Iron Cupcake World – Inaugural Challenge : Chili-Citrus Cupcakes con Orange Confit


This is the first-ever Iron Cupcake Earth challenge, and when I saw that our challenge ingredient was Chili, I was immediately transported from my provençial French home to the warm, lush city of Guadalajara, Mexico. (Ok, I don’t have some sort of monopoly on teleportation, I meant in my mind.) During my graduate work at the University of Arizona I promised myself I’d participate in their Summer in Guadalajara program where you get to hang out in one of the most beautiful and cosmopolitan cities in the gorgeous country of Mexico, take in the culture by living with a host family, and hablo & estudiar by taking Spanish classes. After a few years of living near the Mexican boarder and taking the odd Spanish class I was really excited to actually experience Mexico in an authentic way, rather than just heading with friends Puerto Peñasco and hanging out at the taco stand & lounging on the beach all weekend…

I lucked out and lived with a really lovely family for six weeks, soaking up all the culture & cuisine possible. My family had four daughters, ranging in ages from 10 to 24 and they were as diverse as could be and made my time with their family truly memorable. One of our favourite snacks when I was there was squirting fresh lime or orange juice onto watermelon hunks, then dusting with chili powder. It was heavenly. We would also do this with a very dense sort of a corn-flour lightly-sweetened chocolate cake which my Señora said was just a mistake she once made making a traditional cake but became a family favourite. I didn’t ask her for the recipe – don’t forget, up until about 2 years ago I didn’t even have a stove! I didn’t cook or bake, so I didn’t yet have that reflex. I hadn’t thought of those chili-spicy-sweet-tangy snacks in forever, and knew my mission was to embody the spirit of that délice in my cupcake.

I can’t get masa flour here in France, and it is a very special day when I can find real cornmeal, so I was a little stumped on how to recreate the texture of my host-Señora’s chocolate cakes, but looked up and saw a jar of almond meal on my shelves and had a moment of union with the universe! I started jotting down the draft for the cupcake recipe, but how to infuse it with the sweet tang of the citrus? Well, let’s get zesty! With my trusty zester in hand I got giggy with some limes & oranges, but a piece of the equation was missing… des orangettes! Or candied oranges or oranges confits! However you say it, it’s what I had in my imagination. I’d never even thought of trying to make something like that, but I did have a big, beautiful bowl of oranges on my kitchen table…

The Iron Cupcake Challenge really became a true challenge for me. I have but rarely created a pastry recipe, generally relying on my favourites from my cookbooks. I felt like some sort of vegan pastry explorer and it was thrilling. I also really got my kicks making the orangettes – if someone a few years ago told me I’d be hootin’ it up on a Friday night making candied oranges I’d have said “balderdash!”, but there you go. It was surprisingly gratifying seeing how well they turned out, and how easy they were to make. I was as giddy as a teenager who sees her high school crush (this could have been from the Saint Emilion I was sipping though…). I am thrilled to say in all sincerity that these cupcakes were (cause they are so gone) amazing, some of the best I’ve ever, ever made. I did end up making two batches to try to get the right amount of chili pepper taste, but both batches were delicious – the first one only had the slightest hint of heat. It was the texture that really had me bluffed – the almond meal gave these cakes this wonderful mouth-feel that allowed for a very light and airy crumb, but a more toothsome bite. The frosting was also just perfect (if you love chocolate…). They have a very complex flavour, but not a “bite”. My 3-year-old loved them and wasn’t overwhelmed by the spice at all.

Following are the recipes you need to recreate this deliciousness. After that is some voting info if you’d like to vote me into the upper-class of Iron Cupcake Challengeness & help me maybe win a prize. The prizes are pretty sweet : the talented CAKESPY is contributing, as is JESSIE STEELE APRONS, CUPCAKE COURIER, and TASTE OF HOME. I really like prizes, just sayin’…

Chili-Citrus Cupcakes con Orange Confit

1 batch Candied Oranges for garnish. The recipe I used is here. I blanched the orange zest three times. Reserve 2 tbsp of your syrup for frosting.

