OF ALL THE comfort foods associated with the holidays, you can't beat cookies. Hard to mess up, easy to eat, and fun to customize, they're something everyone enjoys in one form or another, including vegan.
It seems like this year, everybody could use a little more comfort, and now it's easier than ever to welcome everyone with an all-vegan lineup just as tasty and satisfying as the ones we remember from holidays long past.
For one thing, this is because Hampton Creek's animal-free Just Cookie Dough, ready to slap onto baking sheets and heat to perfection, is now available nationwide at Target stores. This is the cookie dough you can eat raw, because it lacks salmonella-friendly raw eggs. It's available in Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter, and "Birthday Cake" varieties - the latter features colorful sprinkles that fit with festive occasions.
That's one quick and easy home-bake option. Another is to use your favorite non-vegan recipe and substitute 3 tablespoons of bean water (aquafaba - the water from a can of beans) for 1 egg. But there are multitudinous, splendiferous ways of doing vegan holiday cookies, and we have room here to offer a few nibbles, thanks to a rich and growing bounty of vegan cookie experts.
Philly's own vegan TV star, Christina Pirello (Christina Cooks), has been doing vegan baking for decades and is a genuine vegan cookie maven. Her delicious cookies were our judges' gifts in the 2015 vegan cheesesteak contest, a reminder that unlike cakes, pies, and unwieldy pastries, cookies make great gifts at holiday time or any time.
For the present occasion, Pirello chose to highlight that seasonal favorite biscotti, the crispy, almond-rich, twice-baked Italian treat often paired with hot beverages. Pirello, proud of her Italian heritage, casually notes that "we make the best vegan biscotti on the planet." You can test that claim with an order of Chocolate Walnut Biscotti from her site (christinacooks.com/catalog/christinas-cookies) or try duplicating her authentic Italian (but egg-free) recipe at philly.com/cookies.
Pirello, a longtime vegan and macrobiotic advocate, knows a thing or two about the power of good, fresh food as a tool for persuasion. Though vegan cookies may impress, she notes that the holidays are all about "bringing everyone together at the table" without judgments or anxieties about food choices, and taking the opportunity to have some fun with your animal-free treats. "Everyone always tries to be fancier at the holidays," she observes.
That's certainly true at Batter & Crumbs vegan bakery, a relative newcomer on the Philly vegan baking scene. Founded in 2014 by Paul Carmine of Frankie's on Fairview in Woodlyn (a cheesesteak contest finalist this year), this operation is cranking out cookies from a commercial kitchen and looking at opening a storefront in or around Philly in 2017. The company's goal is "to create amazing treats that are cruelty-free."
Currently, "our items are in local coffee shops in Delaware County," Carmine said, adding that he's looking to add some Philly spots in coming months. In the meantime, the bakery offers free delivery to Philly on Thursdays and will do a holiday special of free Philly delivery Dec. 20-24.
Carmine oversees the biz, which he owns with baking whiz John Schultz, who "loves the holidays, as it gives him a chance to dream up some new and creative items to fit the theme," said Carmine. The results can be seen in B&C's holiday assortment, which features a platter full of varied, colorful cookies, or such larger offerings as the giant gingerbread man. You can survey their lineup at batterandcrumbs.com/christmas-treats/.
With ever more vegan baked goods available around the region, (see sidebar), it's easy to find the perfect holiday package. But if you want to go that extra mile at home, beyond the "Just Cookie Dough" basics, a new book provides a wealth of crafty and kaleidoscopic special-occasion ideas. Released just in time for the holidays by Veganomicon coauthor Isa Chandra Moskowitz, The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook (Little, Brown) is a terrifically jazzy, fun, and sassy vegan party book with plenty to say about cookies (among many other animal-free confections).
For the many who like to do multiple batches of different cookies, Moskowitz offers this tip: "Make the cookie doughs a few days in advance and keep them refrigerated. Bake them off a day ahead." Her end-of-year-holidays section includes Christmassy Candy Cane Cookies (among others) and, for Hanukkah, "probably the most iconic of the Jewish cookies," rugelach. (Both recipes are here.)
Meanwhile, our own "Urban Vegan," Dynise Balcavage, wrote one of the first "party vegan" books, Celebrate Vegan (Lyons, 2011), so she knows her way around holiday baking (and around Philadelphia, where she runs, and blogs at MasteringRunning.com). A regular recipe contributor to V for Veg, Balcavage decided for this occasion to keep things edgy with Almond Snowflakes, a raw ("no-bake") cookie-style dessert that's "very easy to put together and festive-looking," also available here.
With these and other cookie ideas, it's easy to please your friends and relatives without compromising principles or flavor. And, as a bonus, "Cookies are the most benign, noncontroversial way to start conversations" about food choices, Pirello observed. "When presented with a chocolate chip cookie, most people will not turn up their nose, even if told it's vegan. And if a "healthful" cookie turns out to be yummy, the door is open for discussion."
Given the countless deaths of male chicks required by the egg industry, that's a door worth opening, even if for the moment it's just propped open by a cookie.
And whether the point is followed up immediately - or later, when people are not quite so much in need of comforting - these violence-free cookies embody the one value everybody can agree on this season: Peace on Earth.
V for Visual Arts: From 7 to 9 tonight at Miss Rachel's Pantry, 1938 S. Chadwick St., enjoy great vegan food at a fund-raiser for the Kind Institute, a Point Breeze after-school arts program for kids that "teaches students new ways to comprehend and retain knowledge by addressing all learning styles." The event is organized by Temple University's 10-10-10 Foundation. More info at philly.com/kind.
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician, and 15-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.