Veganlicious

Looking for a vegan-friendly dessert that will blow your mind?

GOT IT.

Trying to find a gluten-free treat that actually tastes delicious?

GOT IT.

Searching out something that doesn’t sacrifice taste just because it’s a little healthy?

GOT THAT TOO!

AND you don’t feel like baking??

Oh, I GOT IT!!

How is it possible something so delicious could be so guilt-free on many levels? I had to combine a couple of recipes and search far and wide for some ingredients (if by traveling to two grocery stores with one being a teeny tiny Trader Joe’s means “far and wide” then I, of course, am not exaggerating in any way), but once I tried the final product, the effort was so worth it. If you’re not interested in meandering a healthier route, which I suspect you may not be if you’re often checking out this blog, you can easily make this dessert a one-stop-shop and a 15-minute project. Have no fear omnivores who love gluten, I’ll post the replacements below. Oh, and please read the tips below before starting on the recipe!


Strawberries & Cream Tart



Stuff You’ll Need


Makes one 9″ tart

For the Crust

  • 1 oz good-quality dark chocolate
  • 2 oz unsweetened baking chocolate or carob chips
  • 2 tsp safflower or canola oil
  • 1 package of vegan-friendly, gluten-free chocolate wafer cookies (I used Pamela’s Simplebites Extreme Chocolate Mini Cookies) or about 3 cups worth
  • 9″ pie plate or serving plate


For the Filling

  • 6 oz non-dairy cream cheese, like Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 can unsweetened full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 Tbsp dark agave nectar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp corn starch


For the Topping

  • 2 Tbsp all-natural strawberry preserves (no sugar added) or strawberry fruit spread
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 lb strawberries, hulled and quartered


How to Do It

  1. Using a food processor, finely ground the chocolate cookies. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for 30 seconds, stir, and continue to heat until melted, stopping every 15-20 seconds to stir. Add the melted chocolate and safflower or canola oil to the cookie crumbs, and blend again. Remove the mixture from the food processor, and press into the bottom of a 9″ pie plate, until the plate is entirely covered. Put the crust into the freezer for 15-20 minutes while you work on the filling.
  2. Make the coconut whipped cream by scooping out the heavy part of the coconut cream that has risen to the top of the can. Whip the cream on high speed until the beater begins to leave marks through it. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, and add the agave nectar, corn starch, and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Whip again at high speed until blended and slightly thick. Place the bowl in the freezer for approximately 15 minutes to firm.
  3. Combine the cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, and almond extract in a large bowl, and whip on low speed until smooth. Set aside.
  4. Heat the strawberry preserves or fruit spread in a microwave-safe bowl for 10 seconds, or until soft and almost liquid. Stir with a fork, and mix in 1 tsp vanilla extract and lemon juice. Pour the juice over the prepared strawberries, and use a large wooden spoon to stir the ingredients together and coat the strawberries. Set aside.
  5. Remove the chocolate crust and the coconut whipped cream from the freezer. Gently fold the frozen whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture, and spread the mixture on top of the chocolate cookie crust. Top with strawberry topping, and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Kitchen Meets Girl and The Chemist’s Daughter.



Tips & Treats

  • To make a successful whipped coconut cream, refrigerate the can of coconut milk before opening. Most sites suggest at least 4 hours, and I refrigerated mine overnight. It’s also best to chill everything you’re using to make the whipped cream-the beaters, the bowl, and maybe even in the spatula. Depending on what brand of cream you use (I used Goya), it may not separate as the original recipe describes, but it may be creamy throughout. It’s okay to use the whole can if this is the case, but be aware that it will be different from what you’re used to if you’re transitioning from Cool Whip or real whipped cream. The texture is slightly softer, but the taste is dramatically better (assuming you like coconut).
  • Just a quick note on sugar: if you’re entirely vegan, and you choose not to consume sugar that you’re unsure of the refining process for, check out this website for vegan-friendly sugars. Oh, and avoid Domino.


Omnivores Rejoice

  • If you’re not interested in making the Earth- and health-friendly replacements, you can substitute the gluten-free chocolate cookies for 25 chocolate wafer cookies, the Tofutti cream cheese for real cream cheese, and the coconut whipped cream for frozen Cool Whip. However, I encourage you to try something new and be open-minded, as this is one heck of a dessert that will blow any misconceptions of a healthy diet to smithereens.

