At the start of last month, I talked about some resolutions I made: stop answering Instagram DMs in the evening, meal plan better, and explore “alternative” baking by developing my own gluten-free or vegan recipes. How is all that going?

Well… not well, lol. I’m still answering DMs left and right on Instagram at all hours of the day. After a few weeks of careful meal planning, my resolve was quickly shattered by the s’mores donut croissant you see in the pictures above (FYI—if you live in Portland, that s’mores donut croissant is from NOLA Doughnuts!).

But I did learn some lessons about alternative baking that are worth sharing:

Hummingbird High will never be a vegan baking blog.

Although I did develop two gluten free recipes I’m quite proud of (here’s looking at you, small batch almond flour brownies and small batch baked ube mochi donuts), vegan baking fell by the wayside. I had plans to update some of my vegan cookie recipes, as well as work on a vegan banana bread recipe. Instead, I just updated these vegan tahini chocolate chip cookies (which are delicious, btw) and abandoned the rest of my big ideas.

Because here’s something that this resolution made me discover about myself: I have absolutely zero passion for vegan baking.

I can’t really explain it (though I earnestly tried to do so in this Instagram post). But most vegan recipes fall flat to me! Many of the vegan bakes I’ve tried tasted too bland, heavy, and oily. Many of you will probably come at me in the comments for saying so. And believe me—I’m SURE I wasn’t trying the right recipes. But after quite a few mediocre results, I didn’t want to waste my time and money trying any more vegan baking recipes.

And developing them wasn’t fun for me, either. Since I don’t want to rely on specialty ingredients like vegan butter and commercial egg replacers, it limits the ingredients I can work with. Don’t get me wrong! There’s nothing wrong with using vegan butter or a commercial egg substitute like Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer. It’s just that Hummingbird High has a wide audience of readers and bakers from all around the world. Most of them already have trouble getting “common” pantry ingredients like cream of tartar in their countries. I don’t want to develop recipes with ingredients that are inaccessible or hard to substitute for those folks!

But Hummingbird High could MAYBE be a gluten free baking blog? Probably not, though (lol).

That being said, I did find myself enjoying gluten free baking more than I thought I would. I love the different flavors and textures that alternative flours brought to the table. I also love that certain bakes (like the mochi donut, for instance) are unique BECAUSE of their use of gluten free flours. To wit—you can’t really make a mochi donut if you exclusively use all-purpose flour. You need that sweet rice flour.

That being said, I don’t think Hummingbird High will ever become a 100% gluten free baking blog, either. Similar to my conundrum with vegan baking, I don’t want my recipes to rely on “obscure”, expensive flours or commercial replacers that aren’t accessible to everybody!

And there are so many talented gluten free bakers out there who actually have gluten intolerances. They have years of gluten free baking experience that I don’t have! It’s probably better to rely on their recipes than somebody like me, who is just dabbling in it because she thinks it’s “fun”, lol.

Once you start removing things like gluten, eggs, dairy, and whatever else, people want you to go all the way.

I’m used to getting all sorts of questions about substitutions on my blog. People ask me if they can make my ube crinkle cookies without the ube, and these 3 ingredient peanut butter cookies without eggs (you know, one of the only three ingredients in the recipe). And I have more to say on this subject today, too! Scroll down to “Food For Thought”—I’ve shared an article about cooking substitutions that’s 100% worth reading.

But back to the main topic at hand. The two times I posted gluten free recipes this month, the questions began rolling in: How do I make the recipe dairy-free? How do I make the recipe egg-free? It seems that removing gluten wasn’t enough—it also needed to be dairy-free, egg-free, or both (essentially making it vegan).

I’m somewhat surprised by these requests because I have friends who are gluten free but not vegan, and vegan friends who eat gluten. They frequently complain how hard it is to get gluten free desserts that have eggs and dairy, and vegan desserts that have gluten! But I guess these bakeries know what they’re doing, since many people seem to prefer to have it both ways.

What do YOU think? Do you want your gluten free bakes to have eggs and dairy? Or do you just want them to be completely vegan? Curious to hear what the actual consensus is!

In Case You Missed It: New Recipes

And in case you missed it, I published and updated a TON of new recipes on both Hummingbird High and partner’s websites in the past month. Here’s a round-up of everything new:

Below are pictures of the two most popular recipes from the month—Gateau Basque and Small Batch Baked Mochi Donuts—to inspire you:

After a month of focusing on alternative baking recipes, I realized I was never going to be a full-time gluten free and/or vegan baker. Read more in my life update for the month of February 2021, with links to my favorite recipes, articles, and stories from the last few weeks.

