I Just Love Cheese Cake! A very “Sweet” Daring Bakers Challenge (and a 60-Day Project update)

whisk_w180x180

Before I get to this month’s delicious Daring Bakers challenge, I’d like to say thank you to three wonderful bloggers and participants in the 60-Day Project for my mother’s 60th’s birthday: Tacha of Haines, Jessica of Awesome. Vegan. Rad, and Miss V of Miss V’s Vegan Cookbook. It would be impossible for me to articulate the joy this project has brought my mother. Her fragile health has really isolated her from the “outside” world, and these bits of happiness coming from all over the world are such a ray of sunshine.

I wish I could make you each a lovely vegan cheese cake to thank you. I could make you a vegan cheesecake, but I doubt it would survive the post from France to you! I guess I could eat it for you, too (yes, I would do that for you. I’m a giver). If I did make you a vegan cheese cake, I would want to make you the most delicious, and healthy cake possible, because I like you and I want you to have your cake and be healthy, too.

Making a delicious vegan cheese cake isn’t really very difficult : you can make any number of tofu variations, mouth-watering raw “cheese” cakes, and if you don’t mind the hydrogenated oils, you can make vegan cream cheese versions, too. When this month’s Daring Bakers challenge was announced, I was rather excited, because I love cheese cake. It’s one of my very favourite desserts, and I’d like to thank Jenny of Jenny Bakes for offering us such a straight-forward and honest challenge. A cheese cake is like a blank canvas – you can make it as elaborate or as basic as you wish.

I considered many possibilities to fancy this up : key lime or lavender flavoured cake, or maybe an elaborate coulis to add a touch of sophistication, finally settling on one of my family’s favourite cheese cake recipes, by one of my very favourite bloggers (and good friend) Ricki of Diet, Dessert and Dogs. This recipe makes a beautiful, “genuine” cheese cake in all it’s authentic-tasting glory. It’s like a good friend or your favourite pair of jeans : it just feels right. It doesn’t need any fancy sauce or flavouring to state it’s case – it stands on its own two feet with grace.

sweet-freedom-cheese-cake31This luscious vegan cheese cake usually has a lovely lattice top crust, but my sous-chef (a.k.a. Guppy) thieved my reserved dough and ate it. Sigh.

I first made Ricki’s cheese cake last summer for my family when I was visiting them in the United States. They have very high cheese cake standards, because my mother’s Omni cheese cake is nothing short of phenomenal. Suffice it to say they were all “bluffé” as we say in French – bluffed – by the light as chiffon texture in tandem with the deep, rich, lemony cheesy taste this cake has to offer. This has become one of my family’s “classic” cheese cake favourites and easily found a home in the rotation.

You can find the recipe here, and it will be appearing in Ricki’s up-coming cookbook Sweet Freedom, available May 15th! Sweet Freedom is more than just another vegan dessert book! It’s about the freedom to enjoy desserts even if you normally can’t due to allergies and dietary restrictions, with about a quarter of the book featuring gluten-free or grain-free recipes! Ricki shows you that you can snub refined flours and sugars and still rub elbows with mouth-watering treats – yippie! You can read more about the cookbook here, or visit the official Sweet Freedom blog to drool over the amazing photos and check her Diet, Dessert and Dogs blog where she has shared some of the upcoming recipes.

Now do go check out all the Daring Baker loveliness around the net, and let’s not forget the official lingo of the month :

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

The Easiest Caramel Popcorn In The World

I’m going to fess up right now : I’m not really a popcorn fan. I have probably made popcorn a whopping 5 times in my entire life. In fact, my mother taught me how to make it last Spring when she came for a visit (and I’m counting the time we made it together in my grand total, FYI).

easiest-caramel-popcorn-ever-vegan-or-otherwise

That being said, I don’t dislike the popped-stuff, it’s just that it’s never really interested me. Except for that neon-orange used to be 99-cents for a huge bag at the gas station kind of popcorn. I bet I still have radio-active insides from loving that stuff up each time I found enough pop cans to turn in for a refund, meaning 10 cans, meaning 1 dollar of spending money. Ooohhh, the good ole days…hopping on my bike, riding around the baseball fields in search of cans to feed my 7-year-old junk food habit.

