A year ago I read an article on Food52 about an amazing food discovery – aquafaba. Aquafaba is bean water that comes from canned beans or home cooked beans. This is an ingredient that is unseemly and easy to ignore. I sometimes use it in hummus, but I mostly just pour it down the drain. Fortunately, some very clever and persistent people discovered that aquafaba has similar properties to egg whites and could be whipped into stiff peaks and make aquafaba meringue. This amazing discovery for an egg substitute has changed vegan baking, and general baking, forever.
At first, I struggled visualizing a white and fluffy aquafaba meringue, just the smell alone of chickpea brine, (especially canned) will deter anyone from considering there is merit in that broth. Vegan baking is a challenging concept for me.
I often wonder, how do you bake without eggs? It is the glue that holds everything together and gives structure and texture to baked desserts. Could aquafaba really replace egg whites? I trust Food52 and their research, and I saw aquafaba was a trending discussion all over the web. My curiosity was sparked, and a year later, after relishing making and eating egg white meringue desserts-lemon meringue pie, dacquoise, pavlova, coconut chocolate meringue cookies, I finally put my mind to it and convinced myself it was time to make aquafaba meringues.
Also The official aquafaba website.
I am an omnivore, and love to learn about different diets and food preparations. I believe good health and well-being are centrally related to healthy eating practices, and I want to learn as much as I can about healthy food choices and nutrition. A vegan diet would be very difficult for me to do, mostly because I love cheese and I am not a fan of tofu. Over the years my research and experience has reinforced my belief of cutting back on animal protein consumption and to eat more plants.
Interested in other desserts made using aquafaba? Click here.
I have made a variety of egg white meringue desserts so I believed aquafaba meringue would be simple without too many complications. Wrong. Lesson one: Do not take anything for granted and read directions carefully. Similar to egg whites, making aquafaba meringue can be very temperamental. It took me three tries before I had my first success. The first attempt I added the sugar into the whipped bean water all at once and it deflated. I was furious with myself for that mistake because I know it is important to slowly add sugar to whipped eggs whites. I should have applied the same logic and experience to making aquafaba meringue.
The second attempt I used a mixture of chickpea cooking liquid from chickpeas that I cooked and the liquid from canned chickpeas. My home cooked aquafaba was very thick plus, I did not have enough. After I turned on my mixer and started whipping the aquafaba, nothing happened. The liquid stayed flat and barely developed a foam. I am not sure why, but my hunch is that the aquafaba from the home-cooked chickpeas did not have enough of the protein in the liquid. My chickpeas came from a brand of dried chickpeas with the skin peeled off. So take note, not all chickpea liquids are the same.
Lesson two: Keep it simple stupid. Do not try to build the Colosseum when you are just learning how to use a hammer. I am often so guilty of starting a project that I really do not know anything about. Then scrambling my way through trial and error until I get it right. Something that should have taken one day turns into three.
As I was putting the baking sheets filled with individual aquafaba meringue nests, (hoping to make pavlova), I realized that I did not have an accurate baking time. My reference recipe was for small meringue cookies. I had enough experience to believe that the suggested cooking time was not going to be long enough. Fortunately, I decided to go with a two-hour cooking time and to cool the meringues in the oven for several hours. This extended time produced light and crisp meringues so it all worked out. Next time I will do more research especially before I start something I now very little about.
To continue with the keeping it simple lesson, I planned on posting a recipe for vegan pavlova with mixed berries and coconut whipped cream: two of the foods in the recipe I had never made before. I thought I was going to have a lot of challenges with making aquafaba meringue, but they were nothing compared to the continuing malfunctions I am having with making whipped cream from coconut milk. So far making coconut milk whipped cream has been the most ridiculous and frustrating cooking experience that I have ever had.
To this day I have yet to succeed making coconut milk whipped cream. I made 4 attempts and all failed. Apparently coconut milk brands are not equal. There are additives in some brands, even the organic ones, that prevent the coconut milk from whipping up. I have used Coco Real Cream of Coconut, Nature Valley Organic Coconut Milk and Goya, all failed. Goya brand coconut milk does not have stabilizers in it, and the milk and cream did not separate. The coconut cream is the only part of the coconut milk used in making whipped coconut cream. There are discussions on food blogs about which coconut milk brands work. People swear by the full fat versions of Thai Kitchen, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Unfortunately, I did not have any of those options available to me.
Update: 5th try using chilled Thai Kitchen coconut milk, FYI chilled on the top shelf of my refrigerator for 18 hours. After 18 hours of being refrigerated, the coconut milk and cream did not separate and the cream did not whip. It is possible that the coconut milk needed to be chilled for 24 hours , or it just could be that sometimes you get a bum can of coconut milk that won’t separate. Lesson 3 – buy more than one brand and can of coconut milk.
I keep telling myself that we learn from our mistakes, but it is sure maddening when we are going through the process. Hopefully my mistakes will be useful and not deter you from conquering the challenges and enjoying the rewards of vegan baking. Kudos to the vegan home cooks and chefs that have persevered and shared their knowledge, mistakes and successes, with the public. Understanding cooking and food science is hard work, but ultimately well worth it.
More importantly, I discovered that aquafaba is an amazing egg substitute for anybody. I 100% recommend using the chickpea aquafaba to make meringue or other marshmallow type of foods. I made a pavlova for my husband using aquafaba meringue nests, regular whipped cream, and mixed fruit. While Joe was eating the dessert he kept repeating, “This is so good.” Pavlova, made from egg whites or aquafaba, is a crispy, creamy, fruity treasure all in one bite. Go for it.
What to do with your leftover chickpeas?
It is hard to go wrong with hummus. Try this recipe from Rose Water and Orange Blossom blog.
If you need a gluten-free, nut free, salty, crunchy fix try roasted chickpeas from Melissa Clark at NY Times Cooks. They are totally easy and delicious.
Add a handful of chickpeas to a tossed green salad with lettuce, avocados, tomatoes, cucumber, and fresh herbs with a vinaigrette. This is a delicious salad with some extra protein. Or toss in the roasted chickpeas, from the above recipe, instead of croutons for a gluten-free healthy crunch in your green salad.
Try this recipe I made from Mark Bittman at NY Times Cooking. Fennel Chickpea Ratatouille. I love how the fennel brightens the flavor of ratatouille. It is quite delicious.
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