Monday, December 21, 2009

Gingerbread Men

There is no denying that Gingerbread Men are the ideal Christmas cookie. Their spicy dough, combined with the excitement of decorating them truly gets you in the holiday spirit. The following recipe is from one of my favorite vegan websites, PPK stands for The Post Punk Kitchen, and it provides a forum for vegans to share recipes, discuss policies, and post pictures of what they made. Not surprisingly, the site itself was founded by the author of Veganomicon, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, so you know that it is legit.

The Gingerbread Men I made were decorated with Red Hots and a simple icing consisting of confectioners sugar and water. Aren't they just the cutest little guys you have ever seen??

Gingerbread Men

1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup molasses

1/4 cup soymilk

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Beat together oil and sugar for 3 minutes in a large bowl. Add molasses and soymilk. Stir together.
In another bowl, sift together all of the other ingredients.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet in batches. Mix together with a firm spoon. The dough should be stiff. Mold into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease your cookie sheets.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a little less than 1/4 inch thick. Cut out your shapes with cookie cutters and gently place on cookie sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and let them cool for two minutes on a baking sheet before moving to a cooling rack. Wait until they are completely cool until icing.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Cookies: Apricot Thumbprints

Now that I'm home at last for Christmas, the cookie baking marathon has begun. Some recipes will be vegan, others will not be, but all will be deliciously dangerous and will, without a doubt, make you want to crash a cookie exchange party just to show off your fine work.

Apricot Thumbprints were my grandma's specialty. They are a family favorite, and Christmas wouldn't feel the same without devouring a platefull of these small fruity cookies over the course of two days. I have a firm belief in passing traditional family recipes down through generations, so I left them non-vegan, in all of their buttery, eggy glory.

Though my mom and I can never make them as good as grandma could, the ones we made today came pretty close!

And one more note, I finally recharged my camera so expect the pictures of my baked goods to be exponentially better than the ones I have been posting!

Apricot Thumbprints

For Jam:
Chopped dried apricots

In a saucepan over medium heat, place chopped walnuts. Heat with sugar, adding small amounts of water as needed. Cook until the consistency is jam-like, and all the water has been evaporated. You should end up with about a cup of jam.
Set aside.

For Cookies:
1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg, separated

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts, in a separate bowl

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat egg yolk, butter, sugar and vanilla together. Slowly add in salt and flour until made into a dough.
Form dough into 1 inch balls.
Beat egg white slightly and place in a small bowl on the side. Dip each ball into egg whites and then roll into nuts. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Press thumb deeply into the center of each. Bake for about 12 minutes, until light brown. Remove from oven and fill with jam.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Gingerbread Houses

What better way to celebrate the holiday season than sittin' down with some friends, flipping the Comcast to Christmas music, and building your very own gingerbread house?! After deciding that we had a craving to make a cookie abode, my friends and I searched for the perfect pre-made building supplies. But lo and behold, all of the gingerbread houses sold in Target were lame and chock-filled of nasty ingredients.

So off to we went to make our own awesome houses. The cookies, the frosting and candy to adorn the houses were definitely not vegan, but gingerbread houses have got to have the stability to withstand the snowy winter wonderland decorations!

We found that the hallmarks of a fancy house were in the details. Pull 'N Peel Twisters make ideal bricks for a walkway when snipped into little shards. And Jujubee bushes really added to the house's landscaping.

Can you tell which house I worked on?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Quick and Tasty Chocolate Chip Bars

The main reason why I love baking is not necessarily because of the end result. It is the process that I revel in. There are so many aspects in life that can be unpredictable and stressful. Lately I have found that the task of following steps is calming. Baking provides a departure from making decisions, an often difficult feat that all humans must make, and simply tells us what to do. When a recipe says "1 cup flour sifted with 1 teaspoon baking soda", it means just that.

While I love being creative with desserts, sometimes you just want to make something straightforward and fast, with no added tricks or potentially stress-inducing fancy techniques.

These Chocolate Chip Bars from the cookbook How It All Vegan, are simple as can be. They are easy to make and quite speedy as well. But in a crazy way, they are extremely delicious and worthy of satisfying any baking urge.

Life can wait. There are Chocolate Chip Bars to be made.

Chocolate Chip Bars
From How It All Vegan

3 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup soy milk or water

1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, including the sugar. Add oil, vanilla, milk and chocolate chips. Stir until just mixed. Pour batter into a 9X13 pan. Sprinkle with sanding sugar if desired. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Let cool 10 minutes until you cut them into bars.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gingersnaps a la Chez Panisse

Over Thanksgiving break, I stumbled upon a book called Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of A Food Revolution, by Thomas McNamee. In my ever-thirsty quest for food literature, I instantly became obsessed with the ideology of Alice Waters, the woman who literally began the now nation-wide obsession with using organic, local ingredients. The book tells the story of her restaurant Chez Panisse, which still stands in Berkley, California.

After coming across Alice Waters' recipe for Gingersnaps in her cookbook, The Art of Simple Food, I knew that I had to try it out.

Consequently, these cookies are not vegan. But they are truly outstanding- a classic. This is the gingersnap recipe that will go down in history. And what better way to celebrate the start of the holiday season than with a spicy, molasses-y cookie?

From The Art of Simple Food

2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

11 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup light molasses

1 large egg

Sugar crystals for coating the cookies (optional)

Stir together the dry ingredients. Beat butter until soft and fluffy. Add sugar and continue to beat until combined.
Stir in vanilla, molasses and egg. Mix in the dry ingredients until the dough is smooth.
Divide the dough into two equal portions and roll each one into a log about 2 inches around.
Wrap each in plastic wrap and freeze the logs until firm.

To bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Slice cookie dough into 1/4 inch rounds. Press one side firmly into sugar until coated completely.
Place sugar-side up on the baking sheet. Bake 10-14 minutes until deep-golden brown.
Let cool 2 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.
I think these go great when dipped in milk or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.