Dia de los pumpkin churros!

Stop the presses: pumpkin churros are in la casa! Light and crispy on the outside, creamy and soft in the center, and kissed with a coating of cinnamon sugar, they’re a fine way to celebrate the first of November, be it for you Dia de los Muertos or to officially kick off this wonderful season of pumpkin infused goodies.The churros I grew up with were not the long, straight variety most North Americas may be familiar with via Mexican cuisine; these little guys are the delicate loops you’ll find throughout South America and Spain. These normally don’t have cinnamon either, but when the game is pumpkin cinnamon sugar seems only natural. There’s a Peruvian/Chilean pumpkin-sweet potato donut (picarones)these might be somewhat similar too, but making churros is much easier than practically any kind of donut around the world you could make in your kitchen right now.Churros are traditionally paired with thick and creamy hot chocolate (never the powdered hot cocoa mix); make your own by melting a good quality chocolate bar in your choice of non-dairy milk. Ground almonds, cinnamon and ground hot chiles, traditional Mexican hot chocolate companions, are now almost commonplace. Hot spiced apple cider would make a good stand in, as is a pumpkin-spiced cup of coffee.

I almost never deep fry foods, but the occasional churro (and tostone) is the exception to the rule. The best deep frying vessel you could use at home is a cast iron soup pot/Dutch oven, but after that use any heavy, thick-sided and high pot works. The choice of oil is flexible too: a freshly poured batch is best, perhaps peanut for really delicious churros but a canola blend is a thrifty choice. As mentioned above, churros is the fastest, easiest donut to make. Since the dough is quickly mixed in a pan and then squeezed through a pastry bag directly into the hot oil, there’s no rolling, cutting, rising, or much shaping to do. Churros can be as (almost as) spontaneous as you are.

Pumpkin Churros
makes about 20-22 four inch churros

Churro dough

  • ¾ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cups water
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • ⅔ cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon vegan margarine
  • Mild flavored vegetable oil for deep frying, enough for about 2 1/2 inches
  • Cinnamon sugar: 1/3 cup sugar plus 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Pour sugar and cinnamon into a dinner plate and stir to combine, then spread evenly in the dish. On another plate spread layers of paper towels or crumpled brown paper bags and have it nearby where you’ll be frying the churros.

2. In a deep cast iron pot pour enough oil to reach at least 2 ½ inches. Heat the oil over medium high heat; the oil is ready when it’s rippling and a small chunk of bread fries and turns golden immediately. If you have a thermometer the oil should be at 350 degrees, but if it passes the fry test it’s ready.

3. While the oil is heating, in a mixing bowl combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. In a large saucepan combine water, brown sugar, pumpkin puree and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat, then stir in margarine to melt. Turn heat to low and slowly pour in a little of the flour mixture at a time, mixing constantly with a large fork (never use a wire whisk as the dough will just get gummed up in the wires). When all the ingredients are moistened, turn off the heat and switch to a rubber spatula and continue to stir the dough until it’s smooth and just cool enough to handle.

4. Fit a very large pastry bag with a large star tipped nozzle; the tip should be at least ¼ inch wide. Use the rubber spatula to pack the dough into the bag, then firmly twist the top to press the dough through the nozzle. Squeeze a length of dough about 4-5 inches long into the hot oil, either looping the ends together or into a straight line. If you prefer, use kitchen scissors to snip of the end of the dough as it lowers into the oil.

If you don’t feel comfortable lowering dough directly into hot oil, squeeze a dough loop onto waxed paper, then carefully lift it into the oil. Fry for 2-3 minutes, turning over once with a wire skimmer, until churros are puffed and golden. Lift from the oil, allowing excess to drip off and place on the paper-lined plate to drain. When cooled after 1-2 minutes, flip churros a few times in the cinnamon sugar and serve warm.

File under Obsessions: Roasted Peanut Flour

Peanut flour. Two words that go great together (insert “roasted” in the middle and that’s where the magic is…skip the raw variety). A while back I picked up a little bag a Trader Joe’s and since then I fear it’s no longer regularly stocked, but but fortunately a quick search reveals it’s alive and well via shopping online.

