Vegan Cookies and Cream White Chocolate

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For someone who adores recipes, it’s rare that I’ll follow them to the letter without making some sort of tweak – whether this is informed by suspicion or ingredient scarcity or a general heedlessness. And I’ll still think, “what a great recipe, can’t wait to make that again.” And instead of depreciating from overuse, like a pair of cheap trackpants that immediately give at the crotch after little more than some vigorous couch-sitting, these recipes grow stronger and more anchored in your life.

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This includes my own recipes, which I simply love to write and then ignore forevermore! In this case, it’s a vegan white chocolate recipe – which started off last year as a cashew-cacao butter creation, and which was incredibly delicious – in no way requiring fiddling, you might think – and that turned into my Raspberry Rainbow Slab a few months later. Recently I tried replacing the cashews with their much cheaper cousins, the sunflower seed, and the results were astonishingly good. From there, further meddling ensued: what if I add crumbled up chocolate cookies? What if, indeed: it’s so good.

I love being vegan, but sometimes I want sweet food that isn’t super worthy and made with powerfully bitter dark chocolate. I want the okay stuff! The dollar mixture foil-wrapped corner dairy stuff! This chocolate: it’s that stuff. The inspiration was those Cookies ‘n Cream Hershey’s bars – overpriced, tiny, gone in seconds, and a dizzyingly satisfying meeting of creaminess and crunch. The Hershey’s bars are not a gourmet product – in fact, I’d say comfortably that even the best American chocolate is probably on par with the worst of New Zealand’s – but they’ve had such a hold over me.

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Turns out, sunflower seeds are the key. They’re mild, and not at all overpowering – but the resulting chocolate is definitely not as elegant as the cashew version, with a flavour somewhat akin to Easter egg chocolate. And of course, adding seasonal-based elusiveness to food only makes it seem more delicious (I’m quite sure they also use Easter egg chocolate in Advent calenders and nowhere else) so you can imagine my delight when I tasted this and realised I’d made a decent dupe of that once-a-year flavour. Add some cookie crumbs and it becomes a vegan-friendly dupe of those Hershey’s bars, with plenty to spare too. The way your teeth slide through the dense, buttery chocolate into the scattered crunch of the cookie crumbs: it’s spectacular. Hershey’s who?

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Vegan Cookies and Cream White Chocolate

This vegan white chocolate uses sunflower seeds which are much cheaper than cashews – it also makes this nut-free. It’s creamy, vanilla-y and so good, with crunchy pieces of chocolate cookie throughout – but you can also leave out the cookie and just have delicious white chocolate. (Or add cocoa to it for milk chocolate! It’s so versatile.) Recipe by myself.

  • 3-4 vegan chocolate-flavoured cookies (or see recipe below)
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons refined coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste (I usually add a little more)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (roughly 250g) cacao butter, finely chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar

1: Crumble the cookies into small pieces with your hands and scatter them across a brownie tin lined with baking paper. I didn’t have any cookies so made my own, by mixing 1/2 cup flour, 3 tablespoons cocoa, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon rice bran oil and enough milk to just combine (about 2 and a 1/2 tablespoons). Pat it into a circle-ish shape about 1cm thick and bake at 180C/350F for ten to fifteen minutes then leave to cool and crumble into pieces. You might not need all of it: I just ate whatever I didn’t use. The cookie dough will get crisper as it cools but if it seems to be staying soft, bake the crumbs for another ten or so minutes at 180C/350F.

2: Using either a food processor or a stick blender and a bowl, blitz the sunflower seeds until they form a fine, oily rubble, then add the coconut oil and continue processing into a paste, it should resemble tahini or peanut butter and be fairly smooth. The stick blender is my preferred method – it feels a bit ridiculous at first, shoving it into a pile of sunflower seeds, but you can use it to incorporate the melted cacao butter and it makes for smoother chocolate.

3: Add the vanilla extract and salt and blend again to combine.

4: Rest a metal bowl on top of a small pan of simmering water – without the base of the bowl actually touching the water – and tip the finely chopped cacao butter into the bowl. Let it slowly melt, stirring often, and remove from the heat when it’s mostly liquid. It’s important not to overheat the cacao butter or it’ll go gritty, and the heat of the liquid will melt any remaining solids.

5: If you’re using the stick blender, slowly add the melted cacao butter to the sunflower butter, blending to combine. If you’re using a food processor, tip the cacao butter into the blender bowl a little at a time and process to combine.

6: Add the icing sugar – it’s easier to stir this rather than blending as it sends clouds of sugar-dust everywhere. Taste to see if it needs any more salt.

7: Pour this chocolate mixture evenly over the cookie crumbs in the brownie tin – no need to stir, but give it a bit of a wiggle if need be to spread it across. If you have any leftover cookie crumbs, it looks nice to sprinkle some over the chocolate, but it’ll all taste the same in the end so no worries if you don’t. Bang the tin a couple of times on the bench to expel any air bubbles, and refrigerate for a few hours or until solid.

8: Slice into squares and store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Note:

  • To make regular white chocolate, just leave out the cookie crumbs. You can also add a tablespoon or two of cocoa to make milk chocolate.
  • I’m starting to see cacao butter in supermarkets – it’ll probably be either in the baking aisle or in the weird corner where they shove all the vegan and gluten-free stuff. If you have a Binn Inn nearby I recommend looking for it there as it’s usually cheaper.

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music lately:

Death Ceremony by Grace McLean from the Off-Broadway musical In The Green, which McLean also wrote and orchestrated. This song begins with a kind of leafy, zingy Neko Case energy with the most astonishing coda about 1:50 which I have listened to on repeat easily thirty times – the way the syncopated vocals slide over each other before joining in harmony, the way McLean’s voice goes from crisp and lilting to chewy and howling and Alanis Morrisette-esque, I have chills just writing this and you should totally listen to it even if the words “musical” put you off. Like, it would obviously never put me off, but I just really want as many people as possible to hear this.

Raat by Aurat, gothic and ethereal and spooky and beautiful. Aurat incorporates the language of Urdu into heaps of their songs and you can listen to more of their music on their BandcampOh My Love is also gorgeous, joyful yet gloomy at the same time, the best kind of music.

Blinded By The Lights by The Weeknd. Despite referencing him on here I hadn’t actually listened to any of his music and somehow heard this song properly for the first time this year? Despite it being probably the biggest song of 2020? Anyway, when I heard it I assumed it must be an old song from the 80s that I’d missed but no, it’s very recent and it’s shockingly addictive! It’s the sound of neon lights in the rain, of Take On Me going backwards while Young Turks goes forwards at the same time, it’s unreal how much this song gets in your head and takes over every other possible option.

PS: If you like my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than by stepping behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan Brown Butter Chocolate Brownies

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Look, everyone’s gonna tell you their vegan chocolate brownie recipe is the best, the one, and you know what? That’s valid. The best need not be a zero-sum game, culinarily speaking, otherwise what’s the point of trying anything new. No, instead it’s a wide couch where we can all sit side by side, happily eating our brownies. So: these are the best vegan chocolate brownies. The one. One of many, that is. But what a one!

Brownies should be the easiest thing to bake – they’re usually one-bowl affairs, you don’t have to worry about them rising or being light-textured like a cake, there’s no faffing about shaping dough, like with cookies, and the presence of chocolate means they’re an instant crowd-pleaser. And yet, we’ve always had a wary relationship – I tend to overcook them into cakey dullness, or overshoot a scientifically crucial ingredient, sending the delicate chemical balance from “fudgy and rich” to “not unlike a peat bog”.