Summer Muffin’ Had Me A Blast

I went a little nuts at farmer’s markets and at Trader’s Joe’s this past weekend. I couldn’t help it. Everything is so fresh and bright, and I love fruits and veggies. However, I’m terrible at using everything up from these produce binges before they start to spoil so I decided this time that I would just let the food inspire me. I was going to pick up whatever I felt like turning into something delicious. Since I’ve been craving fresh berries and fruit smoothies daily ever since the temperature started to creep up over 90 degrees, I decided I couldn’t pass up the chance to get some juicy red strawberries before the season started to wane.

I looooooooooove strawberries. I would pick a bowl of juicy, ripe strawberries over any cookie/brownie/cake in this world if I had the choice. I suppose that’s a bit of an extreme statement and may be a slight exaggeration, but when I think of that burst of sweetness from biting into a strawberry or how they make me feel after snacking on them over a heavier dessert, I tend to think it’s accurate. I think strawberries can be paired well with almost anything too-they’re fabulous in a spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette, they’re refreshing in a bowl with sliced bananas and kiwis, and they’re lovely covered in dark chocolate.  And they make a really fabulous lemonade.

And because I was already getting lemons to surprise my fiance with homemade summer shandies (lemonade mixed with beer, all the rage on the beer scene right now), I figured maybe the lemons could do double duty.

They could flavor my beer and flavor my muffins. All at once.

What a fabulous summer idea. I don’t normally make muffins. In fact, I never make muffins because, quite frankly, I just feel like that’s far too many calories and too much sugar for something that normally doesn’t have any frosting on it that you’re supposed to consume for breakfast. Normally, I’d say “no thank you”, but I’ve had a recipe for strawberries and cream muffins sitting on my iPhone browser for approximately six months. I figured there had to be a reason, and since I had every other ingredient in them already waiting at home, I thought perhaps my strawberry raid at Trader Joe’s would finally be a good excuse to clear my browser history. The addition of lemon zest was just a fun little addition to satisfy the strawberry lemonade I’ve been craving.

Lemon Strawberry Cream Muffins

 



Stuff You’ll Need

 


Makes 16 cupcake-sized muffins

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup 2% milk
  • 2/3 cup regular half and half
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 oz full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced into small pieces
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon zest


How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line 1-2 muffin pans with paper liners.
  2. Sift together the all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Lightly whisk the ingredients, and set aside.
  3. Blend the cream cheese, 1 1/2 Tbsp of the liquid from the lightly beaten egg, 1/3 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, and the lemon zest in a separate mixing bowl with a fork or small whisk. Once the mixture is blended but still soft (not liquid), set the bowl aside.
  4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, half and half, and milk into the saucepan, and continue the stir. Heat the mixture over low heat until it’s thoroughly warm but not bubbling. Continuously whisk the milk mixture while adding the eggs, and continue stirring until the ingredients are warm and just slightly thickened. Remove from heat.
  5. Pour the milk mixture evenly over the flour blend. Using a whisk, gently blend the ingredients together until they’re just uniform. Don’t over mix!
  6. Scoop the batter into the prepared pans, filling each cup about halfway up. Put several chunks of strawberries into each cup so they’re still visible, and spoon a tsp of the cream cheese mixture on top of each cup. Cover this with a small spoonful of the remaining batter, and top it with more strawberry chunks.
  7. Bake the muffins for 26-30 minutes or until they begin to brown around the edges and the tops spring back slightly when pressed lightly. Remove the muffins from the oven, and allow them to cool in the pan for 5 minutes on top of a wire cooling rack. Transfer the muffins to the wire cooling rack to finish cooling completely.

Recipe adapted from Jane’s Sweets & Baking Journal.


Finally, I can make room on my iPhone browser for something else! Stay tuned, my next little delight will be vegan-friendly 🙂

The Breakfast Club

I had my monthly “bitchin’ book club” meeting last night, and we discussed our disturbing book choice while nibbling on different breakfast foods and (strawberry) mimosas. Alongside our overwhelmingly delicious mimosas (Andre Strawberry + orange juice = Heaven.), we selected from vegan almond coconut balls, mini vegetable or bacon and egg frittatas, delicious and crisp home-fried potatoes, granola, fresh fruit salad, and these…

Cinnamon swirl cupcakes with strawberry-maple cream cheese frosting and maple bacon. Two things I must point out before I get all excited about these-1) I did not make this recipe up, I stole it from a Cupcake Wars contestant, and 2) I do not, and will not ever again, promote the eating of roasted, smoked, maple pig fat.

