Here I am, the dessert queen (just joking, here), back to review another dessert book. (The last review was for "More Great Good Dairy-free Desserts," by Fran Costigan.) This review is for "Raw for Dessert," by Jennifer Cornbleet. I reviewed another of Jennifer Cornbleet's cookbooks, "Raw Food Made Easy," and found cooking from her recipes a deliciously pleasant experience, so I was looking forward to trying this book, too.
First let me clarify that I'm not a raw foodist. I eat a lot of raw food, (more in summer, less in winter) but it's usually in, or close to, its natural state. Soaking, sprouting and drying just don't happen much in our kitchen. For example, last night we had small bowls of cooked lentil soup, and huge mixed green salads piled with shredded carrots. For dessert we each had a satsuma, and I also had a date. I may occasionally make dried fruit and nut balls, a raw cashew cheese or other specialty item, but it's not a frequent occurrence. Our desserts are usually raw — but not creative. In the warmer weather we might have fruit salad or raw ice cream made in the Vitamix, but more often than not, it's plan old fruit. For company, dessert is usually baked. You get the picture.
I tend to balk at complicated food prep procedures, or those requiring days of planning and soaking, unless it's for a very special occasion. This probably applies doubly to desserts. And I'm going to admit this, though I don't want to offend anyone, raw desserts scare me a little. I've had gorgeous-looking raw desserts that tasted like bites of solidified coconut oil, and which I couldn't eat. So many fancy raw desserts are so dense with fat, I don't enjoy them, and they upset my stomach. But still, I was up for discovering something new and wonderful about making raw desserts, so I approached the "Raw for Dessert" book with an open mind. And I think I found a raw dessert book to enjoy.
The book starts out with a chapter on stocking the pantry. If you are a serious raw dessert maker, the pantry list is an excellent guide to what to keep on hand to make any dessert in the book, with the addition of only fresh fruit and mint. If you are a casual raw dessert maker like me, the list might seem overwhelming and expensive, but useful as an overview to what goes into raw desserts. There is also a helpful equipment list, and suggestions for serving ware. The chapter continues with basic techniques for soaking nuts and opening young coconuts, and proceeds with explanations of cutting terms, and directions for cutting fruits. I personally found the directions for cutting a fresh pineapple very helpful.
The first cooking chapter covers all the basic creams, sauces, toppings, frostings, and crusts that combine with other ingredients and recipes to create the desserts. Things like date paste, pastry cream, lemon curd, caramel sauce and praline are found here. It was in this chapter that I found the shortbread crust that went into the pineapple upside-down cake, and within this collection, you might find the perfect topping or filling for a dessert you are planning.
The next chapter is filled with luscious-sounding fruit desserts, from simple assemblies like strawberries in orange juice to more complex creations like caramel apple stacks and mango-raspberry crumble. Next, in the sorbets, ice creams and sundaes chapter, you'll find everything from a no-fat-added bitter chocolate sorbet to knockout brownie sundae, or cookies 'n' cream ice cream.
The cookies, cakes and bars chapter has temptations like chocolate lava cake, lemon-cranberry pistachio cookies, and one-bowl brownies, and the pies and tarts chapter gives you treats like key lime pie, cherry custard tart with sliced almonds, coconut cream pie and chocolate truffle tart. There's even an intriguing recipe for pumpkin pie that's made with carrots. The last two chapters cover creamy desserts and candy, with recipes like milk chocolate pudding, dark chocolate truffles and pine nut caramels. The desserts are relatively easy to make and sound so delicious.
The recipes depend mainly on nuts, dates, fresh and dried coconut, and fruit. There are so many tempting choices I had trouble deciding what to pick, but I was fixated on the shortbread crust, so I chose a recipe that used it — pineapple upside-down cake. The first challenge was finding the correct size six-inch round baking pan. None of the stores I looked in had one, so I went to a specialty kitchen store downtown where I found a seven-inch pan. (The six inch ones were out of stock and wouldn't be in until the end of January.) I'm thinking of getting the six-inch, too, because I think the cake might have turned out better with the right pan. I made the cake for a family dinner, and everyone seemed to enjoy it — some even had seconds — but I found the shortbread part a little too wet and mushy. Maybe it was spread too thin in the too-large pan. I decorated my cake with dried cranberries, though that's not part of the recipe. You can find this recipe plus other sample recipes, here. It's a variation of jumble berry upside-down cake, substituting 2-1/2 cups of thinly sliced pineapple for the other fruit, as directed in the book. For the pineapple, I purchased a half pineapple, and it was exactly the right amount.
