Friday, March 20, 2009

Cupcakes - Vegan and Delicious (not an oxymoron)

Despite eating every day, I think many of us hardly think twice about our relationship with food. So much goes into every bite we take. From seed to plant to produce, from source to table, from ingredients to heaping dishes, from nourishment to comfort - our relationship with food is anything but simple. I've found that how you feel about and deal with food says a lot about where you are - and who you are.

Is food just about filling a void? Cramming something down your gullet because it's time to eat- you're running late and just need something to get you to lunchtime? Or is food about nourishment - not only nutritional, but emotional as well? The truth, realistically for most of us is something in between. We are busy people. We are on budgets. We have precious little time as it is, and frequently even less energy to do much with it.

When I think about the meals of my childhood, I don't think about the protein to complex carbohydrates ratio, or the proportion of my plate covered in vege, but I remember time spent with my family. Those precious few moments in an otherwise chaotic blur of sports practice, homework, school, friends, rehearsals and girl scouts - my family always made time to sit down and eat a meal together. Be it 20 minutes of morning oatmeal or 30 minutes of spaghetti, I remember those times because they filled me with something more than just food. They filled me with a special kind of nourishment, body and soul, that did more to get me through the days than old-fashioned oats ever could on their own.

I had the great pleasure of attending Molly Wizenburg of orangette's book signing when she was in DC this week. One of the things she said that I found profound despite seemingly obvious, is that food has a story. I've been trying more and more to really think about the stories around the food I make and eat. Giving full justice to the full experience of food - source to belly and beyond.

Appreciating our imperfect relationship with food - perfection never makes for great stories, now does it? - I turn to this particularly scrumptious, yet relatively healthy and animal-product free chocolate cake. I made it as cupcakes and couldn't get enough of them. Best, of course, when shared with those you love whenever your chaos-filled life allows ;)

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate 'Butter Cream'
from npr

Makes 12 cupcakes or one 9-inch cake

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (can use a mix of wheat and white flours)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease one 9-inch cake pan or line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners. Sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add the oil, vanilla, vinegar and water. Whisk together until smooth.

Pour into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool before frosting.

For the butter cream:

4 ounces unsweetened (or bittersweet) chocolate, chopped
3 cups confectioners' sugar
8 Tbs shortening (I use non-hydrogenated), room temperature
2 to 3 tablespoons almond milk, plus more, if needed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat chocolate in a double boiler until melted. Let cool to room temperature. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the confectioners' sugar, margarine, milk, vanilla and salt, and beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, then reduce the speed to low. Add the chocolate and beat until combined, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute more.

If the frosting is dry, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it is creamy but still holds peaks.

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