Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Match Made in Heaven

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter "Cream Cheese" Frosting
A brief warning now . . . don't judge this recipe by the photo. I don't have my camera at home and had to make due with a dimly-lit shot with my phone. Anyway . . . "Vegan Cupcakes!?! Liz, why on Earth would you do that to a perfectly good cupcake?" Tomorrow is the first read-through for our summer Shakespeare production of Julius Caesar and I wanted to treat the cast to some . . . well . . . treats! Knowing that one member of the cast is a confirmed vegan, I wanted to come up with a tasty option for her to enjoy. As it so happens, a vegan chocolate cake recipe is not hard to come up with. This is springy, chocolatey, and not too sweet. Frosting, in the traditional sense, is a bit more of a challenge. Peanut Butter and Chocolate are a natural pairing (and one of my personal favorites) so here we go. The frosting isn't exactly a "buttercream" but it is good. Unrefrigerated I would suggest using any leftovers for a nice gluten-free fruit dip . . . just in case there are any gluten-free vegans you are looking to treat to a nice dessert.

- 1 1/2 c. flour
- 1 c. granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 c. baking cocoa (make sure to find a vegan brand, not all are)
- 1/3 c. vegetable oil
- 1 c. water
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
- 3 c. powdered sugar
- 8 oz. vegan cream-cheese alternative
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
- 1/2 c. corn starch

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line standard-sized cupcake tin with liners and spritz lightly with vegetable oil spray. (The recipe makes about 18 cupcakes.) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, cocoa, and salt so that the ingredients are well combined. Stir in water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar and then whisk until the batter is creamy and smooth. Divide batter amongst prepared cupcake liners. Fill to about 2/3 and then bake in oven about 20 minutes until the cupcakes are cooked through and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Turn out onto a wire rack for cooling. Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

One of the tricks I ran into with this frosting was that as the "cream cheese" warms to room temperature, it very quickly becomes loose. This may not be all brands, but it was with the one I used. The flavor, however, was quite good. With an electric mixer, beat together peanut butter and "cream cheese" until well combined and smooth. Add vanilla. Slowly beat in powdered sugar one cup at a time until the mixture is thoroughly mixed. Beat in cornstarch and blend until smooth. (The cornstarch helps the frosting from being too runny without adding more sweetness.) Frost cupcakes with a generous dollop of frosting and spread with an off-set spatula. Store in refrigerator until ready to eat so that the frosting holds its form. Yummy for vegans and non-vegans alike.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Go Ahead . . . Mocha My Day

 Caramelizer Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Frosting
My love of the Oregon-based coffee chain Dutch Bros. is no secret. It is probably my biggest vice . . . at LEAST a 3 times weekly at $4 for each 20 oz. drink vice. In the summer, when I'm on campus on a daily basis, I sometimes hit up the Bros. twice a day. I drink coffee at home, sure. I LOVE coffee. It's not even just the coffee itself, but the morning ritual around the coffee. Sitting quietly in my kitchen or office when no one else is awake, and having the time to sip at my highly caffeinated beverage while I prep for class, check e-mail, and go over what I need to accomplish for the day. The Dutch Bros. have contributed to my success. I swing by the shop on the corner on my way to the office. I go EARLY - sometimes before 7:00 am. And there they are - smiling, perky, and they always know my drink. The employees are mostly college students . . . good-looking and friendly college students. It's all part of the brand . . . the ladies are (for the most part) tall, curvy, brunettes and the dudes are athletic and charming. ALL of the employees flirt a little with the customers - I'm sure this, too, is part of the brand. While the "interest" they take in my life is likely only part of the job, I don't mind. The friendliness, the drink I crave, a little good-natured flirtation, and all for only $4 - sure, I'll play along. A few minutes here and a few minutes there over several years, I do get to know these kids like a get to know my students . . . some of them actually are my students. Around the holidays I like to bring the Dutch crew some baked treats (they are college kids after all) and this year, at the end of Week 10, I put together some special Dutch-themed cupcakes for my favorite Dutch Bros. and Dutch Lady-Bros. The Caramelizer is my favorite drink (a chocolate and caramel mocha) . . . and now it has been immortalized in cupcake form.

- 2 c. flour
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- 2 c. sugar
- 1/2 c. cocoa powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 c. sour cream
- 2 eggs 
- 2 Tbsp. instant espresso powder, divided
- 2 sticks butter, room temperature
- 1 c. hot water
- 4 c. powdered sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2-4 Tbsp. cream
- 24 individual caramel candies (unwrapped)

Preheat the oven to 350˚ and line a standard-size muffin tin with liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside. Dissolve one Tbsp. of the espresso in the hot water. In a large mixing bowl blend together sugar, eggs, and sour cream. Add the dry ingredients and mix together until the batter is light and fluffy. Add the hot espresso and mix to combine. The batter will be fairly thin.

Fill each cupcake liner 2/3 with batter then bake in batches for 15-18 minutes, until the cupcakes are cooked through and springy. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool. While the cupcakes are still warm, gently press an unwrapped caramel candy into the center of the cupcake. The caramel will melt slightly.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, vanilla, and remaining Tbsp. of espresso powder with an electric mixer. When the all the ingredients are combined, slowly add the powdered sugar - about 1/2 a cup at a time until you get the the consistency you want. The frosting will be a little dry. Slowly add cream, about 1 Tbsp. at a time until the frosting loosens up and becomes thick, creamy, and spreadable. Frost the cupcakes when they have cooled completely. Eat. Enjoy!