Posts Tagged 'agave nectar'

Mini Chocolate Cupcakes + Chocolate Peppermint Frosting

Hiya blog friends!  Before I get into my latest création délicieuse, I wanted to point out a couple fun blog updates for you all.

1. If you missed my last post, you may not have heard the excitement.  I joined Twitter!  So if you’re interested in what I’m up to between posts or care to get sneak peaks into what my next baking adventure might be, you can now follow me there or keep tabs by checking out the widget along the right side of the blog.

2. You already know that everything I bake is full of whole foods and free of refined flours or sugars.  But I thought I’d take the health factor a step further and label my recipes with specific dietary preferences(V) = vegan; (GF) = gluten-free; (DF) = dairy-free.  So check out my Recipes page if you haven’t been in a while.  Perhaps an oldie but goodie will now catch your eye!

Ok, baking time!

My sister and I had BIG plans for our Christmas dinner desserts this year – an eclectic assortment of seasonal mini cupcakes.  Flavors to please every palate.  All bite-sized to allow for maximum taste bud enjoyment without maximum belly filling.

Well, all did not go according to plan…

We started with five cupcake ideas.  Imagine the spread!  The family would be blown away.  But we then remembered all baking and frosting would have to be done on the same day we were cooking Christmas dinner itself – darn tight travel schedule!  And five quickly narrowed to three.  No worries – three still provided a great variety.  So the ingredients were bought, the holiday arrived, the family opened presents and we got to work.

And two of the three recipes bombed!  One did not rise at all and left us with flat cupcake “discs” as they not so affectionately became known.  The other was a crumbly mess – though we were able to miraculously salvage it by transforming the cupcake scraps into a quite yummy bread – cupcake? – pudding.  Chaos feeds creativity people.

And then there was one…

The sole recipe to survive – or dare I say, thrive! – was for Mini Chocolate Cupcakes + Chocolate Peppermint Frosting.  I found this recipe for chocolate cupcakes and this one for chocolate frosting and basically followed them to a tee.  Just added some vanilla extract to the cupcakes – because I believe no recipe is complete without vanilla – and some peppermint extract to the frosting – because otherwise we wouldn’t have Chocolate Peppermint going on, now would we?

Oh – and these were very fun for me to bake because they contained a new-to-me ingredient – COCONUT FLOUR!  Using coconut flour is not only thrilling for me – it also means the cupcakes are gluten-free!  Whoo!

Here’s the recipe:

Cupcakes:

1/4 cup coconut flour

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 eggs

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting:

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated butter substitute (I use Earth Balance)

2 cups unrefined powdered sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

2 tablespoons unsweetened soy milk (or almond, rice, etc.)

1/4 cup cocoa powder

dash of salt

Preheat the oven to 375*F.  Spray mini cupcake pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix together coconut flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda.  In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, oil, agave and vanilla extract until well-combined.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until blended.  Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about 10 minutes.

While cupcakes are cooling, prepare frosting by blending together non-hydrogenated butter substitute, unrefined powdered sugar, vanilla extract, peppermint extract, soy milk, cocoa powder and salt with an electric mixer until smooth.  Once cupcakes cool, spread frosting on top.  Makes 16 mini cupcakes.

These cupcakes are SO cute and SO tasty!  I think I have a new addition to the Sweet + Natural favorite recipes list.  The frosting is an absolute dream.  Fluffy but rich.  Chocolately but refreshing.  And I am very excited to have had such success with my first ever coconut flour baking attempt!  That is one ingredient that will definitely be experimented with further in my kitchen.  Yep yep.

Have you ever baked with coconut flour?  Any tips for the newbie?

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Banana Coconut Bars

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Well, bloggie friends, I’m moved into my new place!  And couldn’t be happier.  I can’t wait to explore the hood!  I’ve already spotted a health food store, mentally noted at least a dozen restaurants to try and bought a loaf of fresh bread from a nearby bakery.  Life is sweet.  Now if only the rest of my boxes would unpack themselves…

Oh, and did I mention that my fridge now has a freezer?!  Take that old apartment!  I’m sure it will soon be filled with yummy baked goodies.  And on that note, can someone tell me how to freeze things?  I’ve had nary an opportunity to do such a thing so am clueless re: avoiding freezer burn.  Help!

The recipe I’m sharing with you today was actually not made in my new apartment, but in my old apartment…um…two weeks ago.  I know, bad blogger.  Life got hectic!  But the photos I took ages ago have been staring at me from my desktop for too long.  I could wait no more to bring you Banana Coconut Bars.

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B-t-dubs, if you think my pictures are prettier than usual, it’s because THEY ARE!  That’s courtesy of my awesome new camera, which is courtesy of my more awesome, #1, best-in-the-world boyfriend who proudly encourages my pursuit of the arts.  Yes, I am now the grateful owner of an SLR.  And my new apartment has natural light.  Things are looking up!

