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Christmas trees and death by chocolate

18 Dec

Some of the things I love most about Christmas are the family traditions.

Ever since I can remember, my family has waited until after my brother’s birthday to get our tree – so that his birthday will feel like a birthday and not Christmas.

Yesterday, my family went out to get our Christmas tree.

We’ve gone to the same place for about 10 years now.

We always see the perfect tree within the first five minutes.  We always leave that tree thinking there will be better ones further up the hill.  That tree is usually the best one we see all day.

We have to walk around for at least half an hour.

Someone has to cry.  Usually that someone is me, although we’ve broken that tradition for the past four or five years.

My mother has to take pictures of the tree being cut down, and a couple of holdouts of me and her.  And her and my brother.  And her and me and my brother.

My dad always cuts down the tree.

My brother always helps him carry it down to the car and tie it on.

Afterwards, we always have hot chocolate and coffee in the crazy-tacky gift shop that sells ornaments and salt and pepper shakers and lots of fudge.

This year, I won.  My family finally liked a tree that I picked out, and now it’s sitting in our living room.

While my dad and brother brought the tree in and set it up on the stand, I baked these.

Chocolate ganache cakes for my brother’s birthday.

These cakes are death by chocolate.  But honestly, if you’re going to die, isn’t that the way to go?

CHOCOLATE CAKE

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/3 c. canola oil
  • 1 tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Prep your cupcake tins.  combine dry ingredients.  Combine wet ingredients.  Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet.  Mix just until combined.  Bake for about 30 minutes.  I baked mine in little 3 or 4 inch pans (this recipe made 6, each one feeds about 2 people).

GANACHE

  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1/4 c. milk + 1/2 c. creamer
  • 2 tbsp. margarine
Heat the milk and creamer in a sauce pan until it boils.  Turn off the heat and add the chocolate.  Let it sit and don’t touch it for a minute or two.  Then stir until it’s nice and smooth.  Add the margarine and stir until it’s all melted. (side note:  other amazing things you can do with ganache – stick it in the fridge until it’s completely set, then whip it up in your stand mixer and you can frost cakes with it, pipe with it; or just eat it with a spoon, that works too)

 

CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM

  • 1 c. margarine
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • 2 – 3 tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • enough milk to bring the mixture to the right consistency

Cream the butter with an electric mixer.  Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder a cup at a time.  Add the vanilla and milk.

To assemble your cakes,  flip them over and carve out part of the top.  Pipe some frosting into the cavities and smooth over the tops with a spatula.  Then, pour the ganache over the cakes and wait for it to set.  After the ganache has set, you can pipe designs on top of it with the buttercream if you so desire.

Earth Day, sort of…

10 Apr

Hi.  Remember me?

That’s okay, I’m not sure I remember me either.  In fact, I’ve been gone so long, WordPress kicked me off their “keep me signed in” thing.  I actually had to remember what my password was.  Seriously?

I have been away from my blog for exactly 1 month and 21 days.  Would you like to hear what’s happened in my life in that 1 month and 21 days?  Doesn’t matter, I’m going to tell you anyway.  That’s why we call this a blog.

I went to the Glass Museum in Tacoma.  Wow.

I took an Anthropology midterm and got a 90%.

I began attending the knitting club on campus regularly and am now teaching my club-mates how to make socks.

My dear laptop, Agamemnon, crashed and then came back to life.  His name is now Jesús.

I spent a week almost living in the library due to said computer crash.

I read Charles Dickens’ Hard Times and wrote an essay on it.

I wrote another essay in Spanish about Gabriela Mistral’s poetry.

I also read Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  If you have not yet read it, go read it.  Now.  Right now.  As in, stop reading this blog post and go read it.  It’ll only take you about two hours.

I made about $300 working at the bakery over spring break and another $250 babysitting.  Cha-ching!

I spoke Spanish almost all day long at work this past week with my old friends at the bakery.

I tried a new bubble tea spot in Northwest Portland called the Fat Straw.  I had the honeydew milk tea, and it was amazing.  It was like sucking on a freakin’ melon.  Yum.

