(Note: just scroll down a bit to skip the back story.)
Recently, I was longing after salted caramel and chocolate ganache tarts taunting me from the bakery case at Starbucks. So when I read that coconut sugar–the last of the Navitas Naturals products I had the privilege of taste testing–is known for its caramel-like flavor, I knew exactly what I would make. I just wasn’t sure how.
The ganache is, of course, simple with vegan chocolate chunks or chips melted with the non-dairy creamer of your choice. However, the caramel and the chocolate crust were another matter.
I have a go-to no-fail recipe for caramel sauce, but this caramel needed to be firm enough to cut through without oozing all over the plate. But not so hard or sticky that follow-up dental care would be required.
So, I veganized a caramel tart filling recipe I found online that called for sugar, cream and butter. But the amount of sugar proved woefully skimpy and I could tell the filling wasn’t going to stiffen, so I added another 1/4 cup. That still didn’t do the trick even after some refrigeration, so I decided to return the mixture to a saucepan and cook it to either the soft ball or firm ball stage. Ultimately, I decided on the latter. A good decision, as it turns out.
The coconut sugar is rich brown in color and definitely boasts a different flavor than either granulatedor brown sugar. Instead of the molasses notes of the latter, coconut sugar really does have a distinct, if subtle, hint of caramel-like flavor, as billed. And I liked it a lot.
For the chocolate crust, I didn’t want a cookie crumb variety but a bona fide rolled tart crust. It’s a little more work, but worth it, according to one of my experienced tasters, who mentioned how tasty the crust was. I found the perfect recipe online thanks to Martha Stewart, a longtime trusted source, ex-con though she may be–ha! I easily veganized it by substituting vegan butter for its dairy cousin, and the resulting dough was ideal: tasty, not too sweet (though I did add an extra tablespoon of sugar), and beautifully manageable.
I had planned to place a pecan half on top along with a sprinkling of Maldon flaky sea salt, but all I had in the freezer were pecan pieces, so a cashew half was the perfect buttery topknot. I ordered my Maldon online, but any super flaky salt–like snow flakes–will do. Coarse sea salt will work in a pinch.
Two of the tarts went to our vet and his wife, an LVT who also manages their practice because, together, they are responsible for saving the life of our beloved and food-obsessed 85-lb Great Dane X via text and phone call on Sunday, as she had swallowed a (vegan) burger whole when I had gone upstairs to get my camera to photograph it. All would have been fine had said burger not been topped with a 3-inch red plastic toothpick speared through a dill pickle slice. The purge “cocktail” they coached me through worked like a charm and all came up the way it went down. The remaining decadence went to a dear friend, along with an arm-knitted scarf, whose birthday was on Wednesday. All were delivered in the snow late Monday afternoon which, if a little dicey, was a lot of fun.
Both sets of recipients–one, a self-proclaimed salted caramel and chocolate afficianado and the other a foodie and outstanding cook in her own right–pronunced every morsel of these tarts utter perfection. And, of course, I hope you will agree!
Chocolate Rolled Crust
2 cups flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup coconut sugar (or any granulated sugar; I typically use demerara)
3/4 cup cold butter, cut in small cubes
1 teaspoon espresso powder dissolved in 1/3 cup cold water (or 1/3 cup cold brewed coffee)
Place four, cocoa powder, sugar and butter cubes in food processor and pulse until butter resembles small peas. Drizzle with coffee and pulse until dough comes together, scraping sides as necessary, adding a few more drops of coffee or water if necessary to make a pliable dough. Turn onto a work surface lightly sprinkled with cocoa powder and knead a few times. Press into a 1-inch thick rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 45 minutes. Remove from refrigerator and let rest for 5 minutes. Roll out to 1/8 inch thick between pieces of parchment paper. Place however many 4 1/2-inch tart pans will fit on dough and, with a small paring knife, cut out circles around them, allowing enough width to fit in sides of pans. Gather up scraps, kneading a couple of times, and rerolling in order to have enough dough for all 4 shells. Fit each circle of dough into the tart pans, press onto bottom and sides and trim edges. Lightly prick bottom and sides and, for extra assurance against puffing and shrinking, place a square of parchment paper in each, weigh down with raw rice or dried beans, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove paper and rice or beans and bake an additional 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Vegan Caramel Filling, Chocolate Ganache, and Garnish
1 cup coconut sugar (or any granulated sugar; I typically use demerara)
2/3 cup plain non-dairy creamer
1/3 cup vegan butter
Vegan Chocolate Ganache (recipe follows)
4 whole or halved cashews
1/2 teaspoon Maldon Sea Salt (or the super-flaky sea salt of your choice)
Place coconut sugar, non-dairy creamer and vegan butter in a small saucepan (I used a non-stick pan) and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan with tip immersed in the caramel, but not touching the bottom of the pan, and cook to the firm ball stage (250 degrees) or just below (245 degrees). Remove from heat and pour caramel into tart shells, dividing evenly. Cool, spread a circle of Vegan Chocolate Ganache on top allowing caramel to show around hte perimeter, garnish with a nut and a pinch of sea salt, cover, and refrigerate.
