Between Friday and midnight, last night, I have been going non-stop. Naturally, I made a schedule that could have helped me out a LOT, but after three cake disasters in a row, my schedule was thrown outta whack. I haven't eaten right, slept right or even given myself five minutes to breathe this entire time. But, it is for the love of family, friends, holidays and, of course, food.
Let's start with Friday. My cousin and her then girlfriend (now wife) got married on Saturday. To honor them appropriately, I made them a little wedding cake. They didn't request this of me, nor did they expect it, but since it was a very small ceremony with only a dinner to follow, I knew they wouldn't have a cake. Every wedding needs a cake, c'mon!
So my plan was to make them a cake on Friday and frost/decorate it Saturday morning. Not to mention, I was also going to commence baking for Kevin (close friend and Acrasjia drummer) 4 different kinds of cookies for his birthday on Sunday. I got out of work early on Friday, so I had almost all day to do this. If all had gone well, I may not be so exhausted today.
Silly me decided I would make the wedding couple a white velvet cake with a strawberry filling and cream cheese frosting. Now, I've veganized many a cookie recipe before, but veganizing a cake is pure tomfoolery unless you are a master vegan chef who knows everything there is to know about baking.
First of all, I ordered white chocolate extract from Nature's Flavors and upon opening it, I realized it smelled just like hazelnut. I was so disappointed and upset. Never order from there. They're a bunch of liars.
Anyway, the batter came out pretty gross and sticky, but I tried to bake it anyway. Of course the middle was purely liquidy and the surrounding edges tasted like burnt butter. So I threw it away and tried again, after having realized I used baking POWDER when I really needed to use baking SODA (I do this all the damn time). Guess what? The second cake came out the same exact way. So after crying and stomping my feet, I threw out the recipe and searched through all my cook books for vanilla cake. Can you believe NONE of them had one except for 'La Dolce Vegan'? So I opened up the book and tried to make a simple vanilla cake. Once again, the batter was weird and sticky. So I threw it and cried some more. Then I tried it AGAIN. This time it cooked all right, but the cake was too thin. Doubling it would make it look like a small pancake, let's put it that way.
Poor Mike, who was there to help, had to pull me out of my funk. I was in tears. I was never going to bake again, you see. I sucked and I was no good and I might as well just quit it while I was ahead. I have to laugh, looking back on five days ago. I was using my new heavy duty mixer. At first I thought the mixer was no good then I decided that the mixer was fine and I was no good. Then I thought, 'It's my stove. It's gotta be my stove.' God, it was a mess- about 6 hours of wasting time, energy and ingredients.
Finally, after picking myself up, I realized that I was simply going to have to go with chocolate cake. I've made plenty of those from Sinfully Vegan and they were good every time. See, that lady knows what she's doing. I made 2 double chocolate cakes and stacked them. The batter was 'normal' and delicious and they came out beautifully.
In the end, I realized the problem was not my awesome mixer, nor was it my lack of talent or skill, nor was it my oven. It was the recipes.
Learn from this, you new chefs out there. Learn from this. Don't get sketchy ingredients off the web and don't trust everything you read in a cook book.
So now it was about 11 o'clock at night. I was exhausted. I wanted to curl up in a ball and slip into unconsciousness. But I still had Kevin's cookies! He didn't expect this of me, either, but I really wanted to make them as a perfect birthday prezzie.
I started with peanut butter cookies from 'The Joy of Vegan Baking' and added some white chocolate chips. As they were baking, the oven started smoking and the house smelled like burning plastic. We realized that the peanut oil was causing the wax paper in the oven to melt. Luckily, cookies continue baking after taking them out of the oven, so they turned out just fine without any burnt smell or flavor to them. It was scary when the oven was smoking, but at this point I was too delirious to freak out or get upset.
The next day I woke up bright and early 'cause I had a LOT of baking to do. Mike helped me out so much. He is a good little prep cook. Without him, I may have never gotten anything done, what with my cake catastrophe. All morning I was baking Kevin's cookies as well as trying out a new recipe for his birthday cake. It was not a vegan one, of course, so I had problems. Once again, the batter came out thick and sticky (due to insufficient egg replacement, I'm guessing). I had gotten a new checkered cake baking set and I wanted to use it so I foolishly decided to veganize it. A three cake batter ended up being a two cake batter somehow and the checkered shape ended up being a sort of bullseye marble thing. However, the batter tasted really good and it smelled very good, so I decided to keep it.
That morning I also decorated the wedding cake (using fake flowers because I am not yet talented enough to make frosting flowers). First, I tried to use a cream cheese frosting, but it was too liquidy, so I put it in the center of the cake with strawberry jam. Well, wasn't I a fool because the glaze kept flowing down the side of the cake. After much scraping of the sides, the middle of the cake had barely anything left on it. Oh, well.
