Danielle's Vegan Butter (homemade!) and Gluten-Free Peach-Mel-Bars!

Butter! Ok, seriously, what vegan doesn't miss real butter? I suppose a vegan who's never eaten real butter. But for the rest...

Butter! Ok, seriously, what vegan doesn't miss real butter?
I suppose a vegan who's never eaten real butter. But for the rest of us out there who miss, long for, even dream of butter, the store-bought options out there are not fantastic. Though I admit that many vegan margarine spreads, and buttery spreads taste and spread like butter, I don't love that they are either loaded with soy or palm oil or in some cases full of both. I try to avoid both of those ingredients whenever possible. 

Why do I avoid soy and palm oil? 

Soy is over processed. It is found in its various forms in practically every packaged food on the market and I happen to be allergic to it.

Palm Oil is not necessarily bad for you (it is a medium chain triglyceride, which is good, and it is full of beta carotene which is good too) but its production is terrible for the environment. 

To summarize briefly why palm oil is an environmentally controversial product:
  • As a major source of income for several countries in the Americas, Africa and Asia, palm is massively overproduced and over-harvested. 
  • Its mass production and harvesting has resulted in a major loss of carbon-sequestering forest land leading to terrible levels of greenhouse gas emissions. For example: If Indonesia continues to grow and harvest palm oil in the same volume of production they currently maintain, by 2022 UNEP (United Nations for Environmental Protection) predicts that 98% of Indonesia's forest land will be destroyed. 
  • The harvesting of palm oil has also displaced human and animal populations, critically endangering and in some cases resulting in the extinction of some species of animals.
If palm production is doing so much damage why is Palm oil in high demand? 

 As a fat, Palm Oil has many advantages: 
  • It makes a light and natural vegan and lactose-free stand in for butter.  
  • It has a neutral flavor profile
  • It is full of beta carotene. 
  • It is lower in saturated fat than many other vegetable oils which have similar cooking characteristics (such as coconut oil). 
  • It is a solid fat in room temperature. 
  • It is GMO free. 
  • It has a high smoke point making it useful for baking and it can be produced non-hydrogenated making it a health-conscious margarine producer's dream ingredient. 
As a result of all of this, it is heavily used in the production of margarine and used by many lactose-intolerant people, vegetarians and vegans for baking. Many "healthier" vegan margarine brands are mostly made of palm oil, particularly soy-free varieties. You may be hard-pressed to find vegan baked goods that are palm oil-free, particularly pastry products and cookies. 
I do a lot of online searches for recipes when I'm seeking vegan baking inspiration. 

I am always surprised by how many recipes out there call for 'vegan shortening' and 'buttery spread'. 

There are many creative ways to reduce our consumption of these products as vegans but it seems like few of us are experimenting with alternatives.  Why? 

Most likely time and ease are the two primary factors, with a lack of awareness of the issue as a close third. For all those vegans out there who are vegan out of concern for animals and our environment I think using a product like palm oil often is misguided. The more we keep products like palm oil in high demand, the more we contribute to the mounting environmental issues around such products.

I cook a lot, for myself and for others, and these days I am baking a lot of vegan desserts. As a former pastry chef I lean towards baking pies and crumbles for large gatherings. I love them and always have. I have struggled for months trying to develop ways to make successful pie crusts, crumbles and bars without real butter or vegan soy-free margarine or shortening. This weekend I had a breakthrough. 

Enter 2 homemade baking gems: 
  1.   Frozen olive oil
  2. Danielle's Vegan Butter!

My first success began with some flash-frozen olive oil. This stuff even looks like the margarine you buy at the supermarket! Put a small amount of olive oil in a bowl or container and pop it in the freezer. In 30 minutes to 1 hour you've got yourself some opaque, solid, spreadable fat!  

How does it hold up to baking? That depends.

It's just olive oil so don't expect it to taste like butter. Its just frozen oil so don't expect it to stay that way if you leave it out before adding it to your recipe. It has no emulsifying agent so it will melt quickly. However, I have now used this ingredient a few times in baking and it works well when added directly to your food processor as your hands don't come into contact, heating it up and causing it to melt right away. It still tastes like olive oil but not overwhelmingly and if added this way it will produce a nice soft pastry or cake. 
My second success was my own version of butter.

I started to think about the key characteristics of butter. 

To me they are as follows: 
  • Increasingly solid in frozen and cold temperatures.
  • Begins to melt slightly in warm or room temperature and melts fully in high heat.
  • Browns and caramelizes in very high heat. 
  • Has a sweet, salty and fatty flavor in room temperature. 
  • Is opaque to yellow in hue when uncooked.
  • Has a golden to dark brown hue when cooked in high heat (sauteed or fried)

Danielle's Vegan Butter lives up to its name. 

It replicates nearly all of the criteria of butter that I`ve listed above. It even stays mostly solid in room temperature and can be stored in the fridge instead of your freezer after a short set-up in the freezer!

 How did I do it? 
I created Danielle`s Vegan Butter he same way I have created all of my recipes. I thought hard about the different flavor and texture components of what I was trying to produce and blended ingredients with those characteristics in different quantities until I got what I wanted.

Did it perform? Yes.

I tested my new vegan butter out in a new recipe I developed for Mother's Day. My mom requested some peach crumble after seeing my recent post for Virtual Vegan Potluck. I don't like to waste a good opportunity to develop a NEW recipe so I tried out the butter in a variation on the crumble. I decided to make some peach squares with a crumble topping and decided that my frozen raspberries would take the bars to another level of awesome. What I ended up with was a beautiful dessert with vibrant Spring colors that I am going to refer to as my Peach-Mel-Bars.  

