Mexican Hot Chocolate Mousse (V)

881958A7-790A-405B-8B41-6520B99A2FF1.jpegI’d like to think that I’m on a constant quest to improve my decisiveness–but I’m not quite sure…HA. All joking aside, making decisions is something with which I have forever struggled. The magnitude of a situation rarely plays a role in my weakness: choosing my vote for which appetizer we order at a family dinner can be just as grueling as deciding which pension plan to select for my new job. Strangely enough, often the most inconsequential decisions bring me the most stress, simply because they demand an immediate answer.

I’d also like to think that baking–in particular, baking for a blog–has helped me in my quest. Recipe development not only lends itself to many decisions; it also presents frequent, unplanned problems that require me to make baking choices and fully run with them, despite having no time to prepare. It took me a LOT of time to become comfortable committing to ideas that I haven’t the least idea will work. The habit is something that continues to make me a bit anxious, but it’s a little easier every time I make a definitive choice while creating a recipe (whether I’m faking the confidence or not).ED06F554-355F-4D8B-AFB4-37F1865C96BB.jpeg

I’m sure you won’t be shocked at all to hear that this week went absolutely nothing like I’d planned. I started with a detailed idea of the dessert I would create: as usual, it was rather complicated, but I had no backup option upon which I could fall back if things went awry (there are still loads of lessons in baking I haven’t learned). And, as usual, things went awry: the result was nothing like what I’d hoped, and my time to work on the recipe was shortened far beyond what I’d expected due to other plans. Mousse was actually supposed to be just one of many elements in my recipe–a base for a more elaborate masterpiece. But the farther along I got in my efforts, the darker the night grew outside, the more pages my roommate Annie turned in her book as she kept me company, the less my “dessert” looked anything like the image I’d conjured up in my mind.

I’m not kidding, y’all.

What emerged from the freezer after hours of work, the sum of dozens of split decisions for that day–it was HORRIFYING. I swear upon my Pittsburgh Steeler oven mitts that I’m not exaggerating. When I say it was ugly, I’m talking the worst Pinterest baking fails, “Nailed It,” Worst Cooks in America tray of unidentifiable sludge you can imagine. Flavor aside, it was perhaps the least appetizing thing I’d ever allowed to grace one of my cookie sheets.

But remember, I’m working on the whole decisiveness thing–the being o.k. with spontaneity thing. So, as calmly as Stevie Nicks croons from my Spotify playlist on the counter, I scooped up the catastrophe into a container (so as to use the flavor for reference tomorrow), shut the freezer door, and smiled at Annie as if everything had  gone just as swimmingly as I’d hoped. Then, I changed my vision (the first and hardest step of making room for decisiveness), and made this mousse the next day.

I hope that my anecdote–aside from giving you a chuckle at my cartoon-like baking life–gives hope to all those suffering with chronic indecisiveness. I assure you, though it can seem like the pain of choosing, of committing, of acting instantly will never let up, you can and WILL learn to overcome it. There–it’s decided. 🙂

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.

1 Corinthians 14:33

CE8DCA8C-2450-49D7-8BBF-8B46C388FD83.jpeg

 

Mexican Hot Chocolate Mousse (V)

Ingredients

  • aquafaba (liquid from 1 can of chickpeas; mine was 15.5 oz.)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar
  • 4 oz. vegan chocolate (I use 10 rectangles of a Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Dark Chocolate Bar)
  • 2 tsp vegan brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 2 TBSP condensed almond milk (to make condensed almond milk: simmer 1 1/2 cups almond milk and 2/3 cup sugar until reduced to 1/2 cup total, about half an hour. Allow to cool in fridge)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (plus more for dusting)
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Combine aquafaba and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Begin mixing on high.
  2. When mixture becomes white and opaque, add sugar gradually, continuing to mix on high speed.
  3. When mixture is glossy, and stiff peaks form, turn off mixer, and set aside. (Unlike egg whites or heavy cream, you don’t need to worry about over-mixing aquafaba). Scoop out two cups of the “fluff,” and put in a Tupperware in freezer to use as topping on mousse.
  4. In a glass bowl set over a bowl of boiling water, place chocolate, almond milk, cocoa powder, brown sugar, condensed almond milk, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg.
  5. Stir all ingredients in the bowl as the chocolate melts. Stir frequently until smooth and until no solid chunks of chocolate remain.
  6. Remove from heat. Allow to cool in the bowl for a few minutes on the counter or in the freezer until it’s not hot. It’s ok if it’s still warm, just not piping hot.
  7. Scoop a heaping scoop of “fluff” into the bowl with the chocolate mixture. Using a spatula, gently fold it into the chocolate until almost uniform in color.
  8. Pour the folded mixture into the bowl with the rest of the “fluff.” Fold it in gently until almost completely uniform in color throughout.
  9. Pour/scoop mousse into cups, bowls, glasses, or a pan depending on how you’d like to serve it.
  10. Place in the fridge to set, and enjoy after a few hours! Top with frozen “fluff” and cinnamon as desired. (You can also freeze this mousse, but I find that it’s airiest when you allow it to set in the refrigerator).

