How can I make vegan desserts less terrible for me?
April 18, 2012 3:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recipes for vegan dessert-type things (cookies, brownies/bars, maybe some delicious muffins or breads) that are low(er) in sugar, fat, and calories.

My situation: I'm a vegan with an insatiable sweet tooth, especially for chocolate. I'm also a stressed-out grad student with a lot of work to do in the next couple of weeks and I tend to do a lot of nervous snacking during times like these, especially while studying. I'm going to get fat if I don't find something smarter than the almond butter brownies and chocolate chip cookies I've been stuffing my face with.

I'm not looking for suggestions of other, healthier things to snack on such as fruit or rice cakes; I really want to find recipes for (vegan) dessert foods because that's the only thing that can get me to stop procrastinating and sit down to work (sorry, rice cakes). For instance, I remember years ago a friend made these amazing strawberry muffins that were supposedly really healthy because they contained very little sugar.

I avoid agave nectar/syrup and ideally, palm oil as well (I'll use Earth Balance but I'd prefer not to). I know about using applesauce, prunes, dates and figs as sugar substitutes; are those my best bet? Are they better for you than cane sugar, molasses and maple syrup? What's the deal with Stevia? I also use whole wheat flour whenever possible and I wonder how much better that really is for you than white flour? And finally, I see a lot of vegan baking recipes that call for what seems like a lot of oil (canola, safflower); how unhealthy is that? Thanks so much in advance for any specific recipes or general advice you might have.
posted by désoeuvrée to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I like making desserts using agar agar/kanten. You can flavor it any way you like, use any sweetener you like. You can make it almost calorie free if you want. I like to boil it up with some green tea and toss in stuff like flax seeds or chia seeds and some sweetener (I use Splenda). Use less water for a firmer texture.

I also like to use very little water and add some no sugar added Kool-Aid to make sour gummi-type worms.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 3:34 PM on April 18, 2012

I haven't made these brownies but I absolutely would. Same goes for this Chocolate Pumpkin loaf. Bananas also make a good sub in terms of sweetness & fat, but unfortunately, I'm not finding a lot of good recipes for you with that right now.

As far as flour goes, yeah, whole wheat is better for you than white flour.

It's not really "snackable" the way cookies & bars are, but simple berry crisps out of frozen berries are easy to make and the amount of sugar can be pretty minimal. I don't have a recipe on-hand for this, though, and they do use Earth Balance, but it's also not too much.
posted by darksong at 4:27 PM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

OK let's see, I know I can come up with a few ideas for you.

First thing that comes to mind is this banana One-Ingredient Ice Cream. I'm not a banana person so I haven't tried it but it sure does sound easy.

Fruit kebabs and fruit pizza?

It wasn't clear from your post if you don't eat agave because you don't eat any sugar substitute, or if there is some reason that you only avoid agave? Like, is Splenda etc. OK or does the sweetener essentially have to be fruit?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:40 PM on April 18, 2012

Apple crisp sounds like it might work for you. It's easy to make vegan, and you can control how much sugar/sweetener to add.
posted by annsunny at 6:07 PM on April 18, 2012

I came in to recommend that Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf darksong posted. It is fantastic, one of the top vegan things I have ever made. I do it as muffins.

Anything on that PPK site is going to be great.
posted by something something at 6:11 PM on April 18, 2012

What about something like fruit leather? According to this, you can make it in your oven, and it shouldn't need additional sweetening if your fruit is sweet. I haven't made this recipe, but every other recipe I've made from this site has been excellent.

In a similar vein, dried apple chips would be sweet without sweeteners and relatively low in calories.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:54 PM on April 18, 2012

You could try my recipe for Ginger Beer Bread. It's vegan & fat-free, but does have sugar - you can vary the sugar levels to suit yourself of course.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:58 PM on April 18, 2012

I haven't tried it yet, but here's a no added sugar vegan fudge recipe. There's a chocolate version and other variations.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:02 PM on April 18, 2012

Okay, these "cookies" don't need to be baked, are as chocolate-y as you want, and have a nice crunch (if you add those weird chia seed things, which I had left over from a coworker who was really into them). Also, make sure the banana is very, very ripe, on the verge of "I can get drunk on this" (but not quite, obvs). What else? I doubled this recipe.

Also, if you don't have a microwave, you can rig a double boiler, which I did using two pots of unequal size (for the chocolate; see recipe below). Oh, and I did not use the cocoa powder called for by the recipe.

Basically, I used oats, dark chocolate (non-dairy) chips, one very large and very ripe banana, chia seeds, and vanilla extract. I didn't add any sweetener, as the chocolate chips were already sweetened, and the banana added sweetness, too (and acts as a binder). If you want, you can add brown rice syrup or whatever sweetener you like. This recipe is doubled from the original, which I doubled the first (and only, so far) time I tried the recipe.

As for the parchment paper or muffin liner recipe instructions: I used aluminum foil that was hastily placed over a large, round plate. That did the trick. I even placed the entire plate into the freezer. So, yeah, improvising is fine, as long as it's a flat surface upon which said cookies can set, as in firm up.

I found that my fingers got too cold eating these straight from the freezer, so I actually kept the last two "cookies" or so in the fridge. They held up just fine, but probably don't keep as long in the fridge. Anyway, all that said, onto the recipe!
Frosty No-Bake Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Yield: I got about 8-9 medium-sized drop cookies out of this recipe. [The below amounts are the proportions and measurements I used, and as you'll see from the source link, are double what the original recipe calls for, but for me it didn't make that many, so you could even double the below recipe, with my own modifications, and finally get a possible two dozen out of it.]


