How To Make A Pretty Cookie

Chocolate Peppermint CookiesDuring National Vegan Cookie Month, I baked a lot of cookies. I experimented with different ways of preparation and baking, and I discovered something amazing – Cookie Scoops do make a difference.

While making a batch of cookies, I had only enough dough at the end to make a few so I rolled them by hand instead of scooping them. They were baked the same amount of time as the others but they turned out drastically different. They spread more making them crunchier and, frankly, they were uglier.

I should reveal that I have used scoops only occasionally in the past; they just seem too fussy. And I never drop cookies from spoons because of the awkwardness. Generally I roll the cookies into balls with my hands and flatten them slightly once on the cookie sheet. I didn’t realize that there is an art form and a science to using cookie scoops until I did some research.

Upon visiting King Arthur Flour’s website, I discovered an article on using cookie scoops for drop cookies (i.e. chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal). First off, the baker compares using a teaspoon cookie scoop to using a regular spoon and says, “The finished cookies include some that aren’t perfectly round; but they look pretty good. Unlike my spoon-scooped cookies, the cookies are all basically the same size.”

The baker also notes that using a cookie scoop saved time and kept the baker’s hands clean. Plus, scoops come in various sizes so you can choose from bite-sized to huge. This gave me insight into the benefits of using a scoop, but I didn’t get an explanation on why my cookies spread until I delved deeper.

I moved on to an article discussing cookie spread. “(Why) does baking temperature affect cookie spread? Because the fat in cookies is a big part of their structure, prior to baking. Scoop the dough onto the baking sheet, and the fat is at least partially responsible for them holding their shape.” I thought about oven temps and realized that the temperature of my hands became a factor in how they baked. My hand heat must have started to melt the fat and caused them to lose shape before they even hit the oven.

So, what did I learn? That cookies are finicky!! For a perfect looking cookie, baby the dough by using a cookie scoop instead of your hands.

Jelly Spice Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

Jelly Spice Cakes This recipe was touted as a vegan cupcake that resembled a jelly donut.  The idea is that a blob of jelly placed on the cupcake top would bake inside and be like a donut. It sounded wild enough to run through my challenge.

Assuming that the cupcake might fall flat under the weight of the jam, I threw all of the high altitude alterations at it. I added soymilk and flour while reducing baking powder and sugar. For health reasons I replaced some of the white flour with whole wheat flour, and swapped arrowroot for cornstarch. Also, because I felt like it, I used cinnamon instead of some nutmeg.

Other high altitude tricks I used were to put the cupcake tin on a rack in the lower third of the oven, raise the oven temperature, and bake for less time.

With all these changes I was worried the cupcakes would fail so I put the oven light on. Was I glad I did! It was fun to watch the batter rise gracefully until the jelly finally succumbed and was enveloped.

The cupcakes had a light crumb but were too spicy to resemble a jelly donut. They were more like a spice cake combined with a jam dot cookie. On a hunch I decided to enhance the jelly flavor with peanut butter frosting instead of the powdered sugar called for in the recipe. Mmmm…always follow your hunches!

Jelly Spice Cupcake with Peanut Butter Frosting adapted from VegNews Magazine
cupcakes:
1 cup + 2 TBS soymilk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 TBS arrowroot
1 cup + 3 TBS all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup + 1 tsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup raspberry jam
frosting:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup vegan margarine
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 TBS soy milk
for garnish:
2 TBS powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 370F and line a 12-cupcake tin with paper liners. In a measuring cup, combine soymilk, vinegar, and arrowroot. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Create a well in the center of the flour for the wet ingredients. Mix soymilk mixture with a fork to dissolve the arrowroot and pour into the flour mixture. Add oil, sugar, and vanilla, and mix well.
Fill liners with batter until almost full. Place a heaping spoonful of jam into the center of each cupcake, being careful not to overfill. The jam will sink into the bottom of the cupcake during baking. Bake cupcakes for 16-18 minutes. Prepare frosting by blending the ingredients until smooth and creamy, adding milk to achieve the desired consistency. Cool cupcakes completely on a wire rack. Apply frosting and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Until next time, happy baking!

What is Vegan Sugar?

sugarWhen I started baking vegan, I realized that there were a few new ingredients I would be using – egg substitutes, non-dairy milk, vegan margarine. I thought everything else would be okay until I heard about vegan sugar. My first thought was, “Vegan sugar? Why would sugar NOT be vegan?”

Upon doing research I found out that most sugar in the United States is whitened with charred animal bones. “A bone char filter acts like a crude filter and is most often used first in cane sugar refining… (It is) the most efficient and most economical whitening filter.”

