What do you think of when you read the phrase "delicious dessert"? Sugar, for sure. Chocolate, perhaps? Butter? How far down your mental list would you have to go before you thought of anything with the word "VEGAN" on its packaging? My guess is, pretty far.
Most pastry chefs avoid vegan territory like plague and for good reason - it's hard to make good vegan substitutes for traditional western desserts. Pastry is a science and dessert recipes are highly dependent upon the specific physical properties of their ingredients - melting/boiling points, fat percentage, crystal size/structure, etc. Before you know it, you're breaking out your high school physics book! And now that you're truly intimidated, I'm here to tell you that all is not lost. There are some desserts that actually make this transition fairly easily and one of them is a summer favorite of mine - panna cotta.
Traditional panna cotta is a blend of dairy and sugar set with gelatin. This may not sound promising but easy vegan alternatives are available for all three of these ingredients. For dairy, I'll be using coconut milk, but almond and soy are also great options. For sugar, we just have to use a certified organic variety to avoid bone char filtration used in processing some refined cane sugars. For gelatin, we'll be breaking out the seaweed in the form of agar powder. Agar sets a bit more firmly than gelatin and has the added benefit of staying firm even if your dessert sits out in a warm environment - panna cotta on the porch for the win! To make our dessert even more decadent we'll also add some carob chips. Carob, derived from an evergreen shrub, is often used as vegan substitute for chocolate. Here, its fruit-forward flavor is an excellent foil for the creamy coconut milk and complements a garnish of fresh berries.
Vegan “Chocolate” Coconut Panna Cotta
4 cups coconut milk, divided
½ cup organic cane sugar, divided
4 ½ oz vegan carob chips
1 teaspoon agar powder, divided
- Place ramekins or glasses in the freezer to chill.
- Divide coconut milk and sugar equally between two medium sauce pans. Warm gently on medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add carob chips to one of the pots and stir until melted.
- Add ½ tsp agar powder to each pot and stir to dissolve. Cook on medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, then continue to cook for another 4 minutes to activate agar powder.
- Remove from heat and pour the first layer into your glasses and chill until lightly set. Continue to add additional layers in the same fashion.
Another way to keep your desserts vegan but add a punch of flavor is by using nuts. Try our Baked Apple with Cashew Cream as another vegan dessert option.
If you want more vegan recipes, sign up for our upcoming vegan cooking class at The Chopping Block: Vegan Voyage: New Summer Menu which includes a delicious Peach Blueberry Cobbler.
We just released all of our June cooking classes last week. Have you checked out the calendar yet?