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As it happens, I didn’t get this recipe quite right on the first go. They were somehow too moist and too dry, with a stressful, peanut-butter-esque throat-clogging quality. Sometimes my rejection-sensitive receptors can’t handle this kind of defeat and it’ll send me spiralling with guilt and self-doubt (related: my piece for Tenderly about the heartbreak of recipe failure during lockdown.) I also don’t have all the resources in the world to rigorously test recipes. But we had precisely 100g chocolate left in the house and the first batch was still pleasant enough to eat, so not a total reproachful waste. I cheered myself with the reminder that 99% of the recipes I make up work perfectly the first time, which is pretty extraordinary, slept on it, and woke up knowing exactly how to fix the brownies by adjusting the liquid/flour ratio. It would’ve been nice if these instincts had kicked in a little sooner, but I appreciate them showing up nonetheless.

Second time around: the brownies were perfect. Exactly what you want: a shiny, delicately crisp exterior, a fudgy interior that’s melting without being undercooked, and a staunch chocolate flavour. (Thank goodness.) 

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These brownies are particularly special because of the brown butter step – which is to say, I’m emulating the culinary technique of burning butter to develop its flavour by using an unlikely but potent combination of ingredients. Coconut oil for buttery fatness; soy milk for its proteins; and a tiny dash of vinegar and brown sugar to speed things along, cooked down into a foamy emulsion, at which point I added pecans to assist with the nutty flavour you get from traditional browned butter. I realise this may seem unlikely, but bear with me. The result is this caramelised, toasty liquid with a deep, rich, and genuinely buttery intensity. I love eating vegan food but you have to dance a little harder to give your baked goods the same easily-achieved tastes and textures of non-vegan baking. This vegan browned butter offers complexity and sumptuousness, taking the brownies from two dimensional sweetness to three dimensional deliciousness. I imagine the browned butter would be wonderful used elsewhere, including in savoury recipes, but for now it’s the perfect base for the perfect brownies.

Brownies worth persisting through failure for – brownies so good they require a glamour photo shoot.

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Vegan Brown Butter Chocolate Brownies

These vegan chocolate brownies are fudgy and rich with a crisp edge and absolutely delicious. The “brown butter” step is a little extra work but so worth it. Recipe by myself.

  • 1/4 cup refined coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup soy milk
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon extra brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 100g melted dark chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
  • 150ml boiling water
  • 1/2 cup good cocoa powder
  • 125g flour (this is roughly one cup but try to weigh it if you can)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100g extra dark chocolate, roughly chopped (optional)

1: First, make the browned butter. Place the coconut oil, soy milk, one tablespoon of brown sugar (save the 1/2 cup for later), the apple cider vinegar, and a pinch of salt into a small frying pan and melt together over a medium heat, stirring constantly. It’ll look dodgy, but trust me.

2: Once it starts looking frothy and bubbly, stir in your pecans and continue cooking and stirring till it’s thickened and pale caramel in colour. Remove from the heat and leave to sit for five minutes. While you’re waiting, set your oven to 180C/350F and line a square brownie pan with baking paper.

3: Now to make the brownie batter – spatula your pecan/brown butter into a mixing bowl and stir in the remaining half cup of brown sugar and the white sugar. Pause to have a little taste: oh my gosh. So delicious.

4: Melt the chocolate (I put it in a small bowl and nuked it in short bursts in the microwave, otherwise heat it in a metal/heatproof bowl resting on a pan of water without touching the water) and stir it into the butter-sugar mix. Stir the coffee powder into the boiling water and set aside. Also – 150ml is more or less 2/3 of a cup, or you can measure 150 grams of water on your scales.

5: Sieve the cocoa powder, flour, and baking powder into the bowl, and add half the coffee liquid. Fold it all together and then add the remaining coffee, the vanilla extract, and the extra chopped chocolate (if using) and fold together.

6: Spatula this mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 30 minutes. At this point, turn off the oven and let the brownies sit there for ten minutes (if your oven tends to really hold its heat, open the door, otherwise leave it closed) and then take the brownies from the oven and let them get basically completely cool before you attempt to slice them. And for that, I recommend a sharp serrated knife and a confident but slow hand.

Notes:

  • Don’t leave out the coffee powder! You don’t taste the coffee specifically but it’s important to add depth of flavour. However, if you can’t have caffeine it’s absolutely fine to use decaf powder.
  • I haven’t tried this with anything other than soy milk. Oat milk would probably work, but I have serious doubts about almond milk.
  • The pecans are specifically used to add a nutty, toasty flavour to the browned butter. I wouldn’t use any other nut here, but if you don’t want the pecans in your brownies you could scoop them out of the browned butter with a slotted spoon and save them for another use. It’s important to use them in the butter step itself though. Hope that makes sense!
  • When I say “good cocoa powder” I mean something with 20g or more fat per 100grams. Look in the nutritional information on the package, anything less than 20g per 100g is unfortunately not worth your time or money!
  • The second time I made these I didn’t have enough chocolate to chop up and fold through and honestly? They were amazing without it. So if you only have 100g chocolate to hand you can totally still make these.

Also if you want a visual reference I made a little tiktok video to go with these brownies. 

@hungryandfrozen

vegan brown butter chocolate brownies 🤠🍫 recipe at hungryandfrozen.com #recipe #foodblogger #chocolate #vegan #veganrecipes #cooking #fyp #brownies

♬ Do You Love Me Now – The Breeders

 

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music lately:

I Love How You Love Me by The Paris Sisters. There’s something about that Phil Spector production where it’s so present yet so distant, it’s like that exact feeling in The Wizard Of Oz where Glinda the Good Witch is smiling benevolently but also floating away unhelpfully; while I was listening to this the cat walked across my laptop and in the process changed the playback speed to 0.75 which gave it an instantly surreal, Julee Cruise quality and I think actually sent me into spontaneous sleep paralysis – but in a good way? So proceed with caution, I guess.

Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack, a song which makes me want to cry and levitate? Which can only truly be appreciated while lying down in a darkened room or clinging to the wing of a 747 as it takes off? Once more I say proceed with caution!

Black and White by The dB’s. “Well, I guess I just don’t enjoy you anymore” – what a sentiment for the ages.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan Jelly Tip Ice Cream

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The universe sends its swiftest rebukes whenever I attempt to make food motivated first and foremost by “I think this would look cool”, or worse, “this might get me attention”. Any recipe made with too much pride and avarice ends up either unsalvageably disgusting, or worse, flopping, leaving me sweltering in a bonfire of my own vanities.

I mean when it comes down to it, making zeitgeist-baiting food in the hopes of capturing the fickle and changeable attention of literally anyone is 90% of food blogging. Every single recipe I post here, and I won’t pretend otherwise, is done in the hopes that I’ll get enough attention that I no longer have to worry about getting attention because I’ll just be comfortably established, an expected part of the proceedings.

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Anyway, all of this is to say that I made vegan jelly tip ice cream and the idea first came to me because I thought it would look pretty, and also thought perhaps the brand name recognition would make peoples’ eyes light up. But the universe must have identified something pure at heart motivating this because – well – the recipe turned out incredible. So delicious. And I’m delighted to share it with you. For those of you not from New Zealand, Jelly Tip is a chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream with a raspberry jelly tip, hence the sensibly un-opaque name. It was one of my favourite ice creams growing up and the idea of a vegan version appealed since I can no longer enjoy the dairy-based original. It was later introduced in tub form – which is what my recipe is emulating – and I have many fond memories of digging out as much raspberry jelly ripple as possible with my spoon, probably to the murderous contemplations of all those who had to eat the remaining, brutally excavated ice cream.

My version has a coconut-aquafaba ice cream base, fresh raspberries set with agar-agar for the jelly, and thin shards of dark chocolate. There’s plenty of raspberry for you to dig for, should you be a brat like me, but in truth, the components all need each other and work best together. Each mouthful is a damn symphony of flavours and textures, from the icy vanilla to the vivid slash of raspberry to the snappish and welcome interruption of chocolate. This ice cream has a certain rakish elegance, with those sharp raspberries and the bitter dark chocolate, but without compromising your culinary nostalgia. And for all of my sum-of-its-parts talk, I really want to try making just a vat of the frozen raspberry jelly part, entirely for my own consumption – it’s that good.