Pineapple upside-down cake (reprinted with permission)
- 2-1/2 cups thinly sliced pineapple
- 1 tablespoon dark agave syrup, or maple syrup
- 2-1/2 cups Shortbread Crust (see below)
Place the pineapple and agave syrup in a medium mixing bowl and toss to combine. Let sit for five minutes.
Line a six-inch cake pan with a parchment-paper round. Place half of the pineapple on the paper. Top with half of the Shortbread Crust, distributing it evenly. Press down with your hand to compact. Repeat with the remaining pineapple, and then cover with the remaining crust. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours before serving.
Covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator, Pineapple Upside-Down Cake will keep for two days.Shortbread crust (reprinted with permission)
Yield: 2 1/2 cups (enough for one 9-inch pie or tart)
- 1 cup unsweetened shredded dried coconut
- 1 cup raw walnuts
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 pitted medjool dates
- Place the coconut, walnuts, and salt in a food processor fitted with the S blade. Process until finely ground.
- Add the dates and process until the mixture begins to stick together. Don’t over process.
- Stored in a sealed container, Shortbread Crust will keep for one month in the refrigerator or for three months in the freezer. The crust doesn’t need to be thawed before using.
Brunch at Highline and a book signing
On Saturday we met Spotted Devil Cat's Vegan Assistant blogger, Bethany and her husband at Highline vegan bar for brunch. (Here's a good review of Highline, if you're interested.) This was our second time at Highline, and our first time for brunch. Bethany insists that brunch is far superior to other Highline offerings, but I disagree. On our first visit, four of us went for lunch, and had sandwiches and sides. All the sandwiches were huge and delish — especially mine — though I think the other three would say the same. I had a "fish" sandwich, the "fish" of which seemed to be made of layers of yuba, wrapped with nori, and fried. It had excellent coleslaw on it, and if it had come without the extra coating of mayo and the heavily buttered bread, it would have been perfect. (Is it possible to grill bread without all the grease?) Brunch is an entirely different menu.
Anyway, I had just experienced a couple of days of big eating, and was looking for something on the lighter side. I know, I know, wrong place to do that. But, I found a coconut milk yogurt parfait with granola and fresh fruit listed on the menu, and that sounded really good to me. It tasted just like the coconut milk yogurt I get at the co-op, and was about the same quantity as in the little cups. It was topped with about a tablespoon of a not-so-creative granola, and surrounded by some, but not a lot of, fresh fruit. It cost $9, and while the sandwiches are a bargain, this seemed a little over-priced. And maybe some seasonal fruit would be nice.
My husband had scrambled tofu and greens, though the menu description led him to believe there would be more greens and less tofu. He left a lot of it so I ate some of the greens and I thought they were tasty, but I didn't like the tofu at all. He agreed with me that the sandwiches we'd had were so much more exciting.
Bethany had an omelet with a side of hash browns, and now that I think of it, I don't know if she liked it or not, since we weren't talking about the food, but of other things. Her husband had something covered with gravy, and I (cough, cough) decided not to photograph it. Trust me, you wouldn't want to see it. He seemed to like it, though.
The real reason we were in Capital Hill on Saturday, was to go to a book signing with Melisser Elliot, who recently wrote the excellent "The Vegan Girls Guide to Life," which I reviewed, here. You probably all know Melisser from her blog the Urban Housewife, and she is just as sweet and delightful as you might expect from reading her blog, and seeing her smiling face. Melisser has a life-size tattoo of her two-pound dog, Strummer, on her arm! Melisser's signing was at Cakespy, a charming shop owned by Jessie Oleson, cake spy, artist and writer.
We had walked from the restaurant to Cakespy, because parking in Capital Hill is hard to come by, we already had parking spots, and exercise is always a good thing. On the walk back to the car, we saw a dog observing the scene in Capital Hill from an open window.
Maybe I got on the dog's nerves a little because I was calling to him/her so I could get a better shot, but I think he's giving me a scowl. I spoke nicely to him but he seems a bit irritated. (Click on the photo and you'll see what I mean.)
We also passed a work of urban art on a fence — this image is made entirely of bottle caps.
More recipe testing for Urban Vegan
Kale with raisins and chana dal
Chocolate covered matzo
Pumpkin maple muffins