Experiments with Cookie Dough, Part 2: Freeze Then Bake

Experiments with Cookie Dough
Experiments with Cookie Dough

This post idea started out in the usual way — think of a tasty treat and make it. And I did start to make something yummy until I realized I was too full from dinner to enjoy dessert. In an effort to avoid wasting fresh-baked goodies, I decided to stop in the middle of my cookie preparations.

However, I stalled out wondering what I should do with my prepared cookie dough. Previously, I had worked with baking and then freezing cookies (see The Great Cookie Freezing Experiment.) Now I guess I needed to jump in and try my hand at freezing and then baking the dough itself.

To start, I grabbed my batch of cookie dough and a cookie scoop that made 1.5 tablespoon balls. I portioned the dough out onto small parchment paper lined baking pans. The pans were then placed in the freezer for over 1 hour for the dough balls to become firm. Once solid, the dough balls were put in a large zip-top freezer bag which went into the freezer.

The next day I was pondering again, but this time I had different questions. Did I need to defrost the dough balls? At what temperature should the oven be set? How long should I bake the cookies? Should I bake all the cookies now, or save some for later?

An internet searched came up with the answers, thanks to Handle the Heat. “You can bake from frozen. Here are the steps…

  1. Preheat the oven to about 20 degrees lower than the original recipe temperature. 
  2. Remove however many balls of dough you need from the freezer and place on a parchment-lined baking pan.
  3. Bake the cookies for 2 to 5 minutes longer than the original recipe instructions, or until the cookies are golden at the edges but still slightly ‘wet’ looking at the very center.”

Using the advice above, I did a test of six frozen cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet in an oven set to 355F instead of 375F. I baked them for 5 minutes more than the recipe stated because I felt my cookies were a little larger than those in the original recipe. My cookies were beautiful golden brown on the bottom and they flattened with minimal dough spread. They were gorgeous, and also delicious.

frozen cookie dough
frozen cookie dough

The tips above even helped answer the question on how many cookies to make. I learned that the dough could be frozen for up to 6 weeks, so I realized I should bake some now but save some for a future cookie craving.

By now are you wondering what cookie I baked? The pictures give a hint, but you will have to wait until next week for the recipe.

Until next time, happy baking!

Sweet Heart Chocolate Cupcakes for My Sweetheart

sweet heart chocolate cupcakes with strawberry filling
sweet heart chocolate cupcakes with strawberry filling

Ah, Valentine’s Day … a time when everything is made into the shape of a heart. I couldn’t resist the trend after watching a trick for making heart-shaped cupcakes without a special pan. All that is required is a muffin tin, paper liners, and a bit of foil.

Prepare your cupcake batter, such as the version of my favorite chocolate cupcakes below. Before you portion the batter into the lined muffin tin, take strips of foil and form them into small balls. Take one foil ball, place it in a cavity on the outside of a liner, then crease the liner against it to form a heart shape. Repeat to make 12 cute heart-shaped cupcakes!

My heart cupcakes were made using my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe, although this time I tried a new plant milk from sesame seeds. Because the milk is a bit thicker, it made a more dense batter that I easily remedied by adding more liquid. On the upside, the thicker milk did make the frosting creamy and more luxurious.

To make a Valentine-themed cupcake, I added strawberry jam to the filling because chocolate loves strawberry. Next I accented the heart shape with pink frosting then gave the sweet heart to my sweetheart.

Sweet Heart Chocolate Cupcakes with Strawberry Filling

For the cupcakes
1 cup + 4 teaspoons Hope & Sesame Organic Sesamemilk
1.5 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup organic sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Dutch-process cacao powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
for the frosting
1/4 cup vegan shortening
3/4 cup Miyoko’s Creamery Cultured Vegan Butter, salted
3 1/2 cups organic powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 cup Hope & Sesame Organic Sesamemilk
for the filling
2 tablespoons strawberry preserves
decorations (optional)
red food coloring
red decorative sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 12 muffin pan with paper liners and set aside. Whisk together the 1 cup + 4 teaspoons milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add sugar, oil, and 3/4 teaspoon vanilla to the milk mixture and beat until foamy.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to the wet ingredients and beat just until no large lumps remain. Place foil balls (described in post above) into the muffin pan alongside the paper liners. Pour batter into the liners, filling three-quarters of the way.

sweet heart cupcakes with foil in tin
baked sweet heart cupcakes with foil in muffin pan

Bake for 18-19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then tip the cupcakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cupcakes cool, make the frosting and filling. Place the shortening and vegan butter in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle blade. Beat until just combined. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla to the bowl and beat again. Add the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, adding the milk when the mixture get too dry. Once all frosting ingredients have been added, let the stand mixer run for several minutes until the frosting is light and creamy.

