Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Vegan Cake - Attempt #1

So I've been making a lot of cakes recently.

And it's been a lot of fun.

But there has been one minor glitch. My son hasn't been able to eat any of the cakes I've been making.  You see, he has food allergies. Dairy and eggs are included in those allergies. Which completely rules out most traditional cakes and all of the meringue buttercreams I have been making.

I make plenty of things that he can eat, but I have been promising him that I will try to make him a fancy cake, like those he's been watching me make, that is completely safe for him.

Today was the day I decided to go for it.

But apparently the vegan-baking-deities were not on my side.

I started by making my cake layers. I prepared my pans as usual, except that I was trying to save a few minutes, so I skipped using parchment rounds in the bottom of my pans. I sprayed them well and figured I'd be okay.

Mistake #1.

Umm... yeah, the entire bottom of the cakes stuck to the pans.

No problem... I'll try to piece it back together.

Umm... nope. Never mind. Didn't even try that with the second layer. Hmm...

The next step was the vegan meringue buttercream.

Now, meringue buttercream has two main ingredients. Egg whites and butter. Both out when going vegan.  Instead of egg whites, vegan meringue uses aquafaba - the liquid most people dump out from cans of beans (garbanzo, in my case). It takes some time, but it whips up to a light and airy meringue and can be used as an egg replacement in many recipes.  As for the butter, there are plenty of non-dairy butter alternatives. All of the recipes for vegan buttercream that I read recommended either 100% palm-oil shortening or Earth Balance sticks (rather than spread). I couldn't find the shortening in my grocery store, but did find the Earth Balance, so that was what I went with.

To make Italian meringue buttercream, the egg whites (or aquafaba) is whipped to stiff peaks while a sugar and water syrup is cooked to a specific temperature in a pot.

Here is where fail #2 came into play.

Apparently my candy thermometer is broken. And I didn't know it. So while I was waiting for the thermometer to let me know that my sugar syrup had reached 240 degrees, turns out my sugar had way surpassed the soft ball stage that that temperature indicates and... well... yeah. I didn't take pictures of that part. But I had to scrap that sugar, scrub my pot and try again, this time making an educated guess as to the temperature of my syrup, knowing that my thermometer would not be a help.

The second attempt at the meringue seemed to work, so I whipped it all up, added in my "butter" and... had frosting!

Now white-on-white cakes don't necessarily look all that dynamic in photos...

But it came together alright, despite the issues I'd been having...

I mean... it looks like a cake, right?

All unassuming and cake-y?

You can kind of see the uneven layers and what not, but... it's a cake!

And then it was time for dessert.

Both kids started off excited. Both said it was pretty good.

Then, after a few more bites... they both opted to skip dessert.

That's right, my children chose no dessert over this cake.

That is not exactly a promising sign.

I finished both of their pieces. Because... it's still cake. The cake itself was okay - plain, not a lot of flavor, uneven texture... and the buttercream, while smooth and silky like "regular" Italian meringue buttercream, tasted a bit salty and a bit... well, like the Earth Balance spread. The cake and the frosting together taste better than either one component on its own, but even still, it wasn't a hit here.

So today's adventure didn't work out like I'd hoped.

I'll keep trying.

And for my vegan baking needs, I'll stick to this chocolate cake that my family loves. At least until I can find a better layering-cake recipe. I'll also have to play with alternative butter substitutes if I want to try the vegan meringue buttercream again...

Live and learn.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Banana Cake and New Beginnings

So... I used to have this blog...

I cooked and baked and took lots and lots of pictures, and I shared stories of the process with a few people who were kind enough to stop by.

And then I stopped.

It started feeling more like work and less like fun, and that told me that it was time to take a break.

That break wound up being a long one.

But... I'm thinking about dipping my toe back in the blog-water. Because, while I may have stopped writing about it, I never stopped cooking and baking.

My recent baking addiction is cake. I've seen amazing posts on amazing blogs featuring amazing recipes, and it reinspired me for this. So here I go, hoping to share some of that inspiration with anyone who dares venture over here after so long.

My cake addiction started innocently enough.  Whenever I run on the treadmill, I distract myself by watching random television shows. Okay, not so random. I watch baking shows. Usually either Cake Wars or Cupcake Wars. After who-knows-how-many episodes (and many, many miles), I decided that I wanted to actually learn more about the different kinds of frostings I see commonly on these shows. Most specifically, I wanted to learn how to make Italian meringue buttercream and Swiss meringue buttercream, the two I heard about most frequently on the show.

