Creating vegan baked goods that are as light, fluffy, and flaky as the buttery and eggy originals has always been a bit of a challenge, but help is here in a very surprising form: chickpea water.
As the New York Times reported a few months ago, the liquid left over from cooking these legumes (or from opening a can of them) whips up into a snowy white foam that can be used just like egg whites. Turns out several Bon Appétiters have long known about this magical elixir, dubbed aquafaba from the Latin words for water and bean.
More than a year ago, at Beloit College in Beloit, WI, General Manager Ken Hnilo was looking for a vegan marshmallow topping for his son’s birthday party, since several of his family members are vegan. He found the tip on the Internet, tried it, and was amazed.
He mentioned it to Pastry Chef Lisa Rau, who was skeptical. “I thought he was lying to me,” she laughs.“But he insisted I had to try it, so I started looking up recipes. I made meringue cookies and when it actually worked, I was dumbfounded.”
Egg whites are about 90 percent water and the remainder protein. Whipping them unfolds and bonds the proteins plus traps air bubbles. Somehow, when whipped, chickpea water’s mixture of protein and dissolved starch, along with chemicals called saponins, behaves similarly in baked goods. Lisa has found the chickpea water to be more stable than egg whites, and says the meringues hold their shape better if you’re piping them and set even when it’s humid.
Lisa now uses aquafaba in cinnamon rolls — “which to be honest are better than regular cinnamon rolls, the texture is a lot softer” — and in Italian buttercream frosting, which comes out silky smooth. Pavlovas with vegan lemon curd, vanilla sponge cake to go with the Italian buttercream …the list goes on…all vegan!
Executive Chef Patrick Youse heads up the vegetarian program at Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA. He started using aquafaba almost a year ago when he wanted to make a deconstructed vegan s’more for a fun, innovative dessert, and like Ken, found a recommendation to use chickpea water to make vegan marshmallows.
“I have found by whisking in a little xanthum gum or cream of tartar with the chickpea water, plus powdered sugar and vanilla extract, it creates a great marshmallow texture that can be used raw or baked,” says Patrick. “The key is whisking it long enough to whip air into it — similar to egg whites —and making sure the binder is mixed in fully before adding in the sugar.” (Don’t forget to source vegan chocolate for the s’mores, of course!)
“Aquafaba has been a secret weapon in our team’s arsenal,”explains Ken.“One of the challenges of our style of service is being able to serve all guest the same kind of delicious dessert. It’s great to be able to offer our vegan guests a treat and sensation that they don’t get to experience often.”