Making Ethical Butter

Vegan butter!

Vegan butter!

I’ve labeled myself an ‘ethical vegetarian’ for nearly two decades.  I stopped eating animals when I became horrified at the dichotomy of having glue traps under the house to catch wild rats and mice (and any poor, poor animal that happened upon it, such as lizards. Glue traps are horrendously cruel. I hadn’t put them there.) and a cage with an exercise wheel and specialty food for ‘pet’ mice in the bathroom. Justice is a man-made effort, and by not eating animals I was no longer approving of mass torture by buying into it. Although I no longer ate animals, I have still indulged in animal products, namely dairy products. Slowly it has sunk in how badly animals are treated for those, too. As someone who loves cooking, it has been difficult for me to wean away from dairy products. Butter is especially difficult. Unlike hens who have been bred to continuously lay without needing the services of a rooster, dairy cows must be lactating to produce milk. Cows are usually artificially inseminated, then after giving birth their calves are replaced by milking machines. The calves are most often slaughtered for veal. This process is repeated until the cow is used up from the constant pregnancies and lactating, and then she is slaughtered. This horrible practice is disguised by advertisements showing happy cows grazing in fields. That is a fantasy. ‘Grass fed’ and ‘pasture raised’ are sly terms that give you an image that is nowhere near to the truth. Please read Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma to understand where your food comes from and why.

To find an acceptable butter substitute has been an expensive and frustrating endeavor.   For awhile I used a dairy substitute from Trader Joe’s, who I swear keeps tabs on what I buy the most and then discontinues it. All other butter substitutes either taste horrible, can only be used for spreading, or more commonly contain palm oil. The sudden fad for palm oil has created extreme clearance for the growing of palm in the areas which are habitat for the orangutan; indeed, if we don’t curtail our consumption of palm oil quickly the orangutan will go extinct within our lifetimes.

I finally found a recipe for a butter substitute that works pretty well for both spreading and baking. It is made mostly of refined coconut oil. At this point coconut oil is sustainably produced – please make sure that you support companies that do so. Refined organic coconut oil has no flavor or scent; unrefined has a mild coconut flavor and a toasted coconut scent. If you are using a batch of this butter for baking where coconut flavor is desired, then use the unrefined.

This recipe is by no means my own. I found it and a detailed description of the science behind it at VeganBaking.net . There are several options listed and a lot of cooking science behind the butter.

The mouth-feel is amazingly creamy and satisfying.

The mouth-feel is amazingly creamy and satisfying.

I used the basic recipe, Regular Vegan Butter, Coconut Oil Base. The recipe calls for curdling the soy milk, which will drive the butter flavor. I tried the full teaspoon of cider vinegar, then half cider vinegar and half coconut vinegar, then just half a teaspoon of coconut vinegar, and finally no vinegar, and thus no curdling, at all. I found for my taste that the vinegar flavor carried through and was much too dominant. Even at just half a teaspoon it was so noticeable to me that I didn’t like it on toast. It was good, however, when my daughter used it on sourdough and topped it with fresh avocado. The slight vinegar flavor enhanced the avocado deliciously.

The batch I made without vinegar seemed perfect. The mouth-feel of this butter with or without the vinegar is creamy and all that a high-fat butter should be. It looks, cuts and spreads like butter. The flavor is creamy and very mild, almost like a slightly salted sweet butter. This was a winner for me. For the soy milk I used Trader Joe’s Organic Plain, which does have some sweetener in it. I’ll try with an unsweetened plain organic soy milk another time.

I keep my butter on the counter. I know that organic butter holds its shape better in the heat than processed butter, but both stay stable unless the temperature is in the 80’s. Coconut oil melts at 76F, and in my summertime Southern Californian kitchen, this vegan butter must be kept in the refrigerator. The butter is hard when needed, so the next batch I will take the author’s advice and swap out a tablespoon of coconut oil with regular oil to make it more spreadable.

