Rhymes With Bacon: Veganz Take Berlin

Rose and I at the East Side Gallery

Rose and I at the East Side Gallery

“Rhymes with bacon, which we don’t eat. Because we’re vegan…” sang Rose, as we stood on the train platform, eager to begin our evening.  We bristled with anticipation, and the warmth of a shared bottle of Prosecco–a welcome sensation in the brisk Berlin air that was chilling the train platform.  Tonight was to be my formal introduction into the world of the famed Berlin nightclubs that Rose adores.  Though it’s still not really my scene (despite my love of dancing), I was eager to traverse the dark corners of the nightclubs, as well as participate ever so slightly in the local drinking culture.

When I travel, one of my favorite things to do is immerse myself in the local vegan food offerings.  Even in Moscow, I unearthed favorable reviews for vegetarian restaurants, though I wouldn’t have been surprised were they completely absent from the local landscape.  Given that I had my trusty, local vegan tour guide in Berlin, I did far less research on the vegan offerings before I arrived.  From what I had heard, not only were there plenty of delicious vegan foods available, there was even an entire vegan grocery store chain in Berlin!

Berlin is so vegan friendly, that mushrooms can even DJ!

Berlin is so vegan friendly, that even mushrooms can DJ!

To start things off after my arrival, we swung by a local burger joint that happened to have late night hours.  While neither of us were particularly impressed by the tofu burger, which was actually just a slice of crisp, fried tofu on a bun with lettuce and tomato (we added the ketchup and mustard ourselves), I was just happy to be able to find something filling to eat at that hour.  It always surprised me that in a city with clubs that are open for literally 3 days straight, many restaurants still closed on the earlier side, frustrating both hungry travelers (from the land of 24 hour diners at least) and those suffering a case of the drunchies.

IMG_2625The next day, Rose took me to a favorite Vietnamese restaurant of hers, Hamy, which served vegan options alongside their regular menu.  The space was small and cozy, and featured a large chalk board detailing the daily specials, of which there were only two.  We chose the curry option, and asked for it vegan, with tofu instead of chicken.  Within minutes, we were served an incredibly large portion of heavenly curry, which was perfectly spiced and balanced.  Even chock full of coconut cream and fried tofu, it didn’t feel heavy or greasy.  In my eight months in Israel, I hadn’t had anything that came close (mostly because I only had curry from a restaurant once the entire time I was there, and try as I might, I’m no expert on Southeast Asian cuisine).  After lunch, we headed over to the East Side Gallery, a large section that remains of the Berlin wall, which was then covered in various murals by a number of different artists.

Depictions of the fall of the wall

Depictions of the fall of the wall

The rest of the afternoon was spent whiling away the hours in the sun, pursuing such Berlin past times as drinking cheap beers from a corner store in a park.  We also made our way to a bakery called Cupcake Berlin, which served several vegan options alongside the rest of their baked goods.  Rose and I decided to split a cupcake, and I also bought a brownie to save for later.  I can honestly say their vegan cupcake was amazing, in all of its simplicity.  It was a golden vanilla cake, with a perfectly moist and springy crumb, topped with a rich, buttery vanilla buttercream.  During my travels, I rarely found a cupcake that could compete with those I make myself, but the vegan cupcake at Cupcake Berlin could definitely give me a run for my money (though I think my flavors are by far more compelling).

Drinking 79 cent beer from the corner store in a random Berlin square

Drinking 79 cent beer from the corner store in a random Berlin square

Behold, Cupcake Berlin!

Behold, Cupcake Berlin!

Practicially perfect in everyway

Practicially perfect in every way

Friday was the first rainy day I had experienced in months, but luckily the light drizzle didn’t deter us from our explorations, and we went to the DDR museum, an interactive exhibition dedicated to the years East Germany spent under the communist regime.  We had a chance to look at everything from toys, to a model house, to the clothing (which was frequently made of such poor quality fabrics that many did what they could to smuggle American made clothing in from West Berlin).  There were also videos discussing the housing of the future in East Berlin, as well as clips of radio and television programs.  We quickly passed several hours opening drawers and lifting doors to read about life in the DDR, and how it compared to life in West Berlin at the same time.

With a bear for mom

With a bear for mom

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Welcome to the DDR! The best of all possible worlds….

IMG_2666As the afternoon cleared up, we took a walk across the city and through the Brandenburg gate to see the Holocaust memorial.  On our way there, we took a slightly wrong turn due to an apparent obstruction in our path in the form of a World Cup Carnival (or something like that).  Our detour took us on a leisurely stroll through the Tiergarten before we finally found the memorial.  One of the things that struck me most on my trip was just how late the sun was setting, late even for a trip that nearly coincided with the summer solstice.  As we took in the memorial–both the large stone slabs situated outdoors, which slowly envelope you into their abyss, before receding as you reach the other side–as well as the underground exhibit, we were entirely unaware of how late it was, and just how close to closing the exhibit was.  The indoor exhibit was a more personal display dedicated to works of art made by victims, information detailing the destruction that was wreaked upon each specific communities throughout the rest of Europe, and spotlights on several families that were deeply affected by the events of the Holocaust.  I was rushed through the final exhibit, as the staff closed down the memorial for the evening. It was a sombre start to Shabbat, which I insisted we celebrate in some small amount, especially after an evening spent connecting to the darker moments of our history.  It was then that I finally cracked open my last bottle of wine from the Tzfat winery, and in sharing it with Rose in Berlin, it tasted even better than I remembered.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

