Thursday, December 27, 2007

Chocolate & Mint; made for each other, a Holiday Potluck & Cupcake Hero!

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'Tis the season for Chocolate & Mint to mingle together in deliciousness! If noshing on Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe-Joe's isn't enough for you, you make have found yourself doing some baking using this combination commonly used at this time of year.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been looking for the perfect vegan chocolate cake recipe. I need depth of flavor & a bit of fluff, not like those cocoa-only based cakes out there. I believe I may have found my winner, but as a person who doesn't like to settle for second best, I have a few more things to try before posting it here. Luckily, this deep chocolate cake has been a perfect pairing with the kick of mint, so I used it in both cake & cupcake form to make treats for friends & family.

My brother Kyle turned 21 in early December & I volunteered to make him a birthday cake, of course! I recalled his fondness for Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream as a child, & used it as my inspiration for a Chocolate Cake filled & decorated with Mint Icing & topped with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache. While I'd never considered myself a "mint person" in the past, I was quickly converted & couldn't get enough of this cake's combination. Luckily, my family felt the same & the cake was quickly consumed!

I'm always looking for an excuse to gather together & eat with friends, so I hosted a Holiday themed party in my home for a group of local vegans. I know many of us don't get a full spread of options at family celebrations, so this was a chance to load up our plates without questioning the contents of anything! The food was delicious; from latkes to herbed stuffing, vegan quiche and quinoa cakes, I was impressed with the spread of food that came together! I was on dessert duty & decided a return to the chocolate mint combination was in order, but in an easily served cupcake form!

Rich chocolate cupcakes were topped with a swirl of Mint Icing & Candy Cane Joe Joe cookies hand dipped in Bittersweet Guittard Chocolate! The depth of the chocolate played off the refreshing mint, while the dipped cookies were a treat all on their own! For those who've never had a Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe Joe, it's a sandwich cookie similar to an Oreo, but the center contains a peppermint-vanilla creme with crushed candy canes in it! While the combination may sound odd or just alright, these cookies are highly addictive & similar to the Thin Mints your local girl scout pushes.

Chocolate Dipped Cookies
While hardly a recipe, I thought some information on dipping techniques could be useful.

Ingredients & Tools:
Chocolate of your choice, chopped (I used E. Guittard Bittersweet Wafers, no chopping needed!)
Cookies of your choice
A double boiler or a water filled pot with a bowl suspended over it
Parchment paper on a flat surface near your stove top

Place the chocolate in the bowl or top of your double boiler & heat it up until it is fluid, being careful not to burn it. Make sure you have a decent amount of chocolate, so you can easily cover the size cookie you're using.

Once the chocolate is fluid, dip a single cookie in to the bowl coating each side evenly. It's likely you'll burn your fingers, especially if you touch the bottom or sides, so be cautious of this & move quickly!

Once coated, let the excess drip from the cookie & place it on the parchment paper to dry.
Sandwich cookies are great for this, as you can stand them up to dry & the chocolate that moves to the base of the cookie makes an excellent platform to keep them from falling over on your cake or cupcakes.

Let the chocolate dry completely while you tackle another project. Don't touch them, or you'll have smudges & fingerprints on them.

Once the cookie is dry, it will lift cleanly from the parchment paper. Try not to eat them all before they make it on to your baked goods or give in & make them especially for snacking on!

By the way, the theme for December's Cupcake Hero contest happens to be mint, so I thought I'd enter my Chocolate cupcakes with Mint Icing & Bittersweet chocolate dipped Candy Cane Joe Joe's, as I've never seen a vegan entry in the contest. The co-host is the awesome Natalie from Bake & Destroy, who rocks out vegan cupcakes of her own from time to time!

I hope everyone had a Happy Holiday season filled with lots of delicious sweet treats!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

New York City Dessert Reviews; Part Two; Vegan Treats Edition!

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The dessert dissection continues! Many New Yorkers will tell you, there's no shortage of places to consume goods from Vegan Treats. Luckily, I took the opportunity to try a plethora of their sweets & the range of rating may be a surprise to you!

Once again, I'll keep it short & simple with excerpts directly from my notes & a star rating between 1 and 5. Be sure to check out Anatomy of a Dessert Review, so you can understand my process & the meaning of the ratings you see here.

Peanut Butter Bomb Brownie- A delicious peanut butter mousse, chocolate shell, & peanut butter drizzle a top a dense brownie, not for the faint of heart, this is dessert is intense! Peanut Butter Bomb is a specialty of Vegan Treats & you'll find it on cakes & cupcakes as well! 4 stars

Pumpkin Cake- This cake is nicely spiced & addictive, I enjoyed the frosting & found myself repeatedly going back for “one more bite". 3 ¾ stars

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake- Sometimes people agree to disagree. I liked the textured chocolate & peanut butter topping, but disliked the bland, gelatinous peanut butter layer & Ryan felt the opposite! Sure, this worked out well for us, but neither of us were bowled over by this dessert. 2 ½ stars

Brownie Cheesecake- At first bite, this is a dense dessert. After digging in, I found the brownie layer to be nice, but the cheesecake portion to be a bit bland for my taste. 2 ½ stars

Lemon Cupcake- The texture of the cake was chewy & lacking lemon flavor, luckily the frosting was quite nice, but not enough to make me love this dessert. 2 stars

Hazelnut Cake- While it has a nice fluffy hazelnut frosting & tasty fudgy center filling, I found the chocolate cake to be dry & flavorless. I would give this another try, it could be better on delivery day. 3 ½ stars (I was lucky enough to share this slice with my fellow jet setting blogger, Bazu from Where's the Revolution!)