1 batch Double-Chocolate Chili-Citrus Frosting (see below)

Cupcakes

1 C. AP flour

1/2 C. Almond Meal

1/2 C. Dutch Processed Coco

1/4 C. Brown Sugar

1/4 C. Xylitol

1/2 C. Sugar

2 teaspoons Baking Powder

1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

2 teaspoons Cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon Cardamom

1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon Salt

Up to 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne (a 1/4 teaspoon will still give you a little a good dose of chili spirit)

1 tablespoon Lime Zest

1 tablespoon Orange Zest

3 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer

1 Cup Soymilk

1/3 Cup plus 2 tablespoons Canola Oil

1 teaspoon Almond extract

1 teaspoon Vanilla extract

* Using an electric mixer, blend the egg replacer until well-blended and frothy, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

* Sift all the dry ingredients EXCEPT the almond meal in a large mixing bowl. After sifted, stir in the almond meal.

*Add the remaining wet ingredients and the citrus zests to the egg replacer and mix well, then add the dry ingredients in two or three batches and mix until well blended.

*Fill cupcake liners about 2/3 full and bake for about 15 to 20 mins. at 350F. Watch carefully if you use the Xylitol because it can be sneaky and burn up on you.

Frosting

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated, non-dairy margarine, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

2/3 cups Dutch Processed cocoa powder

1 teaspoon Cayenne (opt.)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon orange extract

1 teaspoon lime zest

2 tablespoons orange sugar syrup (from candied oranges)

1 or 2 tablespoons water or non-dairy milk, as needed to thin frosting

*Sift the powdered sugar, cocoa, and Cayenne together and set aside. Cream the butter until light and fluffy, then add the sugar mixture in two or three batches until fluffyness has been regained. Then add your extracts, syrup, and milk/water if necessary.

*Frost cupcakes, decorate with the orangettes, and lightly dust with cinnamon.

And….We’re Back!

After wrapping up my long & lovely vacation in the U – S – of – A I am now back chez moi with my adorable Mr. Fish and am trying to sort through weeks of mail, suitcases, and adjust to the Guppy’s maladjustment to the time difference between France & North America! It was amazing to see my family who I just don’t get to hang with all that often, but I am SO excited to be home! It was so wonderful to see the Guppy bond with my family, and despite maintaining my 40-mile-a-week running average, I still managed to pack on nearly 2kg which I believe are primarily composed of pinto beans, green chilés and blue corn chips (all North American indulgences I just can’t easily find here!). Once I get my poop in a group I’ll have more food & fun to share…but for now here’s a little peek at what became my family’s favourite sweet treat.

Maybe you were abducted by aliens, or perhaps, simply suffering from what is referred to as “missing time”, but if you missed Melisser’s Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler with lovely video over at Julie Hasson’s Everyday Dish, well…get on over there kids! This cobbler was one of the best I’ve ever had, and I loved that it was more fruit-heavy than batter-heavy. Since I was sans cookie-cutters, but wanted to do something fun with the biscuits, I went with the Flying Saucer theme, because I’m a nerd…

One very fun thing about being on vacation near health food supermarket type stores meant I got to indulge in some vegan ice cream! The only vegan ice cream I ever eat is usually what I make myself (in that artisans non-ice cream maker way), but being on vacation I opted for the easy way out with some Soy Delicious vanilla, which complemented our U.F.Os :

I know I’ll make this for Mr. Fish once I shake off the jet-lag because I’m such a sweetie. It has nothing to do my wanting some. Of course.

An “Out-Of-The-Country” Daring Bakers July Challenge – *Vegan* Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream

As most of you know I’m away from home for a smashing summer vacation in the U.S. visiting family. When the lovely and talented Chris of Mele Cotte, this month’s hostess-with-the-mostest, posted her chosen recipe, the Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from Great Cakes by Carol Walter, well, I hesitated. Not being in my own kitchen at home in France (which is the size of a typical American broom closet…but it’s my broom closet.) I wasn’t sure if I could pull this off. When you’re home you know what’s in your cupboard, what pans and supplies you have, and where it all is.

The other consideration I had was that my “loaner” kitchen was not at all vegan, and that meant having to stock up on cruelty-free staples, but I would have had to do that anyway since I was planning on spending the better part of my six-week stay here (the house, not the kitchen). I didn’t want to miss a challenge, so I decided I would figure this out and not explode my vacation budget.

