I tasted what they were calling “Carrot Cake” at a local Indian Restaurant a few months ago when I was there for lunch. It tasted wonderful and I went in search of it online to see if I could find … Continue reading
This delightful dessert is free of dairy and refined sugars, and while not exactly low calorie, it is a wonderful all natural dessert. If you’re looking for a sweet treat that’s a bit closer to nature, here’s a great option … Continue reading
I wanted brownies, but I wanted something a little more natural and healthier. By healthier, I don’t necessarily mean “low fat” or “weight loss friendly”. Instead, I mean using natural, whole ingredients and using no animal products.
Rarely do I venture out on my own completely to make up recipes for baked goods. I realize that baking is definitely more of a science than cooking, so the chances of botching the whole thing is relatively high. But for this one, I went out on a limb and tackled making up a recipe – quite literally from scratch. This limb was worth the climb! These brownies resulted in a rich, tasty, satisfying brownie with chocolaty, peanut butter goodness and undertones of banana. So, if you’re wanting a lovely sweet treat free of refined sugars or dairy, I recommend you try this one out next time.
Vegan Peanut Butter Banana Brownies
- 2 Bananas, very ripe, mashed
- 1/2 c coconut oil
- 1/2 c honey or brown rice syrup
- 2 t vanilla
- 1/4 c + 2 Tbsp almond milk, unsweetened
- 1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
- 1/2 c peanut flour (or PB2)
- 2/3 c cocoa powder (dutch processed preferred)
- 2 t baking powder
- Heat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8×8 or 9×9 pan with non-stick cooking spray.
- Combine all wet ingredients together (banana, coconut oil, honey/brown rice syrup, vanilla, almond milk) in a large bowl. Whisk or sift together all dry ingredients (wheat flour, peanut flour, cocoa powder, baking powder).
- Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until combined. Spread batter into your pan.
- Bake 20-25 mins. Watch it carefully to insure it does not over-bake and become dry.
- Allow it to cool in the pan before slicing into 12 pieces.
Nutrition (approx): 225 cal, 11g fat, 31g carb, 4g fiber, 5g protein
On my list of “things to tackle”, French Macarons were high on my list (not to be confused with the American macroon – with 2 ‘Os’ and chock full of coconut). French Macarons along with souffles are a bit of the plumb line by which good bakers (in my mind anyway) are measured. They are like the holy grail of pastry chefs. So, tackle the macarons I did, along with my two sou chef’s – mom and sister. So glad they were up for the challenge! It was great to have a third pair of hands and lots of talking, laughing and double-checking to make sure I was doing it right. Also, I don’t know if I’d have ever got the macarons perfectly round without my sister there. She has much finer piping skills than I. The other great thing about having more hands is that I could actually capture some of the work being done with my camera. Yay.
After lots of research and browsing the internet to learn the typical hang-ups when making macarons, I finally felt armed with enough education to tackle a recipe. My personal favorite (and just so happens to be my sou chef’s favorites as well), I decided to make lemon macarons filled with lemon curd and vanilla bean buttercream – inspired by Bouchon’s lemon macarons.
But before we begin. What are those ‘key’ ingredients, you ask? It seems like there are a few of important steps to making a good macaron:
- Aging the egg whites. What is the purpose of this? According to the French Pastry School Experience, aging egg whites allows some of the moisture to evaporate and losens the protein coils. (protein coils? huh? yeah, I don’t really get it either, but I did it and it worked, so I’m not asking. he’s the pastry chef – not me)
- Letting the macarons rest for 1 hour before baking them, creating what is known as the “foot” of the macaron. (This one I mainly got from David Lebovitz. He tried one batch with the rest and one without the rest. The first batch didn’t have feet. The second did. I’ll learn from his experience and let mine rest!)
- Use your food scale. This one is just because over the years, I’ve learned that weighing is a much more accurate measurement of ingredients than volume (hey, flour can get ‘packed’ or have air pockets – trust me, use your scale).
