Category Archives: Holiday

Carrot Cream Cheese Muffins

Carrot Cream Cheese Muffins

There are two kinds of people: the ones who love carrot cake and the ones who don’t. I’m decidedly the former, as evidenced by posting two carrot recipes in a row. To those of the latter persuasion, let me say this: sorry, not sorry.

Carrot Cream Cheese Muffins

Where last week’s carrot cake was vegan and gluten-free, this week’s muffins are quite the opposite. Made with a carrot-flecked batter and filled with a little well of sweetened cream cheese, these Carrot Cream Cheese Muffins are a delightful addition to your Easter repertoire.

If these look familiar, it’s because they are…kind of. They’re inspired by some cream cheese-filled muffins Starbucks used to have (and maybe still does) that looked cute, but didn’t taste very good. These muffins, however, look cute *and* taste great. I should know—it took eight batches to get them just right!

Carrot Cream Cheese Muffins are simple to make, but require some special assembly. Once you’ve whisked up the carrot muffin batter, put 3 tablespoons in each well of a standard muffin pan. Next, pipe some sweetened cream cheese into the center of each well of batter. It’s about a heaping tablespoon of cream cheese per muffin, but since that’s impossible to measure while piping, I have a little trick. The wells are about 3/4 full before the cream cheese, so when I pipe it in, I watch for the batter to juuuuust reach the top of the well. It’s the perfect amount every time.

Carrot Cream Cheese Muffins

These muffins bake up in just about 20 minutes, getting some lift from a 425F start, then baking to perfection at 375F. The cream cheese will rise to the upper third of the muffins and expand a bit, which is a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. If you’d like a well that goes further into your muffins, bake them at 350F for 20 minutes. You should know, though, that if you go for the lower temperature, you’ll have flatter muffins.

That said, they’re delicious both ways. There’s no wrong way to get your carrot cake on, after all.

Carrot Cream Cheese Muffins
makes 12 muffins

Carrot Batter:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup neutral-flavored oil (I use canola)
1/4 cup water
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups shredded carrots, not packed (about 3 medium carrots)

Cream Cheese:
1 8-ounce brick full-fat brick-style cream cheese
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 425F. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners, or grease well. Set aside.

Make the carrot batter. In a medium-large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together oil and water. Add eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla. Whisk in dry ingredients in two installments, mixing just until combined. Set aside.

Fold shredded carrots into the dry ingredients. Add liquid in two installments, stirring to combine. Batter will be thick. Let batter sit 5 minutes while you prepare the cream cheese.

In a small-medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese until it’s fluffy (about 2 minutes). Beat in confectioner’s sugar until combined. Load mixture into a piping bag, twist to close and snip off a corner.

Assemble muffins. Put 3 tablespoons of the carrot batter into each well of the prepared muffin tin. They will be about 2/3-3/4 full. Tap pan on the counter 5 times to release any large air bubbles. Pipe cream cheese into the center of each well until the batter reaches the top of each well (or within 1/8-inch of the top). Wet your finger and smooth down any peaks on the cream cheese to prevent burning. Tap pan 5 times on the counter again to help the cream cheese settle.

Bake muffins 5 minutes before reducing the heat to 375F for another 15-16 minutes. Muffins are ready when a toothpick inserted in the non-cream cheese section comes out clean. Let muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a rack to cool completely.

Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Carrot Cake

Vegan, Gluten-Free Carrot Cake​

With Easter coming up next weekend, I’ve got carrot cake on my mind. To be more specific, I’ve got this moist, flavorful and incredibly simple Vegan, Gluten-Free Carrot Cake front and center in my brain. It’s everything I love about the classic cake—the texture, the spices, the frosting—just made a little more accessible. I totally love it!