While this recipe could seem a bit daunting initially, it’s really just composed of several mini-recipes : Filbert Genoise, Sugar Syrup, Praline Buttercream (comprised of Swiss Buttercream & Praline Paste), Apricot Glaze, and finally, the Ganache Glaze. The good news was that my sister sent over some homemade raspberry jam, so I used that for the glaze rather than apricot. The bad news was that there was but one “cake” pan to be found, a 9×12″ jobber that wouldn’t do for this challenge. I had already purchased some 4″ round mini-pans to bring back to France (after falling for the adorable ones Marika showed us) and that was the extent of my pan-purchasing-power, so I decided to make mini-cakes to keep me in the game.

I used the “Vanilla Cupcakes” recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking for the Genoise, subbing a half-cup of hazelnut meal for a half-cup of flour. This recipe worked like a charm and these little babies popped right out of their pans.

I knew I had too much batter for my five little pans (which explains why they look like muffins!) but I cut off the tops and made mini-cakes for our quatre heures or afternoon tea, served with some of that raspberry jam!

The next step was to make the Praline Buttercream, and it was by far my favourite part of the recipe, and the best part of the cake! It was very fun to make (see full instructions included with the NON-VEGAN recipe at bottom of post). A cinch to make, the Praline Paste is just a sort of caramelized sugar with chopped hazel nuts mixed in (knowing I didn’t have a food processor in loaner kitchen, I opted to chop them before making the paste). I was fascinated by just pouring sugar into a pan and watching (without touching) as it melted into molten caramelish goo. Once the right temperature achieved, the transformation is über-fast, and it’s easy to be taken by surprise!

I took these two pictures sequentially, it melted that fast! I also ended up with a nasty burn on my index finger (despite Chris warning this could happen…). Sort of like wax. Oh well, I got extra cake rations for my suffering :)!

After cooling, you’re to grind this delectable rubble into the Praline Paste, but since we are sans food processor here at the loaner kitchen, I just whipped it in the blender, which did leave a more crunchy paste, but it was lovely and added a little something to the cake (I used the Buttercream recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking).

I really ran into trouble when trying to make the Ganache, and was rather frustrated because I have loads of vegan ganache recipes at home, but not here. I used soy creamer, which I know from fellow vegan bloggers usually works well, but I just couldn’t get my ganache to thicken or harden up enough to spread on the cake. It was delicious, but thin as water, even after spending a long time in the fridge. It was in the high 90sF here, which didn’t help, but still. I ended up using the reserved buttercream which I was to use for decorating and added it to the ganache, which did indeed thicken it up. I still was determined to decorate these little cakes, though, so I made a batch of the Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting from TJOVB , but subbed hazelnut butter for the peanut butter. Holy Amazing Delicious! I intended to use this to embellish the cakes… but again, I don’t have anything to decorate with. I read on-line that using baggies or plastic bags could work well. This is a big, fat, horrible lie, just so you know! Each of my attempts were met with terrible failure as the seams split and the frosting oozed out. I decided to not fight the universe and just do what I could to finish up and dig in…

Cacao powder sprinkled on top & frosting bag explosion.

I tried to save the glopped decorating frosting by making a border around the bottom…

I don’t think I’ll ever make this one again, but I know that I’ll make the Praline Paste Buttercream, it’s just just that freaking good!! Amazing, really. The three little cakes disappeared in little over 24 hours, so that’s generally a rather positive sign!

Here’s the original recipe – again, NON-VEGAN – just to be clear…

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter

1 Filbert Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Filbert Genoise

Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.

1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute.
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.* Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum or orange flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste
1 ½ – 2 Tbsp. Jamaican rum (optional)

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Wait! My buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.

Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 Tbsp. of butter in a small bowl– making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

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.

Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake

2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

**Ganache can take on many forms. While warm – great fudge sauce. While cool or lukewarm – semisweet glaze. Slightly chilled – can be whipped into a filling/frosting. Cold & solid – the base of candied chocolate truffles.

6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier, Cointreay, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ – 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ – 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream. Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake. As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting. Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake.

Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center. The leaves should overlap. Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.

Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

I love my job! End of the year goodies & parties! J’adore mon boulot! Petites fêtes avant les vacances avec gourmandises!

NB: Just a quick yet sincere thanks to everyone who left me such kind comments on this post! You all really made my day! I’m not ready for Etsy yet (it hadn’t even occurred to me) but now you’ve got me thinking!

It’s that time of year : Summer Vacation! Before putting away our textbooks and red pens and breaking out the SPF 200 and beach towels, we need to have a little fun, and with the Shellyfish that means some tasty vegan fun! I’ll warn you now, I could have sub-titled this entry : The Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero French Ad Campaign… with a little plug for ma chérie, the polyglot and chef extrordinaire, Céline.

One of my jobs is teaching Adult English Conversation Classes. I absolutely love my job & my students this year who were all fabulous, intelligent, witty and groovy women with lots of different experiences and talents to share. I also love parties. Cool chicks + party = :)

Un de mes boulots est d’animer des cours de conversation anglaise. J’adore mon travail et surtout mes élèves qui cette année étaient des femmes géniales, intelligentes, avec beaucoup d’esprit et de classe qui avaient toutes des expériences et des talents variés à partager. Des filles très cool + une fête = :)

Ce n’est pas une fête sans champagne!

Des jeunes filles en fleur!

I made these Chocolate & Raspberry cookies from Veganomicon, though I used some of my homemade strawberry jam instead. These are some of our favourite cookies, though I make these much bigger than called for (I’m such a rebel) and cut down on the cooking time a little so I end up with a very chewy, almost gâteau fondant centre, and a lightly crisp outside. Divine!

After raving about the glory of the Snickerdoodle (because it is virtually unknown here en france), I was obliged to also bring some of Céline’s Veg-Times Redoux Snickerdoodles. I actually had to make three batches because Mr. Fish kept sneaking them and I didn’t have enough to bring with me (I of course didn’t sneak any, ahem.)! If you haven’t made these yet, don’t. I mean it. Once you make them, you’ll fall in love with them and will be making them all the time. You won’t be able to stop yourself! These are seriously our most favouritest cookie of all time ever in the entire galaxy!

And because peanut butter anything is considered inherently North American, I always try to reinforce those stereotypes with some “Big Gigantoid Peanut butter Cookies” from Vegan With A Vengeance (yes these are the same cookies as here – I made a ton!). These are usually the cookies I make for folks here in France who declare “eeww, I don’t like peanut butter!”. I sneak these babies in and they usually really like them and then we have a little laugh about clichés, stereotypes, the North American’s and their peanut butter, the French and their Nutella…it’s all good!

before

after

While there are many culinary differences between France and North America (I need to do a post on that sometime), one fundamental difference is SUGAR (and snacking, and junk food, and ice cream consumption… I really need to do a post on this!). When I started getting my baking groove on about a year or so ago, I’d make my vegan buttercream and be all thrilled about it, but Mr. Fish who is most definitely a gourmand (that’s a polite French way of saying that he is incapable of controlling himself when faced with all that is delicious) can’t take it. Same for fudge! This is also one of the main reasons that as a country the French are collectively much thinner and remain in far better health until a far more advanced age, despite the heavy consumption of fats (also the snacking…). Anyway, all that to say I wanted to make a fun cupcake sans frosting and not too too sweet, so I made the Agave cupcakes from VCTOTW. This was the first time I made them and they were great! Very moist and a little heavier than the traditional cupcake, though this also could have been due to the fact that after baking up a storm for the Open House I was out of cupcake liners!

I had more cute pics of my lovely students, but as I mentioned, I had an evil happening with the technology and lost a host of pictures… hélas.

Ricki’s Rockin’ Raw Bars & Meet “The Zester”

A few weeks back Ricki posted a most excellent raw bar she created. The “Fig and Cherry Bars have become my favourite raw bar and I’ve made these puppies 4 times already! (This is indeed a lot because neither the Guppy or Mr. Fish will eat them. I don’t know why. They are the best raw bar I’ve ever had, let alone made!).

