Hearty Raspberry Muffins

hearty raspberry muffinsWaking up to a cold morning made me want a warm, hearty muffin to chase away the chill. I thought a bright burst of fruit, with some healthy bran, ought to do the trick. Looking through my cookbooks I discovered that I didn’t quite have the exact ingredients for anything that sounded good, so I baked some muffins loosely adapted on a few recipes. It’s kinda what I do.

The recipe was already dairy and egg free, so I just made a few adjustments for altitude. The recipe was simple so it only needed a little extra flour and milk and a slight reduction in leaveners. I also used paper muffin cups instead of baking directly in the muffin tin so I wouldn’t have to scrape any dried muffins off the tin.

Hearty Raspberry Muffins adapted with what was in my cupboard from “Sweet & Natural Baking” by Mani Niall
1 1/4 cups + 1 tsp whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
scant 1/2 tsp baking soda
scant 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 cup + 1/2 tsp almond milk
1/3 cup liquid fruit juice concentrate
3 TBS canola oil
1 cup frozen raspberries, slightly broken up
Preheat oven to 350F and line a muffin tin with paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, bran, baking soda, baking powder and salt to combine and make a well in the center. In another medium bowl, whisk milk, fruit juice concentrate, and oil until surface is bubbly. Pour liquid ingredients into the well and stir just until smooth. Stir in the raspberries.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake for 18-19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 11-12 muffins.

Until next time, happy baking!

Crumb Coat for Easy Cake Decorating

Crumb coat

Image courtesy of Cooking Cinderella at flickr.com

Many years ago, when I first ventured into “specialty” baking, I was given the gift of classes on cake decorating. At the time I was baking mostly cookies and brownies and wasn’t sure what I would do with the knowledge, but I knew I would have fun. I learned how to use frosting to make a basket-weave, flowers and leaves. It was pretty but didn’t seem very useful for a home baker. Until I learned some tricks.

I learned to stand a tipped decorating bag in a tall glass while you are filling it – it’s like an extra hand when yours are already busy. Another idea was to use icing as glue to cement the cake to a board so it won’t move in transport. I found out that a turning stand makes it easier to decorate a cake. A great tip was to flip the top layer of a layer cake over so you have a flat surface to frost. But my favorite trick was the crumb coat.

A crumb coat will make the surface of your meticulously decorated cake look beautiful. To crumb coat a cake you take some of your icing and thin it with water. It should be thinner than usual but not enough to tear the cake as you apply it. Spread this icing to make a thin layer on the entire exposed cake surface.

Don’t worry if there are crumbs in the icing, this is expected. The icing layer is so thin that you will see the cake and crumbs. Smooth the icing as best as you can and let it dry. The crumb coat needs to be dry to the touch before you put the final layer of icing on. Once the crumb coat is completely dry, you are ready to continue icing and decorating.”

The crumb coat creates a barrier to hold crumbs down so your final icing will be smooth and crumb-free. This is especially important if you are frosting a chocolate cake with white icing. Even with white icing on a white cake you don’t want to have cake bits floating around in your decorations. It may seem like it takes unnecessary extra time, but it is so worth it. It helps make any cake into the perfect cake.

Oatmeal Spice Cookie Sandwiches

oatmeal spice cookie sandwichesI collect recipes. I have thousands of them. They usually sit for awhile before I dust them off and use them, but some I refer to immediately. This recipe is one of those. I crave warm spices this time of year, so I thought a spiced cookie would taste good. When I came across this recipe with chai spices I baked it up pronto.

To veganize the original recipe, I used vegan margarine and yogurt subbed for an egg. For altitude adjustments, I added flour and reduced baking powder and oats. I thought they were tasty as is, but my husband thought they were lacking in dessert finesse (due to the lack of chocolate). To elevate them from what he deemed a breakfast cookie, I slathered vanilla frosting between two cookies and made them into cookie sandwiches. Now they were fancy enough for dessert.

