Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to vegan to say thank you...

I had a friend come by with his truck and take my husband to pick up this piece of furniture for us. I can't imagine being a truck owner. Always doing favors. My husband hates bothering people with trucks because he thinks they hate when people use them for their vehicle. He's probably right, but since we don't have a choice, it had to be done.

Anyway, I wanted to make some thank you cupcakes. The problem - he's a vegan. I've been thinking I need to learn how to make vegan cakes anyway since I have lots of friends who have made this commitment. I envy them for their ability to stay true to their beliefs. I live with two meatatarians who would never allow a meat-free house let alone going vegan. Plus, I have a very deep rooted and serious love of cheese. A life without cheese? No thanks.

But, this wasn't about me. So I turned to one of the best resources for recipes - I like the fact that people post their own recipes so you get variation. The best part about the website, though, is the reviews. I'm skeptical about making anything without hearing what others think first. Luckily, they had a vegan recipe with good reviews and reasonable ingredients.
One of the most important things I learned from reading the reviews is that vegans do not eat sugar because apparently it is sometimes processed using animal bone. I went to the grocery store looking specifically for vegan sugar. What I found was a natural unprocessed sugar (for a couple extra dollars of course!) that would work. The problem was with the powdered sugar. It's made out of granulated sugar so the same non-vegan processing is possible. I didn't find an alternative but, luckily, my friends don't mind the use of regular sugar so on this one ingredient I may or may not have been completely vegan.

The cupcakes were so soft and moist, I love them! I was a little disappointed with the flavor. I added seasonings to make it more like a spice cake and, although delicious and not at all plain, it was not as flavorful as I had hoped. Definitely a recipe that is easy to make and easy to adapt into all different kinds of cakes.

Vegan Spice Cupcakes - adapted from Allrecipes

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups almond milk

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup white sugar (vegan?)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease two 12 cup muffin pans or line with 18 paper baking cups.

Measure the apple cider vinegar into a 2 cup measuring cup. Fill with almond milk to make 1 1/2 cups. Let stand until curdled, about 5 minutes. In a large bowl, Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the almond milk mixture, oil and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just until blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared cups, dividing evenly.
Bake in the preheated oven until the tops spring back when lightly pressed, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool in the pan set over a wire rack. When cool, arrange the cupcakes on a serving platter. Frost with desired frosting.

The reviewers also told me they wouldn't rise much. I was surprised how much they actually did rise. I would suggest filling the cups about 2/3 full.
I topped the cupcakes with a pumpkin icing ('tis the season!) to make a nice flavor addition. I made the icing as follows: 1/2 cup pumpkin puree, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 4-6 cups powdered sugar. I added the sugar until slightly stiff. The icing was still pretty liquid and I applied with a teaspoon in a dollop and allowed to firm as it cooled.
The end result was cute and tasty...and a nice thank you if you ask me!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What's better than pineapple upside down cake??

Double layered pineapple upside down cake of course!!

Last weekend was my (not so) little brother's birthday. He said he wanted pineapple upside down cake. Now, the only way I've ever had this, was someone made a huge 9x13 pan of mush at the bottom and yellow cake mix on top. So, I decided to make this a challenge. A "classy" version of PUD cake. Is such a thing possible?

Well I searched the internet for a double layered recipe and they were all basically the same - cake mix with brown sugar, pineapples & cherries on bottom. So I used that for the topping and made my standard vanilla cake using the recipe from my favorite classy lady. My brother requested extra cherries so I added a lot to one of the cakes. I also used crushed pineapple for that layer and rings for the other one. That makes a middle & top layer.

When it was done, I let them cool completely in the pan. Mostly because I was short on time and afraid of a disaster. After I removed from pan and stacked the layers, I noticed two things. First, the butter and sugar from the top was running down the sides. Second, they didn't stack together nicely as I imagined. The runny topping was solved with a paper towel. It wasn't too bad, just enough to bother me. The problem of curved sides on the cakes, however, was a little bit more tricky. This may have been because of my pans or the way the cake baked. I'm not too sure.

Anyway, I decided to add some frosting. I made some pineapple buttercream (see my post about the frosting here) and used it to even out the sides and make a nice stacked look. I obviously didn't want to frost over the top. That's one of the best parts about this cake. So I just iced up the sides, piped a little around the edge and decorated with cherries. It came out pretty nice, I think. Here's what it looked like.

Once we cut into it, I noticed the center was a little undercooked and, with the addition of the fruit, it got soggy after sitting through birthday dinner. So, I secretly cut out the middle while no one was looking! So much for being professional! Ha ha!

It tasted great and looked pretty good too, aside from the middle which is easily resolved with baking a little longer. Unlike a plain cake, this cake will not dry out if slightly overcooked, which I should have realized. Live and learn, that's what this is all about!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The good, the bad, and the adorable!

It's pumpkin time! I've been buying up some canned pumpkin like crazy. The trouble is, I haven't found a recipe I like enough to use it! Plain old pumpkin pie. Not for this momma! I like it and all, but it's everywhere. I want something new and different.

Enter Martha. You know how I mean. She only needs one name. Well, if you go to her website, you can get on a mailing list for daily recipes. I'm on the cookie list. Which is ironic because I literally can't remember the last time I made cookies.

Martha e-mailed me a recipe for some pumpkin cookies that sounded pretty good and had me actually considering making them. Then I read the reviews. I highly recommend you do this too anytime you get a recipe from a website. Most people will make changes for the better. Some people are a little technically-challenged and you can get an idea of what might go wrong from the complaints. Well, this recipe most people complained the cookies were too "cakey" and fluffy. One or two people said they made them like cupcakes and they were great. I'm pretty sure you can see where this is going...