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I won’t lie, this recipe is quite time-consuming and involved, but on the other hand, I like to cook? So cooking isn’t a hardship. I appreciate that time is a dissolving commodity, but there’s pleasure to be found in quietly and persistently dicking about in the kitchen in pursuit of one single outcome (delicious ice cream.) And when so many vegan recipes – mine included – involve sticking seventeen things in a high-speed blender – the opportunity to be hands-on at every step of the process feels almost like a treat. Importantly, while there are numerous steps, none of them asks too much of you.

And it really does look pretty. Is that a crime? Not today, according to the universe.

@hungryandfrozen

vegan jelly tip ice cream ♥️🍫🍦🤠 recipe coming soon to hungryandfrozen.com

♬ Orinoco Flow – Enya

Also: I made a goofy little tiktok about making this ice cream – in case I’ve been a dunce and haven’t embedded it properly you can also watch it here. Attention: the most delicious ice cream of all.

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Vegan Jelly Tip Ice Cream

A rather involved recipe, but each of the steps are fairly straightforward and it’s very worth the effort: creamy vanilla ice cream ribboned with fresh raspberry jelly sorbet and dark chocolate, YES! Plus it’s no-churn – you will never need an ice cream maker with my recipes. Makes about 1 litre. Recipe by myself.

  • 2 and 1/2 cups frozen raspberries
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup water plus a little extra for the agar-agar
  • 1 teaspoon powdered agar agar (I got mine from an Asian supermarket for about a dollar and it’s fantastically useful as a gelatine substitute)
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup aquafaba (the brine drained from a can of chickpeas – one can should get you somewhere around this quantity.)
  • 1 teaspoon malt vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon custard powder
  • 1 cup/250ml full-fat coconut cream – if you put the can in the fridge before you start making everything it’ll be easier to get at the thick coconut cream, separated from the coconut water. If you’re not sure that you’ll have enough, refrigerate two cans just in case.

1: Place the raspberries, icing sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to the boil, lowering to a simmer and cooking – stirring occasionally – until the berries have collapsed into a bright red syrup.

2: Meanwhile, measure the agar-agar into a small cup and stir in about two tablespoons of water – this will make it easier to stir into the syrup. Remove the raspberries from the heat and whisk in the agar mixture and the lime juice. Pour this mixture through a sieve into a jug or container, stirring and pressing with a spatula to extract as much raspberry juice as possible – this is really the only annoying step! Refrigerate the sieved raspberry mixture while you get on with everything else. You can save the remaining seeds for smoothies or just eat them on the spot, as I did.

3: Melt the dark chocolate in the microwave, or in a bowl resting over a saucepan of simmering water without actually touching the water. I just used the same pan that the raspberries had been cooking in, figuring correctly that it would help in the washing-up process. Once the chocolate is melted, pour it onto a tray or oven dish lined with baking paper, and spread it out with a spatula to make a fairly even, thin layer of chocolate. Transfer this into the freezer to solidify while you get on with the next step.

4: Tip the aquafaba and vinegar into a large mixing bowl and beat with electric beaters until it’s stiff, pale and frothy. It should move slowly when you tilt the bowl sideways, and when you raise the beaters the mixture should reach up and follow them before slowly collapsing. You can use a whisk for this if you don’t have the equipment but it’ll take a while and be pretty strenuous. But it is possible!

5: Slowly – a little bit at a time – add the sugar, while continuing to beat the aquafaba. It should become very thick and quite glossy and bright-white. Keep beating until you can no longer feel any gritty sugar granules when you taste a little of it; briefly beat in the custard powder, and then you can finally turn off the beaters.

6: Remove the can of coconut milk from the fridge, open the lid, and scoop the thick coconut cream into your measuring cup. If there’s more than a cup’s worth of thick coconut cream, just add it in too. Save the remaining coconut water for smoothies or other cooking (or just drink it, which is what I did.) Fold this coconut cream gently into the aquafaba mixture – it’ll deflate a little which is fine, and it might look a bit bubbly, but this is also fine! Spatula this mixture into a freezer-proof container (I used a 2-litre one just to make sure it had room to move) and place it in the freezer for ten to fifteen minutes before adding the chocolate and the raspberry jelly. I don’t know if this makes a significant difference to the mixture’s structural integrity but it’s what I did so it’s what we’re all going to do.

7: Remove the tray of chocolate from the freezer and using your hands, crack and shatter it into small pieces – I also scrunched up the baking paper around it to help with this process. Remove the raspberry jelly from the fridge, and take the ice cream base out of the freezer. If it still looks a bit bubbly just give it a quick whisk. Drop spoonfuls of the raspberry jelly all over the surface of the ice cream – they’ll sink, but don’t worry. Sprinkle over the chocolate and use the back of the spoon to push most of the chocolate below the surface. You can make a couple of ripple movements through the ice cream with your spoon if you like, but be careful to just barely stir it – you want to leave lots of big ripples of raspberry present.

8: Cover the container and refrigerate it for two hours – I always do this, I think it improves the taste and the texture – then freeze for about six hours or until solid. This particular ice cream sets quite hard so it needs a ten minute rest out of the freezer before you bust into it; because of all the chocolate it’s also hard to get a perfect scoop but the important thing is, it tastes incredible.

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music lately:

Too Real To Feel by Loop. My brother got me onto this band literally this evening and after one listen I feel like I’ve adored them for years. They’re droney and shoegazy and twinkly and sound like a tremolo in a washing machine on the wool/delicates cycle, so of course I love them!

Neither/Nor by Moses Sumney. The whole græ album is exceptional but this song is particularly glorious with that introspective, Led-Zepp-slow-track guitar, his effortless slide into an ethereal falsetto, and the intoxicating, driving drumbeat.

As If We Never Said Goodbye from the musical Sunset Boulevard (based on the film, Sunset Boulevard) as sung by Betty Buckley (who you may know as the gym teacher in the film Carrie). I know I use the word “literally” a lot (and I mean it every single time!) but literally every time I watch her sing the “I’ve come home at last” line around eight minutes into this grainy, poor-quality bootleg video, I start to cry and no amount of rewatching it can desensitise me to its awe-inspiring power.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

The Best Vegan Cupcakes

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Somewhere between Sex and the City, the establishment of Web 2.0, and the 2008 financial crisis, cupcakes truly had a moment. I’ve been around long enough with hungryandfrozen.com to witness their rise, their stagnation, and the mild backlash, and in this time I’ve only actually blogged about them like, once, eleven years ago, and have spent the rest of the time loftily reflecting upon the cupcake’s place in societal food trends and my place as its constant witness. That self-congratulatory nonsense ends today, since I finally made cupcakes again and the thing is, outside of trends or whether you think they’re cutesy or whether you’re still smarting from being charged $9 for one that time when you accidentally wandered into the local organic market and had made too much small talk with the cupcake seller to be able to back out politely without some kind of purchase – outside of all that – cupcakes are wonderful. A small cake! Just for you! Whole and perfect, with nothing to add or subtract! What’s not to love?

Recently it was my brother and father’s birthday, and I strong-armed them into letting me make cupcakes as the candle-bearing birthday cake (a conceit completely undermined by the birthday celebrations occurring at a beach picnic where the untethered wind wouldn’t even let the match stay lit for more than a second). Normally I’m quite confident to just make up a cake but with the pressure of it being for an occasion I wanted to consult an existing recipe, and then this one at Minimalist Baker seemed so straightforward and reasonable that I ended up following it pretty well to the letter. The recipe worked perfectly: tender, vanilla-scented little sponge cakes, exactly how I pictured them in the tastebuds of my mind (or the mind of my tastebuds?) and the ideal load-bearing wall for all that buttercream.

