MY FAVORITE PEOPLE, MY FAVORITE RECIPES: FRAN COSTIGAN
I knew she was:
- A classically-trained pastry chef (butter, white sugar, eggs, dairy, all that)
- The doyenne of vegan desserts — real ones you’d actually want to eat. She baked Rip Esselstyn’s wedding cake, okay?
- A force of nature, a high-energy New Yorker and a redhead
- The creator of Vegan Baking Boot Camp Intensive®, the gold standard of vegan indulgences
Somehow, I wasn’t prepared for her being more fun than her slender frame would indicate. Well, doh, why would the author of the bestselling Vegan Chocolate be anything less than a great time?
Fran is a natural innovator, so it’s a perfect fit for her be the online goddess at Rouxbe. You no longer have to fly to a bricks-and-mortar culinary academy to learn the Fran factor, you can get it right from your own laptop. Just as well — she travels so much, I swear I need to microchip her to find her on any given day. But her long, loving, effusive e-mails and our rare but delicious phone calls make me feel close to her, no matter where she is. She’s the next best thing to chocolate. And I’d say that even if she hadn’t provided this guest blogpost.
Hi my name is Fran and I am a vegan pastry chef. Wow, do I get responses. As a 25-plus year vegan I still hear, “Where do you get your protein? Mostly, though, people ask if desserts can possibly have a place in a healthful diet. Well, while my daily diet finds me eating from plates that are filled to the brim with all colors of vegetables, beans/pulses, and fruit, I do save room for treat. Every day. It might be a baked apple, a dish of seasonal fruit compote, or a slice of Ganache Glazed Chocolate Cake to Live For. The desserts are one hundred percent delicious and satisfying and the portion size is rather smaller than what you’d find in many shops and restaurants. You know what I mean–the muffins for four or truffle the size of a golf ball. On recipe testing days, I take the smallest tastes—my grandchildren’s baby spoons come in handy, — and keep a pot of miso soup with ginger and extra greens on the stove.
I aim to be a truth teller. I’ll never name dessert one of the five food groups, but I do consider the whole picture. Chocolate is a bean but it is not a salad. I don’t believe that all sugar is sugar. Less refined sweeteners digest more slowly, but my students, and readers know that I am clear —there is no holy grail of sweetener. Over the years, it has become my mission to offer clear instruction and carefully tested recipes for desserts that will satisfy everyone, whether or not dietary considerations are an issue. I’ve taught in cooking schools, at corporations and festivals, on cruise ships and in a villa in Italy. It’s always the same—the light in the eyes, the “I Can’t Believe This Is Vegan” smile. In my experience, offering luscious familiar desserts is an important way to open the conversation about eating plant-based.
A long time ago, when I moved from working in a traditional egg- butter-white sugar pastry kitchen to choosing a vegan macrobiotic diet, I deemed all desserts evil — that is, until I noticed strict dessert avoiders literally drinking maple syrup out of the jugs in the back of my cooking classes. I missed the crunch of a cookie. To me, that cookie is the exclamation point of a meal and I feel satisfied.
When my preteen son worried he might be blowing out birthday candles in baked sweet potatoes, it was time to hit the vegan pastry test kitchen to see if I could adapt favorite versions of traditional desserts to unapologetically delicious ones. My criteria: use real ingredients, and if the result was ‘this is good for what it is’—it’s either a try again or no go. My breakthrough cake, The Chocolate Cake to Live For, is so named since my testers danced around the room saying just that.
But back to the question, can desserts have a place in a healthful diet? Of course! Vegans have birthdays, anniversaries, weddings (yes, I made Rip Esselstyn’s chocolate wedding cakes!), we celebrate holidays with our families and may be called on to bring treats to a bake sale.
Drumroll please! To answer the needs of the hundreds of people who want to learn to make excellent vegan desserts, but were unable to make it to NYC, or were closed out of my twice-yearly Vegan Baking Boot Camp Intensive®, I’ve partnered with the renowned Rouxbe Cooking School to bring an Essential Vegan Desserts Course online. The three month intensive will cover the essentials of vegan baking and pastry techniques—tested and proven formulas and approaches to making quality pastry products that stand up to any dessert, anywhere. The inaugural course begins November 10th 2016. Seating is limited. Grab your seat now!
And invite everyone… Break bread together and keep the party going.
Chocolate Pecan Cranberry Coffee CakeRecipe reprinted from Vegan Chocolate by Fran Costigan (Running Press 2013) Cranberries, pecans, and oats are health-promoting foods, and I prefer them in this recipe. But feel free to use any combination of dried fruit and nuts you like. As a beach lover, my visual cue for the crumb, which needs to be moistened but not wet, is the consistency of damp sand. www.francostigan.com
- 1/2 cup / 57 grams dried cranberries
- Zest and juice of a medium organic orange
- 3/4 cup pecans roasted and cooled, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup rolled oats toasted and cooled (
- 1/2 cup organic whole cane sugar ground in a blender until powdered
- 2 tablespoons mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons vegan chocolate chips
- 1 cup organic all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup organic whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup organic granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil or another neutral oil
- 3/4 cup pure maple syrup Grade B or dark amber
- 3/4 cup any nondairy milk
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon pure orange oil optional
- 1/3 cup vegan chocolate chips
- Make the Crumb: Mix the cranberries and orange juice in a small bowl and soak for 10 minutes, or until softened. (The amount of time needed depends on the dryness of the fruit.)
- Drain the cranberries, reserving 1 tablespoon / 15 ml of the juice. Return the cranberries to the bowl, and add the pecans, oats, whole cane sugar, zest, and oil. If the crumb is dry, add the reserved tablespoon of juice. Think damp sand. Stir the chips into the crumb and set aside while you make the cake.
- Make the Cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F / 180C. Oil the sides and bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with a parchment circle (or paper cut to fit). Do not oil the paper.
- Place a wire mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Add the all-purpose flour, pastry flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt to the strainer and stir with a whisk to sift the ingredients into the bowl. (If any small bits remain in the strainer, add them to the mixture in the bowl.) Whisk to aerate the mixture.
- Whisk the oil, maple syrup, nondairy milk, vanilla, vinegar, and orange oil (if using) in a separate medium bowl until completely combined. Immediately pour into the dry mixture and whisk until the batter is smooth. Stir the chocolate chips into the batter.
- Pour about half the batter into the prepared cake pan. Sprinkle with half the crumb, going light on the center. Pour the remaining batter over the crumb, using a small spatula or thin knife to spread batter to the sides of the pan if necessary. Sprinkle the remaining crumb over the batter, again keeping the center relatively light on crumb.
- Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the cake has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan and a wooden toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs.
- Cool the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Place a piece of parchment on top of the cake and invert. Remove the pan and carefully peel off the parchment paper. Invert the cake again, top side up on the rack and cool to room temperature before cutting and serving.
NotesServe the cake at room temperature, or warm slices in the oven at 325 ̊F / 160 ̊C for 5 minutes. If you are glazing the cake, wait until after it is warmed and drizzle with Chocolate Confectioners’ Sugar Glaze. Store the cake in a covered container overnight at room temperature. Refrigerate wrapped for up to three days.