Fran Costigan, Irresistible Chocolate Vegan Desserts



Part II: Fran Costigan Irresistible Chocolate Vegan Desserts

Native New Yorker Fran Costigan, the “Queen of Vegan Desserts,” is an internationally recognized culinary instructor, author, consultant, recipe developer and the pioneering vegan pastry chef who marries healthy eating with sumptuous tastes. The “Fran Factor” is her unique ability to transform traditional desserts into modern, healthful, and luscious vegan desserts that satisfy vegans and omnivores alike. In Fran’s recipes, ‘nothing is missing except the dairy, eggs, white sugar and excess fat.’ She is the authority on all things related to vegan baking and desserts.A graduate of the New York Restaurant School, the Natural Gourmet Institute, and Nick Malgeri’s Professional Pastry Intensive, today Fran teaches her unique courses at the Institute of Culinary Education, the Natural Gourmet Institute (including her always sold-out Vegan Baking Boot Camp Intensive®), and at other venues throughout the US and Canada. Fran’s second cookbook, More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally (Book Publishing Company, 2006), is designed as a complete course in vegan baking. Fran’s recipes feature organic whole grains, fair trade natural sweeteners and chocolates, and clean seasonal ingredients. Fran’s third cookbook, Irresistible Chocolate Vegan Desserts for Everyone: Unapologetically Delicious, Decadent, Dark, Organic and Fair, will be published by Running Press, fall 2013.Fran and her decadent modern vegan dessert recipes have been featured on Discovery Health Channel Show Get Fresh with Sara Snow, on Better TV, and on ABC’s Nightline. Her work has been profiled in numerous print and online publications such as The New Yorker, VegNews, Veg Family, Vegetarian Journal, Vegetarian Voice, Café Sweets Japan, and Organic Spa Magazine. Fran is an advisory board member of New York Coalition for Healthy School Foods. She also also promotes her message through her professional affiliations,which include the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance (NYWCA), International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR). LISTEN HERE to the 11/17/2010 interview with Fran Costigan on IT’S ALL ABOUT FOOD. TRANSCRIPTION: Caryn Hartglass: Hi everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and we’re back! It’s the eleventh of December, 2012 and this is It’s All About Food. Now you know me, I talk about food all the time. I like to say that eating a healthy diet is really important and so is really keeping an eye on the oil, salt, sugar, and all that stuff. That doesn’t mean that from time to time we can’t have a treat. A treat is something that we don’t have all the time, that’s what makes it a treat, hello! I know the standard American diet today has people treating every hour. And I think it might even be a little boring when you’re getting all that gooey, sweet whatever you want every moment of the day. Just my opinion. There are moments when treats are wonderful and deserved. We should have them made form wonderful, quality ingredients that are gentle on the planet and cruelty-free. There is one person who does this best and we’re going to be talking to her right now! She’s a native New Yorker, Fran Costigan is the queen of vegan desserts. She’s an internationally recognized culinary instructor, author, consultant, recipe developer, and the pioneering vegan pastry chef who marries healthy eating with sumptuous tastes. The “Fran factor” is her unique ability to transform traditional desserts into modern healthful and luscious vegan desserts that satisfy vegans and omnivores alike. In Fran’s recipes, nothing is missing except the dairy, eggs, white sugar, and excess fat. She’s the authority on all things related to vegan baking and desserts and a graduate of the New York Restaurant School, the Natural Gourmet Institute, and Nick Malgerie’s Professional Pastry Intensive. Today Fran teaches her unique courses at the institute of culinary education, a natural gourmet institute, including her always sold out Vegan Baking Boot Camp Intensive, and at other venues throughout the US and Canada. Fran’s second cookbook, More Great Good Dairy-Free Desserts Naturally, is designed as a complete course in vegan baking. She just finished working on her third cookbook, Irresistible Chocolate Vegan Desserts for Everyone: Unapologetically Delicious, Decadent, Dark, Organic and Fair. That will be coming out next year. We’re going to be talking about that and a lot more. Welcome to It’s All About Food, my wonderful friend, Fran! Fran Costigan: Thank you. Caryn Hartglass: It’s really nice to have a friend like you because you’re always bringing chocolates wherever you are. Fran Costigan: This is true. Thank you for that lovely welcome Caryn and I really enjoyed your interview with Chad, a dear friend. Caryn Hartglass: One crazy, sexy chef! Fran Costigan: He is that! He’s a good looking man! And a great chef and a wonderful teacher. Caryn Hartglass: I want to go watch his video on how to steam vegetables. Fran Costigan: You know, because I teach so much and for such a long time, I’ve met so many people. I have still trained myself to have a beginner’s mind. There really are people who, whether it’s the terminology, like steaming, or are really nervous about going into the kitchen and making their own food, boiling water or steaming seems like a gourmet term. I suggest to people that they might have made themselves a cup of tea sometime and that would have involved boiling water. We just need