CHOCOLATE CHERRY MIROIR CAKE: A VEGAN SHOWSTOPPER

Please, do not allow the vegan word to scare you away. This was one of the tastiest cakes I’ve ever made, and I simply cannot BELIEVE it is vegan. The recipe comes from Fran Costigan’s cookbook: Vegan Chocolate, Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-free Chocolate Desserts. Ms. Costigan has decades of experience creating dairy-free cakes and concoctions that do not rely on margarine and tofu like most do. As she points out in the introduction of the book, you can always taste margarine in the icing, and tofu will never fail to make a cake heavy. This cake – included in her “Showstoppers” chapter – is a bit involved to make, but one of the things I love about her cookbook is that she lays out a timetable suggesting how you can break the process in stages in a smooth and efficient way. I made the cake, the vanilla custard cream, and the chocolate decorations two days before. Made the mousse, assembled the cake and covered with the glaze the day before showtime. Basically, the cake was ready and waiting in the fridge before we had to take it to a get-together with friends. All that was left to do was add the chocolate decorations. Piece of (vegan) cake!


CHERRY CHOCOLATE MIROIR CAKE
(from Fran Costigan’s Vegan Chocolate)

RECIPE OVERVIEW

1 recipe for Chocolate Torte to Live For (click here), baked in a 9-inch round pan and cooled
(can be made a couple of days in advance)

Other components

Soaked dry cherries

Vanilla Custard Cream: based on cashew cream and coconut milk, thickened with agar-agar

Magic Chocolate Mousse: water-ganache with a touch of olive oil, very interesting and quite tasty version

Mirror glaze: Cherry juice, coconut milk, cocoa, chocolate, agar-agar

Comments: Vegan baking is not simple. Fran’s book takes that challenge and turns it into art. I don’t think it is right to publish the full recipe for such a complex cake, when so much work and effort went into its design and optimization. But the cake component, which by the way, stands beautifully on its own, can be made according to the recipe she published in her website (click here). In that version, the cake is covered with a vegan ganache and ends up very elegant in its simplicity. It remains as one of her most popular cakes, and having made it, I can understand why.

For the decorations, I tempered chocolate and used some of it to pipe designs on acetate sheet. The remaining I spread over transfer sheets (I get mine usually at bakedeco.com) and before it was fully set I cut small triangles. Fran’s version in the cookbook used fresh cherries covered in tempered chocolate, but they are not in season at the present time, so I went with my Plan B.

Everything works perfectly well in this cake, I would not change a thing. The cake is intensely chocolate-y, the two mousse components soften the overall taste. I really like the texture of glazes made with agar-agar instead of gelatin, find it a lot easier to work with and more reproducible. Gelatin-based glazes tend to get a bit slimy, particularly if sitting at room temperature for a while.

To get Fran’s cookbook – a must-have if you are into baking adventures – follow this link to amazon.

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ONE GIFT, ONE DOUGH, TWO RECIPES

Last month my dear friend Louise sent me a wonderful gift: a box with many (and by many I mean more than 50!) little tartlet tins in several different shapes and sizes. I was speechless, and so touched by her generosity! It is now time to share my first adventure with this special gift. A single dual-purpose dough was used to make little tarts and a modernized version of Linzer cookies. The recipe for the dough comes from Haniela’s blog. She is one of the cookie artists I follow and try to learn from. I suspect it will become my default dough for sweet tarts. The texture is perfect, and I loved the way it is intensely flavored with vanilla.

CHOCOLATE GANACHE MINI-TARTLETS
(dough recipe from Haniela’s)

for the dough:
430g all-purpose-flour
1/8 tsp salt
160g powdered sugar
3 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
226 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

for the filling:
6oz dark chocolate, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 tsp orange oil
sprinkles to decorate (optional)

Sift flour and salt. Set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle beater, mix butter and powdered sugar until smooth. In a small dish whisk together egg yolks and vanilla. Gradually beat egg yolk mixture into the creamed butter. Scrape the bowl a few times as needed.

On low-speed, gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix until it starts to come together. If the dough is too crumbly, add 1tsp milk. Do not overwork the dough. Invert the dough onto a clean work surface or into a large bowl and gather dough together with your hands into a ball. Then form the dough into a disk, wrap it in the foil and chill for 1 to 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350F. Place mini tart shell molds onto a baking sheet. Spray with a non-stick spray, set aside. Take out the chilled dough, cut it in half. Let if soften for 5 minutes. Roll it to 1/8 inch rolling. Cut out as many rounds as you can. Gather scraps and re-roll. Shape the tarts and use a fork to prick the bottom of the shells. Bake at 350F for 12-14 minutes until golden around the edges.

Let cool for 10-15 minutes before removing tarts from the molds. Turn the mold upside down and tap it firmly onto your work surface to release the shell. Let the tarts cool before adding a filling.

Make the filling: place the chocolate in a bowl, heat the heavy cream to almost boiling, and pour over the chocolate. Wait a few minutes, add the orange oil, and gently stir until fully smooth. Let the ganache cool for about 5 minutes, then place in a piping bag and fill the tartlets, smoothing the top. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Place in the fridge to set the ganache for about 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Check Hani’s site for detailed step-by-step instructions. As she shows, the best way to shape the dough is using an empty tin of the same format to press it in, with a Saran wrap type plastic over the dough to protect it. Works like a charm (check top right picture in composite above). You can make many tartlets and store them in the freezer for a mini-tartlet emergency…

The same exact dough can be rolled and cut into any shape you like to make a Linzer version. I went with a teardrop and cut-out small flower shapes for the top layer.

Simply bake the cookies, let them cool, and spread a thin layer of the jam of your choice. I used seedless raspberry jam for this batch.

A little shower with powdered sugar is optional, but in my opinion, a nice finishing touch.

The dough is wonderful to work with, and as a cutout cookie, it held the shape well. The tartlets puffed up a bit, but midway through baking I pressed them down gently. Perfect texture.

A big thank you to Louise and Haniela!

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OMG PEANUT BUTTER BARS

I cannot stand the texture of peanut butter and its ability to glue to gums and teeth. The idea of grabbing a spoon of peanut butter and licking it leaves me paralyzed with terror. These peanut bars? Seriously addictive. In her original post, Lauren called them “World’s Best Peanut Butter Bars.” I have not tried that many – full disclosure, this is my second – so I share the recipe with you, and if you are a peanut butter bar connoisseur, let me know what you think.

PEANUT BUTTER BARS
(from Tastes Better from Scratch)

for the bars:
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter (plus more for spreading over baked bars)
2 + 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

for the chocolate frosting:
1/4 cup butter
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 + 1/2 Tablespoons milk
1 + 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter with both types of sugar. Add the eggs, vanilla, and peanut butter and mix well.

In a separate bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to creamy mixture.

Press firmly into a greased 9×13” pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 17-20 minutes. It will look just barely set in the center, and will harden as it cools. Allow to cool completely, then spread a thin layer of peanut butter over the bars.

To make the chocolate frosting: Add butter to a small skillet over medium heat. Once melted, stir in cocoa. Remove from heat and add milk, powdered sugar and vanilla. Whisk until smooth, using electric beaters to get out any lumps, if needed. .

Spread chocolate frosting over the top of the bars. Cut into squares once the topping is fully set. Using a knife moistened with very hot water from the faucet helps to get neat slices.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: These bars were donated, but I “sampled” a little of the trimmings. It’s a good thing I had planned to donate them, because just like a certain cauliflower of my recent past, portion control with this baby would require Herculean efforts. If you make it, consider cutting in even smaller squares if you can, because they are rich. Decadent. I love the inclusion of oats in the base. I am thinking of incorporating oats in sugar cookies in the near future.

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PASSION FRUIT MILLIONAIRE’S SHORTBREAD

Millionaire’s Bars are undoubtedly a classic. This version brings a bright tropical twist that works quite well. Very rich, a small piece will satisfy even those with a super sweet tooth.

PASSION FRUIT MILLIONAIRE’S SHORTBREAD
(inspired by this article)

for the shortbread base:
2½ cups (312g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (226g) unsalted butter, melted

for the caramel:
1 can (396g)sweetened condensed milk
1 cup (210g) brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup passion fruit pulp
1-2 tsp passionfruit flavor from Amoretti (optional)
8 tablespoons (113g) unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt

for the topping:
225g dark chocolate
1/4 cup Candy Melts, white dyed orange with food gel

Heat oven to 350F. Butter a 9 x 13 baking pan and line it with foil, leaving pieces hanging on both the long and short sides of the pan, for easy lifting of the bar later. Make the shortbread by combining flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Add melted butter and stir with a silicone spatula until no dry crumbs of flour remain. Crumble the dough evenly over the pan, and pat into even thickness with your fingers. Pierce with a fork many times all over the surface. Bake until light golden brown and firm to touch, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack. Let crust cool for 20 to 30 minutes.

Make the caramel: Stir all ingredients together in large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 238 F. This will take around 20 minutes. Pour over crust and spread to even thickness. Let cool completely, a couple of hours.

Once set, melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30-second bursts until glossy and smooth. Place the dyed candy melt in a piping bag and make a small hole. Smooth the chocolate over the caramel shortbread, then quickly add lines of the dyed candy melts. Do a feathering effect with a toothpick or a needle. Leave it set, then cut into squares.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I made this quite some time ago, March 2020 to be precise. It was one of the last items I was able to share with our department before Covid-19 hit. I hoped to have intense passion fruit flavor in the caramel, and that was not very easy to achieve. By mixing fruit pulp with a touch of Amoretti flavor, I think I got it as intense as it could possibly be without affecting the caramel texture. If you don’t have Amoretti products hanging around, just omit it. The passion fruit by itself will be a nice touch, taming the sweetness of the caramel layer. But, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this is rich. They call it Millionaire’s Shortbread for good reason!

