Toasted Marshmallow Chocolate Cupcakes

About 6 years ago, when I could still remember the login for my Tumblr page, I saw a picture of a cupcake very like these, and noted below: "must find a way to veganize." It took a while, but here it is! My favourite vegan chocolate cupcake recipe (from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World) as the base, a generous swirl of crisp-on-the-outside-and-smooth-in-the-middle marshmallow fluff on top, and a secret hidden pocket of dark chocolate ganache in the middle. Y. U. M. 


Toasted Marshmallow Chocolate Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes
 

  • 12 baked chocolate cupcakes of your choice - I love this recipe

    For the dark chocolate ganache filling:
  • 100ml full-fat coconut milk
  • 100g dark chocolate, chopped up
  • 25g dairy-free sunflower spread

    For the marshmallow (Italian meringue) topping:
  • the liquid from 1 tin of chickpeas (unsalted!)
  • 1/4 tsp xantham gum
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
     

Method:

  • Once you have your basic chocolate cupcakes ready, make the quick ganache filling. In a small saucepan, heat the coconut milk until just boiling. Pour the hot coconut milk onto your chocolate and sunflower spread, in a small bowl or jug, and give it a really good stir - the heat of the coconut milk will melt the other ingredients, but it needs a bit of help! When you have a smooth, shiny ganache, with no lumps remaining, place it into the fridge for a few minutes until it has solidified back up a little; it should be a soft, but not runny, consistency.
     
  • While the ganache is cooling, prepare your cupcakes for their filling; using a sharp knife at an angle, cut a small cone of sponge out of the top of each cake, and set aside. 
     
  • Fill each hollowed cupcake with a generous teaspoonful of the cooled ganache, and plug the top of each cake back up with the bits of sponge you set aside earlier. 
     
  • Now it's time to make the Italian meringue marshmallow topping! Put 80ml (1/3 cup) of aquafaba along with the xantham gum in the bowl of a stand mixer, and start whisking, keeping at it until fluffy.
     
  • Meanwhile, put the sugar and 60ml (1/4 cup) of the remaining aquafaba in a saucepan, and bring to the boil. To set the meringue, this syrup needs to reach a very high temperature, and it's really useful to have a thermometer on hand to make sure that you get it hot enough - the temperature that you're looking for is between 116 and 120°C (242 - 248°F)
     
  • Turn your stand mixer back on at a slow speed and gradually drizzle in the boiling hot syrup. When it's all added, turn your mixer up to high, and give it a good whisk - it should transform into a smooth, glossy, thick meringue, the consistency of marshmallow fluff. Add your vanilla, and mix until incorporated. 
     
  • Pipe or spoon a generous helping of marshmallow topping onto each cake (I've gone neat with these, but some creative messy swirls and peaks could only improve them!), and finish with a cooks blowtorch for a toasted effect.


    Note: While the added xantham gum in this recipe should allow your meringue topping to stay stable for a good few hours, these are really best eaten as soon as possible!

    Additional safety announcement: Witness the slightly blacked edges on one of the cupcake cases pictured, and be aware that fire and paper do not mix. Careful with your blowtorch!

Chocolate Cardamom and Blackberry Meringue Tart (Vegan)

Having read about the possibilities of using aquafaba to make egg-free Italian meringue (!!), I couldn't wait to try it myself; the obvious choice of excuse being a meringue tart of some sort. Chocolate and cardamom are always a winning combination in my eyes (er, mouth), and blackberries are approaching the height of their season in the UK right now, so lemon meringue steps aside this time for something a little bit different. 

tart_1.jpg

There are lots of recipes for vegan shortcrust pastry out there (I've had personal success with the version in Post Punk Kitchen's Vegan Pie in the Sky book in the past), but this time, for speed and convenience, I used shop-bought ready-to-roll shortcrust pastry; many brands are vegan. Follow your chosen recipe or the pack instructions (depending on your personal laziness-factor) to bake the pastry shell before proceeding with the recipe.


