It wasn’t too long ago that being vegan meant receiving a dish of steamed vegetables for an entrée and trying to be gluten free led to a lot of blank looks. We’ve come a long way since then with most menus proudly proclaiming their vegan and gluten free bona fides or, at the very least, every chef having a recipe or two in his back pocket to accommodate dietary restrictions. However, dessert is often one area that could use some extra attention.

Start Basic

Maybe you already have a flourless chocolate torte on the menu, just don’t forget to add the little GF symbol on your menu to let your customers know. Make yours stand out from the crowd with the addition of a little homemade Nutella or a splash of Grand Marnier to add a little zip. If you’re shooting for a cherry flavor, consider a shot of Cherry Heering— a richly flavored Danish liqueur.

While tortes are vegetarian, they are not vegan and rely heavily on eggs to bring it all together. A common way to get around this is to use a combination of coconut oil and a purée, say pumpkin or blueberry, to bind it all together and add flavor Alternatively, you can try using an egg substitute.

Egg Substitutes

Aquafaba is your vegan/gluten free friend when it comes to desserts.  It’s the reserved liquid left over from cooking chickpeas or even just the liquid from canned chickpeas. On its own, three tablespoons equal approximately one egg, and it can be used in anything from tortes to cookies as a replacement binder—you could even use it to whip up a vegan souffle. Even better, its neutral flavor doesn’t mask the other ingredients, allowing your dessert to really shine.

Aquafaba can also be whipped to soft or even stiff peaks. This can come in handy for making everything from vegan meringues (either on a pie or as a light and crispy cookie) to a pavlova. But be prepared and don’t use a hand beater, whipping aquafaba takes time and patience.

Another option is flegg, flax meal steeped in hot water. This is perfect in recipes where you’re adding a leavening agent like baking soda or powder to get the rise you need. For dense desserts, like brownies, consider puréed silken tofu to help keep it moist.

Flour Substitutes

The good news is that the availability of gluten free flours has exploded over the last few years and the quality of many of them is outstanding. But be aware that many of them add flavors that may clash with or overwhelm the taste you’re trying to create.

White rice flour may be your best bet if you’re shooting for a neutral flavor. Standard rice flour is a great substitute if you’re making cakes or cookies while sweet rice flour, made from short grain rice and referred to as mochiko in Asian groceries, is better used as a thickener for sauces or mochi.

Flours can also be used to enhance and elevate the flavor. Nut-based flours, like almond or hazelnut, can make for wonderful cakes that will appeal to even those not trying to avoid gluten.

Dairy Alternatives

Walk into any grocery store and it almost seems like the dairy free section of the milk aisle is nearly as big as the dairy section, and it is often a bit more complicated.  Many of these milks are nut-based, leading to several potential allergy concerns, so be sure to describe the dishes accurately. Regardless, many of these almond and cashew milks make for great replacements in your baking recipes, just don’t forget to adjust your sugar levels as many of these are sweetened.

Coconut milk can be used to make some delicious ice creams and, yes, you can make it into a whipped topping to add to any of your other desserts.
Vegan butter can be a bit of a minefield. You need to choose the right one for the right job. Most are completely oil based, which works for cookies, but if you’re shooting for flakey pastries you might be disappointed at the result (more akin to fried bread). Consider a cashew-based butter instead, and your vegan pain au chocolat might be indistinguishable from the real thing.

Vegan Sugar

Here we run into a rather complicated debate about what is and isn’t vegan. On the surface, sugar seems to be vegan. The problem arises from the way the sugar is processed, as some use bone char for a filter. The waters here are further muddied by no real clear labeling requirements meaning you have no real way of knowing if the sugar has been processed with the char. This leaves many vegans split on the issue with no definite consensus.

Raw sugars like demerara aren’t processed in this way, nor are beet sugars, making them acceptable for strict vegans. At the very least, ensure that your staff is prepared to answer questions to ensure your diners can have any issues addressed in an informed manner.

Between all the different flours, dairy free options, and egg replacements on the market there have never been more tools out there to create amazing vegan and gluten free desserts.  It just takes a little practice and experimentation to achieve the results that live up to your high expectations.

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