you-won’t-know-they’re-vegan chocolate cupcakes

About six months ago, my mom took the plunge. She went vegan.

 

vegan chocolate cupcakes

Everyone deserves to have a delicious, gooey, rich, delectable, messy, awesome chocolate cake on their birthday, even if they don’t eat butter anymore. Since she drove all the way to Austin to visit me for her birthday, I felt like a vegan baking challenge was in order. Chocolate birthday cupcakes that still tasted like “OMG”, but with no milk, no butter, no eggs.

I set a few requirements: I wanted to avoid as many specialty ingredients as possible. I wanted these to be basic pantry cupcakes, cupcakes no one (including me) ever has to stress over. I want to be able to make these without thinking when I have a party to go to and I know a vegan friend will be attending, or when Mom comes back for a visit and we feel celebratory. I wanted these to be easy. A few hours of recipe reviewing later, I found my recipe.

These cupcakes are moist, super chocolatey, dark, delicious, and definitely feel like a birthday cupcake. My sister said, “Wow, these don’t taste vegan!” My mom took some home to share with friends. I promise you: If you make these cupcakes and take them to a party, no one will know your dirty little vegan secret.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes 12 cupcakes

You will need:
1 1/8 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. canola oil
1 tsp. white vinegar
1 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners.

Whisk together all dry ingredients into a large bowl.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients.

Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, whisking until just mixed. Do not overmix. The batter will be very wet, but that’s okay.

Distribute the batter evenly among the cupcake liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean, about 25 minutes. (Note: My cupcakes didn’t really “dome” the way that cupcakes usually do, so I nearly overbaked them. Test them before you think they’re ready, in case you have the same problem.) Remove from the oven and let cool completely before frosting.

Vegan Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from About.com Dairy Free Cooking
Makes 2 cups, enough to frost 12 cupcakes
Note: The frosting was a little thin, but I think I could add more powdered sugar next time to bulk it up, or just chill it before frosting the cupcakes. It came out more like a thick ganache than something you could pipe through a pastry bag, but still fit the bill nicely.

You Will Need:
2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. dairy-free soy margarine, softened
1/4 c. plain unsweetened almond milk or soy milk
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla

With an electric hand mixer, beat the powdered sugar with the margarine until well mixed and thick. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat until smooth.

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orange rosemary olive oil cake

I live in a rosemary factory.

D and I decided to give up the plot in our community garden. It’s sad to see it go,  but honestly, it’s been nice to not have the obligation of driving several miles each weekend to work the soil, as pleasant and rewarding as that was. Our lives are a little busy right now, something had to give, so it’s bye-bye garden.

We were able to transplant the sage, lavender, and arugula into containers outside our apartment, and since we had barely planted anything for the winter at all, nothing else was too great a loss. Except the rosemary.

palmful of dried rosemary

We had two four-foot-tall rosemary plants that were strong and gorgeous. I nearly couldn’t bear cutting them down. Instead, I cut them into 2-foot sprigs (more like branches, but whatever) and took a huge armload home with me to dry. That bushel of rosemary was painstakingly rinsed, branch by branch, and then draped inside a boat frame that hangs from the ceiling. (If you know me, then you may know that my life partner has been building a canoe… for four years.  I’m finally grateful that he hasn’t finished it.) It smelled like a pine forest for three days, and two weeks later, the rosemary was ready to harvest.

orange rosemary olive oil cake

Except, do you know how much dried rosemary comes from a bushel of branches? Out of four branches, I got two cups of dried rosemary. No one needs two cups of dried rosemary, least of all me and my 700-square-foot apartment, and I have (approximately) 300 more branches to go. Surprise! Everyone’s getting rosemary for Christmas!

I’m now on a mission to put rosemary into as many things as possible. If you’ve never thought to include rosemary in a dessert, fear not! The combination of this aromatic herb and some sharp citrus is a clear winner.

orange_rosemary_cake 032_ed

Orange Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from Patent and the Pantry
Makes one 9 x 4 loaf cake

You will need:
4 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1 small navel orange
1/2 cup regular or extra-virgin olive oil (or use canola oil)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbps. dried rosemary, chopped, plus more for decoration

Preheat oven to 350. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper, or grease it.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs about one minute, until frothy. Add sugar and beat another 3 minutes, until pale yellow. Add orange zest and juice and beat again for 30 seconds.

In a separate, larger bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and rosemary. Add egg mixture and stir until just combined. Pour batter into loaf pan and sprinkle with more rosemary, if desired. Bake 45 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer comes out with small crumbs attached.

Cool completely before serving.

orange rosemary olive oil cake

chocolate butterscotch chip cookies

These cookies are like crack.

These cookies, once baked, are impossible to eat individually. You can try, and I’m sure it would be a valiant effort, but you will fail. You will go back for “just one more” so many times, you’ll lose count. I love a good chocolate chip cookie as much as the next girl, but this butterscotch… I may never make regular chocolate chip cookies again. I’ve seen the light; I’ve converted; I’ve been shown the way. The yellow brick road is actually made of butterscotch.

