I am an omnivore in the truest sense of the word. I will eat almost anything and certainly try anything at least once. So when I recently befriended Mandy Unruh, the baking queen, she proceeded to tell me about her baking adventures and that she is particularly interested in vegan baking. I admit that I was skeptical and when she told me that she also baked non-vegan delights I was relieved. I have tasted a variety of vegan cookies and quite frankly have been unimpressed. Most tasted like cardboard or lacked any depth of flavor or the texture was off in some way or another. She and I spoke about a variety of things culinary and I could tell that she was passionate about food. She’s not a vegan, another relief, and has a passion for food and flavor that she explores on her blog and with her experimenting. We decided to carpool to the recent Western Food Service and Hospitality Expo in San Diego. I would drive and she would bake. It sounded like a good deal to me. She asked me what I liked and I told her chocolate chip cookies which was uneventful so I just said to make what she felt like and I’d eat it. I like culinary surprises I love going to restaurants and having the tasting menu. If I know the chef then it’s even better when they just send out courses of what ever the chef feels like which makes things more adventurous. So the deal was struck and Monday morning arrived.
I picked up Mandy and she had a little goodie bag filled with 3 different types of vegan cookies. I thought to myself if she can make vegan cookies taste good then I’m sure that anything else she makes will be great. She handed me one of her almond coconut macaroons. It was a small bite sized dome-shaped cookie that looked similar to a thumbprint cookie. I bit into it and there was a rush of complex flavors. The texture was firm and a bit chewey. She used almond meal mixed with the coconut. The almond flavor hits me first reminding me of Viennese butter cookies that my grandmother used to make which incorporated almond meal to give it a nutty flavor. Next came the coconut flavor and texture blending with the almonds to create a nutty symphony of flavor at the finish accompanied with a bit of crunch from some small almond bits. Wow I said, this doesn’t taste like any vegan cookie that I have ever tasted. It was delicious and complex.
I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for the restaurant show since I knew that we were going to eat and drink our way through sampling different offerings from various vendors. On our way back home it was time to sample the other two delights that she brought with her. At this point I knew that she had something. She handed me a lemon star cookie. It had a nice soft moist cookie texture. At first bite you taste cookie dough and as you chew a burst of lemon begins to grow in your mouth, not fake lemon but fresh picked lemon almost like a meyer lemon. I never knew you could get so much lemony goodness out of a cookie. It was not overpowering and the flavor stayed with me for a bit after I had finished the cookie. Next she handed me one of her chocolate chip cookies made with vegan chocolate chips the texture was similar to the lemon star cookies soft and cakey but this time the chocolate flavor burst out instead of the lemon. What a wonderful treat to have these cookies that were full of flavor yet not over sweetened, just the right balance of flavor for any palate to enjoy be it vegan or not. I’m thinking if she can create cookies this good that are vegan I can only imagine what she can make that is not. Mandy you are the Vegan Baking Goddess.