For the outside, I ended up using butter cream frosting from The Joy of Vegan Baking and tinted it a pretty pink with India Tree dye. I finally used my new tips, but the frosting was a little too soft for the shapes to come out right. I had to keep putting it in the fridge, but the hardness would only last so long. Oh, well. It still came out very pretty, luckily. I even got paper doilies and a cake box from Michaels to make it more professional/bakery-looking.
After that, I proceeded to make the rest of Kevin's cookies with Mikey preparing measurments for me along the way. I made chocolate chip cookies from the Joy of Vegan Baking, which came out good as always. I made choco choco chip cookies from Vegan Cookies. They were good warm but got a little too hard upon cooling. They were still tasty, of course, so I used them. Lastly, I made vanilla spritz cookies from Sinfully Vegan. Mike cut out a 'K' for 'Kevin' because that was the only letter conveniently missing from my cookie cutter alphabet. Lois Dieterly (Sinfully Vegan) made the so-simple-I-never-would-have-thought-of-it suggestion of dipping them in melted chocolate. I did just that and you wouldn't believe how wonderfully it transforms the taste of a boring sugar cookie into something wonderful.
After all this baking, I had very little time to get ready. Mike and I rushed around like crazy. We left with just enough time to make it to the ceremony, but wouldn't you know that there was insane traffic all throughout Boston to the South Shore and then again at every mall exit along the high way. Last minute Christmas shoppers, you see. So a 40 minute drive turned into an hour and a half. My cousin tried to put off the ceremony for as long as she could, but eventually they could wait no longer. Mike and I would have made the end of it, but we stupidly ended up walking the wrong way down the street and couldn't find the place. AS SOON AS we found it, everyone was exiting the building. Isn't it nice how life works out like that sometimes? Sorry for the sarcasm. I'm just so cranky.
Robyn was ok with us being late because we were still there to celebrate at the big dinner and they plan on having a much bigger ceremony and reception when they renew their vows (I plan on leaving 5 hours early to be there on time). And they were so happy with the cake, so it was well worth it. But I do hate Boston traffic. In fact, I hate Boston. I think I should move to Vermont where there are only moose and no cars.
Anyway, Sunday morning was a little less stressful. Mike and I decorated Kevin's cake. It was supposed to be a drum, but I guess we failed at that because Kevin had no idea it was supposed to be that. Again, the frosting was too liquidy to stay on properly.
Mike was going to do the whole 'melt chocolate and carve it into a shape' thing like he did with my birthday cake, but he forgot his exacto blade and the chocolate ended up breaking apart when he tried to use a steak knife. So, short on time, Mike decorated the top with an Acrasjia-esque design (turning Kevin's name into the logo) and it came out superbly. Again, I used India Tree dye and it came out a pretty blue.
The cake ended up being a very weird cookie/brownie consistency and I wasn't too happy with it. Robyn (my cousin), Kate (her wife), Mike, Matt (other guitarist) and most importantly, Kevin, all seemed to really enjoy it, so at least there was that. I am sticking to cakes I know work next time. No more experimenting last minute. It's so embarrassing when I claim I can bake and cook and then I feed a disaster to people just because I didn't have enough ingredients or time to make something better. Then again, the wedding cake was won over by everyone (including Matt who decided to tell me that it was much better than poor Kevin's birthday cake).
That night, I foolishly went out ot eat when I should have been getting started on Christmas baking. Robyn and Kate wanted to go out to TJ Scallywaggles, a vegan 'fast' food joint. I could have said 'no', but Robyn's been asking me forever and ever and I don't see them too often, so I went. I had a really nice time, but I ended up getting back at my house at 10. I was too exhausted to cook a damn thing so I ended up crashing.
What did that mean? Christmas Eve was filled with the stress of cleaning and baking like crazy. I was more awake, so I was having a little more fun than usual, but I was still going slightly crazy. I made a lasagna, which is pictured here and lots of desserts, including left over cookies from Kevin's batch.
My holiday turned out great, minus the stress, because my family was there and it was so good to be together, what with the death of my mother being so recent. I think part of the reason I stressed myself out over the holidays was not only to make things festive and to show my love to people in the form of home cooking, but also to keep my mind as busy as possible so I didn't have time to sit down and cry and be miserable. It worked. I was more focused than ever.
So, for now, I give you all the pictures of baked and cooked goods with captions attached. Enjoy, and thanks for reading my harrowing baking experience!
Saturday, December 22nd, Wedding Day
This is the double chocolate wedding cake, complete with (paper) decorative flowers and pink decorations.
From different angles for your viewing pleasure:
And my cousin, feeding her lovely bride a wonderful slice. I was so excited about the lighting in this picture, despite the dark restaurant. My aunt, who was across from me, had snapped a picture with the flash on at the perfect time. It's amazing what light can do.
