Saturday, February 27, 2010

Casbah Cupcakes

Previously on Sweet Swallows: Colleen bought a pretty little cakestand and decided to get over her cake prejudice to make a dessert that Ken declared, "the best thing she ever made." Anyone else who tried it, seemed to agree. Then she signed up for a cake decorating class, and suddenly, she had to make a cake a week. And that's what you might have missed.
Oh. Did I not mention I'm taking a cake decorating class? Classes were half-price at my local Mega-box Craft Store, and since I'm still underemployed, I figured 'What the hell?' and filed it under: Career Development. The classes are mostly thinly veiled infomercials for their product line. And I spend a lot of time thinking things like: You want me to use how much shortening? I'm going to pipe all of that icing to make a clown?? But when I stop being a whiny little know-it-all, I find myself saying things like, "Look how preeeeeeeeeeetty..." And I decided to take the second course, so, y'know, it can't be all that bad.
Anywho, when you're taking a cake decorating class, you actually need to bring in cakes. Shocking, I know. My brother got his dream skull-and-crossbones birthday cake out of the deal (Chocolate Cake with pudding filling). And when we had to bring in cupcakes, I knew it was time to pull out the BEST CAKE EVER, and turn it into adorable little snacks. Of course, the sweet older ladies were not impressed. I got blank stares when I told them they were pistachio cardamom cupcakes, and they all needed me to explain what vegan meant. I didn't even bother to tell them about the rosewater buttercream. But this cake, THIS CAKE, words cannot describe just how delicious it is. And now, it comes in adorable-size. I just might make these my signature treat. The decorations on the other hand... well, let's just say, I'm gonna keep practicing. 

Casbah Cupcakes 
(same recipe as the Vegan Pistachio Cardamom Cupcakes)
3/4 cup vanilla soy yogurt (I used one 60z container of whole soy & co)
1 cup soymilk
2/3 cup canola oil
1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1.5 cup + 2 tbsp flour
3 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
heaping 1/4 tsp salt
heaping 1/4 tsp cardamom
2/3 cup finely chopped pistachios (a few chunks are fine, and welcome in my opinion!)
Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Place cupcake liners in cupcake pans. Whisk together the wet ingredients in a large bowl. In a seperate bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cardamom. Blend the dry mix into the wet mix, and mix together until the majority of lumps are gone (Do not use a mixer! Don't over mix!). Fold in pistachios. Pour evenly into cups (about 2/3-3/4 full). Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, or until skewer in center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for a few minutes, then cool completely on wire racks.
While your cakes are cooling, make the frosting.
Vegan Rosewater Buttercream Frosting
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup earth balance margaring
3.5 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
4 tbsp soy creamer
2 tsp vanilla
3-4 tsp rosewater (depending on taste)
Using mixer, blend shortening and margarine until well mixed and fluffy. Sift sugar in 1 cup at a time and blend. Add creamer, vanilla and rosewater slowly and blend to desired flavor/consistency. Blend for several minutes to make light and fluffy.
*I tend to start 1 tsp/tbsp at a time with the last three ingredients, blending and tasting until it seems just right. If you add too much wet ingredients, remember you can always add more sugar to stiffen it up. I also added some pink icing gel coloring.
Once the cakes are cooled, pipe or spread with icing, then make sure you have friends to share them with and try not to eat them all. 

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chocolate-orange Filled Hearts

I don't want to fool you with all these heart shaped items, but February and Valentines day are my LEAST favorite time of year. I've always been the kind of girl that went straight from Christmas/New Year's to thoughts of shamrocks, leprechauns and Irish Whiskey. Okay, okay, it's true, every year up until this one has found me sans-sweetie and occasionally bitter about love. But besides that, I just can't see what's so exciting about forced declarations of love and cheesy pre-packaged gifts to "prove" said love. I'm all for giving and receiving gifts but prefer it to be sweet and spontaneous as opposed to dictated by a date on the calendar. And then last year I met the love of my life. (Simultaneous "awww"s and puking sounds inserted here). And then a few weeks ago I found a set of nesting heart-shaped cookie cutters on sale and some recipes for yummy V-day themed cookies and decided to quit being bitter and just make some god-dammed cookies.
This particular recipe drew me in with the pretty picture, and honestly, who doesn't get excited about anything FILLED WITH CHOCOLATE? The reviews were another story, and proclaimed this cookie to be "tasteless rocks." Because I love a challenge and am cocky enough to think I can fix any recipe, I decided to give these a Voltron kitchen makeover. (Voltron kitchen being the name of the kitchen in my apartment. Just go with it, I'll explain later.) Ken wasn't too excited about them, as orange marmalade is number 3 on the list of foods that he'd nuke out of existence if given a chance (followed behind Pop Tarts at Number 1 and fruit roll-ups at Number 2), but he liked them enough that this cookie is now added to the list of "Baked goods that have not made it out the door before being entirely consumed."
Are these my favorite cookie? Not by any means. Were they as terrible as the reviews said? Judging by the quickness with which they were consumed, obviously not. Could they be made better? Absolutely, and I've got a few ideas about that. Will I continue to ask questions and then answer them myself? I promise this is the last one, for this post at least.
*Note: This recipe starts with Alton Brown's sugar cookie recipe and alters it. If you're not familiar with AB's recipe, you can find it here. It's a good standard recipe to build off of. It's not meant to be sweet, as the cookies are meant to be coated with icing, sugar, etc. I recommend generously covering them with sanding sugar before baking if you need your cookies sweet. 

