Vegan, Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes

10 Nov

I’ve been slowly but surely getting on the vegan/gluten-free bandwagon, and this is my latest foray into the world of vegan/gluten-free baking.  I made these cupcakes for my yoga teachers, whose one-year anniversary teaching at the studio where I practice was yesterday…

I apologize for the poor quality of the image, but I promise, these cupcakes got great reviews from the people who ate them (my teacher told me that another student even asked for the recipe!).  Looking at them you wouldn’t even think that they were vegan/gluten-free and even if you did get to taste them, the only giveaway would be the texture, which was ever so slightly grainy due to the gluten-free flour blend that I use, which so far has NEVER failed me in any recipe as  substitute for regular flour.

This recipe was adapted from a vegan chocolate cake recipe that I got from a vegan baking class I attended at Haven’s Kitchen months ago.  The original recipe did not provide for gluten-free restrictions, but I simply used a 1-1 substitution of gluten-free flour blend for all purpose flour.  I also tweaked the flour measurement from the original 1 1/4 cup and made it 1 3/4 cup (it was actually an accident, but one that worked out anyway!)

Recipe as follows:

Vegan, Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes (makes about 16 standard sized cupcakes)
 
Ingredients
 1 3/4 cup gluten free flour blend (click the link for the recipe)
 1 cup sugar (I used vegan cane sugar from Whole Foods)
 1/3 cup cocoa
 1 tsp. baking soda
 ½ tsp. baking powder
 1 cup warm water
 1 tsp. vanilla extract
 1/3 cup vegetable oil
 1 tsp. distilled white or apple cider vinegar

Directions
Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately. Pour liquids into the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon until combined.
Fill cupcake cups about 2/3 full with batter and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes, testing with a toothpick for doneness.
Vegan Ganache (for frosting cupcakes) — make this ahead of time

Ingredients
12 oz. vegan chocolate chips
6 oz almond milk
1 tablespoon vegan butter substitute (I used Earth Balance in stick form)

Directions
Place vegan chocolate chips and vegan butter substitute into a bowl
Heat almond milk in small sauce pan until it starts to simmer.
Pour into bowl with chocolate chips and vegan butter substitute and stir until the chocolate is completely melted along with the vegan butter substitute.
You can let it chill at room temperature for a few hours until it reaches desired consistency for frosting
OR chill in the refrigerator for about 20 – 30 minutes, constantly checking if it has reached your desired consistency for frosting.  I just kept checking it every 10 minutes or so to make sure it didn’t get too thick.

A note about sugar.  In the recipe I used vegan cane sugar from Whole Foods (as pictured below).  The reason for this is that regular table sugar is processed from the raw form by using bone char, which comes from animal bone, making the sugar technically no longer vegan.  I don’t know the specifics of how sugar is processed, just that bone char is used by a majority of companies that produce sugar.

Comfort Scones

19 Aug

It was a rainy morning yesterday, and when it’s rainy and gloomy outside, I’m overcome (sometimes) by an urge to bake something warm and crumbly and comforting for breakfast.  One morning a little while ago, I had a craving for scones.  It was a sick day from work and I was holed up at home, reading The Hunger Games books, surfing the internet and generally feeling unwell.  I went to The Breakfast Bachelor’s blog and found a recipe for scones which I tailored to my liking and it resulted in these blueberry scones, which I now refer to as my “comfort scones.” –

Recipe as follows (adapted from the recipe by The Breakfast Bachelor)

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick), cut into cubes
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Prepare baking sheet(s) by lining with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Add butter to the flour mixture and cut the butter into the mixture using either a pastry cutter or your hands (I used a pastry cutter), until it’s crumbly but has a few chunks.

Add milk, combine and add blueberries.  Fold with a spatula until incorporated.

With a wooden spoon, place dough onto prepared baking sheets in little mounds about 2-3 inches wide and about 2 inches apart, as these suckers will grow.

The original recipe called for baking for 14 minutes or so, but I found that my oven and this variation on the recipe required me to bake the scones for 20 minutes.  Adjust baking time to the particularities/quirks of your oven.  They should be showing some edges of golden brown when they’re done.