to show each other. Caryn Hartglass: I’m just thinking right now, probably a lot of people don’t know how to boil water because they have automatic coffee makers and they just fill it up and press a button. Fran Costigan: That’s right. Or in Europe, and I see a lot of it here too, where people plug those pots in to make the boiling water. Caryn Hartglass: Right, electric. Fran Costigan: But stoves work too. Or people who boil water in a microwave oven. Anyway, the fact is, keep it simple. And do what works and what feels comfortable for you. Once you start making a little bit of food for yourself, it’s a game changer. I’ve been working day and night really, and I’ve had pretty unbalanced life and I believe in balance and in the last week I’ve been working on finishing the man for the new vegan chocolate book and I’ve very excited about it. So I’m in NYC and I can pick up the phone and I can have a green juice delivered or a bean salad or whatever, and I was doing that for a while. I did that for two days and then something just didn’t feel okay. Even though the restaurants I chose were alright, I wasn’t making the food and my energy wasn’t in the food and I kind of went ugh. Caryn Hartglass: Well, even if you’re not making the food, there’s an opportunity for a lot of oil or salt. Fran Costigan: Exactly Caryn Hartglass: There are some wonderful restaurants in this city but still, they’re trying to maximize their profit and you don’t know all the ingredients that are going into what they’re making. Fran Costigan: You don’t know. It’s true. So I didn’t like the way I felt and I just thought, “This is so simple!” I keep a pretty well stocked pantry and even when it’s not, one of the best things about following a whole-foods, plant-based diet is that you can always eat. So I had something and people look at the salads that I eat and they go, “Is that for you?” and I say, “Yes.” Greens, avocado, cucumbers, celery, whatever I had in the fridge. Caryn Hartglass: You’re making me hungry! Fran Costigan: It was a really delicious salad! And I felt better! It’s a little way of taking control. I didn’t need oil. I’m not an oil-shunner, because I use oil in my desserts but I don’t use it where I don’t need it. The avocado took care of the fat that I was craving. Caryn Hartglass: It’s my favorite fat! Fran Costigan: Yeah, it’s good. And for the kale salad, I did that too. It was really good. And it gives me an opportunity to get up from my computer and go and massage my kale a little bit. So it’s just wonderful. With that said, I have tasted a lot of chocolate in the past year. This book is going to be quite unique. There hasn’t been to date, a chocolate book, and chocolate is pretty universally loved, for people who exclude form their diets milk, dairy of all kinds, eggs, and refined white sugar. And those are products that I do not use. I also do not use any, what I call marginal or fake foods. Now I am not making people who use the products I do no use wrong, I want to make that really clear. There’s room for everyone. But I have not needed to and I don’t want to, so I don’t use palm oil. I’m not talking chocolate chips. There are some chocolate chips in the chocolate chip cookie, but I’m talking about high percentage chocolates. And I learned so much throughout the research for this book, it’s so interesting. Caryn Hartglass: Did you start out with history of chocolate? Fran Costigan: Yes. The book is designed so that the first chapter is pretty information dense. You can go to it if you wish or you can just go to a recipie in chapter that you might be interested in. there’s a truffle chapter, chocolate truffles, cakes, showstoppers which are multi-part but are doable in stages, ice creams, puddings, cooked, raw, gluten free, and confections as well. Did I say cookies and bars? Caryn Hartglass: No. Fran Costigan: Cookies and bars. What I did is I have information about the ingredients. People say, you’re vegan? You’re doing a chocolate book? That’s great, what do you use for chocolate? Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, people don’t understand. They equate milk and butter with chocolate. I think they’re even confused when they see cocoa butter as an ingredient. Fran Costigan: Thank you for saying that. So yes, I decided to do a really complete glossary and then at the front of each chapter, because there are different types of desserts and within the types there are subtypes, and I write the way I think so I will go to a section or a chapter, usually in the front or the back of the book that has explanations, but I want to know about what I need to know to bake a good cake at the cake chapter, for example. So I did a complete section on chocolate and I really had to rethink the way I was labeling chocolate. I was thinking high percentage which is when you go to any major drug store chain and you see seventy percent on the bar, or eighty percent in big print. What that means is that’s the percentage of chocolate solids, which is the cocoa mass, the unsweetened chocolate, like chocolate liquor, which is not alcohol, and cocoa butter, which is not dairy, it’s the fat. I’m not very good at math, but if it’s a seventy percent bar, it’s seventy percent chocolate and about thirty percent sugar. So the higher the percentage, the lower the sugar and I like that because you’re getting more chocolate. However, the percentage is not a guarantee of quality because you need to do a little homework and you need to taste a few bars. It all starts with the beans: how are they selected, how are they fermented, how