I own a personal library of books dedicated to sweets and treats, from Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies to Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. So when I had the opportunity to review Ysanne Spevack’s Vegetable Cakes and interview her, I was curious: Could I really start baking truly healthy desserts?
Cheesecakes that don’t contain cheese, but are thickened with hidden ingredients like tofu, artichokes and cashews? Brownies sweetened with vibrant beets, a little maple syrup and coconut sugar—instead of the two cups of white sugar I had poured into the batter bowl since college, following a famous recipe on the back of the chocolate box?
I soon tied on my pink apron and started experimenting. I’m trying to nudge my beautiful rich cookbooks aside and make way for homemade desserts with much less refined sugar. If the treats happen to deliver veggies, too, all the better.
Beetroot Rose Chocolate Brownies (Recipe Below)
I dove in here first, because brownies are pretty simple, and deliver decadent indulgence in a square. While not all recipes in the book are vegan, the two I tried are—good news for the vegan college daughter living under our roof.
The process: I simmered three large organic beets until soft–that alone made me feel saintly. Since I know brownies inside and out, I felt free to tweak the recipe a bit. These don’t contain eggs, butter or regular sugar—keys to traditional brownies. It was a frigid day, too cold to dash to the store, and I was out of pure maple syrup, so I subbed in two tablespoons of maple sugar from the cupboard. I also didn’t have rose otto essential oil, from rose petals, so I skipped that (will try it next time), and after baking, omitted the pretty scattering of coconut tinted with beet cooking water. (The dedicated brownie fan in our house is in fifth grade, and she doesn’t like flaked coconut.) It was fun to whir the beets in the blender and see the rich crayon color. I’m nobody’s fool—I used Scharffen Berger 100% Unsweetened Dark Chocolate, the most luxurious kind I could find. I tossed it in the shopping cart when I got the beautiful beets at Kings.
The verdict: It was a learning curve—these brownies are not great when gooey from the oven. But stored in the fridge and served ice-cold, they grew on me and my vegan daughter. Even the vegan restaurant in town, which sells outrageous brownies for $7 (!) each, likely loads them with sugar. The idea that Ysanne’s are made with vitamin-rich beets, a root veggie from the farm, left me feeling grounded and good–not guilty. That’s a huge psychological win. They were also filling and didn’t lead to a blood sugar spike. Unfortunately, the fifth grader could not be fooled. But I would make these again when I crave a dark chocolate treat.
Pumpkin Cookies (Recipe Below)
I’m also trying to avoid white flour (even buying Ezekiel bread) and have a huge glass canister filled with rolled oats on the counter, in an effort to eat more oatmeal. These cookies are made with 2 full cups of oats. Pure pumpkin puree from a can adds a helping of the antioxidant beta-carotene.
The process: This one-bowl recipe could not be easier. It calls for sunflower butter, which I had long seen in the PB aisle but never tried. I found the dough a little sticky to roll into balls for baking, but I managed. Chilling it might help that. And I added some vegan dark chocolate chips to some of the batter because, chocolate.
The verdict: My husband said the cookies were delicious, which surprised me. The vegan liked them, and the fifth-grader was not adventurous. I liked the exotic notes of cardamom. I would make these again, with dark chocolate chips for good measure.
Next, I’m eyeing Chocolate Cauliflower Cupcakes, but likely without the avocado frosting, maybe just a dusting of pure cacao power—and the Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake, with mashed banana, orange zest and silken tofu in the filling. If you love to bake but want to reduce your sugar intake and boost your produce quota, Vegetable Cakes can satisfy that craving.
Beetroot Rose Chocolate Brownies
500g | 1 1/4lb whole beetroots(beets)
100ml | 3 1/2 fl oz | scant 1/2 cup coconut oil
500ml | 2 fl oz | 1/4 cup maple syrup
200g | 7oz dark chocolate, 100% cocoa solids, chopped
100ml | 3 1/2 fl oz | scant 1/2 cup aquafaba i.e. the liquid from canned chickpeas
100g | 3 3/4 oz | 1/2 cup coconut sugar
Up to 5ml | 1 tsp rose otto (damask) essential oil
Pinch of pink or sea salt
80g | 3 1/4 oz cornflour (cornstarch)
5ml | 1 tsp baking powder
25g | 1oz desiccated raw (dry unsweetened macaroon-cut shredded coconut
1 Preheat oven to 200 Degrees Celsius or 400 Degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8×12 in baking pan. Place the beetroots in a pan of boiling water and bring back to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes or until soft.
2 Drain, reserving a small glass of the liquid. Allow the beetroots to cool, then peel. Liquidise in a blender into a puree-like consistency, then transfer the beetroot pulp to a large mixing bowl.
