vegan banana dream cupcakes

“Nothing says love like a cupcake does. If you don’t bake someone a cupcake then you don’t really care about them”. – Isa Chandra Moskowitz

I couldn’t have said it better myself. May is birthday month in these parts and I’ve been baking up a storm the past two weekends.

My bestie for life is among those born in May and I’ve spent weeks trying to decide what to bake for her birthday this year. I tried to take some mental notes while we were in New York, but my memory has been a bit of a loser since I’ve been back. Yeah, all those notes-to-self have been washed away. Woops.

So I turned to what I believe is the most reliable source for vegan sweet treats: Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I’ve made the crimson velveteen cupcakes from this little cupcake bible a few times and they are fantastic. So there was no doubt in my mind that whatever I chose would be awesome. Since the birthday girl is a fan of artificial banana flavor, I thought banana cupcakes fit the bill.

Then I started thinking about bananas with peanut butter. And bananas dipped in chocolate. That’s when I decided that a peanut buttercream filling and chocolate buttercream on top would make these banana cupcakes real birthday material. And a little sprinkle of Maldon to finish it off never hurt anybody, right?

Everything about these cuppies is right. They’re moist and have serious banana flavor without tasting like banana bread. The peanut buttercream is everything you dreamed peanut butter icing would be – creamy and fluffy and peanut-buttery. I could have eaten it by the spoonful. And the rich chocolate buttercream ties it all together, providing a little depth in the midst of all the sweetness. It’s a glorious thing, this cupcake, which I think in the future will be referred to as the MurphDay cupcake, in honor of Miss May 21st.

 vegan banana dream cupcakes

adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

makes 1 dozen cupcakes

for the cupcakes:

1/2 cup very ripe banana, mashed well

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup canola oil

2/3 cup rice milk

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

flaky sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a muffin pan with liners. Set aside.

Push the mashed bananas through a sieve or blend with an immersion  or regular blender to get rid of any remaining lumps. The bananas should be smooth.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and mix. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the oil, rice milk, vanilla, almond extract, and mashed banana.

Create a well in the dry ingredients and fold in the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined – do not over-mix.

Fill the liners two-thirds full. Bake for 20-22 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through baking. The cupcakes are done when a cake tester comes out clean. After 5 minutes, remove from trays and cool completely on a wire rack.

for the peanut buttercream filling:

1/4 cup margarine, softened

2 tablespoons shortening

1/3 cup creamy natural peanut butter

1 tablespoon barley malt syrup or molasses, optional

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1-1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted 

1 to 2 tablespoons rice milk or soy milk

Cream together the margarine and shortening at medium speed until smooth. Add peanut butter, barley malt syrup/molasses, and vanilla, and beat until very smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the sugar; the mixture will be very stiff. Dribble in rice milk a little at a time, beating continuously till frosting is pale tan and very fluffy.

Adjust the thickness of the filling by adding rice milk or more confectioners’ sugar in small amounts if necessary.

for the chocolate buttercream frosting:

1/4 cup margarine, softened 

1/4 cup shortening

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted if there are clumps

2-1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted ( I thought 2 cups was perfect)

2-3 tablespoons soy milk

1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Cream together the margarine and shortening until well combined. Add the cocoa powder and incorporate well. Add the confectioners’ sugar in about 1/2 cup at a time, adding a little splash of soy milk after each addition. When all the ingredients have been well incorporated, add the vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

to assemble:

Using a chopstick or a small knife, make a hole in the center of each cupcake about the size of your pinky finger.

Fill a pastry bag or a ziplock bag with the peanut buttercream. Place the tip of the bag in the hole in the cupcake and squeeze until the hole is filled. The cupcake should feel heavier. Repeat with the rest of the cupcakes.

Frost the tops of the cupcakes with the chocolate buttercream. Sprinkle with a little bit of flaky sea salt. Enjoy.

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NY, I love you

It’s true. I’ve rekindled my romance with the Big Apple. The last time I was in New York was early 2006, which now feels like several lifetimes ago. Back then I was twenty-four and thought that I’d be living there by the time I turned thirty. But life takes its course, and you know how that goes.

Here we are, five years later and it’s exactly four months before my thirtieth birthday. And while I’d had a change of heart regarding my residency (I’m unhealthily attached to the Bay Area), it appears that I’ve fallen in love with New York all over again. Who could blame a girl after five and a half days of New York springtime, non-stop laughs, endless walking and too.much.to.eat? There was Alexander McQueen at the Met, which was absolutely breathtaking. And Music 3.0 at MoMA was awesome, too. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. Except for the fact that I wish I could have stayed for a few more days (or weeks, or months).

So it’s probably no surprise that I pretty much ate my way through the city. I ate everything: bagels, cookies, cupcakes, gelato, lobster rolls, lox, pie, pizza, popsicles, a Reuben, rugelach.