are they handled, are they roasted or not? Also, with the artisanal, small-batch chocolate makers now, how they prepare the chocolate bean to bar is proprietary information. And on top of that we have personal tastes and our palates are different. So one seventy percent bar might taste creamier to me and sweeter, whereas you might take a bite and say, “This is really dark, this is really bitter.” So it turns out that what I was calling, until now, “bittersweet” or “semi-sweet” chocolate is a misnomer. They are dark chocolates with different percentages. Actually, according to the FDA, and I’m doing this from memory, to be called bittersweet, the percentage of a chocolate only need only be thirty-five percent. Clearly, a bar that is labeled with “bittersweet” and made with thirty-five percent is going to taste really different from one that is made with eighty-five percent. Caryn Hartglass: I think going to taste sweet Fran Costigan: It’s going to taste sweet to me. So the percentages are a guide. I like the idea of using high percentage chocolates for a number of reasons. There’s less sugar and more chocolate. I like using less sugar with the idea that these are desserts. And going back to what you said about treats, if you eat these desserts that I make all throughout the day, I don’t see that they are treats any more. So whereas I start many of my classes and conversations with, “There is no holy grail of sweetener and these are treats that are meant to be made to be once in a while, but when you enjoy them, make it good. Make it really good.” Caryn Hartglass: I think a lot of people have a palate that doesn’t know how taste many flavors. they’ve grown accustomed to accepting low quality that has sugar and artificial flavors and fat and they don’t even know what good is. Fran Costigan: Yes, but you can retrain really easily. I know that eating my version of a clean diet, my whole foods, plant-based diet, because as we know, you and I have discussed this as friends many times in conversations, vegan doesn’t equal healthy. You can be a candy bar began. I eat seasonal foods that are whole and organic. I have greens every day, many times a day and grains and beans. Caryn Hartglass: But when it’s party time, you bring the chocolate cake! Fran Costigan: When it’s party time, I’m happy to have my chocolate, but I want it to be delicious. And so, having grown up on those foil, kissy things, those waxy things, the high percentage chocolates, and I’m talking about the ones that are high quality, are a phenomenon because you’re tasting chocolate. You need less really because there is more chocolate inherently in something that’s seventy percent or eighty-five percent. And I know, because I have met so many people in this line of dessert work that I am doing to my surprise and delight and the delight of my friends I must say, that they say “Wow, I can really eat a smaller piece and feel satisfied. I can have a truffle that isn’t the size of a golf ball or a baseball and feel satisfied.” But you need to use quality, good stuff. Also, when you take the excess fat out, and there is excess sugar and excess fat in commercial foods just because it’s cheaper and the general public’s palates might be used to that, you taste the chocolate. The chocolate isn’t masked. This I know because I have really experienced this. Caryn Hartglass: Now some people like chocolate, just plain chocolate. I like when chocolate is married with something else either like chocolate with some nut or chocolate with some sort of bread, cake, cookie, something or other. I feel like I taste the chocolate better when it comes with something Fran Costigan: You might. Well, chocolate and nuts are really a historic pairing. There’s this symbiotic thing that goes on. There are recipes in this book for every level of expertise or how much time you have in a particular day or whatever. Many of the component recipes have components that can be done in advance so learn you learn to make a ganache, which is typically an emotion of heavy cream and chocolate, then sometimes butter is added and sometimes corn syrup is added, this is getting kind of yucky to me. Mine are non-dairy, milks, creams, I’ve even got one with orange juice. So you’ll be able to tailor what works for you in this. Let’s say that you’ve done this ganache, which isn’t very difficult to do; you need to follow my rulebooks. I have Fran’s rulebook for making perfect truffles or ice cream or whatever at the front of each chapter. Then you’ve got this in your refrigerator and let’s say that you were coming into the city with Gary. Caryn, come on over! I want to serve you a little something, its holiday time! And I make you a little chocolate crostini. I toast some wonderful sourdough or sprouted wheat bread until it’s crunchy. Spread it while it’s warm with some of this melty ganache and for you, who likes nuts, maybe there will be some chopped hazelnuts on the top and teeny crush of finishing salt, maybe or maybe not, and a little drizzle of olive oil, maybe or maybe not. But you can see the possibilities; they are endless and they are wonderful. I also have a vegan not-tella-tella, if you know what I mean, in the book. It’s really good. Caryn Hartglass: I was talking about Nutella recently because they’d been in the news. In France, they are talking about levying a tax on foods with palm oil. Something like a thirty percent tax, but I’m not exactly sure how it works out. So the Nutella Company is up in arms because there’s a lot of palm oil in their hazelnut spread. Fran Costigan: And milk