21 July 2012

Vegan Cookies and Cake

I enjoy the blog "The Life". Although I'm not vegan (actually, I can't call myself lacto-ovo vegetarian anymore either), the baking recipes are great because I use oil more often in my overall cooking. After a terrible end of the week, which was slightly alleviated by the consumption of a whole packet of marshmallows (284 g) in three sittings (2 am, 11 am, and 7 pm), I figured I might as well bake some things and binge on them all. I made vegan chocolate cookies which kind of remind me of Oreos (without the cream) or chocolate graham crackers and lemon cake which I didn't mix well enough. These recipes came from "The Life" and are simply amazing.

Notes/alterations to the chocolate chip cookies:
1. No chocolate chips
2. Substituted the white flour with whole wheat flour and a packet of lotus seed flour that I had lying around
3. Less sugar
4. 1/4 cup water + 1/4 balsamic vinegar, and 1 tsp baking soda instead of baking powder
5. It doesn't matter which rack I use in an unpreheated oven for 15 minutes. They turn out perfect, even according to SP
6. Added red pepper flakes!

Notes/alterations to the lemon cake:
1. Didn't have enough lemon juice, so added some vinegar
2. Baked for 35 minutes + left it in oven for 10 minutes
3. 1.5 cup of white flour + 1 cup of whole wheat flour... + unknown extra bits of flour...not sure how much I ended up using
4. Added red pepper flakes

A great thing that happened two nights ago (after I went to get marshmallows for my binge) was that I happened upon a baking tray, a cake tin, and a dish drying rack next to the dumpster in the courtyard. The baking tray fits perfectly in the small oven that I have for the summer (I actually had brought my own baking tray, but it was too long!). I'm hoping to find a mini-fridge with shelves next (last month I found a fridge without shelves and a microwave without the turntable, unfortunately). Although some people will think that this is disgusting or weird, I believe that it's helping the environment and my finances.

Surprisingly, I have only bought baking powder once in my life. 55 g in 5 sachets. Most of the time, I use baking soda in my baking. If a recipe calls for baking powder, I just substitute some of the liquid with vinegar and use baking soda instead of the powder. It always works. I've been reading Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter, and he (along with other chefs, I suppose) claims that bakers are more precise and antsy about measuring than cooks, who like creativity and splashing in ingredients here and there.

I have to disagree with him. I splash in tablespoons of vinegar, I throw in pepper flakes, and I even didn't measure the flour for the lemon cake today (so, I might have 2 cups of flour in that lemon cake, but it could also be 3). I'm not extremely precise with measurements, and things mostly turn out fine. The book also lists a stand mixer and a whisk as essential for bakers, but I have neither and I consider myself decent at baking. The book is geared solely towards stereotypical computer scientists who don't cook (the stereotypical humour, writing style, everything!), and I guess I was a bit distracted by this (in addition to the "BUY THIS BOOK!" message studded in every chapter. The worst part, however, is that there are barely any citation of sources. Sure, I don't think he's lying when he says that there's gluten in wheat flour, but there are no scientific papers cited! Interviews, pictures, and blogs are listed (but not by MLA or NEJM standards), but it's not enough. Monell isn't even mentioned! Also, I guess I'm disappointed that the existence of non-tasters for quinine aren't mentioned either.
However, it was an overall good read because there were some useful tips, and there were explanations of a lot of things that I've never questioned. For instance, why do we bake at 350 degrees F for some things [e.g. cake], and 375 F for others [e.g. cookies]? Well, one reason is that sugar caramelises above 350 degrees F, and you don't want your cakes to caramelise, but cookies that look brown and caramelised appear more appetizing. I have two pages of notes for things that I'd want to explore further, particularly adding maltodextrin to peanut butter and cooking with a slow cooker.

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