KANSAS CITY — A classic French croissant has 55 layers, including 27 layers of butter. Brioche’s characteristic rich flavor and fluffy texture are all due to butter, cream and eggs. Pound cake’s very name is a nod to its traditional recipe: one pound each of butter, eggs, flour and sugar. And with meringue, the basis of French macarons as well as angel food cake, it’s all about whipped egg whites. It was not too long ago that eliminating animal-based ingredients from such baked foods would have been blasphemy. Today, it’s a trend.

Data from Innova Market Insights shows vegan was the second-fastest growing claim in bread in 2022 with 18% of all US bread launches carrying a vegan claim. Vegan also was among the top five claims in the sweet baked goods space, with 11% of US product launches carrying a vegan claim.

“Many breads are relatively easy to craft using only plant-based ingredients,” said Aaron Reed, senior food technologist, Cargill. “Most commercial bread recipes don’t use milk, eggs or butter. But many other baked goods are heavily reliant on eggs and/or dairy, making their reformulation more difficult.”

Despite the difficulty in formulating some bakery applications to be vegan-friendly, demand for the claims has spurred innovation.

“While the flavor of vegan products has improved dramatically over the past five years thanks to advances in ingredient technology, early entries to the category sometimes fell short of consumers’ taste and texture expectations,” said Courtney LeDrew, senior marketing manager, Cargill. “We continue to see advances on the ingredient side that make it easier for bakers to craft plant-based products with improved flavor, texture and overall sensory attributes.”

Taking time to get it right

Chef Abbie Stratton, co-owner of Monarch Bakery, Rockford, Mich., specializes in high-end vegan baked foods.

“The joy for us is knowing that not only can we make someone’s day, occasion or event extra special with traditional pastry, but that we can also help people with dietary restrictions be included in the enjoyment,” Ms. Stratton said.

The secret to her taste-alike treats is trial and error.

“You can’t rush the process,” Ms. Stratton said. “You need to let the shells rest; you need to let each step take the time it needs, even if you hate waiting. It’s the quality of the product you use. When making vegan items I buy the best ingredients, and I put the research into what I do.”

Earlier this year, La Brea Bakery, a brand of Aspire Bakeries, Los Angeles, introduced brioche buns for foodservice. While marketed as a vegan formulation, the buns deliver the same rich, mildly sweet flavor as the brand’s original brioche and are hearty enough to hold up to the juiciest sandwich builds, said Jonathan Davis, culinary innovation lead, Aspire Bakeries.

“Many foodservice operators have streamlined or simplified their menus over the past few years, and the new La Brea Bakery brioche bun meets multiple consumer demands, including gourmet offerings and health halos,” said Brie Buenning, director of marketing and La Brea Bakery brand manager, Aspire Bakeries. “We are committed to providing our operator customers with an expansive and flexible assortment of elevated artisan breads to satisfy their patrons, meet current trends and support increased profitability.”

On the retail side, global brand Brioche Gourmet, New York, now offers vegan brioche burger and hot dog buns, loaves, and plain and chocolate croissants. Key ingredients used to replicate color, flavor and texture include wheat gluten, pea protein, flavoring and emulsifiers.

Whoa Dough, Highland Heights, Ohio, produces gluten-free vegan cookie dough bars. Conventionally, eggs would provide the texture expected from cookie dough, but in Whoa Dough, chickpea flour provides that signature texture.

Replacing the egg

While it’s true some products like commercial bread may not contain any animal products and may be easily formulated away from the ingredients, some applications depend on dairy and eggs for their signature characteristics.

“Eggs, butter and milk are essential to creating a light, fluffy and airy texture in applications like cakes and meringues, and they are crucial for lamination in certain pastries,” said Jeff Hodges, manager, bakery, snacks and confections applications, ADM. “Replicating these characteristics can be difficult. Bakers can lean on plant proteins, such as soy, pea and wheat proteins, as well as starches, fats and oils derived from non-animal natural sources, to help replace these ingredients and build vegan offerings with exceptional sensory experiences.”

Chemically leavened products, such as cakes, are probably the most difficult to make vegan due to key functionalities provided by eggs and dairy ingredients, said Yanling Yin, PhD, director, bakery applications, Corbion. But it is possible.

“Eggs and dairy products provide structure, binding/setting and leavening/gas-retention for ideal eating qualities and product appearance,” Dr. Yin said. “Without eggs, the foaming or emulsion stability will be reduced if no additional emulsifiers are added. Without dairy ingredients, the product moistness, crust color, softness and ability to incorporate air will be reduced.”

Dairy and egg replacers must have all the functions without adding any negative attributes. It takes a systems approach to accomplish this.

“Egg is one of the most complicated items to replace in baked goods,” said Becky Regan, principal scientist, IFF. “Eggs provide many functions that occur throughout the baking cycle and are critical to the quality of the final baked product.”

To identify the best egg replacement system, Ms. Regan said to first determine the functionality of the egg in the specific baked product. Then evaluate vegan-friendly ingredient systems that may provide that functionality.

“Also consider the formulation, as even within a specific product type, factors such as fat type, fat level, water level, sugar level, etc., will impact the role of eggs,” Ms. Regan said.

Incorporating plant-based proteins with fats is one option for egg replacement.

“Typically, it is not a one-ingredient solution,” said Sarah Fischer, food technology manager, MGP Ingredients. “A mixture of plant-based proteins such as wheat protein isolates along with flavors and fats are a great way to replace eggs.”

