Valentine’s Day Trifle

Valentine Day Trifle

Valentine Day Trifle

You have probably already realized that Valentine’s Day is in a few days. You may want to make a grand dessert for the occasion, but it could require planning ahead. So, today I offer you the idea of making a trifle, with shortcuts for a quicker reward.

If you are new to the world of a dessert trifle, here is the definition from Merriam Webster, “A dessert typically consisting of plain or sponge cake often soaked with wine or spirits … and topped with layers of preserves, custard, and cream.” This English treat, fit for a King, has many components and can take a few days to make. But, if you are okay with straying away from a traditional format, you can still come up with a winning dessert.

The base of this treat is usually a white cake however, any sturdy cake will do. You can easily use my Strawberry Tea Bread, as you will break it up into chunks before placing it on the bottom of your trifle bowl. Also, this layer is often doused with wine, but I prefer to see this as optional. I think that the tasty bread will offer plenty of flavor without adding alcoholic spirits.

After that you will need something custardy. You can choose any custard, but chocolate mousse is what I pick for my chocoholic family. A good option is the mousse from my Chocolate Mousse Pie with Cookie Crust and Raspberry Coulis; you will not need to make the crust from this recipe.

Next up is a layer of fruit. There are many selections that can be chosen from this category. Try jam, roasted fruit, or fresh berries (fresh strawberries would nicely complement the tea bread.) Here again is the option to add alcohol, if you desire. You can also use the Raspberry Coulis from the post mentioned above.

Traditionally the next item would be a creamy sauce, but I like to simplify this. Ice cream is fun to add, as long as it’s spooned in at the end and the dish is served immediately. The great part about using ice cream is that there are so many flavors to choose from. That, and the fact that you can grab a pint out of your freezer without worrying about making something else for this layered goody.

The final piece of the trifle puzzle is a garnish for the top. It can be anything, but if your last layer was ice cream then an apropos choice is something that could be included in an ice cream sundae. For my dessert I chose a sprinkling of my Lavender Granola. After that I spattered melted chocolate on it, à la artist Jackson Pollock. I think it adds a bit of whimsy. It also adds a taste of chocolate to a dessert that some people (like my husband) would consider lacking in chocolate immersion. But, I suppose, you can make every layer a chocolate version and bowl over your chocolate-loving sweetheart.

Until next time, happy baking!

Becoming a Better Baker

cocoa testing

Becoming a Better Baker: cocoa test

If you have searched through my blog archives, you will see that I have been writing posts for quite some time. I began by adapting my favorite baked recipes through trial and error —countless trials leading to many errors. There were tips I tried and suggestions that I followed. Many of the strategies were used multiple times and in varying recipes. All of these experiments led to my becoming wiser and my belly getting fuller.

After time I learned to understand my altitude, my oven, and even the brands of products that I used in baking. Each variation had subtle differences that I would not have experienced had I not gone exploring. Sometimes cracks in the surface of a baked good would appear, other times cracks would go away. With some recipes I created a good item, and with other recipes I created real winners. But, my approach to baking always included a bit of guesswork along with the mathematical conversions. So, I decided to up my game.

For the past few months I have been taking an online vegan dessert class at Rouxbe Culinary School. The students are taught the fundamentals of the how and why of dessert creation. We are given basic instruction in the ways of a pastry cook, although I believe I am currently the only one dealing with high altitude. Fortunately I have baked enough at higher altitudes that I can put my spin on my assignments.

What does this mean for you, my hungry reader? My recipes will be more refined as I will be armed with the knowledge I get from the class. I have learned to be more precise (Is dutch process cocoa or natural cocoa best in the recipe? Should a sugar be ground first?), and this will lead to recipes that are easier for you to replicate. My wish is that I can offer recipes that you can successfully enjoy.

Forgive me, but I must go now. I have a cake to bake for class …

New Year’s Eve Spiced Nuts

New Years Eve spiced nuts

New Year’s Eve spiced nuts

The following snack is fun to have on-hand to munch on this New Year’s Eve. Its decadent taste can get you through until the grand dinner is served, or it can be eaten alongside any cocktail. You can choose one nut, or a mixture as I did. The flavorings can also be chosen to suit your palate, making this a munchie with endless combinations.

Traditionally, flavored nuts use egg white as a coating, which is decidedly non-vegan. But the recipe I found uses a double toasting and a wet coating to bring out the taste. It originally made a sweet nut, but I wanted something savory for a change. Whether you prefer sweet or more herbaceous, this is still a treat worthy of any celebration.