Chocolate-Orange Filled Hearts
3 c. flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup earth balance vegan butter, softened
1 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1 egg,  beaten
1 tbsp soymilk
1 tsp vanilla
Scant 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghiardelli 84% cacoa bar)
2 heaping tbsp orange marmalade
1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp water
Sanding sugar
Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder together and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until well blended, then add the egg and milk and beat until well incorporated. With the mixer on low, gradually add flour until mix pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic, and chill for 2 hours. 
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Stir together the chocolate and the marmalade. Using confectioner's sugar to cover the surface, roll out the dough to 1/8 inch thickness (mine were probably larger) and cut out hearts. Place about 1 inch apart on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper, and place 1 tsp chocolate mix in center, spreading out leaving about 1/4 inch from the edge (I definitely used more than 1 tsp, as I only had enough filling for half of the dough). Using the egg wash and a pastry brush, brush around the edges of the cookies, place another cookie on top, and press together. Brush tops lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, or until done. Let cool on the pan and transfer to a rack. 
*I only used 1/2 of the dough, and came up with about 20 cookies. I used the rest of the dough the next day to make sandwich cookies filled with jam, which I'll be sure to tell you about soon. 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Filled February Continues...

I like themes. Always have. Some can be great, like theme parties (Luau's are a favorite). Sometimes they can be terrible, like theme restaurants (Planet Hollywood needs to go away. Forever.) And of course, who didn't love discussing the themes of a novel in English class (man's struggles against nature are universal). So I've decided to give my baking for the month a theme. And in honor of February being the month for lovers, I've decided to dub this month FILLED FEBRUARY, wherein all the things I make will have a filling or be filled with some kind of deliciousness. 
I've already made some lemon bars that I shared here. Recently I picked up some heart-shaped cookie cutters and decided to make some V-day inspired treats. Over at the smitten kitchen (which has quickly become my favorite foodie blog), I found a recipe for toasted coconut shortbread hearts that sounded lovely. But because I can't leave anything alone, I played with the recipe, cut out little windows, spread some jam on them,  and made some linzer-style treats that made Ken do his little cookie dance of joy. 
The dough is very simple, and was easily made vegan. Like all shortbread I've come across it's a little difficult to work with, and required lots of powdered sugar to roll out as well as several trips to the freezer to keep it chilled. Since Philadelphia was PARALYZED with white stuff, I had all the time in the world to play around and get covered in the other white stuff. (I'm talking about powdered sugar, people. Don't give me that look.) 
With a little love and a lot of patience the results were quite tasty. So tasty that only 6 of them made it out of the house. (Ken, I'm looking at you.) We're talking: Crunchy, slightly chewy, mildly sweet, a little salty and with that dreamy hint of toasted coconut hiding in the background. 
These cookies are great for blizzards, SNOWMAGEDDON, and any other time you're stuck in the house for a few days. And oh so nice to share with someone you love! And when you're snowed in with someone you love and Valentine's day is oh so close, well, who knows what can happen? (October babies?) Here's hoping this Valentine's day finds you filled... with love. ;-)
Coconut Linzer Cookies
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 cup toasted coconut (I used sweetened, if you use unsweetened, increase the sugar a bit and cut back on the salt)
3/4 cup earth balance buttery sticks
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
about 1 cup jam of choice
powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 325°F. Spread coconut on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until coconut is light golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Cool completely, then grind in a coffee grinder, food processor or blender until coarsely ground.
Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Mix in salt and vanilla. Beat in flour in 2 additions. Stir in toasted coconut. Gather dough together, flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll out dough disk on lightly floured work surface to scant 1/4-inch thickness (I used confectioner's sugar). Using 2-inch-diameter cookie cutters, cut dough into hearts. Using a smaller heart cutter, cut out "window" in half of cookies. 
Bake cookies until light golden, about 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool completely. (Can be made ahead. Store airtight at room temperature up to 1 week.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired. 
Place jam in small saucepan on medium heat and stir occasionally. Once jam is warmed and thinned, spoon a tsp onto cooled cookie without window, bottom up, spreading jam out. Place cookie with window on top, bottom down, pressing down slightly so filling spreads. Let stand until jam cools and sets. Give your hearts to someone you love! (Insert groan for cheezy joke here.)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lemon Bars for a Gray Day

