Vegan Radish Cakes (luó bo gāo)

Ingredients~
Serves 2-4

Radish cake batter:
1/2 pound (226.8 g) daikon/Japanese radish, shredded
2/3 cup white rice flour
1 1/2 tbsps potato starch
1/3 cup & 2 tbsps water
1/4 cup shiitake mushrooms, minced
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 heaped tbsp white onion, finely chopped
1 scallion, finely chopped (reserve green bits for garnish)
1/4 tsp chili paste (I used dou ban jiang)
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp table salt (add up to 1/4 tsp if your chili paste isn’t very salty)
1/2 tsp sesame oil

Dipping sauce:
1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce
2 tsps water
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 tsp spicy chili paste (optional)

Important note: this recipe was loosely adapted from the Woks of Life’s turnip cake recipe!

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Hearty Rye Pie Crust

A hearty rye pie crust; a pie crust made with heart, for the heart. “Rye Pie” is fun to say. It’s also fun to make because it’s a little out of the ordinary. To be honest, I thought I had purchased spelt flour, not rye, so upon combining the ingredients and beginning to knead the dough, I realized that kneading wouldn’t be possible and that my spelt flour was definitely some other guy. I found the receipt from my flour purchase, did a little online translating, and discovered that the spelt dough I was excitedly anticipating in pie crust form was actually an imposter called rye. I wasn’t sure if the crust was going to work out, given that I knew nothing about baking with rye (other than: DELICIOUS DARK GERMAN BREAD), but I proceeded with the crust-making anyway.

So, how did it go? How did sly rye fair in a pie? Simply put: do it. Make the same, but hopefully for you, conscious and purposeful, mistake and bake with rye. Make a loaf of bread, okay, sure, yummy no doubt, but everybody knows rye is for bread. Instead, get a little jiggy with it, go a little ham (only in metaphors, of course), and press it into a pie pan. Bake it until firmer and noticeably darker and fill it up with sage mushrooms and mashed potatoes or, better yet, a sweet and tangy cherry filling. There’s definitely a cherry rye pie on my horizon. This crust may sound unusually good for you, but it’s far, far from tasting like cardboard. Sure, it’s not a standard, white and buttery, flaky crust, but that’s the beauty of it. This rye pie is different and a whole lot better for you. Do I sound like your mom? Good, that means I’m probably saying the right things.

Rye is a powerhouse grain. One cup of rye flour contains 11 g of protein, 12 g of dietary fiber, 16% of your rda of magnesium, 15% of vitamin B-6, 14% of iron, and 10% of potassium. For the same serving, white flour offers 10 g of protein, 2.7 g of fiber, 5% of your rda of magnesium, 0% of B-6, 6% of iron, and 3% of potassium. It’s clear who comes out on top. I’m not anti white flour, but I am all for swapping it out with more nutritious and flavorful flours when the opportunity presents itself. Luckily for me, white flour can almost always be replaced. This pie crust would probably accompany the word ‘rustic’ in a visual dictionary; there are no fancy ingredients and no heaps of butter or sugar. Instead, there is rye flour, olive oil, salt, water, and a dark, texturally pleasing, biscuit-esque pie crust as a result. I used whole grain rye flour, which is very coarse and contains the bran, germ, and endosperm of the rye kernal. Finer rye flours, such as light or medium rye, probably wouldn’t churn out the same pie crust, seeing as they lack the deep flavor and rough texture offered by the whole grain, but nonetheless, slightly more refined rye would still be a step above plain ol’ all-purpose in the creativity and health departments.

Looking at this crust awakens the cow girl in me; I want to swing onto a horse and ride through prairies with a wagon full of rye pie tugging along behind me.

Ingredients~
Makes enough dough for one 7-inch pie crust 

3/4 cup whole grain rye flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsps olive oil (chilled in the freezer for 30-45 minutes until sludgy)
1/2 scant tsp rice or apple cider vinegar
1/4 scant tsp table salt
1-3 tbsps ice cold water

Instructions~

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Dark Chocolate Orange Truffles

Chocolate is kind of like pizza, the bad stuff is still pretty good and the good stuff is a godsend. Then there’s the really good stuff, the silky, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate that offers the perfect dose of bitter and sweet. You know when you’ve had a taste of the really good stuff; you’re so focused on the flavors and textures it offers that you don’t even think about stuffing your face with more. You eventually do (stuff your face with more), but you do so gradually, one truffle at a time, because hastily consuming something so delicious would be a tragedy.

