Who needs a weather app? You can tell a storm is coming when your local grocery store’s egg case is empty. Since the average US resident consumes a little under 300 eggs per year, it makes sense that people wouldn’t want to be without them during the possibility of frozen roads and power outages.
Unlike bread and toilet paper, two other “panic purchases,” eggs are ingredients in many dishes and snacks. In fact, there are entire categories of desserts that traditionally rely on eggs for flavor, texture, color, and structural integrity. Desserts made with eggs include cookies, cakes, brownies, pies, soufflés, and many others.
In fact, the presence of raw eggs amid the ingredients is a very good reason not to indulge in the consumption of raw cookie dough (and yes, licking the bowl or the beaters still counts!).
Just because eggs are ubiquitous in baked goods doesn’t mean they’re healthy for people or the planet, though. Many people are choosing to avoid eggs for health and ethical reasons (which we’ll explore below). And others have lost faith in the industrial egg supply chain, thanks to unreliable availability, recurring outbreaks of contamination and diseases like avian flu, and skyrocketing egg prices.
So if you can’t find eggs on the shelves, can’t afford them on a regular basis, or simply choose to avoid them, can you still enjoy baked desserts? As you might have already guessed from the headline of this article, the answer is a resounding yes.
In this article, we’ll explore how eggs work in baked desserts, as well as why someone may want to avoid eggs (both in desserts and in general). We’ll look at plant-based substitutions, and get you started with seven eggless desserts that you can whip up at home.
Why Are Eggs Used in Desserts?
Before we drop the eggs (that’s a metaphor; don’t actually drop eggs, as it gets messy), we need to understand the roles they play in the chemical miracle that is baking.
One of the main things eggs do in baked goods is to hold ingredients together. The protein in eggs binds the batter or dough, giving desserts a cohesive texture. That binding function is the difference between a piece of cake and a plate full of sweet gloop.
Bakers also use eggs as thickening agents, thanks to their ability to hold up to four times their weight in moisture.
And eggs are deployed to enable baked goods to rise. They provide volume and structure for other leavening agents like yeast and baking powder. When beaten, they incorporate air into the mixture, which contributes to a light and fluffy texture. Egg whites are especially prized for this, thanks to the foam they produce when beaten. This foam, which you may be familiar with in the form of meringue, offers far more stability and volume than whole eggs or egg yolks.
Whole eggs or egg yolks also add the familiar yellow color we expect from many cookies and cakes. And they can offer flavor enhancement, thanks to a rich creaminess that adds depth and complexity to desserts, as well as moisture and richness due to the fats and emulsifiers found in egg yolks.
Why Go Eggless?
With all those amazing qualities, eggs seem pretty indispensable to baking. Why in the world would you want to give all that up? To paraphrase Elizabeth Barrett Browning (whose last name suggests she was a pretty serious baker), let me count the reasons.
Egg Food Allergies
Egg proteins can cause allergic reactions in some people. In fact, they’re one of the most common food allergens in infants and young children. In these folks, the immune system reacts to these proteins by releasing histamine, which can trigger symptoms ranging from a mild rash to stomach pain to severe and life-threatening anaphylaxis. If you or someone you prepare food for has such an allergy, it makes sense to avoid eggs entirely in your cooking and baking.
Egg Health Risks
Eating eggs may be bad for your health even if you aren’t sensitive to their proteins. Eggs are high in saturated fat, which may raise blood cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke.
But wait — there’s more! The choline in eggs has also been linked to increases in the body’s concentrations of TMAO, which is associated with various inflammatory conditions, including heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
The protein in eggs is, of course, animal protein. And while protein is absolutely necessary for growth and repair, the type of protein matters. Plant protein has been shown in study after study to improve outcomes in measures ranging from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and death from all causes. Conversely, animal protein, like that in eggs, may be harmful in these same instances.
