Earth Day Cupcakes

earth day cupcake

Earth Day cupcake

I wanted to celebrate Earth Day in style, so a special cupcake had to be created. I’d seen cupcakes baked in terra cotta pots but that seemed too complicated. So I got a few small decorative pots at a craft store and decorated away.

To start I needed a firm cupcake to hold up to the decorations. I found a dense cupcake recipe and used the Neat egg as a sturdy egg replacer. (It also gave me a chance to try the Neat egg.) Then I added water and flour for high altitude. Next, I reduced baking soda for altitude and reduced sugar knowing the toppings would be extra sweet. The last step was to get creative with the decorations. I hope you like my homage to Mother Earth.

Earth Day Cupcakes adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking
cupcakes
1/2 cup Navitas unsweetened cacao powder
1 cup + 1/2 TBS boiling water
Neat egg substitute for 1 egg
1 cup + 7 TBS all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegan margarine, softened
1 cup + 3 TBS organic sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
frosting
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 chocolate almond milk
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
decorations
crushed chocolate cookies
basil sprigs
gummy worms
For Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350F and line a 12-cupcake pan with paper liners. In a small bowl combine cocoa and boiling water. Stir well and set aside to cool. In another small bowl prepare the Neat egg replacer according to package instructions. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer beat together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the Neat egg and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes. With the mixer set on low, add the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. After the last flour is mixed in, beat for 1 minute until smooth.
Divide the batter evenly among the 12 liners. Bake 22-24 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 crushed chocolate cookies on a plate and dip the cupcake in until frosting is covered. Insert a basil sprig and a gummy worm into the cupcake and put in terra cotta pot.

Until next time, happy baking!

Vanilla Extracts – Are they all the same?

vanilla

Image courtesy of Kim at flickr.com

When I was gathering baking ingredients in the kitchen, my husband remarked on the vanilla extract. He noted the fancy bottle I had and told me that once, when he was young, his mother sent him to the store to get vanilla extract. He bought the largest bottle he could with the money he was given, and that suited his mother. I wanted to gag, but didn’t want to be seen as a vanilla snob. Well, maybe I am. You will find no cheap imitation varieties on my shelves. But, in the name of baking science, I thought I should explore vanilla extract further.

To start, there are many varieties of vanilla beans that are steeped in alcohol to yield the distinct vanilla extract flavor. Frontier, sold in many grocery stores, carries four varieties of the extract, each with subtle differences. There is Tahitian Vanilla with a “fruitier and more floral aroma.” There is also Indonesian Vanilla from “Indonesian vanilla beans (that) are processed in such a way that their intense flavor holds up to cooking well.” Then they offer Papua New Guinea Vanilla which “is extremely sweet, floral and delicately nuanced.” Another type is a versatile Uganda Vanilla that is sweet, rounded and full.” Okay, I did say the differences were subtle. To choose a variety may be a matter of taste and use.

The difference between Imitation vanilla and Pure vanilla is less subtle. Upon smelling Imitation vanilla I can immediately confirm I don’t want something tasting like that in my baked goods. Am I alone in this concept? Apparently not. The kitchn took to the task of asking baking experts if it was worth it to pay the price for pure vanilla. The conclusion was that you “get what you pay for — pure vanilla has much more depth of flavor.” One expert summed it up by responding to the question of when they insist on using pure vanilla extract: “Always! I’d rather use nothing, as the taste of artificial vanilla varies from insipid to nasty. Pure vanilla not only has a delicious taste of its own; it also enhances other flavors.”

I do suppose I am not a complete vanilla extract snob; I do not insist on making my own. (It might be laziness). If you decide to venture into the realm of making your own, check out Frontier Co-op’s recipe here. And please let me know how you did. I bow to your extra efforts taken in the name of baking your best.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pan Cookie

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pan Cookie

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pan Cookie

Have you ever wanted to make cookies but didn’t want to deal with pulling cookie sheets in and out of the oven? I was craving cookies but was too lazy to babysit cookie sheets, so I made a pan cookie. It’s basically a cookie in a baking pan that makes one big cookie with less work than baking up a few dozen. It’s instant cookie gratification.

