Vegan Yule Log – December Daring Bakers Challenge

Vegan French Yule Log

Vegan French Yule Log

Hi All, It's Jane writing today's post....  As you might imagine, the first of the month is eagerly anticipated by the over 1,000 Daring Bakers.  It is the day that month's challenge is revealed.  So on December 1st I hurried to my computer and went immediately to the Daring Bakers message board to see what was in store for us this month.  My heart sank.  A Yule Log.  Now some of you might remember, last December was my first official DB challenge, and it was a Yule Log which turned out to be my first official challenge and my first DB failure.  So you can imagine I was not eagerly anticipating recreating that nightmare again.  But, this challenge was for a FRENCH Yule Log.  And, as I learned, that's a horse of a different color.  (Speaking of different colors, please excuse the photograph.  One of our young relatives, who shall remain nameless, decided to play with a paint program.  This is the only photo to survive, and it's been "cleaned up" a bit!)

Our hosts this month were Hilda of Saffron & Blueberry, and Marion of Il en faut peu pour etre heureux, and the opened with the reassuring comments of "don't panic," and "the recipe is 18 pages long."  Just what you want to hear when trying a new recipe for a cake you've had trouble with in the past!  So looking for reassurance, I went to visit the site where the original recipe lives... The recipe comes from Flore of Florilège Gourmand , but it's all in french and je ne parle pas de français!  (Perhaps, I should have paid attention in high school!)

But reading over the recipe, I thought to myself, I can do this.  And lo and behold, a yule log was born. While I can't say I'd make this recipe again, it wasn't bad.  But it was an awful lot of work for something that wasn't spectacular.  There were six elements:

  1. Dacquoise Biscuit (Almond Cake) - I simply subbed the egg with Ener-G. It tasted good, but was slightly rubbery and didn't come off the silpat in one piece!
  2. Dark Chocolate Mousse - I used my standard vegan mousse recipe.
  3. Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert - Easy enough... just use vegan ingredients.
  4. Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert - I used the coconut version and subbed dark chocolate for white.
  5. Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert - I used the pastry cream recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking.
  6. Dark Chocolate Icing - I omitted the water and added a bit more chocolate so that it firmed up.

And of course, the assembly required refrigeration and some attention to detail.  Again, it was an edible dessert, and was even appreciated, but my Vegan Christmas Cookies were far superior!

Don't forget to check out the DB Blogroll to see what everyone else created this month!

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No need to read further...  This code allows me to be recognized by the Daring Baker tool that verifies whether or not we've participated in the challenge.

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux.
They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

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Vegan Caramels – November Daring Bakers Challenge

Vegan Caramels

Vegan Caramels

Hi everyone... It's Jane tonight, writing about this month's Daring Bakers challenge.

Our hosts, Dolores of Culinary Curiosity, Alex of Blondie And Brownie, and Jenny of Foray Into Food, presented us with two options; we could either make the Caramel Cake devised by  Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater (recipe here).  Or we could take the optional challenge: Alice Medrich’s Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels.  Since Lane is not a fan of caramel, and I don't need to be eating an entire cake by myself, I opted for the caramels.  This was certainly a challenge for me.  I've never made candy before, and I've only rarely worked with a candy thermometer.  (The cake recipe looked veganizable, if any of you are interested in giving it a go.) The caramel recipe is from Pure Dessert. (Caramel Recipe below.)

Sugar & Syrup and Soy Creamer

Sugar & Syrup and Soy Creamer

First, let me say again, that this was my very first experience making candy.  Hard ball, soft ball, hard crack.  Who knew?

My next hurdle was finding the elusive "Golden Syrup."  I went everywhere, except online.  I even hit the local Cost Plus, where I was assured they would have the product.  My store is indefinitely out of stock, but I did find a recipe at RecipeZaar.com, and was able to make that with a reasonable amount of success.  As it turns out, any invert syrup will do.

The Daring Bakers have a private message board, and some of the DBs jump on the challenges the day their issued.  So that means those of us who wait until the last minute are able to read about any problems the rest of the group is experiencing.  A number of the posts I read indicated that my fellow DB were coming up with some rather hard candies.  I did a little research and found that caramels should be cooked to the firm ball stage 245° F–250° F (courtesy of the science of candy), not the 265° F our recipe called for, so I planned on going to 250° F.

Adding the Earth Balance

Adding the Earth Balance

As I mentioned previously, Lane doesn't care for caramels. I, on the other hand, have always loved them, so in the interests of my waistline, I quartered the recipe. That was a mistake. There wasn't enough product in the bottom of my pan for the thermometer to get an adequate read. While nothing burned, I wound up with a brick of caramel. It would work as doorstop!  The only consolation I have here is that I wasn't the only one!!!

