Berry Cheesecake Muffins

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Diary excerpts:

17/5: vegan magnums are terrific// the gravity of writing my thesis has not fully weighed down on me yet

18/5: so glad to have found a fitness routine that doesn’t require a gym (more walking, running)

23/5: honestly rather sad that I’ve become addicted to the temporary pleasure of something crunchy, something sweet.

2/6: Brown adipose tissue has uncoupling proteins that allow protons to travel form the outside to inside, effectively creating its own energy? A study in mice found that during periods of overeating, the TRIP gene is activated and causes massive inflammation, triggering fat storage.

3/6: fliesen= tiles

4/6: ventouse= suction device applied to baby’s head in childbirth, to assist birth. Wow.

When efforts to bake are stymied, say due to travel or the fear of people who are at your house smelling something even mildly burnt, the itch later on comes on hard. Hard. I’ll try and write an essay or put something into Excel and then I have to physically get up and go to the kitchen to play. This muffin experiment, one extrapolated from a previous one, was borne out of one of those impulsive childish outbursts, and possesses that exact childlike quality. Such a relentless need to do something with my hands is almost childish, and perhaps it would be wise to use my hands for something else, yet this is all I want to do with them, with my time.

It has nothing of the mature notes of dark chocolate somethings, but all of the decadence. It’s much welcome in light of the past week, when a few disappointments came through, but of which were also softened by a recent trip to Vienna, Austria.

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And it’s simply beautiful there. I stayed in the suburbs with a beloved family, away from the bustle of the more touristy centre. There, a different light hits the streets, a soft one which seems to imbue all its residents with the same attitude towards life. It enables a brisk but more serene walk, or perhaps a cycle, to take in the details between cement tiles or patches of grass. It enables you to observe, feel and be. Very unlike what it feels like here, where it seems rather uncommon for people to walk not for the sake of enjoying it, and mealtimes are for sustenance, never pleasure. That light, that feel, has made me want to drown in the impossible (‘unmöglich’ in their language) beauty of everyday life. From our sun-drenched brunches pregnant with pretzels (bretzeln), to cuddling near a thermal bath, to reading (The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf) and swallowing it up easily because my phone notifications are now, permanently, off.

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A soft and gossamer muffin studded with tangy berries and sweet cream cheese.

These berries are like a dense piquant forest, pleasantly tart and just slightly biting, uprooted and plunged into new beige territory. To sleep. To rest without dying, their inborn qualities of tart and fresh and zing there, always there. A cream cheese river cutting through the forest, right in the middle, breaking up the forest and letting it lie nonchalantly on either side.

Quote of the day: “Feelings are important. But they’re important not for the reasons we think they are. We think they’re important because they say something about us, about the world, and about our relationship with it. But they say none of these things. There’s no meaning attached to feelings. Sometimes you hurt for good feelings. Sometimes for a bad reason. And sometimes no reason at all. The hurt itself is neutral. The reason is separate.”

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Berry Cheesecake Muffins (makes 12 medium muffins)

*=vegan substitution

Ingredients

For the muffins:

250g (2 cups) plain flour

2 eggs (*3 vegan eggs, made by mixing 3 tbsp ground flaxseed with 6 tbsp water in a bowl and letting set aside for the timebeing)

210g (slightly less than a cup) sugar

113g (0.5 cup) melted butter (*vegan butter or margarine)

1 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

240ml (1 cup) yoghurt or sour cream (*any plant-based yoghurt)

1 tsp vanilla extract

0.5 tsp salt (leave out if you used salted butter)

around 1 cup of fresh or frozen berries (I used frozen since I always have frozen berries stuffed in my freezer)

 

For the cream cheese filling:

110g cream cheese (*vegan cream cheese)

2.5 tbsp sugar (you can also use icing sugar)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C. Spray your 12-muffin pan with cooking spray or grease it with some butter, going all over the insides of the pan, including the whole surface on top. This is because the batter will rise and then fall to create the signature muffin top look, so greasing the surface will help you easily get the muffins out. Line your pan with paper liners.

