Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene Cinnamon Buns - Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

The weather of Summer '11 was already monumental, so of course it had to end with a bang. I had missed the East Coast Heat Wave '11 when I was busying eating vegan donuts in the Bay Area. And I didn't feel the earthquake on the first floor of my house, while everyone upstairs got to see the walls shake. It's likely to be a good thing that I seem to repel extreme environmental conditions, but I just want to be part of the fun!

Well, I don't know about you, but I felt like being productive during Hurricane Irene last night. So as part of an Early Birthday Brunch / Thank You For Staying Up And Hurricane-Proofing The House, I baked these Cinnamon Rolls for my dad. He later told me that every time he saw Irene's white swirl travel up the coastline he could only see a sugary cinnamon bun (not too surprising, I am his daughter). To be completely honest, I didn't even put the whole hey-cinnamon-rolls-kinda-look-like-mini-hurricanes thing together until they were in their second rising. And yet I had looked up earlier that day to frustratedly find there were no traditional Hurricane-themed desserts. I'll let my subconscious take all the credit.

Unlike Hurricane Irene, these Cinnamon Rolls went above and beyond all of their hype (in my town, where we are very fortunate). Which is most ideal, because without power I would be stuck trying to steam these cuties on the stove. These are the perfect Sunday morning cinnamon bun because you start them Saturday night, let them rise while you sleep, and upon waking up the only effort required on your part is putting them in the oven. Plus there is no refined sugar, sweetened only with agave nectar and maple syrup.

Feel free to get really creative with the Cinnamon Rolls; I found an easy chocolate sauce and pecans to really deliver. For the true Hurricane effect, make a white sugar glaze with powdered sugar and a touch of almond milk.

Cinnamon Rolls
Yields 1 dozen

2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all purpose flour
1 package of active dry yeast
1 tablespoon flaxmeal mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water
2 cups warm warm (to activate the yeast, not too hot to kill it!)
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 teaspoon salt

Cinnamon Filling:
1/2 cup agave nectar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For a chocolate pecan bun:
Chocolate Sauce:
1/2 cup water 
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup pecan pieces to garnish

In a large bowl, sift flours and yeast together. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the flaxmeal mix, water, canola, agave, and salt. Pour wet ingredients into the flour mix and stir. When dough begins to form, knead on flour-dusted surface. If dough is too sticky, add more flour. If dough is too dry and doesn't form into a ball, add more water. Knead until dough is smooth and not sticky. transfer to a lightly-oiled bowl, cover and let rise for one hour in a dry place.

Meanwhile, combine agave, maple, canola, and cinnamon for the cinnamon filling and set aside.
Next, bring the water, cocoa powder, agave, and vanilla to a boil in a small sauce pan and let boil for 3-5 minutes, until chocolate sauce thickens. Let cool and store chocolate sauce in the fridge.

When dough has doubled in size, punch down with your fist, and quickly knead it for a minute. Using a rolling pin, roll dough out to a 16" by 20" rectangle. With a spoon or a brush, coat dough with the cinnamon filling. Roll dough working from one 20" side to the other. To cut into buns, slide dental floss under roll in 1.5" increments, tie in a single knot and pull both ends so the floss cuts completely through the dough. (You can also use a serrated bread knife, but the floss is much more fun.) Transfer buns to a parchment lined, deep sided baking pan. Try to leave as much space as possible between the buns, because they will  continue to grow in their second rising. Cover in plastic wrap and let rise in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, let rolls sit a room temperature while heating oven at 400F. Bake for about 15 minutes, until swirls are slightly golden and crispy. Let cool a bit before cutting. Glaze with more cinnamon filling, or pour on chocolate sauce and cover with pecan bits; enjoy immediately.

Fresh from the oven!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vegan Rice Flour Pancakes - Gluten Free

Finally, a gluten free recipe that has only one flour! I'd consider making all of my baking gluten-free if the recipes didn't always ask for a blend expensive flours. It's quite taxing on the wallet to replace the wheat flour, the economical choice, in every recipe with a mix of three of the following: tapioca, rice, garbanzo, potato, soy, corn, almond, sorghum, millet, and quinoa flours. Not to mention their respective meals and starches. Only in my fantasy kitchen are all these ingredients sitting, patiently waiting to be used and with experimented.