Oh, sorry. Caramel popcorn.

The weekend is often synonymous with my baking up a little something special pour le goûter, for the afternoon snack. When the baking ban was in place, it meant being creative and finding other ways to have a little lovin’ from the kitchen, because I wasn’t going to simply buy pre-made goodies. As if.

Enter the popcorn.

People do eat salty-buttery type popcorn here in France, but popcorn is more often a sweet treat, covered in caramel. When I suggested making popcorn, Monsieur Fish instantly asked, “Sais-tu en faire sucré? Manger salé à quatres heures, ça ne se fait pas!” (You know how to make it sweet? You just can’t eat salty for our afternoon snack!). “Bah, ouais, bien sûr!” (Duh, of course!) was my reply. Then I went into the kitchen to find the books that would show me how. Duh.

So here’s the deal, I found three recipes in my various vegan cookbooks, and each of them are probably delicious, but they were very time consuming – like an hour of baking and turning over popcorn and being careful not to burn it- and required vegan butter to make the caramel.

Huh. There must be an easier way.

Then I remembered the quick caramel technique I learned during this Daring Bakers Challenge, and I was all over it. We made a hazelnut praline paste and used this super-quick caramel sugar technique and I’ll be a monkey’s aunt, it’s come in so handy! I love adding tools to my box!

This is approximate, so just let go of the measurements if you will. It’s also hot and sticky and can be dangerous, so be careful!

I popped up my popcorn – a big salad bowl full – and then I got out my favourite heavy pan and set the burner to med-high. I poured in probably about 1 cup’s worth of sugar, maybe more, maybe less, I have no idea. Then, you wait. Don’t stir, don’t go get a drink of water, and don’t take a nap. Stand next to that pan, because in a matter of instants it’ll turn into the most lovely caramel. Do be vigilant because it can burn really, really fast. Once the centre starts to melt into caramel you can swirl your pan around if you find the sides aren’t catching on. Then just carefully pour this over your popcorn, tossing with a big wooden spoon because it hardens fast.

Repeat if necessary.

I repeated.

the-easiest-caramel-popcorn-ever-vegan

I suppose you could add a little salt if you like that kind of thing, too.

If this isn’t clear, please let me know and I’ll try to elucidate you my dear reader, because this is totally worth trying. There are pictures of the process in this post, so check it out if you’re not sure!

I’m feeling so special!

The 60-Day Project has gotten off to a delicious start!

maggiesamazingcuppas

Look at those phenomenally-gorgeous mini-cupcakes that the dear Maggie of Dog Hill Kitchen made for my mum, aka Mammafish! Not only did Maggie put love, time and genuine effort into this sweet birthday gift, but she delivered them personally to my mother! I know not everyone lives close enough to bring her something sweet – heaven knows I can’t - and when Maggie said she was up for a “special delivery” I was just giddy with excitement. She even made them vegan! She also threw in a jar of her homemade quince jam made with organic quince from her father-in-law’s garden! Talk about an extended-family affair! Maggie’s got the recipe for the Strawberry-Topped Vegan Lemon Mini-Cupcakes up on her blog if you want to make some for your mother (or for yourself!).

Thanks again, Maggie! You are a real friend, and you made my mother’s (and father’s) day!

Riding the high from knowing how well this first surprise went and hearing the joy in my mother’s voice over the telephone, I stumbled upon two other (much less important) surprises! My humble little blog got two very special mentions this weekend and I’m feeling so snazzy-pants about it!

Erik Marcus featured my Vegan Spinach Pasta from the March Daring Bakers Challenge on Vegan.com! I must admit, I was feeling a little sparkly!

vegan-spinach-pasta-dough21

And the Feeling Stitchy blog gave a special mention to my Little Bear which I literally just happened upon. I clicked on the blog and began scrolling down and was like, “hey, that bear looks like mine…it is mine!”. How flattering!

little-bear1

I obviously wish that I had come up with this cute little bear, but anyone can stitch themselves one! Just visit Hillary Lang’s Wee Wonderfuls blog, and you can score yourself a free pattern, too!

