Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Individual puddings, served with Coconut Caramel and marbled with coconut milk.

In Britain, pudding simply means "dessert," and usually takes the form of a moist cake, which is steamed and often served with sauce. This date-speckled dessert is a favorite of the English, drenched in rich toffee and served warm. My version is baked in ramekins, which yields individual servings. Adorned with their toffee lacquer, these tender cakes are the perfect finish to your Christmas supper. I'll be serving mine with cups of strong coffee.

Individual Sticky Toffee Puddings
6 puddings
If you don’t have ramekins, the puddings can be baked in muffin tins, yielding 9 smaller servings. Oil and flour the tins, or line with baking cups. Fill 9 with batter, and decrease baking time by 5-7 minutes.

For the puddings:
4 ounces pitted dates, roughly chopped (10-12 large mejool)
¼ cup boiling water
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) vegan margarine
½ cup vegan sugar
1/3 cup applesauce

For the Sticky Toffee Sauce:
½ cup (1/2 stick) vegan margarine
½ cup coconut milk
1/2 cup brown sugar

Heat oven to 350ºF. Oil and flour 6 ramekins, and set aside.

In a small bowl, pour the boiling water over the dates. Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes, then transfer to a food processor or blender and process until nearly smooth. Stir in vanilla, and set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together flour, baking powder, and sea salt.

In a large bowl, beat together margarine and sugar until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. Add applesauce, and beat again. Fold in flour and date mixtures in three batches, beginning and ending with the flour.

Spoon batter into prepared ramekins. Bake 20-25 minutes, until the tops spring back slightly when pressed or a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

While the puddings bake, make the toffee sauce. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine margarine, coconut milk, and brown sugar. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is completely smooth. Don’t allow the toffee to boil, as it can curdle. The toffee will be runny and satiny and delicious.

Transfer puddings to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Gently run a small, flexible spatula or paring knife around the edge of each pudding, then invert onto a plate to remove. Pour toffee over the puddings, turning a bit to coat completely, and allow puddings to absorb the sauce for at least 15 minutes. Serve, or cover and store overnight. If serving the next day, gently re-warm the puddings in a 250ºF oven for 10-15 minutes, and drizzle with additional sauce before plating.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Baby's First Birthday

The celebration of a baby's first year is fairly monumental. Mine was clown themed--the likely explanation for a common phobia--and I still love seeing photos of ice cream cupcakes, ruffled edges, and large letters spelling my name.

I wanted my daughter's first birthday to be just as memorable, even if only held in her mind with old pictures and trinkets. The best parties have a theme: fairies, animals, motorcycles. Miss One doesn't yet voice opinions on these things, and her birthstone is citrine, so I decided simply on orange. This was echoed throughout, from favors to decorations. Of course, everything had to be vegan. And since it's not a proper party without plenty of family and friends, we returned to my favorite city, Los Angeles. I hope you'll forgive the many photos; I want to share as much of this lovely day as possible!

Come inside and see how we celebrated...

Our birthday angel, looking quite like [nerd alert!] Arthur, the moth sidekick from The Tick, here.

Guests received treat bags filled with homemade play-dough, bubbles, vegan candies, photos, and cards for writing hopes and blessings for G's life. We'll bind those and give them to her when she's older.

Play-dough, up close. Adults and children had fun playing with it. The recipe for Cooked Flour Play-Dough can be found at Nature Moms.

The table, featuring simple vegan treats: a vegetable tray with hummus, apple pie, Pumpkin Scones, and of course, cake.

The cake was two tiers of orange-infused Italian Cornmeal Cake filled with Whipped Truffle Frosting and Creamsicle Buttercream. Pale orange White Chocolate Fondant covers the confection. Representing the sweetness and joy of growing older, the cake is adorned with buttercream reeds and a single, leaf-encircled candle.

I made a miniature, slightly healthier cake for the birthday girl, who gave it a good stare before proceeding to--very delicately--spread frosting all over the tablecloth.

Someday I'll throw Miss One a cocktail party on her birthday, but for now I've kept the libations alcohol-free: coffee, tea, and a lemony-vanilla apple punch I like to serve in autumn.

I'm almost embarrassed to call this a "recipe"--it's so simple--but gets such fantastic reviews I'd like to share it with you.

Harvest Apple Punch
about 16 servings

1 bottle (750 mL) sparkling apple cider
1 bottle (750 mL) unflavored seltzer or sparkling water
1 can frozen lemonade, partially thawed
1 six-pack cream soda or vanilla flavored soda

Pour everything into a large punch bowl, stirring gently to combine. Serve immediately, with ice on the side.

We ended the afternoon with a slideshow, exhortations to take treat bags, and cake-filled bellies swaggering home. I am so glad I threw a big party for my girl's first, and so pleased to share it with family and friends. She'll certainly have the leftover bits and pieces--photographs and good wishes and miniature play-dough statues--to savor when she's older.