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Nov 10, 2008 02:37 PM

Unnatural parve desserts

It seems that virtually all kosher, parve desserts are made without much thought given to their ingredients; i.e., 'we're going to make this pie crust or "butter"cream frosting no matter what kind of stuff (hydrogenated fats, artificial colors & flavors, all sorts of funky thickening agents, etc.) we have to put in there.' Don't get me wrong - dessert isn't meant to be healthy, it's supposed to taste good - but shouldn't it at least be real?
As a corollary: does anybody know of a kosher place (bakery, mostly) in NYC that does take care to use only real ingredients? If there isn't, I have half a mind to open one myself (partners, anyone?).

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  1. The artificial colors and flavors are one thing, but I honestly don't know of a way to do a lot of nondairy baking without using hydrogenated fats. Fleischman's unsalted stick margarine is my best pareve baking buddy. I know there are alternatives with using mixes of oil and applesauce, and I've used them a couple of times, but the stick margarine seems to produce a "better" product.

    The one exception might be pie crust: there was an LA Times article a number of years ago about using other animal fats (besides lard) in pie crust. The writer did a fair bit of experimentation, and found that beef suet made an exceptional pie crust. I never got around to trying it myself. And now there's a vegetarian in the family; I'm happy to make her a veggie alternative for (increasingly rare) fleischig dinners, but I draw the line at making vegetarian and non-vegetarian pies for dessert.

    22 Replies
    1. re: Kochav

      A cousin of mine swears by baking with coconut fat (which is a saturated fat, like butter, and is thus also solid at room temperature.) She says it lends a non-overwhelming coconut flavor to the finished product, so it wouldn't work for coconut-haters, but I doubt it's any less healthy than baking with butter or trans-fats, and it's not an industrial product the way margarine is. I haven't tried it yet myself.

      I haven't yet tried baking animal-fat-based pie crusts, but if I ever find a source for rendered duck fat or beef suet, I'd be open to it. I'm not invested enough to render my own duck fat, and the idea of having desserts that made me fleishig for the next bunch of hours is a bit unappealing. The NY Times had an article on animal-fat pie crusts a couple of years ago (, and the author found that any more than 30% animal fat made the crust somehow too meaty for dessert pies, but obviously her solution of using butter for the rest of it doesn't really work for me :) The article also briefly discusses using chilled nut butters for pie crusts, saying that it leads to a somewhat cookie-like crust with (obviously) a nutty flavor.

      Cakes that are supposed to be oil-based, such as the chocolate cake on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa box (an adaptable standby I've been making forever, although I prefer it with Droste cocoa), or chiffon cakes, are also good options.

      But I agree with Compote that most kosher bakeries load in the junk. I find that nearly all commercial kosher baked goods are made focusing mostly on looks, with taste coming in a distant second. Really, the only way to get decent kosher baked goods is to make them yourself.

      1. re: GilaB

        We've tried the (organic) cocunut oil with poor results. On the other hand, we swear by (organic) non-hydrogenated palm oil. It's naturally solid at room temperature; we use it all the time. It's a much more healthful alternative to Crisco or similar shortening, as it's both organic and non-hydrogenated. The brand is Spectrum, and it can be found at (two varieties of the cocunut oil can also be found at this site). I believe the current hashgacha of the shortening is the KSA, and of the cocunut oil is OU, but supervisions change periodically, so I'd check into it.

        As for pie (and other) crusts, we often use extremely fine ALMOND FLOUR as someone in the family has Chron's Disease and is, therefore, not allowed to eat any type of grain. The almond flour is a great alternative to grain flours, and it's 100% kosher for Passover (non-gebrokt) to boot. Guests couldn't believe that some of the desserts we've made didn't contain any flour! (As an aside, while not tasting like the real McCoy, a small amount of fine almond flour sprinkled on top of meat pasta sauce is amazingly like parmesan cheese.)

        1. re: midasgold

          A recipe for "Claire's Quick and Easy Pie Crust" using Spectrum organic non-hydrogenated palm shortening can be found at .

          1. re: midasgold

            Does pie crust made with palm oil taste like anything? I've never been a fan of pareve pie crust, because to me it tastes like greasy nothing, albeit flaky greasy nothing if it's made with shortening.

            1. re: midasgold

              Sidebar to midasgold-
              Do you mean celiac disease? I have Crohn's and I have very few dietary restrictions, although I know that's not the case with all Crohn's patients. However, a grain restriction is a new one on me.

              My cousin with CF and celiac, however, cannot consume any gluten and that would include nearly all grains.

              Except for Passover, when I'll futz around with non-dairy substitutes and non-hametz "flours", I try to keep dairy with dairy and parve with parve as it were. Some desserts were just never meant to be parve and it's best to just wait and serve them with dairy.

              1. re: rockycat

                Response to Rocky Cat: If you have Crohn's and have never heard of Elaine Gottshall's watershed book, "Breaking the Vicious Cycle," you should get your hands on it and read it as soon as possible (it's available at ). Her "Specific Carbohydrate Diet" (SCD for short) has helped far too many Crohn's sufferers avoid all types of surgery and medication for it to be summarily dismissed (though the results are anecdotal since no drug company will fund expensive studies). I suggest you check out . We have family members who have been on the diet for years. If you have any specific questions, please contact me privately (I don't want to post my private e-mail address here; how can that be done?)

          2. re: Kochav

            Unfortunately, suet is not kosher. In fact it's more treif than pork. (Well, I suppose deer suet would be kosher, if there is such a thing, but I've never heard of it, and my guess is that it doesn't exist.)

            1. re: zsero

              Suet is usually from a cow, so why couldn't it be kosher?

              1. re: DeisCane

                It would have to be rendered and there's not a whole lot of demand.

                1. re: ferret

                  That doesn't mean it is "not kosher. In fact, it's more treif than pork."

                  1. re: DeisCane

                    For some reason my replies are not posting. Third attempt: suet from a cow, sheep, goat, or buffalo are by definition not kosher. And the prohibition is worse than that of pork. If there were suet in a deer it would be kosher, but I don't think there is any.

                    1. re: zsero

                      Is the issue chalav? If so, perhaps you should say that. Otherwise, it's very unclear when you keep saying it's "by definition" not kosher, but not explaining why not.

                      1. re: queenscook

                        Chelev, not chalav! If you're using milk, that's a whole nother problem!

                        And I did say so - in English, which is the language we're using. Chelev is just Hebrew for suet. If I said blood was by definition not kosher, would you insist that I say "dam"?

                        1. re: zsero

                          Been out of town and had no computer access, so I couldn't answer this before. The difference is that people who keep kosher might know what chelev is (sorry for the previous misspelling; I never meant milk), but might not have know that suet was the same thing. And while I might not think that blood should be referred to as "dam" to clarify things, there are other examples of things frum/kosher-keeping/Jewish people eat that really don't translate well to English. Who would ever say they are putting "stuffed derma" in a cholent rather than kishka, or even refer to cholent itself by some English words (overnight stew perhaps?)?

                      2. re: zsero

                        OK, since I was completely ignorant of suet before this thread, I decided to do some hunting. I found the point to which zsero must be referring. It is from Leviticus 3:17:

                        "It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations in all your dwelling place, that you eat neither fat nor blood."

                        Evidently, the fat referred to therein is so-called "hard" fat found around the kidneys, etc., and which is now commonly referred to as suet.

                        Interestingly, on searching for the term, I came across this absolutely fascinating article from the NY Times from 1896 (!) about kosher cooking, etc.:

                        1. re: DeisCane

                          Per my book "The Kosher Kitchen" (R. Binyomin Frost), this is all correct. Just to split hairs, the term is "Cheilev" (chet, lamed, vet). R. Frost cites Rambam 7:1 and Yoreh Deah 64:1

                          1. re: vallevin

                            In any case, I don't think anyone who keeps Kosher has a strong interest in fleischig desserts, so this is more than a moot discussion. Frankly I could never understand the inclusion of animal fats in sweets. In addition, not everything has to be replicated in kosher and/or parve version in a laboratory somewhere. There are plenty of excellent kosher options to be had without trying to come up with a kosher Twinkie or some other crappy dessert item.