Vegan, Gluten-Free Carrot Cake

To make this sweet little cake, I began with my go-to vegan, gluten-free cake formula and then slowly, but surely, figured it out. I toyed with all sorts of different ratios of pumpkin to grated carrots, and adjusted the spices until they were just right. Ten practice cakes and two scrapped photoshoots later, I think I’ve finally nailed it.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Carrot Cake

My Vegan, Gluten-Free Carrot Cake is tender, fragrant, and packed with carrots, raisins and walnuts, though you can leave out those last two ingredients if you’re not a nuts-and-fruit-in-your-cake kind of human. Paired with my go-to Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting, it’s so good, even the non-gluten-free, non-vegans (like me!) will go back for seconds.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Carrot Cake​

This recipe is written for a single layer of cake and a corresponding amount of frosting. I kept it simple because making layer cakes has seemed exhausting lately and it’s no fun to make something that exhausts you. If you’d like to make this recipe into a layer cake, I’d double the batter for two 9-inch round cake pans and triple the frosting. You could even quadruple it—nobody worth knowing has ever been unhappy about extra cream cheese frosting, especially when piped into little carrots.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Carrot Cake​
Vegan, Gluten-Free Carrot Cake
makes a single layer 9-inch round cake

1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
~1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
2 tablespoons pure pumpkin purée or unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup light or dark brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup potato starch
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1 cup grated carrots
1/3 cup raisins (optional)

If you would like a layer cake, double the recipe for two 9-inch pans. Triple the frosting recipe that follows.

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch round or square cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment and grease again. Set aside.

Place chopped nuts of choice (if using) on a dry rimmed sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 5-7 minutes or until fragrant. Remove and set aside to cool while you prepare the cake batter.

Pour apple cider vinegar into a liquid measuring cup. Add non-dairy milk until liquid reaches the 1 cup mark. Stir and let sit for 5-10 minutes, until curdled. Stir in pumpkin (or applesauce) and vanilla. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together brown sugar, granulated sugar, potato starch, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, almond flour, and salt. Stir in grated carrots, raisins and toasted nuts (if using).

Add liquid ingredients in two installments, stirring until combined. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure thorough mixing.

Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth to the edges with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Tap pan on the counter 5 times to release any large air bubbles. Transfer to the oven and bake 32-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few crumbs (not wet batter).

Let cake cool completely in its pan on a cooling rack. Run a thin knife along the edges of the pan before inverting to release.

Place cake on desired platter. Frost as desired with Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below).

Frosted cake will keep at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Unfrosted cake may be triple-wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before frosting.

Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
makes enough for the top of one sheet cake

2 ounces (1/4 cup) vegan butter, room temperature (I like Miyoko’s)
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) shortening, room temperature (I like Nutiva)
1 ounce (2 tablespoons, 1/8 of an 8 ounce tub) vegan cream cheese, slightly softened
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
green food coloring, for piped carrots (optional)
orange food coloring, for piped carrots (optional)

Frosting may get very soft at room temperature depending which vegan cream cheese you use. Plain Miyoko’s brand vegan cream cheese is my gold standard for flavor and holding up well at room temperature.

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat vegan butter, shortening, and vegan cream cheese until light and fluffy. Mix in confectioners sugar in two installments, mixing until combined and fluffy. Mix in salt, followed by vanilla.

If piping carrots, dye 2 tablespoons of frosting green and 2 tablespoons orange.

Use plain frosting to frost the top of the cake as desired. If piping carrots, put colored frostings in separate piping bags, snip small corners and pipe as desired. I make carrots by following the method on this video.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Icing Thumbprints

Vegan, Gluten-Free Icing Thumbprints

Have I made icing thumbprints on here before? Sure have! But I’ve never made them vegan and gluten-free, probably because I didn’t have a great vegan, gluten-free cookie base yet.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Icing Thumbprints

But, as you might have guessed, I do now. On my never-ending quest to feed all my various people, I spent a good chunk of the holiday season figuring out a dairy- and egg-free almond flour dough that works for a multitude of cookie applications. So far, I’ve made some stellar gingerbread and linzers that taste shockingly close to the real deal, and I’ve got all sorts of variations ready to be doled out as the need arises (as it has today).

Vegan, Gluten-Free Icing Thumbprints

While using this dough for a completely different cookie recipe last week, it occurred to me that I hadn’t checked to see if it would make good thumbprints. My traditional sugar cookie recipe thumbprints (using it as a verb) like a dream with a tiny adjustment, but would this one?