Vegan Chocoalte Ganache
1/4 cup plain non-dairy creamer (I typically use soy or coconut milk)
1/2 vegan chocolate chips or chunks (I like a dark chocolate variety)
In a small microwave safe bowl, combine creamer and chococlate. Heat for 30 seconds, whisk, heat for another 30 to 60 seconds, whisk again, and cool. Note: you may have some ganache left over.
This recipe was born of some leftover ganache (unheard of, I know), some frozen cake trimmings from my Vegan Chocolate Heart Cakes for Valentine’s Day, and slick snow conditions on the road. Read: what can I create that won’t require a trip to the grocery store so that I won’t simply tuck into this ganache with a spoon?
The answer proved to be chocolate pate, but one a little different from other recipes, as mine calls for some vegan cream cheese to prevent the chocolate from taking over–tang is a good ‘thang–and some chocolate cake crumbs for a nice textural contrast. Like most other chocolate pates, mine is not too sweet, which is also a good thing…sometimes.
4 ounces (1/2 cup) vegan cream cheese
1/2 cup chocolate ganache, room temperature (if you don’t have some on-hand, just melt together about 3 tablespoons vegan chocolate chunks or chips–I like dark chocolate–with about 5 tablespoons non-dairy creamer and allow to cool)
Optional: 1 to 2 tablespoons non-dairy creamer (soy or coconut milk)
1/2 cup toasted and coarsely chopped hazelnuts
1 cup crumbled vegan chocolate cake or brownie crumbs
Acccompaniments: Ever-so-slightly sweet vegan crackers of cookies, like a shortbread and fruit
Line a pair of 1/2 cup ramkins with plastic wrap and set aside. With a hand or stand mixer, whip together cream cheese and ganache until fluffy. Whip in an additional tablespoon or two of non-dairy creamer if mixture is too stiff to be fluffy. Fold in hazelnuts and crumbs; mixture will be firm. Divide equally between ramkins, pressing firmly, and sealing the top with the “tails” of the plastic wrap. Refrigerate for several hours or until firm. Unmold, bring to room temperature, and serve with the cracker or cookie of your choice and, if desired, fruit.
Though my Countdown ended yesterday, I promised a “Beverage Bonus” recipe today. Enjoy it while you are preparinig your Valentine my Red Velvet Pancakes, or anytime tyou need to warm body and soul.
When Navitas Naturals kindly sent me their Cacao Powder to test, I thought to myself, “Really? How much difference can there be between their product and my grocery store variety?” The answer is “Considerable.”
My hunch is that when cocoa powder is one of a number of ingredients in a recipe, the difference is less pronounced. So, I decided to conduct a side-by-side informal taste test of the pure powder.
I moistened my finger, dipped it into my Kroger brand cocoa powder and put it straight in my mouth, closing my eyes and trying to really analyze its flavor. Then I drank a little water and repeated my test with Navitast Naturals Cacao Powder. There was a notable difference. My go-to cocoa powder was extremely mild in terms of chocolate flavor, a bit chalky, and pretty one dimensional in terms of flavor. The Cacao Powder, on the other hand, had a more intense chocolate flavor of greater complexity and depth without the same chalkiness, not to mention more nutrition and a darker color.
So, Navitas Naturals Cacao Powder? I’ll drink to that.
And here’s how I drink it:
Hot Chai Cocoa
1-1 1/2 cup serving (easily multiplies)
Note: I have also made this hot cocoa with other tea, like a Chocolate Hazelnut variety that I like, and it was delicious, with the tea imparting a subtle earthiness. Use any tea that seems compatible with chocolate: mint, orange, raspberry, etc.
