Summer test kitchen

Now that the drab spectrum of winter is behind us, the weather is warm and a variety of produce is in season, baking with fresh flavors and lots of color is an effortless decision. I’ve been cranking out cookies, cupcakes, cakes, candies, ice creams, puddings, breads, donuts, and whoopie pies nearly every day for the past few weeks at work on new book recipes, effectively creating a surplus of sweets around the house. You’d think making desserts every day would be a fantastic way to happily replace two meals of the day with cake, but it’s actually a strange way to instill portion control. I really enjoy the inventive process and baking sweets, but at the end of the day my sweet teeth crave something hearty like falafel! And maybe a little cake. Here are a few of the decidedly summery treats that have made their way through my kitchen recently.

Blackberry Cosmopolitan Mini Cake

I almost always prefer mini cakes over traditional eight inch double layer cakes. You don’t have to whip out a gigantic batch of buttercream, tiny cakes are easy to transport, and mini cakes are the perfect amount of cake for a small group. This cake is two layers of vanilla orange blossom orange zest lime cake with blackberry swirls, blackberry jam filling, lime triple sec buttercream, and fresh blackberry garnish. I think orange blossom water tastes like sunblock, but a small amount is a perfect floral accent. A taste tester (my mom) described this cake as having a “wedding cake texture” and lots of fresh, citrus flavor.

Strawberry Basil Balsamic Cupcakes

I had leftover basil syrup from the Cucumber Basil Sorbet (or maybe it was the other way around, we’ll never know. The tofu chicken or the egg replacer?) and combined the iconic pairings of strawberry/basil and strawberry/balsamic in an eccentric cupcake. I’m not sure if the phrase “eccentric cupcake” is ever usable again in this context since Cupcake Wars presented contestants with hot dogs, head cheese, and bone marrow.

Okay, I made those up. Was I right?? Anyway, this cupcake is a very vanilla (see what I did there, using an alternate meaning of vanilla? Hilarious! …I’m sorry) chocolate cake infused with basil and the addition of balsamic vinegar and strawberries. It’s filled with basil buttercream and topped with balsamic chocolate ganache and a strawberry garnish.

Strawberry Kool-Aid Cookies

I’d say “keeping with the strawberry theme…”, but I’m not sure strawberry Kool-Aid has ever met a real strawberry. It’s its own neon pink animal. Kool-Aid is actually pretty fun to bake with because it makes your batter the brightest of bright colors, replaces flavor extract (who’s laughing now, $6 bottle of strawberry extract?), and the acid in the package reacts with baking soda, so you don’t have to worry about lemon juice or vinegar for leavening. Sure, it’s completely artificial and chemical, but the concept of using natural food coloring in a dessert, full of sugar and fat by nature, is lost on me. I like to believe most people don’t make dessert multiple times per day, so when they do, it won’t hurt to load it up with neon sugar once in a while! These cookies would be great at a lemonade/Kool-Aid stand in the summer.

Cranberry Lime Gin and Tonic

Here’s a cookie to take Play-Doh cookies a notch down. This moderately sweet cookie teeming with tart lime and gin-soaked cranberries is a great finish to a low key dinner party.

Tropical Banana Smoothie Pudding

This coconut-based pudding (people like coconut-based things, right? I’ve been putting coconut milk in EVERYTHING lately) has every element of a tropical smoothie: banana, pineapple, orange, cherry, and a cocktail umbrella. Well, this bowl of pudding doesn’t have one, but it could! Plain chocolate pudding is nice, but a yummy banana pineapple pudding done up like a cocktail is a great summer treat.

That concludes this round-up! Stay tuned for more dessert blogs and updates.


Cucumber Basil Sorbet

I’m really not a fan of sorbet. It’s among the ranks of spaghetti and marinara, steamed vegetables, the infamous hummus plate, and every half-baked idea of a meal dreamed up by omnivores as desirable vegan fare. Oh, ice crystal-encrusted frozen strawberry pulp that melts into soup within thirty seconds? Mmm, delicious. That sounds way better than ice cream or chocolate cake. The problem is, most sorbets are too sugary, artificial tasting, and unsatisfying compared to other desserts. However, I’ve had a few sorbets in the past year or so that I’ve been slowly warming up to the idea of sorbet. One is the selection of sorbets at Cold Spoons Gelato in Milwaukee. They have exciting flavors like blood orange, honeydew, grapefruit, blueberry, and mango, and texture is incredibly creamy. No pesky ice crystals! That’s a sorbet I can get behind. I’ve also really been into the idea of basil sorbet since eating it in Seattle last year. I think the key to making a sorbet alluring is the right texture, fresh natural flavors, and dressing it up a bit so it’s its own thing, not a sad comparison to ice cream or gelato. I decided to give basil sorbet a whirl by making my own version using cucumber as the base.

This sorbet combines fresh cucumber, basil leaves, and zesty lemon, and salt, pepper, and olive oil bring depth to this frozen treat. Nothing is worse than a shallow, flavorless dessert. Admittedly, it wasn’t really appropriate sorbet weather when I made this, but since we’re nearing the month of May, I’m hoping that thinking about summer treats will reign in the warm weather!

The first part of this recipe is the basil syrup. Making the basil syrup is something that will need to be done ahead of time, and it’s probably the most time consuming part of making the sorbet, apart from the freezing time. Any leftover syrup is lovely in lemonade or with fresh fruit. Now, I completely understand not wanting to turn on the stove and make a syrup in the middle of the summer when you want a refreshing treat, so if you really would like to substitute the syrup, using 5-6 tablespoons agave nectar and adding extra basil leaves to the food processor could be an acceptable substitution.

