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Dairy-Free Delights

August 30, 2007 By:
Linda Morel, JE Feature
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A desire for a sweet New Year -- expressed in the form of honey cake, apple crisp and other special goodies -- brings Jews with differing needs together on Rosh Hashanah, when the menu typically revolves around turkey, brisket or veal.

While most appreciate the flakiness of fine pastry that butter delivers, a growing number observe kosher laws prohibiting the mixing of dairy products and meat at the same meal. Some Jews eschew butter because of high cholesterol, or they are allergic to dairy products or cannot digest them well. Jewish vegans won't eat meat, eggs and dairy foods for health and humane reasons.

Yet these folks are united on one front -- they want perfect endings to Rosh Hashanah celebrations.

In the past, Jews on special diets might cheat on holidays, sneaking a decadent dessert or two. Vegans were consigned to dry and disappointing pastry.

The kosher baker's best option when meat was served was to replace butter with margarine, which traditionally yielded flat flavor and texture ranging from dry to gooey -- sometimes in the same cake. But home bakers now can produce luscious desserts equal, if not better, in taste than their buttery counterparts without margarine.

Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a vegan and punk-music aficionado since the 1980s, is a co-author of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World: 75 Recipes for Cupcakes That Rule (Marlowe & Company, 2006), her second cookbook.

While Moskowitz, 34, has been on the vanguard of American social and culinary movements, she has spent two decades experimenting with dairy-free baking. The results could revolutionize pareve pastries, raising them from a compromise to a contender when pitted against dairy items.

For ethical reasons, Moskowitz avoids cooking with eggs, a boon to those with high cholesterol or an intolerance to the protein in eggs. In lieu of dairy products, she turns to full-fat soy milk and non-hydrogenated coconut and canola oils. She imitates the silkiness of butter with tofu.

Don't be scared off by these ingredients! One bite of her cupcakes will compel you to reach for more.

As a 14-year-old, Moskowitz didn't want to feel deprived during dessert, so she sought ways to create pastry she'd want to eat if she weren't avoiding butter, cream and eggs.

"Punk gave me a do-it-yourself spirit," says Moskowitz. "I felt I could invent recipes even though I wasn't trained as a chef."

The experimentation led to successes and failures; she built on the former. She also had a marvelous role model.

"My grandma was a punk chef. I don't know that she would have acknowledged the term, but at heart, she was always breaking the rules and ignoring the instructions of her own recipes," which were scrawled on sticky index cards, explains Moskowitz. "She knew best what the pie crust needed."

During two decades of trial and error, Moskowitz aced the chemistry of dairy-free baking. She learned that in most pastry recipes, when substituting oil for butter, less oil is needed than the butter measurement.

"There are structural differences between oil and butter," says Moskowitz. "Oil doesn't flake as nicely in pastries."

To encourage flakiness, she keeps oil in the freezer for several hours before making dough. To achieve thick, fluffy frostings, Moskowitz sometimes relies on margarine, but only the non-hydrogenated variety, which does not impart a chemical taste. She opts for the Earthbalance brand because it is free of trans-fats and dairy.

Her Web site,, an outgrowth of her public-access television cooking show, "The Post Punk Kitchen," features sweet and savory vegan recipes for Jewish holidays.

At the other end of the spectrum, Ann Amernick is the co-owner and executive pastry chef at the Palena Restaurant in Washington, D.C. She has written three cookbooks, including The Art of the Dessert (John Wiley & Sons, April 2007), an elegant collection of recipes fit for five-star restaurants.

Amernick was the assistant pastry chef during the Carter and Reagan administrations; she was probably the first Jewish woman to cook at the White House. At a kosher state dinner served to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, she prepared frozen, nondairy sherbet cakes flavored by orange liqueur.

Experience has taught Amernick much about the do's and don't's of dough.

"Don't mix margarine into pastry dough of any kind," she says. "However, neutral vegetable oils have their place in professional baking. They perform well in cakes with heavy texture."

Typical of this genre are honey, apple and carrot cakes, which are popular at Rosh Hashanah because they symbolize a sweet New Year.

Amernick recalls Rosh Hashanah celebrations from childhood, specifically the confections baked by her aunt.

"I remember there was always apple cake and carrot cake on the table," she says. "I loved the teiglach she made and a raisin-filled pastry, a kind of streudel."

These sweet memories shaped her future. While oil marries well with sugar in dough, enhancing heavier pastries, Amernick has learned the two are not a winning combination in frostings. She recommends adorning pareve cakes with glazes, a mixture of confectioners' sugar and freshly squeezed juice, either lemon or orange. But don't expect glazes to be creamy and rich like frostings.

A supple liquid, they gracefully run down the sides of cakes, creating the quaint, homey look seen in food magazine pastries.

"I have always recommended using high-quality ingredients," says Amernick.

These include the best fruits, vanilla, nuts and spices -- and even the finest flour. In oil-based cakes, she relies on ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar to excite the taste buds, replacing butter's flavor.

She and Moskowitz agree that no matter the ingredients, the result must look stunning and taste irresistibly delicious.

Some may be surprised that Moskowitz's cupcakes call for sugar, cocoa and real chocolate -- no healthy substitutions there. But her goal has always been creating irresistible desserts.

"If you know what you're doing, no one will miss the dairy," she says. "Why should they?"

The following cupcake recipes come from Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, courtesy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

Your Basic Chocolate Cupcake


1 cup soy milk
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350°.

Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.

Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl. Set aside for a few minutes to curdle.

Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract and almond extract to the soy-milk mixture. Beat till foamy.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Add in 2 batches to wet ingredients. Beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are okay). Pour into liners, filling three-quarters of the way.

Bake 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely.

Frost with Chocolate-Mousse Topping.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Chocolate-Mousse Topping


2 packages (2.3 oz.) extra-firm silken aseptic tofu, such as Mori-Nu, drained of excess liquid
1/4 cup plain soy milk
2 Tbsps. agave syrup or maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 package (12 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Crumble tofu into a blender.

Add the soy milk, syrup and vanilla. Purée until completely smooth. Set aside.

In a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips. Use a rubber spatula to mix the chocolate as it melts. Once melted, remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chocolate to the tofu and blend until combined. Use the spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender every so often.

Transfer mousse to an airtight container.

Chill for 1 hour before frosting cupcakes.

Toasted-Coconut Cupcakes


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
11/2 tsps. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsps. coconut extract
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350°.

Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.

Melt the coconut oil in a small saucepan over very low heat. Once melted, turn off the heat, but leave oil in the pan on the stove, so that it stays warm but does not solidify.

In a separate medium bowl, mix together coconut milk, sugar, vanilla and coconut extract. Stir in the melted coconut oil.

Add the flour mixture in batches, beating well after each addition. Mix until smooth, then fold in the shredded coconut.

Fill cupcake liners two-thirds full. Bake for 24 to 26 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Frost with Coconut-Pecan-Fudge Frosting.

Makes 12 cupcakes.

Coconut-Pecan-Fudge Frosting


1/4 cup rice milk
2 Tbsps. cornstarch
scant pinch of salt
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. bourbon, optional
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
11/2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut

Whisk rice milk, cornstarch and salt in a small bowl.

In a large, stainless-steel saucepan over medium heat, stir together the coconut milk and brown sugar.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture starts to boil. Turn down heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Whisk the rice-milk mixture once more, and slowly pour into the coconut-milk mixture, stirring constantly to incorporate.

Stir mixture continuously, until it darkens, gets very thick and smooth, and cornstarch is cooked, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Remove from heat and beat in vanilla and bourbon, chopped pecans and coconut.

Stir until everything is coated and completely combined.

Cool to room temperature before frosting cupcakes.

The following recipes are from The Art of the Dessert, by Ann Amernick.

Honey Cake


2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup honey
1 cup vegetable oil
lemon sorbet as an accompaniment

Preheat oven to 350°.

Coat loaf pans with nonstick spray. Line pans with 2 pieces of parchment paper and coat paper with nonstick spray.

Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and allspice into a bowl. Set aside

Place the eggs and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.

Beat on high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and add the honey, then the oil. Mix on low for 21/2 minutes, then on medium for 21/2 minutes.

Fold in the flour mixture by hand in several additions, mixing well with a spatula.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, dividing evenly.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until domed, set and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. (The loaves will crack during baking.) Don't open the oven doors until cakes have domed, as this could cause them to collapse.

Cool the loaves in their pans on racks for 1 hour.

Unmold the loaves onto racks and wrap tightly in plastic wrap while they are still slightly warm to preserve the moistness, until ready to serve. At room temperature, cakes will remain fresh for three days, or freeze them for up to one month.

Serve with lemon sorbet.

Makes 10 slices per cake or 20 slices in all.

Carrot Cake With Lemon Glaze


21/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
4 eggs
3/4 cups dark brown sugar
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
11/2 cups neutral salad oil, such as Crisco
1 lb. carrots, peeled and grated by hand or in a food processor
1 cup raisins (can be half dark and half golden)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Coat two, 8-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray. Line them with parchment paper and coat paper with nonstick spray.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and spices; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, both sugars and vanilla using the whisk attachment. Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes.

Lower the speed and slowly add the oil, beating continuously. The egg mixture will become thicker as the oil is added. Continue to beat for another 5 minutes.

On the lowest speed, add the flour mixture in fourths. Mix well, then by hand, fold in the carrots, raisins and walnuts.

Place in the prepared pans and bake 15 minutes. Rotate the pans and bake for 5 more minutes, or until cakes have risen and are golden-brown, firm to the touch, and a cake tester comes out clean from the center.

Cool the cakes on a wire rack. Turn them out onto a plate or cake circle; coat the center of one cake with lemon glaze.

Top with the second cake layer, and allow the remaining glaze to coat the top and run down the sides.

Serves 8.

Lemon Glaze


4-5 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more or less to taste)

Mix the juice with the sugar and stir well to combine smoothly. If the glaze seems too runny, add a bit more sugar.

The quantities in this glaze can be adjusted for taste and texture.

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