First, in a bowl, make the cream cheese filling by mixing together the cream cheese and sugar. Put this in the fridge while you make the muffin batter. Using a whisk or electrical mixer, whisk the butter and sugar together. Then add the eggs, vanilla, and salt and mix until everything is frothy and well combined. In a separate bowl, briefly mix together the flour, baking powder and baking soda, then tip this into your egg mixture. Lastly, fold in your berries. Make sure your berries are not too big– cut large raspberries or blackberries in half before mixing them in.

Fill each muffin cup halfway with the batter. Then take your cream cheese filling out from the fridge and put teaspoons of this filling into the centre of the muffin tins. Repeat until you’re done with all 12. Finally, fill the muffin cups until the top (or three-quarters full) with the rest of the batter. As a final touch, sprinkle the tops of your muffins with Maldon salt and granulated sugar. Don’t be too liberal though, since the muffins themselves are already rather sweet by themselves.

Bake for 20-22 minutes in your preheated oven. Check with a wooden skewer or knife after 20 minutes– if there are moist crumbs clinging to it, take it out. If the skewer/knife is still obviously wet, leave the muffins in there for another 3-5 minutes. These are best enjoyed warm with some vanilla ice cream or yoghurt, or plain, but can be kept in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

 

Brownie Sharing Pudding

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Experimenting with writing from home this time. The familiar hum of the washing machine, occasional opening and closing of the café doors, and lack of ambient buzz typically isn’t conducive to any good writing from my own experience, but let’s see how this goes.

Last exam done, and I’m sat here wondering if this truly may be the last exam I ever will have. The past few days have been a blur, and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing. Now back to proper weekly experimentation recipes now that all that is over! Feels unreal. Taking a few snippets from the past week’s diary entries, and I’m wondering if anyone can empathise with any of these, even if not in a totally literal sense:

  • Monday, 9.23am: Gail’s chocolate sourdough is to die for
  • Monday, 12.13pm: Omotesando‘s little kashi cakes are also to die for. I appreciate good company here and the cold brew. I should come here at least once more, again.
  • Tues: Things that made me feel good: reading, exercising, food, going to the cinema alone, watching certain things with certain people, massages (oh my god)
  • Thurs: Everyone should go to Bancone here in London for their silk handkerchief pasta, and there’s also a delicious vegan options for you vegans
  • Fri, 7.07pm: Once the brain and blood gets pumping, a little cycle, a little heel kick, an easing of the joints.. everything else seems to fall into place.

And finally, does anyone else hate it when a face or thought can’t seem to escape your brain… ever? Please hit me up with any possible solution. A solution for dissolution.

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In short, the most versatile, the best, the fudgiest and chewiest-edged, brownie. I curated this recipe as a ‘sharing pudding’, which is just my way of saying I underbaked this during the experiment and it turned out still to be a very beautiful thing. It’s very reminiscent of a molten lava cake, except this time it’s meant for sharing.

Brownies are pretty close to my heart, which explains why one of my very first recipes was a brownie with some raspberry jam rippled through because I tried to be cool like that. A brownie may be less versatile than a cookie, but there is something so indulgently satisfying about preparing a disgustingly easy tray bake in less than 10 minutes and have something too moreish for your own good a little while later. It’s incentive enough to do something productive, like read two chapters of a book or call up an old friend or do your nails (if you can do that sort of thing, because I can but then realise it looks terrible), in those 20 minutes of waiting. Who doesn’t want a good, classic brownie recipe. The wonderful thing about this brownie is that it’s a brownie, normal and fudgy and satisfying, and also a sharing unit, something to bring you and family or friends together over whatever else may be occupying your night on any occasion.

If you would rather have this individually you can still split the batter into a muffin tin and cook it at the same temperature for 10-12 minutes. I had some extra batter left the first time I played around, so did that, and it turned out beautifully.

It’s muddy, gooey and all-round chocolatey. It takes 10 minutes tops to put together, 20 to bake. You can prep the batter before guests come round for dinner, then put it in the oven just when dinner is about to wrap up. Then. Then you serve this quick and easy babe of a dessert piping hot and ooey-gooey from the oven when dessert time calls. Hand everyone around the table a spoon and you just dig in. No waiting, no cutting, no fretting about when to cut or how big to cut it. You just do. Vanilla ice cream, or cream, or yoghurt on the side for everyone to help themselves.

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That stretch.

