Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pumpkin Turtle Cake

I did not buy Halloween candy this year...maybe that makes me a Halloween Grinch if there is such a thing, but no trick or treaters ever visit my house anyways and I don't want to be stuck consuming a large bag of candy alone.  However, I decided that I should have a treat better than candy for Halloween weekend.  One with dark chocolate, caramel and nuts just so I wasn't feeling deprived of sweets.  I was going to bake a pumpkin cake anyways I had decided before hand, but that was quickly transformed into a turtle cake when the cravings for caramel and chocolate hit. 

I thought the sweet and lightly spiced pumpkin cake would be lovely with the turtle filling and frosting in place of the classic chocolate. I tend to get chocolated out anyways when I have a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting being slightly allergic to large amounts of chocolate. 

So I baked up a my vegan pumpkin spice cake recipe and it filled my kitchen with the most heavenly aroma which only got more amazing as the sweet caramel that was being made bubbled away on the stove.  As hungry as I was for the cake by that point, it was late Friday night and the cake and caramel both needed to cool before I assmbled my masterpiece so I would have to wait until Saturday to enjoy any of it.  I made some dark chocolate agave frosting, and started putting the layers together.  I decided that I needed to include pumpkin seeds along with the pecans in between the layers and on the cake as it was pumpkin!  It was fun drizzling the caramel like a little kid, but I have to admit I got a little too crazy with it and it started running off the cake plate at one point. 

The dangerous part of this whole process was the leftover frosting, caramel and cake trimmings which I admit ended up in my stomach...but it was all so incredibly delicious!  The finished cake was beautiful, the slice I cut a towering magnificent layering of caramel, chocolate and moist cake! 

The crunchy nuts added to the wow factor.  I devoured a large piece, then realized I probably should have been more conservative due to my chocolate allergy... I paid dearly but it was so worth it!  So much better than any Halloween candy!  I have included the recipe if you would like to experience the deliciousness.  Happy Halloween!

Vegan Pumpkin Turtle Cake
Makes 1 6 inch 4 layer cake
2 6 inch cake pans

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup maple sugar
2 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp cardamom
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground chipotle powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup pureed pumpkin or squash
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp maple extract
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp coconut milk
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Salted Maple Caramel:
2 cups maple sugar or granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup light agave nectar
1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
2 T. Earth balance butter
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp maple extract
2 tsp sea salt

1 1/2 cup agave nectar
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp coconut milk
1 1/2 cups sifted cocoa powder, or more if needed
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp maple extract

2 1/2 cups toasted pecans
1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and position rack in center of oven. Line two six-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides with parchment paper. Coat parchment paper and pan sides with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, baking soda, spices, salt, and sugar in a large bowl to blend well. Whisk pumpkin, oil, maple extract, vanilla extract, and cider together in small bowl to blend well, then whisk into the flour mixture until well blended. Whisk in cider vinegar until pale swirls form in the batter and it is well combined. Transfer cake batter to prepared pan and bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan on rack, about 1 hour. Cut around sides of pan to loosen. Turn cake out onto platter; peel off parchment paper. Let cool completely, then place in the fridge to chill until very cold to make slicing easier. When chilled, slice cakes horizontally in half so that you have 4 layers.
To make caramel, in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the sugar, agave nectar and water to a boil, stirring well at first to dissolve the sugar. Turn down the heat to low and cook until the liquid is deep amber in color, about 15-20 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally to ensure even cooking. Remove the pan from heat. Very carefully (the mixture will bubble), stir in the coconut milk, earth balance butter vanilla, maple extract, and sea salt until smooth. Let cool until it is a thicker constency before using on cake (it gets thicker as it cools).
To make frosting, whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl until very smooth, adding more cocoa powder if the frosting is not thick enough, or more coconut milk if too thick. Place a layer of cake on a plate, and spoon about 1/2 cup frosting over, almost to the sides, then scatter with about 1/2 cup of toasted pecans and pumpkin seeds and drizzle with a heaping 1/4 cup caramel.  Top with a another cake layer and repeat. Top with another cake layer, another frosting layer, pecans, pumpkin seeds, caramel, then the top cake layer. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and the sides of the cake, and arrange whole pecans and pumpkin seeds decoratively on the top of the cake.  Drizzle with caramel, and let it drip down the sides.