So a few weeks ago, I set out to learn how to make each of those frostings.

And from those few attempts, an addiction was born.

I am constantly on the lookout for new recipes to try, new cakes, new frostings, new methods, new techniques, new combinations...

I've had my eye on this Fluffy Brown Sugar Icing for a while, but couldn't quite decide what cake to pair it with.

So when I saw that my bananas were starting to go over-ripe, I knew I had my excuse.

This frosting is not a buttercream - it is a meringue. A brown sugar syrup is boiled, and then whipped into whipped egg whites. The heat from the syrup cooks the egg whites, don't worry, and the result, according to the recipe, is supposed to be fluffy and soft and amazing.

Unassuming little pile of white on the outside...

The interesting thing about meringues like this is that they can be very finicky. The sugar has to be heated to just the right stage or else things don't come together as expected. This recipe did not give an actual temperature for the syrup. I assumed that it would be similar to the other meringues I have made, and decided to heat it to 240 degrees, to the soft-ball stage of candy making.

My candy thermometer, on the other hand, had other plans. It stopped working somewhere around 200 degrees, somehow got liquid in it, and decided it was done for the day.

So I tried to emulate in my kitchen the way the recipe was writting - to heat the syrup until it "drops like hair from a spoon." Lovely imagery!

I thought I had it there, beautiful and strand-y... so I whipped the hot syrup carefully into my egg whites.

The results... were not the kind of fluffy I was expecting. I was expecting light and airy. What I got was more like marshmallow fluff - thick and sticky.

But don't at all let me fool you into thinking that's a bad thing. It might not have  been as easy to work with as a light, airy frosting, but holy smokes was it delicious.

I added a hint of cinnamon to my frosting, not called for in the original recipe, to pair it a little better with the banana cake I'd made and it was addictively delicious.

I need to look into the science side of what happened... Did I overcook the syrup or undercook it? I'll look into it and certainly try it again.

But it was an absolutely delicious mistake.

So to anyone actually reading this, anyone who wandered over here after my long hiatus, thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing more cake (and non-cake) adventures with you!

Banana Cake
(from Cookies & Cups)

1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup butter, room temp
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cups flour
3 ripe medium bananas mashed, approximately 1½ cups

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
Coat round cake pans (3 8-inch or 2 9-inch) with nonstick spray. Cut parchment paper into rounds to fit into the bottoms of the pans. Place the parchment into each pan and coat again with nonstick spray. Set aside.
In a medium bowl combine the milk and lemon juice. Stir and set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars on medium speed for 2 minutes.
Add in the eggs, vanilla, salt and baking soda and mix until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally.
Turn the mixer to low and alternate adding the flour and milk, beginning and ending with flour, scraping the sides of the bowl between additions.
With the mixer still on low speed, add in the bananas, mixing until just incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly among the pans and bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans in the oven half-way through baking.
Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 15-20 minutes and then turn the cakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Brown Sugar Icing
(from I Wash You Dry)

1 cup packed brown sugar (I used light brown sugar)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup corn syrup
4 egg whites
2 teasoons vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, water and corn syrup. Bring to a full rolling boil. (Be careful, as it will rise, so make sure the sides of your pan are taller). Let it boil at medium to medium high until the syrup drops like a hair from spoon (approximately 10 minutes). Remove from burner and set aside.
Meanwhile, beat egg whites until stiff. I used my KitchenAid mixer - beats them up in no time!
Slowly pour the hot syrup in a very thin stream into egg whites, beating constantly. Again, I used the KitchenAid mixer, with the whisk attatchment, at full speed. Beat until icing holds peaks, then blend in vanilla.
Let cool to room temp, then store covered in the fridge until ready to use.

I added a few generoud sprinkles of cinnamon after adding the vanilla extract and it was delicious!

Layer your cake and frosting as you like and enjoy the deliciousness!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

August Sourdough Surprises - Coffee Cake

Oh my gosh, I can't believe it's the 20th.

No, really. I thought it was the 19th.

That's what happens at the end of a long, fun filled, busy, on-the-go summer. I lose all track of days and dates and posts!!!

This month, Sourdough Surprises chose one of my favorite things to do with sourdough as the inspiration - coffee cake!!! I love coffee cake in any of its incarnations, but it is absolutely one of my most favorite things to do with "discard" starter.

I've made sourdough coffee cake before. In fact, I use this recipe pretty often. So I wanted to do something a little different this time. But what?

The answer came to me when planning a fun afternoon activity for the kids - peach picking!


I decided to add a layer of sliced peaches between the cake and the streussel layers of this cake.

