Vegan Fondant on a Vegan Chameleon Cake

April 7, 2011
chameleon cake with vegan fondant

Chameleon birthday cake decorated with vegan fondant

Fondant is what you see on tv in all the cake and baking competitions. Typically it is rolled out and draped over the cake, where it creates a velvety-smooth appearance. It’s made from gelatin, corn syrup, powdered sugar, and gums. The consistency is a lot like play dough, and you can roll it out or mold it into shapes.

It’s notoriously finicky to work with. It hates humidity and heat. Since it’s primarily made of powdered sugar, when there is moisture in the air, it absorbs the moisture, becoming sticky, wet, and eventually melting.

You have to work fast with it, since the heat from your hands causes it to soften and tear. It rips easily and gets cracks in it. It picks up on any little dings, dents and mistaken finger pokes or marks.

In fact, it’s such a pain, it’s a wonder people work with it at all. But in a cool, dry, temperature-stable environment, you can get gorgeous results with it.

You need to use a base layer of frosting over the cake, to make the fondant stick. Traditionally this is buttercream. This year I opted to use a coconut milk and cornstarch mixture, like haupia, a thick pudding, which worked fine. You can also make a buttercream frosting by substituting vegan margarine for the butter. I’ve done that in the past, and it works great.

But the birthday girl thinks buttercream is a bit too rich, so I skipped the added expense and went with the coconut milk frosting instead. You don’t taste the frosting much anyway, since the fondant is sickly sweet and will overpower any frosting flavor.

Use a sturdy cake that will hold up to the weight of the fondant, which can end up quite heavy with several layers. And be sure to design your cake so it is structurally sound.

This was a vegan chocolate cake baked in a loaf pan. I kept it in the refrigerator overnight. Then I sculpted the base form before covering it with frosting and letting it harden in the refrigerator. Finally, I covered it with the fondant base layer and decorations.

I recommend you do not eat the fondant, although almost half the guests did. It’s just so sickly sweet. If you pull it off the cake, however, the frosting comes off with it, so you might serve a bowl of frosting on the side, so those people who remove the fondant aren’t stuck with just plain cake.

You can use commercial gel colorants, but the thought of making a vegan cake full of FD&C Color Number This, That, and the Other was gross and pretty much defeated the purpose. So I put on my thinking cap and used natural colorants that I had in my pantry.

The base fondant color turned out white, even with the addition of vanilla extract, so that was one color. To make yellow, I added powdered turmeric. Powdered annatto or achiote seed gave me a gorgeous orange.

I wasn’t quite as successful using my powdered green drink supplement mix to get a green. It ended up being more of an olive color, which was still nice, just not bright and colorful green like I had hoped.

colored vegan fondant

Vegan fondant colored naturally: with turmeric, annatto, and green drink powder. The white is the plain base fondant.

The fresher these powders, the brighter the colors you’ll get. Basically, whatever color it looks like in the jar or package will be what you end up with when you mix enough of it with the fondant.

Because I was using an obscene amount of powdered sugar (2 pounds for one recipe!) I started adding cornstarch towards the end, instead. I don’t know how much this affected the texture and ability to work with the fondant. It seemed to make it less sticky.

The mixture will harden up overnight, so resist the temptation to keep adding sugar until it stops sticking. You can’t take it out, and adding too much makes it crack when you try to roll it out.

So stop mixing when it becomes a solid mass that you can work into a ball, even if it still sticks a bit. Wrap it in plastic and leave it on the counter overnight.

The next day, when you go to work with it, you’ll need to use powdered sugar as dusting, so it doesn’t stick to everything. I also used cornstarch for dusting, which seemed to work well.

However, the fact that this was humid Honolulu, AND it was raining both days I made this, spelled disaster for the cake. The longer I tried to work with it, the stickier and meltier it got. I gave up halfway done and put the cake with fondant into the refrigerator, even though I’ve read you shouldn’t refrigerate it.

The next day, I finished it, but the whole thing ended up oozing, melting, and turning to pools of bright orange and mustard yellow liquid where the cake touched the board. Sigh.

chameleon cake face

You can see around the eye especially how the fondant is melting and blending together.

Oh well. At least we could get an idea of what it would have looked like with ideal climate and working conditions. And I don’t know how much of the problem was due to the fact that I changed the original recipe and instructions (from Mission:Vegan) slightly.

Instead of shortening, I used canola oil. And I used cornstarch instead of powdered sugar toward the end. My guess is that those things didn’t make that much difference. The rain and heat were bigger factors.

And although it was a huge pain to work with this fondant, I have to admit, it was still a lot of fun, especially in the beginning, when things were going along okay and the cake started to look cool. I hadn’t had that much fun making a cake since…well, one year ago, when I made a birthday cake for my friend’s last birthday!

