Friday, July 31, 2009

Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes

Now that my baking mojo is back, I baked the coconut macaroons of my previous post on the same day as these red velvet cupcakes...and a couple batches of Parisian macarons a couple days later, along with chocolate-coated fleur de sel and caramelized white chocolate ganache. Hm, it's been a busy week. Better be careful not to burn out my inner baker again!

So, red velvet. I better choose my words carefully on this topic...I will say that red velvet has always been an enigma to me. What is the cake supposed to taste like? Is it chocolate or not? Why are so many people passionately in love with it?

After trying these cupcakes, I think I have an inkling of an answer to these questions.

I have also always wondered how vegan baking works. I've done my share of experimenting with fruit purée, egg-based egg substitute, and margarine in baking, but was convinced that vegan baking still needed to be further developed...until these cupcakes.

You may think I'm overstating my case here, but try making these cupcakes: they are better than most scratch cake recipes that I've tried making, hands down. Not only that, but they are slightly healthier, and you can serve them to anyone!

Moist, well-textured, not too sweet, and just chocolatey enough (I may have added extra cocoa powder to that end...). TRY IT! YOU WILL LIKE IT!

Much thanks to the Facebook friend who generously posted this recipe, sourced from the Mac & Cheese food blog.

I intend to use this recipe as a base for other cupcake flavors, so I'll be sure to post any successes I have.

Here we go:

Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes
from Mac & Cheese

2 cups soy milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 ounces liquid red food coloring OR several shakes of powdered red food coloring
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°.
Add vinegar to soy milk, and set aside to curdle (so cool!).
Sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
Add vegetable oil, food coloring, and vanilla extract to the curdled soy milk, and mix.
Pour liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix.
Fill cupcake liners ¾ full; makes about 22 cupcakes.
Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes clean.

Red velvet cake is normally paired with cream cheese frosting, so you can use my cream cheese frosting recipe or this similar, optionally vegan cream cheese frosting. To use the contents of my fridge, I substituted mascarpone in for the Tofutti, and it was really good. I could taste the margarine in the icing, but I still enjoyed the icing on the cupcake.

(Vegan) Cream Cheese Frosting:

½ C margarine, room temperature
½ C Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, room temperature, or mascarpone cheese
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 C powdered sugar

Cream margarine, cream cheese, and vanilla extract.
Slowly mix the confectioner’s sugar into the creamed sugar, and then beat until smooth and fluffy.
Frost cooled cupcakes. Pipe on with a medium round tip from a pastry bag to get the effect of these photos.

Now you're all set...but are you ready for the rave reviews?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Yes, macaroooooons. The mounds of sweet coconut that have nothing to do with Parisian macarons. I've been looking for a good recipe for ages, and finally have a keeper (thank you David Lebovitz!).

I love that the French call these rochers à la noix de coco; little rocks of coconut. This is helpful in distinguishing them from the Parisian macarons, which are merengue (read: whipped egg white)-based delicacies, unlike these heavier, chewier little mounds.

The secret to the delicious chewy texture, I discovered, is cooking the ingredients on the stove top prior to forming the cookies. My less-successful rounds of coconut macaroons merely had you throw the ingredients together in a bowl, and then bake up the cookies in the oven, and they always came out less chewy and more dry than I like.

Even though I used the incorrect kind of coconut (only had sweetened dried coconut in my kitchen this week), they still turned out famously. Whether you think of coconut macaroons as a Christmas treat, Passover treat, or fourteenth of July treat, I'm guessing you would enjoy this easy recipe on any occasion.

Coconut Chocolate Macaroons (aka American Macaroons!):
grâce à Dave Lebovitz

4 egg whites
1 1/4 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 T honey
2 1/2 C unsweetened coconut* (if using sweetened coconut, reduce sugar by 1/4 C)
1/4 C flour (not a strictly unleavened Passover sweet!)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz chocolate chips, for dipping

In a medium-sized skillet on the stove top, combine egg whites, sugar, salt, honey, coconut, and flour. Stir constantly over low-medium heat, scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent burning. Stir until the mixture just begins to scorch (when some of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is thickening, and you hear the pan contents sizzling a bit when you stir).

Off the heat, mix in the vanilla. Set aside in a bowl to cool.

When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. On a parchment- or silicone pad-lined baking sheet, make 1 1/2 inch mounds of the coconut mixture. Bake 18-20 minutes until golden brown on top.

If you want to dip them in chocolate:
When cookies have cooled, melt the chocolate chips (in the microwave for 30 second-bursts at a time, stirring between bursts, or in a double boiler on the stove) and dip each cookie in the chocolate. Place the dipped cookies on a baking pan lined with plastic wrap, and place the pan in the refrigerator until the chocolate has hardened.

*unsweetened coconut is also called coconut powder, medium shredded coconut, and coconut flakes.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Almond Croissant at Amandine

I have finally found a good almond croissant in LA...better in fact than many of the almond croissants I had in France! And let me tell you, I have had quite a few there - including one as big as a piece of pizza.

A croissant aux amandes is a day-old croissant, cut open and lined with almond paste, soaked in simple syrup, topped with sliced almonds, and baked all together. Sweet, almondy, and buttery.