I’ve got a few ripe bananas and chocolate chips at home, so I’m going to try another scone recipe I found that includes cream cheese, which intrigues me.  Scones are like muffins only without the bottoms.  And the tops of the muffins are the best part anyway, so why not do away with the rest of the muffin and just eat a scone?  :)

Love In A Cupcake

12 Aug

I believe that things come into your life for a reason, and they also leave for a reason.  I recently finished Alyssa Shelasky’s Apron Anxiety, and it is responsible for me believing in the power of baking again to heal what ails me and to soothe the noise that deafens me sometimes.  She reminded me why I loved baking so much in the first place — the solace and comfort of following a recipe and knowing that you will get exactly as you give when you follow the instructions and measurements.  Unlike life, you will be guaranteed something good for your efforts.  I need some of that good predictability in my life right now.  Speaking of predictability, it was also through reading this book that I found the following quote by Gilda Radner:

“I wanted a perfect ending.  Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.  Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.  Delicious Ambiguity.”

The book only had part of the quote but I googled and found the full quote.

Anyway, I know you just want me to get to the good stuff so here it is, last night’s labor of love:

I call this “Cupcake on a Laptop”

Pretend it’s you taking a bite.

I really loved this particular one. This little guy was my favorite because of the way the swirling happened. Made me think of a heart.

The first thing I said when I took these out of the oven was, “Sexy!”

I figured I’d let you guys drool over the pictures first.  These are red velvet cheesecake swirl cupcakes.  I used my recipe for red velvet cake, which was adapted from Paula Deen’s red velvet cake recipe.  I’m going to take some of these to work tomorrow, because my boss has been passive-aggressively (but in a nice way) hinting at how long it’s been since I’ve baked anything for them.  Hell, even I can’t remember.

These were inspired by reading Shelasky’s book, at a part where she was talking about making a cheesecake.  The red velvet part came to me probably because lately I have been thinking a lot about love and well, what color represents love more than red?  I initially thought to make a red velvet cheesecake but I can’t be bothered with putting together a water bath for it and felt like cupcakes are always more easily transportable and practical.  Perhaps the red velvet cheesecake will be a holiday experiment.

French Macarons: My Personal Baking Mount Everest

19 May

A few weeks ago, I went to a French macaron making workshop at Dessert Truck Works at the Lower East Side.  Tucked away on Clinton St. and E. Houston, it’s a cute little space with a laid-back but cozy sitting area where patrons can enjoy desserts with cups of coffee or tea.  Within the same space is the area for the workshop.

Their name on the wall by the entrance.

Work area.

The workshop was very helpful and I took away a lot of knowledge when it comes to making these little suckers.  I went to the workshop because my first attempt at making macarons a little over two years ago resulted in this mess:

Macarons are very fussy and require a lot of patience if you’re ever going to get them right.  A lot of patience and trial and error.  Today I attempted making some on my own, and they did not turn out the way mine turned out at the workshop (which were perfect if I do say so myself!), but they turned out much better than the little monsters above:

Macarons, attempt #2 at home. – baked at 300F, 12 minutes (6 min, rotate pan, then another 6 min.), dried for about 1 hour.

The recipe at the workshop said to bake them for approximately 7 minutes at 300°F , but I have a feeling you need to adjust according to the idiosyncrasies, quirks and temperament of your oven at home.  I got mine to look like this after baking for 12 minutes at 300°F.  I also have a feeling that I should have dried them for longer than an hour, and the meringue may not have been stiff enough.  Next time, stiffer meringue, longer drying time.  The “shell” was a little too thin, but I was happy to see that they had feet, or pied (pronounced peeh-YED) — the ruffle around the edges that you see in the picture above.  Apparently, getting this ruffle to appear is one of the trickiest achievements in baking, so I’m glad I was able to get my little macarons to grow them.  I think it has to do with the drying of the batter and the way the batter was mixed.

I’m going to try making them again perhaps next week.  I have to age the egg whites first.  For those who are curious, this recipe used a Swiss meringue technique.  The meringue is, I think a crucial part in macaron making — the first crucial part that comes before the other crucial parts.  Macarons are incredibly hard to get right and that’s why I call them my baking Mount Everest.  It will be quite an achievement for me once I get to make perfect macarons.  I’m pretty happy with the way these turned out, considering this was my first try at making them without the supervision and moral support of the instructor.

