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!

Baked Oatmeal with Peaches

baked oatmeal with peaches

baked oatmeal with peaches

With my husband working from home now, he has time for more than cereal for breakfast. I concluded that if I made a large dish of baked oatmeal on the weekend, then it could be reheated on many mornings. This meal would be hearty enough to keep his hunger at bay while he toiled at the computer. Another bonus was that I adapted the recipe to use up what I found in the backs of my cupboard and freezer. Feel free to use whatever you find in your pantry — the recipe is very flexible.

This dish is by nature vegan and not one that requires adjustments for high altitude, so I didn’t need to make those modifications. You can choose the fruit and oats you include, and the thickeners and sweeteners. Ultimately, I ended up with a sweet treat that was gluten-free and refined sugar free. Here is my healthy, pantry staple version of baked oatmeal.

Baked Oatmeal with Peaches adapted from Peach Crisp

5 large peaches, peeled and sliced (or 10 cups frozen)
2-3 TBS chia seeds (or tapioca starch)
1 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats (gluten-free, if desired)
1/8 cup brown rice flour (or oat flour)
1/8 cup date paste*
1/8 cup smooth almond butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg

Heat oven to 350F. Put peaches in a large bowl and sprinkle with chia seeds, lemon juice, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger. Depending on how much juice the peaches give off, you may need to vary the amount of chia seeds. Let peaches stand for 15 minutes to thicken up and release some of their juices. Put peaches into a baking dish (mine was 10 x 10” but you can use a similar size).

In the same large bowl, add oats, brown rice flour, date paste, almond butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix until it forms a crumbly texture that is neither too wet nor too dry. Sprinkle the mixture over the peaches. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top starts to brown. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for 5 minutes.

*If you don’t know how to make date paste, or even what it is, keep an eye out for my post next week.

Until next time, happy baking!

Baked Doughnuts with Sprinkles

baked doughnuts with sprinkles

baked doughnuts with sprinkles

In the past I have made several failed attempts at baked doughnuts. I was certain the fault was with me or the fact that I was at high altitude. The doughnuts had dense textures and were better suited as doorstops. Frustrated, I gave up. But recently I found a new recipe and bravely decided to try again. Am I glad I did. I got perfect, beautiful, and tasty doughnuts.

The recipe I used was already vegan, so all I had to do was make minor high altitude changes. I added almond milk and then baked them a little longer. That was all that was needed for my success. They are delicious plain, but I had leftover ganache in my freezer that I melted to dip my doughnuts in. You can drizzle melted chocolate on these treats, or decorate them with buttercream and a few sprinkles. The beauty of doughnuts is that they can be topped with a multitude of tasty things that you probably already have in your fridge or cupboard.

Baked Doughnuts with Sprinkles adapted from Baked Vegan Donuts

1.5 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup lightly ground organic granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup + 1 TBS non-dairy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBS unsweetened applesauce
5 TBS vegan butter, melted
For the topping: melted vegan ganache, vegan sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray two non-stick doughnut trays with cooking spray. Set aside. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. Add non-dairy milk, vanilla, applesauce, and melted vegan butter. Whisk together, removing any large lumps.

Place batter into a piping bag or ziplock bag with the corner cut off. Pipe evenly into doughnut wells. Bake for 16-17 minutes until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes on a wire rack. Then tip doughnuts from pan and place on a wire rack until completely cooled.

Place a wire rack over a piece of waxed paper. Dip doughnuts into melted ganache, then put on wire rack. Shower tops of doughnuts with sprinkles, then set aside for the topping to set. While waiting, you can snack on the chocolate and sprinkles that have fallen onto the waxed paper.

Until next time, happy baking!

Easy Naan Bread

easy naan bread

easy naan bread

After going through months of intensive baking in pastry school, I swore off baking for a bit. I needed a breather, yet I still heard the siren call of my all purpose flour. What could I make with flour that didn’t require baking in the oven? And was there something easy enough to create that wouldn’t burden my overtaxed baking skills?

My search first uncovered recipes for bread that could be made in a skillet. (Technically still baking, but not in the oven). But I didn’t want to fuss, so that omitted yeast and repeated kneading. Then I discovered a recipe for naan that is leavened with baking powder so it is easier to make than your average bread.