*if you would like a 4 layer 9 inch cake, double this entire recipe and bake in two 9 inch cake pans.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Silky Spiced Pumpkin Ice Cream with Apple Cider Reduction

Earlier this week I was in the car driving back from my doctor's appointment.  I had just had an X-ray diagnosing me with a fibular stress fracture, and was told "No running for 6-8 weeks".  Running means an awful lot to is my stress relief, my alone time, and my time to think, but I had been mentally preparing myself for bad news.   As much of a bummer as it was to hear I had a fracture, I was relieved to finally find out for sure what the pain in my leg had been for the past month.  I was zoning out and staring at the beautiful orange maple trees in someone's front yard as I sat at a stoplight when suddenly something on the radio commercials caught my ear.  "Pumpkin Ice Cream..."  It was a Trader Joe's commercial, talking about how good their ice cream was because it was made with pure pumpkin and cream.  It didn't make me want to go out and buy a quart however, it made me want to create my own delicious vegan pumpkin ice cream. 

Afterall, I deserved it after the bad news right?  Of course!  At least that was my thought process.  I began dreaming of a silky pumpkin ice cream with just enough spice to be remeniscent of pumpkin pie filling.  I thought I would make it extra silky by adding a small amount of almond butter along with the pumpkin puree.  The base was delicious once the spices were added, and the finished product after churning was amazing, but after it had ripened overnight it was heavenly! 
I scooped myself a dish (ok, more than one), drizzled some apple cider reduction I had in the fridge over it, topped it with pecans, and it was perfect!  Like pumpkin pie with cream that melted in my mouth.  The tart reduction cut the sweet beautifully, and I was glad I decided to try it drizzled over. 

What stress fracture?  Ice cream makes everything least while you are eating it.  If you are a pumpkin lover though, you must try making this ice cream, no excuses needed!  The reduction is wonderful as well, especially over pancakes. 

Silky Spiced Pumpkin Ice Cream with Apple Cider Reduction
Makes 6 cups
Ice cream:
3 cups organic full fat coconut milk, chilled
3/4 cup agave nectar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup almond butter (no sugar added)
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp maple extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
Combine all ingredients in a blender, and process until well blended.  Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to package directions (mine takes about an hour, and is still a little soupy like the consistency of a malt, but firms up in the freezer later). Once processed, pour into a freezable container with a lid, and place in the freezer for at least a few hours, or overnight to firm up for best results. Serve with cider reduction. 
Cider reduction:
4 cups organic apple cider
To make reduction, place cider in a large saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced to 1 cup or the consistency of syrup.  Remove from heat and cool.  It will thicken as it cools.  Store in the fridge. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Poison Apple Martini

What do you do when dealing with a breakup?  Try to keep your head held high, find the positives in your life and maybe make a great drink just for yourself... because girl you deserve it!  Such an occasion calls for a special type of drink however, one of mixed feelings.  Which is precisely why tonight I made a little (well, maybe not so little) martini for myself I like to call the "Poison Apple". 
Might as well throw a little seasonal flavor in for good measure and use some cider and spice!  I started off with a base of Crown Royal, which is warming and comforting, reminding me of hot toddies.  I added a bit of honey bourbon for sweetness, as well as some honeycrisp apple cider and a bit of lemon for a tart bite.  I decided that some burn needed to be included here along with the comfort, as like the drink, breakups sting a I added my ginger habanero syrup.  Lastly a dash of cinnamon and maple and voila! 
A delicious cocktail of mixed emotions, smooth and sweet, a little tart and a bit of an afterburn.  Maybe you need a good cocktail with some comfort, a bit of relaxation and warmth without being hot... here is your drink, and it is perfect for October! 
Poison Apple Martini
Makes 1

