Valentine’s Day and Chocolate Musings

chocolate strawberries

Image courtesy of Lindsey Turner at flickr.com

Ah, Valentine’s Day and the smell of chocolate is in the air. A traditional holiday treat is truffles and I often make them this time of year. But they aren’t baked and this IS a blog about baking. Fortunately, most of my recipe posts contain chocolate so any would be fantastic for the Holiday of Love. Red Velvet Cupcakes are a winner, as well as Chocolate Mousse Pie, although I would take a simple chocolate strawberry. Both of these ingredients are considered aphrodisiacs so they are right on the mark.

My goal has been to try and find healthier recipes to bake this year. The chocolate covered strawberries alluded to above aren’t baked, but they can be eaten alongside a healthy cookie and still fall into the “healthier” category. They also have the all important ingredient of chocolate that my husband demands to be in all desserts. (He took last week’s healthy Tahini Oat Cookies and dipped the last few in chocolate just as an experiment.)

I would like to know if you, dear reader and baked treat lover, have any recipes you would like me to experiment with to make healthier. They don’t need to contain chocolate but if they do they will get eaten faster at my house. Is there a baked good that you want to see me adapt?

Surprisingly Good Tahini Oat Cookies

Tahini Oat CookiesThis recipe comes from dubious beginnings – I was just looking for a way to use up extra oats I had ground. I was skeptical about these cookies because although I have been trying to bake healthier, these seemed too healthy. What emerged from my oven was a pleasant surprise. They taste a bit like peanut butter cookies but are more complex and with a hint of caramel. Even my chocoholic husband went back for more.

The cookies were already vegan, so the high altitude changes I made were adding flour and reducing baking powder. I also added milk for a moisture boost. They can easily be made nut-free depending on the type of non-dairy milk chosen.

Surprisingly Good Tahini Oat Cookies adapted from the Whole Foods blog
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup + 1 TBS whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
2 tsp arrowroot
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 TBS sesame seeds
1/2 tsp non-dairy milk
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Grind oats in a blender until coarsely ground. Place in a bowl and whisk together with flour, baking powder and salt. Combine maple syrup, tahini, sesame oil, arrowroot and vanilla in a blender and blend until smooth. Stir tahini mixture into oat mixture.
Spread sesame seeds onto a large plate. Form small balls of dough with your hands and roll the balls on the plate to coat with seeds. Tap to release excess seeds. Arrange dough on prepared baking sheets 2” apart. Bake until cookies are golden brown on bottom and puffed, 13-14 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. Makes 24 cookies.

Until next time, happy baking!

Reducing Fat for Healthier Baking

pureed fruit

Image courtesy of Tim Sackton at flickr.com

In keeping with my resolution to bake healthier, I have examined ways to reduce fat in recipes. Most eaters know that fat adds flavor, but it’s important to know what else fat does in baking in order to see how to reduce it.

Fats “main functions are to shorten or tenderise the product (and) to trap air during creaming and so … give good volume and texture. … It is important to add the correct amount of fat as too much … will make the baked product greasy … while too little fat will leave you with a product that lacks flavour and stales quickly.”

For a tender treat, you can sub pureed fruits or vegetables as many “contain pectin, which acts similarly to fat to ‘shorten’ or tenderize baked goods. Unsweetened applesauce, mashed bananas, pureed prunes, or canned pumpkin puree work best. … You can replace half of the fat in a recipe with an equal volume of pureed fruit or vegetable.” I find this trick works well in cupcakes, muffins and breads.

It seems that pureed fruits and vegetables are best used to make a tender crumb but not as a substitute in recipes that require volume added to the batter. For these instances I still rely on my vegan butter substitute. It’s great when a recipe calls for the fat to be creamed to trap air. However, a baked good can still be made with a reduced amount of fat by replacing half of the fat with pureed produce. For a successful reduced-fat recipe, try my Chocolate Chip Banana Bread.

Addictive S’mores Cookies

S'mores cookies

S’mores cookies

These are not the prettiest cookies I have ever made. But what they lack in looks they more than make up for in flavor. Seriously, I can’t stop eating them. But, I digress.

I was looking for something to test out my new “Super Flegg” of whipped aquafaba and flaxseed meal. I also had stale marshmallows in the cupboard which are a required ingredient in this cookie. Thus, I had a great place to start. I veganized the recipe by using vegan margarine instead of butter and the Super Flegg for eggs. I also added milk to the ingredients to help with the dryness at high altitude.

After getting the dough mixed I had my concerns. The dough was very dense, in fact I used my hands to incorporate the chocolate chips and marshmallows. I was scared that these would be hockey pucks. Then magic occurred in the oven. The brown lumps that emerged had a wonderful texture reminiscent of, well, campfire s’mores. And the taste was sublime. I had a cookie I could use to showcase the “Super Flegg” and my tummy was happy.