For the filling, place 1 cup of frosting in a bowl and mix it with the strawberry preserves. Using a knife or cupcake corer, remove a small portion of the center of each cooled cupcake. Using a spoon, add the filling to the holes. Don’t worry if it’s slightly messy as you will be frosting the tops of the cupcakes.

Divide the rest of the frosting as you wish, tinting some of it with red food coloring or leaving it all white. Decorate the tops of the frosted cupcakes with red sugar, if desired.

Until next time, happy Valentine’s Day and happy baking!

Cinnamon vs. Cassia: different types for a range of flavors

cinnamon chips and chai
cinnamon chips and chai

Did you know there are over 250 types of cinnamon? I didn’t until I researched it after having a rousing discussion on the topic of cinnamon with my favorite taster, my hubby. That’s when my deep dive into cinnamon began.

He mentioned that he thought the cinnamon we had was old because the flavor was weak. I knew that I had recently purchased that particular cinnamon because I buy in bulk due to our intense love of the sweet spice. When I buy bulk cinnamon I choose the Ceylon variety because I have noted that I like the flavor. The company I get cinnamon from was out of it for awhile so I had to break down and get a jar from the market.

The one from the grocery store noted that it was pure Cassia Cinnamon. An article from Bon Appetit explained that “there are three specific types of cassia cinnamon—Indonesian, Chinese, and Saigon—all with different levels of flavor.”

The magazine’s post also mentioned that “Ceylon cinnamon, a variety sometimes referred to (as) ’true cinnamon’ … (has a) flavor and aroma (that) are extremely mild and delicate—it definitely reads as ‘cinnamon,’ but with subtle, almost floral notes.”

This could explain how hubby saw the fresh cinnamon as stale. The recent batch of cinnamon wasn’t stale but it did have a more mild scent. This was due to its variety, being the Ceylon type, and not its freshness. So, in comparison, the Cassia cinnamon we had before was perceived as fresher because it had a stronger smell. He was looking for the scent of Red Hots cinnamon candies.

Now I was onto something. I realized that not only did the flavors of the cinnamons change from mild to robust, but the aromas of the cinnamon varieties could be seen to range from subtle to powerful.

Okay, I know this is a baking blog, but this is important in baking. The type of cinnamon you purchase can have an effect on the outcome of the baked dish. The taste will still be essentially of cinnamon, but it may be more floral than in-your-face depending on the cinnamon you pick.

cinnamon vs cassia
cinnamon vs cassia

The recommendation from the Cinnamon Vogue spice shop says, “For fine desserts Ceylon Cinnamon is an absolute must because it is subtle, smells very mild and is slightly sweeter in taste. It never takes center stage in the recipe but adds a very complex flavor.”

Admittedly, I agree with these cinnamon purveyors, although they may be biased because that is the variety they specialize in. But I know that if you want pungency, then you should look to the Cassia varieties of Indonesian, Chinese, and Saigon.

Furthermore, it dawned on me that when one of my recipes lists “1 teaspoon cinnamon” in the ingredients, that your experience may differ if you use the more robust Cassia. You should test the amount and see what works for you with your spice brand and selection.

Then there’s the matter of taste preference. I’ll keep my complex Ceylon and leave the hot Cassias to my hubby. Whew! All this talk of cinnamon has made me thirsty, so I’m headed to the kitchen to make a sweet spiced chai. And then maybe some cinnamon muffins.

A Look at Vegan Butter

a look at vegan butter
a look at vegan butter

When I first started adapting recipes to be vegan, there was only one option for substituting butter — margarine. Not being a margarine fan, I was disappointed because it can make baked goods greasy and oily tasting. These days more and more companies are introducing their versions of vegan butter, and some of them are absolutely amazing. Miyoko’s Creamery stepped into the limelight first with a “butter” so grand it could be eaten plain, on toast, without any complaints about it being vegan. Although I still have a great fondness for Miyoko’s dazzling array of vegan dairy products, I’ve looked into other choices.