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In the thick of it

In the thick of it

We spent Saturday relaxing at home, in preparation for our big night out (we also had a tame night out Friday, where I was introduced to Rose’s friends as well as a DJ they were fans of).  We decided to eat in that night, in order to be more budget conscious, and just as we were discussing the merits of making homemade pizza for dinner that night, one of Rose’s roommates informed us that he and his girlfriend were planning on making pizza–effectively deciding that pizza was indeed the right choice for dinner.  We stopped off at the vegan grocery store that was several blocks from Rose’s apartment, and I marveled at the selection of vegan products I hadn’t had access to during the previous months.  I managed to reign myself in, and only bought a vegan candy bar from, GoMax Go (and basically the thing I missed the most in Israel), and a block of Italian style Cheezly, which I’d heard about, but never seen in the US (or Israel for that matter).  Rose’s roommate made the dough, and we individually topped our pizzas. I chose to make a white pizza with a creamy vegan bechamel, spiced with some black pepper, and enriched with just a touch of the Cheezly.  I also added succulent caramelized onions, razor thin slices of mushroom and yellow bell pepper (two ingredients I’m not generally a fan of, but were totally perfect in this application), some sliced fresh tomato, and then topped the cooked pizza with fresh arugula.  It was absolutely delicious, which lead me to stupidly eating the whole thing (despite its relative heft and richness…I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat for a week after polishing off the last bite).  Luckily, I had the chance to dance it off later that night, when we finally were admitted to the club.

Veganz, vegan grocery store!

Veganz, vegan grocery store!

A vegan pizza in the making

A vegan pizza in the making

Side by side with Rose's pizza, ready for the sauna

Side by side with Rose’s pizza, ready for the sauna

Omnomnomnom. Vegan white pizza complete

Omnomnomnom. Vegan white pizza complete

We started Sunday morning off by going to sleep (and we arrived home early by Berlin standards).  Our plan for the day was to check out a vegan cafe near Maur park, and then hit up Bear Pit Karaoke, within the park proper.  Fast Rabbit (the cafe) was cute and funky, and its menu featured two different wraps, plus a soup of the day.  Rose informed me that they also have THE BEST fries (which I think are named something like the gang bang….).  I decided to get the half and half wrap, which combined both filling options.  I am well aware as I struggle to describe this meal that I should have taken notes, or at least tried a little harder to document our lunch, however, I’m blaming my subpar memory of that particular hour on sleep deprivation.  I do remember Rose having a cauliflower based soup that was so good, I kinda wanted to steal it all from her.

Maur Park

Maur Park

The unexpected highlight of my trip to Berlin was definitely Bear Pit Karaoke, which was held in an open-air, stone amphitheater in the middle of the park.  It’s run by one guy, who brings in a small karaoke machine, laptop (and umbrella), and sets it up Sunday afternoons for some free entertainment. We clearly weren’t the only ones who thought this sounded like a fun time for a lazy Sunday, as the amphitheater was filled with people of all ages, and from all over the world.  After the first song or two, we made our way to an empty bench smack in the middle of the audience, where a man was making the rounds with a cooler of beer, while the host cracked jokes both in English and German.  We were just in time to see the most adorable little girl get up to sing a german song, aided by her mother–followed by a tween who sang a song of her own.  Rose and I contemplated getting up there, but with neither liquid courage, nor the perfect song in mind for the two of us to sing, we kept our hands by our sides.  Our favorite participants were always the American bros, likely in Berlin at the end of a study abroad trip, and dared by their friends.  But even American college guys in polo shirts and boat shoes belting out the Backstreet Boys couldn’t compete with Drunk German Lady.  I can’t remember the exact moment of her arrival, but at some point in the middle of the song, she made her way towards the singer, and began her booze fueled groove.  With each successive singer, she continued to assert her presence, until the host finally (and quietly) asked her to please leave the spotlight.  She refused.  The karaoke continued, and Drunk German Lady continued to dance.  Each of the singers took it in stride, which possibly encouraged her more.  The host’s intermittent pleas became more desperate, as he even appealed to Drunk German Lady’s husband (slightly less drunk, Drunk German Man) to escort her away.  Drunk German Lady began to protest.  She stumbled around the circular stage, appealing to the audience with shouts I couldn’t understand.  At some point she even laid down on the stone.  Her greatest and final attempt to remain a part of the festivities was to drop trou.  And no, she was not wearing any underwear.  The crowd simultaneously gasped, and covered their (or more likely their children’s) eyes.  Unlike in the US or Israel, throughout this whole ordeal, there was not a single security guard in sight.  The gig was only up when a large biker dude stood up, grabbed Drunk German Lady, and unceremoniously threw her out of the Bear Pit area.  She fled the scene, and her husband followed.  As we were leaving later, we passed her laying down in the middle of a walkway in front of a band.  I guess drunk habits die hard.

Welcome to the Bear Pit

Welcome to the Bear Pit

Adorable, courageous toddler

Adorable, courageous toddler

Drunk German Lady getting  her groove on

Drunk German Lady getting her groove on

My last full meal in Berlin was a green thai curry from a pan-Asian place a short ride from the park.  As we exited the park grounds, we passed through a flea market, and spotted a young guy packing up one of the tables, wearing a shirt with Hebrew writing on it.  This was my third Israeli sighting on the trip.  Somehow, we ran into the same guy and some of his friends on the train back to Rose’s, after getting our dinner, and I was quite excited to make sure I hadn’t forgotten all of my Hebrew in the preceding 4 days (it’s been 2 1/2 months since I left now, and I seem to still have the ability to hold a conversation).  For a final Berlin thrill,we made our way back to Berghain for a Sunday evening dance sesh, before my departure the next afternoon.

So long Berlin, hello France!

So long Berlin, hello France!

