I’ve never been what I’d call a “good” flirt. In high school, I hung out with the nerdy crowd (hard to believe, I know!), so there wasn’t really any opportunity to flirt. Then, when I was finally old enough to attract the opposite sex in my 20s, it seemed too late to get the hang of it. I do remember loathing, admiring and envying (all at the same time) the most popular girls in my high school. It seemed as if their hair, or their eyelashes, or their limp wrists somehow possessed an invisible male adhesive as they giggled and nodded and caressed the guys, just so, on their forearms; or maybe it was just the pheromones they exuded.
In any case, the flirty girls would always be surrounded by an inverse seraglio, an ever-shifting, amorphous cloud of doting males. The boys would fawn over them, open doors for them, carry their books, offer them lifts, or request their phone numbers in a continuous stream. Just how did the girls manage that, I wondered? How did they get away with teasing the guys so overtly, implying lace and perfume and breathless embraces, yet, in reality, yield nothing? These girls were whip-smart as well as beautiful, or they couldn’t have perfected their technique; yet they appeared vacuous and helpless and fragile all at the same time, thereby rendering themselves irresistible to the guys around them.
I had the opportunity to observe a consummate tease after my divorce, when I lived in the same flat as another woman who had previously been married to two of the richest men in Canada (and she was only 32 when I met her). She was one of the smartest cookies I’ve ever known (and funny, witty, sweet and fun to be with, too) yet, the moment she came within a few feet of any attractive male, she appeared to devolve into–how shall I say this?–a helpless, needy, pouting little girl. She’d bat her eyelashes at the nearest specimen and feign incompetence with the lock on the car trunk, the dial on the stereo or the squeaky door on the kitchen cabinet. Then she’d throw up her hands in mock despair and emit a giggle that resonated across the room, like the clang of forks on wine glasses at a wedding, encouraging the newlyweds to kiss.
There must have been something to it, too, because by the time I moved out, she’d snagged yet another of Canada’s wealthiest bachelors (they’ve since divorced, but let’s just say she’ll never have to work again–no, scratch that, she’ll never even have to brush her own teeth again).
My own efforts at flirting have produced less than stellar results. True, some playful flirting resulted in four months dating Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants); as it turned out, Rocker Guy himself really enjoyed flirting, too–he enjoyed it so much, in fact, that he continued to do so throughout the time we were dating. And his definition of “flirting,” unfortunately, encompassed ”sleeping with.”
Thus ended my flirtation with flirting.
Today, however, I’m afraid I’m going to play the tease once again. After finding out at the last minute that I’d be away at a conference all day today, I wasn’t able to photograph the dish I’d originally intended to post about. Instead, there’s a slew of goodies I’ve been working on for the cookbook, and with the holiday season almost upon us, I thought it might be a good way to get in the mood for holiday baking. (Oh, so how’s the book coming along? Well, I’m still working on the manuscript, which should be complete in less than a month, after which the materials are shipped off to the printer. Ultimately, I’m still aiming for a release date in early 2009–February or March. Whoo!).
Some of these sweets have already been published elsewhere on this blog, with recipes included. You may have also seen some on the testers’ blogs (ie, the absolute BEST TESTERS any cookbook author–or baker–could ever want).
Following are some of my recent favorites from the book, and those that would make good holiday treats. And even if it’s not out in time for this year, you may wish to make some of these next time round.
Chocolate Covered Caramels:
Old Fashioned Spice Cake:
Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies (plus recipe–great for decorating):
Chocolate Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies:
Cupcakes with Gluten-Free, Soy-Free Chocolate Buttercream:
Chocolate Satin Tarts:
Dalmatian “Cheesecake” Brownies:
Vegan Butter Tarts: (plus recipe):
And here’s a little preview of tomorrow’s sweet treat (recipe to follow). I know, what a tease. . .
[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I'll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I've recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. For this fourth entry, I'm focusing on Coconut. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. This is the second entry on coconut.]
First: thank you all, most sincerely, for all your kind words regarding The Girls and the Ordeal of the Raisins. Both dogs are fine (my bank account, on the other hand, will suffer for some time–but that’s my penance, I reckon). And I’m also glad that the post seems to have provided some new information to some of you, who may not have been aware that raisins are often poisonous to the canines in our lives.
In fact, I was so rattled the other day that I neglected to mention something really great: I won a contest! And this time, folks, I truly felt the love! The eloquent, clever and enormously crafty Shellyfish of Musings from the Fishbowl recently conducted a contest to win one of her handcrafted felt change purses, and my comment was (randomly) chosen to win! Whoo-hoo! I am utterly thrilled and cannot wait to receive my prize in the mail. I will, of course, blog all about it when it arrives. Thanks, Shellyfish!
