I hope you all had a wonderful Easter holiday. I spent mine with my partner and his family, eating way too much food and trying not to eat all the chocolate too. His brother and sister-in-law hosted us all on Good Friday, and on Easter Sunday his parents did. Both his mother and sister-in-law put on an amazing spread of food that we all ate too much of, and that was before we even thought about dessert.
I bought along a couple of baked goods for the occasion, baking most of it vegan so everyone could eat some. I made a batch of hot cross buns to bring because they’re lots of fun to make, but also because it’s next to impossible to find any here that don’t contain palm oil, especially not vegan ones. And then there was this Easter-themed cake.
Making chocolate cake vegan is so easy. There’s so many recipes that are already incidentally vegan or an easy substitute away from it. This time I decided to spice things up a little with a Mexican chocolate cake.
There’s this thing people at my fruit shop seem to do in abundance that I’ve never understood. Maybe they do it at yours too, or maybe you are even one of these people and can explain it to me? When buying a bunch of bananas, these people become dissatisfied with the number of bananas on the bunch. Maybe there’s 5, but they wanted 4. So instead of just buying the whole bunch of bananas and eating an extra banana, they’ll tear one or two off until it’s the number they want. Nobody else wants the solo rejected bananas, so they sit there, ripening until they’re too ripe to sell.
Fortunately my fruit shop is one of those that has a whole section devoted to the less desirable fruit sold for a large discount, and here’s where these rejected bananas finally find a home. You can usually get a bag of a dozen assorted over-ripe bananas for $2. They’re perfect for baking banana cakes and bread, or for mashing up and adding to a pancake flour mixture for something a little different. If I’m not using them straight away, I’ll pop them in the freezer for when the opportunity to bake arises. But since we’re in the middle of such a hot summer, baking is a no go at the moment. But there was an idea I was introduced to by one of my deviantART watchers during the winter that I’ve been dying to try out: making ice cream using only frozen bananas.
If you’re someone who bakes a lot, or are the recipient of home baked goods, you’ll know what I mean when I say store-bought cookies just don’t cut it any more. No matter how nice the brand is, nothing compares to fresh cookies right out of the oven. Which is always a problem when cookie-craving-hour unexpectedly strikes. You know buying cookies for the moment is just going to lead to disappointment, but baking an entire batch of cookies seems like so much effort. If you manage to conjure up the energy, then you have to work out what to do with the rest once the craving is satiated. If you live in a full household baking an entire batch of cookies mightn’t be an issue. But if, like me, your household is tiny, you’re left with more cookies than anyone has the stomach for. It’s often not long before I decide the effort is just too much and wallow in cookie-craving-self-pity instead.
Lately I’ve spent so much time making fancy stuff that it had been months since having anything simple, like cookies. Increasingly so, a little voice kept popping into my head going, “Ooh, cookies. Must have cookies.” It was always defeated by the effort involved when I just wanted one or two. Eventually I decided I needed a solution to the dilemma and dedicated an afternoon to what I call Emergency Cookies at home.
“What are emergency cookies?” you might ask. They’re pre-prepared packages of cookie dough that can be stored long-term and baked on an as-needed basis. Any time someone in the household gets hit by the cookie cravings, I can throw as many cookies as required in the oven with minimal effort required. The best part is the amount of variety you can get out of one or two batches of dough: definitely everyone’s favourite part of emergency cookies.
Whenever we’re having a gathering with Cam’s family, I always try to bring along a treat everyone can eat. With some of his family members being vegan, this means cutting out all the animal content. So far I’ve been turning to recipes that already have next to no animal products in them. But I wanted to try making desserts that are not far off what I would usually make.
I’ve tried a number of veganised recipes along the way with varying success. For this dessert I tried two different vegan pastry recipes and had them fail before I decided to do things my own way. The best way out of it was sticking with recipes I knew and just substituting the ingredients where necessary. The more I play with vegan recipes, the more I’m getting the hang of what substitutes work where. It’s really not as intimidating as it seemed at first. The substitutions come pretty easily once you familiarise yourself with the alternatives available.
It's no secret I love me any excuse to make a cake, so a gathering with Cameron's family at Easter was the perfect excuse. I always make something nest-themed at Easter so I knew it just had to have some nest component. I'd already done the fondant and the spun sugar thing, so it had to be different. I sat down and did a little brain-storming and eventually came up with this beast.
But this cake has a little hidden secret: it's completely vegan.
