Vegging Out

This raw vegan recipe lets you have your (chocolate) cake — and eat it, too

This raw vegan recipe lets you have your (chocolate) cake — and eat it, too

Turning away a delicious, rich and densely dark chocolate torte is a sin needing confession. Breaking its silky smooth outer skin decisively with a fork, working slowly down its innermost layers, feeling a slight resistance until it meets the bottom. Eat me, it says, naughtily.

Such a tease, though not so sporadically, I am forced to deny myself the pleasure. 

I can't indulge in the titillating treat as many baked goods out in the foodie world depend on dairy and eggs — which seems as antiquated as depending on Sweet & Low for a low-calorie artificial sweetener — for their indulgent attitude. But that doesn't have to be the case.

Replacing eggs is a walk in park. After learning to discern their function, the spawn of poultry can easily be replaced with blended silken tofu, sticky soaked and blended flaxseeds, applesauce or egg replacer products now widely available at most health food stores.

Butter? There's Earth Balance.

Cream cheese? Hail the Tofutti.

And whipped — I prefer calling it whooped — cream? I learned a trick from vegan gourmand and winner of Cupcake Wars, Chloe Coscarelli, with chilled canned coconut milk

Though it may seem I can have my cake — and eat it, too — it often goes that the medical-esque condition that demands the immediate consumption of cake is often not fulfilled due to the necessary time delay to craft one, bake one and frost one.

Well, dang it. 

"I can make one in three minutes," Gwen Marzano said with poise. The certified vegan chef and raw food instructor implied that by the time I finish watching the latest YouTube meme, I could have a wicked and risque dessert sliced, with frosting, on a plate ready for my pleasure. 

Too good to be true. Nothing can bake that quickly. And in the "baking" was the guarded secret.

There's no baking. It's raw, vegan — wait for it — and good for you.

Marzano had concocted a recipe for raw vegan chocolate cake without fiber-devoid flour, no processed sweeteners, no veg butter and fashioned to be healthy and without any refined carbs. 

Sacrebleu. Incroyable. 

The quintessential torte consistency was achieved by pulverizing walnuts, mixing in a few dates just to get a touch of sweetness, using raw cacao — which is different that traditional cocoa —a drip of vanilla extract, sea salt and a dab of coconut oil. All prepared in a food processor within seconds, formed by hand and decorated by a snowy layer of shredded coconut and berries du jour. 

​Until I tasted the cake, I was a non-believer. But now I am found.

The raw cacao — as opposed to its roasted counterpart, regular cocoa powder — retains all its natural antioxidants, making it more potent than red wine or blueberries. The walnuts contribute healthy oils in the form of omega 3 fatty acids, phosphorous, magnesium and a strapping quota of fiber — keeping that tush regular and happy. 

Dates add even more bulk, and their high tanning content helps the body detoxify. 

Raw vegan cuisine, as explained by Marzano, is a mixture of science and art where creativity is intensified and the traditional function of everyday ingredients is stretch to its limits. It may seem radical, but when considering the ridiculous techniques we are willing to apply to food — which is biological fuel for the body — for sake of gourmand sublimity, cuisine au naturel is outright sensible.

With a plethora of food allergies, Marzano's journey into raw veganism stemmed from the need to abstain from consuming dairy, gluten, soy, sugar and corn. After completing a certification in raw vegan prep and instruction at Chicago's Cousin's Incredible Vitality, Marzano embarked in the task of translating traditional dishes such as burgers, potato salad, cheesecake, lemon pie — and of course, cake — from their traditional versions into much healthier interpretations.

Today, she is the healthy eating specialist at Whole Foods Market Houston Metro and on the side, works as a raw foods chef and caters under the G's Healthy Delights brand.

It is the belief that applying heat to foods creates toxins in otherwise healthy ingredients. Nitrosamines, chemical compounds formed when cooking, preserving in salt and smoking, become cancer-causing carcinogens.  

Think about it, we are the only species on the planet that alters natural resources for consumption to this extent. Is it that militant and extremist to consider rawism as a more congenital impulse?

I am no neophyte to this theory. In fact, it was Houston's raw vegan queen Pat Greer, Elizabeth Harris — and her chocolate mousse — that challenged and muddled my logic and introduced me to the long history which precedes the Atkins protein-orgy fad. 

The origins of raw foods as a medical therapy stems from the inventor of muesli — now a popular uncooked breakfast cereal mingling rolled oats, dried fruits and nuts. Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner (1867 - 1939) recovered from jaundice by eating raw apples. The legacy of the sanatorium he established in 1904 in Zurich is alive and well under the direction of his nephew Andres Bircher, now located roughly two hours southeast of its original location, in Braunwald.

The movement is gaining strength in the United States — mostly in California (no shock here) — though already very popular in England, Australia and Germany. It has inspired documentaries like Supercharge Me! 30 Days Raw — as a response to Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me.

But it's not without its medical controversy with studies claiming Vitamin B12, dental erosion, lower bone density, low in calcium, Vitamin D, iron, zinc and protein — with other papers focusing on a raw diet's effectiveness in treating diabetes, high blood pressure, reversing atherosclerosis, arthritis and inflammation.

Marzano keeps it balanced and aims for an 80 percent raw diet, adding cooked foods and sometimes fish to reach her personal nutritional goals, managing her allergies and helping her look radiant and fabulous. Her chocolate cake is proof that only creativity is the barrier between the delicious and the healthy. 

Have your cake, eat it too, and feel good about it. Here are her recipes.

Gwen Marzano's three-minute raw vegan chocolate cake recipe:

  • 2 cups raw walnuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped, pitted dates
  • 3/4 cup raw cacao
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • Shredded coconut and berries for garnish

In a food processor, chop the walnuts for about 20 seconds until a sandy consistency is achieved. Do not over process or else the cake will be oily. Add in the pitted dates, cacao, coconut oil, nectar, vanilla and salt, pulse a couple of times and then process for 15 seconds until the mixture comes together in a ball.

Form into a cake, dot with shredded coconut and decorate with berries. For a more luxurious finish, try the frosting: 

Gwen's cashew-vanilla frosting:

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews soaked for 10 minutes
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or coconut butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup water

Blend all ingredients. Place in the fridge to cool and thicken. 

Gwen Marzano and Joel Luks
Getting a lesson from raw vegan chef and instructor Gwen Marzano. Courtesy of Joel Luks
Raw Vegan Chocolate Cake Gwen Marzano
We began by learning to make her three-minute raw vegan chocolate cake... Photo by Joel Luks
Raw Dessert Gwen Marzano
...which also included a recipe for silky cashew-vanilla frosting... Photo by Joel Luks
Traditional Ingredients
No traditional ingredients were used. Each dessert was soy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, but all were sinfully delicious.  Photo by Gwen Marzano
Raw Vegan Dessert Gwen Marzano
My lesson extended beyond chocolate cake, like this raw vegan pumpkin pie... Photo by Joel Luks
Raw Dessert Gwen Marzano
...and this chocolate peanut butter torte... Photo by Joel Luks
Raw Dessert Gwen Marzano
and lemon cheesecake topped with raspberries.  Photo by Joel Luks
Gwen Marzano and Joel Luks
Raw Vegan Chocolate Cake Gwen Marzano
Raw Dessert Gwen Marzano
Traditional Ingredients
Raw Vegan Dessert Gwen Marzano
Raw Dessert Gwen Marzano
Raw Dessert Gwen Marzano