1/2 cup water
1 Chai tea bag (or any flavor you wish)
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 1/2 tablespoons Navitas Natural Cacao Powder (or, okay, your favorite brand of cocoa powder)
1 cup unsweetened or plain soymilk (or your favorite non-dairy milk; I prefer soy for its protein content)
Place water and tea bag in a large mug and heat on hi in microwave for 30 seconds. Lift out tea bag, add remaining ingredients, whisking after each, replace tea bag, and microwave for an additional 1 1/2 minutes. Squeeze tea bag over cocoa mixture, discard bag, whisk mixture again, and enjoy.
My Vegan Red Velvet Brownies recipe garnered over 1,000 “likes” last year on One Green Planet!
As you’ll read in the back story, my online research produced nothing that was quite what I wanted, so I set about making my own 3-layer confection with a cream cheese-like swirl. There were quite a few trials and errors—lots of errors (probably about 1,000 “licks”-ha!)–to arrive at just what I wanted. But I hope you’ll agree that I finally got it.
When you click on the link above to visit the OGP site, you’ll also notice that there was a bit of controversy from folks who didn’t read the fine print about NATURAL red food color. But, eventually, they were able to calm down and brownie on.
Yield: a Baker’s Half Dozen (7) Mini-Heart Cakes
I’m not sure how or why I dreamed up these particular concoctions of rich chocolate, espresso, hazelnuts and dried apricots, but I’m so glad I did! I went through a number of iterations in my mind, but these are what emerged. As delicious as they are exquisite, they are also stupid-easy. They just looks ultra-special.
As a dress rehearsal for Valentine’s Day, I created the recipe and whipped up a trial batch for Principals’ Appreciation Week a couple of weeks ago, giving the 7th one to my Pilates/Barre instructor. An A+!
Though these mini-cakes would be beautiful for a dinner party (and certainly don’t have to be heart-shaped), for my presentation needs, I simply packaged them in patterned cardboard boxes with clear peek-a-boo lids from the craft store, placing each one on an opened-out cupcake liner before carefully setting it inside the box. To transport them, I just lined up the boxes on a jelly roll pan. The generous size and low sides of the pan were perfect for moving them from home to school.
Wherever you serve yours, they are sure to be loved!
Chocolate Heart Cakes
1 cup soymilk (or your favorite non-dairy milk)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup vegan butter
1 1/2 cups demerara sugar (or any granulated sugar)
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use white whole wheat for virtually everything)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 10 x 15″ sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray. Line with parchment paper, pressing into corners and edges, and spray again. In a small bowl, whisk vinegar into soymilk and set aside to curdle, whisking again before using. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter. Add sugar and continue creaming for about 3 minutes. (When using a natural sugar like demerara, it will not fully dissolve, so expect some pleasant grittiness, but will melt during cooking.) Beat in cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Then, with mixer on low, beat in flour in three batches, alternating with soymilk mixture. Beat only enough to combine ingredients, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Transfer batter into prepared pan, distributing batter into corners and gently smoothing the top. Bake for 18-20 minute or until top of cake springs back when lightly pressed and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a metal rack. Then cut out 14 heart shapes using a 2 1/2-inch cookie cutter. Mash cake scraps together to make cake balls (dip in chocolate and serve with vegan ice cream) or reserve them in a zip-lock bag or other airtight container in freezer to make crumbs for another use.
Hazelnut-Dried Apricot Ganache Filling
1 cup vegan chocolate chips (I like a darker chocolate, but use your preference)
1 tablespoon vegan butter
1/4 cup vegan sour cream
7 dried apricots, finely chopped (be sure they are moist and plump)
3/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts (I toast them over medium-high in a dry skillet for about 4 minutes, until fragrant; watch closely as they will burn quickly)
Melt chocolate, dip apricots for garnish (see below), and then whisk in sour cream, dried finely chopped apricots, and toasted hazelnuts.
Espresso Cream Cheese Frosting
1/4 cup vegan butter
1/4 cup vegan cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon espresso powder (or instant coffee, ground to a powder in a spice grinder)
3 1/2-3 3/4 cups powdered sugar (adjust to create desired consistency)
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Beat in extracts and espresso powder, followed by powdered sugar in half-cup increments. Be sure to start the mixer on low and gradually increase it so that you aren’t dusted with powdered sugar!
Chocolate Dipped Apricots with Sea Salt
7 dried apricots (moist and plump ones, but not too large)
Melted vegan chocolate (from filling recipe)
Maldon or other large flaky sea salt
Before adding sour cream to melted chocolate, dip each apricot, halfway up and set on a plate covered with parchment or waxed paper to dry. After chocolate is cool, but not completely set, sprinkle liberally with Maldon sea salt. Refrigerate until needed.