And now, back to our regularly scheduled Lucky Comestible!
You know how some people are just so eccentric, so outré, so larger-than-life that they may as well be a caricature of themselves? Think Jack Palance at the Oscars. Think Richard Simmons. Think my mother’s old friend Ms. Gabor.
Ms. Gabor (a pseudonym, bien sûr) was one of my mother’s regular Mah Jong ladies who came to our house Thursday afternoons. Long before the era of elective plastic surgery, Ms. G managed to appear entirely plastic most of the time, all on her own. Likely in her 50s back then, she balanced under a towering, shellacked and elaborately braided beehive hairdo, pinned in place with a network of rhinestone-studded hair clips. She wore eyeliner too heavy, décolletage too revealing, and an attitude far too abrasive. But what I remember most about Ms. G was how she coped with summer. Because in the summer, our house–lacking any air conditioning–was not just hot; it was “feels-like-Vesuvius” hot; “the-smoke-detector-is-shrieking” hot; “someone-call-Denis-Leary-to-Rescue-Me” hot.
On those blistering summer days when my mom and her friends played “Maj,” we kids would return home from school to a tableau of four women, reposing in a haze of smoke (everyone except my mom smoked cigarettes) and humidity, most of them dripping sweat and fanning themselves with handkerchiefs or napkins. And Ms. G, elbows on the table, calmly studying her tiles and wearing a black bra. Yes, you read that correctly; it was not her black bra as seen through a sheer blouse; no, no; it was her black bra as seen on her torso because she had taken off her blouse and placed it on the back of her chair.
“Dahlink, vould you be so kind as to get me a glass of soda?” she’d inquire in her heavy Hungarian accent, as soon as I entered the room. Then I’d be forced to march to the fridge, pour the club soda, and hand her the glass while pretending that I didn’t notice she was wearing nothing more than a bra! Seeing this vision on a weekly basis may have, I suspect, traumatized me just as much as did seeing The Girls eating raisins the other day.
Well, my mother regularly made a dessert for the ladies that was her one coconut-based specialty. She called it “Roly Poly,” and it was basically a layer of oily, dense dough rolled out to a rectangle, topped with (in this order) a thick slather of strawberry jam; sprinkles of toasted walnuts; a smattering of raisins; randomly scattered chunks of chopped Turkish Delight, and a final light shower of shredded coconut. The entire monstrocity was rolled up jelly-roll style, sliced into pinwheels and baked. It’s possible that the Turkish Delight, with its vaguely floral, vaguely alcoholic smell, is what pushed the roly poly over the edge from the “yucky parental dessert” category to the “makes me want to vomit” category, but I have an inkling it was more closely connected to the image of Ms. G munching mindlessly on a slice, crumbs floating gently into the cleavage on her black lace bra.
I did, eventually, get over my coconut aversion, once I met the HH and found he adored the stuff. But the inspiration for today’s recipe was neither Roly Poly nor the HH; it was two of the recipe testers for my upcoming cookbook. (By the way, have I mentioned lately that I ADORE my cookbook testers??)
Since these two women are gluten intolerant, I assumed they’d attempt the GF recipes exclusively (about 30% of the recipes will be gluten free). What I’ve found, instead, is that these two have willingly adapted some of the original recipes to render them gluten-free! I’ve been amazed at and inspired by their ingenuity, and decided I had to dive in and finally start creating more gluten-free goods myself. This coconut series seemed the perfect place to start out; I already had a recipe in mind that met my NAG requirements, so converting it to gluten-free was the next logical step.
Originally given to me by a friend in university, this recipe was titled, simply, “Coconut Loaf,” and called for eggs, butter, white sugar and white flour. Using gluten-free flours and finally trying out some xanthan gum as a binder, I came up with this combination. I’m happy to say that the resultant loaves were just as light as–if not lighter than–the original, with a tender, delicate crumb and ethereal coconut flavor. The HH pronounced this a hit as he bit into his second loaf, remarking, ”The texture is so light, it reminds me of a Twinkie.” (To the HH, this is the highest praise one can confer on a cake.)
I, too, was very pleased with the result, and would certainly make these again, gluten free or not. Even if you are able to eat gluten, you might want to try these out as an alternative to your usual cupcakes; the preponderance of legume flour (from the beans and chickpeas) makes these an abundant source of both protein and fiber, more so than most other baked goods. I’m sure the Maj ladies would approve.
I’m also contributing this post to the Living With Food Allergies blog carnival that takes place every month and is hosted by Rational Jenn.