I managed a final German culinary hurrah at the airport, where I purchased a beer and a bag of paprika chips (which is apparently the flavor to try), and got ready to start my Provençal farm adventure.  All in all, I had a great time.  Even if I could have only eaten bread for the visit, it would have been worth it to see Rose.  As it stands though, Berlin has an amazing vegan scene, and it’s definitely one of the most affordable cities I’ve ever experienced.  I definitely hope to make it back for another visit in the near(ish) future, and try even more amazing vegan noms.

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Lapsang Souchong Chocolate Cupcakes

With New Year’s Eve fast approaching, I knew I needed to post some treat that would be appropriate for any New Year’s Eve party, whether it be glamorous or cozy. While I did have a whole host of recipes planned to post during the last days of the holiday season, life got in the way just a little bit, between opening the show, and recovering from the show (which also includes reconnecting with all of the friends I haven’t had a chance to see since all my time was spent in rehearsal). While New Year’s isn’t huge here (though Tel Avivians generally seem to love a good party no matter the occasion), I’m highly considering making these again, even if my plans are to have a quiet night with friends.

Last of the lapsang souchong (or somehow the other photos I took of these didn't save)

Last of the lapsang souchong (or somehow the other photos I took of these didn’t save)

So never fear, Lapsang Souchong Chococolate Cupcakes are here! These cupcakes were invented as part of my original Tipsy Shades concept, which I made for my graduation party in June. I wanted a combination that would be complimentary, but somewhat unexpected, and I also wanted to make some use of food trends (vegan and non), namely: coconut bacon. The cake is a beautiful, rich chocolate cake, with an added complexity from the smokiness of the lapsang souchong tea. What is lapsang souchong you ask? Well, it is a black tea from China that is dried with smoke, which gives it a distinctly smokey aroma (and slightly smokey flavor). Considering how big chocolate covered bacon and the like are these days, I figured the smokiness of the tea would find a nice home within the chocolate cake, and I was right. The cake was then filled with a bourbon spiked caramel filling, topped with bourbon caramel frosting, and sprinkled with coconut bacon.

Scenes from New Years past, Central Park Midnight Run 2012

Scenes from New Years past: with my friend Alex, before the Midnight Run 2012

Now, I’ve had some coconut bacons that were simply toasted large flaked coconut. I also have heard of premade coconut bacon being available for purchase, but since I already had large flake coconut on hand, I figured it would be easy enough to make myself. I mixed together a few tablespoons of tamari, and a teaspoon or two of liquid smoke, and then set the coconut in it to marinate for maybe an hour or so. Sitting that long is the mixture was unplanned, but the results were delicious! I baked the marinated coconut in a toaster oven at 350 degrees for maybe 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the flakes had dried out. The results were so good, I was worried that I wouldn’t have any left to actually top the cupcakes with. While I can’t tell you what “real” bacon tastes like, I found the flavor of the coconut bacon to be very similar to Morning Star Farms veggie bacon (not vegan), which is what I grew up on. It sure was nice to find such an easy replacement to a childhood favorite.

Central Park, waiting for midnight

Central Park, waiting for midnight

The bacon was the perfect topping for the cupcake, tying together the smokey notes in the cake, and balancing the sweetness of the caramel frosting. Really, I can’t wait to make these again.

Lapsang Souchong Chocolate Cake (adapted from VCTOTW)

  • 1 c non dairy milk
  • 4 lapsang souchong tea bags, or 2 tbsp loose leaf
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1/3 c canola oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c cocoa powder, (I prefer Cocoa Rouge)
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and fill a muffin pan with liners. Heat non dairy milk in a small saucepan over medium until almost boiling. Add tea bags, cover, and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 minutes. When ready, squeeze as much excess milk from the tea as possible. Discard the tea. If there is less than 1 c of tea milk, add a little more to equal 1 full cup. Add the vinegar to the milk and let sit for a minute or so.

Add the sugar, oil, and vanilla extract to the milk mixture and beat until foamy. In a separate bowl. sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to the wet ingredients and beat until no large lumps remain (a few small ones are ok).

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

4 miles complete!

4 miles complete!

Bourbon Caramel

  • 1 c sugar
  • 6 tbsp vegan margarine (I prefer Earth Balance)
  • 1/2 c coconut cream
  • 1 tbsp bourbon
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

Melt the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until completely melted using a wooden or metal utensil (plastic will melt and that makes gross caramel). After it is completely melted, stop stirring, and cook until it is a deep caramel color. When it reaches this color, add the margarine and whisk until combined, then add the coconut cream, bourbon and the salt. The caramel may bubble violently when the cream is added, but don’t fear, just stir until the sauce is smooth. Let cool.

Caramel buttercream

  • 1/4 c vegan margarine
  • 1/4 c non-hydrogenated shortening
  • 1 3/4 c confectioners sugar
  • 2 tbsp Caramel Sauce
  • 1 tbsp bourbon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Beat the margarine and shortening together until fluffy. Add the sugar and beat again until well combined. Add the caramel sauce, bourbon and vanilla, and continue beating until smooth and creamy. If the buttercream is too thick, feel free to add more caramel sauce (or more bourbon if you’re into that sort of thing).

Assembly:

Using your pinky finger or a chopstick, poke a hole into the top of the cupcake, and move it around to make a little space. Using a squeeze bottle or pastry bag, fill the cupcake with caramel sauce. Top with a small dollop of the buttercream, and then sprinkle with coconut bacon. Devour and repeat.