Chocolate Cardamom and Blackberry Meringue Tart
 

Ingredients:
 

  • 1 baked tart shell (the tart tin I use measures 36 x 12 x 3 cm)

    For the tart filling: 
  • 280ml full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped finely
  • 50g dairy-free sunflower spread
  • 1 punnet ripe blackberries

    For the Italian meringue topping:
  • the liquid from 1 tin of chickpeas (unsalted!)
  • 1/4 tsp xantham gum
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
     

Method: 

  • First, make the ganache filling. In a small saucepan, heat the coconut milk with the ground cardamom, until only just boiling. Meanwhile, place your chopped dark chocolate alongside the dairy-free spread in a bowl or jug. When the coconut milk is just simmering, take it off the heat and pour onto your chocolate/margarine. The heat of the coconut milk with melt the other ingredients, but I find it easiest to help it along with a whisk. When you have a smooth, shiny ganache, with no lumps remaining, pour into your tart shell and allow to set. 
     
  • When the ganache is set, arrange your blackberries on top as you see fit - I also kept a few back to put on top of the tart later - and prepare to make meringue!
     
  • Italian meringue is set not in the oven, but by adding hot sugar syrup to your whisked egg whites (or aquafaba in this case!). Put 80ml (1/3 cup) of aquafaba along with the xantham gum in the bowl of a stand mixer, and start whisking, keeping at it until fluffy.
     
  • Meanwhile, put the sugar and 60ml (1/4 cup) of the remaining aquafaba in a saucepan, and bring to the boil. To set the meringue, this syrup needs to reach a very high temperature, and it's really useful to have a thermometer on hand to make sure that you get it hot enough - the temperature that you're looking for is between 116 and 120°C (242 - 248°F)
     
  • Turn your stand mixer back on at a slow speed and gradually drizzle in the boiling hot syrup. When it's all added, turn your mixer up to high, and give it a good whisk - it should transform into a smooth, glossy, thick meringue, something like the consistency of marshmallow fluff. Add your vanilla, and mix until incorporated. 
     
  • To finish the tart, spoon your meringue mixture onto the set base, the swirlier the better, and sprinkle with the remaining blackberries. Enjoy as it is, or toast the peaks of the meringue with a cooks blowtorch until golden brown. 


While the added xantham gum in this recipe should allow your meringue topping to stay good for at least a day, the sooner you eat this the better, so make sure you have lots of hungry mouths on hand to enjoy straight away! 

 

Hazelnut, Cherry, Orange & Dark Chocolate Vegan Biscotti

After last week's experimentation with aquafaba macarons, I was in the mood for something more rustic, so decided to try using aquafaba (aka: the water drained from a can of chickpeas) as an egg replacer in some chunky Biscotti, the twice-baked biscuit perfect with a cup of coffee.

Studded with cherries and hazelnuts and drizzled with rich dark chocolate, these biscotti are really easy to make, and stay good for ages (some insist that their flavour even develops after a few days). You can also easily replace the added ingredients with any dried fruit, nuts, zest or seeds that you like, to find your own favourite flavour combinations.


Hazelnut, Cherry, Orange & Dark Chocolate Biscotti

Yield: approx 18 large biscotti biscuits
 

Ingredients:

  • 480g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 60g vegan sunflower spread
  • 220g sugar
  • 135ml aquafaba (you should get enough from 1 can of chickpeas)
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp vanilla
     
  • 80g dried cherries
  • 80g hazelnuts
  • zest of 2 oranges
  • 100g dark chocolate
     

Preheat oven to 175°C (350°F) and line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper
 

Method:

  • Before beginning to make the dough, put your dried cherries in a small bowl, and pour over enough boiling water to just cover them, then leave to sit for 10 minutes - since the biscotti will be baked twice, adding some moisture back into the dried fruit will stop them from drying out too much as the biscuits bake. Roughly chop your hazelnuts and put them in the oven to toast for around 10 minutes, until golden brown.
     
  • Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
     
  • Cream the vegan spread and sugar together in a stand mixer (or using a hand whisk), until light and fluffy.
     
  • Mix together your aquafaba and cornstarch in a small bowl or cup, and, with the mixer on it's lowest speed, add this liquid in a slow stream to the margarine and sugar mixture. It might look a bit curdled at this stage, but don't worry! Everything will come together in the next step.
     
  • Tip the bowl of dry ingredients into the mixer, and mix on a slow-medium speed until your dough starts to come together. Add your vanilla, cherries, and toasted nuts, and grate in the zest of your oranges, then continue to mix until well incorporated.
     
  • Transfer the dough to a lightly-floured work surface. It may feel a little soft and sticky at this stage, but a quick coating of flour should make it easy enough to work with. Roll your dough into a long sausage shape, and lift onto your lined baking sheet. Press out the sausage of dough into a rectangular shape, around 2cm tall (mine ended up measuring around 12cmx34cmx2cm). (For smaller biscotti, you can shape 2 seperate logs out of your dough instead, and place them side by side on the baking sheet.) Brush the dough with a little soy milk to glaze, and sprinkle with some sugar for a crunchy topping, if you like.
  • Bake the log of dough in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until firm on top. Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little, around 20 minutes.
     
  • Now it's time to cut your biscotti! With a serrated knife, carefully cut slices of around 1/2 inch width, working on a slight angle. Little bits of the crumbly biscotti might break off at this point, but don't worry! A rustic look is fine with these, and you get to eat any little broken bits anyway. Transfer the slices onto a wire baking rack on top of your baking tray - this will help them to cook evenly on each side during the second bake.
  • Turn your oven down to 150°C (300°F) and place your cut biscotti inside for their second bake. They'll take around 25 minutes, and should be lightly golden and dry on each side when done. Leave to cool.
     
  • When your biscotti are cool, melt the dark chocolate and drizzle on top using a spoon or piping bag. Sprinkle some extra dried cherries and hazelnuts over the top if you like. Leave the chocolate to set then pack in an airtight container, where they'll stay fresh for at least couple of weeks.
6_biscotti_drizzled_1.jpg

Blueberry Sesame Aquafaba Macarons

Aquafaba, or, 'the water left over when you drain a can of chickpeas', has been taking the world of vegan baking by storm recently. This miracle ingredient can be whisked up with sugar to create a meringue virtually indistinguishable from the traditional egg-white variety, so it was only so long before intrepid vegan bakers started using it to make french macarons, the pretty little almond meringue cookies with a crisp outer shell and soft chewy centre. 

I have to admit I was skeptical at first of the potential for aquafaba macarons with quite the same qualities as their non-vegan counterparts; the traditional variety being tricky at the best of times to turn out. But I was surprised (and very pleased!) to find that substituting aquafaba for egg whites was a fairly seamless experience, and resulted in macarons that you'd be hard pressed to distinguish from the 'real' thing! This recipe is adapted almost wholesale from the egg-based variety with which I honed my macaron-making skills in the past, with the technique for making these virtually unchanged from the traditional sweets.

Macaron making is a personal challenge for lots of bakers, and I'd encourage beginners to try out a few of the many slighty-varying techniques found online to find their own personal way of bringing these together (egg-based recipes included!) While the ingredients of the meringue change here, the technique is the important part, and what works for egg whites will generally work for aquafaba, when it comes to the mixing, deflating, and piping of the batter. As you continue to experiment, you'll learn what works for you and what doesn't; with macarons more than most things, practice really does make perfect!


Blueberry Sesame Macarons
with tahini icing and blueberry jam

(yield: around 25 sandwiched macarons)

For the macaron shells:

  • 140g ground almonds
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 100g reduced* aquafaba (from unsalted chickpeas)
  • 105g caster sugar
  • Sesame seeds, for decoration (optional)

* First, you need to reduce the aquafaba. For this recipe, I used the liquid from 2 tins of chickpeas; the amount you get will vary by brand, but I got around 280ml. Pour 230ml of this into a saucepan, and simmer on a medium heat, measuring occasionally until it is reduced down to 100ml; this took around 20 minutes for me.


Technique: 

  • I find it's best to have everything ready to go before beginning to prepare your batter, so start by lining 2 flat baking sheets with greaseproof paper, and measuring out your ground almonds and icing sugar into one bowl, and your caster sugar into another.
     
  • Ideally, you have access to a food processor; if so, whizz up your almonds and icing sugar together, to get a nice fine mixture, which you can then sieve back into the bowl. Don't worry if you aren't able or just don't have the time/inclination for this! Your macarons won't look quite as smooth, but they'll taste just as good, and I don't find it affects the bake too much - just be sure to give these 2 ingredients a good stir together, and make sure there aren't any big lumps. 
     
  • Put your (cooled) aquafaba into the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a whisk attachment, and start whisking! It'll take a few minutes to get to a nice, frothy texture; I like to get it up to the point where it's all foam, with no visible liquid, before adding the sugar. With the machine still running, add the sugar in a slow stream, and continue whisking. The meringue will become glossy and thick, and is ready when you can lift the attachment out of the mixture and a big blob remains inside the whisk (it should look something like this) Add any colouring you like at this point, and whisk a little more to incorporate. 
     
