vegan dulce de leche cupcakes

Even though at the time it felt as though the sky was falling, I think turning thirty was one of the best things that ever happened to me. So I am pleased to welcome my bestie of hella years to the club. Hooray! You made it! Good job!

Every birthday is worthy of a sweet treat. But the big birthdays call for something fabulous. So I made sure to pull out all the stops. There was a serious debate going on in my head for days. Cupcakes or a cake? Chocolate cookies? Marshmallow frosting? Caramel?

And then I had an epiphany. A dulce de leche cupcake epiphany.

I actually already had a dulce de leche moment a few months ago. I tried the whole canned condensed milk in the crockpot thing, which probably would’ve worked out if I had let it cook for an additional hour or two. Then I went the store-bought route. And put it in everything. I put it in cupcakes. I put it in frosting. But I just wasn’t satisfied with the results. And because I gained a few pounds that week as a result of my overzealous taste testing, I decided I had to move on.

But while I was looking for caramel recipes the other day, I found this recipe for vegan dulce de leche sauce. And I knew I was onto something. The perfect dulce de leche cupcake was just around the bend.

It begins with a super moist, super chocolatey cupcake. Then a little well is created in the center of said cupcake. The well is filled with dulce de leche sauce. And the whole thing is topped with a cream cheese-dulce de leche frosting, which will knock your socks off. It’s quite the package, this little cupcake. It’s just what I wanted.

Thanks for being born, pal!

vegan dulce de leche cupcakes

makes 1 dozen cupcakes

for the dulce de leche sauce:

from Terry Hope Romero via Shine

makes about 1-1/2 cups

1 cup soy creamer or rich soy milk

4 teaspoons tapioca flour or arrowroot powder

1⁄2 cup brown rice syrup

1⁄2 cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons non-hydrogenated vegan margarine

1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)

In a measuring cup, whisk together 1/4 cup of the soy creamer and the tapioca flour and set aside. In a large saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of soy creamer, brown rice syrup, and brown sugar.  Bring to a slow boil over medium heat. Stir in the margarine and reduce the heat to low. Simmer the sauce for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture should resemble a thick caramel sauce and easily coat the back of a wooden spoon.

Whisk the tapioca flour mixture again and stir it slowly into the simmering sauce. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens even more, simmering for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Let cool completely before using in frosting or cupcake filling.

for the chocolate cupcakes:

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

1 cup soy milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

3/4 cups granulated sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract or chocolate extract  or more vanilla extract (I used 1/4 teaspoon of almond and chocolate)

1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder, Dutch-processed or natural ( I used Dutch-processed)

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a standard muffin pan with paper liners.

Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, vanilla extract, other extracts, and espresso powder to the  soy milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients in two batches to the soy milk mixture and beat until no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are okay).

Pour into lined muffin pan, filling three quarters of the way. Bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

for the dulce de leche cream cheese frosting:

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

1/4 cup non-hydrogenated margarine, softened

1/4 cup vegan cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon dulce de leche sauce

1-1/2 – 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, cream together the margarine, cream cheese, and dulce de leche sauce until just combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar in 1/2 cup batches. Add the vanilla and mix until smooth and creamy.

To assemble the cupcakes:

Using the small end of a large pastry tip, insert into the center of the cupcake and remove a small hunk of the cake to create a well.

Fill the well with a spoonful of the cooled dulce de leche sauce.

Fill a prepared pastry bag with the the dulce de leche cream cheese frosting. Pipe the frosting on top of the cupcake.

Repeat with the remaining cupcakes.

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salted caramel ice cream

Salted. Caramel. Ice cream.

This is the reason you wait in a line that goes out the door and around the corner for a scoop of ice cream. This is how you get hooked on Bi-Rite Creamery.

Bi-Rite Creamery just released Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones, a collection of their most beloved ice creams and sweet treats. I have a few favorites, like brown sugar ice cream with a ginger-caramel swirl, and malted vanilla ice cream with peanut brittle. But because I am a purist, I had to go for the salted caramel first.

