BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked

Nectar of the Gods?

80 Comments

These days, everybody wants to have their sweets and eat less sugar, too. Demonized as pure granulated nutritional evil, and even pinned as a leading cause for America’s obesity explosion, it’s no wonder that many people are avoiding the white stuff like the plague, treating it more like poison than edible ingredient. For the record, I have no problem with sugar, as evidenced by many of my recipes. Treated with respect and consumed in moderation, just like anything else, I see nothing inherently wrong with it, and its unique crystalline structure gives so many desserts their stellar texture and flavor.

That said, what works for me may very well sound like madness for others, and of course my perspective isn’t appropriate for the estimated 24 million diabetics in the US alone. For so many of them, agave has been like manna from heaven, clocking in much lower on the glycemic index than any other traditional sweetener, in addition to being more potent in small quantities than white sugar. Although not necessarily suitable for all, it’s been quickly adopted as the poster child of natural, low-impact sweeteners.

Even beyond the light and amber variants, it turns out that not all agave is the same, as I had originally thought. When I was contacted by a representative from Xagave, I wondered what could possibly be so special about this common ingredient, but it turns out that this particular nectar really does have a leg up on the competition. 100% raw and organic, it has a remarkably clean, uncloying taste, especially perfect for mixing into drinks. Plus, unlike any other brand I’ve found so far, Xagave had a bit of fiber- A nice little bonus for such a simple syrup!

When it came time to make my Nana’s birthday dessert, I didn’t hesitate to reach for this bottle, knowing that it would be the only appropriate option, as she must watch her sugar intake. Although not quite a traditional birthday cake, she claimed to thoroughly enjoy it, and that’s what really counted at the end of the day.

Swimming in a pool of lightly spiced cinnamon caramel, each individual round of cake is redolent with almond flavor, snaking in the periodic toothsome pop of roasted chestnuts, Lightened with a creamy swirl of unsweetened whipped coconut creme, and finished off with one whole candied chestnut, the whole plate is an elegant celebration of honest, simple ingredients, with not a speck of white sugar in sight.

Now, it does call for a whole lot of agave… But really, you must try this recipe, and I’d love to help you out. So generously provided by Xagave, I will be giving away one big 18-ounce bottle of the sticky stuff! To enter to win, just leave me a comment telling me about your favorite use for agave- Recipes, though they won’t improve your chances of winning, are highly encouraged! Make sure you leave your name and a valid email address, and get your comment in by midnight, November 9th. The winner will be announced shortly after.

Almond Chestnut Cake

2 Cups Plain, Unsweetened Soymilk
1 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Almond Extract
2 Cups Almond Meal
3 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Chopped Cooked Chestnuts

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease a 10 x 15-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the soymilk, agave, oil, vinegar, and both extracts so that everything is thoroughly combined. Set aside.

In a separate, large bowl, sift together the almond meal and flour, and stir in the baking powder and soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the chestnuts, and toss to coat with the dry goods so that they don’t all sink to the bottom of your cake. Pour the wet mixture into the dry, and stir just enough to bring the batter together, without any big lumps (aside from the chestnuts, of course.) Pour the batter into your prepared pan and spread it out evenly into the corners, smoothing down the top with a spatula. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool completely before cutting into approximately 1 1/2 – 2-inch wide rounds (you can use a cookie cutter or even a drinking glass as a template to cut around.) Have yourself a little snack with the scraps, because there’s still plenty of work to be done before the whole plate is finished! Alternately, you could just cut it into squares if you don’t want it to be so fussy.

Cinnamon Agave Caramel Sauce

1 1/2 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Combine everything but the vanilla in a medium sauce pan with high sides, and set over moderate heat. Cook for approximately 20 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally to mix, until the mixture turns a deep amber brown and thickens significantly. Turn off the heat once you’ve caramelized the agave sufficiently, and stir in the vanilla. Either serve immediately, or pour into an air-tight jar for storage. If you plan on holding it for a while or refrigerating it, you will need to heat the sauce before serving, as it will solidify when chilled.

Candied Chestnuts

8 Ounces Whole Chestnuts
1/2 Cup Agave

Place both the agave and chestnuts in a medium sauce plan and place over moderate heat. Stir every few minutes, and cook until there’s no longer a pool of agave on the bottom of the pan (it should caramelize and adhere to the chestnuts for the most part.) It may threaten to burn, so keep a close eye on the mixture and don’t leave it unattended. Pour the chestnuts onto a baking sheet, silpat, or piece of parchment paper to let cool. They will probably remain soft and sticky on the outside, so handle with care.

