Monday, July 25, 2011

Vegan Desserts: Sumptuous Sweets for Every Season

Vegan Desserts: Sumptuous Sweets for Every Season
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing (2011)

Hannah Kaminsky is nothing short of a Jill-of-all-trades. The author of an award winning and well written blog ( packed with delicious recipes, gorgeous photos and fantastic tips, she also finds time to create and share adorable knitted creations, have a personal presence on Twitter, and pen several cookbooks. Five of these are e-books, ranging from lunch box goodies to homemade candy and even ice cream, while the two she has in print concern some of the fancier or more complex dessert options that exist. Every single recipe and aspect of her blog is completely vegan, and while she does include savoury mains and other items, it is clear that her passion lies in the art of baking. Coupling her gift at writing with her love for all things sweet, Kaminsky’s second cookbook, Vegan Desserts: Sumptuous Sweets for Every Season, will make a dessert lover out of anyone.

This compact, beautiful recipe collection is composed of over 100 offerings: pies, ice creams, cookies, crisps, cakes and muffins to name a few. What makes this book a joy to cook from is it’s attention to the seasonality of the kitchen – the recipes are divided by the seasons, and are “heavier” or “lighter” accordingly. Kaminsky stresses ingredients that are as fresh, seasonal and nutritious as possible, and as a result many of the desserts featured in this book are allergy-friendly as well. Allergen-appropriate offerings are included under their relevant headings (gluten-, peanut-, tree nut- and soy-free) in a separate index (p. 236). The inclusivity of all those with a sweet tooth is refreshing in a dessert book when so many are filled with these, along with eggs and dairy. Kaminsky also includes an intensive “dictionary” of sorts regarding her choice ingredients, tools and substitutions (p. 3), and for those who are a bit greener in the bakeshoppe (vegan or otherwise), there’s also an interesting and helpful “troubleshooting” section filled with her personal experiences and solutions (p. 16).

Given that the ingredients Kaminsky chooses to utilize are dependent on the seasons and often reflect her own personal grocery availability, some of them are not what you would usually expect to find on the dessert table. Recipes like “Olive Oil Ice Cream” (p. 56), “Black Pearl Truffles” (p. 172) with black sesame seeds and wasabi and “Raspberry Lavender Cupcakes” (p. 103) were a bit beyond me, although I know they probably taste fabulous and variations are seen at fine restaurants worldwide. There are certainly “tamer” recipes included in Vegan Desserts as well – rugelach, biscotti, and Raspberry Mocha Semifreddo (p.104) make appearances and (as with every recipe) are accompanied by bright, full-colour photographs.

I did find the courage, after seeing Kaminsky’s generous use of herbs in sweet treats, to attempt one of the more “unusual” cookies in Vegan Desserts – a tender cookie she calls “Sweet Basil Shortbread” (p.68). Laced with lemon juice and zest and rich from the vegan margarine and powdered-sugar base, tiny little specks of green pepper the otherwise flawless face of the sweets. Not having any basil in the garden (and loath to buy some as I personally cannot stand the flavour), I utilized what I was growing out in the backyard – lemon thyme, lemon balm and pineapple sage. The flavours of these herbs really shone through in the dough (as I’m sure the basil would have done) and everyone who tried them referred to them as “refreshing” and perfect for the warmer weather – even though it is a traditionally rich dessert! I can’t wait for the early fall apples begin appearing to try out the “Apple Spice Scrolls” on page 122, and my omnivore, “butter and eggs need to be in cake” mom even bookmarked the unique (and very Italian!) “Torta Al Vino” (p.166) which uses red wine, Champagne grapes, pine nuts and almond flour! While we aren’t growing the Champagne variety in our backyard vineyard, I’m sure we’ll find another sumptuous grape to match.

Like all good books, this one is not without it’s faults. However, Kaminsky has an answer for that too on her blog, under “Cookbook Errata” ( Every issue I noted while leafing through Vegan Desserts was caught by Kaminsky or another source and compiled in numerical page order, and many of them are minor adjustments to ingredients or method that would not have any major impact on the outcome of the dish. Updated photos of some of the recipes are also on her site or FlickR page, but rest assured this book is a photo album for any gastronome.

I really enjoy the layout, writing and recipes I found in Vegan Desserts: Sumptuous Sweets for Every Season. The appeal to my sweet tooth was just as great as the ability to use my local and seasonal produce was, and as a baker and lover of good food in general the uniqueness of the recipes provided food for much more than thought! Anybody with a sweet side to their tastebuds will find something to enjoy in this work – regardless of their diet, region or season.

Available on Amazon


BitterSweet said...

I'm so glad I caught your review, as it's easily among the most thorough and well-written ones I've seen! Thank you so much, I'm truly touched by this... And I can't wait to share it all around. Seriously, you sold this book better than I could! ;)

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