So, for my next attempt (earlier this morning), I decided I'd have to make 2/3s of the whole recipe and hope my willpower would hold out.  Also, horrors, I used Karo syrup.  I didn't have enough time to make the golden syrup again.  (Hey I tried, I stopped at the grocery store again this morning!  Still no golden syrup!)  I cooked the sugar and syrup a bit slower this time, and since there was more product in the pot, my thermometer worked well.

It was fun to see the sugar carmelize, and I really enjoyed how everything behaved when I added the cream mixture to the bowl.  The temperature dropped immediately, but there were pockets of boiling caramel as I stirred things together.  It looked like a science experiment.

Getting Closer

Getting Closer

I cooked the caramels.  Things were going along swimmingly.  The color was right, the smell was right, and as I approached my target temperature, things were behaving as they should (hard ball stage).  From my previous experience, I knew I didn't want to pour the caramel into a foil lined pan.  The foil didn't want to come off last time, and left impressions in the caramel.  So this try I followed someone's suggestion and poured the mixture straight into a non-stick cake pan.  That worked well.  When I unmolded my caramel, everything was rather smooth.  Unfortunately, it's still too hard.  I couldn't actually cut little caramels, I wound up scoring the hardened caramel and breaking off a few pieces.

The taste was wonderful.  If I were to make this again I think I'd try lollipop molds.  The caramels tasted exactly like See's Candies Vanilla Caramel Lollipops (however, See's Candies are not vegan!).  YUMMY!  Just don't chew or you'll be heading to the dentist.

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Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels
- makes eighty-one 1-inch caramels -

Ingredients
1 cup golden syrup - Or any invert syrup
2 cups sugar
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt - I omitted the salt as Earth Balance is salty
2 cups heavy cream - (I used soy creamer)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (The first time I split the bean and cooked it in the creamer.  For my second attempt, I used vanilla extract.)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened -- I used Earth Balance

Equipment
A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer

Procedure

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°f for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for 4 to 5 hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife.  Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.

Variations

Fleur de Sel Caramels: Extra salt, in the form of fleur de sel or another coarse flaked salt, brings out the flavor of the caramel and offers a little ying to the yang. Add an extra scant 1/4 teaspoon of coarse sea salt to the recipe. Or, to keep the salt crunchy, let the caramel cool and firm. Then sprinkle with two pinches of flaky salt and press it in. Invert, remove the pan liner, sprinkle with more salt. Then cut and wrap the caramels in wax paper or cellophane.  (I didn't care for this taste.  I don't know if the Earth Balance provides more salt than the original recipe, or if my caramels were too hard, or if I simply don't care for that taste... -- Jane)

Nutmeg and Vanilla Bean Caramels: Add 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg to the cream before you heat it.

Cardamom Caramels: Omit the vanilla. Add 1/2 teaspoon slightly crushed cardamom seeds (from about 15 cardamom pods) to the cream before heating it. Strain the cream when you add it to the caramel; discard the seeds.

Caramel Sauce: Stop cooking any caramel recipe or variation when it reaches 225°F or, for a sauce that thickens like hot fudge over ice cream, 228°F. Pour it into a sauceboat to serve or into a heatproof jar for storage. The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for ages and reheated gently in the microwave or a saucepan just until hot and flowing before use. You can stir in rum or brandy to taste. If the sauce is too thick or stiff to serve over ice cream, it can always be thinned with a little water or cream. Or, if you like a sauce that thickens more over ice cream, simmer it for a few minutes longer.
(recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert)

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Daring Bakers October Challenge – Pizza

Vegan Pizza

Vegan Pizza

Hi Everyone - It's Jane with my October Daring Bakers Post (yes, that's right, October).

First, let me say that I'm a bad Daring Baker. I didn't pay attention to the posting date. We usually post around the last weekend of the month. I was on autopilot, and didn't pay attention to the dates or calendar, and for some reason had it in my head that we'd be posting today. You're not allowed to miss a month without contacting the group administrators, Lis and Yvonne.  I've also been really busy and so I've been out of touch with the blogging community and didn't notice that everyone else had posted already.  What's even more irritating is that I completed the challenge on the 15th and could have easily made the posting date. Argh!

So now that my excuses have been made, let's talk about the challenge set to us by Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums... homemade pizza.