Besides blending with a little almond milk and a touch of agave for a lower-fat peanutty dip for apple slices and chilled grapes, roasted peanut flour excels in baked goods. And adds a protein boost too. But this flour is best at adding peanut butter depth and richness to recipes without the oily heaviness often associated with peanut-butter flavored baked goods. In fact, I think I just might prefer peanut butter cookies made only with the addition of roasted peanut flour.

The following recipe is a gluten-free cookie developed a while ago for a project that’s on the back burner for now, but still equals great peanut butter cookies with a light texture and plenty of peanut aroma. Regarding the gluten free flour mix, use your favorite purchased blend (like Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Mix), our blend from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World, or a blend of rice and oat flour (with perhaps a touch of coconut or quinoa flour for body).

I’ve since then “glutenized” this recipe for myself by using an equal amount of whole wheat pastry flour in place of the GF mix. I love how the cinnamon and brown sugar compliment the toasty notes in the peanut flour too. And I’ve even replaced ⅓ cup of the oil with apple sauce for a moist, tender peanutty-cookie with less overall fat. However you pick your peanuts, these little cookies can be changed and re-arranged to suit your peanut butter treat needs.

Roasted Peanut Butter Cookies
makes about 2 dozen small cookies

Looking for a light and leaner cookie? Substitute ⅓ cup of unsweetened apple sauce for ⅓ cup of the oil.

1 1/2 cups gluten-free baking mix or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup roasted peanut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1/4 cup plain almond milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup peanut, sunflower or canola oil
2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl sift together gluten free baking mix (or flour), roasted peanut flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

2. In a separate bowl whisk together brown sugar, almond milk, vanilla extract and oil until smooth. Pour into the dry mixture and use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to stir just enough to form a thick dough. Add chocolate chips and gentle fold into the dough with your hands, pressing in any chips that pop out. Drop by generous tablespoons onto the parchment paper, spaced about 3 inches apart. If desired press a few extra chips into the tops of cookies, then press down on each cookie with your palm or back of a measuring cup to flatten.

3. Bake for 10-11 minutes, then remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes. Use a spatula to lift cookies and move onto wire rack to complete cooling. Store tightly covered. Tightly wrapped these cookies also freeze very well; let stand on a counter top to reach room temperature or gently warm in the microwave for 10-15 seconds.

Woodstock Muffins Take the Cake

Blueberry Pecan muffins, farmhouse made, people & animal approved

“You look like you just had a massage”, he says when I return home after the 2+ hour bus ride, drop three overstuffed bags to the floor and then flop myself onto the couch.

If by massage he means a marathon 6 hour baking session, two nonstop days of bake sale activity, and fundraising party in the July heat and epic thunderstorms at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in Woodstock, NY, then that’s what we’re going to call it. I’m hard pressed to remember the last time I felt so relaxed; the feeling rivaled that actual massages long gone and unlike those the benefits have lasted not just hours or days, but far longer. Call it the joys of doing hard work for a good cause. Or chalk it up to not checking my email for 3 days. Whatever magical farm charm it was, I feel like a new woman after a weekend among the great people and animals of this little farm animal sanctuary.

Vegan BBQ menu board, everyone loves watermelon, feathered cookie thief, bake sale station

Visiting a farm animal sanctuary reinvigorated my dedication to what I do and why I do it. Newly veggie-curious adults and kids (the event was uber kid friendly, including hula hoop lessons and a bouncy castle) should visit a sanctuary like the WFAS to nudge them further in the direction of good action and provide the kind of education that just can’t be gleaned from reading a book or browsing a website. However long time vegans feeling jaded, restless or disconnected (nearly unavoidable conditions sometime in this way of life) could benefit even further; I’m not afraid to call this a “life-changing” experience. “Life changing” doesn’t have to involve costly vacations across the globe, getting another degree or bungee jumping off the Empire States Building. It can be as quiet as petting a sleepy pig who’s life was never intended to span past 6 months or nuzzling a three-legged sheep as nimble and perceptive as any of his four legged piers.

