Sacrilege, I know.
But anyway, I recently watched the hippiest of hippy documentaries: Cowspiracy. Contrary to what I expected, it was not about PETA coming for your soul… but rather it was (mostly) about how modern livestock—-between fields of crops to grow its food, farmland to raise it, water to keep it hydrated, and the waste it generates—is apparently THE main cause behind global warming. Too many people eat too much meat (that’s not pointing a finger at your Sunday Pot Roast, it’s looking at that $1 hamburger you get from the gas station). But no one wants to say that it’s the reason behind climate change, because Americans have this thing with eating meat… thus the “cowspriacy”.
What was the most shocking to me, however, was that dairy and eggs take more resources than meat. For instance, one pound of cheese takes a cumulative 700 gallons of water to make, according to the EPA’s blog. To get to the point of the documentary, they suggest that instead of shaving a few minutes off of your shower, if you really want to help the environment, you ought to cut out animal products.
Now, I’m a (not born but yes raised) Wisconsinite. Certain places would have to freeze over before I stop eating dairy. So don’t worry, family, I know you’re reading this. I’m not about to become vegan…especially since it is my lifelong crusade to prove that butter makes the best pie crust. So I’ll stop getting political on you, because that’s not why I’m here. I AM HERE to add some quality recipes to the veg world, and to accept this new challenge that is baking sans eggs.
I had many qualifications that this recipe needed to meet, and some of these will probably be the norm for any vegan adventure of mine:
1) It must include normal ingredients that the average human has access to. No nutritional yeast, no agar agar, no…molecular gastronomy. Alright? If you want people to join in, you can’t make them restock their whole pantry.
2) NO COCONUT MILK. Nearly every vegan creme brulee recipe that I saw required canned coconut milk. Cool, if tropical is what you’re going for. But you can’t pretend that’s a flavor profile you’d experience in a traditional mainland-French dessert. Especially not if you have family members who can sniff out coconut from a mile away.
3) It must be tasty in its own right. One of the things that irks me about the veg world is the way that it seems to find “replacements” for animal products. VEGAN CHEESE, TOFU MEAT REPLACEMENT. How about instead of marketing things that are clearly NOT MEAT as “meat”, you market them as just another food to add to your repertoire. Waffles are not Pancake Replacements, after all. [Now watch me be a hypocrite as I make a creme brulee replacement]
I also learned many things on my first vegan baking experience…none of which really have to do with vegan cooking:
1) Do not let soy milk boil over. The smell of burning soy will stay in your nose for eternity, and even longer on your stove top. Not that I would know…
2) Do not let turmeric loose, unless you are prepared for your whole life to be the color of movie-theater popcorn.
3) Do not make creme brulee if you do not have access to a kitchen torch. Broilers are a non-substitute, and Medieval-style internet suggestions just make you feel like an idiot. That said, Medieval-style it is for me, until I have the means to buy a kitchen torch on a whim.
4) Cornstarch is an emulsifier, if used appropriately. Yay!
This creme brulee could really pass as the real thing, if you didn’t know about its vegetable beginnings. It is sweet, caramelized, silky, delicately flavored, just rich enough, and has that toasted-marshmallow thing going on. Winner.
Vegan Crème Brûlée
Yield: 4-5 servings
2 c. Unsweetened Plain Soy Milk (pretty sure even the gas stations carry soy milk these days)
2 T. Palm Oil/Non-Coconutty Coconut Oil/probably Shortening would work too
Pinch Turmeric for color (optional, but the illusion is pretty darn cool)
Large Pinch Salt
1/2 c. Sugar (plus more for torching)
1/4c. Corn Starch
2 t. Vanilla Extract
Place soy milk, oil, turmeric, and salt into a saucepan and heat over medium-high.
In a bowl, whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. The grittiness of the sugar will help break up any clumps in the cornstarch, giving you a smoother end product.
When the liquid reaches a simmer, whisk it well to help emulsify the fat, then add the sugar mixture. Cook until cornstarch activates (which I just learned is up to 205 degrees F). Immediately remove from heat and add vanilla. Pour into ramekins. Refrigerate until cool and set, then sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar on each. Proceed to brulee, which you will do with a real kitchen torch if you love yourself.