These reliable pancakes only ask for white rice flour, and I'd bet that the recipe is flexible enough to use brown rice flour instead if desired.

Along with the perfect ratio of alternative flours, gluten free baked products are commonly held together with a touch of xanthan gum to go the gluten's job of binding and providing elasticity. Unfortunately, at $12/8oz bag, xanthan gum is something I have not had the luxury of baking with. And I don't want the absence of this one ingredient to discourage you from breaking the all-purpose habit even now and then. So these cuties are bound with tofu and banana, with none of the taste.

The secret to these pretty pancakes is to let the batter chill overnight. I'm sure a few hours would suffice to, but not many people are awake and functional a few hours before they want to eat pancakes. So the night before, mix everything together to form the batter. And the next morning, all you have to go is heat up the griddle and get flippin'!

That is amazing thing about these pancakes: they look and taste like normal, all-purpose flour, gluten-full pancakes. I would have never guessed that they had banana, tofu, coconut milk, even oats. The cake cooked up very uniformly and evenly. While semisweet on their own, they beg to be pampered with maple syrup, fruit, and whipped nondairy cream. And I wouldn't be one to stop you from tossing in the batter a half a cup of vegan chocolate chips either.

Always remember the rules of perfect pancake making:
1. If there is wheat flour in the batter, be careful not to overmix. Mix wet and dry ingredients together and stop when they are just mixed. Overmixing will result in rubbery cakes. Fortunately, with a gluten free recipe this problem is completely avoided, because there is no gluten that can get overdeveloped.
2. Add enough liquid to get the batter to the just pourable consistency. Insert a spoon and remove it; the batter should nicely coat the back of the spoon. If it is too thick or looks solid, slowly add more water.
3. Let the batter chill overnight. This lets the flour get well-hydrated.
4. Use a 1/4 measuring cup to quickly drop and spread cakes into perfect circles.
5. Flip pancakes only once. When bottom is done, flip to cook other side, there is no going back.
6. Do not press cakes with the back of your spatula. I have no idea why this is feels so instinctive to us humans. The air created from the baking soda and vinegar needs to stay in there to create a fluffy pancake, so no pushing it out.
Now you're ready to go!

Gluten Free Pancakes
Yields a generous dozen 5" cakes

1/2 block of silken tofu
1 very ripe banana
1 cup water, plus more as needed
1/3 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

2 cups white rice flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg

1/2 cup walnut pieces, optional

In a high-spend blender, mix tofu, banana, water, coconut milk, agave, vanilla, and vinegar until smooth. In a large bowl mix the flour, oats, and baking soda. Pour blender mix into dry ingredients and incorporate well to get an even batter. If too thick, add more water. Fold in walnut pieces.Let chill overnight. Batter will thicken up again, so the next morning add more water to get it that just-pourable consistency.

Using a 1/4 measuring cup, pour batter into even circle on a hot griddle (400F). When edges begin to dry, flip and cook until bottom is golden. As much as you may be tempted to, do not press down on the pancakes, and only cook each side once. Serve immediately with maple syrup.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Lazy Samoas": Chocolate Coconut Cookies

 The "Lazy Samoa", a creation of the The Post Punk Kitchen, is known in the vegan cookie community as the alternative to the popular Girl Scout Cookie.

"Lazy" because, unlike its go-getting forefather who can only be obtained through ambitious small girls in funky green uniforms, these cuties feel more nourishing, as they are solely powered by coconut and chocolate. That said, they still will quite possibly be the most surprisingly yummy cookie that no one will believe are homemade.

For the chocolate and toasted coconut lover who wants a chewy cookie, put down the purple box and get you and your sweettooth in the kitchen.

The Lazy Samoas from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar will impress all of your omnivorous and herbivorous friends. (And I don't say that about every vegan dessert I make, remember those Beet Cookies that we agreed not to bring to social events with people who already are suspicious of a cookie without butter, let alone with beets in them?).

