Four years ago, I was at a party celebrating the premiere of Forks Over Knives when I crossed paths with Fran Costigan. I’d heard her name before–she’s the reigning queen of vegan pastry and dessert–but I’d never had the pleasure of meeting her. Before I could even find her in the crowd, I ended up standing next to her near a crowded appetizer plate. I introduced myself, and before I knew it we were chatting like old friends. Fran told me all about her work, her journey to becoming a chef, her grandchildren, and the several decades she’s spent sharing vegan activism through sumptuous, yet healthy desserts. I was totally charmed, and we’ve remained fans of each other ever since.
Fran’s new book, Vegan Chocolate, is in many ways a culmination of her incredible talents as a chef and a recipe developer. Fran is classically trained; she’s a graduate of the New York Restaurant School and the Natural Gourmet Institute. She has worked as a pastry chef in both traditional and vegan kitchens, and she’s been in the teaching kitchen for about 20 years. I’ve come to expect nothing but perfection from her recipes, and that’s what the new book delivers: 300 pages of chocolate bliss.
I can’t tell you how often I’m asked whether or not chocolate is vegan. My response is that it is, thank god! Most (or much) dark chocolate is delightfully vegan-friendly. Vegan Chocolate is a one-stop primer in all things chocolate: cake, brownies, truffles, puddings, ice creams, and more. Some of the most creative selections from the book include Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles (with a variety of flavor variations), a Brooklyn Blackout Layer Cake, a Sacher Torte, even chocolate Moon Pies!
There are two particular features I love about book: first, Fran emphasizes ethical chocolate, recommending ingredients that are fair trade and organic. She’s also highly sensitive to food allergies and specialized diets, so virtually everyone, including folks who have soy or gluten or wheat allergies, will find plenty of recipes to make and love in the book.
Most importantly, Fran treats each recipe as a chance to teach you something new about working with vegan chocolate. Her years of culinary teaching experience were so evident to me as I read the book. I’m no pastry or dessert expert, and I can assure you that I’ve benefited from her meticulous instructions, her detailed explanations of methodology, her extensive glossaries and suggested resources, and even her carefully assembled reading list. So much love and effort has gone into this book; I suppose that chocolate deserves nothing less!
The recipes in Vegan Chocolate range from quite impressive and fancy to very simple. I could have shared countless selections with you — the Chocolate Cake to Live For, Magic Cookie Bars, Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread Pudding, or Mocha Creme Brûlée. But I wanted to share a recipe that jives with my style of dessert making (and my cooking style in general), which is to say quick, easy, and tasty. The following pudding is all of those things, and it also features cashews, which are of course one of my favorite ingredients. The pudding is rich, creamy, and everything that chocolate pudding should be.
- For the Pudding:
- 1 recipe (about 1¾ cups) / 420 mL Basic Thick Cashew Cream (below)
- 2 tablespoons / 12 grams Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
- 2 tablespoons / 26 grams organic granulated sugar
- 2 ounces / 57 grams dark chocolate (62-68%), finely chopped, or use vegan chocolate chips for a sweeter pudding
- 1 teaspoon / 5 mL pure vanilla extract
- Dark chocolate shavings, for garnish (optional)
- For the basic thick cashew cream:
- 5 ounces (about 1 cup) / 142 grams whole raw cashews, rinsed and soaked 3-4 hours, or overnight
- ⅔ cup / 160 mL water at room temperature
- ¼ cup / 60 mL agave or maple syrup (grade B)
- 1 teaspoon / 5 mL vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon guar gum
- Prepare the cashew cream. Drain the cashews in a strainer. Put the rinsed nuts into a blender and add the water, agave or maple syrup, and vanilla. Blend, starting on low, and quickly increase the speed to high. Blend for about one minute, or until the cream is perfectly smooth. Push any unblended pieces of cashew down into the cream and blend for one minute longer. Add the guar gum directly into the cream, making sure it doesn't land on the sides of the container. Blend on low for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to high and blend for 1 minute. Pour the cream into a container, cover, and refrigerate for for up to three days or freeze for up to two months.
- In a small saucepan, heat the cashew cream gently over low heat until it's just warm to the touch. Add the cocoa powder and sugar, and stir until dissolved. Remove the saucepan from heat.
- Add the chocolate and the vanilla and stir until the chocolate is melted.
- Spoon the warm pudding into small dishes and serve immediately, garnished with some chocolate shavings. The pudding can be made ahead and refrigerated in a covered container for up to three days. It tastes good chilled or at room temperature.
Vegan Chocolate is an elegant, sumptuous book. It’s got a large trim size, evocative and beautiful photography, playful fonts, and tons of other touches that announce: this book is a celebration. And that’s as it should be. Few ingredients connote indulgence, opulence, or luxury (at least in the realm of dessert) more than this one. If you’re a chocolate lover, vegan or not, or a dessert lover, chocoholic or not, then I can’t recommend this essential resource more highly.
In order to bring you all a little closer to her work, Fran has offered one of my lucky readers a copy of Vegan Chocolate. You can enter to win below. The giveaway winner will be announced in two weeks. US and Canadian readers only, please. Good luck!!
I think that’s a nice note on which to begin the weekend. See you on Sunday, for Weekend Reading!