Well, yes. Yes, it would. It does! And with no adjustment at all, which is a dang delight. These cookies bake up somewhere between crisp and chewy and are sturdy enough to hold up against all that icing. What can I say? With a quality base recipe, I am unstoppable. Unstoppable and full of cookies.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Icing Thumbprints

As for the filling, don’t you love these little wells of colorful icing? Say what you want about food coloring, but you can’t deny its cheer factor. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I went with a vibrant pink and red motif for these, but do whatever makes you happy! I imagine that a display of these in team colors would make for a very festive Super Bowl dessert.

That said, if you’re making these for any occasion, please invite me.

Vegan, Gluten-Free Icing Thumbprints
Vegan, Gluten-Free Icing Thumbprints
makes about 2.5 dozen cookies

Cookie Dough:
3 cups blanched almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup vegan butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup or light corn syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Icing:
1 1/3 cups confectioner’s sugar, divided
pinch of salt
2 vegan gel or liquid food colorings of choice
2-3 tablespoons (6-9 teaspoons) unsweetened non-dairy milk, divided

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together almond flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a separate medium-large mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat vegan butter until fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add sugar and confectioner’s sugar and beat until fully combined (about 2 minutes). Beat in maple syrup and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients in two installments, mixing completely after each addition. Dough may look rubbly, but should hold together extremely well when pinched.

Divide dough in two. Form each half into a disk, then wrap with plastic wrap. Chill for 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Place oven racks in central positions. Preheat oven to 325F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment.

Remove dough from the refrigerator. Scoop dough by the tablespoon and roll each int a ball. Place dough balls at least 2 inches apart on prepared pans. Use the back of a very small spoon (like a 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon) to slowly press a well into each dough ball. They may crack a bit—just smooth them with your fingers. If dough gets too warm and sticky, freeze for 10 minutes.

Bake cookies 13-14 minutes. Cookies are done when puffed and no longer wet-looking. When you remove the cookies from the oven, press the back of the small spoon (I use 1 teaspoon measuring spoon) into the centers again. Let cookies cool on the pans for 10 minutes before carefully removing to a rack to cool completely. Repeat rolling and baking process with all remaining dough, letting the cookie sheets come back to room temperature between batches.

Make the icing. Place 2/3 cup of confectioners sugar and tiny pinches of salt in each of two small bowls. Stir 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of non-dairy milk into each bowl. Add desired food colorings to the separate bowls. Whisk each with a fork until combined. Add more milk by the 1/2 teaspoon until icings are very thick, but pourable.

Transfer icings to piping bags (or ziptop sandwich bags) twist them tight and snip off very small corners. Fill wells in cookies as desired.

You can serve the cookies almost immediately, but the icing won’t set to a non-drippy texture for a few hours. Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days. Place parchment or wax paper between layers for easiest storage.

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Mousse Cake

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Mousse Cake​

I am not a fan of strawberry desserts in February. They make exactly zero sense. We’ve got months before fresh berries are worth eating! That doesn’t seem to stop everyone from wanting them for Valentine’s Day though.

As a blogger, I can either resist or lean into situations like this. It’s safe to say that, in the case of this Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Mousse Cake, I’m leaning all the way in—all the way. With my favorite flourless chocolate cake base, a thick layer of strawberry mousse in the middle and a rich ganache topping, this is a Valentine’s Day dessert even I can’t resist!

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Mousse Cake​

This recipe looks fancy, but is actually very simple. The flourless chocolate cake base is a one-bowl whisk & bake situation that turns out fudgy and decadent every time. With a texture somewhere between an excellent brownie and the center of a chocolate truffle, this cake is fantastic all on its own, but today, it’s just the beginning.

Next up: the strawberry mousse—the star of the show! It’s airy and creamy, but still stable enough to layer thanks to a tiny bit of cream cheese and a whole lot of pulverized freeze dried strawberries. Why freeze dried? Because unlike February strawberries, they have a super-concentrated flavor and are delicious year-round. I buy mine at Trader Joe’s and Target, but I am sure there are plenty of places to procure them online.

