You-Won’t-Believe-They’re-Vegan Turtle Brownies

Okay, I have a confession to make: I’ve never been a huge fan of vegan baking. Oh, sure, I’ve done a lot of it, especially while living at the Zen Center, preparing foods for special events, or entertaining at home and wanting to provide a menu that is welcoming to all my friends. But I have never had much of a desire to actually eat vegan desserts or baked goods myself: in fact, I have often prepared a non-vegan version of most of the vegan desserts I’ve made so that I could enjoy the “real” version.

Because, you see, I love butter. And cream. And cheese. And some more butter, just in case. My attachment to dairy is the major sticking-point in my otherwise mindfully-healthy diet. (Well, okay, dairy and sweets.)

But now I am a cook at the almost-exclusively vegan and gluten-free deli at Lori’s Natural Foods: you can check out the deli’s Facebook page at It seems prudent to become as deeply familiar with all of our food as possible: as a result, I have eaten more vegan desserts and baked goods in the last couple of weeks than ever before. And I have learned that I have been unfairly maligning vegan desserts all along.

And so it was that I went to my favorite used book store’s website,, and ordered a few new cookbooks. One of my selections was Sinfully Vegan by Lois Dieterly. The night after it was delivered, I flipped through the pages and salivated at the many delightful-sounding recipes contained therein.

Yesterday night, I gave the first of these recipes a try. I have posted it below almost exactly as it appears in the book (except for the title: Lois calls it “Heavenly Brownie Torte”), with only a few clarifications in the directions, because the recipe is pretty much flawless.

In fact, I must confess that these are probably the best brownies I have ever had in my life. They are so decadent, so rich, so moist, so delicious, that I wouldn’t change a thing about them. They are everything I have ever wanted from a brownie and more. The fact that they are vegan goes completely without notice to my taste buds. They are positively divine.

Because I am posting this recipe pretty much unaltered, I would like to counter the possible copyright infringement with a strong suggestion that you consider acquiring a copy of Sinfully Vegan to call your own. Given the resounding success of this recipe, I am looking forward to trying the other recipes in the book.

I have a handy square cake pan with a removable bottom that came very much in handy while assembling these brownies. If you have a similar pan, I suggest employing it on this recipe.

I do recommend preparing the different components for the brownies in the order that they are listed. You want to give the caramel sauce maximum time to cool (and thereby thicken) while you prepare the brownies.

And now, with no further ado…

You-Won’t-Believe-They’re-Vegan Turtle Brownies

The caramel sauce:

  • 1/3 c light corn syrup
  • 1/3 c dark brown sugar
  • 2 t alcohol-free vanilla extract
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 3  1/2  T vegan milk (I suggest almond or coconut-almond)
  • 1 c whole pecans

The brownies:

  • 1  1/3 c sugar
  • 3/4 c unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 c plus 2 T almond milk
  • 2 t flax powder
  • 2 t alcohol-free vanilla extract
  • 1  1/3 c unbleached all-purpose flour (or Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour)
  • 3/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 c vegan chocolate chips

The chocolate candy topping:

  • 1/2 t alcohol-free vanilla extract
  • 1/2 vegan creamer (I suggest Silk brand)
  • 2 cups (12-oz.) vegan chocolate chips

Caramel Sauce:

  1. Place the corn syrup and brown sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed pan. Heat over medium-high heat until boiling. Simmer without stirring until it reaches the soft-ball stage (240 degrees F).
  2. Add the vanilla, salt, and milk, and stir just until combined thoroughly. Remove from heat.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool completely at room temperature: d not refrigerate before assembling the brownies.
  4. Reserve the pecans for assembling the torte.


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, cutting a slit down to corners to ensure a smooth fit.
  2. Stir together the sugar, applesauce, and 2 T of the almond milk in a medium-sized bowl. In a small cup, mix the flax powder with the remaining almond milk. Add to the applesauce mixture and stir to combine. Stir in the vanilla.
  3. In another medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Whisk together to fully combine. Add the applesauce mixture to the flour mixture and stir just until combined (if using gluten-free flour, stir a bit longer, as you obviously don’t need to worry about over-processing the gluten). Stir in the chocolate chips.
  4. Pour into the prepared pan and bake 40 minutes for chewy brownies or 45-47 minutes for more cakelike brownies.
  5. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing from the pan. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before assembling.