Pumpkin Ale Cupcakes

I feel like I’ve somehow managed to go overboard on the pumpkin this year, at least recipe-wise, which is funny since the pumpkin craze doesn’t really exist in Israel. All the sensory phenomena associated with pumpkin season in the US are absent here so far. It’s been almost continuously warm and sunny since my arrival in early October (much to my delight), so food cravings tend to be more for things that are light and fresh, rather than warm and comforting, rich with cinnamon, pumpkin, and other warming spices. Nevertheless, I had an idea for a second pumpkin themed cupcake that I was dying to try out. A cupcake spiked with a little bit of the ever popular pumpkin ale. I’m honestly not sure if pumpkin ales can be found here, but I had someone bring me back a bottle from the states for the sole purpose of making these cupcakes.

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Pumpkin ale cupcake, maple frosting and toasted pecans

While these would definitely make an excellent addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table, I made these for a going away party for a friend who was moving back to Boston. They were a hit among all in attendance, which was more of a pleasant surprise not because I was worried about the combination of flavors, but because in making them in a borrowed kitchen, I lacked even such basic equipment as measuring cups. In the end, I guesstimated using a small disposable plastic cup (on which was writtenThis is 1 Cup), by assuming it was actually equivalent to about 6 oz, and measuring the ingredients from there. Luckily, ratios are really the most important part of baking, so despite my make-shift equipment, everything was in proportion.

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Pumpkin ale batter

Of course, I didn’t see any pumpkin puree in the grocery stores here, so for efficiency, I chose to use mashed sweet potato in the batter, which was equally nice. I also threw in some vegan white chocolate chips, mostly because we had them (and they’re so easy to find here!). The cupcake is topped with a salted maple buttercream and toasted pecans. I used pure maple syrup in the frosting since it was easier to request bottle of maple syrup from the US, rather than maple extract. The salt was added to counterbalance the sweetness of the maple and sugar combination. The pecans provide a buttery crunch that tops the cupcakes off perfectly. I would actually recommend choosing either the frosting or the white chocolate chips, since the chips made the batter a little bit more sweet than I would have liked.

Make shift five shekel muffin pan from the shuk

Make shift five shekel muffin pan from the shuk

Pumpkin Ale Cupcake:

  • 1/2 c canned pumpkin puree (or mashed sweet potato)
  • 3/4 c pumpkin ale
  • 1/3 c oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 c all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 salt
  • 1/2 c vegan white chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a muffin pan with cupcake liners

In a medium bowl, stir together pumpkin, ale, sugar, oil, and and vanilla.  Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  Stir with a fork until just combined.  Fold in the white chocolate chips if using.

Fill liners 2/3 full and baking for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick or thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool completely before frosting.

Cooling cupcakes speckled with white chocolate

Cooling cupcakes speckled with white chocolate

Maple frosting:

  • 1 c vegan margarine ( or 1/2 margarine and 1/2 shortening)
  • 1/3 c pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 c confectioners sugar

Put the maple syrup in a small saucepan of medium heat. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.  Simmer 5-10 minutes until the syrup has reduced a bunch.  You want it to be 1/4 c or less.  Add a tablespoon or two of the margarine and let cool.  Beat the margarine until fluffy, and add the sugar and salt.  Beat until combined.  Add the vanilla and the maple syrup.  Beat til fluffy, then put in the fridge to set for about 15 minutes.  Beat again before using.

Top cupcakes with maple frosting and toasted pecans.

Rumpkin Pie Chai Cupcakes

Given that I was leaving the US two days after my birthday to the land of (soy) milk and (date) honey, where it has been fairly consistently sunny and warm (aka Paradise. I’ve gone to the beach more times since I’ve been here than I have in the last few years. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that my Ulpan (Hebrew language school) is about a block away from the water) I thought it was necessary to try and make as many autumny recipes as possible before I left, so for my second birthday cupcake (the first being the Apple Orchard cupcake) I of course had to do something with pumpkin.

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Vegan Pumpkin Spice Latte (not chai) at Peacefood Cafe Downtown in New York City

While I briefly discussed that the cupcakes I have been making are all part of a theme, what I didn’t reveal was that I actually have a whole list of cupcakes to make sitting on my phone, combining seasonal ingredients, with tea and/or booze into awesome cupcakes. Well some of them are seasonal, some are based off of favorite cocktails, while others are inspired by well known tea based drinks. Mental cupcake creation is one of my favorite things to do when I have a long trip to take, and as I dream up cupcake combinations, I have finally taken care to write all of them down. The task now, is to slowly test out these cupcake combinations to see what works, what doesn’t, what’s popular, what I can effectively make gluten free etc.

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Rumpkin Pie Chai cupcakes with the pumpkin peeking through a patch of frosting. Garnished with a sprig of thyme.

There were several factors that went into the creation of this cupcake. First, how to best incorporate some booze into the already popular Chai Latte cupcake from VCTOW (that’s Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World…I’m not going to pull a Rachael Ray and always say the abbreviation and what it stands for, I promise). This is one of my dad’s favorite cupcakes, and the best part is, they’re super simple to make on their own. I thought a good spiced rum would fit nicely with the flavor profile, so that was settled quite easily. Then came choosing an appropriate filling. On my list I actually have written both pumpkin pie and cashew cardamom mousse. I wanted something that would meld nicely with the spices already present in the cake, but when it came down to it, the pumpkin craze had already begun, and nothing could beat a chai spiced cake with a deliciously creamy pumpkin pie filling. I generally consider spiking my frostings, just for the extra dose of booze, but because I was making these in tandem with the apple cupcakes (rather than packing….sorry Dad. And Jordan. I bake when I’m stressed, ok?) I needed to make my life a little easier and use only one frosting for both cupcakes. So on went the cinnamon buttercream. The last element to these cupcakes were attempting to make them gluten free. I have tried several different flour mixes for cupcakes with varying successes. This time, I used some leftover from the mix suggested in The Allergen-Free Bakers Handbook by Cybele Pascal. I’ve found that this mix creates a cupcake that is a little more dense than I would like, but the secret to the chai cupcake recipe is the addition of some non dairy yogurt, which creates a moist, light cake. I wanted to see if the combination of the yogurt with the flour blend would create a more satisfactory texture. Good news: it did!