Finally, if you’ve recently posted any coconut recipes you’d like me to share, just leave the link here in the comments or send it via email, and I’ll add it to the list below!
Gluten Free Coconut Mini Loaves or Cupcakes
These are light and not too sweet, with a pronounced coconut flavor. For fancier loaves, drizzle with your favorite glaze.
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) coconut oil, melted
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) cashew or macadamia nut butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (180 ml.) light agave nectar
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup (80 ml.) plain or vanilla almond, soy or rice milk
1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) pure coconut extract (optional)
1 Tbsp. (15 m.) finely ground flax seeds
1/4 cup (30 g.) garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour
1/4 cup (40 g.) whole bean flour
1/4 cup (30 g.) sorghum flour
1/4 cup (45 g.) potato starch
1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) baking soda
1-1/4 tsp. (5 ml.) baking powder
1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) xanthan gum
1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) sea salt
1/2 cup ( g.) shredded unsweetened coconut
Preheat oven to 350F (180 C). Spray 6 mini loaf pans or with nonstick spray or line 8 cupcake cups with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the coconut oil and cashew butter. Slowly stir in the agave, vanilla, almond milk, coconut flavoring and flax seeds; whisk to combine. Set aside while you measure the dry ingredients, or at least 2 minutes.
In a larger bowl, sift together the garbanzo flour, whole bean flour, sorghum flour, potato starch, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt. Whisk to combine. Add the coconut and stir to blend.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir to mix well. Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measuring cup, fill the loaves or cupcake cups about 3/4 full.
Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan once about halfway through, until a tester inserted in the centre comes out clean (the tops will begin to crack and brown a bit). Cool in pans for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely. May be frozen.
[This recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]
Other Posts in This Series:
Lucky Comestible 4(1): Cabbage T’horin
Lucky Comestible 4(3): Savory Veggies with Rice and Coconut
Lucky Comestible 4(4): Tofu and Chickpeas in a Thick Creamy Coconut Sauce
Lucky Comestible 4(5): Raspberry Coconut Coffee Cake
Other DDD Coconut Posts:
Mrs. K’s Date Cake (coconut topping)
Tropical Lemon-Coconut Muffins (with coconut and avocado)
Aloo Masala (Potato Curry with Coconut)
Polish Lemon Cake (lemon cake with gooey coconut topping)
Anzac Biscuits (the Australian tradition)
Coconut Recipes on Other Blogs:
From Lisa at Lisa’s Kitchen:
Shredded Beet and Dill Coconut Salad
Coconut Soup with Mushrooms
Toasted Fresh Coconut and Tomato Chutney
Coconut Milk Muffin Scones
From Bee and Jai at Jugalbandi:
(This is Version 2–check their blog for Version 1 as well)
[If you are reading this post on a site that is not Diet, Dessert and Dogs, it has been plagiarized. Feel free to give that scoundrel a piece of your mind!]
[That's our little Vanilla, in the middle]
So, I heard somewhere that it’s hockey season now. Oh, don’t look so surprised: despite having been raised in Montreal (a hockey town if ever there was one), I am indifferent to the sticks-and-pucks revelry. Personally, I’d rather read about the latest face-off between, say, brownies and blondies than between the Habs and the Flyers.
In fact, I can’t say that I’m too interested in any team sports–or, come to think of it, any sports at all. Is it any wonder? Perpetually the “anchor” in tug-of-war; too uncoordinated to hit a baseball with a screen door; lacking even the modicum of balance necessary for hockey (though I did go skating, once, when I was about 15, soley to impress a guy I had a crush on. Oh, I made a lasting impression, all right–somewhere on the upper right thigh, just where my skate sliced through the flesh, if memory serves.)
This is not to imply that I don’t enjoy a good competition with myself every now and again, in a constant effort to improve on my own “personal best.” (And speaking of competitions, I’ve just gotta say it: time to wave goodbye to Jason Castro, don’t you think?). I’m forever asking questions like, “Can I increase my speed on the treadmill this week?” “Can I accomplish a bicep curl with a 15-pound weight?” “Can I use up every single veggie from our weekly organic box?” “Can I manage to sweep my kitchen floor every day three times a week monthly before the dust bunnies take up permanent residence on the living room couch?”–and so on.
(“You know, Mum, we’d be happy to chase those bunnies for you. And while we’re on the subject, why are they allowed on the couch when we’re not?”)
As far as I’m concerned, a little healthy competition in the kitchen can only be a good thing. In order to improve a recipe-in-progress, I might tinker with it 10 or a dozen times to get it right, often in a single day (why, yes, it’s true: I don’t have anything better to do!). Is the muffin better with agave or maple syrup?–let’s bake a new batch and find out! Should I use barley flour or oat in the apple bars?–only another round of baking will tell! Can the cashew cookies stand up to cardamom, or would ginger be better?–let’s test ‘em out and see!
