Two Yummy, Fun Vegan Birthday Treats

Recently my littlest guy had a birthday and celebrating with his buddies meant figuring our some yummy treats that could be dairy and egg free. We ended up with two tasty desserts for two different celebrations and wanted to share them because it’s always good to have a few extra ideas up your sleeve when it comes to vegan desserts.

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Happy Easter!

Happy Easter! We’re off to enjoy the day with family (and most likely eat too much chocolate!). In honor of my favorite day to eat chocolate, I wanted to share a sketchy rendition of  an ultra cool Easter egg tableaux by photographer Sam Hofman, and a neat little video showing how they handcraft fancy chocolate eggs at Fortnun & Mason, London.

Sam Hofman Easter Chocolate Tableaux

[A link to Sam Hofman’s Tumbler site — soooo cool. Here’s the chocolate image which I especially love.]



Gimme Chocolate

Don’t hate me when I tell you that  I spent last Saturday afternoon wandering the streets of San Francisco sampling chocolate — exquisite, hand-crafted chocolate from around the world — with a professional chocolate enthusiast as my guide.

I knew that there was a thriving artisan chocolate scene here in the Bay Area, but what I didn’t know is that in just over a mile (the distance from the landmark Ferry Building Marketplace to Union Square) you can find a dazzling array of chocolate from every corner of the globe that traverses the most traditional styles to farthest frontiers of new wave chocolate-making. It really blew my mind to learn that the whole world of chocolate is sitting right here on my doorstep… I just needed to know where to look.  As an example, one of our most unusual tour stops was Fog City News on Market Street (yes, it really is a news stand). Way back when, they started stocking a few selections of specialty chocolate alongside the usual m&m’s and snickers, and over time their collection has grown to the hundreds, comprising bars, bon bons and truffles from dozens of countries. As a bonus, you can also find tons of hard to find publications including more than 20 international editions of Vogue magazine!!

Beth, our friendly tour guide from Gourmet Walks (can you say best job in the world?), took us to seven destination-worthy shops for tastings and shared lots of history and facts along the way, vastly deepening my appreciation of the noble cocoa bean. I can’t say that the walk was rigorous enough to counteract all those velvety bites in their smoked salt-sprinkled, burnt caramel-drizzled, tea-infused glory but I can say I came home with one of the best doggie bags ever.

[If you don’t have the chance to take Gourmet Walks’ chocolate tour, try the Ferry Building Marketplace or Bi-Rite Market for a selection of some of the top chocolate being made right here in the Bay Area.  Also check out our food adventure to Chocolatier Blue in Berkeley. ]

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My Gourmet Walks tour came courtesy of Cloud 9 Living which offers an impressive selection of  thoughtfully curated “experience” gifts for every kind of person on your list — from chocolate lovers to adrenaline junkies. With the holidays coming up, you’ll find inspiration to make that someone special’s day (or year!) with a surfing lesson, flying trapeze class, stock car ride along or photo safari. You might even find something to add to your own holiday wish list. There’s a lot of great stuff to choose from, so go check ’em out!

Chocolate-Cinnamon Babka

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From what I can tell, Jewish delicatessens are the new “fancy ice cream”. Hipsters may not be throwing out their olive oil and sea salt sundaes just yet, but they are making room for pastrami, smoked trout and bialys. Simran and I have tried to eat at SF hot spot Wise Sons Delicatessen, on a couple of occasions only to have been foiled at every turn. Hipsters be damned!

Naturally as my mouth was watering and my mind was contemplating Wise Son’s house-cured pastrami on double baked rye bread it also meandered over to chocolate babka. Decadent, chocolatey, cinnamony babka…. And somehow it was easier to imagine baking up a loaf of that sweet, swirly bread than curing our own pastrami, so before your know it we had a dozen babka recipes tagged, and my favorite 4 year old chocoholic urging me on from the sidelines.

It was tough to chose among the contenders, but ultimately we settled in with this Peter Reinhart recipe via the Purple Foodie website. (I just could not bring myself dive with in the 3.5 sticks of butter called for in Martha Stewart’s version. OK it does make 3 loaves, but still….). The Reinhart recipe seems a little complicated at first with its 2 rises, but after making it, I assure you that none of it is hard to do and nearly all of it is suitable for little helpers. Dough projects might be messy, but they are fabulous tactile fun for youngsters and working with yeast offers a chance to do a little kitchen science. I wouldn’t be able to stop Luca from getting into the act even if I wanted to — you’ll find him pulling up a chair next to the counter anytime he sees me getting out tubs of flour or pulling out the stand mixer. Gooey gobs of chocolate don’t hurt either.

Sometimes you wonder if your final product will look as good as the beautifully styled, professional-looking photo that inspired it. This babka was one of the most impressive looking things to come out of our oven in quite sometime. And luckily for us it tasted as good as it looked.