While egg consumption can contribute to the slow development of chronic disease, eggs that are contaminated with salmonella bacteria can — and frequently do — cause food poisoning. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, about one in every 20,000 eggs is contaminated with salmonella.
It’s not a fun disease; symptoms of salmonella infection can include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. The infection can even be severe enough to necessitate hospitalization.
Ethical Considerations of Eggs
I have to shake my head when the press talks about “egg producers.” They’re invariably referring to egg companies and the people who run them. But the real egg producers are, of course, the chickens from whose bodies the eggs emerge. And the vast majority of “layers,” as these chickens are called, experience unspeakably difficult lives.
Ninety-four percent of the eggs commercially produced in the US come from caged hens. What does this mean? Well, the average caged hen spends her entire life in an area smaller than a single sheet of paper. And cages are stacked, so the waste from higher stacks drips down onto those below.
The volume of chicken manure produced in factory farms can pollute the air, soil, and water, with the off-gassing ammonia causing great harm to the workers as well as the animals.
And if all that weren’t enough, researchers are now finding concerning levels of “forever chemicals” such as toxic PFAS compounds in eggs, demonstrating that the toxic sludge often used in fields as “free fertilizer” bioaccumulates in the tissues of the animals that eat the feed from those fields.
Egg Substitutes for Desserts and Baking
So now let’s get to the good news: for any use eggs have in baking, there are plant-based foods that can replace them equally well (and often better). The only tricky part is figuring out what function the eggs are playing in a given recipe, and making the appropriate plant-based substitution.
Flax or Chia Egg
Both flax and chia seeds turn into fabulous binding agents or “eggs” when mixed with water. Whole chia seeds get very gelatinous in water, while flax seeds are typically ground before adding the water.
Replace one egg with one tablespoon of chia seeds combined with two and a half tablespoons to as much as a quarter cup of water. If using flax seeds, the traditional ratio is one tablespoon of ground flax to three tablespoons water.
Either flax or chia eggs are good not just for binding but also for adding moisture to baked goods. You can use flax or chia eggs in muffins, cookies, and pudding.
The pectin in apples makes an excellent binder, and the water in applesauce adds moisture to heavier cakes and quick breads. Typically, you’ll add more applesauce than the egg it’s replacing, and adjust other liquids in the recipe accordingly.
Aquafaba, which is a brilliant marketing term for “the liquid left over from boiled chickpeas,” is a great substitute for egg whites. If you’ve got an electric beater or mixer (or strong arms, a whisk, and a heck of a lot of time), you can turn this liquid into a more than passable substitute for meringue.
In some recipes, you can substitute a quarter cup of pureed banana, avocado, or canned pumpkin for each egg that you omit. This works best in very chewy baked goods like cake, brownies, quick breads, and certain types of cookies.
Unsweetened Plant-Based Yogurt
You can use plant-based yogurt to bind and add moisture to baked goods. This works well in batters for foods like pancakes and waffles.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
Yes, you can use the same combo that makes explosions and volcanoes at elementary school science fairs to leaven your egg-free baked goods. Depending on the flavor profile of the recipe, you can substitute a different acid, such as lemon juice, for the vinegar.
Store-Bought Egg-Free Substitutes
These come in two basic varieties: powdered mixes and high-tech liquid substitutes. The powdered mixes, like Ener-G Egg Replacer and Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer, consist of starches and a leavening agent. You’ll add different amounts of water based on different recipes and uses.
The high-tech liquid substitutes such as Just Egg are highly processed, but can sometimes serve as a volume-for-volume replacement for whole eggs, as their chemical structure is specifically formulated to mimic that of a real egg. But as they are processed foods, use them sparingly in recipes.
Eggless Dessert Recipes
Discover the joys of egg-free baking with these naturally sweet and nourishing eggless dessert recipes. What’s more, these recipes allow you to experiment with a variety of egg substitutes, from chia to flax to mashed and pureed fruit — we have you covered! So the question now is, which one of these healthy plant-based desserts are you going to try first?
