Vegan Baking & Buttercream Cake Class
Vegan Baking Hints & Tips
In other countries you will no doubt have different brands for flour, dairy-free margarine etc… so I will be as specific as possible about what you're looking for from your ingredients.
Plain/self-raising flour: You want to use the best quality cake flour you can find, that is soft (ie lower in gluten content). I like to use a brand called Homepride in the UK, as it works consistently well for my baking. If you’re not sure which flour to use, Italian type 00 flour should work well as it is very fine and soft.
To substitute self-raising flour with plain flour & baking powder, mix with the following ratio: 125g plain flour + 1 level tsp baking powder. Sift together and use in place of self-raising flour.
Xantham Gum: Not absolutely necessary to use it in the recipes, but it does help the sponge hold together in the absence of eggs. Normally used in gluten-free baking, it can typically be found in large supermarkets, in the “free-from” section or in health food shops.
Baking Block/Block Margarine/Vegan Butter: Normally packaged in a similar way to butter, this is a firm margarine, as opposed to the spreadable kind. Can vary hugely in flavour, so try to find one you like the taste of! Strangely enough, in the UK the supermarket own brands have a better flavour than the standard big brands, and I tend to use Tesco own brand block margarine for everyday baking. There is also a great quality block margarine called Naturli, that has a great texture and flavour, but I am not sure if it is available outside the UK. Whatever brand you use, look for 75% fat content, to make sure it will be firm enough - much less and it will be too soft.
Dairy-Free milk: My go-to at the moment is oat milk; it has a great flavour and works well with baking, plus has a much lower environmental impact. However, I have baked successfully with almond milk and soya milk as well. Other dairy-free milks would also work, and there is a huge amount to choose from, but just check they are rich enough and not too watery. Eg sometimes rice milk is not great for baking as it is too thin.
Vanilla extract & other flavours: Always use the best possible flavours you can, and I generally put a bit more in to my vegan recipes than normal ones, since there is no dairy flavour to lift the taste. Freeze-dried fruit powders work very well for flavouring; they are natural and have a strong taste, and because they are powder they do not weaken the buttercream.
Vegan Chocolate: Most dark chocolate is already vegan, just check the packaging that it contains no dairy. I normally use Callebaut, a Belgian chocolate brand that doesn't add dairy to their dark chocolate. For milk or white chocolate, you need to be more discerning as the flavour can vary a lot, so try lots of different kinds until you find one you like! I like a brand called iChoc in the UK, but just taste a few brands to find one you like where you live.
NB For the vegan buttercream, the vegan white chocolate is there to bring stability to the buttercream, so that it is not too soft. This prevents you from having to add too much icing sugar or resort to using white vegetable fat. If you can't get hold of any, then you can simply add a bit more icing sugar to make the buttercream more stable.
1. Why can’t an electric stand mixer be used for the cake batter?
It is not necessary, as you simply want to mix the batter very gently. If you use a stand mixer then it might get over worked, which can make the sponge chewy or claggy.
2. How long can I keep the cake batter (at room temperature or in fridge) before baking - sometimes doing a large quantity is easier but my oven size is small?
My general preference is to prepare enough cake batter to fit in the oven in one go, since it doesn't take long to mix each batch of cake batter. However, if you have limited oven space, then it is fine to fill the cake tins or cupcake cases and let them sit out before baking.
I would recommend filling the batter into the tins/cupcake cases immediately, then baking as soon as oven space becomes available. That way the batter doesn’t lose too much aeration or risk being over worked. Try not to let them sit for longer than an hour before they go in the oven.
3. Do I have to tap the cake tin with batter before putting it in the oven?
No, it’s pretty liquid so you shouldn’t need to.
4. The cakes got bit crusty like a brownie - did I bake it for the correct amount of time?
Yes, this cake does get a slight crust on top, which softens once the sponge has rested or has been wrapped. It is important to allow a little time for the sponges to rest wrapped up in cling film (I normally do this overnight in the fridge), as they are then easier to trim.
Every oven is different, but I normally bake the sponges until an inserted cocktail stick comes out clean - for the 6" tins this is usually 35 minutes and for cupcakes about 22-25 minutes.
5. Do I have to leave the cake in the turned off oven after baking time or can I take it out immediately for cooling?
No, I never do this for baking any cakes! Definitely remove from the oven as soon as they have finished their baking time. Otherwise they will over bake.
6. Can I add sugar syrup to the sponge?
Yes, if you want to. I generally use a ratio of 1:1 sugar to liquid, change the liquid according to the flavour you want.
Vanilla syrup is 100g sugar to 100g water, plus 1 tsp vanilla extract.
Lemon would be 100g sugar, 50g lemon juice, 50g water.
You can make many variations just keep the same proportions. Heat the liquid and sugar together in a saucepan until it just comes to the boil and the sugar dissolves, then cool and store in fridge until ready to use.
7. Can I freeze the cake?
If you want to freeze the sponges, they do freeze well, just follow the following rules:
Wrap very well in cling film. Freeze as soon as cooled & wrappable - best on the day of baking. Freeze so they are flat, ideally on a tray, then when they are frozen you can take them off the tray & store sideways or however you want in the freezer. This stops them from getting misshapen in the freezer. For cupcakes, gently wrap them with cling film onto a tray, and freeze the whole tray or freeze them stored in a wrapped cupcake box.
To thaw, remove from the freezer and leave wrapped on the kitchen counter until they are just fridge cold. Then unwrap and trim/layer as normal.
8. How long can I keep the cake?
The sponges are best layered the day after baking, but can be kept in the fridge or at a cool room temperature for 2 days. Once layered (if layering the day after baking), the whole cake can be stored in a cake box in the fridge for up to 4 days.
9. How long can I keep the buttercream?
The buttercream has a shelf life of 10 days in the fridge - bring to room temperature and gently re-beat before using.
10. Can I freeze the buttercream?
Yes - store in a sealed plastic container. To thaw, leave at room temperature for several hours until defrosted, or use the defrost setting on your microwave to GENTLY defrost. Don’t over heat or it will melt! Re-beat before use.
11. Does vegan utensils have to be separate to normal eggless baking?
This depends on how you are running your kitchen - if it is a professional set up and you are charging people for your cakes you will need to follow the health & safety guidelines of your local authority. These vary enormously, so checking what the rules are is part of the process of setting up your business, and will come under any allergens and cross contamination guidelines. Generally speaking, you do not normally need to have separate utensils in the UK, just wash them thoroughly between uses. BUT, if you also bake with non-vegan ingredients and your clients are ordering your cakes because they have allergies to dairy or eggs, then you need to make it clear in your packaging/ordering process that the cakes are baked in an environment that handles eggs and dairy, so some cross contamination may occur.
Do make sure you check all your procedures with your local authority and follow any legally required processes before setting up your business. You can check wording for allergen warnings etc on other people’s website, but it is your responsibility to be running your business within required health & safety rules.
12. Can a non-diary whip cream be used for frosting?
I don’t use this product, so I would say test it and see. In my experience they are not very stable or tasty, but feel free to experiment and see what’s available!
Copyright Marianne Stewart 2019, not to be reproduced without permission.