This is surprisingly easy to make. It starts with a dry caramel, which is then incorporated into the ice cream base. And then the whole thing goes into the ice cream machine, and POW! You’ve got the richest, deepest caramel-flavored bowl of frozen heaven. It’s all at once sweet and salty and just a tad bitter. And oh so creamy. Give it a go if you’ve never been to Bi-Rite. Then you’ll know what all the fuss is about.

salted caramel ice cream

from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones by Kris Hoogerhyde and Anne Walker

makes about one quart

1-3/4 cups heavy cream, at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk

1 teaspoon kosher salt

5 large egg yolks

for the caramel:

Set the cream by the stove so it’s at hand when you need it. Measure out 1/2 cup of the sugar and set near the stove; you’ll use this for the caramel (the rest will go with the yolks). Put 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a heavy nonreactive saucepan  and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the sugar is melted around the edges and starts to turn amber in places (about 2 minutes), stir the mixture gently and add another 2 tablespoons sugar to the pan.

Continue to add what remains of the 1/2 cup of sugar 2 tablespoons at a time, stirring frequently and allowing most of the sugar to melt before you add more. Watch carefully as the sugar darkens, stirring gently to help it melt evenly.

When the caramel becomes a dark mahogany color, remove the pan from the heat and immediately but slowly pour the cream into the pan. (The mixture will steam and bubble up, so wear oven mitts and be very careful to avoid splatters and steam burns.) When the bubbling subsides, gently stir to completely blend the cream into the caramel. If you have lumps of hardened caramel in your pan, simply put the pan over low heat and stir until the caramel is melted.

for the base:

Once the caramel is completely smooth, stir in the milk along with the salt and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce the heat to medium.

In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Set aside.

Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with the yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-and-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.

Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, coats the back of a spatula, and holds a clear path when you run your finger across the spatula, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Strain the base through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container. Set the container into an ice-water bath, wash your spatula, and use it to stir  the base occasionally until it is cool. Remove the container from  the ice-water bath, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight.

freeze the ice cream:

When the base is completely chilled, freeze in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. While the ice cream is churning, put the container you’ll use to store the ice cream into the freezer. Enjoy right away, or for a firmer ice cream, transfer to the chilled container and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Note: This ice cream has a much softer consistency than other ice creams due to its higher sugar content. As a result it does not work well with ice cream cakes and pies.

strawberry-blood orange marmalade

Okay you guys. Get out your canning jars. I’ve got a treat for you. For months, I’d been meaning to make a batch of marmalade, it just never happened. On multiple occasions I went out and bought all of the ingredients, only to realize that I didn’t have quite enough time to devote to a two day project. I also didn’t really feel like dealing with my canner. And now that citrus at the market is becoming less abundant with every passing week, I figured that I had missed my marmalade-making window for the year. This made me sad.

And then something fantastic happened. While I was at the market on Saturday, I picked up my usual kale and carrots and few baskets of strawberries. My original plan for the strawberries was a roasted strawberry balsamic ice cream. But as I was making the rounds, I noticed that one of the vendors had blood oranges, which was surprising considering how late in the season it is. Almost immediately, my wheels started turning and a recipe from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook popped into my head: late season blood oranges + early season strawberries = strawberry blood orange marmalade. I couldn’t wait to go home and get started.

I’ve got nothing but love for the The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. I’ve been a fan of Blue Chair Fruit Company ever since the first time I stopped by their booth at the Grand Lake farmers’ market. I think it might’ve been the vintage scalloped cake stands on which they display their jams that first caught my attention, but their unique flavor combinations is what won me over. The book is chock full of gorgeous photos and important jam-making information. Just about every single recipe sounds too good to resist, like rhubarb-kumquat jam and fig jam with sherry & fennel. And there are more than a dozen different marmalade variations to choose from.

What literally sealed the deal for me was the book’s recommended oven processing. No ginormous kettles of boiling water required. Just a warm oven and a stash of jars is all you need to get your jam on. And a really excellent recipe doesn’t hurt either.