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Brownie Sharing Pudding (serves 6-8)

Ingredients

115g salted butter (normal/vegan), melted (add 1 tsp of fine salt to the wet mixture if you only have unsalted butter)

100g brown sugar

100g white sugar

2 eggs or flax eggs (make the flax eggs by combining 2 heaped tbsp of ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a bowl, then set that aside for a while to set)

1 tsp vanilla extract

60g plain flour

55g cocoa powder

90-100g roughly chopped dark chocolate, or you can use a mixture of chocolates (e.g. dark and white)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a standard 9×5-inch loaf tin with a loaf tin liner or parchment paper. Alternatively, simply grease the pan with butter or vegetable oil. If you’re making individual molten cakes, split the batter in a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a bowl, mix the melted salted butter, two sugars and vanilla. Then add the eggs and whisk well. Finally, add the cocoa powder, flour and chocolate, and fold until everything is just incorporated. Pour the batter into your loaf tin/muffin cups and place in the preheated oven to bake for 22-25 minutes (11 minutes if you’re doing the individual molten cakes– check to see if the top and edges have set at the 11-minute mark and leave them in for another minute if it doesn’t look quite dry on top yet). I found that the perfect time for these brownies is 22-23 minutes if you want them extra fudgy, but cook for 2-3 more minutes if you want them slightly more set. A wooden skewer inserted into the middle will reveal a still-wet batter at the 22-minute mark, but that’s what you want, and it will continue to set a little more once you take the tin out of the oven.

Let the brownie sharing pudding cool for at least 5 minutes before serving with ice cream or cold yoghurt. Just let everyone have a spoon for digging in immediately. Perfect.

White Chocolate Kladdkaka

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The sun is streaming in bright and warm in this café. The shot of soy milk in my iced Americano is a weak ivory, colour and taste slowly being watered down by all that ice. As ivory as the white chocolate that was the death of me the past weekend.

So a word or two about white chocolate. The ‘low-grade, ‘fake’, the stuff that will never live up to the heady lusciousness of her dark and milk sisters. If white chocolate has no quality of chocolate to offer (cocoa solids, caffeine maybe), perhaps it should not even be called chocolate. But it’s still a chocolate derivative– cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, and the process and pleasure involved in consuming chocolate, dark or white or in between, is nevertheless the same. A silky richness, a smooth going-down.

And now for kladdkaka, a simple Swedish cake, and very much more of a brownie in its own right. Typically made with dark chocolate, or a mix of dark and milk. White chocolate? The Swedish may dislike this, but with some white chocolate Easter eggs lying around, why not, I thought. The prevailing thought: why not. It’s as fudgy as fudge gets, moist, and most importantly, sticky, especially in the middle. That’s what makes it pretty unique. I took a risk baking this jussst until set at the 20-minute mark, but that was perfect, and set up just as well as I had hoped, as it continued to cool after baking.

Last week consisted of more work, feeling more strongly upon seeing people than I anticipated, almost as if totally out of control, leading to dreams similarly on this same level of bewilderment, too vivid for me to process as not real, to the point where I woke up and literally said, oh shit, that wasn’t real at all, out loud. I guess we all have those days. Making this cake was a sweet, sensible end to all the incomprehension the past week, incomprehension borne out of my own incapability of teasing out my own emotions about a variety of things in work and in relationships. It’s not that I don’t know at least a little bit why I feel this way, but I wonder if my mind is playing up, or if I’m simply someone who becomes too emotionally attached to everything and everyone too easily, making myself think I’m ok with doing things which a lot of other people get away with, with no consequence. I wonder what other people do when they don’t know how or what to feel.

I’ve also finished watching Osmosis and Dark, two short but intense series on Netflix, which probably made me feel a lot of things and contributed to that lack of self-comprehension on a subconscious level. In any case, and after all that blabber, I highly recommend both series.

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In the original recipe I referred to, the eggs and sugar were beat together for 7 minutes, although I found my mixture to reach a pale and fluffy consistency at the 5-minute mark with aquafaba, so play around with 5-7 minutes. An electrical whisk/beater is crucial here. You don’t want too-tired arms getting in the way of the fun of the whole process, and the speed and efficiency of an electrical whisk will get your egg-sugar mixture to where you need it to be in no time. You want it to be quite a bit more voluminous than what you see when you first start whisking the mixture. Same goes for the aquafaba, the stuff I used, which takes quite a while to whip up anyway.