Addictive S’mores Cookies adapted from food52.com
1 cup vegan miniature marshmallows
6 TBS aquafaba (aka chickpea brine)
2 TBS flaxseed meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup black cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup vegan margarine
1/2 cup vegan sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 TBS almond milk
1 1/4 cups dark chocolate chips
Put marshmallows in an uncovered bowl and leave out overnight.
Combine aquafaba and flaxseed meal in a bowl and let sit for 15 minutes to form a flax egg. Whip in a stand mixer for 3 minutes and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, graham cracker crumbs, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. In a stand mixer, cream margarine and sugars. Add whipped flax egg and vanilla to stand mixer bowl and beat until well incorporated. Add almond milk. Slowly add flour mixture, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl. Stop mixing once dough is fully blended and don’t overmix. Stir in chocolate chips and marshmallows and mix evenly.
Chill dough 15 minutes before baking. Spoon heaping tablespoonfuls of dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets and flatten slightly. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes. The cookies should be set on the outsides but still soft in the middle. Let cookies cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Makes 30 cookies.

Until next time, happy baking!

Super Flegg – A Perfect Egg Substitute

Flax seed for the super flegg

Image courtesy of veganbaking.net at flickr.com

In the past I brought up the topic of egg substitutes, notably the two choices of flaxseed meal and aquafaba. The flaxseed egg (aka flegg) is a common choice for vegans because it is easy to make while holding ingredients together and providing moisture. The downside of the flegg is that it doesn’t provide airiness and can make a baked good dense when used in larger quantities. We also have the new kid on the block – aquafaba. The texture of the brine is very similar to egg whites and it contains protein which is a boon at altitude. So, what is the next step? A combination of the two, or what I refer to as “The Super Flegg.”

I’ll back up for a moment and revisit each individually. Since writing my post on egg substitutes, I have discovered that the recipe for a flax egg that I cited was not the same as the majority of other recipes I have since found. I revise my proportions to those recommended on veganbaking.net. They state:
Flax Meal Egg Replacer Recipe
This recipe makes the equivalent of 1 egg.
3 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon golden flax meal
1) Grind the golden flax seeds into a meal in a blender or spice grinder.
2) Add the water to a small bowl or cup. Add the flax meal and mix together with a whisk or fork. Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes so it develops a gelatinous texture similar to a raw egg. Warm water will speed up this gelling process.

My post on aquafaba touted the chickpea brine as being useful for high altitude baking because it offered the protein needed to maintain structure in a baked item. The problem I saw was its density. Those using aquafaba mentioned that it didn’t need to be whipped when used as an egg replacer, but now I had two dense items to work with. The solution – try whipping the two together.

When an egg is used in a baking recipe it is usually whipped. “Egg proteins and many other types of proteins can be denatured by heat but also by friction such as kneading or whipping.” The denatured proteins “join together and trap air bubbles. This is why eggs foams work so well in leavening cakes.” So, to emulate an egg better I needed to use it as one would use an egg. By whipping the two replacements together I had my perfect egg substitute – A Super Flegg.

You will see recipes in the future with The Super Flegg alongside recipes using other substitutes for those who like options. As always, I will search out and test anything that can make baking vegan at high altitude just a little easier.

Gingerbread Spice Muffins

gingerbread spice muffinsTo embrace a new year of healthier baking, I thought I’d start with a muffin. Homemade muffins are generally lower in sugar and fat so I had a lot of options. My search found a very healthy muffin – it had nutrient-rich molasses as one of the sweeteners as well as the addition of whole wheat flour. It also contained anti-inflammatory ginger and superfood cacao nibs. Healthy, here I come.

To make adaptations for high altitude, I added flour and almond milk while reducing baking powder. I also added cardamon along with the other spices because, well, I like cardamom. The result was muffins with a flavor reminiscent of gingerbread cookies. They were light and airy but dried out a bit after two days because I didn’t store them in an airtight container. It’s okay – they weren’t around long enough to dry out completely.

Gingerbread Spice Muffins adapted from a recipe on deliciousliving.com
3/4 cup + 1 TBS all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 cup + 1 1/2 TBS almond milk
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 TBS molasses
2 1/2 TBS canola oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
4-5 tsp cacao nibs
Preheat oven to 350F with a rack in oven middle. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. In a medium bowl, sift flours, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. Whisk lightly to aerate. In another medium bowl, whisk milk, maple syrup, molasses, oil, and vanilla. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.
Divide the batter evenly among 10 muffin cups. Scatter cacao nibs over tops. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out muffins and cool completely on rack. Makes 10 muffins.

Until next time, happy baking!

Resolution to Try Baking Healthier

Healthy Baking Resolution

Image courtesy of Carol VanHook at flickr.com

As the year comes to an end, people think about things they should do to improve next year. I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s Resolutions because they are usually so absolute and stringent – I will exercise every day; I will be nice to people; I will write a best-selling novel. The pressure is incredible and often leads to disappointment. So, instead of making a black-or-white statement, my vow to myself (and to you) is that I will TRY to make healthier food.

When I tell others that I am a vegan baker, they usually respond with, “So it’s healthy, right?” My answer is not what they expect. “Even if it’s vegan it’s still a cupcake.” A cupcake, or cookie, or cake is still a baked treat and not health food. I have tasted healthy baked goods that reminded me more of dog treats, but I know that you can still have a bit of decadence that is somewhat healthier.

In the coming year I will attempt to make baked treats that are healthier. I will look at healthier fats or fat stand-ins when tweaking recipes. I will also include more whole grains, when feasible, and use less refined forms of sugar. And, I will occasionally throw in a veggie or two.

There, I said it. But I consider it a suggestion, not a steadfast rule. And that works for me.

Have a great New Year, and happy baking!