Raw cookie dough you can eat? You bet! Two glorious benefits to using plant-based ingredients in place of animal-based ingredients are that you can taste test as you’re making a recipe without worrying about getting ill and… you get to eat raw cookie dough! Tip: Double the batch so you can just enjoy half of it raw and the other half warm, straight out of the oven. Plus, you don’t want to miss out on the natural baked cookies aromatherapy throughout your home!
Using pumpkin in place of eggs ranks high among our favorite plant-based swaps. Pumpkin adds a silky texture to baked goods. And, similar to banana, it imparts plenty of moisture and flavor into the batter. Trying pureed pumpkin in our Spiced Pumpkin Pecan Muffins is sure to be a hit! Incorporating the high-fiber oats, pecans, pumpkin, and almond butter with just a touch of coconut sugar creates a moist, nutty, and not-too-sweet muffin that is perfect for an energy-packed treat to enjoy at the end of a busy day. P.S. This recipe also uses baking soda and apple cider vinegar to give these muffins the right amount of airiness that every great muffin needs.
3. Plum Cobbler
If you are intrigued by how a banana could make a suitable substitute for eggs in a dessert, let us blow your mind with this warm and ooey-gooey Plum Cobbler! When sliced plums are combined with maple syrup (or date paste), topped with a delightful oat-based crumble (this is where the banana comes in), and baked in the oven, this dessert transforms into a nectarous delight with an egg-free crust that is out of this world!
When it comes to using ground flax as an egg substitute in desserts, there is little this mighty seed can’t do! The ground flax in these divine Strawberry Cream Buttermilk Cupcakes adds a delicate nutty flavor, binds the silky oat-based batter, and gives a touch more moisture (along with the help of velvety yogurt) to create a creamy and fluffy consistency for a cake that is absolutely scrumptious. What’s more, fresh strawberry and cashew cream are the finishing touch on these delicate muffins. After just one bite you may find yourself whispering, “I can’t believe it’s eggless.”
Ground flax seeds and creamy plant-based yogurt are the plant-based duo that makes this egg-free dessert possible. Together, they replace eggs and refined oil with nourishing plant ingredients to bring you the most sensational Lemon Coconut Cake you have ever tasted! Comforting, energizing, and invigorating, Lemon Coconut Cake with Vanilla Cashew Cream is a naturally sweet treat you’ll be delighted to whip up!
While you may think of tofu as a meat or egg substitute in dishes like stir-fries and scrambles, it’s also perfect for making the richest egg-free desserts. In this Chocolate Cream Dream Pie, tofu creates a heavenly, dreamy, and luxurious cream that will leave you coming back for seconds. Enjoy it with or without the coconut cream — it’s a delectable treat either way!
Is it possible to have fudgy, decadent, and egg-free brownies? You bet! These Fudgy Chocolate Chip and Walnut Brownies may seem too good to be true, but you certainly can have your (plant-based) cake and eat it, too. Made with fiber-rich oat flour, dairy-free fair trade dark chocolate, applesauce, and mashed banana, these brownies will leave your mouth watering for more with their dense gooey chocolate and crunchy walnuts. Did we hear a chorus of YUMs?
Enjoy Egg-Free Desserts!
Eggs are a common ingredient used in many desserts for their binding, leavening, flavor, and color-enhancing properties. But due to various reasons such as allergies, health concerns, ethical considerations, and supply chain issues, many people choose to avoid them. Fortunately, there are several plant-based alternatives that can be used instead of eggs in desserts. By using these egg substitutes, you can still enjoy many of your favorite desserts without compromising your health, ethics, or taste buds.
Tell us in the comments:
Have you used plant-based egg substitutes in baking? Which ones?
What are your favorite baked goods? Which egg substitute(s) will work best in them?
Which eggless dessert will you try next?
Featured Image: iStock.com/nata_vkusidey