Oatmeal Spice Cookie Sandwiches adapted from the Mountain Rose blog
1 cup + 1 TBS all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
Chai Spice – 3/4 tsp cinnamon powder, 1/2 tsp cardamom powder, 1/4 tsp ginger powder, 1/8 tsp clove powder, 1/8 tsp nutmeg powder
14 TBS vegan margarine, softened
1 cup vegan sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup vanilla soy yogurt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
4 TBS vegan margarine, softened
4 TBS vegan shortening, softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp soymilk
Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and chai spice together. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat margarine and sugars until fluffy and creamy. Add yogurt and vanilla to butter mixture and beat until combined. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture and stir until it just becomes smooth. Gradually add oats and mix until well combined. Roll balls of 2 TBS of dough and place on baking sheets. Gently press down each ball. Bake until cookies are golden brown, for 16-18 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Transfer baking sheets to wire rack to cool.
Make filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together margarine and shortening. Add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time until well combined. Beat in vanilla and soy milk. When cookies have fully cooled, slather the flat side of a cookie with frosting. Top with another cookie and push down slightly. Makes 12 dessert cookie sandwiches.

Until next time, happy baking!

Different Fats in Vegan Baking

Fats in Baking

Image courtesy of Slice of Chic at flickr.com

When I started to bake vegan, I thought the easiest substituting would be for butter. Earth Balance makes a vegan margarine and it seemed to be an easy swap. It looked like butter and acted like butter until I tried to bake brownies with melted margarine and made a chocolate blob. Then I realized that all fats are not butter.

Butter adds not only flavor to baked goods, but also texture. “Liquid oils can sometimes work in place of solid fats, though your end product might be a bit oiler. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, though a bit more solid than butter or shortening, so you might not get that flaky texture. … (And there’s) naturally fatty ingredients like avocados and nut butters.” I discovered recipes for brownies made with nut butters, and now I know that they can be the fat source.

After the brownie debacle, I searched for tricks with substituting fats. King Arthur Flour reports that “if you’re looking for a dairy-free fat substitute … choose a fat that most resembles the one used in the original recipe. For example, a recipe that calls for butter would be best made with a vegan butter substitute. For a recipe made with vegetable oil, you could use coconut oil in its place.” They tested this theory in a cookie recipe. Their favorite fat was butter, but I think that might be because it is considered the norm. Their next choice was vegan butter. They concluded that “since vegan butter was … soft at room temperature, we were able to easily beat the fat and sugar together (to help) keep the cookies light. The dough … was a little soft (and) when scooped onto the baking sheet, the cookies didn’t hold their shape. … These were a bit cakier and less chewy (but) the edges were crisp and golden brown, while the centers remained chewy and soft.”

So I learned how to make a great cookie, but was still stumped on what went wrong with my brownies. I got a hint on Earth Balance’s website. They recommend: “To achieve a rich, spongy texture in cakes and quick breads, don’t skimp on the creaming step. Beat sugars with Buttery Sticks … just as you would butter, until the sugar aerates the fats and creates a fluffy batter that will give loft.”

Here was part of my problem – my brownie recipe called for melted butter so I could not beat it with the sugar until creamy. I think when that was combined with the fact that the recipe had no leavener, then I was stuck with brownies with no lift at all.

Although there are several choices for fat substitutes, they are not created equal. If you can cream the butter substitute with sugar to aerate it you will get the best results in recipes calling for butter. Or you can experiment with other fats. Or you can follow one of my recipes and leave the heavy lifting up to me.

Spider Cupcakes for Halloween

spider Halloween cupcakeHalloween is a fun time for everyone, not just kids. It offers a chance to go crazy with baked items. But I got so preoccupied researching creative designs that I decided to make life easy and adapt my recipe for Chocolate Coffee Cupcakes. This post is about the designs.

The star of the show is the spider, but I had to make an entire batch of white frosting so I could make eyes. What was I to do with the rest of the frosting? Make a matching spiderweb. This was achieved by placing a flat layer of white frosting on the cupcake and then drawing three concentric circles with melted chocolate. A toothpick was then drawn through the circles to create the web. Cool, right?

To ensure that everything was vegan, I made the eyes myself. To save time you can buy candy eyes, but check the ingredients. Now, for the spider…

Spider Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting
1 cup vanilla soy or almond milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup organic sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 TBS all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
generous 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup vegan margarine
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2 1/2 cups organic powdered sugar, sifted
3 TBS soymilk
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
chocolate sprinkles
white buttercream frosting
mini chocolate chips
black licorice whips
For Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350F and line a 12-cupcake pan with paper liners. Whisk together the milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and coffee extract to the milk mixture and beat until foamy.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat just until no large lumps remain. Pour evenly into the liners, filling three-quarters of the way. Bake 18-19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.
For Frosting: Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the cocoa powder and beat for 1 minute. Add the powdered sugar, alternating with milk, and beat until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.
For Decorations: Place a flat layer of chocolate frosting on a cupcake. Put the chocolate sprinkles on a plate and dip the cupcake in sprinkles until fully covered. Add two small circles of white frosting. Place a small chocolate chip with the point side down in the center of each circle. Cut a licorice whip into eight pieces and insert each piece at spaced intervals.