This somewhat peculiar proclivity in the kitchen was the impetus behind a strange experiment last week, one I conducted after receiving my copy of Carole Walter’s James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More, in the mail. As some of you may recall, my recipe for Maple-Walnut cookies won the book in a recent Cookthink Root Source Challenge for recipes based on maple syrup. (Hmm. Yes, I suppose that made me “competitive,” though of course not in the athletic sense.)
As soon as I ripped open the package, I was charmed by the clean, clear layout, the stunning full-color photographs and the innovative, precisely written recipes (200 of them!). And even though it’s filled with traditional recipes with conventional ingredients (think eggs, milk, butter, etc.), the book focuses on homey, classic treats, which are fairly easily adaptable to NAG principles.
Virtually everything in the book appealed to me, from the Vanilla Bean Poundcake to the Irish Whiskey Cake to the Apricot and Dried Pineapple Muffins to the Fig and Walnut Loaf. Lest you think the book is partial to goodies baked in pans, Walter also includes recipes for cookies, bars, biscuits, strudel, danish, buns and braids–plus many more treats shaped by hand.
My gaze lit upon a recipe called “Favorite Vanilla Muffins.” Vanilla muffins? Sure, I’d sampled many a vanilla cake in my time, but never a vanilla muffin. With its denser, moister texture, might a muffin be a better foundation to showcase the fragrant, floral tones of pure vanilla extract? A competition was in order!
I thought about the differences between the two. Like the Olson twins (though of course, in this case, actually connected to food), muffins and cupcakes are the same, but different. Both are single-serving renditions of a larger baked good (loaf or cake); both sport domed tops, flat bottoms and angled sides often encased in frilly paper liners. To muddy the batters even further, both may (but are not required to) contain chopped fruits, nuts, or chocolate.
A few Googled pages later, I discovered that the cupcake versus muffin debate was already in full swing among bloggers and other writers (two good sources are recipezaar’s concise take on the issue, and the more detailed viewpoint on Curious Foodie’s blog).
How, I wondered, would that Favorite Vanilla Muffin stand up against its cakey counterpart? I decided to bake one of each (both using my adaptations of Walter’s recipes) and compare the results. Granted, my creations (no matter how delectable) would never be exactly as Walter intended; but I was okay with that. I chose a Classic Sour Cream Cinnamon and Nut Coffee Cake (without the cinnamon/nut filling) for my cupcake, mostly because, like the muffin recipe, it called for sour cream (and I needed to use up the tofu-based batch I’d be concocting). That would leave me with one vanilla; two vanilla (any more than that and we’d have the unfortunate Milli Vanilla).
[Coffeecake cupcake--with its intended filling. Get a load of that cinnamon-pecan swirl!]
Which won the competition? As expected, the muffins were heavier and denser. In fact, apart from the shape, they were a different animal entirely. For some reason, in these particular muffins, the vanilla essence proclaimed its presence assertively, even before you bit into the soft, moist interior; the sweet, floral aroma fairly radiates. And even though I knew my “sour cream” was soy-based, there was an incredible richness to these muffins that rendered them filling and satisfying; no need for fruit or fillers.
The cupcakes, for their part, were equally delectable. Undisputably more delicate with a tender crumb, the cakes were lighter both in texture and color. The vanilla essence here was definitely noticeable as well, though in a more understated fashion. Like pitting Ella against Diana singing Cole Porter classics: each transformed the outcome into something unique and exceptional, though clearly hailing from the same original concept.
So, in the end, it was a tie. Two winners–two delicious baked goods to eat. Everybody wins!
Since the recipes highlight vanilla, I thought this would be a perfect entry for the Master Baker Challenge, hosted by Master Baker.
Vanilla Muffins and Cinnamon-Pecan Cupcakes (inspired by recipes in Carole Walter’s Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More)
[Left to Right: Cinnamon-Pecan Coffeecake Cupcake; Vanilla Muffin; Vanilla Muffin with Cashew-Cardamom variation]
For the “Sour Cream” (makes enough for one batch of each, muffins and cupcakes):
12 oz. (350 g.) firm silken tofu, such as Mori-Nu
2 tsp. (10 ml.) agave nectar
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) lemon juice
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) smooth cashew butter
Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender, until perfectly smooth.