NOTE*** For a simpler chocolate mousse, you can make follow this recipe, but use only the chocolate and almond milk in the double boiler and then fold into the “fluff.”

67D6B7A1-F9F7-4461-902F-A58AD6718257.jpeg

Orange “Creamsicle” Cake with Chocolate Ganache (V)

img_6448.pngThis week, I’m introducing the first of what I hope will be a growing collection of “ballet bakes.” The idea behind them will be to create recipes that are inspired by ballets I’m learning or performing with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. What’s more, the day that I decided to act on this idea fell during the most incredibly convenient time– it was in the middle of rehearsals for a piece choreographed by Stanton Welsh called Orange. I mean, I was practically spoon-fed the flavor for my blog with a title like that!

Of course, a flavor is just the start of a recipe, a foundation on which to build a whole dessert. I generally have a list of baking ideas running through my mind, but I rarely possess the decisiveness or the focus to mold my swirling thoughts into an actual plan on my own.  When I’d concluded, then, that I was heading down the citrus route this week, I knew immediately my next step: seek out some consultation. That’s why, when I found myself at a loss for direction last week, I grabbed my friends Jack, Sam, and Grace, and picked their brains about what I should make. Not only did they help me decide on the idea of dance-inspired bakes, they came up with a plethora of potential desserts centered around oranges. Thanks to them, I left the studio that day excited and anxious to get working on a new recipe. IMG_6459

Everyone knows that I love to bake, and I do! I love the actual process of combining ingredients and testing combinations and measuring and boiling and scooping–the physical act of making food is wonderfully satisfying to me. But the more I dive into this hobby, the more I realize that baking for me involves so much beyond what actually occurs in the confines of my kitchen (or whoever’s kitchen I happen to be mooching that day). The baking that I love begins with the idea. It begins with the phone call to my mom in the middle of Giant Eagle to talk through the ideas I have for a recipe and get her advice as I wander through the aisles looking for inspiration. It begins with looking through the magazine recipe my grandma shared with me because she thought it had potential to be a great flavor for a dessert. This week, it began between rehearsals with a pow-wow between three of my friends, who enthusiastically offered up tons of fabulous (and a few not so fabulous 😛 ) concepts for an orange themed dessert. IMG_6439

Similarly, the baking never ends with the close of my oven door. Rather, it ends with the giddy swarm of friends that congregated when I brought out some of the cake at work this week and their satisfied smiles upon trying a piece. It could end with the elaborate taste-test I conduct with my roommates to finalize a recipe, or the regular text to my family group chat to get votes on the most Instagram-worthy food photo for my post. If I’m lucky enough, it’ll occasionally even end with someone sharing with me how they tried a recipe from the blog for themselves. IMG_6413

On those days when I’m exhausted, when I’ve been dirtying my apron for hours, when my kitchen becomes a sauna, and a dessert is going horribly wrong, it’s easy to limit my experience with baking to the actual hours I clock in with my ingredients. I’ll admit that by the afternoon of the third day working with this cake, I was very much tired of seeing any more orange zest. But this cake also reminded me that the reason I love to bake is so much more than the actual baking: it’s the brainstorming, the thrill of a crazy idea, the chance to share something I love. Most importantly, though, it’s the people who are along with me for the ride, the ones who make my love for this process grow every week, and without whom this blog would certainly not exist. Thank you for baking with me 🙂

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.

