Archive for the 'Vegan' Category

Foray into Foret Noir: Adventures with Agar Agar and Soyatoo

Sunday, February 24th, 2008


I’ve been wanting to create a vegan black forest cake for a while, so a recent family gathering presented itself as the perfect opportunity to experiment with one. Also, I came across this oddly named product “Soyatoo” at the local health food store, which aroused both my curiosity and suspicion. It’s a vegan whippable soy topping which comes in either the boxed version pictured below or a spray cream.


There were several components to this cake that were new to me, and that I ended up struggling with. Aside from the fact that I’m still new to the vegan desserts thing, I’ve only used agar agar once before and I was scratching my head over what to do with soyatoo. But I had a vision of a cake with an ethereal miroir glaze, and it was to have the components of a black forest cake, with French-style aesthetics, and it was to going to be vegan.

I used a cake recipe from Fran Costigan’s non-dairy desserts class at ICE (seems I’ve gotten quite a bit of mileage out of this class). It turned out delicious and moist. I also used her recipe for a cherry cream made from silken firm tofu, reconstituted dried cherries and chopped chocolate as a basis for my cherry “mousse”. However, here’s where the soyatoo comes in – in order to stabilize it a bit more and create a more mousse-like texture, I added agar agar to a portion of the soyatoo, then added this to firmly whipped soyatoo. I then folded this whipped soyatoo into the cherry cream to create a mousse, which I refrigerated for a few hours. I lined the bottom of a cake ring with the cake (the same technique I used in my last post), spread a layer of cherry mousse over the cake, lined the sides with halved and pitted cherries at regular interval, and filled the ring with the remaining mousse. I let this set in the refrigerator while I went to experiment with my agar agar miroir.

A miroir or mirror is typically made with gelatin, but since I was making a vegan cake, I used agar agar dissolved in boiled cherry juice. I ended up having to create several few layers for adequate coverage, but I finally achieved the glass-like quality I was hoping for, which was thrilling!


I was really happy that the cake turned out okay, that my experiments were successful overall. Next time, I would modify the cake to mousse proportion, adding another layer of cake, perhaps. Also, I thought the soyatoo had a slight aftertaste, though my husband thought it was quite good. I googled the product to see what others thought and it seems some people swear by this stuff while others have a less pleasant reaction. It’s a personal, subjective taste, but I think it’s a reasonable substitute for whipping cream, which I’d use again if essential.

Exquisite, Virtuous Vegan Parisian Chocolate Mousse Cake

Saturday, February 9th, 2008


I entered this cake into my first baking contest at’s bittersweet baking contest and was thrilled when it chosen by the editors as a finalist! Dorie Greenspan, James Beard award winning author of books on legends such as Julia Child, Daniel Boulud, Pierre Herme etc., was among the judges. As it that weren’t awe-inspiring in and of itself, I was ecstatic when I read her comments:

“I’ve never set out to make anything specifically vegan, but this recipe is so well done that I wanted to try it: it makes a convincing case as a delicious, multi-textured cake; the fact that it’s vegan might be a bonus, but it’s not the cake’s sole virtue. My guess is that the cake’s tri-part chocolate components and its polished looks will capture the imaginations of other ambitious bakers.”

Speaking of authors, pioneering pasty chef Fran Costigan, whose vegan baking class I took last year at ICE and whose cake recipe I used as a basis for this cake, also had this to say: “…thank you for taking what you learned and creating a masterpiece that reflects your creativity and skill”.

It’s admittedly a great leap in style from my previous cakes but I’ve been trying to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle, including exploring alternative cake recipes. I am not a vegan by any means, but I find vegan baking techniques appealing for their absence of cholesterol-laden ingredients such as butter, eggs and milk. I also wanted to make it aesthetically appealing, as I know many people might be wary of vegan baking. I shared the cake with coworkers/neighbors and they could not believe it was a vegan cake, even after tasting it!

The recipe is an experimental, culinary collage culled from various photos and recipes. The assembly process is vaguely that of a French style gateaux, the inspiration for its physical appearance and components comes from, the cake recipe is adapted from a class I took with Fran Costigan. The cake incorporates bittersweet chocolate on three levels and layers: cake, mousse filling, and ganache. It has a hint of coffee flavor, with espresso powder as an ingredient, and is laced with hazelnuts and orange zest. This is a rather involved cake, but can by all means be simplified. Either the mousse or the cake frosted with ganache can be eaten on its own.


Chocolate Mousse
2 12 ounce boxes silken firm tofu (such as Mori Nu)
10 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons agave (or maple syrup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Cake
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup, grade A, dark amber
1 cup soy milk
1 teaspoon espresso powder dissolved in 2 teaspoons of water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
4 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, skins removed, chopped

Ganache Glaze
8 oz finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 cup soy creamer
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier


Chocolate shavings
Candied orange zest
Whole hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed
Chocolate transfer sheet

Prepare mousse:
Melt chocolate 10 ounces of chocolate over double boiler. Drain water from tofu. Place tofu, agave/maple syrup and melted chocolate in food processor and mix until well combined and smooth. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to firm. (This turned out to be very rich and dense. I think I would add some soy milk next time).