Vegan Pizza Dough, Day One
Vegan Pizza Dough, Day One

As you've heard Lane blog about in the past, we love traditional New York Pizza -- a little tomato sauce, a little olive oil and basil, a little mozzarella cheese and a thin and crispy crust.  The right mix of these ingredients doesn't seem to exist outside of the New York metropolitan area.  (And I hate to break it to you omnivores... Domino's is NOT pizza.)  It's been probably the hardest thing for us to give up, but then again, we can't get it here in Los Angeles, so it's been more of a philosophical difficulty.  We've tried the occasional vegan pizza over the last year or so.  Some of the vegan pizza was good (although we've since changed our minds about Fatty's), and some will not be consumed again.  But it's not what we think of when we think of pizza.  And, quite frankly, I expect that next time we're in NY, we'll have a slice of traditional NY pizza again.  Since we don't live there, we don't worry about backsliding.  And it's been suggested that either our systems won't tolerate the real cheese, or we won't be able to overcome our moral objection to consuming dairy.

Lane tries his hand at tossing dough

Lane tries his hand at tossing dough

After reading about the challenge, I was a little nervous.  The recipe appears to be very complicated as you're reading it.  But in reality, it wasn't difficult at all.  The first time I made the pizza's I cut the recipe in half.  I didn't have high expectations.  But it was really good, and surprisingly easy.  I didn't have any issues with the dough being to sticky.  I didn't have to flour my hands when I tossed it, nor did I need to flour my dough scraper...  The tossing was fun, but it really didn't take all that long.  It would have been more fun to be able to continue a bit longer.  Lane needs a bit more practice!

I don't have a Baking Stone (oh Lane, Christmas hint!).  The recipe suggests you can use the back of a jelly roll pan.  I used my sideless cookie sheets.  The crust was nice and crisp on the edges, however it was a tad soft on the bottom.  That would supposedly be improved with a pizza/baking stone.

We were challenged to use a sauce and the toppings of our choice. I started with Trader Joe's Marinara Sauce which has onions and garlic, and a nice flavor Lane and I enjoy.  For toppings, I used Yves Ground Meat, green olives stuffed with garlic which I sliced, vegan cheese, and sliced tomatoes.  I'll skip the cheese next time, it didn't add anything to the pizza.

Vegan Pizza Dough

Vegan Pizza Dough

So, this is another recipe I'd recommend.  It really only requires a bit of planning ahead.  If you've got kids, it might be fun to let them help toss the dough!

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~ BASIC PIZZA DOUGH ~

Original recipe taken from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches).

Ingredients:
4 1/2 Cups Unbleached high-gluten bread flour, chilled - FOR Gluten Free (GF): 4 ½ cups GF Flour Blend with xanthan gum or 1 cup brown rice flour, 1 cup corn flour, 1 cup oat flour, 1 ½ cup arrowroot, potato or tapioca starch + 2 tsp xanthan or guar gum
1 3/4 tsp Salt
1 tsp Instant yeast - FOR GF use 2 tsp
1/4 Cup  Olive oil
1 3/4 Cups Water, ice cold
1 Tb sugar - FOR GF use agave syrup
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting

DAY ONE

Method:
1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.  The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

For GF: Add the oil, sugar or agave syrup and cold water, then mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough.

3. Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.

DAY TWO

8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

FOR GF:  On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the number of desired dough balls from the refrigerator.  Place on a sheet of parchment paper and sprinkle with a gluten free flour. Delicately press the dough into disks about ½ inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil. Lightly cover the dough round with a sheet of parchment paper and allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

FOR GF: Press the dough into the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough).

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.  During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

FOR GF: Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

FOR GF:  Place the garnished pizza on the parchment paper onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for about 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

FOR GF:  Follow the notes for this step.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

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Daring Bakers October Challenge – Crackers

Vegan Crackers

Polly want a ___? This month's Daring Bakers challenge was a recipe for crackers... and it was a vegan recipe to boot! Our hosts, Natalie of Gluten A Go Go, and Shel, of Musings From the Fishbowl, dared us to bake the recipe for Lavash Crackers from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and to create whatever vegan spreads we found interesting. My first reaction was, "YAY!!! A savory challenge!" Then I thought, "crackers? you can actually make crackers?" Who knew?

I know that some of you have probably made crackers before, but I've never done that. Actually, I'd never even thought that you could make crackers (they're fairly straightforward). I know, d'uh. So, even though it was an "easy" recipe, it was a challenge for me... and another one I'll make again. Natalie and Shel also suggested options for making these crackers gluten free. It was my intent to try this as well, but you know how things go... So, at the last minute, I made the crackers using a mix of all purpose and wheat flours.

