Tag Archives: dessert

Good Morning, Vegan Cinnamon Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies!

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I am exceptionally lucky to have met my partner, James, but I am also incredibly lucky that, as part of the package of falling in love with this great guy, I get to spend occasional time with his terrific folks. Down-to-earth, witty, loving, and considerate, it’s no wonder great parents like them produced such a lovable kid.

James’s mom, Nancy, is an awesome cook (as well as a phenomenal knitter). A lot of moms, when confronted with a child’s decision to adopt a vegan diet, might freak out or panic about what to serve them. Any trepidation Nancy might have had about James’s vegan tendencies have long since been eschewed in favor of veganizing old favorites, as well as seeking out new recipes to throw into the mix. Her efforts have delivered delicious vegan dish after delicious vegan dish. (Just goes to show you that you don’t have to live a diet to cook for the diet. All you need is a willingness to try out new ingredients and adapt what you already know about cooking and baking into an unfamiliar realm. The basic skills still apply.)

On a recent visit, Nancy showed me a new addition to her cookbook collection: Chloe Coscarelli’s Chloe’s Kitchen. Don’t know who Chloe Coscarelli is? Neither did I, but apparently she took the top prize on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars. Her stuff is all vegan, thus her success on a Food Network reality cooking competition has allowed her to leap-frog other established divas of the vegan cookbook scene.

Okay, I wasn’t exactly being fair-minded when I first started looking at the book. Cookbooks from TV stars tend to disappoint. Either the recipes are fairly simplistic dishes with exotic touches (usually hard to find or rare ingredients) or they’re extraordinarily complicated (more complicated than I suspect they even have to be). There’s also an incredibly annoying tendency to put the persona of the chef before the food itself – so instead of mouth-watering photographs of dishes you can’t wait to recreate, there are irritating shots of the smiling, doe-eyed cook laughing with friends, holding a cupcake or cookie, or standing near food that one presumes she has just whipped up, in between photo shoots and loving life.

Yes, I’m simply not a fan of this type of cookbook. Chloe’s Kitchen, however, offers more than a cursory glance at its contents might suggest. Yes, there’s the requisite ‘wholesome girl-next-door chef’ shots, plus a pretty grating introduction and bland writing throughout…

BUT I am always willing to overcome my prejudices to try out a promising recipe. Having long searched for an appropriate vegan replacement for my favorite meatloaf recipe, Chloe’s tempeh loaf recipe was too tempting not to attempt.

I’m a fan of the policy that one good recipe can make a cookbook worthwhile. If that policy holds, then Chloe’s Kitchen should be on every vegan’s cookbook shelf, based off that tempeh meatloaf alone. The result was so delicious, it warranted another round with the cookbook. Because Chloe is first and foremost known as a vegan baker, I decided to give one of her desserts a try.

I changed some of the proportions on this cookie recipe. Most notably, I was not able to easily locate instant espresso powder, so I used instant coffee instead. It worked just as well and added a little extra buzz to a sugar-packed, delicious cookie. Plus, when a baked good has coffee in it, you can practically call it breakfast. At least I did.

Cinnamon Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients– 2 cups all-purpose flour
– 1/2 tsp baking powder
– 1 tsp ground cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1 cup vegan margarine
– 2 tbsp instant coffee (Finely ground, if possible. Cheap is OK – I used Taster’s Choice packets from Family Dollar)
– 1 cup powdered sugar
– 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
– 1 1/2 cups vegan chocolate chips
– Granulated sugar for sprinkling

– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or foil. (Note: aluminum foil will brown the bottoms of the cookies faster.)

– Whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

– Using a mixer, beat together margarine and instant coffee until well combined, then add powdered and brown sugars. Beat until blended thoroughly. Mix in flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time.

– Stir in chocolate chips.

– Scoop dough by the tablespoon and roll into semi-round disks. Roll each disk in granulated sugar. Place on baking sheet 2-3 inches apart.

– Bake cookies about 12-14 minutes or until edges are browned.

Summertime, Sweet Summertime: Custard Crossing and Mercurio’s

It was a hellish July, but that gave way to a remarkably lovely August, filled with 80 degree days and 68 degree nights. Still, it’s the Dog Days, and like any good summertime citizen, I’ve been spending the warm weather months enjoying some of the various iced sweet treats available in our fair burgh.