Until next time, happy baking!

The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

baking soda

Image courtesy of Rakka at flickr.com

Most baking recipes call for a leavener to give an item airiness and a tender crumb. There are two types: baking soda and baking powder. Why are there two? If I am out of one, can it be replaced with the other? Read further to solve these riddles.

Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate—an alkaline powder (aka, a base). When dissolved in liquid and combined with an acid, it rapidly reacts, breaking down into sodium, water, and carbon dioxide (which) expands upon baking … For baking soda to work, a recipe needs to include a significant acidic ingredient.” So, if you are doing ingredient substitutions in a recipe that lists baking soda as the sole leavener, be sure to keep an acidic item in the ingredient list.

If you are not including an acidic item, then baking powder can work as the leavener. Baking powder is “composed of baking soda, a powdered acid, and a starch (in order to absorb moisture and prevent the acid or base from reacting prematurely) … In its dry state, it’s totally inert. But once you add a liquid, the powdered acid and base dissolve and react with each other, creating bubbles of carbon dioxide without the need for an external acid source.”

There are other actions that baking soda performs and need to be considered. It is also used to “neutralize or dampen acidic ingredients. For this reason it is sometimes used in recipes with a high proportion of ingredients such as lemon juice, buttermilk or other sour flavours. When replacing sugar with a large amount of an acidic sweetener, such as honey, molasses or barley malt syrup, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda should be added the recipe to account for the increased acidity, even if baking powder is the principle leavener.” Thus, if you are using only baking powder in a recipe with highly acidic ingredients, then the flavor profile may be off due to the extra acid contained in baking powder. Those recipes need a little help from baking soda.

Another interesting baking soda fact is that it increases browning, a reaction that works best in an alkaline environment. Browning not only adds an appealing color to baked goods, but it also enhances the flavor. This is why baking soda is added to some cookie recipes that don’t require the rising action of a leavener.

Because baking soda is so important for many reasons, you may want to keep it on hand instead of baking powder. But, baking powder has its place in baking, too. To simplify things, you can use baking soda to make your own baking powder. “For every teaspoon of baking powder, use 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar, and 1/4 teaspoon of cornstarch.”

Now that we have demystified baking leaveners, you can make substitutions with confidence. It can also help you troubleshoot a quick bread that wasn’t quite perfect. Or maybe that was my recipe that needs some tinkering.

Chewy Vegan Brownies

chewy vegan browniesI have to say, I tried making brownies many times at 7000 feet and then at 5000 feet. From a mix. From scratch. Classic baking. Modern style. Still brownies always eluded me. I tried to veganize so many recipes but all I did was waste some quality chocolate. Then, I finally achieved success by using an already vegan recipe.

I decided, after about the fifth attempt, that altitude wasn’t my problem. Making a non-vegan recipe into a vegan one was the issue. Vegan butter substitute doesn’t act anything like milk butter. It’s made from oil and water and doesn’t hold a recipe together when melted as classic recipes dictated. My pan came out of the oven looking like it was filled with boiling toffee. So I tried unmelted vegan butter and still I failed.

The next problem, I reasoned, was using melted chocolate. My attempts were more like fudge than brownies. So I finally abandoned the classic brownie recipe I was trying to recreate. Instead I used a modern vegan version with cocoa powder instead of melted unsweetened chocolate. Success was mine.

So, what did I learn? You need eggs and butter to complete a brownie recipe that call for melting the chocolate and butter. And, sometimes it’s easier to adapt a vegan recipe to high altitude than it is to veganize an altitude-friendly recipe. Oh, and success tastes so good.

Chewy Vegan Brownies adapted from ChowHound.com
1 cup + 1 TBS all-purpose flour
3/4 cup vegan sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup + 1 tsp almond milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegan semisweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350°F. Line an 8-by-8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper.
Place flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Place applesauce, maple syrup, milk, oil, and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add wet mixture to dry and fold in with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
Scrape batter into the prepared baking dish. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, for 32-34 minutes. Place pan on a wire rack to cool before serving. Store any uneaten brownies at room temperature.

Until next time, happy baking!