Each day this week, I am featuring 4 of my favorite Blooming Platter Valentine’s treats from the past and one brand new one which I’ll post about mid-week, as it may require a quick trip to the grocery store.
I am always surprised when someone says they don’t care for peppermint and chocolate together, as I think it is a divine marriage of flavors, perfect for Valentine’s Day.
If you agree, you will love my Vegan Peppermint and Chocolate Patties. I created these easy and beautiful treats in 2011 to share with our beloved IB and fine arts assistant principal.
I apologize that my photography wasn’t better way back then, two cameras ago, but I think you can get the delectable idea.
About mid-week, I will post my new 2015 creation to give you time to shop for the few ingredients you may not have on-hand like dried apricots, hazelnuts, and espresso powder.
First up are my beautiful Vegan Chocolate Truffles.
Birth, death, illness, divorce, and distance–the stuff of life–altered the guest list from year to year, but essentially our culinary tradition remained intact, alternating between traditional-with-a-twist and very non-traditional thematic feasts: Cajun, Thai, American Diner, and more.
Finally, though, my parents have gotten to the age (81 and 86) where neither the drive nor the flight from MS is comfortably manageable, though my father still works part-time as an engineer and just drove them to and from Texas where my mother’s siblings live.
Last November, Mama took a spill in a Cracker Barrel parking lot in North Carolina on their way home–I told them that place was dangerous!–and they ended up in the local hospital. She was fine, if shaken, but the writing was on the wall.
So, though it made all of us a bit sad–as my mother said, “You think things will always be the same”–I suggested that we meet in New Orleans, an easy 2 1/2 hour drive from their home and a not-too-terrible flight from here. Grateful and enthusiastic, my folks booked us into the Chateau LeMoyne, a family favorite, and I made Thanksgiving dinner reservations at Broussard’s, another family favorite since childhood. Joe is game–he thinks it’s the right thing to do– if a little skeptical, as it’s not “his” city in the way that it is ours; my sister and I were weaned on The Big Easy. And, though the decision was made too late for them to be with us this year, Joe’s sisters and our niece are hoping to join us every other Thanksgiving if our NOLA tradition continues.
Wherever you will be, whoever you will be with, and for whatever reason, my sincere hope is that you will find yourself deeply grateful for life’s gifts, even if, like us, they represent a “new normal.”
As a gesture of gratitude, over the next three weeks, I will serve up three new recipes–one per week–for a perfect, if slightly non-traditional, vegan feast. And I’m starting with dessert! Enjoy this moist, richly autumnal, and complexly flavored cake. It was a hit for a friend’s recent birthday and I’ve made it again for a small dinner tomorrow night for two girlfriends. Were we going to be at home, it would certainly be on our Thanksgiving menu.
Yield: 1 10-inch bundt cake
1 cup unsweetened or plain soymilk
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)
1 3/4 cup turbinado sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
1/2 cup maple syrup (or agave nectar)
1-15.5 ounce can pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 tablespoon vanilla
Spiced Espresso Ganach (recipe follows)
Garnish: chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 10-inch bundt pan with nonstick spray and set aside. In a small cup, whisk together soymilk and vinegar and allow to curdle and thicken. Place all dry ingredients in a very large mixing bowl in the order given, and whisk to combine. Add remaining wet ingredients including soymilk mixture and whisk 50 strokes or until lumps disappear. Avoid overbeating. Transfer into prepared bundt pan and bake 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (65 minutes is perfect in my oven.) Allow to cool completely in pan, loosen around edges, top with serving plate, and and invert. Spoon ganache around the top of the cake, allowing some to drip down the inside and outside edges and sprinkle with walnuts.
*Spiced Espresso Ganache
1/2 cup plain non-dairy creamer (soy or coconut)
6 ounces chocolate chips
1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder
1/48to 1/4 teaspoong round cinnamon (adjust to suit taste)
Heat creamer to barely bubbling. Add chocoate chips. Allow to sit a couple of minutes and then whisk together until smooth and completely combined. Whisk in instant coffee or espresso powder and cinnamon. Allow to cool until a thick pourable consistency.
*I like to double the recipe, using the whole bag of chips, and save half for another decadent purpose!
The only thing better than a moist chocolate cookie is one with a hint of cherry flavor, a juicy maraschino cherry tucked inside, and a buttery cashew on top.