These truffles are a chocolate fudge hybrid. They get their fudginess from the cocoa butter, which, when combined with the other ingredients and chilled in the fridge for a bit, hardens up the truffles enough to create the ultimate soft and creamy filling. I’ve tried subbing coconut oil for the cocoa butter, and while it does satisfy my chocolate craving, it’s just.. not quite as ridiculously good. The cocoa butter may be a bit of a hassle to find, I had to purchase mine on Amazon and wait a couple of days for it to arrive, but it will carry your chocolate making/eating to new, far more favorable, heights (heights you will never want to step down from). Also, thanks to the cocoa butter, these truffles can last more than 5 minutes out of the fridge/freezer without melting. They may soften up a little after the 10 minute mark (depending on how warm your environment is), but they won’t turn into a brown puddle like coconut oil chocolate will.

These truffles don’t ask a lot of you. Simply stir together cocoa powder, cocoa butter, orange juice and zest, and one mashed medjool date (or sweetener of your choice), pop the resulting mixture into the fridge for 30 minutes, roll the mixture into balls, coat the balls in a cocoa powder + cocoa butter + orange juice sauce (or omit this and suffer no consequences), allow the balls to chill for a liiiittle bit longer, and voila, there you go, there you have it, FUDGY chocolate TRUFFLES sans the unpleasant refined sugar and heavy cream and butter. You won’t find any chocolate wax here. Only velvet. And silk. And thick waves of healthy chocolate cream.

Ingredients~
Makes 6 truffles

Truffles:
3 tbsps cocoa powder
2 tsps cocoa butter
4 tsps fresh orange juice
1 tsp orange zest
1 medjool date, pitted and mashed

Chocolate coating:
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp cocoa butter
1 tsp fresh orange juice

Instructions~

1. In a nonstick saucepan on low-medium heat, melt the 2 tsps of cocoa butter. Whisk in the cocoa butter, whisking until no lumps remain. Stir in the orange juice, zest, and date mash, until the mixture is combined and quite thick and sticky. You will have to let it chill in the fridge, covered, for about 30 minutes before handling it.
2. As the mixture chills, make the chocolate coating. In a nonstick saucepan, melt the cocoa butter until completely liquid. Whisk in the cocoa powder until no lumps remain before whisking in the orange juice. The consistency will be similar to a liquidy ganache. If you’d like it to be a bit runnier, add another tsp of orange juice or liquid sweetener (rice malt syrup, maple syrup, etc.) Set aside as you form the truffles.
3. Once the truffle mixture has finished hardening, use your hands to roll together 6 balls. If you’d like them to be quite larger, you’ll probably get 4 out of this recipe. Once shaped, poke them with a fork and dunk them into the chocolate sauce, turning the handle of the fork to ensure that the entire truffle is coated (the area with the fork holes might be difficult to completely coat but that’s okay). Gently slide each truffle off the fork so that the punctured part is on the bottom and out of view. If you have any leftover sauce, dollop it on top of the truffles or pour it onto parchment paper and chill it in the fridge to enjoy later. Allow the freshly coated truffles to sit in the fridge for about 45 minutes to an hour until the outer shell is hard and your finger doesn’t leave a noticeable indent upon touching it. Enjoy!!!

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Healthy Cinnamon Pop-Tarts (gf/vegan)

Ingredients~
Makes 5-6 pop-tarts

Pastry:
1/3 cup & 1 tbsp white rice flour
1/3 cup & 1 tbsp buckwheat flour
3 tbsps & 1 tsp cornstarch or potato starch
3 1/2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1/4 tsp agar agar powder (you can probably sub with 1/4 tsp xanthan gum)
2 tsps fine raw sugar (or sub with 1 tsp white and 1 tsp brown)
Pinch of salt (about 1/8 tsp)
1-2 tbsps ice water

Filling:
5-6 medjool dates or about 1/3 cup date puree
1 1/2 tsps coconut oil, melted
1/2 heaped tsp cinnamon

Instructions~

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Rich & Fudgy Vegan Brownies with Dark Chocolate Ganache

Tried to make a lemon tart. Failed to make a lemon tart.

Tried to make a lemon meringue pie. Failed to make a lemon meringue pie (or rather, failed to make meringue out of chickpea brine).

Threw a self-pity party that lasted a few too many hours. Eventually got bored of feeling sorry for myself and decided that pity should leave the party to make room for a very special guest: chocolate. Chocolate ended up staying the night, laaate, late into the night, if you know what I mean (because chocolate contains cocoa and sugar, two energizing ingredients, duh.)