You’ll notice that I introduce heavy cream into the mousse in two phases. First, I add a cup of liquid cream to the strawberries and cream cheese to help them become one mass. Then, I whip two more cups of cream and gently fold them into the strawberry mixture until it’s mousse. This may seem like a lot of fuss, but it results in a super light texture, which is exactly what we want. Layer the mousse on top of the cake, smooth it to the edges of the pan, and refrigerate for a few hours to set.

The last step in making Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Mousse Cake? Making the chocolate covering, of course! In this case, it’s just a soft ganache (mix of dark chocolate and heavy cream) that is poured over the mousse, then coaxed over the edges so that it drips down to the cake layer. I am sure there is some very fancy and precise way to do this, but I like it a little irregular.

Once fully assembled, the cake needs to be refrigerated just a little longer so that it slices well. I threw some styrofoam-flavored February strawberries on mine for flair, but feel free to decorate (or not) however you like. This thing is going to look gorgeous and taste like chocolate-strawberry magic no matter what.

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Mousse Cake​

Would you look at those layers? They’re a thing of beauty! And that’s to say nothing of the flavor, which is outstanding. The rich chocolate and creamy strawberry mousse balance each other perfectly, and are truly irresistible. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like fruit with chocolate anytime of year.

Yeah, I know. I’m no fun. But I’m leaning in.

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Mousse Cake​
Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Mousse Cake
makes one 9-inch round cake

Cake:
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
7 ounces unsalted European-style butter*, cut into small pieces
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (natural or Dutch process)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

Mousse:
2 ounces (1/4 brick) full-fat brick-style cream cheese
2 1.2-ounce packages freeze dried strawberries, pulverized
1 1/3 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups heavy cream, very cold, divided

Ganache:
8 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream

Garnish:
fresh strawberries, if desired

READ THE ENTIRE RECIPE BEFORE PROCEEDING.

Make the cake. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan with butter. Set aside.

In a double boiler or the microwave, melt dark chocolate and butter together, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Whisk in sugar. Allow to cool slightly.

Whisk in one egg at a time, combining completely after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Whisk in cocoa powder and salt, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the center jiggles just slightly when the pan is jostled. Let cool completely in the pan on a rack, about 90 minutes to 2 hours. Do not remove the springform. Cake may be made up to a day in advance.

Make the mousse. In a medium mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese until fluffy (1-2 minutes). Add pulverized strawberries, confectioner’s sugar and salt, and mix again. It will be very powdery. Add 1 cup heavy cream and mix on high until combined.

In a separate mixing bowl, use an electric mixer to whip 2 cups heavy cream on low for 30 seconds before whipping on high for 1-2 minutes, until stiff peaks form.

Stir 1/4 of the whipped cream into the strawberry mixture. Working with 1/4 at a time, gently fold remaining whipped cream into the strawberry mixture, until very fluffy with no white streaks remaining.

Pile the mousse on top of the cooled cake (still in the pan). Spread it into an even layer and tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any large air bubbles. Stick a layer of plastic wrap to the surface of the mousse. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Remove cake from the refrigerator. Remove plastic wrap. Run a thin, flexible knife dipped in warm water around the edge of the pan before removing the springform. Smooth the sides of the released cake as needed. Refrigerate if not topping immediately.

Make the ganache. Place bittersweet chocolate in a small bowl. Pour heavy cream into a small saucepan over medium heat. When it just barely starts to boil, remove it from the heat and pour the cream over the chocolate. Once the chocolate looks soft (2-3 minutes), stir it together with a fork until you have a smooth chocolate sauce. Let cool 10 minutes.

Place a cooling rack over a rimmed sheet pan. Top with the cake. Gently pour ganache over the top of the cake, then use an offset icing spatula (or the back of a spoon) to coax the chocolate over the edges.

Lift the cake off the cooling rack and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish with fresh strawberries, if desired. Serve cake.

For clean slices, dip the knife in warm water and wipe dry between cuts. Leftovers will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator, though fresh strawberries may degrade over time.

