Monday, May 9, 2011

The Snickerdoodle Challenge – Regular vs. Vegan

Vegan have fork lines, regular do not

It’s been years since I last made snickerdoodle cookies. A classic recipe that’s been around for over 100 years, the cookie with the strange name is really just a cinnamon sugar cookie.

Me, I’m a big chocolate chip cookie fan. They are my go-to cookie. But I recently had a nostalgic turn where I was thinking about snickerdoodles and the fact that I hadn’t made them in a really long time. I also was learning a little about vegan baking and decided that this would be a good cookie to experiment with. After all, when you are comparing like recipes, you want the simplicity of a sugar cookie.

The reason I wanted to try baking them vegan involves a certain food snobbery that I think many of us share. I’ve been into the Sugar Plum Vegan shop a couple of times over the last few months but never bought anything. How many times have you done this? Something is labeled vegan or gluten-free and you run away as if it’s some sort of diseased item. “I want REAL food!” you proclaim. “I use butter, eggs, flour, etc. Not substitutes!”


But in reality, as I’ve discussed in some of my other gluten-free posts, some of the best European pastries never use wheat flour. Instead they use nut or other grain flours. I’ve had great success in my gluten-free baking. And last week, at SactoMoFo, Esther’s Cupcakes had a gluten-free cupcake made with almond and coconut flour. Delicious! It was dense, yet moist, with a great nutty/coconutty flavor. Many people were afraid to try it, though, even when it was one of the last items available at the end of the day. Their loss. I got leftover cupcakes to take home!

In terms of vegan baking, you just use margarine or vegetable shortening instead of butter. The tricky part is not using eggs. There are a variety of egg alternatives out there. The simplest is using 1 T ground flaxseed mixed with 3 T of water until it gets gelatinized. The flax is releasing some of the Omega 3 rich oils to create this gloppy textural substitute for egg. The above equals one egg and is what I used in my comparison recipe.

The Snickerdoodle comparison

I made two batches of snickerdoodles. The first batch was made with butter and shortening with eggs. The vegan batch was made with Earth Balance margarine, shortening, and the flax seed substitute. I used Earth Balance because my internet research on vegan baking showed this to be the best substitute for baking. In both batches I used the traditional recipe of using cream of tartar and baking soda for the leavening agent. (Modern versions just use baking powder. I wanted to keep to the way I grew up with – cream of tartar.)

The results?  Surprisingly, there was no distinguishable difference in flavor at all. The difference lay in the texture. The vegan version were crisp. The regular version had that nice bit of soft chew in the center of the cookie which is what snickerdoodles are known for. They also had just a bit more richness from the butter that the vegan version lacked. Either way, both were good cookies and were eaten up quickly at the workplace.

So next time I go into a vegan bake shop, I’ll look at everything with new eyes. There’s nothing to be afraid of in vegan baking!


Snickerdoodles
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream together butter, shortening, 1 1/2 cups sugar, the eggs and the vanilla. Blend in the flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt. Shape dough by rounded spoonfuls into balls.
Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Roll balls of dough in mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until set but not too hard. Remove immediately from baking sheets.
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