One selection I have shared in recent recipes is Flora Plant Butter. This butter comes in salted and unsalted versions, like Miyoko’s. It works beautifully in baked goods, making tender cupcakes and delightfully chewy cookies, and it is moderately priced. It’s not as phenomenal on toast, as Miyoko’s is, but I often prefer the results it produces in baked goods.

Milkadamia is a brand of non-dairy milk I enjoy, but I have not sampled their Buttery Spread. An article on vegan butter from Veg News has piqued my curiosity and Milkadamia’s offering may soon be up for experimentation in my kitchen. The post goes through a run-down of 11 butter substitutes, with Miyoko’s and Earth Balance topping the list. Also mentioned are Melt Organic, Country Crock, Forager, I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter, The Cultured Kitchen Better Buttah, Califia Farms, New Barn Organics, and Kite Hill. I hope to explore these new “butters” one day.

While I don’t have the means or opportunity to try all of the vegan butters out there, I have baked with a few. King Arthur Baking also tested a couple of substitutes, and compared them to the same goods baked with butter (a test I won’t be doing). When using Land O Lakes butter as a control in recipes for biscuits, crust, cookies, cake, puff pastry, and frosting, they concluded:

“Miyoko’s European-Style Cultured Vegan Butter and Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks are both highly recommended substitutes for dairy butter. In recipes where they’re the only vegan substitute, both vegan butters will produce baked goods with texture similar to that of dairy butter, with flavor being the main difference.”

So, I go in search of new butters in an effort to make extraordinary decadent treats. And, no, I don’t work for any of these food companies. I just wish I did.

Learning New Things at The Bake Fest

Image by Anthea Chang @rainbownourishments
Image by Anthea Chang @rainbownourishments

When I first heard about The Bake Fest, the baking geek in me got so excited. Never having been to or even heard of a baking conference, I couldn’t wait to attend virtual lectures and hang out in chat rooms. It’s only been one day of The Bake Fest and already my head is filled with blog ideas for new creations, decorations, and scientific explanations.

The first half of the day I got warmed up by attending classes on cake and cookie decorating. It was inspiring to watch creative designers in their element, but then came the presentations most near and dear to my blog – Fundamentals of Baking Science by Kristin “Baker Bettie” Hoffman, and Introduction to Vegan Baking by Anthea Cheng. It’s impossible to quickly sum up Baker Bettie’s slides as she offered so much that my brain is still processing it. One quick bit to share concerns the differences between light and dark brown sugar. She says, “Light brown sugar has a small amount of molasses while dark brown sugar has larger amounts of molasses added. Molasses adds caramel notes to baked goods and also keeps baked goods very moist and chewy. Molasses is also acidic in nature which means that brown sugar can be used in recipes with baking soda in order to activate its chemical reaction.” However, she mentions that they can be used interchangeably, so I may stick with buying whichever is in sale.

Baker Bettie talking science
Baker Bettie talking science

Anthea Cheng’s segment started with a recipe for Vegan Brioche. Vegan brioche? And she made it look easy? I am not a bread baker, but I look forward to trying this out. We were also treated to a cake decorating demo that wowed me when she made frosting tinted with real food, not chemicals. The colorants included beet powder and blue spirulina. I must search online for these ingredients to add to my toolbox. (Literally … I keep my decorating items in a large toolbox).

Now, you may be disappointed that you missed out in this educational event. But, don’t worry! There is more going on today. You can register for The Bake Fest here and view tomorrow’s schedule here. If you see me in the Lounge, be sure to say hello.

The Magic of Crinkle Cookies

chocolate crinkle cookies
Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

When I think back to childhood, one of my favorite cookies was the chocolate crinkle. The dense chocolate flavor and sugary coating was a hit, but I was also mesmerized by the cracks and ridges in the cookies. Where did they come from? And what magic made it possible? As a self-proclaimed baking researcher, I now had to dig into the subject and solve the mystery of the crinkle cookie.

There are many recipes for crinkles out there, but they differ in strategic ways. Some bakers put the dough in the refrigerator prior to baking, while others stand resolute in the idea that they should not be cooled first. Certain recipes use only one leavener but others use both baking soda and baking powder. I wondered why there was such a disparity of ideas, so I dove deeper to reveal the science behind the different recipe twists.

