Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Peanut Butter Ice Cream

I'm warning you now that as summer approaches this blog might devolve from a baking blog into a blog devoted to frozen desserts. Maybe a few raw treats too, but I know I'm not going to want to turn on my oven. Baking in the summer heat is like going to bikram yoga without feeling better about your health after! I went to a few bikram yoga classes last summer and was not the biggest fan. But then again I think it's definitely one of those practices that many people hate while doing it, but love it after they have left. I just can't get over with overwhelming sweaty-ness. Yoga poses that I could do in my sleep become something completely challenging because there are ounces of salt water dripping into my eyes and causing my feet to slip across my mat. No thanks! I will stick to antigravity yoga. Still a bit of the shock factor, but I find it much more rewarding. Hanging upside down for a few minutes at a time stretches out my spine and limbs in ways that I crave.

leaves and flours vegan peanut butter ice cream

Speaking of craving, I have been daydreaming about all sorts of ice cream and sorbet and popsicle flavor combinations. I'm feeling really inspired by The Vegan Scoop. I've made several recipes now, and all of them have exceeded my expectations. This peanut butter ice cream was no different. Chock full of peanut butter, it tasted just like the inside of a frozen Reese's cup. To keep up with the frozen Reese's cup taste, I sandwiched a scoop of ice cream between two chocolate chocolate chip cookies. It was a mess. I was far too impatient to wait for the ice cream to harden enough to cut it with a cookie cutter, so I just scooped a mostly frozen blob of ice cream on the cookies and devoured it. Be thankful that I spared you from the pictures. It was gluttonous and magical and sinfully sweet.
If you are a fan of nut or seed butters, then this recipe is something you should definitely try out. I'm sure it would be just as wonderful with almond butter or sunflower butter!
Are you a yoga fan? Or do you have another favorite type of exercise? My gym hours have been on a resurgence with all the recipe testing I have had to do for work lately. I do a one hour antigravity class once a week, and then mostly stick to the elliptical and a few weight machines the other days. I use to be a huge fan of zumba and spin, but our the classes at my gym are so packed that it's difficult to make it in. I've done a few kickboxing classes, but none are offered at my current gym. I'm interested in trying a few other things. Do you go to a gym or workout at home? Do you have a favorite workout video?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pizza, Soda, & Donuts, Oh My.

Unless I am traveling home to Tennessee to visit with my parents & friends, then I am traveling with the intention of eating wild food. Vegan food tourism is something that I whole heartedly buy into, which is maybe why I am so jealous of Kristin at Will Travel for Vegan Food!
We had a whirlwind weekend in Philadelphia and NYC for my partner's birthday. We drove from DC to Philly Friday afternoon, which ended up taking almost four hours! Traffic was so terrible, but we had a batch of fresh baked vegan M&M cookies (post coming soon!) to keep us content. As soon as we arrived, we ate at Blackbird pizzeria (for the first of 3 times). Their cubano sandwich is phenomenal if you like smoked tofu. Their pizza crust is also amazing. I generally stick to the plain or veggie slices, but if you want a lot of toppings you should definitely get the Haymaker! Blackbird also carries a few sodas, but I am always intrigued by the DRY flavors. This time I got a vanilla bean DRY soda, and it was by far my favorite that they offer.
We got breakfast Saturday morning at Grindcore House, another steady favorite. I always get a whole wheat everything bagels with scallion cream cheese, iced coffee, and a Vegan Treats cannoli. Greg always gets a Vegan Treats peanut butter brownie. We are definitely consistent.
After lots of walking around Philly, another trip to Fante's kitchen supply store, and lunch at Blackbird again, we took a Megabus to NYC.
Our bus ended up being pretty late. While we missed out on ice cream at Lula's, we still made it to a friend's birthday BBQ and our main plan for the weekend. If you haven't heard of Sleep No More, you should immediately look it up. It's an interactive theatre performance set in a 6 story hotel. The performance is a 3 hour production of Macbeth set in the 1920's. It is three hour long loops with a finale at the end. Once in the hotel there is no speaking, you must wear your mask at all times, and you are responsible for your own experience. You basically are allowed to wonder around this giant hotel, touch anything, and follow any character. It is mindblowing! We are already determined to go back again.

leaves and flours vegan dun well doughnuts
Strawberry sprinkle doughnut from Dun-Well

