Every now and again, I get the urge to reflect on my eating habits. The hard work I put into unlearning bad habits and developing healthier routines is something I look back to with pride, but guilt and self-reproach immediately follow, uninvited: after all these years, the balance and discipline I achieved still feel like not enough. It’s all pointless crap, negative self-talk, but it gets me wondering: what would happen if I radically changed my diet? I’ve always felt I could easily adapt to a vegetarian lifestyle, and hardly miss meat. It would take much more effort to go gluten-free, but I know I’d get to grips with it, eventually. One thing’s for sure though: you’re as likely to see me give up dairy, than you are to to witness a staunch vegetarian bite into a Porterhouse steak.
Giving up dairy would mean carving an ice cream-shaped void in my life, that not even an overload of (mozzarella-free) pizza could fill. Life without creamy curries, pastry pies filled with ricotta, refreshing cups of gelato and silky spoonfuls of tiramisu would far too quickly become unbearable. Finding an alternative to the huge bowls of yoghurt I eat every morning would be heartbreaking; aside from sweet, indulgently buttery pastries, I can’t think of a breakfast I would enjoy as much. Not to mention that most of my bakes involve dairy: it’s easy to substitute butter and double cream with fat-free yoghurt, or use skimmed milk instead of full fat – but what about replacing the replacement?
Let’s face it: I’ll never come closer to eliminating all dairy from my home cooking. Still, after trying Oatly’s products for a few weeks, I’m positive I found an ingredient that will help me cut down on it. It’s oat. Yes, the oat you use in your granola – only that this one’s liquid.
Oatly is a Swedish company, specialising in organic, fiber-rich oat based products that can replace milk and cream in day to day cooking. Their recent UK launch involved a small selection of their products, now on sale at Asda, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Whole Foods, Tesco and Holland and Barrett (and, it seems, my local Morrisons too). I’m hoping they’ll release the rest of the range soon, as I’d quite like their smooth, velvety coffee drink (which they showcased at Food Blogger Connect 14) to appear on our shelves.
Oatly’s Oat Drink offers an excellent dairy-free alternative to milk without compromising on taste, while the Creamy Oat is a perfect substitute to single cream – at least, judging by the dreamy curries I made in the past few weeks. Savoury or sweet, the dishes I made with them were as nutritious and filling as their dairy counterparts; however, they felt way lighter, and easier to digest. I tried the Oat Drink in a few different recipes, from bakes to hot drinks, and think it has real potential to become my next go-to ingredient for sweet stuff. Not all my experiments were a shining success, though – so I put together a few Dos and Don’ts, to help you make the most of it too.
- Drink it straight from the carton. Remember when I said “no compromises on taste”? This may be the only exception. The Oat Drink’s taste is pretty bland, very much like eating rolled oats without a splash of milk, a spoonful of honey, or a heap of fruit and nuts to jazz up the flavour. If you’re having it in the morning, pair it with sweeter, bolder foods, and you’ll nail a perfect breakfast in no time.
- Froth it up to make cappuccino. That’s not what the Oat Drink is for, unless your idea of cappuccino involves lots of bubbles and no foam. Truth be told, I had a feeling I’d set myself up for failure – but with an espresso maker at home, it would have been silly not to try!
- Drink it with your coffee. I tried adding a splash of it to my morning espresso, and found the taste pleasantly mild and gentle. So mild and gentle, in fact, that I didn’t feel the need to sweeten my drink any further.
- Make pancakes. I could go on for hours about how fluffy and fulfilling mine were; too bad I wolfed them down before even thinking about taking pictures. Don’t take my word for it, though: have a look at the pancakes with strawberries Emily Cooks Vegan made.
- Add the Oat Drink to your baked goods. Use it to replace milk when making cake, muffin or brownie batter, and I promise you won’t notice any differences in taste or texture. The proof is in today’s recipe: my very first dairy-free bake, and certainly not the last.
Dairy-free chocolate and hazelnut brownies
(makes 12 – 14)
My affair with these brownies was a case of love at first sight, sparked the very second I discovered them on jamieoliver.com. I could almost picture the act of eating them: fingers becoming sticky with melted chocolate, cheeky crumbs and chocolate smudges around my mouth, like a kid who looted mum’s secret biscuit stash and forgot to remove the evidence. Their soft, slightly crumbly texture is a perfect middle ground between two extremes: the dry, cakey, overly sugary brownie, and the gooey brownie, deliciously chocolatey but inevitably too buttery. The secret to their success, though, lies in the chocolate chips in the batter. Just imagine biting into a sweet and delightfully soft brownie, and hitting a chunk of rich dark chocolate that melts in your mouth. If that’s not enough to get you cooking, I don’t know what is!
- 75ml olive oil
- 200g dairy-free dark chocolate
- 170g self-raising flour
- 25g cocoa powder
- 120g granulated sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 tsp rum flavouring (leave this out if you want vegan brownies)
- 230ml Oatly Oat Drink
- 100g hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
Recipe (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Vegan Chocolate Brownies recipe)
- Melt 150g of chocolate into a heatproof bowl, placed over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the hob and set aside to cool slightly.
- Sieve the flour and cocoa powder into a large bowl, then stir in the sugar and salt.
- Add the rum flavouring, oil, Oat Drink and melted chocolate, and mix until combined.
- Roughly chop the remaining 50g chocolate, and add them to the bowl. Add most of the hazelnuts, too – just save a few for decorating. Mix until combined.
- Line a 20cm square baking tin with greaseproof paper, and pour in the batter, spreading it out evenly. Sprinkle the remaining hazelnuts on top.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180° and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until cooked on the outside but still gooey in the middle.
- Leave aside to cool down, then remove from the tin, cut into squares and serve.
- Store any leftover brownies at room temperature, in the tin or in an airtight container. They will keep very well for at least 4 – 5 days.
Note: Oatly approached me with a request to review their products, and offered me the Oat Drink and Creamy Oat for free. All opinions are my own.