For the Vanilla Muffins:
1/2 cup (125 ml.) “sour cream” (half the batch)
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) coconut butter, melted
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. (150 ml.) agave nectar
2 tsp. (10 ml.) Salba (ground chia seeds)
1 tsp. (5 ml.) apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups (220 g.) light spelt flour
1 tsp. (5 ml.) baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line 9 muffin cups with paper liners for large muffins, or 12 cups for smaller muffins, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a medium sized bowl, combine the sour cream and melted coconut butter; whisk until well incorporated. Whisk in the vanilla, agave nectar, salba and vinegar and set aside.
In a larger bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until well moistened (don’t worry if there are a few small dry spots here and there).
Using a scoop or large spoon, fill cups 3/4 full for larger muffins or 2/3 full for smaller muffins. Bake in preheated oven 20-25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool five minutes in pan before removing to cooling rack. These freeze well.
Cashew-Cardamom variation: Mix together 1/2 cup (125 ml.) chopped cashews with 2 Tbsp. (15 ml.) Sucanat and 1/4 tsp. (2 ml.) cardamom. When ready to scoop the muffins, fill each cup halfway. Top with a spoonful of the cashew mixture and cover with another spoon of batter. Bake as above.
For the Cinnamon-Pecan Coffeecake Cupcakes:
1/2 cup (125 ml.) “sour cream” (half of the batch)
1/4 cup (60 ml.) sunflower or other light-tasting oil
1/2 cup (125 ml.) pure maple syrup
1 tsp. (5 ml.) Salba (ground chia seeds)
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) water
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup (140 g.) light spelt flour
1 tsp. (5 ml.) baking powder
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) baking soda
1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) sea salt
Optional Cinnamon-Nut Filling:
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) Sucanat
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 F (180C). Line 6 muffin cups with paper liners for large cupcakes, or 8 cups for smaller cupcakes, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a medium sized bowl, combine the sour cream, oil, maple syrup, Salba, water, and vanilla until well mixed. Set aside.
In a larger bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sea salt. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and whisk until well combined.
Fill each muffin cup about half full. Top with about 1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) of the nut filling, then cover with more batter. You can draw a knife through the mixture once if you like to create a little swirl inside (but not more than once, or the filling will become too blended with the batter).
Bake the cupcakes in preheated oven for 25-35 minutes, until the tops are golden and a tester inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool 5 minute before removing to a cooling rack. These freeze well.
Nope, not one. Not a single one. Not even the tiniest smidgen of one.
That’s right: for the first time ever in my adult life, I have not seen ONE of the movies nominated for Best Picture tomorrow night. (And YOU thought I was going to say “not one piece of chocolate! Ha ha on you!! Well, I haven’t had a single smidge of that, either.)
And that is all I will be saying about the Oscars.
I’ve decided that I must have been a cacao overlord in a previous lifetime, and now as part of my atonement, I’m seeing chocolate, chocolate everywhere–just when I’m trying most to avoid the stuff (for those of you who just joined us in medias res, I’m attempting a detox to clear my body of the influence of the Devil Chocolate–and so, the Week of Chocolate Asceticism).
As I mentioned before I began my week, I did whip up a few delectables before I started so that the blog wouldn’t be entirely bereft of the sweet stuff for the entire time. Then, last night, I even dreamt of some new chocolate-based dessert I could make!
And, of course, other bloggers are flinging chocolate this way and that, directly into my field of vision all this week: Eat Me, Delicious has just posted about a mouth-watering Chocolate Cookie Bark; The Good Eatah made a very rich, very creamy chocolate pudding; Vegan Noodle of Walking the Vegan Line made some wicked-looking truffles; Hannah made her own–homemade!–white chocolate bar; that rascal, Michael Clayton, made nothing; Cate from Sweetnicks made Chocolate Pots de Creme (how did she find the time??) and Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice has even devoted an entire month to the stuff (please, somebody save me!)
And so, I decided I couldn’t escape it. Although I am still determined not to let one mote, not one spec, not one shaving, not one MOLECULE of chocolate enter my mouth until I’ve given my system a decent break, I thought a little virtual indulgence wouldn’t do any harm.
So here I’ll share some photos of chocolate-based recipes I’ve played with over the past few weeks, as well as some goodies I had to bake for customers.
When I expressed some dismay that I wouldn’t be able to taste-test any of my catered goods, my friend’s very helpful teenaged daughter piped up: “Well, you could just take a bite, chew it, and then spit it out.” Remember that episode of Sex and the City, where Miranda has dinner with an ex-boyfriend? And they haven’t seen each other in years, and when they do, he’s lost a ton of weight? And then they go out to eat at a swanky NYC restaurant, and he orders steak? And then she catches him spitting a gnarly, saliva-soaked wad of chewed steak into his napkin? Yep, that’s the one. And so you see why I couldn’t take the daughter’s advice.
