Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes (Vegan!)

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‘Tis the season for all things pumpkin spice! Last week, in celebration of fall, I made vegan pumpkin spice cupcakes to take with me to share at work and eat after going to a local haunted house. (You can’t go wrong with something sweet after something scary!)

I followed this recipe from lovingitvegan. It was easy to make and has a great vegan buttercream frosting to go with it.

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Unfortunately, I realized only after I began baking that I didn’t have any pre-mixed pumpkin spice. So I combined the spices together myself- which gave it a more personalized flavor. Just use cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. You may also use allspice to add extra spice to your mix. Add these spices together until you get your desired taste. (Mine was a little heavier on the ‘spice’ part of the pumpkin spice, and in the future, I would definitely be more careful with the cloves!) This recipe called for 3 1/2 tsp in the cupcakes themselves and a bit extra for the frosting, so keep that in mind if you are thinking of making your own.

I also made a flax egg for the first time as an egg replacement. It works incredibly well to bind the batter together, just like an egg would. To make a flax egg, mix 1 tbsp ground flax meal with 3 tbsp water and let it sit for a minute or so until it starts to thicken.

I had some extra batter after I made a batch of twelve regular-sized cupcakes, so I made an additional eight mini-cupcakes as well. I actually loved the mini-cupcakes even more than the regular cupcakes. Cupcakes usually have too much sugar for me to handle, so a mini-cupcake makes it easier to eat (especially if you are watching your sugar, but still want dessert).

Here is the recipe:

Making Homemade Einkorn Bread

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Einkorn, an ancient strain of wheat similar to spelt and emmer, appeared on a documentary I recently watched about the sustainability of current farm practices, including the growing of wheat. (This one! Right here! Its called Sustainable.)

Why is einkorn important?

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Einkorn is a grain that promotes genetic diversity in the grain crop, which helps nearly every element of the farm from the land and animals, to the crop itself. Regular wheat is one single strain of grain that is constantly mass produced, draining the soil, forcing the use of pesticides, and losing nutrition from the wheat itself.

On the other hand, a grain like einkorn helps restore the soil, and because it is genetically diverse, limits the need for the protection from bugs or disease that pesticides provide. It also hasn’t lost its nutrient value like regular wheat has. Eating einkorn provides more protein and potassium (along with other nutrients) than regular wheat.

The documentary discussed how this kind of wheat grows so well and interviewed a baker who uses einkorn in his bakery every day. I was very curious to try some einkorn bread of my own, so yesterday I made my first loaf. (In the future I’d also like to make more bread using other kinds of ancient grains! The taste is similar to whole-wheat bread, rather than regular white bread flour, which is exactly what I love from my bread).

How to make einkorn bread:

I followed this recipe from Live Simply.

The ingredients are very simple:

Water, yeast, olive oil, honey, and salt along with all-purpose einkorn flour. (You may use whole wheat, but the author of the recipe, Kristin Marr, suggests using the all-purpose for this particular recipe.)

After the yeast has been activated, the ingredients combine quickly into a sticky dough. It is important to not overwork the einkorn dough because it won’t rise correctly if you do.

The bread then proves for an hour before another 30-minute prove in the loaf container. Finally, it goes into the over at 375 for about 35 minutes. When I pulled my loaf from the oven, I was initially worried it was burnt. Actually, it really wasn’t burnt (well, maybe just a tiny bit on the very top), since the einkorn flour turns a darker color after it has been baked.

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Overall, this first try at making einkorn bread was a success! I definitely want to make another loaf, since this one is mostly gone already and I plan to eat the rest with some homemade soup tonight. This particular recipe doesn’t make an overly sweet or salty bread, so it goes well with nearly any dish.

Here is some more information about einkorn!

 

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

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On Friday last week I made my first batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies to take with me to a dinner party. They were so easy and fast to make, and they tasted delicious! I also brought the extras in to work the next day—my coworkers loved them too! It’s a nice feeling to know that more people might be able to eat your dessert if they have lactose issues or adhere to a vegan diet.

I followed this recipe.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup refined coconut oil, melted

2/3 cup vegan granulated sugar

2/3 cup packed vegan brown sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

teaspoons vanilla

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

teaspoon baking soda

teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

bag (10 oz) vegan semisweet chocolate chips (1 1/2 cups)

 

However, I’d like to make another batch soon with some chopped walnuts added for a bit of extra crunch and nuttiness.

The steps, posted below, only took a few minutes to follow. (And you can safely eat the dough because there aren’t any eggs! Not that the presence of eggs stopped me before…)

 

  • Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, mix coconut oil, granulated sugar and brown sugar until well mixed. Stir in almond milk and vanilla.
  • Stir in flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt until dough forms. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake 11 to 14 minutes or until edges are light brown and tops look set. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets. Remove to cooling rack; cool completely. Store in tightly covered container.

 

Recently, I’ve been trying to learn how to bake more vegan desserts and have had a lot of success with both banana bread and apple cake. It turns out that great dessert doesn’t need milk and eggs, it just needs a lot of sugar.

Cheers to baking!

-Sarah

Mulberry Jam (Or Not)

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The berries on the mulberry tree were so ripe that even just touching the tree branch shook several of them free. The ground around the tree was littered with fallen berries and both my fingers and the bottoms of my shoes were quickly stained purple from the sweet juice. My plan was to use my full Tupperware container to make my first batch of homemade jam.

