Weekend Baking

As the temperature hit the single digits over the weekend, it seemed absurd not to have the oven on constantly as a source of comfort food and extra heat. I’m not crazy about snow or arctic-inspired seasons unless accompanied by holidays and a break from school and work, so January and February (and sometimes March, April, and May in the Midwest) are all about biding time until peeling off winter coats and scarves in the sunshine of spring is a reality. After a few forays into the icy cold streets and waiting in the wind chill for late buses (living without a car in a medium-sized city will crush all illusions of happy public transportation in due time!), baking cookies and tending a warm, crusty loaf of bread seemed like a much better plan.

In 2009 and 2010 I lived without a real kitchen for about 8 months and the majority of my diet was PBJ and Peanut Butter Panda Puffs, so not surprisingly, I was not so into peanut butter after that. I’ll eat a PBJ if absolutely necessary, but it’s never my first choice for lunch anymore. But of course, desserts are another story, so sometimes peanut butter cookies sound like an absolutely fantastic idea. This weekend I reached for the Soft Peanut Butter Cookies recipe from The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, which is my go-to peanut butter cookie recipe.

I was looking to make a standard whole wheat bread, but while flipping through my recipe binder I came across a molasses rye bread with caraway and raisins (recipe here). I made the bread pretty much as directed, except I couldn’t find raisins in the cabinet and left them out.

Still craving regular bread, I made a standard whole wheat bread recipe. I like to replace 1/2 cup flour in any given bread recipe with wheat gluten flour (the kind you use to make seitan) because it makes the bread fluffy and soft. While searching through the cupboard for some kind of seed or herb to add to the bread, I came across my giant bag of sunflower seeds and dumped some in the dough at the last minute while kneading. They made a wonderful addition for a little toothsome crunch throughout the loaf. I ended up using this loaf for BBQ seitan sandwiches with ginger sesame red cabbage slaw.

Stay warm, everyone! Bread and cookies are the answer to snow and subzero temperatures. Unless you’re in a warm climate, and in that case, I am extremely envious!


Plain chocolate cake [recipe]

I’ve been sick for five, going on six days this past week and I’ve enjoyed it too much. Unabashedly staying home writing, reading, watching too much TV, and crafting for five days straight, save for a few short trips around the block or to the grocery store, is pretty much my dream life. To eliminate the risk of becoming one with my blankets and couch and the fact that I feel mostly better today, I decided to descend upon reality and take more risks: sensory overload from the outside world, fresh air, and interaction with other humans. Needless to say, I survived, and the holiday season will be upon us soon in full force of overindulgence, reminiscent of those glorious five days when I was too sick to leave the house. Until then, simple pleasures will fuel the next couple weeks of an unseasonably warm December (in the Midwest, anyway). One of those pleasures is cake. Straight up chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, no frills.

This recipe is modified from my chocolate malt cake recipe. It’s plain chocolate cake, super fudgy, no unanticipated anomalies. You could add peppermint extract and Candy Cane Joe Joe’s to be festive, but save that for the end of the month and just eat chocolate cake.

Chocolate Cake

Makes 2 layer 8 inch cake

2/3 cup canola oil
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 cups almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
2-3 tablespoons almond milk

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Line two 8 inch cake pans with parchment rounds and grease the sides with margarine or cooking spray. Set aside.

Pour the canola oil, sugar, almond milk, vanilla extract, and apple cider vinegar together in a stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Stir until just combined.

Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually sift into the wet ingredients, stirring after each addition. The batter should be thick and pourable.

Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake for 30-32 minutes, until the tops of the cakes are firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool before attempting to remove the cakes.

In the meantime, make the frosting. Cream together the margarine and shortening in a stand mixer or with hand beaters. Gradually add the powdered sugar and cocoa, stirring as you go. Mix until completely incorporated, then add the almond milk. If the frosting is too soft or liquid, add more powdered sugar. Beat the frosting for 6-8 minutes. Add more powdered sugar or almond milk to adjust the flavor and consistency of the frosting if necessary.

Remove the cakes from the pans. Spread frosting atop one layer and place the second layer on top. Frost the sides and top of the double layer cake, piping on a border or adding chocolate and candy for decoration if you wish.


MoFo #20: More French desserts

Champagne, chocolate, Grand Marnier, oh my!

