When local baker Kristi Touchette decided to share her recipe for blueberry-chocolate chip blondies with readers — an organic dessert bar that is very moist and flavorful — she said, “It’s not what the average person would expect from a vegan!”
Knowing that some people might erroneously imagine that cakes made with organic ingredients might be, dare we say, dull and boring, she ups the ante and challenges those preconceptions by declaring, “You can’t have a vegan cake that tastes ‘just as good’ as a regular cake. It has to taste better!”
“And fortunately, my baking defies the myths of dry and boring!” said the owner of Ahimsa Custom Cakes of Auburn. “Dry baked goods are horrible — vegan or otherwise. I’ve never had a problem with moistness in my cakes. They’re never described as dry.”
Touchette has been baking from scratch since around sixth grade. It’s not at all surprising she learned how to bake from her grandmother. What's more surprising is that her grandmother baked vegan-style (no animal products, such as eggs or milk) even though she didn’t follow vegan food guidelines in her own day-to-day diet.
“My husband and I have been vegan for over 10 years; vegetarian for 16 years," said Touchette. "We originally became vegetarian for the health aspect, but it evolved into also being an ethical choice.”
Her grandmother’s cakes had a different texture from what Touchette uses in her business today. Because she incorporates a lot of intricate icings, cake carving and sculpting in her business (utilizing the same artistic talents that earned her a degree in sculpture from the Maine College of Art), she needed a firmer cake to work with, and took almost two years to perfect the recipe of her signature vanilla cake.
After quite a bit of trial and error, her end result was a cake that is denser, although not as heavy as a pound cake. Her secret ingredient is a custom-made vanilla emulsion, which is actually more of a paste.
One of her other challenges was to carefully adjust the ratio of oil used — she wanted a moist cake without any greasiness.
She said it’s not the organic elements of the ingredients that create a good or bad cake. “The baking techniques used are what make it dry or not. My methods are different.”
Feeling more at times like a chemist, she said, “It’s about learning how it works. It’s all chemistry when it comes to a scratch cake.”
She prefers to buy local ingredients when possible, and says she is careful to select "certified" organic ingredients,” because the terms "organic" and "all natural' can sometimes be deceiving. Organic means there are no hormones, no GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and no pesticides used during the growing or manufacturing processes.
Depending on what she is baking, she has been known to use yogurt or applesauce for additional moistness. A small amount of banana can add a lot of moisture, she said, without giving the cake or dessert a banana flavor.
Her preferred “sugar” is evaporated cane juice (crystals), an unbleached version that she finds “really flavorful.” In general, she also aims to make her icings a little less sweet than what you might encounter on other cakes.
The inspiration for creating her blueberry-chocolate chip blondies — a variation on standard blondies — were some chocolate-covered blueberries someone brought her from Canada.
She emphasizes that readers can use non-organic ingredients for this recipe if that’s what they have on hand. Touchette added that the soy milk could be replaced with rice, almond or hazelnut milk, if desired, and almost any berry could be substituted for the blueberries. The lemon zest, she said, “seems to tone down the bitterness of the blueberry.”
While her own preference on chocolate is dark and bitter, she said you can just as easily use a milk chocolate if you prefer. And if you don’t have sea salt; it’s OK to use regular salt.
Touchette has found her cakes appeal to not just vegans. “People don’t need to be scared of vegan baking,” she said, adding it might just be “a less guilty choice.”
Kristi Touchette’s blueberry-chocolate chip blondies
3-3/4 cup organic, unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup organic vanilla soy yogurt (vegan)
1/4 cup organic soy milk
1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups organic evaporated (crystallized) cane juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (nondairy)
2 cups frozen organic blueberries (she uses berries that were fresh-picked in Maine during blueberry season and immediately frozen)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup cold, filtered water
1/3 cup organic evaporated (crystallized) cane juice
Grated lemon zest, to taste (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
In a medium saucepan combine blueberry layer ingredients and stir until the cornstarch is dissolved and not clumpy. Slowly bring to a boil, whisking as you go for a few minutes. Reduce to a slow boil until thickened and remove from heat and let cool completely.
Sift the flour, baking soda and sea salt together in a mixing bowl and set aside. In a second bowl, combine the soy yogurt, soy milk, canola oil, cane juice (sugar) and vanilla. Alternately add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients until a wet dough forms. Reserve 1 cup of dough and set aside.
Spread the rest of the dough evenly into the prepared baking pan. Spread an even layer of blueberry filling over the dough. Sprinkle a thin layer of dark chocolate chips (about a half-cup) over the blueberry filling. Spread the rest of the dough over the chocolate chips and filling. It’s OK if it comes out in clumps; Touchette said it doesn’t have to be perfect. Sprinkle the rest of the dark chocolate chips on top.
Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into squares.
For a healthy and still-delicious shortcut, Touchette said you can substitute pure fruit preserves for the homemade blueberry filling.