Lately, my go-to for vegan ground meat has been tofu that’s been frozen and thawed. Home-freezers are notoriously bad at freezing food because they chill things very slowly. This leads to the formation of ice crystals, which rupture cells in plant and animal matter, making them weep liquid when defrosted.
In the case of tofu, the crystals form small veins of water in the tofu. When defrosted the water that’s left behind when the ice melts can be squeezed out, leaving a sponge-like mesh of soy protein that’s a bit like cake in texture. When crumbled it makes for a pretty good ground meat substitute, but the texture got me thinking about how I might use it in a dessert.
Thoroughly washing the frozen and thawed tofu removes some of the soy flavor, and the spongy texture is perfect for absorbing flavors. Since tofu has almost no flavor on its own, I decided it would be best to infuse it with something quite potent, like an espresso simple syrup.
Realizing I had half the makings of a tiramisu, I started to think about what I could substitute for the Marscarpone. Pureed silken tofu is usually my go-to for vegan frosting, but I figured this might be soy over-kill. That’s when I remembered using raw cashew nuts in my Horchata. When soaked in water overnight and blended, the neutral flavored nuts create a rich creamy milk.
I figured that by decreasing the amount of water, it might be possible to make a thicker, richer cream. To get a truly smooth texture you’ll need a high-speed blender like Vitamix, but if you can’t afford a $400 blender, a $60 Ninja does a pretty good job.
With a touch of lemon juice and salt, you end up with something about as close to real Marscarpone as possible Add some vanilla beans and sugar and you’ll have a hard time resisting the urge to eat it out of the blender with a spoon.
I won’t lie to you, this isn’t going to be a perfect replica of a dairy and egg-based tiramisu. But with crumbly tofu “lady-fingers” soaked in sweet espresso, and a rich cashew cream layered in between, it’s a decadent vegan dessert that everyone can enjoy.
Try this vegan tiramisu recipe from PBS Food. With tofu instead of Marscarpone, this non-dairy alternative is a decadent dessert everyone can love.
- 300 grams (14 ounces ) extra firm tofu
- 250 grams (8.8 ounces) raw cashews
- 1/2 cup freshly brewed espresso
- 1/4 cup raw sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon
- 1/4 cup raw sugar
- 1 tablespoon coco powder
- The day before you make the tiramisu, put the tofu in the freezer. Wash the cashew nuts and put them in a bowl and cover with water. Put the nuts in the refrigerator overnight.
- When you're ready to make the tiramisu, fully defrost the tofu in the microwave or in a bowl of warm water. Remove the tofu from the package and place it in a bowl of water. Wash it by gently pressing on it, changing the water when it gets cloudy. Repeat a few times until the water stays clear. Be careful not to crack the tofu too much as you’re squeezing it.
- Remove the tofu from the bowl and press it between your hands to squeeze as much water out as you can.
- Slice the tofu into 1/8-inch thick slices and press each slice between a few sheets of paper towels to remove any remaining water, you want them to be as dry as possible so the espresso mixture doesn't get watered down. Place the tofu in a single layer in a square pan.
- Dissolve the sugar in the espresso and then pour it over the tofu. Let the tofu marinate while you work on the cream.
- Use a slotted spoon to scoop the soaked cashew nuts into your blender or food processor. Add the salt, lemon juice and 1/4 cup sugar. Start the blender and slowly add the soaking liquid until the cream is about the thickness of whipped cream. Once it's the right consistency, stop adding water and let the blender run until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.
- Put the tofu in a strainer and give it a very light press to get rid of the extra liquid. In a glass bowl, layer the soaked tofu with the cashew cream and dust each layer with coco powder. Repeat until you’re out of tofu, finishing with a layer of cashew cream and coco powder. Chill until you're ready to serve.
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.