With those things said, I aim to please. I know bacon is loved and obsessed over by many, and I’ve been wanting to make cupcakes with bacon on them for quite some time. The combination of sweet/savory/maple/salt sounds lovely, and since I don’t consume bacon myself, I had to make these:

“Don’t judge me-I’m delicious!”

Veggie maple bacon. I’m sure it sounds unappealing to those of you who like pork bacon, but I quite enjoy my Smart Bacon roasted with maple syrup, thank you.

The intention of this cupcake is that it has a variety of flavors from breakfast foods-a cupcake that tastes like French toast, a frosting that has fresh strawberries and maple syrup, and of course, bacon all rolled into one little bite-sized treat. When slightly overbaked and crisp (i.e. a little burnt), the cupcakes resemble the taste of cinnamon toast, and when slightly underbaked and soft, they’re similar to French toast. Quite frankly, it’s one of the most delicious cupcake recipes I’ve ever tasted, and if you choose to try, the cupcakes can be made entirely vegan without sacrificing taste. I’ve included the replacements below.

Cinnamon Swirl Sour Cream Cupcakes with Strawberry Maple Cream Cheese Frosting and Maple Roasted Bacon

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 24 cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 oz salted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups (10 oz) sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
  • Strawberry Maple Cream Cheese frosting, recipe to follow
  • Maple-Roasted Bacon, recipe to follow

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and line two muffin pans with 24 cupcake liners.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl, and set aside.
  3. Using the paddle attachment in a stand mixer at medium speed, cream the salted butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the vanilla extract and one egg at a time. Scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary to incorporate the ingredients.
  5. Decrease the speed of the mixer to its lowest setting, and alternately add the flour mixture and the sour cream (3 additions of flour, 2 additions of sour cream).
  6. Remove the bowl from the mixer, and add the cinnamon and brown sugar. Using a rubber spatula, fold the ingredients into the batter so they create a nice little swirling effect.
  7. Using an ice cream scoop and a small spatula or spoon, scoop 3-4 tablespoons of batter into each cupcake liner. Bake the cupcakes for 32-34 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and spring back when pressed lightly. Remove from the oven and cool slightly in the pans. Move the cupcakes to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Recipe from Hollis Wilder on Foodnetwork.com.

Strawberry Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Stuff You’ll Need

  • 16 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 4 oz strawberry jam
  • 1/4 cup strawberries, hulled and diced

How to Do It

  1. Using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, whip the cream cheese, butter, and maple syrup until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, and fold the jam and strawberries in with a rubber spatula until the ingredients are blended. Set aside or place in the refrigerator until the cupcakes are completely cool.

Recipe adapted from Hollis Wilder on Foodnetwork.com.

Maple-Roasted Bacon

Stuff You’ll Need

  • 1/2 lb thick-cut smoked (organic) bacon
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp good-quality maple syrup
  • Baking sheet, pastry brush, non-stick cooking spray, wire rack, parchment paper, tongs

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray a wire rack on both sides with non-stick cooking spray, and place the wire rack securely on top of the baking sheet.
  2. Line bacon strips in a single layer across the wire rack, and roast in the oven for 15 minutes, or until slightly browned.
  3. Remove the pan carefully from the oven. Using the pastry brush, brush the bacon with a generous coating of maple syrup. Use the tongs to flip the bacon strips, and brush the underside with maple syrup. Carefully put the pan back in the oven, and roast them for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until they’re browned and crisp.
  4. When the bacon is done, transfer it to a plate lined with paper towels to cool. Chop it into small pieces to top the cupcakes.

Recipe from Barefoot Contessa on Foodnetwork.com.

Assemble the cupcakes by adding a tablespoon of frosting and sprinkling bacon bits on top

Vegan-ize it!

