Golden State of Mind

Without cake, does it really even count as a birthday? Sure, it’s inevitable that the celebrant will still wake up another day older regardless of the day’s festivities or lack thereof, but don’t we all? Just like a cupcake without frosting is really just a muffin, a birthday bereft of cake is not only a sad situation to imagine, but one that truly misses the point. How often do we have a legitimate excuse to eat ungodly amounts of sweets as if there was no tomorrow, despite our best efforts at self-preservation to survive up until this milestone?

With that in mind, my own sweet birthday reward is a bit more minimal than in years past, but necessary for a proper observation of the day. Shaking off the January chill, each glorious, golden bite of these turmeric cupcakes is a warming embrace from within. Originally inspired by the luminous golden lattes served at Nourish Cafe, these sweet treats are suitably more nourishing than your average dessert. Boasting only natural sweeteners and gluten-free flours, even I would be skeptical of this formula if it hadn’t been my own creation.

Most importantly, these treats pack a bold punch of spicy flavor into a small package, turning any day into an occasion worth celebrating.

Golden Latte Cake

2 Cups Almond Flour
1 Cup Oat Flour
1/3 Cup Arrowroot
1/2 Cup Golden Latte Mix, Store-Bought or Homemade
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups White Grape Juice Concentrate
1/2 Cup Applesauce
2/3 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

Maple Frosting:

1 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Arrowroot
1/2 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Garnish (Optional):

Pinch Ground Turmeric or Yellow Sprinkles

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 28 – 30 standard cupcake tins with papers. Alternatively, if you’d like to make a layer cake, lightly grease 2 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, oat flour, arrowroot, latte mix, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Separately, mix together the grape juice concentrate, applesauce, coconut oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, folding the mixture together just until smooth. A few errant lumps are perfectly fine; don’t drive yourself crazy trying to beat them all out.

Fill the cupcake papers about 2/3rds of the way full, or divide the batter equally between the two cake rounds, and ease the pans into the center of your preheated oven. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes if making cupcakes. If preparing cake layers, bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Bake until lightly golden on top, and a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely before frosting.

Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. Toss the butter and arrowroot into your stand mixer, beating on low speed to cream the two together. Once completely smooth and homogeneous, slowly pour in the maple syrup, followed by the vanilla. Whip on high speed for 2 – 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until light and fluffy. Be careful not to overheat the frosting, though, as it will soften and break down if it gets too warm. Pop the whole bowl into the fridge for a few minutes if it’s giving you trouble.

Spread the frosting on your cakes as desired. Keep cool until ready to serve.

Makes 28 – 30 Cupcakes or 2 9-inch Round Cake Layers

Printable Recipe


One Tough Cookie Contest

Judging any sort of food competition sounds like a pretty cushy job at first glance. You get to taste all sorts of exotic delights, compare and contrast, ultimately laying down the official ruling on which entry takes the cake- Or cookie, as was the case for the 2017 VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. However, I don’t envy the ruling critics on this panel, tasting their way through an onslaught of sweet morsels, every one of them with the potential to win hearts, if not the entire competition. Luckily, such agonizing decisions were not mine to make, as I merely provided photos for the feature while relishing the end results on my own terms. No need to pick favorites between these three; you’ll be a winner no matter which treats end up on Santa’s plate!

Officially, first place went to the classy and classic Chocolate-Dipped Almond Cranberry Shortbread Cookies by Rosie Scott-Benson. This cookie pairs an irresistibly buttery shortbread cookie with rich chocolate for a winning combination.

Coming in at a close second, Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal Cream Pies by Mary-Kate Lynch are lightly spiced, soft and sweet; sure to be a hit at your holiday parties, and beyond.

Third but far from last, the Dirty Chai Sugar Cookies by Amy McDonough may honestly have been my personal favorites from this round. These are tender, chewy cookies infused with warming chai spices and topped with a creamy espresso-spiked frosting. Honestly, does it get much better than that? I think that even Santa would forgive you for scarfing down the whole batch before he has time to shimmy down the chimney.

Given the diverse array of tempting last-minute additions, are you changing up your holiday cookie game this year? What’s going on your platters, and tell the truth: Are you really planning on sharing with Santa? There’s no shame is giving yourself a little gift of sweetness as well!

