Cooking shows always disappoint me when it comes to vegan food. Inevitably, during a vegan challenge on Top Chef the creative and experienced chefs collectively groan and panic. This is usually followed by a presentation of salads and roasted vegetables. Really? I’m not a vegan, but I’ve had fantastic Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian food which happened to vegan as well. Nothing tastes like a poor substitute, because it’s all made true to the cuisine with spice, herbs, and texture. The only time I’m wary of vegan food, to be honest, is with baked goods. I find that it’s hard to recreate the richness of eggs, cream, and butter and the end product can at times be brittle, dry, or pasty. And it’s not just vegan baking, I’m not a huge fan of “diet” baking either. If you’re going to indulge, go for it all the way!
Recently I went to a vegan potluck birthday party and I decided to overcome this hang-up and make a vegan dessert of my own. I found this recipe for chocolate cupcakes at Chow which seemed to be a good start. I decided to add chocolate chips to the batter to add to the richness (it’s vegan, but it’s not health food, people). Happily, chocolate chips that are semisweet without milk solids or dark chocolate may be vegan, although they may not be advertised as such so just make sure to check the label. The 360 brand at Whole Foods and Trader Joes’ chocolate chips are some examples. The cupcakes are wonderfully moist, sinfully chocolatey and its impossibly difficult to eat just one. When it came to the frosting, the accompanying recipe calls for a mixture of vegan shortening and margarine whipped to a fluffy consistency. The thought of shortening in any form kind of grosses me out, vegan or not. Instead, I made a faux buttercream using the Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks, powdered sugar, and vanilla bean – which I loved. I can not stress enough – do not skimp on the sugar! The Earth Balance bars only come salted, so the frosting can become too salty if you hesitate on the sugar. You can always add a bit of soy milk to make sure the consistency turns out into spreadable/pipeable creamy perfection. At the party, amongst the fruit salads and store-bought vegan cookies, these cupcakes were a hit and no one could tell that they were vegan. I would make these again without a doubt – a truly decadent dessert that loses no flavor or texture just by being vegan.