Philippinans 1:3

IMG_6457

Orange “Creamsicle” Cake with Chocolate Ganache (V)

Ingredients

CAKE (MAKES 1 6″ CAKE; DOUBLE OR TRIPLE FOR DESIRED NUMBER OF LAYERS)

  • 1/2 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/3 cup vegan butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup cream soda, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup orange juice, room temperature
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • oranges for garnishing

GANACHE

  • 2 TBSP orange juice
  • 2 TBSP cream soda
  • 4 oz. bittersweet vegan chocolate

FROSTING (adjust extracts to taste)

  • 1/2 cup vegan butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp orange extract
  • salt to taste

Instructions

CAKE

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and line the bottom of a 6″ cake pan with parchment.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar. (You can also use a hand mixer). Mix on medium speed until very smooth.
  4.  Add cream soda, orange juice, salt, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Mix until combined. If butter splits, its okay; continue to next step.
  5. Gradually mix in flour+baking powder mixture until completely incorporated. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and whip for 30 seconds.
  6. Pour batter into prepared pan. Tap on the counter to eliminate air bubbles.
  7. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in cake’s center comes out clean.
  8. Turn cake out of pan, and allow to cool completely. Place in freezer or fridge before cutting/frosting.

GANACHE

  1. Combine cream soda and orange juice in microwave-safe measuring cup. Microwave until very hot, just before boiling.
  2. Begin stirring in chocolate until it is all mixed in. You may need to heat up the mixture again to allow it to completely incorporate (Only use 15 second intervals to avoid burning).
  3. The final product should end up being about 2/3 cup when all the chocolate is added.
  4. Place ganache in fridge or freezer to cool until ready to use; just check it periodically to make sure it doesn’t freeze.

FROSTING

  1. Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium for a few seconds to spread it out in the bowl.
  2. Begin adding powdered sugar, about 1/2 cup at a time, and mixing on low-medium speed.
  3. When mixture becomes too dry, add extracts (adjust amounts to taste if desired). Continue mixing and adding powdered sugar until it’s completely incorporated.
  4. Add salt a pinch at a time to taste. Mix on high for 30 seconds.

ASSEMBLE.

  1. Stack cake layers, and cut to make them even. Unstack.
  2. Spread a very thin layer of frosting on top of bottom layer. Spread a layer of ganache on top of frosting. Stack second cake on top, and repeat frosting/ganache layers until you reach the top.
  3. Apply a very thin, smooth coat of frosting to entire cake (called a crumb coat), and place cake in freezer until frosting layer is firm.
  4. Remove cake, and apply second and final layer of frosting.
  5. Using a spoon or squeeze bottle, spread ganache on entire top of cake, and drip some down the sides. (Make sure your ganache is spreadable but not warm before doing this; if it gets too firm, microwave for a very short time, and stir).
  6. Top as desired (I dehydrated orange slices in a 200° oven for a few hours!), and enjoy! Keep leftovers in the fridge to keep the ganache from melting.

IMG_6423

 

Chocolate, Raspberry, Matcha, “Succulents” (V) 

img_6242.png

Though this week’s recipe is one of plants and sweetness and life, today I write with a heaviness. Over 24 hours, there were two mass shootings in our country: one in El Paso, Texas; and one in Dayton, Ohio. I’m not sure which is more tragic: the sheer number of lives lost to gun violence today, or the fact that a death toll of that magnitude doesn’t even really surprise us anymore.

I, along with many, am beyond frustrated with the lack of progress being made to prevent these incidents from occurring, to establish adequate limitations on guns. Waiting for the accomplishment of any significant change in Washington, let alone one so politically charged as gun rights, can seem hopeless. But while we may not have the ability to change the disheartening pace of lawmaking, we must never forget the abilities we do have, the voice we each possess.

This is my way of speaking through the hopelessness. These words and my prayers go out to the families of the 29 innocent people who died yesterday and today.

Hands

20 people died in a Texas Walmart today

I didn’t know

But I pretended I did 

When my neighbor mentioned how horrible

it was

 

20 minutes later I sit in Highland Park Community Garden

Content among the drooping tomato plants

So laden with fruit that 

I imagine

With one accidental bump

They’d send red and green heaps 

cascading to the ground below

 

I imagine 

the hands that raised these tomatoes

coaxed perfect bright bulbs 

out of seed and sprout 

I imagine my mother’s hands

deep in the dirt of our own garden

packing plants gently 

Into their new homes

her fingers folded around the stems

with a firm but tender touch   

 

Maybe it’s my mother’s fault

that I can’t imagine

Hands

wrapped around the 

cold, hard barrel of 

a gun

Something that’s nothing

 

like tomatoes

 

in her hands,

hands rough with the 

soil and sweat and

Love 

from months of waiting

watering, weeding

Nurturing

Until the first fruit was ready to fall

Into the cup of her

Sweet, selfless fingers

 

My mother’s hands taught me patience

 

The sun drags the blanket of dusk

Across the leafy sea before me and

I let it pull my eyelids heavy 

let the shadow cool my feet, legs, face, 

Hands

 