  • Add half of your almond/icing sugar mixture to the meringue, and fold gently with a rubber spatula to incorporate. Once there are no dry bits left, add the second half of your almond mixture, and continue to gently cut and fold into the batter. Once your ingredients are all incorporated, it's time to start deflating the mixture. A lot has been made of the process of macaronage; if you'd like to see all the different ways of going about this process, a search on youtube should give you some pointers, but essentially you're knocking some of the air out of the mixture until the texture is just right. Don't feel that you have to be too delicate at this stage; you shouldn't be beating the mixture violently, but the purpose is to deflate the mix, so don't be scared! Press the mixture with the flat of your spatula, against the sides or bottom of the bowl, or simply give it a few good firm folds, until you're at the right level of deflated... 
     
  • ... what is 'the right level of deflated'? This is something you'll get to know with practice, but the way I test it is by lifting a bit of the mixture out of the bowl, and dropping it back down in a thick ribbon, which will rest on top of the rest of the batter. If this 'ribbon' has mostly incorporated back into the mixture after about 20 seconds, you're read to start piping. The texture will be thick, and the mixture will ooze slowly outwards if gathered into the centre of the bowl.
     
  • Now you're ready to pipe! To make this process a bit less messy, I like to prepare my piping bag, first by fitting a circular piping tip, and then putting a small food saver clip just above it, as pictured below (please excuse the blue thumb!); this allows you to fill your piping bag up without worrying about dripping macaron mix all over your kitchen.
  • Once your piping bag is filled, start piping small blobs of the mix onto your prepared trays, holding the piping bag still, with the nozzle vertical and the tip a centimetre or so above the paper. Try to get each blob roughly the same size (this comes with practice), and release the pressure on the bag before lifting the tip away from each circle. The surface of each macaron will be slightly uneven at first, but should smooth out after a few seconds. Sprinkle sesame seeds onto half of the macarons for decoration, if you like. 

    (Note: each blob will spread out a little after piping, so make your circles a little smaller than you'd like the finished macaron to be; I aim for roughly an inch across. If your macarons spread significantly, and turn into imperfect circles, your mix was over-deflated; if the peaks on top refuse to smooth out, it was under-deflated. Don't worry too much, they're still worth baking! Just note for next time, and adjust accordingly.) 
  • Once you've finished piping, lift the trays up a little, holding them level, and let them fall back down onto your counter top with a good smack. This breaks any little air bubbles hiding in your mixture, and helps to smooth out any peaks that might remain. Repeat this a couple of times for each tray and then leave the macarons alone to rest before baking. Aquafaba macarons need to rest for significantly longer than 'normal' ones before they're ready to put in the oven, around 2 hours. This time allows the mix to dry out a little, and the domed shell of the macaron to develop, ensuring a crispy bite to the tops of the cookies and aiding the development of the signature 'feet'.
     
  • Once your macarons have rested for 2 hours, preheat your oven to 100°C (210°F). This is really the only step (other than the resting time) where the process of making macarons with aquafaba diverges significantly from the traditional egg-based method; they cook at a much lower temperature than the 'normal' kind. Depending on your oven, you may have better success baking each tray individually, but with mine I find it's fine to put both trays in at once; once your oven is preheated, bake the macarons on the upper-most shelves of the oven for 30 minutes, then test them by placing a finger on top of one and 'jiggling' the top a little - if it stays in place, not wobbling on its feet, you're ready for the next stage; if not, bake for 5 minutes longer. At this point, turn off your oven, leaving the trays inside for 15 minutes, then open the door for another 15 mins while the macarons cool inside. Remove from the oven, and peel your macarons from the paper only when fully cooled. (Thanks to Charis of Floral Frosting for this baking method!)


For the filling:

  • 100g vegan sunflower spread
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 2 tbsp light tahini
  • 3 tbsp blueberry jam (I used shop-bought, or follow a recipe like this)

For the tahini icing, slightly soften your vegan spread of choice in a mixer, before adding 200g of your icing sugar and beating until fluffy. Add in the tahini, according to taste. The icing will probably be a little runny once you've added the tahini, so bring it back up to a stable consistency with a little more icing sugar at this stage, and beat well to incorporate.

Now you're ready to sandwich your macarons! Pick out matching pairs of tops and bottoms (they'll vary in size, a little!), and pipe a circle of icing onto each 'bottom' macaron, before spooning a little blueberry jam into the middle. Pop the sesame-sprinkled cookie on top and you're done!

... Almost. Macarons taste much better if left overnight after filling, but if you have one just now to celebrate, no one needs to know.