Amandine, true to its name and reputation, had the winning pastry. It did not skimp on the almond paste, and was not too sweet, but oh so buttery and light. This croissant, accompanied by a huge café au lait, made me incredibly happy. Too happy to not share it with you. Mmmmmmm...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Marshmallow Fun

Does the Green Lantern's power ring still have intergalactic power when it is molded out of....marshmallow?

All I know is that my brother was able to hold off eating it for a whole month after his birthday, which inconceivable self control must be due to a super power! The super power also improved the texture of the candy and maintained its flavor over that month, so it clearly was a legitimate power ring.

The first of my younger brothers is famous for having gone to a friend's birthday party when he was about four years old, and when invited to participate in the party games, saying "I just came for the cake." A story he is reminded of by our family friends constantly, I might add. But this year, when his always-anticipated birthday came around, he started to drop hints about caramel and mint marshmallows.

Green Lantern's icon came to mind when I tinted the mint marshmallow green and remembered that my brother's favorite comic book character was good ole' GL. He's already anticipating the release of the GL movie in TWO YEARS, to give you an idea of his passion for the character! The symbol is lined with caramel underneath, and the green background is mint, all dipped in chocolate. A great gift for someone on a budget (me) to give someone who likes personalized stuff (him).

I will note that it is much easier to cut shapes out of marshmallow than out of caramel - thank goodness for chocolate to hold everything together! Would have been a much cleaner shape had I left the cut marshmallow without caramel lining or chocolate dipping.

These 2-foot marshmallow batons from Surfas also appeared at my bro's birthday, and may have served as little guimauve swords before we gobbled them up...we both love cake, but marshmallows may be the party game/dessert compromise we need!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Olvera Street: Carnitas at La Luz del Dia

Since summer weather has finally come to LA, and it feels a bit more like vacation time, I'm in a mood to celebrate the city.

I'm also in a mood to save money, since going out to eat takes its toll, so I'm going to share an old family favorite: the #6 at La Luz del Dia, a Mexican restaurant at the plaza end of Olvera Street. The #6 has a healthy portion of tender carnitas, served with real rice and beans (which means lard, I'm sorry to say) and fresh salsa and guacamole sauce - and handmade corn tortillas! This old school place has lots of nice ladies serving the food (who probably have worked there forever), beautiful tiled tables and wooden chairs, and regular mariachi bands roaming through it.

It is also located right next to a plaza that will have free entertainment on your average weekend day, including these folks, who I could have watched for hours:

And across the plaza is the small, free Chinese American Museum that is worth a few minutes of time; true to this neighborhood's history, the entire museum is in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

So, one of these sunny summer days, take the Metrolink downtown to Union Station, cross the street to Olvera Street, wander the street market, enjoy the free entertainment in the plaza, explore the Chinese American Museum, and eat some good carnitas (and maybe a churro after). And heck, Chinatown is only a few streets over, so you could spend the afternoon looking around and have Chinese food for dinner. LA doesn't have to be expensive!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pecan Pie Macarons

Hello, friends, I am back from a ridiculously long blogging hiatus! I have thought about blogging many times in the last month, but a busy schedule sucked my inspiration dry; even though I have baked a few times, and certainly gone out to eat, the creative energy to blog has been absent.

Meanwhile, I have figured out a few things about Parisian macarons...including the fact that people do like chewy macarons, despite my railings against such macaron texture. I have a theory that the chewiness results from overbaking the cookies, giving them a toughness that softens into chewiness when combined with the filling in the middle. A theory not entirely tested, but I did make some brandied macadamia nut coconut caramel macarons (gotta work on streamlining that name...) which I baked in a new oven, consequently producing less-baked, softer cookies.

These pecan pie macarons, based on Tartelette's macarons of the same name, were chewy, and yet, very popular. I have not had luck with Tartelette's macaron recipes in the past, so I used my tried-and-true NPR recipe and replaced the cocoa powder with the same volume (1/4 C) of ground pecans. I then used Tartelette's caramel sauce recipe and pecan brittle recipes, et voilà! Pecan pie macarons.

Tartelette often encases little bits of treats in the middle of the filling to enhance the flavor - in this case, the pecan brittle. I wasn't sure how I felt about that idea, feeling strongly as I do about the smooth delicateness that I think should be the essence of the macaron middle. In the end, however, it had a nice effect. I would say these are macarons of a different genre, a riff on the Parisian classic, but still lovely.

To be honest, the most difficult part of this macaron construction for me was the caramel sauce - probably the most often thrown-away item in my cooking history. I really want to be able to make this kind of caramel, with just sugar, cream, and butter and without using a candy thermometer, but the results have been erratic. Perhaps it is time to give in and find a recipe that takes corn syrup to interfere with the formation of sugar crystals, and has more specific instructions than "cook until caramel-colored." I may stubbornly continue to make this sometimes-successful sauce, but eventually I have a feeling that I'll give in to the more predictable versions.

As an alternative, however, how about some caramelized white chocolate ganache-filled macarons? Stay tuned...