Book Review – “Vegan Chocolate” by Fran Costigan

Vegan Chocolate



A couple of weeks ago Fran Costigan, author of Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts, made a book promotion appearance at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, which I luckily attended—luckily because I was able to sample some of her chocolate treats.

Fran CostiganYou might think, “Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t this blog about eating healthy?” Well, yes it is; but, occasionally I want to make a special treat and this book is an excellent resource for dairy free sweets made with organic ingredients. There are several aspects I particularly like about the vegan book: the recipes, the photos, the cooking and baking tips, the ingredients section, and the resource and bibliography sections.

There are some great “basic” recipes in this book, too. I was very happy to see the recipe for Basic Thick Cashew Cream which is like a thick pastry cream made with cashews instead of milk and eggs; another, White Chocolate Cream Filling is made with tofu as a base ingredient, which sounds delicious and healthier than any filling recipe I’ve ever seen. The truffles section is also great, because Fran uses different types of fats in her truffles. You can try these delicious creamy bites made with coconut oil, olive oil, nut milk, or her basic thick cashew cream. The following are the names of a few of them: Spicy Ginger Truffles, Chai-Spiced Truffles, Bittersweet Cashew Cream Truffles and Aztec Truffles—oh yeah!

The book’s layout called my attention because it has lots of little boxes with tips on trouble shooting, how to use certain ingredients, or simply a note about why a certain ingredient is used. In addition, the recipe amounts are listed in American standard measurements (cups, tablespoons, etc.) and in the metric system by weight.

Fran has a number of recipes for frozen desserts that will leave you drooling, but her real talent is for “showstopper” or special occasion desserts like: Chocolate Cherry Miroir cake, Sachertorte, and Opera Cake to name a few. They are not difficult to make. Fran recommends making the basics one day and then assembling them on they day they are to be eaten.

I’ve carefully studied Fran’s book from cover to cover ogling over the gorgeous food porn photos and I have to say that I’d be very surprised if she doesn’t win a James Beard Cookbook Award. The following recipes: Chocolate Cake to Live For and Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache are from her book and are used in her cake Bittersweet Ganache – Glazed Chocolate Torte to Live For. I made it last weekend and we all loved it! Try the recipes below for yourself and see what you think.


(The cake recipe below is from page 68-69 of the book; the bittersweet ganache recipe that follows the cake recipe is from page 264.)

Bittersweet Ganache – Glazed Chocolate Torte to Live For

The name for this cake dates back over twenty years to the day I was sure I had cracked the code for the perfect chocolate cake that was also vegan. I invited three friends over (non-vegan, as it happened) to taste the cake with me. After a big forkful each, we stopped, looked at each other, and said almost in unison, “Now this is a cake worth living for!” At least that is how I remember it. Since then, this has become my signature cake and remains the one most discussed, requested, Google-searched, praised, and served of all my cakes. Versions of what my assistants, interns, catering clients, friends, family, and I refer to as “TCC2L4” have appeared in both of my previous books, but I couldn’t leave it out of my first all-chocolate book. This version is a single cake layer twice glazed with the glossy dark Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Glaze. (You can of course simply double the recipe and bake a layer cake if that’s what you prefer.) A “tinkerer” by nature, I have changed little bits of the recipe over the years, using a little less nondairy milk and substituting mild extra-virgin olive oil for the organic canola oil. Note that you will have more glaze than is needed for the recipe, but you can reuse the glaze that drips onto the parchment under the icing rack. After the excess has hardened, scoop it up, spoon it into a container, and cover and refrigerate or freeze for another use.


1⁄2 cup / 70 grams organic whole wheat pastry flour

1 ⁄2 cup / 64 grams organic all-purpose flour

1 ⁄4 cup plus 1 tablespoon / 31 grams Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 ⁄4 cup / 50 grams organic granulated sugar, finely ground in a blender

1 teaspoon / 5 grams aluminum-free baking powder

1 teaspoon / 5 grams baking soda

1 ⁄2 teaspoon / 2.5 grams fine sea salt

1 ⁄4 cup / 60 ml mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil or organic neutral vegetable oil

1 ⁄2 cup / 120 ml pure maple syrup, Grade B or dark amber

3 ⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons / 210 ml any nondairy milk

1 1⁄2 teaspoons / 7.5 ml pure vanilla extract

1 ⁄2 teaspoon chocolate extract (optional)

1 teaspoon / 5 ml apple cider vinegar

1 recipe Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Glaze (follows after instructions for cake)


1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 ̊F / 180 ̊C. Oil the sides and bottom of the cake pan and line the bottom with a parchment circle or paper cut to fit. Do not oil the paper.

2. Place a wire mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Add the pastry flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the strainer and stir with a whisk to sift the ingredients into the bowl. (If any small bits remain in the strainer, add them to the mixture in the bowl.) Whisk to aerate the mixture.

3. Whisk the oil, maple syrup, nondairy milk, vanilla, chocolate extract (if using), and vinegar in a separate medium bowl until completely combined. Immediately pour into the dry mixture and whisk until the batter is smooth. Pour the batter into pan. Rotate the pan to level the batter and tap it lightly on the counter to get rid of some of the air bubbles

4. Bake the cake on the center rack for 28 to 32 minutes, or until the top of the cake is set, the sides have started to pull away from the pan, and a wooden toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs.

5. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Run a thin spatula around the sides of the cake to release the sides of the cake from the pan. Invert the layer onto the rack, remove the pan, and carefully peel off the parchment paper. Invert again, top side up on the rack, to cool completely. When the cake is completely cool, slide a cardboard circle or a flat plate underneath. Cover the cake tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold before glazing.


1. Place the cake on an icing rack set over a parchment-lined baking pan.

2. Pour slightly less than 1 cup / 240 ml of the Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Glaze into a measuring cup with a spout. Center the cup over the cake and pour the glaze onto center of the cake. Coax the glaze to the edges and down the sides by tilting the baking sheet or using an icing spatula. Use the spatula to spread the glaze onto the sides.

3. Allow the glaze to set undisturbed for 15 minutes, then refrigerate the cake for 10 minutes.

4. Refill the measuring cup with another scant cup of the glaze, and add another coating. This time, don’t try to move the glaze around with the spatula after it has been applied. Doing so will mar the finish. But extra glaze drizzled freeform on the cake looks great and hides any problems. Refrigerate to set the glaze.


For the neatest slices, cut the cake while it is cold but serve at room temperature.


The glazed cake can be refrigerated for up to two days, unwrapped or in a cake box. (Keep the cake away from strong odors.) The cake can be frozen for up to one month: Wrap the cake tightly in a layer of plastic wrap and another layer of aluminum foil, or slip it into a zipper-lock bag and squeeze out the air.


Embellished Torte to Live For: The torte needs no fancying up—I like its elegant simplicity and often serve it without any further embellishment, other than possibly painting a line of extra glaze on each plate, off-center, and adding a pile of fresh berries or sliced fruit. But the following variations add wow: sprinkle the top of the cake with gold luster dust, add chocolate transfer sheet cut-outs (page 29), or place any of the truffles found in Chapter Two on the not-quite-set ganache.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Torte to Live For: Replace the pastry and all-purpose flours with 1 cup of all-purpose gluten-free baking mix. (I recommend Bob’s Red Mill.) If your gluten-free mix does not contain xanthan or guar gum, add 3 ⁄8 teaspoon xanthan gum to the dry ingredients. Bake for 25 to 27 minutes.


Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache Glaze  

It will take longer to read this recipe than to make it, but its success is all about the quality and taste of the chocolate and following the details in the recipe. As long as you stay within the percentages listed, any premium quality chocolate you enjoy eating is the one to use. The important part is to chop the chocolate very fine and to strain the hot milk. Allowing the chocolate to melt into the milk for the full 4 minutes is not optional. And stir only until the chocolate and milk are emulsified—that is, glossy and smooth. Over-mixing may turn your silken ganache gritty. If the chocolate has not completely melted after the ganache is mixed, bring the water in the saucepan on the stove to a simmer and turn off the heat. Place the bowl of ganache on the saucepan for a few minutes, then stir very gently until the chocolate has melted and the ganache is smooth.


8 ounces / 227 grams dark chocolate (70 to 72%), finely chopped
1 1 ⁄4 cups / 300 ml organic almond milk or soymilk (more as needed to adjust consistency)
2 tablespoons / 18 grams organic granulated sugar
Pinch fine sea salt
1 1 ⁄4 teaspoons / 6.25 ml pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons / 10 ml mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil (optional but recommended for sheen)

1. Add the chocolate to a heatproof bowl and set aside while you heat the milk.

2. Pour the milk into a small saucepan. Add the sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat, whisking a few times to a low boil.

3. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. Pour the hot milk over the chopped chocolate all at once. Rotate the bowl so the chocolate is completely submerged. Cover the bowl with a plate and let stand undisturbed for 4 minutes.

4. Add the vanilla and olive oil (if using) and whisk from the center out only until smooth and glossy. (If the chocolate is not completely melted, refer to the Sidebar on page 28 for instructions on using a water bath to melt the chocolate.)

5. Keep the bowl of ganache at room temperature while you test the final consistency. Dip a teaspoon into the ganache, set the coated spoon on a small plate, and refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes. After chilling, the ganache on the spoon should be smooth and firm, but should still taste creamy. It is unlikely, but if the glaze is too firm, add a tablespoon of room temperature milk, and repeat the test. Add a second tablespoon if needed.

6. Pass the ganache through a strainer into a bowl. Whisking slowly will speed the process.

7. Allow the ganache to thicken at room temperature for 15 to 25 minutes, or until it will coat a spoon thickly with minimal dripping, but remain pourable. Stir a few times from the outside into the center before glazing.


The glaze can be refrigerated in a tightly closed con- tainer for up to five days and frozen for up to one month. The glaze hardens when it is cold and will need to be reheated. To reheat, spoon the glaze into a heatproof bowl that fits over a saucepan of barely simmering water. When about two-thirds of the glaze is melted, stir gently until it is smooth. Adjust the consistency as needed by stirring warm nondairy milk into the glaze a little at a time.


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