                            1. re: ferret

                              I beg to differ, Ferret. A Twinkie is not "crappy." According to Wikipedia, It's a "Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling." It's a delicious comfort food that's a slice of Americana and as much a part of the American Cookbook as is apple pie or mac n' cheese; if and when it can be replicated in a kosher pareve or cholev Yisroel variety, I guarentee I'll among be the first to run to savor the delightful taste experience.

                          2. re: DeisCane

                            Now I'm wondering just what it was that my mom's butcher (Los Angeles, Pico-Robertson area, in business forever) sent her when she asked him last year for beef suet! I never ended up rendering it for pie crust, but maybe I'll have her ask him.

                            1. re: Kochav

                              Please do. My guess is that you'll find it was ordinary fat, not suet, and would not have been suitable for baking.

                  2. I find fruit like plums, grapes, watermelon, cantalope etc. to be an excellent parve dessert with only real ingrediants. Once in whlie we cheat and havs some pistachio nuts too..

                    1. I've been very successful with soy margarine to replace stick margarine in many, but not all applications. It certainly works in cakes, pie crusts, and crumb toppings for fruit crisps. I have not tried to make a parve buttercream frosting with it; I don't think it would remain as solid as it should. (For parve frosting, I use the transfat-free tofutti cream cheese mixed with confectioners' sugar ; it's quite tasty, stays very firm, and can be tinted and flavored quite easily.) I have even had good results with the soy margarine with a fudge pie that is essentially a flourless chocolate pie. I personally prefer the taste when I make that with regular hydrogenated margarine, but it still gets raves even when made with the soy margarine. And even though I like the taste of the other one, I don't think it's so good that it's worth it to make it with the transfats; the research saying that that stuff is poison is just too strong to do it. It would be nice if the kosher markets would start carrying this stuff; I load up when I'm at Trader Joe's. It's more expensive than stick margarine, but in my family we firmly believe it's more important to eat healthily, even if it means paying a bit more. I'd rather pay money now than pay with my health later.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: queenscook

                        I've yet to make a decent pareve white frosting. Your recipe with tofutti cream cheese and confectioner's sugar sounds very good. I use Fleishman's tub margarine - pareve, unsalted, and transfat free per serving, in my chocolate frosting. I don't use much, just enough to give it a smooth, buttery taste. Like you, I've been successful with Earth Balance and Soy Garden in cakes, cookies, and pie crusts. I make a delicious "buttermilk" cake subbing with Earth Balance and soy milk that goes over very well with my family and butter lovin' friends. Pareve can be done more healthfully than what the Kosher bakeries sell, at least the Kosher bakeries in my neighborhood (Boston area). With the exception of Challah, I don't buy baked goods from Kosher bakeries. I'd rather make my own.

                      2. I'm surprised noone mentioned Earth Balance Non-Hydrogenated Shortening Sticks. I use it instead of margarine in ALL types of recipes. Earth Balance makes a non-hydrogenated margarine as well, but it is salted and I could taste the salt in desserts, so I just use the shortening.

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: websterhall1994

                          I've used earth balance a lot in my baking and have had very good results. I find that it works better with pastry flour than all purpose when making pie crusts. With frosting, it can be a little waxy, but I've never had anyone not love it.

                          Here is my favorite cake easy cake recipe, that doesn't contain dairy or egg. It is vegan, even though I'm not.:
                          Serves 8
                          Preparation time for cake: 6 minutes
                          Baking time: 30 minutes
                          Preparation time for glaze: 15 minutes
                          Chilling time (if using glaze) 30 minutes
                          Equipment: 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake pan, 2-cup measuring cup, double boiler

                          Cake Ingredients
                          1 ½ cups unbleached white flour
                          ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
                          1 teaspoon baking soda
                          ½ teaspoon salt
                          1 cup sugar
                          ½ cup vegetable oil
                          1 cup cold water or coffee
                          2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
                          2 tablespoons cider vinegar

                          Preheat the oven to 375º.