I now live a mere five-minute walk to Oh Yeah! Ice Cream and Coffee Co., and while it’s a little pricey for my day-to-day sweet tooth, it’s an incredible little place that has lived up to every bit of praise thrown its way. The selection of ice cream base flavors is limited, but well-chosen and includes several vegan options. Then there’s the mix-ins, which number somewhere beyond fifty and include fruits, spices, chocolates, candies, meats, and intangibles, like “magic.” In addition, there are waffles, coffee, milkshakes, cookies, sodas, penny candy, and, my favorite extra sweetness, wireless internet. It’s the kind of place that one dreams of owning and operating.

When I haven’t been actively resisting the urge to run down South Highland into the gooey, lovely arms of Oh Yeah!, I’ve been gradually sampling other kinds of local iced offerings. And I have to sing their praises:


On a hazy midweek afternoon, I made a visit to the Waterfront Barnes and Noble, where I rewarded myself for errands achieved by making a stop at Custard Crossing, a frozen custard stand across the way from Panera Bread. City Paper featured a nice little blurb about the shop, notice that it deserved not just because of the deliciousness offered up there, but also due to its intriguing backstory (without spoiling the article, owner Tom Crankovic might have the most admirably one-track mind that ever opened a custard stand).

Custard Crossing also serves Italian ice, smoothies, hot dogs, etc., but the draw here is the sweet, dense custard. Egg-based and whipped with less air than conventional ice cream, the custard is smooth, silky but heavy and absolutely packed with flavor. On my visit to the counter, I bounced between tempting basics like vanilla and chocolate and conventional favorite mint chocolate chip, but settled on maple walnut. It was fantastic, deliciously rich to an absurdity. Every tiny taste boasted a ton of flavor, with the maple and walnut playing well against each other and the innate flavor of the custard. I could have done with slightly more walnut pieces in the mix, but my complaints vanish every time I think about the smooth finish of maple flavor.

I want a scoop of it on a stack of pancakes. Because you can get pints to go, that might just be what I have to do.

Custard Crossing on Urbanspoon


From the Waterfront back to Shadyside. Like Oh Yeah!, Mercurio’s is in the neighborhood, about a ten minute walk over to the main business district on Walnut Street. Their specialty is gelato and Neopolitan pizza, a kind of perfect pairing if you think about it. First the salty, savory pie, then enjoy a little extra indulgence with the gelato.

Like custard, gelato is a low-fat ice cream alternative. It’s lighter than custard, heavier than standard ice cream, and silkier than both, with a lovely, velvety finish to each taste. Mercurio’s boasts thirty standard flavors and a smaller menu of special daily flavors. The organization at the shop was not top-notch (almost none of the display cases were marked correctly and some of the flavors labeled to be available were not in stock), but there’s no denying that the variety gives a customer a lot to play around with.


My companion on this visit, Kate, went for a match-up of dark chocolate gelato and mint chocolate chip. The result was heavy on the chocolate, light on the mint, and perfectly divine. I especially liked the dark chocolate which when slightly melted, had a texture and flavor like that of an uncooked, fudgey brownie.


After some ordering confusion, I got a blend of hazelnut and vanilla caramel cashew. The hazelnut was perfect with the decadent caramel, but it was short on the expected cashew crunch. Didn’t stop me from scooping up every bit I could with the little shovel-like plastic spoons.

Mercurio's on Urbanspoon

I’m still working through my summer iced treat to-do list, but I’m curious as to your suggestions. Any summertime sweet treats that I have to try?

Good Morning, Vegan Strawberry Cupcakes!


Strawberry season is in full swing. When I was a kid, strawberry season meant heading over to Trax Farms where for around two bucks a pound, you could pick your own berries and take them home, where many of them would not get eaten in time and would be thrown out in less than a week.

Strawberries are evocative of many of life’s pleasures: Sweet, crisp, a little tart, a wonderful thing to behold in so many ways, but all to quickly, they turn, they brown and get soft. White little spots of mold cover the stems. Overripe, they have limited uses, but they’re no longer the hand-held confection perfect for snacking. A little farther down the line, the strawberry isn’t good for anything, except maybe compost. So something that starts out so wonderful and appealing is, within a few days time, a rotting, disposable mess.

Luke, of the Food Bloggers Meetup, had a solution to how to use his large yield of strawberries from the East Liberty Farmer’s Market. Much like every neighborhood church, he decided to hold his own little strawberry festival and invite the bloggers into his home to consume his fruit before its time was past.