Before making the chocolate topping, begin to assemble the brownies:

  1. Place the completely cooled, unsliced brownie upside down on a wire rack placed atop a plate that has a diameter larger than that of the brownie.
  2. Gently pour the caramel sauce over the brownie, leaving about a 1/2-inch margin without caramel around the edge of the brownie. Reserve some of the caramel to drizzle on the plates when you serve the brownies.
  3. Place the pecans in an evenly-spaced pattern around the top of the brownie on the caramel, spacing them close together so that all the caramel is covered.
  4. Refrigerate to harden the caramel while you heat the chocolate.

Chocolate Candy Topping:

  1. Heat the vanilla and vegan creamer in a small pan over medium heat until hot but not boiling.
  2. Slowly stir in the chocolate chips. Stir until the chips are completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
  3. While the mixture is hot, gently pour over the brownie, nuts, and caramel, being careful not to dislodge the nuts or caramel. Allow the excess chocolate to drip onto the plate under the brownie.
  4. When the brownie is completely covered with chocolate, place the plate, wire rack, and brownie in the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens.
  5. Remove from the refrigerator and remove any hard drips of chocolate that formed when the chocolate ran off the brownie through the wire rack (kitchen shears work well for this). Carefully move the brownie from the wire rack and onto a serving platter.
  6. When serving, drizzle some of the reserved caramel on each individual serving plate and place a slice of the brownie on top.

The Best Coconut Cream Pie in the World

This pie is, without a doubt, one of my specialties. It is a recipe that is remembered by all who have been lucky enough to partake in its creamy deliciousness. And now, for the first time ever, I am sharing the recipe.

Last weekend, I had the occasion to make three of these delicacies. My friends Sudama and Ananta (formerly Luna and Britta, respectively) were ordained as Zen priests on Saturday. Almost a year ago, Sudama had requested that I make this pie for the celebration that follows the ordination ceremony, and I of course agreed. I felt honored and grateful that she had remembered this pie: I made it once while I was on staff at the Zen Center, and brought it in once or twice to the ZC in the years since, but not too often. I will admit that this is a labor-intensive pie to make, namely because it uses fresh coconut. However, it is well worth the extra effort that it takes to use fresh coconut rather than the bagged shit.

I think it’s safe to say that many people living in today’s world have never opened a coconut. It’s actually kind of a fun process, but it does take some time and some know-how. I did some searching to find a site that had helpful and accurate information on how to drain and open a coconut, and actually discovered that Wikihow provides thorough info that is consistent with my own experience. The link is I always drain the coconut first (thereby taking advantage of the opportunity to drink delicious, fresh coconut water while I prepare the pie), followed by the tap and rotate method. If you don’t have much luck with that method, there are a couple of other options on that same page.

I also suggest using white coconuts, which have a sweeter, fresher flavor than their brown relatives. If you can’t find them where you live, though, the brown ones are more than acceptable.

To toast the shredded coconut, preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Spread the coconut thinly and evenly on a large cookie sheet, then place in the oven. Stir every 5 minutes until the moisture has evaporated and the coconut is lightly browned. Depending on the water content of the coconut, this can take from 15-30 minutes. This step may seem unnecessary, but it is essential to get the best flavor and texture for your pie. If you’re going to take the time to make this pie, you might as well go all-in.

I could once again sing the praises of the many nutritional benefits of coconuts and coconut milk, but I don’t particularly feel it’s necessary. If you are curious, please refer to my previous post on coconut-chocolate chip ice cream.

And please, I beg of you, stir the filling absolutely constantly while it is cooking. The filling can either be perfect or nasty & clumpy. And the only differences between the two are the quality of attention you give to the process and constant stirring. Just stand there, stirring and watching. That’s it. That’s the trick.

You really can’t go wrong with this pie. It is so creamy, so delicious, so transcendent, that the memory of it will linger like a tender kiss or a loving hug long after the last of the crumbs have been licked from the plate. It is worth every minute and then some. Enjoy!

Coconut Cream Pie


  • 1-1/2  c finely graham cracker or vanilla wafer crumbs
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 t ground cinnamon


  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 1/4 c cornstarch, sifted
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 can coconut milk, plus enough whole milk to make a total of 2-1/2 cups
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 4 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 1 c shredded fresh coconut, toasted (preferably white coconut)


  • 1 c cold heavy cream
  • 3 T powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/4 c toasted shredded coconut

To make the crust:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix the cookie crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon in a medium bowl until well blended.
  3. Gradually mix in the melted butter until well combined
  4. Place the crumb mixture in a 9″ pie dish and pat evenly around the pan. Press another pie dish of the same size firmly into the dough to even the thickness of the crust.
  5. Place in the oven 10-12 minutes and allow to cool before filling.