Coconut Creme

1 25-Ounce Can Coconut Milk

Chill the can of coconut milk thoroughly before begin. When you’re ready to serve the cakes, pull it out of the fridge, but do not shake. Carefully remove the top so that you don’t disturb the contents of the can, and skim off all the thick white creme on top. Place it in the bowl of your stand mixer, and whip on high for 3 – 6 minutes, until fluffy liked whipped creme. Transfer to a piping bag.

To assemble, set one round of cake on a plate (ideally with a rim or lip around the edge to contain the caramel) and spoon about 1 – 2 tablespoons of caramel on the bottom of the plate around it; a little goes a long way. Pipe the coconut creme to cover the top of the cake, but don’t mound it up like a cupcake, because you’ll run out too quickly. Finally, place one perfect chestnuts on top, in the very center.

Makes 15 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe

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Author: Hannah Kaminsky

Author of My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, Vegan a la Mode, and Easy as Vegan Pie.

80 thoughts on “Nectar of the Gods?

  1. i’ve been using agave in my banana bread, and combined with the bananas, it makes a perfectly light sweetness. i can also use less oil, since agave provides moisture rather than absorbing it!

  2. what??? im the first commenter?! i hope the first one is the winner! lol
    i would love to use this.. in anything.. wouldnt matter what.. but it sounds like it would be good in pancakes..

  3. I love agave nectar in any sauce or drink recipe that calls for sugar–peanut sauces, tea, etc. The smooth liquid blends in beautifully. For baked goods I really enjoy it in almond spelt rolls!

  4. I feel the same way you do about regular ol’ sugar: in moderation it is okay! A cupcake or two (or three!) never hurts! In a healthy, varied diet I figure my body can deal with a hit of sugar every now and then.

    But I DO love agave! It is so versatile, I use it in my baking a lot to keep everything moist. I love it!

    This cake looks so sweet, perfect for a wonderful birthday celebration.

  5. While I obviously use agave in baking, oatmeal, and other sweets, I’ve found it is really useful (in small splashes!) for providing flavor balance in savory recipes – cashew cheese sauce, tofu ricotta, indian curries, etc. I can’t imagine that I ever used anything else! Thanks for the giveaway, and for your blog, which is one of my absolute favorites in the sea of vegan blogs out there.

  6. As much as I love agave, I have yet to use it as a full substitution for sugar when I bake. This recipe looks awesome, especially with the addition of coconut creme on top. Yum!

  7. simple and sweet, i just love putting it in my tea and coffee. also great in dairy free ice cream recipes!

  8. that cake does look yummy. called your nana enjoyed it.

    i have’t had the chance to cook w/ agave nectar but would love to win so i could try some of the good recipes i have seen posted that use it.

  9. i use it in gluten free baking! because it needs the MOISTURE!MOISTURE!MOISTURE!

  10. over my pancakes and waffles!

  11. I love it in baked goods :)

  12. That is such a beautiful cake! And thank you again for the granola, it was such a nice surprise, you are too sweet :)

    My favorite use of agave is in raw avocado chocolate mousse. Although it was always technically un-raw for me, since my agave isn’t raw :(

  13. Anything and everything, especially muffins!

  14. Salad dressings and sauces! Agave is so light and blends so beautifully, I have to agree with Aquale that it gives the perfect hit of sweet to balance savory flavors. I also love using dark agave in place of maple syrup to get malty notes without overt mapley-ness.

  15. Honestly, I love agave nectar so much that I can’t bear to part with it for my baking! I like it in a mug of green tea with saffron and cardamom and a hint of lemon, or on top of a bowl of yogurt with some toasted walnuts.

  16. I would have never thought to use agave for a caramel sauce nor to use coconut milk for a whipped cream. Genius!!

  17. it’s great as a sweetener for cranberry sauce.

  18. Looks delicious! Lucky Nana!
    I use agave in sauces, dressings, and baking! Dreena uses it a lot in her recipes and I LOVE her cookbooks so I have no choice :)

  19. Yum! Love the recipes – everything looks fab!

    Dave’s idea of using it as a cranberry sweetener – I’ll have to try that! In the meantime, I love it for baking, especially baking breads!