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Autumn in Israel

Frequently, when I write down my cupcake ideas, I like to dream them up as the perfect package, complete with elegant if not time consuming garnishes. After all, I would eventually like to sell these (in which case maybe I should stop giving away all my secrets!), but usually, I just don’t have the time to make some of these complicated little additions, nor can I necessarily finance all the resources. For example on the apple cupcakes, I really wanted to throw on a little piece of pie crust, because yum. Crust is totally the best part of the pie. Also, they go crazy for garnishes like that on cupcake wars, but when it came down to it, not only was in nice to have a slice of fresh, crisp apple on top, it also added a nicer color, and, took significantly less work. When it came to garnishing the Rumpkin cupcakes, I found they needed a pop of color to brighten them up. Luckily, I had some sprigs of thyme that had dried up in my fridge, and added the perfect touch of color/actual pumpkin patch vibe I was going for. While I didn’t intend them to add anything flavor-wise, thyme and pumpkin make a pretty nice pair, though you could also probably use a sprig of rosemary or even a sage leaf (talk about an autumn classic, pumpkin and sage).

And now for the recipe:

Chai Cupcake (adapted from VCTOW)

  • 1 scant cup non dairy milk
  • 4 black tea bags or 2 tbsp loose black tea
  • 1/4 c dark or spiced rum
  • 1/4 c canola oil
  • 1/2 c vanilla or plain non dairy yogurt
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 c gluten free flour blend*
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • Pinch to 1/8 tsp ground white or black pepper

*I used the the flour mix from the Allergen-Free Bakers Handbook, but you could try whatever you have on hand (or regular flour, and leave out the xanthan gum).  I just can’t vouch for the final product using a different gluten free flour combo.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pan with cupcake liners.  Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until almost boiling.  Add tea bags, remove from heat and cover.  Let sit for about 10 minutes, then squeeze all the excess milk from the tea bag/leaves and discard.  Measure the tea mixture, and rather than top off with milk, top off with rum, so the mixture equals 1 cup of liquid.  (This is why you can even start off with a little bit less milk even).  In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, yogurt, sugar, vanilla, and the tea mixture until all lumps disappear.  Sift in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and all the spices into the wet ingredients. Mix until large lumps disappear; some small lumps are ok.  Fill tins full and bake about 20 to 22 minutes until a sharp knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool.

Pumpkin Pie Filling

  • 1/2 can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling, you want plain old pumpkin)
  • 1/2 c coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tbsp tapioca starch (cornstarch would probably work too)
  • 1/4 c sugar or maple syrup or to taste
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • pinch of cloves
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-2 tbsp spiced rum

Combine everything but the vanilla and the rum in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until well combined and smooth, then cook until it just starts to boil, stirring frequently.  The mixture should smooth out even more and then thicken to a thick, custard-like consistency.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and rum.

Cinnamon Buttercream*

  • 1/2 c nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 1/2 c nonhydrogenated shortening
  • 3 1/2 c confectioners sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-4 tbsp non-dairy milk

*You really only need a half batch for 12 cupcakes.  I made this whole recipe in conjunction with the apple cupcakes, and was able to frost 2 dozen with this amount of frosting.

Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined.  Add the sugar and cinnamon and beat for another about 3 minutes more.  Add the vanilla and 2 tbsp of the non dairy milk.  Beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.  If it is too dry add more milk, 1 tbsp at a time.

To assemble:

Put the pumpkin pie filling in a piping bag fitted with a large round tip.  Using your pinky finger, poke a hole in each cupcake.  Fill with as much pumpkin pie filling as you can, leaving a nice round dollop of filling on top of the cupcake.  Fit a separate piping bag with a star tip and fill with the cinnamon buttercream.  Pipe little star flowers all around the pumpkin.  Garnish with a sprig of something green.

Sorry for the lack of pictures with this post!  I was in the middle of moving, and didn’t think to take more.  Mostly, I’m happy I took five minutes to write down these recipes.  Also, I probably should have gotten this out sooner, but good thing pumpkin is still entirely appropriate to eat throughout November!

Vegan Apple Orchard Cupcakes

It’s been a few years since I’ve had the opportunity to go apple picking, but nonetheless, apples are still one of my favorite fruits. As much as I don’t look forward to fall (I know blasphemous, but I really dislike cold weather, even autumn cold) I still look forward to apple season, when I can get fresh crisp apples in all kinds of sweet and tart varieties. My favorite apples are usually a pleasant blend of sweet and tart, with just a hint of berry in the finish, like the pink lady apple. And while I definitely prefer all of my fruit fresh, apples are probably my favorite to eat cooked into a pastry, be it pie, cake or muffins. It came as no surprise then, when I discovered Woodchuck hard cider about two years ago, and instantly fell in love. It’s the perfect drink to casually sip, and never gets old given the preponderance of seasonal flavors and special batches. I particularly like the Summer blend, with it’s hint of blueberry, as well as the 802, which is slightly richer and has some deep caramel notes. Of course it was completely necessary to turn my favorite drink into a cupcake, one which is perfect for a northeastern autumn—or my birthday, which falls at the end of September. I hadn’t planned on making my own birthday cupcakes this year, but I accidentally joked about doing so when I invited my friend out for my birthday party, and everyone kinda took that seriously. So I heeded their advice and made not one but two kinds of cupcakes (the second of which I’ll post about at a later date).