I can think of a million reasons to make these cookies. I made them to thank someone who watched my cats when I was out of town. I took a dozen or so with me that weekend, and my mother, sister, and I demolished them in an evening of homemade pizza, cupcakes, and queso. I still had some left when I got home, so I finished the rest with as much self-control as I could muster while I hosted my own one-woman Sex and the City marathon. You can make them for an office party, a picnic, a birthday gift, a night in with the girls, or when you’re feeling the teeniest bit gluttonous.

Chocolate Butterscotch Chip Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes bout 4 dozen cookies; serves 1-48.

You will need:
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. (2 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar (Martha uses dark, all I had was light. Use what you have.)
2 eggs
1 c. butterscotch chips
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to cream butter with both sugars until pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, and vanilla, beating well after each addition.  Add the flour mixture and beat until combined.

Stir in chips. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, about 2″ apart. Bake in batches until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Watch carefully, and remove from oven just before they look done. Let them set for a minute on the cookie sheet, then remove to cool on a wire rack. In my experience, they keep for five days in an airtight container.

blackberry buttermilk cake

The other night, my boyfriend and I were sitting at the kitchen table, tapping away on our respective laptops. He got up and came back with a ramekin of blackberries, still wet from the quick rinse under the tap he gave them. We mindlessly picked over them, until suddenly I reached into the ramekin and came back disappointed. No blackberries.

He got up, refilled our tiny ceramic container with another mound cold, wet berries, and we repeated the blackberry dance. He reached in, I reached in, but this time I won. I got the last berry, and left my boyfriend blackberryless. We were out of blackberries.

When they’re in season, blackberries are almost always in my fridge or on my counter. I generally eat them undressed, just rinsing them and setting a bowl out to nibble before dinner or mindlessly snack while watching television. Feeding the habit is easy, since they’re amazingly cheap this time of year.

Oh, and they replace raspberries without missing a beat in this moist, crumbly, super-fast cake.

Blackberry Buttermilk Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Gourmet, June 2009

You will need:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup + 1.5 tbsp. sugar, divided
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest (optional— I skipped it)
1 egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk*
1 cup fresh blackberries (about 5 oz)

Preheat oven to 400. Grease a 9” round cake pan or springform pan.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, beat butter and 2/3 c. sugar with a hand mixer until well blended. Add lemon zest and vanilla, and beat well. Add egg and, again, beat well.

Using your hand mixer, mix in about 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by half the buttermilk, another 1/3 flour, the rest of the buttermilk, and the rest of the flour. (In other words, mix in 5 stages: dry-wet-dry-wet-dry.) Spoon batter in pan, and scatter blackberries over the top. Sprinkle with the rest of the sugar.

Bake about 20-25 minutes, or until cake is golden and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out and cool another 10 minutes. Enjoy.

*Note: To make your own buttermilk, add 1 tbsp. vinegar to 1 cup of milk, and let sit about 10 minutes.

martha stewart’s one-bowl chocolate cupcakes

Life these days is simple. My life has slowed down since I graduated from college. I don’t have to worry about turning in papers, or staying out of the gossip mill, or driving four hours a week between my house and Handsome’s. I’m working retail, which (while not my dream job) has its benefits when it comes to stress. I just don’t stress about work, and I rarely work more than three days without a day off. My hours are set, and I am in the enviable position of being required to work a minimum number of hours a week, so my hours are in no danger of being cut. I have no trouble paying my bills, and even have some cash left over to (for example) bake a batch of cupcakes whenever I want.

I’m also more comfortable in my home, now that I don’t commute between cities. I’ve settled into our apartment and am thinking about changes I’d like to make to it. I go to the library frequently, checking out silly books for pleasure reading. (The Sookie Stackhouse series will eat up so many hours of your life, but it is so worth it. These books are like cupcakes: you can’t have just one, even though you probably should.) I have a routine, a schedule. Life outside of school is much calmer for me.  My life isn’t perfect, but it’s perfect for me and I have so much to be thankful for.

Right now, I’m thankful for Martha Stewart. Why?. Her One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes, that’s why. Dump ingredients in a bowl, mix, bake. Simple. I have several books of cupcake recipes and cute ways to decorate the little buggers, but today I wanted something simple. It’s been awhile since I baked anything, so going back to basics seemed like a good idea. I was right: basic, simple, straightforward, no-frills chocolate cupcakes were the perfect thing.

I halved the recipe since Martha’s original makes 18-24 cupcakes, and while the thought of eating all of those sounded sort of diving, my clearer head and desire for a slightly smaller waist prevailed. I used her Chocolate Frosting recipe as well, which combines butter, cream cheese, sour cream, and melted chocolate for the most decadent frosting you’ve ever had in your mouth. It’s also pretty easy. I made the whole recipe, unsure of how much I would need. I had plenty left over, so I froze it (after, of course, testing several spoonfuls). You should probably halve the frosting recipe, but I’m going to post it as I made it, in all its much-too-much glory.