In all seriousness, chocolate can heal emotional wounds. It fills voids left behind by awful lemon tarts and is capable of mending broken hearts. That being said, pure chocolate is too often muddled with it’s antithesis, namely the highly refined and processed, sugar and vegetable fat. There are definitely more nasty common add-ins, but I’ll go easy on the chocolate of my childhood. It’s true that some commercial chocolate contains the magical stuff, cocoa and cocoa butter, but rarely do you find a grocery store chocolate bar that lists them first, side by side. Instead, sugar usually comes out on top, followed by milk solids, and, if you’re unlucky, some vague vegetable fat will be used to replace cocoa butter. My findings have taught me that not all chocolate has been created equal. And so, in an effort to bypass the too sweet or to eat dilemma (i.e. is this chocolate going to be too shockingly sweet and shitty to eat or has it passed the test and can I eat it?), I got down to the basics and purchased some cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

I’m a big chocolate person. Big as in the thickest swabs of chocolate ganache on, uhm, everything, please. And another handful or two of chocolate chips in that cookie batter, please. And, uhm, heaps more cocoa powder dumped into that brownie batter, okay? I mean please. Please and thank you. Unsurprisingly, my excitement for chocolate translated into me consuming a lot of it, which, in turn, translated into me thinking more about it while still eating a lot of it, until, thankfully, I started to think about what was actually in the chocolate I was eating; is this really as healthy of a snack as I’ve let myself believe it is? It may be 60% cocoa but that means it’s close to 40% sugar. Hmm.

Once upon a time, I was hooked on the 50% and lower milky stuff and, dare I say it, even enjoyed the occasional bar of fake stuff (also known as white chocolate). I somehow thought that so long as chocolate was brown, it was healthier than the other, devilish sweets that lined grocery store aisles and airport terminals and school cafeterias and hospitals. Sugar shows up everywhere and it’s a little weird. It also shows up, in big percentages, in chocolate. And so, with that disconcerting fact in mind, and with a strong inclination to deliver as much goodness to my body and mind as I could, I decided to make more of my bites of chocolate count.

Gone are the days of tooth shocking, nap inducing, sugar laden chocolate. Dark chocolate is the new black and it’s cool to care about what you’re feeding yourself. Cue these super fudgy brownies with dark chocolate ganache. Definitely don’t forget about the ganache. And definitely don’t skimp on the cocoa powder or cocoa butter. If you can’t get your hands on cocoa butter, coconut oil would be the next best thing, but know that the brownies won’t harden up as much as true fudge as they cool. These brownies are packed with wound healing and spirit lifting properties (in simple speak that means lots of beneficial antioxidants, as well as energy-inducing magnesium and electrolytes. And that’s just provided by the cocoa powder). If you’re like me, a lover of chocolate and all things baked with chocolate, then show yourself a little love by combining a handful of ingredients in a bowl and baking them until a rich, rich smell emanates from your oven.


Ingredients~
Makes one small batch or about 10-12 small pieces  

Brownies:
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 1/2 tbsps all-purpose flour
2 tbsps smooth peanut butter or nut butter of your choice
2 tbsps cocoa butter, melted (or sub with coconut oil)
3 tbsps rice malt syrup or maple syrup
1 chia egg*
Scant 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt (about 1/8 tsp)
Optional: 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Ganache:
2 tbsps cocoa butter
2 tbsps cocoa powder
1-2 tsps unsweetened soy/nut milk
Optional: 1-2 tsps powdered sugar (for a less bitter ganache)

*1 tbsp chia seeds combined with 3 tbsps water, left to congeal for a few minutes

Instructions~

Preheat the oven to 180 C/356 F
1. In a large bowl, combine the peanut butter, melted cocoa butter/coconut oil, syrup, and vanilla extract. Stir in the chia egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Dump the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet and stir well until a thick and goopy batter forms.
2. Line a pan with parchment paper and pour in the batter. Bake for 19-25 minutes or until a toothpick is mostly clean when removed from the brownies (the brownies should be very tender/fragile to touch and may seem a little undercooked and wobbly, but this is what we want for optimal fudginess).
3. As the brownies cool, make the ganache. In a saucepan (preferably nonstick), melt the cocoa butter. Once the butter is completely liquid, turn off the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until no lumps remain. Whisk in powdered sugar if using before whisking in 1 tsp of milk to start. If the consistency isn’t quite thin and silky enough for your liking, add another 1/2-1 tsp milk. Once the brownies have thoroughly cooled and set, gently spread on the ganache and dig in!! Know that these brownies get extra fudgy when left in the fridge for a few hours or overnight, as the cocoa butter (if using) will very slightly harden, resulting in a brownie that’s WAY closer to rich chocolatey fudge than cake. Try it!!

