Is sugar vegan? The answer is “sometimes.” Bone char, which is burnt animal bones, is usually used to whiten sugar crystals. Although bone char does not end up in the final product, vegans generally object to animal parts being used for processing food. Beet sugar is not processed with bone char, and along with turbinado sugar and sucanat, is one of many vegan sugar alternatives.

Vegans have varying attitudes toward animal by-products. For some people, being vegan is an “all or nothing” lifestyle choice. For others, being practical is a consideration. Bear in mind that crops are fertilized with non-vegan substances such as animal manure.

Not all vegan food promotes good health, but there are still some tasty desserts that will please your palate and not send your blood sugar skyrocketing. Here is a compilation of some of my vegan favorites, some more health-promoting than others.

Baked apples. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)
Baked apples. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)

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4-Ingredient Baked Apples

Stir in a little brown sugar before baking if you want a sweeter dessert. These baked apples are great added to your morning oatmeal.

4 to 6 apples, skin and core removed, cut into chunks

1 tablespoon melted coconut oil

1 teaspoon (more or less) ground cinnamon

a pinch of ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients together. Bake 10 minutes, stir, bake another 10 minutes or until apples are fork-tender. Serve warm topped with a scoop of dairy-free vanilla ice cream or whipped topping, if desired. A little soy creamer poured over hot baked apples is tasty.

Vegan chocolate peanut butter banana ice cream. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)
Vegan chocolate peanut butter banana ice cream. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)

Banana “Ice Cream”

Here’s a delicious, health-promoting dessert. Basic recipe:

2 ripe bananas, frozen

Add-ins (choose one or more of your choice):

2 to 3 teaspoons cocoa powder

2 to 3 teaspoons carob powder

1 tablespoon almond butter

1 tablespoon peanut butter

3 to 4 pitted dates

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

frozen strawberries or frozen cherries

6 mint leaves

1 tablespoon shredded coconut or coconut flakes

1 tablespoon minced ginger

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¼ teaspoon maple extract & 1 tablespoon pecan butter

Peel bananas, break in half, and freeze in a zip-lock freezer bag. When you’re ready to make banana “ice cream,” place the frozen bananas and add-ins of your choice in a high-speed blender and blend until soft and creamy. (We like to defrost the bananas a bit before placing them in the blender.) Serve the banana ice cream immediately or place in a container and freeze until needed. (The frozen banana treat will become hard and may need to be microwaved about 20 seconds before serving.)

When we make this dessert, we make a large batch using six to eight bananas, freeze the mixture, and scoop out servings as needed. We have tried many combinations of this banana frozen treat, and our favorites are almond butter/cocoa and cherry/almond butter. We’re pretty loosey-goosey on measuring.

Vegan crockpot cake. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)
Vegan crockpot cake. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)

Crockpot Pudding Cake

batter:

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup nondairy milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

topping:

¾ cup brown sugar, packed

¼ cup cocoa

1½ cups hot water

Lightly oil crockpot insert. Mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder and salt together in bowl. Stir in nondairy milk, oil and vanilla until smooth. Pour batter into crockpot insert. Mix brown sugar and ¼ cup of cocoa in bowl (make sure there are no big lumps). Sprinkle over batter. Pour hot water over contents of crockpot. Do not stir! Cook on high for 2 hours or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove lid of crockpot and let stand for 30 minutes. Spoon cake into bowls. Spoon hot sauce over top. This dessert is delicious on its own, but each serving can be topped with non-dairy whipped topping or non-dairy vanilla “ice cream.”

Peanut Butter Pie (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)
Peanut Butter Pie (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

My daughter requests this dessert every time she visits. One thing I’ve discovered over the years of making this pie is that not all tofu works well in this recipe. Some tofu brands have a strong flavor that makes the pie taste odd. I recommend Mori-Nu or House brand tofu. (Mori-Nu is the stuff that comes in 10-oz. boxes and doesn’t need refrigeration.)

1 Oreo Cookie crust (or other vegan pie crust of your choice)

21 oz. firm silken tofu

1 cup vegan chocolate chips, melted

¾ cup peanut butter

In a food processor, blend the tofu, chocolate and peanut butter. Pour this mix into the pie crust. Chill for at least 2 hours.

Vegan chocolate pudding. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)
Vegan chocolate pudding. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)

Chocolate Pudding

You might not think pudding is anything worth getting excited about, but this pudding might change your mind. This recipe is taken directly from the book "Tofu Cookery" by Louise Hagler. This makes 4 cups of pudding. Each serving contains 8 grams of protein.

1½ pounds soft tofu (I like using the Mori-Nu brand)

1¼ cups sugar

1/3 cup cocoa

¼ cup oil

1½ teaspoons vanilla

¼ teaspoon salt

Blend ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth and creamy. Pour into individual serving dishes or baked pie shell. Chill until firm and serve. Sometimes I get throw caution to the wind and top the pudding with a dab of Coco Whip.

Wacky Cake. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)
Wacky Cake. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)

Wacky Cake

According to my mother, the origins of this cake date back to World War II. This cake was popular due to a shortage of milk and eggs during the war. This cake is also known as crazy cake, Depression cake and Joe cake. My dad and I loved it.

In the home where I grew up, this cake was never frosted. However, I defy tradition and frost it with a thick layer of chocolate fudge frosting out of two plastic tubs bought at the grocery store. It's good topped with a German chocolate frosting with coconut and nuts, too.

There is a lot to love about this cake. First, there are no bowls to clean: the ingredients are mixed in the same pan in which the cake is baked. Second, slices of the cake freeze well. Third, this is the most delicious cake on the planet.

The secret to a light, fluffy cake is to not beat the ingredients together. I use a fork to gently fold the ingredients together until just combined.

This recipe makes about 12 slices.

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cocoa powder

¾ cup canola oil

2 cups water

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder into an ungreased 9x13 baking pan. Mix together. Form three wells in the dry ingredients. Pour the oil into the wells. Pour the vinegar, water and vanilla extract over all. Blend together. Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. (Test with a toothpick for doneness.) Wait until the cake is completely cool before frosting or dusting with powdered sugar.

Sunbeams cookies. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)
Sunbeams cookies. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)

Sunbeams

To frost or not to frost? The controversy continues.

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup all vegetable shortening

2 tablespoons sweet potato baby food

1 teaspoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 orange rind, grated

1½ teaspoons sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening with two knives until crumbly. Add baby food, cornstarch, orange juice, orange rind and sugar. Mix well. The dough will be very crumbly, but get in there with your hands. The dough will adhere together as it is continually worked. Overworking the dough will make the cookies less flaky. Make into golf-ball sized balls, place on cookie sheet, and flatten slightly. Bake 12 to 15 minutes. Frost when cooled, if desired. Yield: about 20 cookies.

Sunbeams before cooking. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)
Sunbeams before cooking. (Susan Alexander / For the News Tribune)

Frosting: Mix together ½ cup powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon melted vegan margarine, 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon soy creamer. Add a drop of yellow food coloring, if desired. Add more soy creamer, or orange juice, until frosting reaches the desired consistency for topping the cooled cookies. Sprinkle with colored sugar crystals, if desired.

Did you know?

The BBC reported a 2020 study that researchers examined data from 30,000 adults followed for an average of 17 years and found that each half egg per day led to a 6% increased risk of heart disease and an 8% increased risk of mortality. (They controlled for the subjects’ diet patterns, overall health and physical activity to try to isolate the effects of eggs.)

Susan Alexander is an avid cyclist. She loves gardening, farmers' markets and creating delicious meals consisting of whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits.