What is veganism?
As defined by www.vegansociety.com, veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
Aly Thomson reported in the article Most vegans, vegetarians in Canada are under 35: survey , that a poll studying veganism in Canada was conducted for Dalhousie University professor Dr. Sylvain Charlebois. The poll concluded that “7.1 per cent of Canadians consider themselves vegetarians, and 2.3 per cent consider themselves vegans”. Additionally the survey found that more than half of the Canadians who identified as vegetarians and vegans were under the age of 35. Clearly Canadians are becoming more informed about what veganism is and learning how to apply it to their lives, especially within the younger generations.
Do all chefs who make vegan/plant-based desserts need to be lifetime vegans?
Sounds good, but is having vegan desserts on my menu that important?
Costigan similarly advises that not offering a variety [of desserts] means “leaving money on the table.” She adds, “Vegan desserts are inclusive, meaning they are suitable for a diverse population, and there is no question that people seeing vegan desserts will show up at the table.”
So, what’s the process? What would I need to know to make the transition from traditional to vegan desserts?
According to Costigan, the transition is much easier now than it was twenty-five years ago, seeing as the variety of plant milks, fats, and other quality ingredients that are widely available to the vegan pastry chef today were non-existent,” she explains.
Backing the case for more readily-available vegan ingredients are Kristen Battaglia, assistant pastry chef, PreGel International Training Centers – NC, and Chef Burghi.
When tasked with making several vegan desserts for a PreGel photo shoot, Battaglia had to alter her thought process when it came to preparing vegan oatmeal raisin cookies, a vegan granola bar, and vegan oatmeal raisin cookie gelato (which, according to “Healthy Dessert? Eating the gluten-free cake, too” published by www.smartbrief.com, is a trend-forward nostalgic flavour).
“Knowing that I had to stay away from dairy, I thought it would be best to choose some of our [PreGel] nut-based Traditional Pastes and fruit-based Fortefrutto® flavouring pastes,” Battaglia explained. “I tried to think about more of the healthier trends and create something that customers are looking for,” she continued.
Consequently, all three chefs seem to agree that looking for “healthier” ingredient options is a must when preparing vegan desserts, as echoed by Burghi. “Because most people are aware of the effects of white sugar on our bodies, using alternative sugars along with vegan ingredients seems to be the right move. Alternative sugars and other sweet ingredients like sweet potato do not raise the glycemic index in our bloodstream. For that reason, vegan desserts that use other sugars are considered healthy,” the vegetarian chef explains.
“Find something you’re passionate about
and keep tremendously interested in it.”
– Julia Child, chef
I’m definitely passionate about adding plant-based desserts to my menu, but the process sounds a bit intimidating. What are some examples of ingredients I can use to make vegan desserts?
Sourcing the right ingredients to make vegan desserts is not as intimidating or complicated as it may sound at times. And there are a lot of examples of which ingredients to use to keep your recipes 100% vegan. In regard to the previously mentioned Vegan Oatmeal Cookie Gelato created by Chef Battaglia, she says,” It was actually very easy to switch out the eggs with applesauce, and the butter with vegan butter.” She adds, “When it came to fats we were able to use coconut fat and cocoa butter, which gave the gelato a great texture.”
Adding to the ease of transitional ingredients, Burghi suggests the following to start:
- Vegan butter can make a decent buttercream
- Aquafaba (the water from canned chickpeas) can be a great substitution for egg whites
- Tofu can be used to substitute eggs
- Fat in coconut milk can be whipped into a whipped cream
- Coconut sugar is one of many examples of ways to sweeten desserts without white granulated sugar
Burghi adds that ready-to-use ingredients, such as those provided by PreGel, can play a pivotal role in creating vegan desserts because “they take a lot of the guess work out of the equation, and contain emulsifiers and stabilizers that are essential to the final structure of the dessert,” Burghi elaborated, concluding with, “They are easy to use and they taste great.”
“Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colours, there are only so many flavours – it’s how you combine them that sets you apart.”
– Wolfgang Puck, chef
Seeing as plant-based desserts is a formidable trend, are there any myths about vegan desserts that I should ignore?
