Monday, March 5, 2012

Vegan Samoa Cake Pops

This will officially be my first vegan recipe post. I am by no means a vegan (easiest indicator might be the 12 pounds of butter that I keep in my fridge at all times), but there are sometimes requests from friends for recipes, or people who ask if I bake anything that accommodates their dietary restrictions, so I figured it would be good to get a couple recipes in my back pocket for such occasions. I would like to try a couple more vegan recipes, as well as gluten free. Sugar free will be a harder test for me, as I'm really not a fan of artificial sweeteners, but we'll see what I come up with.

For this recipe, I had been thinking about making Samoa cake pops since my Somoa cupcake recipe turned out so well and since I have a new found appreciation for this thing called a cake pop. But as it happened, a couple weeks back, I noticed Trader Joe's started selling coconut oil in the jar. I wondered if I could use that as a butter replacement in baking, even though I hadn't really seen any recipes that called for it (mind you, I don't actively peruse the web for vegan recipes, so I'm sure there are a ton out there that just haven't hit my radar). So yesterday I had these 2 unrelated ideas floating through my mind and decided I might as well try putting them together: Samoa cake pops + vegan. The use of coconut butter seemed like the perfect opportunity since coconut is already a flavor for Samoas. As well, not having much experience with dairy and egg free baking, I was worried about how well a vegan cupcake would present: Would it rise well? Would the crumb hold together or fall apart without eggs? Would it be dry or moist? Not knowing how all these factors would pan out, the idea of being able to smoosh the cake dough into a cake ball did alleviate a lot of my concerns about presentation. In simpler terms, it was a cop out.

But how to make the caramel vegan? I thought this was going to be a big stretch, and after doing a quick search, did not see any recipes out there for a caramel sauce made with anything other than butter and cream. But why not coconut oil and coconut cream? I mean, I'm no scientist, so don't have any reason to back my hypothesis that this might actually work, but I do have the tools and the gall to try it, so I did. I do not recommend making this vegan-ified caramel sauce for your first go-round at making caramel sauce though. There were a couple distinct differences in how it came together that unless you know what to expect, you would probably assume you botched it halfway through (well, at least I did). Most striking "problem" was that once the sugar had browned and I put the coconut oil in, the combination was not what they would literally call a "solution" - the fat floated on top of the sugar in a completely clear, separate layer. Butter usually incorporates itself with the sugar much more uniformly. I thought for a second that maybe there was just too much water to fat ratio in the coconut oil, but knowing that butter actually has a really high water content itself, I figured that wasn't the problem. In any case, since I had already gotten that far, I figured, why not? and dumped the coconut cream in. It reacted similarly enough to how I would expect regular cream to react in that it foamed up violently and I had to whisk it steadily to start incorporating it all. Instead of removing the caramel from the heat like you would if you were using dairy, I continued to cook the sauce over a low heat as I whisked it, as well as scraped the bowl as some of the caramel had simply hardened and was sticking to the whisk and the sides and needed to be re-warmed to soften up again.

After a couple more minutes of whisking and scraping, I decided that most of the sugar had transformed into the soft caramel sauce, but there were still chunks of hardened sugar attached to my whisk and the pan when I was done. I accepted that, and let the sauce cool. I still wasn't sure if it was a success, as the cooling process could have still had an effect on the outcome, but luckily, a couple hours later everything was still looking nice and caramelly, and un-separated. Success! Definitely tasted like a very coconutty caramel sauce.

That cake managed to turn out fairly well, too. I followed this recipe with a few modifications that I'll describe below. The end result was that it baked to a nice round top, but it fell once it cooled. The cake was VERY moist, and dense, but otherwise had a pleasant flavor and texture. I do think it fell apart much more easily than an egg bound cake, but it wasn't dismally crumbly.

The cake was so moist (and oily) that I don't think it needed a binding agent to form it into cake balls, honestly, but I wanted to get the caramel flavor incorporated, so drizzled a bit of the sauce over the cake crumbs to make them into the balls. I want to make sure nobody here who is reading this so far thinks that just because these are vegan that they are healthy. Pretty sure these were more oily than any other cupcake I've baked. Maybe coconut oil is one of those healthy fats or something (fingers crossed).

Vegan Coconut Caramel Sauce
Adapted from Simply Recipes
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 tbs coconut oil
- ½ cup coconut cream

In a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium low heat, slowly melt sugar until it is lightly brown and smells caramelly (careful not to burn the sugar). Add in coconut oil until melted. Working quickly, whisk coconut cream into mixture (it will foam up). Keep whisking over the heat until most of the hardened caramel has softened and the sauce is incorporated. Let cool.

Vegan Coconut Cake
adapted from Culinate which was reprinting of a recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

- 2 cups coconut milk
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2½ cups flour
- 4 tbsp cornstarch
- 1½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup coconut oil
- 1½ cup sugar
- 4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350˚. Spray cake pan with a little bit of vegetable oil. No need to flour the sides or anything, since you're just going to destroy the cake anyway.
Mix together coconut milk and vinegar. Supposedly this would make soy milk curdle, but I don't think that the same principle applies with coconut milk. I did it anyway because I think the vinegar reacts to the baking soda.
Whisk together the dry ingredients.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat coconut oil and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add vanilla extract, and then reduce speed of mixer and in 3 parts, add flour mixture, alternating with the milk mixture until incorporated.
Spread mixture into prepared pan and bake for about 45-50 minutes, or until top is golden brown and springs back when you tap the top.
Let cool. Cake will fall slightly.

Prep a bowl of chocolate for dipping. For the full vegan effect, make sure your chocolate does not contain any milk solids. Pretty sure most high end "semi-sweet" chocolates would qualify as vegan, but your standard nestle chips won't make the cut. Melt about 8 oz of them in a bowl (I just microwave them in 30 second increments until most of the chocolate is melted, and then I just stir it until the rest of the chocolate melts). I add in about 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil at this point to make sure my chocolate doesn't bloom, which is a real problem I have when doing chocolate dipped items. The oil seems to help a lot.

Once cake and sauce are cool, demolish the cake and mix caramel sauce into cake until balls are easily formed out of the mixture (hey, use your hands! why not). Form roughly 1 inch sized balls of the mixture and lay out on a cookie sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. I typically freeze them for about 10 minutes so that they are a little more sturdy for dipping. Don't freeze for too long though. The next step involves poking the popsicle stick through the tops of each, so make sure they're not too firm to do that. Once the cake balls have their popsicle sticks, dip each one in the chocolate until covered, let the excess chocolate drip off, then roll lightly in toasted coconut. Put back on parchment until chocolate has set.

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