raw for dessert, a review.

Ginger Spice Cookies

Ginger Spice Cookies

I had the recent good fortune to review Raw For Dessert: Easy Delights for Everyone, by Jennifer Cornbleet. Jennifer is the author of several raw cookbooks, as well as an internationally recognized raw food chef and instructor at Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg, California.

Raw For Dessert is 128 pages long, with easy to read two-colour printing and a selection of glossy colour photos. The book opens with a section on Essential Information – this includes a listing of required ingredients and recommended equipment, as well as handy tips and techniques like how to soak nuts. There is also a section on knife skills as they apply to ingredients specific to recipes in the book – very handy, and I learned a few things about how to tackle a young coconut. The recipes are divided into the following categories: Basics (creams, fillings, sauces, crusts – components that will be needed in other recipes in the book); Fruit Desserts; Sorbets, Ice Creams, and Sundaes; Cakes, Cookies, and Bars; Pies and Tarts; Creamy Desserts; and Candy. The book closes with a section on Resources.

Thoughts: Those who wish to avoid highly processed ingredients like white sugar, white flour, dairy, eggs, trans-fats, saturated fats, and fake foods, will have those wants accommodated by default with a raw diet. While the desserts in this book are automatically dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, and vegan*, they are also undeniably knock-your-socks-off delicious.  One thing you immediately notice when tasting raw desserts is the explosion of flavour – I’m talking about intensely good taste experiences here. And the energy burst you get is immediate: You can’t help but feel vital when eating raw food. Most of the recipes are super fast and easy, some with as few as four complimentary ingredients. And if you take the time to prepare some of Jennifer’s basic components (fillings, etc) and keep them on hand in the fridge, you can make the more complex recipes at the drop of a hat. I also appreciate the flexibility inherent to many of the recipes – Jennifer makes some non-raw ingredient substitution suggestions in case the raw version is not available – cocoa powder for example, or the option to use maple syrup.  (*some recipes call for raw honey – Jennifer indicates that, for those who don’t consume it, honey can be replaced with light agave syrup or even maple syrup. Maple syrup is not raw, but it’s definitely my favourite)

Ginger Spice Cookie

Ginger Spice Cookie

In the kitchen: For the purpose of writing this review, I chose to make the following treats: Ginger Spice Cookies (with the perfect amount of sweetness and spice, these are some of the best cookies I have ever tasted – seconds have already been demanded by my family), Really! One Bowl Brownies (who says you can’t be health-conscious and have chocolate? These remind me of my favourite chocolate Lara bar – yum!), Classic Ambrosia (so refreshing, simple ingredients – the perfect balance of tangy and sweet), Apple Compote with Golden Raisins and Pistachios (so simple and satisfying - this healthy treat is truly a guilt-free indulgence, and the perfect treat to enjoy on a chilly Fall day). Needless to say, there were no disappointments here – this book’s a winner. And guess what? My taste testers didn’t even realize that they were eating raw. And there are many more great sweet treats to try: I’m seriously looking forward to making the Pistachio Ice Cream, Bitter Chocolate Sorbet, Dark Chocolate Truffles, and Pumpkin Pie, next.

To sum up: Like many, I find myself wanting to increase the amount of raw food in my diet for the obvious health benefits – and what sweeter way to accomplish this than by making raw desserts. This book offers a truly extensive collection of sweet treats that make you forget this is a book of raw desserts. The recipes offer simple, straightforward, no-bake treats that allow you to satisfy your desire for both indulgence and healthy options. Jennifer shows us how easy it is to enjoy our favourite desserts while enjoying the benefits and vitality of eating raw. And the measure of deliciousness these treats boast rivals their baked counterparts. The excellent reputation and strong following enjoyed by Raw For Dessert is clearly well deserved. I’m a fan.

Click on the Luscious Vegan Desserts Logo below for a chance to win your own copy of Raw For Dessert!