Growing

Producing

tomatoes in this garden

widows in Texas

 

Maybe it’s my mother’s fault

That I only needed one minute of grief

For each victim

before my life resumed

before my imagination

gave up 

trying to imagine 

as I sat with the tomatoes 

40 hands

Pulling out black shirts and dresses

From the backs of 

closets

 

 

 

 

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

1 Timothy 2:8

img_6253-e1564950314771.png

Chocolate, Raspberry, Matcha, “Succulents” (V)

This interactive dessert brings not only the vibrant flavors of matcha, raspberries, and chocolate–but it re-invents the beloved “worms and dirt” of childhood snack time. 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cashews (soaked overnight or boiled for 20 minutes)
  • 2 TBSP plus 1 tsp dark cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP almond milk
  • 5 dates 
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 TBSP vegan butter (earth balance is great)
  • 1 TBSP matcha powder
  • 8 vegan marshmallows (I use Trader Joe’s Brand)
  • 1 1/2 cups puffed rice cereal
  • crushed chocolate sandwich cookies (scrape out frosting, and eat it if you’re me)
  • raspberries

Instructions

  1. Make “pudding”: place soaked cashews, dates, and almond milk in cup of a Nutribullet or bowl of a small food processor. Pulse until smooth.
  2. Add cocoa powder and salt. Blend until incorporated, stirring as needed. Keep in fridge until ready to use.
  3. Make “succulents”: combine butter and matcha powder in a microwavable bowl. Microwave until butter is melted; stir matcha powder until incorporated.
  4. Add marshmallows to bowl; microwave for about 1 minute, stirring halfway through with a spoon. (Grease spoon with oil or shortening to prevent sticking)
  5. Add rice cereal, and stir. When cool enough, turn out the mixture onto a counter or tray lined with parchment paper. Grease your hands, and continue to mix (be careful, it can be hot).
  6. Press mixture out onto parchment, and allow to cool to about room temperature. Mold them into desired plant shapes.
  7. Assemble: in a pot, bowl, or shallow tray, spoon “pudding” to coat the bottom. Press raspberries throughout the “pudding,” leaving a few to make flowers.
  8. Sprinkle crushed cookies onto the raspberries/chocolate to cover completely and form “dirt.”
  9. Arrange sculpted “succulents” on top of the cookie crumbles.
  10. Split/layer remaining raspberries to make “flowers.”
  11. Enjoy! Keep in fridge if saving for the next day.

img_6248-1.png

 

Dark Chocolate Mint Brownie Bites (V)

IMG_2758You could ask any of the three of my immediate family members what their favorite week of the year is, and I guarantee they’d all be unanimous in their answer: our week at Edisto Beach. Though only about an hour from our home, this island makes the distance between us and normal life feel wonderfully expansive. The vacation has been a part of our lives for many years now: we’ve celebrated birthdays, performances, reunions, and graduations during this beloved week, many of them in the same house. It’s become an irreplaceable highlight to the summer season, one I hope will remain intact even as my sister and I grow older and eventually move on to careers and families of our own.IMG_2627

There are so many elements of this week about which I could lovingly elaborate, but a new one came to mind yesterday. We’d come down to the freshly exposed sand in shifts from the house–some of us taking walks along the shore, some bounding down to the water for kayak outings, some sprawling out on the whitest, softest sand with books in hand. After the first couple hours of the day, everyone tends to wander back from their choice excursions and regroup beneath and around our little blue canopy (a life and skin-saving addition to the vacation supplies this year). It was around noon when this occurred yesterday.IMG_2706

I was reading a Billy Collins poetry book, lounging in a small chair between my uncle with the snack bag in hand and my sister nearly asleep just outside the reach of our canopy’s shadow. My aunt was stretched across another sunny patch, and both dogs lay at our feet, everyone feeling drowsy now from the excitement of the morning and from the hypnotic blanket of the sun’s midday heat. My dad had taken his usual post at the water’s edge, fishing pole stuck faithfully into the sand on one side of his chair and my mom seated faithfully down on his other.