Sift Happens

Antiquated; rarely retrieved from the back of the kitchen drawer, hidden behind stacks of nested mixing bowls and precariously arranged ceramic plates; even less commonly found in the first place with every passing year. The metal tin can sits alone in the dark, quietly collecting dust instead of churning through those fine particles as it was intended. I would ask what ever happened to sifters, but it’s no mystery to anyone who’s puttered about the stove for a minute of their lives. Once an essential piece of equipment, the simple sifter has fallen clear off the list of staples and straight into the recycling bin along with the empty cardboard boxes and discarded instruction manuals of every electronic purchase of decades past. As time rushes forward, no one wants to slow down long enough to simply sift.

Guilty of the same negligence, I’m not one to point fingers here. Even when a recipe clearly states “flour, sifted,” I’ll breeze right past that specification, pretending that a quick whisk or prodding with a fork with do the trick. Fluffy up the top layer of sediment, breakdown the pesky clumps, get on with the task at hand. No harm, no foul. Cakes still manage to emerge properly risen, pie dough comes out as butter and flaky as ever, and no one is the wiser to my procedural omission. But the point of sifting isn’t to make something adequate, to craft something that passes as edible. Such a low standard shouldn’t be considered a true success. Without sifting, untold heights will never be attained, and more importantly, so many less savory bits end up jumping into the pool, doing their best cannon ball to ruin the whole party.

Have you ever bitten into a luscious, devilishly dark chocolate cake, relished the intensity of flavor and tender crumb, only to discover a powdery mouthful of unincorporated cocoa in the very next forkful? A common pitfall, quite forgivable in most cases, but entirely avoidable. Why can’t we just take an extra minute to pull out that old fashioned sifter and wade through the murky mixture to remove those unwanted interlopers? Like overenthusiastic ideas or overwritten novels, why can’t we edit our actions accordingly to cut down on the messes left in our wake? In that same spirit, where is the mental sifter for our anxieties, our baseless fears, our unfiltered, indiscriminate consumption of all the junk we’re fed? I get indigestion just thinking about all those unchecked contaminants.

Let’s stop pretending like those lumpy, cracked loaves are exactly what we intended to pull out of the oven. They’re fine, perfectly okay, but we should really demand more of our baked goods, and of ourselves. Bring back the sifter, allow extra time to churn through the list of dry ingredients, watch the fine powder fall like snow, soft and fresh, into the batter. Feel the resistance of the creaky springs snapping back as we release our grip, squeeze and release, squeeze and release, showering small flurries downward with each motion. Take a peek inside when the full measure has been dispensed, and with great pleasure, discard the excess. Leave out the bad, the unnecessary, the mischievous interlopers that bring fragile pastries down. Sift once for due diligence, sift twice if you’re feeling particularly reflective. It doesn’t hurt to comb through the full recipe before setting it to bake. What goes in matters just as much as what doesn’t.

Mocha Me Crazy

Crispy edges shatter upon the most tender, tentative of bites, giving way to a gently chewy interior rife with toasted nuts. Sweet, but balanced by the naturally bitter nuances of coffee and dark cocoa, this riot of flavor and texture all comes in a modest, unassuming little bar. While most holiday cookies are lavished with bold frosted jewels and colorful sugar crystals, the prettiest confections would be hard-pressed to compete with such unvarnished indulgence. Most would dub such an accomplishment as a resounding baking success, so it might come as a surprise that the whole lot of them was almost destined for the trash heap.

Though glorious in their own quiet sort of way, these treats were born of much loftier aspirations- Literally. Back in the very early stages of aquafaba awareness, many crazy experiments were carried out in the name of science, and sweet tooth-fueled cravings, of course. Admittedly, the frustration of failure has darkened the memory of their origins, so it’s hard to say exactly what I had intended while dutifully whipping chickpea brine into submission. A seriously nutty sponge cake, perhaps? Regardless of intention, the results fell flat.

Trying hard to salvage the thin, brittle sheet of confectionery matter, I picked up the pieces and dutifully went through the motions of styling and photography, but remained dispirited. If not for certain interlopers that kept swiping errant crumbs and strongly suggesting that a proper taste test was in order, the recipe would have immediately hit the digital dust bin. Thank goodness for that persistence which saved a new family favorite.