Book Publishing Company is currently running an online promotion called “Luscious Vegan Desserts” from now until the end of October. Clicking on their logo will take you to the Luscious Vegan Dessert Page, where you can click to register for a chance at winning one of the following vegan dessert cookbooks – very cool:

Did you know that Book Publishing Co. is a member of Green Press Initiative? They also have loads of awesome books on vegan cookery, baking, and more, that promote a healthful and sustainable lifestyle. I like them.

more great good dairy-free desserts naturally, a review.

Big Orange Bundt Cake

Big Orange Bundt Cake

More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally, is a dairy-free and egg-free dessert cookbook written by Fran Costigan. Fran is the author of several books and also teaches at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City.

The book sports a recipe layout that is straightforward and easy to follow, with simple black text that makes it easy on the eyes, and a selection of glossy colour photography. It is 224 pages long and is divided into the following sections: Getting Started; Gels, Cremes, Puddings, and Sauces; Cookies, Bars, and Little Bites; Cobblers, Crisps, Biscuits, Muffins, and More; Cakes, Fillings, Frostings, and Glazes; Pies and Tarts; Fruit, Beverages, Frozen Desserts, and Confections; Bibliography and Reading List; Resources for Ingredients and Equipment; Organizations and Publications; and Common Weights and Measures.

Big Orange Bundt Cake

Big Orange Bundt Cake

For the purpose of writing this review, I chose to bake up the Big Orange Bundt Cake (just like my mum used to make – beautiful crumb, super moist, and buttery without the butter), the Super Fudge Low Fat Brownies (super fudgey, moist and chewy, beyond decadent – the best brownies I’ve made so far), and the Pumpkin Pie (perfect - so much so, it did not survive long enough to be documented on film). In fact, I am quite familiar with this wonderful book, having previously made the Good Cornbread (I love that it’s more savoury than sweet – and the optional slathering of organic maple syrup on top makes for a beautifully balanced contrast of sweet and savoury), the Chocolate Chip Cookies (wonderfully thin, sweet and chewy), the Coconut Cloud Layer Cake (a beautiful, fancy cake – no wonder Fran makes these as wedding cakes for lucky friends), and accompanying Island Coconut Cream Filling and Frosting (so good, you can eat it with a spoon – and I did). I have never been disappointed baking from this book. Fran is truly a master – not only do her sweet inventions taste amazing and brag fabulous texture and appearance, they’re also filled with the best ingredients: Fran eschews the highly processed stuff and champions quality, organic, and natural ingredients. I appreciate that.

Super Fudge Low Fat Brownies

Super Fudge Low Fat Brownies

So we’ve established that these treats taste incredibly good and bake up reliably. But you get a lot more than just an impressive spread of fine desserts – you’re also benefiting from Fran’s years of baking expertise. This book boasts page after page of information, including tips and technique tailored to each section of the book, as well as detailed descriptions of ingredients and thorough explanations on how to use them properly. Did you know you can remove the beany-ness of firm tofu by blanching it in boiling water before using? Fran taught me that. Did you know that you can easily get a stubbornly stuck bundt cake to smoothly descend by draping a hot, wet tea towel over the tin? Fran taught me that too. Fran’s explanations on how to work with less common ingredients like agar agar and kudzu is priceless. I find myself coming back to this book time and again for reference on how to work with often tricky ingredients – it’s that useful.

To sum up – this book is worth its weight in vegan baking gold. You get an impressive spread of recipes that are not just scrumptious, but reliably sound. You get an education in baking and expert advice on how to work with alternative ingredients. You get a valuable reference book in the kitchen. And you get all this without eggs and dairy. Great taste, know-how, impeccable quality, and cruelty-free – sounds like a big win to me.

I like this book so much in fact that I think you should have a copy. Try your luck at winning one from Book Publishing Company (see details below). If you don’t win one there, come back here for a chance to win your own copy of Fran’s great book – I’ll be giving a copy away in November to celebrate Vegan MoFo 2010! Follow me on Twitter and Facebook for further details on this and other favourite cookbook giveaways.

