Using Natural Baking Ingredients to Create Healthy Vegetarian Desserts

An accomplished young cook, Julie Jordan, creates tasty, healthy vegetarian desserts using natural baking ingredients.
By Julie Jordan
March/April 1978

An apple cake layer following Julie Jordan's recipe in her book Wings of Life: Vegetarian Cookery.

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At 26, Julie Jordan already has quite a number of accomplishments to her credit. She's studied cooking at the Cordon Bleu in London and graduate nutrition and food science at New York's Cornell University and at Cabrillo College, California. She's then put what she's learned to good use as a professional cook at the MacDowell Artists' Colony in New Hampshire. And — in addition to teaching, lecturing and writing (the book from which the following recipes are reprinted, for instance) — Ms. Jordan now owns and operates a highly successful vegetarian restaurant — the Cabbagetown Cafe — in Ithaca, New York.  

Julie's quite intense about her chosen profession. "There's a new kind of cooking," she writes, "rising, bubbling, sprouting in our land. It's strong cooking, based solidly on foods the earth offers us. It's delicious cooking, flavored with the spices and traditional ingredients of many different cultures. But most of all, it's cooking that's bursting with creativity and genuine enjoyment of food. "  

In keeping with those observations, there are many excellent natural foods cookbooks available these days. But Julie's Wings of Life is one of the few to offer — besides recipes for appetizing breads and sauces and vegetable dishes — directions for putting together some of the most wonderful vegetarian desserts we've seen anywhere. And it's six of those marvelous vegetarian desserts that we've chosen as examples of Julie's inspired culinary style.  

Oh, and — just in case you're wondering — Wings of Life takes its name from a compliment once paid to one of Julie's heavenly untested loaves: "Thanks for the bread. That's not staff of life bread ... it's wings."  

Converting Your Favorite Dessert Recipes to Natural Baking Ingredients

Cookie and pie recipes are in general easily converted to natural baking ingredients. They'll simply be darker colored and more flavorful. But cakes are tricky. You can't make a butter cake recipe and substitute a liquid sweetening for the sugar. It won't work since butter and sugar must be creamed together to beat in the air which is essential to the cake's texture. Oil cakes, though (zucchini cake, carrot cake, oatmeal cake, etc.), can be easily converted.

I look first at the sweetening in a dessert recipe. White sugar is out for nutritional reasons. Brown sugar is okay if it's real, but commercial brown sugar in this country is simply white sugar with a little molasses, artificial color and artificial flavor added. The sweeteners I use are honey, maple syrup, molasses and sorghum.

Honey is the most useful in making substitutions. (You can use a little molasses with the honey for a stronger-tasting, darker dessert.) But honey is sweeter per volume than sugar. Therefore you can't substitute honey for white sugar on a 1-to-1 basis. You'll have to cut the quantity of honey down, say 3/4 cup of honey to 1 cup of sugar. You should also adjust the amount to your own taste ... I prefer even less sweetening than 3/4 cup.

Since honey, maple syrup, sorghum and molasses are liquids, you should cut down the liquid called for in the original recipe. If the recipe calls for 1 cup, reduce it to 3/4 of a cup. This will prevent your dessert from being dense and moist like pudding.

Desserts made with natural sweetenings will always brown more on the surface than desserts with sugar because of the chemical properties of the specific sugars they contain. To prevent excessive browning, I decrease the recommended oven temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the dessert slightly longer.

For the fat in any recipe, I use butter, not margarine. Sometimes I use tahini (a thin butter made by grinding hulled sesame seeds) or peanut butter. In recipes calling for oil, I use a good-flavored unrefined one. Peanut oil, sesame oil and corn germ oil taste especially good in baked goods. (I think dessert recipes are normally too rich as well as too sweet, so I cut back on the butter or oil called for.)

I prefer baking soda to baking powder since most baking powders contain aluminum. When you use baking soda, you must add an acid food to react with the soda and produce carbon dioxide gas to leaven your dessert. (Baking powder doesn't require such an addition since it already contains a material which releases carbon dioxide.) For 1 teaspoon of baking powder in a recipe, substitute 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda plus 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice or 1 1/2 teaspoons of vinegar or use 1/2 cup of buttermilk in place of 1/2 cup of milk.

Whole wheat pastry flour substitutes nicely for white flour in all dessert recipes. Start out using an equal volume. Since whole wheat pastry flours vary in their protein content and thus in their ability to take up water, however, be prepared to add extra flour if your batter seems watery. Hard whole wheat flour (bread flour) can be used for cakes, cookies and pies. It will make a tougher, more bready dessert.

Finally, I like to add lots of dried fruits and nuts to after-dinner treats. Rather than apologizing for natural baking ingredients, desserts can glory in them!

