Champagne pear cupcakes: Happy Almost-New Year!

For several years now, I have spent New Year’s Eve with friends from college. We have a feast of a dinner, play lots of games, drink champagne, and generally have a silly time together!

One of our favorite games is a German children’s board game called “Waldschattenspiel”, which one of my friends discovered while studying in Germany. It’s a perfect game for playing late on New Year’s Eve because it has to be played in the dark. One person is the candle (an actual lighted candle) and the rest are gnomes on a three-dimensional board representing a forest. The game is a race to see whether the candle can find all the gnomes before the gnomes all find each other. Playing in the dark adds a lot of excitement to the experience … particularly when someone tries to refill their wine glass or find the plate of cookies mid-game 😉

This Thursday, I’ll be bringing these celebratory champagne pear cupcakes to our gathering and looking forward to playing Waldschattenspiel once again! What are your favorite New Year’s Eve traditions?

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Pear Ginger Cupcakes

Makes 10 cupcakes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 moderately ripe pear
  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 Tbsp minced candied ginger
  • 1 c unsweetened almond milk
  • ⅓ c canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • ¾ c granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or substitute vanilla extract)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners or lightly grease the wells with oil.

Grate the pear using the medium-sized holes on a box grater.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in the candied ginger, making sure it is well-distributed throughout the mixture and not clumped together.

In a medium bowl, combine milk, oil, lemon juice, sugar, vanilla, and ½ c grated pear. Make sure the ingredients are well mixed.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine the two mixtures quickly and gently. Immediately scoop the mixture into the muffin cups. Bake for 21-26 minutes or until the tops of the cupcakes are light golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes from the pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Champagne Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes enough to frost 10 cupcakes.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ c champagne
  • ⅓ c vegan margarine
  • ⅓ c vegan cream cheese
  • 2 ⅓ c powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger

Pour the champagne into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil on the stove. Continue to boil until the liquid is reduced to 1 Tbsp.

Once the reduced champagne has cooled to room temperature, add the margarine and cream cheese to the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Beat in 1 c powdered sugar. Next, beat in the reduced champagne. Finally, beat in the remaining powdered sugar in two parts, and the cinnamon and ginger.

Put the frosting in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up, then frost each cupcake in a thin layer and serve.

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Chocolate + orange = a Christmas treat

Chocolate oranges always make me think of my dad. You know, the big balls of orange-flavored chocolate wrapped in orange foil that appear in stores before Christmas every year. Orange-flavored chocolate may be just about the only kind of chocolate my mom doesn’t absolutely adore, but my much-less-chocoholic dad loves chocolate oranges and he usually got one in his stocking on Christmas morning when we were growing up. These cookies were inspired by chocolate oranges, but unlike the candy, they are vegan and, in my opinion, even more scrumptious!

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Chocolate-wrapped Orange Cookies

Makes 1 ½ – 2 dozen.

Ingredients:

  • ½ c vegan margarine
  • ⅔ c (140 g) granulated sugar
  • orange zest from 1 large orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 Tbsp orange juice
  • 1 ⅔ c (235 g) flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 c (175 g) vegan chocolate chips
  • ½ Tbsp vegetable shortening

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl, combine the margarine, sugar, and orange zest. Using the stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat the mixture on high speed until fluffy, then mix in the vanilla and orange juice.

Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl and mix on low speed or by hand until the ingredients are well combined.

Scoop tablespoonfuls of dough onto the baking sheet and partially flatten them with the heel of your hand to a thickness of about ½ to ¾ of an inch.

Bake the cookies for about 13 minutes or until the edges are firm to the touch and lightly browned. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.

When the cookies are cool, cover a baking sheet or a couple of plates with wax paper. Melt the chocolate chips and shortening together in a double boiler or (carefully) in the microwave in a shallow bowl. Mix well so that the shortening is evenly distributed throughout the molten chocolate. If using a double boiler, remove the chocolate mixture from the heat once melted and pour into a shallow bowl.

Taking one cookie at a time, drop it right-side-up into the chocolate so that the bottom is covered in chocolate. Remove the cookie from the chocolate and place it on the wax paper. Repeat for each cookie. You can use a spoon to drizzle any leftover chocolate over the tops of the cookies.

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My favorite baking tools

Today, I want to share with you some of my favorite kitchen tools for baking. Whether you’re looking to improve your own baking or you’re still looking for the perfect holiday gift for a baker you know, I hope this list will be helpful!

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Oven Thermometer. All ovens are different, and in my experience, most ovens run at least a little hot or cold relative to the temperature on the display. An oven thermometer is indispensable for making sure you are baking at the correct temperature, so that you end up with a product that is neither burnt nor underdone! Oven thermometers are relatively inexpensive, and you may even be able to find one in the kitchen tools section of your local grocery store.

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Cookie Scoops. You may be able to get by with a couple of spoons, but cookie scoops make life so much easier if you bake a lot of cookies or (with larger sizes) muffins! Scooping out cookies or muffin batter is fast and all the cookies or muffins come out in a uniform size, making for more consistent baking.

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Yeast Spoon. A lot of bread recipes call for yeast measured in packets of 2 ¼ teaspoons. That’s an awkward amount to measure. If you bake a lot of bread, you may appreciate having a way to measure a packet’s worth of yeast all in one go.

