Do we ever stop getting a thrill from the mocha coloured caramel, shining atop the perfect surface of an orbicular creme caramel? Gently picking up the plate to rock it to a pleasing wibble. Before, slowly cutting through the dark, glossy top with a fine, antique spoon. Audibly sucking up a cool, flaxen coloured helping of intense, toffee sweet topping that sensually spills over the milky creme like rich satin. Then letting it disperse, seductively, on our tongue, making our heart race a little causing our blossoms to heave like a heroin in a Mills & Boon novel. Or is that just me?? (Ahem).
Now that I have discovered the delights of agar agar powder (a healthy, plant-based substitute for gelatin) after dozens of failed recipes using second-rate agar shards, or trying to reduce it to a powder (oft sited in mouthwatering recipes), in a coffee grinder, I am going back over past disasters to recreate desserts that transport me back to childhood, and cheeses that make me wonder why anyone would be anything but vegan.
Creme Caramel (sometimes known by the little less poetic pseudonym of flan, or custard pudding) is but one of these triumphs.
I buzzed around on the internet and gathered inspiration from a blogger whom I adore, Vegan Richa, and Mihaela, the Bulgarian writer of the blog Good Natured Food. Hers did not turn out so perfectly as she’d hoped, so I played and adapted her recipe until it was just like the non-vegan version I remembered. I brought it up to date with that sweet and salty thing we all seem to love at the moment, and delicately crumbled sea salt into the caramel sauce. Lovely!
1 tbs Xylitol powder (grind granules in a coffee grinder)
Place your coconut sugar and xylitol into a small saucepan with the water and slowly bring to a rolling boil. Once the bubbles meet in the middle and it is beginning to smell of rich, sweet caramel, remove from the heat so as not to burn. Carefully (it is very hot and would give a nasty burn) divide caramel into your four ramequins. Allow to cool. Crush a scattering of sea salt into each ramekin (I’ve even added chilli flakes at this point, I love that surprising kick..but for this recipe let’s keep it elegant)
Meanwhile, it is time to make your ‘creme’ part of the recipe. Pour your vegan milk into a medium saucepan. For this we use half and half of the xylitol and coconut sugar. The coconut sugar adds a richness but we want the creme to be lighter and not so toothsomely sweet as the sauce.
Mix the arrow root and agar agar powder with a dash of milk, I use a little cup to do this. Mixing rather than adding straight to your warming milk ensures your creme is smooth and silky and sans lumps! Add the sugar and gently whisk. When granules are not longer visible, slowly drizzle the agar/arrowroot mix into the milk.
When the creme sauce begins to thicken it is then ready to slowly pour into the ramekins on top of the caramel sauce. Allow to cool slightly and then very gently place the ramekins into the fridge to set and chill.
After an hour, the creme will have set. Now it is time to plate up. I approach this part of the making with part excitement and part trepidation. Get the saucer/serving plate, you will serve the creme on and pop it on top of the ramekin. Gently flip the plate (hold onto that ramekin!) so the ramekin is on top of the saucer. Now put the saucer down onto a countertop and hold the ramekin. Gently wobble the ramekin a little, whilst keeping it close to the saucer. You should be rewarded with pleasing sucking sound as it succumbs to gravity and drops to the plate. If it doesn’t, then gently turn the ramekin back over and use a small sharp knife to loosen the edges, taking care not to cut into the edges. Do the steps again, the coaxing stops any stubbornness.
Besides it being a kinder, non-animal derived gelling substance, 80% of agar is fibre. It is lower in calories than gelatine, and the fibre from the algae (yes it is a flavourless seaweed), swells up and makes you feel fuller and sated for longer.
Note* Agar will require a much higher content in liquids containing vinegar or foods that contain high levels of oxalic acid, such as chocolate, rhubarb and spinach (the acid makes it more difficult to gel).
I hope you enjoy!
What is your favourite veganized dessert?
Following up on my recent trip to New York, I wanted to tell you about Smorgasburg (see what they did there..). It is an open air local artisan food space, located on the Brooklyn side of New York. In a gentrified hipster area of once was dockyards and now a place where the good, the great, the gorgeous and the gorging gather. It happens at weekends at two locations; Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 5 and Williamsburg. So, decide when and where. Rock up with a gnawing appetite, go on a once-around-the-park recee of what is on offer. Choose your dining experience for today, and then grab a sit or stand at the waters edge and gawk at the Manhattan skyline. It’s right there. In front of you. All around you actually. I almost forgot there was all this awesome vegan food being prepared right behind me!
I made my way there for a bit of indecent food appreciation. There are over 60 vendors there each week. These were all my vegan and gluten free finds.
Bunna Cafe now with an ‘under roof’ location, too.
Kombucha made in Brooklyn. They sell at outlets and you can also buy one of their kombucha making kits. When I’m not travelling around I usually have a large jar of kombucha on the go. It is a wild, weird and wonderful thing. I whole heartedly recommend!
Buddah bowls from Mamak
Was it National Check Shirt Day?!
Bombay Sandwich Co. The sign says it..vegan*local*vedic
Fine & Raw with samples of their delicious raw chocs.
Incredibly good raw chocolate from Fine & Raw
The 3 Nuts Goodness stuffed into jars. Nuts with benefits.
Salted Caramel Peanut Butter – Yep!
This was my choice from Chickpea & Olive (current ‘rave’ of the The Gothamist), a vegan pop-up diner. I feasted on a Phatty Beets Slider with aubergine ‘bacon’ on griddled gluten free bread. Pinch me!
I made this a place to stroll too for brunch on a couple of weekends. When the temperatures drop wickedly in winter, Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea (clothes, jewellery, vintage, art) all huddle up, cozy in their winter location until March.
