Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bling'n'Zing Biscuits or: How I learned to stop worrying and love vegan baking

In the almost-four years that Michael and I have been vegetarian we've not come up against much resistance. Yet I've been surprised at the number of otherwise broad-minded people I meet who screw their noses up at vegan food. "I had a vegan biscuit once and it was revolting!" proclaimed one inner-city Melbournite a couple of months ago, dismissing the entire lifestyle on this fragile basis.

It irks me. Though there's a sizable portion of non-vegan foods in my diet, I've eaten (and cooked) countless wonderful vegan meals and treats without any sense of deprivation. This is probably why I was so interested in the Vegan Bake-Off organised to launch Leigh Drew's new cookbook, Vegan Indulgence. I wasn't particularly set on winning - I just wanted to check out the variety of vegan sweets made in ordinary kitchens and contribute something modest to the spread. Because really, how difficult could it be to make a good vegan biscuit?

I set to work on a Martha Stewart recipe for chocolate and ginger biscuits. The original recipe, which I've baked multiple times to great acclaim, isn't vegan but substitutions are a doddle - I used Nuttelex in place of butter and Lindt 70% chocolate for the chips. Since Nuttelex is not as firm as butter, I found it easiest to freeze rather than refrigerate the mixture before rolling it into balls. (As an aside, the dough remains pliable even after a week in the freezer - perfect for sneaking spoonfuls of any leftovers!)

In parallel I baked a half-batch of the buttery Nestle-choc-chipped version and took them all to work in separate boxes, one labelled 'Biscuit X', the other 'Biscuit Y'. Though my willing taste-testers enjoyed both formulations, there was a general preference for the non-vegan version. Based on the comments I received, it seemed to be the bittersweet chocolate letting biscuit Y down. I fired off an email to Kristy, who promptly recommended Tropical Source Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips as a sweeter alternative. These were perfect! By 11:15 on Saturday morning I had plenty of sweet, chocolatey biscuits ready for the bake-off. They were flat and not overly pretty, but what the heck. As I filled out the entry form, I boldly named them Bling'n'Zing biscuits, after their glittery sugar crust and ginger bite.

The Bling'n'Zingers pose coyly beneath more chocolate

As it turned out, I missed the bake-off entirely. The pleasant lunch we attended lingered on (Michael's review is coming soon!) and I couldn't get them in by the submission deadline. Instead I shared the biscuits around later that night, at a party of omnivores, known and unknown. Naturally few people were going to refuse the offer of a chocolate biscuit, but would they be able to tell? In this new light they seemed flat and dowdy and maybe a bit burnt. I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what I'd named them.

"Oh wow, they're glittery!"

"What is that? I know there's chocolate, but there's a secret ingredient!"

"It's probably love."

"No, it's ginger! Yum!"

Relief. I waited a few minutes more before telling the girl next to me that they were vegan. This information followed the biscuits round - there were a couple of nods and one pair of eyebrows raised in surprise.

"... so can I have another one?"

Though I missed the mother lode of sweet vegan delights, I'd like to think that those biscuits made the world a slightly more vegan-friendly place.

Curious about vegan sweets?
Check out BitterSweet, the Conscious Kitchen, Vegan Yum Yum and ZB's Vegan Recipes and try not to drool on your keyboard.

Do you have a favourite vegan dessert?
Does it use crafty ingredient substitutions or is it naturally free of animal products? Please tell us about it!


  1. Good experiment! The last time I tried a favourite vegan recipe on friends it wasn't as good as I remembered so don't feel overly confident about recipe recommendations.

    But I would recommend you have a look at Mansi's post on egg substitutes if you haven't already - it is very useful as I find substituting for eggs much harder than substituting for butter

  2. Your cookies look lovely and I definitely think that the key moment is when someone bits into one and enjoys it. It is nothing to do with if they are vegan or not.

  3. I didn't try these biscuits, but Cindy people are still talking about them :)

  4. I made a vegan boiled orange and lemon a while ago. Can't for the life of me find the recipe though. I'll keep an eye out for it.

    disclaimer: I ate it smothered in cream but I'm not vegan : )

  5. Thanks very much for the link, Johanna - I've tried vinegar and applesauce before but there are lots more eggs subs out there to experiment with!

    Thanks, Holler! When it comes down to it, most people just care about the taste, don't they?

    Really, Jo-Lyn? I've gotta work out a way to convert this cookie-love into power and influence.

    Sounds great, Dani. All the orange cake recipes I've come across use a lot of eggs, so do post your recipe if you come across it again, please!