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Cake Tester. Toothpicks have their limits. If you want to be able to test doneness all the way into a thick loaf of quick bread or cake, a longer tool is crucial. Cake testers can be found for only a dollar or so at your local kitchen supply store.

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Baking Thermometer. Continuing on the theme of doneness, a baking thermometer can be a useful objective measure for testing bread loaves. You can stick it into the bottom of the loaf to avoid holes in the top crust. This is one of my favorite baking tools because it takes a lot of angst out of figuring out whether a loaf of bread is done! Refer to the recipe or a reliable baking reference to find the correct internal temperature for your particular loaf.

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Dough Scraper. I don’t use my dough scraper as much as the other tools on this list, but it is still a really useful tool for bread baking. When you need to divide bread dough into pieces (like for my cardamom braid), a metal scraper like this one provides a clean, even cut. It is also useful for scraping bits of flour and dough off your work surface when you’re done.

Happy baking, everyone!

Cardamom bread: a family tradition

Today, I am very excited to bring you my veganized version of a recipe that has been a part of my family’s Christmas for as long as I can remember. Beginning in mid-December, my mom bakes five or six batches of braided cardamom bread to give to nearby family and close friends as a Christmas gift. The bread is soft and sweet, with just the perfect amount of cardamom. It’s so good when it’s warm out of the oven that my mom has to budget a loaf for the family every time she bakes, and we all come running as soon as the bread has cooled enough to slice! Most of a loaf can easily disappear within 20 minutes. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

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Cardamom Braid

(Adapted from a recipe in Yankee Magazine.)

Makes 2 loaves.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c unsweetened almond milk
  • ¼ c + 1 Tbsp vegan margarine, divided
  • 1.5 Tbsp (2 packages; 14g) active dry yeast
  • ½ c (100g) granulated sugar
  • ½ c (120g) applesauce
  • ~4 ½ c (~630g) all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • ½ c raisins (optional)

Combine the milk and ¼ c margarine in a microwaveable container or small saucepan, and heat until the margarine is melted and the mixture feels warm but not hot to the touch on the inside of your wrist (110-115 degrees F).

Pour the warm milk mixture into a large bowl and stir in the yeast. Let sit until the yeast has formed puffy bubbles on the surface of the liquid, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the sugar and applesauce. Next, add about 1 ½ c flour, salt, and cardamom. Mix the dough well, then start adding additional flour until the dough is kneadable. Knead the dough, continuing to add small amounts of flour as needed until the dough is smooth and pliable but no longer sticky. If you would like to add raisins to the bread, knead them into the dough at this point.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set the dough to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled.

Remove the dough from the bowl and fold a couple of times to deflate. Divide the dough in half, and then divide each half into thirds. On a lightly floured surface, roll each of the six balls out into a rope about 1-1 ½” thick and about 12” long. Take three of the ropes and braid them together, tucking the loose ends underneath the braid. Repeat with the remaining three ropes.

Place the two braided loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Gently cover the loaves with a sheet of greased plastic wrap so the plastic doesn’t stick to the dough. Let rise 30-45 minutes, until puffy and approximately doubled in size. Near the end of the rise, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of vegan margarine in the microwave or on the stovetop. Brush melted margarine over the braids and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake the loaves for about 22-25 minutes, or until the bottom is firm and sounds hollow when tapped and/or the bread has reached an internal temperature of 185-190 degrees F. Let cool a few minutes before slicing, if you can bear to wait!

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Rosemary-infused chocolate fuuuuuuudge

I think of my college years as the period when I became a baker and a cook in my own right. Some of my favorite college memories were made in the little dorm kitchens shared by all the residents on a floor. One of my closest friends taught me how to make pretzels from a recipe she had learned as a foreign exchange student in Germany. Other times, we made pizza from scratch for a special dinner or scones to fuel a weekend afternoon study session. I always kept a bag of flour and a few other basic baking ingredients in my dorm room, because who knew when the baking urge would strike!

Dorm living isn’t conducive to complex recipes with many ingredients, so when I found a simple recipe I loved, I made it again and again. Today’s recipe is inspired by a recipe for chocolate fudge that I found on the back of a can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk. The recipe’s short ingredient list and limited number of steps made it perfect for producing in a dorm kitchen. Here is my new spin on the recipe, a delightfully soft and deeply flavorful vegan fudge made with rosemary-infused sweetened condensed coconut milk.

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Rosemary Chocolate Fudge

Makes about 22 oz fudge.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (11.25 oz) sweetened condensed coconut milk (there are recipes here, here, and here to make your own if you have difficulty finding it in a store)
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 12 oz vegan semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp coffee extract

Line the bottom and sides of a 9” by 5” loaf pan with wax paper. Add 2 tsp of dried rosemary to a spice bag or a tea ball.

Empty the can of coconut milk into a medium saucepan. Bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until it is smooth and even. Once the milk is simmering, add the spice bag containing the rosemary to the pot. Let the milk simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring the contents of the pot occasionally.

After 10 minutes have passed, remove the pot from the heat and discard the spice bag. Add the chocolate chips to the pot and stir until the chips are completely melted and smooth. Stir in the coffee extract.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and smooth out the top of the fudge with the back of a spoon.

Place the loaf pan in the fridge and chill for at least 1 ½ hrs before serving.

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