Incredible Plant-Based Desserts by Anthea Cheng
This book starts with breakfast. It starts with overnight oats, muesli bars, peaches and cream sourdough French toast, pancakes, and to top it off, rainbow frozen yoghurt granola popsicles. Well, breakfast is the perfect time to begin dessert, is it not? In Anthea Cheng’s world, dessert is a day-long affair that takes you from extravagant snacks to café-style treats and at long last, the crown-jewels, cakes. And what would a dessert book be without a trifle of trifle?
Athena Cheng’s Incredible Plant-Based Desserts lives up to its name. It is the result of the wide following Cheng has attracted via her Instagram page, Rainbow Nourishment. Cheng’s commitment to health and the environment mean that all of the recipes are plant-based. Cheng describes her journey in her introduction, beginning in her parents’ restaurant as a child, but the focus of this recipe book is, as it rightly should be, on the food. The colourful pages of desserts give the feel of a Lewis Carroll wonderland with edible treats.
On first sight of many of those pages I thought – well, that looks amazing, but I’m probably not going to be able to make that. But Cheng’s book is brimming with practicalities. I was surprised to find recipes that were simpler than I thought. In some cases I could see that I could easily substitute if I didn’t have what was required. I’m sure Cheng won’t mind a little substitution; this book is burgeoning with creativity and invention. Cheng writes that she wants this book to be a ‘wow’ for all, plant-based and non-plant-based dessert-eaters alike. It provides both a vanilla and chocolate customisable cake which can be used in different recipes. The ingredient list for both of these is simple. It might take me a while to build my confidence up to making the Dried Rainbow Pear Slices, but there is a lot in this book I will make straightaway, including the Cookie Dough Bars and the Chocolate Brownie Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies. Is your mouth watering yet? I’ve made the jam-filled shortbread cookies twice now as gifts, and both times they were a hit. The back section of condiments and frostings made me exclaim ecstatically. As far as the book goes, this is literally the icing on the cake.
The downside with many plant-based desserts is that they are often heavy on expensive ingredients like cashews and almond meal. This is certainly true here, but some of the recipes like the shortbread and the chia seed jam are more affordable – the jam uses frozen raspberries. Even if some won’t be budget-friendly for the weekly grocery shop, they could make birthdays and other memorable occasions sparkle. Desserts are, after all, treats. Cheng has also tried to make her book more accessible by reusing the same ingredients across recipes, so things someone might not have in their pantry can be bought and used more than once. She makes things like coconut sugar and almond meal pantry staples. Where one recipe uses chickpeas, another uses aquafaba (the water from cooked chickpeas or in a can of chickpeas). Don’t forget that ingredients like coconut sugar might also be swapped out for regular sugar depending on your preferences. There are gluten free options. Several recipes allow you to choose between using rice flour or general all purpose.
Yes, it is a fancy and lavish book with decadent ideas and larger-than-life photos in jewelled and gem-like hues, but I do think that I will use it. If you want healthier dessert options, gorgeous dessert options, and if you want to save the planet while eating dessert (win win, right?), or if you just really, really love sweet things, you will devour Incredible Plant-Based Desserts. Literally!
I had planned to give my copy away to a friend. I think I’m going to make her a cake instead. Now, the question is, peanut butter choc, or black forest gateaux?
Reviewer: Susannah Whaley