Mulled Wine
I mulled wine for the first time last Thanksgiving using the recipe from Celebrate Vegan. This year I made some with a different array of spices: cardamom, rose, anise, cinnamon, cloves, and orange. I’m going to continue making it each year in the fall and winter months, switching the ingredients up every time.

Grand Marnier Petit Fours
A tale of chocolate, roses, and scorned love that ends in tempestuous prose, broken ceramic, and orange cognac by candlelight. Complete with a marzipan “wax” seal.

Champagne Mousse Petit Fours
Fluffy chocolate cakes topped with elegant chocolate clouds comprised of bubbly sparkling wine with melting in your mouth its only purpose in life.

This concludes Vegan MoFo 2012 on The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur. Back to regularly (but somewhat capriciously) scheduled programming of weekly posts!
Thank you so much for reading throughout October, and thanks to the MoFo team for organizing yet another wonderfully global vegan event!


MoFo #19: October in cellphone animal pics

This is Gnocchi. He likes to hang out in the kitchen with me when I cook. Last year during Vegan MoFo, he wrote a post over at Get Sconed!

He also likes to rub his chin all over my feet. Especially when I’m sitting and eating. I’ve been pretty busy lately and made salad at least four times in the past week…it’s Vegan MoFo, what’s wrong with me?

This is Drake. He just had his 7th birthday earlier this month. Aww.

This is the squirrel who lives in my windowsill. I thought he might leave when I took out the AC unit and brushed all his leaves out of there, but he’s back.

I guess he’s cute and all, but this window is right next to my bed, so hopefully no middle of the night squirrel face attacks are in the works.


MoFo #18: Absinthe shortbread

Over the summer, I assisted an editorial photoshoot at a bar in Chicago with one of the largest absinthe collections in the US. While adjusting lights, wiping up stray ice water, and sampling absinthe prepared the traditional French method, I also listened to anecdotes and history lessons as colorful as the spirit. Modern day absinthe consumption alludes to 19th and 20th century Europe, where the drink became wildly popular, notably among French writers and artists. The name comes from the Latin name for wormwood, artemisia absinthium. The three necessary ingredients in absinthe are anise, fennel, and wormwood, but the variations, additions, and methods can be as diverse as wine making.

To serve, a slotted spoon with a single sugar cube is placed on top of a glass containing the bright green liquid. Ice water is slowly dripped into the glass, dissolving the sugar cube, diluting the absinthe, and creating a chemical reaction that turns the concoction into a milky green color.

This shortbread contains no absinthe or alcohol at all. Instead, the flavor is alluded to with star anise and fennel, and the mint green color courtesy of food coloring.


MoFo #17: Wine and cheese

New takes on the classic pairing!

The wine…

White Raspberry Wine Bundt
This is a sweet vanilla cake filled with chardonnay, fresh raspberries, and white chocolate, topped with a white chocolate chardonnay glaze.

A cherry version was also in the works.

Rose Rosé Shortbread
Rosewater and rosé wine come together in a crisp shortbread perfect with herbal tea or lemonade.

The cheese…

I never ate havarti cheese before making the switch to veganism and wasn’t entirely sure what it was prior to a vegan version hitting the shelves. You could’ve told me a havarti was a car or brand of electronics (also topics I’m not well-versed in). But after reading rave reviews of Daiya’s new havarti wedge cheese for many months, I decided to give it a whirl when they were on sale for the first time ever at Whole Foods. The raving was correct, as this cheese was spicy, creamy, and intensely flavorful! It really tastes nothing like the distinguishable cheddar and mozzarella shreds, if you’re not a fan of those (I love ’em all). I’ve eaten the havarti on crackers, toast, with apples, and in salad. So tasty!


MoFo #16: Milwaukee Monday

Ian’s Pizza has vegan lasagna pizza, mac n cheese pizza, bbq pizza, burrito, cheeseburger, and many other crazy pizza selections. They’re right across the street from Whole Foods and hold vegan slice nights at least once a week, a tradition that’s been going strong since early this year. Whether meeting up with a group of Milwaukee vegan ladies or getting pizza to-go, Ian’s is one of my favorite vegan-friendly places in Milwaukee to dine in or get take out.

Vegan mac n cheese and Smokey the Bandit slices:

I also have a pizza eating reputation to uphold. It’s very serious business: