You may not be vegan. You may be a real egg lover. But I love dabbling in vegan baking, and last year we discovered that our son Oliver was allergic to eggs, which definitely changed the way we approached breakfast at home—my husband and I are big egg eaters!
Thankfully, he can have eggs if they’re baked into something like a muffin or prepared pasta, but many of his friends can’t, so I’ve gotten good at tweaking baked goods to accommodate everyone at parties and get-togethers.
The number one trick for replacing eggs in a baking recipe—but keeping many of the important properties that eggs contribute—is using a flax egg.
WHAT IS A FLAX EGG?
Flax eggs are a mixture of flaxseed meal (ground flaxseeds) and water. The flaxseed meal absorbs the water and becomes gelatinous, similar to an egg white. These are a great vegan substitute when you don’t want to use a chicken egg in a recipe.
HOW DO I USE FLAX EGGS IN RECIPES?
To substitute for one large chicken egg in your recipe, do a one-for-one swap with a flax egg. Simple!
The recipe below is for a single flax egg, and you can scale up the formula to make however many flax eggs you need for your recipe.
HOW DO I MAKE A FLAX EGG?
To make a flax egg, you first need ground flaxseed meal—the gum in the seed coating is what thickens the “egg” and it works best when the seeds are ground.
You can buy ground flaxseed meal, but you can also buy whole flaxseeds and grind them into meal yourself. Once ground, flaxseed meal can go rancid pretty quickly, so I recommend buying whole flaxseeds, storing them in the fridge, and grinding them as needed for your recipe. (If you do buy ground flaxseed meal, store it in the freezer for maximum shelf life.)
A lot of bakers like to buy golden flaxseeds, which are lighter color and less noticeable in the finished baked good. Dark-colored flaxseeds are fine to use as well, but will give light-colored muffins and quick breads a slightly speckled appearance.
I think the easiest way to grind your own flax seeds is to use a small coffee grinder or spice grinder—just make sure it’s wiped clean so you’re not adding any undesired flavors or aromas into your flax meal from coffee beans or other spices.
Simply add the flaxseed to the grinder and start grinding. Depending on the strength of your grinder, it should take about 30 seconds or so to get make fine meal you’re looking for. It should have the consistency of a chunky powder.
A good rule of thumb to follow is that 1 tablespoon of whole flaxseed will yield about 2 tablespoons of ground flax meal.
HOW THE HECK DO FLAX EGGS WORK?
As with many things in the kitchen, there’s a good bit of science involved here.
Regular chicken eggs do a number of helpful things in a recipe: they act as an emulsifier, a leavener, and a binder. And of course, they add moisture to baked goods.
The gelatinous nature of flax eggs helps emulate the binding action of eggs. They also add moisture, ensuring that your baked goods remain tender and don’t become too crumbly.
How exactly do flax eggs work this magic?! The outer seed coating of a flaxseed contains a gum that becomes really thick—almost gelatinous—once ground and mixed with water. This new, thicker substance has proven to be a great emulsifier and binder, helping with the structure of baked goods.
WHEN CAN I USE FLAX EGGS IN RECIPES?
I’ve used flax eggs in simple baking applications like cookies, muffins, loaf cakes, and pancakes and they’ve all turned out great. I’ve also tried them in meatballs with great success.
This leads me to conclude that flax eggs work for many recipes where eggs are the supporting stars, as opposed to the main actors—flax eggs wouldn’t work for egg-focused recipes such as quiche, crepes, or omelets.
I’d also be hesitant to use flax eggs with very delicate cakes, and a flax egg can’t mimic the role of regular eggs in something like meringue, so sweets like macarons or lemon meringue pie would be out.
But absolutely go to town on your favorite simple baked goods like cookies, bars, muffins and quick breads!
ANY TIPS BEFORE I DIVE IN?
Yes! There are a few helpful tips to know before getting started using flax eggs:
First, while eggs help to leaven baked goods (meaning they help them to rise), flax eggs really don’t do much in this regard.
I know a few vegan bakers who swear by adding a pinch of baking powder to their flax egg once it’s thickened to help give them a leavening boost. I haven’t tried this as most recipes I’ve made with flax eggs already contain baking powder, but it’s a good tip to keep in your back pocket for future baking experiments.
Second, it’s best to use room temperature water and let your flax egg set at room temperature, versus refrigerating it. I find this helps the flax egg to set up, but in addition, many recipes call for room temperature eggs, and I like to remain consistent in my ingredient swaps.
Third, because the flax egg takes about 10 minutes to thicken, mix them up before doing anything else. Mix them before you even crack open your cookbook or think about preheating the oven. I hate having to sit and twiddle my thumbs waiting for the flax egg to set up. If you get distracted or interrupted after you make the egg, keep in mind the longer it sits, the more it gels up. That being said, I’ve left out for up to an hour and it was fine.