There was a recipe that made a version of a pan cookie, but I made a few changes. I didn’t have the pan size called for so I reduced the ingredients to fit in the pan I had. (It’s times like this that make me glad I am a math person.) Then I changed the egg substitute to my new favorite – aquafaba. I also found the amount of salt to be what I deemed a typo – the first try made extraordinarily salty cookies – so I changed it accordingly. I also added flour and reduced baking soda to account for high altitude.

After the cookie was done and cooled, I used a star cookie cutter to make pretty cookies. Then I could pretend that I slaved over rolling and cutting dough to make cookies. It’ll be our little secret.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pan Cookie adapted from Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Cake
1 1/2 cups + 2 TBS whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup vegan margarine, softened, plus extra to grease pan
3/4 cup sucanat sugar
3 TBS aquafaba
1 TBS almond milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup peanut butter, unsalted
3/4 cup vegan chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease an 8 x 8” pan with vegan margarine. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together vegan margarine and sugar on low-medium speed until light and fluffy. Add aquafaba, milk, vanilla and peanut butter to sugar mixture and beat well. Slowly add dry flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. Using a spatula, fold in chocolate chips until combined. Add batter to prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake until cookie is lightly browned on the outside, but still slightly under-cooked in the center, for 15-16 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Until next time, happy baking!

Gluten-Free Flour Madness

oat flour

Image courtesy of jacqueline at flickr.com

Here in the Decadent Vegan Baker test kitchen the flour is flying. All kinds of flour – chickpea, almond meal, rice flour, amaranth flour – as I try to come up with a vegan, high altitude, and gluten-free baked good with a great texture. I have baked from recipes and discovered that removing gluten can make treats more like tricks. They become gummy and dense or hard and crumbly. Or, worse yet, they don’t ever rise. But a blog post on the Bob’s Red Mill website may have solved some of my problems.

When creating a gluten-free flour blend, they recommend that “for an all purpose flour blend use a ratio of 1/3 light flour and 2/3 heavy and/or medium flour.” When I looked back at the recipe I made that turned out very gummy, I realized the author used mostly light flours. “Gluten free flours are classified based on their protein content. Heavy flours assist in creating the structure of baked goods, as do medium flours. Light flours aid in binding and moisture retention.” Baking is all about the science so this began to make sense. The light flours didn’t contain enough structure to create a nice texture in my baking. They just made the batter moist and pasty.

Some examples of the different weight flours as mentioned on the Bob’s Red Mill blog post are as follows:
Heavy Flours – almond meal, coconut flour, and garbanzo bean flour
Medium Flours – amaranth flour, brown rice flour, and oat flour
Light Flours – arrowroot starch, potato starch, and tapioca flour

Armed with this knowledge, I plan to revisit some gluten-free recipes to make sure they follow Bob’s guidelines. I am hoping that with the proper flour weight ratio, I can better adapt recipes for some yummy treats. My gluten-free friends are hungry!

Carrot Cake with Icing

carrot cake

With spring comes … bunnies, and … carrots. With spring also comes carrot cake. And this carrot cake was such a delight to make because it turned out great the first time I adapted it. Even my chocoholic hubby came back for more. It’s light and fresh, just like spring, and its filled with good-for-you ingredients. If you don’t add the glaze it’s even refined-sugar free.

The first step in adapting this recipe for high altitude was to find a slightly smaller pan size to avoid a crater in the middle of my cake. The sparkling water was already in the ingredients as the egg substitute, and it helped keep the cake from crashing in the center. Next, I sifted the dry ingredients to incorporate more air and loft. Last, I reduced the baking soda. All of these actions made for a lighter than air cake which made me so happy as I had feared the carrots would weigh everything down.

So, without further ado, I give you:

Carrot Cake with Icing adapted from TheWholeServing.com
topping
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cups oats
cake
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup + 1.5 TBS all-purpose flour
scant tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
2 cups shredded carrots
1 tsp orange zest
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sparkling water
icing
1 cup powdered sugar
2 TBS almond milk
Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly grease a 10×10” pan. In a bowl combine brown sugar and oats for the topping. In a large bowl sift together flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Place carrots and orange zest on top of dry ingredients in bowl. In another bowl whisk together milk, maple syrup, vanilla and oil. Mix in sparkling water. Gently fold wet ingredients into dry and mix until well combined.
Transfer mixture to baking pan and spread evenly in pan. Sprinkle topping over surface of the batter. Bake for 26 to 28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. For the icing, mix together powdered sugar and milk until well combined. When cake has cooled, drizzle glaze over cake. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Until next time, happy baking!

