The Real Thing? Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcake

This is a leftover from February’s Chocolate Challenge. Someone had asked that I come up with plant-based recipe for Red Velvet Cake. Quite honestly, I’ve only had this southern treat about twice and I’ve never made one myself. I thought it might be fun to give it a whirl and here’s what I came up with. However, it comes with one caveat; I’m not well-versed in the making or eating of Red Velvet Cake. I thought it interesting that at first glance, Red Velvet looks like a chocolate cake, but the traditional recipes I looked at did not have much chocolate in them at all. I think what is unique about the cake is the light and fluffy Ermine icing. The icing is made by cooking milk and flour, then whipping it with butter and sugar. Since the icing contains more fat that I care to use in a recipe, I wanted the cake to be virtually fat free. I usually use pumpkin puree to impart a tenderness that is attributed to butter in conventional cake recipes. I decided to replace some of the pumpkin with pureed beets to give the cake a reddish hue. (I was going for a subtler color, so I might change the ratio of beets to pumpkin the next time I make it.) Anyway, the cake came out with a nice texture and unless you’re a super-taster I doubt that you’d detect the presence of beets. Considering that there’s a cup of non-dairy butter in the icing, it came out surprisingly light, fluffy and not greasy. For me, it was an overall success. I got to do some culinary research and kitchen experimentation that resulted in a tasty treat for me and my family. Does it taste like the real thing? Since I’m no expert in the nuances of Red Velvet I can’t say for sure, so I’ll let you be the judge. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Red Velvet Cake

2 cups cashew, almond or soy milk
1 tablespoon vinegar
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup cooked beets
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 to 4 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

Ermine icing (see recipe), or other fluffy white icing

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two8-inch cake pans by coating lightly with non-stick spray or coconut oil. Line bottoms with parchment paper.

Place cashew milk and vinegar in blender container and let sit about 5 minutes. Add sugar, beets, pumpkin and vanilla and process until no pieces of beets remain.

Sift together remaining dry ingredients. Add liquid ingredients and mix until well blended. Divide batter evenly between pans and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a rack completely.

To assemble, place one layer with flat side up on cake platter. Spread some icing on top, then position second layer on top of the first. Use remaining icing on the top and sides of the cake. (The icing will be thin, so you might want to ice just the tops of the layers and allow the icing to drip down the sides of the cake.)

If making cupcakes, line muffin tins with liners and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Makes about 18 cupcakes.

Ermine Icing

5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup cashew milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup non-dairy butter (ex. Earth Balance)
1 cup granulated sugar

Over medium heat, whisk flour and milk in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer, stirring frequently until it thickens into a pudding. Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla and salt. Pour into a bowl to allow it to cool completely. Put plastic wrap on the surface to keep a skin from forming.

Use a mixer to cream together non-dairy butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the cooled pudding and continue to beat until the mixture until well blended. Refrigerate until to use.

25 Mar 2017

For the Love of Scones: Sweet Potato Scones

Sweet Potato Scones

How do I love scones, let me count the ways. For breakfast, warm out of the oven, with a mug of home-brewed Dunkin Donuts coffee. Re-warmed in the microwave with a cup of hot tea in the afternoon. Right out of a paper bag during the first ten minutes of a two hour road trip, a soy latte riding shot-gun. Even when I was making scones with butter, eggs and buttermilk, they always seemed to be choking-ly dry. (Nothing that a smear of butter wouldn’t fix.) But things are different now. I still love scones, except now I really have to get creative with plant-based ingredients. I use pumpkin in a lot of my baked goods because it seems to make the texture, especially in cakes, moist and tender but not dense. Since scones tend to be on the “hefty” side, I decided to try baked sweet potato in this recipe. (Bake ’em til the syrupy juice oozes out.) For my first attempt, I used almond butter, two-thirds cup of sugar and a combination of almond milk and soy yogurt. I over-mixed the dough so they didn’t have the coarse texture that’s characteristic of scones. Not one to give up so easily, I started on my second batch. I used tahini instead of almond butter, reduced the sugar to one-half cup and opted for just almond milk since plain non-dairy yogurt may be hard to come by and is expensive. I used a more delicate hand when mixing up this batch which resulted in the coarse texture I was hoping for. The scones came out slightly sweet, moist and tender on the inside, a nice crust on the outside and speckled with plump raisins throughout. It was love at first bite . . .  and second, and third. No matter how, when or where you have them, you too can fall in love with these Sweet Potato Scones. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Tea and Scones

Sweet Potato Scones

½ cup cooked sweet potato (I prefer baked)
¼ cup tahini or almond butter
¾ cup non-dairy milk
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon golden flax meal

2 cups all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup raisins
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle some flour on top of the parchment paper.

