More than 150 pounds of chocolate, 100 pounds of cocoa powder and 20 years of sweet experience went into “Vegan Chocolate,” the bestselling cookbook by pastry goddess Fran Costigan. With tarts and truffles, cookies and creme and shower-stoppers like Sachertorte and Costigan’s childhood favorite, Brooklyn Blackout Cake, it’s a chocolate orgy that’s absolutely plant-based.
A classically trained pastry chef gone vegan, Costigan admits, “Vegan desserts had a bad rep to overcome.” Rather than suffering through a dusty-tasting carob cube masquerading as a brownie, for a time she shunned all sweets. This did not sit well with her family. Her son announced, “You’re not giving me a baked sweet potato for my birthday. Figure it out.” She did.
“A beautifully-made vegan chocolate dessert, with high-quality chocolate tastes as good — or better” than the same dessert loaded with cream, butter and eggs, says Costigan, who subtitles her book “Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts.” Turns out all that dairy traditional pastry chefs swear by doesn’t do a body good and doesn’t help the dessert, either. “The more fat that’s in a recipe, the less intense is the taste of the chocolate.“
Costigan has been the go-to girl for vegan pastry. She baked the wedding cake for Rip Esselstyn (“The Engine2 Diet”) and the sweet treats for the baby shower of “Vegucated” director/producer Marisa Miller Wolfson, but for “Vegan Chocolate,” she wanted to create recipes doable even if you’re not a vegan pastry diva. “Most of these recipes were brand new, ultimately tested by real people in real kitchens with an ordinary stovetop and oven.” How does a perfectionist like Costigan know when a recipe’s bookworthy? “When it is unapologetically delicious and works every single time. I want people to have success. I want their desserts to turn out right.“
Meticulous Costigan tried recipes repeatedly, trying different versions, testing how long things stayed fresh, how well they froze. It wasn’t all hardship. To perfect recipes, “you need to taste the chocolate, take nibbles of what you made. It’s a treat I enjoy eating every single day.” So how is it she’s willowy, not whale-shaped? “I didn’t eat the whole cake,” she says. “When you make something really delicious with real ingredients, your mouth knows it, your brain knows it, your body knows it. You feel satisfied.“
Chocolate is part of her daily diet, but so are soups and kale smoothies. “The main of my diet is plant-based whole foods. When I don’t have it, I feel unbalanced.“
Costigan grew up eating “canned and frozen food and Kraft macaroni and cheese. And chocolate ice cream for breakfast — my mother has a real sweet tooth,” she says. “She cannot get over the idea that I took such an interest in food. She thinks it’s great.“
She’s not alone. Costigan’s a sought-after instructor at Natural Gourmet Institute and other plant-based culinary academies and retreats, her pastry classes draw students from as far away as India and Israel, but “my chocolate classes always sell out first. It’s everybody’s favorite flavor,” she says. “It’s emotionally loaded. It melts at body temperature, it does a sexy thing in your mouth.“
But it has theobromine and serotonin and antioxidants, too, so chocolate is a good thing, right? “I never call dessert a health food. But consider the whole picture,” says Costigan. “Feeling happy is part of being healthy. I eat chocolate every day and I feel pretty happy.“
Do you know a Vegan of the Month? Submit your nomination and tell me in 100 words or less why your choice deserves to be Vegan of the Month Each month I pick a winner. The next Vegan of the Month could be you.