I went to my favorite baking/decorating store in Portland, The Decorette Shop, and the lady helping me looked at me like I was crazy when I asked her if the circle cookie cutter I was looking at would fit inside a cupcake.

I had a great idea for the March Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge and missed it

And that’s where this story begins.  Mystery Box Cupcakes.  More like, Mystery Frickin’ Beastly Amazing Box Cupcakes.  Yeah, you heard me.

The idea for these cupcakes came from an entremet I made with one of my dearest friends, Carina, which was composed of hazelnut cake, fresh strawberries, and chocolate mousse.

Well, the cake part did.  But the actual cupcake part of the cupcake came from something I saw online around Valentine’s Day, and I applied it to Earth Day Cupcakes.

Oh.  That’s the theme this year.  Earth Day.  I didn’t just decide to celebrate it a week and a half early.

Now, here’s all the stuff I have to put in my blog to qualify for the challenge this month:

These are the official rules.  And these are the sponsors and prizes.  Yay!

The winner of April’s Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge will receive prizes from:

Thank you to all our prize sponsors!

But before we get to the cupcakes, I need to share some Earth Day comics with you.  My personal favorite comic strip artist is Dan Piraro.  He’s amazing.  And witty.  And funny.  I love his style and one of the things I miss about home is seeing his little one-square strips in the paper everyday.  So we’ll start with some from him.

I’ve had this comic sitting in my room for about two years waiting for a chance to use it.  And now I have one.

Oh, the irony…

Alright.  Now the cupcakes.  Are you ready?  You might want to not look directly at them, or their awesomeness could blind you.

Just FYI.  Drum roll please….

That’s right.  ♪♫♬ He’s got the whole world, in his cupcake, he’s got the whole world, in his cupcake! ♪♫♪

More pictures.  Because that’s how proud I am of these cupcakes.

Because when you’re vegan, every day is Earth Day!  Seriously.   Go hug one.  Right now.

Okay.  Now a recipe.

These are hazelnut cupcakes with coffee buttercream.  And super, duper rich.  But totally worth it.

HAZELNUT CUPCAKES

(adapted from my peanut butter cupcakes)

  • 1 c. soy milk
  • 1 tsp. vinegar
  • 1 1/4 c. AP flour
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. hazelnut butter
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

PAUSE.  DON’T DO ANYTHING UNTIL YOU HAVE READ THIS BAKER’S NOTE THAT I AM WRITING IN ALL CAPS.  HALVE THIS RECIPE AND BAKE IT UP IN AN 8×8 PAN FOR ABOUT 15 MINUTES OR UNTIL IT’S BAKED THROUGH.  LET IT COOL COMPLETELY AND THEN CUT OUT SMALL CIRCLES (MAKE SURE THEY WILL FIT INSIDE YOUR CUPCAKE TIN) AND SET THEM ASIDE.  THEN MAKE A FULL BATCH OF THIS RECIPE.

Keep your oven at 350°F, line your cupcake tin with liners.  Whisk the soy milk and vinegar together in a cup and set aside for a few minutes.  Mix the dry ingredients (except sugar) in a bowl.

In a larger bowl, cream the hazelnut butter and sugar until fluffy (don’t beat past two minutes).  Add in the vanilla.  Then, alternate beating in the flour mixture and milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Take your half batch of batter and split it in half.  Color one half green and one half blue, and then marble them in your 8×8 pan.  Bake off your 8×8 cake, cut out your circles, and set aside.  Then, mix up a full batch.  Get your cupcake liners in your tin.  Put a little scoop of batter in the bottom, and then stand up the circle vertically in the cup part of the tin (if that makes sense).  Then, pour a little more batter around the circle and on top of the circle.  PAUSE AGAIN.  MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHICH WAY THE CIRCLES ARE FACING.  PUT THEM ALL FACING THE SAME WAY.  YOU HAVE TO SLICE THE CIRCLE THE RIGHT WAY TO SEE THE CIRCLE ON THE INSIDE. (If you don’t understand what I mean, go back up to the Valentine’s Day link in this post and read that.  It’ll make more sense).  Seriously.  Listen to me. If you cut the circle the wrong way, you’ll just see a rectangle.  There’s nothing very Earth Day about that.