Vegan Crackers Fresh From the OvenLane and I were not disappointed. In fact, the crackers were so delicious, we wound up eating the entire tray ourselves. The recipe doesn't indicate how many servings... but I would definitely double it for company. Also, I rolled the dough a bit unevenly (intentionally). I was curious to which crackers tasted better - thinner versus thicker. We both preferred the thinner version. As for spices, I used salt across the entire cracker dough, and then added poppy seeds to ¼ of the tray, rosemary and garlic to ¼, and cumin to ¼. We didn't notice much difference... so next time, I'll probably just stick with the salt.

Vegan Crackers & Fruit SalsaThe salsa recipe, recommended by Natalie and Shel was amazing. It was a honeydew-peach salsa. I used a crenshaw melon and white nectarines instead because that's what I had at home. I've never been inclined to make a fruit salsa before. I've had them and enjoyed them, but they're not quite my cup of tea. This recipe has changed my mind.

So, overall, a very happy challenge for me.... The recipes are below if you'd like to try them. And many thanks to Natalie and Shel for a fun and yummy challenge.

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Lavash Cracker Recipe:

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
* Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

  1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed. (I needed all the water.)
  2. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
  3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).
  4. Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches. (Next time I'll roll mine out even larger... we liked the thinner crackers much better.) You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment (I used my Matfer Exopat 11-5/8-by-16-3/8-Inch Nonstick Baking Mat, which is perhaps one of the best baking tools I own!). Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.) Be careful with spices and salt - a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking. If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.
  6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).
  7. When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

The Salsa recipe was a Honeydew - Peach Salsa from The Splended Table.

* juice of 1 lime
* 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
* 1/4 to 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
* 1 Red Fresno and 1 Hot Yellow minced chile (seeds removed)
* 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar,
* 1/2 ripe sweet honeydew melon, cubed into bite-sized pieces
* 4 small, ripe peaches, peeled and cubed into bite-sized pieces
* salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1/3 cup minced fresh coriander, or coriander and mint combined

In a medium bowl blend the lime juice, garlic, onion and chilies. Let stand 20 minutes, then blend in sugar and fruits with salt (a generous pinch) and pepper (to make piquant) to taste. Refrigerate up to 3 hours. Fold in fresh herbs just before serving.

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Vegan Eclairs – August Daring Bakers Challenge

Vegan Chocolate EclairsHi Everyone, it's Jane writing as the August Daring Bakers Challenge is revealed today.  What was this month's challenge you ask?  Something different for me anyway... chocolate eclairs!  And while my eclairs may not win any beauty pageants, they tasted scrumptious!  I will make this recipe for company next time.

So, details... This month's challenge was issued by MeetaK and Tony Tahhan.  The original recipe comes from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme (visit Meeta or Tony for the challenge recipe). An eclair consists of a Pâte à Choux (dough), Pastry Cream (filling), and Chocolate Glaze.  The challenge recipe called for a chocolate filling, which is not how Lane and I remember eclairs, but I was making enough modifications to the recipe (and a little more chocolate is usually a good thing).

Vegan Cream Puff PastryOf course, the Pâte à Choux wasn't written as a vegan recipe, so I looked for a bit of help from the Alternative Daring Bakers.  The suggested recipe the ADBs can be found here.  I halved the recipe because we didn't want to wind up with a zillion eclairs, and wound up with 8 very  small eclairs, which was perfect for the 4 of us who were tasting my results.

I'd never done this type of baking before and really enjoyed how the dough worked up.

Here's the recipe for the cream puff/eclair dough I used, including my modifications (note, this is the full recipe):

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons Earth Balance
2 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer whipped until stiff with 1/3 cup water
1 cup almond milk

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with non-stick mat. Prepare egg-replacer. Stir together flour, sugar, salt, cream of tartar. In a non-stick sauce pan, bring the milk and margarine to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the flour mixture all at once, and reduce heat to low. Stir constantly until the dough forms a ball that pulls away from the pan and the spoon and is glossy and smooth.  Smooth the dough and stir together a few times.  Cooking time after flour is added should be about 3-5 minutes. Working quickly, remove from heat and add the egg replacer, about a third at a time, beating well after each addition until the dough is glossy, smooth, and pulls away from the pan.  (I used my mixer with dough hook attachment, but that didn't work so wel.)

Shape the dough as desired. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then lower heat to 350 for another 20 minutes, then turn off oven and allow to cool, with door slightly cracked for another 30 minutes, then cool completely on wire racks before serving or filling.

