Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Doin' It Up Old School...With A Vegan Twist

I love to bake all kinds of things, but I still maintain that the best recipes are the old classics. I've noticed time and again that whenever I pull a recipe from an old cookbook that was sold as a local fundraiser where I grew up, or if I use an old family recipe (either my family's or a friend's!), those are always the foods that are favorites. I'm not sure if these foods just bring back good memories for people, or if the recipes are just classics that have been perfected over the generations, but I know better than to question a good thing.

One of my absolute favorite treats as a kid was straight out of my elementary school cookbook: chocolate caramel brownies. My mom would make these, and I would just melt. These brownies are just ridiculously rich and intense, with sweetness of chocolate mixing in with the salty stickiness of the caramel. Very yummy indeed! They are great because they are a hit with kids, but because they are so decadent, they also pass as a very "adult" dessert as well. What is also great about this recipe is that it took German chocolate cake mix and jazzed it up, so if you don't normally keep baking ingredients in your home but you want to bake something special, a box of cake mix will do the trick.

Let me tell you though, the recipe violates just about every rule of vegan baking that there is. First, cake mix - not only do you find dairy and egg products, but healthywise, these are the worst offenders of partially hydrogenated yuck you can buy. Second, evaporated milk is critical in this recipe. And finally, the caramels. Besides having milk in them, they are just annoying to handle, even if they are delicious in the final product. The original recipe calls you to buy a bag of caramels and individually unwrap each of the 50 caramels. Let me tell you, I'm usually fairly bitter by the time I'm done with that process, and I'd rather just eat the 50 caramels than keep baking.

Fortunately, all of these fixes are pretty easy! I've previously extolled the virtues of Cherrybrook Kitchens (http://www.cherrybrookkitchens.com) vegan cake mixes, and it is just as delicious here, too. Just pick up a box of chocolate cake mix, and you're all set. Evaporated milk? No problem. Just take the amount of milk you need and double it, swapping in soy milk. Then, heat up the milk over medium low heat; the soy milk will get hot, but don't let it boil. Just stir occasionally, and the milk will reduce. Once reduced by half, you have evaporated milk.

And the caramel? That ended up being the best surprise of all. Not only is this stuff delicious in this recipe, but it's actually meant to be a topping for ice cream. The batch whips up really quickly, and the final product has an intense, almost nutty flavor. Two thumbs way up, and a special thank you to http://veganicecream.blogspot.com for posting the recipe! I've put it below.

Chocolate Caramel Brownies
Yields: 20-24 brownies

2/3 c. soy milk (directions in recipe for turning it into evaporated milk)
Caramel Sauce (recipe follows at end)
1 box vegan chocolate cake mix
3/4 c. non-dairy butter substitute, melted (like Earth's Balance)
1 c. vegan chocolate chips (like Ghirardelli)

1) Prepare evaporated milk. Heat soy milk over medium low heat, occasionally stirring to keep from boiling. After approximately 10-15 minutes, the milk should have reduced by half (1/3 c.). Remove from heat.
2) At the same time, prepare caramel sauce (recipe at the end).
3) Mix together (by hand) the evaporated soy milk, the cake mix, and the melted butter substitute. The mixture will look like brownies.
4) Pat 2/3 of the dough into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake the mixture for 8 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.
5) Remove from oven and sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Add the caramel sauce; you will not need all of it, just add until the caramel covers the top. (Put the rest in the fridge for ice cream!)
6) Take the remaining dough and crumble over the top of the caramel, pushing the dough into the caramel if need be.
7) Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool completely before cutting. If you are having trouble removing the brownies from the pan or if you used too much caramel, do not worry. Simply leave the cut brownies in the pan, cover, and put the brownies in the fridge until cold. The caramel will firm up, and then you'll have an easier time removing them.

Caramel Sauce
Yields: 2-3 cups sauce

1/2 c. non-dairy butter substitute (like Earth's Balance)
2 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. soy milk, divided
2 Tbsp. arrowroot.

1) Mix 1/4 c. soy milk and the arrowroot together; put aside.
2) Melt the remaining ingredients in a saucepan, over medium to medium high heat, stirring frequently. Once melted, the mixture should boil (or will shortly begin to boil). Boil for 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
3) Immediately remove the mixture from the heat and add the soymilk/arrowroot mixture. Stir until smooth.

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