1 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. non-dairy chocolate chips
1 large banana [I didn't double this part]
2 ts. pure vanilla extract
2 Tb. chia seeds
1 Tb buckwheat groats (optional)
1 ts. cocoa powder
Sweetener, if preferred


1. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips for about 60 seconds being careful not to burn. Remove from microwave and stir so the rest of the chips melt. [Or do my makeshift double-boiler method, and stir until melted and smooth.]

2. Roughly chop the banana and mash it into the melted chips with a fork.

3. Stir in the rest of the ingredients into the chocolate & banana and stir very well until all oats are coated with chocolate.

4. Line a plate with parchment and drop about 7 cookies onto it. Alternatively, you can use muffin liners. Freeze for about 1 hour or until firm. Cookies will firm up, but they won’t become solid and will remain chewy. Leave in the freezer for a quick chocolate fix any time of the day!
posted by simulacra at 11:08 PM on April 18, 2012

Just here to second Chocolate Covered Katie's site at -- she eats chocolate every day!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 11:15 PM on April 18, 2012

Blend 2-3 ripe avocados with flesh of one young coconut with half cup good quality cocoa powder with honey to taste. Chill half hour and serve with fresh berries, best chocolate mousse ever
posted by Under the Sea at 4:31 AM on April 19, 2012

I stumbled on this recipe for "virtuous" carrot muffins the other day. I plan on whipping a batch up this weekend. They recommend coconut milk and maple syrup for the vegan version, which sounds yummy imo.
posted by londonmark at 5:54 AM on April 19, 2012

chocolate beet cake! it might sound odd, but it is so delicious.
posted by dizziest at 7:15 AM on April 19, 2012

2nd Chocolate Covered Katie.
posted by R a c h e l at 9:56 AM on April 19, 2012

Speaking to the oil issue, I've found that you can sub applesauce for at least half to two-thirds of the oil in most baked goods. (Often the recipe will call for applesauce + oil, so I just add extra applesauce. A 1/2 c oil seems like a ton, but 1/4 c between a dozen muffins or whatnot is a lot less gasp-inducing for me!)

I think this banana bread recipe from Post Punk Kitchen is really good, as is this one from the Baking Bird. (The 1st one uses vegan margarine, but I used applesauce instead!)

In both cases, I thought the recipes were very adjustable--applesauce instead of margarine, molasses instead of some sugar, almond milk vs soy, reduced (halved) the sugars etc etc. They all still came out nicely! For extra sweetness & texture I like to put raisins or chopped dates in--it really makes a difference.

I bake them in little square muffin tins so they look like tiny loaves, and are more satisfying than a slice off a loaf. You could certainly put mini chocolate chips or carob chips in to help with the chocolate urge ...
posted by alleycat01 at 10:43 AM on April 19, 2012

Oh, and re: "using applesauce, prunes, dates and figs as sugar substitutes; are those my best bet? Are they better for you than cane sugar, molasses and maple syrup? What's the deal with Stevia? I also use whole wheat flour whenever possible and I wonder how much better that really is for you than white flour?"

There's a metric ton you can read about all of these issues but it sort of gives me a headache, and there's SO much competing information that it can be difficult to winnow out the "truth."

I'm not a dedicated vegan but I'm trying to eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet, which by nature is ... sort of vegan (little or no animal proteins like meat or dairy). The other half of WFPB, though, is "whole foods." So basically the rule of thumb is, the less processed something is (the closer to its original/natural form), generally the better it'll be for you. So for instance, brown rice and wheat flour are better than white rice and white flour, because they're less processed and retain more of their original nutrients. Likewise, cane sugar is less processed than white sugar, but a banana or strawberries are even LESS processed than cane sugar.

(It's just a rule of thumb, but it helps me when I'm trying to decide rather than having to break out the internet for research and do step-by-step comparisons.)

Although fyi, when baking, goods using only wheat flour can come out heavier or denser than if they were made with white flour. I usually compromise & go half and half or 2/3-1/3 with wheat flour.
posted by alleycat01 at 10:53 AM on April 19, 2012

Bourbon maple pumpkin pie (one in a series of vegan pie recipes--if you like this one I have more for you)

Crust -- use your favorite recipe. See note below.

1 (8-ounce) package Tofutti cream cheese
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée [OR bake a medium butternut squash, cool, scoop out flesh into a cheesecloth, mash up with your hands, and squeeze out liquid. I have also baked a small pumpkin, which is drier than butternut squash, but still needed some draining]
3/4 cup maple syrup (original recipe was 1 c.)
1/4 c. bourbon (I may have added more than that...)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (sub cloves and nutmeg if you don't have garam masala)
1/2 cup pecan halves (optional)

Crust: last time I made it with a gluten-free crust -- almond flour, coconut flour, coconut oil, and water.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

For the filling, blend tofutti and maple syrup in a food processor or blender until creamy and smooth. Add pumpkin, bourbon, salt, spices, and purée until smooth.

Pour pumpkin filling into pie shell and bake until just set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Set pie aside to cool then decorate with pecans, if you want.

Not to give away ALL my pie secrets, but I almost always make "pumpkin" pie with butternut squash. Easier to find and bake myself and no added ingredients.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:22 PM on April 19, 2012

To answer treehorn+bunny's question, I've been avoiding agave because I read that it's not good for you... Something about it being metabolized in the liver or something? I don't really know much about Splenda but I would be open to recipes that use it. I forgot to mention before that I've been using brown rice syrup a bit too.

Thanks everyone for the wonderful recipes and information! I'm so excited and I will probably make every suggestion and eat them all myself! So actually this question may backfire, LOL.
posted by désoeuvrée at 5:39 PM on April 19, 2012

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