Boston Crème Donut- Ooh, lovely fluffy donut with delicious chocolate icing! Unfortunately, I found the crème filling to be a bit strange & salty. 3 ½ stars

Oreo Cookie Donut- This has a nice cream filling, but the donut & topping seem to be lacking. Can I have the Boston donut filled with Oreo cream, please?! 3 stars

Cinnamon Roll- I found this to be a bit too dense & lacking that soft gooey center people expect of cinnamon rolls. The icing was almost cream cheese-like & while I enjoyed it, Ryan thought there was far too much of it. 3 stars

Lemon-Lime Cake- A nicely flavored lime cake, but texturally it's bit dense & chewy. The lemon & lime frostings were both fluffy & delicious! 3 ½ stars

Death by Chocolate Cake- This is no joke; chocolate cake with 3 different types of filling, all held in by chocolate ganache! The cake is clearly a catalyst for all of the other components, when it’s fresh, it’s good & moist, although not particularly flavorful, a day or two later, it’s dry. That being said, all of the fillings are delicious & flavorful & help to keep the cake moist. The ganache outer shell is nice as well, although not the star here. 4 ½ stars

Overall, I was impressed by the confections Vegan Treats has to offer. They're obviously made with care & the flavors are diverse & exciting. Best of all, they look fabulous, so anyone, vegan or not, would be attracted to them!

Check out the Vegan Treats myspace page for locations!
For more photos of the Vegan Treats I tried, check out my Flickr.

Monday, December 17, 2007

New York City Dessert Reviews; Part One!

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New York City; the land of vegan desserts! I had my share of sweets (plus the share of a few others) & wanted to give you the inside scoop on the options out there. Initially, I set out to review cupcakes, but once I saw the other offerings, I decided to expand my horizons! In part one, you'll find mainly cupcakes, but coming up are items from Vegan Treats; cakes & donuts & cheesecakes, oh my!

Rather than write long paragraphs, I keep it short & simple with excerpts directly from my notes & a star rating between 1 and 5! Be sure to check out Anatomy of a Dessert Review, so you can understand my process & the meaning of the ratings you see here.

When asking folks about the cupcakes of NYC, S’nice came highly recommended. I decided to start with a meal at this cute little spot & finish up with 2 cupcakes, vanilla with chocolate frosting & chocolate with vanilla frosting, both delightfully topped with Halloween spider rings!

Vanilla cupcake with Chocolate frosting- The vanilla cupcake was dense & muffin-like, not a bad item, but it wasn't high in flavor. The frosting was cocoa based & tasty, almost like your favorite fudgy canned frosting, but with a different consistency. 3 stars

Chocolate cupcake with Vanilla frosting
- The 1st bite in to the cake seemed to have a nice chocolate flavor, but then it started to taste salty & it’s quite dense. Luckily, the frosting was thick & almost like Oreo cream filling, yum! 3 stars

S'nice: 45 8th Avenue between Jane and Horatio, NYC.

As you may recall, I took a trip to Babycakes a few months ago & was underwhelmed. I decided to give this cute little bakery another shot, as I can't imagine a place so adorable being anything less than tasty. I opted for Carrot, Lemon, & Chocolate cupcakes & a slice of gluten free Chocolate Crumb cake.

Carrot cupcake
- I found this to be a bit bland, under spiced, & muffiny, the frosting was nice, making an overall OK cupcake. 2 ¾ stars

Chocolate Spelt cupcake
- Nice depth & chocolate taste in the cake with a mild chocolate frosting, the best of the “babycakes” I’ve tasted. 3 stars

Lemon cupcake- The cake doesn’t taste of lemon & it’s a bit grainy. For some reason this cupcake seems to give me “cottonmouth”! I love lemon, so I expected more. 2 ½ stars

Chocolate Crumb Cake
- The chocolate cake was gritty, which could be due to the use of alternate flours making it gluten free, the crumb topping was OK, but I still couldn’t bother with more than a few bites. 2 stars

Babycakes: 248 Broome Street on the Lower East Side

If you know dessert in New York, you know Atlas Café; home of the display case of Vegan Treats. What you may not know is, they have vegan soft serve! On my first trip, I had plain vanilla due to being told this was their only flavor. Little did I know the list of items to accompany the soft serve are not toppings, but options to be mixed in!

