completely new to vegan baking inside tips for getting started and being successful.
So many young bakers are starting off as vegan these days, and I think because for new bakers it's actually a bit less intimidating; no finicky ingredients, like egg whites. For someone who already bakes, it's just a matter of learning what to exchange for traditional ingredients.
For the advanced baker, there is definitely another level if you'd like a challenge! Using agar agar (which is a gelatin that comes from seaweed) to set your cream pies, and making "cheesecakes" out of silken tofu and cashews ... those are really fun experiments for adventurous bakers. But for something like a yummy cookie, anyone can manage that.
What do you wish you knew when you first started to bake vegan?
I actually envy the spirit in which I started baking. Perhaps it was naive, perhaps it was the natural fearlessness of youth, but I strapped on my apron with total abandonment. I never thought about how long it would take or how many dishes it would make, I just went for it. I'm happy I didn't know everything I know now, because I would have missed out on a lot of fun along the way.
The trend I've been loving lately is using from-scratch ingredients instead of things like "egg replacer" and margarine. I guess I think of it as open-source baking. I love cooking from the pantry, and using ingredients that are consistent and available the world over.
When just learning to bake vegan, what are some common mistakes beginners make? Any ways to avoid them?
When I started baking, it was way before the Internet existed, so I was not always using reliable recipes. If I were starting off now, I'd use recipes that are well-reviewed. Even if something in a cookbook catches your eye, you can Google the recipe, and I bet you'll be able to find some feedback on it, either from an Internet community, blogger or maybe it's just up on one of those recipes sites somewhere. More generally, I used to over-bake my cookies because I thought they needed to be firm when they were ready. Cookies should still be soft when you pull them out of the oven, unless you're making biscotti.
I've been in love with coconut oil lately! It definitely speaks to my from-scratch philosophy. It's one of the only plant-based oils that is solid at room temperature, and produces deliciously flaky pastry and buttery cookies. I use refined coconut oil so that my baked goods don't taste overwhelmingly coconutty.
What are you baking for the holidays?
For Channukah, I always make Jelly Donut Cupcakes. I'm sure I'll whip up a few Salted Pecan Pies and plenty of Gingerbread Cookies around Christmas. Right now there are some Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookies in the oven that I plan to take to an event tonight.
Image credits (from top): Vanessa Rees / Post Punk Kitchen, Owl in the Rain, Isa Chandra Moskowitz / Post Punk Kitchen and Isa Chandra / Post Punk Kitchen