Chef Fran Costigan

Vegan Italy for Everyone

IMG_0655The view from my terrace at Al Vicolo del Cliento was quite a surprise when I awoke and opened the doors to my terrace. But, let me start at the beginning. I arrived in Napoli two days ahead of my Vegano Italiano group’s arrival, which is today, Sat. July 25th. I waited at the airport for Donna, of Green Earth Travel, the premiere vegan travel agency. Her plane arrived on time but a sudden lightening storm, with scary claps of thunder and pelting rains, kept the passengers on the plane for at least an hour.

I had a chance to met Guissepe the driver sent by Gretchen and Pasquale of Tirerno Tours. Guissepe, would drive us to the villa, where Miyoko Schinner and The No Meat Athlete – Matt Frazier’s Vegano group were having dinner.  The road was windy and it was pouring but about halfway there, the sun came out. Donna and I were tired from our long travel but the vino rosso and delicious dinner, and of course, the company put us into an Italian happy state of mind. Gretchen and Pasquale, aka, Tierno Tours, are the hosts with the most, to say the very least. Next year, when Vegano Italiano is offered again, trust me when I say, you want to reserve this one of a  kind Italian insder tour–Vegan Italy for Everyone –that is Vegano Italiano!

White Beans with porcini

I’m not sure about having enough of a wifi signal for the next week while my group enjoys our Vegano Italiano tour, so I wanted to get this taste to you now.

Vegan Nutella Tart

Breakfast at Al
Vicolo del Cilento

For now, I”m going to the breakfast room at the B&B for another cappuccino, made by Alessandro and perhaps another piece of Antonella’s vegan Nutella Tart. Then, I’ll pack up my bags and Donna and I will head up to the Villas to await our guests! Bongiorno from Client! Ciao for now.

Vegan Cappuccino

Cappuccino Vegan

Ciao for now!




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Vegan Gluten-Free Brownie Bites

Gluten-Free Brownie Bites from Vegan Chocolate by Fran CostiganYou don’t need to be gluten-free to love these fudgy, deeply chocolate brownies. None of my tasters or testers could tell the difference between these and fudge brownies made with wheat.

The brownies taste best to me after a half-hour in the refrigerator, but you might like them better at room temperature. Fans of dense, chewy brownies will love them straight out of the freezer.

Baking the brownies in individual tins gives each piece nice chewy edges—along with built-in portion control.

A note about Gluten-Free Flours: When I was writing Vegan Chocolate, I used Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Mix. It works great. It does contains contain bean flour, and while the batter smells kind of “beany”,  the odor bakes out. It is very important to read the label on that gluten-free mix and check whether xanthan gum is one of the ingredients. If it is not listed, add the optional quarter teaspoon of xanthan gum (or guar gum) to the recipe.

Update: I was sent a bag of the newer Gluten-Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour from Bobs Red Mill to try. While I was already a fan of their All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Mix, I was astonished by the ever better, really excellent results I got using this new 1 to 1 flour. In fact, after doing a few more tests, all of which were equally excellent, I wrote to the pastry chefs at GoogleYouTube in San Bruno CA and Google LA and asked them to use that flour to make the swap outs for the gluten-free Chocolate Tortes to Live For that I’d be demonstrating at the respective events a few months ago.

Gluten-Free Brownie Bites

Makes 24 Mini Brownies


  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons /103grams gluten-free all-purpose baking mix
  • 1/4 cup / 25 grams Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup / 50 grams organic granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons / 32 grams organic whole cane sugar, ground in a blender until powdered
3/4 teaspoon / 4grams aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthan or guar gum (if needed, see headnote)
  • 1/4 cup/ 60 ml mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup 60 ml any nondairy milk
1/4 cup 60 ml Homemade Sweetened Prune Purée (recipe follows) or a 2-ounce jar of organic baby food plums or prunes
  • 1 tablespoon / 15ml pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon chocolate extract (optional but recommended)
  • 1/4 cup / 46 grams mini gluten-free vegan chocolate chips 


  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 ̊F / 160 ̊C. Oil the cups of one 24-cup or two 12-cup mini muffin tins or use a non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Place a wire mesh strainer over a medium bowl. To measure the baking mix, put a flat-sided, dry 1/2-cup measuring cup on a sheet of parchment. Spoon the flour into the cup, filling it to overflowing. Level the flour by gently sweeping a knife or offset spatula across the top. Do not pack or shake the cup. Put the baking mix into the strainer. Measure the additional 2 tablespoons of baking mix in the same manner, using metal measuring spoons, and add them to the strainer. Use the parchment to pour the excess mix back into the bag.
  3. Add the cocoa powder, granulated sugar, whole cane sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the strainer. If your mix does not include xanthan or guar gum, add the 1⁄4 teaspoon now. Stir with a whisk to sift into the bowl. (If any small bits remain in the strainer, add them to the mixture in the bowl.) Whisk to aerate the mixture.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, nondairy milk, prune purée, and vanilla and chocolate extracts until thoroughly combined. Immediately pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula until no traces of dry ingredients are visible. Expect the batter to be thick. Stir the chocolate chips into the batter.
  5. Fill each baking cup about two-thirds full using a small (1 tablespoon) ice cream scoop or ordinary tablespoons. (If you are using spoons, scoop the batter with one spoon, and push it off the spoon into the tin with another.)
  6. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, or until the brownies have risen and feel set when lightly tapped. Do not overbake if your brownies are still fudgy. A wooden toothpick or skewer inserted into the center of a couple of brownies should look sticky but not wet.
  7. Set the pan on a wire rack. After 5 minutes, use a small offset spatula to lift each brownie onto the wire rack. (Warm brownies are soft, but should be easy to lift out from the tins.) Cool completely. For the best flavor, refrigerate the brownies for an hour.