I should back up here for a minute. Admittedly, before going to school I never would have used “easy” when describing bread making. I’m not the type that considers kneading or rolling dough out to be fun or relaxing. So I was quite surprised with myself when I became interested in making bread. Going through school gave me the confidence to attempt anything baked, and I found that naan can be easy. In the end it was very rewarding to make my own bread, and veganizing it was only a matter of using vegan yogurt instead of traditional. Now I can add “bread making” to my list of accomplishments.

Easy Naan Bread adapted from Masala & Meatballs

1/4 cup plain unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
1 TBS baking powder
1.75 cups lukewarm water, divided
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
scant 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
optional: seeds for topping

In a small bowl, place yogurt, baking powder, and 1/2 cup warm water. Stir and set aside for a few minutes. In a large bowl, combine flours, baking soda, and salt. Add yogurt mixture and remaining water. Knead to make a semi-soft dough. Once everything comes together to form a smooth dough, place it in an oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel. Transfer it to the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.

Place a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat and get it really hot. Divide the dough into nine pieces. Using one piece of dough at a time, while the rest remains in the bowl covered with the damp towel, roll it out to 10” on a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with a few seeds, if desired, and roll again so they stick to the dough. Put naan on hot griddle and let it cook for about 1 minute. When you see a few bubbles on top, turn naan over and cook the other side, 2-3 minutes total. Makes 9 naan.

Until next time, happy baking!

Valentine’s Day Trifle

Valentine Day Trifle

Valentine Day Trifle

You have probably already realized that Valentine’s Day is in a few days. You may want to make a grand dessert for the occasion, but it could require planning ahead. So, today I offer you the idea of making a trifle, with shortcuts for a quicker reward.

If you are new to the world of a dessert trifle, here is the definition from Merriam Webster, “A dessert typically consisting of plain or sponge cake often soaked with wine or spirits … and topped with layers of preserves, custard, and cream.” This English treat, fit for a King, has many components and can take a few days to make. But, if you are okay with straying away from a traditional format, you can still come up with a winning dessert.

The base of this treat is usually a white cake however, any sturdy cake will do. You can easily use my Strawberry Tea Bread, as you will break it up into chunks before placing it on the bottom of your trifle bowl. Also, this layer is often doused with wine, but I prefer to see this as optional. I think that the tasty bread will offer plenty of flavor without adding alcoholic spirits.

After that you will need something custardy. You can choose any custard, but chocolate mousse is what I pick for my chocoholic family. A good option is the mousse from my Chocolate Mousse Pie with Cookie Crust and Raspberry Coulis; you will not need to make the crust from this recipe.

Next up is a layer of fruit. There are many selections that can be chosen from this category. Try jam, roasted fruit, or fresh berries (fresh strawberries would nicely complement the tea bread.) Here again is the option to add alcohol, if you desire. You can also use the Raspberry Coulis from the post mentioned above.

Traditionally the next item would be a creamy sauce, but I like to simplify this. Ice cream is fun to add, as long as it’s spooned in at the end and the dish is served immediately. The great part about using ice cream is that there are so many flavors to choose from. That, and the fact that you can grab a pint out of your freezer without worrying about making something else for this layered goody.

The final piece of the trifle puzzle is a garnish for the top. It can be anything, but if your last layer was ice cream then an apropos choice is something that could be included in an ice cream sundae. For my dessert I chose a sprinkling of my Lavender Granola. After that I spattered melted chocolate on it, à la artist Jackson Pollock. I think it adds a bit of whimsy. It also adds a taste of chocolate to a dessert that some people (like my husband) would consider lacking in chocolate immersion. But, I suppose, you can make every layer a chocolate version and bowl over your chocolate-loving sweetheart.

Until next time, happy baking!

Becoming a Better Baker

cocoa testing

Becoming a Better Baker: cocoa test

If you have searched through my blog archives, you will see that I have been writing posts for quite some time. I began by adapting my favorite baked recipes through trial and error —countless trials leading to many errors. There were tips I tried and suggestions that I followed. Many of the strategies were used multiple times and in varying recipes. All of these experiments led to my becoming wiser and my belly getting fuller.