For rim:
1 Tbsp agave nectar
2 Tbsp turbinado sugar
a pinch of ground cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 large ice cubes
2 oz apple cider
3 oz Crown Royal
1 oz Honey bourbon
1 oz fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp ginger habanero syrup*
1/4 tsp cinnamon
a few drops natural plant based red food coloring

To coat rim, place agave nectar on a plate and coat rim edge with it by dipping it upside down into it.  On another plate, combine turbinado sugar, cayenne, and cinnamon and dip coated glass rim into it coating it evenly, set aside.  To make drink, in a martini shaker add the ice, cider, crown royal, bourbon, lemon juice, syrup, and cinnamon and place top on shaker. Shake until well blended. Pour through a strainer into a the martini glass, and serve!
*Ginger Habanero Agave Syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup agave nectar
1 inch piece fresh ginger
1 habanero pepper, halved
Heat water until boiling, remove from heat and whisk in agave nectar ginger and pepper, until nectar is dissolved. Chill well before using in drinks. Makes 1 cup syrup

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Autumn Pumpkin Cookies

I am going to be honest... there are very few pumpkin cookies I have sampled in my lifetime that I was actually fond of.  Many of them were too soft for my taste, almost muffin like, and didn't contain enough spice or goodies added in.  So last weekend I got it into my head that I needed to create a vegan pumpkin cookie that was up to my standards. 

It had to be substantial, crispy on the inside, but soft in the middle, which could be a little bit of a challenge since pumpkin contains a lot of moisture.  I also wanted there to be plenty of spice.   Pumpkin and spices go together like autumn and leaves!  So I added cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and nutmeg, my favorite spices to pair with pumpkin.  Lastly there were to be a lot of goodies in these cookies.  Chocolate chips found their way in, as well as fruits which I consider autumnal, crasins, golden raisins, toasted pecans and walnuts, and spicy candied ginger.  They were packed full of goodness!  The dough was wonderful, and of course I couldn't resist having more than a couple samples as I shaped the cookies and prepared them for their stay in the oven. 

Those that made it onto the pan smelled wonderful while baking, the aroma of spice and pumpkin filled my home.  I had one when they were barely cool enough to handle (which I wouldn't advise due to possible mouth burnage), and it was delicious! A true representation of all things autumn in a cookie! 

Once they were cool of course I had some more, and they were everything I was hoping to create!  The essence of pumpkin in a perfectly textured cookie, sweet dried fruit, crunchy toasty nuts, gooey decadent chocolate chips, and just enough spice to be up to par with a pumpkin pie. 

All of my thoughts on pumpkin cookies being inferior to other cookie types in texture etc. have since dissapeared.  I love it when I can change my own mind on a baked good by recreating it! 

I gave a container of them to my boyfriend Scott who needent say anything at all to tell me they were good because he dove right in and had devoured a few of them before I had a chance to say much about them.  He gets this look on his face like a five year old kid when I give him cookies which I just love, and it is easy to tell if they meet his standards of approval for a yummy cookie!  If you have made pumpkin cookies in the past and thought they were too soft, you should try these!  You will be glad you did, and so will your friends if you share them.  Happy October!

Autumn Vegan Pumpkin Cookies
makes 1 1/2 dozen

1 cup maple sugar, or granulated organic sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup Earth Balance vegan buttery spread at room temperature
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp maple extract
1/2 cup thick maple syrup or agave nectar 
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp cardamom
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cups vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup crasins
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 cups candied ginger, chopped

In a large bowl, combine buttery spread and coconut oil with sugar and beat until fluffy and well combined. Beat in the pumpkin, vanilla extract, maple extract, and maple syrup until well combined. In a smaller bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, spices, then add to the large bowl, and mix until well combined. Mix in the chocolate, nuts, and dried fruit, cover, and place in the fridge to chill until firm (I like to leave it overnight). To bake, Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll balls into about 2 inch balls, and place on prepared cookie sheets a couple inches apart (refrigerate unused dough while baking the other trays). Bake for about 15 minutes, until puffed and just starting to brown slightly. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining cookies.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ginger Lemon Pear Pie