Because I also had strawberries to unload (and because I hate going to things like this empty handed), I decided to crack open the lovely and reliable The Joy of Vegan Baking and see what uses Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has for strawberries. After paging through pies and tarts and crisps and cobblers, I settled on an unlikely candidate: Strawberry cupcakes.

Most people give me funny looks when I tell them that I hate cupcakes. They don’t really believe me, and that’s fair enough, because I don’t hate cupcakes. But I do think they’re greatly overrated, and not just because of the cupcake craze that still hasn’t left this city, but because even as a child, I disliked the notion of cupcakes, a cake that was supposedly meant for hand to mouth consumption but never quite got there in a fashion that didn’t leave frosting on your mouth, on your face, on your hands.

And the cake was always so disappointing. Dry and crumbly. The frosting, even when good, was always too too much. As a child at birthday parties, I awaited the inevitable dessert with trepidation. While other kids went face first into their cakes and emerged somehow spotless and satisfied, I picked at mine with the slow patience and tact of an archaeologist and still somehow got icing on my clothes.

Anyway, so I don’t hate cupcakes as much as I think they’re a lot of fuss for little payoff. But many of my strawberries were going soft, and I was worried that they weren’t appropriate for most non-baked goods. I’ve made strawberry-banana muffins before, but they didn’t seem to be an appropriate fit for a dinner party. So strawberry cupcakes won out. And I’m glad that they did.

I topped my cupcakes with a variation on Patrick-Goudreau’s chocolate frosting, adding almond extract to give it a bit of Nutella-like flavor. Because the actual cake isn’t super sweet and the flavor of the strawberry is fairly mild, it takes well to almost any frosting. Don’t overdo it on the amount, however, cause too much frosting will overwhelm the rest of the cake. [If you are a frosting junkie, the actual yield of the frosting recipe surpasses the regular dozen cupcakes, so save the leftovers and consume in whatever way will please you.]

Strawberry Cupcakes

Ingredients
– 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup vegetable oil
– 1 tablespoon white vinegar
– 8 ounces strawberries, pureed
– 5 to 6 large strawberries, sliced (optional for garnish)

– Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tin or line with cupcake liners.

– In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine oil and vinegar. Add the pureed strawberries and mix until combined.

– Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Stir until just mixed. Pour batter into prepared muffin tray, about halfway in each cup.

– Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and tin, cooling the cakes on a wire rack. Frost and garnish once cool.

Chocolate-Almond Frosting

Ingredients
– 1/2 cup non-dairy butter
– 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
– 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
– 1 tsp almond extract
– 2 tbsp soy milk

– Cream butter until smooth, then add the confectioner’s sugar. Cream for about two minutes, then add cocoa, almond, and milk. Beat until fluffy, then cover and chill.

(Recipes adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau)

Good Morning, Apricot Coffee Cake!

I used to make a killer sour cream coffee cake. The original basis came from AllRecipes.com, but as I returned again and again to the dish, I put my own tweaks on it. I toyed around with extra flavors, zests, extracts, fresh and frozen fruits. I got the cooking time just right. I knew when to use icing and when to use a crumb topping, and I knew exactly how much to use.

And they always came out perfect. Soft, but substantial, sweet but not overpowering, absolutely great for either breakfast or dessert. Provided there were any leftovers, they even stored well and could keep for up to three days if packed properly. I ran through every idea I had and the best turnouts- chocolate chips and cocoa powder, cardamom and orange zest, cream cheese and blueberry preserves – more than made up for the few failures. I never got tired of making them and no one seemed to be tired of eating them.

Then I moved.

The new apartment had a rented stove that was about fifteen years older than the one I had during my coffee cake renaissance. When I cooked my first coffee cake in my new kitchen, I was shocked by the way it had turned out. Where was the fluffy, moist cake? Why was the crumb topping so dry and flavorless? Why was everything so flat? And how did it get burned?!?

I was dispirited. Even my failed experiments had never been this bad. This was barely edible (in fact, after bravely eating a piece, most of the remains did find their way into the trash). I tried to learn from my potential mistakes: I must have been careless about the amounts of flour, baking powder, and sugar. It must have baked too long. I must not have greased the pan enough.

So I tried again. But even with the tweaking of cooking time, the careful attentiveness to ingredients and prep, and a watchful eye while the cake sat in the oven, it still failed. It wasn’t the horror show that the prior failure had been, but it was still a failure. I had to face facts.

The magic was gone.

