Vegan and Valentine's Day might not seem like a culinary marriage made in heaven, but in the hands of the ‘Diva of Dairy-free Desserts', Fran Costigan, it's a no-brainer. Using whole and organic ingredients -- and a lot of high quality dark chocolate (which is vegan!), your sweetie will thank you with out even knowing what they're missing!
Some of Fran's recipes:
SLOANE MILLER: What's your professional background?
FRAN COSTIGAN: After completing the professional program at New York Restaurant School, I worked as the pastry chef in a busy gourmet food shop. My desserts were very popular, but I was feeling progressively more tired, moody, weak and generally unwell, so I left my job. I was crushed because pastry was my passion.
By chance, I picked up Annmarie Colbin's landmark book, Food and Healing. The idea that food and health are linked made sense to me. I decided to eliminate all sugar, dairy, eggs -- in fact all animal foods -- and resolved to eat only seasonal, whole foods.
Within a few months of eating a balanced diet, I started to feel much better. Well enough that I went back to work as a pastry chef. However, I had became a member of the dreadful food police and pronounced all sweets the devil.
I faced a professional and personal conundrum, and began to consider the idea that a healthful diet could include desserts made with good ingredients.
SM: Is that what led you to become a vegan pastry chef?
FC: Yes! When I changed my diet for health reasons, I had to learn to make desserts using different ingredients.
I went into the marketplace to see what naturally sweetened vegan desserts were available, and tasted them. Most were brown, dry, heavy and altogether unsatisfying.
My intention was to create excellent versions of traditional desserts using only wholesome, real ingredients, all without dairy, eggs or white sugar, and I wanted to write clear and reliable recipes. First, I had to learn about the properties of whole grain flours, natural sweeteners and other ingredients new to me. After many misses, I found that when I married foundation pastry technique with the properties of natural ingredients, I was successful. Certainly my tasters thought so, and the need for good tasting, good quality vegan treats seemed huge.
SM: You encourage using whole, "honest" and organic ingredients in your baking. Why?
FC: I encourage using "honest and organic" foods because they taste better and will yield better tasting desserts, and because they are better for us and for the planet.
As a mainstream pastry chef, I was aware of quality and used the best ingredients possible. I used pure butter, not fake fats such as margarine or solid vegetable shortening. Now as a pastry chef who makes vegan desserts, why would I use soy margarine, which I feel contributes an off-taste, and is hydrogenated? You can taste freshness and you can taste fake. Pure vanilla extract tastes better than artificial vanillin. Try pancake syrup, then try maple syrup and you'll know what I mean. A peach or strawberry in its season is not the same fruit as one that has been developed for shipping across the country, and I simply cannot fathom ingesting pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables.