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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The solution to social rejection

For some reason, when it comes to the most trivial things in life, I always have a philosophy or a theory.
After analyzing for a very long time, I realized some time ago what's the common denominator of all pastry chefs.
Some love adding edible sparkles to their cakes. Others come up with unimaginable flavor combinations. Some can sculpt desserts into real life reproductions, so vivid that it's almost impossible to tell they are made of sugar, flour and eggs. Some are divas and others humble. Some like drama. Some  like their creations to be rustic, homey or simple. Some love the classics and some can only innovate. Some love butter, some avoid it.
But every pastry chef I've met, and I include myself, deals or has dealt with low self esteem issues, and has found a solution to them: their profession!
Think about it: you don't have to be good looking, clever, athletic, strong, fun, intellectual, or appealing in any other way, if you show up at any social event with a homemade cake, tasty cookies, French-named pastries, pastel colored cupcakes, or concoct a souffle.You are automatically popular and well liked. 
And imagine if there's someone with any of the ubiquitous and unfortunate food allergies. What if you brought a moist and rich chocolate cake that has no eggs, dairy, nuts, wheat, etc? There would be no need to sport a cape, you'd immediately transform yourself into a Superhero.
But you might think, who has time for that? Actually, YOU DO!
This cake takes 10 minutes (plus baking time) to put together (yes, you would need to use a scale) and as long as you can make round motions with your wrist, you've got the technique down. Clean up is also express, as there's only one bowl and a whisk to wash. If you are really trying to feel part of a tough crowd, try decorating it with a bit of organic confectioner's sugar. They'll love you!

Since I've been getting a lot of inquiries lately about egg-free baking, here are my favorite substitutions. Eggs are a super versatile ingredient, so each substitute is appropriate for different recipes. Play around or just write a question/comment at the end of this post and I'll be happy to answer.

  • 1 tablespoon flax or chia seed meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup date puree (reduce the amount of sweetener in the recipe)
  • 1/4 cup cooked chickpeas pureed with 2 teaspoons water--great for cookies
  • 1/4 cup firm organic silken tofu, pureed
  • 3 tablespoons of flaxseed or soy free Veganaise mixed with 1 tablespoon water
  • When using eggs as a thickening agent, make a slurry with 1 to 2 tablespoons (depending of how thick you want the mix to be) arrowroot or tapioca starch and mix it with 1 cup of the boiling liquid in the recipe. Whisk. Bring to a boil and remove immediately.
  • If the banana flavor harmonizes with the recipe, 1/2 mashed banana can be used instead of 1 egg, although recipe will be sweeter
  • Wheat, nut, dairy and egg free
The original recipe for this cake uses mayonnaise, and according to The Cake Bible's Rose Levy Beranbaum (from where I adapted this recipe), it was invented by the wife of a Hellman's salesman with the purpose of increasing her husband's sales ("behind every great man there's a great woman great," right?)
Even if we don't think of mayo as a baking ingredient, this sauce is made of eggs, oil and lemon juice, which are common products listed in cake recipes. I use grapeseed oil Veganaise (thanks GP, for the recommendation in your book), which uses non-GMO organic soy instead of eggs, and now they even make a soy-free version, which is pretty good too, made with pea protein instead of soy. By all means, if you don't need to substitute eggs, use regular mayo, just please use one in which all the ingredients listed on the label are pronounceable and recognizable as food!

7 ounces whole spelt flour
7 ounces coconut sugar or sucanat
1 ounce unsweetened cocoa (I like non-alkalized)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
5.5 ounces Veganaise
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8.25 ounces boiling water

organic confectioner's sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line the base of a round cake pan with parchment paper and set aside (I use a 9-inch round but use whatever you have and adapt baking time. A larger pan will require less baking time and a smaller will take longer).

Place water to boil in a kettle or in a small pan with a lid (keep it covered or the water will evaporate), over low heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, coconut sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt until blended and large clumps are disintegrated.

Add Veganaise and vanilla and whisk a bit to moisten the dry ingredients, but it won't mix completely.
Add boiling water and whisk vigorously until very few small clumps are visible, but don't mix for too long, you want to put cake in the oven while batter is still warm!

Pour batter onto prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until cake springs back when pressed lightly in center.
Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Loosen sides carefully with a spatula or a knife and unmold. Let cool completely. Serve, decorate or wrap tightly with plastic once completely cooled and freeze.

You can use a store-bought stencil (
Oriental Trading has lots of seasonal and inexpensive ones) or make your own with stiff paper and craft punches, scissors and/or an exacto knife. For some shapes, even parchment paper works.
Place stencil over cake and sift confectioner's sugar over it, so the sugar will fill out the stencil spaces. Once spaces are completely covered, lift stencils up carefully and voila...

Skip a visit to the shrink. Bake a cake and you'll feel loved!

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