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Rice Flour Matcha Loaf with Black Sesame Streusal

In elementary school I had a hand in making Oobleck’s green goo. It was the fourth or fifth grade and as a science experiment we created the famed substance from Dr. Seuss’ book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck. It was clearly a worthwhile venture, given that I remember it to this day. As I stirred together the green batter for this loaf this morning, the Oobleck pathways in my brain were activated, and I was suddenly overcome with a strange, but familiar, childish desire to dunk my hands in and feel the sliminess.

I didn’t end up creating the mess that usually accompanies the green goo, but I did direct my Oobleck-inspired excitement and energy into this loaf of rice flour matcha cake/bread.

Sometimes baking can get a little dreary. There isn’t much variation on the color spectrum, as flour can only offer white, brown, or somewhere-in-between shades. Synthetic food dyes could insert themselves into the discussion here, but I’m not interested in them because of what they usually contain. It’s true that freeze dried fruit can be blended into a highly concentrated fine powder which can then be used to dye batter, but that tends to get a little expensive and would require an online purchase here in Tokyo. So what do you do when it’s 6 AM and you want some color on your breakfast plate? A tangy green apple won’t cut it. Enter matcha.

Matcha is my go-to baking ingredient when I’m bored of the same ol’ white and brown. I try to preserve it’s novelty by using it scarcely, but here in Tokyo just about every sweet thing has been turned green; ice cream, mochi, every pastry to ever exist, they all have a little Oobleck in them. Sometimes I give in to the temptation emanating from a vibrant green bread bun or donut, but usually, the store-bought bready products that meets my taste buds are shockingly sweet and difficult to enjoy. In an effort to eliminate the former cloud of too sweet or to eat, I whipped together this little green loaf fit for a tea party.

This loaf is a much healthier version of the green treats I come here in Tokyo; I decided to sweeten it with two ripe bananas and a little dash of rice malt syrup, and my prevailing love for mochi inspired me to incorporate rice flour into the batter and an awe-inducing black sesame streusel on top (the streusel really is that good). Given that Japan is the birthplace of matcha and gooey glutinous rice sweets, I think it’s was only appropriate that I married these ingredients together and made this loaf. They are truly meant to be.


Ingredients~
Makes one small loaf or about 7 inch thick slices

Loaf:
1 cup white rice flour
1 1/2 medium bananas or about 3/4 cup mashed banana (very spotty and ripe)
2 tbsps coconut oil, soft/melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsps matcha powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
Scant 1/4 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt (about 1/8 tsp)

Black Sesame Streusal:
2-3 tbsps ground black sesame
2 tbsps white rice flour
1 tbsp vegan butter or coconut oil, melted
1 tbsp rice malt/maple syrup

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Batch #3: Healthier Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

If I told you that these rustic little things were made of half wholemeal flour and zero refined sugar, you might not expect much from them. I wasn’t sure what to expect either, until a divine smell wafted through my little apartment and I scurried to find it’s source: my oven. Or more specifically, the healthy, plant-based cinnamon rolls baking in my oven.

I’ve been on a heavily cinnamon infused adventure the past few days, making a new (albeit small) batch of cinnamon rolls as soon as I discover that the one I’ve just baked and tasted are not quite good enough. While all of my rolls have been significantly healthier than the average one you’ll find in a bakery (don’t even get me started on Cinnabon…), I was still consuming a fair bit more all-purpose flour, coconut oil, and syrup than I did on a typical day before cinnamon rolls took over the reigns to my life. Cue whole wheat, banana-sweetened, still-uber-tasty cinnamon rolls.

I stuffed these rolls with cinnamon banana puree and a little dash of rice malt syrup. I also tossed in some chopped walnuts and raisins at the last minute, both of which added a significant amount of flavor to the finished roll. The walnuts offered a crunchy variation from the gooeyness and provided such a wild, walnuty (?) flavor despite being being so scarce in the filling. Next time I’ll probably toss in another small handful. While I wish I had allowed the raisins to soak overnight in water or liquor to plump up to their juicy potential, they still added a little something. Mine had an almost tangy, tart flavor, which married well with the sweeter filling. The fruity filling may deter you, but one look at these oozing rolls should put you in the right direction. Like I said earlier, I was specifically out to create a healthy cinnamon roll that truly belonged at the breakfast table. If you aren’t after that sorta thing, no problemo. I’m the kind of person that will make decadent (relatively speaking, of course) cinnamon rolls three days in a row, only to insist, ‘healthy cinnamon rolls or NO rolls,’ by the fourth day. One can only eat so much of a good thing before never wanting to taste it again.

Think of these healthy buns as an ode to the O.G., white flour and all, cinnamon bun. Without the chance to stop and refuel with truly heart and tummy healthy ingredients, I may have had to cut the cinnamon bun project short all together. I’ll get back on track with my slightly less healthy roll making in a few days. But first, fruit and fiber, please. And a little bit of golden fat.

