The Little Vegan Dessert Cookbook. By Laura Crotty. Lincoln
Square Books. $19.99.
Packaged as something between a must-have
kitchen tome for vegans and an offbeat gift book for a vegan friend, Laura
Crotty’s The Little Vegan Dessert
Cookbook is a clever concept for a self-limited audience. Packed with
old-fashioned, mostly 1950s illustrations reflective of the original recipes on
which Crotty’s vegan variations are based, the book is designed to give vegans
a way to conform to their dietary choices and beliefs while still enjoying
s’mores, coffee cake, cranberry loaf, and more.
Crotty, a collector of old cookbooks, uses
recipes from a selection of them as the foundation of the items here,
essentially looking for standard vegan substitutions for the absolute
necessities of baking, such as eggs and butter. No dedicated vegan will
actually know whether these desserts approximate the taste of the originals –
that would require trying the non-vegan versions and comparing the two types.
So the question for anyone interested in Crotty’s approach is not “do these
taste like the originals?” but “do these approximate the originals in
appearance and also taste good?”
On the appearance issue, Crotty is
generally successful: the unbaked batters often look different from those using
traditional ingredients, but the finished products appear more or less the same
– especially in light of the fact that different people’s versions of the same
recipe, vegan or not, tend to look different. The doughnuts and some of the
cookies have perhaps more variation from those made with traditional
ingredients than the bars and cakes, but everything looks fine and nothing
proclaims “vegan!” through appearance alone.
As for taste – well, it is a matter of
taste. Dedicated vegans will have nothing with which to compare these recipes,
and vegan bakers will find nothing particularly unusual in employing ingredients
such as coconut sugar (which is dark-colored and not very sweet) and aquafaba
(the cooking liquid that remains when beans and other legumes are prepared). Non-dairy
butter tastes virtually identical to traditional butter, and when recipes call
for chocolate, Crotty simply uses Baker’s brand semi-sweet chocolate bars –
whose appeal transcends the vegan lifestyle. On the other hand, although oat
milk is often a good substitute for cow’s milk, it does change the consistency
and taste of some foods; and the egg substitutions here can have a significant
impact on the mouth feel and consistency of the finished products – for
example, Crotty says it is possible to use mashed banana or a mixture of
vegetable oil with water and baking powder, but these two alternatives produce
very different results from each other and from using real eggs.
Generally, the recipes here with the
fewest ingredients tend to be the most satisfying, and for non-vegans who want
to try some vegan treats, are likely to taste most familiar. Shortbread
cookies, for example, simply include all-purpose flour, semi-sweet baking
chocolate, non-dairy butter, and coconut sugar – the first three ingredients
being nearly identical to ones non-vegans would use. Pineapple cake, on the
other hand, requires a dozen elements, including aquafaba, whole-wheat pastry
flour, coconut oil and coconut sugar. And soda bread requires coconut sugar,
ground flaxseed and cashew milk. The soda-bread recipe also contains an error,
asking for “2 tablespoons butter, melted,” not specifying “non-dairy,” but
vegans will undoubtedly correct for this – and all readers will presumably be
unfazed by the other occasional mistakes in the book, such as “course” grain
rather than “coarse.” It is also worth noting that this is not strictly a
dessert cookbook: Crotty herself suggests using the doughnuts for breakfast,
and that is a good idea for the breads, too.
Ultimately, the test of any cookbook is not the cleverness of its premise but the quality of the food resulting from following its recipes. Vegans will be quite satisfied with Crotty’s ideas and will not generally find the recipes difficult to follow or the ingredients particularly exotic (by vegan standards). For non-vegans, especially ones who may already know and enjoy the original baked goods that Crotty modifies for the vegan palate, The Little Vegan Dessert Cookbook will be less satisfactory, because they will have something with which to compare these recipes and may not enjoy the result of that comparison. Or perhaps they will – certainly anyone wanting to experiment with vegan preparations can manage to do baking at this level without much difficulty. It is likeliest, though, that Crotty’s book, which at 84 pages is indeed little, will be useful strictly for those already committed to vegan eating; non-vegans will more likely want it as a gift for a vegan friend than for their own kitchens.