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Some of the Daring Bakers had issues with their eclairs deflating.  The general consensus was that the pastries were undercooked.  Some of the ADBs used baking powder in place of the cream of tartar.  I didn't make that change but baked everything much longer than the original recipe called for.  None of my eclairs deflated and they were all cooked through and a light golden brown.

Also, I tried to pipe my eclairs, but that didn't work so well.  So after I piped them, I wound up rolling them around in my palms a bit.  Next time, I'll skip the piping.

Vegan EclaireAs for fillings.... I did a chocolate filling and chocolate glaze.  Hubby was very complimentary.  The crust was light and flaky and definitely tasted as we remembered an eclair to taste.  However, we both remember eclairs as having a custard-like filling, so the chocolate seemed a bit odd, but hey, it was chocolate and yummy anyway.  I'm not including my recipe for the filling and glaze as they didn't come out well enough to recommend.  But the original recipe is easy enough to veganize, if you're interested.

Bon Appetit!

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Daring Bakers July Challenge

This month's Daring Bakers challenge was a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from Great Cakes, by Carol Walter. Our host was Chris at Mele Cotte, you can visit her site for the recipe, if you're interested.

So my first reaction was a deep sigh. Layered buttercream cakes aren't my thing. I much prefer a good loaf of bread, or the Danish Braid we made last month. But each host has the right to choose whatever recipe they desire, and as a Daring Baker, it is up to us to take the challenge and do the best we can. There were also a few interesting twists to this recipe. The recipe included a hazelnut cake moistened with simple syrup, layered with praline buttercream and whipped cream, topped with apricot glaze, and glazed with a chocolate ganache. Whew! And there were components to some of these things. For example, we made praline paste which was incorporated into the buttercream.

The first thing I did was make the cake. I did not attempt to veganize the original recipe, but instead opted to follow the "spirit" of the challenge. I used this recipe for vegan genoise instead. It came out swell, but not nearly tall enough to cut into the three layers the recipe called for. So my cake was only two layers. I opted not to redo the cake as I didn't have high expectations for the results this time around.

Next I worked on the components for the cake. I had leftover macadamia nuts which I used to make my praline. What fun. It took forever, way more than the 20 minutes the recipe specified, but yum. I will be making the praline again (not necessarily the paste), you can be sure of that. I had to keep Lane out of the kitchen. He loved it, and I was afraid I wouldn't have enough for the cake! For any of our "inner circle" reading this out there, you can be sure to see a bit of the praline on your Christmas cookie trays!

I don't normally include the recipes for the challenges here, but this component is something you should try at home!!! And make sure to read below about incorporating the paste into your buttercream!

Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless (any nut would work here, depending on the flavor you're going for)
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter. (I used my Silpat.)

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle.

Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.

I'll spare you the details of the rest of the assembly. Things went as they should have. My real "issue" was the buttercream. I'd discussed the buttercream dilemna in forum land. So far, I haven't found a vegan buttercream recipe I like the taste of. My original intention was to use Vegan Noodle's suggestion of adding soy milk powder to the mix. Unfortunately, I set out on my quest to buy the soy milk powder ("better than milk") the day before I was assembling the cake, and my Whole Foods does not carry the product. The inventory manager knew what I was talking about and offered to order it for me, but I needed it "now." Alas. Nor did my local health food store stock it. Strike one!

Natalie recommended using a vegetable shortening/coconut oil/cocoa butter mix, but it's a little warm now to be using coconut oil. I know this because the coconut oil is liquid in the cupboard, and I didn't want my buttercream running down the side of the cake! Strike two!

Shellyfish recommended using the buttercream recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance (a much better book than Veganomicon, IMO). Hey, a home run, sort of. It was good enough to eat, although not in large quantities. I wound up using a non-vegan non-dairy creamer, since that recipe also called for soy milk powder. Unfortunately, non-dairy creamer is somewhat of an oxymoron as the non-dairy creamer contains SODIUM CASEINATE (a MILK DERIVATIVE), and a whole host of other badness. But it was the only thing I could find, and I knew the Earth Balance / Powdered Sugar combinations were not palatable. So, it was a pseudo-vegan buttercream, strike three?

Whatever buttercream recipes you wind up using in your cake baking ventures, I recommend adding the praline paste (1/3 Cup added into your finished buttercream, then stir together) It's amazingly delicious.

So my finished cake was not worthy of a blog post. It looked pretty, but wasn't worth the time or the effort, and most of it wound up in the trash. But I walked away with the promise of a palatable vegan buttercream, yay! And the praline alone was worth the rest of the challenge.

~ Cheers, Jane!