Pumpkin surprise Cupcakes - adapted from Martha Stewart

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin (14 ounces)
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 bag (8 oz.) butterscotch chips


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in eggs. Reduce speed to low. Add pumpkin, evaporated milk, and vanilla; mix until well blended, about 2 minutes. Add flour mixture; mix until combined. Fold in walnuts and butterscotch chips.

Pour into lined muffin tin. Bake for 15-18 minutes until browned on top. **because this is actually a cookie recipe, mine came out a little gooey at the top, but I cooled in the pan and they were good to go once they cooled down.

I topped it off with a cream cheese frosting from a recipe I found here. It was the perfect topper - not too sweet. The pumpkin flavor was very subtle and even my friends who aren't pumpkin lovers (how can such a thing be?!) enjoyed them. So this was definitely the "good" as referenced above.

So yummy!!

Now, what is the bad? Well, when I tell you what I tried to make, you'll probably think "Duh! You thought it would be good?" But I'm an optimist I guess.

So I was flipping through my new favorite cookbook I mentioned in an earlier blog and I came across an avocado & olive oil cupcake. Now, I realize this isn't a cupcake technically. But I love avocados. I mean, I'll go to a fat daddy burrito restaurant just for the guacamole. Forget the chips or burrito. So when I saw this, I thought hell yes, this is for me!


There was no sugar which didn't strike me as odd but was definitely missing in the final product. The avocado was such a big part of the recipe, that it came out almost slimy. Not to mention how ugly they looked. I think my camera agreed as this is the best shot I could get.

I'm not giving up on this. I'm going to sleep on it for now and try to figure out how to make this as good as I wish it to be. Expect more on this once I figure it out.

And now, the adorable - my assistant. She's great at licking batter and smearing flour on the counter. She's my taste tester. I apparently should take her opinion more often as she wouldn't even try the avocado cupcakes!

Here she shows her skills at cleaning the beaters.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Holy Split! - Part II It all comes together!

Now that I have banana & strawberry cupcakes (see previous post), I moved on to the rest of the flavors. Like I said before, I definitely wanted chocolate, but I didn't want this to turn into a chocolate cupcake with banana flavor. So I decided to make a ganache to go in between the frosting and the cupcake.

I doubt I need to actually say this, but I am NOT the kind of person who knows about something as fancy as "ganache". But I know people who are and they told me about it. Basically, it sounds like a big deal, but it's just solid chocolate (like chips) added to milk or cream and heated to mix together. Not too big of a deal really. I had a recipe in the book I was already using so I thought I'd try it. It's probably something that should have been easier, but I thought it was too runny so I added more chips (when in doubt - add chocolate!) and made it really thick. Basically it's like a semisolid chocolate when I was done. For safety, I taste tested it. It definitely passed!

So, I put a little dollop on each cupcake right in the center like this.

I then flattened it out to kind of hide it inside the frosting.

For the remaining flavors - pineapple, whipped cream, nuts & cherry - I decided to make a pineapple buttercream topped with nuts & a cherry. I figured buttercream is close to whipped cream, right? I found a pretty simple recipe here which I of course tweaked a bit. I'm not sure if I added too much pineapple or if it was just too warm in my house but the frosting settled a bit after I piped it out. The final product definitely had the look of a sundae with the cherry & nuts on top!

Here is a picture of the inside so you can see all the different elements. Like I said, it's a little warm right now (why is it in the 70's in October?!) so they aren't as pretty as I'd like, but still cute and definitely tasty! My coworkers were kind enough to taste them and give me feedback. They were all impressed with it and said it did taste exactly like a banana split!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Holy Split! Part I - Cupcakes

Since I have newly renamed myself the CUPCake Chemist, I decided to take that and run. And I'm having so much fun! The cupcake idea is nothing new, but what you can do in a little paper liner is amazing!

This week, I decided to make a banana split! Now, I'll be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of the real thing. Mostly because wherever you go to buy one, they probably sell something I'd like much better. Like a candy-bit mix or brownie sundae. But I like all the flavors and if I were to see something that has the flavor of the split, I'd probably say "Yes please!" And, that's why I wanted to make this. Well, that and it's a pretty impressive cupcake flavor.

So, my first step was to actually list the ingredients. I probably should have gone to DQ and bought one. For research, of course! I'll definitely have to remember that next time. For now, I just used the number one source of information - Google. From my extensive (45 second) research, I decided to include the following flavors: banana, strawberry, pineapple, cherry, chocolate, nuts and whipped cream. That's a lot of flavors in a little package!

The thing about putting chocolate in anything is that it tends to take over. Don't get me wrong, I love that most of the time. But the magic of a banana split is that all the flavors are present in one bowl (or cupcake). So I designed this cupcake with that purpose in mind.

Luckily, last weekend I came accross this book at B&N bargin bin. It is amazing!! (Find it here on Amazon.) Expect LOTS of recipes from here to appear in future blogs. The one I used this week was actually a coconana cupcake without the chocolate chips.

I added in some strawberry jam before baking. It's important to swirl it in at the end for two reasons: first, if you just mix it beforehand, you'll loose the flavor and just have pink tint to your banana cupcake and second, if you just drop it on top and don't swirl, it will sink to the bottom and make a mush center. I know these facts because I've done each and had cupcake failure!

When they were done, I had yummy banana strawberry swirl cupcakes. Which would be great on their own. Because of the banana, the cupcake is very dense and moist. It doesn't rise as much and wasn't as brown as I'm used to when it's done. Although it seems pretty brown in the picture, you'll have to trust me, I had to hold back from over baking these.

Next blog - assembling all the ingredients in one tasty little cupcake!