Vegan Fondant Recipe

1/4 cup water
1-1/2 teaspoons agar powder
1/2 cup corn syrup
1-1/2 TBS glycerin (you can buy this at any drug store)
2 TBS canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 pounds powdered sugar
cornstarch
gel color OR
natural powder colorants:
for mustardy yellow–turmeric (buy this cheaply where Indian ingredients are sold)
for orange–annatto or achiote powder (available at Latin groceries or where Filipino foods are sold)
for olive green–green drink powder

In a small pan, heat the water and agar, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil, or the agar powder has all dissolved.

Add this to a bowl with the corn syrup, glycerin, shortening, vanilla, and about half the powdered sugar. Mix completely.

Continue adding powdered sugar until the mixture starts to form into a ball. Knead it as you would bread dough. Stop even though it is still a bit sticky.

Wrap in plastic wrap, put into a plastic bag, close tightly, and leave out overnight.

The next day, separate into smaller portions. Keep the unused portions tightly wrapped.

Knead in colorants as desired to get the color you want. I used about 1 TBS powder for every 1/2 cup of fondant to color.

Use powdered sugar or cornstarch to keep the mixture from sticking as you roll it out on the counter.

Apply the fondant to a cooled and frosted cake which has been in the fridge so the base layer of frosting has hardened.

To make your decorations, roll out fondant and cut it with a knife. Use a tiny dab of water as glue to make it stick to the base layer of fondant.

You can also roll it into balls to make eyeballs, etc. or ropes. Basically, the same stuff you’d do with play dough. Use chopsticks, the back of a knife, and other things to make lines and holes as desired.

When done, cover the cake with plastic wrap and store in a cool, dry place until it’s time for your party.

You can also dust the fondant with powdered commercial dusts, like metallic gold and silver edible dusts, although I haven’t tried this yet. Watch any of the professional cake makers on tv for more ideas and inspiration. Their stuff is amazing, and I have even more respect for their work, now that I’ve tried doing this myself and seen how tough it is.

One of the judges, Kerry Vincent, is often criticized for being a stickler. She says things like, “Your fondant work was very sloppy. There were lots of cracks in it.” But she knows and respects good work, because she has done this herself.

So if you’re finding fault with my fondant work, oh well. Everyone’s a critic. I too wish it had been better, but I did the best I could. Go make some cake, frosting, and fondant for yourself, and see what you can come up with.

I’d love to see what you end up with. Feel free to contact me, and we can commiserate together! Hahahaha.


An April Fool’s Birthday Party: Illusion Food

April 7, 2011
vegan meat loaf

Vegan "meat loaf" cake and "ice cream"

This year, we celebrated my friend’s birthday with a party on April Fool’s Day, April 1. It was the perfect time to try out my menu of Illusion Foods.

Some years ago, on a Food Network television show called Dinner Impossible, Chef Robert Irvine was invited to a magician’s convention in Las Vegas. His mission was to create a dinner menu of Illusion Foods.

In other words, each dish had to look like one thing, but taste like something else. He served a soup that tasted like Ceasar Salad and another soup that tasted like pizza.

With the help of chemicals like xanthan gum and liquid nitrogen, he mutated mango and chocolate to create Dessert Nachos.

He cut tortillas into triangles, baked them, and sprinkled them with cinnamon and sugar. Chocolate and some chemicals were frozen and blended to create “ground beef.”

Grated “cheese” for the nachos were made with mangoes and some other chemical that allowed it to stay somewhat pliable when frozen and grated. And the “salsa” was sauce made from strawberries and cherries.

Inspired by that show, I came up with a vegan version of his Illusion Food menu. I used the pizza soup idea and served it with grilled triangles of pizza dough.

vegan pizza soup

Vegan Pizza Soup

(Sorry, no photo of the bread. The reality of food blogging is that you often eat all the food before you remember to take a picture!)

Salad was in the shape of a centipede. I used carrot sticks for legs, and cut pieces of red bell pepper for head and stingers on the tail. The antennae were made from the tips of tiny green onions.

centipede salad

Centipede Salad--not for the faint of heart!

I should have put it on a different platter, so you could see the colors better, but you get the idea.

The main course was Cake, Ice Cream, and Sauce. The birthday girl exclaimed, when it was presented, “raspberry sauce!”

vegan meat loaf

Savory cake, ice cream, and raspberry sauce--not!

The “cake” is a vegan “meat” loaf made from nuts, vegetables, and bread, baked. The “filling” and “frosting” is a cauliflower puree.

Scoops of “ice cream” were actually mashed potatoes, and the “raspberry sauce” was a beet sauce.

Dessert had to be birthday cake and ice cream, so I tried my hand at fondant for the first time, using a vegan fondant recipe.

