Very Merry (Alternative) Dessert Part 1
The festive season is upon us, bringing families and friends together, and the designated cooks and hosts in the family will be busy planning gatherings around tables spread with delectable foods. It is hard not to indulge in sweet treats over the Christmas season, like the much-loved traditional fruitcakes and other desserts. However, the main ingredients in most cakes and desserts use animal-based saturated fats and dairy products like butter and milk, ingredients that are off-limits for many dietary preferences or restrictions.
If you want to have your cake and eat it without a guilt trip, alternative ingredients may be the answer. We all crave a little sweetness at times and with the right ingredient substitutes, choosing products with reduced saturated fats and dairy, fewer additives, minimal processing, and organic when possible, can result in delectable, more nutritious desserts. The wide variety of nut and seed milks and spreads have made plant-based desserts a very doable option. Enjoyed in small portions as an occasional treat, they require a few unique ingredients initially but, once you have these on hand, are as easy to make as traditional desserts. These alternatives will make merry vegans, vegetarians, gluten-and lactose-intolerant and those of us just wanting to reduce refined sugar, flour and animal fat intake. This includes a huge section of our population today, which make these treats a great addition to your recipe collection and a must for our holiday table.
Good alternatives for refined sugar in desserts include coconut sugar, blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, agave, honey and the addition of fresh and dried fruits. White, bleached and wheat flours are sometimes replaced with flour from beans, nuts, seeds, cassava, and breadfruit, among other vegetables. I’ve used the gluten-free grass, quinoa, as a substitute for wheat flour in the orange cake recipe and I love to add herbs and spices for even more flavour. Here are a few recipes to tempt anyone on your guest list. Two are from my cookbook, My Goodness Greens; the others have been created to round out your dessert offering, not just for the Christmas season. These recipes will satisfy the occasional sweet tooth into the new year. Wishing you all a very merry and delicious Christmas table.
Donna Noble is the author of My Goodness Greens Cookbook. She is also a freelance art director, set decorator and food stylist for feature films, commercials and commercial still photography.
Recipes and Styling: Donna Noble
Photographer: Robyn Noble
No Flour, Quinoa, Orange, Vanilla Cake With Creamy Orange Frosting
Prep Time: 15 mins. Cooking Time: 50 mins. Serves 12
Suitable for gluten-free and lactose-free diets.
This soft, light nutty cake has delightful citrus notes from oranges which are plentiful in December. Gluten-free quinoa and almond flour are the alternatives to wheat flour. I’ve used eggs because I like the light texture and structure the eggs bring to the cake. Egg replacement products (used as directed) may replace eggs for vegans or anyone with egg allergies. You can serve this cake with or without the frosting, it is delicious either way, or with the frosting on the side for anyone wanting additional sweetness.
Ingredients for the cake
2 ½ cups cooked white quinoa, (equiv 6.5 oz uncooked quinoa). Prepare as per package instructions, cool and set to drain well in a sieve.
2 cups almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 fresh organic oranges, zested (The juice of these 2 oranges can be used in the frosting* and the rest may be frozen and used in other recipes.)
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 ½ cups coconut sugar
2 tablespoons pure vanilla
6 tablespoons vegan butter melted. You can substitute virgin coconut oil, however it will result in a predominant coconut flavour.
3 large eggs (from country hens if you can find some) Vegans can substitute with packaged egg-replacer product
Edible chrysanthemum flowers for garnish, optional. Yes, these beauties are edible but make sure they are organic before using on food.
2 organic oranges, thinly sliced and dried for garnish, optional
Ingredients for the frosting
The vegan cream cheese adds a lovely tartness to the frosting. You can replace with vegan butter if you prefer.
12 oz organic powdered sugar 8 oz plant-based cream cheese, or vegan butter, softened to room temp. 2 oranges* Juice Zest of two oranges, for garnish, zested closer to time of serving, for freshness
Method For The Frosting Note:
Steps 1 and 2 can be done the day before the cake is baked.
1. Dry the oranges if using as a garnish. Pre-heat the oven to 225 degrees F. Prepare a baking tray with parchment paper. Slice 2 small oranges thinly. Place the slices on the parchment and place in oven for about 1 hour. Depending on how hot your oven runs, these may begin to burn, so watch and reduce heat if necessary. Turn, as they begin to dry, after about 30 mins. Once completely dry and slightly crisp, but not burnt, take out of oven and cool. Once cool, store in a sealed container until ready to use.
2. Make the frosting. Place the powdered sugar and vegan cream cheese in a bowl. Using a mixer on low speed combine the ingredients. Scrape down the sides. Add the orange juice and mix in. Increase the speed and whip until thick and creamy. Increase the powdered sugar for thickness, more orange juice to thin the mixture if necessary. Place in refrigerator in a covered container. Bring to room temp. 30 mins before using.
3. Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
4. Grease a 9″ round baking tin with vegan butter and line with parchment. Or you can use a bundt tin greased and dusted with a little spelt or buckwheat flour.
