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Sorry about missing some posts this weekend. I did actually take pics and stuff – I just didn’t have a chance to sit down and write entries. This is Saturday’s entry (so, Vegan Mofo entry number 5 for me). We had dinner plans with some friends to consume vast quantities of idli and dosa at our favourite (pure vegetarian & vegan-friendly) Indian restaurant, but I knew from past experience that there wouldn’t be anything on the dessert menu for us vegans, so I decided to bake up a tray of one of my fave desserts,so that we’d have something to nom on during our post-meal Rock Band 2 extravaganza. It’s actually amazing that we had any room for anything in our bellies after that meal – I ate so much idli 65, gobi manchurian and palak dosa I thought I was gonna burst! But we made room. We almost always do.
Revani is the Greek name for a semolina-based dessert that is actually found in many other cultures. In Arabia it is called basbousa or hareesa, and in Egypt, ma’mounia. There are as many variations on the flavours you can use in this dense, sweet cake, but they all have one thing in common – they are made with semolina and soaked in a syrup for a few hours before serving. They are also all amazingly delicious. There’s something about that texture that semolina provides – grainy but soft, almost like finely ground nuts. And of course soaking any dense cake in a flavoured syrup, while it’s still hot, makes for a delicious, meltingly sweet treat unmatched by any other dessert.
My vegan version of revani isn’t as fluffy or light as a non-vegan version. That’s because traditional revani relies a great deal on the use of beaten eggs as the main leavening agent. You can’t really replicate that with vegan egg substitutions or chemical leaveners, but honestly, the vegan version stands on it’s own as a beautiful, delicately flavoured sweet to be enjoyed with a strong cup of tea, coffee or chai. And while revani is technically a dessert that comes from the Middle East, the use of semolina and the technique of soaking the finished cake in a rose-scented syrup is reminiscent of several of my old favourite East Indian desserts, like halavah and gulab jamun.*
One tip: be careful when baking this cake as it is fairly easy to overbake (as I did, slightly) and to end up with a more crumbly than dense texture. It’ll still taste great, but the texture will be off. Not a big deal unless you happen to be a total perfectionist. Ahem. Regardless, my guests all loved this dessert and the recipe was requested. Here you go, Anita!
Apricot & Almond Revani with Rose-Scented Syrup
Try alternating the types of tried fruit & nuts and syrup flavourings. Suggestions: Mango & Coconut with Vanilla Syrup; Candied Lemon & Pistachio with Pomegranate; Red Current & Toasted Sesame with Ginger
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp rose water (or try orange blossom water)
1 cup vegan butter substitute
1 cup sugar
1 cup semolina (aka Cream of Wheat cereal – uncooked)
1 cup all purpose, unbleached flour
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground cardamom
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup apricot juice (or apple juice, in a pinch)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely ground
1 cup finely chopped dried apricots
First, prepare the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occassionally, then remove from heat. Stir in the rose water and let cool to room temperature before pouring over the cake. (If you pour hot syrup on a hot cake you’ll end up with a hot mess.)
To make the cake, first beat the vegan “butter” with the sugar until it’s fluffy and smooth. Add the apricot juice and vanilla and beat until completely incorporated. Add the flour, baking powder, cardamom and sea salt and mix until just combined. Spread evenly into a 9 x 13″ baking dish and bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until the edges just begin to turn golden. Remove from the oven and immediately drizzle the cooled syrup over the entire cake. Let rest until at room temperature, then cut into squares or diamonds. Store covered in the fridge, but serve at room temperature for best flavour and texture.
*By the way, if anyone has successfully veganized my beloved gulab jamun, please let me know. I’ve tried it a couple of times, replacing the powdered milk with powdered soy milk and powdered coconut cream and I’ve never been able to get the texture quite right. You’d be my vegan hero!
I admit, it isn’t in the least bit rational, but all of my life I have avoided eating nougat, or anything that claimed to contain nougat. It’s the word…it just sounds so UGLY to me. Newwwwww-gat. It causes one to shudder. It didn’t matter how many times I heard how delicious it was or how many people insisted I try it, I steadfastly refused out of sheer stubbornness. It was childish and closed-minded and absolutely ridiculous and I knew I was being a poo. I still would not let nougat (shudder) pass my lips.
And so after I did a little research into what George Harrison was singing about when he sang “Montaelimar,” in his totally adorable nasal accent you can imagine how dreadful I felt when I discovered Montelimar is a place in France, famous for it’s nougat (shudder). Interesting to note is that unless a nougat is actually produced in Montelimar, and it contains certain specific percentages of almonds and lavender honey, it can’t actually legally be called Montelimar nougat. Much like only sparkling wines made from the grapes of the Champagne region can be called Champagne. Oh, those proprietary French.