As it turns out, I’ve made most of these items several hundred times, so I didn’t have to break my WOCA and sample anything.
The first item was a Double Chocolate Mint Explosion Cookie, part of the treats table at a birthday party. These are fudgy on the inside, just slightly crispy on the outside–a definite winner with kids and adults alike.
Then I revisited a recent experiment with vegan chocolate-covered caramels (to which I must devote an entire post, anon):
After that, the chocolate rush subsided a bit, leaving just the chips in a Chocolate-Chip Blondie, baked for a school event (yes, indeedy, that is a kitchen towel behind the plate):
Next up, a Chocolate Satin Tart. These were a holiday item last year, which I baked for a vegan meal-delivery service here in Toronto to give to their customers (I hear they’re thinking of expanding to Calgary, where the Canadian Music Awards–called the Junos–are taking place this year). A shortbread-like crust is filled with chocolate ganache, then dusted with cocoa:
And I ended the virtual pig-out with a memory of a recent experiment, with sugar-free, gluten-free chocolate buttercream frosting:
After this heady daydream, I felt prepared to snack on my lovely carob pudding, or raw fig and cherry bars (recipe to follow eventually). And while it’s true that this No-Chocolate Land is a tough place to be (and it’s no country for old men, either, believe me), I do feel more energetic, a bit more in balance, and happy about my healthy eating ths week.
WOCA Update: Big, massive, seismic cravings today. And just when I thought they’d all passed! Serves me right for being so smug about it last post. But I shall persevere. . . I shall battle the demon with all my wits and all my inner resources. . . and I shall overcome. . . the scourge. . . that is Chocolate! Watch out; it’s possible there will be blood. (Oooh. Do you think I could maybe get away with just one little, tiny, eensy-weensy piece? Naw, didn’t think so.)
And to those of you who watch them, enjoy the Oscars tomorrow (and sorry about that Juno reference. It was either that or mention the mythological daughter of Saturn.)
[All of these recipes will appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]
[Disclaimer: With all the responses I've gotten to this cake--good AND bad--I felt it necessary to point out that I created this recipe as a response to all the hype over a particular cookbook that has taken the spotlight over hiding spinach in a chocolate dessert. As I mentioned in the original post about sweets with hidden veggies in them, neither Mrs. JS nor I invented this idea. And if you're more accustomed to "traditional" sweets with white flour or sugar, be warned that these are simply not like that. They have spinach and zucchini in them, after all . ]
One of the sure signs that we’ve embarked on a new, health-conscious, era in our food history is the rash of vegan cookbooks recently flooding the market.
For a sweets fanatic like me, these books offer ostensibly endless possibilities, from the mega tome by Colleen Patrick Goudreau with its shortcakes, fudge, or classic chocolate layers, to the spectacular, every-flavor-every-color masterpiece by Hannah (wasabi cupcakes, anyone?) to the ever-popular Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
One persistent problem for vegan bakers, however, is the fact that some recipes simply don’t translate easily into vegan versions (meringues, for instance, or dairy-dependent treats like cheesecake or cream-topped mousse pie). Inevitably, we’re served up ”cheesecake” (or cheezecake) made from processed tofu-cream “cheese,” or items like the newly-marketed Soyatoo when whipped cream is called for; similarly, margarine (usually Earth Balance) is the perennial stand-in for dairy butter.
While these recipes all look and sound fantastic, most of them are usually verboten for me. Ever since I revamped my eating habits about eight years ago in accordance with dietary restrictions, I willingly said “so long” to eggs, milk and most other dairy; “au revoir”to wheat and meat; “toodle-loo” to refined white sugars and flours. This all-natural, organic, whole-foods diet can be rather prohibitive as well; my authoritarian menu permits nothing artificial, no ingredients hatched in a laboratory, and nothing whose name is too complex for a 7 year-old to read aloud.
Consequently, even many of these otherwise delectable vegan baked goods are banned from my baking repertoire. So it’s “so long” to all those lovely margarine-based shortbread cookies dusted with icing sugar, “au revoir”to chocolate cream pie with its Soyatoo-derived peaks and dollops; ”toodle-loo” to that sublime fudge that relies on cane sugar or pies and puddings with soy creamer as a major ingredient. Basically, it’s “bye-bye” to almost all manner of vegan baked goods attempting to replicate their more conventional cousins.
Instead, I’ve spent the last eight years experimenting with a variety of whole food ingredients in a quest to reproduce both the quality and the appeal of standard desserts, but in a more healthful package. I generally use organic oils or coconut butter, whole grain flours, natural sweeteners, or dark cocoa powder (which contains more flavonoids than Dutch process) for my treats. For the most part, I’ve had great fun developing a variety of recipes. My HH isn’t complaining about the freshly baked cookies, muffins, or cakes constantly hoarding counter space, and my colleagues at the office tend to perk up, eagerly peering round their computer screens, when I arrive with plastic containers in hand.