Martha Stewart’s One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
Slightly adapted, and halved, from recipe in MarthaStewart.com
Makes 9-12 cupcakes (Made 11 for me)

You will need:
3/8 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/8 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
3/8 c. warm water
3/8 c. buttermilk
1 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil (Martha uses safflower oil, but I didn’t have any. It was fine.)
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 and line a regular muffin tin with paper liners.

Sift all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Add all wet ingredients and beat with electric mixer until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full, distributing batter evenly.

Bake approximately 20 minutes, or until cupcakes spring back when touched.

Cool cupcakes in muffin tin completely before frosting. Frost with Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Frosting (below).

Martha Stewart’s Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from MarthaStewart.com
Makes enough to frost all the cupcakes you just baked, and then some. Proceed with caution.

You will need:
2 1/4 c. confectioner’s sugar
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch salt
6 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
3/4 c. sour cream

Sift sugar, cocoa, and salt into a bowl.

Beat cream cheese and butter in separate bowl on medium-high speed until smooth. Reduce speed and add sugar/cocoa/salt mixture slowly.  Add melted chocolate slowly and beat until combined. Add sour cream and beat until smooth. Frost cupcakes and enjoy. Enter sugar coma in 3.. 2… 1…

Postscript: Life is not always simple for others. The sister of a good friend has recently been diagnosed with a terrible illness, but she is fighting hard. Please keep this family in your thoughts, and bake a batch of cupcakes for a friend who needs them.

my first try at ganache

I recently went back home (you know, that place where you grew up and where they have to take you in and give you a bed) to celebrate the birthdays of my mom and sister.  Their birthdays are about two weeks apart, so it made sense to go home for one weekend and celebrate with both of them.

While we were organizing my trip by phone, my mom said to me, “And one more thing: Your sister and I want you to make us some cupcakes.”

Uhh, what?

I love to bake, and I post photos of my efforts on my Facebook page.  My family knows that I am trying my hand at new recipes, and they continually both razz me for and stand in awe of my desire to bake from scratch.  But this was the first time I’d been asked to perform, asked to bake something specifically for a special occasion.

Still, it’s their birthdays!  Of course I am up to the challenge.

Picking out the perfect recipe was hard work.  I combed the internet for ideas, rejecting many recipes as too pretentious, too difficult, too time-consuming, requiring too many specialty ingredients, too adventurous in ingredients for such a small gathering.  Finally I wised up and searched the archives of my old stand-by, The Pioneer Woman.

PW recently posted a delightful-looking recipe f or chocolate cupcakes coated in chocolate ganache, using her chocolate sheet cake recipe as a base.  My major adaptation was in halving the recipe, which still yielded me twelve cupcakes (and a whole lot of leftover ganache.  Not good for the waistline).

You will need:
Cupcakes
1 cups Sugar
1 cups All-purpose Flour
1/4 teaspoons Salt
1/4 cups Buttermilk
1 whole Egg
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
1 stick Butter
2 Tablespoons (heaping) Cocoa Powder
1/2 cup Water, Boiling
12 whole Hershey’s Kisses, Unwrapped
Canned Pitted Cherries (optional)

Ganache
4 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate
1/2 cup Heavy Cream
3 Tablespoons Corn Syrup
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 12 muffin cups with baking spray.

To make the batter for the cupcakes, whisk the flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, baking soda, and vanilla.

In a saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter.  When the butter is all melty, add the cocoa powder and stir.  Add the boiling water, stir, allow to bubble for a few seconds, and remove from heat.

Pour the melted chocolate mixture over the flour mixture and stir a few times.  Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir.

Fill muffin cups a little more than half full.  Place one Hershey’s kiss in the center of each muffin cup and allow it to sink down.  Or, place three cherries in the bottom of the muffin cup and cover with cake batter.

This would be where I read the recipe incorrectly.  I made some cupcakes with cherry bottoms and Hershey’s kiss centers.  This was by no means a misstep– it was a beautiful mistake.  It did mean, however, that I had enough batter for 12 cupcakes and that some of my cupcakes were a little overfilled.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then cool on a baking rack.

For the ganache, chop the chocolate and set aside. Heat the cream and corn syrup on medium heat in a saucepan.  Once hot, stir in the vanilla.  Pour the cream mixture over the chopped chocolate and stir together until the ganache is nice and glossy.  Once the cupcakes are cool, dunk the tops in the ganache and set on a plate to allow the ganache to set.

Verdict: “Uuhhhmmmmmmm.” -Mom. “Oh my god.” -Sister.

Thank you once again, Pioneer Woman.