Tuesday, 6 September 2011

vegan cookbook review

Sinfully vegan: More than 160 decadent desserts to satisfy every sweet tooth

Lois Dieterly

Lots of people still equate veganism with misery and self-denial. Vegan baking is actually pretty straightforward, once you have let go of the notion that eggs and dairy products are essential to the process. I’ve played around with a lot of vegan recipes. As a person who has baked a lot of cakes, vegan cupcake recipes that use vinegar just don’t feel right. I took up the challenge and tried it out – strange, it works, but it still feels wrong, as if I’ve had to resort to some kind of scientific experiment to create a cake. My understanding was that you needed to use vinegar to curdle soya milk before using it in the recipes. I’ve never understood why, and the act of pouring lumpy curdled milk into a cake mix is indisputably nasty. Glad to see that this author apparently sees no need for it! The recipes generally use much more predictable ingredients, and don’t rely over-heavily on processed foods that are only generally available in the US.

More than 160 recipes… I can’t say I’ve read them all, but skimming through is enough to make me want to bake. This is serious coverage – Cookies (including gluten and sugar free), cakes and quick breads, cupcakes and muffins, kids stuff, dessert tapas, Boston cream pies, pies and tarts, cheesecakes, puddings, doughnuts, candy and ice cream, beverages and smoothies, frostings, toppings and crusts. I was pleased to see the kids stuff section – always keen to get kids to join in with the cooking. (Watched a little boy at the pub on Sunday, his Sunday lunch appeared and the first thing he did was grab a piece of broccoli and start munching away. So sweet! Shame he was eating meat, but he cleared the plate – all the veg, Yorkshire pud, gravy, the lot. I should have had the nerve to go over and congratulate his mother. Back to the book.) I was pleased to see that the author has tackled cheesecakes head on - 15 varieties! Vegan cheesecakes are a minefield. She’s going with a mixture of silken tofu and vegan cream cheese – in my experience, it can work, as long as the other flavours are strong enough to mask the slight beanyness of the tofu (or if you enjoy the taste of tofu). She’s added a whole section on Boston cream pies which I guess will be very welcome amongst US vegans. As a Brit I was a bit disappointed with the ‘puddings’ section – to me, a pudding is a kind of rich, moist, hot sponge cake drenched with something like golden syrup, chocolate sauce or a lemon goo. In the US, a pudding is more like a bowl of instant whip (do they still manufacture that? I was brought up on it – that generation whose mums were led to believe that adding colourings and flavourings to food was a wonderful innovation, especially if you could use the resulting alchemic powders to trick your kids into consuming more milk). For me, the most exciting section was the dessert tapas – great idea, and the section is far too short. It deserves a book in its own right – author and publisher, take note. No need really for me to spell out what it’s all about – lots of little desserts on one plate, hurrah!

I haven’t (as our American cousins would put it) ‘done the math’, but I suspect the author is right when she says that it’s still far cheaper to make your own vegan sweet-stuff than to buy it. I was however a bit surprised by some of the quantities she’s suggesting we turn out – the first few recipes produce 6 dozen cookies or so. Good if you’re running a bakery. Not good if you’re stuck at home with a fussy step-son and a fat husband.

Glad to see the metrication section included – really, I only need one copy of this info but it’s undeniably useful to have it in the back of every single American cookbook. That said, I’ve caved in and bought some cups, anyway. I still don’t know what they mean by a ‘stick’ of butter – but that’s not really an issue with a vegan cookbook. There’s a surprising amount of info in here about nutrition and fats – given that it’s a book that’s mainly about treating yourself. For me, treating myself has tended to be about digging in and to hell with the consequences. I guess the treat might feel even better if you knew that it was cholesterol free (etc, etc). Or maybe it’s more of a treat if you know it’s wrong, wrong, wrong. Interesting. Good info about DIY veganising of recipes, with lots of helpful info on using pulverized fruit in place of butter, and xanthan gum or powdered flax seeds in place of eggs. The section on crusts, toppings and frostings will also empower those who are inclined to go their own way. Personally, I’m not yet confident enough to go ‘off-piste’ when it comes to vegan baking, and with this book at hand, there’s not much need to take any chances – I’m sorted for vegan sweetness for the foreseeable.

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