In terms of myth-busting, Chef Costigan offers inspiring advice: “It isn’t about what is not in the desserts. It is about serving delicious, appealing, attractive, innovative desserts that are suitable for everyone, whether or not dietary considerations are an issue.” Battaglia adds that “If the chef is knowledgeable on flavour and able to balance a dessert well, then you can create something amazing where you would never be able to tell the difference.” She continues, “I think that currently we are able to access such great ingredients to make desserts vegan that I don’t see a huge difference when it comes to most vegan desserts.”
In reference to myth-busting, Chef Costigan recalls some of the most surprising responses she’s heard from skeptics about tasting vegan dessert for the first time.
“I am no longer surprised to hear, ‘vegan desserts are good,’ or ‘I can’t believe there is no dairy or eggs in the dessert,’ as a well-crafted dessert should be luscious, whether it’s vegan or conventional. I am used to having to defend, and saying yes, this dessert is vegan,” she recollects, while subsequently retelling the funniest response she’s ever heard about one of her chocolate vegan cakes.
“The funniest response, in fact, was taking a Brooklyn Blackout Cake (chocolate cake, filled and frosted with chocolate pudding and covered with chocolate crumbs, made famous by the now defunct Ebingers Bakery in Brooklyn) to an industry event in New York City. Several of my colleagues asked what made me leave the vegan world– they simply could not believe the cake was in fact a vegan version.”
I understand why vegan desserts are important to consumers, but does creating vegan desserts take the fun out of dessert-making?
Culinary arts is indeed an art. Taking a blank canvas and filling it with something beautiful that tastes great, and incites all kinds of emotions from the consumer is an amazing accomplishment, even for amateur cooks like me. One of the best aspects of culinary arts is the creativity it demands, which is something that producing vegan desserts does not lack.
“The creativity was always my favourite part of creating desserts and that has not changed with creating vegan versions. What is important is to use traditional techniques and adapt them to vegan specific ingredients,” Costigan shares.
To that point, Burghi mirrors Costigan’s sentiment, saying,” Other reasons why vegan desserts are having a moment right now, is the fact that pastry chefs like challenges,” she begins. “Making vegan desserts that taste fantastic is very difficult (but not impossible). Tweaking recipes and substituting ingredients is an interesting challenge for a pastry chef.”
Okay, I’m interested! Which vegan desserts should I start adding to/or transitioning my menu with?
There are plenty!
To begin, Chef Costigan suggests these familiar desserts:
- Cupcakes, layer cakes, – Chocolate Ganache Glazed Torte, Chocolate Mousse, Puddings, Crème Brulee, ice cream; Baked Alaska, pies and tarts
- Component desserts
- Pavlova, Eton Mess, and other meringue-based desserts are possible with the correct use of aquafaba meringue. My technique calls for reducing the aquafaba so that it whips successfully every time.
- Add a chocolate truffle or another confection to the plate.
- Seasonal desserts: bread puddings, sticky date pudding, berry slumps, and grunts
- Holiday desserts: Buche de Noel, why not?
And according to Chef Costigan, the following are the kinds of trending desserts consumers are looking for, because, as she states, “Consumers who seek vegan desserts are looking for the very same desserts that omnivores are eating.”
- Ice cream, gelato, affogato.
- Vegan Baked Alaska is very on trend today.
- Commercial vegan ice creams are readily available and homemade ones are excellent. I have a whole chapter on frozen desserts in my cookbook, Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts
- Cupcakes are always popular
- Vegan French Macarons
- French pastries: croissant, palmiers, truffles, mendients
- Chocolate cakes, whether finished with a bittersweet ganache glaze, buttercream, or pudding
- Lighter desserts and using less refined sweeteners
- Component plates and deconstructed desserts are desirable
- Ethnic flavors trending like matcha, tahini, za’tar, for example
More inspiration for creating delicious vegan desserts as menu options can be found here.
And, of course, guidance with creating any artisanal desserts with plant-based ingredients is always available here via private demo.
Indeed, Canadians value traditionally-made sweets, and everything in moderation is key no matter how it is prepared. Therefore, especially in today’s consumer climate, it seems as though money does grow on trees with the blossoming of the plant-based movement that offer the kinds of treats carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores can appreciate.
About Fran Costigan
Fran Costigan the “Queen of Vegan Desserts,” is director of Vegan Baking and Pastry at Rouxbe Culinary School.
The recipes in her bestselling cookbooks, More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally and
Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts, from retro desserts to elegant vegan versions of classics, produce excellent results every time.