When I first read the recipe, I wanted to make them post haste, the only problem was I didn’t have any dried cherries. I looked around my kitchen (this took me about 5 seconds because I have a lilliputian French apartment kitchen!). Dried cherries I had not, alas, but an unassuming sealed bag of dried prunes caught my eye. Pourquoi pas? Dried prunes are very sweet, quite high in calcium (which was what these bars were all about!), and rather moist (a bonus in the raw bar department, really).

I’m thrilled to report that the dried prunes rocked the raw bars without a doubt – they were moist and sweet enough that I could opt out on the optional agave syrup, so yeah for that. After doing a little scooby-dooing around my petite ville I found that if I really wanted dried cherries I also had to be ready to shell out nearly 15E for about a handful. To this I said, non. If you’ve got dried cherries priced for the proletariat in your hood, however, I suggest you follow Ricki’s recipe. I’m sure they’d be all tarty-delicious. I also added 2 tablespoons of carob powder to one of the batches and it was a very good move.

This little gadget is one of the best kitchen investments I’ve ever made. Maybe I’m the last human on this planet to have ignored the existence of these puppies, I don’t know. I do know that removing the zest from citrus has always driven me nuts, and to be honest I would sometimes skip it because I found it to be such a pain (I know *hanging head*). Then I found “The Zester”. I love this thing. It has made zesting about 90% less annoying. It is so handy and it was worth every cent of the 7E I spent!

And because this post is all about Ricki (and that’s ok, because she’s pretty rockin’), here’s a sloppy picture of my Radish and Grapefruit Salad. Radishes are so good for you- very good for muscle tissue recuperation (I wish I could link to the two articles I’ve read about this but I cannot find them for the life of me! One was from a Sports Therapy Journal and the other was written by Amby Burfoot for Runner’s World). Despite their good-for-you-ness, I have a tough time working them into my meals, but the tartness of the grapefruit marries perfectly with the bitterness of the radishes. I added a generous teaspoon of tahini to the dressing and it was perfect!

DIY Vegan Beauty Products & Skin Care : Lavender-Rose Toner

My dabblings in homemade vegan skin care continue with a lucky little experiment I tried. I’m one of those kids who really bought into the “you must use astringent” and later, in my mid-20s, “you must use toner” babble skincare manufacturers pushed to incite us to buy more-more-more! I’ve heard very conflicting opinions from people in the health and beauty industry as to the real necessity of using an astringent or toner as part of a 3 or 4-step cleansing/moisturizing ritual. Personally, I feel like something’s missing if I don’t do the toner thing before moisturizing, and I do sometimes see that the toner helped budge tenacious traces of make-up, so necessary or not, I’m a subscriber.

I tried this little “Flower Garden Toner” to see if I could create something decent at home, and at a fraction of the price I pay for my Dr. H toner (which I do love, but I am a member of the proletariat damn it!). I was thrilled at how this toner turned out! The positives are it is light and gentle, and really helps keep my skin feeling clean and fresh. The triple-flower-power helps right excess shine (sebum busters), and that’s a plus in the summer when I am very often make-up free. Oh, and did I mention that it’s purple (Katie!). The down side to this toner for me was two-fold : 1) It should be kept in the fridge since it is a water-based toner and hasn’t got much in the line of preservatives. Because it’s in the fridge, it’s a bit chilly, but that’s probably a good thing circulation-wise. It just weirds me out a smidge (which rimes with fridge). 2) I was expecting my flower medley to smell as sweet as the Springtime, but it has a bit of a hydrogen peroxide smell to it (which doesn’t linger on your face, rest assured). I thought with all that flower action it would have a more pleasant odor, but that’s not the case. I based this on two different recipes I found for toners, both of which calling for dried rose petals, rose water only, and essential oil of rose. I didn’t have those things on hand, and rose EO is really, really expensive (at least it is here), so I went with what I had. Chamomile and lavender are really great for the skin, too, and I don’t regret winging it at all! (Just remember, I’m not a chemist or professional, so please proceed at your own risk! Remember to sterilize your jar & lid carefully, and to sterilize the bottle you’ll store your toner in, etc.).