That led me to my search for vegan sugar. I found some at my local natural foods store, but then it disappeared from the shelves. What was I going to use now? Enter organic sugar.

By definition, organic sugar has not been refined with bone char. “To maintain its organic integrity, organic sugar is only minimally processed or not refined at all. Since bone char is not on the National Organic Program’s National List of Allowed Substances, certified USDA organic sugar cannot be filtered through bone char.” Whew.

There are other choices for sugar that is vegan. “Sugar in bags labeled ‘100% Pure Beet Sugar’ was never passed through a bone char filter. Molasses, turbinado, demerara, and muscovado sugars are never filtered through bone char. Evaporated cane juice is also bone-char free.” These sugars are darker in appearance because they have not been whitened, but they generally have a similar sweetness and can replace white sugar measure for measure in recipes.

So, when you see me list ‘sugar’ in my recipes, know that you can try any of the ones I listed above. I usually use organic sugar, but it’s all a matter of taste.

Amazing Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

chocolate chip cookiesI was told that my month of cookies was severely lacking – no chocolate chip cookies. To remedy that I found a recipe that may not have been easy, but the scent that wafted out of the kitchen took me back in time.

Vanilla, chocolate, mmm…oh, sorry, I got distracted. I started with an elaborate recipe and then made many changes to it. It called for coconut oil as the fat. I tried it that way the first time and they were almost too rich and very oily. In the second trial I substituted vegan margarine for most of the coconut oil. I kept a little for that wonderful fatty mouthfeel that makes a delectable chocolate chip cookie.

The other ingredient changes were standard: less baking soda and sugar; more flour and applesauce. I also used less vanilla because I realized the amount required was to sweeten the bland taste of the coconut oil. The original recipe was gluten free, so I substituted that flour with all-purpose flour and removed the xanthan gum to make my high-altitude life easier. Finally, I added extra chocolate chips because more chocolate is always good.

In my first attempt the cookies flattened out and ran into each other. So, the second time I put the dough in the fridge for five minutes before scooping onto the cookie sheets, and then rotated them halfway through baking time. Third try was a charm when I baked one sheet at a time.

Imagine a vegan chocolate chip cookie that tastes like the Toll House version from childhood. I tried not to inhale the first four that came out of the oven. I really did. Alas, I failed. They were that yummy.

Amazing Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted from Babycakes by Erin McKenna
3/4 cup vegan margarine
1 1/8 cups organic sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
1/4 cup + 1/8 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 TBS + 1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups + 2 TBS all-purpose flour
1/4 cup flax meal
1 scant tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups vegan chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325F. In a stand mixer bowl, cream margarine and sugar. Add oil, applesauce and vanilla, and combine. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, flax meal, baking soda, and salt. Add to wet ingredients and combine. Using a rubber spatula, fold in chocolate chips just until they are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
Put the dough in the fridge for 5 minutes to harden. Use a 2-inch ice cream scoop to make evenly sized dough pieces and place onto baking sheets. Gently press down on each cookie with the heel of your hand. Bake cookies one sheet at a time, for 18-20 minutes, rotating baking sheet midway through. Cookie should still be soft in the center with crisp edges. Let cookies stand on baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Yield: 32 cookies

Until next time, happy baking!

The Great Cookie Freezing Experiment

milk splashDuring my month of baking cookies I saved a few from each batch to see how they would freeze. I had never tried this before because when I bake there aren’t any leftovers. But after a month and many dozens of cookies, I was willing to offer some up to freezer science.

For this experiment, I started with Tips for Freezing Baked Cookies from thekitchn.com:
“All cookies should be frozen individually after they’ve cooled completely, meaning they should be placed on a baking sheet, not touching, until frozen solid (they can be frozen like this in layers separated by parchment, wax, or freezer paper).”
So, I separated six cooled cookies after each baking session and froze them individually. Then I placed them in zip plastic bags in layers separated by waxed paper. I squeezed out the air and laid them flat in the freezer to wait.

When time had passed, between five days and two weeks depending on the cookie, I removed the cookie bag from the confines of the freezer. I thawed a few treats out on a plate and ate them as is. I also tried this advice, again from thekitchn.com: “You can gently reheat frozen or thawed cookies to mimic that fresh-baked taste and texture: place them in a 275F oven and check on them after 10 to 15 minutes.”
I definitely preferred the baked cookies. They were warm, fresh out of the oven, and reminded me of freshly baked cookies. The thawed-on-the-counter cookies seemed a bit more dry, and didn’t have the enticing fragrance of warm cookies. But neither had the slightly chewy inside that I like.