Sunday morning, I was insistent on getting Dun-Well Doughnuts before our bus left. I have had their donuts before, but never been to their shop. My housemate brought some home on April Fool's Day and hid them from us. When I found them, I bit into what I thought was a chocolate glazed donut. Much to my disappointment, it turned out to be a Mexican hot chocolate donut. I am not a spice person at all, so I got pranked twice. Needless to say, I was excited to judge them on their other not spicy flavors. Between the two of us we got a dozen and a half donuts. I ate six donuts in two days. I got a chocolate glaze, raspberry jelly filled, blueberry glaze, strawberry glaze with sprinkles, and two cinnamon sugars. I wasn't a huge fan of either the strawberry or blueberry glaze. But the rest of the donuts were really solid. My partner's favorite is easily the PB&J. He got I think 4 or 5 of them. Even though I am not a big PB&J fan, I took a bite of one and it was really great. I know their flavors vary every day, depending on what they make, so I am excited to try more in the future!
I also had an odd realization after eating so many donuts. While Dun-Well's were all delicious, it dawned on me that I really prefer baked donuts. I feel like all the subtle flavors in the glaze and in the donuts themselves get lost in the overwhelming taste of oil.

leaves and flours vegan mighty o donuts
Assorted dozen from Mighty O

Do you love donuts? I really LOVE the donuts from Mighty O. When Greg visited Seatle for work, he mailed me a dozen donuts! He really gets me. Maybe someday I will also make it to Las Vegas so I can get a few from Ronald’s, or Portland so I can get VooDoo! Then I think I will have all my vegan donut bases covered.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lavender Shortbread

leaves and flours vegan lavender shortbread cookies

Spring always messes with my head. Partially because of allergies, but also because of all the weather fluctuations. It's raining, and then a few fours later it's all sunshine. The temperature is all over the place, with really cool mornings and sometimes downright hot afternoons. Shortbread is such a spring treat to me. It's not too sweet, so it's perfect with a cup of tea on a chilly morning or during a rain shower. Yet the lavender adds those subtle floral notes that remind you to keep you chin up because summer is on the way.
I used a recipe very similar to the the shortbread in Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookies Jar or you could use the shortbread crust recipe from Vegan Pie in the Sky. I added 3/4 tbsp of culinary lavender to the dough. If you slightly chop the lavender or at least crush the buds between your fingers before adding it, it will help the flavors release into the dough. I pressed my shortbread into 4" tart pans. I filled them to the top because I wanted a thick cookie. I sprinkled them with vanilla sugar, and baked them for about 35 minutes. The sugar gives the tops a really beautiful shine and nice texture. After they cooled for 30 minutes I removed them from the tart pans, and cut the circles into quarters. If filling the pans as full as I did, you should have 2 full pans, and and then a bit of extra dough.
If eating shortbread by itself isn't your cup of tea, a lavender shortbread crust would really amp up a lemon or berry tart.

leaves and flours vegan lavender shortbread cookies

Friday, April 20, 2012

Vanilla Sugar

This has been such an overwhelming seven days. I had a doctor's appointment to discuss my recently developed carpal tunnel syndrome, baked a bunch of treats for my partner's birthday, had a whirlwind weekend in Philly/NYC, got a sinus infection, and then worked several twelve hour days trying to finish up recipe development. The sinus infection set me back a bit because I couldn't taste, and I still am having trouble hearing out of one of my ears.
The bakery has inspections today, and pending that we pass, I will start in the new space on Monday! While it's all very exciting, I fully expect to work 50 plus hours next week trying to wrap things up before May. We need to place food orders, price cost everything, bake everything, train my assistant, and I still have to finish up all the recipes. Whew!
Aside from lavender, there is one other smell that instantly soothes my nerves. And that's fresh vanilla beans. However, I have this terrible habit of splurging on vanilla beans, and then "saving" them for something special. But they end up sitting around for far too long because I don't want to waste them on anything that might not be perfect. I was creating a package for a Vegan Secret Swap I participate in and decided to include a jar of homemade vanilla sugar. It's a great use for vanilla beans (especially ones that have toughened a bit), and helps you savor them for infinitely longer.