Lavender-Rose Toner

  • 25g dried lavender flowers
  • 100ml rose water
  • 150ml chamomile water
  • 60ml apple cider vinegar
  • 7 drops lavender essential oil

Everything goes in a sterile jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well and put it in the fridge for about 7-10 days, shaking once or twice a day. It will be very purple and pretty. Filter out the flowers and pour into a sterile bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Keep refrigerated. This should keep well for about 2-4 weeks, but remember, if it suddenly changes in color or in smell, or if in doubt, discard. I’ve been using mine for two weeks now and it’s still ok.

Jen’s Veggie Nori Rolls For Caterpillars & People, Too!

We love bugs. Spiders. Flies. Caterpillars. Ants. (We love them more when they’re outside, of course!)

Kittee, aka Cake Maker to the Stars, has some lovely caterpillar stories & photos and I was sharing them with the Guppy recently since we are apartment dwellers and even at the park it’s hard to find any really cool caterpillars this Spring (global warming…). She already loves butterflies, and when I told her that caterpillars are “baby” butterflies (everything she finds cute is a baby. Elephants are babies. Cows. Bumble bees, etc.) she really got excited.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m having a few issues getting my dear little Guppy to eat anything other than cookies or bread or raw fruit (before she was 2 she ate EVERYTHING). I involve her as much as I can involve a just-turned-three-year-old, and bring her with me to the market square to help chose the veggies, etc.

We were at the marché and I bought some baby spinach leaves and she said, “Hey, Mumma, I want some leaves, just like a caterpillar!”. Remaining guardedly optimistic I rinsed off a leaf with some water and she ate it, all of it, and said “more, please”!

When we got home it was time to prepare dinner, and I wanted to ride this “leaf” thing as long as possible. Most of you crazy kids know Jen of Veg*Triathlete (who will return to kicking athletic ass after recovering from bobos…:( damn IR list anyway). She has such an excellent “Fuel” section on her blog, and I love letting her plan my meals :). She had some lovely Peanut Veggie Nori Rolls posted and I just had to try them, especially giving that we are all about “leaves” and caterpillars right now. They have the added bonus of being a “hands-on” project-type meal, and we’re all about that!

The Guppy is showing us how caterpillars eat.

First we made the marinade, then we washed & dried the lettuce & veggies we’d be using. For veggies we used thin carrot sticks, green onions, thin-sliced red pepper, pineapple, and zucchini. We put them in a large bowl with the marinade & made sure that everything was well covered.

Next came the rolling part. This was the first time that the Guppy was to participate in the rolling of the Nori. She was pretty excited about it, and she kept calling them sushis. Silly kiddo.

Not sure how many of you have done any Nori rolling with a Guppy-aged kiddo. If you’re ok with everything being sort of all over the place (the floor, your shirt, your pants, the table…) then it’s ok. Heck, I’m messy, so I guess it’s normal for a child to get sloppy- and that’s the fun of the project. Nori rolls are like the finger painting of the culinary world. I just thought to myself, be like the lettuce, just receptive and waiting for all the goodness to be bestowed upon you… (so yoga of meself!)

We saved what as left of the marinated and used it as a dipping sauce. Everything went into the fridge until Mr. Fish came home, then we went to town! It was so good! I wish I could say the Guppy ate three rolls and loved them. She had a few bites then asked for apricots. Oh well. I’ll definitely make these again! Go check out the link to get the low-down on these babies!

Scones à l’eau de rose & aux amandes – Rose & Almond Scones – It’s Bread Baking Day N° 10

It is time once again for Bread Baking Day! This month’s theme, breakfast breads, was chosen by the lovely Melissa at Baking A Sweet Life – merci, Melissa! She’ll be putting the round-up of all our entries on June 5th, so go take a peek and be inspired!

I feel as though baking scones is a bit of a rite of passage in vegan culinaria. The vast majority of vegan blogs I love to visit have showcased at one time or another beautifully baked scones, with flavours ranging from peanut butter to pumpkin, even scony breakfast sandwiches – and admittedly they looked rather tempting. It also seems that no vegan cookbook would be complete without at least one (or multiple) scone recipes.