Not that you’d ever know…
We don't get much snow in Australia when compared to the rest of the world. During winter we get a little in our alpine zones along the east coast. Rarely, Melbourne and Hobart see snow during severe cold snaps. It's never happened in my hometown in my lifetime. I've seen snow once when I travelled to Falls Creek with a few friends some time ago. It's really not as soft and fluffy and lovely as the movies had me imagine. Still, it was a load of fun. We couldn't afford any of the recreational stuff, so we frolicked in the snow for a day. I made my first and only snowman with my friends, while others made phallic objects out of the snow for everyone on the ski lifts to see. As you do.
During Christmas, though, you can forget about snow. Our climate tried to fake it last year thanks to the La Niña we experienced. We had a massive hail storm from which my car still bears the cosmetic scars. Mass flooding across my state further threatened to ruin the day. Except in typical Australian spirit, we weren't letting that happen so easily. People gathered up the hail and shoved it in the eskies to keep the drinks cold. Others got out in the board shorts and started swimming or body-boarding down what were formerly main roads.
Most years, though, it's sweltering. Some years you get lovely 30°C days that you can make it through. Other summers it can exceed 50°C and you spend the day sprawled out in front of a pedastal fan, eating watermelon and waiting for the sun to go away. The last time I experienced a festive season like that, I was celebrating it in a rural area, so we spent the day hoping the bushfires would go away as well.
Despite our sweltering Christmas days, snow is still an iconic part of Christmas. Influenced by cultures on the other side of the globe, all our Christmas cards and decorations revolve around snow and pictures of families or Santa rugged up in warm clothes. We spray fake snow on our trees or around the borders of our windows. We adorn our trees with icicles and houses with large light displays cover their lawns and rooftops with batting or wadding to resemble snow. Everywhere there are penguins and snowmen rugged up in their winter woolies.
It was only natural that snowmen should feature somewhere along the way.
We'll have some fun now before I melt…
Do you know when the 12 days of Christmas are? I didn't, so I visited my best friend – Wikipedia. They begin on the 25th of December. Of course. Christmas is about Jesus' birth, after all, so naturally the 12 days for follow it. I'd always thought they were the 12 days leading up to Christmas. I felt a bit silly.
Being non-religious, Christmas to me and my family has always been about taking time to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate the wonderful people and experiences in your life, a time to say thank you. Christian celebrations have not entered into it, so I figured this lack of exposure to it was probably responsible for my derp moment. So I asked my Christian boyfriend, for whom his faith plays an important role in both his daily life and his family's Christmas celebrations, when he thought the 12 days were. His assumption was the same as mine. In fact, everyone who I asked, regardless of faith, assumed the same thing. So we all learnt a little something new.
I'd be planning a 12 days of Christmas blog series, assuming the 12 days where somewhere in December. Sharing recipes after Christmas felt a little moot. Besides, I won't be around much after Christmas, let alone for the 12 days proceeding. So we're going to do this the untraditional way. Every second day from now til the 23rd I'll bring you one of12 Christmas recipes.
This first recipe is something that's becoming a bit of a yearly tradition. Each year, I look for a way to reinvent it. Here's this year's take on it.
1 Christmas Tree…
This curry is one of my all-time favourite recipes. It's rich and flavour-full, but the addition of peanuts takes it to an extra level of taste and texture. I made this one for the family a few weeks back and wanted to share it with you guys.
While I typically use chicken for this recipe, like most curries you can swap the meat for whatever your preferred meat is. Chicken is such a cheap meat here that it makes a delicious budget meal, but if you live in a country where poultry is more expensive, feel free to sub in whatever cut of meat you like.
Let’s get started…
This month in the Daring Baker's challenge, we got a little bit festive. Holiday season is the time for sharing and Peta of Peta Eats is sharing a dozen cookies, some classics and some of her own, from all over the world with us. She gave us 12 cookie recipe to choose from and challenged us to bake at least one of the 12 cookies, as well as our own celebration cookies.
Here's the two I baked for the challenge.
Double the noms…
There are some things you never get too old to enjoy. The Cookie Monster is definitely pretty high up on that list. Be it nostalgia or just a love for the kooky blue guy, everyone seems to love him.
These cupcakes were a commission from my sister for her friend's birthday. My sister had been almost begging me for months to make these for her friend, but I kept saying it would depend on my research commitments as to whether I would have time. When my trapping schedule got delayed by a week, I found the time to fill the order, much to my sister's excitement.
There are a thousand versions of this guy in cupcake form. This is mine.
C is for Cookie…