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Vegan Danish

vegan danishHi All, it's Jane writing today - post day for the Daring Bakers. This month's challenge was a Danish Braid. As some of you may have realized, I begged off last month's challenge, an Opera Cake. My fellow Alternative DBs did the challenge proud; however, I simply couldn't face another buttercream. But the waiting was worth it, I was thrilled with this month's offering. Lane has always loved pastry, however, that's been off the menu for us since we've been vegan. I'm sure the vegan bakeries in Los Angeles have plenty of pastry options, however, we're not really near any of them, and don't need to be making special trips for goodies. ;-)

I always suspected that pastry would be something easy to "veganize," after all, my pie crust hasn't suffered a bit in the transition. I had just never tried pastry before. I made the assumption that it would be incredibly difficult to make. I was wrong. It's time consuming, but fun.

I'd gotten a sense of security from all the posts on the alternative DB board. Most of the vegan bakers seemed to have a positive experience. The gluten-free people had a tougher time of it, as you can imagine! But most people were reporting successes, even if the process wasn't textbook perfect. So when I actually started laminating my dough (a technique where you roll "butter" into the dough) I was surprized that I didn't have any of the difficulties I'd read about and expected -- dough too sticky, butter exploding out of the dough... Everything went swimmingly, my single folds and double book folds were almost perfectly aligned. Not bad for a first try! I left the dough in the fridge overnight and went to bed.

Today I needed to assemble the filling, roll out the dough, fill and braid, and bake. We were supposed to fill one braid with an apple concoction and the other with the filling of our choice. I bought the Fuji's as directed, even though they're not in season here now. They didn't taste as sweet as usual, and I wasn't really happy with the apple filling. So, for the second braid, I used a triple berry jam, and vegan cream cheese. This was a very satisfying pastry to make. I enjoyed the process, I enjoyed the end results. But it's not something you're going to throw together a few minutes before you're company is coming!

We shared this with our omnivorous cousins, and they loved it. They asked me to make it with blueberries next time. I was also thinking it might be good with the lemon curd from the vegan lemon meringue pie we made in the January challenge...  (Lane's liking that idea.)

I will definitely make this recipe again, but I'll make a few changes. The recipe directed us to mix the dough for 5 minutes after incorporating all the ingredients. I've never done that before in making any type of dough. I'm not an expert, but I thought you weren't supposed to "overmix" as you make things too tough. My dough was a tad chewy, so next time, I will only mix until things are incorporated. Also, I don't think the orange zest/juice in the dough recipe added anything to the pastry, so I'll omit them next time as well, and maybe the cardamom too.  They added a nice taste to the pastry, but I made croissant with the leftover dough, and that didn't work.   And finally, if I have the time, I'll try to make individual danishes. I'm really glad Kelly and Ben selected this recipe as our challenge. I would have never tried to make this on my own, and now I have a wonderful new dessert in my repertoire.

Note: I skipped the egg wash (of course), so my pastry wasn't shiny. No one missed it!

-- Cheers, Jane

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Daring Baker’s April Challenge — Cheesecake Pops

This month the Daring Bakers Challenge was Cheesecake Pops. (This is cheesecake scooped into little walnut sized balls, stuck on a lollipop stick and then dipped in melted chocolate, and decorated as you desire.) Yum. But what to do about a vegan cheesecake? I've had a few successes with vegan desserts, but other than the amazing vegan brownies I made recently, I've been somewhat disappointed with the vegan desserts I've tried. Cheesecake seemed particularly daunting, as it is so incredibly delicious as an omni dessert. How could it possibly live up to the original? Time to do some research.

First, I was excited to learn earlier this month that there are enough of us now to have formed a splinter group of Alternative Daring Bakers, wholly sanctioned by the original Daring Bakers. We all play along and follow the same challenge, but because of our varied dietary regimes (vegan, gluten free, etc.), the group has a special forum and held a "bake along" this month. I couldn't participate because it was too early in the morning for me, but I did get some pointers, and many recipe options. Ultimately though, I adapted the Vegan Eggnog Cheesecake recipe from Fat Free Kitchen; if there'd been any vegan eggnog around, I'd have made the original. Anyway, here's my adapted recipe:

2 12.4-ounce package extra firm light silken tofu
2 8-ounce package Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese (make sure to buy the one in the yellow package -- it has no partially hydryogenated oils!)
1 ½ cups sugar
¾ cup almond milk
3 tablespoons lemon juice
6 tablespoons Myer's Coconut rum
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons cornstarch

Drain the tofu and place in food processor along with the cream cheese. Blend well. Then incorporate the sugar. Susan at FFV, suggests letting the food processor run for at least three minutes, and I wholly concur. It really blends things together. Then I added all the remaining ingredients and let the processor run for another few minutes.