Atlas Soft Serve- Creamy & rich, not “beany” like some soy creams out there. This was thicker than traditional frozen yogurt & great on it’s own, but even better with a peanut butter mix in! Thank goodness I don’t live in NYC, I could eat this often! 4 stars

Café: 73 2nd Av at E 4th St.

On Halloween, we walked down Bowery & made our way in to a place where I'd spied vegan cupcakes earlier in the week. Lucky's Café is located inside the Bowery Poetry Club & carries vegan baked goods made by a local woman with no business name. I opted for two items; a banana cupcake with vanilla frosting & a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter frosting.

Banana cupcake with Vanilla frosting- The cake portion was dense & bland, I would consider it a fluffy muffin, thankfully the frosting was delicious, like something you’d find on carrot cake. 2 ½ stars

Chocolate cupcake with Peanut Butter frosting
- The cake was lacking flavor, although it had a nice texture & fluff to it. The frosting was fluffy, but lacking in peanut buttery flavor & I found it to be overly salty. 2 ½ stars

Café at Bowery Poetry Club: 308 Bowery

I hope you enjoyed round one; of course this is merely my opinion, so I encourage you to try these places on your own. It's important to support vegan businesses, but it's also important to produce a high quality product that can stand up to comparable items, vegan or not. Stay tuned for round two; Vegan Treats edition later this week!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pumpkin Doughnuts with Cinnamon Glaze.

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The sweet treats of NYC are coming soon, but in the mean time, here’s a recipe that somehow came together in my kitchen this weekend for the monthly Vegan Brunch Cartel. Experimentation, a little bit of this & a little bit of that seemed to pay off in the form of Pumpkin Doughnuts. I wanted to share this with you before the ingredients have left the markets, so you can have your own weekend brunch treat with friends!

Pumpkin Doughnuts (Special equipment needed; donut pan.)
1 cup AP flour
1 cup WW Pastry Flour
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp nutmeg)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup pumpkin, freshly roasted or canned
1 1/4 cup soy milk
1/4 cup Earth Balance (or other margarine), softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In to a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, salt, then add in the brown sugar.

Add pumpkin, soy milk, vanilla, margarine, & vanilla; beat with an electric mixer on low speed or whisk until just mixed.

Add the apple cider vinegar & carefully fold it in until just mixed.

Fill the wells of your donut pan almost to the brim. Bake them for 10 minutes, or till golden brown.

Remove the doughnuts from the oven & allow them to cool on a rack.

Cinnamon Doughnut Glaze
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 tablespoons soy milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon, or to taste

Whisk all of the ingredients together.
If you like a thicker glaze, add more confectioners sugar, to make it more icing-like.

After the doughnuts have cooled, use a spoon to drizzle the tops, allowing the excess to fall to parchment paper below your cooling rack.

This yields 12 doughnuts.

My Notes:
While these aren't the amazing Mighty O, these lightly pumpkin flavored little treats will satisfy your seasonal sweets craving! I was happy with the results & the VBC crew didn't seem to have any complaints!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Anatomy of a Dessert Review.

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From time to time you’ll see reviews of desserts I’ve consumed while on the road. To fully understand my ratings on desserts, I thought I should give you a view in to my process for tasting baked goods & what I believe makes a high quality item. Anyone who’s been on a tasting with me can tell you, I move slowly, love to discuss every detail, & often I take notes!

When tasting a dessert, I like to taste each component on its own, be it the cake, frosting, filling, etc. I note the flavor profile, the depth, & texture of each section; I then taste the item as a whole to see how everything works together. In my opinion, the perfect dessert needs to be delicious as separate components, but also work together to be a truly outstanding treat. I find my scrutiny is especially intense with cakes, as many times a portion will be too dry or lacking in flavor, while the other portion is perfectly fine or even good. In baked goods, I like depth of flavor, but not too dense & moistness with a bit of fluffiness. I like rich & decadent, I’m not afraid of triple chocolate or a sugary sweet buttercream. I also enjoy fruit flavors, sharp & tangy, smooth & creamy, although I do tend to gravitate towards a cake versus a pie or a crumble versus a tart!

While in New York City, I had the chance to sample desserts everyday. I plan to review them all over the course of a few posts & have decided to employ a rating system of 1 to 5 stars. Rating systems vary vastly from person to person, so here’s some insight in to mine!

5 stars- Wonderful! Craveable! These are the items my dreams are made of & they dance in my head whenever that sugar craving sets in!
4 stars- Delicious, something I’d recommend to others & would consume again.
3 stars-
A nice dessert item, not spectacular, but solid; I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat this again, but probably wouldn’t turn it down either.
2 stars-
Flawed & lacking in multiple facets, not something I’d consume again & would advise others against.
1 star-
Inedible & just downright BAD. These are the items that make people think vegan food is “weird” or “gross”; they should be outlawed!

I hope you enjoyed a look in to the madness of my mind. Stay tuned for my upcoming New York City dessert reviews, as well as future thoughts on confections around the globe!