Monday, September 28, 2009

Ask Veg Baker, J.D.: What's the Deal with Applesauce?

Hello everyone! First off, please accept my apologies for my one week delay in posting, but I'm back and raring to go!

To make up for my absence, I thought I would address a question I get all the time: what's my obsession with putting applesauce in so many of my vegan recipes?

My answer: because applesauce is a wonderful multitasker and can replace both a liquid fat AND eggs! (although not necessarily at more below...)

When I was a young sprout, my mom taught me a great trick I could put right up my sleeve: you can use applesauce to replace the oil in boxed mixes. It's great because if you're in a pinch and you're out of oil (or other liquid fat, including melted butter), applesauce can swoop in and save the day. I often bake with it because it works like a fat with the benefit of having no fat; this means you preserve the flavor of a tasty baked good while cutting out obscene amounts of fat. No complaints here! Applesauce also works great because it adds a dense moisture to foods and adds depth to the final product's flavor profile without altering the taste itself. All in all, these are all great things!

When I decided to go the vegan route and was looking for eggs substitutes, I was shocked to see that applesauce can also be used. I should caution that applesauce cannot be used universally as an egg substitute; as Isa Chandra Moskowitz so eloquently stated in Vegan with a Vengeance, it helps to determine whether eggs are used in a recipe to bind the ingredients together or whether the eggs also leaven. As long as the eggs were used just to bind, applesauce is great. Therefore, I find that applesauce works well in quick breads (like pumpkin bread), cakes, and some "heftier" cookies, like the Oatmeal Banana Cookies and the Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk cookies. The other reason I like to use applesauce as an egg replacer is because I cut down on food waste; whenever I would buy a dozen eggs or egg beaters, they almost always went bad before I could finish using them. I don't have that problem with applesauce, or if I have a bunch, I can freeze the applesauce until I need to bake with it.

This all said, I wouldn't use applesauce to replace both the fat and the eggs in a recipe; I would figure out which role you want it to play and then determine a substitute for the other product. For example, with rare exception, I tend to use applesauce as an egg replacer when the recipe calls for a solid fat. Applesauce can only replace liquid fats, and I can use Earth's Balance as a great dairy replacment. However, if the recipe calls for oil, I almost always replace the oil with applesauce to cut down on fat and then play around with other egg substitutes, like bananas or soy yogurt.

So, appropriately, to further today's celebration of applesauce, I am including a recipe for homemade unsweetened applesauce, with tips for how to sweeten it, if that's your cup of tea. I played around with this recipe over the weekend. My wonderful mom offered to pick up "some" apples for me when she went apple picking - she very generously gave me a bushel! So needless to say, I'm trying to put those apples to good use. Similarly, if you ever find you have a couple of apples in the fridge that are not much longer for this world, you can save them by scaling this recipe down and making some applesauce.

I should also note that unsweetened applesauce - which is literally just water and apples - is dog-safe. You can freeze it and give it to the pups like ice cream. I'm not so sure if unsweetened applesauce is universally liked by dogs, though. I made some applesauce for Sheila and Lucy over the weekend and gave them an unfrozen version, and they were kind of confused. They clearly really wanted to like it, but they had never seen anything with that kind of texture before, so they were a little weirded out by how it looked. No matter; it was tasty to this human. :)

Please note, if you do choose to go beyond this recipe and add other ingredients, please don't feed it to your dog.

Unsweetened Applesauce
Yields: 2-3 cups of applesauce

8 apples
1 cup water
(hints for sweetening for a human-only version are at the end)

1) If you please, remove the skins. Some people like sauce with the skins on, but others think it is weird to have skins floating around their sauce. This is a judgment call on your part.
2) Core the apples and cut into bite size pieces. For reference, I often use an apple corer that also yields 8 individual slices; I cut each of those slices into 3 pieces, and that is enough. Don't feel like you have to do a crazy dice.
3) Put apples in a pot with one cup of water and cover. Bring to a boil.
4) When boiling, give the apples a stir (they should start to be mushy at this point), turn the heat down so the water is simmering, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

That's it! You can easily scale this recipe up or down and freeze what you don't want.
If you like a little sweetness in your sauce, at the end of the 20 minutes simmering, you can add a little white and/or brown sugar and some cinnamon to taste; mix until dissolved, and you're done. Some people also like cloves, but I think cloves are gross, so I wouldn't know about that. :) Just remember, if you add these ingredients, this recipe is no longer dog safe.

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