Because I wasn't making a cake I poured this mix into two small pyrex dishes. This way I could more easily keep an eye on what was going on. If you are making a cake, you might want to consider the traditional graham cracker crust. Susan also offers an oatmeal cookie crust (in her Vegan Eggnog Cheesecake recipe) which sounds pretty good. Or you could simply press some almond pieces onto the sides of the cake after you've removed it from your springform pan.

Bake at 350° F for anywhere between 45 and 75 minutes (no, I'm not kidding -- this is based on what my fellow ADBs experienced). It took me 75 minutes, but you don't want to burn this, and you'll want to make sure it sets a bit before removing it from the oven. That's a delicate balance. You really have to make a mental note as to how "jiggly" it is before you put it in the oven in order to gauge how much the cheesecake has set. It will definitely still jiggle when you remove it from the oven. It will set further while it's cooling and once you refrigerate it. I let mine brown a bit on the top because I was very concerned that it would be too watery. That worked well as Lane got a bowlful of the browned bits to nosh on as I assembled the pops.

If you're making a cheesecake you definitely want to make sure to use a water bath. This prevents the cake from cracking. If you're making the pops, there really is no need, as you can scoop around any cracks that might form. I used the water bath anyway, because that's the way I've always baked my cheesecakes in the past. That may have accounted for some of the additional baking time.

The cakes need to be refrigerated, I let mine sit overnight. Then you scoop out 2 ounces (about the size of a walnut) and roll it into a ball. These go onto a sheet of parchment paper (on a cookie sheet) and into the freezer for at least two hours. After which you dip them into melted chocolate and decorate as you wish (sprinkles, nuts, white chocolate, icing...) My experience was a little harrowing as it was 96° here today, which meant it was probably about 80° in our kitchen. By the time I got to the end of my pops, they were starting to free themselves from the sticks. Why it didn't dawn on me to leave half of them on the freezer is beyond me. Suffice it to say, I felt a little silly when it finally did!

These were a birthday cake for our cousin who is going to be 60 on Tuesday. So I wrote one pop said "Happy" another said "BDay" and a bunch had 60s and squiggles. There were also all the other pops that I simply put on a plate (not as part of the "centerpiece"). I was pleased with the aesthetics of the individual pops, and the overall presentation. I think this makes a fun take on the traditional cheesecake. And the recipe was DELICIOUS! It even passed the omni test (meaning people asked for seconds, and those who didn't know it was a vegan cheesecake, didn't guess).

The Daring Bakers group now has a message board with two public forums. So, if you'd like to see what we're up to, or get tips from other Daring Bakers -- here's the link.

-- Cheers, Jane

– If you haven’t signed our petition to Oprah asking her to do a piece on factory farming, please consider doing so. We can all work together to make a difference.

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A Lone Vegan In A Sea Of Butter And Cream

2008 03 - DB White Cake (1)Daring Bakers Challenge was Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake from Baking From My Home To Yours. Good! I had to make a cake this month anyway.

The recipe seemed fairly straightforward, a run of the mill white cake like any other white cake; we didn't have to stand on our heads while whipping the ingredients together! (This is not meant to sound nasty towards any of the other challengers -- some of the recipes are very difficult and some are rather easy.) Morven from Food Art and Random Thoughts, the baker who issued this month's challenge, promised a delicious end-result, and who am I to argue with that? So, overall, it looked like an easy challenge. After last month's nine+ hour project, that was a welcome idea. But as usual, it wasn't geared for a vegan diet, so there were substitutions to be made. I used Earth Balance margarine in place of the butter, almond milk in place of the buttermilk, and Ener-G egg replacer in place of the eggs.

One good thing about being vegan is that you can taste your batters as you're going along without any fear of salmonella! The batter tasted okay, but something wasn't quite right. I attribute that to the Earth Balance. I was a huge fan of butter in my pre-vegan baking days. I really don't think anything else tastes quite as good, but I don't consume butter anymore, so... The cake didn't rise as high as I would have expected, but others Daring Baker's also indicated their cakes didn't rise, so I wasn't too concerned. It looked and smelled delicious.

2008 03 - DB White Cake (5)Out of the oven and on to the racks... everything looked and felt normal, but when I sneaked off a tiny piece of the cake to try, it didn't taste right. Lane agreed, but didn't think it was bad and suggested I carry on. But this was going to be a birthday cake for someone special, so into the trash it went.