What did I learn from all this? If you don’t have time to bake, then cookies from the freezer are better than boxed. But, baking cookies from scratch is definitely worth the time because the texture is perfect and the house smells AMAZING!

Liebster Award for Vegan Baking Up High

liebster awardI was graciously nominated for a Liebster Award by fellow bloggers at thyme for tofu (I have to try their recipes, notably the vegan baked ziti). Thanks! It was great feedback to keep me blogging, even when I can’t eat or bake another cookie.

At Wording Well, I discovered this about the award: It is awarded to bloggers by other bloggers, and it is similar to a chain letter. “The choice lies within each of us to ACCEPT it, and continue PAYING IT FORWARD or to refuse to accept it, thereby STOPPING or INTERRUPTING the chain.”

Upon deciding to accept, I opted to answer the probing questions asked me by Thyme for Tofu. Here we go:

  • What is your favorite kitchen tool? My stand mixer. C’mon, I’m a baker.
  • What is your number one tip for blog photography? I’ll pass on a tip I read somewhere – Don’t take a bite out of the food. No one wants to think about digging into already eaten food.
  • What is your guilty pleasure food? So Delicious’ new Salted Caramel Cluster Cashew Milk Ice Cream. Oh, yeah.
  • Do you have a go to spice? Cinnamon. It’s great in drinks, savory dishes, dessert. And, it reminds me of the holidays.
  • Why did you start blogging? When I moved to high altitude, vegan baking took on a whole new and difficult side. I had to bake each recipe MANY times to get it right. I decided that my efforts needed to be shared to save others the time.
  • Have you always eaten the type of food your recipes show or was there a change in your diet to get there? I have baked since I was a kid, but I didn’t change my baking until I found out I was allergic to dairy. At that time baking vegan just made sense. Now I eat vegan regularly and it makes more sense.
  • Do you repeat meals frequently? I have a few go-to meals when I am pressed for time. But, generally, no. I crave variety.
  • What are your top 3 meals? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner ;-)
  • Who do you cook for? Me. My husband. Anyone who is hungry that is near me.
  • What is the most important meal of the day? My breakfast oatmeal. The brain needs fuel in the morning.

Now, per the award rules, here are the blogs I nominate:
All She Does Is Eat
Cardiac Self-Arrest
Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism
Elemental Aromas
Elisa Bosley
The IJPHA
The Vegan Fold

Lastly, here are the questions for my nominees:

  • What inspired you to start blogging?
  • How much time do you spend each week on your blog?
  • What do you do when you’re not working or blogging?
  • You’re stranded on an island – what drink do you have (besides water)?
  • If you were limited to eating 4 foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?
  • What is your least favorite food?
  • What food have you never used that you’d like to learn more about?
  • What is your favorite kitchen tool?
  • If you could compete on a food tv show, which would it be?
  • If you have had “the perfect bite of food,” what was it?

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

chewy oatmeal raisin cookieI have a confession to make. Before trying this recipe I had never made oatmeal cookies before. That could be why I innocently pushed forward when things seemed strange. The batter was wet and loose and I couldn’t form a rounded cookie; I thought the oatmeal might soak up the liquid. Nope. They spread like crazy and I ended up with a sheet-pan sized cookie.

Upon analyzing the disaster, I made some major modifications in the recipe. The flour to oats ratio was off, so I added loads of flour and used fewer oats. There was also too much milk and too little baking soda. Generally for high altitude you add a little moisture and reduce leaveners, but in this case I did just the opposite. Then I adjusted the spices – I think all cinnamon and no cloves enhances the raisins. Ah, the sweet taste of success.

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies loosely adapted from about.com
1/2 cup vegan sugar
1 cup organic brown sugar, packed
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup vegan margarine, cold
1/3 cup plain soymilk
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350F. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and margarine until smooth and fluffy. Beat in milk a little at a time until well combined.
In another bowl, add flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and stir until well mixed. Add flour mixture to the bowl of the stand mixture and blend to combine. Add oats and blend to combine. Remove bowl from stand mixer and stir in raisins.
Drop dough balls the size of 2 TBS onto cookie sheets and flatten slightly with your hand. Bake for 14-16 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies will be slightly soft and chewy. Yield: 2 1/2 dozen cookies

There were leftovers because my widespread family requested cookies. On their behalf, I will freeze some and see how they fare later.

Until next time, happy baking!