Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Vegan Cake - Attempt #1

So I've been making a lot of cakes recently.

And it's been a lot of fun.

But there has been one minor glitch. My son hasn't been able to eat any of the cakes I've been making.  You see, he has food allergies. Dairy and eggs are included in those allergies. Which completely rules out most traditional cakes and all of the meringue buttercreams I have been making.

I make plenty of things that he can eat, but I have been promising him that I will try to make him a fancy cake, like those he's been watching me make, that is completely safe for him.

Today was the day I decided to go for it.

But apparently the vegan-baking-deities were not on my side.

I started by making my cake layers. I prepared my pans as usual, except that I was trying to save a few minutes, so I skipped using parchment rounds in the bottom of my pans. I sprayed them well and figured I'd be okay.

Mistake #1.

Umm... yeah, the entire bottom of the cakes stuck to the pans.

No problem... I'll try to piece it back together.

Umm... nope. Never mind. Didn't even try that with the second layer. Hmm...

The next step was the vegan meringue buttercream.

Now, meringue buttercream has two main ingredients. Egg whites and butter. Both out when going vegan.  Instead of egg whites, vegan meringue uses aquafaba - the liquid most people dump out from cans of beans (garbanzo, in my case). It takes some time, but it whips up to a light and airy meringue and can be used as an egg replacement in many recipes.  As for the butter, there are plenty of non-dairy butter alternatives. All of the recipes for vegan buttercream that I read recommended either 100% palm-oil shortening or Earth Balance sticks (rather than spread). I couldn't find the shortening in my grocery store, but did find the Earth Balance, so that was what I went with.

To make Italian meringue buttercream, the egg whites (or aquafaba) is whipped to stiff peaks while a sugar and water syrup is cooked to a specific temperature in a pot.

Here is where fail #2 came into play.

Apparently my candy thermometer is broken. And I didn't know it. So while I was waiting for the thermometer to let me know that my sugar syrup had reached 240 degrees, turns out my sugar had way surpassed the soft ball stage that that temperature indicates and... well... yeah. I didn't take pictures of that part. But I had to scrap that sugar, scrub my pot and try again, this time making an educated guess as to the temperature of my syrup, knowing that my thermometer would not be a help.

The second attempt at the meringue seemed to work, so I whipped it all up, added in my "butter" and... had frosting!

Now white-on-white cakes don't necessarily look all that dynamic in photos...

But it came together alright, despite the issues I'd been having...

I mean... it looks like a cake, right?

All unassuming and cake-y?

You can kind of see the uneven layers and what not, but... it's a cake!

And then it was time for dessert.

Both kids started off excited. Both said it was pretty good.

Then, after a few more bites... they both opted to skip dessert.

That's right, my children chose no dessert over this cake.

That is not exactly a promising sign.

I finished both of their pieces. Because... it's still cake. The cake itself was okay - plain, not a lot of flavor, uneven texture... and the buttercream, while smooth and silky like "regular" Italian meringue buttercream, tasted a bit salty and a bit... well, like the Earth Balance spread. The cake and the frosting together taste better than either one component on its own, but even still, it wasn't a hit here.

So today's adventure didn't work out like I'd hoped.

I'll keep trying.

And for my vegan baking needs, I'll stick to this chocolate cake that my family loves. At least until I can find a better layering-cake recipe. I'll also have to play with alternative butter substitutes if I want to try the vegan meringue buttercream again...

Live and learn.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Banana Cake and New Beginnings

So... I used to have this blog...

I cooked and baked and took lots and lots of pictures, and I shared stories of the process with a few people who were kind enough to stop by.

And then I stopped.

It started feeling more like work and less like fun, and that told me that it was time to take a break.

That break wound up being a long one.

But... I'm thinking about dipping my toe back in the blog-water. Because, while I may have stopped writing about it, I never stopped cooking and baking.

My recent baking addiction is cake. I've seen amazing posts on amazing blogs featuring amazing recipes, and it reinspired me for this. So here I go, hoping to share some of that inspiration with anyone who dares venture over here after so long.

