Once upon a time my dream was to have my own vegan bakery. I have always loved sweets and when I first went vegan it was rare to find cookies, cakes, muffins, and other desserts that had no eggs or dairy. So I would make my own. Over the past ten years I’ve realized two major points: 1) There has been a huge boom in the availability of vegan baked goods, both in packaged form at the grocery store and in the opening of many vegan bakeries around the country. I remember when there were only a few vegan cookbooks and now there are dozens. The internet has become a home to thousands of websites with recipes so that anybody can easily do a search and find what they need. Vegan treats are easy to come by these days and there is not as much of a niche as there once was… and 2) I am just not very good at the whole baking thing.
Sure, I made a few pretty spectacular baked desserts over the years but it was more like hit or miss. Once I began learning about nutrition my focus switched from vegan baked goods to healthy vegan baked goods. This meant instead of white flour I used whole wheat or some other whole grain. In place of granulated sugar I used maple syrup or dates. Instead of oil or Earth Balance I incorporated nut butters or coconut butter for healthy whole-food based fats.
My whole-grain, lower-sugar, no-refined oil cookies tasted just fine to me but to the average person who is used to and expects more of a traditional treat… well they did not always taste so great. That is why I was drawn to creating raw or semi-raw food desserts. Not only do they meet my standards for wholesome healthy ingredients, but pretty much everybody agrees that they taste incredible too. In fact they surpass any baked good nutritionally simply because they are not primarily composed of flour, sugar, and oil. Instead they are made of nutrient-rich ingredients such as nuts, nut butters, seeds, oats, and fresh and dried fruits. No baking, just blending. And they always come out tasting amazing!
My latest attempt at baking cookies was for Peter’s birthday last month. Without wanting to compromise my principles surrounding nutrition, I went to work in the kitchen with all my wholesome ingredients. My mission was to make Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies. Basically they consisted of buckwheat flour, maple syrup, coconut butter, almond milk, a broken up 70% cocoa chocolate bar, and a little vanilla and sea salt.
These kinda reminded me of chocolate chip pancake flavored cookies. Honestly, they weren’t that bad. Still, do not make these at home unless you’re in the mood for something sweet yet super “healthy-tasting.” 🙂
Nope, as healthy as Peter aspires to be, I could not bring myself to mail these off to him. They went into my freezer and I enjoyed them when I wanted a sweet with my cup of tea.
With a little reluctance and a touch of what felt like submission to this world of processed and refined foods, I decided to make him real cookies. “Real” meaning white flour, white sugar (okay, it was “evaporated cane juice” but don’t be tricked into thinking this is any better than white sugar because it is not), and canola oil. They were still vegan but they were definitely junk-food vegan.
They looked perfectly scrumptious when they came out of the oven:
Chris with his more normal taste buds was my tester and he was more than happy to give them a whirl. I watched his face in anticipation but to my dismay I could tell something was not right. After a moment of thought he stated that they were too “doughy” tasting. Maybe you should have tried Earth Balance instead of the oil, he said. Hemmm.
That did it. If I can’t make a decent vegan cookie using all those “regular” ingredients then I am doomed. It’s one thing when your whole grain cookies don’t taste amazing but quite another when you think you are using what people want and they still don’t taste good.
I guess what I am trying to say with this post (other than that my baking skills have much to be desired) is that while making vegan treats is quite the challenge… to make healthy vegan treats that you can eat guiltlessly…it’s the ultimate challenge. But it’s fun and it’s worth it. It is possible. And no, they do not always taste like the goodies most of our palates have been exposed to. They taste better. That is why you will not find me posting many baked goods recipes on my blog- but you will find other delicious and healthy sweet recipes that you can whiz up in your food processor in just minutes.
The bottom line here with nutrition is that I think food not only should taste good (of course!) but it should make you feel good. Yes, the two can go hand in hand!
Consider this: What is the point of enjoying something for a few minutes if you are going to feel bad (either physically, emotionally, or both) after you eat it? You need to weigh this in your mind and ask yourself it is worth it. There will be times that it will feel worth it. When we go to Wildflour (vegan bakery) for a treat I will sometimes get their peanut butter fudge brownie that is to die for. But it’s a rare occasion and that is okay. It is a conscious decision on my part- not something I eat regularly without even thinking about it. What becomes a problem for folks is when their diet routinely consists of unhealthy foods. I’m talking about making daily nutrient-poor choices such as a habit of getting a morning muffin at the coffee shop, eating a bag of cookies or candy bar with lunch, or drinking a soda with dinner. Don’t be surprised when you have to deal with the health issues that are associated with these habits. I think it’s unfortunate that the packaged goods in stores and restaurants are what most people rely on for their sweet cravings. If you don’t think they are that bad just look at the ingredient lists. It is perfectly natural to crave sweet things. However, nature intended for us to satisfy that with naturally sweet fruits, not highly processed refined white sugar.
It’s a smart idea to learn how to create your own nutritious whole-food based goodies to keep on hand. I suggest making no-bake bars, brownies, and cookies bite size and storing them in the freezer. They will keep a long time that way and you can take one or two out at a time. Take a look at my recipes or search online for ideas. Maybe try making something for an upcoming holiday party.
Anybody have a favorite traditional sweet dessert that you would like to revise into a healthier version?