True confession (of the culinary kind):
Even though I stopped baking with refined sugar almost a decade ago and never keep it in the house, there are times when I cave. On occasion I’ll purchase a sugar-laden product, either because (a) it’s something new and fabulous and I feel I MUST try it, or (b) it’s something not normally available to vegan eaters and I want to taste-test, to see if I can conjure up a healthier version of my own. Sometimes, it’s both.
That was the case when I bought my first–and only–can of Soyatoo a couple of months ago. My friend PR Queen and I attended a health food fair where they were hawking selling the product tax-free (which–as those of you who’ve ever shopped in Canada will know–is, like, 85% off). I couldn’t resist.
And so, feeling oddly like Sethi in the movie The Ten Commandments (though not at all regal, of course), I broke my own vow, and uttered the name of. . . Roses! Soyatoo-based roses, to be precise. And rosettes. And swirls. And squiggles.
I had visions of light, fluffy peaks of the white stuff adorning cream pies and tarts; high, shimmering towers of it piped over fresh berries; or amorphous, cloudlike mounds of it perched atop steaming mugs of hot chocolate. All these images whirled in my head as I forked over the cash and embraced my can of white, wondrous whipped “cream.”
The second I got home, I pulled some frozen raspberries from the freezer and hastily spooned them into a bowl so I could test out my cache. I followed the directions on the can–exactly–and pressed the button. There was a hissing sound, a slight whoosh, and then–ah, sweet mystery of compressed edible oil product!–out came a rosette. One.
And then, all was silent.
I shook the can. I pressed again. I shook again. I placed my mouth over the nozzle as if performing some grotesque, otherworldly mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and sucked out the excess topping before trying again.
Nothing. Nada. Not even the slightest sibilance.
And so, there went my can of Soyatoo–straight in to the garbage.*
Well, there was one favorable outcome from that failed experiment: I decided then and there to create my own, much healthier, non-dairy whipped cream. I fully realize that there are other similar creams already posted on the Internet (thanks, Hannah, for this recipe), but my needs were very specific. I wanted mine to (1) be soy-free; (2) avoid the waste of using only part of the can of coconut milk; (3) contain no sugar, and (4) be simple enough that it could work without a candy thermometer or any other special equipment.
Well, I came up fairly quickly with what I considered to be a servicable product, and one that was soy-free, to boot. I even piped it onto Nava‘s Butterscotch Mousse Pie that I wrote about a while back, and the HH and I enjoyed that batch immensely. Here’s what it looked like:
Before posting my recipe, however, I knew I’d need to test it out numerous times to ensure it was sound and that the results were consistent. I even enlisted two others (thanks, Sally and Alice) to help out as recipe testers.
Well, sorry to say, the results weren’t stellar. While the testers’ feedback was very positive regarding taste, they both said the cream was a bit too soft and not fluffy enough. I found my own results to be frustratingly inconsistent, even though I thought I was following the exact recipe each time.
And then, it hit me: I was using coconut milk, but not the identical coconut milk for each and every trial! Once I discovered which brand worked best, I tried again–and again, and again–with (qualified) success. It wasn’t perfect, but the outcome was similar each time. And so, I’ve decided to post the recipe as it now stands despite the imperfections, in the hopes that some of you might try it out and report your own findings.
The cream is rich-tasting, light, and can stand in very effectively for dairy cream atop desserts (I have no idea how it would work, say, folded into a chocolate mousse, however).
Here are some important notes before you begin: :
- The recipe uses agar, an ingredient I’ve found to be tricky in the past. Moreover, since I couldn’t find agar powder here in Toronto, I bought flakes and then ground them up myself in a coffee grinder. So I can’t vouch for results if you use regular agar powder or agar flakes.
- After trying several brands of organic coconut milk and finally moving to conventional coconut milk, I found the only brand that seemed to work consistently was Rooster Gold Label brand (I know it’s available at all Loblaws stores, but have no idea about stores outside of Canada). I checked labels, and the brand I used contains a whopping 22% total fat content. I’d think that if you use a milk with a similar fat content, it should work just as well.
- This is a very fussy recipe. You need to cook the mixture, blend it, cool it a bit, blend again, cool some more, then whip with electric beaters–not for the faint of heart. That said, once it’s whipped, it will retain its shape for several days.