To make the filling:

  1. Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large heavy-bottomed pan. Gradually whisk in the coconut milk and whole milk.
  2. Beat the egg yolks thoroughly. Whisk into the milk mixture until the color is even and the mixture is consistent throughout.
  3. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat, scrape down anything that has clung to the sides of the pan, and whisk until completely smooth.
  4. Return to the heat and, whisking constantly, cook until it is lightly sputtering. Cook for 30 seconds-1 minute more until thickened. Remove from the heat.
  5. Whisk in the butter, vanilla, and coconut.
  6. Spoon the filling into the prepared and cooled crust. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours, or until close to serving time. Shortly before serving, remove the plastic wrap and cover with the topping and sprinkle with the additional 1/4-cup of toasted coconut.

To make the topping:

  1. Beat the cream in a chilled bowl until thickened. Beat in the powdered sugar and continue beating until the desired consistency is reached. Use immediately.

Dairy-Free Coconut Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

I love coconut. I love coconut milk. I love coconut oil.I am absolutely wild about almost anything that has anything to do with coconuts.

Firstly and most obviously, this is because I am particularly fond of its flavor. But I am also excited about the health benefits of coconuts and coconut products such as coconut milk and coconut oil.

Coconut milk contains lauric acid, a nutrient that is also present in breast milk: in fact, coconut milk and breast milk are among the richest sources of lauric acid, and have very similar amounts of this nutrient. Lauric acid has anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties, and is just one reason why breast-feeding offers so many health benefits to infants. When you consume coconut milk or coconut oil, you are providing your body with this nutrient, which your body transforms into monolaurin: monolaurin provides significant strengthening to your body’s immune system, and many people swear by taking monolaurin supplements as an alternative to antibiotics and antiviral medications.

According to the Coconut Research Center (an organization which I admit I have not researched), “In traditional medicine around the world coconut is used to treat a wide variety of health problems including the following: abscesses, asthma, baldness, bronchitis, bruises, burns, colds, constipation, cough, dropsy, dysentery, earache, fever, flu, gingivitis, gonorrhea, irregular or painful menstruation, jaundice, kidney stones, lice, malnutrition, nausea, rash, scabies, scurvy, skin infections, sore throat, swelling, syphilis, toothache, tuberculosis, tumors, typhoid, ulcers, upset stomach, weakness, and wounds.” That’s a lot of potential for healing from one delicious food item.

Coconut milk is also replete with electrolytes, making it a wonderful preventative of dehydration. If you are sick or an avid exerciser, you could do worse than taking in some coconut milk!

I also happen to be a strictly amateur proponent of Ayurvedic eating and living (to those who are unfamiliar with Ayurveda, I highly recommend the book Ayurveda: A Life of Balance  by Maya Tiwari). The people who know me well won’t be surprised to learn that my primary dosha is pitta, the dosha associated with fire. As a result, I put some effort and mindfulness towards taking in cooling foods so as to bring my body-mind into ever deeper balance. Furthermore, one of the tastes best suited to bring pittas into deeper balance is sweet (along with bitter and astringent), which happens to be coconut’s primary taste. Coconut is one of the classic cooling, healing foods in Ayurveda, and I indulge in it fairly regularly.

An easy way to tell if you are carrying a bit too much off-balance pitta within yourself: if you are feeling impatient, critical, perfectionistic, frustrated, prone towards being a workaholic and/or towards insomnia, overly demanding of yourself and others, or stressed, you are probably full of fire. Take a deep breath, relax a minute, eat some of this ice cream, and all will be well.

Another Ayurvedic suggestion that I adhere to for maintaining a healthy balance of pitta energy is the coconut oil massage. Once a week, give yourself a foot-to-head self-massage with coconut oil before your bath or shower. This is incredibly nourishing for skin, hair, and nails, and is a relaxing ritual that I have enjoyed integrating into my life.

But back to food… The following recipe is an absolute delight, and I couldn’t be more happy with how it turned out.

If you are severely lactose intolerant, do be mindful of what chocolate chips you get: although dark chocolate itself is dairy-free, it is often made in close proximity or with the same equipment as milk chocolate. When in doubt, consult one of the various “Is it dairy free?” books or websites, or get your chocolate chips from a local natural foods store, where it can be easier to identify which products are truly dairy-free.