Food For Thought

Typically, I spend this section sharing various food-related articles I found interesting in the last month. But this month, I only want to talk about one:

“A Kitchen Resolution Worth Making: Follow The Recipe Exactly.” by Genevieve Ko in The New York Times

Genevieve talks about how one of her resolutions this year was to follow a recipe exactly as it is written. She talks about how, despite it being difficult to exclude her own tastes and preferences in the cooking, following the recipe exactly allowed her to understand the experiences of the recipe creator. Along the way, she learned a ton of new cooking techniques, many of which surprised her since they went against her own knowledge as a food writer and trained chef.

The comments section exploded.

Looking at the comments section without reading the article, you might think that Genevieve suggested murdering babies or something. Many people were upset and offended by her suggestion of following the recipe exactly as written! The craziest ones had echoes of the alt-right movement (e.g. “DON’T THREAD ON ME” and “STOP BEING SHEEP”). Then there were people upset that she was making recipes a “race” issue because they didn’t like her use of the term “unconscious bias”. And then there were the “but what about” folks, some (but not all) of whom had valid concerns: But what about my allergies? But what about my budget? But what about the pandemic? But what about my health and how recipes usually have too much fat, sugar, and salt in them?


My Thoughts On Substitutions

Personally, I thought Genevieve was giving us SUCH a refreshing take. Over the last year, especially with everything that’s been going on, several food bloggers, recipe creators, and developers like myself have bent ourselves over backwards to accommodate substitutions, restrictions, and preferences.

On Hummingbird High, I get SO many questions about substitutions in my recipes. And while I’m generally happy to accommodate some of them—especially during a pandemic, when everybody is (supposed to be) limiting their shopping trips, and some ingredients are still hard to come by. But the fact of the matter is that every substitution you make takes you further away from the original recipe’s taste and texture.

And this last year, I’ve come to realize that there’s a fine line between being accommodating to folks and indulging people’s worst impulses. What does that mean, exactly? I’m still struggling to define it myself. But there are definitely some people who want substitutions because they are NOT making a good faith effort to make the recipe.

Here are some examples of problematic substitutions and insertions:

When People Ask For A Substitution That Changes The Flavor of The Recipe Completely

Often times, I get really bizarre questions on my recipes. On a chocolate cake, folks will ask if they can skip the cocoa powder and chocolate to turn it into a vanilla cake. On an ube cookie recipe, people will ask if they can swap out the ube for coconut or strawberry jam to make it a coconut or strawberry cookie instead. On a blueberry muffin recipe, people will ask if they can use bananas instead to make it a banana muffin.

I try to be polite about it, but really, my first reaction is: YIKES! The internet is a treasure trove of recipes. Recipes for a good vanilla cake, banana muffins, and unique cookies are just a quick Google search away. Why try to turn the recipe I presented into something it’s not?

When People Ask For A Substitution That Disrespects The Cultural Origin Of The Recipe

Sometimes, I share recipes for baked goods that come from a specific country or region known for that ingredient, cuisine, or recipe. Like Liège waffles! Liège waffles are a Belgian waffle that use a special kind of pearl sugar originating from the Belgian city of Liège. Or Vietnamese iced coffee cake! Vietnamese iced coffee is known for its liberal use of sweetened condensed milk—without the sweetened condensed milk, it’d just be regular iced coffee.

Over the years, I’ve gotten these questions about those recipes: Can I make these Liege waffles without the Belgian pearl sugar? Can I make the Vietnamese iced coffee cake without sweetened condensed milk?

But without the Belgian pearl sugar, the Liège waffles would just be an ordinary waffle recipe. And without the sweetened condensed milk, the Vietnamese iced coffee cake would just be an iced coffee cake. Both would probably still be delicious without their key ingredients, sure. But without those ingredients, you’d literally be robbing the recipes of their cultural identity! And at that point, wouldn’t you just want to find another waffle or cake recipe that’s not specifically trying to pay homage to a country or region’s signature dish?