I’m pretty excited at experimenting next time with the next attempt!  I can also see why making macarons can make a person obsessive, trying to keep track of what went right, what went wrong and why, why, why?!  But it’s all part of the fun.  Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, and then you have to make adjustments.  And then once you find your groove, you stay with what works for you.  Until you have to make adjustments again.  A lot like life.  :)

Vegan Baking Class at Haven’s Kitchen

2 Apr

To further my education in the world of baking, today I took a day off to attend a vegan baking class at Haven’s Kitchen, near Union Square.  It’s a cute little culinary escape on 17th St., between 6th and 7th Av. with an unassuming black and white storefront.  Upon entering, you see a small specialty shop filled with gourmet ingredients, and a little reception area just inside, right before the entrance to the small kitchen classroom in the back:

This image above came from this article on the opening of Haven’s Kitchen, where there are other pictures of the space.  It was a very clean, very tranquil and friendly atmosphere.

But on to the meat and potatoes of this post — a funny choice of words, considering my class was for vegan baking!  The class was taught by pastry chef Archana Rao, of Love Street Cakes, whose own background was pretty impressive.  She attended pastry school at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and worked for two years under renowned pastry chef, Ron Ben-Israel, whom many of you may be familiar with through his Food Network show, Sweet Genius, before going into business on her own.  You can see her creations on her web site, to which I’ve previously linked.  I should’ve asked her if he was just as crazy in person as he seems on the show, but it slipped my mind.  :)

The class was quite informative and I learned a lot.  She talked about the different flours and how when it comes to vegan baking, the more natural the ingredients, the better.  I learned about the differences between the many different sweeteners used in vegan baking.  Table sugar originates from either the sugar cane plant or from beets.  Refined cane sugar isn’t considered vegan because animal bone char is used in its processing.  Beet sugar, on the other hand, does not require the use of bone char.  This fascinating article explains in further detail — http://www.vegsource.com/jo/qa/qasugar.htm.  As for sugar substitutes, I didn’t realize that Truvia was more natural than Splenda, which is a hybrid of artificial and natural sweeteners.  Truvia comes from the stevia plant, and you can’t get any more natural than a plant.

We started off with a vegan peanut butter cookie:

Vegan peanut butter cookies.

In addition to sweeteners, she got into the topic of using flax seeds mixed with water to substitute for eggs.  I’ve heard of this before, but I’m not sure if I’d be willing to use this substitution.  Perhaps one day.  I’m sure nothing works like the real thing, but of course in vegan baking, that’s going to be a no-no.

As for a butter substitute, coconut oil (which was in a jar in solid form) is used in many recipes.  I had asked if the use of the coconut oil would give the finished product a distinct coconut taste, but apparently the coconut flavor is so subtle that it’s pretty undetectable.  The coconut butter was used in the black pepper vegan biscuits that we also made in class:

Black pepper vegan biscuits

In addition to being a butter substitute in vegan baking, coconut oil is used in India as a hair treatment and also a skin moisturizer.  In fact, some of the ladies in class took some coconut oil out of the jar and started rubbing it into their skin.  I love multi-purpose baking ingredients.

The highlight of the class for me was probably the vegan chocolate cake and the tofu chocolate mousse.

Tofu chocolate mousse

I’d heard of making mousse out of tofu before, but I’d never seen it done nor have I ever tasted the end result.  She basically took 1 package of firm tofu, added some maple syrup, put it all into a blender and added 10 oz. melted dark chocolate.  I forget if the recipe called for anything else (we’re supposed to get the recipes e-mailed to us later on).  She blended it all until the mixture was super smooth.  I tasted it and was pretty impressed — not bad for something with a slightly unappealing description — honestly, tofu mousse???  But throw in the chocolate and baby, I’m a believer.

The mousse was used to fill and frost the vegan chocolate cake, and the combination of the mousse and cake was very good.  By itself the mousse might be a little overwhelming in large quantities without the chocolate of the cake to break it up, but together, the cake and the mousse make an excellent flavor combination.