New Year’s Eve Spiced Nuts adapted from Quick Candied Nuts by America’s Test Kitchen

1 cup unsalted nuts (such as a mix of walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and cashews)
1 TBS spices (such as a mix of dried rosemary, smoked paprika, ancho powder, and garlic powder)
1/2 tsp organic sugar
1 TBS hot water
1/8 tsp sea salt

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F. Spread nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant and slightly browned, 8 to 12 minutes, shaking sheet halfway through toasting. Transfer nuts to a plate and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. If doing more than one type of nut, then toast each individually as they have different cook rates. Place dirty baking sheet aside.

Grind together all spices in a spice grinder until powdered and mixed. Line now-empty sheet with parchment paper. Whisk spice blend, sugar, hot water, and salt in a large bowl until sugar is mostly dissolved. Add nuts and stir to coat. Spread nuts on baking sheet in a single layer and bake until nuts are crisp and dry, for 10 to 12 minutes.

Transfer sheet to a wire rack and let nuts cool completely, for 15 minutes. Nuts can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Until next year, happy baking!

Peppermint Chocolate Holiday Cupcakes

Peppermint Chocolate Holiday Cupcakes

Peppermint Chocolate Holiday Cupcakes

Holiday dessert flavors to me will always be chocolate and peppermint, perhaps because I love candy canes and believe all desserts should have chocolate. Hot chocolate benefits from a bit of peppermint syrup, and a peppermint-filled chocolate bar is always welcome in my house. So, to get my go-to chocolate cupcake into the holiday spirit, I filled and topped them with peppermint.

To my veganized, high-altitude chocolate cupcake recipe, I had to inject some peppermint flair. I added peppermint extract to the frosting, which I then piped into the cupcake with a round tip and swirled on top with a star tip. To make things even more festive, I crushed a bit of candy cane and added the bits to the frosted cupcake. Happy holidays, and happy eating!

Peppermint Chocolate Holiday Cupcakes

cupcakes
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup chocolate almond milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup organic sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 TBS all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
generous 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

frosting
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine
3 1/2 cups organic powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1/4 cup almond milk

decoration
crushed candy cane bits

For the Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350F and line a 12-cupcake pan with paper liners. Whisk together the milks and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, and vanilla to the milk mixture and beat until foamy.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat just until no large lumps remain. Pour evenly into the liners, filling three-quarters of the way. Bake 18-19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

For the Frosting: Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat for 3 more minutes. Add the extracts and milk and beat for another 5-7 minutes until fluffy. Frost each cupcake and place crushed candy cane bits on top.

Until next time, happy baking!

Party Dips: Butternut Squash and Dessert Hummus

dessert hummus and butternut squash dips

dessert hummus and butternut squash dips

The holidays are near and people will soon gather to share a meal. Dinner is the star, but having something to nibble on before and after is important to maintaining a jovial atmosphere. A tasty dip or two makes a great snack, especially if there are savory and sweet choices. With that in mind I located a squash dip to serve as an appetizer, and a dessert hummus with chocolate.

The great thing about dips is the lack of high altitude challenges, so these dishes merely needed a bit of veganizing or a personal touch. The Butternut Squash Dip appetizer is a recipe by Carsen Snyder for New Hope Network. My changes altered it from vegetarian to vegan. With the Superfood Dessert Hummus I put my spin on it by using extra peanut butter, because chocolate loves peanut butter, and adding lucuma powder (a superfood, like cacao) for a smoothness and depth of flavor. Whether you offer these spreads before or after a big meal, they will be a big hit.

Butternut Squash Dip adapted from the article “New Ways with Winter Squash”

1 large butternut squash (about 4 pounds), halved and seeded (or pumpkin)
1 TBS olive oil
1 1/4 tsp salt, divided
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup tahini
1 cup plain, unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
1 TBS apple cider vinegar
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp allspice

Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out seeds. Drizzle olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt over cut side of squash halves. Place squash, cut side down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover squash loosely with foil, and bake for 1 hour. Once cooked, remove foil and let squash cool slightly.

Scoop flesh from cooked squash halves into a food processor. Add garlic, tahini, yogurt, vinegar, paprika, allspice and remaining 1 teaspoon salt; blend until creamy. Pause to push sides down if necessary. Scoop dip into a serving bowl, and chill for 1 hour or overnight.

Serve with dippers, such as veggies and crackers. Makes 5 ½ cups.

Superfood Dessert Hummus adapted from Chocolate Chickpea Spread
1 15-ounce can chickpeas
2 TBS creamy peanut butter
3 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup Navitas Organics cacao powder
1/2 cup Navitas Organics coconut palm sugar
1.5 tsp Navitas Organics lucuma powder
1 tsp instant coffee powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
3 – 4 TBS water

Put all but the water into a food processor and puree, scraping down the sides as needed. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the water until the desired consistency is reached. Serve with dried or fresh fruit.

Until next time, happy non-baking and Happy Holidays!

