Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Leslie

I've decided that in order to up the appeal of my baked goods I am going to start naming them after people, it seems to work for clothing companies so why can't it work for me? Case in point, this bag that I love from J. Crew. So, instead of "chocolate cupcakes" or "world's most decadent brownies" I'm going to start calling things: the Elizabeth, the Aaron, the Libby, the John, etc. I guess that is how you will know you are important, if you get a baked good named after you....(well, I can only bake so many things so don't get too offended).

This inaugural cupcake is named after Leslie, my friend, who has a particular fascination with caramel and especially caramel flavored cupcakes. She recently purchased an expensive caramel cupcake from a local vendor and as she ate it I thought she might die of pleasure. Like literally pass out and expire on the floor where we were sitting. I decided I should try to replicate those flavors. This is a hodge-podge recipe--the cake is a vegan vanilla cake based on the "Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World" recipe and the icing is a Swiss meringue buttercream with homemade caramel mixed in. I think I came close here, but it needs a bit of improvement--I ran out of caramel in this round so next time I will make extra and swirl some on top of each cupcake for maximum impact.

Notes: I doubled both the caramel and icing recipe in order to pipe the icing on the cupcakes. As noted above, I ran out of caramel so I would recommend at least tripling the recipe. I also sprinkled just a tiny bit of sea salt on each cupcake (a little bit goes a long way).

Vanilla Vegan Cupcake
Adapted from Post Punk Kitchen

Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

1 cup soy milk
1 t. apple cider vinegar
1 ¼ c. all purpose flour
2 T. cornstarch
¾ t. baking powder
½ t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1/3 c. canola oil
¾ cup ugar
1 ½ t. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare your muffins tins. Whisk the almond milk and vinegar together in a small bowl and set aside to curdle. Sift together the dry ingredients—flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt—into a large bowl.

Beat the almond milk, oil, sugar and vanilla together in a larger bowl. Sift the dry ingredients into the wet mixture in two additions, mixing until no lumps remains.  Pour into the prepared cupcake pans, filling until 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Salted Caramel Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Adapted from Crispywaffle

**This recipe calls for making your own caramel—if that is something you really do not want to do, you can buy caramel, but making caramel is not that difficult and I think worth it!**

½ c. sugar
2 T water
¼ c. heavy cream
pinch salt

3 egg whites
¼ c. granulated sugar
1/8 t. cream of tartar
2 stick of butter at room temperature (I use unsalted b/c I think the added salt makes it salty enough, but this is up to you)

Making the Caramel:

Mix the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat the mixture on low heat, swirling and stirring until the sugar has pretty much dissolved. Do not let it boil. Once it has dissolved, raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it is boiling, cover it and set a timer for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, uncover the mixture and continue to swirl/stir until it becomes a dark amber color (I actually used my whisk at some point). Be careful to watch the mixture because it will burn quickly once it gets to the dark amber point. As soon as it is the right color, remove it from the heat and slowly pour in the cream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Whisk until it is smooth. Set aside your caramel at this point to make your buttercream.

Making the Buttercream:

Stir together the sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar and water in the bowl of an electric mixer (or, if you do not have an electric mixer use a larger stainless steel bowl that you can use for a double boiler). Set this bowl on top of a large pan of water that is simmering (essentially you are creating a double boiler here). Whisk the mixture constantly until it reaches a temperature of 140 degrees, you will know it is reaching that temperature when the mixture get really foamy and white.

Remove the bowl and put it in your stand mixer, beating on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until it holds a glossy, marshmallow-like peak. Put this meringue into a separate bowl.

In the stand mixer, beat half of the butter and 1/3 of your meringue mixture. Continue adding the remaining meringue one dollop at a time. Your mixture may look curdled as you add the meringue, but don’t worry! Add the butter one tablespoon at a time and the mixture will smooth out. Once your mixture is smooth, add the caramel.

Frost your cupcakes and, if desired, drizzle with caramel and sprinkle with sea salt.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Homemade Cereal

This blog post is all about my favorite meal (no, not dessert): breakfast. I could eat breakfast all day.  I love diners that serve eggs and pancakes all day, I consistently eat quiche or frittata or similar items for dinner during the week. But, for normal breakfast I normally have cereal because I'm in a rush. Plus, eating eggs or pancakes for breakfast every day can become a little much. My favorites are Kashi or good old-fashioned Cheerios, but I also indulge in a good granola sometimes. I am fairly picky about my granolas, though, too sweet, too bland, too many nuts, so it is difficult to find one that I can eat time and time again. This granola solved that problem.

I found this recipe on Orangette (which if you haven't read, you must start). Or, you could check out Molly's book A Homemade Life or her occasional columns in Bon Appetit magazine. In other words, read what she writes somewhere because not only does she have great recipes, but also great writing.

Back to granola. This recipe is perfect: not too sweet, not too nutty, not too soft, perfect amount of crunch and clusters and best of all--endlessly adaptable to suit your needs. This time around, I followed the recipe almost exactly (with one substitution), but I think next time I will make some more additions/subtractions. For this batch, I substituted maple syrup (Grade A) for the brown rice syrup because I couldn't find it on my trip to the grocery store and didn't feel like making a zillion stops. The substitution is 3/4 cup + 2 T/1 cup brown rice syrup. Next time, I think I will cut down on the amount of nuts and also add some dried fruit (cranberries, raisins) after cooking. Otherwise, I like it the way it is.


Dry Ingredients:
5 cups rolled oats
2-3 cups raw almonds or raw pecans halves (or less if you like)
1 cup raw, hulled sunflower seeds
¾ c sesame seeds
¾ cup brown sugar
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. salt

Wet Ingredients:
¾ c. unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 c. brown rice syrup (or ¼ c. maple syrup + approx. 2 t.)
¼ c. honey
2 T. veg. oil

Preheat oven to 300 F and put two silpats on two cookie sheets (or use parchment).

Mix together all of the dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix together all of the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix well. Spread the mixture over the cookie sheets. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Every ten minutes, stir the mix and rotate your sheets so that the granola is evenly cooked. This granola should be stored in air-tight containers in the refrigerator.