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So while I can’t take credit for the cupcakes, the buttercream is absolutely my invention and I cannot even begin to express how delighted I am with it, and myself. Speaking with a vague, unearned air of science, the process involves making a quick emulsion of oil, vinegar and milk, which imitates butter, and then beating icing sugar into that unlikely emulsion until you end up with clouds of the most dreamy, fudgy, buttery and delicious icing you can fathom (as a vegan, I mean, but everyone I’ve fed this to loves it.) I’d explored different kinds of vegan icing before and while using margarine gives good results texture-wise, it’s so hard to avoid that unfriendly margarine flavour. With this quick emulsion method, you get all texture, all flavour, and none of the crestfallen bereft-ness. I split the buttercream in two and flavoured half with cocoa and half with raspberry flavouring and the latter was absolutely my favourite – obviously chocolate is very good, in fact it hardly needs me to defend it, but there’s something about a pink cupcake that just feels right in my soul.

These really are the perfect cupcakes, and without a drop of exaggeration I’ve thought about them every single day since the last one was consumed. And don’t feel like you have to wait for a special occasion to make these: if birthdays are far off (or out of reach) I’d just make a batch and have them for dinner, in its entirety.

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The Best Vegan Cupcakes (with The Best Vegan Buttercream)

Delicious, classic vanilla cupcakes with raspberry or chocolate vegan buttercream. Cupcake recipe adapted very slightly from the Minimalist Baker; Buttercream recipe by myself. Makes 12.

  • 1 cup soy milk or similar
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a standard muffin tray with 12 paper liners.

2: Start by pouring the milk and vinegar into a large mixing bowl and leaving for a minute or two to curdle slightly. Add the oil, vanilla, and sugar, and whisk to combine.

3: Sieve in the dry ingredients – important, as sieving prevents any baking soda lumps – and as the original recipe recommends sifting some of the flour in before the raising agents followed the remaining flour and salt, I will pass this tip onto you as well. Sieving the dry ingredients in this order helps to ensure that the baking powder and baking soda are fully dispersed amongst the flour. Whisk everything together until well blended without any lumps remaining. The mixture should be about the texture of pancake batter – if it’s too liquidy then just sieve in a couple more tablespoons of flour.

4: Divide the mixture between the twelve paper holders, filling them no more than 3/4 full to allow for the cupcakes rising. The mixture is extremely delicious, and it will look like you’ve got a lot, but I personally recommend waiting until you’ve actually filled the paper cases before you go eating too much of it. Bake the cupcakes in the centre of the oven (that is, not too high or too low) for 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of them comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely before icing. If the cupcakes have risen quite high, you might want to level off the tops with a serrated knife (and then eat the offcuts, cook’s treat) to make a flat playing field for the icing to go on.

Buttercream:

  • 1/3 cup soft (but not melted) refined coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup soy milk or similar (plus extra if necessary)
  • 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 level tablespoon golden syrup (or light corn syrup if American)
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon custard powder
  • 2 and 1/2 – 3 cups icing sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons good cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon raspberry flavoured essence
  • few drops pink food colouring
  • Rainbow sprinkles, or sprinkles of your choice, to serve

1: Place the soft coconut oil, milk, vinegar, golden syrup and salt into a mixing bowl and blend with a stick blender. It will look quite unpromising at this point, but don’t worry. Add the custard powder and blend again, followed by the icing sugar, a spoonful at a time while still blending, until it forms a thick, dense frosting that begins to hold its shape.

2: Once it gets particularly thick you can remove the stick blender and add the remaining icing sugar by sieving it in and then stirring to combine – start off with 2 and 1/2 cups, but if it’s too thick, stir in a tablespoon or two of extra soy milk, and if it’s too soft, sieve in a little extra icing sugar. The texture you’re after is a spreadable icing that’s thick enough to hold its shape when you move your spoon through it.

3: Scoop about half of the icing into another small bowl. In one bowl, sieve in the cocoa and stir it in until it’s completely combined – you may want to add another spoonful of milk here, as the cocoa can have quite a drying effect. In the second bowl, stir in the raspberry essence and a few drops of pink food colouring, until it’s the flavour and shade you want.

4: Frost the cupcakes once they’re cooled completely – I just dropped a spoonful of icing on top of a cupcake and spread it around with the back of the spoon, then moved onto the next one, but you could also use the flat side of a knife. Scatter the sprinkles over the cupcakes as soon as you’ve iced them – if you leave it too long the icing will set and the sprinkles will just bounce straight off (I mean, I still got sprinkles everywhere anyway, but.) You might end up with a little more icing than you need, once again: cook’s treat.

Notes:

  • I recommend rice bran oil specifically because of its neutral flavour – because these cupcakes are pretty simple I wouldn’t recommend an oil with an overpowering flavour. Canola or grapeseed oil also have a pretty neutral flavour.
  • I haven’t tried piping this buttercream so I couldn’t honestly say whether or not it’s suitable for the purpose, although I’d guess it would be, since it holds its shape well.
  • The custard powder in the icing is for flavour and texture, but I’ve made it without and it was also fine so don’t stress if you don’t have any.

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music lately:

One For My Baby (And One More For The Road) by the highly underrated Ida Lupino, from one of my favourite films, Road House (1948). She’s not exactly a singer, but the way she acts through this song is exquisite – as the bystander says after she’s done, “She does more without a voice than anyone I’ve ever heard!”

Dress by PJ Harvey. That barrelling drumbeat and the “if you put it on” refrain and everything, it’s just so good.

Regina by The Sugarcubes. You know I have ready a list of Broadway songs I would love to hear Bjork sing (and vice versa, I’ve always thought Idina Menzel would be an ideal person to cover Big Time Sensuality.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

The Annual HungryandFrozen Edible Gift Recipe Round-Up

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Once more Christmas lurches purposefully towards us, engorged with expectation, and emotion, and the hopes and fears of all the years, and capitalism. Which means one thing, round these parts: it’s time again for my annual list of edible gift idea recipes, gathered from my prior blog posts over the past thirteen years. It’s a self-serving action, yes, but also hopefully helpful in some way – and all I ever really want is to be useful, but to also draw attention to myself in the process.

Time is forever a strange and fluctuating thing – and never in such a collectively experienced manner as this year with COVID-19. We all felt how it was March for six months, now next March is inexplicably three months away – and I know for many, this Christmas is not going to take its usual form. If you’re confined to a relatively small circle of people, there are still neighbours, the postal service, any number of people nearby who might be cheered by a small jar or box of something in their letterbox, or on their doorstep. Even just you, alone, are reason enough to bake a cake. I also realise to heaps of people Christmas is quite reasonably another day of the week! But generally there will be some point in your life where giving a gift is required, and almost all the recipes listed below work beautifully year-round (though I personally can’t eat candy canes out of season.)

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As for the financial pressure of this time of year – I won’t lie, between the ingredients, time, electricity, storage and wrapping, homemade edible gifts aren’t necessarily that cheap, and there’s no moral superiority in making your own jam. It is undeniably delightful to receive something homemade – but if this is too strenuous, stick with the food concept and do your Christmas shopping at the supermarket. Chocolates, candy, olive oil, fancy salt, peanut butter, curry pastes, hot sauce, olives, a complicated shape of pasta – even just food you know someone eats a lot of. They love noodles? Get them noodles! I guarantee they’ll be pleased. Basically, we cannot escape capitalism but giving an edible gift of any kind has so many upsides: it’s delicious, it has immediate application, it will eventually cease taking up space in the receiver’s house, it makes you look like a really great person.

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To the list! I’ve grouped the recipes into three categories, and have also included some of the recipes I wrote for Tenderly over the last year.

Two caveats: some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant. Also I feel like it’s worth pointing out that anything involving an ingredient which either could melt or has been melted, should be stored in the fridge rather than under the tree.

Also – all these recipes are vegan.

