Last week, my dear friend Ricki Heller’s gorgeous dessert cookbook, Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free, was published, and I’m absolutely honoured to be part of her virtual book tour. I was living in Australia when Ricki and I first became friends, and it still makes me smile to think we’re now Toronto buddies regularly catching up over vegan lunches.
Ricki’s cookbook is a treasure trove of 100 enticing dessert recipes that are entirely vegan, gluten-free, and refined sugar-free, as well as often soy-free, nut-free, and corn-free. I’ve already fallen hard for her Cocoa Nibbles, Marbled Halvah, and Coconut Macaroons (recipe below), and can’t wait to try the Tropical Lemon Coconut Muffins (made with avocado!), Glazed Almond Bars, and Raw Gingersnap Cookie Bon Bons, among others.
Hannah: If you were to build a cottage out of baked goods, like in Hansel and Gretel (but without the trying-to-cook-children part, because you’re vegan), which of your recipes would you use?
Ricki: Are you asking me which cookies are so hard that they’d hold up a house and withstand inclement weather? Hmm… can’t say I’d recommend any of them, in that case!
If I could choose any treats that would look pretty and still be as soft and chewy as they actually are, though, I’d say the Butterscotch Blondies for the main walls (they’re a lovely golden color and speckled with dried cranberries and chocolate chips); the chocolate shortbread for the door (dark and dense, like mahogany); Oatmeal Poppyseed Scones for the floor (love the poppyseed speckles); Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies for the roof (because they can be rolled and cut into any shape you like); and Chocolate “Buttercream” Frosting to top off the roof (just because you can swirl it to look like Spanish roof tiles, for fun).
Hannah: What makes Naturally Sweet & Gluten Free stand out from the crowd?
Ricki: Well, apart from all the foolproof recipes, full chapter on ingredients and substitutions, step-by-step instructions and stellar photos by Celine Saki… the book also offers vegan and gluten-free recipes that are lower on the glycemic index than most other baked goods. As far as I know, most gluten-free cookbooks aren’t vegan; those that are tend to include regular sugar in their recipes. In addition, I use only whole foods ingredients, so you won’t find processed vegan margarine, fake egg replacers, or processed soy “cream cheese,” for example, in any of my recipes.
Hannah: What three recipes from your cookbook would you make for people who proclaim they “don’t have a sweet tooth”?
Ricki: You mean there are people who don’t have a sweet tooth? Hmm… well, there’s an entire chapter focusing on breakfast baking, so I assume those folks would enjoy my waffles, pancakes, muffins and scones. However, if you’re looking for desserty treats that aren’t too sweet, I can vouch for the Apple Pumpkin Crumble Bars, Seed Jumble Cookies (sort of like a granola bar in a cookie), and Grain-Free Autumn Fruit Crumble, all of which could conceivably provide a balanced meal just on their own.
Hannah: What was your favourite part of writing Naturally Sweet & Gluten Free?
Ricki: While I do enjoy writing and found it satisfying to narrate the story of my “dessert history,” for me, the most fun in any cookbook is creating the recipes. I often found myself in the kitchen, attempting a recipe for the fourth or fifth time that day, and stopped only stopped working because it was time to go to sleep. I consider recipe creation to be a bit of a science experiment, toying with chemical reactions and timing. Maybe I should have been a mad scientist or something, but for me, that is immensely enjoyable!
Hannah: And your least favourite?
Ricki: I can’t say I was too fond of spending four days meticulously reading through every single 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 cup psyllium husk, 135 grams all-purpose flour, pinch of salt, and so on, for every single recipe on all 224 pages of the book, one line at a time, to proofread the final galleys.
Hannah: Having already devoured your cookbook (both in terms of reading and baking from it), I selfishly (and excitedly) must ask… what’s next?
Ricki: Right now, the book launch! I’m really excited about getting Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free out into the world, so that people with food restrictions can enjoy their favorite baked goods again, type 2 diabetics can eat delicious cookies, or kids can enjoy frosted birthday cakes even if they are allergic to all Top 8 allergens. Readers have been asking me for some of these recipes for a long time, and I am thrilled to finally be able to oblige!
After that… well, down the road, I’m hoping to mover over to the savoury side of things. But that’s a ways off at this point!
1. Leave a comment telling me one of your favourite desserts.
2. Follow Wayfaring Chocolate on Instagram.
3. Like Wayfaring Chocolate on Facebook.
4. Follow Ricki on Instagram.
5. Like Ricki on Facebook.
I’ll choose a winner via random generator on September 23rd. Open to US and Canadian residents only (sorry!).
This recipe is from Naturally Sweet & Gluten Free by Ricki Heller. Recipe re-printed with permission from Sellers Publishing, 2013. Makes 14 – 16
- 3/4 cup (135 g) natural raw skin-on almonds, preferably organic
- 2 Tbsp (15 g) finely ground flax seeds (from about 1 Tbsp or 15 ml whole seeds)
- 1/8 tsp (.5 ml) fine sea salt
- 2 cups (135 g) unsweetened shredded coconut, medium shred
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) coconut nectar
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) light agave nectar
- 20 to 25 drops pure plain or vanilla stevia liquid, or to taste
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) tahini (sesame seed paste)
- 1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) pure coconut extract (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick spray.
In the bowl of a food processor, whir the almonds, flax, and salt together until they resemble a coarse meal, about the texture of cornmeal, without any identifiable pieces of almond visible. Add the coconut and pulse once or twice to combine.
Next pour the coconut nectar, agave nectar, stevia, tahini, vanilla, and coconut extract, if using, over the dry ingredients. Process again until everything is incorporated and the mixture forms a sticky ball (you may need to stop and scrape down the sides of the processor bowl once or twice). Stop as soon as the mixture holds together, to avoid grinding the coconut too fine.
Using a small ice-cream scoop or tablespoon (15 ml), drop small mounds of the mixture onto the cookie sheets about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. Wet your palms (or use a silicone spatula) and flatten the cookies slightly.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets about halfway through baking, until the cookies are deep golden brown on top. Cool completely before removing to a rack (the cookies will firm up as they cool). May be frozen.