While the photos on the vegan blogosphere seemed enticing, I had scone issues. I’d only ever had scones on two occasions, and they left rather tasteless impressions on me. The first time was in a rather trendy tea room in London about 16 years ago. Everyone had hyped this amazing place with its brilliant scones and the clotted cream is bloody phenomenal! I sat uncomfortably, surrounded by 4 very hip and trendy and (seeming to 17-year-old me) sophisticated 25-year-old Londoners. I wanted to be cool, suave, and as cosmopolitan as they were, and when I bit into what I thought was a mixture of sawdust and cardboard I forced a smile and raising my eyebrows I declared,”It’s like nothing I’ve ever had before!”, which was true. I managed to avoid the clotted cream (because it sounded like something that should be thrown out because it had gone bad), and got about half of the thing they called “scone” into my handbag to be discreetly thrown out later without anyone noticing.

Scone session numéro dos was about 5 years later, with a much older and wiser Shellyfish (irony) surrounded by terribly cool people on a fashionably hip terrace at an over-priced trendy café in the desert Southwest in the U.S. My fellow brunchers were, in my eyes, what I wanted to be when I grew up : young 30-somethings, so for me, grown ups – there was the witty newspaper editor, the bohemian graphic designer, the sullen musician, the dreamy poet, and me, the dancer/student who dabbled a bit in freelance journalism and poetry, but who felt like an insignificant speck of wanna-be talent next to my friends. I came back from the washroom to find scones & coffee on our table, and sullen musician smiled with shocks of hair falling in his eyes and said, “you lived in Europe right, so I thought you would like these. I think they’re European or something.” Trying not to swoon because sullen musician knew something important about me, I forced down what felt like a hockey puck made of baking powder, but smiled through the entire ordeal.

I’m the young 30-something now, and have thankfully re-adjusted my focus a bit (and my friendship criteria). I wanted to move on in the scone department, and thought this BBD was the kick in the pants I needed to make the scones. Hundreds of snappy vegans couldn’t be wrong after all!

I based the following on the Orange Glazed Scone recipe in VWAV, because I am all about eau de rose lately (new and unusual). I wanted to use pistachios rather than almonds, but Mr. Fish depleted our stocks while watching a “Zombie sharks attack the vampire monkeys of New York” type movie the other night. The almonds were great, though. I’m also happy to say that the scones were, too. They were light and flaky and delicate as the rose itself!

  • 350g plain flour
  • 50g ground almonds (almond meal)
  • 115ml plain soy milk
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinagar
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • pinch or two salt
  • 5 tablespoons veg. oil
  • 3 tablespoons rosewater
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract

Heat oven to about 200c/400f. Add the vinagar to the milk and set aside. Sift together the flour, meal, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add the vinagar mixture and the rosewater & almond extract and stir until just mixed. I needed to add a little flour here because things were still rather wet. Dump out the dough and divide in two, knead a little and form into a bit of a disc and cut into pie-like wedges. Place on baking sheet and in the oven it goes for about 15 minutes or until slightly browned.

For the glaze add about 120g icing sugar, 2 tablespoons of melted non-hydrogenated margerine and 3 tablespoons eau de rose in a bowl and stir until well combined. You can get festive and add some food coloring if you wish (I did). Drizzle over scones and sprinkle with slivered almonds.

I’d also like to thank Ms. Zorra, the founder of this great event. Helping me to try new things, one bread at a time!

Cobblers & “Picniks”

The philanthropist & all-around-cutie Katie (or Special K) aka the Chocolate Covered Vegan posted her Little Vegan Crumble recently and it spurred daydreaming about summertime picknicks and BBQs with friends, light breezes and kite flying…you get the picture. The Guppy has been a bit slammed with a late-season cold, and was feeling a wee bit down about being stuck in the house with the sun beaming outside, so, I thought the moment for Katie’s Crumble had arrived, only, unbeliveably, I found myself oatless in the kitchen! I’d already promised a baking project to the eager Guppy who was already sitting on her knees on one of the kitchen chairs, playing the drums with a spoon and some mixing bowls, so my mental-roll-a-dex was spinning- what to make?

We’d already set the apples on the table, and I thought, hey, cobbler is yummy, too! And voila! Afternoon project and yummy snack rolled into one!

This recipe is adapted from The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook, which as I’ve said before, is such a great Vegan resource. It’s not as sexy or hip as some of the newer books on the market (first edition published in 1975), but that’s what I love – you don’t need any fancy ingredients to make any of the recipes (and the pictures are so darn hippy-retro-cool!).