This may come as a surprise, but this was my first visit ever to an sanctuary only for farm animals. My plans to attend WFAS’s Thanksliving event years ago was foiled by an out-of-the-blue flu, and from there general life business got in the way of re-scheduling a visit. I also wanted to be not just a tourist but to also of service, and when Jenny Brown of WFAS asked if I’d like to help out with their upcoming July Jamboree it seemed like the ideal excuse. My contribution were dozens of treats and manning the station for a bake sale, but even then I selfishly got big lungfuls of crisp country air and pursued the affections of the rescued chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats, sheep, ducks, and steer that call the WFAS home. I imagined going up there I would instantly bond with the chickens, but surprisingly the turkeys–spirited, independent and curious–stole my heart, along a few cookies from the bake sale table too.

Black & White Vegan Cookies, Deluxe Cocoa Brownies, Blueberry Crumb Bars & very sticky Pecan Bars

As far as the bake sale, all of the goodies I made were from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. It was a pleasure to revisit recipes like the fabulous Deluxe Cocoa Brownies and Blueberry Crumb Bars (make ‘em both if you haven’t already!). My crafty favorite, Black & White Cookies, were the sleeper hit of the two day event. New Yorkers know a good thing when they see it, and homemade vegan B&W cookies are a thing to be snatched up in number; one woman alone went home with the four remaining cookies on Saturday. An emergency batch baked up for the next morning went like hotcakes too, or dropcakes (the technical definition of the cookie’s cakey base), in the instance of these legendary New York treats.

Woodstock Cuppers: chocolate cupcake, vanilla filling, chocolate ganache & "W's"

Part of the fun was boarding in the bones of the future WFAS b&b on the farm property. An ancient farmhouse under heavy renovation, it featured a brand new kitchen alongside bedrooms in various states of construction; Friday I baked, sliced and frosted with the back door open to the grassy green yard and front windows with a breathtaking view of a rambling forested hill. Late at night I curled up on an air mattress, reading in the chirping country dark by only the light of my Ipad. The following rainy Sunday morning those green hills peaked through blue slinking mists; an epic background to frost cookies to. It was like the best part of camping plus a full service kitchen; not “glamping” but something far better.

Monday morning I said goodbye with a few batches of muffins (plus a pan of brownies for late risers), inspired by the need to use up leftover ingredients from the bake sale. No Internet access meant I had to access the years of baking in my head, and from that I pulled together these fluffy bakery-style muffins with a crumbly topping of crunchy pecans and cinnamon. The last bag of frozen berries (leftovers from the blueberry crumb bars) went into these muffins, but fresh berries would be ideal now that it’s July.

These are a little rich if I was making them for just for myself, but they’re still considerably less sweet than anything you’d find in a bakery store. Overfilling the muffin cups will give you big, puffy bakery-style results. If using ungreased tins spray each cup generously with non-stick spray. Or if you prefer to use paper liners, give the insides of each liner a blast of nonstick spray too.

Missing a muffin? Don't blame the turkeys this time.

Pre-B&B Blueberry Pecan Struesel Muffins
makes 12 big muffins

Enjoy as is for a brunch treat, or wholesome it up for weekday breakfasts by replacing half the oil with applesauce, use whole wheat pastry flour and skip the topping (or just sprinkle muffins with a few chopped pecans for crunch).

Topping
1 cup of chopped pecans, divided
3 tablespoons softened Earth Balance margarine
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons all purpose flour

Muffin
2 cups plain soy milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
½ cup canola oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
½ cup sugar
2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (don’t thaw frozen berries)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously spray muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray, or line with paper liners and spray insides of liners with nonstick cooking spray. Make the topping first and set it aside: in a small bowl with a fork or pastry cutter blend together softened margarine, brown sugar and flour to form course crumbs. Blend in half of the chopped pecans.

Prepare the muffin batter. In a large measuring cup stir together soy milk and vinegar to curdle the milk. Whisk in canola oil, maple syrup, and sugar. In a large mixing bowl sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Form a well in the center of the ingredients and with a rubber spatula fold in the soy milk mixture; stir just enough to moisten all of the dry ingredients to form a thick batter. Sprinkle an extra tablespoon of flour over the berries and fold into the batter. Immediately scoop batter into muffin tins (an ice cream scoop is convenient), filling batter above the top of the tins. Sprinkle tops of muffins with pecan topping. Bake for 25-28 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a tall muffin comes out mostly clean; a few moist crumbs and berry juice is fine. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from tin and serve warm.