Woodchuck Winter and Woodchuck Pink

Woodchuck Winter and Woodchuck Pink

I blended the cider into a cake with just a hint of warming cinnamon, and then filled it with a scrumptious spiked apple filing, and topped it off with a cinnamon buttercream. It’s garnished with a slice of fresh apple, and drizzled with a little dulce de leche. The first time I made these, I actually used several different spices in the cake, but I found that they overpowered the cider, whereas I think cinnamon will be complementary, and add that hint of warmth we expect with apple cakes, without overpowering the cider flavor.

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Apple Orchard cupcakes in all their glory

Cupcakes:

  • 3/4 c hard apple cider, such as Woodchuck 802
  • 1/4 c non dairy milk
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 1/3 c canola oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners Combine the non dairy milk and the vinegar, and set aside while you mix the cider, sugar, oil and vanilla together in a large bowl. Add the milk mixture, and beat (a fork does the trick) until the mixture looks fairly homogenous. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in two batches, mixing well before adding the second batch. The batter should be fairly smooth, with only some small lumps remaining. Add the batter to the liners, filling until each is about 3/4 full. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool.

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Apple filling in progress, complete with bourbon

Apple filling:

  • 1 medium sized apple, diced small. Skins on or off. (I used a pink lady apple and left the skins on for color)
  • 1-2 tbsp Earth Balance (or other non hydrogenated vegan margarine)
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup (or to taste)
  • 1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tbsp liquor of choice*

*I used bourbon here because that’s what I had and I didn’t want to buy a whole new bottle of something since I was moving out of my place the next day, but I think an apple brandy would also be excellent in this filling. Melt the margarine in a skillet over medium heat, add the diced apples and sauté for about five minutes until they just start to caramelize, add the cinnamon, water, and maple syrup and cook until soft, then let the water reduce until there’s only about a tablespoon of liquid left. Now add the liquor, and (VERY CAREFULLY, this step is not entirely necessary, mostly it’s fun) light it aflame! Let the flames burn out, then cook down until there’s only a tablespoon or so of liquid left. We don’t want soggy cupcakes. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool. Cinnamon Buttercream (adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World):

  • 1/2 c non-hydrogenated shortening
  • 1/2 c non-hydrogenated vegan margarine (like Earth Balance)
  • 3 1/2 c confectioners sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-4 tbsp non dairy milk

*You really only need a half batch for 12 cupcakes.  I made this whole recipe in conjunction with the chai cupcakes, and was able to frost 2 dozen with this amount of frosting.

Beat the shortening and margarine together until well combined.  Add the sugar and cinnamon and beat for another about 3 minutes more.  Add the vanilla and 2 tbsp of the non dairy milk.  Beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.  If it is too dry add more milk, 1 tbsp at a time.

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Cupcake assembly process

To assemble:

  • 1 apple (I used another pink lady)
  • Dulce de Leche*
  • Piping bag fitted with a large star tip
  • Paring knife
  • a few tbsp of lemon juice

*I used this recipe to a T because I already had it on hand, but if I were to make it specifically for this recipe, I would probably substitute the Jameson for apple brandy.  Just make sure you match the liquor to what you use in the filling. Using the paring knife, cut a circle out of the top of the cupcake, so you end up removing a small cone of cake (you can almost see it in the picture). Do not discard the excess cake!  Add about a teaspoon of the apple filling to the center, so the hole is just full.  Fill the piping bag with buttercream and pipe a beautiful swirl over the top of the cake to cover the filling.  Take the apple, and cut off one side, close to the core (but don’t cut into the core).  Slice that side into very thin slices (so they look similar to the photo all the way above), discarding (ie eating…ok or maybe sharing with the dog if you’re nice) the weird triangular ends. Dip the slices in lemon juice and pat dry. Place the cake piece you cut out just off center of the cupcake, with the smooth part perpendicular to the cupcake surface.  Now lay the apple slice over the cupcake, so it is leaning on the little cake cone.  Drizzle the with dulce de leche, and serve! While these look fairly delicate, I managed to transport them from my apartment to a dinner and then a bar with my friends, and then even managed to take the (one) leftover cupcake to my mom’s in NJ.

Tipsy Shades of Earl Grey

Some may say I should have opened with the title post, but as any good musical theatre fan will tell you, sometimes the show doesn’t even have a title song (My Fair Lady, Les Miserables…I could go on), but when it does, quite frequently it is not the opening number.  Given the natural progression of concepts, I thought it was more appropriate to begin with the Car Bomb Cupcake, which got me into booze cakes in general, then lead you by the hand to the one thing I love more than booze cakes—tea.  You may think I thought long and hard about this title, but the truth is, I happened to wake up one morning and think, “You know, it would be really funny if I started a tea and cupcake bar called Tipsy Shades of Earl Grey.”  While it wasn’t a totally serious thought at the time, it did get me thinking about how to incorporate both liquor and tea into cupcakes, which was definitely something of a challenge, as I had really only made one tea infused cupcake before (Masala Chai, not Earl Grey).  The rules of the challenge were that cupcakes had to include either tea or alcohol, but preferably both, in complimentary combinations. I also decided tisanes, such as Rooibus could be included as tea.   Alcohol is exceedingly easy to incorporate, but tea, not so much.  Despite being a big tea drinker (I can easily consume several cups a day), most of the tea I drink is flavored, but not necessarily flavors that are as classic as Earl Grey, or Masala Chai.

