Review: Fran Costigan's Essential Vegan Desserts Course Through Rouxbe

I was so excited to learn that Rouxbe had partnered with Fran Costigan to create the Essential Vegan Desserts Course (EVD), an online course that is based on Fran’s Vegan Baking Boot Camp.  Last year, I graduated from Rouxbe’s Plant-Based Professional Course (PBP) and it has changed my life. I was an “okay” cook before the taking the course and by the end of it, I learned how to properly use a knife, how to properly sauté vegetables, how to make homemade pasta and a variety of cooking methods. My family greatly benefited from me taking the course—suddenly, I was able to proficiently prepare nutritious and delicious meals.

I love taking online courses because I learn best by reading. Rouxbe’s courses are designed so that you can work at your own pace. While the PBP was 9 months long, the EVD was 90 days in length. The course is divided into units that cover a specific topic. Within the unit, you are reading about technique, watching videos about technique, completing assigned tasks and submitting photos/description for grading and then taking a unit assessment at the end of each unit.

I always do the “book work” first. In this course, I spent the first month reading, watching videos and taking the assessments. The “book work” for this course was extremely challenging for me. Sure, I had baked cookies and cakes as a kid, but now I was learning the difference between baking powder (single acting AND double acting) and baking soda, the difference between Dutched and raw cocoa and how the heck you can achieve leavening without eggs. I was learning the difference between unsweetened, bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate, how to temper chocolate, and the different protein contents in various flours (and which ones to use for various recipes). Did you know about the variety of rustic fruit desserts? There are cobblers, crisps, crumbles, slumps and grunts. I learned that you should place a cake in the refrigerator or freezer before frosting and to put a first layer of frosting called a crumb coat. I learned where to place the oven rack for the optimal outcome. In the PBP course, I felt that since I had been cooking plant-based meals for quite some time, the course helped me refine my techniques. There is so much flexibility in cooking. In the EVD course, I was in uncharted territory, learning things that I didn’t know before. Baking is much less forgiving than cooking. You need to measure accurately and timing is everything.

Once I tackled the book work, it was time to move onto the tasks. There were quite a few graded tasks in this course and to complete it on time, you have to keep up the cadence. There are 21!!! tasks that need to be completed. Each task requires that you show proficiency in the technique that you learned. You submit photos of your mise en place (translates to everything in its place—ingredients measured out), the recipe in progress, the plated dessert and a thorough description.

Unit 1 was an intro to the course and the opportunity to make your go-to dessert. I made Coconut Macaroons. My husband loves these and the vegan options at the grocery store are quite expensive. This recipe has only five ingredients, is simple to make and delicious.

Unit 2 covers the vegan pastry kitchen. It covers the basics about ingredients, equipment that will be used and how to measure. I was feeling confident about my progress. The task in this module was a kitchen reset—I got the pantry organized.

Unit 3, which covered key ingredients and functionality, was a wake up call and my head was spinning because there was so much to learn. I learned about flours (including gluten free options), fats, sweeteners and sugars, acids, fruits, dairy alternatives, gels and thickeners, and egg replacers and leaveners. The assessment quiz was challenging and I found myself going over my notes to ensure that I had absorbed everything. This module had some basic tasks—roasting fruits and working with agar.

Unit 4 was all about chocolate, non-dairy creams, aquafaba and puddings/mousse. We explored drinking chocolate, ganache and meringue. My absolute favorite task in the unit was Baked Alaska. My family agrees that this was the best dessert that I produced in the class. I remember my mom made it when I was a child. Her version was a thin layer of yellow cake that was about the size of the rectangular carton of ice cream. You place the ice cream on the cake, cover with meringue and then place in the oven until the meringue starts to brown. I made my version in individual ramekins. The cake was Fran’s Chocolate Cake to Live For. I froze the cake and then torted it (cut in half lengthwise), and used cutters to cut a round to fit the ramekin. The next layer was homemade peanut butter banana “nice cream”, followed by chocolate ganache. Finally, I piped meringue made from aquafaba (bean water) on top, sprinkled on some sugar and torched it with a handheld torch. The smell of the sugar when it is torched is like toasting a marshmallow. As I said, this was a huge hit!!

Unit 5 covered quick breads, cookies and bars. This included muffins, scones/biscuits, rustic fruit desserts cookies and bars. I felt most comfortable with the work in this unit since I had done a lot of baking in my lifetime. I still learned a lot because there were activities that took me out of my comfort zone—like making tuiles. So many favorite tasks from this unit were lemon poppy seed muffins, drop biscuits, berry cobbler, lace cookies and homemade graham crackers (yummy!). (See below in the final showcase for some photos of this type of work.)

Unit 6 was all about cakes. This was a fun unit and I loved learning about piping frosting. It truly is an art! My technique still needs some work, but I feel confident in showing off in the future. My best work here was the black forest cake. My daughter and I celebrate our birthdays together and I made this for us. I made two layers of chocolate cake and torted them. Between each layer was a simple blackberry filling and buttercream frosting. Wowee was this sweet and we could only have a very thin slice! I froze some of the extra pieces to enjoy in the future.

I was (rightfully so) scared of Unit 7. This unit covered pies and tarts. I don’t think I have ever mastered making pie dough and even after this course, I feel that I still have a lot to learn. I will continue to practice technique.

Unit 8 was my opportunity to create a dessert showcase and invite my friends to enjoy and experience what I had learned. I spent quite a bit of time preparing for the showcase and was so pleased how it turned out. The feedback that I received was great and I consider the showcase a success! It is hard to pinpoint the favorite but high marks were given to the chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse, the strawberry biscuits with coconut whip and the blueberry crisp.

The choco tacos were made with lace cookies, chocolate ganache, coffee banana nice cream and chopped peanuts.

The chocolate cake with peanut butter mousse was made with Fran’s chocolate cake and a peanut butter mousse that included coconut cream, peanut butter and powdered sugar.

The strawberry shortcake with coconut whip was made with the drop biscuit recipe from the course. The whipped cream was so simple and having the ISI whipped cream dispenser is a nice touch that produces airy cream topping.  This was a huge hit and the folks that gave up sweets for Lent felt that they could enjoy this because it seemed more like a breakfast dish.

strawberry shortcake.jpg

As I mentioned the blueberry crisp was a favorite. Could it be because of the cute little cast iron pans? My dessert preference is for something fruity and this hit the spot.

Most of my guests has an 18 mile run that morning, so the calories were well deserved. There were hardly any leftovers. I produced this recipe book to share with all who attended, so that they could enjoy these desserts at home.

Just as the PBP course changed my life, so did the EVD course. Fran was so supportive throughout and she truly knows desserts. I feel confident in the skills that I learned that I am able to prepare a variety of desserts that are dairy and egg free. If you are ready to take your cooking or desserts skills to the next level and wow, your family and friends, I highly recommend Rouxbe. You can find Fran here and Rouxbe here. Enjoy!