Since starting Dessert Buzz 4 years ago I have learned that one of the most difficult things to do is to get people to believe that a vegan dessert can be really good. One problem is that most people don’t know what the word “vegan” actually means. Usually, they have a vague understanding that it means “healthy” or “has no meat in it”. Some believe it refers to foods that are made only from cardboard packing materials.
Sometimes, a person will know what vegan means (contains no animal products) but doesn’t understand what impact that should have on food taste. This is all pretty funny when you consider how many kids were born and raised on a 90% peanut butter and jelly diet. Guess what? It’s vegan! To learn what makes peanut butter and a million other foods taste so good, keep reading, otherwise just skip to the reviews.
Flavor delivery 101:
In desserts and in baked goods (and most savory items too) the single best ingredient to deliver a flavor, like chocolate, to your palate is through fat. Somehow our tongues detect a flavor more deeply when it’s accompanied by a high fat content. Our brains seem to like it that way too. That’s why chocolate croissants are awesome, bacon is currently bigger than the Beatles and premium ice cream like Ben and Jerry’s or Grom gelato rocks our world.
So what does this have to do with vegan desserts? Well, we now know “vegan” only means “contains no animal products”. So a vegan food can contain copious amounts of fat (or sugar or chocolate for that matter) as long as it doesn’t come from animals. So, in theory, there is nothing inherent about something being vegan that should keep it from tasting really good. The challenge with vegan baking is that it’s relatively new and everything hasn’t be figured out yet. Some chefs however, like Camillo Sabella from Vegan Divas have started to figure it all out and have produced some really superb results.
I recently tasted 8 products from the 20-item Vegan Divas line of vegan desserts and baked items at Butterfield Market. Overall this line really impressed me. At least 4 of the items deserve to be compared to best-in-class non-vegan baked goods.
The star of the show was the brownie. To me, this brownie had it all. Deep, rich cocoa flavor? Check. Extremely fresh and moist? Not too sweet? Check and check. Connoisseurs (there is such a thing and they read this site) will note the dark color of the brownie (see picture). I have found that nine times out-of-ten the darker the brownie the better the brownie. If you like your brownies to taste like a flowerless chocolate cake from a fancy restaurant then you will love this brownie. If you like a very sweet brownie like Fat Witch this might not be for you. $4.49 .
Another clear star of the line, especially in light of the current cupcake craze, is the gold leaf chocolate frosted cupcake. I am going to put the DessertBuzz name on the line and say that this vegan chocolate cupcake is as good as the best non-vegan chocolate frosted cupcakes. The frosting is smooth, rich and deeply chocolaty. Again not too sweet. The cake portion was just shockingly moist and tasty for a vegan cupcake. The overwhelming flavor you taste is dark cocoa and chocolate. This is in contrast with most NYC cupcakes that feature overly sweet cake and toothpaste-like frosting that often makes my teeth hurt.
I was so surprised at how good this cupcake was that I spent 10 minutes interrogating Camillo Sabella (the baker) about them. Without giving away his trade secrets, it seems they spared no expense it creating this line. He explained that they sourced the absolute highest quality (read: expensive) ingredients such as special Callebaut cocoa.
These are a real deal at $3.95 with all the specialty ingrediants that go into them. Consider that most specialty cupcakes from Crumbs go for $3.75.
More from Vegan Divas tomorrow.
The Vegan Divas line is available at Buterfield Market, 1114 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10075-0379, (212) 2887800 And three of the items, the raspberry coconut roll, coconut macaroons and oatmeal raisin cookies will be available at Francois Chocolate Bar, 714 Madison Ave, 4th floor (212) 759-1600.
The Vegan Divas web site is here.