We’re about to begin an exciting week! April is just a few days away, Friday is my mother’s birthday and I’m feeling really excited about getting gifty-projects ready  for Easter and Guppy’s birthday. Have a great week!

Shameless Self-Promotion and Happy Mail

group_w200x150

If you enjoy reading food blogs, than chances are good that you’ve heard of The Daring Bakers –  you may even be a member. There have been some major changes happening with my favourite monthly baking rendez-vous and I am so excited to invite you to visit The Daring Kitchen. This brand new website is open to members and non-members alike and has lots of great weekly features like member spotlights, cookbook reviews and fun and informative food articles… like my new article that just went up yesterday on crêpes. So head over to the new site, check out the bells and whistles, read my article (duh!) and hey, if you haven’t already, why don’t you sign up to be a Daring Baker? Baking not quite your thing? Well, have no fear, because now you can sign up to be a Daring Cook! That’s right, we’re going to move our daring to the savory side of things, and as always Alternative Daring Cooks are more than welcome to help show the world that une cuisine sans cruauté is not just possible, it’s delicious! The first Daring Cooks challenge will be announced on April 17 so you have time to get in on the fun – head over to The Daring Kitchen and sign up today!

And now for some rather over-due Happy Mail thanks. First a big merci to Sophie of Her Heart, My Hands for this lovely loot  that I won (weeee!):

dsc00479

My lovely package contained the most delicious-smelling shampoo and conditioner, an adorable pin cushion and a sweet card. My hair also thanks you because this stuff is just lovely.

And because lady luck has been smiling on me, here are the fantabulous handmade bulk bags made by the supercalafragalistc Amy (aka Tahinitoo) :

bags

These little bags are the perfect sizes for all my bulk and marché shopping needs! And because Amy is a sweetums she also added an adorable handmade card (that I had to wrangle back from Guppy. Shesh, kids.) and a super-cool patch from Herbivore (or was it Food Fight! Grr, I can’t remember now, must be nice to live in Portland, OR kids!) that I can wait to sew onto something fun!

card

patch

So thank you to Sophie and Amy: you are both adorable, talented and very generous. I’m sending you virtual hugs and kisses right now!

Raw Flourless Chocolate Cake & Homemade Piña Colada Sorbet – Daring Bakers Challenge Time!

pink_db1

The instant I saw “Flourless Chocolate Cake” on this month’s challenge post, I knew I wanted to make this challenge Raw – as in raw cuisine. There have been other challenges where I could have really stretched things to allow for a raw interpretation, un peu tiré par les cheveux, as we would say in French, but this challenge just lent itself naturally to a vegan/raw possibility.

walnuts

I also knew right away which recipe I’d be using : the Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe from Jennifer Cornbleet’s Raw Food Made Easy. If you’ve ever been curious about raw cuisine, but haven’t been sure where to start, I strongly recommend this book. Unlike many popular raw foods chefs, Cornbleet offers a comprehensive collection of recipes requiring only the most basic kitchen equipment, and she forgoes the seemingly requisite list of exotic ingredients so many other raw foods chefs refer to as kitchen staples.

lovely-walnuts

This is a great recipe and I’ve blogged about it before, but I haven’t made it for a while. In fact, I’ve all but stopped concentrating on raw cuisine since my accident back in November. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m still eating crudités, raw fruit, salads, etc., but my weekly Raw Thursdays (and Tuesdays) stopped when I broke my foot. Partially because Monsieur Fish was doing most of the food prep and raw  doesn’t interest him, and also because food prices have made buying nuts and dried fruits nearly impossible for us. I’m hoping to prepare more raw meals in the near future, and I thought February’s challenge would be a wonderful opportunity to showcase a raw dessert, especially for those of you who maybe haven’t tried one yet.