Place sweet potato, almond butter, non-dairy milk, lemon juice and flax meal in blender and process until smooth.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, raisins, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add wet ingredients and stir to combine. The dough should be very stiff and slightly sticky.

Using floured hands, place the dough on the parchment paper and form into a circle about 8” in diameter and about 1-1/2” thick. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cut into 8 wedges, separating slightly. The interior will be slightly uncooked. Return to oven and bake another 5 to 10 minutes.

Remove and place on cooling rack.

17 Mar 2017

Irish & Italians: Corned Beets & Cabbage Dinner

Corned Beets & Cabbage with Chive Potatoes

St. Patrick’s Day was never one of my favorite holidays, but I did enjoy the corned beef and cabbage dinner my parents would make for the occasion. (Actually, I’d take a St. Joseph’s zeppole over corned beef and cabbage any day, but that’s another story.) I don’t remember them having it any other time of the year, so it was a really special treat for us. I remember one St. Patrick’s Day when Dad had a seizure and spent the day in the emergency room and Mom had to leave the dinner partially cooked on the stove. I think Dad, the trooper that he was, was more upset about the ruined dinner than about being in the hospital. Or the time, shortly after she moved in with us, when Mom passed out and hit her head on the kitchen floor for yet another St. Patrick’s Day emergency room visit. I guess the luck of the Irish doesn’t cover the Italians. So I wanted to pay homage to St. Patrick Day (and my parents), and came up with this Corned Beets & Cabbage Dinner. The cabbage, beets, carrots, onions and garlic are braised with vegetable stock, vinegar and pickling spices. I used red cabbage since I new everything would turn purple from the beets. Even the carrots take on a different color. The potatoes are made in an instant pot, but you can use baked potatoes or your favorite steamed or roasted potato recipe. I struggle to find cabbage recipes that we both really enjoy, but I have to say that this recipe came out very tasty. The aroma of the corning spices bring back memories of the corned beef and cabbage simmering for hours in my parents’ kitchen. Remembering all of the happy St. Patrick’s Days spent with my parents, here’s an Irish toast from an Italian girl:

“To all the days here and after
May they be filled with fond memories, happiness, and laughter.”

Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Corned Beets and Cabbage

Braising Ingredients:

3 Tbsp. brown sugar
½ tsp. mustard seeds
8 whole allspice berries
4 whole cloves
2 small bay leaves
½ tsp. black peppercorns
12 whole juniper berries
½ tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. ground celery seeds
2 whole garlic cloves
¼ cup vinegar
2 cups hearty vegetable broth

1 lb. beets, sliced into ¼” thick x ½” wide strips
8 oz. carrots, sliced into strips ¼” thick x ½” wide strips
1 small head of red cabbage

Place all braising ingredients in a deep saute pan. Bring to a boil. Add beets to liquid and place remaining vegetables on top. Lower heat to a simmer, cover and and cook until vegetables are soft and liquid has evaporated. This could take 30 minutes or longer depending on how soft you like your vegetables.

Herbed Potatoes in an Instant Pot

2 lbs. “creamer” potatoes, cut in half (about 1-1/2” chunks)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
Salt to taste (optional)

Place all ingredients in Instant Pot insert. Add ½ cup water. Pressure cook on high for 6 minutes, then quick release pressure.

Variation: omit rosemary and thyme and add 1 tablespoon dried chives

14 Mar 2017

Spinach-topia: Greek Spinach Pockets

Greek Spinach Pocket

Spanakopita is a popular Greek pie made with a spinach, onions and feta cheese filling and typically layered with sheets of phyllo. Even before I adopted a plant-based diet, I would eat Spanakopita on the rare occasion if someone else made it. A traditional recipe calls for cooking the spinach with olive oil then stirring in feta and eggs. Then the filling gets layered between sheets of phyllo that are brushed with butter. I really enjoyed it, but I certainly wouldn’t want a whole pan of it within easy reach. Lately, I’ve been on a Mediterranean food kick. I thought it would be nice to have a healthy, plant-based version of this tempting Greek specialty that doesn’t call for the use of phyllo. I made the filling by cooking spinach with onion, black salt (for an “eggy” taste), nutmeg and dill. I had some home-made almond milk ricotta on hand and mixed it with Kalamata olives to mimic the tang that’s characteristic of feta cheese. I opted to make individual servings by using frozen Roti. (Roti are Indian flat breads that can be found in the freezer section of an ethnic market. I’ve used Roti to make Jamaican Mushroom Patties , Broccoli Calzones and Samosadillas. They also make a nice accompaniment to Indian curry and dal recipes.) The end result? Well, let’s say I’m in “Spinach-topia.”  They came out nice and crisp on the outside and creamy and savory on the inside. We had them with a Greek-style tossed salad of Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, oregano and red wine vinegar. You could also make smaller versions to serve as an appetizer or for a cocktail party. You can make and bake them ahead of time and re-crisp in the oven the next day. Grab a Greek Spinach Pocket and grab a little piece of heaven. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Greek Spinach Pockets