I’ve recently discovered my local grocery store sells a pretty decent replacement for sour cream and for cream cheese. These cupcakes can easily be vegan-ized (or made healthier and dairy-free) by using Earth Balance buttery sticks in place of butter (add 1/4 tsp of sea salt for the cupcake recipe), sour cream replacement, and cream cheese replacement. The eggs can be replaced with egg replacer or flax seeds soaked in water, and the bacon can be replaced with Smart Bacon. However, Smart Bacon only needs to be roasted for approximately 5 minutes (turning the strips in between) before adding the maple syrup. Enjoy your completely guilt-free breakfast cupcake 😉

 

Almond Angel Food Cake

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, avoiding grocery stores and drug stores, and ignoring all sorts of social media, you know Mother’s Day just passed. If you weren’t aware of that and you missed it, then perhaps you should save yourself the desperation and guilt, and consider a culinary treat for your mum rather than fighting to find a lame gift and card on clearance. Lucky for me, my mother, or Momma or Moogle (who needs a Google when you have a Moogle?) as I affectionately refer to her as, prefers thoughtful treats and ideas over flowers and candy.

I attempted to make her favorite dishes-a delicious mac and cheese with spinach, smoked gouda, sharp cheddar, and a little parmesan with an angel food cake for dessert. Unfortunately I attempted to make the mac and cheese at 11:00 at night after a very long day, and rather than adding flour to make a roux for the cheese sauce, I added confectioner’s sugar. Needless to say that, while edible, the pasta didn’t come out quite as creamy and delicious as planned. The angel food cake though was a different story. I honestly thought it would be tricky to make the light and fluffy cake, which I planned to serve with a strawberry compote and fresh whipped cream, but the end result was worth the effort and the less-than-fabulous dinner. I may not be the greatest cook in the world (or perhaps I just shouldn’t attempt to cook a meal when I’m exhausted and have been going nonstop for 18 hours…), but I sure can make one heck of a dessert. 😉

Onto angel food cake…it’s more simple than you can imagine, but in order to get the right texture, you need to have patience and time. It involves more than having the right ingredients and the right measurements. You need to use baking knowledge and experience to judge texture and timing also, especially when making the meringue, which is the base of the cake. Whipping meringue is similar to whipping whipped cream, but it takes twice as long for the right chemical reaction to happen so runny egg whites turn into soft fluff. If the meringue isn’t the right texture, the angel food cake won’t turn out quite so angelic so it’s important to get it right. My best suggestion is to ensure that the egg whites are at room temperature and follow the recipe for additional ingredients exactly, and be patient. Egg whites may look frothy nearly immediately, but they won’t turn to meringue for several minutes.

Meringue with soft peaks

Meringue with stiff peaks

Think of it this way: if your egg whites look and feel like  you can throw them on a sandwich with peanut butter, then they’re ready to use in your batter.

My next bit of advice goes against most things you’ve ever heard about baking cakes-do NOT grease your pan. Angel food is so delicate that if you grease the pan, your cake will come out greasy and hard rather than light and fluffy. Cool it in the pan for 20-30 minutes before attempting to remove the pan, and it should maintain its shape nicely.

I made this cake with an almond extract, but if you’re not crazy about almond, feel free to replace it with vanilla extract for a more traditional taste. Enjoy!

Almond Angel Food Cake with Strawberry Compote and Whipped Cream

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes one 10″ fluted tube pan

  • 12 large egg whites (actual egg whites, not out of a carton please)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated or superfine sugar
  • 1 tsp almond extract (or vanilla if you prefer, or orange if you’re really daring)
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 non-stick 10″ fluted tube pan
  • Baking sheet
  • Strawberry compote (recipe to follow)
  • Whipped cream (recipe to follow)

How to Do It

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Let the egg whites stand and get to room temperature. Add the cream of tartar and salt.
  2. Beat the egg whites until frothy, and begin gradually adding the sugar 2 Tbsp at time until stiff and glossy peaks form, about 5-7 minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. When the meringue is finished, it should resemble the photo above.
  3. Gently fold the cake flour into the egg whites in two additions until completely incorporated. Be careful not to deflate the meringue, but be sure that the flour is not still in dry clumps.
  4. Spoon the batter into the tube pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until the top of the cake has risen very high and is lightly browned and cracked. Remove from the oven, and immediately invert the cake onto a baking sheet to cool. Cool completely before attempting to remove from the pan.

Gently fold in the flour

Recipe adapted from Recipebridge.com.

Strawberry Compote

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes approximately 1 cup

  • 1 1/2 pint strawberries, washed, dried, and sliced
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Small saucepan
  • Food processor or blender

How to Do It

  1. Combine 1 pt strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until the strawberries are soft, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool.
  2. When the syrup is cool, place it in a food processor or blender, and puree. Add the remaining strawberries, and mix (not puree) well so there are still large pieces of strawberry in the syrup.