I cut and decorated the cake to look like a chameleon. Vegan ginger ice cream was frozen in candy molds in the shape of fish.

chameleon cake with vegan fondant

Chameleon Cake with vegan fondant and Vegan Ice Cream Fish

The party was a hit, although it did somewhat confuse one of my older friends. It’s kind of like when you see a white person speaking fluent Chinese…the image in front of you, and the image of what it’s supposed to look like don’t quite match.

So eating ice cream and cake that taste like meat loaf and mashed potatoes was a little discombobulating. But still delicious!


Cuisinart Ice 21: A Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker Review by a Real User

January 30, 2011

homemade ice cream machine

I had been wanting to get an automatic ice cream machine for a while but wondered if it was worth the expense. I finally caved and got one that I hoped would be inexpensive, easy to use, durable, and give me freedom to make homemade ice cream, yogurt, sorbets, and other frozen delights. Here is a Cuisinart ice cream maker review, of the Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker machine.

Years ago we had a really cheap, hand-cranked ice cream maker. The idea is that there is a large bowl you place in your freezer. When you are ready to make ice cream or other frozen dessert, you add your mixture and the paddle and start turning.

The paddle incorporates air into the base mix and allows smaller ice crystals to form as it is freezing. The result is creamy and smooth, without ice crystals that can make your ice cream crunchy and less desirable.

The problem with that old homemade ice cream machine was that you had to constantly crank for about half an hour. And you couldn’t stop, because the stuff would freeze where it touched the sides of the bowl. The plastic mixing paddle was put under a lot of strain to move so much ice cream. There was more and more resistance as the mixture froze.

The Cuisinart Ice 21 ice cream machine kind of reverses the paddle mechanism, plus it is automated. That means you do not have to crank or turn anything, except turn on the switch!

The freezer bowl part of the equation is the same. You need a fairly large space in your freezer to keep it there. It needs to be upright; otherwise, the liquid inside will freeze unevenly, which means the ice cream will freeze unevenly.

Use the bowl immediately after you take it out of the freezer, because it starts to lose its potency every second it is out. You will only be able to make one batch, too, so purchase extra bowls if you want to do consecutive batches at a time.

This maker has a 1-1/2 quart capacity, which is just right. That’s about what a typical blender can hold, and since I do most of my base mixes in the blender, that works perfectly. It’s just enough for me to keep some to eat ourselves, and give a smaller portion away to a friend, for critiquing, or as a gift.

The base has a shaft which turns the bowl, rather than turning the paddle. The paddle is held in place by the clear plastic lid. It actually scrapes the mixture off the sides of the freezing bowl, so it freezes and immediately gets scraped off.

It’s an electric ice cream machine, so you plug it in, turn it on, add your base, and watch and wait. The amount of noise it makes isn’t much. Kind of like an electric can opener.

The clear plastic lid makes it easy to see what’s happening–it’s kind of fun to watch–and you can tell when the mixture is the right consistency to add your mix-ins. Those are the stuff like chopped nuts, chunks of fruits, cookie dough, or cookie crumbs.

I’ve even made a mint chocolate chip ice cream the way they do commercially, to create chewy chocolate bits! That’s been the most popular flavor so far.

I’ve also made grape sorbet, leftover fruit salad sherbet and watermelon sorbet with it. All have turned out great.

You should figure on freezing your ice cream for a few hours after churning, because it ends up being somewhat soft, like a thick soft serve. It takes about 25-30 minutes to get to that consistency.

And to answer my question about whether or not the consistency is much different? The answer is yes, absolutely.

I used to partially freeze my base, then put it back into the blender to break up the ice crystals, then freeze until solid. That worked quite well, although there were still some ice crystals in there, which didn’t bother me, and my best friend actually likes that iciness.

But the texture with the Cuisinart ice cream maker is definitely creamier and smoother. So if smooth texture is a huge factor to you, you will enjoy the end results.

Make sure to wash and dry the bowl thoroughly before putting it back in the freezer. If there is any water in the bottom, it will go into the hole for the paddle, and your machine won’t work. You might even break it.

And I would be careful to not drop the plastic cover, because that is crucial for the machine to work properly. I’m guessing one good fall would be enough to break it.

So other than those drawbacks, I can enthusiastically recommend the Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker. It’s a well-designed and made machine that allows you to make homemade ice cream and yogurt and other stuff easily. The price has dropped considerably since it has come on the market, so it’s absolutely affordable, too.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=alinaspencilc-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&asins=B00004S9D3

Get an extra bowl
if:

Cuisinart 1-1/2-Quart Additional Freezer Bowl, fits ICE-20 Ice Cream Maker
–you want to make more than one batch at a time

–you want to make more than 1-1/2 quarts

–you want to use this to cool things quickly, such as pie fillings. Place a metal bowl on top this frozen bowl, and put your filling in the metal bowl. This frozen bowl chills the other one, which will cool your mixture very quickly.

