So Valentine’s is mere days away and the air is becoming thick with passion and love. So what will you be doing with your beloved on Monday night? Er…. perhaps I should rephrase that – I mean, are you taking my (rather sage) advice and cooking them a fantastic three course meal found exclusively on The Caper Tree website (hooray!) or are you taking them out for a candlelit meal in a restaurant instead? (Boo!) Well, if you do, don’t come running to me if you end up in some greasy dive somewhere with nothing to eat but dry toast and ice cubes ‘cos they’re the only things that aren’t deep fried in lard, and that’s only because you had to ask them not to. Serves you right. Actually, my lovely lady and I were talking last night about our favourite restaurants and our favourite dishes when she raised a really good point. Of all the restaurants we frequent, many places fall flat on their face when it comes to desserts. I’m not talking about the specialised vegetarian and vegan establishments who go to great lengths to make and supply incredible sweet treats – I remember working at Infinity Cafe in Brighton and learning how to make their famous Date & Apricot Flapjacks where the filling oozes out in a delicious cinnamon, fruity, syrupy mess all over your fingers, or making a New York Vegan ‘cheesecake’ at Aloka (also in Brighton) that was so tall you had to use two cake slices to lift it out and hold it up. Ooh, I really fancy a nice slice of cake now…. Back in a minute!
Right now where was I? Oh yeah, desserts and restaurants. Why aren’t there more vegan dessert options at traditional restaurants? I think it’s because that, unlike many vegetarian dishes that can be converted to vegan if you remove or replace the dairy, it’s impossible to do the same for many desserts. You can’t remove the egg from a lemon drizzle cake or a meringue and you can’t remove the cream and custard from a trifle and because of that, many restaurants just don’t have the time, energy or desire to make something extra for the few people who might walk in the door wanting a animal-free dessert. To me this is really sad because I think these guys are missing a trick here. There are so many great tasting vegan desserts that I’m willing to bet when put next to its dairy equivalent, it would be almost impossible to tell them apart. There are some incredible vegan birthday cakes I have had the pleasure of eating and making over the years that my non-vegan family hadn’t even realised was egg and dairy free, pausing only to wonder if the vegans were eating it because they’d given in to the temptation of a good egg-based sponge.
My point is to chefs and restaurants is that if you can make a vegan dessert equally as delicious as its dairy counterpart then why don’t you? It’s going to cost less to make with no cream, milk or eggs, and stored correctly, should stay fresher for longer as the dairy ingredients are the ‘high risk’ foods which spoil first. I mean you can’t go wrong can you?
I also wonder if it’s a case of a lack of knowledge; classically trained chefs are not taught to make vegan food and traditional French and italian desserts whilst beautifully crafted and requiring great skill to perfect, consist very heavily of eggs and dairy. I’m not saying it’s possible to make a vegan version of a cream éclair or a Panna cotta but its not as if there aren’t enough fantastic recipes out there to get even the most staunch carnivores tastebuds tingling? Take for instance, the magical marriage of peanuts and chocolate:
Last Summer, my sister-in-law and our wonderful nephews came to say with us for a few days. One night, I had a sudden hankering for something sweet so I raided the cupboards and cookbooks and decided to make Chocolate P-Nut Butter Squares from Dreena Burton’s book, ‘Vive Le Vegan’. Oh my sweet, sweet lord had I never known such fantasmagorical nutty choc nirvana before, but have revisited this magical place many times since. (Thank you Dreena, remind me to send you the bill when I need my door frames widened won’t you?) We knew the boys would love such a gooey treat but it was nearing their bedtime so we did what any responsible mother, aunt and uncle would do – we waited until we put the boys to bed and secretly ate it whilst they were sleeping. And do you know the worst part? We didn’t save them any to eat the next day, washed up the evidence and never told them what we did! I’m sure Karma will make us pay for our crimes eventually so keep your pointy judging fingers to yourselves please!
Nevertheless the fact remains; if I was offered that at a restaurant, I would jump at it and so would all my non vegan friends purely because it sounds so damn good. So if my friends would want it, why wouldn’t many other people? You see, vegan desserts aren’t just for vegans, they’re for everyone who loves something delicious and sweet to complete their meal. So come on restaurants, get wise and get some vegan treats on that dessert trolley…trust me, no-one will know unless you tell them!
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.
“Don’t Be Scared, It’s Just Food!”
The Caper Tree
PS – You may very well be wondering what I’m doing for Valentine’s night… Well , I have a rehearsal with my band every Monday night so it’s pretty safe to assume that none of us have been shortlisted for the ‘Most Thoughtful Lover’ Award this year, and we’re all sleeping on our couches for the night with nothing but a takeaway burger and a mere whiff of what could have been if we’d only rescheduled our bloody rehearsal ,to keep us company!
Chocolate Pie with a Pomegranate & Mint Crème
Well here it is, my final instalment of my Valentine’s Night menu. These little chocolate pies are deliciously rich and dense yet still quite light and not overpoweringly sweet. They are accompanied by a subtle yet lifting pomegranate and mint crème. If those little aphrodisiacal buds of the pomegranate don’t help you get in the mood for love, then I can do nothing more for you and you’re on your own! Feel free to add more Agave to the chocolate ganash and/or the crème if you like things a little sweeter but personally, I find the balance just right.
Again you can make these the day before. This may seem like an involved recipe and yes, it does take a little care and effort to get this right but it’s totally worth it, I promise. If you are really pushed for time and you want to make one big tart then the quantities are the same and it won’t take as long. If you absolutely have to buy pre-bought shortcrust pastry or pastry cases, then I won’t judge you too harshly but just remember to add more sweetness to the ganash if the pastry is unsweetened. Enjoy!