Stina's Apple Cake Recipe

You won't believe how good this is.


2 big apples
2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter (1/4 pound)
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract


1. Slice the apples and mix them with the cinnamon. Set aside.

2. Mix the flour and baking soda. Using 2 forks or a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pieces and evenly mixed.

3. Make a well in the center of the flour and butter, and in the well, mix the honey, buttermilk and vanilla. Mix them into the flour and butter, stirring just enough to combine.

4. Butter a 9-inch cast-iron frying pan, or a 9-inch, round, deep cake pan. Put in some batter, then a layer of apples, then more batter. Continue layering until everything is used up. End with batter on top. (Fill the pan only two-thirds full. If you have extra batter and apples, bake them in another pan.)

5. Bake in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until the center of the cake is firm.

Yield: One 9-inch round cake 

Gingerbread Recipe

A moist and tender dark-black gingerbread which is very simple to make. Serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Or serve it with a big bowl of yogurt fruit salad for a summer dinner.


1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp dry ginger
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour


1. Put the butter, molasses and honey in a pot and cook until they boil.

2. Remove from the heat, add the baking soda and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon.

3. Add the buttermilk and the egg. Then mix in the salt, ginger and flour.

4. Pour the batter into an assortment of buttered pans, filling each about two-thirds full.

5. Bake in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for about 15 minutes or until the centers of the cakes are firm.

Variation: Use whole wheat bread flour and add 1 cup of chopped raisins. This is more like bread and is very good with Cheddar cheese.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8 

Maple Lace Cookies Recipe

A delicate oatmeal cookie with the rich flavor of maple syrup.


1/2 cup butter (1/4 pound) 
3/4 cup maple syrup 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
1/2 tsp sea salt 
1 tsp baking soda 
2 cups rolled oats 
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour 


1. Beat the butter with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the maple syrup and vanilla.

2. Mix in the salt and baking soda, then stir in the rolled oats. Stir in flour and mix until smooth.

3. Drop the batter onto buttered cookie sheets with a teaspoon. Leave the cookies plenty of room to spread out.

4. Bake in a 325 degrees Fahrenheit oven for about 15 minutes or until the cookies are firm. Let the cookies cool a few minutes on the trays to set before you remove them. Lace cookies have a very fragile texture.

Yield: 3 to 4 dozen 

Sesame Cookies Recipe

Filled with the crunch of sesame seeds.


2 cups unhulled sesame seeds
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 1/2 cups honey
2 eggs
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp baking soda
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour


1. Toast the sesame seeds in a frying pan or in the oven until they're light brown.

2. Mix together the peanut butter and honey. Add the eggs, lemon juice and vanilla. Mix in the sesame seeds.

3. Mix in the salt and baking soda, then stir in the flour and mix until smooth.

4. Drop the batter onto buttered cookie sheets with a teaspoon.

5. Bake in a 325 degrees Fahrenheit oven for about 15 to 17 minutes or until the tops of the cookies start to brown.

Yield: 5 to 6 dozen 

Hermits Recipe

An orange, spicy fruit and nut cookie.


1 cup tahini (see introduction)
1 cup honey
2 tbsp molasses
3 eggs
Grated rind of 2 oranges
1 1/2 to 2 cups raisins
1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped dates
1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp baking soda
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour


1. Mix together the tahini, honey and molasses. Add the eggs, orange rind, dried fruits and nuts.

2. Mix in the spices and baking soda, then stir in flour and mix until smooth.

3. Drop the batter onto buttered cookie sheets with a teaspoon.

4. Bake in a 325 degrees Fahrenheit oven for about 15 minutes or until the tops of the cookies start to brown. (These cookies are best if they're soft after they're baked.) Loosen the cookies from the pans immediately after removing from the oven.

Yield: 5 to 6 dozen 

Baked Honey Custard Recipe

This custard has a delicate honey flavor. Serve it cool: It tastes even better frosty cold than it does warm from the oven.


6 eggs
1/2 cup honey
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Whisk the eggs, honey and salt together in a mixing bowl.

2. Heat the milk, and add it slowly to the egg mixture, whisking constantly.

3. Stir in the vanilla.

4. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish or into 8 individual custard cups.

5. Bake in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for about 1 hour or until the custard is firm and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Variations: Sprinkle the top of the unbaked custard with freshly grated nutmeg, stir grated fresh coconut into the unbaked mixture or drop slices of banana evenly over the pre-oven custard (they'll float on top).

Yield: Serves 8 

From Wings of Life: Vegetarian Cookery by Julie Jordan, copyright 1976 by the author and reprinted with the permission of The Crossing Press, Trumansburg, New York 14886. 

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