The history of nougat is long…dating back to Ancient Egypt and Greece, where it was common to make sweets from honey and nuts. The almond tree was imported to France from Asia during the 17th century and thus replaced other nuts in the “nux gatom” (nut cake) or “nugo”. This treat was generally brown in colour and rather crunchy. Sometime around 1650 or so they began producing a softer, white nougat (shudder) by incorporating egg whites into the mixture.
Now, as you know, and I know, vegans don’t eat honey and we certainly don’t eat eggs, so the challenge I faced with creating this particular Beatles-themed treat was triple fold. Replace the honey, replace the eggs, and make something that I instinctively find repulsive. Greeeeeat.
However, I gritted my teeth, and got down to work, because you can call me a procrastinator and you can call me close-minded but you cannot, simply cannot, call me a quitter.
And you know what? I’m glad I did it.
I admit that it is yummy, okay? I admit that nougat (shudder) is tasty, yummy, sweet, nutty goodness. But I still think it’s poorly named.
Now it’s time for the secret confessions of the recipe. I wasn’t exactly sure how to replace the eggs. Having never actually eaten nougat (shudder) before I didn’t know what the eggs would provide to the recipe in terms of flavour or texture. I knew from the reading I did that Montelimar nougat was supposed to be chewy but firm. I understand enough about candy-making to know that whatever temperature you cook your sugar mixture at determines how firm the resultant candy is, but clearly the eggs had some role to play. Also, since the hot sugar is poured into the whipped egg whites in the original recipe, I understood that the egg whites would likely cook in the bowl, as the hot sugar was incorporated. I tossed around a few ideas but finally decided to try melting down some vegan marshmallows to replace the eggs. Next time, I am going to use a mixture of tapioca starch and water, though. And I’m also going to reduce the cooking temperature and time on the sugar syrup. Because while my nougat (shudder) is tasty and delicious and a wonderful treat….it’s also far crunchier than I believe Montelimar nougat (shudder) is supposed to be. So, go ahead and follow this recipe if you like a nougat (shudder) that’s crunchy when you first bite it but then gets softer as you chew it, or try my suggestions (in brackets) if you want a nougat (shudder) that’s less firm.
Montelimar Nougat, vegan-style
An egg- and honey-free version of the French classic. Delicous and sweet. Toothbrushes at the ready?
Inspiration gleaned, as usual, from The Savoy Truffle, by the Beatles.
3 cups granulated sugar (don’t use raw or brown sugar in this, unless you want brown nougat…ewwwww)
1 cup light agave nectar
3/4 cup white corn syrup
1 1/2 cups water
5 ounces or 140 grams of vegan marshmallows + 2 tbsp warm water (alternate: 1/3 cup tapioca starch whipped with 2/3 cup warm water)
2 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp vanilla
3 drops pure essential lavender oil (optional)
2 1/2 cups whole blanched almonds, toasted at 300 F for 10 – 15 minutes
1/3 cup chopped pistachios
1/2 tsp salt
Melt the marshmallows with the 2 tbsp water in a double boiler. Keep warm. If you’re using tapioca starch, do not bother with this step.
Combine the sugar, agave nectar, corn syrup and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once this mixture boils, stop stirring and reduce heat to medium. Insert a candy thermometer and cook to 295 degrees Fahrenheit, exactly (285 F if you want a softer nougat). This can take quite a while, and the progress will seem slow until the thermometer hits about 250F, at which point it will heat very quickly. While it’s going slowly you can prepare the rest of your ingredients and work station. Have a 9 x 13″ baking sheet doused liberally with icing sugar all over the bottom. Get your stand mixer set up with it’s whisk attachment. When the thermometer hits 275F you want to put the warm, melted marshmallows into the bowl of your mixer and begin whisking. If you’re using the tapioca starch you’ll want to get it whisking at this point, too.
Once the sugar mixture reaches 295 F (285 F if you want a chewier candy), immediately pour it into a heat-proof measuring cup to stop the cooking. Then begin adding it to the whipped mixture in the bowl. DO NOT POUR HOT SYRUP OVER THE MOVING WHISK, as it will simply fly all over the sides of the bowl rather than incorporating. Instead, quickly pour it into the whisked mixture by thirds, switching the mixer off with each addition, beating the syrup in completely, then adding the next third.
Once all the syrup has been added, stir in the lemon zest, vanilla, and lavender oil (if desired…be careful – too much of this can ruin the batch!). Switch to the paddle attachment on your mixer and mix this on low speed for about 10 minutes, or until it’s cooled slightly. Add in the toasted almonds, chopped pistachios and salt, and mix. It will be very thick and hard to move it around the bowl as it cools, so you want to transfer it to the prepared pan as soon as you can touch it without it burning your precious little fingers. Press it into the pan to a uniform thickness. Let this cool for several hours or overnight before slicing into bite-sized squares. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry spot for up to six months.