Lazy Samoas / Chocolate Coconut Cookies
Yields 2 dozen

2 cups shredded coconut flakes, toasted
1/3 cup coconut oil (I used melted Earth Balance)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup almond or any nondairy milk
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
1 1/2 teaspoon  vanilla extract
1 cup white wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup vegan chocolate chips
2 tablespoons coconut oil

Heat oven to 350F. Lightly grease or parchment-line two baking sheets.

To toast coconut, heat in a dry saucepan until lightly browned. They can go from brown to burned quickly,  so remove from heat as soon as golden and let cool.

In a large bowl, beat oil, sugar, almond milk, flax, and vanilla with a hand mixer until smooth. Sift in flour, baking soda, and salt. Fold in toasted coconut.

Using a tablespoon, measure out cookies and place 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Shape a hole in each; if your hands get sticky have a bowl of water nearby to dip your fingers in. Flatten down each cookie and bake for 8 minutes, until bottoms are light brown. Cool on sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

While cookies are cooling, melt chocolate chips in a double boiler. Stir in oil. Turn off heat and let sit for a minute to cool down enough to handle comfortably. Have parchment-line baking sheets cooled in the fridge and remove when cookies are cooled and ready to be chocolated.

Using an offset spatula or spreading knife, lightly line each cookie's bottom with chocolate. Let firm in fridge while you transfer remaining melted chocolate into a pastry bag, then give each cookie some stripes of chocolate on top. Or you could just skip the whole pastry bag thing and use a spoon to drizzle some rebellious patterns over. Let set in fridge until chocolate is firm and enjoy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Double Chocolate Cookies

How can I thank my hosts, for whom without I would not have been able to get this perfect internship experience in San Francisco?  Well, if I were offering my home to a baker, I would have expected some desserts. I told them I was theirs to be taken advantage of, and they ordered brownies. I couldn't find a deep baking sheet, so Double Chocolate Cookies it was. Soft, a bit chewy, light, and seriously chocolatey, these are a touch cakey, make them into bars and you'd have a brownie. Shape them into cookies and you have a pillow of heaven.
Double Chocolate Pillows

These were based off of the (never home)maker's Vegan Chocolate Chip Mint Cookies. I made some adjustments to fit. I used a light olive oil to bake with, which I was surprisingly amazed with the results, but feel free to use a canola or grapeseed if that's what you've been dealt.

Double Chocolate Cookies
Yields 50 cookies

2 3/4 cup white wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 cup light olive oil, or any baking oil
1 cup agave nectar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup vegan chocolate chips, melted in a double boiler
3/4 cup vegan chocolate chips to be kept whole

Heat oven to 350F. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line them with parchment paper. Melt the 3/4 cup of chocolate chips in a small metal bowl over boiling water.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together oil, agave, vanilla, and melted chocolate chips until well mixed. Add dry ingredients to wet, mix well. Fold in remained 3/4 cup of chocolate chips.

Flat, rugged edge
Use a tablespoon to measure cookies. For pillow-shapes, tightly pack a tablespoon with dough. Pop out of spoon, roll between hands into a ball, and transfer to baking sheet. For a flat cookie with rustic edges, scoop out a tablespoon of the dough, do not press or level off, and drop onto sheet. Use your fingers to flatten the middle. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned on bottom. Cool for 5 minutes before enjoying.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Beet Cookies ... Plus Continuing My Way Through The Bay

 It's Tuesday! That can only mean one thing: Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. I must say, it is really easy and delicious to eat locally when you are in California. I recognized some of the farms from working at Millennium, how's that for community? One great thing about this farmers market was the free samples of produce at nearly every table. After trying all of the peaches and nectarines I could handle, I headed right to Donna's Tamales stand, all made without meat or lard! (If eating at Millennium has got me hooked on two things, it's the end pieces of brownies and tamales.)
Donna's has vegetarian and vegan tamales, plus vegan tapioca pudding, which was really hard to say no to, but will have to wait for another time.