I wanted to test the butter in cooking and baking. I melted it in a pan and cooked eggs and other breakfast items in it successfully. I used it on toast and on mashed potatoes with great success. The experiment with shortbread cookies went wrong, however, but I don’t think that that was the butter’s fault. These were lemon rosemary shortbread cookies, and contrary to my baking sense I followed the author’s (another blog) directions and didn’t sift the powdered sugar before adding it. There were lumps, therefore, in the batter and I mixed it extra to try and beat them out, which I believe was responsible for making the cookies tough. They were flavorful, but not crumbly. Oh well, I’ll just have to try again! The cookies rolled out, cut, and baked well, retaining their shape and performing as well as with cow’s butter.

Shortbread didn't spread using this butter, which was great.  I don't have a finished photo of the lemon-rosemary cookies because,  well, they were eaten.

Shortbread didn’t spread using this butter, which was great. I don’t have a finished photo of the lemon-rosemary cookies because, well, they were eaten.

As with all substitutions, there is always a difference and vegetarians and vegans have to embrace it. Of course fake bacon and ground ‘meat’ is not quite the same: the great part is that it is far more healthy for your body (lower fat, few preservatives if any, often organic, and not the pesticide-drenched and drugged animals that people eat) and doesn’t perpetuate the extreme cruelty to animals about which humans have become nonchalant. Yes, other animals aren’t kind when feeding off of other animals (those which aren’t vegetarians). Yet we as humans have the option the others don’t, to make eating choices.

Here is the basic revised recipe; please see the original blogpost on VeganBaking.net and give the options a try. I found xanthan gum from Bob’s Red Mill at my local grocery store, and liquid lecithin and coconut vinegar online through Amazon.com.

You can double or triple the recipe with no problem!  Enjoy.

Recipe update: I’ve since made some changes to the recipe, exchanging some vegetable oil for some coconut oil for more spreadability, and adding a little more salt for a more satisfying (to me) taste when spread on toast.  I’ve been using this butter for a month now, and have noted that: when melting in a hot pan it will brown faster than regular butter, so keep the temperature down, that it will melt and separate at room temperature (its summer now, so the kitchen is usually in the 70’s – in the winter it will be different) so I keep it in the refrigerator.  I found butter stick molds that have the teaspoon markings along the side, so I’ve made 8x the original recipe and poured it into the butter molds, then wrapped each unmolded stick  in wax paper and frozen them.

Vegan butter sticks with teaspoon markings along the side for ease in baking.

Vegan butter sticks with teaspoon markings along the side for ease in baking.

I’ve also poured it back into the cleaned coconut oil jars and frozen them, keeping one in the refrigerator for unmeasured use.  I’ve used it along with a non-dairy creamer in the  Chocolate Ganache recipe and it is very chocolaty, but not as rich as the original.  Part of that is due to the creamer; heavier creamer will produce creamier results, but in no way was it disappointing.  It was very tasty, but not as heavy.  When refrigerated it didn’t solidify as much as the other, so more chocolate might need to be added depending upon the type of creamer used but it was still spreadable and yummy.

Another Recipe Update:

I’ve been making the butter with unsweetened organic rice milk and it turns out well.  At first it tasted too light to be satisfying, but when I had dairy butter at a restaurant it tasted greasy and heavy – my taste buds wanted the vegan butter!  I found out that even when the kitchen is colder than the melting point of the coconut oil, it isn’t a good idea to leave the butter refrigerated because unlike dairy butter it will grow mold.  The rice milk butter with the increased vegetable oil makes it perfectly usable from the refrigerator.  I make sticks and freeze them in a freezer bag for baking and pour the rest into glass jars with screw-on  caps for spreading.  The jars are kept in the freezer until needed, then switched to the refrigerator.  I’ve made biscuits, cookies, cakes, scones  and breads  with this butter, and with proper  handling they all come out just fine.  We offered both dairy and vegan butter to our holiday guests and they didn’t detect much of a difference.  Since vegan butter is so much lower in calories, and coconut oil is so good for you, I  don’t have to hesitate to use it.  It is actually part of my weight maintenance  program!