Ingredients~
Makes 6-8 smaller rolls or 4 large rolls

Dough:
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (sub with regular ww, but know that the rolls may turn out a bit more dense)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
1/3 cup & 2 tsps unsweetened soy milk or other dairy free milk
1 1/2 tbsps vegan butter/margarine
1/2 tsp rice malt syrup or maple syrup
Large pinch of cinnamon (optional)
Small pinches of nutmeg and ground ginger (optional)

Filling:
1/2 large ripe banana (or about 1 small), mashed into a puree
1 tbsp rice malt/maple syrup (add up to 1 tbsp more for a sweeter filling)
1 tbsp vegan butter
1/2 heaped tsp cinnamon
2-3 tbsps raisins
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Vanilla Yogurt Drizzle:
1/3 cup smooth yogurt (unsweetened coconut or soy)
2-4 tsps rice malt/maple syrup (add to taste)
Scant 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Drop or two of fresh lemon juice (optional)

Instructions~

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Sticky Vegan Cinnamon Buns: Round Two

I will not stand for next to ordinary cinnamon rolls if I don’t have to, so, after tolerating (okay, enjoying) the first batch of trial and error rolls yesterday with Matt, I took it upon myself to scout out ALL of the information I could about cinnamon rolls; what NOT to do when making cinnamon rolls; how to make the biggest, fattest, fluffiest cinnamon roll; instant dry yeast vs. active dry yeast; lean vs. rich dough in sweet buns; how the hell to cut cinnamon roll dough without making a squishy mess.

Learning from other people allows you to bypass a LOT of possible mistakes before even getting started (that’s more or less a piece of advice I came across ages ago on a baking forum and it couldn’t have rung louder in my ears today). I spent well over an hour on The Fresh Loaf, a website for “Amateur Bakers and Artisan Baker Enthusiasts,” scouring the forums for yeast-related questions and feedback. It turns out there are many smart people on the internet who like to make and eat bread. I don’t get a chance to interact with many bakers in daily, walking life, so it was extra enthralling reading first-hand troubleshooting stories. It’s also super helpful when I come across a line or two of wise words,

Looking for a “right” or “wrong” outcome when considering different varieties of yeast kind of misses the central point: they all ferment your dough and cause it to rise… Rather than asking “Am I using the right yeast?”, ask “What do I want to achieve with this bread?”‘

‘Pmccool’ asking the important questions that I should have posed way before I began dumping ingredients into a bowl. Doing the research takes lots of time and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m being swallowed, me and my whole head and heart. But I don’t. And later, when writing about those moments in the belly of the beast, I recall them with heavily rose-tinted glasses.

Since getting serious and down to business about making top notch cinnamon rolls, I’ve felt a wave of confidence cascade over me. I’ve definitely been humbled by yesterday and now, today’s cinnamon roll experiences, re-re-re-learning the simple fact that good/glorious things take time but that that’s no excuse not to educate yourself and be prepared before starting the clock. As a disclaimer, I thought I should state that despite all of the words I may string together about yeast, working with it is very straightforward. If you’re following a recipe to the T, you’re probably going to get twice-puffed dough and picture-perfect rolls on the first go (although there is no harm in knowing why you are doing what you’re doing!) However, because I decided, yet again, to alter and add ingredients to fit my preferences, things got messier and more complicated and a lot more tiny-number-math was involved.

I went into round 2 of cinnamon bun making with a lot more knowledge to fall back on; I had combed the internet for hours and already tested one specific way of going about it, so I knew a good deal of what NOT to do. Now was the tricky part of feeling my way around for what to do. The dough I began with was immensely better than yesterday’s; it was soft and pliable, without completely coating my fingers. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel like it should have been stickier. Maybe the internet is doing me a bit of bad in addition to all of the good, providing me with an endless slideshow of cinnamon roll pictures and techniques to compare to mine. It’s something to keep in mind. Anyway, I was pleased with the dough and carried on kneading, only this time I kneaded for 4 minutes rather than 9. Again, the dough appeared to be in a much softer state than dough #1.

I cut back on the duration of the first rise from 1 hour and 5 minutes to 50 minutes as the dough definitely appeared doubled in volume. Most all recipes using instant or active dry yeast call for a first rise of 1-1 1/2 hours OR until the dough has doubled in size, but the Serious Eats recipe I chose to piggy back off of last time mentioned 1 1/2-2 hours despite using active dry yeast. More research has led me to believe that the wonky appearance of my first rolls was due to over rising. The yeast in dough feeds on sugar, releasing carbon dioxide and alcohol in the process. This explains the little air bubble that I mentioned seeing in my dough as I kneaded it last time. I may have still been over kneading, but bubbles are not NOT normal. What’s not right is when the dough is given too long to sit; the yeast will continue to do it’s job, bubbling and bubbling, ultimately creating more bubbles than the structure of the dough can properly hold, so the gluten will fail and you’ll end up with melted cinnamon rolls. With that in mind, I managed to gather up enough tenacity to listen to my gut, and reduced the second rise from 50 minutes to closer to 35 minutes.

