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Archive for the ‘baking’ Category

I had a brief moment yesterday, between gluttonous handfuls of leftover Christmas cookies, where I decided I was going to do a six week sugar detox. I also made a birthday resolution to train for a half marathon. Maybe it was my self disgust for my unabashed consumption of vegan cookies that caused me to pause, with a Russian tea cake in my hand and powdered sugar dust on my scarf, and declare a boycott on all sweets. Fortunately, about 24 hours later, I realized my ban on all things sugar-laced was completely unrealistic. Ironically, I didn’t come to the same conclusion about training for a marathon. Maybe it’s because running sounds easier than eliminating sugar. I feel crazy for even writing that last sentence.

Personally, I don’t believe in short-term diets for weight loss. They are a temporary, unrealistic solution to a long-term problem, which is precisely why I realized my ban on sugar was not going to work. As the sugar levels in my blood decreased, I remembered my “everything in moderation” motto. I don’t need to permanently remove cookies, and chocolate, and cupcakes from my diet. That would depress me, because I love to bake and eat treats. I just need to not eat homemade treats by the fistfuls during the holidays. Unless I am willing to make a major lifestyle change, one in which I truly believe–like eschewing all meat and dairy for diet and ethical reasons or adopting a new appreciation for the sounds of my feet hitting the pavement in a slow trot–the sugar stays. In considerably lower doses, of course.

After a Christmas cookie exchange at our house and an extravagant display of vegan cookies on Christmas Eve, the favorite and most requested recipe was the vegan Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. She has posted the recipe to her website, The Post Punk Kitchen, which includes a video of how to make the cookies. A few things to note about the recipe: I’ve never found chocolate extract at the store and usually just double the vanilla extract. I like to add a heaping pinch of rock salt to the cinnamon sugar topping, because chocolate, cayenne and salt together is soooo tasty. Also, the dough is on the wet side so I usually end up adding in a small handful of flour to make the dough more pliable. These cookies are chocolaty and spicy–a lovely “adult” cookie and nice accompaniment to a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve.

 

A cookie definitely worthy of eating by the fistful.

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I’ve never been a real fan of Halloween—particularly the dressing up and decorating part. If my grandmother were still alive to read these words, she would don her witch costume, add a nasty wart to her nose, and hobble around behind my back mumbling curses for speaking ill of her favorite day. I do love annual visits to Cool Patch and wandering through the acres of pumpkins. Except for my father-in-law who was a little grossed out by climbing into a pile of dried kernels, how can you not love a good roll through a corn bath?

Every child should be buried in corn at least once. Never mind that kernels end up all over your bathroom floor hours later.

I am sure my apathy for the day stems from the lackluster Halloweens of my childhood. Like most children, I expected lots of loot from my neighbors. We were the only children living at the end of a country dirt road and should have known better than to try and trick-or-treat. None of our neighbors expected us kids to brave the potholes in the dark and knock on their doors. The results were always disastrous. One particularly awful year yielded a mini Almond Joy (I hated coconuts and chocolate together), two stale Chips Ahoy cookies, a box of raisins, and a dime. For an eight year old, that’s a tragic haul.

As a parent, (particularly one who over thinks things and puts unnecessary pressure on herself to live up to the expectations created in her head) I had an irrational, preconceived idea of what makes a good Halloween and what makes a bad one. Homemade costumes, festively decorated house, and construction paper pumpkins = good. Store-bought costumes and minimal decorations = bad. It doesn’t help that our town is teaming with families who decorate their front walks with lights and fake spider webs. Construction paper jack-o-lanterns and witches jeer through their windows like little signs of art project success.

In an effort to live up to my expectations, I picked the kids up early from school. I figured we could bake cupcakes and create Halloween artwork—you know, do the same things as the perfect moms in my mind. After tracing a witch and pumpkin scene for Calla to color in, she flipped over the paper and drew her own people with a red marker. Lennon couldn’t be bothered with making anything. My kids didn’t want to make pictures for Halloween, and I felt relieved at their lack of care for holiday crafts. I expect they will have many expectations that I will fail at fulfilling as they grow older. Fortunately, decorating the house into a holiday extravaganza isn’t one of them.

In the end, I decorated a bit. It took me all of fifteen painless minutes to gather together our random Halloween items and rearrange our pumpkins on the front porch. I collected our black velvet spider web from the work bench and hung it in our front window, set out a tin witch and pumpkin cookie jar on the dining room table, and placed Lennon’s nasty, overgrown spider as the gate keeper to the fireplace.