Makes about 8 to 10 pockets

Olive oil (optional)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
20 oz. frozen chopped or cut spinach (do not defrost)
¼ tsp. black or regular salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 Tablespoon dried dill

1 cup almond milk ricotta (or tofu-cashew ricotta)
¼ cup chopped Kalamata olives

Frozen Roti as needed

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. (You may lightly coat the skillet with olive oil before heating.) Add onions and saute until they start to brown, adding water if needed to prevent sticking. Add frozen spinach and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The goal is to not allow the spinach to get watery. Add salt, nutmeg and dill and remove from heat. Let cool.

Add ricotta and olives to skillet and gently fold the ingredients together. Adjust seasonings as desired.

To assemble:

Preheat oven to 500F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

Heat a non-stick electric griddle on high.* Place Roti on griddle and cook on one side. (The aim is to cook, but not brown the one side so the sufrace of the roti doesn’t get soggy when filled.) Place cooked side up onto baking sheet.** Spoon filling onto one half and fold the other side over, pressing edges together. Bake until crust has browned, flipping half way through baking. Remove and let cook about 5 minutes before serving.

*If you don’t have an electric griddle, you could heat a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat.

**For appetizer-sized pockets, cut the roti in half after cooking one side, fill and fold over to form a triangular-shaped pocket.

07 Mar 2017

Don’t Fast. Feast: Gumbo Burgers with Roasted Pepper Sauce

Gumbo Burger with Roasted Pepper Sauce

I’ve been trying to incorporate more vegetables into my bean burger recipes and came up with this recipe the last time I made a pot of Vegetable Gumbo. Gumbo has its roots in Louisiana’s Creole cuisine and I usually make it right around Mardi Gras time. The highlight of Mardi Gras happens on Fat Tuesday, reflecting the practice of the last chance to eat rich, fattening foods before the ritual of the Lenten fast begins. Well, if you eat healthy, low-fat plant food all year round there’s no need to fast in the first place. I still enjoy learning about and celebrating holidays and traditions, so I wanted to share this recipe for Gumbo Burgers just in time for Fat Tuesday.

To make the burgers, I start by cooking the the “holy trinity” of onions, celery and bell peppers, adding tomatoes and aromatics, then cooking out most of the liquid. The mashed beans act to hold the vegetables together and the oats help to absorb any extra liquid. The Roasted Pepper Sauce is made with a small amount of cashew cream, roasted red peppers and hot sauce. These burgers have so much going into them that you don’t need anything else going on top of them, but feel free to serve with your favorite burger toppings. We had our burgers with a side of steamed spinach with a honey-mustard-cider vinegar dressing. The recipe makes a lot of burgers, so you can wrap them individually and place in the freezer to enjoy in the weeks ahead. Why fast when you can feast all year long on these healthy, hearty Gumbo Burgers? Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Gumbo Burgers with Roasted Pepper Sauce

Makes 8 to 12 patties

2 cans red kidney, pink or pinto beans, drained
½ cup whole oats, processed into course flour
1 extra large onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large tomato, diced
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
8 oz. okra, chopped
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
2 Tablespoons dried thyme
Cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Roasted Pepper Sauce (recipe follows)
Hamburger buns
Burger toppings as desired (tomato, onions, lettuce, etc.)

Place beans in a large mixing bowl and smash with a potato masher or fork. Place oat flour into bowl and set aside.

Heat a non-stick skillet on high heat. Add onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add tomato, tomato paste, okra, liquid smoke, thyme and cayenne pepper and continue cooking until all of the liquid has dried up. Add to mixing bowl and stir to combine. Season with salt and black pepper, adding more of the other seasonings as desired.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide mixture into even portions using either a one-third or one-half measuring cup and form into patties. Place on parchment paper and refrigerate for several hours.