5. Place the cooked quinoa, almond flour, baking powder, orange zest and grated ginger in a bowl and stir to combine.
6. Place the sugar, vanilla, vegan butter in a larger bowl. Using a hand whisk or electric mixer, whisk on low speed to combine. Add the eggs one at a time with the mixer running, beat for just a minute.
7. Add the cooked quinoa mixture to the sugar mixture in batches. With the mixer on medium speed, combine each batch thoroughly. The mixture will be quite thick.
8. Using a spatula, scrape the mixture into the prepared baking tin. Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 50 mins or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
9. Cool in baking tin for 20 minutes, before turning out onto a cake plate to cool completely.
10. When ready to frost, place strips of parchment under the cake to keep your plate clean. Using a frosting spatula or scraper, frost top of cake as thickly or thinly as you wish. I frosted the cake thickly on top and left the sides ‘naked’ meaning scraping the frosting thinly on the sides to reveal some of the cake.
11. Garnish with orange zest, dried orange slices and chrysanthemum flowers.
Thyme-Infused Vegan Panna Cotta With Guava Compote.
Prep time for the Coconut Panna cotta: 5 mins. Cook time: 15 mins. Set-up time: 2 hours or overnight.
Prep Time for the Guava Compote: 20 mins. Cook time: 20 mins.
Suitable for vegans, vegetarians, gluten-and lactose-free.
This festive dessert uses coconut milk and agar agar, a tasteless vegetable gelatin derived from seaweed, replacing dairy milk and animal derived gelatin. The creamy, thyme-infused panna cotta is paired with one of my favourite fruit, guava! Pick fresh guavas when in season and freeze these delicious fruits to enjoy from one season to the next. You can use regular guavas or a combination of sweet, red mountain guavas, whatever is readily available. If guavas are not available, you can make the compote with mangoes, pineapples, Otaheite apples, passion fruit, among other local fruits.
Ingredients for the Guava Compote:
4 cups ripe, firm, fresh guavas, deseeded and rough chopped or 3 cups, deseeded, frozen guava purée
1″ fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 cinnamon stick
5 pimento berries ½ tsp cardamom powder 1 tsp nutmeg grated
Water for cooking
¼ cup coconut sugar or more to taste
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
2 tablespoons dark rum, optional
1. Place the hard spices in a small cooking bag or tie securely in a small square of muslin.
2. If using fresh guavas, place 2 cups of the chopped guava in a saucepan with 2 cups of water and all the spices. Blend the other 2 cups of the guava with ½ – 3/4 cup of water to a smooth consistency. Strain and set aside.
3. If using frozen guava purée, bring to room temp. Place 2 cups of puree in the saucepan with ½ cup of water and the spices and set the other cup of guava puree aside.
4. Place pot on medium heat. Stir and bring to boil, stirring at intervals.
5. Add the sugar to the saucepan, stir well and continue to simmer. Stir at intervals taking care that the bottom does not burn. Once the mixture starts to thicken, add the rest of the guava purée to the pot, stir and continue to simmer until you have a nice thick, but still syrupy consistency.
6. Remove the spice bag. Stir in the lemon juice and rum if using. Stir well and set to cool. Store in a container with a well fitted lid and refrigerate until ready to use.
7. Tip: The guava compote can be made up to a week ahead if refrigerated. Stored in small portions, compote will last for months in freezer to be enjoyed in smoothies, stirred into yogurt, added to cakes and pies.
Ingredients for the Panna Cotta
24 oz coconut milk
2 teaspoons agar agar powder
1 sprig fresh thyme leaves, leaves picked from stalk
½ tsp pure vanilla
Pinch sea salt
A few thyme and micro basil leaves for garnish, optional
A few organic rose petals for garnish, optional
1. Place the coconut milk, agar agar powder and thyme in a heavy-bottomed pot and whisk the mixture thoroughly to combine.
2. Place the pot on low to medium heat and slowly bring to a boil. It is important to bring to boil, slowly, to allow the agar to dissolve completely. Turn the heat up slightly after about 10 minutes, if not yet boiling. Whisk intermittently to ensure the agar flakes dissolve thoroughly, and that the mixture is not sticking to the bottom of the pot or doesn’t boil over. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a low heat and cover. Simmer for another minute or two, stir in the vanilla and salt and remove from the heat.
3. Cool slightly for a few minutes, divide the mixture into 6 or 8 heat-resistant dessert glasses, no need to worry about un-moulding for serving, and place in the fridge. Cover and leave for at least two hours or overnight to set.
4. When ready to serve, take the panna cotta and guava compote from the fridge. Spoon the compote generously over the panna cotta. Garnish with a fresh thyme, basil leaves and rose blossoms if desired.
Tip: You want the panna cotta to have a firm, yet wobbly consistency. This can take a few tries to get right but it can be prepared up to three days ahead, covered and refrigerated. The mixture is very forgiving and can be adjusted if they haven’t set up. Check after two hours, if they haven’t set, place the mixture back into the pot, adding a little more agar flakes and bring to boil as before. Divide into glasses and refrigerate again.