powder. Caryn Hartglass: And milk powder. Those are the two top ingredients actually: milk powder and palm oil Fran Costigan: Yes, there’s very little chocolate and there’s very little hazelnut. That’s really interesting. Well Caryn, let me say, there’s that one recipe with palm oil in my book. I don’t use it. It’s just something that I do not use. I haven’t needed to. Caryn Hartglass: That’s fine. I’m on the fence about palm oil and I know a lot of people are really quite adamantly against it. I think there’s a lot to it. People are concerned about palm oil because there’s a lot of mono-cropping of palm oil in many third world countries devastating the rainforest and it’s not good for the environment. I acknowledge that but I also acknowledge that there are bigger issues to the rainforest than sometime I think is the whole palm oil story which is a distraction to the bigger issue which is cattle ranching and soy production to feed cows, which is a bigger piece of the rainforest destruction puzzle, unfortunately. It’s all important. Fran Costigan: It’s all important is really what it comes to. So as long as I’m able to, I’m keeping it a bit more local. I’ve found that using olive oil from California, California Olive Ranch, to make desserts that require fat, is just wonderful. When you switch from a solid shortening, so we would say butter here, to a liquid, which is all fat, you need less. You need twenty-five percent less. So I use just enough to make the dessert taste good. The fat-free desserts, I’m talking about cakes, unlike truffles, which isn’t a fat-free dessert, but it’s certainly a no-fat-added dessert. I’ve got my truffle recipe going into Rip Esselstyn’s upcoming book and you know that no fat is allowed there. You also go around full circle there to the idea that there are times when people who eat plant-based diets need a good treat. I did Rip and Jill’s wedding cakes. They did have cakes at their wedding. Caryn Hartglass: Oh good, I’m glad to hear that. They wanted a chocolate cake and that’s what they had. You and I talk often about this and I heard you talking to Chad, you know how people who say to me, “You’re a dessert chef right?” and I go, “Yeah, I make desserts.” “Well, you’re not fat. You’re slender, super slender.” Well, I just finished writing an all chocolate book with 100 to 115 recipes I think and I certainly had to do tasting all along the way. I had to taste with my grand children’s little tasting spoons. The fact is, I don’t live on these desserts. I know that I’m tasting for flavor, for consistency, and for texture, and then I’ve had enough, because they’re really good. Caryn Hartglass: Was there something you learned about chocolate that you didn’t know before? Fran Costigan: There was a lot I learned about chocolate that I didn’t know before and I’ve been using chocolate because my classes are popular, but it’s the chocolate classes that are really popular or in a class that isn’t a chocolate class invariably someone will say, “Well, what if we put a little chocolate in this?” It’s just this universal thing. One of the main things I touched on before was the percentage, the idea of bittersweet, and it’s just a marketing label, almost like natural. That was very interesting to me. Also, the idea of well, what makes chocolate vegan? I was stunned to learn that, in this country anyway, up to 12 percent milk solids, in some form, is allowed to be contained in a dark chocolate. So you had best read your labels. It’s disclosed, but it wouldn’t occur to me until I learned this. This is law. If I saw a bar of dark chocolate, I would assume that it is an only chocolate bar. Caryn Hartglass: Many people have made that mistake. Because organic has become a very popular marketing tool, so that the chocolate makers that I trusted or liked, for example, have been bought up by the bigger guys and then the biggest guys. I’m not talking about shared lines here, I’m talking about seeing milk powder. Green & Black will list organic milk powder. Caryn Hartglass: I used to love them a long time ago and I don’t any more Fran Costigan: They were bought by Cadbury. Caryn Hartglass: And then by Kraft. Fran Costigan: But the fact is, they’re still talking about shared equipment. By law, you can have up to 12 percent milk in some form. So I suggest that you really look at your label. At least, it’s annoying and at worst, it’s quite deadly. That was a really big one for me. So people say, “Well, what makes chocolate vegan?” It’s a bit tricky; the sugar needs to be vegan. “What makes sugar vegan?” If your sugar is organic, it’s vegan. It hasn’t been processed through bone char. So you want to look for organic sugar, but even that’s become a confusing thing. Caryn Hartglass: Oh my God, we can’t talk about chocolate anymore! But we can talk about chocolate. I want to use a chocolate that’s a compassionate chocolate, not a slavery. Caryn Hartglas: No slavery in your chocolate. Fran Costigan: There’s a lot of slavery and I talk about that in the book as well. But mostly, I just want you to like it! Mmmm! Caryn Hartglass: Well Fran, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food! We really are looking forward to when this book is in print, which will be sometime in 2013. Fran Costigan: Fall. Caryn Hartglass: In the fall. Great. Well, thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food! Please visit, that’s where I live! Send me an email at and we’ll be back next week! Have a delicious one! Bye! Transcribed by Flannery Cash, 3/4/2013

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