Raw desserts are a bit of a wonderful thing, really. Other than just eating a piece of fruit, they are probably the first truly defendable sweet the world has seen. Sure, we’ve known treats with healthy components — cacao in dark chocolate, carrots in carrot cake, possibly even cherries in cherry pie — but when else have we been able to celebrate the healthy attributes of all the ingredients? There was always sugar or white flour or some sort of processed fat in traditional (and processed) sweets.
Then there are raw desserts. Raw desserts are different. They may have sugars, but they come from unrefined sources, ingredients that in the simple state of being are sweet. They can be fattening, but that fat is generally from quality sources that help make the body a well-oiled machine. They can even have crusts and crunches, but these are created with flours made from real ingredients still bursting with all their nutritional components. In some instances, especially when practicing a largely raw diet, it could actually be argued that we should eat dessert.
Well, for some of us (this author definitely included), that is reason enough to jump on this raw food/raw dessert bandwagon. The next task, then, seems to be stocking up the cupboard with the right stuff. If it isn’t flour, sugar and vegan butter that we need, then what is it?
To Make It Really Sweet
Dessert ain’t really dessert if it isn’t sweet. I mean that is kind of the point. So, what do raw food folks use if they don’t use sugar?
- Raw Agave Syrup: Agave has taken a little hit of late, but it is still a viable alternative for raw food folks since it blends well and has a nice flavor. The word on the street is that when using agave syrup two-thirds of a cup equates to a cup of sugar, and in the same vein, make sure to reduce a recipe’s liquid by a quarter cup. Some suggest that a slight reduction in baking temperature will keep it from browning too much.
- Dates: Dates are incredibly sweet if not irresistible to snack on while the “baking” is being done. Dates have loads of other useful nutrients in them, but they are also very high in natural sugars and aren’t to just be eaten frivolously. They can either be blended up into a recipe mixture or used to make a syrup.
- Stevia: Actually an herb rather than a small package of white granules, stevia is an all-natural sweetener (insanely so) that can come in a handy little home-grown plant. It is a better option for those that are sugar sensitive or diabetic, much more so than dangerous artificial sweeteners, Stevia is also more or less calorie-free and reports to have no impact on blood glucose.
Other commonly used sweetening agents in raw foods are maple syrup (which isn’t technically raw but contains a small amount of nutrients), honey (which isn’t vegan) or fruit, simply accepting what it brings as being sweet enough.
To Keep It Together Tightly
Another issue to contend with is finding a suitably strong binding agent for those raw desserts. Where traditionally eggs, flour and other cooked stuff have kept our sweets in one piece (at least until we tore at them), raw desserts use different ingredients.
- Chia Seeds: Chia is the magically gelatinous capsule that, when soaked in water for a few minutes, forms an ideal egg substitute that makes for smooth fillings and puddings for raw desserts. Another great benefit of chia is that it is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and one of the top sources of antioxidants.
- Dried Fruits: Dates and raisins seem to be the go-to source for dried fruit binding, but anything with a similar texture — apricots, figs, prunes, etc. — will get the job done just the same. These are great for creating a chewy texture that holds up to a bit of wear and tear in a food processor.
- Bananas: Bananas bring some friendly sweetness to raw desserts, but they especially help with keeping all the ingredients intact. What’s more is there is absolutely no better way of creating a raw, vegan ice cream than whipping up a frozen banana with the flavor of choice (try it with mango). Call it day.
Other possibilities include pumpkin purée which works much like the banana, or flax seeds, similar to chia seeds’ benefits.
To Put It on Something
Without a doubt, for many of us, the best bit of a pie or tart is the crust, the crumbly, chewy delight that feels like magic in our mouths. It seems something impossible to achieve with raw food, but believe me, it hasn’t stopped folks from trying. Some of the results have been very delicious.
- Shredded Coconut: Coconut is great for adding sweetness, fat and texture to raw pie crust. It works well as something that stands up to sogginess and provides another wrinkle of flavor. Again, coconuts are being found out as wicked healthy and worth including in our diets regardless.
- Dates: Yet again, dates play an integral role in raw dessert crust. This is how all the flaky, crumbling and bumbling holds together. They are probably the number one get-it ingredient for going raw and sweet.
- Nuts: Choose what’s around. Walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts — they all provide the tender crunch and crumbly flour that makes a crust a good crust, and it can most certainly be done with raw food. They provide good fats, protein (in a dessert!) and can even work as a binder when whipped into a nut butter.
Stock these long-lasting ingredients in the cupboard, fridge, or freezer, and a raw dessert is never too far away. There are cookies, cakes, pies, ice creams, bars and just about anything we can dream up and yearn for. Check out all our raw food dessert recipes; they’re healthy, fun, and often quicker than baking.
Lead Image Source: Vegan Cashew Cream Cups