Prepare candied orange zest, if making your own:
I did end up making my own, and it was well worth it in the end. The zest added a really lovely crunch and citrus element, not to mention a lovely color contrast to the dark chocolate. I adapted a recipe from here:

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
peel of one orange

Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips from orange, avoiding the white pith. Julienne the orange peel into matchstick size pieces. Place zest in saucepan, pour water over it and bring to a boil. Drain and repeat. Yes, repeat – it’s supposed to reduce the bitterness. Remove from water and dry onto paper towel. Place sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a saucepan and let simmer for about 10 minutes (leave it alone – no need to stir at all). Add the strips and watch closely until strips are translucent (I probably left mine on the heat longer than I should have, but it still tasted great). Remove strips with a fork and cool onto parchment or waxed paper. While I didn’t have any left over, this can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week. Also, keep it stored in the container and decorate when ready to serve. If you leave the candied strips on the cake overnight, the sugar will absorb moisture and lose some of its brittle-like quality.

Prepare cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 9×3″ cake pan and line with parchment paper. Toast hazelnuts for 8-10 minutes (watch carefully) and rub with kitchen towel to remove skin. Chop and set aside.

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl and stir with a whisk. Stir in chocolate, orange zest and hazelnuts. Mix wet ingredients and whisk until well combined. Pour wet into dry ingredients and mix until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cake tester/toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Invert the pan onto the wire rack, peel off parchment paper, invert again and let cool completely.

Prepare ganache:
Bring soy creamer just until boiling. Pour over chopped chocolate and let sit for minute. Stir slowly until chocolate is melted.

Assemble cake:
I used a bottomless 8×2 inch cake ring as a mold. I’m sure there are alternative ways of assembling this (such as using a springform pan), but this method is what I came up at the time. I cut out the cake to fit inside the ring, using the ring as a guide.


Then I filled it with mousse. Make sure you press mousse to the edges (which I didn’t do). I left a little room on top for the ganache. Pour ganache and move the cake around to allow it to flow to the sides in order to cover the surface of the top. Let the ganache set in the refrigerator. Once set, remove the cake from the ring (you should have a support under the cake, such as a cardboard circle).


Top with chocolate shavings, candied orange zest, and hazelnuts. Now you could stop here and end up with exposed sides of cake, mousse and ganache, but since I didn’t press the mousse all the way to the edges, and had some gaps where the cake and mousse met, I spread ganache on the sides, as well. I thought it needed something else, so I used some chocolate transfer sheets I had on hand to decorate the sides. A chocolate transfer sheet is a plastic sheet imprinted with a pattern made with cocoa butter (which I think is by-product of the cocoa bean and therefore still vegan [Fran Costigan did indeed confirm that transfer sheets were vegan – thanks!]). I melted chocolate and spread it over the sheet in a thin layer with an offset spatula. Before the chocolate fully set, I cut triangular shapes in the chocolate. Once set, I peeled the chocolate from the sheet and was left with triangular shards of chocolate imprinted with the cocoa design. I then arranged my chocolate triangles onto the sides of the cake and finally called it done!


I’ll be experimenting with this cake a bit (I’ve already received request to make this again for an upcoming event). It was indeed labor intensive but I had fun and learned quite a bit every step of the way. For more info on vegan baking, ppk has some essential info on substitutes for eggs, dairy, butter, etc. Fran Costigan’s More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally and Moscowitz/Romero’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World are also great resources on vegan baking, recipes and inspiration.

vegan black bottom chocolate chestnut tart

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007


it’s a new year and i’ve resolved to practice healthier habits. i cashed in a gift certificate i received from my father-in-law for a class at the institute of culinary education and took a course on vegan chocolate desserts taught by fran costigan. i was quite pleased by the results and thought very little was sacrificed in terms of taste by using exclusively nondairy items.

pictured above is the recreation of the dessert my group created in class, the black bottom chocolate chestnut tart (made for my dad’s birthday). it was composed of an organic chocolate cookie crust, a layer of ganache, chocolate chestnut filling, and chestnut cream. alas, i have no photo of a slice or cross-section of the tart, but the light chestnut cream created a nice color contrast against the chocolate filling and dark cookie crust. whole chestnuts or marrons glaces would have been an ideal topper for the tart, but since i ran of chestnuts, but did have some ganache to spare, i made truffles with the latter, rolled them in cocoa powder or chopped nuts, and used that for decoration.

fran was a lively teacher and created her recipes after years of experimentation and tweaking. it was really interesting to learn how various ingredients could be substituted, i.e. agave for sugar, canola oil for butter, soy creamer for milk, etc. (of course, it’s not a matter of simply substituting canola oil whenever butter is called for, often other ingredients are also incorporated to create the right chemistry).

my health-conscious parents were quite pleased with this no cholesterol dessert. i was happy with the clean taste and happy to serve them a less guilt-ridden dessert. i’m looking forward to trying some other vegan recipes from fran’s class – “gianduja” cheezecakes in a chocolate hazelnut crust (using tofu), and triple chocolate black forest cake. yum…