December 27, 2009

DB Gingerbread House

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I love making a yearly gingerbread house. As it was the designated Daring Baker challenge I made changes to my typical gingerbread MO. I tried the recipe that came from Y of Lemonpi because it was less like the recipes I've tried in the past. I liked how sturdy the gingerbread was but found it got very brittle on the second day. This made for some breakage when I was assembling but I did my best to repair and move on. Instead of the little cottage design I normally make, I attempted to copy a house from a photo I found online that had a more complicated roof. I managed it but just barely. I think I need more than once a year practice to improve my technique. I glued the house together with sugar syrup and used the same syrup to form windows. Royal icing, some candy and I was done. I also made a couple of little dog houses and had my son Alex decorate them. This was a great challenge and I can't wait to get time to take a look at all the other Daring Baker houses.

-I used the recipe given by Y of Lemonpi which came from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice A. Ojakangas. Another option is the Spicy Gingerbread Dough recipe chosen by Anna of Very Small Anna. This recipe is available on Anna's blog as well as Good
-To glue the house together and make the windows I followed the directions for Martha Stewart's caramel syrup
-My house pattern was based (loosely) on this Victorian cottage photo from Flickr
-I purchase CK royal icing mix from Candyland Crafts. I need a kid safe icing and in the past have found that powdered egg whites either taste metallic or have a off color. This icing mix solves both problems and works perfectly for me every time.
-Challenge yourself in the new year by becoming a Daring Baker, now no blog needed! Visit the Daring Kitchen for more information. There you can also check out all the other gingerbread goodness made this month by browsing the Daring Baker Blogroll.
-Go here to see my gingerbread house from last year

2009's gingerbread house
Alex's gingerbread dog house, he insisted on colored frosting

My cardboard gingerbread house patterns

December 22, 2009

Gingerbread Caramels (vegan/dairy-free)

At last my Christmas baking and candy making is done! The last batch of cookies (oatmeal chocolate chip) are cooling on the counter as I type. To add something new to this year's line up, I was inspired by an Edible Gifts post on the ultimate vegan sweets blog Bittersweet-- I just had to try my hand at making gingerbread caramels!

After I made the prerequisite batch of my normal vegan caramels for my son Alex, I looked at a few gingerbread variations online and came up with a plan to modify my recipe. I also decided to try adding some toasted walnuts to half the batch, leaving half plain since Alex isn't a walnut fan. This was a halfway good idea...the caramels with walnuts were AWESOME!!! but the plain ones were just good and Alex much prefers his regular caramels. The nut version reminds me of kicked up Wha Guru Chews; which if you've never had are pretty fantastic and highly addictive. I had to add a pack of these to each of my Christmas gift bags to ensure I too many weren't left in the house. Here's the recipe for those interested in giving candy making a try this year.

Gingerbread Caramels (vegan/dairy-free)
A combination of my vegan caramel recipe and the Gingerbread Caramel recipe from Martha
Makes ~60-75 large pieces of candy

2 cups sugar
2 cups soy milk
1 cup margarine (Earth Balance tub is my choice)
1/2 cup corn syrup (Wholesome Sweeteners brand if you can get it)
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts, optional but highly recommended

*Please double check your ingredients to verify that they suit your dietary needs (IE vegan, dairy-free, etc) or the needs of those you are cooking for.

-Line an 8 inch x 8 inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside. In a small bowl stir together the spices and salt and set aside. Measure out your nuts to have ready as well.
-Add the sugar, soy milk, margarine, corn syrup and molasses to a large saucepan, 4 quart minimum. You don't want this hot sticky stuff boiling over!
-Bring to a boil stirring often and then continue cooking over medium heat while stirring until the candy reaches 245 degrees F.
-Remove the pan from heat and stir in the spice mixture and vanilla. Stir very well to distribute the spices evenly. Then add the nuts and mix them in.
-Pour into your lined baking pan.
-Allow the caramel to cool completely. With a clean and oiled pair of kitchen scissors, snip the caramel into pieces. Wrap each piece individually with cellophane, waxed or parchment paper.
-Give at least two thirds away or you'll end up eating the whole batch!

December 19, 2009

Vanilla-Bean Sugar Cookies

Just like my trouble replacing the taste of butter in yellow cake, tasty sugar cookies were in the past a troublesome thing to make dairy-free. For me nothing could make up for the lack of real butter in such a simple cookie, but real vanilla beans come to the rescue once again in this Gourmet magazine recipe I adapted. Get baking now if you want these ready in time for Christmas. I've made these several times and giving the dough an extra day or two in the fridge lets the vanilla flavor develop and really pays off.

Dairy-free Vanilla-Bean Sugar Cookies
My dairy-free adaptation of the Gourmet magazine recipe for Vanilla-Bean Sugar Cookies found on Epicurious
Makes 3-4 dozen cookies

1/2 cup Earth Balance margarine*
3/4 cup sugar + more to roll in
2 vanilla beans
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

*If you aren't an EB fan and use another margarine you might want to add a pinch of salt. I use EB in the tub and it's always a little heavy on the salt.