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Category One: Things In Jars

No matter how uncertain the world we live in, you can still count on Things In Jars. From relish to pickles to the unsinkable salted caramel sauce, it’s always well-received, it always looks like you’ve gone to arduous levels of effort, and it’s an ideal gift for everyone from your most marginally tolerable of coworkers to the most highly specific love of your life. For added personal flair – although this could just be my neurological predisposition for over-explaining – I suggest including a gift tag with recommendations on ways to use the contents of the jar.

Savoury:

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Sweet

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Category Two: Baked Goods

They’re baked! They’re good! While biscuits and cookies are more commonly gifted, don’t rule out a loaf, perhaps wrapped in baking paper and then brown paper – the banana bread and ginger molasses loaf below keep well (especially the latter) and would make a charmingly convivial offering. At this busy time of year, having something to slice and eat with a cup of tea or a snifter of whatever weird liqueur you can find in the back of the cupboard is nothing if not a stroke of good fortune.

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Category Three: Novelty, No-Bake Sweets, and General Sugary Chaos

The best category, let’s be frank. Whether it’s dissolving candy canes in bottom-shelf vodka or adding pink food colouring to white chocolate for the aesthetic, sugar is the true reason for the season. And since dentists wildly overcharge us for their service, you might as well make them really earn it.

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music lately:

Supervixens by AR-Kane, I love this song so much, the way the woozy vocals slide over the melody, the way the melody slides over the beat, in fact this whole album (“i”) is exhilaratingly glorious.

Brooklyn Blues, by Clifford Gibson. Okay so I love early blues, but if I’m honest, I only initially got into Gibson because I found him on Wikipedia under the list of people who have the same birthday as me (April 17.) Fortunately this rather vain curiosity was highly rewarding because he was a wonderful musician (of course!)

Irma La Douce, by Shirley MacLaine from her fantastic Live at the Palace album. This is the English version of the title number of the French stage show on which the film of the same name was based, in which Shirley MacLaine played the title character – Irma La Douce – very straightforward. It’s one of my very favourite films and I love her performance of this song, from its wistful, introspective beginning to its unhinged, full-throated conclusion.

Also – I was genuinely heartbroken to learn of the passing of Broadway legend, icon, star, Ann Reinking. I could say SO MUCH about her, and Fosse’s choreography, and Gwen Verdon, and the way they all worked together – but instead I’ll just link to this clip of her dancing in a dream sequence in All That Jazz – a film I could watch every day and never tire of. It’s a deceptively simple number, but her precision and ownership of the movements is astonishing. Everything she does – even just lowering her eyelids in a blink at 46 seconds in – is a dance movement, on a level the rest of us can only dream of.

PS: if you enjoy my writing and would like to support me directly, you can do so by joining my Patreon. It’s like a cordoned-off VIP area, where you can access content written just for you: recipes, updates, poems, short stories, all for just $2 a month.

Vegan Raspberry Rainbow Slab

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While, generally, no one wants to hear about the dream you had last night – which took me well into adulthood to grasp, as you are probably unsurprised to hear – I believe the exception to this rule is today’s recipe for Raspberry Rainbow Slab, which appeared to me in a dream and which I made come deliciously true. Whether this strikes you as whimsical, or a sad indictment of our current content-churning, always-on gig economy in which being asleep is still a fruitful opportunity to keep working, either way it tastes, in real life, every bit as good as it did in my head. (Side note, I really could taste it in my dream. Is that weird? Is that a sign of genius? Surely?) Coming up with recipes from dreams is nothing new for me, although my brain is getting slightly better at it – the first time this happened was in 2003 when I woke up and, still mostly asleep, wrote “steak with Baileys??” on a piece of paper beside my bed.

This is essentially a riff on my Vegan White Chocolate recipe, which is not something I thought could ever be improved upon – and superlative though that is, something about this bigger, thicker, creamier, baby pink confection is even more delicious, if not, possibly, the most delicious thing I’ve ever made. It tastes like the tops of those pink iced buns from the bakery – like the sort of birthday parties you’d read about in Enid Blyton books – like, well, a dream.

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You really do need to use the raspberry flavouring here instead of freeze-dried raspberry powder or something – that’s the point, that giddy, bright red fizzy drink flavour. Even the sprinkles add something – visually, obviously, but also a pleasant gritty crunch before your teeth sink clean into the chocolate below. Somehow, with all that icing sugar, it’s not too sweet – or too rich. It’s just perfect, raspberry-tinted white chocolate. However, between the cashews and the cacao this is not a particularly cheap outing, unfortunately, so I would only make it to share with someone you think will genuinely appreciate it, and indeed, you.

I know it’s really all I’ve said in this post but I just need, for my own peace of mind, to make sure that you really understand me when I say this is probably the best recipe I’ve ever invented. If, however, it still seems like too much of an outlay or too cutesy or something, why not start by making the original vegan white chocolate and work your way up.

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Raspberry Rainbow Slab

Raspberry-flavoured, pink-toned vegan white chocolate studded with rainbow sprinkles. The food of my dreams. Recipe by myself.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups roughly chopped cacao butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (refined or regular is fine)
  • 3/4 cup cashew butter
  • 2 and 1/2 cups icing sugar, with more just in case
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons raspberry essence/flavouring
  • couple drops pink food colouring
  • a pinch of salt
  • hundreds and thousands/rainbow sprinkles

1: Prepare a 20x20cm tin by lining it with baking paper. Slowly melt the cacao butter by placing it in a heatproof bowl and sitting that bowl on top of a small pan of simmering water – the bowl should rest in the mouth of the pan without the water touching the base of it, if that makes sense – stirring occasionally and removing from the heat as soon as it’s melted. Be careful not to overheat the cacao butter or it will seize up.

2: Alternate stirring the melted cacao butter and icing sugar into the cashew butter a little at a time. It will probably look gloopy and unpromising, but it will come together. It should be really quite thick but still somewhat liquidy once you’ve added everything – all that cacao butter will make it set, so don’t worry, but if it appears split and as though the oil and cashew butter aren’t making friends, just stir in more icing sugar till it behaves.

3: Fold in the vanilla, raspberry essence, a couple drops of pink food colouring, and the salt. Add more food colouring if need be, and taste to see if it wants more raspberry.

4: Turn this mixture into the lined tin and press out evenly, giving the tin a couple of taps against the bench to prevent any air bubbles and to even out the top. Sprinkle over a layer of hundreds and thousands, and put the tin in the fridge for two to three hours, or until it’s set.

5: Slice your raspberry rainbow slab into squares, and then store in an airtight container in the fridge. I find it helps to let the slab sit, uncut, on the bench for a minute if you want more even squares – what you can see in my photos here is what happens when you’re impatient and slice it straight from the fridge. Similarly, while you need to store this in the fridge, it tastes best when it’s not quiiite freezing cold, so let it sit for a minute before eating if you can help it.

Note:

  • If you don’t have cashew butter, blend one and a quarter cups raw cashews in a food processor or with a stick blender till they’re an oily rubble, then add the coconut oil and blend again till it’s a smooth paste.

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music lately:

It’s Coming, It’s Real, by Swans. I love songs which have an air of starting very far away and slowly but determinedly approaching you before they wash over your head and sweep you away and you think you’ll drown but it turns out you can breath underwater. This song belongs firmly in that genre, and also in the genre “I will listen to this on loop until I black out.”

Don’t You Think I Ought To Know, by Hadda Brooks. Her beautiful voice is somehow enhanced by the atmospheric crackly noise from the 1947 record still present on this.

Let’s Kill This Love by BLACKPINK. I watched the documentary about them on Netflix and while it wasn’t particularly enlightening and clearly entirely done in the name of promotion I guess it worked, because here we are. But it also makes sense: the tempo changes every five seconds, the costumes change even faster, there’s a lyric about crying tears of blood, they have a terrifying work ethic, of course I love it.