So, flash forward to the present. Since my coffee cake heartbreak, I have made a total of zero coffee cakes. Like any jilted lover, I moved onto other culinary distractions. I had brief flings with cupcakes, dabbled casually with muffins, and settled into a nice routine with the dependable and delightful cookie, a relationship that satisfies me to this day. But sometimes, when I’m craving something that I can’t quite name, I know what I’m actually yearning for.

I was tempted by the coffee cake recipes in Sarah Kramer’s books, as well as the sure-to-be delicious recipe in The Joy of Vegan Baking, but I was always afraid to attempt them. For one, I didn’t want to come back to coffee cake baking after such a long absence just to fail once more. In addition, I had never tried a vegan coffee cake recipe, so I was worried about botching not only my comeback cake, but my first attempt at a vegan one at that.

Sunday, however, after a week that was rich in both pain and healing (a story that I will come back to another time), I was looking for a distraction and picked up my recently purchased copy of Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Mokowitz. Thumbing through the recipes, I was about to try out the tomato-rosemary scones when one last courtesy flip through the pages landed me on her recipe for “East Coast Coffee Cake.” And I thought, well, why the hell not?

For my first time back to coffee cakes, I stayed fairly true to Isa’s recipe, tweaking just a few ingredients to match my own tastes. Her basic recipe does include fruit preserves, but she includes handy directions on including any number of ingredients. The recipe turned out to be a cinch to make, and while the results weren’t perfect, they were far from the disasters of my last coffee cake attempts. I’m not sure we’ll ever be as close as we once were, but it looks like me and coffee cake are on the redemption road to a casual friendship.

Apricot Coffee Cake

Ingredients

For the topping
– 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– 1 tsp cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
– 1/4 cup veg oil

For the cake
– 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
– 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup veg oil
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1/2 tsp almond extract
– 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp baking pwoder
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup apricot jam

– Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8×8 square pan. Add the apple cider vinegar to the milk and set aside to allow for curdling.

– For the topping: Mix together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the oil by tablespoons, mixing it into the dry ingredients with your fingers. Keep mixing until you’ve got a mixture of large and small crumbs. Set aside.

– For the cake, mix together the milk-vinegar mixture, sugar, vegetable oil, and extracts. Sift in flour, baking powder, and salt and mix until smooth.

– Pour the batter into the pan. Pour the 1/2 cup of apricot jam over the batter, then swirl it with a knife or fork. Sprinkle topping over the batter and lightly pat down.

– Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool, add powdered sugar if desired, then slice and serve!

Good Morning, Vegan Banana Pudding


I once had a banana pudding so good it had to have been evil. I don’t mean “sinfully delicious” or so bad for you but so good-tasting. I mean that it literally had to be evil to be that good. It had to have communed with the beast. It had to have divined its powers from another worldly realm so deep, so far from the simple divinity of heaven.

It was heavy and sweet and body-possessing. As a follow-up to an already very substantial lunch in Athens, Georgia in mid-August, it was a little too much to take. It was a taste that knocked the wind out of me, and pretty much every ounce of energy I might have had left. Emerging into the well-baked afternoon, I promptly fell into what could only be described as a euphoric food coma. It might also have been described as heat stroke.

Anyway, I suffered the same fate as those who dare chase the forbidden fruit. To this day, I’ve never found the equal to this banana pudding (found at Peaches in Athens, GA, if you’re interested), and I’ve never really desired to. One encounter is enough.

Still, I love banana pudding. Serve it with vanilla wafers, ladyfingers, or whipped cream. My favorite preparation is simple: Pudding and banana slices. I had some silken tofu and bananas on hand, so I was set to make up a vegan variation, which me and my partner set about devouring as soon as it left the fridge. Thank goodness this only takes five minutes to make. Next time I’m saving it all for myself!

Vegan Banana Pudding

Ingredients
– 2 ripe bananas (Don’t forget to have an extra on hand for topping!)
– 1 12 oz. package of silken tofu
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
– 1/2 tsp Xanathan gum

– In a food processor or blender combine all ingredients until well blended. Chill for at least two hours. Serve with banana slices.

(Adapted from this recipe on Vegweb.com)

Dear Denny’s Maple Bacon Sundae…

Dear Denny’s Maple Bacon Sundae,

Perhaps you weren’t expecting a letter so soon. Manners and mores would tell us that a proper 24 hours could pass before I were to follow-up on our first visit. But, as I lie awake in bed, tossing and turning, a stomach full of cream and greasy protein, I am struck by an overpowering need to get in contact with you. Call me rash, call me stupid, call me a fool… but please, please understand. You have bewitched me.

