Flourless Fudge Cookie Failure

chocolate cookie failure

chocolate cookie failure

When I write blog posts, they usually include a few words about how the baked good was altered and include a recipe. Well, not this week. I have spent 8 hopeless days trying to produce an egg white based flourless cookie by using Aquafaba (the bean liquid from chickpeas). The substance makes a wonderful meringue cookie and is supposed to act in other eggy ways. I’ve used it in my super flegg egg substitute, but never as a stand-in for egg whites. It’s apparently going to require quite a few more trials.

The recipe for a flourless fudge cookie sounded like a challenge, but not as great a one as it turned out to be. The recipe called for whisked egg whites. I replaced them with whisked aquafaba and got an ooey gooey un-cookie like substance. Next I thought to whip up the chickpea water in the stand mixer to get more volume, but was still unsuccessful. Then I tried switching brands of canned chickpeas and discovered that the included brine varied immensely and a thicker liquid got me closer to a cookie but not exactly. The baked cookies were a bit gooey and rubbery at the same time, although my hubby thought they were good dipped in espresso.

So, today’s post will not include a recipe. This egg white substitution is still a failure and requires more testing. And more research. I plan to get it right one day, just not today.

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Baking Bread at High Altitude

breadYeast scares me. When a recipe includes yeast it also includes hours of time until you actually get to eat. Instant gratification is much better. I can go from gathering ingredients for cookies to eating them in less than 1/2 hour. But I understand that many people love the meditative qualities and joy of baking bread. In order to help those bakers out, I have delved into the science of bread baking at high altitude.

According to Taste of Home, “High altitude (over 3,000 feet) affects bread baking because the lower air pressure allows the yeast to rise 25 to 50 percent faster, and the drier air makes the flour drier. If the dough over-rises, the results might be a heavy, dry loaf or misshapen or collapsed loaf.” The lower air pressure and dryness affects all baking but may have a more drastic effect on bread. I would eat a dry chocolate cookie, but dry, leaden bread … never!

Cultures for Health includes other specifics that affect high altitude bread baking, including adjustments to time. Increasing baking time is important. “The amount of extra time depends on the exact elevation. The easiest way to judge when a loaf of bread is finished baking is to use a thin-tipped instant-read thermometer inserted into the bottom of the loaf. A temperature of 195°F is a good goal, but temperatures all the way up to 205°F should be fine.”

They mention that proofing time should also be changed. “Rising time decreases as altitude increases. Keep in mind that the longer the rise time, the more complex the flavors will be, usually a desirable goal. Try rising at cooler temperatures and giving the dough a second rise. When the dough has doubled, punch it down and let it double again.”

These all seem like good tips to ensure a beautiful loaf of bread. I’ll stick with quick breads for now, but I’m hoping my favorite taste tester can use these recipes to create his perfect cinnamon roll. I look forward to being his taste tester.

Is chocolate vegan?

Chocolate Bar

Image courtesy of Lisa Salamida at flickr.com

You’re at the grocery store to purchase goodies for a vegan baking spree. You look at your list and think, “Vegan Chocolate … that’s easy, I’ll get dark chocolate. It’s vegan.” Although that sounds like a no-brainer, unfortunately it is not always the case. It would be nice if it were true, but since it’s not here are some pointers to lead you to the vegan stuff.

You will want to stay away from milk chocolate, as you realized with your initial instinct to buy a dark variety. To find a viable dark version, PETA recommends to “always look for a high percentage of cacao, between 55 and 85 percent—the higher the percentage, the purer the bar. Also, be sure to check the ingredients, as some brands’ dark-chocolate bars still contain dairy products. Avoid chocolate that has a long list of ingredients, because chances are that some of them are fillers.”

While you are looking at the ingredient label, also keep in mind that quality chocolate will have “pure ingredients and no additives. The ingredients will be simple: cocoa, cocoa butter, lecithin, sugar and sometimes vanilla. And that’s it.”

By now you have read the ingredients, checked for the short-list, and deemed your chocolate worthy. But there is one last step – look for food crossover warnings. These might say “Manufactured on the same equipment that also makes products containing milk” or “May contain milk.” If you don’t see these sentences proclaimed in tiny print, you should be safe.

By now you are thinking that chocolate comes from a plant (Theobroma cacao to be precise), so why isn’t it vegan? Good question. It was simpler in the past, but in recent years manufacturers have been adding butterfat for a creamy “mouth feel.” So now some varieties of dark chocolate are no longer non-dairy.

This is making my head spin. Maybe I should just stop baking with chocolate. Hmm, not likely.

A Love of Baking and Science

baking loveThe other day I was talking to a friend about my favorite past-time – baking. She had heard that baking was very relaxing, almost meditative. She apparently hasn’t watched me bake. I have heard that activities like kneading bread can be very zen-like, but baking vegan at high altitude is very rational and involves lots of math. My friend said she wouldn’t enjoy it, but I reassured her that I do all the hard work and all a reader has to do is follow recipes. She liked that.