I’ll let the Purple Foodie give you the full details on Peter Reinhart’s recipe and instead I’ll share this little pictorial to give you a sense of how this recipe comes together. I’ll also mention that we liked slightly more chocolate filling than called for in the recipe. We also painted the babka with a little egg wash and sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar before baking. The full recipe makes two large loaves and as much as we love Babka, it’s pretty decadent so I think a half recipe (1 loaf) is sufficient to satisfy the craving. If you’re feeling nice you may consider making the full recipe and sharing a loaf with a friend, or you could portion your dough and make mini babkas to share with lots of friends if you’re feeling really, really nice.

Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Empanadas

Yesterday we we spent the afternoon playing with dumplings and empanadas. Both are great projects to do with kids. Even the bambino got into the act! There are lots of tasks that little cooks can do and they might even be inspired to try something new.  As always, hunger for a tasty bite was our main focus, but we were also doing a trial run for our upcoming “Cooking with Kids: Dumplings and Empanadas” event on May 7th at 18 Reasons. Come on out and cook with us! Click here for  class and ticket info.

In addition to having a jolly good time, getting messy and eating way too much, we learned a few things which you may want to keep in mind for your next dumpling or empanada-inspired play date:

  • Make extra dumplings because the kids will probably scarf them down before you can get one (we made Simran’s Easy Peasy Dumplings with minced chicken thigh meat)
  • Mark whose empanadas are whose if you want to avoid an empanada guessing game. An identifying scrap of dough on top does nicely.
  • Chocolate and caramelized banana empanadas are to die for!

Semi-Sweet Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Empanadas

Makes about  6-8 Dessert Empanadas

[you could make a simplified and slightly healthier  version by mashing the bananas and adding a pinch of cinnamon rather than caramelizing them]

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Break up a bar of semi-sweet chocolate into small pieces and set aside.
  3. In a pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter, and stir in 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar until it dissolves. Add a pinch of cinnamon if you like.
  4. Stir in 2 sliced bananas and let them cook in the sauce for a few minutes. [For an adult version, you could add a splash of rum and flambe the filling]
  5. Roll out your empanada dough and cut into 5″ diameter circles (or you can use prepared empanada discs found in most latin markets). Fill each empanada with 3 Tablespoons of filling and place a few chocolate pieces on top.
  6. Brush edges with egg wash ( 1 egg beaten with a Tablespoon of milk).  Fold the dough over the filling making a half circle shape and press edges down to seal. Crimp edge with a fork and poke a few holes on top with the tines of your fork.
  7. Brush top with egg wash and  sprinkle with demerara sugar (optional).
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

New Year’s Eve Cake: Tartine’s Devil’s Food Cake with Caramel and Ganache

Happy 2011!

A little serendipity brought us a last minute dinner invitation and a babysitter for New Year’s Eve, so off we went for a grown-up dinner complete with fine china, wine and champagne. What a treat! No better excuse to make this Devil’s Food Cake from the Tartine cookbook (Tartine is a fabulous bakery here in San Francisco’s Mission District). If you haven’t haven’t seen it, this cookbook is absolutely drool-worthy. It’s got everything from pastry and dessert basics to breakfast recipes, tarts, cakes, creamy desserts and cookies. Some of the recipes may seem a bit involved at first glance, but they are well-written and surprisingly easy to follow. I can personally vouch for the quiche recipe — it’s outstanding. Best of all, Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson share many techniques throughout the book that will improve your baking even beyond this set of recipes.

I’ve had my eye on the Devil’s Food Cake recipe for about a year, but no occasion to make it. The batter is velvety and the cake is filled with caramel sauce and a touch of bittersweet chocolate ganache. The whole thing is frosted with more ganache and then covered with cake crumbs that you make with your cake trimmings. As a special touch, I added a little edible gold (it was New Year’s Eve afterall!). I think the cake would be equally as good, and a touch less rich, with a just a simple sprinkling of powdered sugar and a dallop of vanilla whipped cream or ice cream.

You can make the caramel sauce and ganache while the cake bakes, so it comes together reasonably quickly, but you’ll want to set aside the better part of an afternoon to make it from start to finish. It’s best served at room temperature and covered with ganache, will hold for several days which makes it a good choice for a fancy party.

I used a technique to cut the layers which I remember seeing on Alton Brown’s show. He actually used a saw blade and some trim molding from the hardware store as a cutting guide. I used a long carving knife and one of my son’s blocks which happened to be the perfect size. It worked like a charm for getting nice even layers. I kept the knife flat on the block to keep it level and just kept cutting from the edge to the center until I had worked my way all around the cake. Easy peasy.

The dinner was lovely, the company great and the cake was the perfect end to the evening. Anyone who loves to dessert, definitely needs to check out this cookbook and better yet, visit the bakery next time you’re in San Francisco. The lines can be long (and the calorie count high!) but you’re sure to savor something memorable.

Here’s to a healthy, happy…. and yummy 2011 for us all!

But first, I think I’ll sneak a piece of  cake for my New Year’s Day breakfast. 🙂

[Photo of Tartine by, Flickr Commons]