Ethical Butter
Author: 
Recipe type: Condiment
Cuisine: Vegan
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
A wonderful vegan butter with no palm oil, but lots of options. My version is without curdling the soy milk. Please see the original excellent post for more explanations and options.
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup + 2 teaspoons organic plain soy milk
  • ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon salt (I increased the total salt to ½ t. for spreading butter)
  • ½ cup + 2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (130 grams) refined coconut oil, melted to room temp. (For more spreadability, I used ½ cup coconut oil and changed the 2T and 1 t to vegetable oil, along with the following 1 T for a total of 2 Tablespoons and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil.)
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or light olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon liquid soy lecithin or liquid sunflower lecithin or 2 ¼ teaspoons soy lecithin granules
  • ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum or ½ + ⅛ teaspoon psyllium husk powder (I used xanthan gum)
Instructions
  1. Combine soy milk and salt in a food processor or blender.
  2. Melt the coconut oil until it is just room temperature and barely melted.
  3. Add the coconut oil and the rest of the ingredients to the soy milk.
  4. Blend or process for about 2 minutes on low.
  5. Pour into ice cube trays, or into butter molds or trays.
  6. Freeze until firm, about an hour.
  7. Serve.
  8. Keep wrapped in refrigerator for a month, or frozen for a year.
  9. Makes one cup.

 

 

Spicy Chocolate Squash Bread

 

Cocoa + squash + habinero = YUM.

Cocoa + squash + habinero = YUM.

My collegiate daughter needed a recipe to use up leftover frozen kabocha squash.  She found a chocolate kabocha bread recipe, adapted it for ingredients she had on hand, and sent me the recipe.  I’m such a proud foodie mom: this is the first recipe she’s sent to me.  She had substituted yogurt for the oil, and only had cinnamon as a spice, but really liked the results.  She said that it was kind of like hot chocolate in bread form; not too sweet and not too plain.  Hot chocolate in bread form?  I’m so there.

Today has been cold and a little rainy. My shoes and socks were wet from standing in wet grass trying to coerce my 100-lb tortoise back inside his heated room before he became too cold to move.  I had some thawed pink banana squash puree leftover from making pumpkin scones for my son last weekend.  It was so squash bread time.

I had all the spices, but I changed them up a little.  I added some freshly ground nutmeg in place of some of the cinnamon.  Due to conversations with others in my exercise class about eating fresh homegrown fruit with chili pepper and other warming spices sprinkled on them (spring fantasies!) I thought I’d heat up this recipe, too.  Before Christmas I purchased some habinero powder at Old Town Spice Merchants in Temecula, and fell in love with their habinero sugar which they sprinkled over samples of dark chocolate brownies.  I added some habinero powder to this recipe and it is fantastic.

The loaf took an hour and five minutes to bake.  It was slightly crispy on the crust and dense, moist and dark on the inside.  Yet it wasn’t cloyingly heavy or too wet.  The cocoa flavor was satisfying; too often cocoa recipes taste as if the chocolate was just a coloring rather than a flavoring. This was good.  The spices were just enough and not overpowering.  The habinero powder was just right, making just a little heat in the mouth that really accented the chocolate flavor and warmed me up from the inside.  I am freezing the rest of it, just so I don’t eat any more today.  It was really wonderful, and it had vegetable in it, too!  Thanks, daughter of mine!

I’m sure you could eat this with cream cheese, marscapone cheese, or dust it with powedered sugar, but it doesn’t need anything.  Not even, apparently in my case, a fork or plate.  So much for dieting today.