Recipe adapted from Food.com.

Whipped Cream

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes approximately 2 cups

  • 12 oz heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

How to Do It

  1. Begin whipping the cream on low speed in a stand mixer or with a sturdy hand mixer. Add the sugar and cream cheese, and increase the speed to high. Add the cream thickens and begins to form soft peaks, add the vanilla, and continue to whip until it thickens. If you need more tips on making whipped cream, check out this.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries in Cake Form

Lately, I’ve been trying really hard to make healthy choices, including drinking more water, exercising more, and staying away from unhealthy foods. That’s really hard when I love to bake foods that make other people (who don’t care about calories and veggies) happy. This cake doesn’t have a single healthy ingredient in it, besides fresh strawberries, but every bite of it is worth the billion calories that are in it, especially the frosting.

If you don’t know how to make chocolate ganache frosting…well, you’re going to learn now, so pay attention.

Milk Chocolate & Strawberry Cream Cheese Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes one layered 9″ cake

For the Cake

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 cup milk chocolate (Hershey’s chocolate chips are perfect), chopped and melted
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup hot cocoa mix
  • 1 cup buttermilk at room temperature
  • Two 9″ round cake pans, parchment paper

For the Filling

  • 1 stick or 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup pureed strawberries
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar

For the Frosting

  • 12 oz milk chocolate (again, Hershey’s milk chocolate chips are perfect), chopped-this is about two cups or one whole bag of chocolate chips
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Small saucepan and heat safe mixing bowl
  • Stand mixer or electric hand mixer
  • 6-7 large fresh strawberries
  • Pastry bag with a star tip (if you want to be fancy)

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and grease each cake pan. Line them each with parchment paper on the bottom of the pans only, and lightly grease the paper.
  2. Beat the vegetable oil, butter, sugar, and eggs on medium speed for two minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the melted chocolate, salt, flour, baking soda, vanilla, hot cocoa mix, and 1/2 cup of buttermilk.
  3. Beat on medium speed for another minute, and scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the remaining buttermilk, and beat for another 30 seconds.
  4.  Pour the batter into the prepared pans, and bake 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean when pressed into the center of the cake. Remove the cakes from the oven, and cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pan, and move to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
  5. While the cake is baking, pour the 12 oz of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips into a heat safe mixing bowl. Pour the heavy cream into a small saucepan, and place it over medium heat. Let the cream heat until it begins to gently boil. Remove the pan from the heat, and pour the cream over the chips. Let the chocolate rest for 3-5 minutes while the cream warms it, and then gently mix it with a wire whisk until it’s completely blended and smooth. Refrigerate the chocolate while the cake continues to bake and cool, about 30-40 minutes total.
  6. To make the filling, cream the butter and cream cheese together until smooth with a paddle attachment, about 3 minutes. Add the pureed strawberries, and continue to mix for another 30 seconds. Switch to the whip attachment if you’re using a stand mixer, and gradually begin adding the confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time.
  7. This cake is best served with multiple layers (you can get more cream cheese frosting in there that way) so you’ll need to cut the layers in half. Do not attempt this until the cake is completely cooled. The easiest way to do this is by using a handy-dandy cake leveler, which you can also use to level the surface of the cake when it’s rounded too much while baking. If you don’t have access to one of these, you can use a warm serrated knife to slice through the center of the cake. Cut half way through each cake, and you’ll end up with four layers. If you’re feeling especially brave, cut through the cakes twice to get six layers.
  8. After you’ve cut the layers, remove the chocolate ganache from the refrigerator. Use an electric hand mixer, or transfer the ganache to the bowl of a stand mixer, and whip the icing for 3-4 minutes. It should be light and fluffy with an appearance similar to whipped cream and a texture similar to chocolate pudding…and a taste similar to Heaven. Honestly.
  9. You can use a pastry bag with a round tip or a resealable plastic sandwich bag with a small cut in one of the corners to pipe the chocolate ganache around the edges of the first cake layer. This is an optional step, but by adding the ganache around the edges, you’ve greated a little fence for the filling so it doesn’t leak out of the sides of the cake.
  10. Spread a large dollop of strawberry cream cheese icing on top of the layer but no closer to the edges than the chocolate ganache. Place the second layer of cake on top of this, and repeat the process. Do not put cream cheese icing on top of the final layer.
  11. Frost the cake with a layer of chocolate ganache icing, and let it rest in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Frost with the remaining chocolate ganache, and smooth the edges.
  12. If you’d like to make the cake really fancy, hull 6-7 ripe, fresh strawberries, and slice them vertically to get even, rounded slices. Layer them to make a heart shape on the top (if you’re sappy like me) or cover the top generously with the slices (if you’re a Valentine’s Day Grinch). Use a pastry bag fitted with a star tip to pipe rosettes around the top so it’s even prettier.