After time I learned to understand my altitude, my oven, and even the brands of products that I used in baking. Each variation had subtle differences that I would not have experienced had I not gone exploring. Sometimes cracks in the surface of a baked good would appear, other times cracks would go away. With some recipes I created a good item, and with other recipes I created real winners. But, my approach to baking always included a bit of guesswork along with the mathematical conversions. So, I decided to up my game.

For the past few months I have been taking an online vegan dessert class at Rouxbe Culinary School. The students are taught the fundamentals of the how and why of dessert creation. We are given basic instruction in the ways of a pastry cook, although I believe I am currently the only one dealing with high altitude. Fortunately I have baked enough at higher altitudes that I can put my spin on my assignments.

What does this mean for you, my hungry reader? My recipes will be more refined as I will be armed with the knowledge I get from the class. I have learned to be more precise (Is dutch process cocoa or natural cocoa best in the recipe? Should a sugar be ground first?), and this will lead to recipes that are easier for you to replicate. My wish is that I can offer recipes that you can successfully enjoy.

Forgive me, but I must go now. I have a cake to bake for class …

Lemon Lavender Muffins

Lemon Lavender Muffins

Lemon Lavender Muffins

Happy National Tea Month! To honor the celebration, and to have another excuse to drink tea, I wanted to make a delectable treat that would go nicely with hot tea. Lemon and tea is a common pairing, so I looked into lemon muffins. I found a yummy recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, and then decided to take them up a notch by icing them with a lavender infused glaze. My tasters found them to be delicious and compared them to decadent cupcakes.

The recipe I tried was already vegan, so all I had to do was adjust for high altitude. To do this, I added flour and non-dairy milk while reducing the baking powder. My other alteration was to steep lavender flowers in non-dairy milk to give my glaze recipe its lavender taste. So, put the kettle on and enjoy!

Lemon Lavender Muffins adapted from Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins by Zsu Dever

glaze
2 1/2 TBS non-dairy milk
1 TBS culinary lavender buds
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

muffins
2 3/4 cups + 2 tsp unbleached all purpose flour
2 TBS poppy seeds
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup reduced aquafaba
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup + 2 TBS vegan sugar
1 cup + 2 1/2 TBS non-dairy milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 TBS grated lemon zest

To start the glaze, bring 2 1/2 TBS non-dairy milk and lavender buds to a low simmer in a small pot on the stove. Take the pot off the heat, cover, and leave for 15 minutes to steep.

To make the muffins, preheat an oven to 375F. Line two muffin tins with paper cups to make 15 muffins. Combine the flour, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. Place aquafaba in a large bowl and whisk for 1 minute or until it is frothy. Slowly add oil, whisking constantly to emulsify. Add sugar in the same manner. Add milk and vanilla along with lemon zest, whisking to blend completely.

Add dry ingredients into the wet and, using a wooden spoon, mix until almost no flour is visible. A few lumps are fine; do not over-mix. Pour batter into the muffin cups filling 2/3 to 3/4 full. Bake for 17 to 19 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean or with just a few crumbs stuck to it.

While muffins are baking, finish making the glaze by placing the powdered sugar in a bowl. Add the lavender milk and vanilla and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

When muffins are ready, set the muffin tin on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Place muffins onto the rack to cool completely before icing. Either drizzle the icing on the muffins with a spoon, or dip the tops into the bowl of glaze. Store muffins, airtight at room temperature, for 2 to 3 days.

Until next time, happy baking!

New Year’s Eve Spiced Nuts

New Years Eve spiced nuts

New Year’s Eve spiced nuts

The following snack is fun to have on-hand to munch on this New Year’s Eve. Its decadent taste can get you through until the grand dinner is served, or it can be eaten alongside any cocktail. You can choose one nut, or a mixture as I did. The flavorings can also be chosen to suit your palate, making this a munchie with endless combinations.

Traditionally, flavored nuts use egg white as a coating, which is decidedly non-vegan. But the recipe I found uses a double toasting and a wet coating to bring out the taste. It originally made a sweet nut, but I wanted something savory for a change. Whether you prefer sweet or more herbaceous, this is still a treat worthy of any celebration.

