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.

 

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.

Raspberry Peanut Butter Pancakes

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There’s nothing like the cross-section of a fluffy pillow-like pancake, reeking of some overly airy ethereal quality before you soak it in maple syrup and drench it in other whatnots (Nutella people, where are you). Back to the pillow pancake days. Dreamy, fluffy, soft pancakes are the only sort of pancakes that should exist. Though I’m partial to the odd, flat, crepe-like English pancake, I can only bring myself to have those with lemon juice and sugar when Pancake Tuesday actually comes round, although the tradition itself still lies outside my own realm of habit, let alone desire. After a long week polka-dotted with bouts of stress and self-doubt, a cool and fresh Saturday morning and some yoga was all that was needed to set the mind straight again. These pancakes just so happened to be the icing on top of all of that.

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For the sake of simplicity and ease, unlike my previous pillow pancake recipes, this one doesn’t have the buttermilk component, although I’m sure that will also work supremely well here anyway. If you do wish, simply add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup measurement, then fill the rest of the cup with milk, and wait for a couple of minutes to let the milk curdle a little, infusing it with a mild tanginess that complements the raspberries that are added in a little later. Yet, even without this vegan buttermilk mix, the frozen raspberries which melt a little as you cook the batter offers the same effect. Just as how an individual’s nature is a unique variation on the original theme (DNA!), these raspberry peanut butter pancakes are a unique twist on your classic Pancake Sunday (or Pancake Tuesday in the UK if you’re feeling that rebellious).

These go too well with thick plant yoghurt like coconut or soy, maple syrup, and just a touch more peanut butter on the side. More berries too if you wish. If making for a large group of people, after cooking, place the pancakes next to each other on a baking pan and keep them warm in an oven turned on at low heat, before plating and serving.

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Raspberry Peanut Butter Pillow Pancakes (makes around 6 medium pancakes)

Ingredients

190g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

3 tbsp sugar (white/coconut)

½ tsp fine salt

1 banana, mashed

30g melted unsalted butter

2 heaped tbsp peanut butter (smooth or chunky, that’s up to you)

2 handfuls of frozen raspberries

240ml (1 cup) milk of choice (I used unsweetened soy) 

Directions

First, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Microwave the peanut butter until it becomes soft and drippy. Add the warm peanut butter, mashed banana, milk and melted butter to the bowl, then use a spoon to mix everything until just about evenly incorporated. Finally, add the frozen raspberries and briefly whisk them in until they are evenly dispersed throughout the batter. Heat a pan on medium-high heat and add a pat of butter. Once the butter has melted and is slightly sizzling, turn the heat to medium, then ladle in the pancake batter– half a ladle or 2 heaped tbsp would make for one pancake. Wait a minute or until you can see the edges going a little dry, then flip to cook the other side. Continue ladling and flipping until you have finished up all the batter. Enjoy with yoghurt, more peanut butter and berries, and a drizzle of maple syrup. YUM. Just yum.

Matcha Scones

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First, yet late, post of the new year. Ready to make some changes and start anew despite a slightly rough start, such as being more regular on this platform…! I realised that, despite how much I love Instagram and how such a platform exposed me to like-minded, passionate individuals, it’s this more personal, open space that, on occasion, does feel more like a space that induces more openness and lengthy talks about nothing and everything. How a simple matcha scone can offer so much pleasure, how a bleak future and more job losses thanks to AI actually may create more jobs, how my screen now has a small but rather obvious crack, how Thursdays may be better for starting new habits than Mondays… you know, that sort of thing. Everything and nothing. Instagram isn’t made for excessively long captions, and the algorithm has blinded me to some of my own dear friends’ posts. That’s annoying. So here’s to not panicking over these silly minutiae of daily life, and start embracing what truly makes us happy, even if it seems as if no one is looking or listening. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but isn’t that the point? Here, I don’t have to care.

 

Matcha scone, oh matcha scone. I haven’t made something so simple and delicious in a while. These quite literally are effortless, so if you do have an oven, there is no excuse not to at least try. Yes, I know matcha powder can be quite unnecessarily pricey, especially here in London, so experiment with whatever other bold flavour you may have hanging around in the house. An element of bitterness or tanginess will add a unique aftertaste, hence I used matcha powder, but mix in a cluster of frozen berries, or cocoa powder, and you will still end up with a similar effect, embodied in something especially flavourful and special.

 

The beautiful thing about this batter is that the vegan butter, which is naturally soft on its own, doesn’t have to be left out for a while to get to room temperature. Simply scoop however much you need right from the tub, and dump it straight into the dry mixture. Of course, use normal butter if you already have that on hand. You will first be enraptured by the smell of these baking, and there’s no going back once you sink your teeth into the soft flakiness of the scones. You can go the extra mile and up the flake level by cubing your butter first and putting it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes before mixing it into the dry mix, but I was, well, lazy, and still had incredibly flaky yummy scones. These are too perfect right out of the oven with a cup of tea or coffee. If storing them in the freezer, leave to thaw before consuming. I recently discovered that cutting one scone along its length and toasting each half made it feel and look as if the scone was fresh out of the oven.

