Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Happy Valentines Day!

Well, it's that time of year when store aisles overflow with chocolate, and those with special diets either slink away empty-handed or head to the kitchen to make their own. For those who tend toward the latter, I thought I'd list some helpful posts from the past, both recent and less so.

I hope this is helpful. Happy V-day!

Vegan truffles

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie Pie

Well, after the last post, I am more or less drowning in brownies (Six batches! Good thing they were mostly half recipes). Anyway, here’s a recipe that will use up at least a few of them. It’s a creamy tofu pie with little chunks of brownie floating throughout for texture. It’s best use somewhat crunchy or stale brownies so they do not become soggy.

With its multiple components and layers, this isn’t my easiest chocolate tofu pie (that would be this one) but it is a good one to make when you want to impress someone or have a special night. 

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie Pie

Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie Pie

1 Graham cracker or other crumb crust

Hazelnut mousse:
9 oz firm silken tofu (3/4 of a 12 oz pkg—you’ll need 2 packages total)
½ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
½ cup sugar or sweetener
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp soy milk
dash of cinnamon

Cocoa layer:
9 oz firm silken tofu (3/4 of a 12 oz pkg)
¼ cup cocoa or carob powder
3 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp oil
½ cup sugar or sweetener
1 ½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp instant coffee or caffeine free coffee substitute
1/8 tsp almond extract
dash cinnamon

Chocolate chip layer:
6 oz firm silken tofu (1/2 of a 12 oz pkg)
½-3/4 cup sugar or sweetener
¾ cup vegan chocolate or carob chips
½ tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
½ tsp instant coffee or caffeine free coffee substitute

4 brownies, cut into bite-size pieces

2 Tbsp toasted hazelnuts
2 Tbsp toasted coconut

First (hazelnut) layer plus brownie bites
Pre-bake your crust if you wish (it’s not totally necessary, but may improve sturdiness in some crusts). Let cool.

Place all ingredients for the hazelnut mousse into a blender and puree until completely smooth.  Pour into crust. Sprinkle brownie bites over top.
Second (cocoa)  layer
Place all ingredients for the cocoa layer into the blender (no need to rinse) and puree until smooth. Carefully pour in an even layer on the pie, trying not to churn up the lower layer if possible.

Third (chocolate chip) layer

Melt the chocolate. Put it in the blender with the other ingredients for the chocolate chip layer and blend until smooth. Pour evenly on top of pie, carefully spreading to cover the pie without messing up the other layers. Sprinkle the top of the pie with the 2 tbsp hazelnuts and coconut for garnish.

Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight before slicing.

Other nuts, particularly almonds, may be substituted for the hazelnuts. 

1/2 to 3/4 cup shredded coconut may be stirred into the hazelnut mousse after blending for a coconut cream pie effect.

Note: The hazelnut mousse can be made on its own and makes an excellent whipped topping substitute.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Three kinds of Vegan Brownies

Well, there’s nothing like chocolate at Valentines, and nothing so chocolatey as a brownie, so I thought I’d put together a post of three of my best brownie recipes, designed for different needs.

These are recipes that I have improved over time by adjusting ingredients and techniques.
With brownies, the order in which the ingredients are combined matters to achieve the best results: combining the sugar with hot melted chocolate and peanut butter increases crackly-ness, and “blooming” the cocoa and instant coffee in hot liquid increases their flavor. The addition of three key ingredients: a little cinnamon, instant coffee, and almond extract also helps to maximize and round out chocolate flavor.

Rich vegan brownies

Rich, Dark and Crackly Vegan Brownies

These are the darkest and crackliest of the three brownies, rich enough to be a real special occasion treat.

¾ cup vegan chocolate or carob chips
6 Tbsp peanut butter
1 cup sugar

¼ cup cocoa or carob powder
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp instant coffee or caffeine free coffee substitute

¾ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ salt

2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
½ cup pureed silken tofu (be sure to blend until completely smooth)
1 ½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix flaxseed, tofu and extracts; set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Mix cocoa, cinnamon, and instant coffee in a separate bowl. Melt chocolate chips and peanut butter together in the microwave. Immediately stir in the sugar. Then stir in the cocoa mixture. Add flax mix, then pour it all into the flour bowl. Mash together with fingers until combined. Press into a parchment lined 8 by 8 inch baking pan.

Bake for 25 minutes. It will look gooey and underdone, but will firm up as it cools.