Hot tea with lemon and ginger is what my Mom always would suggest I drink whenever I had a cold or was feeling a bit under the weather.  She was onto something, because it does always seem to help. This lemon and ginger combination is also a key part of her hot toddies she mixes when the temperatures drop, mixing them into bourbon with a bit of honey.  This week I had picked up some sort of bug that was leaving me feeling like I needed a bit of lemon and ginger, but it was tough to drink hot tea with it, as it has been over 80 degrees in Minnesota all week.  Lemonade with honey and ginger seemed like a more soothing combination, and relying on a netty pot seemed like a better way to clear the head.  All of this lemon and ginger I have been consuming had me thinking about how the combination could be used in a delicious autumn dessert.  Afterall, a week of being under the weather deserves a delicious dessert, at least in my mind. 

A fruit pie sounded marvelous, so a fruit pie it would be!  I was passing through the produce department on the way out of work, and I decided that the ripe pears all lined up neatly were what I wanted!  Sweet, ripe, juicy pears just sounded good to me, and I thought they would marry well with the lemon and fresh ginger in a deep dish pie. 

I never make a regular sized pie afterall, it has to be deep dish and have plenty of fruit deliciousness in the filling to please me.  I decided that the crust needed to be lemon scented as well, me not being one to ever make a simple plain pie crust.  The filling was to be ginger laced, with plenty of lemon and a little spice, just sweet enough, but not overly so.  At first I wanted to make a lattice top pie, but then I got lazy and just cut cute little hearts in the top. 

It smelled wonderful while baking, like spices and lemon, and I was grateful to actually be able to enjoy the aroma after being stuffed up earlier in the week.  I was rather proud of it as it emerged from the oven, all perfectly golden with the cute little hearts on top.

So much prettier than my last pie attempt, which was delicious but not so pretty.  The sugar on top sparkled and the pears peaking through the hearts were calling my name and tempting me to scoop out a section before it cooled.  It smelled heavenly, and waiting to dive in was the hard part as always... 

When I finally got to dive into a piece, it was wonderful!  The sweet pears with a hint of spice, ginger and tart lemon inside the crispy flaky lemon scented crust!  I served it warm with some of my silky almond chipotle chili ice cream and it was wonderful! 

You would have thought by the end of this week I would be tired of ginger and lemon, but not so much!  I think I could have a pie like this one every weekend and be happy.  If you have access to ripe pears, you should give this a try!  No need to be under the weather the week before of course... you always deserve a delicious pie!  This makes plenty to share with others as well, so you can share the comfort dessert love!

Ginger Lemon Pear Pie
Makes One 9 inch deep dish pie

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3 Tbsp maple sugar (or granulated sugar)
1 tsp sea salt
a stick plus 6 Tbsp cold Earth Balance vegan butter
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice
about 5-6 Tbsp cold water

12 large pears cut into medium cubes
1/2 cup Plus 2 Tbsp maple sugar (or brown sugar)
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
juice of one large lemon
2 Tbsp organic lemon zest
1 1/2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
a pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp flour

coconut milk, for brushing
turbinado sugar, for topping
To make the crust, in a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, sea salt, and lemon zest.  Cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until it is in pea sized pieces.  Mix in vanilla, lemon juice and just enough water to create a smooth dough that holds together but isn't too sticky.  Add more water if needed, and knead slightly until a smooth dough is created.  Divide into 2 pieces and shape into rounds.  Cover and refridgerate until workable at least 30 minutes.  Roll each out into a 13 inch round using parchment underneath and floured rolling pin.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  To make filling, mix together all ingredients in a large bowl.  Place bottom crust into a deep dish pie pan and fit to edges.  Pour filling into bottom crust, then carefully place top crust over and crimp edges together.  Brush top crust with a little coconut milk, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  Pierce top crust a few times, and place in the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes then reduce oven to 375 (cover with foil if getting too brown) and bake for another  45 minutes to 1 hour until bubbling and pears are tender.  Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least and hour.  Serve with ice cream!