Using Natural Baking Ingredients to Create Healthy Vegetarian Desserts

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

These healthy vegetarian desserts are delicious and nutritious because they use all natural ingredients.

Healthy Vegetarian Desserts

Stina’s Apple Cake Recipe
Dark Gingerbread Recipe
Maple Lace Oatmeal Cookie Recipe
Sesame Seed Cookie Recipe
Hermits Spicy Fruit and Nut Cookie Recipe
Baked Honey Custard Recipe

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 vegetarian 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!

See the vegetarian dessert recipes at the top of this article.

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.