Cake recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour, ganache recipe from King Arthur Flour, and strawberry cream cheese icing recipe from The Adventures in Cooking Blog.

My Favorite Valentine’s Day Cupcake

I think I like Valentine’s Day baking better than holiday/Christmas baking. All the desserts are pink and red and heart shaped…just so darn cutesy. I know Valentine’s Day can be slightly nauseating for some, but if you start focusing on the treats associated with that holiday, you won’t feel so queasy. I promise.

Take these cupcakes, which I’ve often baked in heart-shaped silicone liners (awwwwwww), for example. They really have nothing to do with all the love stuff on Valentine’s Day, but I associate them with the holiday because they’re pink and I often garnish them with sliced strawberries or hot pink sugar, which makes anything festive. So that helps. Some of my favorite techniques are used in this recipe too-doctoring a boxed cake mix, baking the cupcakes with a surprise filling, and using one of my favorite frostings-strawberry cream cheese. They’re perfect for anyone who adores vanilla or strawberry flavors, and you can even make them with chocolate cake mix for the chocolate lovers. They’re so fluffy and heavenly that even Cupid would be tempted. 😉

Strawberry Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Stuff You’ll Need

Makes 2 dozen cupcakes

For the Cupcakes

  • 1 box of French Vanilla or yellow cake mix with pudding in the mix
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 oz cream cheese (Philadelphia makes a small square package that’s perfect for this), cut into 24 small squares
  • 3 Tbsp strawberry jam or preserves
  • 2 cupcake/muffin pans and some cutesy Valentine’s Day liners with little hearts and Cupids all over them

For the Frosting

  • 2 8oz packages of strawberry cream cheese, softened
  • 10 Tbsp or 1 stick plus 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • Hot pink sugar or sliced strawberries

How to Do It

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line cupcake/muffin pans with your cute little liners.
  2. Mix the cake mix, sour cream, canola oil, water, and eggs in a large mixing bowl until the lumps have smoothed. The batter will be thick. Fill the liners 2/3 of the way full.
  3. Lightly stir the strawberry jam with a fork until it’s smooth and free of large strawberry pieces.
  4. Gently press a small cream cheese square into each cupcake so that it’s just below the top of the batter. Put a small spoonful (approximately 1/4 to 1/2 tsp) of strawberry jam on top of the cream cheese.
  5. Bake the cupcakes for 20 minutes, and rotate the pan halfway through baking time. Remove from heat, and cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan before transferring to a wire cooling rack to finish cooling.
  6. While the cupcakes are baking and cooling, cream together the butter and strawberry cream cheese using a paddle attachment of a stand mixer. Add the vanilla extract.
  7. If you’re using a stand mixer, switch to the whip attachment, and gradually add the confectioner’s sugar a cup at a time, whipping throughly between each addition. Continue to whip the frosting until it’s smooth and at desired consistency. Add more confectioner’s sugar 1/2 cup at a time if the frosting is too soft.
  8. After the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost them with a pastry bag and round tip or with a cake spatula. Garnish with hot pink sugar, pink sprinkles, sliced strawberries, or whatever pink and red decorations your little heart desires.

Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker Just Cupcakes.

Tip: When you put the cream cheese into the cupcake batter, resist the urge to push it all the way down to the liner. You don’t need to. The batter will bake around the filling, and this goes for putting candy or other fillings in as well. Cupcake batter rises and will cover the filling, even when it’s close to the top of the batter.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Chocolate Tart

I came across this recipe during the height of New England
strawberry season on another beautiful food blog. I was looking for something
simple and beautiful to make for my friend Lauren’s weekend visit (a
Winesweekend visit!) and something for my boyfriend’s family party the same
weekend. I had a small tart obsession during the early part of summer (it is,
after all, the most fabulously versatile summer dessert), and I fell in love
with this flavor combination. The blog author (see below) intended for the tart
to be served in a rich pastry crust, but I altered the recipe to include a
graham cracker crust instead. I think pastry and pie crusts are delicious, but
I almost always prefer a graham cracker crust with anything that includes
chocolate because of the comforting feeling that combination induces.

The development of convenience products like the off-the-shelf
graham cracker crust has made baking much easier and quicker. You can always
take the easy route and begin with one of those; however, if you want to wow
your friends, make one yourself! It’s extremely simple, but people are
impressed by the “from scratch” approach when they’re used to seeing things
conveniently packaged on grocery store shelves.

Graham Cracker Crust

Makes one 9” pie or one 10” tart.

Stuff You’ll Need

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • ¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp (1/2 stick plus 1 Tbsp) butter, melted
  • 9” pie plate or 10” tart pan

How to Do It

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend all ingredients together with your hands in a large mixing bowl until the mixture feels similar to wet sand.
  2. Press the mixture firmly into the pie plate or tart pan, and smooth with your fingertips along the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
  3. Bake 8-9 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely.

Now comes the fun part. The I-can’t-stop-snacking-on-this-before-I-put-it-together part: the chocolate and the cream cheese filling. The original recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, but I prefer to use semisweet chocolate in my ganache (sorry, I really like things rich!).

Chocolate Ganache

Stuff You’ll Need

  • 2 oz semisweet baking chocolate
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • A small sauce pan, stainless steel mixing bowl, or double boiler

How to Do It

  1. Set up a double boiler using a small sauce pan ¼ to ½ full of water and a heat safe stainless steel mixing bowl. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and place the mixing bowl on top of the pan. Be sure to use a bowl large enough to just sit on top of the pan. Place the chocolate in the bowl, and stir gently as the
    water begins to boil and the chocolate begins to melt. Remove from heat once the chocolate is melted and smooth.
  2. Put heavy cream in a saucepan over medium-high heat, and let it come to a boil. Remove from heat.
  3. Gently pour the cream into the melted chocolate, add the butter, and whip by hand until blended. Let the ganache cool slightly.
  4. Pour evenly into the cooled graham cracker crust, and allow the ganache to set before adding the filling.

Tip: Want to cheat and make the ganache the easy way? Use semisweet chocolate chips instead of baking squares, and microwave your butter and heavy cream until it’s very hot (usually about 90-120 seconds for this amount). Pour the hot cream over the chips, and let them stand for two minutes. Use a sturdy whisk to whip them together, and voila! Chocolate ganahce-the easy way. I don’t recommend it as highly as the traditional methods, but it works if you’re in a rush!

Extra Tip: The ganache will set faster if it’s cold. If you have the time, put the tart in the fridge for a couple of hours, and if you don’t, put it in the freezer for 30 minutes. If the ganache is solid, it won’t blend into your filling, but it will soften enough to cut through if you leave the completed tart at room temperature before serving.

Cream Cheese Filling

Stuff You’ll Need

  • 8oz cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream

How to Do It

  1. Beat together the cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar in a stand mixer using a whip attachment or by hand with an electric mixer at medium-high speed.
  2. Add the vanilla and cream, and mix until they’re fully incorporated.
  3. Spread the filling evenly over the solid ganache.

Onto the decoration of your tart! I know it’s difficult not to dig into now, but…make an effort!

Strawberry Topping

Stuff You’ll Need

  • Approximately 1lb fresh strawberries
  • 2oz semi sweet chocolate, melted
  • Plastic sandwich bag that seals
  • Scissors

How to Do It

This is so simple, but it makes the dessert (almost) too pretty to eat. Fruit tarts can be very versatile. You can use the same crust, the same pastry cream or filling, and a large variety of fruits and garnishes that can change the tart entirely. It’s the presentation that really makes a tart appetizing.

For this tart, use the same technique to slice strawberries that I mentioned in Strawberry Mascarpone Filled Cupcakes. Beginning in the center of the tart, place the strawberry slices in overlapping circles. Be sure that the
slices are facing the same way; it’s usually easiest to put the broad end of the slice into the filling and leave the narrow end facing upwards. Also, be sure that as much space as possible is covered with strawberries. You don’t
need to see the filling on a tart, and it’s usually better if you don’t. The fruit should be the focal point.

Next, pour the melted chocolate into a plastic sandwich bag that seals. Use your scissors to make a (very) tiny cut in the corner of the plastic bag. Gently squeeze the chocolate to drizzle it in concentric circles over the
strawberries. See below!

Recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats

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