And the result?

Not too shabby!

I think the extra moisture from the peaches affected the texture of the streussel, but the taste was outstanding. The peaches added the perfect burst of fresh sweetness

I brought this cake into work with me one morning.

Did I mention that I work at a zumba studio??

It's always fun when I bring in treats. The initial response is always "we're here to exercise!! No cake!!"

But then I turn around and... the pan is empty, except for a few crumbs.

This was a big hit.

So link up and share your sourdough coffee cake!!

Peach Sourdough Coffee Cake
(slightly adapted from German food)

for the streussel topping:
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar (I used light brown sugar)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, cold (I used coconut oil)
3 peaches

Combine flour, (brown) sugar and cinnamon until well combined. Rub in cold butter (or coconut oil) using your fingertips until the mixture is crumbly and sticks together when you press it together with your fingers. Set topping aside.
Peel and thinly slice the peaches. Set these aside, too.

for the cake:
1 cup healthy sourdough starter (100% hydration)
1/3 cup oil
1 egg
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar (I used 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)

Spray 8" x 8" or 9" x 9" square cake pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Stir together all ingredients until they are just combined.
Spread batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.
Carefully arrange the peaches over the top of the batter.
Sprinkle the reserved crumbs evenly over the peach-topped of the cake.
Allow the cake to rest for 30 minutes. While it is resting, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until the cake is set and the sides begin to pull away from the pan.
Allow to cool before cutting.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

June Sourdough Surprises - Galette


Anyone out there?

It's been a long time, I know!

Things have been absolutely crazy. School year ending, lots of activities, and a double bout of bronchitis and pneumonia (all me... yup...), but all that is settling down and I'm so excited to share some deliciousness!

This month, Sourdough Surprises had us revisiting pies, but in a more rustic ways, encouraging us to try our hands at galettes or crostadas.

As luck would have it, I happened to have a ton of apples in the fruit bowl (and next to the fruit bowl...), so I got right to work!

It all starts with the dough, which comes together just like a "regular" pie crust dough, only using sourdough starter as the liquid portion.  I try not to overwork my pie dough to keep the end result nice and crispy, so it looks a bit crumbly to start.

Trust me, that's a good thing.

The dough is then rolled out into an approximate oval. Remember - we're going for rustic this month.

See all that butter in the crust? Not overworked.

And then we add the filling. I winged that part. Sliced up some apples, cooked them down in coconut oil, brown sugar, cinnamon, a bit of ginger and a dash of nutmeg. Once all of that cooled, I poured it right into the center of my (rustic) oval.

Then just... fold up the edges as best as possible.

I just kept reminding myself... rustic. Rustic.

And then it all bakes up to golden deliciousness.

Now, I am not sure if you remember, but my kids are not always fans of sourdough.

But this?

Little miss LOVED this.

Asked for it for dessert. And breakfast. And snack time.

She wound up eating almost the whole thing.

Can't say I blame her. This was delicious.  Perfect come-back treat!

So what did you bake for us this month?? Link up and share!

Sourdough Pate Brisee (for pie or galette - enough for single crust pie or one galette)

1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2" cubes
about 1/2 cup liquid sourdough starter (mine was at room temperature, but chilled starter would probably be even better), more or less as needed

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and sugar.
Add the butter and work with your fingertips or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some larger, pea-sized chunks remaining.
Gradually add the starter, carefully mixing with a rubber spatula or your hands, pressing it against the sides of the bowl, until the dough barely holds together when squeezed. You may not need all the starter, or you may need to add more, so add slowly from the start and work the dough only until it's ready.
Gather the dough into a ball, put it in a plastic bag, and squash it into a 6" disc. Chill at least 1 hour, or up to a couple days, or freeze for up to two months.

When you are ready to prepare your pie or galette, rolle the dough into a round approximately 12" around.  Fill with your prepared (cooled!) filling, and bake in a 400 degree oven until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly.


Monday, April 20, 2015

April Sourdough Surprises - Biscotti

Happy April!! Spring has finally started to... well... spring, and I, for one, am super excited about it.  The warmer weather makes me so happy!!

This month's Sourdough Surprises challenge also made me happy! This month we were challenged to use our sourdough starters to make biscotti. YUM! I was so excited that I made my biscotti right away. Which almost never happens these days.

There are tons of recipes out there, combining all kinds of flavors and mix ins. I knew I wanted to try something a bit simpler for my first go-round, so I chose this recipe.

The trick to biscotti, even the sourdough variety, is not in the dough preparation. It comes together similarly to other cookie type doughs.

