A week or two ago, I got an email letting me know that there was going to be an event at Bob’s Red Mill (okay) about a vegan cookbook (you have my attention) from America’s Test Kitchen (!). As a red-blooded, vegetarian, NPR-listening food nerd, my interest was immediately piqued. Jack Bishop came to talk about the new book, Vegan for Everybody, and shed a little light behind how they came up with these new recipes in the Test Kitchen.
For those of you who weren’t able to make the trek to Milwaukie on a Monday morning, here are some of the major points you missed.
America’s Test Kitchen does a lot of testing. LIKE A LOT.
Everything is tested using scientific method. They’ll create a hypothesis, control for variables, and test one element of a recipe at a time to see the results. Using a blueberry muffin as an example, you have the sugar, the flour, the temperature, the mixing method, the egg replacement, the fats… and on and on. They made 100 batches, or 1200 muffins, to create the recipe in this book.
Aquafaba is so hot right now.
They loved aquafaba, the liquid that comes from draining a can of garbanzo beans/chickpeas, for creating egg-replacing foams that add texture and structure to sweet baked goods like muffins and cakes. They also learned that it’s not worth it to try to create your own aquafaba from dry garbanzos. (It has to do with how canned beans are cooked, in the can.) Apparently, Progresso beans are the only national brand that doesn’t work.
“I have bad news for you — you cannot use applesauce instead of eggs,” said Jack. Eggs provide fat, protein, and lecithin, whereas “Applesauce is just wet.”
They only test products that are available nationwide.
Oat milk’s proteins and sugars help create a browned color and caramelization in baked goods. Many vegan muffins have a flabby and unappealing lid, though we all know the best part of the muffin is [supposed to be] the top. The Test Kitchen also liked using refined coconut oil in the place of butter. Like butter, it’s solid at room temperature. Refined oil has less coconut flavor. Cashew milk? They didn’t test it, because not everyone can find it at their local Whole Foods yet.
They test in their kitchen and yours.
Jack went through the development process in a couple of other recipes as well, like vegan mac and cheese made with cauliflower, cashews, turmeric, almond milk, tomato paste, and nutritional yeast. That one includes a savory Parmesanesque topping of ground olives, cashews, nutritional yeast, and pine nuts.
It was really cool to learn about recipe development from someone whose work is predicated on it, and to get some insight into how the Test Kitchen works.
In addition to having employees in-house working on recipes and product reviews, they also work with a bunch of volunteer home cook recipe testers. Surveys tell them what’s available in a given area, what substitutions people make, and their impressions of the results. Take a recipe for chili, for example. They’re looking for about 1/3 of testers to say it’s too bland, 1/3 of testers to say it’s just right, and 1/3 of testers to say it’s too spicy. That means it’s just about in the middle and will please the most palates.
I’ve heard people say that America’s Test Kitchen or Cook’s Illustrated recipes are under-seasoned or bland. That makes a lot of sense, keeping this middle-of-the-road palate in mind. Jack recommended making recipes as written the first time, and adjusting to taste from there.
I’m getting Vegan for Everybody from the library (only #71 in line, awwww yeah), so I’ll let you know what I think after looking through a few recipes. As it is, I’m glad this exists for vegetarians and vegans, and for the omnivores who want to reduce their animal product intake and cook vegan for others.
Do you have a favorite vegan cookbook? How about a recent favorite that’s come out in the last year or two?