Rising from the ashes and crumbs, I’m pleased to finally present these Mocha-Nut Bars as part of Rodelle’s 2017 Holiday Cookie Campaign. Pooling together some of the brightest (and sweetest) minds in the blogosphere, there’s no shortage of sugar or spice here. In fact, the master bakers at Rodelle have taken it upon themselves to ensure that, and have generously offered to provide their unrivaled baking cocoa for many more rounds of delicious experimentation.

GIVEAWAY ALERT! Enter to win one of two 8-ounce jars of this superlative baking cocoa by telling me in the comment section: What has been your most delicious recipe “failure” or mistake to date? Log your submission and find more ways to enter though the official giveaway form.

Baking, as with most things in life, doesn’t always go exactly according to plan on the first try. The only real mistake, however, would be letting those challenges prevent us from finding entirely new successes in the process.

Mocha-Nut Bars

1/2 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Chopped
1/2 Cup Toasted Cashews, Chopped
1/2 Cup Toasted Pecans, Chopped
1/2 Cup Almond Meal
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1/3 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Instant Coffee Powder or Granules
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Aquafaba
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9×9-inch square pan.

Mix together the nuts, almond meal, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder, flour, instant coffee, salt, and baking soda. Make sure there are no clumps, and that all the ingredients are well distributed throughout before proceeding.

Place the aquafaba in the bowl of your stand mixer and whip on high speed for about 10 minutes, until light and fluff. Slowly add in about half of the dry mixture, mixing gently until incorporated. Fold in the remaining half by hand using a wide spatula. Add in the oil and vanilla last, stirring as little as possible to keep the batter nice and airy.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the top is glossy (but not wet) and slightly crackled in appearance. Let cool completely before slicing. Store in an airtight container for 3 – 5 days.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe

Catch More Flies with Vinegar Than Honey

Vinegar is having a moment right now, bolstered by the rising popularity of experimental pickling, increasingly sour drinks, and infused dressings. Perhaps it’s the natural reaction to being saturated in sweetness from morning to night, a palate cleanser in between sugary snacks and unbalanced entrees, that’s driving the trend. Whatever the case may be, it’s hardly an innovative thought; early American pioneers were hip to the vinegar hype way before it was cool.

Imagine those cold, dark days, before refrigeration was even a wild dream, when seasonal fruits were far from reach but demands for dessert were still as urgent as ever. Reach into the cupboard and pull out the first viable flavoring agent, and undoubtedly, you’d find a bottle of good old white vinegar in your hand. Blended into a simple, creamy custard and set inside a golden brown crust, classic vinegar pie is a study in careful contrasts. Bright and bold, yet not overly acidic, only an expert baker could have pulled of this early combination with success, as the tiniest tweak in ratios could have skewed those slices towards seriously astringent territory.

Though that same scarcity is no longer a concern, there’s still much to glean from this old-fashioned approach. What if we took that concept and kicked up the flavor a bit? Select a more full-bodied vinegar and create a flavorful fruit filling that still pays homage to its origins.

Apple cider vinegar, the workhorse souring agent of the kitchen, finally gets a shot at the limelight in this sweet-and-sour treat. Fresh applesauce, ripe with the essence of the orchard, sets the tone, singing the song of autumn harvest and bounty. Naturally, this is best using homemade applesauce, but certainly works with any quality store-bought option. Heck, you could even go crazy and keep it chunky for some added textural excitement.

Simple, homely by the kindest of descriptions, those unassuming slices will take your guests by surprise. Each bite packs a real punch, while remaining impossibly well-balanced on the palate. It’s not a new idea, but one that’s executed just right.

Apple Vinegar Pie

1 Unbaked Classic Crust (page 36 of Easy as Vegan Pie) in a 9-Inch Round Pie Pan

1/4 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
2/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Tapioca Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
2 Cups Unsweetened Applesauce
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the custard by simply whisking together all of the ingredients for the filling until smooth. To make really fast work of this, you could toss everything into your food processor or blender, too. Pour into your prepared pie crust and bake for 60 – 70 minutes, or until softly set. It should still jiggle in the middle when tapped because just like a cheesecake, it will continue to firm up as it cools.