This is the prettiest batch of preserves I have ever made. The combination of strawberry juice and blood orange pulp produces the most beautiful garnet hued marmalade. Imagine your favorite orange marmalade and your favorite strawberry jam hooking up. It’s everything you love about the two – sweet strawberry jelly and that sticky, chewy, slightly bitter orange peel goodness. And there’s a hint of rosemary, which makes it extra special.

strawberry-blood orange marmalade

from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders

makes six or seven 8-ounce jars

2-1/4 pounds hulled strawberries

1-1/2 pounds seeded Moro blood oranges, halved crosswise, each half cut into quarters lengthwise and sliced crosswise medium-thin

2 sprigs rosemary, 8-inches long 

2 pounds 10 ounces white cane sugar

2 to 4 ounces strained freshly squeezed lemon juice

Day 1

First, prepare the strawberry juice: Place the strawberries in a medium stainless-steel kettle and add enough water to just cover the tops of the fruit. Bring to a boil over high heat, then decrease the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook the fruit for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, or until the berries are brown and shapeless and the liquid has become syrupy.

Strain the strawberry juice by pouring the hot fruit and liquid into a medium-fine-mesh strainer suspended over a heatproof storage container or nonreactive saucepan. Cover the entire setup well with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to drip overnight.

While the strawberries are cooking, place the orange slices in a separate nonreactive saucepan with water to reach 1 inch above the tops. Cover tightly and let rest overnight at room temperature.

Day 2

Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the marmalade later. Rinse the rosemary under cold water, pat dry between two clean kitchen towels, and set aside.

Bring the pan with the orange slices to a boil over high heat, decrease the heat to medium, and cook, covered, at a lively simmer for 30 to 60 minutes, or until the fruit is very tender. If necessary, add more water during cooking; the fruit should remain submerged throughout the cooking process.

While the orange slices are cooking, remove the plastic wrap from the stawberries and their juice and discard the berries. Strain the juice well through a very fine-mesh strainer to remove any lingering solids.

When the orange slices are ready, place them in a large mixing bowl with the sugar, cooked strawberry juice, and 2 ounces lemon juice, stirring well. Taste, and slowly add a little more lemon juice if necessary. You should be able to taste the lemon juice, but it should not be overpowering. Keep adding lemon juice only until you are just able to detect its tartness in the mixture. Transfer the mixture to an 11- or 12-quart copper preserving pan or a wide nonreactive kettle. If your kettle is smaller than 11 quarts, cook the mixture in two batches.

Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Cook at a rapid boil until the setting point is reached; this will take a minimum of 35 minutes, but may take longer depending on your individual stove and pan. Initially, the mixture will bubble gently for several minutes; then, as more moisture cooks out of it and its sugar concentration increases, it will begin foaming. Do not stir it at all during the initial bubbling; then, once is starts to foam, stir it gently every few minutes with a heatproof rubber spatula. As it gets close to being done, stir it slowly every minute or two to prevent burning, decreasing the heat a tiny bit if necessary. The marmalade is ready for testing when its color darkens and its bubbles become very small.

To test the marmalade for doneness, remove it from the heat and carefully transfer a small half-spoonful to one of your frozen spoons. It should look shiny, with tiny bubbles throughout. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should neither be warm nor cold; if still warm, return it to the freezer for a moment. Tilt the spoon vertically to see whether the marmalade runs; if it does not run, and if its top layer has thickened to a jelly consistency, it is done. If it runs, cook it for another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed.

When the marmalade has finished cooking, turn off the heat but do not stir. Using a stainless steel spoon, skim off any surface foam and discard. Place the rosemary into the mixture and let it steep for a few minutes off the heat. Stir and carefully taste the marmalade. Remove the sprigs or leave them in for another moment or two, keeping in mind that their flavor will be slightly milder once the marmalade has cooled. Using tongs, discard the rosemary. Pour the marmalade into sterilized jars and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Shelf life – 1 year.

To process jars in the oven:

Place clean jars upright and clean unused lids on a baking sheet in a preheated 250F oven. Leave in the oven for a minimum of 30 minutes to ensure that they are heated through. Remove them from the oven right when you need to fill them. After filling the jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace, wipe the rims with a clean, damp cloth . put the lids on, being careful to screw the rings on just until they are snug. Place the jars back in the oven for 15 minutes to ensure that they are completely sterilized. They will seal as they cool.

Upon removing your filled jars from the oven, place them 1-inch apart on a drying rack to set overnight at room temperature. Do not jiggle or disturb them during this time. As the preserves cool, you may hear a few little pops as the lids seal. Before putting your preserves away, be sure to feel the top of each lid to verify that it has sealed; it should be curving in very slightly in the middle. If any jars have not sealed, put them in the refrigerator for safekeeping.