Food & Drink : Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies

Baking without eggs is not such a nutty idea, after all

Even if you eschew the egg for dietary or moral reasons, its versatility is very handy and in some cases, such as baking, even necessary. It is possible, however, to mimic the egg with natural ingredients — thus avoiding the heavy, starchy, sometimes chalky flavor of commercial egg alternatives.

Unlike the original, egg substitutes are not one size fits all, and some experimentation may be necessary to find a solution that provides the chemistry you need — density, lift, a binding agent — without mucking up the flavor you like. Note: There are some items, such as pancakes, where the egg doesn’t actually play an important role and you can simply leave it out, but you may need to replace it with a few tablespoons of soy milk for moisture.

In dense cakes and brownies, a quarter cup of silken tofu blended to creaminess, replaces one egg. Tofu gives baked goods a soft, light, and moist consistency without adding any flavor. It is too wet and fluffy for cookies however, and certain cakes, although I’ve read that cornstarch is a good de-fluffer.

Peanut Butter Cookies
(Makes two dozen cookies)

1 C peanut butter
1 C sugar
1 t baking soda
1 T flax seed, finely ground and whipped with 3 tablespoons of water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and set aside two baking pans. Combine the peanut butter and sugar, and beat with a hand mixer until fully mixed. Beat in the baking soda and flax seed mixture until the dough is combined and forms pills.

Roll generous teaspoon-size balls of dough and place them two inches apart on the baking sheet. Use a fork to flatten and create a cross hatch on the top of each cookie.

Bake in two batches for 10 minutes each or until cookies puff up and turn a light, golden color.

Half a banana is also a good option for rich cakes, sweet breads, and muffins, where density is less of an issue and, if the banana adds flavor, it won’t be unpalatable. If you like banana’s binding quality and flavor, but do find it a bit heavy, try adding a small amount of baking soda for lift.

Ground up flax seeds mimic the gooey texture of egg amazingly well, providing both lift and binding — unfortunately they also add a nutty flavor. Use flax in nut- or chocolate-based cookies, the rich flavor of which will mask or accommodate the flax, rather than, say, sugar cookies. Or, as with all the other solutions, learn to love the flavor the seeds add.

A recent request for peanut butter cookies took me down the flax-seed route. Here’s how it works: In a coffee grinder or blender, finely grind a tablespoon of flax seeds, and then whip them with 3 tablespoons water, until they are light and fluffy, and have the viscosity of egg white.

The recipe below is based on the classic three-ingredient peanut butter cookie, with the addition of a fourth for leavening, and turns out a cookie that is whisper light; the cookie melts into your mouth and all that’s left is rich peanut butter flavor. To give it a little more tooth, try using chunky peanut butter, but don’t go with freshly ground peanut butter or your flax and baking soda may not be enough to buoy the batter.

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