3 Mix the oil, syrup and chocolate with the beetroot and stir thoroughly until combined.
4 In a separate bowl, whisk the aquafaba with an electric whisk for 4 minutes until thick and glossy. Whish in the sugar for 30 seconds, then fold the mixture into the beetroot. Add the rose oil and salt, then mix in the cornflour and baking powder.
5 Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 15 minutes, or until set on top. Turn the oven down to 180 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 15 more minutes.
6 In the meantime, scatter half of the desiccated coconut on another baking tin lined with baking parchment and sprinkle over 10ml | 2 tsp of the reserved beetroot cooking water. Mix briefly then turn the oven down to 100 Celsius or 200 Fahrenheit and bake for 5 minutes.
7 Cut the brownie into squares and sprinkle with the dyed purply-pink coconut and the remaining white desiccated coconut. Serve.
180g | 6 1/4 oz | 2 cups rolled oats
250g | 9 oz | 1 cup pumpkin puree
115g | 4 oz | 1/2 cup sunflower butter
50g | 2 oz | 1/4 cup coconut sugar
1.5ml | 1/4 tsp baking powder
1.5ml | 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1.5ml | 1/4 tsp ground coriander
1.5ml | 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1.5ml | 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Desiccated raw (dry unsweetened macaroon-cut shredded) coconut for sprinkling
1 Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2 In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together using a wooden spoon. Pull off pieces of dough, and roll into balls roughly 2.5cm | 1 in
3 Press the balls to flatten them one by one on to the baking sheet
4 Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes. The longer they bake, the crisper they’ll become.
5 Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack, sprinkle with coconut.
300g | 11oz | 2 1/2 cups wholewheat flour
70g | 2 1/2oz | 1/3 cup coconut sugar
10ml | 2 tsp baking powder
10ml | 2 tsp ground cinnamon
1.5ml | 1/4 tsp pink or sea salt
4 large and 12 baby lettuce leaves
25cm | 10in stick of celery
50g | 2oz | 1/2 cup walnut pieces
375g | 13oz | 1 1/2 cups apple sauce
120ml | 4fl oz | 1/2 cup olive oil
12 apple pieces
30ml | 2 tbsp canned coconut cream to drizzle, optional
1 Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas 4. Place 12 paper cases into a muffin tin (pan).
2 Stir the flour, coconut sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt together in a bowl.
3 Tear the large lettuce leaves. Chop the celery into pieces, roughly 8cm/3in.
4 Place the celery, torn lettuce and walnuts in a blender with the apple sauce and olive oil and blend on low, raising the speed to medium over about 30 seconds. It’s ready when you can still see chunks of vegetables, but it’s more like a chunky smoothie.
5 Pour the smoothie into the dry ingredients, and stir to combine. Fill the muffin cases until nearly level, and top with a piece of apple and a small lettuce leaf on each.
6 Put into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the baking tin. If you like, drizzle over a little coconut cream for contrast and additional sweetness.
Okra Cacao Bundt Cake
200ml | 7fl oz | 1 cup coconut oil, plus extra for greasing
100ml | 3 1/2fl oz | scant 1/2 cup raw agave syrup
100g | 3 3/4oz | 1/2 cup coconut sugar
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
500ml | 17fl oz | generous 2 cups coconut milk
250g | 9oz | 2 cups coconut flour
5ml | 1 tsp baking soda
30ml | 2 tbsp unsweetened cacao powder
Pinch of pink or sea salt and ground black pepper
Seeds of 5 cardamom pods, ground
175ml | 6fl oz | 2/3 cup aquafaba ie the liquid from a can of chickpeas
400g | 14oz okra
Dry unsweetened macaroon cut shredded coconut, to decorate
1 Preheat the oven to 190ºC/370ºF/Gas 5 and grease a 2.4-ltr/4.2-pint/10-cup bundt pan or silicone mold.
2 Melt the coconut oil in a large pan, then mix in the agave syrup and coconut sugar and bubble up over a medium heat until combined. Stir in the lemon juice and milk. Bring to the boil, then mix in the coconut flour, baking soda and cacao powder. Season with salt, black pepper and ground cardamom. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
3 Whip the aquafaba for 6–7 minutes using an electric whisk, until white and in soft peaks. Fold the aquafaba into the rest of the ingredients.
4 Trim the okra, and then slice a third of them lengthways. Fill the bottom of the bundt tin with the sliced okra, skin-side down, then transfer half of the cake batter into the tin, covering the bottom and sides in a layer. Fill the bundt tin with the remaining whole okra and follow with a layer of the remaining cake mixture, smoothing the top with the back of a spoon.
5 Bake for 45 minutes until firm to touch. Allow to cool slightly, then turn out on to a plate. Serve topped with lemon zest and coconut (and dill fronds, if you like).
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