Also, the recipe uses a lot of vanilla extract. Please feel free to substitute artificial vanilla extract to avoid the high level of alcohol in pure vanilla extract.

I also imagine that this ice cream would also be delicious with some shredded, lightly toasted coconut sprinkled over it. Unfortunately, I don’t have any shredded coconut right now, but I may have to go acquire some so I can test this theory.

Dairy-Free Coconut Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

  • 2 (13.5 oz) cans coconut milk
  • 2 T vanilla extract
  • 1/4 t sea salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 to 3/4 c coconut palm sugar
  • 1 c dark chocolate chips
  1. Place coconut milk, vanilla, and salt in a food processor and blend thoroughly. Place in a heavy-bottomed, medium-sized saucepan and heat to just below boiling. Remove from heat.
  2. Put the eggs and 1/2 c of the coconut palm sugar in the food processor and mix on low until well combined. Pour in 1 cup of the coconut milk mixture in a thin stream while the food processor is still running, and then mix into the saucepan with the remaining coconut milk mixture.
  3. Cook over low heat (stirring constantly!) until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Taste for desired level of sweetness, and adjust according to your preferences. Strain through a fine sieve into a metal bowl, cover, and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Stir to combine, and chill another 30 minutes.
  4. Wash the food processor bowl, and place the ice cream base back into the food processor. Add the chocolate chips and pulse a bit to break some of the chips into smaller pieces.
  5. Return the ice cream base to the metal bowl, cover, and chill for another 1-2 hours, stirring every half hour, until the mixture has thoroughly cooled.
  6. Process according to the directions of your ice cream maker (or, if you don’t have an ice cream maker, follow the guidelines given in the introduction to my previous post on green tea ice cream,
  7. Fold the ice cream by hand a bit to ensure that the chocolate chips are incorporated evenly (they have a tendency to settle to the bottom of the canister). Decant into airtight Tupperware container for storage in your freezer.

Dairy-free Green Tea Ice Cream

The meanest cat I have ever had the pleasure of meeting

Mr. Zebra, the meanest cat I have ever had the pleasure of meeting

My first experience of homemade ice cream was when I was in preschool. My mom, sister, and I were living in an apartment complex in Indianapolis, IN while Mom pursued her MSW. We also had an extremely angry cat named Mr. Zebra. He was fat and always grumpy, with occasional (frequent) violent tendencies. Apparently the fact that he was our cat was pretty much my fault: if I remember correctly, both Mom and Diana wanted a nice cute kitten, but I was adamant that we get the sad, overweight grumpybutt of a kitty cat. I’m not sure what sort of trials, tribulations, and abuse he suffered before we took him in, but he never mellowed out at all. Still, I loved him.

But I digress. My uncle Steve had an old-fashioned ice cream maker, the rock salt and crank style. I remember an afternoon when we made ice cream outside of our apartment building, and how interminably long the whole process seemed. I was a bit impatient when I was 4, and I couldn’t possibly imagine why we were putting in all the time and effort into making ice cream when we could have just gone to the store. Oh, sure, I was curious about the process, but mostly I wanted ice cream.

And then I tasted it. Oh my goodness, I didn’t know anything could be so creamy, I had no conception that a texture like that existed in the world. That first bite was a transformative moment for me. It was as if my understanding of the potential for what food could do to the senses opened up before me, as if I had just received an invitation to explore a mysterious world of food that just might be full of light and shadows and waterfalls of flavors.

I know that a photograph of this day exists, and I just spent a bit of time going through my photo albums looking for it. I was unable to find it, so instead I will post an extremely embarrassing picture of me and my sister playing dress-up. Yaay for visual non sequiturs.

What followed were years of exploring food and cooking and flavors, but without the delight of homemade ice cream. It was just a few years ago that I finally got an ice cream maker to call my own. I was unable to justify the expense of a truly top-of-the-line model, but I did some research and determined the best rated and reviewed model for my budget, which ended up being a simple 1-1/2 quart Cuisinart brand maker that I have been very happy with.While it is not a piece of kitchen equipment that could ever be called a necessity, as it has an extraordinarily specialized application towards making a substance that (however delightful) is not in any way essential for the sustenance of life, I do believe that it was well worth getting. Making my own ice cream is a fun process that requires a good deal of attention and creativity, and it yields substance that has the potential to be truly transcendent.

