Now I’m no food stylist, but I can usually make a plate of cookies not look like a pile of scabs. But when your car and your camera break on the same day, and you decide to move out of your apartment and your son gets chronically constipated all at the same time it’s prioroties-setting time. As you can tell from the extremely shitty photo of vegan pumpkin cookies to the left, a new camera ended up on the bottom of the list. I am happy to say we fixed the car and Teno’s pooping is back on its way to normal – the move is still up in the air and I think the camera might be a few weeks in the making. (Although if anyone has a pick for something with a nice macro setting for food photography do tell!)

Anyway, for these reasons and many more I have been a neglectful baker and blogger. I’m happy you were all pleased with my cake rap last post, but to be honest with you that’s something I wrote almost a year ago and had tucked away in a Word .doc just in case I ever went a few weeks without baking something new to share. Shameful, I know, but at least it wasn’t a clip show. I’ve been around for almost two years now, and a clip show is just around the corner.

Now that it’s November we’ve moved into pumpkin pie and spice cake season – my favorite time of year. (I judge seasons by the correlating foods. So basically, I hate winter and everything else is bitchin’.) In honor of this cozy Fall, and in honor of Tony – who loves cookies and accidentally married a cupcake fiend – I made these chewy, yummy vegan pumkin cookies. This baking session also reminded me what I love about vegan baking – the flexibility. In a way, vegan baking is even more of a chemistry experiment than conventional baking. There are replacement formulas galore and even when you think you figured it out, there’s an even better option just around the corner. (Thus vegan’s never-ending quests for “the perfect vegan” this and “the ultimate vegan that.) I remember back in my BMX-biking, Earth Crisis-show-going days I thought I had a pretty great vegan brownie recipe. Then a roommate of mine showed me an even better one, sans bananas, and I realized this was going to be the rest of my life. Finding something I thought was perfect and then discovering, if I just changed one thing it’s even better.

I suppose that’s true for all baking, just when you think Billy’s Vanilla Vanilla is the be-all, end all vanilla cupcake you discover Ina Garten’s and your mind is blown once more. The major difference is people don’t expect much from vegan baking – which is ridiculous because I think we’ve proven over the years that most of the time the vegan recipe is more thought-out and thus, more delicious. But having that in the back of your mind – “if this is weird it won’t matter because everyone expects it to suck anyway” – really gives you a lot of creative freedom as a baker. And the extra-scientific aspect of a vegan recipe inevitably makes it fail safe – once you figure out a good formula to begin with you can kind of do whatever you want.

Take Isa Chandra Moskawitz’ recipe for vegan pumpkin oatmeal cookies, for example. The basic recipe calls for:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbs ground flaxseeds
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins

From there it’s just a regular cookie recipe. Pre-heat the oven to 250 and grease two cookie sheets. Mix together the dry stuff (flour, oats, baking soda, salt and spices) Then mix together the wet stuff (sugar oil, molasses, pumpkin, vanilla and flaxseeds – I don’t know why I consider sugar and flaxseeds “wet stuff” shut up. Mix it up and fold in the walnuts and raisins. Drop it by the tablespoon onto the cookie sheets, flattening the cookies out just a little so they’re cookie-shaped. Bake 16 minutes and cool. (Unlike most cookies these are actually not as good warm and fresh as they are the next day, but the flaxseeds make them nice and chewy.)

Anyway, this is a great recipe, right? Simple, not a lot of weirdo hippy stuff in it (in fact, you can skip the flax if you want to.) It makes like 4 dozen cookies and they’re just sweet and just salty enough that even Tony didn’t notice they were vegan. So the genius of a great vegan recipe is that once you have it down, like Isa so obviously has this one down, you can get in there and start doing what you want, making it your own.

Say you love pumpkin but you aren’t so into raisins – fine, try some chopped dark chocolate. Not into walnuts? Almonds, hazelnuts or even baked pumpkin seeds will do just fine. Or skip the nuts and seeds and add something else for texture. Try candied ginger and chocolate chips – that’s a grown up pumpkin cookie if I ever heard of one.

Add some orange or lemon zest and some chopped white chocolate. (There is a great recipe for a vegan version here.) Try some chopped apples with cinnamon or some diced pears with a bit of ginger powder.

Jump on the savory desserts bandwagon and use maple in place of vanilla and some finely chopped Smart Bacon.

The bottom line is that vegan baking is just like Satanism – do what thou wilt. And with that, my friends, I believe we’ve solved the mystery of why I love vegan baking. Hail seitan.