It was all a joke, at first. I saw you there, on the special bacon-theme menu, sandwiched in between bacon dishes of fairly ordinary variety: A pancake and bacon plate. An overloaded BLT. Strips of bacon over top other strips of bacon, other food items just peeking out of the corners here and there.

There you were, dead center of the trifold menu. So out of place even among your bacon brethren. A sundae. A sundae with maple syrup. A sundae with maple syrup and fried bacon. Wait… what? Seriously? But…. but how? But why? Denny’s is putting bacon on pancakes, bacon on eggs, bacon in sandwiches, bacon in burritos, bacon on fries, bacon on bacon. But this… this was over the line.

Or… was it? Was it really? Why should one limit themselves to pairing bacon with other purely savory meal items? Bacon and eggs are perfectly natural together, but why not another bacon-dairy combo? Couldn’t the salty, smokey quality of the bacon offset the smooth mildness of the ice cream, the sticky sweetness of the syrup? Could it be that this is the perfect combination of salty and sweet that people have been looking for? All that time wasted on chocolate-covered pretzels, each more elaborate than the last. Was this the true missing salty-sweet link?

Oh, bacon sundae, how I could not resist your potential charms. The waitress warned me off you. But, nay, I could not relent. I wanted, no, NEEDED to be with you. I needed to experience you through my senses, see you with my eyes, taste you with my tastebuds, smell your smokey baconness through my nostrils. I needed to know you.

The wait for you was agonizing, but then, there you were, standing before me, a goblet of off-white glory. Sprinkled on top were shiny crimson pieces of bacon. The syrup stayed incognito, all but obscured by the ostentatious show piece of this endeavor. I dipped a spoon into you. I tasted. I hesitated, then tasted again.

What glory! What tribute! What unexpected euphoria! Who knew it was possible to get a bigger rush if you simply added a ton of protein to your sugar content (and vice versa). Who knew that the bacon would compliment the cream, that the two would work so divinely swimming in the pool of syrup at the bottom of the mighty goblet? Who expected such a decadent pleasure to come from a Denny’s on Lebanon Church Road?

I consumed you, as a lion would devour a gazelle, as a sparrow a worm, as a teamster a donut. When you were gone and all that remained was drippy, gooey remains at the bottom of the cup, I mourned your absence.

Yet, you are not really absent, are you? You’re a part of me now. A part that has latched onto every internal surface it can stick its meaty claws into. I feel that I will live a day shorter because of you, perhaps several days shorter. The moment we were apart, I knew that to ever have laid eyes on you was to agree to an abbreviated life.

But, oh sweet temptress, I did not CARE! I could not care! If I am but a mortal than let me feast like a mortal! Let me not throw away my opportunities in the name of safety or healthy eating or fitness! Let me live, let me breathe, let me consume. Let me risk a few years of stale life for a few minutes of confounding heaven on a spoon.

Denny’s Maple Bacon Sundae, I beg of you, do not leave our world. Once the bacon theme has exhausted its welcome, they are bound to pack you away with the rest of the bacon specials, pack you away and never mention you again. Back with the cheesecake, the carrot cake, the vanilla milkshake. But my love…. will be gone….
Your devoted servant and customer,

Forked!


Good Morning, Salted Caramel Bread Pudding!


Behold last week’s treat from Sugar Cafe. Some people like to get their sweet fix early in the day, some like to get it following dinner. Me, I’ll take my sweet fix any how and any time I can get it, which is how someone like me ends us eating a donut and bread pudding in the same day (and probably some Girl Scout cookies too). It is also how someone like me will never, ever be a super slender person.

Whatever. If you and I were playing a game of “Would You Rather…” and your question was, “Would you rather be super fit and perfect looking but you could never eat any unnecessary calories, meaning no desserts, no snacks, no extras OR would your rather eat anything you like, but have to work out at least four hours a week and maintain a fairly active lifestyle to maintain even the slightest hold over your fitness?”

I’d go for the latter. In a heartbeat. What is the worth of living if I can’t eat something like salted caramel bread pudding? Isn’t this why we make and share and eat these things? Because they, in some way, contain the love that we feel for ourselves, feel for others? If cooking is an act of love that you perform for others, couldn’t eating something purely for taste and desire be considered an act of love for yourself?