I’m not sure if people have strong opinions on using salted butter in their recipes, but since I always have salted butter in my fridge, I almost always end up using it to bake anyway. It adds a nice dispersed flavour of salt, without ever making your final product actually taste salty. Also saves you the hassle of going out to buy a new block. The easy incorporation balances the heady sweetness of white chocolate. Look at that squidge, below, right there, in the centre, and tell me you don’t want to make this.

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White Chocolate Kladdkaka (makes 1 9-inch cake, modified from this recipe)

Ingredients

150g salted butter (if not salted, add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the dry mix later on)

150g good quality white chocolate (vegan/normal)

150g plain flour

1 tsp vanilla extract

150g white sugar

6 tbsp aquafaba (the egg-white looking liquid left after draining a can of chickpeas), or 2 whole eggs

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and grease a 9-inch cake pan. I used one with a removable bottom (like for cheesecakes) just so it’s easy to take out, and I’m lazy when it comes to greasing and lining things just like other humans sometimes.

Melt the butter and white chocolate together in a saucepan on medium heat, or in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl. If microwaving, take out every minute to stir, and so the chocolate doesn’t catch and cook too fast in the middle. Set aside this melted mixture aside for now while you put together the rest of the cake.

In a bowl, and using an electrical whisk, beat together the aquafaba/eggs and sugar for at least 5 minutes, until light, fluffy, and more voluminous than when you first started. Then add the white chocolate-butter mixture, vanilla extract, and flour (and salt if you did not use salted butter). Pour the thick but droppy batter into your greased tin and bake for 20-22 minutes. A wooden skewer inserted will come out pretty wet, but this is normal. The cake will continue to cook when you take it out to set. Once you’ve left it to cool for around 10 minutes, dust on some icing sugar, then eat plain, or with yoghurt and berries. Simply divine.

Classic Crepes (gluten-free option)

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Fall, friends! It’s here, and I don’t know about you but I’m ready. Hello, excessive amounts of anything with pumpkin and apple pies. Hello, my favourite season.

The term has once again started, and with it comes a sense of both excitement and dread. To be intellectually stimulated is one thing, but it’s important to not let the intimidation of new, bright faces obfuscate any goal, be it professional or personal.

Enough with my obsession with pancakes. I let crepes take over this time. Sometimes a change of breakfast routine is all you need to feel excited about a new season, a new beginning, a new.. anything. These crepes can be made with any flour you wish, however buckwheat or spelt does result in a fluffier crepe with a more interesting flavour dimension. I never was a buckwheat gal, but decided to experiment with the rather wholesome-looking grain after a friend of mine whipped up a delicious buckwheat veggie dish for me last year, and since it’s free of gluten, it’s worth a try for my increasing number of gluten-free peeps. What’s more, more buckwheat, barley, brown rice and basically anything not scarily white is a good way of reducing intake of refined sugar and carbohydrate, for as much as I (and most of us) love the stuff, it does nothing for the brain or body, and can possibly trigger terrible eating habits.  Furthermore, it’s exciting just knowing that buckwheat:

  • is full of the bioflavonoid rutin, which contains quercetin (also abundant in apples), and is thus of higher nutritional value than many other grains. Rutin helps with blood circulation and lowers cholesterol, to name just a few things.
  • is full of magnesium (supports respiratory health and helps restore normal sleep patterns), copper (helps the body absorb iron), and manganese (can improve bone health and reduce inflammation)

Makes it all a bit more exciting to put together. So you just whisk a few ingredients together, smack a quarter-cup of batter each time onto a hot pan, spread it out a little, flip to cook the other side for a short while, and there you have it– incredibly soft, tender crepes. The uniqueness of this dangerously delicious breakfast lies in its versatility– there’s a lightly toasted nutty flavour that can be combined with almost any flavour topping, although my personal favourite is coconut yoghurt and plenty of frozen but thawing summer berries on top.