When ready, heat a non-stick electric griddle on 350F. Place patties on griddle and cook until browned and burgers become firm, turning once during cooking. Serve on buns with roasted pepper sauce and your favorite toppings.

Roasted Pepper Sauce

½ cup raw cashews (soaked)
½ cup roasted red peppers
2 to 4 teaspoons hot sauce

Rinse and drain the soaked cashews. Place in container of high-speed blender and add enough water to cover about half of the cashews. Process on high until super smooth. Remove from container. This should yield about ½ cup, but you will only use ¼ cup to make the sauce.

Return ¼ cup of the cashew cream in the blender container along with the roasted peppers and hot sauce. Process on high until smooth. Place in a covered container and refrigerate before using.

Note: if you do not wish to use cashews, you can try substituting silken tofu.

28 Feb 2017

Think Big: Chocolate Challenge Cake

Chocolate Challenge Cake

This is the story of my big cake.

I developed this recipe in one day, but in reality, it’s been part of my evolution for several years. The Chocolate Challenge Cake was inspired in part by my enduring love of baking and my will to want to figure things out. It was also influenced by things that happened while making my way through life. Long before we adopted a plant-based diet and were living in New Jersey, there was Harold’s Deli. They served big New York-style deli sandwiches and even bigger desserts. When a restaurant encourages you to share your food and you still take home enough for three days, you know it’s big. Bruce described their cakes accurately when he said they were the size of a tom-tom drum. The memory of a Harold’s cake had been sequestered in the recesses of my brain until a new restaurant opened up in our Delaware hometown. Their signature dessert is the Chocolate Challenge Cake that has four layers of cake, chocolate syrup and fudge-like frosting. True confession time: yes, we did order a slice. Since a portion of the proceeds go to charity, I felt it was my moral obligation to order the cake. One towering slice of this cake is big and tasty, but way too rich for what my body is used to. I left the restaurant feeling full from the cake and energized by the prospect of developing a plant-based recipe for a Chocolate Challenge Cake of my own. When I adapt conventional recipes into plant-based versions, I try my best to minimize certain ingredients like fat and refined sugar without compromising on taste. This recipe is what I call “plant-based” or vegan and is meant for an occasional indulgence. For the layers I used my chocolate-pumpkin cake recipe because the only fat comes from the milk and cocoa powder and is dense enough to support a thick frosting. The frosting is made with silken tofu, non-dairy chocolate and dates; the only refined sugar is in the chocolate. I couldn’t believe my eyes after I stacked the layers and piled on the frosting. The result was BIG — a dense choclolate cake with a dreamy fudge frosting that’s not too sweet or laden with excess fat. While this cake might look and taste like one heavy-duty dish of decadence, you won’t leave the table feeling weighed down. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Note: To make the cake as pictured, you will need to double the cake recipe and triple the frosting recipe. If you want to make a smaller-scale cake, simply make one recipe of both the cake and the frosting. The cake can be frozen by wrapping the slices in waxed paper, then placing in freezer bags. 

 Vegicurious Chocolate Challenge Cake
Make two recipes of the following cake:

2 cups soy, coconut or almond milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar  (1-1/4 cups was good)
2/3 cup pureed pumpkin
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract, chocolate extract, or more vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
2/3 cup cocoa powder (sift out lumps)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 8” baking pans and line bottoms with parchment.
2. Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, applesauce or pumpkin, vanilla extract, and other extract, if using, to the soy milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are OK).
3. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool 10 minutes before inverting onto cooling racks.

Make three recipes of the frosting:

½ cup dates

12 oz. extra firm silken tofu
4 oz. non-dairy dark chocolate, melted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup cocoa powder (optional)

Pour boiling water over dates and let soak about one hour to soften. Place dates and remaining ingredients in container of a high-powered blender and process until smooth. Refrigerate until thoroughly cooled. If you don’t have a high-powered blender, you could omit the dates and add granulated sugar to taste.

Assemble cake:

Place cake layer on cake dish with flat side facing up. Spread a thick layer of frosting on top (I used 4 large ice cream scoops.) Repeat with the next three layers. Place remaining frosting on top layer and spread on sides and top of cake. To frost the sides, drag the icing from the top and spread along the sides. (An offset spatula works best for this.) Refrigerate for several hours or overnight before serving.