Top off with coffee buttercream.  Here’s how you do it.  Use my buttercream frosting, but mix in about 1 1/2 tbsp. of instant coffee into the 2 -3 tbsp. of soy milk before adding it into the frosting.  (PS, I actually used 1/2 c. shortening and 1/2 c. margarine, because I was low on margarine).

Once they’re frosted, and you know which way they’re supposed to face, slice them open and see the magic!  Happy Early Earth Day!!

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for… Cupcakes?

12 Feb

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First of all, I would like to say “happy birthday” to my mamacita.  I’m so bummed that I can’t be in Portland today to celebrate her birthday and play on her brand new Wii, but I thought that I would dedicate this post to her.  So, happy birthday, mama.  Te quiero hasta la luna y de vuelta otra vez…

And now…

(Drumroll please…)

Welcome to the month of chocolate.  That’s right.  A whole month.  Why?  Because I was trying to come up with an idea for the Mystery Box Challenge for this month, and I had too many.  So I’m making them all.

Get excited.

These are cupcakes based on an ice cream flavor that I have never really been fond of:  spumoni.  Which is odd, considering that I love chocolate, I love cherries, and I love pistachio.  So why I have never  tried this flavor combo before is beyond me.

But I’m trying it now.

These cupcakes pack a whole lot of awesome into just a few bites.  Chocolate cake, pistachio filling, and cherry frosting.  Can you say “holy wow”?

These cupcakes are labor-intensive, but are totally worth the wait.  Trust me.  I can tell you (and so can half of the people on my floor) that these cupcakes are worth tasting.  I believe my RA’s exact words were, “oh my gosh… yum… oh yum… mmmmmm….. yummmm… OH MY GOSH THESE ARE SO GOOD….. yummm…. uhmmm… mmmmm….”

I think you get the picture.

You will have to forgive me for using this chocolate cupcake recipe over and over and over and over again in my blog, but it is sooo yummy and so easy to adapt to add in other flavors.  So you’ll just have to suck it up, because I’m using it again.

CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES (adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking)

  • 1 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 – 3 tsp. instant coffee
  • 1/3 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/3 c. ground pistachios (food processor works great for this)
  • 1/3 c. vegetable/canola oil
  • 1 c. non dairy milk
  • 1 tbsp. vinegar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. almond extract

Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare your cupcake tin.  In a large bowl, combine your flour, sugar, cocoa powder, coffee, baking soda, and salt.  In a smaller bowl, combine your wet ingredients.  Add the wet to the dry, and mix just until combined.  Scoop into your cupcake tin and bake for about 20 – 25 minutes (trust me, it really does need that much time).

PISTACHIO FILLING

  • 2/3 – 1 c. ground pistachios
  • 6 tbsp. non dairy margarine
  • 2/3 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Beat all ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth.

CHERRY SYRUP

  • 12 oz. frozen cherries
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 3 tbsp. sugar

Pulse the cherries in your food processor.  Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until it thickens up.  I kept some of the cherry chunks in my frosting, because it gives it flavor, and it’s a lot easier than having to strain them out.

CHERRY BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

  • 1 1/2 sticks non dairy margarine
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Enough cherry syrup to bring the frosting together

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer.  Add the vanilla and cherry syrup just until the frosting turns pink and you can taste the cherry in the frosting.

BUILDING THE CUPCAKE

Using a cupcake corer or spoon or a knife, make a hole in the middle of your cupcake.  Scoop in your pistachio filling (I used my handy-dandy mini cookie scoop that I always rave about).  Top off with the cherry frosting.  You can also bake your cupcakes in ice cream cones (like I did) and serve them that way.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – — – – – – – – — – – – – – – — – – – – – – — – – – – – – –

PS, this is my entry for Mystery Box Cupcake.

Here’s the rules.  And the sponsors…

Vote for me starting on the 21st here.

The winner of February’s Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge will receive prizes from:

Thank you to all our prize sponsors!

 

Apple Spice Cupcakes

17 Jan

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Hi.  It’s me.  Remember me?  I haven’t posted in over a month…

But I’m back now.  With recipes.  And pictures.