Vegan chocolate cake

 

Vegan Cake + Vegan Mousse = Vegan Love

If I had to rate the things we made today, I’d say my ultimate favorite was the vegan chocolate cake with the tofu chocolate mousse.  In the middle is the peanut butter cookies, and my least favorite was the biscuits.  The biscuits, while not bad in flavor (we didn’t hate it), were lacking a little something in terms of texture and were a little dry.  I described them as “savory cookies” and the instructor agreed with me.  After class was finished, we sat down to a light lunch and enjoyed our vegan desserts.

In conclusion — vegan baking, yay or nay?  I’d say definitely “yay.”  Being a relatively new sub-genre within the larger field of baking, it requires a lot of experimentation and a lot of trial and error.  I’m eager to take the recipes we used today and improve upon them, tweaking them here and there.  A lot of people think “yuck” with the word “vegan,” and I think this isn’t entirely fair.  You can’t compare the real thing with its vegan cousin, because you have to approach vegan baking as an entity all on its own.  You have to take it for what it is, and not for what it isn’t.  There will never be anything like the real thing made with butter, cream and eggs, of course, but you can try to come pretty damn close.  And that’s the challenge that is presented to bakers who dare to try vegan baking.  And what I love about it is that there’s plenty of room to discover new things that work.

Now, gluten free and vegan…that’s a whole other story for a whole other post.  :)

A New Direction

28 Feb

Last Friday when I came into my yoga studio for practice, I was greeted by my friend Ashley, who was manning the front desk where people sign in.  After I signed in, she presented me with a box of vegan oatmeal cranberry cookies that she made.  I made the mistake of only taking one — they were amazing!  Of course, by the time I realized my mistake it was too late because I waited until I got to my office that morning to try it.  I just googled the recipe and I think it may be this one.  I haven’t tried to make it yet, so don’t quote me on that.

I googled for other vegan baking recipes and found a recipe for vegan peanut butter chocolate pillows, which I will be trying very soon.  I’m wondering if I can also make this gluten-free using my substitute mix.  Speaking of gluten-free, I made my mom’s brownies the other night using this flour mix and it came out very nicely — fudgier, even.  I just used a 1-1 substitution.  So that makes 1 “regular” recipe in which I substituted my gluten-free flour blend and the results came out great.  Sorry, no pictures this time.  You guys know what a brownie looks like.  A gluten-free brownie doesn’t look all that different, really.

Ever since I started practicing Ashtanga yoga regularly, I’ve made some changes to my dietary habits.  While it’s not necessary to become vegan or vegetarian to have a good yoga practice, I find myself wanting to eat less meat — mainly because of the way I feel after I’ve eaten meat, which is heavy.  And because I practice yoga at 6:30 in the morning, I don’t want last night’s steak dinner causing a little bulge in my stomach when I’m doing twists — it makes it a lot harder.  Plus, I feel heavier when I eat a lot of meat.  I don’t think I can commit to becoming a full-fledged vegetarian (much less vegan), so I keep it to 1 or  2 meals a week where I can eat meat.  I saw this really interesting documentary on Netflix called Forks Over Knives, promoting a plant-based diet.  While I think there are certainly merits to the research presented in the documentary, I think you need to take it with a grain of salt.  The way the evidence was presented was just a little too…”pushy” for my liking.  However, I do agree that eating a little less meat can go a long way towards better health.

All that being said, my dietary changes have somewhat influenced my baking.  In short, I’m doing a lot less of it.  Partly due to my yoga practice which does not permit me to stay up late baking big projects anymore, and partly because having a regular yoga practice has made me be a little more mindful of what and how much I eat.  But all that aside, I still have a SWEET TOOTH and an ADDICTION TO ALL THINGS CHOCOLATE, so I doubt the baking will ever stop.  I’ll still make super-indulgent, decadently rich things from time to time of course (because sometimes it’s just more fun with all the fat!), but I’m thinking I’m going to explore more of what I call “alternative” baking because of the challenges it presents — baking things and making them taste good without the use of conventional baking ingredients.