My cake addiction started innocently enough.  Whenever I run on the treadmill, I distract myself by watching random television shows. Okay, not so random. I watch baking shows. Usually either Cake Wars or Cupcake Wars. After who-knows-how-many episodes (and many, many miles), I decided that I wanted to actually learn more about the different kinds of frostings I see commonly on these shows. Most specifically, I wanted to learn how to make Italian meringue buttercream and Swiss meringue buttercream, the two I heard about most frequently on the show.

So a few weeks ago, I set out to learn how to make each of those frostings.

And from those few attempts, an addiction was born.

I am constantly on the lookout for new recipes to try, new cakes, new frostings, new methods, new techniques, new combinations...

I've had my eye on this Fluffy Brown Sugar Icing for a while, but couldn't quite decide what cake to pair it with.

So when I saw that my bananas were starting to go over-ripe, I knew I had my excuse.

This frosting is not a buttercream - it is a meringue. A brown sugar syrup is boiled, and then whipped into whipped egg whites. The heat from the syrup cooks the egg whites, don't worry, and the result, according to the recipe, is supposed to be fluffy and soft and amazing.

Unassuming little pile of white on the outside...

The interesting thing about meringues like this is that they can be very finicky. The sugar has to be heated to just the right stage or else things don't come together as expected. This recipe did not give an actual temperature for the syrup. I assumed that it would be similar to the other meringues I have made, and decided to heat it to 240 degrees, to the soft-ball stage of candy making.

My candy thermometer, on the other hand, had other plans. It stopped working somewhere around 200 degrees, somehow got liquid in it, and decided it was done for the day.

So I tried to emulate in my kitchen the way the recipe was writting - to heat the syrup until it "drops like hair from a spoon." Lovely imagery!

I thought I had it there, beautiful and strand-y... so I whipped the hot syrup carefully into my egg whites.

The results... were not the kind of fluffy I was expecting. I was expecting light and airy. What I got was more like marshmallow fluff - thick and sticky.

But don't at all let me fool you into thinking that's a bad thing. It might not have  been as easy to work with as a light, airy frosting, but holy smokes was it delicious.

I added a hint of cinnamon to my frosting, not called for in the original recipe, to pair it a little better with the banana cake I'd made and it was addictively delicious.

I need to look into the science side of what happened... Did I overcook the syrup or undercook it? I'll look into it and certainly try it again.

But it was an absolutely delicious mistake.

So to anyone actually reading this, anyone who wandered over here after my long hiatus, thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing more cake (and non-cake) adventures with you!

Banana Cake
(from Cookies & Cups)

1 1/2 cups milk
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup butter, room temp
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cups flour
3 ripe medium bananas mashed, approximately 1½ cups

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
Coat round cake pans (3 8-inch or 2 9-inch) with nonstick spray. Cut parchment paper into rounds to fit into the bottoms of the pans. Place the parchment into each pan and coat again with nonstick spray. Set aside.
In a medium bowl combine the milk and lemon juice. Stir and set aside.
In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars on medium speed for 2 minutes.
Add in the eggs, vanilla, salt and baking soda and mix until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally.
Turn the mixer to low and alternate adding the flour and milk, beginning and ending with flour, scraping the sides of the bowl between additions.
With the mixer still on low speed, add in the bananas, mixing until just incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly among the pans and bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, rotating the pans in the oven half-way through baking.
Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 15-20 minutes and then turn the cakes out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Brown Sugar Icing
(from I Wash You Dry)

1 cup packed brown sugar (I used light brown sugar)
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup corn syrup
4 egg whites
2 teasoons vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, water and corn syrup. Bring to a full rolling boil. (Be careful, as it will rise, so make sure the sides of your pan are taller). Let it boil at medium to medium high until the syrup drops like a hair from spoon (approximately 10 minutes). Remove from burner and set aside.
Meanwhile, beat egg whites until stiff. I used my KitchenAid mixer - beats them up in no time!
Slowly pour the hot syrup in a very thin stream into egg whites, beating constantly. Again, I used the KitchenAid mixer, with the whisk attatchment, at full speed. Beat until icing holds peaks, then blend in vanilla.
Let cool to room temp, then store covered in the fridge until ready to use.

I added a few generoud sprinkles of cinnamon after adding the vanilla extract and it was delicious!

Layer your cake and frosting as you like and enjoy the deliciousness!
Related Posts with Thumbnails