New Year’s Eve Spiced Nuts adapted from Quick Candied Nuts by America’s Test Kitchen

1 cup unsalted nuts (such as a mix of walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and cashews)
1 TBS spices (such as a mix of dried rosemary, smoked paprika, ancho powder, and garlic powder)
1/2 tsp organic sugar
1 TBS hot water
1/8 tsp sea salt

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F. Spread nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant and slightly browned, 8 to 12 minutes, shaking sheet halfway through toasting. Transfer nuts to a plate and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. If doing more than one type of nut, then toast each individually as they have different cook rates. Place dirty baking sheet aside.

Grind together all spices in a spice grinder until powdered and mixed. Line now-empty sheet with parchment paper. Whisk spice blend, sugar, hot water, and salt in a large bowl until sugar is mostly dissolved. Add nuts and stir to coat. Spread nuts on baking sheet in a single layer and bake until nuts are crisp and dry, for 10 to 12 minutes.

Transfer sheet to a wire rack and let nuts cool completely, for 15 minutes. Nuts can be stored at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Until next year, happy baking!

Peppermint Chocolate Holiday Cupcakes

Peppermint Chocolate Holiday Cupcakes

Peppermint Chocolate Holiday Cupcakes

Holiday dessert flavors to me will always be chocolate and peppermint, perhaps because I love candy canes and believe all desserts should have chocolate. Hot chocolate benefits from a bit of peppermint syrup, and a peppermint-filled chocolate bar is always welcome in my house. So, to get my go-to chocolate cupcake into the holiday spirit, I filled and topped them with peppermint.

To my veganized, high-altitude chocolate cupcake recipe, I had to inject some peppermint flair. I added peppermint extract to the frosting, which I then piped into the cupcake with a round tip and swirled on top with a star tip. To make things even more festive, I crushed a bit of candy cane and added the bits to the frosted cupcake. Happy holidays, and happy eating!

Peppermint Chocolate Holiday Cupcakes

cupcakes
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup chocolate almond milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup organic sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup + 1 TBS all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
generous 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

frosting
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated margarine
3 1/2 cups organic powdered sugar, sifted if clumpy
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1/4 cup almond milk

decoration
crushed candy cane bits

For the Cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350F and line a 12-cupcake pan with paper liners. Whisk together the milks and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, and vanilla to the milk mixture and beat until foamy.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat just until no large lumps remain. Pour evenly into the liners, filling three-quarters of the way. Bake 18-19 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

For the Frosting: Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and beat for 3 more minutes. Add the extracts and milk and beat for another 5-7 minutes until fluffy. Frost each cupcake and place crushed candy cane bits on top.

Until next time, happy baking!

Vegan Baking Roundtable

Dale's demo at Vegan Baking Roundtable

Dale’s demo at the Vegan Baking Roundtable

There was pie; there was cake; there were cookies; there was even spanakopita. It was a Vegan Baking Roundtable and it was a blast. The event brought together enthusiasts who were eager to learn baking and decorating tips. As one of the presenters, I offered advice and explanations on baking at high altitude (as I have written about in Why does high altitude affect baking? and Dazzled by Science). I also prepared my Easy Chocolate Cake-Pan Cake which seemed to satisfy the attendees as they nibbled on samples.

The demonstration panel showed everyone how to make vegan baked preparations simple. The class taught us how to (finally) make a good pie crust, how to keep high altitude cakes from deflating, how to wow guests with an easy Greek appetizer, and how to be a kid again in the guise of cake decorating. Failed recipes were discussed with ideas brainstormed on how to fix them. We also ate a. lot. of. sugar. But it all tasted oh-so-good.

This event came about through the generosity of Dale Ball, who has worked with Lynn Halpern of Bleating Hearts Sanctuary on the annual Vegan Dairy Fair. (I have been to these fairs, and next year’s gathering should prove to be as exciting and yummy as those past.) Bakers that day also included members of the Boulder and Beyond Vegan Meetup. This was a group hungry for vegan camaraderie, vegan recipes, and vegan snacks. The roundtable gave us all that, and more.