Sunday, December 23rd, Kevin's B-day!
Kevin's chocolate-covered sugar cookies cooling off:
K is for Kookie (that is covered in ooey-gooey chocolatey goodness):
The left-overs from Kevin's birthday batches. You can see some peanut butter cookies peeking out! (Excuse the poor lighting; I was trying to snap a picture before everyone ate them all.):
The cookies at the top of the tin. This was layered with three different types of cookies. (Again, very poor lighting due to rushage. Yes. Rushage.)
Mike's awesome, very last minute, decorating skills, done up Acrasjia style:
It could be a snare drum, I guess. It really could be.
Kevin blowing out the candles after we surprised him at practice. :)
Monday, December 24, Christmas Eve
We mostly ate chips, fruit, cookies, the brownies my sister-in-law brought and lasagna. No picture of the lasagna, but you can see the same recipe in the link I posted earlier. Instead, I give you a fruit platter (already picked at by the fam), complete with homemade fruit dip: Toffuti cream cheese, Toffuti sour cream, 3 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract. My 3-year-old nephew LOVED this stuff. :) There was also a veggie platter, but I'll save you from having to look at a bunch of raw vegetables. I think it's safe to say that we all know what they look like.
Tuesday, December 25, Christmas Day
It is tradition to have Christmas brunch every year. This year, I tried my hand at homemade english muffins, courtesy of Isa's recipe she posted on the PPK quite some time ago. They were still a little doughy upon cutting, but after frying them a bit longer and popping them in the toaster, they were amazing. Pictured are the muffins topped with Cascadian Farms Blueberry Jam. Mmm...
For the full breakfast, I made up some tofu scramble with freshly cut tomatoes, onions, turmeric, garlic, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, sage and some dijon. You knew that was coming! Mike helped me by frying up some vegan sausage and bacon. I typically try to do everything by scratch, but sometimes you have to cheat. Like with Tofutti, food for the vegan gods. ;)
And, of course, my special hot cocoa recipe. It was always good until I discovered vanilla powder, that is. Now it's excellent! I might post the cocoa recipe for any of you looking for one. Personally, it took me forever to come up with a decent one and I'm in love with this.
Dark chocolate truffles are only meant for people who are in love with dark chocolate. They are EXTREMELY rich. I used a bittersweet baking bar, you see. The recipe told me to roll them in cocoa but I rolled them in baking cocoa like a nit-wit, so the outside is beyond bitter. Luckily, my step dad loves 'em and Kate said she wanted some dark chocolate, so they won't go completely to waste.
No Christmas, or winter for that matter, is complete without Snowball Cookies! My nana used to make them for me every year until I finally started baking. I generally use her recipe, but I thought I'd go crazy this year and use the recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking, labled as 'Mexican Wedding Cookies'. If you haven't picked up that book by now, you really need to. Everything I've made in it has won over many. Seriously, do it!
Here is a recipe I snagged from Just the Food. Peanut butter fudge! I never even knew such a thing existed, but I was so pleased to try them. They are very crumbly and wonderfully sweet. Surprisingly, they're very easy to make too!
While on the topic of fudge, did I mention that, yes, The Joy of Vegan Baking has THE BEST fudge recipe I've ever tasted in my entire life? Not only is it easy to make, it's tastier than any fudge you've ever had. I guarantee it. Everyone LOVED it. Seriously. Go buy the book.
Close-up of the beauty:
Lastly for desserts, I present The Joy of Vegan Baking's caramel popcorn. I was just gonna wing it until I saw a recipe in the book. I wasn't sure how this was going to turn out, but everyone ended up loving it, even my picky grandpa. It was reminiscent of Cracker Jacks, but better.
For Christmas dinner, my step father made a pot roast for the family. Obviously I didn't want anything to do with that atrocity, so I made marinated, roasted and fried tofu with steamed veggies. Let me tell you- it was delicious. The right blend of spices really does wonders. I'll name a few that were used off the top of my head: majoram, dill, basil, garlic, sage, pepper, etc... I liked to dip mine in dijon, but they were flavourful enough alone, believe me!
And now this last photo brings me to today. Last night, as you can imagine, I was beyond exhausted, so I needed to make something that was quick and easy for the next three work lunches this week. So what did I make? Whole wheat pasta salad! The dressing contains maple syrup, rice vinegar, balsalmic vinegar, flax oil, fresh basil and red wine vinegar, topped with vegan parmesan. Not a feast, but a nice change to an over-load of sugar!
I want to say thanks to Mikey for aaaall the help and for putting up with my drama. You're my moo. And I'm so happy everyone enjoyed their goodies. They were made with lots of love. :)
Stay tuned for more fun desserts and meals. New Years is coming up in a few days, after all.