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Mulberry Jam

My first attempt at making homemade mulberry jam didn’t go exactly as I expected. I’m sure that many experienced jam makers know this, but jam needs something to help thicken it, usually pectin.

When I initially googled mulberry jam the first recipe that popped up was this one.

Here’s a closer look at the ingredients:

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups mulberries, rinsed (the tiny green stems do not need to be removed)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water

As you can see, there is no pectin mentioned. So I continued on, oblivious to my error.

I did change the recipe a bit, switching the sugar for homemade honey (you have to use less honey than sugar) and added a little lemon juice. If I were to do this again, however, I would use even less honey and add more lemon to bring back some of the tartness of the fresh berries and reduce the overpowering sweetness.

The first step in making jam is to put your mason jars into boiling water to sanitize them. This should take about ten minutes.

 

Then, combine the ingredients in a medium saucepan (I added 2 ½ cups mulberries, and 1 cup honey, along with 3 tablespoons water, and the juice of 1/3 of a lemon). This must be brought to a boil for one minute before dropping it to simmer until it loses the foam. (The recipe says about 7 minutes).

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Once your jam is cooked, it should be transferred into the clean mason jars, sealed, and cooled at room temperature for several hours before you can use it. Make sure all your jars have a good seal on them! You should hear a pop as they cool, which means they have fully sealed.

By the time I started transferring the “jam” into the jars I was beginning to see that I had not made a jam, but a mulberry syrup. I held out hope that it might thicken more as it cooled, but, sadly, it did not.

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Still, even if it doesn’t work as a jam it does work as a syrup! I plan to use it on pancakes, in yogurt, and as an ice cream topping.

Overall, I was surprised at how easy it is to make homemade jam. I loved making a small batch of fresh mulberry jam, even if it didn’t work out perfectly. The sweet smell of mulberries and honey lingered in my kitchen for the rest of the afternoon.

So that’s the lesson of the day, folks! Make sure you use pectin when you make jam. At least I know for my next batch.

🙂 Sarah

“Easy” French Macarons, Or: Tips on Making Fancy Cookies from an Amateur

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Inspired by watching The Great British Bake Off on Netflix, I attempted to make my own French macarons at home. Using the help of this YouTube video by Entertaining with Beth and this recipe, I set out one Monday afternoon to make my own French macaron cookies.

My expectations were set extremely low, especially after watching some of the contestants’ macaron fails. I could envision Paul Hollywood’s disappointed headshake at my terrible macarons.

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After hearing many times (and being warned by Beth) that macarons are finicky, tricky, and otherwise very difficult to make, I fully imagined creating a ‘macaron’ that looked less like a macaron and more like a pastel-colored disaster.

My experience in making these cookies happened in three stages:

  1. The Eggs

To make a macaron your eggs have to be whipped into a meringue. To make a meringue the eggs must be at room temperature. So, I got my two eggs out of the refrigerator at about 11 and began making the meringue at 2:30.

Immediately, several things went wrong. I got egg yolk into the egg whites and tried (unsuccessfully) to scoop it out with a spoon. Second, I used a hand mixer on high to attempt to whip up the eggs. After standing there for about five minutes with absolutely nothing happening, I gave up. And found myself completely out of eggs, and certainly out of any that were ‘room temperature’.

After a quick trip to Dollar General, I tried for attempt number two. This time I made a few changes: I put the eggs in warm water for about 4-5 minutes (thanks, Beth!), I used a stand mixer, and I was very careful to not get any egg yolks into the whites.

Finally! A perfectly fluffy, pure white meringue! It tasted like a cloud of sugary, marshmallowy goodness.

  1. The Batter

Beth points out that the batter (“This is where it could all go wrong.”) is a key, critical step to making the perfect macaron. She recommends getting the batter to a “molten lava” consistency. Overmixing could lead to flat macarons, while under mixing could lead to cracks on the top of your macarons.

This step wasn’t actually too difficult except that I was left questioning the specifics of what a “molten lava” texture actually looks like. A better (more dessert specific) comparison might be the texture of whipped mousse: liquid enough to almost pour out of the bowl, but firm enough that it holds its shape.

I didn’t have a piping bag to pipe my macarons onto my parchment paper, but using a plastic bag with one corner cut off worked pretty well (it was probably just a little messier than a piping bag).

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Then after leaving them to sit out and form a skin on top for thirty minutes, I was ready to put them into the oven.

So far so good.

  1. The Filling

The recipe I followed for easy macarons called for just a vanilla cookie and a vanilla buttercream filling. These cookies tend to be very rich and extremely sweet so using a filing with a tart flavor helps to balance everything out.

So, at the last minute, I added some cherry concentrate to my buttercream for a cherry vanilla flavor to the cookies.

Here are the final results!

 

It actually worked as a macaron, which was more than I expected. I did end up with some lumps on top (due to a mistake in mixing?) and I’m sure this wouldn’t get me the Hollywood handshake. (Maybe next time, Paul!) But it was a pretty great first attempt!

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Here’s to crunchy-on-top, melt-in-your-mouth macarons and more baking adventures to come!

🙂 Sarah