Here are a few of my favorites:

zabar’s

I cannot go to New York without making at least one stop at Zabar’s. I managed to get there twice on this trip. Zabar’s is sort of my Mecca. After we got settled, we hopped on the train and made our way to the Upper West Side. I headed straight to the upper level to wander around their ginormous housewares department. Then I went to get my rugelach. After that I spent about ten minutes admiring the fish counter before finally deciding on the gravlax. There’s nothing like paper thin slices of salt-cured salmon, buttery and tender with little bits of dill. I piled it on my bagel the following morning. It was a pretty great way to start the day.

elsa

I had the best dark and stormy at Elsa, a cute little bar in the East Village. Elsa’s dark and stormy is mixed with their house-made ginger beer, which has little bits of fresh ginger that give it a nice kick without being overwhelming. If I lived in New York, I would start (or end) all of my dates at Elsa. It’s nicely lit and the tables and booths are well arranged and their cocktail list is very enticing – perfect for sampling and staying a while.

katz’s delicatessen

The rumors are true. Everything you hear about Katz’s being the best New York deli and making to-die-for pastrami, all of it is true. My pops slipped me a Benjamin the morning I left for New York and told me to buy myself a Katz’s sandwich on him. So I did. And it was OMG-delicious. I ordered the combo Reuben on rye with corned beef and pastrami. The meat was juicy and flavorful and perfect. It was seriously the best Reuben I’ve ever had. Ever. I had to stop myself from eating the whole thing in one sitting (I happily ate the other half for breakfast the next day). Thanks, Rodney.

four & twenty blackbirds

I’m so glad we made it to this sweet little pie shop in Brooklyn, which is a little off the beaten path. Out of all of the bakeries/sweet shops we visited, and there were many, Four & Twenty Blackbirds was my favorite. I tried three of their pies: salted caramel apple, lemon chess and strawberry balsamic. I actually ordered the strawberry balsamic to go and was so happy that I did (I tore it up in a hungover frenzy the next morning). It was a winner. But my favorite was most definitely the lemon chess. It reminded me so much of my grandma’s lemon pie – silky and lemony without being too tart or too sweet. I wish I could have brought a whole pie back to the Bay with me.

prune

My last dinner in New York was at Prune. I can easily say that it was the best meal I’ve had in a long time. Prune felt like home in the sense that it reminded me of a restaurant that I would find in San Francisco or Oakland or Berkeley. It’s a very intimate space and the menu reflects the ambiance. Really thoughtful and well prepared without being overly fussy. We started off with roasted bone marrow and fried sweetbreads with bacon and capers. The sweetbreads were out of this world. And the whole grilled fish stuffed with fennel was perfect. Did I mention the leeks vinaigrette? I think they should be renamed melt-in-your-mouth leeks. There were cocktails and a bottle of Graves Blanc somewhere in between it all. We ended with warm ricotta fritters in chocolate sauce. That’s how you go out with a bang.

rosario’s

The first and last time I had Rosario’s was back in 2003, during my first visit to New York. We ended up there after a night of drinking at the bar across the street. That was a magical trip, even under the circumstances that brought us there. Rosario’s is real New York pizza. It has that thin, airy crust, crisp on the bottom, with just the right amount of sauce. It’s dream pizza. This time around, I couldn’t remember where it was so I had to call my sister to find it. Before I flew back home, I made my way to Rosario’s, had a slice of the Sophia for lunch, and ordered five slices of cheese to bring back to the folks, along with a dozen bagels from H&H, two chocolate babkas and cinnamon rugelach from Zabar’s, and cookies and crack pie from Milk Bar. That’s how I roll – with a carry-on bag full of deliciousness in tow.

Oh, New York. Until we meet again…




pecan and almond chocolate toffee

New York was more than fantastic. But before I share with you the highlights of my trip (which will happen after I sift through 800+ photos), I want to give you this toffee.

I made this toffee for Jon right before I left for New York in exchange for an ipod full of True Blood Season 3. I was hoping to catch up on my vampire soaps on the flight out. Sadly for me, things didn’t quite work out with my ipod. Which was actually fine because I was totally preoccupied with all of the in-flight music, tv and snacks courtesy of Virgin America.

And this toffee is pretty great, so all was not lost. It’s crunchy and buttery and studded with toasted pecans. It has a nice coat of chocolate and is dusted with a blanket of finely ground almonds. And it is extremely easy to make. I threw this together one morning before work and it took about an hour from start to finish. Not too shabby if you ask me.

This little number comes from the Baked cookbook, which has yet to let me down. Baked was on my list of must-eats in New York. But there were only so many days and only so much room for sweets in my belly, so I didn’t make it. But that just gives me another reason to get back out there.

pecan and almond chocolate toffee

adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

makes 1-1/2 pounds

1 cup sliced almonds

1 cup toasted pecans

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup sugar

5 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72% cacao), coarsely chopped (I used bittersweet chocolate chips)

4 ounces milk chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips)

Butter a 9x13x2-inch glass or metal baking pan (do not use nonstic spray).

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are a fine powder. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. In the same food processor bowl, pulse the pecans for just 1 or 2 seconds, or until they are coarsely chopped. Set aside.

Put the butter in a medium pan over low heat. When the butter is halfway melted, add the sugar and 1 tablespoon water and cook overlow heat, stirring gently with a spatula until completely combined. Clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan, turn the heat up to medium-high, and wait for the mixture to reach 300 degrees F, about 15 minutes. If the browning of thr mixture seems uneven, swirl the pan while cooking, but do not stir.

Meanwhile, toss the chocolate together.

When the mixture reaches 300° F, remove the pan from the heat and remove the candy thermometer. Stir in the pecan pieces and pour the mixture into the prepared pan. After the mixture has evened out in the pan, wait 1 minute, then sprinkle the chocolate over the toffee. Wait about 3 minutes for the chocolate to melt, then use an offset spatula to spread the chocolate into an even layer. Sprinkle the almmond powder over the melted chocolate, then carefully put the whole pan in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the freezer and break the toffee into pieces with a sharp knife. Store the toffee in an airtight container, between layers of parchment. The toffee will keep for up to 5 days.