  20. What a lucky Nana you have! Please enter me in the contest…my favorite use for agave nectar is as a replacement for HFCS in recipes. :)

  21. I love spreading a thin layer of peanut butter and drizzling agave on wasa crackers… YUM!

  22. I’ve just recently purchased my first bottle of agave. So far I’ve been using a drizzle in my kale and avocado breakfast smoothies to give a very subtle sweetness. I can’t wait to hear more about your baking adventures with the sticky stuff!

  23. Wow! What a scrumptious cake! Thank you, you are wonderful!

  24. I love it in your Rosh Hashana cake! Perfection.

    This recipe looks so over-the-top delicious, I can’t wait to try it out for the holidays!

    sdearborn18@yahoo.com

  25. mmm! I started using agave at first in my hot drinks… especially after I switched to unsweetened soy & almond milks. Lately, I’ve been using it more in my cookies, in place of maple syrup ($$$$) that I used to use. It’s a great sweetener for baking.
    Hope all is well, Hannah!

  26. I never knew you could whip coconut cream! Looks great, and I love the way you’ve turned the agave to caramel.

  27. I love agave for glazing the vegan challah I make!

  28. Nana’s birthday? I miss my nana. That looks great!

  29. My favorite use of agave is on toast with EB and cinnamon Mmmmmm :]

  30. Mmm, this recipe sounds delicious- I LOVE roasted chestnuts and keep meaning to try them in some kind of dessert recipe. I am definitely keeping this recipe in mind.
    As for agave, I love to use it in baked goods in general. Its also great as a honey substitute.
    -K

  31. I wonder where I can find it in Australia. WIll have to go hunting

  32. Actually, one of my favorite uses is in a recipe from you that I altered for agave nectar: http://alteredplates.blogspot.com/2009/04/superfood-muffins-with-twist.html (superfood muffins).

  33. although i’ve never used agave before, i would love to experiment with in some pies and cakes, because i have quite a few diabetics in the family who just cant let go of their sweet tooth!

  34. What a beautiful cake! And that coconut cream topping is incredible–I would have never thought of making a whipped cream like that, but it’s so easy and cheap and readily available! Hooray for a vegan cream I can get here in the mountains!

    As for agave, I’m a sucker for using it in pie recipes that call for sugar. It seems to give the perfect sweetness without the sickly sugary feeling. Right now I’m baking an agave pumpkin pie :)

  35. I haven’t ever baked with Agave. Mainly because it’s so expensive. I use it to sweeten my tea and I definitely use it in margaritas! I’m open to baking with it; I’m just waiting for that recipe that jumps out at me. Your beautiful cake just might be it!
    I love that you have the patience to make a plate sauce, a cake, a creamy frosting, and a candied nut! You truly are passionate about what you do.

  36. I have used it in oatmeal cookies, I used about 1/2 of the amount called for in the recipe.

  37. How awesome that it’s raw and organic! I love agave in so many things, but probably my favorite use is just to add a little bit to whatever needs just a touch of sweetness – say, to balance a sauce for a stir-fry or maybe in a smoothie where the fruit isn’t cutting it alone. I haven’t baked with agave much yet, but think it’s fantastic that you’re coming up with some recipes.

  38. Hi Hannah! I have been using agave in lots of baking (I made a killer peanut butter cake sweetened only with agave, and have used it also in pumpkin pie recently!), and I also use it to sweeten my tea. What a sweet idea for a cake for your Nana!

  39. While my favorite use for agave is as an ice cream topping, I also enjoy it as a marinade for tempeh along with lime juice. Deeeelicious!

  40. i tend to use agave more in drinks than in baking. one of my favorite cold-weather sippers is ginger-lemon tea sweetened with agave. i usually just simmer 1/4 c freshly chopped ginger for about 20 mins, strain, then hand squeeze a 1/2 or whole lemon into it (depending on the size). a teaspoon or two of agave goes in and i’m all set! so good!

  41. i like drizzling it on a fresh halved grapefruit. mmm….

  42. that cake looks gorgeous!

    i think my favorite use for agave is drizzling it on thick slices of fresh-baked bread right out of the oven. that’s always been my reward to myself for baking bread from scratch.