IMG_2734

I had nearly succumbed to the sun’s persuasive call to sleep–to my dismay because I HATE napping–when I noticed a slight increase in movement near the water. I lifted my head and observed as my dad got up from his chair and gripped his white pole, which had begun to take a sharp arc towards the choppy waves. I didn’t move yet, just watched from my chair as what would become a 15 minute fight with this mystery sea life ensued. My dad’s back was towards us, but each member of my family could feel the boyish thrill that had overtaken him as he executed the dangerously delicate dance of keeping tension on the line without risking a snap and adding another “the one that got away” story to his repertoire. Soon, each of us was perking up from our inattentive slouch and watching the battle before us. And not long after, so was every surrounding beach-goer on our length of shore. Fathers left their own hopeful stations by fishing rods, teenagers dropped their beanbags on the cornhole boards, moms stood from their towels and chairs, all to commune around the most action they’d seen in the day–my dad and his Moby Dick.IMG_2792

My heart fluttered with nervousness for him: his chance at winning this fight had suddenly changed from a personal victory to a chance at winning the hearts of his audience. Another tense 5 minutes went by, the hoard of onlookers following my dad as he paced back and forth with the beast of the water like a flock of ducklings behind its mother. Finally, with a final tug and a splash of salty sea, the opponent slid into view at the ocean’s edge: a massive stingray, tail missing from another battle in his life, flapped angrily in the center of the crowd as he realized his failure. My dad, high off the well-deserved win and the admiring eyes around him, raced through a ring of applause to his tackle box to get his pliers before squatting to release the hook from the ray’s mouth, a teenage neighbor pinning the glistening, muscular wings to the wet sand to keep it still. In maybe a hundredth of the total time my dad had wrangled in the ray, the frantic animal was released back to its home.

IMG_3107 (3)

The buzz of what had been the most action we’d all seen on the beach that day still whizzed through the air as the condensed mass dissolved into smaller groups of chatter. My dad received fist bumps and shouts of affirmation from strangers; I found myself in a friendly conversation with a middle-aged woman with a dog who I’d never seen before that moment. It was then that I realized one of the beautiful powers of the beach–it truly is an equalizer. No matter what social backgrounds, economic status, or political opinions people may carry with them, you can strip them down to swimsuits and throw them out on the sand, and suddenly they’re all the same, members of some unspoken community that’s bound solely by the rise and fall of the tides–and an occasional fishing episode.IMG_2770

It’s an idea that hearkens back to my recent fascination with unity. I guess you could say lately I can’t stop noticing little manifestations of our humanity, tiny hints that our blood truly does all run horizontally red despite the many ways in which we love to convince ourselves otherwise. Who knows whether me and the lady with the dog or my dad and the neighbor boy would have ever gotten along or even approached each other in our everyday lives. But in this short, isolated stretch of shoreline, stretch of time– on Edisto Beach, South Carolina, there’s nothing really separating us. And that may be just one of the things pulling us back to this paradise year after year.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

IMG_2664

Dark Chocolate Mint Brownies (V)

These little bites of gooey, chocolaty brownie are the perfect addition to any dessert table (for us it was the choice conclusion to our Father’s Day dinner). With a sweet, minty frosting and a slightly bitter dark chocolate top, they’re bound to please everybody. 

Ingredients

BROWNIES

  • 1/2 cup plus 3 TBSP all-purpose flour
  • 2 TBSP dark cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark 100% Cocao)
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sunflower oil
  • 2 flax eggs (to make 2 flax eggs, mix 2 TBSP ground flax and 6 TBSP of water and leave to sit in the fridge for at least 5 minutes)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1/4 tsp mint extract
  • vegan dark chocolate, broken into pieces (optional)

FROSTING

  • 1/2 cup vegan butter at room temperature (Earth Balance is great)
  • 1/4 tsp mint extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 2 tsp almond milk (I used unsweetened)

Instructions

BROWNIES

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two mini cupcake trays with liners. (Recipe makes about 16-20 brownies).
  2. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder in a small bowl.
  3. In a larger bowl, stir flax eggs, sunflower oil, sugar, mint extract and salt together.
  4. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet until smooth.
  5. Fill the cupcake liners about 3/4 full. Press a piece of dark chocolate into the top of each brownie.
  6. Bake in the preheated oven for 14-16 minutes, or until inserted toothpick/knife comes out clean. Allow them to cool in trays.
  7. They can be sticky–don’t fret–just enjoy the gooey chocolate goodness!

FROSTING

  1. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer, mix the butter on medium speed until light and soft.
  2. Gradually begin adding in the powdered sugar as you mix.
  3. When the mixture starts to become dry/crumbly, add the extract and almond milk.
  4. Continue mixing in the powdered sugar until completely combined.
  5. Mix in the salt, and then increase speed to high, mixing until very smooth.
  6. Use a piping bag to pipe frosting on brownies.
  7. Use a peeler to shave chocolate curls on tops of frosted brownies if desired.
  8. Enjoy!

 

IMG_2916