Why? Well they are like Peach Melba, the classic French dessert, only in bar-form. Never tried Peach Melba? It is a fairly old (1892!) dessert that marries sauteed peaches with raspberry puree as a topping for vanilla ice cream. I was sure to include Danielle's Vegan Butter in the recipe and it worked out great!  

This butter did it all. It was solid when it needed to be, it melted on command and caramelized its way into my heart. It even looked like butter! 

So why are you still buying palm oil? 

Danielle's Vegan Butter

Part 1:
  • 1.5 tbsp frozen olive oil
  • 4 small pitted Sayer dates (or 2 Medjool dates)
  • squeeze of lemon
  • 2 dashes coarse sea salt
  • 2 tsp chia seeds
  • 1 tsp baking soda 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup water
Pulse then blend all ingredients together until smooth. Stop to scrape down sides and resume blending.

Part 2:
  • 1/2 cup room temperature olive oil
Add oil to date mixture. Pulse then blend to incorporate.

Part 3:
  • 5 pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Add 5 extra dates, baking soda and water to oil mixture and pulse then blend until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides and continue pureeing. Taste! Add more dates and cinnamon if you prefer and continue to blend. If you are satisfied with the taste, spoon into a small air tight plastic containers and freeze.

Peach-Mel-Bars Assembly:

  • 1 batch Better Gluten Free Base for Bars and Squares (see recipe below)
  • 1 batch Peach Filling (see recipe below)
  • 1 batch Fresh Raspberry Puree (see recipe below)
  • 1 batch Crumble Topping (see recipe below)

Prepare Healthy Bar Base and cool on stovetop. Prepare peach filling and spread over base. Allow to cool 20 minutes in room temperature. Prepare Fresh Raspberry Puree and spread over top of peach filling. Freeze pan for 30 minutes. Transfer to refrigerator until ready to serve. Top with crumble topping before serving.

Serve cold from the fridge or room temperature with a scoops of a fresh batch of my Instant Whiskey-Banana-Date-Raspberry Ice Cream.


Better Gluten-Free Base for Bars/Squares

Preheat oven to 350F.

Part 1:
  • 3/4 cup pitted Sayer dates
  • 2 dashes sea salt
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract

Pulse in food processor until the dates form a thick paste. Transfer to a small bowl.

Part 2:
  • 1/2 cup amaranth flour
  • 1/2 cup millet flour
  • 3/4 cup quinoa flakes
  • 1/2 cup amaranth flakes
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • Dash sea salt
  • 1.5 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest

Pulse all ingredients of part 2 together in food processor until well mixed, scraping down sides as necessary.

Part 3:
  • 2.5 tbsp frozen olive oil
  • Reserved date paste

Add part 3 ingredients, breaking up paste into small spoonfuls first, to flake and flour mixture and pulse to evenly incorporate.

Part 4:
  • 4 tbsp my date caramel sauce or 2 tbsp maple syrup

Add caramel sauce or syrup and blend briefly to incorporate, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides.

Scoop mixture into a small parchment lined casserole pan, rectangular or square, and Press mixture into the base of the pan. TIP: use a small piece of parchment paper as a barrier between the dough and your hands so you don't get sticky!

Bake in 350 oven for 20-25 minutes until fragrant and lightly golden. Cool on stove top.

Crumble Topping:

Part 1:
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flakes
  • 1/2 cup amaranth flakes
  • 1/2 cup amaranth flour
  • 2 dashes coarse sea salt
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
Pulse all Part 1 ingredients in food processor to incorporate. Remove from food processor and set aside in a bowl.

Part 2:
  • 1/2 cup dates
  • 1.5 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp date caramel
  • 2 tbsp frozen olive oil

Add all part 2 ingredients to food processor. Pulse until crumbly. Scrape down sides and then add reserved dry mixture and pulse to incorporate. The mixture should look like streusel topping, so very crumbly.

Scoop mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Spread out evenly with a spoon. I usually sprinkle with extra cinnamon before I bake the crumble topping. Bake until golden and fragrant, about 15 minutes.

Peach Filling:
  • 8 small organic peaches, washed, pitted and chopped small (skin on)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • dash coarse sea salt
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 heaping tbsp Danielle's Vegan Butter OR frozen olive oil OR vegan buttery spread
  • 1 tbsp Jack Daniel's Whiskey (or another gluten-free whiskey like Maker's Mark)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup Danielle Vegan Date Caramel sauce
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder

Heat the butter or oil you choose over medium high heat in a skillet or frying pan (NOT non-stick). Add cinnamon and salt and saute 10 seconds. Add llemon juice and zest and scrape up any browning bits from pan. Stir to ensure the mixture doesnt burn. Add peaches and saute 30 seconds, scraping up browned bits of spices from bottom of pan as you stir. Add whiskey and saute 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium. Add vanilla extract and date caramel sauce, and chia. Mixture will be very frothy at first. Add baking powder and stir to incorporate. Stir often allowing mixture to simmer for several minutes until it has reduced and thickened considerably (about 8-10 minutes). Stirring frequently means that the mixture will not burn in the pan. Once thickened, stir in chili powder. Simmer one more minute and then pour over baked healthy gluten-free base for bars/squares. Cool 20 minutes on stove top. Prepare raspberry filling (recipe follows).

Fresh Raspberry Puree:
  • 12 oz frozen raspberries (300g)
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2/3 cup pitted Sayer dates or medjool dates
  • dash sea salt
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • very tiny squeeze of lemon juice
Pulse then blend all ingredients in a food processor until very smooth and thick, a few minutes. If you taste and notice small bits of dates keep blending. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Once satisfied with the texture, pour the mixture on top of the cooled peach filling and spread out evenly. Chill pan in freezer for 30 minutes. Top with crumble topping immediately before serving or refrigerate without adding crumble topping until ready to serve.

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