I may feel apathetic toward the Halloween, but this year I realized I don’t have to live up to my irrational expectations to enjoy the holiday. I was happy to see our jack o’ lanterns glowing from the street in front of the giant black spider web hanging from the window. With Scott’s addition of Bach’s Toccata in Fugue blaring from the garage, it looked like we actually put some thought into the holiday. I still kind of felt a little like a cheater for not making my kids’ costumes. If the store bought Halloween costumes of today resembled those plastic ones they had when I was a kid, I would have pulled out the sewing machine. Maybe next year I will buy myself a witch costume reminiscent of my grandmother’s, sit on my bench outside my house, and scare the bejeezus out of the neighborhood kids—or not. The only tradition I really care about is visiting the pumpkin patch, and hanging out in the corn bath with my kids.

Between Halloween, class parties, and a kid birthday, I’ve baked about four dozen cookies, a dozen cupcakes and two apple pies in the last week. Of all my vegan treats, the almond thumbprint cookies with peach jam filling were the most requested by my kids. The orange jam made these cookies very appropriate for Halloween.

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Frosting leftovers

This week I had a container full of homemade coconut butter cream frosting languishing in the fridge leftover from the most patriotic act I have ever partook. Sure, I care about politics, but I have never been particularly patriotic. In fact, I have been known to be somewhat caustic and cynical when comes to the state of our country. But something about that Obama guy has me feeling all hopeful and proud. Anyway, on Tuesday night in honor of our new President, we threw an inauguration party, and I made homemade vanilla cupcakes and topped them with blueberries and strawberries and coconut frosting in an attempt to make a replica of the American flag (yes, I forgot to take a picture.) I was inspired by this crazy cupcake decorating book called hello, cupcake! that Scott got me for my birthday. And while the flag in their book was styled professionally and looked beautiful, mine was a pathetic smattering of out-of-season fruit thrown onto the cupcakes in a manic attempt to get dessert decorated in five minutes.

Not wanting to waste good frosting and not feeling like consuming another batch of cupcakes, I figured I could use it on something else, or eat it straight out of the container like my mother-in-law. But really, I am not big on eating frosting with a spoon. I flashed on a distinct, not-so-good memory as a kid eating red frosting on saltine crackers with my sister and quickly decided that there are infinitely better ways to consume frosting. Though my mother-in-law may beg to differ, frosting really needs to be cut with something like cake or black coffee—preferably both at the same time.

So last night after dinner, Scott challenged me to make vegan cinnamon rolls. A true quest since I have always shied away from making anything that involves active yeast. For some reason, yeast mystifies me. Anything that requires some kind of chemical reaction, bacteria and the careful following of steps is bound to throw me off. Yeah sure, baking is science but adding yeast to the mix takes it all to a whole new level. But I had wanted to make cinnamon rolls for a long time and wasting good frosting is criminal so I got to work.

After mixing all the ingredients together and meticulously following the directions, I waited for my dough to rise. And I waited, and waited. Yes, the yeast was active, I could see some puffiness, but as I wrapped my scarf around my neck for the umpteenth time, I decided that we kept our house too cold during the winter to be expecting dough to rise.

What’s a baker to do? Kick up the heat? Or clear off space in the laundry room in hopes that the heat from the washer and dryer warms up the dough? I cheaply chose the latter, because that is just how I am. For some reason, I couldn’t justify turning the heat up a measly three degrees to get the place warm enough to activate my sluggish yeast.

In an attempt to be somewhat sanitary, I pushed aside the laundry soap and made room next to the random hair clips, rocks, coins and shreds of tissues fished out of pockets and the lint collector to make room on top of the dryer for my cookie sheet. I just needed to make sure that the whole thing didn’t shake to the floor while the washer jumped its way through the spin cycle.

While my pretty pinwheels did grow some while sitting in the laundry room, my dough never really got to a yeasty out of control mass of dough begging to be punched down. I guess that means I still have something to strive for, but that said, for a first batch of cinnamon rolls, mine were pretty good. I smeared them with the coconut butter cream frosting and fed them to my favorite people, and we sat at the dining room table, unraveled the gooey rolls and dunked them into hot cups of fresh coffee.

I am going to hold off on posting a recipe for vegan cinnamon rolls. While these were tasty, they don’t quite measure up to Cinnabon status just yet.

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