This last summer, I was at a picnic hosted by a French-German couple we’re friends with here in Berlin. It wasn’t the first time their Tarte au Citron made an appearance and was an instant hit. I’d seen it before and wondered if there was a way to make a vegan version. The original, like many famous French culinary creations, consists largely of butter and eggs.
We got to talking at dinner two weeks ago. I was telling them more about the vegan cookbook, and then the Tarte au Citron came up again. “Sure, we’ll give you the recipe! Maybe you can find a way to put it in the cookbook.”
When I got the recipe a few days later, I unfolded the paper anxiously and scanned the list of ingredients. How am I going to do this? I thought to myself. I’m not really a whiz kid when it comes to baking, but I do know the advanced basics of egg replacement, and I have a few pie and quiche crusts I do well. And I can sometimes force myself to actually follow instructions and not tweak everything like I usually do. This was going to be a major challenge. It would certainly require a lot of tweaking.
You probably know Germany has a long, outstanding tradition of great desserts. Especially on my first visits to Germany in the late 90s, I enjoyed many apple strudels, cherry, plum, and peach cakes, and lots of other fruity and nutty delights. Germany is also famous for Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies), Stollen (fruitcakes), and tons of other decadent treats, increasingly available as vegan adaptations. The best, of course, come from home kitchens. In addition to the pastry shops and bakeries, the cafés almost always have great sweets, too.
In these cafés, you’ll see something that looks a lot like a brownie. There might even be a card next to it that says: Brownies. However – I grew up (mostly) in the United States – with awesome brownies at home, friends’ homes, from school bake sales, and just about anywhere else baked goods are found. Sadly, most of these German “Brownies” are imposters. They’re lackluster chocolate cake cut in the shape of a brownie! Fluffy and cake-like, and maybe pretty, but not gooey or chocolatey. I stopped ordering them years ago, probably after the third or fourth time someone told me: “No, no, this one really is a brownie!” Only to be fooled again.
Anyone who has been to a Hare Krishna temple for the Sunday Feast is certainly familiar with this tasty, fragrant Indian sweet. Let’s not confuse it with Middle Eastern halvah, which is also super tasty, but is rather different taste and texture. Indian halva is traditionally made with ghee or butter — however we can make a delicious vegan halva with good margarine. Oil works too, but it lacks the richer flavor. I love to round out a nice Indian thali with this treat served in a little metal bowl, like in the photo above.
This recipe is a variation on one of the most classic cookies, the legendary Oatmeal Raisin Cookie. The oats always make me believe I’m eating something more wholesome and it’s still a treat! The cranberries lend a fruity tartness and the mix of walnuts and ground hazelnut amplify the nut taste. You could replace the cranberries with more raisins, or the raisins with more cranberries, or both with more nuts, as you like. Add some ground flax or hemp seeds if you’re feeling extra earth-crunchy. Unlike most baking recipes, this one is fairly hard to mess up. Hmm… Maybe that’s why I like it so much.