Adventures in Aquafaba

Attempting to make a vegan pavlova

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while will know that I’ve often dabbled in vegan desserts (lots of doughnuts). I’m trying to work more vegan foods into my life, although am finding it harder than I expected. It’s difficult to find recipes and foods that are direct enough swaps to fill my expectations and comfort needs. So I’m trying to be realistic and honest with myself about what I can and can’t achieve, and trying to make ‘going vegan’ a bit of a hobby – something I do for enjoyment – not just out of a sense of obligation. I find I’m being quite hard on myself, moralising that every non-vegan choice is a bad one, and feeling guilty for ‘failing’. But diet is such an important part of our lives, and it’s always going to be tough to quit something ‘cold turkey’, let alone when that thing is a whole set of food groups. Looking ahead I’m trying to embrace a more fun-filled approach to veganism, doing what I can when and where I can, and cutting myself some slack for when I make different (not always bad choices). It’s too much to expect one-to-one switches, so I’m aiming to have some fun exploring what’s out there, not rushing to make changes as soon as possible.

So going forward, expect to read some more posts about my experiments with vegan recipes – I’d love to try some of yours, so please so share links in the comments!

Vegan Pavlova

As someone with a sweet tooth, a pavlova seems a pretty good place to start. When I was a child I had a mild obsession with the gorgeously decadent pavlova that called out to be from the pages of our Two Fat Ladies cookbook, resplendent with cream and raspberries. Now I’m Down Under, it seems only appropriate to attempt what is widely considered an Antipodean national dish. I even made it one of my 30 before 30 goals.

I tried my hand at a non-vegan version with some leftover egg whites, and though it was mini, it was pretty simple and easy to make. I forewent the cream and used some nearly over-ripe kiwis, so I was just using ingredients that might otherwise have been wasted. All in all, it was very tasty.

Now to the vegan version. There are a million, ever-so-slightly different recipes out there on the internet, but having read a few (including this interesting article about the science behind aquafaba) I settled for a bog-standard one from Woolworths. The instructions were pretty thin on the ground, but that was in a way reassuring – it couldn’t be that complicated if the recipe was so short!

Image of the whipped aquafaba with stiff peaks.

Indeed the actual production was quite easy. The aquafaba miraculously fluffed up with a good bit of whisking, looking to all intents and purposes identical to the ‘real thing’. I added the sugar only a very small amount at a time – it’s important to let one ‘dose’ fully dissolve before adding the next, or you risk getting a leaky meringue. This all went smoothly enough, and I laid four small circles out on baking trays. This was more than I needed, but I thought there was no harm in having some spares for testing.

Two nearly circular white mounds of vegan meringue on a gray baking tray waiting to be cooked.

They went into a cool oven, and when the timer went off I took a peek. The first set I checked were definitely not ready yet, so I popped them back in. I ended up cooking them for at least 40 more minutes. One set sadly collapsed under the weight of my testing and impatience, but having left the second set to cool, I had two good, rather neat meringues.

This was where I made my big mistake. My coconut cream had been in the fridge cooling for days, but I fundamentally misunderstood why. It turns out that the cooling is to help the liquid separate from the solid, so you have a thicker, firmer cream. Missing the point, I emptied all of the solid cream, and some of the liquid into my bowl for whipping. Unsurprisingly, I did not end up with a particularly firm whip. I pressed ahead anyway, layering the cream onto the cooled meringues, along with chopped strawberries and whole raspberries, and ending up with a rather pretty little dessert.

The finished palova with two layers of fruit and cream on the cooked vegan meringues.

If I had sat and eaten it straight away, I think I would have got away with my error. What I actually did was leave it sat on the kitchen table for hours, waiting to be eaten for dessert after supper. When I returned, I found it a sunken pile of sweet foam, with some strawberries inelegantly plonked on the top. It had the texture of snow just starting to melt, as the dry meringue had absorbed the unfortunately ample liquid from the coconut cream. Not my finest hour, and I’ll admit to a not insignificant level of disappointment.

The dissolved and collapsed pavlova at time of eating.

However, I was cheered when we finally tucked into the sugary disaster. It actually tasted pretty great, and once you overcame the unexpected texture, it went down a treat. I was glad to have put so much fruit in, because it actually came out pretty well-balanced – just the right side of too-sweet, and with a pleasantly mellow coconut flavour. The real test was that I could hardly tell that t wasn’t an egg-based meringue (although the circumstances for testing weren’t ideal), so in that sense it was a real success!

All in all it was certainly a good experiment. I titled this post ‘Adventures in Aquafaba’, and I think that’s a pretty good summary. Most adventures start optimistically, before the heroes encounter some obstacles and set-backs, only for things to turn out all right in the end. Not how I’d usually aim to cook, but fun nonetheless!

What culinary adventures have you been on? Are there any aquafaba or vegan recipes you think I should try next? Please do leave suggestions in a comment below! I certainly learnt a lot from this adventure, and am looking forward to seeing how my next experiment goes. I did also make some quite delicious hummus with the leftover chickpeas from the recipes, so on balance this was definitely a win! I’d love to hear about your experiences attempting the switch to vegan food too. And as ever, thank you so much for reading!

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