Next time: I am working on a seitan recipe which is worthy of Christmas day. I also made butter out of oats.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan White Chocolate

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It’s with no qualms that I admit I’m far more likely to name a problem and then complain about it ceaselessly rather than do anything about it. But every now and then my rare sense of initiative materialises and I become briefly solutions focussed. In the case of this recipe, I’d already spent a long time complaining about the price and flavour of vegan white chocolate in New Zealand, but then – I tried making my own – and it tasted AMAZING. Capital letters and italics level amazing and, I believe, extremely white chocolate-y.

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Before we go any further, here are the drawbacks: first you have to get your hands on some cacao butter and cashews. As I’ve said before, it pains me to my soul to recommend key ingredients which are potentially expensive or difficult to find, and who knows, perhaps one day I’ll devise a white chocolate recipe comprised solely of flour, water, and air. Till that blessed day comes, there’s no getting around the fact that cashews give this body and heft without any obtrusive nuttiness and the cacao butter gives it authentic texture and richness. The second drawback is this is really just an eating white chocolate – you could chop it up and use it in, say, brownies, but it’s not a melting-and-dipping type creation, or at least, I haven’t tested that aspect of it enough to encourage it with any confidence. Once you’ve got that out of the way it’s fairly straightforward. There’s a lot of blending involved – the near-unavoidable hallmark of vegan cooking – but not much else.

So this is just an eating chocolate, but what an eating experience! It really captures that flickering vanilla creaminess of regular white chocolate, the way it slides across your tongue and dissolves in your throat and the way it tastes better than any other chocolate. I do regret that I can’t approach naturally vegan artisanal dark chocolate with any of the enthusiasm I still hold for cheap non-vegan white chocolate but alas, this is how I am. At least now I can go into the world with my head held a little higher, rallied by the deliciousness of this fake white chocolate.

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It’s been a real week for showing initiative (which presumably means my faculties are spent and the coming weeks will be completely devoid of any resourcefulness.) Specifically, for the first time since I tried fifteen years ago, failed, tried again, got it, freaked out at the responsibility and let it lapse and expire – I have my learners license! It’ll sound like exaggerating to describe how hard I resisted anything to do with driving, instead choosing to be fruitlessly angry at this country’s abysmal public transport and over-reliance on cars, and also at the way learning to drive and ADHD are not immediately compatible. But after fifteen years of that, a different approach was required. I forced myself to focus, and memorise every practice question in the road code, until it was all I could think about, and certainly all I could talk about, and just when my brain was about to explode, I sat the test. And got it. 100%. What a singular rush. Getting my learners means I’m legally allowed to get driving lessons, which will involve a whole lot more wrenching of focus and determination, but I think I’m finally ready, second time around, to take less than fifteen years to achieve this.

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Vegan White Chocolate

Creamy, delicious, and amazingly similar to the memory of white chocolate. The recipe may look wordy but it’s just a case of blending everything thoroughly. Recipe by myself.

  • 70g/half a cup cashews (raw/not toasted)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped cacao butter
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups icing sugar + half a cup extra just in case
  • 1/8 teaspoon (as in, a tiny, tiny pinch) cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • a pinch of salt
  • freeze-dried raspberry powder for garnish (optional)

1: Soak the cashews in recently-boiled water for at least two hours, around four hours is optimal.
2: Place the cacao butter and coconut oil in a heatproof bowl and rest this bowl on top of a small pot or pan of simmering water (as in, the bowl rests in the mouth of the pan but the base doesn’t actually touch the water.) Let the heat from the water melt the cacao butter, stirring it occasionally (the bowl itself will heat up, so be careful.) Once the cacao butter is melted, turn off the heat and leave it till required.
3: Drain the cashews and place them in a medium sized mixing bowl. Using a stick/immersion blender, begin to blend the cashews until they are very smooth. It may help to add a little of the icing sugar at this point to give the blender more to grip on to. Add the cocoa and blend again to combine. You can leave out the cocoa if you want, but I feel, psychologically at least, that it adds something.
4: Add the icing sugar and melted cacao butter mixture to the cashews alternately a quarter cup or so at a time with the blender still running.
5: If the mixture looks like it’s not quite coming together, add the extra half cup of icing sugar a little at a time.
6: Once you’ve added in everything, switch to a spatula and fold in the vanilla and salt. I found that this folding motion also helped to incorporate any final visible cacao butter. Spatula this mixture into a 20cm square tin lined with baking paper (or whatever tin you have, it doesn’t matter if it won’t fill it completely) and leave to set in the fridge for about an hour or until firm. Sprinkle with the raspberry powder, if using. In all honestly I only added it because I thought it would make the photos look better, but it did taste lovely.

Slice into squares and store in the fridge.

Note: thank you to this recipe at glutenfreeonashoestring.com – our recipes are not the same but mine is inspired directly by reading theirs. I have not tried making this using a regular food processor – I’m sure it’s possible, the important thing is to make sure the cashews are thoroughly blended smooth before adding the melted cacao butter.

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music lately:

Mary Anne by Boytoy. This song is featured in the monumentally charming new Baby-Sitters Club series on Netflix, which I implore you to watch, and then to read the expression of adoration about it which I wrote for Tenderly. This song is wonderfully sixties in that sunny, Turtles/Monkees fashion, and disarmingly catchy.

I Know The End by Phoebe Bridgers. It starts like (this) and ends like THIS which is the ideal way for songs to progress! I also love Salt in the Wound by Boygenius, a group which Phoebe Bridgers is in, another excellent example of going from small to huge, this time with amazing harmonies, it’s real hardcore swoony stuff. I have my dear friend Charlotte to thank for introducing me to Phoebe Bridgers (or at least, for making it clear that she wasn’t Kasey Chambers, when I inexplicably thought they were the same person) and also for making me watch the Baby-Sitters Club series, which you should also watch!

Next time: I used cacao butter to try making ice cream and honestly? It didn’t really work. But I feel like I’m getting closer.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

Vegan Lemon White Chocolate Slice


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There are numerous ways in which New Zealand aggrieves me, both on a macro and a micro level, but on a very micro level, something that makes me wildly irate is how expensive vegan white chocolate is here. And should you forgo paying the rent, or feeding your family, to instead spend that money on a bar of vegan white chocolate: it doesn’t even taste that great.

Today’s recipe doesn’t solve this problem. But it is white chocolate inspired and, I would say, evokes it with success. Whether or not you agree on the degree of white chocolate evocation in this recipe, we can all agree that it’s nonetheless amazingly delicious.

The key ingredient is cacao butter – a relatively specialised item, I grant you, and I’m sincerely sorry! Whenever a recipe implies a secret ingredient I’m always like, “please let it be flour, or water, or air,” and it’s always instead something like $400 worth of macadamias. (For what it’s worth, I found raw cacao butter quite reasonably priced at the Pukekohe Bin Inn and I believe it’s becoming available in supermarkets.) Cacao butter is simply the extracted fat from the cocoa beans, and it’s the most beguiling stuff – it has the texture of chocolate but it tastes like nothing. There is perhaps the faintest echo of chocolate flavour but otherwise it’s just an inoffensive waxy vibe, and yet – I freely admit – I found myself continuously compelled to eat it, on its own, to marvel at that dichotomy of mind-blowing texture and utterly absent flavour.

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Anyway, adding cacao butter to a sweetened mixture of cornflour-thickened lemon juice and almond milk, along with the tiniest, barest pinch of cocoa to help things along – it creates a filling for the slice which is velvety-textured and creamy, and flutteringly white chocolatey, while also being pertly zingy from the lemon. As is so often the case with the real thing, this white chocolate mixture graciously takes a back seat to the lemon’s snappy tartness.

The base – dense and slightly fudgy – somehow adds to the white chocolate vibes with the oaty nuttiness and caramelly brown sugar. You can always replace the oats with more flour if you don’t have the means or the will to get out the food processor, but for what it’s worth I think they add to the slice’s excellence, and if you give the food processor a quick shake after blending the oats – it’s basically clean again. I should also point out that the recipe does look extremely wordy, but that’s only because I am a real over-explainer and want to make sure you have all the information; the whole process is really quite straightforward.