Because I started making the dough too late in the day, I decided I ought to let it have a fridge hibernation before the quicker second rise in the morning. However, I learned online that long rises in the fridge are only recommended for dough with dry yeast. Instant and active yeast work at expanding dough far more rapidly, and thus, would deteriorate the structure of the dough rather than enhance it’s flavor. Before settling on that reality, I came across a number of forums where people mentioned that, as a disclaimer, it wasn’t ideal to replace dry yeast with instant/active, but you could technically reduce the amount of called-for regular yeast by 20% so that the quicker yeast doesn’t work as fast as usual. I jumped on the opportunity to try something different and set the covered cinnamon rolls in the fridge after shaping and cutting them.

It’s not recommended that the rolls stay in the fridge for more than 8-12 hours, so I was up at 4:00 AM the next morning to give them a warmer, second rise. I allowed them to sit in a partially pre-heated and switched off oven for close to 30 minutes. Like an overly anxious mother, I checked on the rolls at ten minute intervals to see how they were doing. It turns out instant yeast really should stay away from the fridge. I’m sure other people have been successful at it, but my rolls were even less enlarged than the ones yesterday. They held their shape MUCH better, which is a plus worth noting, but they still fell short. The dough was more cakey and dense than airy and fluffy, but in all fairness, the rolls still tasted very, very, nice.

The sweet potato filling from batch #1 didn’t wow me enough, so I gathered together my pretty new jars of nutmeg and ground ginger and went to pumpkin spice town. Pureed pumpkin and pumpkin spice make for the easiest top-notch filling. I’ve used the combo for everything from pie to scones to pancakes, so it was only about time I stuffed it into sweet rolls. As always, I opted for rice malt syrup rather than white or brown sugar to sweeten the filling. If I had maple syrup on hand I likely would’ve used that instead. I also decided to drop the walnuts and gooey sauce on top of the rolls as they baked rather on the bottom, as some of the sauce decided to burn and glue to the pan last time. These rolls may have hit the spot flavor-wise, but they didn’t quite fill up my fat and fluffy cinnamon roll void any more than the first batch did. In other words, I still have a lot of work to do!!!

Ingredients~

Dough:
118 g all purpose flour & 6.25 g bread flour
2.4 g dry instant yeast (about 1/2 very heaped tsp)
1/4 cup & 2 tbsps soy milk (room temperature)
1 1/2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1/4 tsp rice malt syrup
Pinch of salt

Filling:
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tbsps rice malt syrup
1/2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 heaped tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Topping:
1 1/2-2 tbsps rice malt syrup
1/2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 tsp cornstarch
Large pinch of cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

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Vegan Cinnamon Rolls Turned Sticky Buns

I decided to make cinnamon rolls yesterday, not knowing what I was getting myself into. Following a recipe to a T is one thing; you know the ingredients and steps are pretty much foolproof and the people raving in the comments about how successful they were will make it sound all the more promising. For some reason, I don’t enjoy baking according to a recipe. If I can’t stop thinking about a recipe I’ve come across (i.e. it’s drool-inducing accompanying photos), I’ll follow the instructions and make it, but the former happens more often with savory dishes. Over the past 6-9 months of fairly frequent baking, I’ve found that I have the most fun when my creativity and curiosity are directing me. I know, I know, you can shake your head and wag your finger all you want. More often than not, my kitchen shuffling culminates in something sweet smelling and tasty. The Internet offers me an immense library of information about every niche and idiosyncrasy I could ever come across in baking, so it’s no wonder I can learn to do crazy things like make bagels. And when my so-called self-choreographed kitchen moves don’t come together according to plan? Well, I usually don’t plaster the photographs on the internet. This time around, however, I thought I ought to.

I’ve encountered more problems than usual on this baking expedition. Cinnamon rolls can be very finicky things; they contain yeast, a highly sensitive little fella, and require rolling, cutting, and shaping, three actions that increase in difficulty the softer, and ultimately better (depending on preference, of course), one’s dough is. My attempt to make cinnamon rolls that were entirely plant based and truly suitable for breakfast resulted in rolls quite unlike the normal thing. Something tells me I will have to make a few stops on the way to truly glorious vegan cinnamon rolls, so this will probably be the first batch of at least four or five. In fact, it’s probably bad luck to estimate that low a number of trial and error batches. In a day or two I hope to have something a little more desirable looking in front of the camera, but for now, look on for photos of some messed up looking naked cinnamon rolls and a big collection of words about the whole shabang (in an effort to save face, I turned these rolls into sticky buns right before popping them into the oven).

