A Month of Cookies

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

My plan is to spend March making cookies. That’s a whole bunch of cookies, so I may freeze some. I’ve never had to worry about freezing cookies before 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 (if needed) and then freeze them and see how they come out. If I have any left over. Uh, not likely.

The recipes start with the deadly Chocolate Mint Cookies with crushed candy canes from a mystery (with recipes) called Candy Cane Murder. Then we move on to shortbread cookies that I will dress up by dipping and sandwiching with jam. Next are Peanut Butter Agave Cookies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. (Viva la invasion). Our final delicious tryout is a classic – Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.

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 Vegan Cookie Month.

Easy Chocolate Cake-Pan Cake

Chocolate Cake-Pan CakeAre you are looking for a simple, vegan cake recipe that is delicious? You, and I, are in luck because I have one. This is adapted from a vintage recipe and the method can’t be easier – you mix and bake in the cake pan. It’s tasty, it’s moist and it’ll will be gone so fast you may want to make two of them.

The cake was initially egg and dairy free so I just had to make it high altitude. I reduced the sugar, baking soda and vinegar while adding more flour and liquid. The liquid called for was cold water, but my chocolate-loving husband wanted more chocolate flavor so I used chocolate almondmilk. I also added mini chocolate chips to keep him happy.

Chocolate Cake-Pan Cake adapted from King Arthur Flour
1 1/2 cups + 2 TBS all-purpose flour
1 cup – 1 TBS vegan sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate
1/2 tsp salt
scant 3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup + 1 TBS cold chocolate almondmilk
Preheat oven to 350°F. Measure all dry ingredients into an 8″ x 8” x 2” cake pan. Blend the ingredients together thoroughly with a whisk and scoop out three holes. Pour the vanilla into the first hole, the vinegar into the second, and the vegetable oil into the third. Take the chocolate milk and pour it directly over everything in the pan. Stir all ingredients together with your whisk until they are well blended. Don’t forget to stir the sides, bottom and into the corners being careful not to scrape the pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the sides of the cake start to pull away from the pan. Serve right from the pan.

This cake brings back fond memories of Snackin’ Cakes from the 70s. Do you remember those?

Dazzled by Science

science moleculeHigh altitude baking is fairly simple while still being somewhat difficult. The science is best described by Pat Kendall in High Altitude Baking: “The reason for most baking problems at high altitude is lower atmospheric pressure due to a thinner blanket of air above…This decreased pressure affects food preparation in three related ways.

  1. Leavening gases expand more quickly
  2. Moisture evaporates faster from foods
  3. Water and other liquids boil at lower temperatures

In addition, because the climate of higher altitude areas is usually drier than that of lower altitude areas, flour may be drier and doughs may therefore require more liquid to reach the proper consistency.”

The most troublesome baked goods are cakes as the decreased pressure may cause excess rising which can lead to coarse texture or a fallen cake. To solve this you can do any or all of the following: decrease baking soda, baking powder, or sugar; or increase liquids, flour, or oven temperature. I also cross my fingers on occasion.

This may all be a bit daunting, but I have found that the more I adapt recipes the simpler it seems. Don’t get me wrong – I am still impressed and ecstatic when baked items turn out right!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

red velvet cupcake 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 month 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 and vanilla. Part of 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.

Red Velvet Cupcake adapted from Babycakes by Erin McKenna
cupcakes
3/4 cup + 1 tsp vanilla soymilk
2 TBS apple cider vinegar
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 TBS baking powder
scant 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup + 3 TBS agave nectar
3 TBS vanilla extract
5 TBS natural beet food coloring
frosting
1/2 cup vegan shortening
1/2 cup vegan margarine
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups organic powdered sugar
1/4 cup soymilk
natural beet food coloring, as desired
For Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 325F. Line two 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners. Pour milk and apple cider vinegar into a small bowl, but do not stir; set aside to develop into “buttermilk.” In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add oil, agave nectar and vanilla to dry ingredients and stir to combine. The batter will be thick. Using a plastic spatula, add “buttermilk” and mix just until combined. Slowly add food coloring. Pour 1/3 cup batter into each prepared cup, almost filling it.
Bake cupcakes on center rack for 20-22 minutes, rotating the tins halfway through baking time. Finished cupcakes will bounce back slightly when pressed, and toothpick inserted in center will come out clean. Let cupcakes stand in tins for 10 minutes, then transfer them to wire rack and cool completely. Spread frosting over each cupcake. Store cupcakes in an airtight container for up to three days.
For Frosting: Cream shortening and margarine in a stand mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, a cup at a time, until mixed well. Add soymilk and food coloring and blend until light and fluffy.

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

Happy Valentine’s Day, and 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 CraftyBaking.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 Crafty Baking 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 will 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 or some sliced fruit. It can only complement your baking.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Chocolate Chip Banana BreadThis bread is one of the first vegan recipes I ever tried back when I was at sea level and baking was easier. I still love this recipe, though, because it doesn’t require a lot of tools or equipment – you just need a few bowls and a whisk. It’s pretty quick to assemble and uncomplicated. It is also very yummy.

To alter the recipe to my tastes, I used all-purpose and whole wheat flour instead of spelt and deleted the date pieces. I also used fewer chopped walnuts and less nutmeg, and swapped canola for safflower oil. At altitude I added moisture with the addition of more banana and apple sauce, and adjusted the amount of baking powder and flour. Okay, I guess this is loosely based on the original.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread adapted from the award winning Vegan World Fusion Cuisine‘s Bananananda Bread
Dry
1-1/2 cups + 2 TBS all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/8 tsp nutmeg, ground
Scant 1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Wet
1-1/4 cups mashed extremely ripe banana
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup + 2 tsp natural apple sauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350F with rack in lower third of oven. Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until mixed well. Combine wet ingredients in a larger bowl, add dry ingredients and mix well. Pour into a 5×9” Teflon loaf pan and bake for 51-53 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out dry. Leave to cool in pan.

Until next time, happy baking!

What is Vegan Baking?

wedding cakeI 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, gelatin, 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 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, from the now closed Joseph’s Dessert Company, 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! (The picture above shows the cake that my husband and I helped design.)