Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cheese(less)cake and Creme(-free) Brulee

Once upon a time, I was non-vegan and I loved cheesecake and creme brulee. One of the biggest disappointments in going vegan was not the lack of dairy-free versions of these amazing desserts but rather the large number of restaurants that serve very poor imitations. I think that serving a bad vegan version of "normal" food actually does vegans a bigger disservice than not selling the food in the first place, since it propagates the idea that vegan food is a substandard version of normal food.

For the sake of vegans everywhere, the following restaurants should immediately stop selling cheesecake (or get a new recipe): Soul Vegetarian East, The Chicago Diner, Candle Cafe, Lifethyme Vegan Bakery, Cafe Indigo, My Thai Bubble Tea & Bistro. The only restaurant that I've been to that makes a convincing vegan cheesecake is Red Bamboo in New York City. Red Bamboo's cheesecake has the right texture and is appropriately dense (ie. it's not overly "fluffy" like a mouse). The cheesecake does not have a soy aftertaste.

As for Creme Brulee, I have only found two restaurants that make a bona fide vegan version. The Inn of he Seventh Ray (Malibu, California) serves an almond milk creme brulee and Counter (Manhattan, New York) serves a soy milk creme brulee. Interestingly enough, the creme brulee at Counter resembles cheesecake more closely than many of the vegan cheesecakes that I have tried. Needless to say, it did not make a very convincing creme brulee. The creme brulee at The Inn of the Seventh Ray had the right texture and did not have a soy aftertaste. However, the flavor was still a little off.

VERDICT: Avoid vegan cheesecake unless you are at Red Bamboo (or any of the other restaurants in the NY/PA area that serve desserts from the same bakery).


Side Note: Matt and Teresa sent me this creme brulee recipe and I think it comes about as close to creme brulee as anything that I have tried in a restaurant.

Mix thoroughly in a saucepan (no heat yet):
1/3 c vanilla sugar (to make this, combine 1/3 c white sugar with the interior "dots" scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean)
2 Tbs + 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt

Gradually stir in 1/3 cup unsweetened "vanilla" almond milk to make a smooth runny paste.
Whisk in another 1 and 2/3 c almond milk.

Stirring constantly, heat the mixture (over medium heat) until it begins to thicken. Reduce the heat to low, stirring briskly, bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute.

Pour the pudding into the bowl or cups, then press plastic wrap directly on top to prevent a skin from forming.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

When you are ready to serve the dish, sprinkle white sugar on top and blowtorch until the sugar is caramelized.
I think that the texture is about right, but I'm still working on the flavor. "Real" creme brulee borrows a lot of its flavor from the egg yolks, so that has been one of my bigger challenges to overcome. I've been toying with the idea of making a "Silk Nog" creme brulee for the holidays, but I'm not convinced that this will lend the right "egg" flavor. Last year, I made a pumpkin creme brulee for Thanksgiving that turned out pretty well, but that was mostly because the taste of the pumpkin spice masked the flavor.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions on how to improve the taste of my creme brulee recipe (or, if you have a good recipe for vegan cheesecake, please send it my way!).

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