MGP’s wheat protein isolates help replace eggs in cakes, including angel food cake, cookies, brownies, sweet bread and other baked products.

“The benefit to using wheat protein isolates in baked products is that you are typically already using wheat flour,” Ms. Fischer said. “Wheat protein isolate is made from wheat flour, so this makes them work well together.”

Emily Hickman, technical service manager, Manildra USA, noted that chemically leavened products such as cakes tend to be the most difficult to make vegan because of the structure provided by eggs in the system. She said that wheat proteins have had success in this space.

“Our wheat protein isolates have been modified to provide the balanced structure, texture and emulsification properties of eggs,” Ms. Hickman said. “Our modified proteins will not contribute excessive strength and chew, as the modification process has allowed for products that provide resilience and softer eating characteristics.”

The wheat protein isolates can replace dry whole-egg solids on a 1:1 basis and are labeled as wheat protein or wheat protein isolates.

There are other egg replacement options, however, beyond wheat-based ingredients.

“Pea protein is another ingredient that can assist with egg replacement,” Mr. Reed said. “Functionally, pea protein can provide emulsification and binding properties. Soy flour is also a tool in our egg-replacement toolbox. As one of the few plant-based options with a complete protein profile, soy flour is a good choice for protein fortification. At the same time, it contributes to emulsification, texture and binding.”

Corbion’s egg-replacement system can be a direct substitute for liquid or powder whole egg in yeast-leavened brioche or similar types of sweet dough products.

“The system does not change any product attributes, including appearance, volume, texture, taste and cell structure,” Dr. Yin said. “It is vital to match the functionality you need. Some egg replacers are designed for binding or setting, while others cater to emulsification or leavening. Using an inappropriate replacer might lead to products that are sunken, dense, chewy or dry.”

Puratos offers bakers a plant-based egg wash alternative that adds shine to buns, brioche and other baked foods. Plant-based milk chocolate has also been popular, said Jaina Wald, vice president, marketing, Puratos USA.

Moisture also plays an important role when considering egg replacers.

“Never forget, when substituting for liquid egg or dairy ingredients, it is crucial to compensate for the moisture loss,” Dr. Yin said. “Always remember to reintroduce an equivalent amount of water or other suitable liquids to ensure the product retains its desired moistness and yield.”

Better butter alternatives

Eggs, however, are just one part of the equation when it comes to vegan formulating. Dairy ingredients are also a major contributor to baked foods that must be formulated out when going for a vegan claim.

“Some of the most difficult baked goods to formulate vegan are those that need butter, specifically puff pastry,” said Art Posch, platform development manager, bakery, Kemin Food Technologies North America. “Butter is a critical ingredient that gives puff pastry its signature flaky texture. When puff pastry dough is baked, the butter melts and creates steam, which traps it in the dough and creates air pockets. Once cooled, the air pockets become layers of flaky dough.”

Plant-based fats have different properties that yield different results. Vegetable shortening, for example, has a higher melting point than butter, so it stays solid in the oven longer. Fat systems are often necessary.

“Our plant-based fats can be used to produce plant-based butters, margarines and shortenings that can be alternatives for dairy butter,” said Laura Cuseo, innovation technologist, AAK. “They come in bulk, flaked and bag-in-box plasticized formats and can be used in vegan baked goods, as well as icings, frostings and fillings. The lubrication that our plant-based fats and oils provide allows for batters or doughs to be pliable, flowable and shapable.”

The use of coconut oil is also an option.

“Coconut oil is an excellent solution in more traditionally dairy-forward sweet baked goods, such as cheesecakes,” Mr. Hodges said. “Coconut oil can also help with the aeration and structure of whipped toppings.”

Most plant-based fats contain a larger amount of unsaturated fatty acids, as compared to animal fats. These fatty acids are prone to oxidation, which produces a rancid, undesirable cardboard taste.

“Kemin offers ingredients for baked goods that not only fit into a vegan label but help protect the product from lipid oxidations and mold growth,” Mr. Posch said. “This helps preserve product quality.”

It is also important to balance flavor to meet consumer expectations. This may be done with natural vegan flavors and concentrates, such as the new non-dairy concentrated butter flavor from Butter Buds, Inc.

“This is an exciting flavor sensation that makes it possible for manufacturers to create satisfying and craveable non-dairy foods, without the risk of exposure to dairy allergens,” said Michael Ivey, national sales director, Butter Buds. “It is also water soluble, so it’s very easy to integrate into existing formulations. Now manufacturers can keep the satisfying mouthfeel, creamy texture and buttery flavor that consumers want and make a vegan claim.”

The concentrate is a combination of sunflower oil with natural flavors. It is formulated to mimic the characteristics found in dairy fat, thereby delivering medium-strong salted butter middle notes with buttery and savory base notes.

Butter Buds has other dairy-flavored concentrates for vegan baked foods. They contribute flavor, richness and sometimes color.

“Flavors range from salted and sweet butter to cream and vanilla cream,” said Lisa Spurlock, food scientist, Butter Buds. “There’s even vegan sour cream, yogurt and buttermilk options. They do not provide the functionality of eggs and dairy but can assist in filling the gaps in flavor and richness from the alternative ingredients utilized to replace the dairy and egg.”

With the demand for vegan and allergen-free baked foods increasing, ingredient technology is advancing to improve those offerings for consumers. With a systems approach, bakers can formulate away from animal products and serve these consumer populations with the baked foods they love.