  43. Oh, what a delicately precious syrup. like a natural vegan honey but with no harm done to the pollinating bumbles, hehe…
    I think this recipe (http://www.madhavasagave.com/RecipeDetail.aspx?RecipeID=35) looks good, but using earth’s balance, powdered soymilk and vanilla soy creamer :)

  44. I actually love just a small squirt in my oatmeal with raisins and almonds!

  45. I’m allergic to honey, so I use agave for everything that requires honey!

  46. Oh I LOVE agave! It’s fantastic for adding a little something special when I can’t add spices to dishes. I especially enjoy it drizzled over apple slices.

    I also love the idea for your coconut creme topping, it looks fantastic! :)

  47. Hannah, what a beautiful cake! I am sure that my favourite recipe to use agave will for sure be the caramel sauce you posted here!

  48. Ive never tried agave actually! Ive read so much about it, but hadnt got around to actually trying it. Your desert looks amazing.

    Rose
    chocolatesoap@hotmail.com

  49. I use it in everything I once put honey in…which is EVERYTHING! Tea, cereal, salads, on sweet potatoes, on toast, or even plain in spoonfuls :). It has worked particularly well in complimenting gluten free quick breads, as well as in puddings.. Although I now need to try this amazing recipe you made for your nana!

  50. I love your recipe. But chestnuts are a rare treat here… :C
    I like to use agave in place of honey. My favorite is in a cup of warm tea on a cold day (or cold room).
    LOVE

  51. I have never used agave but for the amount of honey I go through I cannot wait to give it a try!

  52. before i became vegan honey was a huuuuuuge thing for me, especially in tea. i literally thought i struck gold once i found agave, after becoming vegan. i use it in tea like it is my job, and replace anything that calls for honey with it.

  53. My father in law is hooked on cranberry sauce so I make it for him using 1/2 cup of Agave rather than sugar. I also put it into frozen smoothies or coffee for a little added sweetness. Sometimes I put it into cakes for him, but you have to be careful of liquid ratios and structure.

    I have a question though. Do you ever use Palm Sugar as a low glycemic replacement for White Sugar?

  54. I use it in my coffee, or any recipe that calls for honey. Sorry, nothing exiting to add, but if I win, I can try out some more recipes.

  55. i’ve never used agave for anything, but my grandmother is diabetic as well, so i’d like to try it out on her.

  56. I love to drizzle agave into my oatmeal.

  57. With two sugar-crazy kids in the house, how do I NOT use agave!!! My kids love to put a squirt with lemon in tea, but I use it in cookies and cakes, and everything I can in place of granulated sugar!

  58. We love agave. My husband is diabetic and I use it in just about every recipe that needs sweetener. It gives baked beans and sloppy joes a great taste without causing problems for my husband. My favorite snack with agave is to mix it with some peanut or almond butter and a little bit of jelly, then eat it on crackers. I also use it in my tea and coffee.

  59. I love to stir a little into plain yogurt. It doesn’t seize up like honey does in cold yogurt so it gets evenly distributed!

  60. I put agave in EVERYTHING. I’ve been using syrups as sweeteners in most of my baking and cooking lately. And, even though I live in Canada, maple syrup costs are astronomical, so agave has been stepping up to the plate. I like it in cookies, baked oatmeal, thai curries, muffins, scones, and the list goes on.

  61. I LOVE agave and absolutely love to use it in Bryant Terry’s Agave Sweet Tea. Glorious.

  62. I love the pudding cup: 1 Tbs each water, agave, cocoa powder and peanut butter. Just keep stirring – it thickens up like a truffle! Mmmmm

  63. I think it would be good on top of pancakes. Or as a sweetener in any sort of smoothie. What a great giveaway.

  64. I have two favorite recipes for agave, both very simple.

    The first is to mix almond butter and agave to give you a caramel-like sauce, add a little ground cinnamon for a more complex flavor. This can be drizzled over banana slices with macadamias or used for dipping apples among other things. I imagine it would be great swirled into some oatmeal as well.

    The other is to blend the flesh of a young coconut with a little agave and some lemon to give you a raw lemon curd. This is a wonderful dessert, or a lemon “cream” to use with pancakes, waffles or anything else that catches your fancy.

  65. I guess I am boring, but I’ve always just used agave in tea, and sometimes in my stir fry sauce (soy sauce, garlic, onion, rice vinegar, cayenne pepper, and a bit of agave) to give it a bit of sweetness. I’ve always been a bit nervous about baking with it, though, since granulated sugar is dry, and I’m not really sure how to substitute a dry ingredient for a liquid one.