Quite deceiving in appearance, the exterior of these cookies keeps a secret of the bright red maraschino cherry surprise hidden within.
Simple to prepare but quite fancy in appearance, these cookies are equally at home in school lunch boxes or on cocktail party trays.
Sunday night, I served them to our dear friends and houseguests, Juliane and Marc Curvin. Health conscious, like me, we eacg enjoyed one cookie perched in a stainless steel Chinese spoon, all lined up on a long and narrow contemporary white rectangular plate. Neither they nor my husband are vegans or even vegetarians, but all thought these treats were the perfect 1- or 2-bite sweet ending.
8 ounces vegan chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup vegan butter
1 cup turbinado sugar (or any granulated sugar)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons maraschino cherry juice
1/4 cup cherry liqueur (or substitute 1/4 cup maraschino cherry juice)
2 tablespoons non-dairy creamer or non-dairy milk
2 cups white whole wheat flour (or unbleached all-purpose)
Pinch sea salt
24 maraschino cherries, drained
approximately 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
24 lightly salted and roasted cashew halves
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with Silpat. In a medium bowl, melt chocolate in microwave or over simmering water. Remove from heat and stir in butter until it melts. Add sugar, vanilla, cherry juice, cherry liqueur, and non-dairy creamer and whisk to combine. Whisk in half of flour and then incorporate remaining flour using a fork. Dough will be somewhat stiff. Using a small scoop, form a ball of dough. Using your thumb, create a depression in the center and place a maraschino cherry inside. Press dough around it to completely encase and gently reashape into a ball. Roll in powdered sugar and place on prepared baking sheet. Place a cashew half on the top pressing down ever so slightly to adhere. Repeat with remaining dough, cherries, confectioner’s sugar, and cashew halves, placing balls about 2 inches apart. Bake 12 minutes. Let cool slightly on baking sheet and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with additional confectioner’s sugar before serving.
A recipe from Rick Bayless–the iconic American chef steeped in traditional Mexican cuisine which he serves up, with a modern twist, at his Frontera Grill restaurants in Chicago and cooks up on his PBS series–inspired my vegan version (which I submitted to the Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck!).
I spotted the recipe in “Chefs’ Weeknight Dinners” in the July 2014 issue of Food and Wine while on an airplane and knew it would be one of the first new recipes I created once I got back home.
I followed his recipe and method except for the eggs and the chocolate. For the 3 eggs, I substituted 1/2 cup mashed banana, 1/4 cup unsweetened soymilk, and an additional 3/4 teaspoon baking powder. I chose banana as I’m not a powdered egg replacement fan and the banana seemed both Mexican and compatible with chocoalte. (I think pureed pumpkin would also be a nice substitute.) And for the Mexcian chocolate, finely chopped, I simply subbed vegan mini chocolate chips. I also added a teaspoon of vanilla and a smidge more confectioners’ sugar for dusting.
The recipe is a cinch to make and very earthy due to the large amount of pumpkin seeds. It calls for just over a cup of sugar, but the pumpkin seeds are roasted and salted, so this unfrosted cak is not too sweet.
The result is deliciously different without being odd. The cake has a consistency somewhat similar to a blondie with chocoalte chips. But its flavor–with the banana virtually undetectable–is all its own, so I think you’ll love adding it to your repertoire.
1 3/4 cup roasted and salted pumpkin seeds
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (any granulated sugar will work)
1/2 cup mashed banana
1/4 cup unsweetened soymilk
Optional: 1 tablespoon tequila
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup softened butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup white whole wheat flour (unbleached all-purpose flour would also be fine)
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 ounces vegan mini-chocolate chip (or chocolate/chocolate chips finely chopped)
2 tablespoons confecitoners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch baking pan with non-stick spray. Trace around the bottom of the pan on a piece of parchment paper and cut out just inside the line. Place paper in greased pan and spray again. Sprinkle bottom with 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds and 2 tablespooons of turbinado sugar. In a food processor, pulse the remaining 1 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds with the remaining 1 cup of turbinado sugar until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the banana, soymilk, optional tequila, vanilla, and butter, and process until smooth. Add the flour and baking powder and pulse just until incoproated. Add the chocolate and pulse until well distributed. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan, gently smoothing to make an even layer over the pumpkin seeds. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean and edges are golden brown. Rotate the pan halfway though baking. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert it onto a plate and carefully peel off the parchment paper. Dust the cake with the confectioners’ sugar and serve warm or at room temperature.