The first one eaten had black beans, carrot, corn, and peppers. The second was the  "dessert" tamale with  pineapple and plantains.

Next I came across the nicest "peeple" that I met last year in SF: Pepples Donuts!

It was really hard to make up my mind, but decided on the Plum (My new-found plum obsession can also be blamed on Millennium). I had the lemon one last year, plus a week ago from Cole Coffee. The seller said that on the weekends they serve yeast donuts, looks like I just might have to go back...:)

I wish the plum was incorporated into the dough and not just the icing, but who can stay mad at a face like this?

I needed a small detox break from the sugar, so I found my way to THE PLANT Cafe. I was intrigued by their use of fennel in a juice, so I ordered the Apple-Fennel-Mint. It was a bit smaller that I would have liked for the price, but for the few seconds it lasted, it was amazing.
Fennel loves you.

Keep walking along Embarcadero and you'll find TCHO, the only chocolate factory in the city, and the only one ever to be on a pier. The place is small so the tour was short, but the tastings were incredible. All of their "flavors", Fruity, Nutty, Citrus, and Chocolatey, have the same ingredients and are not "flavored" at all, but have undertones naturally developed by different types of cacao fruit. My favorite? The Nutty, of course.

I ordered a TCHO shot, which unlike hot cocoa (one of the only foods that grosses me out), is made from melted chocolate, like chocolate was originally ingested by the Mayans. This shot was something I could get used to: drinking this I totally understood all those research articles that claim that chocolate has the same effect on the body as falling in love. It was euphoric, and with none of the commitment or baggage of an actual relationship.

I'm not digging this recurring theme of small cups, although I don't think I could have handled any more nirvana.

Feeling at though I should end my day on something more down-to-earth, I went back to Berkeley to try the highly-praised Cafe Gratitude, which completely went above and beyond all of the hype. Half of the menu is raw, half is cooked, with only raw desserts, everything organic, vegan, and gluten-free.

Inside was the comfort and hospitality that really convinced me that I was eating in someone's home. I felt even more so ordering the "I Am Warm-Hearted: grilled polenta with a fresh puttanesca sauce, topped with cashew ricotta and Brazil nut Parmesian". I have the Natural Gourmet Institute to thank for my polenta-love (but don't worry, Millennium did encourage that too).

This just might be the most Italian meal I've ever eaten and enjoyed so much. I've made my ancestors proud.

This was actually a lot of food, but I pulled through and made room for dessert. I don't think I've ever even had tiramisu, but any other 'misu would have been obsolete anyway. "I Am Rapture: Seasonal Tiramisu Layer Cake" was the best decision I've made all week. 'Twas my first time with a raw cake too, and what an experience 'twas. Made from coconut, almond, agave, cocoa, more coconut, vanilla, and coconut flakes.
Completely raw in every sense of the word.
The other desserts to pick from were also very tempting. If the Saturn Cafe was the place to bring all my friends, than Gratitude is where I take only the most important, meaningful people in my life. Bringing anyone else might send the wrong message.

Raw Chocolate and Coconut Mousses.

Raw Dark Chocolate Nuggets and Special Chocolate Truffles

Raw Key Lime Torte
 One big thing that stuck with me about Cafe Gratitude was their "I Am Grateful: Our community-supported grain bowl. Shredded kale with local brown rice, black beans, and tahini-garlic sauce. We created this bowl to allow for those in financial need to have access to organic vegan food. Payment is by donation. No one is turned away." So even though I ate alone I got to buy dinner for someone in need, how cool is that?

As if pondering all the things you were grateful for while eating wasn't enough they also have a question-of-the-day, today's was "What is your biggest aspiration?" A restaurant that encourages deep thinking instead of using food to numb your mind and emotions. Only in Berkeley.

The thinking never stops.
I did promise Beet Cookies somewhere in the post now didn't I?
These are a result of being resourceful in culinary school a few months ago. Every leftover scrap of food is salvaged at the Natural Gourmet, which is a good means of increasing creativity the kitchen with the food you take home. After a day of juicing, there was a ton of beet pulp remaining. Two options: toss in the compost pile or bring home to experiment with cookies. How could I say no?

