What “vegan” means in baking

Not surprisingly, I have come to be known as the vegan baker among my family, friends and coworkers. Yet, there are still many people in my life who don’t actually know what that means. I am often questioned about what ingredients I use to make my desserts so delicious—without eggs, butter or cow’s milk, it may seem unconventional or even incomprehensible.

The truth is, there is a whole world of plant-based ingredients that can be used to satisfy your sweet tooth without harming your health, the environment or the animals. In fact, vegan baking can open up your mind to new ideas, techniques and foods you may have never thought to try before.

For me, vegan baking is about inspiring others to think differently about what they eat, so I’d like to share what “vegan” means in my own baking.

When a recipe calls for eggs it might mean: flaxmeal, mashed banana, applesauce, silken tofu, vinegar and baking soda, or sometimes Ener-G powder. Eggs perform various functions in baking, from binding and leavening to adding moisture and richness, so learning how to replicate those particular functions with healthful, plant-based ingredients can be a fun experiment.

When I want to use a fat in my baking for tenderness, texture or flavour, I might use: nut butter, seed butter, avocado, coconut oil, coconut cream, sunflower oil, olive oil or sometimes Earth Balance buttery sticks.

Dark chocolate mousse cups

For most of the year, I have a variety of nut and seed butters taking up precious space in my fridge. They’re typically either homemade or poured from the local health food store bulk bins and stored in short, wide-mouthed mason jars. They sit quietly, waiting to be called upon for cookies, tarts, rice bars, or quite often just a quick spoonful to the mouth. In other words, nut butters are in my line of sight every time I open the fridge, so I’m always looking for ways to use them.

My creamy chocolate torte recipe came to mind last week when I was dreaming about desserts (which I’m embarrassed to admit happens all too often). I imagined the mousse filling would make a lovely after-dinner dessert served in individual glasses and topped with coconut whipped cream and chopped chocolate and nuts.

The next day, I made that dream come true.

Let me tell you straight up: this mousse is no pudding in a cup. It’s thick and rich and melt-in-your-mouth smooth—everything you’d want in a sophisticated yet simple dessert.

The secret is in the coconut milk. Make sure to purchase a brand with a high fat content (check the nutritional label to make sure it’s at least 20%) and place it in the fridge overnight so that the cream separates from the liquid. (While you’re at it, refrigerate a second can for the coconut whipped cream topping.)  Oh, and good quality dark chocolate is also key to making this mousse truly orgasmic (I use Camino dark chocolate bars with 65% cacao).

Sprouted multiseed banana loaf

Last month, I excitedly tweeted about a fantastic new banana loaf recipe I had just pulled out of the oven. I don’t often tease about upcoming recipes because, well, that’s just not nice. But I couldn’t help myself.

Let me explain.

A few days earlier, I was browsing through some of my favourite food blogs and came across an absolutely stunning post on Golubka. (If you haven’t visited that blog yet, you must go there. Now.) You see, I wasn’t necessarily looking for recipes to try out because, at that time, I felt like I really needed a break from the kitchen. I was essentially living vicariously through other people’s creations and bookmarking intriguing ideas to try after the holidays.

Have you ever come across a recipe that just screams “Make me!” That’s what this recipe did to me.

I started with the basic bread recipe and got to work soaking, sprouting and dehydrating. Rather than sticking to a basic savoury flavour, I decided to make a new version of my beloved banana bread by adding bananas, walnuts, cinnamon and a touch of agave nectar. And boy, was I happy with the outcome. It results in a crispy outer crust and a nice, moist banana bread-like centre. The sprinkle of seeds on top is also a must.

The best part about this bread recipe is that there’s no need for flour, yeast or sugar. I experimented with two versions, one baked and one dehydrated, and I must admit that I liked the texure and taste of the baked version much better. Dehydrating does work, but I could detect a subtle fishy flavour from the Irish moss, so you might want to add more spices or other flavours if you prefer to use that method. Or, make sure to thoroughly rinse your Irish moss several times before making it into a paste! Lesson learned.

Raw mint brownie cake

It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2011. Can you believe it? I know most of you are now reflecting on the year that was, thinking about all your memorable moments and making lists of how to live better in 2012.

While I typically don’t make new year resolutions, I do try to take some time out during the last week of the year to brainstorm things I’m interested in exploring at some point in the next 365 days. Each year I come up with something new. That something doesn’t involve dieting, exercising or resolving to quit a bad habit. Quite simply, it involves something that makes me happy. In 2012, is there something you can do that makes you happy?

Of course, writing this blog will remain a highlight. I feel incredibly grateful that it has connected me with so many other inspiring bloggers, loyal readers and compassionate activists. I have all of you to thank for filling my life with love, support and inspiration.

Since the holiday season isn’t over quite yet, I have one last gift to share with you. This raw mint brownie cake is a spin-off of one of the more popular recipes on ADC—my raw coconut brownies. It is also one of a few dessert options I brought for Christmas Day dinner at my mom’s place, but it might just be the perfect way to top off the year this weekend—and welcome 2012 in a healthy new way.

I hope this treat is a hint of what’s to come in 2012: simplicity, healthfulness and chocolate!

Review: Vegan’s Daily Companion

I believe we all bring our own unique talents into the world, and we all have the power to use those talents to make the world a better place. Since adopting a plant-based diet nearly 20 years ago, I’ve aspired to use my skills and assets to advocate on behalf of animals, and to be a joyful example of veganism at its best.

Having a guide or friend to help along the way can make a difference in how I approach each day and each conversation. That is the very reason I bought Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s recent book, Vegan’s Daily Companion, while visiting her in California this past summer. To me, Colleen is both a hero and a friend and, surely, she is an inspiration to the entire vegan community. In this well-organized guidebook, she offers knowledge and support to advocates through affirmations, stories and recipes, some of which include the work of other people as well as familiar material from her own popular podcast, Vegetarian Food for Thought.

The premise behind this wonderful resource is to educate and encourage new vegans and empower seasoned activists. It is designed as a series of daily readings. You can read from the beginning, following the days of the week through the calendar year, or reading one entry a day (except for Saturday and Sunday, which are combined). You can also read from the middle of the book, or the end, or skip around from week to week as inspiration strikes.

♥ Mondays are “For the love of food,” celebrating sustenance and eating healthfully.

♥ Tuesdays are “Compassionate communication,” sharing techniques and tactics for speaking on behalf of veganism effectively and compassionately.

♥ Wednesdays are “Optimum health for body, mind and spirit,” highlighting care and maintenance for becoming and remaining a joyful vegan.

♥ Thursdays are “Animals in the arts: literature and film,” offering inspirational stories that reflect our consciousness of and relationship with nonhuman animals.

♥ Fridays are “Stories of hope, rescue and transformation,” telling heartening stories of people who have become awakened and animals who have found sanctuary.

♥ Saturdays and Sundays are “Healthful recipes,” sharing favourite recipes to use as activism and nourishment.