Sunday, August 14, 2011

Amazing Vegan Cupcakes

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but all I want to do is bake delicious things and make them look pretty.  Now, normally I love cooking and I completely avoid baking.  I love how with cooking you can taste the dish along the way and make adjustments throughout the process or incorporate that brilliant idea that just popped into your head.  Baking, in my mind, goes something like this: measure, mix, pour, wait.  Aka – BORING.  And while I love the result of baking, I’ve never been one to openly seek out new recipes and projects.

Until now.

Suddenly, I find myself trolling the internet for interesting flavor pairings, for something bigger than your standard yellow cake or your average chocolate chip cookies (not that there's anything wrong with either).  Now, I want something different and challenging.  Given my aversion to eggs and milk (on my way to vegan, remember?), almost all non-veganized baked goods recipes are a challenge, as I have to think up the best egg replacement and if it’s really worth all that extra effort.  Then I came across a recipe that caught my eye.  It involved not only making cupcakes (and who doesn’t love a good cupcake), but also making caramel (something I had never done before).  Obviously, I had to try it.  So after some Google searches and some notes, I settled on the recipe below, and boy was it worth the extra effort.  These cupcakes are fantastic (not that I’m biased…).  Oh, and also I got to use my new piping set on the frosting, which made me super happy.

You know you want to eat this

Vegan Almond Cupcakes with Salty Caramel Frosting
Makes a dozen cupcakes 

Cupcake Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup unsalted margarine, softened
1/2 cup of blended silken tofu*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup almond milk

*Silken tofu is a great substitute for eggs in baking.  There is no chalky texture to these cupcakes, and you can’t taste the tofu.  In fact, you can’t tell these cupcakes are vegan at all!  However, if you do eat eggs, feel free to use 2 eggs here instead of the tofu.  I won’t be offended.

Directions
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 12 cupcake cups with paper liners. In a bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.

2.  In a mixing bowl, thoroughly cream together the sugar and 1/2 cup of margarine until very well blended. Beat in the tofu slowly, until thoroughly combined, and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Gradually beat in the flour and baking powder, alternating with the almond milk, in several additions. 

3.  Spoon the batter into the prepared cupcake cups, filling them about 2/3 full, and bake the cupcakes in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.


While the cupcakes cool, it’s time to make…

Vegan Salty Caramel Frosting
Makes more frosting than you need (but don’t they always?).  My recommendation?  Just make 2 batches of cupcakes to even it out!

Ingredients:
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons plain or vanilla nondairy milk (I used plain soymilk here)
1/2 cup salted margarine, softened
2-4 cups confectioners' sugar, as needed (I wouldn’t even bother measuring it out here, just have a full bag ready to go)
Table salt, if needed

Quick tip before you even get started: Be prepared to wash your caramel pan out RIGHT AWAY.  Nothing is harder to clean up then crystallized caramel. Same goes for the spoons/whisks and anything else with the sticky stuff on it!

Directions:

1.  Heat a 1 1/2 quart to 2 quart pot with a thick, heavy base over medium-high heat. Add sugar and water. Stir to incorporate and bring to a boil.  BE CAREFUL.  Hot, melted sugar is VERY painful if it splashes on you.

2.  Let the sugar mixture continue to boil, stirring occasionally until it develops a dark hue (aka, until it looks like caramel), then add the vanilla (stand back, it’ll bubble and steam when you do) and stir.

Caution: Extremely Hot!
3.  Add soy milk, a little bit at a time, constantly stirring in, until you’ve achieved the desired hue.  The more milk you add, the creamier, but also the more syrupy it will become.  Let the mixture boil for another few minutes to regain its lovely caramely texture, then take it off the stove to cool.

4.  As the caramel cools, cream together the margarine and 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar.  Warning – you will likely be using more sugar than you want to.  You’ll have to come to grips with the fact that this is how making frostings goes.  It will happen every time.  I hate it too.

5.  Slowly incorporate the caramel to the creamed margarine and sugar.  The more caramel you use, the more frosting you’ll make.  I used about 1/2-3/4 of the caramel mixture (you can save the rest in a squeeze bottle to drizzle on ice cream or cake or fruit!).  You might need to add more powdered sugar until you achieve the desired texture.  You should be able to form soft peaks.  Also, I recommend using a hand mixer to do all this – it eliminates sugar clumps when mixing.  Now, if your salted margarine sticks didn’t quite do the trick of making it a “salty caramel,” feel free to cheat a little bit and add a pinch or two of salt (it’s ok, I did it myself) until you get the right salty-sweet ratio.  You should definitely be able to taste the caramel with just a hint of saltiness when it’s done.

Now bring it all together!

Both the cupcakes and the frosting should be room temperature when you put the two together.  A warm cupcake will lead to runny frosting and soggy cake, and warm frosting won’t hold any designs you try to make with it.  When both are room temperature, slather that frosting over the cupcake using your favorite method.  I just bought some piping bags and tips and just HAD to try them out (ok, ok, so maybe I only made cake and frosting to begin with in order to try them out).  If you’re just slopping it on, sprinkle a 
little cinnamon or cocoa powder on top, just to make it look pretty.

Finally….ENJOY! 

Too much fun piping

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