Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sarah's Birthday Cake - Part I

Not every cake was created the same. These cupcakes I baked contained no eggs, no butter, no milk, no nuts and no chocolate…

They are for Sarah’s friends. Some of these little friends of hers are babies who are allergic to eggs and dairy products and have not been exposed to nuts and chocolate. My friends bought delicious vegan carob cupcakes from a local home baker for their babies’ birthday. But how can I not make my first child’s first birthday cake?! I am a big believer of using REAL butter, REAL cream and good quality chocolate in my baking. Therefore, finding a way to exclude all the wonderful building blocks from a cake recipe is quite difficult for me.

Vegan cupcakes
I had never been this serious. I rolled up my sleeves and started my cake experiment. I found a “moist vegan chocolate cake” recipe online and asked my friend and her 14 months old baby boy, Olivier, to come over to try out the recipe. I made it without chocolate but it didn’t turn out very well. I found it moist but too chewy. Most importantly, neither Sarah or Olivier liked it. Well, well. It was the first attempt.

Contingency plan
Since no one likes those chewy cakes, I have to have a back up plan: make an ordinary cake and apologize to everyone who has food allergies. So, I tried Billy Reece’s Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes. It was a very delicate and fluffy cake. However, I’m not crazy about his frosting. It’s very sugary. But his cupcake is a winner, perfect to be the back up plan.

Allergen Free Cupcakes
Well, well, well, I tried to search for other vegan cupcake recipes online. There are a number of recipes without eggs and dairy but they are all chocolate cakes. Oh, I forgot to mention that one of the guests is sensitive to soy… therefore, substituting milk with soymilk is not preferred.

Then, I gave up with my search. I went to the grocery store to buy egg replacer. I altered Billy Reece’s Vanilla Vanilla Cupcake recipe to make my own version of vegan cupcakes. Even he had stressed that you should always use whole milk in his recipe…When the cupcakes were done, I gave one to Frank to try. He didn’t like it. He said it was bland. (NICE!) But I don’t know what to do anymore, I frosted the cupcakes after they were cooled. Took a few pictures. At least they “looked” delicious.

I saved two cupcakes at home and gave all the rest to one of my guinea pigs. (Yes, Shirley, it was you.) I tried the leftover cupcake the next morning. Surprisingly, the cupcake was quite tasty, it’s soft and moist, not as sugary as it first came out from the oven. The frosting is still too sugary to my liking (It was still Billy Reece’s frosting) but my guinea pig called me and told me that she likes it a lot!

I think it's a winner.

Winnie’s Allergen Free Vanilla Cupcakes
12 cupcakes

1 cup cake and pastry flour
½ cup all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup margarine
2 eggs equivalent of egg substitute
½ cup water
½ tsp pure vanilla extract

1 Preheat oven at 350F and line cupcake pan with paper liners. Combine all dry ingredients in an electric stand-up mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix well. With medium speed, add margarine and mix for 1 minute. Add egg replacer, water and vanilla extract to the batter, mix until all combined, about 2 minutes.

2 Fill cupcake lines with no more than 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to wire rack to cool

3 When the cupcakes are completely cooled, use an offset spatula to frost the cupcakes and decorate as desired. Serve at room temperature.

Winnie’s Allergen Free Vanilla Frosting

½ cup margarine
3½ cups icing sugar. sifted
¼ cup water
½ tsp vanilla

In the bowl of an electric stand-up mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream margarine. With mixer on low speed, add icing sugar, water, and vanilla; mix until light and fluffy. If necessary, gradually add extra 1/2 cup icing sugar to reach desired consistency.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Glittering Marshmallow Snow Flakes - SHF49

I love food blogging. It motivates me to try out new recipes that I saw from all my food magazines/books. In the past three months, I have made more desserts than I would normally do in a year. Now, I don’t need a reason or special occasion to make dessert. I’m so excited about making, photographing (normally done by Frank), tasting and giving out desserts. I also look forward to participating each month’s Sugar High Fridays. This month, Susan from The Well-Seasoned Cook is calling for all the dessert that glitters!

I knew what I was going to make for this month’s entry right away. I subscribed to Martha Stewart Livings at home. And I remember very clearly that she had featured marshmallow snow flakes in one of her winter issue many years ago. It was so adorable and I decided to make that marshmallow snow flakes with sparkling sugar. Just in time for Christmas

When I saw the recipe, I was shocked! I was shocked by the simplicity and the quantity that yield. It required only sugar, water, corn syrup, gelatin, salt and vanilla (I was hoping to use up some of the egg whites in my fridge.) and you can make 100 marshmallow snow flakes from one batch. Then I read on and realized that it makes small, one to two inches snow flakes. That’s better…

I cannot tell you how excited I was when I saw the sugar mixture (see recipe) became thick and had turned white. The texture looked exactly like the melting marshmallow that you’re trying to pull away from your wooden stick at the camp fire. I knew I did it!