-Beat the margarine with 3/4 cup of sugar and the scraped seeds from both vanilla beans until light in color. Adding the vanilla seeds to the creaming process helps spread them evenly throughout the dough.
-Add the egg and vanilla extract to the creamed margarine mixture and beat to combine.
-In a separate bowl, whisk (or sift) together the flour and baking powder. Then add to the creamed mixture in two or three doses beating just until combined.
-Spoon the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap (or parchment paper) and roll into a log. Make the log approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Add another protective wrap of aluminum foil or a second layer of plastic. You don't want any funky flavors sneaking into these cookies from your fridge!
-Chill the dough, ideally for 2-3 days but at least overnight.
-When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
-Take half a log at a time, the Earth Balance margarine softens quickly so it's best to not work with the whole log at once. Roll the log in sugar to coat the outside and then cut 1/4 inch slices.
-Lay the slices on your cookie sheets at least 1 inch apart and bake for 9-11 minutes, until golden brown on the edges.
-Allow the cookies to cool slightly on the cookie sheets before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Yesterday I received my last fall 9 Bean Rows share. New Year's Day will start the winter share and I'm excited to see what it will have. Here's this week's goodies: (clockwise from top right)
red Swiss chard (which was very good last week - I'm growing to love it), kale, baguettes, lots of herbs (rosemary, parsley, oregano and even a sprig of tarragon), yellow potatoes, collards, garlic, red potatoes, apples, salad mix and bok choi
I plan on making a big batch of dairy-free potato pierogies for Christmas Eve, with some extra to freeze, and if I have time in between the rest of the cookie and candy making I'll also whip up a doubled recipe of the Daring Baker Danish Braid to use up some of my apples and feed our post-Christmas house guests.

P.S. Notice the ornament with the cookies? I finally got around to making something with the Michigan-grown heartnut shells from summer '08! My son Alex and I had fun glittering the insides a few weeks back.

December 13, 2009

Happy birthday to me! (Vanilla Bean Cupcakes)

After getting a major dump of snow this week Michigan brought out a perfect snowy and sunny day for my birthday. Per our tradition we went to get a Christmas tree and then headed home to decorate. To refuel us after trudging through the knee-deep snow I baked up a batch of cupcakes. My favorite combination has always been yellow cake and chocolate frosting but dairy-free versions of yellow cake typically leave me disappointed. I solved the problem by using a whole scraped vanilla bean and coconut milk yogurt.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
Real vanilla bean and coconut milk yogurt combine to make a very flavorful dairy-free yellow cake substitute.
Makes 12 cupcakes

2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
the seeds from one vanilla bean
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon So Delicious Vanilla Coconut Milk Yogurt
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon neutral oil (I've been using grape seed lately)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

-Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and line or grease your cupcake tins.
-Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla bean seeds with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer until thickened and light yellow. Adding the vanilla bean at the beginning ensures that the seeds will be evenly distributed.
-Add the yogurt, oil and vanilla extract and beat until combined.
-In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
-Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture while beating on low until the flour is incorporated.
-Spoon into the cupcake tins and bake for 18-20 minutes (check for doneness with a toothpick).
-Cool and frost*.

*I made the frosting using Earth Balance margarine, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, almond milk and King Arthur Flour's Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa. Sorry but I rarely measure when making powdered sugar frosting and it *was* my birthday after all. The special cocoa is smoother and darker than regular cocoa and I'm really looking forward to trying it in this year's Winter Mint Cookies or maybe some Dairy-free TKOs.

This week's 9 Bean Rows share: (clockwise from top)
Two small pac choi heads, eggs, whole wheat loaf, garlic, red potatoes,
small yellow potatoes, apples, arugula, kale and red Swiss chard
Alex the tree hunter
Our tree, a little scrappy (and scratchy) but you can't beat the $10 price.
Three cheers for the Cedar-Maple City Lions Club!

December 6, 2009

Snowy Sunday

We've finally gotten a load of decent snow! Today my son Alex and I did some crafting, played in the snow, and I finally processed some stashed away quince from my father-in-law's tree.

This week's 9 Bean Rows share: (clockwise from top)
Salad greens, bok choi (I've been perfecting my egg foo young), sourdough loaf,
peppers, garlic, potatoes, lacinato kale, and apples
*Behind this week's share are my homegrown red cabbage and Brussels sprouts.
They survived the light dusting of snow they got before I remembered they
were still out in the garden. I have to come up with plans for those as well this week.
Battered but still valuable quince I cleaned out of the fridge
to make jelly and quince cheese. Damn ugly but the jelly is heavenly!
One of our crafts today was taking Alex's Lego advent calender figures
and turning them into snow globes.
Fritz loves being out in the snow. I think the little snow beard he gets is the cutest thing!