This weekend was just about the most unproductive weekend of my life.  I’m taking ceramics this month, and have about fifteen mugs I have to paint and put handles on.  This was the dialogue with myself on Saturday:

Me:  6:00 am.  Time to head over to the art building and work.  Wahoo!!

Myself:  9:00 am.  I’m getting hungry, but still have  a lot to do here.  I’ll keep working.

Me:  11:00 am.  Okay, lunch time.

Myself:  12:00 pm.  Maybe I should head back over and finish my ceramics pieces.

Me:  Nah… I’ll just stay here and watch ‘Friends’ curled up under my covers because our heat is currently not working.

Myself:  Sure, yeah.  Okay, that sounds like fun.

Six hours later…

Me:  Okay, you really do need to go back to the art building and finish your stuff.

Myself:  DINNER!

 

So, basically didn’t get anything done.  I was going to bake yesterday, but it sounded like too much work.  Seriously?  Me?  Baking is work?  What’s wrong with me?

But I did bake today, so be happy.

APPLE CUPCAKES

  • 2 1/2 c. AP flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg (I’m not a huge fan of nutmeg, so I did 1/4 tsp.)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. non dairy margarine
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. white sugar
  • 2 eggs-worth of egg replacer
  • 1/2 c. soy milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 c. shredded apples (I used Granny Smith from our dining hall)

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line 2 standard muffin tins with paper liners; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream margarine and sugar.  Add the egg replacer and vanilla.  Then add the dry ingredients alternating with the milk.

Scoop into your muffin cups and bake.*

Take out and let cool, then top with frosting and caramel below.

*These took for forever and a day to bake – probably somewhere around 30 minutes for me.  Always start with 18 minutes, though, and go from there.  You can always let them bake for longer, but you can’t unburn cupcakes!!

 

BROWN SUGAR FROSTING

  • 1 c. + 3 tbsp. non dairy margarine (I just had the three tablespoons sitting around, that’s why I used them)
  • 1 c. sifted brown sugar
  • 3 c. white sugar

Cream it all up in a bowl with your electric mixer.

Note on this frosting:  I made up this recipe because I realized I didn’t have any powdered sugar.  I tried making my own by blending it up in a food processor, but that didn’t work either. This frosting is just like that magical time when you’re baking cookies when it’s just the butter and sugar together – YUM.

 

CARAMEL SAUCE

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3 tbsp. non dairy margarine
  • soy milk (don’t ask me how much – I eyeballed it)

Put the sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir with a whisk or wooden spoon every 10-15 seconds, for about a minute, until sugar starts to melt. Stir, nonstop, for about 2 – 3 minutes. The sugar will be very hot by now, which is good, but it will probably pop and splatter, so be careful!  (Ahem, I didn’t burn my toe when the sugar popped out of the pan!  What are you talking about?)  Add vanilla. When the sugar starts to turn just a little darker, add margarine and stir nonstop until it melts. Let boil on medium heat for 2 to3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.  Add non-dairy milk, a little at a time.

Note on this recipe:  Ok, I totally winged this one.  My margarine and sugar amounts were correct, but my sugar flipped out and just curdled up into little hard sugar balls.  So really, my caramel sauce turned into ‘epic fail sauce.’  So I strained out the little lumpies with my whisk and it turned out okay.

Enjoy!   : )

 

Vegan Buttercream

27 Sep

Just so I have something to reference in future posts, here’s my buttercream recipe:

  • 1 c. (2 sticks) non-dairy margarine
  • 4 c. powdered sugar
  • Vanilla and almond extracts
  • A couple of tablespoons of soy milk (just enough to get the right consistency)

Beat butter until smooth, then add extracts and powdered sugar a cup at a time.  Finally, add enough soy milk to get the correct consistency for your purposes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

29 Jul

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. (vegan) cream cheese
  • 1 stick (vegan) margarine
  • Vanilla & Almond extracts
  • 4 to 4 1/2 c. powdered sugar

Directions:

Duh.  Just like every other frosting recipe out there.  Cream the margarine and cream cheese, then add the extracts and finally add the sugar until it’s the right consistency.  Bam.  Most amazing cream cheese frosting you’ll ever taste.  And it’s vegan, if you’d like it to be.