The science behind baking with eggs and a recipe for a chocolate cake without them

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS


Eggless cake

A slice of Karmela’s own eggless chocolate cake.

I have fond childhood memories of baking with my mother and beating slimy egg whites to magically transform them into glossy, stiff peaks that later became airy and tender cakes. As an adult baker who doesn’t want to consume animal products, numerous impulsive late-night bakes, and a few sugary failures, taught me that some cakes can be delightful without this ingredient as well.

Why we use eggs for baking

To a baker, eggs are a multitasking champion. Their yolks contain fats, which add richness and flavour to batters, and proteins that bind to both watery and fatty ingredients, so have an emulsifying effect and make batters smooth and velvety.

Proteins are the key compound in egg whites too. Beating egg whites stretches their proteins and makes them form a scaffold for trapped air bubbles, which ultimately helps the cake puff up and maintain airiness while baking.

So removing eggs from a cake recipe puts you at risk of a crumbly, flat and limp dessert. To escape this unappetising fate, all of the missing eggs’ functions must be addressed.

Egg substitutes and why they work

In my experience, a combination of baking soda, baking powder and vinegar can ensure a cake’s puffiness, while a slightly larger volume of fat, like butter or oil, helps with the richness and smoothness usually credited to egg yolks.

There are more options for mimicking the eggs’ binding ability, ranging from using 3 or so tablespoons of applesauce or mashed banana for each egg, to employing a naturally gel-like mixture of a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds and 3 tablespoons of warm water. For the simplest batter, however, I have found that the right ratio of fats, liquids and flour can, by itself, be sticky enough to keep an eggless cake from crumbling.

When I am baking for a crowd, I often default to a simple eggless chocolate cake that I bake in a rectangular dish, top with chocolate ganache and serve cut into squares. On more ambitious days, I divide the batter between two round pans and use it as a starting point for a showstopping two-layer cake.

A recipe for the perfect eggless chocolate cake

I start by mixing a non-dairy milk with apple cider vinegar or white vinegar, then let this mixture curdle while I sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl. Curdling the milk breaks down some of its proteins, which helps the cake stay tender and moist. The acidity of the mixture means that it will react with baking soda and this reaction will add air, and therefore lift, to the cake.

In another bowl, I whisk sugar, oil, more milk and vanilla. Next, I add the dry ingredients and the curdled milk mix into this bowl, first adding some flour mixture then some curdled milk then more of the flour mixture and so on until I run out, with my last addition being the curdled milk.

Once I’ve mixed the batter just enough for no dry streaks to remain, I pour it into a greased dish lined with parchment paper and let it bake for at least 30 minutes at 180°C (350°F). It is important to not overmix your cake, as mixing too much or too vigorously makes gluten – the protein in wheat flour that makes breads chewy – form too much structure too early in the cake-making process, which results in a gummier, less tender cake.

I am a nervous baker, so I always check the cake at the 25-minute mark – if it is springy to the touch and a knife comes out clean after I pierce its centre, the cake can leave the oven.

I recommend waiting 10 minutes before removing the cake from the pan and placing it on a cooling rack. And no matter how good it smells, do refrain from piling your favourite topping over this eggless treat until it has fully cooled down.

Vegan chocolate cake ingredients:

What you need for one 23cm x 33cm rectangular pan or two 23cm round pans:

1 cup or 240ml almond or other non-dairy milk
1 tablespoon or 15 ml apple cider or white vinegar
2 ¼ cups or 280g all-purpose flour
1 cup or 100g cocoa powder
½ teaspoon or 3g baking soda
1 teaspoon or 5g baking powder
1 ½ teaspoon or 9g salt
1 ½ cups or 300g white sugar
¾ cups or 175ml vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cup or 360ml almond or other non-dairy milk

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