January and February can be brutal in the Northeast. They're filled with cold, gray days where the wind whips chilly and brisk and creeps deep into your bones making you feel like you'll NEVER BE WARM AGAIN. Even the cheeriest of optimists can get a case of seasonal affective disorder, and for those of us who live closer to the edge on a good day, winter's not pretty. In the depths of winter, most days it's a triumph if I get out of bed, let alone out of the house. Under-employment isn't helping much either. One day last week, not only was the sky dark gray all morning, but it had been raining too. ALL DAY. There's nothing worse for a delicate psyche than January rain. So I decided to do something about it.
I decided to make some lemon bars. A co-worker of mine had been begging me for close to a year to make him some lemon bars. He doesn't like chocolate, he doesn't like pies, he doesn't like anything "weird or healthy". Therefore, he doesn't like most of the treats I bring in to pawn off. Now, don't get me wrong, lemon bars are great, but all previous attempts had turned out terrible. The short-bread crust was always difficult to work with and burned. The lemon filling would over cook and I'd have a weird-looking light yellow very tart souffle. Lemon bars consistently got filed under "NEEDS WORK". But this day was so gray, and the only thing we really had in the house was a surplus of lemons. I figured if nothing else, the color would help cheer me up. So I decided to give it another go.
And do you know what happened while they were in the oven? It stopped raining and the sun came out! It was as though the heavens were rivaled by the defiant YELLOW of these little treats, and decided to show them who's boss. Fine by me! I've been known to say that my baking is a little magical, and I think this only helps prove it. But really, it's a good thing the sun came out because as usual the shortbread crust was a bitch to work with, and got just slightly overcooked, and I thought the filling got over cooked as well. But once I calmed down, and the the bars cooled down, I found that I was very wrong. Not only had I overcome the weather, but I had finally defeated my lemon bar demons. The crust is so so so so so very buttery and chewy and fall-apart-delicious. And the filling is a wonderful combination of sweet and tart. Needless to say, these were quickly devoured by anyone who came into contact with them. And my co-worker, finally, was happy with me. And I made it through another gray winter day to bake again...

Pucker-up Lemon Bars
(*note*: these are not vegan, and not even dairy free. I cheat sometimes with the butter. But I assure you all that next time I make them, I will use earth balance sticks in the crust, and will report back. I haven't looked into making lemon curd without eggs... can it be done???)
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
Cream the butter and the sugar until light (use a mixer with the paddle attachment if you've got it). Mix the salt and flour together, then add to the creamed mixture and mix on low until just mixed. At some point i used my hands to scrape and mix because it was so dry, that's all that would work. I gathered it together into 3 balls, one large and two smaller, and placed it into a well-greased 9x13 ince pan.(Someone, please, give me some pointers on working with shortbread!!!) Press the dough into the pan and about 1/2 inch up on the sides. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, or until just lightly browned. Place on wire rack, leave oven on, and make the filling.
Lemon filling:
4 eggs
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp lemon zest (about 5 med lemons)
2/3 cup lemon juice (juice of 5 med lemons)
2/3 cup flour
Mix all of the ingredients together. I used the whisk attachment on my kitchen aid mixer. Pour into the crust and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or until 5 minutes after the filling has set.* Allow to cool on wire rack before cutting. Sift confectioner's sugar over pieces if desired.
*My oven runs a little warm, so I always check everything at about halfway through the time on the original recipe. The original recipe stated 30-35 minutes, but I cut down on the lemon filling, so I should have cut my time WAY down. Instead, I checked at 20 minutes and it was done (looking very dry and like a souffle or quiche, YET AGAIN ::sigh::). Thankfully, they weren't ruined, but next time I think I'll start checking at 10 minutes. You might want to do the same.