January 11, 2011

Raw for Dessert | Raw pineapple cake | Meeting the Urban Housewife

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
  1. Place the coconut, walnuts, and salt in a food processor fitted with the S blade. Process until finely ground.
  2. Add the dates and process until the mixture begins to stick together. Don’t over process.
  3. 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.
Disclaimer: The cookbook was sent to me without cost, and I was not compensated for the review.


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


  1. Thanks for sparing us the photo of the gravy plate. I'm not a fan of gravy-laden breakfasts & I too make a habit of neglecting to take photos of food I don't like :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing that raw pineapple cake recipe. I think I have all the ingredients....maybe I'll try it once this pineapple ripens!

  3. "I spoke nicely to him but he seems a bit irritated"

    hahaha he does look little..irritated...

    im glad you found a book that you like for raw desserts. its good you didnt give up on the search you know?(for a book/recipes that arent to reliant on fats)

    ive seen the urban housewife around the blogy before, ill go check her out. thats pretty cool that you got to meet an author that you like!!

  4. Abby,
    My pleasure. I didn't really want to see it again myself. That's not to say I don't like gravy, because I do, but I tend to prefer thinner, darker, less opaque gravy.

    You're welcome. I think one of the reasons I bought the half rather than the whole pineapple, was I was hoping whoever cut it in half knew it was ripe.

    I didn't realize how irritated he looked until I saw the photo. I also have a photo where he looks OK. The dessert book has lots of possibilities, but I usually only make desserts for company, so I'll have to wait until we get around to inviting people over.

  5. "So many fancy raw desserts are so dense with fat"
    I couldn't agree more, Andrea. That is the main reason I usually stick with fresh fruit for dessert too. But I have to admit--a lot of the raw desserts do sound/look tempting. Did you find this book to have less nutty/fatty dessert recipes?


  6. Oh that pineapple upside down cake look sooo good. I really love raw desserts.

  7. Yet another book to add to my wishlist! Gee, thanks! :P

    If you hadn't said that the tofu scramble wasn't the greatest, I never would have guessed it because it looks so good! Or maybe it's just that I'm tofu-deprived?

    Melisser is too awesome! I wish I could be less of an anti-social hermit so I could meet her in person at one of her signings too.

    About decaf coffee, I'm not quite sure if what bothers me is caffeine itself or the acidity of coffee. Probably both! Next time we take a trip down to Whole Foods I'll buy a jar of Cafix.

    PS: That dog is so serious! And so cute!

  8. I've made Jennifer's pineapple upside down cake before, good stuff and easy recipe. Thanks for sharing it!

    Sorry to have missed you at the signing, I was in and out pretty quick so I didn't get too tempted to buy stuff. It was all so cute.

    I am guessing Highline doesn't have much that is gluten-free huh?

  9. "Is it possible to grill bread without all the grease?" Sigh...why would you want to? I think I'm going to rename my blog "Hi-Fat Vegan." Yeah, I love grease! Sugar, not so much, even in fresh fruit, though I do have to ask, at least rhetorically, how can you stop at just one date? I just finished reading Anthony Bourdain's _Kitchen Confidential_ and frankly, I don't think I'll ever eat at a restaurant again (I'm told this is quite a normal response, but still).

  10. Courtney,
    There are a lot of nuts, but not nearly as much coconut oil as in many other recipes.

    I have to try the cake again in the right size pan.

    Yeah, the food really did look good, but you know the saying, looks can be deceiving ...

    I can't have caffeine — it makes me feel like I have the flu, but I've never been addicted to coffee. I discovered my problem when I started drinking coffee at a place where I worked, and kept getting sick. Now I mostly drink herbal tea.

    The recipe was really fast and easy — it looked way more complicated than it was. I like desserts like that.

    We were there at 2 and I looked for you. I looked at everything in the shop but didn't buy anything.

    I should have checked the Highline menu for gf — who would have thought Wayward would have anything, and they did. It doesn't seem likely, but you never know. Without the granola, my meal would have been gf.

    Tonight I had two dates. :D

    Are you recommending Kitchen Confidential? I had a friend who worked in a restaurant and he told me things that would make you gag. I won't even repeat them.

    I'm not opposed to a reasonable amount of grease — but the sandwich had fried "fish," coleslaw, extra mayo, and grilled bread that was so greasy I had to wipe my hands every few seconds. Of course it was delicious, but maybe some of the grease could have been eliminated, you know, for health reasons. And it would have been just as good, if not better. :) Your blog is great, and the food always looks wonderful.

  11. The pineapple cake sounds good. I love the crusts with coconut, nuts, and dates...it's a dessert in itself, so just fresh fruit on top sounds perfect! It's very pretty too.