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THE MANY FACES OF BROWNIE CUPCAKES

One basic recipe, several ways to dress it up. I adapted the basic brownie and icing recipes from a version found in Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes. Clockwise from top left: Rose-Mint, Chai, Lavender and Orange-Ginger Brownie Cupcakes. I started making them in August last year and they’ve been a regular component of my weekly donations. Once iced and set, they stay good for a couple of days at room temperature.

BROWNIE CUPCAKE BASIC RECIPE
(modified from Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes)

1 package Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate (4oz)
1 stick (1/2 cup, 113 g) unsalted butter
265g sugar (1 + 1/3 cup)
2 room temperature eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

Place 12 cupcake liners in a baking sheet, and heat the oven to 350F.

Chop the chocolate and butter in pieces, place them in a microwave-safe bowl and melt at 50% power just until the chocolate is almost fully melted. Finish melting by whisking gently until smooth. Allow it to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

In another bowl, mix flour, salt and baking powder. Reserve.

To the melted chocolate, add the sugar and mix with a handheld mixer, when the sugar is incorporated (it won’t be smooth), add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth, for a couple of minutes medium-speed. Gently sift the flour mixture on top, whisk just until the flour is incorporated and no dry bits can be found.

Fill each cupcake 3/4 full with the batter. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out slightly moist. Cool completely before icing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

ROSE AND MINT BROWNIE CUPCAKES

1/3 cup milk (you won’t use it all)
1 bag Bigelow Rose Mint Tea
1/8 tsp rose water (I used Nielsen-Massey)
180g (1 + 1/2 cup) powdered sugar

Infuse the milk with the bag of tea by bringing it almost to a full-boil in a small saucepan, turning off the heat, adding the tea bag, closing the pan and leaving undisturbed for 10 minutes. Squeeze the tea bag. If you want a little more pink color, add a touch of food gel (I used fuchsia from Sugarflair, added with a toothpick).

Place the powdered sugar on a large bowl and add half the amount of infused milk, whisking gently until fully dissolved. Adjust with enough additional milk to make a spreadable icing that will not pour freely from the sides of the cupcakes, but instead be thick enough to form a stable layer. Decorate with sprinkles, or flowers made from Royal icing or molded chocolate, as in the picture below.

CHAI BROWNIE CUPCAKES

1/3 cup milk (you won’t use it all)
1 bag Double Chai Stash Tea
180g (1 + 1/2 cup) powdered sugar
sprinkles (I used this one, a favorite)

Infuse the milk with the bag of tea by bringing it almost to a full-boil in a small saucepan, turning off the heat, adding the tea bag, closing the pan and leaving undisturbed for 10 minutes. Squeeze the tea bag to release flavor and reserve the milk.

Place the powdered sugar on a large bowl and add half the amount of infused milk, whisking gently until fully dissolved. Adjust with enough additional milk to make a spreadable icing that will not pour freely from the sides of the cupcakes, but instead be thick enough to form a stable layer. Decorate with sprinkles, Royal icing flowers, or molding chocolate details.

LAVENDER BROWNIE CUPCAKES

1/3 cup milk (you won’t use it all)
1/4 tsp dried lavender flowers
180g (1 + 1/2 cup) powdered sugar
sprinkles

Infuse the milk with the dried lavender by bringing it almost to a full-boil in a small saucepan, turning off the heat, closing the pan and leaving undisturbed for 10 minutes. Pass the milk mixture through a fine sieve to remove the lavender. Reserve the milk. If desired, add a tiny drop of purple food gel dye.

Place the powdered sugar on a large bowl and add half the amount of infused milk, whisking gently until fully dissolved. Adjust with enough additional milk to make a spreadable icing that will not pour freely from the sides of the cupcakes, but instead be thick enough to form a stable layer. Decorate with sprinkles.

ORANGE-GINGER BROWNIE CUPCAKES

1/3 cup milk (you won’t use it all)
1 bag Orange-Ginger tea (I used this one from Republic of Tea)
180g (1 + 1/2 cup) powdered sugar
sprinkles

Infuse the milk with the bag of tea by bringing it almost to a full-boil in a small saucepan, turning off the heat, adding the tea bag, closing the pan and leaving undisturbed for 10 minutes. Squeeze the tea bag to release flavor and reserve the milk. If desired, add a very tiny amount of orange food gel dye.

Place the powdered sugar on a large bowl and add half the amount of infused milk, whisking gently until fully dissolved. Adjust with enough additional milk to make a spreadable icing that will not pour freely from the sides of the cupcakes, but instead be thick enough to form a stable layer. Decorate with sprinkles.

ENJOY!

to print the basic recipe for icing, click here

Comments: My main modification of the recipe was to use the full package (4 oz) of the unsweetened chocolate, adjusting the flour and butter amounts, so that you are not left with a tiny bit of chocolate hanging around. The cupcakes bake without doming too much, perfect to have a flat layer of icing on top.

In this post I used tea to flavor most icings but you can also use orange or lemon zest, omit the decorations, or flavor the basic icing with any extract you like. They are super versatile. If you use molded chocolate to decorate and the room is too warm, the chocolate might get slightly soft, but it won’t lose its shape. To make decorations with molded chocolate I used mini silicone molds, and later painted them with luster powder + vodka.

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