This conversation reinforced why I have my blog. I am fascinated with the science of baking and, trust me, baking with multiple substitutions is scientific. But, others are not as intrigued as I am and just want to bake something that looks and tastes good. I get that, but half of the fun for me is the challenge. I. Will. Make. This. Recipe. Work.

There is also the sense of accomplishment when I peek through the oven window and see a baked creation that I fussed over come to life. Sometimes that fussing takes multiple tries, so it is even more rewarding when I finally succeed. And it’s always good to know I haven’t wasted a pile of expensive baking ingredients. (Have you seen the cost of coconut sugar?)

And then there is the look on my husband’s face when he asks for more, especially when it is a recipe that I am not sure will tantalize his taste buds. Like last week’s zucchini bread, for instance. My husband’s idea of dessert is half a tray of brownies. Zucchini bread seemed far too healthy, even though I added chocolate chips for a chocolate fix. Much to my surprise, he was disappointed when I ate the last piece and there was none left for him. So, happily, I go back into the kitchen to make more … all in the name of science and love.

Vegan Cooks Are Like Other Cooks

chef toque

Image courtesy of Jessica and Lon Binder at flickr.com

Admittedly, I love watching cooking shows, a habit that began when I was seven. I learn techniques, get food inspirations, and often walk away hungry. Nowadays, thanks to the internet, I can even get my food fix listening to all manner of cooks via webinars and recorded interviews.

Over the past few years I have been attracted more to healthier cooks. On The Next Food Network Star I find myself cheering on those who cook for nutritional needs, and I loved when the first vegan baker won on Cupcake Wars. But there is one interesting thing I’ve noted – vegan cooks are just like other cooks. The vegan ones may say a word about loving animals, or not, but all cooks share an interest in creating memorable food. Their eyes light up when talking about how food comes together.

It’s this passion for making good food taste good that attracts me to food preparation. There were times when my only interest in food was to make hunger disappear, but now I am fascinated with how food is made. I am also inspired to experiment with other people’s ideas and make them better for me, improving on taste and texture to suit my appetite.

These inspirations lead me into the kitchen with thoughts whirring in my head – should I use less oil, I’ll substitute an ingredient I like better, that bread would bake better at high altitude as mini loaves. It’s the creativity in food that makes me want to create a wonderful dish. As a matter of fact, there is a recipe I saw the other day that I want to adapt. I guess I should go get started.

The Low-Down on Rhubarb and Crumbles

rhubarb

Image courtesy of Whitney at flickr.com

In my blog on Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble I mentioned that I had to scour the internet to do research for the post. I was only briefly familiar with rhubarb and needed to learn more in order to make a tasty treat. SeriousEats.com told me that “rhubarb—technically a vegetable, but usually treated like a fruit (is) … puckeringly tart when raw (and) is especially tasty when its sourness is tempered through cooking with sugar and/or pairing with sweet fruits … Note: Only the stalks of rhubarb plants are edible, while the leaves are poisonous.”

Once I got the info on the rhubarb plant, I went off in search of ways to bake it. I saw a multitude of recipes labeled “crumble” or “crisp” that looked like the same type of recipe. They are almost identical, but a little detective work uncovered their differences. “Crumbles and crisps are very similar … They both contain fresh fruit with a streusel-like topping that gets baked until the fruit is cooked … The original difference between the two lay in the streusel topping: crisps would contain oats and crumbles would not. In an actual crisp … the oats in the topping crisp up as it bakes, hence the name.”

At that point I had enough data to start my baking experiments. Strawberry was often paired with rhubarb so that was a good place to start. Also, it’s strawberry season and fresh berries were plentiful. I ended up with a crumble and not a crisp because it seemed easier, and who doesn’t like dessert to be simple. Next I threw in a little “healthy” and my Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble was born.

Protein is a Vegan Baker’s Friend

protein powder

Image courtesy of las – initially at flickr.com

While baking at high altitude, I discovered that added protein helps maintain texture that could be lost by the lower air pressure. The hard part with vegan baking is that many ideas for egg substitutes are carbohydrates and not proteins. Experimenting with higher protein flours adds the protein but can make a baked good dense. Tofu and yogurt can also create a more dense texture so they are best saved for fudgy items. So, what to do when you want something light and airy?

The answer may be in Terry Hope Romero’s latest cookbook, Protein Ninja. When faced with the age-old question of where a vegan gets protein, her idea was Protein Powder. No, she doesn’t want people replacing all meals with a protein shake. Instead, she adds the powder to, among other things, baked goods. When I read that the hamster in my head nearly gave himself a heart attack running on his wheel so fast.

Hmmm. Protein powder. Muffins. Cakes. Pancakes. Cookies. Brownies. But, is it a simple flour replacement? She warns that taste, texture and sometimes color will be altered, but suggests that protein powders can be lighter than high protein flours. Her book does explain that “protein powders seem to suck up more liquid than most flours (but) adding a small portion of dense, moist ingredients … provides some must needed moisture.”

My mind is racing with ideas. I must go buy protein powder. Then on to the kitchen to experiment. Stay tuned and I may just surprise you with a healthy and decadent protein-laden baked treat.