Most cinnamon roll recipes on the internet call for a little over 4 cups of flour, making about 12 medium-large cinnamon rolls. I decided to divide the former standard by four and aim to make 2-3 large rolls. I referred to a Serious Eats (SE for short) classic cinnamon roll recipe when deciding where to begin with my ratio of dry to wet ingredients and most frightening of all, what fraction of a tsp of yeast to use. For the 4 1/4 cups all purpose flour used, SE called for 1 packet or 2 1/4 tsps or 8.75 grams of active dry yeast.

I used exactly 1 cup & 1 tbsp or 147.94 grams of flour (flour for dough + flour from Tang Zhong method, what the heck?!, I know, I know, I’ll get to that later) and 1/2 tsp or 1.75 g of instant dry yeast. Exactly one fourth the amount of yeast from the SE recipe would have been 2.18 g, so I accidentally under added the yeast by .43 g. I am being very precise with the numbers and there’s always going to be a little room for error when using a cheap kitchen scale to measure such tiny amounts, but .43 grams of yeast could have very well made a heck of a lot of difference. How much of a difference it made I may never know, as tens and tens of google searches didn’t uncover a specific answer. Nonetheless, my instinct is that it contributed to the sub-par finished roll. Given that I’m only supposed to work with 2 g of yeast per batch of rolls, .4, which is nearly ONE QUARTER of all that was required, would have been a game changer. Had I accidentally forgotten to add 1/4th the amount of flour or milk to the dough, the entire outcome would have been off big time. So, lesson learnt: dry yeast granules may be tiny, but they are very, very mighty.

The dough rose for an hour and five minutes the first rise and nearly 50 minutes the second rise, yet I had a nagging suspicion that I should have left it to rise longer the first time. I knew the importance of letting dough puff up to it’s potential during the first rise, as it won’t inflate nearly as much the second time around, but I was wavering for too long between to wait and not to wait and eventually got flustered, threw my hands in the air, and said what the hell with it, I’m rolling it out.

From the pictures, the second ball does in fact look twice the size (if not larger??). Turns out my nagging suspicions can be wrong and empirical evidence (which I gathered yet didn’t properly examine at the time?) cannot. You’d think the former photos would eliminate under-risen-dough as the culprit, but after going through the SE recipe again, I’m not so sure. Their recipe, like mine, calls for instant/active dry yeast (the 2 kinds can be used interchangeably, the only catch is that instant can be mixed directly into flour while active has to be ‘activated’ in slightly warmed-lukewarm water) and yet, they instruct a 2-2 1/2 hour first rise and a 1-1 1/2 hour second rise! I thought the very point in using instant/active dry yeast rather than plain ol’ dry yeast was to minimize the rising periods and have rolls in the oven in less than half a day? Perhaps I made an error in judgement by not letting the dough rise longer the first time, but I’m not so convinced that’s where the fault lies. Every other same-day cinnamon roll recipe I came across called for a much shorter rising period. Only if someone was using dry yeast did they extend the first rise to 2 hours and the second rise to 1 1/2 hours. I can only ponder this for now, but hopefully more probing research will give me a better sense of what to do next time.

Another iffy thing I may have done was include too large a ratio of liquid to dry ingredients. After stirring the combined ingredients into a roughly shaped ball, I thought the dough felt too dry and far from the annoyingly sticky, silky dough that is usually pictured in cinnamon roll recipes. I added 1-2 more tbsps of buttermilk by kneading it into the dough; I used the folding method and sprinkled the buttermilk on top, squished it in, folded, and repeated, kneading for almost 9 fat minutes. After a few folds I began to notice little tears/bubbles in the dough, but I wasn’t sure what could be done about it and continued to knead. Perhaps I was too tough on it while kneading and messed with the strands of gluten? A google search brought up varied answers to the question how long should I knead my cinnamon roll dough? A few recipes I came across only called for 1-3 minutes of kneading, while a handful called for 6-7 minutes and yet another (the SE included), recommended 9-10. Does the duration of kneading have anything to do with what ingredients one chooses to add or omit? Maybe the richer the dough, the longer the kneading time, hence why mine (vegan and thus lacking eggs and full fat milk) would have faired better with less handling. I’ll have to dedicate more time to unraveling this long-winded topic. Also, how can you tell when your dough has been kneaded enough? That’s a frightfully simple question that I don’t even know the answer to.