Back to the food…

These bars were born of a combined need to use up a bunch of uber ripe bananas and my recent interest in coconut.  Riddle me this:  I was never a fan of coconut.  I then made Super-Charge Me! cookies, which contain said ingredient.  Ever since, I’m drawn to all things coconut!  What?! I really do think those cookies are crack.

Here’s my recipe for Banana Coconut Bars:

3 ripe bananas, mashed

2 tablespoons molasses

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 cup agave nectar

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 cups white whole wheat flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Spray an 8×8-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix together mashed bananas, molasses, applesauce, agave and maple syrup until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix white whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir dry ingredients into banana mixture until just blended. Stir in coconut.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes.

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Coconut flakes!  Banana chunks!

These were go-od.  So good, in fact, that Dan ate nearly half the pan in one evening.  So good that I’m sort of regretting giving him so many…  They were super moist and banana-ey.  Like delicious banana bread in little square form.  And low in fat to boot!

What’s your favorite banana recipe?

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Black Bean Brownies

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I promised you all a “fun – and very interesting – chocolate treat” on Valentine’s Day.  So it’s about time I deliver on that promise, don’t you think?!

I’ve been eyeing this recipe for nearly a year.  Every since I bought Baking With Agave Nectar and flipped through its pages “ooh-ing” and “ohh-ing” at all the yummiest sounding goodies.  There were a lot of those.  But one recipe in particular stood out for its novelty.  I was intrigued.  Being the curious cat that I am, I knew I had to give it a go. 

That’s how this Valentine’s Day became Black Bean Brownie Day.  Yep, you heard me.  Black bean.  Brownie.  Romantic, no?

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Here’s the recipe.  Besides halving it and using non-hydrogenated shortening instead of butter, I followed everything to a tee.  I may be an experimenter, but baking with black beans was a totally new experience for me.  Figured it would be best to go with the creator’s vision for this one!

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening

1 cup cooked black beans

1/2 cup walnuts

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons instant coffee

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

3/4 cup agave nectar

Preheat the oven to 325*F.  Spray a 12×8-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside. Melt unsweetened chocolate and non-hydrogenated shortening in a bowl in the microwave for about 2 minutes on high. Stir with spoon to melt chocolate completely. Place black beans, 1/4 cup walnuts, vanilla extract and a couple spoonfuls of the melted chocolate mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth.  In a large bowl, mix together remaining 1/4 cup walnuts, remaining melted chocolate mixture, instant coffee and salt. Add bean/chocolate mixture to coffee/chocolate mixture and stir until well blended.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs with an electric mixer until light and creamy, about 1 minute. Add agave nectar and beat well. Add egg mixture to chocolate mixture, reserving about 1/4 cup, and mix well. Pour batter into prepared pan.  Beat remaining 1/4 cup egg mixture with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Drizzle over brownie batter. Use a wooden toothpick to pull egg mixture through batter, creating a marbled effect. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan before cutting into squares.

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Fuuuuudgy!

So here’s my two cents on these brownies…

They’ve definitely got the chocolate-y fudge factor going on – a brownie requirement in my book.  And you can’t beat the stellar ingredient list.  You’d never guess beans are a key player!   And no flour?!  No way!

But there are a couple things I’d change next time around.  I wouldn’t do the whole egg and agave swirl.  I can only imagine this is for looks and the marbled visual effect faded away after a day. So just adding all the egg and agave into the batter at once seems fine with me.  I’d cut out some instant coffee because that flavor stood out too much for me.  I’m not a coffee fan, remember?  And I’d un-halve the recipe, but use the same size pan.  I say the thicker the better!

Overall though, cool recipe.  Good times.

What’s the most unusual ingredient you’ve used in a baked good?

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Chocolate Carrot Cake + Cream Cheese Frosting

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So I’m back in NYC after two gloriously relaxing weeks visiting the fam in St. Louis – hooray for holiday break and vacation days to use up!  I could have stayed even longer – ahh, the life of no responsibility – but I do have to say, it feels good to get back to my usual routine.  Not gonna lie though, I’d be happy to go without the return of work tomorrow!  Oh well, c’est la vie, right?

Before I left STL and between holiday festivities, I made sure to squeeze in some more baking time.  You didn’t really think that Yogurt Glazed Carrot Cake was the only thing I whipped up while I was there, did you?!  That treat was for the sister.  This one’s for the dad.  And it comes with a back-story…

My dad e-mailed me a few weeks ago with a baking proposition.  One day last month, he was finishing up a working lunch with some colleagues when the dessert tray appeared at their table.  A richly dark, moist-looking cake immediately caught his eye.  Upon his asking, the waitress proclaimed it to be a “chocolate carrot cake.”  Now this was something Dad had never heard of before!  Intrigued and delighted, he ordered it on the spot and greatly looked forward to that first taste.