December Tea Party with Earl Grey tea from France

December Tea Party with Earl Grey tea from France

 One would think my first creation along these lines would have been the classic Earl Grey cake, but instead,  I was thinking more along the lines of something fit for a graduation celebration, and thus came up with a champagne cake with a champagne and rosewater infused strawberry filling, topped with white chocolate mousse, and champagne syrup.  I did in fact make that cake, but the recipe definitely needs to be tweaked before I can share my secrets, so I’ll just leave you with this picture for the time being.  (The folly of using an iPhone was that I had a better picture earlier on in the day, which didn’t save, so I hastily snapped new pictures of all the cupcakes I made that day with fading light, and unkempt wrappers).

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Gluten-free champagne cupcake with champagne and rosewater infused strawberries, vegan white chcoolate mousse, and a strawberry “flower” garnish.

And now, what I know you have all been waiting for: The Tipsy Shades of Earl Grey cupcake.  This cupcake is so steeped in pop culture—from the popular literary reference, to food worlds new obsession with infusing Earl Grey tea into everything—I should probably change its name to the PopCulture Cake (the earl of pop culture?)  While it isn’t the booziest cake I’ve ever made, far from it in fact, it has a really unique flavor profile.  The cake has beautifully moist, but light crumb, and a slightly citrusy flavor with complex undertone from the intense blend of tea that I used.  Due to time constraints, the first time I made the Earl, I settled for just brushing the top of the cake with some Grand Marinier, but really, I wanted to make a Grand Marinier infused custard to inject into the center of the cake.  From there, I dipped each cupcake in a rich, Earl Grey infused chocolate ganache.  To be perfectly honest, the first time I saw Earl Grey chocolate, I was definitely a little skeptical about how the flavors would compliment each other.  I bought it as a gift for my stepmom’s birthday because two of her favorite things are Earl Grey tea and chocolate, and this was a neat little package that was too hard to resist.  Luckily for us, it was quite tasty, and she enjoyed the chocolate a lot, so I had a good feeling that repeating the combination on a cupcake would go over well.

Mini citrus fruit in a tea cup

Mini citrus fruit in a tea cup

What is Earl Grey tea anyway? It is not in fact a specific variety of camellia sinensis, the plant that tea leaves come from.  It is simply black tea flavored either with bergamot oil.  According to the incredibly reliable Wikipedia, one may also find such delights as “Lady Grey” tea—which includes either lavender or Seville orange peel in addition to the bergamot, “French Earl Grey” which includes rose petals, and “Russian Earl Grey” which includes either more citrus peels, or lemongrass in addition to the bergamot.  Given the preponderance of rather complicated tea flavors  nowadays, Earl Grey is quite simple, but also exceedingly delicious.  (I just wanted to point out, I feel like the register of language I’m using became way more elevated once I started discussing the tea.  Clearly my brain correctly associates “tea” and “Earl” with British aristocracy and an elevated form of English).

Earl grey cupcake brushed with Grand Marinier, topped with Earl Grey chocolate ganache and a twist of orange and lemon zest as garnish

Earl grey cupcake brushed with Grand Marinier, topped with Earl Grey chocolate ganache and a twist of orange and lemon zest as garnish


Earl Grey cupcake (from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World):

  • 1 c non dairy milk
  • 4 Earl Grey tea bags or 2 tbsp loose leaf  Earl Grey tea
  • 1/4 c canola oil
  • 1/2 c vanilla or plain non dairy yogurt (just don’t use the new Greek style yogurts. They are much harder to work with.)
  • 3/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 c all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a muffin pan with cupcake liners.  Heat non dairy milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until almost boiling.  Add tea, cover, and remove from heat.  Let sit for 10 minutes, then squeeze the tea to remove as much liquid (and flavor) as possible.  Discard the tea.  Measure the milk mixture and add some more if it is less than 1 cup.  In a large bowl, whisk together oil, yogurt, sugar vanilla, and tea mixture until all yogurt lumps disappear.  Yogurt tip: if you buy the individual serving cartons, which are usually 6 oz, just dump it in with out measuring, but don’t scrape out the container!  It’s much easier than actually measuring out 1/2 a cup but you end up with the same amount.

Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and zests into the wet ingredients and mix until the large cupcakes disappear; some small lumps are ok.  Fill tins full, and bake about 20 to 22 minutes, until a sharp knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool completely, then brush with Grand Marinier

Earl Grey Ganache:

  • 1/4 c coconut cream (full fat coconut milk works just as well.  The cream is just what solidifies at the top of the full fat coconut milk can)
  • 1 Earl Grey tea bag or 2 tsp loose leaf Earl Grey
  • 1/2 c semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are fine, as is a bar that has been chopped up)
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup

Heat the coconut milk in small saucepan until almost boiling.  Add the tea, remove from heat, and let sit for about 7 minutes.  Squeeze the leaves to extract excess liquid and thus infuse more flavor into the milk.  Add the chocolate and maple syrup and stir until smooth.  Let cool slightly, then dip the top of each cupcake into the ganache, and let cool until set.  Garnish with twists of lemon and orange zest (there are zesters that will take tiny strips off for you, or you can use a vegetable peeler to take of large strips and use a pairing knife to turn them into tiny strips).

If you wanted to fill the cupcake with a Grand Marinier pudding (not giving a recipe since I haven’t actually made this yet), you could leave off the Grand Marinier that’s brushed on top of the cupcake.  Or not, if you want to up to booze factor just a little bit.

Beer, Baileys, and Cupcakes

I’ve gotten a lot of requests for a food blog in the last few years, and I figured the time was ripe to give in to peer pressure.

