[As a probably irrelevant but necessary sidenote, saying "a retreat" in the last sentence sounded in my ears like saying the Pope is kind of Catholic. The retreat was epic, and full of awesome people that continually inspire me.]
And at the retreat, I was in charge of feeding 100 people for 3 days. Sound scary? That's because it is a little scary. But fortunately, the people in this organization are amazing. Not only did I have a whole team of people to help, we also were cooking for really cool people. Imagine you took 10,000 people and only took the 100 most understanding, considerate and adaptable people in the group. It makes it all much, much less scary when you know that nobody's going to bite your head off if their cucumber is sliced just slightly too thinly...
And it went relatively well. Did I have the occasional disaster? Totally. One day I had a battle with the gas oven and lost hard. (Instead of pumpkin loaf, I ended up with pumpkin char on the outside and pumpkin soup on the inside.) One evening, the mashed potatoes were so late that everything else was devoured in minutes, leaving half of the vegetarians being like, "Uhm...I can't eat turkey and that's all that's left. Wait 20 minutes and have mashed potato for dinner?" So yes, there were definitely snags. But they were so gracious and it was a really cool learning (and bonding) experience.
And maybe the biggest hit was the quickbread. Done in both Pumpkin Spice and Banana, and disappearing really quickly every time, it seems like you can't go wrong with quickbread and a room of 100 hungry 20-year-olds.
To make vegan quickbread, it's surprisingly easy. I'd stick with flax meal for your egg replacement, and this formula will assume you want some kind of fruity goodness in your loaf. It will give you a pretty sweet bread with a texture almost like a cakey brownie. Definitely appropriate dessert fare, or perfect as something sweet to serve with tea.
So here's what you do.
First, you're going to follow the basic recipe below, to get your simple batter, and you're going to add in your extras based on what you want or have on hand. This recipe assumes you'll use some kind of fruit or vegetable pulp (so, for instance, finely-grated carrot, applesauce or mashed dates), and make at your own risk if you don't put any in. Fruit pulp helps as a binder. Add your wet "extras" with the shortening and sugar; add dry ingredients (like, say, spices) with your flour and such. Here are some ideas:
2 cups pumpkin purée (this is not the same as pumpkin pie filling but is found in a similar place in the grocery) and spice: 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground cloves. Optionally, you can also add a few handfuls of raisins. If you like raisins, they're a must-try for this variation.
4 very ripe bananas, mashed thoroughly, and 1/2 cup finely-chopped walnuts added with the flour. So classic and so addictive.
2 cups unsweetened applesauce and spice: 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Kind of tastes like apple pie, which is never a bad thing, if you ask me.
2 cups finely grated zucchini and 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (added with the flour). This one really could pass for a cakey brownie... This is the chocolatey one pictured in this post (with a couple of handfuls of chocolate chips sprinkled on top before baking).
And once you decide what flavour you want, the rest is simple.
If you have other variations you've tried (or would like to try), make sure you let us know in the comments so that other readers and I can join in the fun! Happy baking!
Basic Vegan Quickbread
Baking isn't fun if you're not experimenting. Try something
new the second, third, fourth time you make this recipe!
Makes 2 loaves (each yielding 12 slices)
2/3 cup vegetable shortening (Earth Balance has one--otherwise, Crisco is also vegan)
2-2/3 cup golden cane sugar (I always recommend Fair Trade!)
1/2 cup flaxseed meal whisked with 1 cup warm water until thick
1-1/3 cup water
3-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil two 9" by 5" loaf pans and line the bottom and long sides with parchment paper, so that you'll be able to lift the loaves out easily. Don't worry about lining all sides, as the short sides can just be loosened with a knife. (You can also use an 8" by 8" square cake pan to replace a loaf pan, if you prefer, but it will cook faster, so be sure to reduce the cooking time by at least 20 minutes and check often to prevent it from burning!)
In a large bowl, mix together shortening, sugar, flax egg and water. (Also add your desired fruit pulp to this mixture.) Mix well. Add remaining ingredients (includig any spices, etc. you wish to add) and stir until very well blended. You may wish to use a wire whisk to be sure there aren't a lot of clumps in the batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool 5-10 minutes before loosening sides of the bread and removing from the pan. Allow to cool before slicing.