by Robyn Goldberg
I just arrived back in California after spending half a year living and volunteering at a festival & course retreat center in the countryside of Sweden. When I first arrived, I worked as a barista and server in their café in exchange for room and board. Weeks later, when they asked if there was a volunteer with baking experience interested in doing some baking for the café as well, I eagerly accepted this responsibility.
Given that these festivals and courses are mainly related to meditation and yoga, the population that lives in and/or attends the retreat center is a bit different from the general population of Sweden, or any other country for that matter. Lots of the people who maintain a regular meditation or yoga practice also strive to eat in a way that nourishes their body and soul. For some, this means a vegetarian (no meat or fish) or vegan (no meat, fish, or animal products like eggs/cheese/milk) diet. Others avoid refined sugar, or gluten, or dairy, or some combination of the three. I even met a few who eat a completely raw diet; in other words, they only eat food that has not been cooked or processed.
You can probably imagine the challenges that come with trying to provide a variety of baked goods and raw treats for hundreds of people all following different diets and food philosophies. I’d had tons of “regular” baking experience, from a lifetime of making regular ol’ brownies, cookies, cakes, etc. for myself and my loved ones. This was the perfect opportunity to learn how to develop, or tweak already-existing, recipes to cater to customers and community members with a variety of dietary needs. My main goal was for these treats NOT to taste like they were missing anything – even if they were really missing eggs, sugar, flour, etc. I’ve heard friends remark about desserts at restaurants before, “Oh, well, this was pretty good for vegan cake.” No, no, no. If it tastes like a less-delicious version of the original, then it’s not worth serving!
Here are some examples of my best-selling desserts:
- Chocolate hazelnut ‘nutella’ pie – the #1 seller (raw, vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free)
- Fudgy brownies with orange zest (gluten-free; made with almond meal instead of flour)
- Lemon vanilla bean cheesecake (Raw, vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free)
- Dark chocolate ganache layer cake (vegan, but you wouldn’t know it)
- Salted caramel apple pie with pecan streusel topping (Raw, vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free)
Not everyone who came to the café wanted these healthier treats though. Some requested, “Whatever has the most sugar, dairy, and gluten possible!” For them, I always had a delicious pie on hand, called Banoffee Pie. It’s a recipe that most of the Swedes know and love, though it’s actually British in origin. Banoffee is comprised of layer of graham cracker, caramel toffee, sliced bananas, and whipped cream. It’s by no means healthy, but it is an absolutely delicious, inexpensive, and easy-to-make dessert. We went through lots and lots of Banoffee, and the sugar-dairy-gluten eaters were thrilled to see it on our counter.
10 minutes active (approx. 5 hours counting advanced prep + fridge time)
10 oz graham crackers, 1 stick of butter, can of condensed milk, 3 medium or large bananas, small can of whipped cream, ½ tbsp cocoa powder
Pie tin (or 10-11” spring-form pan), blender or food processor, medium bowl, wooden spoon, small pot, spatula, cutting board, small knife, longer knife, sieve
(**In advance: Put unopened condensed milk can in pot of water; make sure the water covers the can completely. Heat on high until water is boiling, then turn heat to low and cover the pot with a lid. Leave for four hours. Then take the can out and let it cool. The condensed milk becomes caramelized, which forms the toffee layer.**)
- Blend or process graham crackers into fine crumb consistency
- Melt butter in small pot on low heat
- Mix melted butter and graham cracker crumbs with wooden spoon in medium bowl, until totally combined
- Use your fingers to press this graham cracker/butter mixture firmly into the bottom of the pie tin, and up the sides about 3/4 to 1 inch.
- Open can of caramel and pour onto the crust, and spread evenly across the bottom (no need to go up the sides) using the spatula. (If the caramel is too thick to spread into even layer, warm the caramel in a small pan on low heat for a minute or so, stirring constantly with wooden spoon)
- Thinly slice bananas, and layer evenly on top of the caramel. The caramel should be almost all covered.
- Add whipped cream in an even layer so that the banana layer is covered.
- Dust with cocoa powder using a sieve.
- Chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes. Then, use long sharp knife to cut into 12-16 slices (pizza pie style). Enjoy!