Attempt number two came out a little better; I incorporated some almond meal in place of some of the flour, which gave the cake a nice flavor. Typically, I would be concerned that the almond meal would make the cake more dense, but this cake is dense already, so I didn't think there would be any harm in trying this. I often do that in my cookie recipes. I love the taste of the nuts, and there's the added benefit of injecting some nutritional value to something decadent!

The recipe called for a buttercream-meringue frosting. Alas. The other option afforded us was whipped cream. So, back to the internet I went in search of vegan buttercream meringue, no luck there. I was kind of relieved not to have to make the buttercream-meringue as Morven (the host) injured herself making it. After last month's near trip to the emergency room, I didn't want to have any medical disasters to have to blog about!!!

Surprisingly, there were many recipes for vegan buttercream out there, all basically the same: an equal amount of vegan margarine and powdered sugar, plus a tiny bit of liquid... soy milk, usually. So, that's what I went with, assuming that if there were that many sites lauding the same basic recipe, it had to be good. WRONG! It was horrible. It had a chemical taste to it. Trying for a quick fix, I added some almond extract which actually helped.

2008 03 - DB White CakeSo, I didn't like it. Everyone else was polite and said they did, but no one asked for seconds, and most people didn't finish their slices which is generally not a good sign. Lane's busy chomping down his second slice as I write this, so it wasn't a total waste. But I won't be making this cake again. There are some really amazing results out there. My absolute favorite was prepared by Sakya.

Overall, I'm left wondering if the Daring Baker's is the right group for me. The bakers are all wonderful and the group is supportive and fun. And I love the idea of baking something a whole slew of "my friends" are baking as well. There's a great sense of camaraderie in belonging to this group. But I'm a lone little vegan in a sea of butter and cream. We'll see what next months challenge brings!

Cheers! Jane

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Daring Bakers – February Challenge

DB 2008 02- 6 The Loaves bYay!!! Bread. I was sooo very excited when I saw that we would be baking bread for February's Daring Bakers Challenge. I had anticipated some amazingly delicious chocolate-y confection in keeping with the Valentine's Day/February theme. And I fully expected that I, as a vegan, would not be able to replicate the challenge with my dietary constraints.

So imagine my delight when I saw that we would be baking french bread, something I would not have to veganize. (This month, my sympathies go to the gluten-free in our group.)

DB 2008 02- 1 Yeast and Water and Salt aThen I copied the recipe and put it into a MS Word document, and it was THIRTEEN PAGES LONG!!!! Apparently it's eighteen pages in Julia Childs' cookbook. Talk about intimidation. Suddenly I wasn't so excited. So I procrastinated, and put it all off until yesterday. (Actually, my mom is here for a visit, so I kind of forgot about the challenge in the flurry of getting ready for her visit.)

Most of the text discusses kneading techniques and it all seems very complicated until you actually do the work. Watching the PBS episode where Julia bakes french bread with Danielle Forestier helped to understand some of the directions. DB 2008 02- 4 First RiseI felt very confident and happy at the outset of the process. But my baking experience wound up mimicking the Saturday Night Live - Julia Child skit more than the PBS episodes. As I gathered my ingredients together I wound up breaking the glass container which housed my all-purpose flour and as I was gathering that mess together I cut my index finger, rather deeply I might add.

Now I had blood spurting all over my kitchen (a la SNL). I probably should have gone to get it stitched, or whatever they do these days, but the two or so hours I would have had to invest at the emergency room would have meant no bread. (On the other hand, I could have stopped at the grocery store and bought more flour. Oh well.) After I finally staunched the flow of blood, and cleaned up the mess in my kitchen, I was way behind schedule, and didn't have the right ingredients. Waiting until the last day to bake my bread meant that I had to work with what I now had in stock... King Arthur's White Whole Wheat... I knew I wasn't going to get the results we were striving for, but what else could I do?

DB 2008 02- 3 KneadedI was very pleased with the way my dough turned out. Even before the baking process... there is something so satisfying about making bread; I always feel like I am nurturing my family on the most basic level. I learned a few things about kneading dough, not the least of which is that you really need all your digits to knead effectively!

My process went smoothly, however my dough didn't rise quite as high as expected (the white wheat flour, I presume). We had many options regarding the shaping of the bread and I chose the basic french bread loaves. The bread wound up being dense and hard and far too salty, but it looked good. Sometimes appearances are enough to compensate for a lack of substance, but that's usually not the case with food!

Anyway, Thank You to Mary and Sara for an excellent challenge, even if some of the participants (me) didn't have quite the results we all hoped for.

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