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Crepes (makes 4-6, enough for one hungry person, scale up as necessary)

Ingredients

65g buckwheat flour (sub: plain or spelt flour)

pinch of salt

200ml plant milk of choice (I used oat)

1/2 tbsp ground flaxseed

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp vegetable oil/melted vegan butter (sub: normal butter)

Directions

In a medium mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients well. The batter should be pourable but not too wet, so if it seems too thick, add a tablespoon of milk, and if it seems too thin, add a little more flour. Heat your pan (add a little oil if it’s not a nonstick pan) on medium heat. Flick a splash of water on it to see if it sizzles, to check if the pan is hot enough to use. Once it is hot enough, add a quarter-cup of batter to the pan and use the back of the cup measurement to spread the batter out into a thin circle. Be careful here– you don’t want the batter to be too thin, as this will lead to easy breakage afterwards when you try and flip the crepe.  Cook the first side until you see the edges of the crepe firm up, then slide your spatula carefully underneath and flip the crepe. Cook the second side for a little shorter, about a minute or so. Place the cooked crepe on a paper towel and roll it up before placing on a serving plate. Continue to do this for the remaining amount of batter. Serve with thick coconut yoghurt, tahini, berries and maple syrup!

 

No-bake Strawberry Cheesecake

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Rain, outside. Currently listening to Millie Vernon’s That Old Feeling, and feeling swingy. I haven’t given enough verbal weight to the importance of smooth jazz to my creations. Its silky notes have a way of churning the cogs up there. The rain is helping, too.

Cheesecake, cheesecake! Inspired by none other than my favourite Ben&Jerry’s ice cream flavour as a child. Am I the only one who thought it was better than every other flavour they had? Phish food was fine, Cherry Garcia was an atrocity only because I had no appetite for cherries in any form at that age, the banana thing was a no. It was a picky phase, I could only stick to solid chocolate and cheese sort of flavours, and anything nutty or fruity was sacrilege. Except for strawberry cheesecake.

I approach most vegan cheesecake recipes with caution. Cashews and coconut? The furthest things from that signature dairy taste? I think not. But this one proved me (and will hopefully do the same to you) wrong. A good soak of your cashews will yield a fine, smooth texture, similar to your typical New York cheesecake, I promise. I kept this one base-less to keep the focus on the pure filling, but you can use this crust if you wish. That crust is also featured in my recipe for a classic vegan cheesecake, if you wish to try a proper baked one instead. It’s good to remind oneself of why it’s important to use more plant-based foods and proteins in anything you cook and bake. Just look at the power of cashews, the main star of this event:

  • They are almost a quarter total protein
  • 62% of its fats are monounsaturated, and have less fat than most other nuts
  • They are brimming with a sort of flavonol that starves cancer tumours
  • They help manufacture enzymes involved in the formation of haemoglobin and collagen, and are therefore key in skin and hair health
  • I keep forgetting that full stops don’t belong in bullet points

So you see, I guess this whole cashews-not-milk-plus-save-cow-exploitation sort of headspace isn’t so bad. The better you blend all this up, the better your result. You really want it to be as smooth and creamy as possible. What’s great about this recipe is also that i’s no-bake, which means it satisfies all you lazy bakers (me included sometimes).

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Ingredients

250g raw cashews, soaked overnight or for a couple of hours in lukewarm water, and drained. You can leave the cashews in the fridge or on the counter. Alternatively, you can add boiling water to the cashews and let this sit for half an hour before using.

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp fine salt

120ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed from about 3-4 lemons

1 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

80ml maple syrup

60ml vegetable oil (sub: melted vegan butter/melted coconut oil)

3 heaped tbsp coconut yoghurt or any yoghurt you like (sub: applesauce or milk)

3 heaped tbsp strawberry jam

Directions

Blend all ingredients except for the jam in a high-speed, powerful blender. Continue to blend until you get a smooth, pale consistency. It should be thick and runny. Pour the filling into a bowl, add the strawberry jam and then use a spatula to fold the jam in, creating a ripple effect. Tip this into a 8 or 9-inch cheesecake pan with a removable bottom and place it into the freezer to set.

*To create the swirly effect as you can see above, take the cheesecake out of the freezer after 30 minutes, and run a small knife or spatula in the formation of a spiral from the outside to the inside. You may get this all messy the first time, especially as the cheesecake starts to thaw, but don’t worry, the fact that the cheesecake thaws easily means it’s also easy to scrap whatever pattern you’ve done and start again. You can also put the cheesecake back in the freezer and take it out 10 minutes later to re-mold whatever pattern you want. Enjoy with coconut yogurt and strawberry jam.