I haven’t made any ice cream since last summer, and so I was quite delighted to get a request for one of my readers to do a few posts on dairy-free ice cream recipes. I absolutely love having an excuse to make yummy foodstuffs. This is the first of what will be a series of non-dairy ice “cream” recipes. The second post will be for coconut chocolate chip ice cream, which I plan to make tomorrow. These first two recipes are non-dairy, but are not vegan. While I don’t know what the flavor will be for the third ice cream recipe that I will post in this series, I will make sure that that one is vegan. I am partly inspired to create a vegan version of one of my favorites from past excursions into homemade ice cream: I once made an absolutely incredible lavender ice cream, which I think would lend itself well to be revamped into a vegan version.

One offshoot of that last paragraph is that, yes, I take requests. If you have any suggestions for future ice cream flavors and/or ingredients and/or recipes that you would like to see featured in future posts, please feel free to send me an email to with “Post Request” in the subject line.

With that said, I did rush this recipe in a way that resulted in less than perfect results. I put the ice cream base into the maker before it had cooled sufficiently, and so it didn’t freeze adequately before I transferred it into containers to put in the freezer.  I had never rushed my ice cream in this way before, and I must stress that the decreased time from start to finish is simply not worth it. The flavor of this batch is divine, but the texture is not as smooth as it should be: when you put the ice cream into the freezer before it is already sufficiently frozen, the finished product will contain small ice crystals. I am more than happy to eat it, as it is truly delicious. However, it doesn’t have the texture that first won me over to homemade ice cream. So, yes, learn from my mistake: when I say in the recipe to cool the base thoroughly in the refrigerator before putting it into the ice cream maker, please do so.

For those who do not have an ice cream maker, and have no desire to invest in one, you can elect to take the chilled ice cream base and put it in a metal bowl, cover it with aluminum foil, and put it in the freezer for one hour. After that hour, you can blend the ice cream in a food processor until completely smooth and return to the freezer in the covered bowl for 20-30 more minutes. Blend again in the food processor. Continue freezing in 20-30 minute intervals between blending in the food processor 2 to 3 more times before putting the ice cream in an airtight container and freezing thoroughly. This will work fine, but will increase the likelihood of the same texture problems that I had with this batch.

Also, those who have read my post on making tea ( know that I have a strong preference for loose tea leaves. If you choose to use bagged tea, you can substitute four bags of green tea for the loose tea. You can also elect to use either caffeinated or decaffeinated tea.

I suggest using a full-bodied green tea to get maximum flavor in the finished ice cream. I used Dragonwell, and Sencha would also be lovely. I’m also thinking that the next time I make this recipe I will try a jasmine green tea, and see how that goes. In fact, probably any full-bodied tea would work well: Earl Grey ice cream may be in my future…

One more thing: when I say “stir constantly” in this recipe, I actually mean to stir constantly. Expect to be standing at the stove the entire time the base is on the stove, stirring it gently in every moment. This not only helps you remain constantly attentive about the temperature and texture of the base, but it also helps to prevent any curdling. If curdling happens regardless, strain the base through a sieve two or three times before you chill it. No one wants lumpy ice cream.

You can also add some green food coloring if you want the ice cream to actually look green, but this is not necessary and I tend to avoid adding coloring to pretty much everything except for frosting for decorated cakes and cookies.

Dairy-free Green Tea Ice Cream

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 4 T loose green tea
  • 3/4 c plain, unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 c unsweetened plain soy yogurt (Silk brand is wonderful)
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2/3 c sugar
  • 2-3 T honey
  1. Bring the water to first boil (for a description of the different levels of boiling, please refer to my previous post on tea at the link mentioned above). Pour the hot water into a cup or teapot and steep for 5 minutes. Strain the tea thoroughly through a sieve.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix the tea with the almond milk, soy yogurt, and salt. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to just below the boiling point (just shy of when the bubbles break the surface). Reduce heat and stir constantly until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they are light yellow. Add the honey and beat on low speed until just combined. Slowly mix in 1 cup of the almond milk mixture, beating on low speed to prevent curdling of the eggs.
  4. Add the egg mixture into the saucepan. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened, 4-5 minutes.
  5. Pour the custard into a bowl and cool in the refrigerator or in an ice bath until cooled to at least room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  6. Place the custard base into your ice cream maker and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s directions until thick and frozen (it will get to the texture of soft-serve ice cream). Put in an airtight Tupperware container and freeze further in your freezer.