I didn’t use sparkling sugar with bright, primary colours. They might be good for other purposes but not here, not for snow flakes. Unfortunately, the photo didn’t turn out as well as I hope (I took the pictures this time). You probably can’t see very well from the picture but my snow flakes did sparkle.

These Sparkling Marshmallow Snow Flakes are so beautiful and easy to make. It makes good gift for the holiday.

Glittering Marshmallow Snowflakes (recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

Makes about 100

2 envelopes (each 1 scant tablespoon) unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
Sparkling Sugar (1/3 cup)

1. Coat a 12-by-17-inch rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray; line with parchment paper. Spray parchment; set aside. Pour 1/3 cup cold water into the bowl of an electric mixer. Sprinkle with gelatin; let mixture soften, about 5 minutes.

2. Place sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/3 cup water in a medium saucepan. Cover; bring to a boil. Remove lid; cook, swirling pan occasionally, until syrup reaches 238 degrees (soft-ball stage) on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes.

3. With mixer on low speed, whisk gelatin mixture, and slowly pour the syrup in a steady stream down the side of the bowl (to avoid splattering). Gradually raise speed to high; beat until mixture is thick, white, and has almost tripled in volume, about 12 minutes. Add vanilla, and beat 30 seconds to combine.

4. Pour mixture onto prepared baking sheet; smooth with an offset spatula. Let stand at room temperature, uncovered, until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight.

5. Coat a 1- or 2-inch snowflake-shaped cookie cutter with cooking spray to prevent it from sticking. Cut out as many individual marshmallows as possible; coat cutter with more spray as needed. Coat marshmallow with sparkling sugar and use marshmallows immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Concord Grape Parfait


I’m very lucky that I’m the only one who is so obsessed about making dessert among all my friends. People knows my obsession and always let me bring dessert to all the parties, pot-lucks and ladies night-“in”. At one of my usual gathering with my girl friends, I brought this Concord Grape Parfait which everyone loves.

This is one of the concord grape recipes from Claudia Fleming’s book. I find that Fleming’s recipes looked more complicated than when you were actually making it. This book trained me to have everything ready before getting my hands wet. Once you have all ingredients measured out, the action time for most of the recipes is less than 20 minutes (not including baking time).

The bottom layer of the parfait is grape mousse, then topped with a layer of grape gelée and a thin layer of gelled cream. I particularly like the grape gelée which the flavour is very sharp and stand out from the mousse and the gelled cream. It truly is the soul of the parfait. However, without the grape mousse as the background and the gelled cream to balance its sharp flavour, the grape gelée will become too tart to enjoy.

Fleming suggested to compose a dessert using this Concord Grape Parfait, the
Concord Grape Sorbet and Cornmeal Nut Biscotti. Still, I’m not crazy about adding the biscotti to neither the parfait nor the sorbet.

Concord grape’s season is now over. I’ll wait patiently to make the rest of the grape recipes next year. But in the meanwhile, I’m going to keep myself busy on trying all the other wonderful recipes from the book.

The Last Course - Concord Grape


I rarely spend time in front of my computer when I got home. I enjoy spending my time watching TV or talking to my sister on the phone instead. Therefore, I missed out the treasure of food blogs in the past few years. I found it hard to catch up but at the same time, I found it fun to surf from one blog to another.

Claudia Fleming’s book, The Last Course, was mentioned in a many of the food blogs that I have visited. People always have good things to say about this book. Unfortunately, the book is out of print. So that I borrowed it from the local library and planning to try all the recipes in the book.

When I got the book, it was September. I started with figs & concord grapes recipes. I made the
fig tart which my friend, Lucia, loves. However, my mother-in-law wasn’t impressed by my tart. (I should have said “the picture of my tart”. She didn't try my tart because she lives four hours flight away.) She took pity on me for buying those not very nice looking figs... Well, she was comparing store-bought figs to her fresh, sweet, tree ripen figs from her garden. She has a fig tree in her backyard which yields close to a thousand figs each year. Lucky her.

Concord grapes were also in season in September. You can find them every time you turn around. I was so excited when I got a basket of very fresh concord grape home from a local store. With a 2.5L basket of concord grapes, I made a batch of Concord Grape Sorbet and Concord Grape Parfait. This is my first time using my ice-cream machine. (It was given to me 6 years ago by my brother.) The sorbet turned out very well. That deep vibrant colour from the grapes is very eye-catching. The taste is rich yet refreshing, so different from the ordinary orange or lime sorbet that you can find from the store.

I had also made the Cornmeal Nut Biscotti to go with the sorbet, as suggested in the book. However, I don’t think it pairs very well with the sorbet. The flavour of the anise seeds and the nuts in the biscotti is just simply too strong to the refreshing sorbet. If any of you had tried the combination, let me know whether or not you feel the same way.

I’m very happy about my first attempt on making sorbet. Fleming’s book has a lot of ice-cream and sorbet recipes. I book-marked some of them and the Caramel Ice-cream is on the top of my to-make list.