About our Kitchen: Vegan + Nut Free Baking

As a classically-trained pastry chef, I was taught to bake with sweet butter, whole milk and fresh eggs. Most recipes had at least one or all of these ingredients. So, when I decided to transform Flourish into a vegan kitchen, I had to rethink how to create a new set of ingredients to use as building blocks that could achieve light-as-air sponge cakes, buttery cookies, and creamy mousse puddings.

I began to convert my recipes. I started with our cookies and bars, followed by the larger bakes of cakes and cupcakes. The greatest discovery was that I found a new versatility in my ingredients. Grains could be used as milks as well as flours; rolled oats blended with water created an oat ‘milk’ replacing milk in all of my recipes. Finely ground oats into a flour not only added flavor, but also protein to a flour blend. Coconut proved to be an ideal replacement for cream and butter. Coconut cream whipped up into a luxurious mousse, the milk added richness to chocolate ganache and the oil replaced melted butter in financier teacakes.

Chickpeas played a starring role in our kitchen. Pureeing them into a ‘butter’ created a dense chewy brownie, toasting and grinding them into a flour made for deliciously nutty shortbread. Using chickpeas also provided a solution to our nut-free kitchen. Many vegan recipes rely on nuts as a replacer for protein and fats in the form of nut flours, nut milks and nut butters. Chickpeas worked well in its place with added benefits - low fat, high fiber and protein, and, they have a lower environmental impact than water-intensive nut crops.

But it was aquafaba, the leftover bean water, that really transformed my baking. Reducing the cooking liquid turned aquafaba into an egg replacer for muffin batters and cookie doughs. It also whipped easily into vegan meringues, marshmallows, and royal icing. Aquafaba led me to the creation of meringueshop.

Vegan baking it turns out was not sacrificing anything in terms of taste, flavor, or performance, but rather allowed for a more contemporary approach to baking to emerge.

Diane Forley is a professional chef, educator, and writer. Diane was chef-owner of Verbena Restaurant and the wine bar Bar Demi, both formerly in New York City. Diane trained in restaurants in New York and Paris including the River Café, Arpege, L’Ecole Le Notre, and Gotham Bar and Grill where she was the pastry chef. Diane’s cookbook, Anatomy of a Dish, summarized her plant-based approach to cooking – one that bridges the divide between the culinary and the botanical.