I must admit that when I first flipped through Hannah Kaminsky’s latest book, I was a little skeptical, despite it’s enticing cover and photographs. Avocado in a pie? Basil in cookies? Olive oil ice cream?!? I was mildly terrified, but decided to be adventurous and chose 4 recipes to test – 3 adventurous ones and 1 safe one; just in case the rest failed. I went with the Avocado Creme Pie, Mexican Chocolate Creme Caramel, Sweet Basil Shortbread Cookies, and my safe choice was the Marbled Chocolate and Zucchini Bread. I lined up several recipe testers: my friends Dan & Amy, Nick, our roommate, Tyler, and, of course, myself and spent a weekend baking.
I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The Avocado Creme Pie was cool and creamy and the avocado flavor wasn’t overwhelming (which was a plus in my book, because I’m not a huge avocado fan so I only eat it in small doses), the Mexican Chocolate Creme Caramel was incredibly rich, the Sweet Basil Shortbread Cookies were a unique twist on an old favorite and the Marbled Chocolate and Zucchini Bread was moist and absolutely delicious!
I had all of my testers try every dessert, but the Mexican Chocolate Creme Caramel, because half of it was a failure and half of it came out great, so there wasn’t enough for everyone. The common consensus (3 out of 5) was that the Avocado Creme Pie was “Amazing!” Tyler was so into it he probably could have eaten the entire pie by himself! The second most popular item was the Marbled Chocolate and Zucchini Bread (recipe after the interview with Ms. Kaminsky!), which was my favorite. The Mexican Chocolate Creme Caramel was only tested by Nick and myself; we both thought it was rich and delicious, though a little grainy (perhaps I need to blend the tofu longer next time). The underdog was the Basil Shortbread Cookies, I enjoyed them, but no one else was a fan. I must admit I was forced to use dry basil in them because I couldn’t find any fresh basil anywhere, so they had a vague tea-like quality. I want to give them another chance and try them with fresh basil, like the author intended.
All of the recipes I chose were from the Spring section of Vegan Dessert: Sumptuous Sweets for Every Season. I can’t wait to try out recipes from the rest of the seasons. Summer includes recipes like Mean, Green Pistachio Ice Cream; Raspberry Cheesecake Popsicles (yum!); and Red, White and Blue Layer Cake. Autumn features favorite fruits and veggies of the season, like pumpkin and apples in recipes like, Candied Apple Cookies; Cranberry Custard Pie; Stuffed Cider Donuts and Pumpkin Butter Cookies! Winter includes Chestnut Muffins; Marzipan Tea Cake; Meringue Kisses (vegan meringue?!?); and Triple Ginger Cheesecake. Winter is followed by Components and Accompaniments, which includes recipes for Canine Cookies; Lady Fingers, Whipped Cream and more!
Ms. Kaminsky’s instructions are clear and concise and she uses ingredients that are fairly easy to find. All of the recipes are accompanied by stunning photographs that make your mouth water, taken by Ms. Kaminsky. The book includes an ingredients glossary, troubleshooting tips, a regular index and a food allergy index, which has the recipes broken up as gluten free, peanut free, soy free and tree nut free, which is very helpful. I highly recommend this book if you’re looking to break out of traditional baking and explore all of the flavors and tempting treats each season has to offer. I was so happy with the results of my test that my curiosity was piqued, so I did a short interview with Hannah Kaminsky:
SCV: What inspired you to use ingredients more commonly found in savory cooking, like avocado and basil, in your baking?
HK: I think that there are so many wonderful flavors and ingredients that are simply underutilized when it comes to desserts. So many fruits and vegetables that we might not think of as “sweet” actually have very powerful sweet flavors when coaxed through cooking and seasoning properly. It seems a shame to overlook these unique tastes, just because they’re not as familiar! There’s also that ever-present sense of seasonality that I take with me into the pastry kitchen, that pushes me to use what I have and what’s at its prime in that moment, rather than reaching for the mealy apples from cold storage in summer for example.
SCV: This book focuses on the seasons. When it comes to baking, do you have a favorite season? Why?
HK: Now that’s an easy one: Summer! It seems like everything is ripe and delicious all at once, with an abundance of berries, stone fruits, and so many other delicious ingredients that are practically self-contained desserts withough any further tinkering necessary. Savory chefs get more excited about Spring, what with the wild greens and baby vegetables that it brings, but summer is the height of seasonal baking in my eyes.
SCV: You wrote your first cookbook (My Sweet Vegan) at an early age (she was in high school!) – how long have you been baking/cooking?
HK: It’s curious to look back through my blog archives, because it ended up unintentionally chronicling my journey as a baker. As I started sharing my sweet creations about 5 years back, I started getting more and more experimental, writing my own recipes and sharing the resulting successes and failures. I was never formally taught, so it’s been a great learning experience just through trial and error, and the feedback through the blog. Cooking is in my blood though; my mom and both grandmothers are quite accomplished cooks and even before I realized that food was my passion, I was working at a vegan/vegetarian restaurant, Health in a Hurry, at age 16. It was my first job…and I still have it actually! Now I’m helping develop recipes and consult on marketing more often, but I still throw down in the restaurant kitchen at least once or twice a week these days.
SCV: So far both of your cook books have focused on sweets, any plans to write a book focusing on savory recipes?
HK: No solid plans right now, but I’d certainly love to explore my savory side more sometime in the future! For the time being though, I do frequently post main dishes, sides, salads, soups – you name it – on my blog. You can get all of those recipes for free, too, so be sure to check out the recipe index at http://bittersweetblog.wordpress.com/recipes-a-z/
SCV: I couldn’t help but notice that you included a dog treat recipe. I have yet to bake for my dogs (Ian and Harlow), but can’t wait to try it. Do you have a furry friend? If so, what’s their favorite treat?
HK: Yes, I make a point to always include at least one treat for our canine friends in each of my cookbooks! My constant companion is Isis, a sweet little Basenji, who is always willing to “help” clean up my edible messes, so it seems only fair that I reward her with a little something special every now and then. She’s not terribly picky, but some of her favorite morsels are actually cucumbers – stems, peels, pieces, anything! I guess I’m lucky she has such healthy preferences.
Marbled Chocolate and Zucchini Bread
6 Tbsp Non-Dairy Margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup Dark Brown Sugar, packed
1 2/3 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1/4 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Ground Cinnamon
2 cups Shredded Zucchini (2 small zucchinis did the trick)
3/4 cup Non-Dairy Milk (I used almond)
1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract (I used Frontier’s non-alcoholic vanilla)
1/4 cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips or finely chopped chocolate (I used Whole Food’s brand regular sized vegan chocolate chips)
Preheat oven to 350 F and grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.
With your stand mixer, cream the margarine and both sugars together thoroughly. Mix together the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, and cinammon in a separate bowl. Slowly add in the dry mix, giving the mixer time to catch up and incorporate the new ingredients. Mix until mostly smooth, but don’t go crazy and overdo it; a few lumps are just fine. Squeeze the shredded zucchini lightly to remove some of the excess water, and add that in along with the soymilk, vinegar and vanilla.
Divide the batter, pouring half into a separate bowl. Add cocoa powder and chocolate chips to one half and mix so that it’s smooth and homogeneous. Add alternate dollops of the plain and chocolate batter into your prepared pan until both are used up, and then run a spatula through the whole thing to lightly marble the two together.
Bake until wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out and moving to a wire rack.
Makes 10-12 servings.
Vegan Desserts: Sumptuous Sweets for Every Season
By Hannah Kaminsky
Skyhorse Publishing Hardcover
On Sale: May 20, 2011