Now, I'm going to let you have some of the fun of experimentation and not give you measurements. I didn't use any cups or spoons, but added until the dough held together well and tasted sweet. So next time you are juicing, don't dump that bowl of pulp! It's nutritious and fibrous, not to mention a terrific source of color.

In a large bowl, mix together beet pulp, flour (all purpose, whole wheat, or oat), and a sweetener (I used agave). If you want a red velvet cookie, add a few spoonfuls of cocoa powder and drops of vanilla. Top with a walnut piece, bake on a lined/greased sheet at 350F for about 7-10 minutes, until lightly browned.

One bit of advice: Please don't go on making these for your omnivorous friends, these are a bit of an acquired taste, to say the least. These are not going to win over anybody, unless you know they really like beets. If beets aren't your thing, try using the pulp left behind after juicing carrots or apples.
My main points with these cookies are
1. Be resourceful with every edible part of the plant. You get maximum nutrition by eating the whole food, and especially if you do a lot of juicing, that's a lot of food that goes to waste.
2. Be confident in venturing forward without a recipe. Follow your tongue.
3. Be creative and take risks.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Apricot Anise Cookies ... Plus Eating My Way Through Berkeley

I've completed my internship at Millennium Restaurant and now I have a whole week to explore the Bay Area before heading back home. And by explore, I most definitely mean eat my way through. I got very used to sitting down to a gourmet vegan dinner every night, now I'm attempting to fill the Chocolate-Almond-Midnight-shaped hole in my heart.

Today I hit up Berkeley. It may not seem like a lot of food, but this was a lot of sugar, all within 6 hours, plus my body was still used to the internship eating schedule of a small fruit breakfast that lasted me until dinner nine hours later. 

First stop, breakfast at the Nabolom Bakery.
Day-old scones were 40% off, and I swear it tasted like it was an August.
 Vegan Apple Pecan Scone

And a fresh brownie, they gave me an end piece. That's love.
Gluten Free Vegan Gooey Brownie

Now for a pick me up from Razan's Organic Kitchen. Not the most informative picture, you'll have to trust me on this one.
Banana Blueberry Soy Smoothie

Lunchtime at Saturn Cafe. This is the place I want to bring my friends, because it's affordable, a good balance of indulgent and healthy, and damn cute. Glitter and comic book strips galore.

Vegan Nachos - This was a half-order!

Vegan cupcakes, too full to order one this time around, but they sure looked fine.

Had to take digestion break. Berkeley knows how to organize their bookstores, everything for the tortured-lovesick soul in one corner.

Pick me up No. 2: Latte. I did a thorough Google Street View check and still cannot figure out where I stopped for coffee. Can't find a receipt either. It was corner somewhere?
EDIT: Found it walking around the next day, turns out it belongs to Berkeley Espresso.

I thought I was done for the day until I came across C.R.E.A.M., which had vegan chipwiches! Probably not the best idea, should have just gone for the ice cream, the cookies were enormous. Who am I kidding, it was a great. They warmed the cookies up first which made for the fastest, messiest treat ever.
Not pictured: the long line of people that went out the door

Cherry between banana walnut chocolate chip = a meal

After a day of sugar and caffeine, I'm actually a bit more stable that I would have imagined. Still a bit wired though. And this is just Monday. Tomorrow's a chocolate-factory tour, plus my new obsession: tamales!
Because I can't expect you to read a post unless it has a great recipe, and because I can't go on spilling all of Millennium's secrets, here's a recipe for Apricot Anise cookies that are loosely based off of a recipe I created for them.

Apricot Anise Cookies

1 cup vegetable oil, preferably grapeseed or safflower
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon anise
3/4 cup diced dried apricot

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease or line two baking sheets.

With a mixer, cream the oil, sugar, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, and anise. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the mixer until well incorporated. Fold in apricot pieces.

Using a tablespoon, drop dough about 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake for 5-7 minutes, until slightly golden.