I did both these crucial steps and… success! Not only did my macarons have ‘feet’, but they were also delicious. I think even more delicious than a lot of the cheap and wannabe macarons that can be found at wannabe bakeries. They don’t quite live up to Bouchon’s amazingly fabulous perfection of a macaron. But really, who am I to even try to compete with Bouchon?
They were ultimately delicious morsels of crunchy, soft, creamy, lemony goodness. And oh so addicting. I could have kept eating them forever. I highly recommend. I’m so glad I took the challenge.
Here is the journey of the macaron… (and recipe at the very end)
Here’s the batter all ready for piping.
See the circle guide? It works! (I talk more about the guide in the recipe)
Meticulous piping skills combined with the guide = perfect circles! (thanks, sis!)
Resting… For one hour. So hard to wait!
Look! Feet! They have feet!!!
Starting the curd
The swiss meringue butter cream is piped (I did these. See? My piping skills aren’t nearly as neat as my sister’s)
In goes the lemon curd! (Don’t let the fact that they look like little eggs detour you)
Done! They were so addicting, we couldn’t stop eating them. I cannot wait to make them again. I will. Trust me, I will.
Lemon French Macarons
From Use Real Butter
- 110g almond flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour)
- 200g powdered sugar
- 1 small lemon (preferably meyer), grated peel of
- 100g egg whites, aged for day and brought to room temperature
- 50g sugar
- 2 drops yellow food coloring (optional)
- Lemon curd
- Swiss meringue buttercream
- 2 meyer lemons, zest of
- 1/2 cup meyer lemon juice (about 3+ lemons)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 egg yolks
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 3 egg whites, room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tea vanilla bean paste
- 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly soft (but slightly cooler than room temperature), cut into 12 pieces
Make the Lemon Curd:
- Stir together the lemon zest, juice, and sugar in a small saucepan.
- Bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- Beat the yolks together in a medium bowl and very very slowly add a little hot lemon mixture at a time while quickly whisking until combined. Continue to add hot liquid slowly until completely combined.
- Pour the egg mixture into the sauce pan and stir constantly over medium heat until the liquid thickens (about 5 minutes). It should hold a path when you run your finger down the back of a spoon.
- Remove from heat. Strain the curd through a mesh sieve to remove the zest. Let cool completely.
Make the Macarons:
- Combine almond flour, powdered sugar and lemon zest in a food processor. Pulse until well-blended.
- In a small bowl, mix the sugar and food coloring together until well blended (i.e the sugar turns yellow).
- Whip the egg whites until foamy and gradually add the granulated sugar while whipping until a shiny meringue forms (but not too dry).
- Add the almond mixture to the meringue and quickly incorporate the mixture into the meringue while taking care not to overbeat. You want to achieve a batter that flows and “ribbons” for at least 5 seconds.
- Pour the batter into a piping bag fitted with a large plain piping tip and pipe small rounds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The rounds should be about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and at least an inch apart. (Helpful Hint: I made up a circle guide that I slipped under the parchment to help make even rounds. Download my PDF here – french_macaron_circle_patterns – to help you make perfect circles.)
- Let the macarons sit for an hour to develop a hard shell. (This is a good time to start on your swiss meringue buttercream.)
- Preheat oven to 300°F and bake for 8-10 minutes. (Note: If they aren’t completely done, they won’t lift off the parchment. It’s a delicate balance. You don’t want them brown, but they have to be completely done with dry bottoms). Remove from oven and let cool completely (if you don’t wait til they are completely cool, they will likely separate tops from ‘feet’). Remove from parchment.
Make the Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Heat egg whites and sugar in a double boiler over simmering water, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until they are 160 F.
- Transfer the egg and sugar mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer and whip on high until the egg whites form stiff peaks. They should not look dry.
- Add the vanilla, then the butter a bit at a time, mixing until fully combined and has the desired texture.
- Pipe small circles of buttercream around the edge of the macaroon
- Spoon a tiny bit of lemon curd into the hole and sandwich with a second macaron. Makes about 2 dozen.
