For the past four years, I’ve abstained from purchasing holiday gifts and have instead engaged in an annual bout of extreme baking in order to provide scrumptious, lovingly crafted vegan treats to anywhere from 10-25 of my closest friends. This year proves no different, as I’ve chosen ten varied recipes for cookies, brownies, and candy from around the vegan blogosphere with which I plan to substantially dirty my kitchen over the coming week. Yesterday marked the commencement of my baking whirlwind, which consisted of Cara’s Persimmon Cookies, Jenne’s Raw Gingerbread Macaroons, Amie Sue’s Raw Red Peppermint “Sugar” Cookies, and a newly veganized version of my family’s tried-and-true Butter Pecan Rum Balls (recipe at the end of the post).
Only substituting a flax “egg” for the tofu in the Persimmon Cookies, I otherwise followed Cara’s recipe exactly and obtained immensely pleasing results. While I don’t intend to sample one of them myself due to the cookies’ sugar content, their soft-in-the-middle-crispy-on-the-edges texture, heavenly spiced aroma, and inclusion of both chewy raisins and crunchy walnuts has inspired me to create a sugar/Earth Balance-free version in the near future.
For the Raw Gingerbread Macaroons, I replaced the almonds with almond pulp leftover from making almond milk, and the molasses with date syrup, to yield a hearty, sticky dough perfect for molding into dome-shaped macaroons.
In the Raw Red Peppermint “Sugar” Cookies, I again replaced the almond meal with almond pulp, and the beet juice with frozen raspberries in the hopes that they would impart the same red coloring. Though I found that the dough proved much too sticky to facilitate the use of cookie cutters, even after freezing it, I worked around this snafu by rolling out the dough about 1/4-inch thick onto two parchment-lined baking sheets, baking for 30 minutes at 200 degrees, cutting out the desired shapes, and returning the cookies to the oven for another 35 minutes. After removing from the oven, I peeled away the excess dough from around the festive cut-outs and frosted the cookies with another of Amie Sue’s recipes for Raw Vanilla Frosting. Unfortunately, the cookies did not harbor the same red color as I suspect the beets would have caused, but boy, did they smell like somethin’ pretty.
Excitingly, this year I decided to finally veganize the holiday cookie that my mother and I have made since my elementary school days, and that have gained somewhat of a cult following among my friends: Butter Pecan Rum Balls. Of course, since adopting a vegan lifestyle two years ago, I’ve experienced a level of discomfort with allowing my mother to make the animal-secretion-laden cookies for our neighbors, my teachers, and my two best friends (who comprise two of the Rum Balls’ biggest fans). However, I’ve hesitated from veganizing the recipe because it features vanilla wafer cookies and sweetened condensed milk, and the step of making homemade, vegan versions of these two staple ingredients seemed rather daunting. This year, though, my morals overwhelmingly outweighed my laziness, resulting in a new and improved recipe—in terms of taste, ethics, and health—for the famous Rum Balls.
While this new recipe boasts a much higher content of coconut oil and date/coconut sugar than I’d prefer, I don’t want to tamper with it too much more for fear that the Rum Balls will lose their original integrity. Alternatively, you could use regular AP flour in place of the gluten-free mix, Earth Balance instead of the coconut oil, and white sugar (processed without bone char, of course) instead of the coconut/date sugar to achieve just as tasty but much less healthy results.
Butter Pecan Rum Balls (Soy Free)
Makes 40-50 balls.
For the sweetened condensed coconut milk:
1 14-oz can light coconut milk
3 tbsp liquid sweetener of choice (agave, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, etc.)
Dash of salt
For the vanilla wafer cookies:
7 oz gluten-free flour mix (make your own following these instructions, or use a storebought brand such as Bob’s Red Mill)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut oil, softened
3 1/2 oz coconut or date sugar
1 tbsp flaxseed meal + 3 tbsp water
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp plant-based milk
For the powdered sugar coating:
1 cup coconut or date sugar
1 tbsp arrowroot
For the balls:
8 oz raw pecans
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup dark rum
To make the sweetened condensed coconut milk, pour the milk into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Whisk in the sweetener and salt. Lower the heat and simmer the mixture until it reduces by half, about 45-60 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Allow to cool and thicken before using.
To make the vanilla wafer cookies, preheat the oven to 350°F. Sift together the flour, arrowroot, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Cream together the coconut oil and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or using an electric hand mixer) on medium speed for 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl after 1 minute. Add the flax “egg” and mix on medium speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl. Add the vanilla extract and milk and blend on low speed for 15 seconds. Add the flour mixture in two batches, starting on low speed and working up to medium until incorporated. Chill the batter in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes before scooping.
Scoop the batter in teaspoon-sized balls and arrange them on two parchment-lined baking sheets about an inch apart. Slightly moisten the heel of your hand and use it to slightly flatten each ball. Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until golden brown. Allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the pan.
To make the powdered sugar coating, add the coconut/date sugar in batches to a coffee or spice grinder, processing until the sugar becomes powdered and light brown in color, then placing in a mixing bowl and stirring in the arrowroot. Transfer to a flat-bottomed plate to coat the balls.
To make the balls, pulse the cooled vanilla wafer cookies and pecans separately in the food processor, and add each to a large mixing bowl along with the salt. Add the melted coconut oil, 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp of the sweetened condensed coconut milk, the vanilla, and the rum. Stir well until evenly moistened. Roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls, then roll in the coconut powdered sugar to coat.
Stored in an airtight container, these balls will keep for weeks in the fridge and indefinitely in the freezer. In fact, the balls definitely taste the best straight out of the freezer.
Comment Provoking Questions: Are there any traditional family recipes that you have veganized or would like to? Do you prefer to make or buy gifts for loved ones? If you like to make gifts, what do you make?
Until next time, Ali.