                          Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda, salt, and sugar directly into the cake pan. In the measuring cup, measure and mix together the oil, cold water or coffee, and vanilla. Pour the liquid ingredients into the baking pan and mix the batter with a fork or a small whisk. When the batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. There will be pale swirls in the batter as the baking soda and vinegar react. Stir just until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter.

                          Bake for 25 to 30 minutes and set aside to cool.

                          1. re: adventuresinbaking

                            Thanks websterhall and adventuresinbaking for noting the Earth Balance shortning sticks--I'd not seen these around before, but will be sure to hunt some down (I'm guessing Whole Foods will have them).

                            And I second that cake recipe (from Moosewood, I think). It is my old reliable when I need a quick dessert for Shabbat. When the kids were younger, it was also a favorite because they could lick the fork, as there was no egg in the batter. I've made it with a variety of vinegars--white wine, red wine, cider, balsamic--though a herb-infused vinegar would probably be a bad choice ;)

                            1. re: adventuresinbaking

                              thanks so much for posting this recipe!

                              I love recipes that let me eat the batter---- fear-free. I saw this friday afternoon and decided it was a must!
                              No matter how good for you or delicious tasting many vegan desserts with bananas and apple sauce can be, it is just not the same as pure chocolate goodness.

                              Unfortunately, I only had 1/2 regular flour left and ended up using 1cup of whole-wheat flour, I was afraid that it would be awful, but everyone really loved it !

                              I did have a question on your recipe though...

                              I know it says mix everything right in the baking dish but I couldn't believe it wouldn't stick so I mixed it in a bowl and the poured into a GREASED pan---- was that unnecessary does it really come out cleanly as suggested by the process above??

                              thanks again!

                              1. re: yointle

                                yointle, it really does come out of the pan cleanly. However, I always serve it straight from the pan. It's a very moist cake, I don't glaze it, and I end up making it right before Shabbat rather than the night before, so it doesn't have time to cool much--all factors making me worry it wouldn't survive being removed from the pan in one piece, or not really caring about taking it out of the pan at all.

                            2. re: websterhall1994

                              Actually the soy margarine I use is Earth Balance brand, but it's in a tub rather than sticks. I just weigh it on my kitchen scale.

                              1. re: queenscook

                                I've used Earth Balance for frosting...and it is a little too salty, but I love the buttery taste, any way to mitigate the salt?

                                1. re: vallevin

                                  get the sticks! they are sodium free. i don't know what recipe for frosting you are all using, but if you put some (more?) soy, almond. or rice milk in the frosting, it mitgates waxiness.

                                  1. re: Bugg Superstar

                                    Shortening sticks are sodium free, not the EB buttery sticks. Buttery sticks have the same amount of sodium as the EB tub.

                                    1. re: addicted2cake

                                      And I think the EB buttery sticks are OU-D, no?

                                      1. re: DeisCane

                                        No. Buttery sticks are pareve, just like the tub. Pareve (OU) and vegan.

                            3. Magnolia Bakery is Kosher, they use all fresh natural ingredients If you are baking try earth balance, we have a Kosher bakery in Los Angeles, that uses earth balance and their products are delicious.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: lisap310

                                Unfortunately, I do not believe that anything at Magnolia is pareve.

                                1. re: DeisCane

                                  Everything at BabyCakes is vegan so they make delicious bakery items without any dairy (or eggs!). They're also good for gluten-free items that don't taste like sawdust.

                                  1. re: CloggieGirl

                                    Very cool. To anticipate everyone's next question, the authority is Rabbi Malek.

                                    1. re: DeisCane

                                      And the next question....who is he? I goggled the name but only came up with other places he is certifying.

                                      1. re: DeisCane

                                        It's Adas Yereim of Paris, according to Shamash.