Sometimes it’s the culinary journey, not the destination.
Look at any glossy photo spread of food or a bakery case displaying chiseled cakes, and cooking perfection seems so attainable. After a week of whisking, whipping, creaming and spatula-tasting I’m here to tell you, it is, but not always. Especially when it comes to taking much loved classics and transforming them into vegan and gluten-free versions of their former selves. Naturally, we expect them to taste identical to their butter-filled, wheat-plastered originals. No wait, we expect them to taste even better. And, normally, I’m pretty lucky in getting close to this goal.
So, with cooking confidence, I started the week with high hopes for crepes. I picked up a new cast iron crepe pan, read recipe upon recipe of how the French fashion their signature dish and went to it. Four hours later, I stood in a kitchen covered with flour and smoke, wiping my brow. My boyfriend and I agreed the exhausting results were pretty tasty, but simply not pretty enough to tempt you from this screen. Still craving something French, I picked the signature recipe from one, aforementioned, sparkling, drool-inducing bakery case – the Bouchon au Chocolate from Thomas Keller’s famed Bouchon Bakery in New York City.
It’s a place I love to go just to take in the beauty, standing wide-eyed before the cakes, croissants and of course bouchons. It’s torture really, since everything is carefully concocted with eggs, butter, more butter and wheat. So, right then and there, on a Friday night, I decided the bouchons would be mine – and yours – vegan and gluten-free, of course. I bought the official Bouchon Bakery silicone baking pan and ran home to try it out. A few hours later, when I opened the oven, let’s just say, it’s not what Thomas Keller or I had intended. My rich, decadent bouchons had sunk into little muffin bottoms, and crispy pieces of batter lined the top of the pan.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned along the road of being vegan, it’s that often in the pitfalls – what some less optimistic people would call disasters – that you find tasty bits of beauty. And those little crispy pieces of au chocolate, bubbling over the rims of my new pan, perfectly resembled the taste of an Oreo cookie – crunchy, chocolaty and buttery with a dash of salt. So out came the cookie pan, and I pressed the remaining (now refrigerated and dough-like) batter into cookies.
Rife with surprises, they rapidly spread into one giant sheet of chocolate cookie-ness. (Lesson learned: When you make these, spread the batter into a baking pan with sides, and clean-up will be a breeze.) When they came out of the oven, I pressed them into heart shapes and let them cool on the pan, atop a cooling rack. The pieces surrounding the hearts became crumbly cookie bits – perfect for blending with a crème or ice cream of your choice. I chose to go with a crème, whipping up a simple concoction from soaked cashews, coconut meat, vanilla and maple syrup.
The cashews – rich in polyphenol antioxidants that keep your body healthy and strong, along with heart-healthy magnesium, bone-supportive copper and monounsaturated fats – gave just the right amount of creaminess with a needed boost of nutrition in the midst of all the buttery chocolate.
Hours later, like a mad scientist, I stood triumphant. Before me was something unexpected. Something like Oreo-cookie ice cream meets melting strachiatella gelato.
It was far from the airy bouchons I had imagined, and yet, it was a vegan dream of serendipity – bits of deliciousness en route to another destination. Cooking, I’ve discovered is just a microcosm of life. It’s what we experience along the journey that really matters.
The original recipe, truly turned upside down with its vegan version, is as follows. A promissory note to you: My quest for the perfect vegan Bouchon au Chocolate and crepe continues. Stay tuned…
The Original – Bouchon Bakery Bouchon au chocolate by Thomas Keller
- Butter and flour for the timbale (or bouchon) molds
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and slightly warm
- 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chopped into pieces the size of chocolate chips
The vegan, gluten-free Bouchon au chocolate cookies & crème
Servings: 4 + leftover bouchon crumbles
Bouchon au chocolate cookies & crumbles
- 3/4 cup gluten-free flour blend
- ¼ cup sorghum flour
- ¼ cup brown rice flour
- 1/8 cup almond flour
- 1/8 cup potato starch
- ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valrhona 100% cocoa powder)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (exclude salt if using salted vegan butter—most vegan butters contain salt)
- Egg substitute (equivalent of 3 eggs)
- 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar mixed with 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (ideally alcohol-free)
- 24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted vegan butter, melted and slightly warm (I used Earth Balance butter sticks)
- 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into pieces the size of chocolate chips
- ½ raw cashews, soaked
- 1 cup fresh Thai coconut meat & water from coconut (or approximately ½ cup coconut meat blended with 1 cup warm water.
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1 ½ tablespoons vanilla extract
- A dash of Celtic or Himalayan salt
Bouchon au Chocolate Cookies & Crumbles
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt (if adding) into a bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, mix together your egg substitutes and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until pale in color. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then one-third of the butter, and continue alternating with the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to a day.)
- Pour the batter into a 9 x 11 baking pan.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Let the “cookies” cool in the pan, atop a cooling rack, for a few minutes.
- If desired, press the giant cookie sheet into cookie shapes and transfer to a cooling rack. Or, simply break the entire sheet into small pieces with a spatula and leave in the pan to cool completely.
- Soak the cashews in tepid water for 2 hours. (This helps to soften the cashews and releases enzymes so they’re easier to digest)
- Blend all of the ingredients on high in a blender until smooth.
- Refrigerate until the crème thickens a bit and is cold (approximately 2 hours).
The Whole Concoction Combined…
- Pour crème into serving dishes or glasses (I used martini glasses).
- Sprinkle with a few tablespoons of the cookie crumbles and mix together with a spoon if desired.
- Garnish with raspberries, whole cookies (if you pressed these from the dough) or other fruits and nuts.
Photos by Jennifer Barckley