Different Types of Chocolate Powder

Cocoa Powder

Image courtesy of Lisa Brewster on flickr.com

Chocolate is good for you. Lucky for us bakers! Where baking recipes are involved, chocolate can be added in the form of chips, bars, nibs or powder. Generally it’s easy to figure out which form to use, but on a trip down the baking aisle you can find the powdered version as cocoa and cacao. What’s the difference?

Julie Morris, Navitas Naturals Executive Chef, explains on their blog. “Cacao is the raw form of chocolate. It comes directly from the cacao tree, which fruits colorful pods that are filled with large cacao seeds, called cacao beans. When these beans are ground up finely, cacao powder is the result…Cacao powder is unadulterated pure chocolate (while) cocoa refers to processed cacao… (Both) taste similar: like unsweetened chocolate.”

Because the taste is similar, I choose cacao for its health benefits. Cacao is minimally processed so it retains its beneficial antioxidants. Also, it “may be packed with brain-boosting compounds” called flavonols. So, eating that second piece of cake will make me smarter.

After eating more chocolate, my brain was spurred to gain other knowledge. You’ll see some recipes calling for cocoa powder that specify “Dutch-process.” Is this the same as “natural” cocoa powder? Food52 explained: “Natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder is pure roasted cocoa beans — with most of the fat removed — ground to a fine powder. With all of the flavor but a fraction of the fat, cocoa powder is … bitter and strong. Dutch-process or alkalized cocoa is chemically processed to reduce the acidity and harshness of natural cocoa (which then) alters the flavor of the cocoa and darkens the color.”

Research on Wikipedia revealed that taste isn’t the only difference between the cocoa powders. Dutch process cocoa is not acidic like natural cocoa so “it cannot be used in recipes that use baking soda as the leavening agent, which relies on the acidity of the cocoa to activate it. Rather, Dutch process cocoa can be used in recipes that use baking powder (instead of baking soda) for leavening.” I also learned that the Dutch processing was, indeed, invented by a Dutchman. In case you were wondering.

All this talk of chocolate is making me hungry. I’m going to go snack on a few squares of healthy dark chocolate. I’ll worry about baking later.

Summer Celebration Strawberry Cheesecake

strawberry cheesecakeOn this summer solstice, strawberries are sweet and fresh and make a perfect dessert. A cheesecake would make a beautiful way to present them, or so I thought. I tried several types of recipes – entirely raw, with a cashew cream base, with macadamia nuts – and none of them turned out quite right. I couldn’t get textures and flavors that were reminiscent of a classic cheesecake. Admittedly I had never made a cheesecake before, vegan or not, but I didn’t think it should be this hard.

After much trial and error, which included a gummy dessert that was inedible, I decided to combine the parts of recipes that I liked to make the perfect whole. I chose a baked crust that added hemp seeds for a change of taste and then combined it with a strawberry cheesecake recipe where I replaced vegan items for their non-vegan counterparts. With a few more minor tweaks, including more flour for altitude and blueberries as a colorful garnish, I achieved a cheesecake worthy of a summer celebration.

Summer Celebration Strawberry Cheesecake adapted from a Hemp Hearts Crust and a Strawberry Cheesecake
CRUST
1 1/2 cups + 2 TBS almond flour
1/2 cup hemp seeds, lightly crushed
scant 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
5 TBS coconut oil, melted
2 TBS agave nectar
STRAWBERRY TOPPING
1 pound fresh or frozen strawberries, washed and stemmed
1/4 cup vegan sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1/4 oz vegan gelatin, strawberry flavored or unflavored
CHEESECAKE
1 pound vegan cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup vegan confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups strawberry topping (see above)
1/2 cup soy creamer
blueberries for garnish
For crust: Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together almond flour, hemp seeds, salt and cinnamon. Stir in coconut oil and agave nectar. Using your hands, spread mixture into a greased 9” springform pan. Flatten using the bottom of a glass. Bake for 12-13 minutes, until golden brown along the edges. Set aside to cool.
For strawberry topping: In a pot, add strawberries, sugar, vanilla bean pod and seeds and 2 TBS water. Cook over medium heat until strawberries are soft. Remove vanilla bean pod and use an immersion blender to puree the fruit. Sprinkle gelatin over 2 TBS cold water in a small bowl. Allow it to sit for 2 minutes. Transfer gelatin to the strawberries and gently cook over low heat, whisking just until gelatin is completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Reserve 3/4 cup strawberry mixture for the cake top.
For cheesecake: In a stand mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar on medium-low speed with paddle attachment until smooth. Add vanilla extract. Add strawberry topping, except reserved 3/4 cup. In a separate bowl, whisk creamer. Replace stand mixer attachment with the whisk attachment. Add creamer to cheesecake batter and whisk until it is all combined. Pour cheesecake into prepared pan. Tap pan gently on counter to bring any air bubbles to surface. Let it sit, uncovered, in refrigerator for 2 hours or until it is set to the touch. Once cheesecake is set, pour remaining 3/4 cup strawberry topping over it. If the topping has set up in pot, gently heat it for a minute, just until it is pourable. Place the cheesecake back into the refrigerator and allow to set, uncovered, for another 30 minutes, or until the topping is set. Decorate with blueberries. At this point it is ready to serve or you can cover the cheesecake with plastic and it can sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Before unlocking the springform pan, run a knife around edge of the cheesecake to loosen it.