Recently, I set myself the task of creating a trio of chocolate recipes for Valentine’s Day. I was determined to come up with something decadent, something spectacular, something alluring that was, at the same time, mouth-watering. I wanted something that would both express and elicit heartfelt affection when it was served.
And so, I created a recipe for Molten Lava Cakes.
Which are vegan.
Why Lava Cakes? Well, to begin with, this is for Valentine’s Day–which can mean only one thing: chocolate. And these babies spell “LOVE”: they’re rich-tasting, they’re chocolately, they’re warm, and they even serve up in their own personalized little packages (perfect for indulging a loved one, or, if you’re feeling intimate, sharing). And with the addition of pureed spinach and zucchini, they pack a nutritional punch as well. What could be more romantic than contributing to your loved one’s good health?
A quick Google search on “Molten Chocolate Cake” will reveal that these treats are generally comprised of only 4 main ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, and chocolate–none of which I’ve added here. I opted for cocoa powder in lieu of the chocolate (so that I could control the sugar and fat, and for the greater flavonoid content). I also used spelt flour, which has a lower gluten content than wheat, and sunflower oil, a light oil with a good balance of mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
To compensate for the fact that there is no egg-based center available to underbake (the usual source of the “lava”), I’ve simply whipped up a second batter that serves as the molten interior, to be placed inside the cake before baking. The result is a gooey, oozing filling that provides all the richness–and romance–of the original. A healthy indulgence this Valentine’s Day? Now, that’s sweet.
Because they’re so darned healthy, I’m also submitting this recipe to Cate at Sweetnicks for her weekly ARF/5-A-Day Roundup. Spinach is an amazing antioxidant food, after all!
And since Susan over at Fat Free Vegan has requested some Vegetable Love for her event of the same name, I couldn’t resist sending this along there as well. As Susan wrote, “Last year I asked food bloggers to post their most romantic, most seductive vegetable recipes…something suitable for a cozy dinner by candlelight…something that says ‘I love you, and I don’t want to see you keel over with a heart attack!’” So really, do these fit the bill, or what?
Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes
Even if you are able to eat traditional molten chocolate cakes, this version is worth a try for its ultra-healthy ingredients. Don’t worry; no one will know the veggies are there, but they’ll definitely feel the love in these decadent-tasting treats.
NOTE (Feb 2009): I’ve received a few emails from people who’ve made these and found the molten center wasn’t molten enough, or was not even detectable once the cakes were baked. The amount of gooey insides will depend on a variety of factors, but most often if these are dryer, it’s because (a) the molten center wasn’t perfectly and completely surrounded by batter when raw, and touched the sides of the pan (in which case it just oozes out and bakes into the batter); (b) there wasn’t enough molten center put in to the raw cake; (c) the oven temperature was too high; (d) the cakes were baked too long; or (d) other ingredients were substituted (such as AP flour for the spelt), which changed the texture. Because these are, admittedly, so temperamental, I’m no longer recommending the molten version. The cupcake version, with the chips scattered throughout the batter, is now my preferred way to use this recipe.
2/3 cup (about 170 ml.) dairy free dark chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1/4 (60 ml.) cup plain or vanilla soymilk
2 ounces (about 60 g.) fresh or frozen spinach (you may include the stems)
1/4 cup (60 ml.) plain, vanilla, or chocolate soymilk
1 cup (about 3-1/2 ounces or 100 g.) raw zucchini, fresh or frozen, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup (about 85 ml.) light or dark agave nectar
1/4 cup (60 ml.) pure maple syrup
1/4 cup (60 ml.) sunflower or other light-tasting oil
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) finely ground flax seeds or meal
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. (10 ml.) pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. (10 ml.) instant coffee substitute
1 cup (about 140 g.) light spelt flour
1/2 cup (45 g.) whole oat flour
1/3 cup dark cocoa powder (22-24% fat content)
1-1/2 tsp. (3.5 ml.) baking powder
3/4 tsp. (4 ml.) baking soda
1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly spray eight oven-safe large ramekins or custard cups and place on a cookie sheet.
For the molten center: In a small, heavy pot, combine the chips, cornstarch, and soymilk. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. Turn off heat and set aside.
For the cake: In a blender or food processor, blend together the spinach, soymilk and zucchini to a smooth puree. Add the agave, maple syrup, oil, flax, coffee substitute, apple cider vinegar, and vanilla, and blend to combine. Set aside while you measure the dry ingredients, or for at least two minutes.