Let cool for 15 or 20 minutes, then score with a knife in the pan, taking particular care to slice through the edges which will be difficult to cut later. Cool for another 45 minutes to an hour before taking out of the pan. Finish cutting or breaking apart the brownies, and serve.
Rich brownies, with water  instead of tofu

Note: I have made this recipe using 6 Tbsp water in place of the silken tofu, and it is even darker and cracklier.  However, it’s also a little more prone to greasiness. It’s your call. You could also try half of each--using 1/4 cup pureed tofu plus 3 Tbsp water.

Reduced Fat Vegan Brownies

With a third less peanut butter and 75 % less chocolate chips, these are a significantly lighter version of the above recipe with very little loss of flavor, thanks to a boost in low calorie cocoa powder.

¾ cup plus 1 Tbsp whole-wheat pastry flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

½ cup plus 1 Tbsp cocoa or carob powder
1 tsp instant coffee or caffeine free coffee substitute
½ tsp cinnamon

2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
7 Tbsp water
1 ½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp almond extract

1 cup sugar
¼ cup peanut butter OR other nut butter
3 Tbsp vegan chocolate or carob chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk together the water and ground flaxseed with the vanilla and almond extract. Set aside to thicken.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl, combine cocoa powder, instant coffee and cinnamon.

Melt the peanut butter and chocolate chips together in a microwave—this should take no more than 45 seconds. Immediately, while still hot, add the sugar to the peanut butter and chocolate and stir. Add cocoa mixture and stir that in too. Dump in the flax eggs and stir until smooth. Pour everything into the flour bowl and combine until homogenous without overmixing. Your fingers will probably be the easiest way to accomplish this.

Pour into a sprayed 8 by 8 inch baking pan (lined with a foil or parchment sling if you wish) and spread it out with a greased spatula. Bake for 18-24 minutes, a little more or less depending on how gooey or crunchy you want them.

When you pull them out, they will appear underdone by every test—toothpick, spring back, even wiggly in the middle—but they firm up as they cool and will turn quite hard if you keep cooking them.

Let cool for 20 minutes, then score where you intend to cut them, particularly the edges. Let cool another 30 to 40 minutes, then pull them out of the pan (this will be easier if you made a sling) and cut or break them apart, depending on how thoroughly you scored them. Enjoy!

Tip: Making a sling—if you line a baking pan with foil or parchment paper and leave flaps on the sides, you can use those flaps as handles to lift the brownies out when they are done without having to scrape and struggle.

Reduced fat vegan brownies

Sugar Free Vegan Brownies

Unfortunately, truly 100% sugar free brownies are never going to have the lovely shiny crackle top that is so distinctive and appealing. This is an effect that simply cannot be replicated with non-nutritive sugar substitutes, which supply only the sweetness of sugar and not the physical and chemical properties of thereof. 

There’s no reason that you can’t top your brownies with something different but equally nice, however. I’ve covered these sugar free brownies with a crumbly streusel topping that I think compensates rather nicely for the lack. I’ve also made these brownies containing all cocoa instead of melted chocolate to eliminate the difficulty of finding low sugar vegan chocolate.

Sugar free vegan brownies with streusel topping

Brownie Batter:
½ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
Sweetener such as stevia or splenda equivalent to 1 cup of sugar

½ cup cocoa or carob powder
1 tsp instant coffee or caffeine free coffee substitute
½ tsp cinnamon

2 Tbsp ground flaxseed
6 Tbsp water
3 Tbsp oil
1 ½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp almond extract

Streusel Topping:
¼ cup cocoa or carob powder
3 Tbsp whole-wheat pastry flour
Sweetener such as stevia or splenda equivalent to 1/3 cup of sugar
2 ½ Tbsp oil
2 tsp water
¼ tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix together the streusel topping: whisk together the cocoa, flour and sweetener. Then combine oil, water, vanilla, and cinnamon. Drizzle the oil mixture over the flour mixture while tossing with a fork. Use your fingers to toss and crumble the mixture until it looks like clumpy wet sand. Set aside.
Combine flaxseed and water; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, salt and sweetener. In another bowl, mix cocoa, cinnamon and instant coffee.

Add oil and extracts to flaxseed mixture. Stir wet ingredients into cocoa bowl, and then pour everything into the flour bowl. Using your fingers or a potato masher, mix until fully dissolved and combined, adding up to 1 tbsp of water if necessary to make it come together. Press into a parchment lined 8 by 8 inch baking pan (a spatula greased with cooking spray will make this easier). Sprinkle streusel over the top and press lightly. Bake for 23-24 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool before cutting.