  66. My favorite use of agave is in a salad dressing I make all the time …. it’s a very rich, pungent, mustardy, garlic dressing that is so rich and flavorful you only need a little …

    In a glass measuring cup, pour in one and a half Tbsps. apple cider vinegar. Add in lemon juice to this to equal a total of 1/2 cup (vinegar and lemon juice combined). Add 8 oz (1 cup) olive oil (use a GREAT tasting one), 4 Tbsp dijon mustard, 4 Tbsp. agave, 1 tsp. salt, and 3 or 4 garlic cloves (I adore garlic and usually push this to 5 or 6).

    Blend everything for several minutes to totally emulsify the mixture. A regular blender works fine, but I’ve found my stick blender does a better job of emulsification.

  67. Long Live Agave! I use it often in recipes – one of my faves is my blackberry-lime syrup for pancakes. But I also agave when baking cookies or sweet loaves like pumpkin spice or banana bread.

    Your Nana’s birthday cake looks lovely, especially the Cinnamon Agave Caramel Sauce!

    Here’s my super simple recipe blackberry lime syrup:

    2 cups blackberries, strained
    1 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice
    1/4 cup agave nectar

    Simmer all three ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes or until thickened. This is great on pancakes and waffles, and even ice cream!

  68. I’m high-risk for type 2 diabetes. I’d love to win some Xagave! I don’t have access to this brand here so far. gorgeous pictures-as usual!!

  69. hahaha! i guess i should mention my current favorite use for agave is Pumpkin Russians :)
    The pumpkin vodka is made with vanilla vodka, agave and pumpkin left to infuse for at least a week; then the drink itself is made with agave.
    I also find agave is necessary when making rice crispie treats with dandies!

  70. I love the flavor of agave in baked goods, It’s also a great sub for honey in hot tea when I have a sore throat. My mom is living with diabetes, so I’ve been trying to get her to use more of it!

  71. I love agave, it’s a shame it’s so expensive. I normally use it by putting a little in my smoothies, or sometimes in cookies. I also like it in place of maple syrup from time to time. Soooo yummy.

  72. I like to add additional agave (and lemon juice & Bragg’s) to my raw kale salad. I also love it alongside vanilla coconut milk creamer in a strong cup of apricot black tea. I love the sound of your cake!

    Also, for the record, I did give S&S marshmallows another try. (sigh) You were right, and now I can’t stop buying them and will probably die broke and alone with a honey of a sugar high!

  73. i love agave. i use it on a daily basis, in my coffee, savory meals, and baked goods. oh and don’t forget ice cream! one tasty and decadent treat i use agave for is a raw fudge. the recipe is super simple, just a matter of getting the consistency right. it is literally: virgin coconut oil, raw agave, raw cacao powder, and a bit of vanilla bean. blend it, pour it into a dish either lined with parchment or chopped walnuts, and refrigerate. enjoy!

  74. Agave is yum. I like it in tea! Yes, I know that tea is not baked, but I couldn’t think of any recipes!

  75. I also don’t have a problem with sugar in moderation.

    Yum that cake looks amazing! I like agave in my coffee and in or on my pancakes.

    http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/poppy-seed-pancakes-recipe.html

  76. I LOVE agave in my hemp milk and chia seed pudding. Combined with lashings of vanilla and cinnamon it gives it a very horchata-like flavor!

    My approximation of a recipe:

    1/4 cup chia seeds
    1 cup unsweetened hemp milk
    Vanilla extract, cinnamon and agave nectar to taste

    Combine the hemp milk and vanilla, cinnamon and agave. Add to the chia seeds in an appropriately-sized bowl and combine well (I like to use a fork). Let the mixture sit for at least half an hour to let the chia seeds expand fully. You can do this and then whack it in the fridge until ready to eat.

    Sometimes I heat the milk mixture on the stove and pour it on; by the time the pudding is ready to eat it’s still a little bit warm.

  77. What an amazing cake you put together for your nana! The spiced cinnamon caramel sounds especially delicious.

  78. I love the ideas everyone has posted. I usually use it to sweeten green smoothies or on my sweetheart’s perfect pancakes.

  79. Damn, I’m too late to enter the contest. I’ve lost track of my blogs! I can only get one kind of agave here and it tastes kind of funny. I used it recently in a FatFree Vegan’s pumpkin cheesecake and it worked well because the flavor was masked. I’ll keep an eye out for Xagave, maybe I’ll like it better!

  80. I’m too lazy to be a vegan :( or even a vegetarian

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