A New Revolution

Bonjour tout le monde, I am once again attempting to reanimate this sleepy, dormant blog, by posting about my latest favorite past-time: vegan baking.

Keeping up the blog has been difficult, because it requires a LOT of energy to write, and then sometimes even more to edit properly. As it's not the first project on my list every day, and due in part to my recent back pain and the fact that I work at home now, I'm not exactly the girl about town that I was in the blog's hey day, it's most often just too much work. BUT, I realized I don't always have to write an entire essay, or an extemporaneous analysis of society today, or a venomous rant about the lack of manners around here, etc, etc. No, this will just be a place to put recipes, photos, and baking tips, in case anyone else would like to try.

First may I just preface by saying: vegan cooking, raw cuisine, clean eating: this is the new revolution, people. This is the way of the future. It is a revolution in stopping climate change, in reclaiming your health, in cutting off the predatory practices of the Big Pharmaceutical companies, in saving billions of animals lives, even in curing cancer. It is something every one of us can do, without any investment. No up-front costs, no membership fees, no equipment to buy. Just...go vegan.

I became a vegan because I can't bear to kill. I see the humanity in animals, or the animal in humanity, and I cannot eat flesh, anymore. I was a meat-lover, a bacon-lover, a chicken-lover, a gravy-lover. But once my eyes were opened I could never close them again. I discovered I was eating torture. Fear. Pain. Suffering. I was eating friends. So I stopped.

Luckily, going meat and dairy free had never been easier. This was way back in 2000. There were faux chicken products, faux hot dogs, bacon, everything I used to love! There wasn't any good cheese alternative yet, that was still ten years away, but oh well, avocados did nicely in place of cheese, at least on all my mexican food creations. Now of course, we have it MADE. The best meat alternatives are available, the most delicious dairy alternatives, nut milks, yogurts, cream cheeses, sour creams, even CHEESE CHEESE. You can get lip-smackingly delicious vegan BRIE, of all things!

I became obsessed with eating clean when reasons number 2, 3, and 4 popped up: I lost a ton of weight. I stopped aging so quickly. I amazed my doctors at every check-up: never had a flu shot (still never have), never got sick, great cholesterol-heart-blood pressure numbers etc, no medication. Even in my 40's. And then I found out I was also helping to save the planet. 

How much more revolutionary can you get? A cruelty-free, globally-sustainable, anti-cancer, anti-aging, weight loss product that does not support corporate greed?!!! Sign. Me. Up.

So here we are.

My new mission in life is to recreate everything I used to loooove to eat, as clean as can be. When possible, the ultimate goal is whole-grain or gluten-free, sugar-free, and vegan. This year I am going to cook and bake as close to those guidelines as I can. I'm going to try new raw recipes, I'm going to buy a dehydrator!!! Stay tuned for regular, every-day recipes for delicious autumnal dinners, snacks, and deserts. Meanwhile...

THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF. This show is the best reality show of all time. Not only because it is about baking, and baked goods are my passion, (also my old nemesis), and my new best friend. Not only because it has hilarious, gentle, teasing, sweet, adorable lesbian hostesses Mel and Sue, not only because it boasts the legendary Mary Berry herself as a judge, and the intense and talented Paul "Silverback" Hollywood as the "male judge", but because THERE IS NO DRAMA. Well, beyond the drama of a fallen cake, an un-set creme pate, or an over-baked dough with a soggy bottom. No, what is brilliantly, engagingly lacking is whining, petty, human drama. No backstabbing, rumor-mongering, alliance-creating, jealous, paranoid meltdowns in the baking tent. No sirree, just white aprons, whizzing mixers, and the silent sweat of frightened bakers, praying that their creations will please the judges.

In fact, there is no obvious corporate sponsorship of the show. No million-dollar-contract to vie for, no special prizes given with each successful challenge. The reward is simple and powerful: approval from the judges, and your fellow bakers. Every contestant lives for a approving word from Paul and Mary, each searching their faces with that first bite for a sign...and if you are very very lucky, your bake is perfect, your bottom is not soggy, and your flavor is spot-on, you might get to hear the most blessed of words issue from Mary Berry's lips: "SCRUMMY".

Then, for the best of the best the award of "Star Baker" is ceremoniously granted each week, and one sad contestant is enveloped in hugs, fed leftover cake, and let go.

So...once addicted to this wonderful, creative, and inspiring show, I had to start baking. I had never piped a frosting before, never made a meringue, never tried "chocolate work", or carmelized anything in my life, but watching the bakers in the tent do it, over and over again, sometimes failing, sometimes creating masterpieces...I thought I might give it a go. And it's been SO MUCH FUN.

Now, I was never a science whiz, and let's face it, cooking IS chemistry. It's all about reactions of ingredients, under certain conditions, and so there are going to be failures, especially when working with "non-traditional" ingredients. It's hard enough making this stuff with white flour, cream, eggs, and real butter. The chemistry changes when you're using a liquid sweetener, say maple syrup, instead of dry sugar. But...I adjust and experiment, and have had really good results, despite the challenges.

Crikey! This post has turned into one of those long-winded ones I was trying to avoid. But I had to set the stage, but enough already - enough stage-setting: IT'S TIME FOR A RECIPE! 
Vegan Maderia Cake

The first week of the bake off was all about cake. There are 3 challenges per episode, and the first one is always the "Signature Bake". The bake where they give you a general theme, and you make your special version of it. This Signature Bake was for Mediera Cake, a citrus-y glazed cake that is so-called because you could serve it with a glass of Medeira wine. It looked absolutely delicious, and I couldn't wait to give it a try.

Using the Bake-Off's own recipe for Medeira Cake I veganized it. This was easy because all I had to do was use 9 Tablespoons of aquafaba (see note) for the eggs, and almond milk for the regular milk. Very straightforward. Keep in mind however, that when I bake for the bake off I sometimes go ahead and use white flour and sugar. I want the entries to be as close to the real thing as possible, so the judges are impressed by the appearance, and can't tell that it is vegan. When possible I will go sugar-free. The results here were DELICIOUS. The cake was so moist and sweet, I injected some of the glaze straight into the cake as well as drizzled it over the top, and the candied peel added the perfect crunch. I was thrilled to the marrow when the Great British Bake Off's website accepted my bake, along with 1000 others, but who cares, and posted it on their page. I've never heard such sweet words in an email as when I read "Your bake has been approved."

The 2nd challenge was the Technical Challenge, this time for "Frosted Walnut Cake". The Technical is where they give you a classic recipe without any detailed direction. It's where you are tested on your knowledge of certain techniques, like making meringue. The Frosted Walnut Cake is frosted with a meringue that is quite tricky to make. It's a layered cake with buttercream on the inside, meringue on the outside, and CARMELIZED walnuts on top! I had never done any of this before, and how in the heck do you make a vegan meringue, anyway?! Isn't it made entirely of egg whites?

Vegan Frosted Walnut Cake
Nevertheless, I waded in.
(note) Recently a new discovery has been taking the vegan world by storm. It is AQUAFABA. It simply means "bean water". And that's all it is: it's the water from a can of beans, the stuff you always pour down the drain. Evidently this water is magical. It is a protein, just like eggs, and behaves very much like eggs, when cooked, whipped, or baked. Even more magical, you can beat it for ten minutes and it turns into meringue. Or marshmallow fluff, or whipped cream, or ice cream, depending on what you do to it. NO LIE. And that's what I did. I made vegan meringue frosting out of the water from one can of chickpeas, or garbonzo beans. More on aquafaba later, suffice it to say, it worked.
However, I have never handled meringue of any sort before, and it set really fast. So fast that it crumbled on the top of my beautiful walnut cake, and looked hard and ugly. So I made the terrible decision to just cover it all up with the leftover buttercream. Which looked crystalized and rough, spread over that hard meringue. Oh well, live and learn! I tried to beautify it with my freshly-carmelized walnuts, which helped, but not enough. I am hooked on carmelizing, however, it is SO FUN!!!!! Did you know all you have to do is put sugar in a sauce pan? That is all! Just heat it slowly on medium heat, DO NOT STIR IT, just kind of swirl it around from time to time and make sure it doesn't burn, and it will turn into a golden syrup that you can dip stuff in, or flick it about on wax paper for "sugar work", or kind of sculpt it into shapes to decorate with. It's a blast. And then whatever you've dipped in it becomes shiny and golden and delicious-looking. Not enough to save this cake, but oh well. It was absolutely delicious anyway, and I can't wait to make it again. Walnut Cake rules!

I did not attempt the 3rd challenge of the week: The Showstopper Challenge. This week it was for "Black Forest Gateau" which is a chocolate fairy-tale concoction of cake and cream. Way out of my league at this point, and after two cakes I was baked-out. But I vowed that I would attempt a Showstopper soon, and do my best to compete with the Star Bakers in the baking tent.

Stay tuned for Week Two of the Bake Off:  Biscuits (Cookies!)