nutcracker1

This is the first time I used cocoa powder rather than carob for this cake, and I used a generous half a cup rather than a third. It came out very fudgy and tasting like a tourte or as my husband said “cake batter, but in a good way”. A friend of mine has a small farm in a near-by village, and she recently gifted me two big bags of organic walnuts. What a treat – perfect for this recipe!

homemade-pina-colada-sorbet-raw-flourless-chocolate-cake

We were also supposed to make an ice cream component, and I opted to take a spin on Mark Bittman’s sorbet formula. I’ve used this basic recipe to make sorbets before – it’s really easy, fast and delicious. I wanted to try to keep it “white”ish because we were supposed to make vanilla ice cream, so I decided to honor the spirit of the challenge by maintaining the colour, though I did take a few liberties with the flavour. This could easily be made 100% raw by omitting the vanilla or by using some scraped vanilla beans. Humm, vanilla.

Piña Colada Sorbet

  • 2 cups of frozen chopped pineapple
  • 400ml coconut milk
  • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla

I put the pineapple chunks in one layer and put them in the deep freezer. I also put the coconut milk in the deep freezer – I poured it into a shallow plastic container – it was easy to break up and scoop out.

Once everything is well frozen, at least 8 hours, just pop it in your food processor. I processed the pineapple chunks first, then added the coconut milk and vanilla. When it’s nice and blended, you can either quickly eat (it’s very melty), or put it back in the deep freezer for a few hours, then re-process just before serving. I like this method because it’s nice and scoop-able.

The paring of this flourless cake and the piña colada sorbet was just heavenly! When I was a kid, I would always try to let the ice cream melt a little and mix it up with my cake. I was that kind of kid. That’s exactly what this reminded me of – so delicious!

I’d like to thank Wendy of A Charmed Life and Dharm of Dad – Baker & Chef for hosting our challenge. Do be sure to check out all the other Daring Bakers creations!

Here’s the fine print : The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

Tuile We Meet Again… Vegan Tuile Cookies! Tuiles Végétaliennes! It’s the Daring Bakers January Challenge

blue_db

What a fun and easy challenge! I loved it! The Daring Bakers were baking Tuile (pronounced tweel) this month and it was pure joy!

I’d bookmarked Vegan Yum Yum‘s recipe for Tuile Cookies back in April, but never got around to making them. What a sillyfish I was! These cookies came out perfectly : light, crisp with a hint of chew…I served these with a luscious maple-lemon custard (and of course with sprinkles, because that’s Guppy’s signature touch) and they were just heavenly. Vegan Yum Yum’s recipe is a slam-dunk, her directions clear and her style impeccable, so really I cannot take much credit for this culinary success – it’s thanks to Vegan Yum Yum!

Here’s what I did (per VYY’s instructions ) :

trace

I traced three circles in some cardboard. She’d suggested not baking more than three at a time because they cool quickly and shaping would be tricky. I followed her advice and had no problems.

tuile-mould

Using my lil’ knife and self-healing mat I cut out the circles.

dough

I put a few dollops of dough in each circle, then using a butter knife I leveled things out.

first-shaping

For a more traditional shape, I used my rolling pin. But the their traditional shape doesn’t lend itself well to filling, so I decided to use espresso cups.

cooling

Right out of the oven I would slide them onto the outside of the cup, then one by one I would pinch them into a taco shape and slide them into the cup. They retained their shape as they cooled.

taco

Here’s a cooled tuile just waiting for some maple-lemon custard…

filledtaco

Notice how the custard opened the taco just a smidge? The key is not to fill them before you’ll be eating them as the filling can lead to soggy tuiles…

stuffedtuiles

Notice how the ones on the left are all perdy and the one on the right is creeping open…it was filled about a half hour before the picture was taken. So, be sure and wait until just before serving to fill your tuiles!

This month’s challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux. Thank you both for a great challenge!

Be sure and visit the Daring Baker’s Blogroll to see all the tuile-y goodness!