11/04/2013 10:11 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Meatless Monday: (Vegan) Chocolate Makes Everything Better, and Other Sweet Truths from Fran Costigan

More than 150 pounds of chocolate, 100 pounds of cocoa powder and 20 years of sweet experience went into "Vegan Chocolate," the new and already bestselling cookbook by pastry goddess Fran Costigan. With tarts and truffles, cookies and creme and shower-stoppers like Sachertorte and Costigan's childhood favorite, Brooklyn Blackout Cake, it's a chocolate orgy that's absolutely plant-based.

A classically trained pastry chef gone vegan, Costigan admits, "Vegan desserts had a bad rep to overcome." Rather than suffering through a dusty-tasting carob cube masquerading as a brownie, for a time she shunned all sweets. This did not sit well with her family. Her son announced, "You're not giving me a baked sweet potato for my birthday. Figure it out." She did.

"A beautifully-made vegan chocolate dessert, with high-quality chocolate tastes as good -- or better" than the same dessert loaded with cream, butter and eggs, says Costigan, who subtitles her book "Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts." Turns out all that dairy traditional pastry chefs swear by doesn't do a body good and doesn't help the dessert, either. "The more fat that's in a recipe, the less intense is the taste of the chocolate."

Costigan has been the go-to girl for vegan pastry. She baked the wedding cake for Rip Esselstyn ("The Engine2 Diet") and the sweet treats for the baby shower of Vegucated's Marisa Miller Wolfson, but for "Vegan Chocolate," she wanted to create recipes doable even if you're not a vegan pastry diva. "Most of these recipes were brand new, ultimately tested by real people in real kitchens with an ordinary stovetop and oven." How does a perfectionist like Costigan know when a recipe's bookworthy? "When it is unapologetically delicious and works every single time. I want people to have success. I want their desserts to turn out right."

Meticulous Costigan tried recipes repeatedly, trying different versions, testing how long things stayed fresh, how well they froze. It wasn't all hardship. To perfect recipes, "you need to taste the chocolate, take nibbles of what you made. It's a treat I enjoy eating every single day." So how is it she's willowy, not whale-shaped? "I didn't eat the whole cake," she says. "When you make something really delicious with real ingredients, your mouth knows it, your brain knows it, your body knows it. You feel satisfied."

Chocolate is part of her daily diet, but so are soups and kale smoothies. "The main of my diet is plant-based whole foods. When I don't have it, I feel unbalanced."

Costigan grew up eating "canned and frozen food and Kraft macaroni and cheese. And chocolate ice cream for breakfast -- my mother has a real sweet tooth," she says. "She cannot get over the idea that I took such an interest in food. She thinks it's great."

She's not alone. Costigan's a sought-after instructor at Natural Gourmet Institute and other plant-based culinary academies and retreats, her pastry classes draw students from as far away as India and Israel, but "my chocolate classes always sell out first. It's everybody's favorite flavor," she says. "It's emotionally loaded. It melts at body temperature, it does a sexy thing in your mouth."

But it has theobromine and serotonin and antioxidants, too, so chocolate is a good thing, right?

"I never call dessert a health food. But consider the whole picture," says Costigan. "Feeling happy is part of being healthy. I eat chocolate every day and I feel pretty happy."

Chocolate Olive Oil Glaze for Chocolate-Dipped Anything

Reprinted with permission from Fran Costigan's "Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Delicious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts," © Running Press, 2013.

Shiny chocolate-dipped fruit, cookies, confections, and snacks like pretzels and potato chips look gorgeous, but most of the time, when dipped in melted chocolate alone, the final result is dull or speckled with white spots. Tempered chocolate, however, yields a glossy, speckle-free appearance. This recipe offers an alternative method: adding some mild tasting extra-virgin olive oil to melted chocolate. The result is not a true tempered chocolate, but this works very well as a chocolate dip and even a lusciously smooth cake glaze.

Note: Fruit must be thoroughly dry and cold before dipping (chocolate sets fastest on cold fruit). Rinse the fruit gently (do not wash berries more than 30 minutes before using), gently pat dry with paper towels and refrigerate until cold.

6 ounces/170 grams dark chocolate (70 to 72%), finely chopped
2 tablespoons/30 ml mild tasting extra-virgin oil or neutral vegetable oil
2 pinches flaked sea salt (optional)

Recommended items for dipping:
-- long-stem or standard strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries on the stem
-- citrus segments (mandarin oranges or grapefruit, cleaned of all pith and "string")
-- dried fruit
-- pomegranate seeds, sunflower seeds, potato chips, pretzels
-- cookies

Line a sheet pan with a piece of plastic wrap, acetate, or parchment or a Silpat baking mat.

Melt half of the chocolate with the olive oil in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water (make sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl), stirring a few times until the chocolate is just melted. Add the rest of the chocolate and stir until melted.

Remove the bowl from the saucepan. Wipe the water from the bottom of the bowl. Crush the salt (if using) between your fingers and add it to the chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is completely melted and the glaze is smooth.

To dip larger items: hold by the end or stem. Dip each piece two-thirds of the way into the chocolate. Lift up and allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Set each piece on the lined sheet pan and push forward just slightly, so the chocolate doesn't puddle too much. (Don't worry if it does.) Allow the chocolate to set at room temperature for about 15 minutes, then refrigerate on the tray until set.

To dip smaller pieces, such as nuts or seeds, plunk a bunch at a time into a shallower bowl of chocolate and push them around with a fork until coated. Remove with a large fork or slotted spoon and allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Place on the lined baking sheet to harden and then refrigerate.

Refrigerate until serving. The chocolate-dipped "anythings" will peel off the acetate, parchment, or Silpat when the chocolate has hardened.

Makes 1 cup.

These treats are best on the day they are dipped.