My high-altitude, vegan, gluten-free baking journey

Mini Cakes

Image courtesy of Monik Markus at flickr.com

When I first moved to altitude I didn’t start baking immediately. I didn’t know I needed to until I sampled a fair amount of (awful) local cookies and cakes. That made me realize that if I wanted vegan treats with good taste and texture, then I had to make them myself. And I had to figure out how.

My first research source was Colorado State University. I requested their booklets on recipes for high altitude. Granted, these titles didn’t have the word “vegan” in them, but I figured I’d take one step at a time. Back then I only concerned myself with “dairy-free” and there were plenty of substitutes for dairy items. So, manned with my substitutes, I started baking for high altitude.

The immediate problem with the booklets is that the recipes called for shortening and all white flour. These weren’t the healthier ingredients I was hoping for, but I thought I could adapt things. Of course, when I substituted whole wheat flour in some baked goods they got too heavy. Add to that the density of dairy-free margarine and I encountered a few problems. So, what to do?

The next step was to find good vegan recipes and use some high-altitude tips. Oddly enough this worked better for me than making a high altitude recipe vegan. Even though I was examining baking science, I found that the lack of egg or butter made some high altitude treats unappealing.

As I take on the next venture of adding gluten-free to my bag of baking tricks, I find myself at a crossroads again. I have made gluten-free treats but found I couldn’t adapt the recipes to high altitude without massive failure. So I turned back to those pamphlets from the University and discovered one I forgot about entitled “Wheat, Gluten, Egg and Milk-Free Recipes.” Upon reading the brochure I saw a tip that recommended baking at lower temperatures for longer times when making products that are without gluten, milk and eggs. They also mention that low-gluten items get improved texture if they are refrigerated before baking.

Armed with my new hints for successful high-altitude, gluten-free and vegan baking, I run enthusiastically back into the kitchen. Who knows? I may get it right someday.

Key Lime Pie Tarts

key lime pie tarts

key lime pie tarts

Pi day is tomorrow (3.14) and I wanted to celebrate with pie. The problem is that I don’t like crust so I’m not fond of pie. There is just one that I adore – Key Lime Pie. By making it I also thought that I could sneak in a nod to St. Patty’s Day with a “green” pie, although I ended up not adding food color. But the lime still evokes green, and I made crust!

The recipe I found was already vegan, so that part was easy. With the simple tart crusts I did not need to make high altitude changes. The adaptations I made were for other reasons. To start, I was going to visit a gluten-free friend so I found gluten-free, vegan cookies for the crust. It took some searching but Enjoy Life brand fit the requirements.

The other major change was to make a chocolate crust. When I was a kid I used to make a Key Lime Pie from packaged ingredients with a premade chocolate crust. The flavor combo of deep chocolate with tart lime was heaven. I recreated those tastes here and bumped up the chocolate by garnishing the mini pies with shaved chocolate. Memory lane can have some tasty moments.

Key Lime Pie Tarts adapted from Minimalist Baker
Crust:
1 1/4 cups gluten-free chocolate cookie crumbs (from about 5 oz of cookies)
2 1/2 TBS canola oil
Filling:
1 cup raw cashews, soaked for 4-6 hours (or overnight), then drained
3/4 cup full fat coconut milk, well shaken
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
3-4 large limes or 6-7 key limes (1 Tbsp zest, 1/2 cup juice)
1/3 cup agave nectar
Garnish:
shaved dark chocolate
Preheat oven to 375 F and line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners. Add cookie crumbs to a food processor and process until you achieve a fine meal. Add oil and pulse to combine; you should get a consistency like wet sand. Distribute evenly among muffin tins and press down with the bottom of a shot glass to flatten. Bake 10-12 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
Add filling ingredients to a blender and blend on high until creamy and smooth. Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more lime juice for more tart, or more agave for added sweetness. Pour filling into muffin tins and tap on counter to release air bubbles. Cover loosely. Freeze for 1/2 hour, then garnish with shaved chocolate. Return to freezer for 1-3 hours or until firm. Remove from freezer for 10-15 minutes to thaw before serving. Store in refrigerator.

Until next time, happy baking!