Vegan desserts. Just another culinary oxymoron like white chocolate or healthy junk food?
Technically it is possible to make all kinds of sweet treats from donuts to red velvet cupcakes without animal products. While many debate what it means to be a vegetarian, the definition of vegan is crystal clear: no animal-sourced ingredients, period. But when I think of vegan cuisine, I think of fresh, natural, healthy whole foods which only happen to be, by the way, animal-free.
Raw agave syrup and organic cane juice certainly have more syllables than sugar. Unfortunately, more syllables does not equal healthy or natural. Try sweetening your treats with a natural, delicious, healthy whole food such as dates. (While dates do have fewer syllables than sugar, that’s not what makes them so healthy. ;-))
Dates are my all-time favorite natural sweetener. They add a rich, complex sweetness to desserts and are delicious in savory dishes too. They are a good source of potassium and other minerals. I have never personally had a blood sugar problem or carb intolerance with dates, but if blood sugar or food intolerance are issues for you, it’s always a good idea to consult your health care provider first.
What makes dates a healthy sweetener is that they are a whole food: the fiber and nutrients have not been removed. Beets and sugar cane were also healthy whole foods once upon a time before they were processed into sparkly white powder. While honey and maple syrup are certainly natural, to your body they are primarily sugar with traces of nutrients. I prefer to use maple syrup and honey as sweet flavorings rather than as a sweetener. Think spoonfuls, not cupfuls.
I usually soak dates in water or some other liquid and blend them into a smooth date butter for use in desserts. A high-powered blender like a Blend-Tec or VitaMix is perfect for this. (but not absolutely necessary if you don’t have one.) Use more or less liquid depending on the consistency you’re looking for. To try date-sweetened desserts, you can start with my easy California Chocolate Pudding recipe below, but don’t be afraid to experiment with dates in your favorite recipes.
Some people like to use date sugar, which is simply finely ground dried dates (still a whole food, nothing’s been removed but the water, which dates don’t have much of to begin with). I’ve never tried date sugar myself, but I’ve heard it’s a good substitute for regular sugar in recipes. If you have experience with date sugar, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
Here’s a classic vegan recipe: Chocolate Avocado Mousse.
Chocolate. Avocado. What’s not to love? How about those unhealthy (and unnecessary) sweeteners? I’ve replaced them with, surprise, dates! Healthy and delicious. And of course, still gluten and dairy free. I’m new to paleo and therefore, still learning, but I think we can call this recipe paleo-friendly as well. I’m not going to call it mousse, though. Mousse means foam in French, and although it certainly is creamy (thanks to our good friend, avocado), foamy it is not. Pudding is just right. And I’m calling it California pudding because, well, here in sunny southern California, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by avocado and date trees!
It’s pudding, not chiffon cake. The recipe’s not going to fall flat or explode if you change a thing or two, so feel free to experiment and add your own special touch. If you’re a chocolate aficionado, see how different cocoa powders taste in the pudding. A mix of half regular cocoa and half raw cacao powder is divine! 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in place of the 1 teaspoon vanilla is a good variation. Another is: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. If I hadn’t tossed out all my coffee, I would give espresso a try in the pudding, either brewed in place of the water or add a spoonful of instant. Please come back and share the results of your variations with me!
This is perfectly sweet if you’re used to the mild sweetness of real dark chocolate or if you generally avoid refined sugar in your diet. If you prefer a sweeter dessert, replace some of the water with maple syrup or your favorite liquid sweetener. Or simply pour the maple syrup over the top like a chocolate-maple sundae.
My favorite way to serve California Chocolate Pudding is with sliced bananas. Fresh berries are great, too. Macadamia nuts are a super paleo topping. Trader Joe’s sells dry toasted, chopped macadamias now, which are as fantastic on salads as they are on chocolate pudding. But I digress, let’s get on to the recipe, shall we?
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup chopped dates
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 1-1/2 cups mashed avocado (about 2 medium)
- Soak chopped dates in water. For a high-powered blender cutting the dates into fourths is enough. For a regular blender or food processor cut into smaller pieces and use hot water. (The easiest way to measure is by volume: Use a clear liquid measuring container and add the water to the 8 ounce line first. Add chopped dates until the mixture reaches the 12 ounce line.) Let them soak for 1/2 hour.
- Blend dates and water until smooth. In a Blend-Tec use the "Whole Juice" button. In a food processor, start out with just the dates and add the soaking water gradually to avoid leakage. Push mixture down with a spatula as necessary.
- Add the vanilla, salt, and cocoa powder and pulse to combine. Push mixture down with a spatula as necessary.
- Add the mashed avocado and pulse to combine until smooth. (Mashed avocado is both easier to measure accurately and easier to blend smoothly into the chocolate mixture. The final mixture will be somewhat thick and you will not be using your machine to smash the avocado, just to combine it with the other ingredients.)
- If necessary, add extra water a tablespoon or two at a time to help the ingredients combine smoothly. (Avocado is a natural ingredient, after all, and sometimes they vary in their moisture content. Adding more water can also make the pudding less thick if you prefer a lighter consistency.)
- Chill before serving.
(This recipe was shared at: Gluten Free Friday)