More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally - Book Cover

Book Publishing Company is currently running an online promotion called “Luscious Vegan Desserts” from now until the end of October. Clicking on their logo will take you to the Luscious Vegan Dessert Page, where you can click to register for a chance at winning one of the following vegan dessert cookbooks – very cool:

Did you know that Book Publishing Co. is a member of Green Press Initiative? They also have loads of awesome books on vegan cookery, baking, and more, that promote a healthful and sustainable lifestyle. I like them.

sweet utopia, a review.

Tahini-Coconut-Oatmeal Cookies

Tahini-Coconut-Oatmeal Cookies

I recently received a copy of Sweet Utopia, by Sharon Valencik. These are my thoughts.

First impressions – lots of colour, glossy paper, and tons of photos – and I mean tons. In fact, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many colour photos in a cookbook, budgets generally being what they are. And photos are always helpful – people like to see a representation of something they might want to make – so kudos on that front. A lot of effort has clearly gone into putting this book together – the author has put her heart into this. It’s a fairly large book,  as vegan cookbooks go, and it’s filled with as much information as the author could fit in – with tips and tricks throughout, pairing recommendations, and even inspirational quotes.

The book is 184 pages, with over 130 recipes, and is divided into sections that include: stocking the kitchen; how to succeed in vegan baking (tips, techniques, substitutions, etc); decadent cakes; scrumptious cookies; creamy cheesecakes and pies; velvety mousses, puddings, and crèmes; and luscious treats.

Sweet Utopia

Best bits: I love the European flavour that runs through the book. Treats like Hamantaschen, Rugalach, Rum Balls, Poppy Seed Roll, and Apple Strudel beckon to me. There is a bonanza of classic desserts and treats on offer here – and all dairy-free and egg-free. Many will appreciate the fact that the required ingredients are pretty basic and can likely be found at any supermarket, generally nothing fancy. The recipes are well laid out and easy to follow, almost all with accompanying photographs. The three items I chose to make (Coconut Heaven Cake, Chocolate Chippers, and Tahini-Coconut-Oatmeal Cookies) all baked up fine and turned out as expected – sweeter than I personally like, but well received by my taste testers. I also appreciated the substitution section at the beginning of the book, and the implied flexibility of the recipes – see more on that in the next paragraph. The familiarity of the ingredients and the straightforwardness of the recipes make this a nice introductory book to the world of vegan baking.

Caveats: Mostly, those aforementioned easy to find ingredients – a lot of sugar, white flour, and cornstarch throughout (and you can also say that about 99% of the baking books out there). There is also a fair amount of processed vegan stuff: vegan cream cheese, vegan margarine, etc. Whether you think this is bad or not is a personal decision that may or may not factor into your personal thinking when it comes to baking. There are two schools of thought when it comes to vegan baking – making healthier choices, or throwing caution to the wind. A few years ago I sat happily in the latter group – I was strictly interested in making a great tasting vegan equivalent of whatever dessert I was tackling. Today I care, and try my best to live in the first group: I’ve striven to eliminate processed food from my family’s diet and have also made a concerted effort to greatly reduce, if not eliminate, my use of highly refined items like sugar, margarine, and white flour. That said, I see no problem baking from this book and making ingredient substitutions that I’m more comfortable with (whole grain flour, alternate fats and sweeteners). To that end, I was happy to see a prominent section on substitutions in the book. Both the author and the recipes seem flexible in this regard – I feel encouraged to make the recipes my own. Note that this time around I did not make any substitutions for the purpose of testing recipes for this review.

To sum up – I love the enthusiasm for vegan baking and all things sweet. This book is another testament to the fact that you don’t need eggs or dairy to make any sweet treat your heart desires, and it certainly offers a chance to make all of your favourites and more. Those who eschew refined and processed ingredients will want to make appropriate substitutions, as needed. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing a spread of treats from this book at the next Holiday party I find myself at.

Book Publishing Company is doing an online promotion called “Luscious Vegan Desserts” from now until the end of October. Clicking on their logo will take you to the Luscious Vegan Dessert Page, where you can click to register for a chance at winning one of the following vegan dessert cookbooks – very cool:

Did you know that Book Publishing Co. is a member of Green Press Initiative? They also have loads of awesome books on vegan cookery, baking, and more that promote a healthful and sustainable lifestyle. I like them.