If pressed to name the basic building blocks of a delicious baked good, most people would probably include flour, eggs, butter, and sugar.
But not Ricki Heller, author of Sweet Freedom, a book comprised of "dessert recipes you'll love without wheat, eggs, dairy or refined sugar".
I was willing to take that challenge.
I decided to start out with familiar territory. One of the best vegan baked goods I can think of is the Vegan Oat Bar from Seattle's Caffe Ladro--a gooey, fruit-filled bar cookie which isn't just "good...for a vegan baked good" ('cos we all know there are some of those), it's just good, period. I saw echoes of the oat bar in the recipe for "Figaros", a fig bar with a dense cookie crust and crumb topping, and so I decided to try that one first.
I took some small liberties with the recipe: lacking figs I tried it out using frozen organic raspberries instead; right before baking, on whim, I melted about 1/2 cup of peanut butter and drizzled it on top of the cookie base before putting the crumbs on top. I also played around with the flour ratios--where the initial recipe called for spelt and barley flour, I subsituted the barley flour with part oat and part coconut flour (you know, for fun).
The result? Goodness, were they good. Dense, chewy and decadent, these bars didn't taste like dull suffering for health's sake at all. The natural sweetness of the berries really shone, and the bars were excellent for breakfast the following morning.
Of course, sweet freedom isn't without its cost--for my pantry, which was not equipped with the various flours, agave nectar and sunflower seeds, the recipe did throw me back about $20 (of course, I did have leftovers which could be used in the future). However, if you're looking for a slightly more virtuous baked good that won't leave you feeling at a loss, these are a great bet. And I already know what I will be trying next from the book--the "Dark and Decadent Chocolate Pate"--which features--of all things--avocado along with dark chocolate, which judging by the book's pictures yield a rich, thick slab of yum.
The book can be purchased here, and for more of Ricki's writing and adventure, check out her site, Diet, Dessert and Dogs!
Makes 12-16 squares
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
- 3 tbsp agave nectar, light or dark
- 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- 10 ounces frozen raspberries
- 1/2 cup peanut butter, melted
(Note: the original recipe does not call for the frozen raspberries or peanut butter--if you want to use the original, use 10 1/4 ounces soft dried figs, cut in half with hard stems removed instead)
Cookie Base and Topping:
- 1/4 cup sunflower oil
- 1/3 cup agave nectar, light or dark
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup oat flour
- 1/3 cup coconut flour
- 1 cup whole spelt flour (I used light spelt)
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon finely ground flax seeds
- Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9 inch square pan with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
- Make the filling: in a small, heavy-bottomed pot, comine the juice, agave nectar, zest and figs. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 more minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the cookie base and topping. IN a small bowl, whisk together oil, 1/3 cup agave nectar, and vanilla. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking powder and soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the flax and stir to combine.
- Pour the wet mixture over the dry and stir until you have a soft dough. Pat about 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan (it will be fairly thin). Spread the fig mixture over the base, then crumble the rest of the cookie mixture over the top of the filling.
- Bake in a preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, rotating pan about halfway through, until edges are golden. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes 12-16 squares. These freeze well.