–you want to use this as a makeshift wine bottle cooler. Cover it with pretty fabric, so it looks nice.

Frozen Yogurt Recipes for Your Ice Cream Maker

Although the recipes used soy yogurt, they will work equally well with regular dairy yogurt.
Chocolate Soy Frozen Yogurt, with a nice chocolate, tangy flavor.

If you live in Hawaii and get stuck for ways to use those mangoes before they get overripe, here’s a delicious recipe for Mango Frozen Soy Yogurt.


For Ginger Lovers: A Ginger Menu

December 18, 2010

A good friend fell off a cliff, broke his neck in two places, but is fine (thank you, gods!) and recovering. Recently, however, he’s been having some nausea as he tries to wean himself off the narcotic pain pills.

Because I know ginger is good to relieve nausea, plus it helps digestion, I whipped up a dinner for him with ginger in every dish, took it over to him, and had a great meal.

If you love ginger, you might get some ideas from the menu. Everything had ginger in it, but it was never overpowering. It’s one of those ingredients that can be aptly used to give depth of flavor, spiciness, or warmth. It can blend quietly into the background, or sing loudly as a star flavor.

Here’s what we had:
Asian Black Bean Dip, served with tortilla chips and sugar snap peas

Asian Slaw with Ginger-Wasabi Dressing (a very simple salad with won bok, Asian pear and green onions)

Rice (a mix of brown rice, white rice, and barley)

Tofu, Broccoli, and Sweet Potato
seasoned with ginger and soy sauce

Pineapple Sorbet with Mint, Basil, and Ginger

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with pecans and candied ginger
Next time I will serve them without the pumpkin, since you couldn’t really taste it. I’ll use it instead to make Pumpkin Smoothies!

Ginger-Mint-Lemongrass Iced Tea

Ginger Ale the old style, fermented (my first attempt at this)


Vegan Apple Crisp

November 21, 2010

vegan apple crisp

Rich, buttery flavor, without any butter, in this Vegan Apple Crisp

Apples are in season, and this week, with all the Thanksgiving-themed shows on, I was starting to get hungry for fall food, stuff like pumpkin, stew with lots of root vegetables, and apple pie.

I’m not much of a pie eater, but I do love me a good Dutch apple pie. Since I hate to make the crust, and it seems like extra calories anyway, I made this crustless version. In other words, a vegan apple crisp. Here’s the recipe.

This came out far more delicious than I expected. My experimental butter substitution ended up actually tasting pretty buttery. Go figure, but what a happy surprise!

I love a lot of spices in my apple desserts, so I added cinnamon, cardamom, and lots of fresh, minced ginger. The ginger gives it a real kick, and the warming feeling can feel like heartburn. But it will warm you up from the inside, something that may be ideal if the weather is cool or cold. (It’s pretty hot and muggy here this fall.)

You can reduce the amount of ginger, or omit it altogether, if you prefer. Also, some people find cardamom overpowering. If so, add only half the amount in the recipe, then taste, and decide if you want to add the other half called for.

As far as sweetening goes, the amount of sugar you use will depend on how tart or sweet your apples are, and how you like your crisp. Again, start with the smaller amount of sugar, taste, and add more if desired. If you go too sweet, you can add a bit of lemon or lime juice to round out the flavor, probably about 1-3 teaspoons or so.

Vegan Apple Crisp Recipe

For the filling:
5 to 6 large apples, cored and chopped
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
2 Tablespoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
lemon or lime juice, optional

For the topping:
2 cups oats
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup canola oil
2 Tablespoons water

To make the filling:
Mix ingredients together well. Taste and adjust sweetness/tartness level.

There is no need to peel your apples! There is a trace mineral called boron, which is essential to strong bone health, in apple peels. Why throw that away and run the risk of getting osteoporosis? Buy organic apples if possible, and wash your apples well.

To make the topping:

Put half the oats and half the pecans into a blender. Blend until ground. Dump this into a bowl. Repeat with the other half of the oats and pecans.

Add the brown sugar, salt, and flour. Mix well.

Mix in the canola oil. Stir very well to incorporate the oil. You might want to just use your hands. Drizzle in 2 Tablespoons water, or enough so that if you take a handful of the mixture and squeeze it, it will clump together.

Place the filling into a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. There will be liquid that has released. Add that as well.

Evenly sprinkle the topping over the entire filling. Press down to create a crust-like layer.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 40 minutes, until the top is lightly browned, the filling is bubbling up around some of the edges, and the apples are tender.

Let cool until it is warm. Consume with gratitude!

I hope you try this vegan apple crisp recipe while apples are in season. You can eat it without guilt, since there is no saturated or hydrogenated fat in it, but you still get a rich, buttery flavor. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.


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