A portion of this post was provided by New Hope Network. I am a member of the New Hope Influencer Co-op, a network of health and wellness bloggers committed to spreading more health to more people.

Chocolate Chip Banana Cake Pan Cake

Chocolate Chip Banana Cake Pan Cake

Chocolate Chip Banana Cake Pan Cake

The very ripe bananas on my counter were calling my name. Although I do love my Chocolate Chip Banana Bread, I wanted something more decadent and more banana-y. A banana cake seemed appropriate. With plenty of mashed bananas in an easy cake pan form, the recipe I found sounded perfect. I just had to make it vegan and high altitude friendly.

To veganize it, I used whipped aquafaba instead of eggs. I also traded butter with Earth Balance Original Buttery Spread. (Note: I did not use the sticks because I wanted the lighter texture of the spread.) To help counter the affects at altitude I added more liquid and flour. However, vegan banana baked goods can be heavy so I added apple cider vinegar and a smidgen of baking powder to boost the lift.

Chocolate Chip Banana Cake Pan Cake adapted from Banana–Chocolate Chip Snack Cake

1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1/3 cup aquafaba, cold (the liquid from canned chickpeas)
2 cups + 1 TBS all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
scant 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup vegan buttery spread (see note above)
1 cup + 3 TBS vegan sugar
1 cup mashed bananas (2 to 3 bananas, very ripe)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup vegan chocolate chips

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 350F. Grease and flour an 8 x 8” baking pan. Stir apple cider vinegar into the non-dairy milk and set aside. Add aquafaba to a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk for 5 minutes. Place whipped aquafaba in a separate bowl, and replace the whisk attachment on the stand mixer with the paddle.

Whisk the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder together in bowl. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat the buttery spread on medium-high speed for a minute. Add the sugar and beat for 2 more minutes. Fold in whipped aquafaba. Add bananas and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, scraping down bowl as needed. Stir in half of the chocolate chips with a rubber spatula.

choose very ripe bananas

choose very ripe bananas

Transfer the batter to prepared pan and smooth top with the spatula. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips evenly over top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let cake cool completely in pan on wire rack. The cooled cake can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Until next time, happy baking!

Crispy Apple-Pear Crisp

Crispy Apple Pear Crisp

Crispy Apple Pear Crisp

Happy National Dessert Day, everyone! Although I often feel that every day should celebrate dessert. And when the leaves are starting to change, as they are near my home right now, I think we should celebrate fall as well. In addition, it’s apple season and I procured local apples for my creations. So, where am I going with all of this? Apple crisps – my inspiration for today’s recipe.

It seems that everyone has a recipe for apple crisps, including me (see my Ginger Apple Crisp). But I wanted to take the recipe in a different, crispy-er direction. To achieve this, I scoured the internet and all of my many cookbooks. Ultimately I ended up at America’s Test Kitchen, the resource who does hours after hours after hours of testing for you. They found that if the topping is added after an initial apple cooking, then the top stays crispy. I took this hint, and my 20 pounds of apples (yes, you read that right), and crisped away.

When I decided to make a very large tray of the treat to make a dent in my crate of apples, my hubby’s reply was, “Apple crisp for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!” That required peeling a lot of apples. (Maybe I should have had him peel them). If you don’t want to do quite that much work, or if the recipe seems too large for you, then you can halve the ingredient amounts and make your crisp in an 8 x 8” pan.

Crispy Apple-Pear Crisp adapted from “Naturally Sweet” by America’s Test Kitchen

Topping
1 cup slivered almonds, chopped
1 cup vegan sugar
1/2 cup + 2 TBS vegan margarine, melted
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
Filling
5.5 pounds mixture of apples and pears, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/2” wedges
1/4 cup vegan sugar
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 TBS arrowroot powder
1.5 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
Vegan Ice cream, optional

For the topping: Place oven rack in middle position and heat oven to 400F. Toast almonds until lightly browned, then place on a wire rack to cool slightly. Leave oven on for filling. Working in batches, grind topping sugar in a spice grinder until fine and powdery. Whisk ground sugar, melted margarine, cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl. Using a rubber spatula, fold in flour and oats until mixture resembles a cohesive dough. Add in almonds and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

For the filling: Toss fruit, filling sugar, lemon juice, arrowroot, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl. Transfer to a 9 x 13” baking pan, cover with foil, and set on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake until apples are juicy and tender, about 1.25 hours, rotating sheet halfway through baking.

lots of peeled apples and pears

lots and lots of peeled apples and pears

To assemble: Remove filling from oven and stir to redistribute juices. Take topping from the fridge and crumble it over the filling, leaving a few 1/2” topping pieces. Bake uncovered until filling is bubbling and topping is a deep golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 20 minutes before serving. Top with vegan ice cream, if desired.