In an effort to achieve the ultimate fluffy AND soft cinnamon rolls, I incorporated both the Tang Zhong method (TZ for short) and buttermilk into the dough. For starters, TZ is a water roux (flour & water or milk thickened sauce) used to make extremely light and soft bread. It started in either Japan or China (my research couldn’t narrow it down), and if you scroll through a Japanese bakery in Tokyo you will not have trouble spotting the ever so tender loafs and rolls of milky bread. I found many people online that had successfully made cinnamon rolls with TZ and had pictures to prove it, so I was convinced it would deliver. The roux is 1 part flour and 5 parts milk or water, and it’s generally recommended that you use between 5-10% of your recipes flour, hence why my ingredients call for 1 tbsp bread flour or 5% of the required all purpose flour. More research about TZ also taught me that using bread flour further aids in softening the dough, as it contains more gluten, thus retaining more liquid and making the bread softer. For some reason, I didn’t stop there in my quest for the softest cinnamon rolls, and found myself incorporating buttermilk into the recipe. According to Joy The Baker,

Buttermilk is an important part of baking. The acidic milk combined with baking soda in a recipe is a baker’s dream. It’s helps add a lightness and tenderness to baked treats. When baking soda is combined with the lactic acids of buttermilk, the acid neutralizes the metallic taste of sodium carbonate.

So…. buttermilk is awesome when paired with baking soda, but what about when it’s incorporated into a recipe sans the soda, i.e. cinnamon rolls? This was not a question I asked before adding it to my dough. I had actually used buttermilk a few days prior for a buckwheat banana bread, so when I saw it in the SE cinnamon roll recipe I though, ‘aha, I know how to make vegan buttermilk!’ and the rest happened as it did. I was also more than willing to close my eyes and jump into cinnamon roll making knowing I was adapting from a tried and tested SE recipe. They used buttermilk, which means buttermilk must be a very necessary ingredient, which means I must use buttermilk. Only after going through the motions of making and baking the rolls did the former mistake appear so glaringly obvious. The SE article called for butter, eggs, and buttermilk using cow’s milk, ingredients that are very rich and high in fat. My dough, on other hand, was stripped of all the classic rich ingredients, and replaced the butter with coconut oil, the eggs with… frankly, nothing, and the dairy buttermilk with vegan soy buttermilk. Was the combination of Tang Zhou and buttermilk too much for the dough to handle? Did my negligence of detail lead to these underwhelming cinnamon rolls? Yes, that is the one certain take away. Perhaps all of my meandering in this post has finally dug me a hole deep enough to bury this cinnamon roll recipe in for good.


Ingredients:

Dough:
1 cup all purpose flour & 1 tbsp bread flour
1/2 heaped tsp instant dry yeast
3-4 tbsps vegan buttermilk
3 tbsps soy milk
1 1/2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1/2 tsp rice malt syrup
Pinch of salt

Filling:
1/3 cup sweet potato puree
1 heaped tbsp rice malt syrup
1 1/4 tsps cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg

Sauce bath:
2 tbsps dairy free milk
1 1/2 tbsps rice malt syrup
1/2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 scant tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Important note: this recipe was loosely adapted from Serious Eats’ Sunday brunch cinnamon rolls and Minimalist Baker’s easy cinnamon rolls. I also referred to this youtube video when making the Tang Zhou.

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Buckwheat Banana Bread

Ingredients~
Makes one small loaf or about 7 inch thick slices 

3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup vegan buttermilk*
2 small very ripe bananas, mashed
2 tbsps rice malt syrup (add up to 2 tbsps more for a sweeter bread, but reduce the milk accordingly)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Scant 1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of baking soda (about 1/8 tsp)
Dash of salt
1/3 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/3 cup raisins, chocolate chips, chopped nuts, etc.

Instructions~

Preheat oven to 180 C/356 F
1. Mash bananas and add them to a large bowl with the buttermilk. Stir in the rice malt syrup and vanilla extract until a slightly lumpy mixture forms. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and cinnamon if using. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring until well combined and the batter has a fairly gooey/slimy consistency (it won’t be gross for long). Finish by stirring in the dried fruit, chocolate, and/or nuts. Bake for 45-55 minutes, covering the top with foil after about 30 minutes or when the bread has browned enough. Allow to cool and firm up before slicing and serving.

*To make vegan buttermilk simply add 1 1/2 tsps fresh lemon juice to a measuring cup and pour in soy/nut milk until it reaches the 1/4 cup line. Wait for 5-10 minutes as it curdles and thickens up. This hack was discovered here.

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