leaves and flours vegan vanilla sugar

If you are going to give someone a jar of vanilla sugar, I highly recommend adding the seeds from a split vanilla bean to 1/3-1/2 cup raw sugar. The flecks of the beans make it look incredibly elegant. If you are into being a bit more resourceful, there is another option. After you scrape a vanilla bean pod for some delicious ice cream or caramel, rather than throw away the pod store it in a small jar of sugar. The flavor will still seep into the sugar. The longer you let the vanilla sugar sit, the stronger the flavor will be! It's generally best to wait at least a few days before using your sugar.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Strawberry Lavender Gelato

leaves and flours vegan strawberry lavender gelato ice cream

Last week I saw a quart of early season strawberries in my local organic market, and I knew I needed to turn them into ice cream. Last summer I had a strawberry lavender gelato at the restaurant Cafe Green here in DC. While I have really mixed feelings about the food and service at Cafe Green, it was one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. This was my first attempt to replicate it.

Strawberry Lavender Gelato
2 tbsp arrowroot
2 tbsp lavender blossoms
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
3/4 C sugar
1 C soy creamer
1 C almond milk
3 C strawberries

Wash & hull the strawberries. Puree and set aside. In small bowl, mix 1/3 cup almond milk with arrowroot and set aside. In medium sauce pan combine sugar, creamer, lavender, and remaining almond milk. Bring to a boil. Stir in slurry until slightly thickened, around 2 minutes. Remove from heat and seive to remove lavender blossoms. Add the strawberry puree to the ice cream base through the sieve to remove seeds, or simply stir in if the seeds are desired. Add lemon juice and coconut oil. Refrigerate until chilled and process according to ice cream machine directions.

For a first attempt I think this was a decent ice cream. However, it is not as creamy as I desired it to be. When I make it again, I think I will slightly reduce the amount of strawberries added and use only creamer.
Are you a fan of lavender? It seems to be one of those controversial flavors that people either love or hate. I have a few more lavender recipes up me sleeve this spring, and am hoping to convince a few more people that lavender doesn't have to taste like soap.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Baked Speculoos Donuts

leaves and flours vegan baked speculoos cookie butter donuts

Speculoos, Biscoff spread, cookie butter... call it what you will, but it's just as delicious by any name. I had a fear that cookie butter was going to be a seasonal item at Trader Joe's so I bought two jars to save. In the same week, I saw not one, but TWO recipes for baked speculoos donuts & realized that Biscoff spread was consistently available at a World Market near my gym.
When one of my friends and I scheduled a baking date but weren't able to make the pignoli cookies she had hoped for, I knew it was time to crack open the jars of cookie butter.
So we set in for a long afternoon of mixing, dough rising, and the heavenly smell of donuts baking. We used both Celine of Have Cake Will Travel's yeast recipe & Nikki of the Tolerant Vegan's cake donut recipe. All in all, it took us around 4 hours to complete both recipes and induce sugar comas. We started Celine's recipe first as it needs such a long time to rise. As you let the dough do its first rise, you have plenty of time to complete the cake donuts. We frosted the cake donuts during the second rise of the yeast donuts. By them time we had finished decorating the cake donuts, it had only been around 30 minutes but I knew I couldn't wait any longer to put the yeast donuts in the oven. They still rose quite a bit during baking, so I don't think it made a huge difference.

leaves and flours vegan baked speculoos cookie butter donutsleaves and flours vegan baked speculoos cookie butter donutsleaves and flours vegan baked speculoos cookie butter donuts

I definitely preferred the texture of the yeast donut. It was thick and dense, with a heavy crumb. The extra spices added to the batter really pumped up the flavor of the speculoos. The cake donuts were also incredibly delicious, but their texture just wasn't as interesting to me. However, I definitely preferred Nikki's cookie butter ganache. The chocolate ganache was nice, but the chocolate sort of overwhelmed the speculoos flavor. If you were only going to make one batch of donuts, I would also halve the chocolate ganache recipe. I made a half batch and it went very, very far.
We went for a mish mash of donut and ganache combinations. Their was dipping and drizzling, and crumbling cookies on top. If you are looking for speculoos like cookies, Trader Joe's had a brand called Bistro Biscuits or you can maybe find a bag of Biscoff cookies at a World Market.
These donuts were all phenomenal, but my favorite combination was the yeast donut with cookie butter drizzle and a handful of crushed cookies on top.
We used a jar and a half of speculoos for this project! If you are looking for something else to bake with the speculoos, I've also used it to make snickerdoodles and frost cupcakes. Happy baking!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bird's Nest Cupcakes