I tried this recipe for strawberry balsamic cupcakes a while back. And while it was good, it wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped it would be. So, I decided to work up my own version with stronger flavors, and I was very pleased with the result. This one is GOOD! So additively good that I couldn’t keep my fingers out of the batter or frosting – especially the frosting. I made them on Friday night and Saturday afternoon for our Mother’s Day lunch.
Then, disaster happened… The cupcakes were in the fridge and I decided to show my husband how well they turned out. I pulled them out and realized there was a half inch of liquid at the bottom of my plate they were sitting on. Upon further exploration and sniffing, I discovered it was pickle juice. My jar of pickled okra tipped over on the shelf above and poured all the juice onto the plate. I scraped up some ingredients at midnight and with the help of my sou chef (aka husband), we finished up batch #2 around 1am. The second batch wasn’t quite as good as the first, but it was a close second.
Also, for the record, I like the strawberry swiss meringue buttercream recipe better than my first strawberry frosting attempt.
Vitalicious products are expensive. There’s no way around that. At a local grocer, a box of 6 VitaMuffins or VitaTops are likely to set you back $6, maybe less if you were lucky enough to catch a sale. Either way, it’s expensive at right around $1 each muffin. The good thing is they are all natural, low in fat and calories and high in fiber. They are a tasty, chocolate-y treat.
So, why do we have to pay them to make them when we can make them ourselves at home, right? Ah, a recipe. That’s what’s missing.Oh wait… But I have one right here for you!
This recipe tastes surprisingly close to the VitaMuffin/VitaTop version. It does have that same slightly ‘healthy’ undertone to it, so if you’re looking for a really decadent chocolate muffin, this isn’t it. But don’t let that detour you from trying it out. If you’re wanting a sweet, healthier treat, this will definitely do the trick. Especially heated up with a little low-fat vanilla ice cream over the top. Yum!
It makes a fairly large batch, so I recommend freezing them and pulling them out one at a time. To freeze, I suggest you cool them down twice before moving them to the freezer. Cool them completely on the counter, then move them to fridge to chill. Finally, seal them up really well and freeze. When you’re ready to eat a frozen one, simply microwave it for 30-45 seconds (60 if you prefer it hot).
Now, go get in the kitchen, you chocolate-loving vitamuffin/vitatop people, and whip up your own batch!
(Sorry, no pictures of this one. I’ve been meaning to make another batch so I can snap a few, but I haven’t been able to and I didn’t want to hold out any longer, so I’ll just show you a picture of chocolate and hope that suffices for now until I can come back and add a photo.)
Chocolate Chip Muffins (or tops)
Makes approx 36 mini muffins.
- 1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 3 egg whites
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup fat-free half & half
- 1 1/2 Tbsp vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp table salt
- 1 1/2 cup hot water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp unflavored fiber supplement (such as Metamucil Clear & Natural)
- Preheat your oven to 365 F (Note: you will drop the temperature down before actually baking the muffins. Don’t forget!)
- Using a mini muffin tin or a muffin top pan, lightly spray the pan with a non-stick spray.
- Sift all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine all wet ingredients except the water.
- Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the water and stir until completely incorporated. Do not over-stir.
- Divide batter between muffin tins and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top of each.
- Put your muffins in the oven and CHANGE the temperature to 350 F. Bake 8-10 mins, or until toothpick comes out clean. Do not over-bake or they will get very dry. Let cool for 15 mins on a wire rack.
Nutrition (approx): 70 calories. 1g fat. 14g carb. 1g fiber. 1g protein.
Oh, Ben & Jerry’s. You’ve done it again. As if one of my all time favorites, Phish Food weren’t enough, you go and add my weakness – sweet/salty – to your gourmet ice cream line-up. It’s in the form of “Late Night Snack” – inspired by the Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Show. Vanilla ice cream with chocolate covered potato chips (yes, potato chips!!!), swirled with salted caramel – it’s a little taste of heaven.
According to some gossip and reports going around, Ben & Jerry’s may have ripped the flavor off of my absolute favorite ice cream place ever – Humphry Slocombe. With almost identical flavors, Humphry Slocumbe serves up their “After School Special” flavor at Spork SF restaurant.