Much to his disappointment, said waitress later returned to inform him that his forthcoming dessert was actually a spice cake, not the carrot cake of his dreams. Well, poor Dad couldn’t get the thought of a chocolate carrot cake out of his mind, so he asked me (repeatedly) to bake one up when I came home.  And bake one up I did.  This version has cream cheese frosting, because that’s the way Dad likes it.

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My recipe for Chocolate Carrot Cake + Cream Cheese Frosting:

Cake:

3 cups grated carrots

3/4 cup agave nectar

2 eggs

2 egg whites

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup grain sweetened chocolate chips

Frosting:

12 ounces Neufchatel cheese

3 cups unrefined powdered sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix together carrots, agave nectar, eggs, egg whites, applesauce and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, mix together whole wheat pastry flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until blended.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Pour batter into prepared cake pans.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Let cool in pans.

While cakes are cooling, prepare frosting by blending together Neufchatel cheese, unrefined powdered sugar and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until smooth.  Once cakes cool, spread about a third of the frosting over cake #1.  Place cake #2 on top of cake #1.  Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.

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Melty chocolate and carrot specks!

This cake was a huge hit around my house! The chocolate chips gave it some extra special chocolate sweetness and the cream cheese frosting was addicting!  I snuck a lot of licks from the bowl before it got to the cake.  You know, for testing purposes.  And though I made it for Dad, I think Mom may have liked it even more.  After a couple bites and some long, contemplative looks, she declared it the “best thing you’ve made yet.”  Don’t worry, I enjoyed some slices myself before she could polish it all off (j/k Mom, j/k).

What have you seen combined with chocolate that was somewhat surprising?

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Carrot Cake + Yogurt Glaze

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I love visiting my family in St. Louis for lots of reasons…I get to see mom, dad, brother and sister – and dog and cat!  The lazy suburbs are a nice break from the constant go-go-go of New York City.  I get to spread myself out over an entire house rather than a teeny apartment. And I get to bake for a whole group of people instead of just myself!

This last point, my friends, is a very important one.  You see, it’s just me and my roommate at home in NY.   And since she’s not a big fan of sweets – I know, what?! – and I probably shouldn’t eat ALL of what I make by myself, I’ve got to spread the wealth of my oven around to Dan and my friends to make sure every last goody is eaten while it’s still deliciously fresh.  This is where the practical girl in me takes over.  I tend to shy away from baking things that aren’t easily dividable and transportable – it’s always cookies and muffins instead of cakes and pies.  Baking for the family in St. Louis, these little details are non-issues.  Freedom!

So…you can imagine my excitement when I asked my sister what she wanted for our Christmas Eve dessert and she replied without hesitation – carrot cake!  A CAKE!  Hooray!  Apparently she has recently discovered a special fondness towards carrot cake and her college winter break would not be complete without it.  Fine by me!  But I wanted to do a little something different, of course, so I topped the cake with a yogurt glaze instead of the traditional cream cheese frosting.  And to make sure the cake really soaked up that glaze, I poked holes all over it and let the yogurty sweetness ooze in.  I also did a bit of lightening up by using applesauce instead of oil and egg whites instead of some whole eggs.

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Here’s my Yogurt Glazed Carrot Cake recipe, adapted from Baking With Agave Nectar‘s carrot cake:

Cake:

3 cups grated carrots

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

3/4 cup agave nectar

2 eggs

2 egg whites

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

Yogurt Glaze:

1 1/2 cups plain nonfat Greek yogurt

1/2 cup agave nectar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix together carrots, coconut, agave nectar, eggs, egg whites, applesauce and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, mix together whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until well blended.  Pour batter into prepared cake pans.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Let cool in pans. 

While cakes are cooling, prepare yogurt glaze by mixing together Greek yogurt, agave nectar, vanilla extract and salt.  Once cakes cool, poke holes in them using a fork and remove from pans.  Drizzle half of yogurt glaze over cake #1 and sprinkle with half of the walnuts.  Place cake #2 on top of cake #1.  Drizzle remaining glaze over cake and sprinkle with remaining walnuts.  Note: You may want to do this over a wire cooling rack with something underneath to catch the dripping glaze.  Makes for easier clean up! 

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The tip of a cake slice is the best part!

The cake got the approval of the fam!  It was perfectly spiced and super moist, especially where the yogurt glaze seeped into the poked holes.  And that glaze complemented the cake wonderfully.  It was nice and light but still flavorful – I actually thought it tasted a lot like cream cheese!

Are you a carrot cake fan?  What’s your favorite baked good with a vegetable star?  

