Expanding my skill-set in the kitchen is always my goal. Just like I learn something with every knitting or sewing pattern I follow, each recipe offers up a golden-brown opportunity to learn how different ingredients interact, how they taste in combination, and how–in some cases–they work in the place of another. When I started Low-FODMAP cooking and baking I got a crash course in all the hoops we have to jump though to bake without wheat, and these days I feel pretty confident about what I serve my friends and family, knowing there’s a better than good change they won’t know it’s lacking wheat (or whatever else) by taste or texture. But I also knew my substitution skills were lacking in one key arena: vegan baking.
So, when I was given the opportunity the try out Kris Holechek Peters’ Vegan Desserts in Jars, I figured it was just the kick in the pants I needed to clear the vegan baking hurdle.
Thanks to the plethora of alternative ingredients out there, it’s possible to find vegan dairy substitutes (margarines, milks, even cream cheese) in many large grocery stores. Sweeteners (other than honey, of course) are usually considered safe but I was recently made aware that part of the refining process uses cow bone char, so check the brands or packages before cooking for Â your vegan guests. Eggs, though, they can be a bit trickier to substitute for, depending on which properties are key to the dessert. Thankfully Peters includes a great chart in the book listing the different egg replacers (from applesauce, to tofu, to flax seed) and the best time to use each.
The first recipe we tried was the Lemon Pudding Cakes (p.34) that started with a lemony cake in the bottom of the jar, topped withe a zest and sugar layer and then a lemon juice and water layer. While baking a curious alchemy occurred that placed the liquid components below the cake, the idea being that it would bake into a pudding beneath. In our case it was less pudding and more of a lemon sauce that formed, but it still made for a tasty sauce when combined with the cake.
Still craving tart citrus, I had to try the Lemon Meringue Pie (p. 47) which also uses the Flaky Pastry Crust (p.43) as well as theÂ Meringue Topping (p.116)–the latter striking my curiosity most of all! As far as the pie goes, it was a case of too much crust for the filling–if I were to make it again I’d halve the crust and double the filling. The topping, though, talk about a challenge! First you have to cook the flax seed and let it sit, then strain it (it took 2 sieves and quite a bit of elbow grease to get the majority of the albumen-like goo separated from the seeds), and then finally whip it to within an inch of its life–doÂ not try this without a stand mixer. The recipe directs you to serve immediately, but I found the pies that sat overnight in the fridge to taste even better, so don’t fear the leftovers.
Moving away from the zester, the next recipe we gave a go was the Chocolate Vanilla Puddin’ Cups (p.14). Let me state for the record that it’s nigh on impossible to screw up chocolate pudding, vegan or not. Chocolate’s natural properties make it excellent at getting puddings and mousses to gel, so I wasn’t worried about that half of this recipe. The vanilla, on the other hand, is a lot more dependent on each ingredient–one alone cannot carry it. The vegan vanilla pudding does not hold a candle to its egg-enriched counterparts, but it was tasty enough and paired well with the chocolate in it’s layered cups. If you were to make this recipe, I’d suggest you use a non-dairy milk that is fairly mild, as stronger ones can overshadow the delicate vanilla flavor.
Finally, we went back to the Cakelettes chapter for the Cream-Filled Carrot Cakes (p. 24)–rich, dense carrot cake accented withÂ Cream Cheese Filling (p.111). Aside from making this wheat-free, the other substitution I made was to use mashed banana instead of applesauce (since apples are a High-FODMAP food). The banana did get a little pushy, flavor-wise, but the cake was still quite moist and the filling made it the best of the recipes we tried, so far.
Vegan baking may seem like a case of simple substitutions, but it takes that familiarity with ingredients to know what will please the palate. If you’ve wanted to eliminate some of the animal products from your diet or are simply entertaining the vegans in your life and want to be more inclusive in your cooking, Vegan Desserts in Jars Â presents simple, straight-forward recipes to do just that. And the fact that they’re all made in canning jars–not only cute, but great for sending home with guests or delivering to coworkers’ desks–is just icing on the vegan cake!
Vegan Desserts in Jars is published by Ulysses Press. I was provided a copy for the purpose of review; all opinions expressed are entirely my own.