Olive Oil Crackers

Olive Oil Crackers

Listen, I am not going to try to convince you to always make your own homemade crackers because I am not insane. I buy so few things pre-made, but crackers are one that I do—even dedicated home bakers need a convenience food every now and then! You know, like when you get home at 10pm after working 14 hours straight and if you have to cook one more thing, you will throw a toddler-style tantrum of epic proportions right there on the kitchen floor.

Not that I’ve ever done anything like that. Ahem.

Olive Oil Crackers

That said, sometimes it’s fun to DIY, especially when it’s both fancy and easy, and it doesn’t get much fancier or easier than homemade Olive Oil Crackers. The recipe is only five ingredients long, takes less than an hour start-to-finish, and makes the most delicious crispy, crunchy crackers I’ve ever had.

The recipe itself is a breeze—just mix together flour, salt, olive oil, and water, then roll, cut and bake ‘til crispy—but there are a couple of unusual things that I want to explain before I get to it.

First, you need to rest your dough before rolling it out. This isn’t a prolonged thing, just 15 minutes to let the gluten in the flour relax before you roll it out paper thin. If you skip this step, the dough will shrink back somewhat dramatically at the edges when you roll it—not the worst thing that’s ever happened, but not the best if you’re seeking wafer thin crackers, which I very much am.

The other thing is the way you roll, cut, and bake these crackers, which happens to be on the back of a sheet pan. I learned this technique from my favorite food writer, Julie Van Rosendaal, and it’s…well, it’s genius. This allows you to get the crackers extra thin with your rolling pin without running into those pesky pan edges and negates the need to transfer each individual cracker to the pan, which usually results in thicker, irregularly shaped results. No thanks! If you have coated pans or simply don’t want to use this method, roll your dough out on a large piece of parchment and transfer that to the pan.

Olive Oil Crackers

These crackers bake up in about 15 minutes. You’ll know they’re perfect when the edges are dark and the center has browned in places. In my experience, it’s better to brown them a little too much than leave them pale—nobody wants chewy crackers. You may have to sacrifice some of the edge pieces, but honestly, I kind of dig the overdone parts.

Olive Oil Crackers

Olive Oil Crackers are a great blank slate cracker because their primary flavors are—you guessed it—olive oil and salt. You can absolutely leave them plain, but I love dressing them up with whatever spices sound good. The batch pictured was seasoned with cracked pepper, Maldon salt, and dried rosemary, but I’ve included a bunch of suggestions in the recipe.

You can save this recipe for your next get-together or cozy night in with someone you like, or you can just make them for yourself, like I do. Because I like to eat Olive Oil Crackers and extra sharp cheddar for dinner after 14 hour workdays. And also because I’m a little bit fancy (but only a little bit).

Olive Oil Crackers
Olive Oil Crackers
makes lots

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup warm tap water
spices of choice

Spice suggestions: freshly cracked black pepper, flaky salt, dried rosemary, dried thyme, everything bagel seasoning, za’atar, sesame seeds, poppyseeds

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Add oil and warm water and whisk just until combined. Divide dough in two. Wrap each portion in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Place oven racks in central positions. Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly flour the backs of 2 sheet pans.

Roll out the crackers. Place one half of the dough on one of the floured pans. Use a rolling pin to roll it as thinly and evenly as possible (without being transparent) in all directions. The edges will shrink back slightly; if they are snapping back dramatically, cover the partially rolled dough with plastic wrap and let rest for another 15 minutes. Once rolled out, the dough should cover most of the pan and have irregular edges. Repeat with remaining dough and pan.

Sprinkle desired spices over the dough and lightly roll the rolling pin over the top to adhere.

Cut the crackers. Use a sharp chef’s knife, pizza cutter or bench scraper to cut dough into crackers. Mine are roughly 1 1/2 x 2 inches, but you may cut them as big or small as you like, keeping in mind that baking time may be affected. Prick each cracker with a toothpick or fork.

Bake crackers for 15-18 minutes, or until dark at the edges with some browning in the center. If they are pale, in the center, return them to the oven for a minute or two until they develop some darker spots.

Let crackers cool completely on their pans. Serve with cheese, cured meat and/or fruit.

Crackers will keep in an airtight container for at least a week.