Basil Syrup

½ cup basil leaves
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup water

Stack the basil leaves atop each other, roll the stack up tightly, then slice the roll of basil finely to produce thin ribbons. This is called chiffonade and will allow the basil to infuse the syrup with the most flavor.
Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to stir and boil until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is clear. Remove from heat and stir in the basil. Completely submerge the leaves and coat thoroughly with the syrup. Basil loses its flavor at high temperatures, so don’t be tempted to put the saucepan back on the heat. Let the basil sit in the syrup for 45 minutes to an hour.

Basil syrup, not pee:

Cucumber Basil Sorbet

Makes 4 servings

2 cucumbers
6-7 tablespoons basil syrup (recipe below)
4-5 large fresh basil leaves
¼ cup lemon juice
Pinch of lemon zest
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel your cucumbers, then scoop out the seeds.

Combine the cucumbers, basil syrup, basil leaves, and lemon juice and zest in a food processor. Add the salt and pepper, then adjust flavors as desired.
Either freeze the sorbet in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or plan to freeze it the manual way. Pour the mixture in a shallow bowl, stick it in the freezer, and then stir every 30 minutes for 3-4 hours until frozen to a scoopable consistency.

To serve, scoop onto individual plates, then garnish with basil leaves, a sprinkle of lemon zest, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Now, eat sitting in bed huddled in blankets while wishing for warm weather!


Shirley Temple Cookies recipe from Mad City Vegan Fest

I was lucky enough to be at Mad City Vegan Fest in Madison, WI over this weekend giving a baking demo! I demo-ed my new recipe for Shirley Temple Cookies, a light lemon orange-flavored cookie that melts in your mouth, topped with a cherry grenadine frosting, sour straws, mini umbrellas, and a cherry on top! Mad City Vegan Fest was a great time, the demo went fantastic, and I left simultaneously inspired and needing a good night’s sleep!
I’ll be out of town for the next week, so I’ll be doing a full write up on the fest when I get back (and check Vegansaurus soon for a write up I’ll be doing later today on the demo)! Here is the recipe:

Shirley Temple Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

These cookies are meant to replicate Shirley Temple drinks. Not the sad, fake lemon-lime corn syrup-flavored concoction, but real kiddie cocktails—fizzy citrus cherry flavored drinks topped with fruit slices, umbrellas, and cherries on cocktail swords to make every eight year old at weddings and social functions their parents dragged them along to feel grown up and sophisticated.

½ cup margarine
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup powdered sugar
1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest
1 ½ teaspoons orange zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice
¼ teaspoon almond extract

2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup non-hydrogenated margarine
1/3 cup non-hydrogenated shortening
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon grenadine
1-2 tablespoons juice from maraschino cherries

Maraschino cherries and sour or fizzy candies for garnish (I used Sour Patch Sour Rainbow Belts rolled up and stuck in thick milkshake or bubble tea straws cut into 1-inch pieces)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir together the margarine and oil in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the powdered sugar, then stir in the zest and juice and almond extract.

Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix until just combined. The dough should be somewhat thick. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until the bottoms are golden and the cookies are firm. The flavors are so delicate, so be careful not to overbake them. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

In the meantime, make the frosting.
Beat together the margarine and shortening, then gradually add the powdered sugar, beating after each addition. Add the grenadine and vanilla extract and beat for 5-8 more minutes until smooth and fluffy.

To decorate the cookies, spread or pipe the frosting on. Top each frosted cookie with a cherry half and candy, then serve!


Rose Pedals, Bunnies, and Rainbow cookie

Hey guys!
I’ve started guest posting once in a while over at the new vegan wedding website, Rose Pedals, that just launched last week, complete with adorable illustrations by Amanda Chronister! My first post was the coconut lime Mexican wedding cookies from the book, as well as a lavender variation! Check it out here.
Here is a sneak peek at next month’s post: chocolate wine cupcakes. My food photos are probably going to have 100% more bunny appearances in them from now on. Meet Gnocchi the Bunny! I just adopted her over the weekend, and she’s in for a life of constant attention, cuddles, and food! 🙂

So this isn’t a Rainbow cookie, per say, but a Zoe’s banana walnut chocolate chip cookie from Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco! It was chewy, soft, not overly sweet, and bursting with chocolate and nuts! The rest of my Bay Area foodventures will be posted on SBYM in the near future. They are spoiled over there, so many wonderful options!


Rosewater Lemonade and “Quick and Easy Vegan Bake Sale”

I had leftover frosting from the Chocolate Rosewater Lemonade Cupcakes my friend Laurie and I made yesterday, so of course I needed to make something else to employ the rest of the frosting, which turned out to be fluted shortbread rounds with frosting piped on, sandwiched together. Delicate and flavorful.
I totally drank the prop after this shoot. Rosewater lemonade with strawberry garnish.

P.S. The Facebook fan page now has over 400 fans/likes! Join if you haven’t, and invite! Yay!

I’d also like to mention that later this summer I will be testing some cookie recipes from Carla Kelly’s upcoming book, Quick and Easy Vegan Bake Sale, which will be hitting the shelves in Spring 2011!

Click here to become a fan of her book on facebook!


Oatmeal Cookies with Blueberries and Dark Chocolate Chunks

This is the basic soft and delicious oatmeal cookie recipe from the book, with the addition of dried blueberries and dark chocolate, chopped up. This cookie is the canvas for many different possibilities for additions, and sweet delicate blueberries are the perfect complement. If you’ve never had the pleasure of trying dried blueberries, I recommend it. They’re a little on the pricier side, but they’re a wonderful treat and probably my favorite dried fruit.