In the cookbook A Good Bake, we are told that crinkles are considered a rise-and-fall cookie. This moniker “refers to one that rises in the oven and then falls when you take it out. The rise-and-fall process is a result of the baking soda reacting with the cocoa powder and brown sugar before the cookie is set. When the cookies are removed from the oven, they fall, giving them that crackle top. How quickly the cookie rises before it sets up is the key to achieving that finish.” The authors recommend against putting the dough in the fridge, as this helps the cookie rise quicker. They also say to bake in batches, one tray at a time. This makes sense as it maximizes the oven heat that each tray receives.

Additional crinkle cookie information was found on the WonderHowTo website. “Crinkle cookies are meant to have gaps between wrinkles of powdered sugar. … Achieving this perfect appearance relies solely on the amount of spreading and expanding they do in the oven.” So, again, the recommendation is to keep the dough out of the fridge. The article also mentions how oven temperature affects cookie expansion. “If crinkle cookies are baked at 350°F, the outside bakes and hardens more quickly, which doesn’t give the dough enough time to spread. … Therefore, crinkle cookies are best baked at 325°F; this temperature allows the ingredients to spread and melt onto the sheet for a longer amount of time before they start to bake and harden.”

As oven temperature can play a role in high altitude baking, I tested both 325F and 350F. While the cookies baked, I peeked through the oven window to watch them rise and fall. It was interesting that the 350F cookies took longer to fall, so I kept them in the oven for the same amount of time as the 325F batch. You can see in the photos that the higher temp made cookies with cracks that were slightly wider. I ended up preferring the texture of those baked at 350F.

crinkle cookies at 325 F
crinkle cookies at 325 F
crinkle cookies at 350 F
crinkle cookies at 350 F

From Cook’s Illustrated I learned “a simple tweak (that) turned out to be key to producing a maximum number of fissures: rolling the balls of dough in granulated sugar before rolling them in powdered sugar. Coating the cookies with either type of sugar draws out moisture from their surface, promoting cracks by drying out their tops before the interiors set. But granulated sugar does so more efficiently because of its coarse, crystalline structure.” I also noticed that if you swirled the cookies in powdered sugar only, then the white coating seemed to disappear as they cooked. When I rolled the dough in both I achieved the snowy look that is part of the signature the cookie.

A test baker at Cook’s Illustrated also did a thorough testing of leaveners. “Baking powder, as I already knew, did a decent job by itself, but a combination of baking powder and baking soda proved to be the winner. These cookies spread nicely, without any hump, and they had a more crackly surface (than baking soda alone).”

What did all of this prove? That I love chocolate crinkle cookies. Okay, I already knew that. However, I did discover that I was searching for the cookie from my childhood — a crinkle that was not overly sweet and had a dense but chewy texture. The crinkle cookie can achieve an ever-so-slight hump and have a thick layer of powdered sugar and be a success. But, for me, chocolate crinkle perfection is found in a cookie that is flat and has just a light dusting of sugar.

Until next time, happy testing!

Coming Back From a Failed Kitchen Experiment

Coming Back From a Failed Kitchen Experiment
Coming Back From a Failed Kitchen Experiment

I love to fiddle with new ingredients or combinations in an attempt to make a recipe vegan. Sometimes I get a wacky baking idea in my head. Will a flax egg and extra oil work in place of a chicken egg? … it depends. Do all vegan butter substitutes work the same? … not really. Can I use chickpea liquid and soy creamer to get a whipped cream with stiff peaks? … definitely not.

That last concept popped into my head the other day while trying to make a raw cheesecake without coconut oil. While working towards a thickened batter I even went so far as to add melted cocoa butter. The entire project was a disaster. It deflated a bit, then got lumpy, then turned into something resembling a thin pudding.

Not one to waste expensive ingredients, I put my creation in the fridge hoping that a novel dessert image would pop into my head. Genius struck when I realized that it was Pi Day (March 14, a.k.a. 3.14). My glop would become a pie! Well, more of a tart, but at least I would have an edible treat. And, seeing as Saint Patrick’s Day was also looming, a bit of green was added in the form of matcha tea powder.