I have not yet tried making this without any distracting citrus factor, but would be interested in pursuing it, along with seeing how cacao butter fares in other baking, sauces, ice creams, and indeed, if something that properly tastes like a bar of white chocolate can be made from it – but till then, this slice is an incredibly delicious starting point.

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Vegan Lemon White Chocolate Slice

A recipe by myself.

Base:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling:

  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour (or cornstarch as it’s called in America)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (two medium-large lemons should do the trick)
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon (as in, a tiny tiny pinch) of cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup raw cacao butter, roughly chopped
  • lemon zest, to serve

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a regular brownie tin (either 20x20cm or 27x17cm or thereabouts, one of those ones) with baking paper. Blitz the oats in a food processor until they are ground fairly finely (it’s okay to still have some bits here and there.)

2: Mix the powdered rolled oats and flour in a mixing bowl then sieve in the baking powder and baking soda and mix again. Add the sugar, coconut oil, salt, milk and vanilla and mix until it forms damp crumbs. Press the mixture in an even layer into the base of the brownie tin, stab a few times with a fork (this prevents it rising unevenly) and bake for about fifteen minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly while you make the filling.

3: Whisk the almond milk, cornflour, and lemon juice together in a small pan, making sure there are no lumps. It sometimes helps to mix a little liquid into the cornflour first and then stir that into the rest of the liquid. Continue stirring the mixture over a low heat until bubbles just appear at the edges – at this point, remove it immediately from the heat and keep stirring for a bit to cool it just slightly.

4: Either microwave the cacao butter in 20 second bursts or melt it in a bowl resting on top of a small pan of simmering water. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into the almond milk mixture and stir it in along with the vanilla, then gradually, very slowly, add the melted cacao butter, stirring till it’s incorporated before adding in more. It will take some definite stirring to bring it all together, but if it looks like it’s really not mixing in, sift in some extra icing sugar, a teaspoon at a time – this gives the oil something to “cling” to.

5: Spread the filling evenly over the base, sprinkle with the lemon zest, and refrigerate until completely cooled. The filling will be thick, but not solid. Slice into squares.

Notes: You can use refined or unrefined coconut oil successfully here. If you don’t or can’t have almond milk, rice milk would be my second choice – both have a neutral, slightly sweet flavour that’s ideal here.

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music lately:

Chest, by FRIGS. This song has everything: tempo changes, a pervading air of hostility, Hole-style yelling, more tempo changes. I love it.

Riot by Basement Five. Excellent, and best served as loud as it is fast.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

 

incredibly delicious mocha cake

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I went back and forth several times but there’s no real way to make this opening sentence any more thrilling, and even if it’s not thrilling, it’s true: I’ve really been getting into square cakes. They go so much further than a round cake, the relative shallowness of the tin takes the edge off worrying about how tall the cake will rise, and there’s no dicking about with layers. It’s the practicality that particularly appeals to me – a round cake, sliced into wedges, is gone so soon! But a square cake – well, that’s absolute days of coffee-or-tea accompaniment quite sorted. Partway through my writing this, it was announced by the government that New Zealand will be moving into Level 2, significantly lifting the lockdown we’ve all been in for what feels like forever now. Certainly puts the buzz of a square-shaped cake into perspective.

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But as much as a cake can be exciting either on its own terms or in relation to COVID-19 this one has it covered – moist and springy, delicately rich with cocoa-tinted coffee flavour. It’s plain, yet hints of effort, mellow yet intense, sweet, but with the bitter full-stop of caffeine. I’ve made it twice now and imagine there will be several more iterations to come. I used a different icing both times: first, an ermine frosting – which is where you make a roux of milk and flour and beat it into butter, which sounds terribly unlikely but it’s a traditional American recipe where you end up with a silky coating as glossy as a buckskin Akhal-Teke horse. Lovely though this was, I prefer my second go, where I made a quick emulsion to imitate butter and then added icing sugar, it was densely granular and fudgy and wonderful.

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After the swaddling-tight restrictions of lockdown I’m illogically a tad wary about moving into comparatively carefree times, though there’s no kidding ourselves that whatever we considered normal is going to return – especially considering every other country in the world is having its own personal battle with COVID-19. I’ve been extremely lucky and I’m so grateful for it, which is not to discredit any anxiety, but it does put me in an okay position to deal with it. I keep trying to remember what I told myself near the start of all this: one hour at a time, one day at a time. At least with this cake I know where I stand, which is a start – it’s wonderful, and delicious, and the knowledge of its existence, patiently waiting for my next cup of tea, comforts.

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Incredibly Delicious Mocha Cake

A recipe by myself.

Cake

  • 2 and 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 heaped tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain oil, such as rice bran
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup (or similar, eg maple syrup)
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup cold water

Icing Option 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup oat milk or similar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 7 tablespoons (roughly half a cup) vegan butter/margarine

Icing Option 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

  • 2 heaped tablespoons soft coconut oil (refined or regular, either is cool)
  • 2 tablespoons oat milk or similar
  • 1/4 teaspoon malt vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup or similar
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 cups icing sugar

Note: if you don’t have instant coffee but you do have plunger coffee or similar, you can use that instead of the cold water (just leave it to go cold, too) or as well as for extra coffee boost.

1: Set your oven to 180C/350F and line a 22x22cm cake tin with baking paper.

2: Place the flour in a large mixing bowl, then sieve in the baking soda (to ensure there are no lumps and to make the mixture rise evenly) then stir in the cocoa, coffee powder, and sugars.

3: Make a well in the centre by pushing a hole in the flour with your spoon, then tip in the remaining cake ingredients and stir to combine into a thick cake batter. Spatula this into the cake tin and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until the top is springy. This is your cake and you may have it and eat it too as it is, or proceed to the following icing recipes once it’s cooled.

Icing 1: Glossy Mocha Ermine Frosting

1: Whisk together everything except the butter in a small saucepan. Cook this mixture over a low heat until it becomes thick and almost gluey, removing it from the heat as soon as it starts to come away from the sides. Keep stirring it for a minute or two once it’s off the stove, just to prevent it burning in the residual heat of the pan. Allow this mixture to cool to room temperature.

2: Using electric beaters, a stick blender, or a small food processor, whip the vegan butter for a minute, then continue beating while adding small spoonfuls of the room temperature coffee-flour mixture. Keep going in this manner until it’s entirely beaten together, by which point it should be thick, glossy, and smooth. Spread evenly over the cooled cake. You will need to store the cake in the refrigerator if you use this icing.

Icing 2: Fudgy Mocha Icing

1: Using a stick blender or small food processor, blitz the soft coconut oil, milk, vinegar and golden syrup together. You’re essentially making a quick emulsion in the manner of homemade butter here. Transfer this mixture to a larger bowl and gradually stir in the coffee powder, cocoa, icing sugar and salt until it forms a thick, dense icing. You may wish to add another splash of milk but do so carefully, as a little liquid goes a long way. Spread over the cooled cake.

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music lately:

Houston in Two Seconds, by Ry Cooder. A long, slow sunset in music form.

Teardrops, by Womack & Womack, a shining star of the “incredibly sad lyrics to an upbeat melody” genre and possibly one of the best songs of all time. I know I say that a lot on here, but the reason is just that I have incredible taste in music! That’s all!

Being Alive, Bernadette Peters. I can never, ever get sick of Sondheim’s musical Company but her version of its closing number is – transcendent. Her voice is so delicate but so hefty, like a rhinoceros in ice skates and whatever emotion there is left to be wrung from this admittedly over-performed song, she finds it and drop kicks it into your very soul.

Next time: I still haven’t made ice cream!