And while I live not too crazy far from San Francisco to get a scoop of the original vanillacaramelchocolatepotatochip ice cream, my local grocer is much easier for me to go and pick up a container of the Late Night Snack version by B&J. Except the main problem is that the either one of these will ooze with at least 270 calories/15g fat.
That being said, I’m going to rip off both of them and make my own healthy(er) version. With closer to 160 calories/7 g fat, this is a delicious substitution that will ease your late night noshing conscious.
Healthy(er) Late Night Snack Ice Cream
- 1/2 cup Half-the-fat Vanilla Ice Cream (or if you prefer, fat free or no sugar added types work as well)
- 8-10 bittersweet chocolate chips (melted in a glass bowl for 45-60 seconds, then stirred)
- 3-4 baked potato chips, crushed (I prefer baked Kettle Brand chips)
Simply, drizzle the chocolate over the top of your scoop of ice cream and sprinkle the crushed potato chips over the top.
Always up for a challenge, I accepted the call to make a strong strawberry flavored cupcake… So, at my friend’s special request, here it is!
After trying a few but not being satisfied with the weak strawberry flavor, my friend challenged me to find a yummy strawberry cupcake recipe that she can use. After a few failed batches and lots of internet searching, I finally settled on doing my own conglomerate using one of my favorite vanilla cupcakes as a base and modifying from there. To send the strawberry flavor over the top, I made a rich strawberry frosting to swirl over each cupcake.
The secret ingredient? Freeze-dried strawberries! All the flavor, none of the watery strawberry goo that messes with the texture! If you’re not familiar with freeze-dried strawberries, you can usually find them at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
I was pleased with the results!
I’ve had my culinary lavender for a while. I’ve made lavender almonds, but that’s about as far as I’ve ventured with my lavender. I’ve been wanting to try something lavender honey for a while and it never seemed like the right time to do it. I tend to bake with the seasons, turning to the rich and spicy flavors in winter, and lighter fresher flavors in spring and summer. Lavender seems like more of a spring or summer flavor. And honey… Well, that can only be inspired by flowers. So, with the cherry blossoms in bloom right outside my house and a light spring drizzle coming down, it seemed like the perfect time to try my hand at some lavender honey cupcakes.
I was concerned at first that the flavors would be too light and hidden in the cupcake and frosting or that the lavender would overpower the honey. My concerns were gone as soon as I bit in. There is plenty of rich honey flavor in this moist cupcake and just the right amount of savory lavender in the frosting to balance out the sweetness. I’m in love. And the frosting texture turned out perfect. It might be my favorite cupcake to date. (and I have pretty high standards)
Holiday baking has begun! Spicy, pumpkin-y, deliciousness all wrapped up in one little whoopie pie. Smooth cream cheese frosting sandwiched between two moist, fluffy pumpkin cookies. Amazing.
What’s the history of the whoopie pie? The legend goes that Amish women would send them with the farmers in their lunch and upon discovery, they would say “whoopie!” And I think these delightful fall-inspired pumpkin whoopie pies will inspire the same exclamation!
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Recipe from Martha Stewart
Makes 24 minis
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree, chilled
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Make the cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves; set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil until well combined. Add pumpkin puree and whisk until combined. Add eggs and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Sprinkle flour mixture over pumpkin mixture and whisk until fully incorporated.
- Using a melon baller (or teaspoon), drop approx 48 heaping tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Transfer to oven and bake until cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of each cookie comes out clean, about 12-15 minutes. Let cool completely on pan.
- Make the filling: Sift confectioner’ sugar into a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth. Add cream cheese and beat until well combined. Add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla, beat just until smooth. (Filling can be made up to a day in advance. Cover and refrigerate; let stand at room temperature to soften before using.)
- Assemble the whoopie pies: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Transfer filling to a disposable pastry bag and snip the end. When cookies have cooled completely, pipe a large dollop of filling on the flat side of half of the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edge of the cookies. Transfer to prepared baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate cookies at least 30 minutes before serving and up to 3 days.