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Agave Nectar

621361_458467351Agave nectar is one of my favorite unrefined sweeteners to use in baking. I first learned about it early this year and was an immediate convert. It’s a liquid sweetener that’s about 1.4 times sweeter than sugar and thinner than honey, or “less viscous,” if you want to get technical.

Agave nectar is made from the Mexican agave plant, which sort of looks like a cactus. Fun fact – it’s actually the same plant from which tequila is made. Can you say agave margarita?! Even though agave nectar has been used by natives for thousands of years for flavoring and medicinal purposes, it didn’t really become commercially available until the 1990s. To produce agave nectar, juice is extracted from the agave plant when it’s about 7-10 years old – and up to 12 feet tall! Harvesters cut off the top of the plant and cap it with a stone. The pressure from the stone causes all of the plant’s juices to collect in the center, so the harvesters can go in and ladle it out. The juice is then filtered and heated, which turns its carbohydrates into sugars. And voila! Agave nectar.

Agave nectar ranges in color – from light to amber to dark – based on how much it’s been filtered. The darker the color, the less it’s been filtered. The darker colors also have the strongest, most distinct flavors – sort of caramel-y. The lighter colors add a mild, neutral sweetness.

I think the best thing agave nectar’s got going for itself is that it’s the lowest natural sweetener on the Glycemic Index. What does that mean? Basically, the lower something is on the Glycemic Index, the slower it’s processed in your body. So you don’t get the same “sugar rush” and subsequent crash with agave nectar as you would with, say, regular white sugar. It also still contains the agave plant’s iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Ah, the benefits of unrefined sweeteners!

To substitute agave nectar for sugar in baking, I use 3/4 cup agave nectar for every 1 cup sugar – you don’t need as much since it’s sweeter. I also reduce other liquids in the recipe by…a little bit. Um, yeah, I totally have no science for that one. Some people say you should reduce your oven temperature by 25*F, but I’m of the opinion that no two ovens are alike, so I usually just ignore this and keep my eye on the goods while they’re in there. If I’m substituting agave nectar for another liquid sweetener, I use the exact same amount – easy!

Madhava and Wholesome Sweeteners are two brands of agave nectar I’ve tried. And my Baking with Agave Nectar cookbook gives me lots of ideas for ways to use them. It offers over 100 recipes with agave nectar in the starring role. And – bonus for some of you! – a lot of them are vegan and gluten-free as well.

If you’re super interested in all this and want to learn more, this site has a lot of good info.

Have you ever baked with agave nectar? Any favorite recipes to share?

Cinnamon Walnut Brownies

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There’s something I think I should state up front.  If I’m going to be blogging about baking and sweets and deliciousness, it’s best to just get it out in the open now.

I love chocolate.

I mean, I. LOVE. chocolate.  I’m notorious for it.  So much so that when planning my birthday dinner last year, my boyfriend immediately rejected a restaurant if it didn’t list a chocolate dessert on the menu.  So much so that my mom once bought me a page-a-day calendar featuring photos of chocolate, facts about chocolate, quotes about chocolate.  So much so that I kept every one of those calendar pages I tore off.  Hey, you never know when I might need to remember that the largest slab of fudge was made in Canada and weighed 5050 pounds.  Or when I might want to make a giant collage o’ chocolate photos.  They could come in handy.

It is only fitting then that my first blog baked good be made of chocolate.  And what chocolate treat is better than a brownie!  If you couldn’t guess from the image in my header, brownies and I have a secret love affair.  Mmmmm.  And so I bring to you, Cinnamon Walnut Brownies.

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I used this as my inspiration but made a number of adjustments based on what I had on hand and where I wanted to take the recipe.  Namely, adding cinnamon to the mix and thus giving the brownies their namesake.  Here’s how mine ended up:

1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Spray an 8 x 8-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.  In one bowl, mix whole wheat pastry flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder and salt.  In another bowl, whisk together agave nectar, oil and vanilla.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Fold in walnuts.  Spread into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.

Believe it or not, this was my first attempt at healthifying – it’s in the a dictionary – a brownie recipe.  Brownies are sacred in my book – I like them dense and fudgy and insanely rich and don’t even try to give me anything less and say it’s a brownie.  So I guess I was a bit intimidated at the prospect of replicating that perfection with more wholesome ingredients.  My Cinnamon Walnut Brownies aren’t quite there yet, but they definitely have potential.  Next time around, I’ll try baking them for 15 minutes or maybe lowering the oven temperature to 325*F to make them as gooey as brownie-ly – ok, that one’s not in the dictionary – possible.  And I’ll for sure double the cinnamon and halve the vanilla to up the spice factor and let the cinnamon shine.  That flavor was a bit too subtle for what I was going for.

There you have it!  My first Sweet + Natural treat.  Do you have a favorite healthy brownie recipe? If so, do share!  But don’t forget my criteria…

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