The difference is that they're not done after being baked.

Nope. After they're baked and out of the oven, you keep the oven hot and prepare them to be baked again.

Allowed to cool just briefly, the loafs cookie "loaves" are sliced, and the slices are laid out on a baking sheet... be baked yet again, toasting them to a beautiful, golden, delicious treat.

These were so delicious and made the perfect afternoon treat.

Especially delicious with a cup of tea.

Even better when enjoyed outside in the gorgeous Spring weather.

So what kind of biscotti did you make? Link up and share!

Sourdough Biscotti
(only slightly adapted from Friendship Bread Kitchen)

1 cup 100% hydration sourdough starter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup almonds or walnuts, coarsely chopped (I used sunflower seeds to keep them nut-free)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In medium bowl (I used my KitchenAid mixer), cream together starter, sugar and butter. Stir in vanilla extract and egg.
In a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Stir the dry mixture into creamed mixture. Fold in nuts (seeds).
Divide dough into 2 pieces. Roll each piece out into a log about 10 inches long. Place them on an ungreased cookie sheet and flatten until they are about 3 inches wide.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until firm. Cool on baking sheet for 10-15 minutes.
Slice logs crosswise into 1/2 inch wide slices. Place slices cut side down on baking sheet.
Return to oven for additional 15 minutes, until crisp and light brown. Cool and store in airtight container.


Friday, March 20, 2015

March Sourdough Surprises - Choose Your Own Adventure!

You know what's awesome? Sourdough Surprises has reached their third anniversary! That's thirty six months of sourdough deliciousness - and you've stuck along with me for the ride!! How cool is that??

To celebrate the third anniversary, Sourdough Surprises offered participants a chance to choose any recipe we wanted from all those we've made over the last three years - try one we missed, repeat one that we wanted a do-over on... whatever the reason, just choose your own sourdough adventure this month!

With thirty six amazing and varied recipes to choose from, you can imagine how difficult it was to make my final selection. But I based my decision on what my family liked best, and that happened to have been a very recent challenge - steamed buns!


Last time I made bacon cheeseburger buns. This time, I tried chicken enchilada buns. The filling was made from shredded chicken smothered in delicious, tangy enchilada sauce.

I made two varieties - without cheese, for little man, and with... for the rest of us. Aside from the fact that the buns lost their shape during the steaming process, these were a fun and delicious take on the Mexican meal.

I can't wait to see what meal I'll turn into a bun next!

So what did you choose? Which sourdough surprise did you attempt this moth? Link up and share!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

February Sourdough Surprises - Beignets

I am late.
And I apologize for that.

But I absolutely couldn't let the month of Febraury go by without doing the absolutely amazing Sourdough Surprises challenge of making beignets.

Beignets are similar to donuts, and are particularly popular in New Orleans, specifically around Mardi Gras. Which made them the perfect choice for this month's challenge.

The recipe I used was super simple, but amazingly delicious. I quickly mixed up the dough one night after dinner, then let it rest at room temperature until little miss came home from school the next day - then fried up some after school deliciousness!

For as simple as this dough was to whip up, these beauties had a deliciously complex flavor and an amazing texture - crisp on the outside, light and chewy on the inside.

These were absolutely worth the effort of frying them and I look forward to making them again!!

Sourdough Beignets
(adapted from Have YOU Ben Starr Struck? to be dairy-free)

1 cup sourdough starter (100% hydration)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon non-iodized table salt)
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil
3/4 cup coconut milk

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer.
Knead with the dough hook for about 5 minutes.  The dough should be firm and clear the bottom of the bowl.  If it doesn’t, add a bit more flour.  If it’s too dry and doesn’t come together, add a splash more buttermilk.
Transfer the dough to a bowl that’s been lightly sprayed or oiled, then cover with plastic wrap and let ferment on your countertop for 4-12 hours. I let mine sit for about 20 hours at room temperature.
When you get ready to fry, pour about 2″ of canola oil into a heavy pot over medium heat (or preheat your deep fryer) and bring the oil to 325F.  Pinch off a ball of dough about the size of 2 golf balls.  Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4″ thick.  Then cut that flattened dough into 4 pieces with a knife or pizza roller.  Don’t worry about making them look symmetrical.  This is a rustic dessert.  Drop the dough pieces into the hot oil and fry, 4 at a time, flipping often, until the beignets are golden brown on both sides, and nicely puffed up.  Transfer to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet to drain for a few seconds, then dust with powdered sugar.
These taste best fresh and warm!
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