22 Feb 2017

Bowled Over: Fennel, Farro & Fagioli

Fennel, Farro & Fagioli

Have you ever been “bowled over”? The term is synonymous with amazed or astonished. When I uploaded this photo of my Fennel, Farro & Fagioli it struck me how a dish of full of beans, fennel, farro and greens could have the ability to bowl me over. This recipe hits on so many aspects of a complete whole food, plant-based meal. It’s made with beans, greens, vegetables, whole grains and uses very little/no oil and salt. Who could ask for anything more? Bowl someone (or yourself) over today with a bowl of Fennel, Farro & Fagioli. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Fennel Farro e Fagioli
Makes 4 servings
1 small onion
1 small fennel bulb
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
4 garlic cloves
Olive oil (optional)
½ tsp. fennel seeds, ground
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 cups white or red beans (or two 15 oz. can)
½ cup uncooked farro
3 to 4 cups water
1 teaspoon Better Than Boullion vegetable or “No Chicken” base (optional)
a few handful of arugula or other greens
Cut onion, fennel, carrot and celery into pieces. Process in food processor until finely chopped. Add garlic and pulse a few times.
Coat bottom of large saucepot with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. (You could heat 2 tablespoons of water to omit the oil.) Add vegetables and cook until softened and lightly browned. Add ground fennel and red pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste and stir to combine. Add farro, beans, water and bouillon. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 25 minutes. Add arugula during the last few minutes of cooking.

16 Feb 2017

Stay-at-home Romantic: Moroccan Eggplant Spread


When Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday and instead of making reservations you would rather make your own quiet celebration at home, you just might be a “stay-at-home” romantic. With a little advanced planning, you can enjoy this make-ahead, Mediterranean-inspired meal that will still taste fresh with a minimal amount of time spent cooking on Valentine’s Day. Today’s recipe is for Zalouk, a delectable spread made with eggplant, tomatoes and exotic Moroccan seasonings. I was introduced to Zalouk a few weeks ago at a nearby restaurant. Their version is tasty, but it contains quite a bit of olive oil. I wanted to come up with a version that is virtually fat free. I put a light coating of olive oil in a non-stick skillet before adding the eggplant and tomatoes, but you can add more olive oil if desired. You can serve it warm or at room temperature. My recommendation for an effortless Valentine’s Day meal that looks and tastes like you were cooking all day is to make the Zalouk and my Turkish Lentil Soup a few days ahead of time. Prepare this refreshing Fennel Salad right before dinner and round out the meal with warm pita wedges or a loaf of crusty Italian bread. Even if you don’t leave room for dessert, these miniature Pistachio Date Nests and a glass of bubbly are a sweet way to wind down your evening. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Morrocan Eggplant Spread (Zaalouk)

(makes about 2 cups)

Olive oil (optional)
1 large eggplant, skinned and diced
2 large tomatoes chopped
2 garlic gloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Fresh lemon juice

Heat a non-stick skillet on medium-high heat. (You may lightly coat the skillet with olive oil.) Add eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, paprika, cumin, salt and coriander. Cook until eggplant and tomatoes are mushy and thickened, adding water if necessary to prevent sticking. Stir in desired amount of lemon juice. Serve warm or cold, as a side, a dip or a spread.

12 Feb 2017

Oh, My Darlings: Pistachio-Date Nests

Pistachio-Date Nest

I wanted to come up with a dessert recipe to go along with a Mediterranean-inspired Valentine’s Day dinner and the first thing that came to mind was Baklava. Baklava is made by layering phyllo leaves, brushing the layers with butter, sprinkling them with walnuts (Greek style) or pistachios (Turkish style) and pouring honey over everything when it comes out of the oven. I didn’t think a vegan version would do this iconic dessert much justice, so I incorporated some beneficial ingredients (pistachios and dates), left out the “taboo” ones (butter and honey), added some chocolate (hey, it’s Valentine’s Day) and named them “Pistachio-Date Nests.” I used Athen’s Mini Fillo Shells because they’re ready to fill and are very cute. The filling is made by processing dates, pistachios and lemon or orange zest into a paste. A thin layer of dark chocolate adorns the top. They’re crispy, chewy, chocolately . . .  and cute. Be a darling and share some Pistachio-Date Nests with someone you love. Thanks for being Vegi-curious.