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Recipes, reviews, poetry, updates, secrets, stories, all yours on a monthly basis.

a low-key handful of recipes: mushroom stroganoff, gumbo-esque stew, mince on toast, chocolate pear pudding

We’re about three weeks into lockdown here in NZ but for me it’s been a full month since I’ve left the house – even to go outside at all. I had romantic notions of reading and knitting in the yard but every time you open a window wasps and mice and flies pour in and though it gives the vibe of living in a Southern Gothic novel it’s also massively off-putting. I generally regard the outdoors with suspicion anyway so I guess this is simply the universe reinforcing my assessment of it.

If you’re reading this I certainly hope things are as close to your current working definition of “okay” as possible. I personally cannot complain too much (and yet!) but I do find myself increasingly quick to irritation as a result of all this repetition. People trying to be funny online annoy me, people trying to be heartfelt annoy me, if you say something inane, that’s annoying, if you say something deep, that’s super annoying, if you mention hanging out with your partner, it’s plumbing the very teeth-eroding depths of intolerable. Oh, don’t worry, I find literally everything I say and do annoying too – and then comes the guilt at being so grumpy at everyone, guilt for not being a fountain of perky positivity – even though I’ve always been irritated by fountains of perky positivity whether or not there was a pandemic closing in on us. Then, just as it feels like my skin is going to fall off from sheer, resentful aggravation – I stand up and do some form of cardio exercise. And afterwards, even if I only exerted myself for ten minutes, and if I’m honest it’s seldom more than ten minutes – afterwards I’ll feel benign, positively magnanimous. Everyone is excused, everyone is clearly doing their best in these trying circumstances!

And then I get annoyed at the exercise, for being so maddeningly effective. Why can’t I get my endorphins from sitting down?

As you can see this blog post is a little different from usual; despite having all the time in the world I have a lot less focus – and I didn’t have an abundance to begin with – and while I’ve been cooking food I haven’t exactly been making specific recipes. I was about to give up on the notion of writing this altogether to sit and stew in my own pinging, directionless ire, when I realised I could still talk about what I’d cooked, and perhaps, collectively, it might be of some use. Each recipe is, as you can see, open to tinkering with – indeed, each one of them was the result of me meandering about, hoping what I was cooking would meet the image in my mind. The stroganoff is rich and creamy and lush (and don’t skip the cayenne, it might be that there is very little going on in my life but for days after I couldn’t stop thinking about how perfectly a pinprick of pepper brought the whole stroganoff to life.) The gumbo-esque stew was inspired by a Bryant Terry recipe, in that I looked at it and then ignored pretty much everything he suggested, but I would absolutely not have had this incredible dinner without him as a starting point. Mince on toast is pretty self-explanatory but I am keen to champion Chinese Five-Spice to anyone who will listen; and the pudding is even more self-explanatory: pudding is nice.

You may notice I haven’t mentioned garlic at all in any of the savoury recipes: it’s not that none was used – quite the opposite – but I also assume you each have highly specific opinions on what constitutes a suitable quantity and so I’m going to trust you to follow your instincts there. And once again – I really do hope you’re all okay, whatever okay is!

Mushroom Stroganoff

Slice enough button mushrooms for however many people you’re serving. If you don’t know how many mushrooms to serve people, just slice up every mushroom you have – they shrink in the pan and if you have leftovers, so be it. Fry a chopped onion in plenty of olive oil till softened, then add the mushrooms and continue stirring till they’ve collapsed and browned. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, one heaped teaspoon paprika, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a spoonful of whatever mustard you have, along with two tablespoons of flour. Add a splash of whatever wine you’re drinking, if you have it – red or white, doesn’t matter. After stirring this around for a minute or two, slowly pour in coconut milk (or almond milk/soy milk/whatever) continuing to stir as you pour, and then let it simmer away, stirring, until as thickened yet saucy as you want it to be. Feel free to add more coconut milk and make it really saucy, and if you only have a little milk to hand you can top it up with water. I am going to assume at some point you’ve added salt and pepper. Taste to see if it needs more of anything, then serve over rice or mashed potatoes with chopped parsley. Of course you can use portobello mushrooms or fancy mushrooms or a mix but, button mushrooms will do the trick just fine.

Gumbo-esque Stew

I say Gumbo-esque because this lacks the requisite filé powder (though if you have it, go ahead) and other signposts of a classic gumbo. It tastes magnificent though, and it’s even better the next day. Roughly chop a generous handful of greens per person: spinach, kale, silverbeet, cabbage, whatever you have. It’ll shrink down in the pan, so don’t hold back. Finely chop a large onion, one or two sticks of celery, and a green capsicum (bell pepper for the Americans.) Heat four tablespoons olive oil and half a cup of flour together in a large pan, stirring over a medium heat for at least ten minutes, or until the flour is a rich golden brown colour. Then add the onion/celery/capsicum mixture and cook until the vegetables are a little softened. Add two teaspoons paprika, a good pinch of cayenne, a teaspoon of sugar (or maple syrup or molasses or whatever) and then slowly stir in about four cups of strongly seasoned stock/broth (I like vegan beef stock here for the flavour), followed by a drained can of black beans (or whatever beans you like, and you can add more beans to feed more people) as well as any extra chopped vegetables you want – carrots, kumara, etc. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then add the greens. Simmer for about 20-40 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more of anything (including stock) until it’s the taste and texture you want. If you have some good vegan sausages, chop them up and add them to the simmering pot too. And if you have a bay leaf, now would be the time to throw that in. Once it’s done simmering, stir in plenty of fresh thyme leaves and a splash of any vinegar you have before serving over rice or simply as is.

Mince on Toast

I mean like: cook mince and put it on toast, but also: fry an onion and a few chopped button mushrooms, add your vegan mince, stir to let it cook through, then tip in a quarter to half a jar of tomato relish and a good teaspoon of Marmite, add a splash of water/red wine and let simmer. A pinch of Chinese Five-Spice always makes everything delicious. If you don’t have vegan mince to hand, a mixture of fried mushrooms, chopped walnuts and chopped sun-dried tomatoes is really good.

Chocolate Pear Pudding

This is based on a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s, which I made vegan and more chocolatey. If you have fresh actual pears – which we did, and which was what prompted the making of this – then slice them up and arrange them in the baking dish and pop them in the oven as it heats up while you make the batter. Otherwise, as is more likely the case, simply drain two tins of pears and arrange over the base of a baking dish. Melt 1/3 cup coconut oil (though you could use margarine) and stir in 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds mixed with 4 tablespoons of water (mix the flaxseed and water first and leave it to sit while you mix everything else.) Finally, stir in around 3/4 cup soy milk or whatever milk you have, until the texture is thick yet softly spreadable. Chop up about 50g-75g dark chocolate and sprinkle it over the pears, then spoon the batter over the top, smoothing it evenly with a knife or the back of a spoon. It will only just cover the pears, so try not to eat too much while you’re making it. Bake for about thirty minutes at 180C/350F. Serve as is, or with cold coconut milk or ice cream.

music lately:

Lungs, by Townes Van Zandt, from his Live at the Old Quarter album. That final line, “we’ll tell the world we tried,” I just!

Yon Ferrets Return, Neko Case. Possibly the most fiercely joyful song ever written about the ferret, and #14 in another playlist I made for Tenderly, this time about the less-celebrated members of the animal kingdom.

I’m Going Home, from the 36th Annual Sacred Harp Convention. Turns out you can get your endorphins sitting down: listening to this – and I recommend headphones – is even more rewarding than cardio. I mean, everything’s more rewarding than cardio to me, but this really does approach similar levels of busting through the hardened plaque built up around one’s brain.

Next time: photos, I promise! It’s my birthday tomorrow (the 17th) so I’m aiming to cook something cool for dinner and will report back here. I mean, there’s not much else I can do for a birthday in lockdown, but fortunately cooking dinner is pretty much all I ever want to do anyway.

PS: If you enjoy my writing and wish to support me directly, there’s no better way than behind the claret velvet VIP curtain of my Patreon. Also! I wrote a round up of television recommendations if you need them while stuck at home, which anyone can read on my Patreon for free.