    The Highline food all looks good, but I agree, your "fish" sandwich does sound more interesting and special.

    I love that dog! What a perfect shot of him checking out the scene from the window...the sort of face you don't expect to see when you look up the side of a building! I don't know whether he's giving you scowl...I doubt it...he's probably just in an uncomfortable position. :)

  12. Oh my god - your upside down pineapple cake is gorgeous, and so simple to make! And best of all, no dairy or eggs and no cooking involved! Thanks for sharing

  13. I love the Raw for Dessert cookbook, everything I've made from it so far has been great and easy. I'll have to try that pineapple upside-down cake.

    At least the photos of brunch looks delicious even if it didn't actually taste like it. And cool doggie pics, maybe he was irritated because he really wanted to come out and play with you? :-)

  14. How awesome you got to meat Melisser!

    This was an excellent review. I agree with you on raw desserts and I also found Jennifers book awesome. I have to take it out of the shelf again!

  15. Highline falls into the "comfort food" category — lots of tasty, (high fat) sandwiches and sides on the lunch menu. The weekend brunch menu changes, and I've heard the chocolate waffles are pretty great, but they weren't available the day we were there. We haven't yet been there for dinner.

    I suspect the dog was thinking, "stop taking my picture, dork." He was quite the master of his building.

    Raw Girl,
    Yep — no cooking, no animals, and easy as pie!

    Chow Vegan,
    I'd love to know what you've tried.

    Yes, the food looked good in person, too. And I'm going to ask Bethany if it was good — I can't believe we didn't talk about it at the time!

    It was fun to meet her. After your cookbook is published and you do a world tour, maybe I'll get to meet you. :)

  16. I thought you did a great job listing the ups and down of raw food. I've dabbled in it, too, for health reasons, but it's always something I've got to be sure I have time to do. Unless it's a salad, of course. Great restaurant review - very detailed. How fun meeting the cookbook author. And, I like the scowling dog. How funny that he was watching the scenes.

  17. Blessedmama,
    Thanks. Raw food can be easy — or very complicated. Just like cooked food, I guess.

    I'm sure your adorable new puppies will never scowl! You must be having so much fun with them.

  18. I can't wait to try that upside down pineapple cake. It sounds so delish! Thanks for sharing the recipe.

    That is totally cool that you got to meet Melisser. I wanted her book for Christmas, but didn't get it. I'll be getting it soon though.

    All the food looks so yummy. I'm about to starve now and still have an hour to go before lunch. :o)

    Too funny about the dog! :o)

  19. Michelle,
    You should try the cake and let me know what you think. A lot of the food on this post WAS yummy, but not all. I hate it when something looks really great but tastes blah. The dog was a real character — like you might expect in a movie, not on a walk.

  20. The cake looks so amazing! I love Raw deserts.

  21. I adore fresh pineapple, and this sounds like a perfect dessert in which to use it. And how lucky that you got to go to the book signing (and be in the Cakespy shop!) :) That photo of the dog in the window is priceless--what an expression!

  22. The raw pineapple cake looks really tasty. I like raw food but I can't get into the dehydrating everything forever stuff. I'd eat the dehydration machine before anything was ready. Wow chocolate covered matzoh- haven't seen that since I found some behind my Uncle Joe's couch eons ago.

  23. Julia,
    I have to experiment with more raw desserts to find ones I really like. I like simple desserts best!

    I keep looking at the dog photo — I just can't believe the look he is giving me. What a character!

    I'm with you on the dehydrating; I have a hard time planning meals eight hours ahead. When I lived in Wisconsin, I used my dehydrator to dry the surplus tomatoes from our garden, along with lots of apples, and other stuff like that. But the dehydrator is still in Wisconsin, and I don't have a garden here, so no dehydrating happening in our kitchen these days.

  24. I'm envious of your being sent that book - I would really love Cornbleets recipes, and definitely want this book! I need to get back into rew desserts - our desserts are usually just fruit, but with the holidays & birthdays & recipe testing there's been lots of baked goods...and less raw cake.

  25. the pineapple upside-down cake looks AWESOME. love the bottle cap mural...wouldn't it be cool if someone covered an entire wall in their house like that? seems like it would take forever.

  26. Shellyfish,
    You should look at her Web page — lots of sample recipes there. Our desserts are usually just fruit, too, with baked goods for special occasions. But, this recipe is really just raw fruit, dried dates and walnuts put together creatively. Very fast and easy.

    I can't imagine covering an entire wall!!! It would take so long just to collect the caps — and then to plan and execute the design. Could take years. You should do it! :D

  27. The recipes look good, I will try them for sure.


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