A Brownie For Grown-Ups

11 Dec

Christmas is 2 weeks away, and I am on schedule with my cookie shipping for a change.  This year I decided to give two kinds of baked goods — chocolate-covered Mexican wedding cookies and my newest thing, Guinness brownies.  Yes, I said “Guinness.”

Considering that I’m not a drinker at all, it’s funny that I have quite a stash of various alcoholic substances.  I’ve collected these bottles over time as I’ve tested out recipes that called for various liqueurs and even vodka.  My most popular liqueur of choice is Kahlua.  I love Kahlua for baking.  But today I’m going to talk about beer.  Not only do I have stronger alcohol in my cabinets, I now also have beer.  Guinness, to be exact.  And Guinness found its way into my home because I wanted to make beer bread, which I had the pleasure of eating while I was visiting with a friend’s (who also happens to be one of my yoga teachers) family in Maine.  His grandmother makes this fantastic bread that became my breakfast for the whole time we were there.  Ingredients?  Self-rising flour, a pinch of salt, and one bottle of beer.  Any beer.  And that’s it.  You throw the ingredients together, mix with a wooden spoon (well that was my utensil of choice) til the dough is wet, and throw into the oven.  No kneading.  Who knew making bread could be so simple?  It goes very well with soup, or by itself, slathered with butter.  Lots of butter.

I made this beer bread for the first time using Guinness.  Extra stout.  I figured, go big or go home.  What I found was that Guinness imparts a very strong (though not unpleasant) flavor of beer to the bread — I know it’s beer bread, but the taste was a little strong for my liking.  The next time I made this bread, I went with Yuengling and the flavor was much more subtle.  You can have a lot of fun with this bread, experimenting with different beers.  And the best part is how little work and how very few ingredients you need to make it!

But I’m not here to continue rambling about beer bread.  I was merely explaining how Guinness made it into my home via beer bread making.

Having decided never to use Guinness for beer bread again, I was now stuck with 5 remaining bottles of the stuff.  I wasn’t going to drink it because I don’t drink, and I didn’t want to give it away either, having spent my money on it already.  So, what to do?  Google to the rescue.  Having read that Guinness has a “chocolate” taste to it (really?  I don’t taste it), I found a recipe for a Guinness brownie.  What sold me on trying it out was the picture.  I saw a close-up of a very moist, very fudgy-looking brownie.  I am a sucker for moist, fudgy brownies.

See what I mean?

Another view in case it wasn't clear how fudgy they are.

Moist, chewy, chocolate goodness with hints of Guinness.  I don’t like the taste of beer by itself, but the Guinness paired quite well with the blend of chocolate I used in the recipe (I used 2 bars of Lindt 70% dark and 4 ounces of Callebaut white chocolate).  I found that the flavor develops more after a day or two, with the Guinness blending better with the chocolate.  And since I had so many bottles left, I decided to make more batches for giving away.  Recipe below:

Guinness Brownies (from A Mingling of Tastes)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 ounces high quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup Guinness Stout beer, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I left these out)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with nonstick foil (or regular foil coated with nonstick spray); or, use a nonstick pan coated well with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa and salt; set aside.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave: In a medium glass bowl, or other microwave-safe bowl, combine the dark chocolate, white chocolate and butter. Microwave on medium power for 45 seconds and stir. Continue microwaving and stirring at 30 second intervals, reducing to 15 second intervals as the chocolate is nearly melted. Stop just when the chocolate is smooth (all microwaves are different, so take care not to burn it). Set aside.

Combine the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and mix on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add melted chocolate in two additions, beating on medium speed until combined. Add flour mixture in two additions, beating on medium speed until combined. Add one-third of the Guinness and the vanilla and whisk until combined. Repeat two more times with remaining Guinness.

Pour brownie batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over top. Bake for 23 to 27 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (mine took exactly 25 minutes). Cool completely in pan, cut into 24 squares and serve.

Instead of using a 13 x 9 pan, I used two 8 x 8 inch square pans.  I also baked at 350 degrees for 25 minutes instead of at 375 degrees.  While they can be stored at room temperature, I preferred to store them in the fridge.  They’re very good when cold!

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