leaves and flours vegan bird's nest cupcakes

Spring is rapidly approaching. The last few weeks I have seen birds foraging for the best nest building material, and slowly tucking it away in the tall trees in the corner of my yard. I've even seen a few eggs! Robin's eggs are one of the most beautiful natural colors. Growing up it was even my favorite crayon shade. I was inspired by Bake at 350's cupcakes last year, and knew I would try them out this spring.
Obviously not as lovely as hers, but at least no eggs were broken while I was making them. I used by standby sugar cookie recipe. As I already had a leftover batch of frosting laying around, I opted out of the royal icing decorations. As I was attempting to speckle the eggs, I realized this was a mistake. As Bake at 350 had used royal icing, her speckles smoothly sunk into the icing when the brown dye was mixed with water. As I had used an oil based frosting to ice the cookies, I should have mixed my brown dye with a few drops of oil to have the same effect. My water on top of oil mixture led them to dry in a less than attractive manner, giving them the appearance of moldy cookies as my partner pointed out. OOPS! So now you know. It might be easier to just use royal frosting, which is going to look a lot smoother anyways. So much for being resourceful this time.
Just top your cupcakes with a mound of frosting, roll them in toasted coconut, and stick the mini eggs on toothpicks into the cake. I couldn't mind a mini egg stencil, so I free handed them with a paring knife and tried to smooth the dough's edges with my fingertips prior to baking. I also tried to have lots of various shades in the toasted coconut to make them appear more nest like.
This was a lot of fun, and I'm sure little kids would love getting involved in this project. Have you been crafty in the kitchen lately?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pistachio Cream Cupcakes

You might think with my little blogging hiatus that I had stopped baking at home for a bit, but it's actually much sillier than that. I have been baking away and have several things I have been meaning to share with the blogosphere, but haven't really found the time to write. But I think that's actually a good thing. It means that I am learning to relax a little and not feel guilty that about spending most of my free time catching up with friends rather than typing on my keyboard in front of the TV or in an empty coffee shop.
Things have been a little hectic in my life in the best way possible. This week marks the beginning of full time recipe development-testing phase. Yesterday I baked about twelve recipes of 4 different cookies. I picked my favorite batch of each cookie for taste testing. Two of them were approved, and the other two require minor changes that I mostly insisted on. There was even an oatmeal raisin cookie that I actually liked! Who would have imagined it?! I also created a pretty dreamy vegan rendition of the grocery store sugar cookie with that thick creamy frosting. Yesterday I also found out that my assistant has been hired, that the bakery renovation is two weeks ahead of schedule, and that there is now a complete line of natural, vegan food colorings in tons of shades!
The rest of the week I plan on knocking out recipes for the remaining cookies, all the bars & brownie/blondies. Then it's on to cakes & pies. I'm excited to start making lists of all my ingredients I need to order, all the bakeware I need to set up shop, and finally see the labels that will go on all my products!

leaves and flours pistachio cream cupcake

So today you are going to have to settle for a simple, yet delicious cupcake. You can also be assured that there are several extravagant desserts coming soon as well. This cake is one of my favorite flavors, vanilla bean. Just add 1 tsp of vanilla bean paste or the seeds of 1 scraped vanilla bean to your favorite white or yellow cake recipe.
The pistachio cream frosting is part of the recipe for a vegan chocolate pistachio whoopie pie from Natalie of Bake & Destroy. When I made those whoopie pies, I knew that cream would end up on top of a cake in the near future. It's such a great sweet & salty combination. If you don't want to tint the frosting with a tube of chemical dye, then I suggest using concentrated chlorophyll. I used it for these cupcakes, and got the exact shade I wanted. If you are trying to get a bright green you might notice a slightly salty, earthy taste but you won't notice that if you are trying to achieve a mint color. Also, I highly suggest that no one ever tries to dye sweets bright green with spinach powder. I found out this year that it will make beautiful hand stenciled shamrock cookies taste like vegetables. Live & learn.
I hope everyone is enjoying this really great spring weather, and maybe even the joy of early season produce! What's exciting in your lives?