Friday, November 19, 2010

The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur: Over 140 Simply Delicious Recipes That Treat the Eyes and Taste Buds

The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur: Over 140 Simply Delicious Recipes That Treat the Eyes and Taste Buds
Author: Kelly Peloza
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (2010) (

It used to be that vegetarianism was only a movement led by pot-smoking, unshaven hippies. The general population’s entire knowledge of the phenomenon known as veganism was that it was followed by those same hippies who just marched on Parliament and threw cans of paint on their hamburger-grilling neighbours. If you, as an omnivore, was invited to a vegan’s home for dinner, you’d be dreading it – because after all, the only vegan foods in the universe had to be brown rice and black beans, a nut and lentil loaf or – God forbid – a dish with the spongy white block known as tofu. It’s not surprising that the mentality of vegan food as being bland, boring or even downright scary has persisted in today’s lay community, especially in my parent’s generation and older. Most conventional restaurants today are incredibly meat-centric, and the traditional “breakfast of champions” is still bacon and eggs, and until very, very recently you couldn’t buy a single prepared vegan product outside of a health food store. There is still a major imbalance in the modern grocery stores, even the most well stocked of the bunch: while you’ll find whole aisles dedicated to shrink-wrapped cuts of meat, a well-stocked deli, and maybe even butcher and fishmonger counters, (not covering the array of frozen, meat and/or cheese-based stuff of many frozen meals), the entire vegan-friendly stock may fill one cooler case and a handful of shelves.
Times are changing, though, and how! Vegetarianism is now as commonplace in society as omnivorous living, whether for health, economic, ecological or ethical reasons. Country-wide movements for the installation of “Meatless Mondays” are occurring in the USA – land of the burger and Texan steak – and Canadians dining on Alberta beef and Pacific salmon are encouraged to do the same. Even vegans are becoming mainstream, viewed by some sceptics or desperate individuals as a new “weight-loss” or “detox” fad, but seen far more frequently as simply another culinary lifestyle just like keeping Kosher or Halal. Vegan foodies are all over the media spectrum; blogging, on TV, and not least in the bookstore. Far from rehashing tired stir-fries and fruit salads while bemoaning the challenges of egg- and dairy-free cookery, authors like Kelly Peloza embrace the delicious and decadent side of life. In her work The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, Peloza dishes up over 140 recipes for every type of cookie you could ever want. From drop to bar, rolled cut-outs to no-bakes, the sweets are almost endless. Every offering is completely animal free – no dairy, eggs, or honey – and most can be made with ingredients found in any baker’s cabinet. If there is any stigma about the “difficulty” or expense of vegan baking lingering in your mind, Peloza effectively slays it with her chewy Giant Bakery-Style Double Chocolate Cookies (p. 78), spicy Chai Cookies (p. 17) and her Cashew Cappuccino Nanaimo Bars (p. 153).
I couldn’t resist trying my hand at those three sweet treats – being born with a chocolate addiction (inherited from the other women in the family!), a mother adoring coffee *almost* as much as chocolate and a best friend with a love for Chai tea, there was never any question as to the first recipes I’d try out! A skim through the fairly standard ingredient glossary and FAQ – in which Peloza reassures the reader that using a different sugar, agave colour or even flour refinement is totally fine – I dove headlong into the pages.
Even if you just have a single mixing bowl, no electric mixer and a couple cookie sheets, it’s perfectly possible – no, make that essential – to make a batch of Peloza's huge, rich chocolate-chocolate chip cookies. A microwave makes the preparation of the melted chocolate base super-simple (of course you could break out the double boiler), and the fact that you don’t even need to sift the cocoa powder into the batter means you can have CD-sized biscuits ready in under an hour. If you’re not a huge chocolate fan but have a love of soft, spicy cookies like snickerdoodles, Peloza’s written one of the most uniquely-flavoured recipes I’ve come across in her Chai Cookies. I’m not a Chai tea lover myself – the few times I’ve had it in front of me it went unfinished – but the mixture of spices both in and on these cookies smelled heavenly. I know the students coming into IHN clutching their Chai Lattes swooped down on them lickety-split and declared them nothing short of delicious. Being an ex-coffee hog with a patriotic heart, though, I think I looked forward to baking the Cashew Cappuccino Nanaimo Bars most. What can I say... I’m Canadian! I think I was probably asking for trouble after the other two easy successes, but decadence has it’s price, I suppose. Those bakers planning to make the cream-filled bars take note: the base of margarine, sugar, cocoa, soy milk, graham cracker crumbs, cashews, melted chocolate and Kahlua makes twice the amount the rest of the ingredients warrant, and takes a good extra 10 minutes to firm up at the temperature Peloza specifies and I highly suggest freezing the base for 45 minutes before spreading on the creamy filling. Do make sure to get a good brand of ground coffee for the filling as well – and since I didn’t have the optional coffee extract hanging around but still wanted the extra “pop” of flavour, I used both the recipe-stated Kahlua and a teaspoon of instant espresso powder. I was not disappointed with the flavour at all in the end, and the extra base dough that I eventually scraped off of the pan mid-bake made some very delicious chocolate-cashew cookies for my mom.
One of the coolest things I’ve found about Connoisseur is Peloza’s handy “hint dropping” throughout the pages. Whether it’s how to bake cookies in a toaster oven, cope with a food-related allergy or (most useful for omnivorous bakers) how to veganize a prized family recipe, the tips scattered through the book are valuable bits of information that you’ll find yourself using time and again. If you have a penchant for variations, there is no shortage of them here either. Don’t want plain vanilla in your gigantic bombs of chocolate deliciousness? Well, what about almond or coffee? If you love making biscotti every year as Christmas gifts, you’ll love the two “basic” recipes for the sweet (chocolate and vanilla) as well as 8 other variations to make everybody happy.

Needless to say, this is no health manual. Sure, there are no eggs or butter to contend with, but there is plenty of chocolate, margarine, sugar and nuts to make up for that. Really – if you’re out to bake cookies, the last thing you should be counting is a calorie or fat gram! Though there is a special section of the book dedicated to “Healthier Cookies and Baking for Specific Needs” (starting on p. 191), decadence is still far and away the bill of fare in Connoisseur. Regardless of your particular diet (or lack thereof), belief system or personal lifestyle, you are sure to find a host of new favourites in The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur. Many “traditional” bakers will marvel at the dangerously simple versions of “everyday” cookies as well as the ingenuity of Peloza’s inventions, and “traditional” eaters will be none the wiser.

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1 comment:

Kelly Peloza said...

Beautifully written review! I'm glad to hear the ingredients and recipes were easy to make!