A Month of Cookies

cookies I hereby declare that March is National Cookie Month. I just made that up, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

My plan is to spend my March weekends making cookies. That will be a whole bunch of cookies so some I will freeze. Frankly, I’ve never had to worry about freezing cookies as they don’t last that long in my house. But that will be a new twist on my experiment. I will adapt recipes for high altitude and vegan, and then freeze them and see how they come out.

The recipes for March are, tentatively, Chocolate Fudgy Oatmeal Cookies and Peanut Butter Agave Cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. Another delicious tryout will be a copy of my Girl Scouts’ fave called Thin Mints. I also plan to veganize the most awesome cookie I have ever made – a Chocolate Peppermint Cookie with crushed candy canes.

I drool as I think of the fun and aromatic baking to come. Do you have a cookie recipe that you would like to see me adapt to be vegan and high altitude? Let me know and it may become part of the celebration of National Cookie Month.

Chocolate Coffee Cupcake

Chocolate Coffee Cupcake A chocolate cupcake is a thing of beauty. This baking challenge is an adaptation of Your Basic Chocolate Cupcake  from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by the girls at The Post Punk Kitchen. On their website you can purchase this wonderfully named cookbook, or you can check back here for when I adapt recipes found on their site.

I made the usual changes of adding soymilk and vanilla extract while reducing baking soda. I also added a little whole wheat flour. For fun I used coffee extract for chocolate extract although, admittedly, it didn’t add enough coffee taste.

They turned out well with good texture, slight dimples and a not-to-sweet flavor. The cupcakes screamed for a mound of delicious frosting so I made a vegan mocha buttercream and slathered it on top. Unfortunately I had no powdered sugar so I put granulated sugar in the coffee grinder. The frosting was gritty but the taste was great with the cupcake. Note to self: stock up on confectioner’s sugar.

Until next time, happy baking!

Why is there a crater in my cupcake?

cupcake So – you reduced the amount of baking soda and baking powder and there is still a small dimple in the center of your cupcakes. Why? One possibility is the freshness of your leavening agents (those are the baking soda and baking powder).

According to Baking911.com, “Baking powder has a usual useful life of 24 months from the date of manufacture.” To test baking powder for potency, place 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder in some warm water to see if it fizzes.

To test baking soda, put 1 teaspoon in a cup that has 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. If it is still potent it will bubble vigorously. For a plethora of info on leavening agents, click here for more Baking 911 insights.

It’s also good to know that when baking soda is not neutralized it leaves an odd aftertaste. So, excess or old baking soda can not only affect the ‘rise’ of the cake but also the taste.

If it tastes good and still has a slight dimple, don’t worry – just add a mound of delicious frosting and some fresh sliced fruit. It can only complement your baking.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Patties

chocolate peanut butter patties I must confess – I have never had the Girl Scout Cookie Tagalong. I was a Thin Mint girl. But, when I saw a blog with Homemade Tagalongs (shortbread with a blot of peanut butter and a chocolate coating), I decided it was time to try them. Of course they needed to be vegan and high altitude. No problem.

I have another confession – I never look at how many cookies a recipe is supposed to make. This time I should have. It said to make 3 dozen while I made only 2 dozen of the most rich and decadent things around. Okay, maybe not such a bad thing.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Patties adapted from love and olive oil

1 cup vegan margarine, room temperature
1/2 cup organic sugar
2 cups plus 2 TBS all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 TBS soymilk

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
pinch salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 TBS vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 370 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, cream together margarine and sugar. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt at a low speed, followed by the vanilla and milk. The dough should come together into a soft ball.

Take a scoop of dough and flatten it into a disc about 1/4-inch thick. Place on a baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough. Cookies will not spread much, so you can arrange them fairly closely together.

Bake cookies for 22-24 minutes, until bottoms and the edges are lightly browned and cookies are set. Start with the sheet on a rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and move them up to the top rack half-way through baking time.

Immediately after removing cookies from the oven, use a small spoon to make a depression in the center of each cookie. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make filling, mix together peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt and vanilla in a small bowl. Put in a plastic zip bag and work with your hands until it is soft. Cut a corner off the bag and pipe a generous dome of the filling into each cookie’s “thumbprint”. Chill filled cookies for 20 minutes, or until the peanut butter is firm.

Melt the chocolate and oil in a small, heat-resistant bowl placed over a small saucepan filled with simmering (not boiling) water. Dip chilled cookies into chocolate, let excess drip off, and place on a sheet of parchment paper to set.

Bonus time – The ‘love and olive oil’ blog is having a birthday celebration giveaway. You can win two cute moleskin notebooks decorated with cupcakes. Go here to enter: notebook contest

Until next time, happy baking!

It’s All in the Math

j0439485 When adjusting recipes for high altitude there are some basics I follow. To counter the effects of low pressure and low humidity, science comes to the rescue with these alterations:

  • For each tsp of baking powder, reduce by 1/4-1/2 tsp
  • For each cup of sugar, reduce up to 2 TBS
  • For each cup of liquid, increase by 2-4 TBS

This information is for bakers at 6000 feet and can be found at the following link written by the Consumer Science Agent for the La Plata County Cooperative Extension in Durango, CO: Altitude Adjustment: Baking in Durango

You can find info for other altitudes at this link, as well as more scientific explanation and specifics of certain baked goods.

The science may appear daunting to those who just want to eat cake. But a few moments of math can help make the cake (or cookies or bread) taste and look better. It’s well worth it.

Red Velvet Cupcake

red velvet cupcake 043 Nothing says Valentine’s day like red velvet cupcakes, right? I hope not because mine did not turn out red! But they tasted fantastic so I spruced them up with pink and white frosting.

I tried this recipe early in the week so there would be time to perfect them before the holiday. It’s good I did because the first batch came out a bit dry and the texture was off. The second time was a charm. I added extra milk and used vanilla soy for more sweetness, along with more agave nectar. The coconut oil was removed in lieu of canola oil. I also used only all-purpose flour to get a better chance at a ‘red’ cupcake but, alas, they just turned a different shade of brown.

The cupcakes turned out moist and were delicious with a vegan buttercream frosting. Although beet-derived food color couldn’t quite make them red, they were fun and flirty for my Valentine.

Do you have a red velvet cake recipe that really turns red?

Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy baking!

What is Vegan Baking?

I am often asked what it means to bake vegan. A vegan diet excludes all animal products and animal-derived ingredients. To a baker this means avoiding the use of eggs, honey, dairy and dairy products. Fortunately there is a plethora of vegan substitutions available today.

Unfortunately the options were less plentiful back when I became interested in vegan baked goods. One year, for my birthday, I decided to have a local bakery produce a vegan cake for my celebration. My family, being less gastronomically adventurous, thought this was absurd. But, the cake was pretty and it was my birthday so they followed my wishes and tasted it. The cake was horrible! Even I couldn’t stomach it. To this day my family still chides me about the catastrophic cake.

Years later I was redeemed at my wedding. The baker made a spectacular vegan cake. It was not only beautiful but so delicious that nary a guest suspected the cake’s secret. The most important cake of my life was a success! (Check out the picture above to see the cake.)