Variations and Tips:

Nutty Brownies: ½ to 1 cup chopped nuts of any kind can be added to any of the three recipes. Toasted walnuts would be most traditional, but others would work fine too. Spiced or candied nuts could even be used for a unique touch.

Chunky Brownies: You could add 1/2 cup chocolate chips or chunks.  Other chunks you could add include vegan marshmallows, other types of chips and little pieces of caramel or other candy.
Brownies, baked in a loaf pan for extra edge pieces
Spicy Brownies: Try doubling the cinnamon to 1 full teaspoon, and adding 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper.

Extra Edge Pieces:  If you love the crunchy edge pieces and want more of them, try baking your brownies in two 8 by 4 inch loaf pans instead of the 8 by 8 inch cake pan.  Cut into 8 squares each, every single piece will have an edge.

Egg Replacers for Brownies:  When you replace eggs in vegan cooking, it's best to analyze the eggs' function in the recipe and figure out which properties we need to replicate (and which ones we don't need).  Since brownies are dense, you don't really need extra leavening or softening from an egg replacer. What you do need is binding, and in brownies that are high in fat or oil, emulsifying. This leaves us with two frontrunners: ground flaxseed and pureed tofu. The flaxseed is one of the most effective binders, so it does fine for the lower fat brownies. Tofu contains lecithin, the same type of natural emulsifiers that is in eggs, so it prevents greasiness in higher fat brownies. Brownies made with tofu are slightly less crackly and dark than those with flaxseed, however. I've combined both flax and tofu in my richest brownies to achieve the best of both worlds.


Have a sweet Valentine’s!

Vegan Carmelitas

A carmelita (or caramelita) is an oat-based bar cookie that has a ribbon of caramel sauce running through its middle.  Its filling typically contains chocolate chips and nuts as well. It’s a sweet and rich treat that’s almost a cross between a cookie and a candy bar. With vegan candy bars few and far between, desserts like this can be a nice alternative.

If you’re a real caramel fan, feel free to double the caramel filling. You could double any of the other filling ingredients (the chocolate chips, the coconut, or the slivered almonds) if you wish also.

Vegan Oatmeal Carmelitas

Dry ingredients:
2 cups old fashioned oats
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 ½ cup turbinado or demarara sugar
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1/8 tsp cardamom (optional)

Wet ingredients:
¾ cup oil
1/3 cup water
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp maple extract or mapelline (optional)
¼ tsp almond or coconut extract (optional)

Caramel filling:
1 cup agave nectar
1 cup soymilk
1 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp vegan margarine or vegetable oil spread

3 Tbsp flour (more whole wheat pastry would be fine)

½ cup vegan chocolate or carob chips
½ cup shredded coconut
½ cup slivered almonds OR any other nut you like

Preheat to 350 degrees F.
To make the base: Mix together dry ingredients (oats through cardamom). Mix together wet ingredients (oil through almond extract). Using your fingers, combine dry and wet mixtures until well incorporated. Press 2/3 of this dough into the bottom of a sprayed 9 by 13” pan (or two 8” or 9” square pans), reserving rest of dough. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Pull out of the oven and set aside.

Agave caramel
To make caramel filling: Mix soymilk and lemon juice and let sit for a minute or so. Add soy-lemon mixture to a tall-sided saucepan along with agave nectar. Clip a candy thermometer on the side of the pan so that its tip is submerged in the agave-soymilk liquid but not touching the bottom of the pan. Cook over medium to medium-low heat, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan until you reach 230 degrees F. Pull pan off the burner and quickly stir in the 3 Tbsp of flour, salt and cinnamon. Put pan back on burner and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. Pull it off the heat again and stir in vanilla and margarine.

Sprinkle chocolate, nuts and coconut over baked oat base. Pour caramel sauce on top. Pour carefully because it will not be easy to spread. Sprinkle reserved oat dough on top, breaking up any large clumps. Press down gently into an even layer with your hands, taking care not to touch any hot caramel sauce. Bake 20 minutes more, until lightly browned.

Let cool for at least an hour before attempting to cut, or the caramel will be oozy. Slicing is somewhat difficult, but may be easier if you score the pieces most of the way through and then break them apart with your hands. I like to cut them into somewhat small pieces because of their richness.

Note: The caramel sauce, minus the flour, can be made on its own and used for anything you would use store-bought caramel topping for, including vegan ice cream sundaes.

Edited to add: The last time I made these, I increased the proportion of caramel by 1/3, and added 1/2 tsp maple extract/mapelline to the caramel. They were even  better!