- If it doesn’t work out perfectly as a whipped topping, it is sensational to eat on its own–rich, smooth, not too sweet, and very creamy.
I’d love to hear from those of you brave (foolhardy?) enough to try it out, and see if we can’t refine and perfect the recipe!
Coconut Whipped Cream
This is a great topping for fancy desserts. To make the cream, you will need a hand (immersion) blender (a regular blender won’t work for this) and electric beaters.
1/3 cup (80 ml.) vanilla rice milk
2 tsp. (10 ml.) home-ground agar “powder”–it should look like this (these grains are in a teaspoon (5 ml.) to give you an idea of size):
2 tsp. (10 ml.) plus 1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) cornstarch, divided
2 scant Tbsp. (25 ml.) agave nectar
pinch sea salt
1 tsp. (5 ml.) pure vanilla extract
1 can (398 ml.) full-fat coconut milk (22% fat content), at room temperature (shake well before opening)
Step 1: In a small pot, combine the rice milk and agar. Allow to sit, covered and at room temperature, for at least 30 minutes.
Step 2: Stir everything but the 1 Tbsp. cornstarch into the agar mixture and whisk to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture just begins to boil. Lower heat so that the mixture is still bubbling just under the surface, and set a timer for 10 minutes. While it continues to cook, stir every minute or so.
After 5 minutes, choose one of the following options: (1) if all the agar is dissolved (and no longer visible on a rubber spatula or spoon), remove from heat and turn off the timer (just forget about the last 5 minutes). Pour into a bowl and proceed to step 3.
OR: (2) If you can still see bits of agar, like this:
then continue to cook for the remaining 5 minutes on the timer, and stir every minute or so. After 5 more minutes (10 total), remove the mixture from the heat, even if there are still tiny bits of agar left in it (they will be blended out next). Pour into a bowl and proceed to step 3.
Step 3: Pour the mixture into a deep bowl. Immediately blend with your immersion blender until perfectly smooth and no bits of agar are visible (careful, it’s hot and may spray a bit!). Set aside to cool somewhat.
Step 4: When the mixture is still slightly warm but no longer hot (and still fairly liquid), sprinkle the remaining 1 Tbsp. cornstarch over the top; using the immersion blender, blend again to even out the texture and get rid of any little lumps. Place the bowl in the refrigerator until the mixture is ice-cold; it will become very solid, like an extremely firm gel.
Step 5: Once again using the immersion blender, blend the gelled mixture until it is perfectly smooth and no lumps remain, but don’t blend any more than necessary. Scrape down the sides as you go.
Step 6: Now, using the beaters, beat the smoothed mixture until soft peaks form. If the mixture is cold, this should happen fairly quickly. You’ll have a soft cream that holds very soft peaks, but definitely holds its shape. It will look something like this:
Step 7: At this point, you can mound the cream over a pie, or put it in a piping bag and gently pipe it. It will seem too soft to pipe, but as long as it holds a shape in the bowl (and the surface of the cream doesn’t “melt” and flatten), it can be piped. Here’s how I piped it even when the cream turned out quite soft:
And here’s a slightly firmer version:
Despite the fussiness of the recipe, I’d definitely make this again for special occasions (it was great on Nava’s Butterscotch Mousse Pie, as well as the Coffee “Cheesecake” Tart, above–recipe from Laura Mathias’s Extraveganza).
Though perhaps not for a while. . . after more than 15 trials, the HH and I are maxed out on cream for now!
“Don’t worry, Mum, we’d be willing to help you out with any extra cream. . . “
For those of you who celebrate, Happy Passover! (I think this cream would be allowed. . . ). And happy weekend to all!
*Addendum: I’ve since learned from other bloggers that Soyatoo is unreliable for them, too. Thanks to Chocolate Covered Vegan for the suggestion to open and try out each can in the store–if it doesn’t work, they should want to return it to the manufacturer, anyway; and if it does work, you’re buying it, so what would they care?
[UPDATE, December 2008: I've been tinkering with the recipe and have finally come up with a much less fussy and much more reliable recipe! The revised version will appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at the top of the page, or visit the cookbook blog.]
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