So, I went from a creative wreck to a celebration of Pi Day and St. Patrick’s Day. This meandering path often happens when I’m experimenting in the kitchen, although I won’t bore you with the countless steps and added ingredients I went through along the way. The above photo shows that some baking catastrophes can be averted, even edible, but others are not as lucky. Those failures never make it to a photo shoot.

Until next time, happy experimenting!

Chocolate is like Fine Wine, or Musings from a Chocolate Tasting

chocolate tasting class
Chocolate Tasting Class

Today’s post is different than my usual high-altitude recipes. I just attended an online chocolate tasting and wanted to share my experience. Never having participated in a chocolate tasting event, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Of course I’ve eaten my fair share of chocolate, but never in so sophisticated a fashion. I imagined it to be like a wine tasting, without the spit bucket.

The monthly Chocolate Club tastings are organized by Boulder Book Store. As this is my birth month, I decided to give myself the gift of a chocolate class. (Self-care at its best!). After signing up and then receiving the chocolates, I went to the chocolatiers’ websites to look over their tasting notes. These are not your average chocolates. With clean ingredients, ideas of “notes of blackberry and cashews,” and suggested beverage pairings, I waited eagerly for today’s class.

John Lehndorff, the instructor, started with a brief discussion of the areas where the different chocolates were made. For some chocolate producers he described how much labor went into the production of the bar in my hand. Next, John explained how to correctly do a chocolate tasting and added some of his own tasting notes.

As a group, we carefully unwrapped our chocolates and savored the smells and tastes. The chocolate bars are chosen as they are special in their own ways, so we took great care to absorb the nuances of each one. As a I held a bite of chocolate in my mouth and let it melt on my tongue, I savored the evolving flavors. One bar had a burst of sea salt; another held nutty overtones; a third was infused with ginger and rose essences. My taste buds were amazed, even after trying several bars, because no two bars were alike. I did not tire of sampling chocolate as the experience was unusual in its complexity.

The concept of chocolate tasting may sound snooty, but it was an excellent learning experience. It doesn’t mean I will never again devour chocolate in a few bites, but I hope that I can try to pause and take wonder at the intricate flavors that abound in a special bar of chocolate.

Until next time, happy non-baking!

How to Make Essential Vegan Desserts

pear tarts from my final showcase

pear tarts from my final showcase

Earlier this year I mentioned that I was taking an online pastry class from Rouxbe Culinary School. It was a wonderful course that showed me how to refine and challenge my baking skills. Chef Fran Costigan explained techniques and ingredients that enabled me to build a stronger baking skillset. The course has delicious recipes, including the tarts in this photo that I prepared as part of my final dessert showcase. My final project was so much fun, and I was proud of how professional my vegan desserts looked.

The class, called Essential Vegan Desserts, teaches you how to make an array of scrumptious treats. I have shared a few course recipes on my blog, but if you want to join in the baking fun, the next cohort starts July 28. You can get information here. Or you can keep reading my posts and see where my new-found knowledge is taking me. I’m okay with that.

How to Make the Perfect Date Paste

the perfect date paste

the perfect date paste

The first time I made date paste I found the results to be less than desirable. I had followed the directions, as minimal as they were, but it looked more like I was making a smoothie. Paste wouldn’t describe what was in my blender. Later, after poring over many recipes, I discovered that the key was the water. Too much made a runny mess, while too little seemed to tax the blender. It was like the fairy tale in which the middle was “just right.”

The success of the paste starts with the dates. The moisture content in them varies greatly depending on how old they are and how they are stored. My guess was that my dates were very old so I added lots of extra water at the start. But the trick is to add water a little at a time; this helps to create the perfect consistency. Another trick is to use the soaking water as it has a hint of date flavor. These tips will help you create the perfect date paste to add to baked goods, such as Baked Oatmeal with Peaches.

Date Paste adapted from Fruit Paste from Rouxbe Culinary School’s Essential Vegan Desserts

1/2 cup pitted dates
1 cup water (or as needed)

Soak the dates for 1 to 2 hours or until quite soft. Strain in a colander set over a bowl in order to save the soaking water. Transfer the dates to a high-speed blender with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the soaking water. Process until smooth. Add more water as needed to create the desired consistency. If using the paste in baked recipes, use as little water as possible. The paste will keep for over a week in a jar in the refrigerator. It can also be frozen for several months.

Until next time, happy non-baking!