Fruit Cobbler

for the fruit filling :

  • 6 large apples (cored & sliced or chopped)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • a little water

Sauté your apples in a skillet over low heat for 5 minutes, adding a few soup spoons of water from time to time to keep from sticking (the original recipe calls for 3 Tbsp margarine, which you could use rather than H2O). Add the sugar and cinnamon, and cook apples until they are pretty tender, about 5-10 minutes more.

for the batter :

  • 3/4 cups whole wheat flour (I don’t even use WW pastry flour & it turns out fine)
  • 3/4 AP flour (the original recipe calls for 1.5 cups AP flour if you don’t want to use WW, but it’s good!)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup oil (I don’t use that much, I don’t fill it all the way…)
  • 1 cup “milk”
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Sift together the dry ingredients, then slowly add the wet until just mixed. Put in enough batter to cover the bottom of your pan (recipe suggests 8×8 square, I used a round, I’m a rebel), then add the apples. You’ll have very little batter left, it’s normal, just scoop it onto the apple layer in little splotches – it will seem like there isn’t enough, so don’t stress. Bake for about 25 minutes at 350F. You could top it with anything, obviously, but we like to add a little cashew-vanilla crème sauce on top:

And now for the “Picnik” – you may have noticed my playing around with the pics in this entry. Being one of the only bloggers on the planet to not have any photo editing software, I try to do what I can with light, etc., when taking my pictures, but could never crop or correct anything…until now!

Going through some bookmarked blogs I revisited Full Circle, which is a great blog (there are so many fabulous ones out there!) that has a huge amount of universal appeal though it is a self-described homeschooling blog. Seriously, go check it out! I may be one of the last to hear the news, but thanks to Full Circle I’m in the loop because she introduced me to Picnik, an amazing – and free – photo editing tool! I haven’t had too much time to play around with it, but it is just fabulous!

Quinoa aux champignons! Mushroom & Fennel Quinoa!

Up until about 4 years ago I’d never cooked quinoa. Ok, up until about 4 years ago I’d never really cooked much of anything. My most common culinary feats came in to-go containers, and my version of a homemade dinner was my famous “safsouf au frigo”, a tabouleh you make in the morning with raw couscous, leave it in your fridge all day, and when you come home you stir & eat it. Whew! Slaving over a hot stove…what a drag!

Those days are gone and when I decided to cook, I realized I lacked the skills and basic know-how to do much other than boil water and chop veggies- and that’s really all you need to know how to do for this delicious dish!

Oh, right, back to my little 4-years-ago flashback. Because I am the academic-nerd type, I thought to myself “get ye a book of cookingness oh Shellyfish sans skills of the culinary variety” and that’s what I did. Recettes au Quinoa by Claudine Demay et Didier Perreol is a cute little book (literally, it’s not much bigger than my hand), but has 60 quinoa-based recipes. Not all the recipes are vegan, or even vegetarian, but the majority are, and those that aren’t are pretty easy to veganize. This book was great for me as a neophyte in the kitchen, because it has recipes spanning from breakfast-lunch-dinner, plus breads & muffins and more. I slightly adapted the following recipe, which is one of my family’s favorites (yes, even Mr. Fish likes it! go figure!). It’s also one of the only recipes I use with fennel – thanks to this recipe I cooked with it for the first time!

Quinoa aux champignons adapted from Quinoa aux pleurotes from Recettes au Quinoa

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • a pound of mushrooms
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced in lovely diagonals
  • cloves of garlic (minced) to taste- I used about 4 or 5
  • sesame oil
  • the equivalent of 2 plain soy yogurts or soy cream
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro or parsley

Clean & slice your mushrooms, and sauté them in a heavy-bottomed pan in about a half a cup of water for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, and adding water if it gets too dry. Drain off any water that may be left-over after 10 minutes, and add two tablespoons of sesame seed oil, the fennel, garlic, salt & pepper to taste, and cook covered, over low heat, for about 15 minutes, or until the fennel is nice & tender.

Remove the pan from heat and gently stir in the soy yogurt or cream and your herb of choice. Yum! Here is a really horrible picture of what it looks like, but you are all imaginative fish, so pretend it’s just beautiful!