Raw dessert recipes that can rival any conventionally baked confection.
TERRI RIMMER is a food writer and baker in New Jersey.
Sweet Gratitude: A New World of Raw Desserts
By Matthew Rogers & Tiziana Alipo Tamborra
CAPSULE REPORT: Pastry chef Terri Rimmer reviews Sweet Gratitude, a cookbook of raw desserts—vegan desserts that are not cooked above 115°F. What she found: dairy-free truffles that hit the spot, vegan ice cream that tastes like “real” ice cream and other desert delights. Raw food is better for you, and virtually guilt-free. You may want to take a vacation from traditional desserts with some of these delicious, equally satisfying options.
I am an “old-school,” classically trained pastry chef/baker. Sugar, flour, eggs, butter and the like are the ingredients I am programmed to use. But I love to learn new things and Sweet Gratitude: A New World of Raw Desserts sounded like just the ticket to broaden my culinary horizons.
Sweet Gratitude is a collection of raw vegan desserts. Now, don’t make a face or shake your head negatively. The authors/chefs, Matthew Rogers and Tiziana Tamborra, are both master dessert chefs at Café Gratitude in San Francisco, California. It’s clear to the reader that they spent many hours in the kitchen over the years testing these recipes—figuring out how to swap traditional baking items with fresh, seasonal, natural and unprocessed ingredients, while making sure the recipes stay flavorful. And believe me, this really takes hard work and creativity.
A Brief Introduction To Raw Food
Raw foods are defined as uncooked (or warmed to a temperature less than 104°F to 115°F), unprocessed and, most often, organic. Raw foods are often more digestible and offer an alternative for people with health conditions such as diabetes, lactose intolerence and gluten allergies. Actually, from a health perspective, they’re good for all of us human beings. That being said, none of the recipes in this book is actually baked. Raw desserts are mixed, assembled, then either refrigerated or frozen to firm up or set. What you need to do is keep an open mind and palate, and you will discover, as I did, the wonderful treats you’ll be able to make, and actually feel good about eating.
For starters, this book is well organized. The first chapter concentrates on ingredient preparation—how to make ingredients yourself, necessary equipment and tools, and some handy resources for hard-to-find ingredients. Subsequent chapters are broken down into Pies, Cakes, Cheesecakes, Ice Cream, Dehydration (cookies) and Cacao (candies). There is even a separate chapter devoted to Irish moss, which is seaweed with a gelatinous quality that’s used to give lightness to these desserts—almost like egg whites, which would not be used in raw food/vegan cuisine.
What You Need To Make Raw Desserts
Some recipes require you to purchase special equipment such as a dehydrator (an appliance that blows hot air over the food, taking out significant moisture, and thus drying out the food). In an odd way, this is the raw version of cooking food. However, the food itself should never get above 115°F, so it really can’t be considered “cooked.” The technique of dehydration lends itself to recipes that include brownies, cookies, crepes, cannoli and even chocolate soufflés.
Dehydrators, which come in different shapes, have trays on which the foods are placed to try. This is the Gardenmaster Food Dehydrator from Nesco.
Before you jump on the internet or go to specialty stores to search for organic ingredients, you may have luck finding things at your local supermarket. I found agave nectar, which is an alternative, unprocessed sweetener used in almost every recipe in the book, at my neighborhood market. You can even make your own ingredients from everyday items found at the supermarket. Date paste, for example, which is used to make everything from pie and cheesecake crusts to cake fillings, can be made from simply mincing pitted dates in your food processor or blender. How easy is that?
Sweet Gratitude also has wonderful photography. Food not only has to taste good, but the visual aspect is equally important. If the dish looks bad, trust me, you will never try it.
There are a slew of recipes in the book, and after a great deal of thought, I tested the following recipes:
Even though it is not baked, this definitely isn’t your grandmother’s gelatin “no bake” cheesecake. This is a more sophisticated and flavorful dessert. Technically, it really can’t be called a cheesecake because there isn’t an ounce of cheese in it—it’s vegan. Still, it’s creamy, smooth and you can really taste the fresh lemon juice. I topped my lemon cheesecake with blueberries that I cooked down with a little bit of agave nectar. Most importantly, I didn’t feel the need to rush to my treadmill afterward.
Brazil Nut Ganache Truffles
These truffles are creamy, sweet and satisfying. They are made with Brazil nuts, cacao, cacao butter, agave nectar, vanilla and a little salt. They use the same technique as traditional truffles (blend/melt ingredients, refrigerate, scoop and shape into balls, then roll in nuts). I thought they looked and tasted great. Just to make sure, I took these truffles next door to a neighbor child to see if he would eat them. If even a kid likes it, you know this candy is good; and this one gobbled them up. Of course, I didn’t tell him it was a healthy alternative; he just thought it was candy. This recipe is a winner.
Photo: Brazil Nut Ganache Truffles, left, and Raspberry Cheesecake.
This is a great way to use fresh, seasonal fruit. It couldn’t be easier to make. A walnut date crust is used as the base, then using the combinations of your choice, fruit is layered on the crust and finished with more crumble on top. The crumble has great texture and complements the fruit. I used juicy peaches in my cobbler and topped it with fresh raspberries. It tasted like summer.
Mint Chip Ice Cream
I love home-made ice cream. You can make raw ice cream recipes in either a hand-cranked or automatic ice cream machine. I was concerned that the texture might be more grainy than regular ice cream, as there is no cream in this recipe. I am happy to report, however, that it is smooth and really tastes like ice cream! Fresh mint leaves are added, and cacao nibs are used for the chocolate. Cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans separated from their husks and broken into small bits. They add crunchiness to the ice cream as well as nice chocolate flavor. It’s a great alternative to chocolate chips.
Now, I’m not saying that Sweet Gratitude will convert all of you refined sugar and flour junkies into card carrying vegans. But perhaps from time to time, you will consider giving your internal organs a rest from processing traditional ingredients and eat something that’s a little cleaner, a lot healthier and very satisfying.
Note To Book Editor: One thing I would have liked to see in this book is a complete nutritional breakdown for each recipe such as calories, carbohydrates and fats per serving. It’s just one of those value added things that’s nice to find.