When it comes to desserts, vegans can be decadent too

Just because you're a vegan, it doesn't mean you have to live without those tempting after-dinner indulgences.

By Lynda Strahl

Banana split

Photo: Martin Thompson, from Vegan Indulgence (Aduki Press).

When I first became a vegan, what worried me most was not the lack of milk, eggs or cheese in my diet. I was happy to do without my Spanish omelets or macaroni & cheese, and I had no qualms about drinking my coffee black. What really bothered me was the thought of foregoing my favorite desserts. Call me over-indulgent, but I do like a generous helping of ice cream or chocolate mousse or a nice big slice of cheesecake to finish a meal. It was going to be tough to replace those little luxuries with a boring bowl of stewed fruit or a bunch of grapes.

As things turned out, I needn't have worried. True, things were hard at first, especially as none of the vegan cookbooks I owned at the time offered anything remotely inspirational in the dessert department. But I eventually built up a collection of super-succulent recipes that satisfied my craving for a touch of decadence at the end of a meal. I now feast on desserts that are every bit as rich and indulgent as the dairy-based equivalents I used to enjoy, while being at least a little bit healthier (my recipes are all low on saturated fats, but not necessarily on calories.)

So if you want to produce your own appetizing treats to round off a vegan dinner, here are some ideas to get you started.

Mousses and other creamy things

The key ingredient here is silken tofu. This is not the firm, slightly slimy type of tofu that vegans use to make stews and curries, but a much smoother variety that lends itself beautifully to all manner of creamy desserts.

You can make a simple but scrumptious dessert for two to four people simply by combining a 250 gram (10 ounce) pack of silken tofu with four tablespoons of cocoa powder, two tablespoons of oil or vegan margarine and a couple of tablespoons of superfine (caster) sugar. If you happen to have some vanilla extract handy, add a teaspoon of that to the mix, but it's not essential. Blend the ingredients in a blender or food processor until completely smooth. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

As a variation, try fresh berries, such as blackberries, raspberries, blueberries or strawberries - or a mixture of all four - in place of the cocoa.

Bananas

Bananas are another great way to add a touch of luxury to a dessert. When mashed or blended with other ingredients, they provide flavor, texture and nutritional value (bananas are one of the healthiest fruits around, being an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium and manganese).

For an example of a wonderful vegan dessert that uses both bananas and silken tofu, try Moira Adams' very popular vegan cheesecake recipe. If your dinner guests love it as much as mine do, you'll earn plenty of kudos.

Hot puddings

Mousses and cheesecake are great in the summer, but, where I live, the winters are cold, and I look for desserts that are warm and comforting.

Fruit crumble

Photo obtained from Wikimedia Commons

One dish that I turn to again and again is that good old standby, hot fruit crumble. It's easy to make, very satisfying, and lends itself to constant variety. To make it, you start by preparing a topping, using approximately 2 cups (10 oz, 300 g) of wholewheat flour, half a cup (4 oz, 110 g) of dairy-free margarine and half a cup (3½ oz, 100 g) of brown sugar. Rub the ingredients together by hand until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. If you have any seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, whatever) or chopped nuts to hand, add those as well.

Next, place the fruit in an oven-proof dish. Almost any kind of fruit is suitable here. I usually peel and chop a couple of cooking apples, and add any fresh or frozen berries that I might have in stock. Plums, rhubarb, peaches and apricots are also good choices (the crumble pictured here was made with blackberries and apple). Add sugar according to your taste and the natural sweetness of the fruit. Finally, spread the crumble topping over the fruit, pressing down until it's firm. Bake in a medium oven (350F, 180C) for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve with cashew cream (see below).

Another dessert I enjoy when the weather turns cold is rice pudding. You can make a vegan rice pudding simply by using soy milk in place of dairy in your favorite recipe. For something a little more special, try Janey Macleod's recipe for brown rice pudding, but again using soy milk rather than dairy, and replacing the honey with brown sugar or other sweetener.

Cashew cream

For me, a dessert without a dollop or three of cream is unthinkable. Happily, the cream doesn't have to be of the dairy variety. Cashew cream is a superb substitute. In fact, I know several non-vegans who prefer it for its superior flavor and texture.

You don't really need a recipe to make your own cashew cream. It's really just a question of blending, in a food processor, raw cashew nuts with about half their volume of liquid. The liquid could be apple juice, grape juice, or water with the addition of a sweetener such as maple syrup. I've also heard of people adding lemon juice or vanilla extract. However, to my mind, plain water is the best option. Vary the quantity of liquid according to how thick you want the result to be.

You can use cashew cream in much the same way as dairy cream, including in savory recipes (I use it as a base for my pasta sauce). It will keep for three to five days in the fridge.

Book cover

 

Lots more recipes here

I mentioned earlier that my original vegan cookbooks tended to be weak on indulgent desserts. Things have definitely improved over the years, although many such books still try to fob us off with apple purée or stewed rhubarb, when what we crave is chocolate mousse or rum-and-raisin ice cream.

One notable exception is the aptly-named Vegan Indulgence, by Leigh Drew (published by Aduki Press). This slim volume (illustrated, right) contains twenty wonderfully decadent dessert and cake recipes, guaranteed to have you - and your guests - drooling. It include vegan versions of such classics as Black Forest gateau, chocolate melting moments, crème brûlée, banana split, peach and coconut tart, raspberry mud cake and tiramisu.

My favorite recipe from the book (of the ones I've tried so far) is for a delicious creamy fruit sorbet (illustrated, below). In fact, it's more like a rich ice cream than a sorbet. It's quite time-consuming to make, but worth every moment.

Fruit sorbet

Photo: Martin Thompson,
from Vegan Indulgence (Aduki Press).

You'll need about three cups of very ripe soft fruit. I used apricots, but peaches, nectarines and most berries would also work well. Place the fruit, along with a 250 gram (10 ounce) pack of silken tofu, in a food processor, and blend until it's well broken up. Add about 1½ cups (375 ml, 12 fl oz) of orange juice and 1 - 2 tablespoons of agave nectar (this is a very sweet syrup, produced in Mexico; I couldn't find any in my local supermarkets, so I used maple syrup instead, which was fine).

Pour the mixture into an airtight container and place it in the freezer. Every couple of hours, as the mixture starts to get icy, remove it from the freezer and whip it up to break up the ice crystals. Repeat this process three times, then freeze completely. Once frozen, defrost the mixture until it's just soft, then whip it one more time until it's soft and creamy but still frozen. Refreeze. Finally, allow to defrost for about an hour before serving.

Since the procedure is very similar to making traditional ice cream, I would imagine it's possible to prepare the sorbet in an ice-cream maker. I'll try that sometime and report back - but only after I've worked my way through the remaining recipes in the book.

August 2008

Please note: Neither Veg World nor its contributors are qualified to give medical or nutritional advice. If in doubt, always consult a suitably-qualified professional.

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