This is the “Irish Car Bomb” cupcake, named after the drink (I apologize if you find that drink offensive, but I didn’t make it up).  I invented this recipe when I decided to enter the vegan bake-off last February.  I think I applied too late (too late for another cupcake anyway), so I didn’t get to compete with it, but I did make it for fun several weeks later as a treat for my coworkers.  I then improved on the recipe for my friends 21st birthday a few weeks after that.Image

This cake is all vegan, all the time.  In fact, I considered calling this blog “The Olive Branch” because I feel like a plant based symbol of peace of was an appropriate description my cuisine.  Alas, tea, booze and cupcakes have managed to take over, and this is the one that started it all.

This cupcake is a chocolate stout cake, with a Jameson chocolate truffle baked into the center, topped with a homemade “Bailey’s” (or I guess I could just say dairy free Irish creme) buttercream, and drizzled with a Jameson spiked dulce de leche.  I know there’s no tea in these, but in order to get to tea time, I had to go through booze time.

I did adapt the cupcakes into a whole cake recently (yesterday) which made me realize that I’m not particularly fond of making whole cakes. From here on out, I will only be taking orders for cupcakes.  And now, for the recipe.  There are a lot of components, but most of them can be made well in advance.

A note on my cooking: when I cook, I generally tend not to have any kind of recipe, and to just dump things into a pot or pan and see what happens, but I can at least try to guesstimate proportions when I post stuff now.  I do use actual recipes when I bake, so those are easier to provide, though they also still generally involve a fair bit of tweaking.

Dulce de (coco) leche (adapted from Alton Brown):

  • 1 can full fat coconut milk
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped
  • 1/2 tsp of baking soda
  • Irish whiskey (I used Jameson)

Combine the coconut milks, sugar and vanilla bean and seeds into a size pan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved, then stir in the baking soda (the mixture bubbled up quite violently when I did this, so I would definitely lower the heat first).  Bring back to a gentle simmer, and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally. After an hour, remove the vanilla bean, and then continue to cook until it is a dark caramel color, about 2 hours.  Turn off the heat and incorporate the whiskey.  The thicker the mixture, the stronger you can make it (since you can use the whiskey to thin it out).  Strain through a fine mesh sieve and allow to cool. Serve on cupcakes or ice cream (or on a spoon…or finger as was the case last night).  Store in the fridge (I keep mine in a squeeze bottle).

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Irish Cream

  • 1 can of full fat coconut milk
  • 1 can of light coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup of sugar (brown sugar works too!)
  • 3/4 cup espresso or strong coffee (I used a heaping tablespoon of instant coffee dissolved into 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder
  • Whiskey to taste (about 1 cup, but really, make it as strong as you want it)

Combine the sugar and coconut milks in a pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, until just slightly reduced, and stir in the coffee mixture.  Remove from heat and add the whiskey.  Enjoy over ice, stirred into coffee, hot chocolate, soy milk!  Store in the fridge.

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Jameson chocolate truffles (adapted from Chloe’s Kitchen)

  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk, with the cream stirred in
  • 1 1/2 cups of semi-sweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, either chips or chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 shots worth of whiskey

Warm coconut milk in a sauce pan over medium heat, until barely boiling.  Add chocolate and stir until smooth.  Remove from heat and add vanilla, salt and whiskey.  Pour in a pie plate or loaf pan and chill until firm.  Form into walnut sized balls, using a tablespoon and freeze until ready to use.  If you want a stronger truffle, I would reduce the amount of coconut milk before adding more Jameson because we want the ganache to set up firm.

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Cupcakes (adapted from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World)

  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsps all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder (I prefer Cocoa Rouge by Guittard.  It has a really deep chocolatey flavor that is exceedingly smooth, rather than bitter)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup stout (I used Brooklyn Brewery chocolate stout. Most Guinness is not vegan in the US)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and fill a cupcake tin with liners.

Combine the milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and let stand (to curdle just a little) while you work on the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Combine the milk mixture with the stout, sugar, oil and vanilla.  Stir together until foamy and well combined.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet in two batches, mixing until well combined, about 2 minutes.  Distribute the batter evenly among the cupcake tin, so each is about 3/4 of the way full.  Place a frozen truffle on top of each cupcake, and bake about 18-22 minutes. The cake should spring back lightly at your touch.  It will not be possible to use the toothpick test for doneness because of the truffle, which should have become encased in batter while baking.  Let cool before frosting.

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“Bailey’s” buttercream

  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance (I prefer sticks for frosting)
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp espresso powder
  • 1 tbsp whiskey
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup vegan Irish Cream

Beat together shortening and margarine until fluffy.  Add sugar and cocoa pwder and beat a few minutes longer, until well combined.  Then add the espresso powder, whiskey, vanilla and “Baileys”  Beat together about 5 minutes, until smooth and creamy.

To assemble: either pipe or spread frosting onto cooled cupcakes.  Drizzle with dulce de leche. Eat and repeat.

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Here’s a picture of the full sized cake version.  Making this was definitely a case of Murphy’s Law, as one thing after another tried to trip me up.  Tweaks I made to convert this include adding more liquid as well as some Earth Balance into the ganache, so as to make it spreadable.  Turned out, even though I loved the consistency, I think I over filled the layers, and ended up with ganache oozing out into the icing, so that’s where the chocolate shavings came in.  The writing was dulce de leche mixed with confectioner’s sugar in order to stiffen it up a little bit.  The birthday boy and friend thought it looked great (though I would have liked to make a cleaner presentation of it), and gave me ultimate praise for taste.

Whew! Well that was quite the recipe typing marathon.  I promise I don’t always make stuff that is this complicated, but I can promise it will always be delicious!