Let cool at room temperature before moving into the fridge, and chill for at least 4 hours before slicing. Top with whipped coconut cream and sliced fresh apples for a bit of extra flare, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 servings

Printable Recipe

Bae Goals

It must be something in the water. Perhaps it’s something in the air. Surely, there’s some secret ingredient that separates true bagels from merely ring-shaped buns. What else could explain the mystique behind “authentic” New York bagels, impossible to replicate beyond city borders? Defined more by texture than flavor, burnished crusts lacquered with any variety of seeds and salt give way to distinctive density and chew that enthusiasts laud. A quick dip in a boiling vat of malt-enriched alkaline water is the key factor that makes a bagel more than mere bread, much like soft pretzels.

Simple enough in concept, but intimidating in execution. Traditional recipes call for lye, in all its caustic glory, which is threatening enough to send me straight to the bakery, rather than the kitchen. Bagels were longtime residents on my list of baking goals, growing longer and less likely to be accomplished with every passing year. That was until I joined forces with chef Philip Gelb and lucked into one of his infamous bagel baking classes.

Demystifying the yeasted rings with a no-nonsense approach that anyone with even a passing culinary curiosity could happily jump right into, all fears of failure evaporated along with the rising steam.

Baking soda stands in for the deadly lye, reducing the risk of severe bodily harm right off the bat. Believe it or not, all the rest is fairly standard procedure; a vigorous mixing, resting and rising, shaping, and baking are all that separate you from savory satisfaction. No satanic incantations, obscure tinctures, nor acts of God need apply.

Bagels can take shape either by punching out the centers with a quick jab of the fingers, or rolled into snakes and connected at the ends. Personally, I prefer to poke out the middles as there’s less danger of them coming undone in the bubbling water bath.

Though technically optional, it’s hard to beat the classic “everything” topping, a melange that can include almost a full shelf out of the average pantry, which can make up for almost any other shortcomings. Instantly evoking that classic deli flavor, it’s actually the onion flakes that I find most essential to the combination. All else is flexible, but if you’re truly flummoxed by the proper ratios, you can even buy ready-made blends. Such shortcuts are completely acceptable when you go through the trouble of baking the bagels from scratch, if you ask me.

Purists will argue until they’re blue in the face about what makes for the best bagels, but this much I know is true: Nothing beats the ones coming out of your own oven, hot and fresh, just barely cool enough to slice. Such beauty needs no further toasting to perfect (perish the thought!) but a thick schmear of hummus or cream cheese never hurts.

World Bread Day, October 16, 2017

I’m delighted to finally share such a delicious victory today for the 11th annual World Bread Day. After so much agita, it’s a joy to finally take this project off my list of lofty goals, and move it onto the list of everyday staples. Don’t buy into the hype- Or the sad, stale carb bombs sold in most grocery stores. Even if you’re not a bagel-fanatic, baking is believing!

By Chef Philip Gelb of Sound & Savor

1 Teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
4 Tablespoons Rice Malt, Barley Malt, or Agave, Divided
2 Cups Warm Water (105 Degrees Fahrenheit)
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
Dried Garlic, Dried Onion, Sesame Seeds, Poppy Seeds, and/or Coarse Salt (Optional)

In a large bowl, combine the yeast, 1 tablespoon of malt, and the warm water. Let the yeast proof until the surface becomes foamy; about 5 minutes. Whisk in the salt. Add the whole wheat flour and 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until incorporated.

Place the dough on a sturdy, clean surface and slowly work in the rest of the all-purpose flour. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Coat the dough with olive oil, place in a bowl, and cover tightly with a clean dish towel.

Let rise until the dough has doubled in volume; about 1 hour, though time may vary greatly due to temperature and altitude.

After the dough has doubled, knead it lightly for 1 minute. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Roll each piece into log and then fold it into a circle, firmly pressing the seam together. Place each bagel on a lightly floured surface, cover with a clean towel, and let rise until doubled; about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 500 degrees and place a baking stone inside, if using. Otherwise, the bagels can be baked on a standard sheet pan. In a large pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add the baking soda along with the remaining 3 tablespoons of malt. The baking soda is necessary to properly texture and brown the bagels.

After the bagels finish their second rise, boil each bagel for 1 minute on each side, keeping the water at a consistent, rapid boil.

Now your bagels are ready to bake. If you want, you can top them with any or all of the seasonings your heart desires, patting them gently into the top to make sure they adhere. Transfer carefully to your baking stone or sheet pan, and bake for about 15 minutes.

The bagels are best served within 15 minutes of emerging from the oven!

Makes 12 Bagels

Printable Recipe