Until next time, happy baking!

Walnut and Cinnamon Peach Crisp

The perfect bite of peach crisp

Walnut and Cinnamon Peach Crisp

Walnuts and cinnamon and peaches … oh, my! Looking at half a flat of local peaches, I was devising ways to use up a good portion of them when a crisp came to mind. The dessert turned out so velvety, luscious, and decadent that I wanted to eat the entire dish in one sitting, for dinner. A few bites were saved for breakfast, but it’s best to reheat it to bring out the full peachy flavor.

The recipe I liked had few ingredients and good preparation techniques but made a large baking dish of crisp, so I scaled it down. Then I added walnuts because I love a crunchy topping. To veganize it I used vegan buttery sticks. Fortunately, nothing needed to be changed for altitude. My final fix was to prefer mixing with my hands instead of using a stick blender. It made for easier kitchen cleanup, and it allowed me to create larger clumps of topping goodness.

Walnut and Cinnamon Peach Crisp adapted from Cinnamon-Oat Peach Crisp

3 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/4” slices
1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
2 TBS + 3/4 cup all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup packed organic brown sugar
1/2 cup rough chopped walnuts
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) vegan margarine, softened

Toss peaches, granulated sugar, and 2 TBS flour in a bowl to combine. Let sit, tossing occasionally, for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk oats, brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, salt, and remaining 3/4 cup flour in a large bowl to combine. Add margarine and mix it in with your fingers, removing any lumps.

Place a rack in the center of the oven; preheat oven to 350F. Scrape peaches and any juices into a 2-qt baking dish. Evenly scatter oat topping over peaches and bake until peaches are soft, fruit juices are bubbling, and topping is a deep golden brown, 40–45 minutes. Transfer baking dish to a wire rack and let cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Until next time, happy baking!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins

large zucchini next to zucchini muffins

chocolate chocolate chip zucchini muffins

The giant zucchini from my local farm showed up right when my favorite food tester requested a snack he could grab for breakfast. Add to that the fact that everything is better with chocolate, and I needed treats for a neighborhood Labor Day party, and the Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffin was born.

I started with a bread recipe that I scaled for muffins. To make the recipe vegan I omitted the eggs, as they aren’t necessary for muffins, and I made buttermilk from non-dairy milk and apple cider vinegar. For high altitude, I used a bit more liquid and I reduced the baking powder. Combine all that with a huge zucchini, or several smaller ones, and you have a delicious dessert for a crowd.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins inspired by Craftsy’s Easy Chocolate Zucchini Bread

1 cup + 2 TBS non-dairy milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder (not dutch process)
1 cup organic sugar
1/3 cup organic brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Place 15 liners in two muffin tins. Put non-dairy milk in a small bowl and whisk in apple cider vinegar. Set aside to curdle.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add oil and vanilla to the curdled milk and whisk together until well combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until only a few streaks of dry ingredients remain. Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips, and stir until batter is uniform.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 23-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean and the top springs back when lightly pressed. Let tins cool on a wire rack. Makes 18 muffins.

Until next time, happy baking!

DIY Confectioners’ Sugar

Confectioners' Sugar

Cookie with Confectioners’ Sugar

Recently I made a treat that used confectioners’ sugar in the frosting. Confectioners’ sugar, also called powdered sugar or icing sugar, is granulated sugar that has been ground into a fine powder. It can be sprinkled over a baked good, but it also readily dissolves in liquid making it easy to stir into icings and frostings. Just be sure not to confuse it with superfine sugar or bakers’ sugar; they are ground finer than granulated sugar but not as fine as confectioners’ sugar.

So, I have taught you exactly what confectioners’ sugar is. Now I am here to offer you a method for making your own, in case you are preparing frosting while a cake cools and find that you have run out of powdered sugar. (No, of course, this has never happened to me. Or, at least, not this week.)

The Spruce Eats gives us their advice: “All you will need is a blender, measuring cup, a clean dish towel, (and) sugar. … For each cup of confectioner’s (sic) sugar needed use one cup of regular granulated sugar. … Put the granulated sugar into the blender and secure the lid. Place the dishtowel over the top of the blender to catch any powder “smoke.” Blend using the pulse method until the sugar turns to powder. This method works best in small quantities, 1 to 2 cups at a time.

If you are making even a smaller amount, alternatively you can use a coffee grinder, spice grinder, or mini-food processor. Just be mindful that the sugar crystals can scratch plastic, so consider carefully before making the powdered sugar in a plastic blender or processor.” I have a dry cup for my Vitamix which works beautifully for making powdered sugar.

Store bought confectioners’ sugar will have additives, such as cornstarch. You can opt to make your own confectioners’ sugar just in emergency situations, or you can prepare it yourself to ensure that your sugar has no additives.