When People Come In With Unearned Confidence

To wit—the other day, I saw a comment on a brownie recipe in which the maker had reduced the sugar, the butter, and eliminated the salt. She wrote that the recipe was still great! And I’m sure it came out fine. In fact, I know it did! Because to develop that recipe, I made it 12+ times, tweaking the amounts of sugar, butter, and salt as I went. I know that the version she created technically “worked” since I started with similar ratios to them myself. But it definitely wasn’t as delicious as the final version of the recipe with more sugar and salt that ended up on the blog.

Ultimately, I’m torn on this one. Because I really do appreciate it when people say that they’ve made the recipe with a substitution like egg replacer, gluten-free flour replacer, and/or sugar substitute. That’s helpful for everybody, especially since I don’t have the time and budget to test all those different replacers myself. And I understand that people want to limit their sugar and salt intake, so comments like hers are helpful.

But I worry that people will see super specific comments like the brownie one, disregard the original recipe on my blog to follow those instructions instead… only to end up with worse results since that commenter didn’t go through the recipe development process I did. So please treat comments like that on recipes with a grain of salt! Sometimes, I’ve already tested the exact iteration that the commenter is touting and found it lacking.

When People Complain About The Recipe Without Being Upfront About Changing It

And on the flip side, I also get a lot of comments and complaints about my recipes “being bad” or “not working.” And after speaking to the commenter, I usually quickly find out that it’s because he or she has made a ton of changes like reducing or excluding key ingredients like sugar and eggs, and/or skipping over my specific ingredient recommendations.

I cannot stress this enough: often times, if a recipe is written the way it is, there’s a pretty good reason for it! Even minor changes—like reducing the sugar by a few tablespoons, using vegan butter instead of regular butter—can lead to dramatic effects in baking.

And between you and me, I don’t mind when people make changes to recipes. I do it myself when I make other people’s recipes. But there are boundaries: you absolutely cannot complain about the results to the maker if you changed a bunch of things and found that “their recipe doesn’t work.”

An “Ethical” Guide to Making Recipe Substitutions

I hate to just present a list of gripes without providing a more constructive alternative. So here’s a guide on how to ask for and when to make substitutions:

1. Did you make the recipe exactly as it is written first?

When trying a new recipe for the first time, make it exactly as it’s written first. This is ESPECIALLY important for baking recipes.

Once you have a good idea of what you liked and didn’t like about it, then go ahead and make changes! Use your preferred substitutions and techniques instead.

2. Do you have an actual allergy or dietary restriction that you need a substitution for?

If you have an allergy or dietary restrictions that prevent you from using certain ingredients in the recipe, go ahead and substitute away!

Feel free to ask the recipe developer for their advice, too. Just note that conventional bakers like myself often don’t have enough time or budget to test all the different ways our recipes can be made with different egg replacers, gluten free flours, plant-based milks, and more. So if you have a ton of experience working with those ingredients, it’s likely that you already know more about how to substitute with them than we do!

3. Did you make a good faith attempt to use the ingredients (or similar ones) listed the recipe?

One of my favorite comments on Genevieve’s article is this:

NYtimes comment screenshot

I loved it so much that I even shared it on Instagram Stories, lol. It captures the sentiments of my question perfectly.

4. Is your substitution trying to make something the recipe is not?

If you find yourself swapping out or eliminating the key ingredient completely, pause for a moment. It’s probably easier to find a different recipe WITHOUT that ingredient in the first place!

How do you tell if it’s a key ingredient? Simple! It’s a key ingredient if the recipe has the ingredient in its name. Some examples: the almond flour in “Small Batch Almond Flour Brownies”, and the pumpkin in “Pumpkin Snickerdoodles”).

5. Is your substitution erasing the cultural identity of the dish?

Similarly, if you find yourself wanting to swap out an “obscure” or “hard-to-find” ingredient, pause for a moment. Now, backtrack. Did you find the recipe in an article or blog post about a specialty dish from a different country or region? If yes, it’s likely that the recipe uses those ingredients because of its specific connection to that place. So it’s worth making the recipe with the ingredients exactly as it’s written!

Without the specific ingredient, you’d likely be erasing the cultural identity of the dish. If you can’t find that ingredient, it’s worth making another recipe to make instead.

And back to our regular programming.

Recipes and Resources To Save

And here are the recipes and cooking-related resources I saved these last few weeks:

Finally, On A Lighthearted Note

Okay, whew! That’s all for now, folks. I hope you all are staying safe and healthy—happy new year! Please let me know how you’re doing in the comments below, and feel free to share the ideas and issues that are floating around in your heads, too.