Until next time, happy baking!

Picking the Right Baking Pan

More pans

Image courtesy of Abbey Hendrickson on flickr.com

When I first moved to high altitude I noticed that baked goods seemed to sink at the center – not just vegan, but all types. I also realized that the larger the baked item (i.e. a cake versus a cupcake) the larger the crater. That made me think that if you removed the center then you could, potentially, remove the crater. The conclusion was that I would have to start baking in different pans to make better looking and more evenly baked goodies.

I started working with bundt pans for a centerless cake. Using a chart for Baking Pan substitutions I took a cake recipe for an 8 x 8” pan and baked it in my bundt pan. I started with a shorter baking time and checked every 5 minutes until it was done. Success! I had a perfectly baked cake with a great look.

Next was applying the same logic to quick breads. If I used mini loaf pans instead of a regular sized loaf pan then I should get a good result. I divided up the batter and greatly reduced the baking time to account for smaller loaves. Checking every so often I found the perfect length of time to bake the breads, and I ended up with tops that didn’t resemble lunar landscapes. For a chart to help calculate changing loaf sizes and corresponding bake times, see Crafty Baking again.

Now I apply this concept to all my high altitude baking except drop cookies; they don’t rise much so they don’t fall and cause craters. After a bit of shopping, I have specially divided pans for bar cookies and smaller pans to bake cakes in. The only problem I have now is that my pans tend to cater to bite-sized eating and my husband misses layer cakes. I guess that’s a project for the future.

Now you know my secret to making beautiful baked goods at high altitude.

Fruit and Oat Bars

fruit and oat barsThis recipe was inspired by a trip to the farmer’s market. I purchased several jars of unusual flavored jams but couldn’t figure out what to do with them. Then I decided that I could incorporate all of them as a distinct filling for oat bars.

I found a recipe that was already vegan, so I only had to add a few modifications. To increase flour for high altitude and give more protein for structure, I swapped out a small amount of flour for almond flour. For health benefits, I used coconut sugar instead of some brown sugar.

Now the fun began – playing with flavor combinations. I used 2 oz each of seedless marionberry, elderberry, wild cactus, and rose petal jams. When I added the marionberry and elderberry jams, I sprinkled only those flavors with chocolate chips. With the wild cactus and rose petal jams, I sprinkled them with cardamom before adding the topping. So grab all of those partially eaten jars of jam from the fridge and get started.

Fruit and Oat Bars adapted from Earth Balance Raspberry Lemon Bars
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 less 2 TBS cup all-purpose flour
2 TBS almond flour
1/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed down
11 TBS vegan margarine, cold
8 oz jam, one or several flavors
1/4 cup sliced almonds
2 TBS coconut sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3 TBS chocolate chips
Toast oats and almonds on separate pans in 350F oven for 8 minutes. Remove from trays to cool. In a food processor, pulse together cooled oats, flours, flax seed, brown sugar and margarine until just mixed and crumbly. Reserve 3/4 cup of crust mixture and press remainder firmly into the bottom of an 8 x 8″ pan that has been lined with non-stick foil. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes.
While the crust is baking, warm jam in a hot water bath made by heating a small amount of water in a large pan and gently warming the jars of jam. When the crust is out of the oven, spread sections of jam across the crust. To make the topping, pulse the toasted almonds in a food processor along with the reserved crust mixture, coconut sugar, and salt. Sprinkle topping and chocolate chips over jam and press to adhere. Bake at 350F for 25 minutes or until filling is bubbling and topping is browned. Place on a rack and cool completely. Use foil to remove from pan and slice into bars. Store in an airtight container.

Until next time, happy baking!

The Importance of Flour

vintage enamel flour container and scoop

Image courtesy of H is for Home at flickr.com

Flour is a main ingredient in most baking recipes and the type of flour chosen can make a huge difference in the final product. It’s also useful to consider flour nuances when making substitutions in vegan and high-altitude baking, so understanding flour will help you be your best baker.

Joy of Baking’s website explains, “Flour contains protein and when it comes in contact with water and heat it produces gluten, which gives elasticity and strength to baked goods. Different types of flour contain different amounts of protein. Therefore using a different type of flour than what is called for in a recipe … will alter the outcome of the baked good.”

All-purpose flour tops the wheat flour charts with 10-12% protein, although this is sometimes not enough to maintain structure in goods baked at high altitude. As explained in a previous post, baking at higher altitudes can result in crumbly textures. Protein is what helps keeps the batter structure together so upping protein in a recipe can be the solution. But then, by veganizing a baked good, you lose the protein provided by the eggs so you now need even more protein. This can be achieved by substituting some of the flour with a higher protein variety (i.e. almond or garbanzo bean flour) or by using tofu as an egg substitute. These fixes helped my baking because I found that packaged egg replacer (made from potato starch) fell flat in my baked beauties.