Pistachio Date Nests

15 mini phyllo cups (Athens fully baked, fill & serve)
½ cup raw, shelled pistachios
½ cup dates, chopped
Zest of one lemon or ½ orange
2 oz. melted dark chocolate (non-dairy)
15 pistachios for decorating

Place pistachios and dates in mini chopper and process until a chunky paste is formed. Fold in lemon zest. Lightly press the filling into the phyllo cups. Spread the melted chocolate on surface of filling and place one pistachio on top. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

11 Feb 2017

Chocolate Challenge: Gluten-free German Chocolate Cupcakes

German Chocolate Cupcakes

When it comes to cooking, I try to avoid getting myself into a recipe rut. I rely on a myriad of favorite recipes and a stockpile of bean dishes in the freezer to get me through any given week. To feed my creative appetite I like to come up with something new every week. Sometimes it’s a different version of an old standby or a completely new creation. I get much of my inspiration from different aspects of life. It might be a TV commercial, an article in a magazine, something I had at a restaurant, a favorite family recipe or just being exposed to people from other regions and cultures. That’s how I came up with the Chocolate Challenge (on my Vegi-curious Kitchen Facebook page) in which I offered to take requests to “veganize” your favorite chocolate desserts. One of the requests was for a gluten-free German Chocolate Cake. The individual who requested it mentioned that German Chocolate Cake was his favorite birthday cake and hasn’t had it since being diagnosed with celiac disease many years ago. Since I’m such a softee (and I love a culinary challenge) I decided to work on this recipe. I haven’t had German Chocolate Cake in decades, so this culinary challenge just might turn into a sentimental journey as well.

Before I proceed I’d like to bring up a few points about baking. I’ve made a lot of baked goods in my lifetime. I am not a food scientist and wouldn’t be able to explain the chemical reaction of the ingredients used in baked goods. What I can tell you is that the use of butter, eggs and cow’s milk play a big part in shaping the outcome and the nuances in traditional baked goods. What this means is that the subtleties that distinguish German Chocolate Cake from any other chocolate cake may not be so apparent in a plant-based version. With that being said, here’s how I developed this recipe. I started with my recipe for a chocolate cake that contains pumpkin as a fat/egg replacement. I find that the pumpkin makes for a nice texture and retains moisture without making the cake gummy. I replaced the whole wheat pastry flour with a mix of brown rice and gluten-free oat flour. The conventional recipe for the frosting is made by cooking milk, butter, eggs and sugar into a custard and then folding in coconut and pecans. I made the custard with cashew milk, corn starch and non-dairy butter. (I make my own “butter” using the recipe from the Gentle Chef’s Non-Dairy Evolution cookbook, but you could use something like Earth Balance.) Since we’ve got a “whole lotta chocolate going on” in our home this month, I decided to divide the batter in half and made nine cupcakes to enjoy this week and one cake layer to freeze for future use. I was happily surprised that the recipe developed so nicely in just one attempt. The cake has a moist, springy texture and the frosting is slightly sweet and pleasingly textured with coconut and pecans. It’s been so long since I’ve had German Chocolate Cake that I don’t know how authentic this one is. What I do know is that it is authentically delicious. To the person who suggested this chocolate challenge, I hope you celebrate your birthday happily with this German Chocolate Cake. Thanks for the challenge (I really enjoyed it) and thanks for being Vegi-curious.

German Chocolate Cake

Makes two 8” layers or about 18 cupcakes

2 cups soy, coconut or almond milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar (can use 1-1/4 cups)
2/3 cup pureed pumpkin
2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups brown rice flour
½ cup oat flour
½ cup (2/3 cup) cocoa powder
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 8” baking pans and line bottoms with parchment.

Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, pumpkin, vanilla extract to the soy milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, cocoa powder, corn starch, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add liquid ingredients to dry and beat until no large lumps remain.

Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 25 – 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool 10 minutes before inverting onto cooling racks.

To assemble: Place one layer with flat side up on cake plate. Spread one half of frosting on top, then place second layer on top and spread remaining frosting on top of cake. The sides of the cake do not get frosted.

For cupcakes, place liners in muffin tin. Fill liners ¾ full and bake for 20 – 25 minutes.

Frosting for German Chocolate Cake

1 cup sweetened condensed milk (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons corn starch
¼ cup non-dairy butter (Earth Balance)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans.

Place sweetened condensed milk and corn starch in a small pot and whisk. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until very thick. Remove from heat and add non-dairy butter, stirring until melted. Add vanilla, coconut and pecans and fold until evenly distributed. You can add additional milk to thin out the frosting if needed.

Sweetened Condensed Milk

1-1/2 cups cashew milk
½ cup sugar

Place milk and sugar in a glass saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium. Cook until the milk is reduced by one half (about 1 cup). Let cool completely.

08 Feb 2017

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