Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Impermanence of Beauty: The Buried Lede

The last time I ran a recipe on here, it was a wholly off-topic indulgence of mine (I love me some green smoothie). But this time, it is by request, since apparently mention of my "slammin'" vegan chocolate-hazelnut pie in my post about the impermanence of beauty got some readers' mouths watering. So it's not even off-topic! (It's also not even really a pie, but since the mousse part has a consistency that's more like a traditional peanut butter pie than a cake-cake, I call it a pie.) 

This isn't a difficult recipe, but it does require handling a couple of ingredients that people who aren't accustomed to vegan baking techniques probably haven't used much. Agar is an algae extract used as a vegan substitution for gelatin. Like gelatin, it needs to "bloom" in water; unlike gelatin, it needs to be heated while blooming. You can find agar at a health food store, but if your town has an Asian grocery, go there as it is literally ten times cheaper and is the exact same product. (The recipe calls for flakes, but you can also use powder; if you use agar powder use 1 1/2 teaspoons.)

Clockwise from top left: Expensive agar; inexpensive agar;
starch made from arrows; can (safely?!?) be eaten by spoonful.

On its own, agar creates a Jello-like consistency, but adding in a slurry of water and starch (preferably arrowroot, though cornstarch works just as well, it's just more processed and the final product isn't quite as lustrous) transforms a dessert into something closer to a custard or mousse, which is what you're after here.

Look for praline paste in gourmet or natural food stores. If you can't find it, try hazelnut butter (which is actually harder to find in my experience, but worth a shot). If you can't find that, you can try making your own praline paste. I've never attempted this but I see no reason it wouldn't work, though the final product won't be as silky as it would be with purchased praline paste (same thing with hazelnut butter).

Slammin' Vegan Chocolate-Hazelnut Pie,
Which Is Really More of a Cake But Whatever

Adapted from Myra Kornfeld's The Voluptuous Vegan (a fantastic vegan cookbook, endorsed by me, who isn't even a vegetarian)


Bottom layer:
1/2 cup pastry flour
1/2 cup plus 2 T white flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 T instant espresso powder
3 T cocoa powder
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup unflavored soy milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 T praline paste or hazelnut butter
1/2 tsp salt

Mousse topping:
1 cup water
2 T agar flakes (or 1 1/2 tsp agar powder)
1 1/2 pounds firm silken tofu (make sure to get silken tofu, not regular)
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup maple syrup (1 cup if using hazelnut butter)
1/4 tsp salt
1 T vanilla extract
1/2 cup praline paste or hazelnut butter (if using hazelnut butter, use 1 cup maple syrup)
4 tsp arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
1/2 unflavored soy milk

To make bottom layer:
• Preheat oven to 350F. Oil a 9-inch springform pan; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, brown sugar, espresso powder, and cocoa powder.
• In another bowl, combine canola oil, maple syrup, soy milk, vanilla, praline paste, and salt. Whisk until well-combined. Pour the liquid ingredients into dry ingredients, whisking together just until dry ingredients are completely moistened.
• Pour batter into the oiled pan, spreading evenly across bottom. Place on center rack in oven and bake 20 minutes, or until the cake has begun to pull away from the sides and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

To make mousse topping:
• Pour water into a small saucepan and scatter agar flakes across the top, distributing evenly. Allow flakes to soften for 10 minutes.
• Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine tofu, canola oil, maple syrup, salt, and vanilla; process until smooth.
• Heat agar-water mixture until liquid comes to a boil, then lower the heat and gently simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until agar is completely dissolved.
• In a small bowl, mix arrowroot with soy milk to create a slurry. Stir the slurry into the hot agar-water mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until the liquid just starts to bubble. (If using cornstarch, let it bubble a minute, while stirring.)
• Pour the agar-arrowroot mixture into the food processor; process until everything is thoroughly combined. Pour into springform pan over bottom layer.
• Place the dessert in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour to completely set and cool. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Release dessert from the springform rim and serve.


  1. Thank you!! I'm sure making this cake/pie will inspire lots of smart thoughts on impermanence....