The brownies taste great at room temperature, cold, or straight from the freezer—whatever way you like them best!


Homemade Sweetened Prune Purée

Makes About 1 Cup


  • 1/2 cup / 3 ounces / 85 grams pitted dried plums (prunes), coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup / 240 ml boiling water, or more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons / 30 ml pure maple syrup, Grade B or dark amber


  1. Put the prunes into a small saucepan. Pour the boiling water over the prunes and let them soak for 5 minutes. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Check the prunes. They are ready to be drained when they are very soft. Simmer as long as it takes to get the prunes to an almost falling-apart stage. Note that the length of cooking time and amount of water is variable, depending on the dryness of the prunes.
  2. Set a small mesh strainer over a heatproof cup and drain the prunes. Reserve 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid to make the purée.
  3. Purée the prunes, the maple syrup, and 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking liquid with an immersion blender in the saucepan or in a blender. Add more of the cooking liquid, a little at a time if needed, until the purée is absolutely smooth with no bits of prune skin. The finished purée should be the consistency of a thick mayonnaise.


Refrigerate the purée for up to 1 week in a covered container, or freeze for up to 2 months.


From Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts© 2013 by Fran Costigan, Running Press. Photo credit: Hannah Kaminsky



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Chocolate Dulce de Leche. It’s Vegan!

Chocolate Dulce de Leche from  Vegan Chocolate by Fran Costigan

I stood firm in my conviction that chocolate would even improve dulce de leche—the superbly sweet, gooey, and creamy caramelized milk from Latin America, which is known in French as confiture de lait (“milk jam”). First, I had to find a way to replace the whole milk or sweetened condensed milk used in traditional recipes.

Cashew cream was a fail, but canned full-fat coconut milk worked beautifully after I added a tiny amount of the guar gum to stabilize the emulsion. Surprisingly, the coconut flavor—even with coconut sugar added—is just a whisper. I don’t recommend doubling the recipe; it is difficult to get the reduction just right.

Use a bittersweet chocolate to temper the sweetness of this sauce. (Although if you have tasted conventional dulce, you’ll notice that this one is far less cloying.) Be careful: Use a deep heavy saucepan and be very mindful that you are cooking a mixture that will bubble volcanically and could cause a terrible burn.

Chocolate Dulce de Leche

Makes About 1 1/4 Cups


  • 1 can (13.5 to 14 ounces / 400 to 414 ml) unsweetened full-fat coconut milk (do not use light)
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar / 80 grams coconut sugar  (substitute 1/4 cup each organic whole cane sugar and organic granulated sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon / 15 ml brown rice syrup or agave syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon guar gum
  • 2 ounces / 58 grams dark chocolate (68 to 72%), finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons / 10 ml pure vanilla extract


  1. Combine the coconut milk, sugar, rice syrup, salt, and guar gum in a blender. Start blending on low and increase the speed to high. Blend for 1 minute until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Pour into a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan (about 8 to 10 inches across x 3 inches deep / 20 to 25 cm across x 7.5 cm deep) and cook over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally just until the mixture begins to bubble.
  3. Raise the heat to high and stir constantly until the mixture starts to boil furiously. Stir frequently for 10 minutes, adjusting the heat up or down as necessary to maintain a steady boil.
  4. Carefully pour the very hot liquid into a 2-cup / 500 ml heatproof spouted measuring cup. Wait for the bubbling to stop and note the amount. If the liquid measures 1 1/4 cups / 300 ml, or a little less, it can be finished. If not, cook longer until it has reduced further.
  5. Once the mixture has reduced, wait about 1 minute until steam is no longer visible, and then add the chocolate and the vanilla extract. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the sauce is smooth. Pour the sauce into a clean jar. Use warm or at room temperature.


Spread the Dulce de Leche on bread or use it as a filling for layer cake. Heat until liquid and use it as a dip for pretzels, pieces of cake, or cookies—use your imagination—for this time of the year, dollop the Dulce in ice cream.


The sauce can be refrigerated covered for up to two weeks in the jar. It will thicken considerably in the refrigerator. If you want to thin it, warm the Dulce gently over low heat in a small saucepan to liquefy if desired.


I’d really love to know how you use Dulce de Leche. Eating it right off the spoon counts! I think I’ve got to make some now. 


From Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts© 2013 by Fran Costigan, Running Press. Photo credit: Kate Lewis



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