I met with a very interesting artisan vegan ‘kitchen biologist’. I’ve got that post coming up for you in 2014.
Thanks for reading! x
The temperatures may have been dropping in New York, and the thought of a cold salad may not have been on the top of my list, but if my little ears get wind of a raw food restaurant I am on Google and mapping my way to it quicker than you can say ‘activated nuts’!
The India Platter was a Mali Kofta, chickpea and vegetable balls covered in a curried almond sauce, served with mango chutney and cucumber raita. It was creamy pillows of curried heaven.
Our second choice had to be the
Flax and corn enchiladas with ‘refried’ beans, ‘cheese’, dowsed in mole and guajillo chilli sauce. My dining partner had long been a fan of the Mexican Platter but his allegiance shifted that night to the Indian plate. Honestly, I’d happily choose either of them.
There are a few cooked items on the menu, sadly it was a one time visit on this trip so I cannot vouch for those. Their menu is extensive with original, amazing sounding appetisers and entrees (they have a dish called fofu? I’m waiting on a reply from them to enlighten me to what that may be). They serve shakes, raw pies and puddings, too. Their website is a bit odd. On face value it looks like they only deliver, this is obviously not the case.
New York never fails to be so vibrant and utterly entertaining. I captured a great moment on the subway This guy was the icing on the cake to a great night. He just walked up and started showing some moves. Only in New York?!
Special thanks goes to Green’s Original Gluten Free Beer available in Europe and a few countries outside. Approved by the Coeliac UK and The Vegetarian Society UK for making my alcohol infused foray into food possible. Have you heard of Barnivore too? They have an online vegan, beer, wine and liquor guide.
See you tomorrow! xx
OhLaLa V Tartes Cafe is located in the Friedrichschain kiez of Berlin. Two blocks from my favourite Saturday Farmers market on Boxhagener Strasse (wonderful seasonal produce, a great place to gather AND the only place I found fresh, bio organic kale).
The cafe is owned by an artfully tattooed, Parisian pastry chef, Clarissa Orsini. It began as a non-vegan cafe, serving quiches and crepes, and started offering a fully vegan, Saturday brunch, in 2011. The cozy, pink-themed cafe has minimal seating inside, and pavement dining with few tables outside so you can enjoy the sun. It’s an open kitchen so you can watch the chefs busy preparing the food to replenish the counter with breakfast items.
Everything is so dainty. So French. Tiny morsels to devour slowly.
I didn’t go on the once a month gluten free day, but I still had plenty of choice. Polenta cakes with sun dried tomato tapinade. Roasted squash, gazpacio soup in pretty little ramekin. Fresh green salad with strawberries and flaked almonds. Raw Zucchini pasta with marinara sauce (best I’ve ever eaten). Smoked tofu. I was irked that the soy based fricassee was NOT gluten free (they use soy sauce with wheat, which is surprising…just as easy these days to use tamari), it looked so good. On the day I visited they had plates of muffins with a swirl of vegan cream atop, crepes and croissants too. Sadly not gluten free.
If you tell them you are gluten free they will give you some rice cakes too if you like. I spooned over mounds of apricot jam on mine as a sweet end to brunch.
Their gluten free vegan brunch is the last Saturday of the month (check in the summer as they may be away for summer break)
The rest of the week the cafe offers quiche, stews and tarts a la Francais. Some of which are gluten free. The staff are very knowledgeable on what contains gluten and, thankfully, some speak English, so do ask.
I recommend you reserve in advance. Also, if you can be strong willed, walk past the sweet items and try the salads, ratatouille and stews first or you’ll never reach them!
ohlala had a lovely atmosphere. The air was being littered with beautiful French language. Lots of ‘merci beau coups’ passing around. agréable!
Photos fail to capture these two amuse bouche desserts, best sides. Chocolate mousse and creamy rice pudding, served on a white spoon and in a tiny little cup. I had three helpings.
Weekend brunch seems to be the thing here in Berlin. A time for all to relax, gather with friends and eat great food. You are spoilt for choice. If you are vegan, it narrows it down a little. Gluten free? further narrowing, but still plenty of choice.
If you head to Prenzlauer Berg, you’ll find Cafe Morgenrot. It is a Berlin kollectiv. They believe breakfast/brunch should be affordable for all, so they have the quirky idea of offering their buffet on a sliding scale. The idea is richer people will pay a little more so the less rich can indulge within their means.
The atmosphere is good. Background music to suit all tastes. The staff (thankfully) speak English if your German language skills are wanting (such as mine). It is all you can eat (lethal for some…me!). It is not all vegan, but the vegan options are mostly marked, so do ask to be sure. If you tell them you are celiac or gluten intolerant they will make sure you are safely guided. They offer a great selection of salads, vegan cheeses, lots of amazing spreads and dips. Cereal, yogurt, jams..of course PB.
All I tried was pretty good. Coconut marinated tofu (good but I prefer my tofu a bit more macho..I’m not a ‘silken’ fan..unless it is in a phd), green salad, veggie crudités. What had me returning for a refill? The humous was delicious. The vegan cream cheese spread was dazzling (can a cheese spread be dazzling? this was..it was light pillows of savoury mousse), and the tofu scramble, flecked with vegetables and mushrooms…so GOOD.
They were constantly refilling and took a lot of care over presentation. They obviously care about their offering and this is always a good thing to witness.
I didn’t get a photo of the soy yogurt and the chocolate cream/spread but it was devilishly good. My greedy eyes clocked a gluten free and vegan cake in the chill cabinet. Made by Eve, one of the kollectiv. Finding gluten free and vegan is not always an easy task so I take my opportunities when they present themselves. I got some to go and slowly devoured it that evening. A hazelnut base, topped with a layer of chocolate cream and then a generous layer of cherry compote. It was pretty near perfect.