In a large bowl, sift together the flours, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk together to combine.
Scoop about 3 Tbsp cake batter into each ramekin, then place a large spoonful (3-4 Tbsp.) of filling over it (try not to touch the sides of the ramekin, or the chocolate will ooze out and you will have a smaller or dryer molten center). Cover with more batter to fill the ramekin about 2/3 full.
Bake cakes in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until a tester inserted in the edge comes out dry (the middle will remain moist, as that’s where the molten filling is). Remove from oven and allow to cool ten minutes.
Turn the cakes out onto serving dishes. Serve immediately. Garnish with fresh raspberries and whipped “cream,” if desired. Makes 8 servings. Recipe may be halved.
Variation: Omit the molten centre and gently stir 2/3 cup chocolate chips into the batter before filling the pans. May be baked as cupcakes.
[Edit, February 15th: I baked these again last evening for Valentine's Day, and made some of the cupcake version on the side.
I thought I'd add a note in response to some questions/ feeback about the recipe I've either received or seen. This recipe is definitely a bit fussy. There are two points I think are essential to keep in mind when making these: 1) the size of the ramekin or custard cup. If it's too small, there won't be enough room for the molten center; you need quite a generous dollop of filling to stay soft and mushy inside all that cake. 2) if you want your molten center to remain separate from the cake (and not be absorbed by it), it's important to ensure that the filling doesn't touch the side of the ramekin and is covered completely with batter before you bake this; the amount of filling used in each cake also seems to play a role. I've found that if the filling spreads, you end up with a layer of chocolate across the middle, but not a concentration of it. But still, soft gooey chocolate inside a chocolate cake can't be bad, right? My HH actually liked these better the next day, as the cake takes on a more fudgy texture.
[An updated and slightly revised version of this recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]
I find it fascinating how certain ideas make the rounds in the world of food, blogging or otherwise. I’ve mentioned before about how it galls me that Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld has an over-hyped, over-acclaimed, skyrocketed-to-bestseller-status cookbook in print, all because she thought to add some vegetable purees to existing recipes (Oh. And because she’s Jerry. Seinfeld’s. Wife. Right.). No matter that others–writers, or, naturally, vegan chefs–have been doing this sort of thing for years (and even my little baking company has been selling carob muffins with hidden spinach in them since 2004–so there!).
[Note to readers: Please permit me this puerile rant. It's January 28th, it's been snowing and way below 0 degrees C for weeks over here, and there is no end to winter in sight. I am grumpy. I hate ice and snow. I have been consuming highly insalutary amounts of chocolate. But I assure you, this is just a rant. It will pass and I will be better tomorrow.]
Well, when I was asked a while ago by VegFamily magazine to come up with a trio of chocolate desserts for Valentine’s Day, I decided to jump on this veggies-in-sweets bandwagon. Maybe MJS has dumped some veggies into regular recipes, all full of eggs, refined flours and white sugar. But has anyone seen vegan versions, and without wheat or refined sweeteners? Gotcha! And so I had my angle.
I had been working for some time on a brownie recipe
made with pureed white (navy) beans, and decided to include this in the VegFamily piece by stretching the original concept somewhat. Then, the other morning, I took a peek at Celine’s fabulous blog and–voila!–there is a recipe for Black Bean Brownies, based on a still-earlier version from Activist Mommy. See what I mean? It’s that 100th monkey effect (or, in this case, 100th black bean effect. And that’s not just a lot of hot air, either. Unless you eat too many, of course.).
Next up, I wanted to do something really decadent, and also really romantic. One of the most romantic desserts of all time is the Molten Chocolate Cake, so I was determined to re-create a healthier, vegetable-rich, vegan version.
First of all, regular molten chocolate cakes rely on lots of eggs, and the batter is only partially baked to ensure a soft, oozing, chocolatey centre. I solved this problem by including two mixtures: one for the cake, and one for the centre, then combining before baking. The result was a rich, gooey, warm and definitely decadent treat. Oh, and just for fun, it has hidden zucchini and spinach in it! I’m happy to say that the result was enthusiastically “HH Approved.” He’s even asked for them again, on the real Valentine’s Day.
The last item was a very fudgy, very peanut-buttery, chocolate-peanut butter cookie. These were an immediate hit with Gemini I’s kids as well as my colleagues at the college. And because they’re all used to my weirdo creations already, nobody batted an eye when I told them the cookies incorporated eggplant puree in the batter.
I’ll be posting all three recipes on this blog after the article is published. If you’d like to check out the recipes before then, head on over to VegFamily once their February edition is up on the site.