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Ingredients

For the scones:

245g plain flour (alternatively, use half whole-wheat and half white)

115g sugar (white or coconut)

1 tbsp baking powder

½ baking soda

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp ground flaxseed

2 tbsp water

2 tbsp matcha powder (I used the one by Matcha Reserve, which is my favourite brand so far)

120ml (half a cup) plant milk of choice– I used almond

90g (6 tbsp) vegan butter (alternatively, use normal butter)

 

For the icing:

60g (a half cup) of icing sugar

1 tbsp plant milk of choice (I used almond again, you can use whichever you prefer– coconut/oat etc)

 

 

Directions

In a little saucer, mix together the ground flaxseed and 2 tbsp of water and set this aside to form your flax egg.

Preheat your oven to 220C (425F) and line a baking tray with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, matcha powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Then add the butter and milk, and mix with your fingertips until the dough comes together. Don’t overmix this scone batter otherwise you will get rubbery dough once it’s baked. The batter should not be too dry– the butter should make it slightly moist to the touch but not slippery or wet. Once everything has roughly come together, place the mass of dough onto the parchment paper and slightly flatten it into a rectangle mimicking the shape of the baking tray, about 2 inches thick. Use a knife to cut the dough into 6 triangles. They may or may not be equal in size. Keep it rustic, right? Place the tray into the preheated oven and bake it for 25 minutes, or until you see the tops go slightly golden-brown. While the scones are baking, make the icing by whisking the icing sugar and milk with a fork in a bowl.

 

Once the scones have fully baked, leave them to cool for 10 minutes before drizzling on the glaze. These are best eaten once straight out of the oven, but they can be stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container.

Soufflé Pancakes

As the year passes, in too quickly a manner, there has been a burgeoning demand for precious moments and their savouring.

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One of those precious moments happened last year, or perhaps a little before that, when I successfully made these Japanese soufflé pancakes. And since one of my life missions has been to having a professional feel for developing accurate, DELICIOUS vegan or plant-based reproductions of my favourite, usually nostalgic, breakfast or baking recipes, I couldn’t miss the chance to do so this time. I haven’t had these pancakes in ages, but they really are beautiful things. Admittedly, their sky-high, pillowy nature makes them not quite so pancake-like in the books of many purists, whatever continent may be in. Eating them, nevertheless, is pure ecstasy, and that’s what really matters. Each bite is weightless, teeth effortlessly sinking into these fluffy bodies. The little bit of sugar added to these pancakes suffices, coming through clearly purely due to all that air in each tower of a cake.

The addition of pumpkin purée here comes in handy after Fall, when you may still have half-cans of the stuff lying around. It adds the texture and flavour of egg yolk, which is what I originally use in the ‘normal’ recipe, without being intrusive with pumpkin’s own natural flavour. As for the Japanese (kewpie as it’s called) mayonnaise that’s one of the main stars in the normal recipe, vegan mayonnaise is used. I use the one by the brand Follow Your Heart, which tastes astoundingly like the real thing– crazy! The only thing here which isn’t exactly comforting is the use of white sugar, since I learnt that it’s common for the stuff to be made from bone char, and I am still trying to cut down on the use of refined sugar in general, since its general effects, both physically and mentally, just aren’t very desirable. However, I had some lying around and did not want to waste it, so that happened. Would be very grateful for any recommendations for substitutions!

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Soufflé pancakes (serves 1-2)

Ingredients  

4 tbsp pumpkin purée (sub: 2 egg yolks)

1 heaping tbsp. vegan mayonnaise (sub: normal mayonnaise if you’re not vegan)

The liquid from 1 can of chickpeas (aquafaba; sub: 2 egg whites)

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp white sugar

5 tbsp cake flour

1 tsp baking powder

some vegan butter for the pan during cooking

Directions

Prepare your pan and ring molds– you will need 3-4 4-inch wide ring molds for this. I actually did not have this on hand so I improvised and stapled together rings of aluminium foil to get the same effect. Note to self: use ring molds next time. The foil works but you have an increased chance of leakage at the bottom!

In a bowl, briefly whisk together the cake flour and baking powder. Then add the pumpkin purée, salt and vegan mayo. Whisk these together until you get a thick, dark yellow, almost paste-like mixture.

In a separate clean bowl, use an electric whisk to beat the aquafaba on high until frothy and mostly white throughout. Once you reach this frothy point, add the sugar and continue beating on high until you get a thick consistency. Aquafaba takes longer to whip up than normal egg white so be patient here– this can take up to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place your pan on the stove to preheat it on medium heat. Once thickly whipped, add the aquafaba to the pumpkin mixture and gently fold with a spatula (I recommend a rubber one) until you get an incredibly light and airy consistency. At this point, your pan will be rather hot. Place your ring molds on the pan and add the batter to one of the molds until it is ¾ full. Cover the pan with its lid and wait 2-3 minutes. Remove the lid– once you see that the top is rather firm, use a flat pancake spatula to flip the pancake with the ring mold still in tact, to cook the other side. Remove this pancake and put it on a paper towel on a plate to rest while you cook the rest of the batter.