Serves: 8 individual pies or one big tart. (Keep them in the fridge for a week – they’re only little!)
Preparation time: (including chilling time) approx. 90 mins with cooking time: 30 mins
To Make The Pastry:
You Will Need:
A cupcake, muffin or Yorkshire Pudding tray
Greaseproof paper or Baking parchment
A glass measuring 8.5/9cm in diameter
140g Plain White Flour/All Purpose Flour
30g Cocoa Powder
15g Caster Sugar
85g Vegetable Shortening eg – Trex (pre-cut into small pieces & kept in fridge)
2tbsp Cold water (you probably won’t need it all)
Some Ceramic baking beans, Chick peas or Haricot beans for blind baking
One Palette Knife
A Pair Scissors
A pinch Salt
A little Oil for brushing
- Pre heat the oven to 200 oC (conventional) or 180 oC (fan)
- Make sure your shortening is kept in the fridge right up until you need it and your mixing bowl is as cold as possible.
- Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder & salt into a mixing bowl.
- Put the shortening into the flour mix and, using 2 table knives, use the knives like scissors to chop the shortening into the flour for a few minutes.
- Once it has worked its way into the flour, use your hands to ‘rub in’ the shortening. You do this by gently gathering the flour mix in the palms of your hands and gently rubbing it with your thumbs and fingers back into the bowl. You’ll see it start to form a dough.
- Gradually add a little of the water and, using one of your knives and your fingertips, mix it till it properly forms a paste. Add a little more water if necessary but Be Careful! You don’t want to add too much water.
- It should now look like a lump of smooth plastacine or as it is properly called, a paste. It is very fragile and prone to breaking so please treat it with great care.
- On a lightly floured surface, carefully roll out your paste till it is approximately 3mm thick.
- Take your glass and, placing it on the pastry, push down and make little pastry circles. You will need to re-form and re-roll the dough a few times to get your 8 circles.
- Lightly brush 8 of the holes of the cupcake or muffin tray with a little oil.
- Using your palette knife, gently remove the pastry circles from the board or work surface and place them gently into each of the holes in the muffin tray. Make sure they go all the way in, creating no air bubbles. Gently press them down using a little piece of the pastry so it doesn’t break.
- Place into the fridge to chill for at least 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, take a long strip of baking parchment and fold it in half, then half again and continue until you’ve done this at least six times. Place the glass on top of the parchment and draw around it. Take your scissors and cut around the circle. You should now have enough circles of parchment (or cartouches) to blind bake your pastry.
- Remove the pastry from the fridge and place a cartouche over each hole and gently press it onto the pastry. Add some baking beans into each hole, making sure the cartouche is touching the bottom all the way round, ensuring the pastry does not rise up when baking.
- Place into your preheated oven for 15 minutes.
- Remove from the oven. Gently lift up each cartouche and place the beans into a container, (keep them for future baking) and discard the cartouches. Return the pastry to the oven and cook for a further 10 minutes.
- The pastry should now be cooked. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tray. Do not touch the pastry or it will crumble!)
While the pastry cases are cooking, you can make the filling:
Preparation time: 40 minutes (including soaking time)
You will need:
300g Cashews (Raw, unsalted & unroasted)
200g Dark Chocolate Minimum 70% cocoa solids (but I recommend at least 85%)
1 single Vanilla pod seeds, scraped out (or 1 ½ tsp Vanilla Extract)
1 kettle Boiling hot water plus
100ml Boiling hot water
3 tbsp Dark Agave Syrup (light is also fine or maple syrup)
A pinch Salt
- Place the cashews in a mixing bowl and pour the boiling water over them, covering them completely. Cover with a lid and leave for at least 30 minutes.
- While they are soaking, melt the chocolate in a bain marie (A pan of hot/simmering water with a glass or metal bowl placed on top.) Break the chocolate into the bowl and stir occasionally until melted.
- Place 200g of the cashews into the blender and add the chocolate, agave, half the vanilla seeds, salt and 50ml of the hot water. Blend and pulse until smooth, stirring and scraping the sides down regularly. Add more of the hot water if necessary to achieve a smooth, rich yet spoonable paste. Set aside. (You’ll need the remaining 100g of cashews for the crème.)
- By now the pastry cases should have cooled, very gently remove them from the tray using the tips of your fingers and place on a cooling rack.
To make the Crème:
Preparation time: 5 minutes
You will need:
100g Soaked Cashew nuts (soaked from the previous recipe)
1 Pomegranate (reserve half of the seeds for decoration)
1 bunch Fresh mint (keep some for decoration)
Vanilla pod seeds or 1tsp vanilla extract
1tbsp Agave Syrup
- Remove the pomegranate seeds from the skin by cutting it in half, resting it on your open fingers and tapping the back of it with a wooden spoon. Do this over a bowl so all the seeds fall into it.
- Place half the seeds and all the other ingredients into the blender and blend until smooth, adding a bit more water if necessary. It should resemble the consistency of double cream.
- Carefully spoon the chocolate mixture into the pastry cases.
- Place a spoonful of pomegranate seeds onto each pie and decorate with a sprig of mint.
- Spoon a little crème onto a serving plate and decorate with more seeds and mint.
- Either warm the pie a little in a medium oven or serve at room temperature. Do not serve straight from the fridge.
- Place the pie on the plate and dust with icing sugar to finish.
- Serve immediately.
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