Egg substitutions for cooking and baking when the store shelves are empty

The water in a can of chickpeas (known as aquafaba) can be used to replace egg whites.
The water in a can of chickpeas (known as aquafaba) can be used to replace egg whites. Photo: iStock

First went the toilet paper, and then the flour and the yeast. Next up, eggs? The coronavirus outbreak has laid bare many grocery store shelves, leaving some shoppers frustrated and thinking about replacements.

Cooking without eggs is old hat for people accustomed to a vegan diet. One of those experts, cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz, says that if you want to adapt a recipe that calls for eggs to use an alternative, the first step is "accepting that it's not going to be an exact replica." If, though, a recipe calls for more than 1 or 2 eggs, Moskowitz says, it might just be time to find a different option.

If your recipe is a go, start thinking about what purpose the egg is serving. Is it providing moisture and fat? Is it lending stability? Is it binding or setting the other ingredients? Think about the particular food and what you want the result to be like. Soft and tender? Crisp? Smooth?

Let's look at some possible situations.

Baking 

Leaving out an egg entirely and not changing anything else is typically not a good idea, Moskowitz says. Her general rule is to figure on adding back ¼ cup liquid per egg. Here are a few of her standbys:

Milk: If you're making something fairly dense, such as a chocolate cake, use ¼ cup milk of your choice instead of the egg. Moskowitz suggests making egg-free French toast with soy milk doctored with turmeric for colour and Indian black salt (kala namak) for that characteristic sulfurous aroma and taste.

Hetty McKinnon's Mango, coconut and cardamom pudding. For Good Food Magzine Feb 2020

Hetty McKinnon's mango, coconut and cardamom pudding recipe uses silken tofu instead of egg custard. Photo: William Meppem

Silken tofu and milk: "It's such an old-school one but still one of my favourites," Moskowitz says. If the recipe calls for two eggs, use ½ cup silken tofu (alas, even tofu has been a bit hard to find these days) blended with the milk or other liquid in the recipe. If there isn't enough liquid to do that, use ¼ cup tofu and ¼ cup milk in lieu of 2 eggs. Try it in cookies, where the tofu will help the cookies set and you'll get a brown and chewy result.

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Flax: Whether you're using whole flaxseeds or ground meal, Moskowitz recommends blending ¼ cup liquid of your choice with 1 tablespoon flax per egg in a food processor (especially a mini), blender or personal blender such as a Magic Bullet. She likes this especially for cookies and muffins. If you're worried about too much flax flavour coming through when you want a more neutral flavour, you can back off the amount a bit. For cookies, if you want a crisper result, consider adding ½ teaspoon cornstarch per egg, too (or more for something extra crunchy such as biscotti). And to account for the loss of the yolk, you can increase the fat in the recipe by about 1½ teaspoons per egg. Similarly, cookbook author and Serious Eats contributor Stella Parks found an oat slurry made with two parts water and one part oats swapped in one-for-one by weight for the eggs to be particularly effective in her vegan chocolate chip cookies.

Yoghurt: Moskowitz rolls with plant-based, but pick your favourite. Use ¼ cup per egg, and expect it to shine in situations where moisture is good, such as cakes, muffins and quick breads.

Mayo: This one comes from David Joachim, author of The Food Substitutions Bible. After all, mayo includes eggs, and the spread can serve the same emulsifying purpose as what it's replacing. Joachim says the swap is one to consider for cakes in particular, with 2 to 3 tablespoons per egg. Expect a very moist crumb. Take a look at Duke's Chocolate Cake, which calls for zero eggs and 1½ cups of mayo instead (it's a very big cake!).

Vegan chocolate aquafaba meringues recipe. Aquafaba recipes for Good Food February 2019. Chickpea water. Please credit Katrina Meynink.

Katrina Meynink's vegan chocolate meringues recipe use aquafaba instead of eggwhites. Photo: Katrina Meynink

Aquafaba: It's the seemingly miracle liquid from a can of beans (often chickpeas) that has been catching on as an egg replacement, particularly in instances when you'd whip eggwhites, as with meringue. According to The Washington Post food editor Joe Yonan, author of a recently released bean cookbook, 2 tablespoons of aquafaba can stand in for 1 eggwhite and 3 tablespoons for 1 whole egg. His fudgy Chocolate, Red Bean and Rose Brownies, for example, call for ⅔ cup of it. Moskowitz is less enamoured by aquafaba – she got by so many years without it – but sees where it can help set custards and pies or help with airy foods such as cheesecakes.

Applesauce and milk: Applesauce has long been a favoured swap-in for eggs and fat, and Moskowitz favours using it in conjunction with milk – ¼ cup of each per egg. The applesauce adds moisture, making this an ideal adjustment in quick breads, muffins and chocolate cakes. You may get the flavour of the applesauce, or at least its sweetness, coming through, but in many scenarios, that might not be a bad thing.

Others: The Kitchn just released a comprehensive side-by-side comparison of egg replacements in baking muffins. I encourage you to take a look, if for no other reason than to check out the surprising winners: carbonated water (first place) and a combination of water, oil and baking powder (second).

Breading 

Many foods destined for frying require a layer of egg before breading. The typical three-step process is flour, eggs and then bread crumbs. Instead of the egg, Moskowitz recommends a mix of cornstarch and water, which, when stirred together, forms a slurry. It, too, is an effective glue, and you may even notice more crispness to, say, your chicken parmigiana.

Binding 

Even some vegie burger recipes call for egg as a binder, as well as such dishes as meatballs and meatloaf. Moskowitz says that with bread crumbs in the mix, you may not need a binder at all. Tofu is a possibility here, as well as mayo and oil.

Helen Goh's Lunar New Year tarts with pineapple and lime.

Glaze Helen Goh's Lunar New Year pineapple tarts in jam or maple syrup instead of eggwash. Photo: William Meppem

Glazing

Egg washes are a standard final flourish on a variety of baked goods. If you have it in the pantry, a glaze of melted apricot jam is nice, Moskowitz says. For something less sweet, go with a mix of maple syrup and milk (she uses soy) or a blend of soy milk and flax. Again, manage expectations – nothing will be as shiny as eggs. On breads, even plain milk will get you decent browning and some shine. For anything that skews Italian (calzones, pizza rolls), Moskowitz will brush on a mix of marinara and oil as a finishing touch.

Other uses

If you can think of a situation when you need an egg, it's likely that someone else – like Moskowitz! – has thought of a way to make the dish without one. She has played around with hollandaise and carbonara made using cashew cream, mayo made with flax and devilled "eggs" with potatoes. "There really isn't anything where I'm like, I just can't do it," Moscowitz says.

We could all use that kind of spirit these days.

​The Washington Post