Photos and Words by Fred Chang
Tofu, in the brilliant words of my friend Yenddie, is the underdog ingredient. You can’t help but root for it, because your expectations for a tofu-anything would typically be set really low. Tofu is an ingredient often misunderstood.
Most people back in the 80s thought tofu should be treated like a piece of meat because it’s protein. In an episode of Cupcake Wars, a baker using tofu in place of butter -- she got eliminated over the chewy, tofu-laden cupcake. Tofu is not a butter substitute or a fat. It is solely and strictly a protein; the protein in tofu acts as a binder similarly to eggs, but obviously not like a steak or pork chop. You can use tofu to set or thicken your custards, keep your cake batter from splitting, give a dessert a creamy texture. Tofu can be delicious, but it needs to be used in a way that showcases that soft texture. Silken tofu is the only variety I would recommend for desserts. It is the creamiest and softest of the tofus, and whipping or blending it will make it airier, lighter, and palatable for sweet applications.
For the following recipes, I highly recommend blending and then passing the tofu through a sieve or strainer (please do one of the other, at least!), to prevent lumps of tofu from ruining the eating experience. To open a packet of tofu, I start by making a slit with a knife and holding the box upside down over a sink, just to remove any residual liquid. Silken tofu is creamy enough on it’s own to become a liquid-like state when you either blend or press it, so keep that in mind!
Tofu Ice Cream
The inspiration for this was from Iron Chef America: Battle Tofu. I remember seeing this tofu ice cream served in a waffle cone, and being intrigued. The usage of tofu in this makes for a creamy ice cream and gives a home cook the potential to make a vegan take on normal ice cream. Additionally, since we’re celebrating all things tofu, why not outfit your beautiful scoop of tofu ice cream with a crunchy, homemade tofu-based ice cream cone?
Makes 6 servings of soft serve ice cream:
13.5 fl. oz coconut milk
3/4 cups pureed silken tofu
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup or amemizu (Japanese rice syrup)
a pinch of salt
Whisk together the coconut milk, sugar, corn syrup, salt, and vanilla. In a food processor or blender, puree the tofu, slowly adding in the liquid mixture. Transfer to a bowl and freeze the ice cream base until solid (4-6 hours of setting in the refrigerator). Blitz the ice cream base in a food processor; alternatively, you can shred the frozen ice cream mixture with a fork and then whip it with a whisk until it is smooth and creamy.
For Tofu Sugar Cones:
2/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup pureed silken tofu
1/2 cup cold water
4 tablespoons non-hydrogenated vegan vegetable shortening; melted
Combine ingredients. Heat a nonstick pan. Slowly add in the batter, tilting the pan so that it spreads out evenly (you want it to be thin, or else your cone will go dense!). Once the edges begin to brown (about 1 minute on high heat), loosen the batter with a spoon and flip, allowing the other side to cook for another 45 seconds. While still warm, but not fresh out of the pan, roll the disks into cones, pressing down on the tip so that it won’t have a hole, and allow the cones to cool and set before using. The tofu cone is slightly different in that it has a crispy exterior, but a longer lasting chew, it’s texturally a hybrid between a traditional sugar cone and a crepe. Additionally, should the cone set into an undesirable shape, remicrowaving the cone for 30 seconds or heating in a 400 degree oven for 20 seconds will allow it to become pliable and reshapable.
Tofu Rare Cheesecake
This was something I first learned about back when I took Japanese in high school. We had to prepare a trio of desserts from a selection of five, and the rare cheesecake was something that stood out to most of the class. A rare cheese is an unbaked cheesecake set with whipped tofu. The crust is typically a mixture of melted butter and biscuits, blended together and set in the fridge. The dessert is extremely simple to make, and you wouldn’t tell that tofu was used in this!
6 oz. silken tofu
6 oz. cream cheese
1 teaspoon meyer lemon juice
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter; melted
3/4 cup sweet biscuits
Crush or pulverize the biscuits. Stir the melted butter into the crumbs, and press it against the bottom of a 6x6 container. Refrigerate.
In a food processor, blitz the tofu and cream cheese with the lemon juice, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract. Force the mixture through a sieve to remove the lumps. Fold the yogurt into the smoothened mixture. Pour into the container, over the crust, and refrigerate for two hours.
The cheesecake will be set once the mixture doesn’t wobble when you shake the container. With a butter knife or offset spatula, slowly release the sides of the cheesecake. Flip the cake onto a parchment or nonstick foil lined plate. Then flip back over so that the crust is on the bottom. Slice and chill until serving.
I initially heard about the concept from my accounting professor, Professor Zoe Ho, when we, along with several of my fellow Taiwanese American students, ate at Myers+Chang in the South End. One of the desserts on the menu was an item called an ancient Chinese secret: a chocolate mousse made with tofu. According to Professor Ho, it was a really popular dessert at the restaurant. While we never got around to ordering that particular dessert (we went to Flour Bakery for our sugar-fix instead), talking about it make me realize that tofu could be made into a creamy chocolate mousse, if treated properly.
Makes 3 servings:
1 cup silken tofu
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate
a pinch of salt
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or over a microwave; once melted, keep at room temperature. Add in the salt. Blitz silken tofu in a food processor or blender until there are no more lumps. Strain the tofu puree into the melted, but just slightly above room temperature chocolate, and mix. Pour into individual ramekins and set in the refrigerator.