Another important baking aspect is how to measure flour. I’ve read recipes that say to pack the flour into the cup and some that say to lightly pour it in. Joy of Baking mentions what I learned decades ago to be the proper way: “When measuring flour spoon your flour into a measuring cup and then level off the cup with a knife. Do not pack it down. Flour gets compacted in the bag during shipping, so scooping your flour right out of the bag using your measuring cup will result in too much flour.” And too much flour makes for heavy cookies and tough bread. When you follow my recipes, this is the method of measuring that I use so for best results you should do the same.

These are just a few ideas on how flour impacts baking. I hope they get you started on making your best looking baked goods.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Patties

chocolate peanut butter patties I must confess – I have never had the Girl Scout Cookie “Tagalong.” I was a Thin Mint girl. But, when I saw a blog with Homemade Tagalongs (shortbread with a blot of peanut butter and a chocolate coating), I decided it was time to try them. Of course they needed to be vegan and high altitude. No problem.

I have another confession – I never look at how many cookies a recipe is supposed to make. This time I should have. It said to make 3 dozen while I made only 2 dozen of the most rich and decadent things around. Okay, maybe not such a bad thing.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Patties adapted from love and olive oil
cookies
1 cup vegan margarine, room temperature
1/2 cup organic sugar
2 cups plus 2 TBS all purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 TBS soymilk
filling
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
pinch salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
coating
8 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 TBS vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 370F. In a large mixing bowl, cream together margarine and sugar. Mix in flour, baking powder and salt at a low speed, followed by the vanilla and milk. The dough should come together into a soft ball. Take a scoop of dough and flatten it into a disc about 1/4-inch thick. Place on a baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough. Cookies will not spread much, so you can arrange them fairly closely together.
Bake cookies for 22-24 minutes, until bottoms and the edges are lightly browned and cookies are set. Start with the sheet on a rack in the lower 1/3 of the oven and move them up to the top rack half-way through baking time. Immediately after removing cookies from the oven, use a small spoon to make a depression in the center of each cookie. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
For Filling: mix together peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar, salt and vanilla in a small bowl. Put in a plastic zip bag and work with your hands until it is soft. Cut a corner off the bag and pipe a dome of the filling into each cookie’s “thumbprint.” Chill filled cookies for 20 minutes, or until the peanut butter is firm.
Melt the chocolate and oil in a small, heat-resistant bowl placed over a small saucepan filled with simmering (not boiling) water. Dip chilled cookies into chocolate, let excess drip off, and place on a sheet of parchment paper to set.

Until next time, happy baking!

Egg Substitutions: The What and Why

EggsHow do you swap out eggs to veganize a non-vegan recipe? There are dozens of egg substitutions for a vegan baker, but it wasn’t until I moved to high altitude that I discovered that they each have different results. Baking science at altitude is tricky, so the properties of each substitute should be examined to find the right one for your baking project.

Eggs are used in baking for several functions – binding, leavening, and adding moisture. Adding eggs for proper binding ensures that your treat doesn’t fall apart after it’s baked. A leavening agent makes things rise during baking, and when the proteins in egg whites are heated they explode and make the baked good light and fluffy. The yolk of the egg adds richness and moisture when used in baking.

In a previous post, I discussed how baking at altitude causes problems such as coarse texture or a fallen cake due to excess rising. The decreased air pressure causes a quicker rise and then a subsequent fall from a weakened protein structure. With an already weaker structure, it’s almost inevitable that the removal of the protein-filled egg will wreak even more havoc. Thus, I decided that my egg substitutes should not be starch based, like commercial egg replacers. I needed extra protein in my baked goods.

Armed with that knowledge, I looked to replace eggs in standard recipes with protein-rich substitutes. I searched The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions for these suggestions:

  • If the original recipe is for baked goods like cookies and cakes, then eggs can be used for binding. To replace 1 egg, use:
    1/4 cup blended silken tofu OR
    2 1/2 TBS flaxseed meal whisked with 3 TBS warm water
  • If the original recipe is for baked goods like fluffy cakes or quick breads, then multiple eggs are used for leavening. To replace 1 egg, use:
    1 TBS mild-flavored vinegar combined with nondairy milk to curdle and make 1 cup OR
    1/4 cup non-dairy yogurt
  • If the original recipe is for baked goods like muffins and cookies, then eggs can be used for moisture. To replace 1 egg, use:
    1 tsp nut butter combined with non-dairy milk to make 1/4 cup
  • I also found out that bananas hold air bubbles well, which makes a baked item airy and moist. 1/4 cup mashed bananas can sub for 1 egg when used to leaven or add moisture.

When choosing a substitute don’t forget to take into consideration that some substitutions will alter the flavor of your baked treat. I have dabbled with the idea that higher-protein flours (such as soy or garbanzo) might offer high altitude help but they, too, will affect the flavor profile. Experiment ideas for another day.

Now that you know the whys of high altitude egg substitution, you can figure out the what for your next recipe.