Spicy Chocolate Squash Bread
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
 
Like spicy hot chocolate in bread form.
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ⅛ teaspoon habinero powder (or ¼ teaspoon if you like it spicier. It will be a slow warm heat in your mouth)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1⅓ cups sugar
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil or plain yogurt
  • 1 cup squash or pumpkin puree (or plain canned pumpkin)
  • 1 large egg
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Grease and lightly flour an 8½ x 4½ inch loafpan.
  3. In a medium bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients.
  4. In a large bowl combine the oil, puree and egg until well combined. Beat in dry ingredients until well blended. (If using electric mixer, beat on low speed. You don't want a lot of air in the batter).
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  6. Bake 350 degrees F for 1 hour and five minutes, or until a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool on a wire rack for fifteen minutes then cut around loaf and turn out onto a plate or wire rack.
  8. Serve warm, or any way you'd like to!
  9. (Options: serve with cream cheese, marscapone cheese, or dust with powdered sugar. It is also great drizzled with chocolate frosting (what isn't?) or with chocolate ganache. Both recipes can be found on my blogpost on Buttermilk Chocolate Ganache Cake).

 

 

Two Sure-fire Zucchini Recipes

Zucchini plants are like cats:  They both look harmless when small, so you think the more the merrier.  One plant is always enough, but it is hard to plant just one seed in case it doesn’t come up.  Then the sprouts are hard to thin.. what if something eats it?  Then before you know it, there are five enormous plants growing giant green clubs in the dead of night, just after you’ve checked all the plants.  Well, that’s my situation anyway.  Too many cats; too many zucchinis.  When there are enough all at one time, we’re taking them (the zucchinis, not the cats) to the Fallbrook Food Pantry along with pumpkins and tomatoes.  Until then, we’re exploring new ways to eat them.  And I refuse to sully cheesecake with zucchini! (yes, there is such a recipe!). 

My son who is studying Culinary Arts at the University of Hawaii sent me a link to smittenkitchen.com with an exceptional zucchini pancake recipe… not sweet, very light and completely tasty.  I’ll include my version.  But first I want to explain my ‘discovery’, which everyone but me probably knows about anyway. 

SAUTEED ZUCCHINI

 I had grated zucchini for bread and had some left over.  It was dinnertime and I was alone, so I experimented.  I heated a skillet with a little olive oil in it, threw in the grated, undrained zucchini, and stirred it around on medium-high heat for about five minutes.  When it was beginning to wilt and brown a little on the bottom, I sprinkled sesame oil on it lightly, and then gave it a touch of Bragg’s Amino Acids, which I use for many things.  A light soy sauce may substitute, but Bragg’s is high in nutrition, low in salt and a wonderful flavoring.  Buy it online or in health food stores.  The zucchini came out tasty and with a mouth-feel of wet wide noodles.  It was fantastic.  I’ve since made it for my daughter a couple of times, and each time we wanted more!  Imagine that!  On the plus side, it used up a medium zucchini.

  You really must give these pancakes a try. 

 

Fabulous Zucchini Pancakes
Author: 
Recipe type: Breakfast
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
A light, flavorful, really good pancake that uses up a lot of zucchini and tastes like zucchini bread.
Ingredients
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
  • ¼ cup buttermilk or soured milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)
  • Oil, for coating skillet
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl whisk eggs, olive oil, sugar, buttermilk and vanilla until smooth.
  2. Stir in zucchini.
  3. In a smaller bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  4. Stir dry ingredients into zucchini batter, mixing until just combined.
  5. Stir in chocolate chips.
  6. Heat oil or butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat.
  7. Scoop ¼-cup rounds of batter in pan so they do not touch.
  8. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  9. Flip pancakes and cook another minute or two.
  10. Keep pancakes warm in on a tray in the oven set on low or in a toaster oven.
  11. Repeat with remaining batter.
  12. Serve warm with or without traditional pancake toppings.
  13. Pancakes freeze well.

Easy and Incredible Buttermilk Chocolate Ganache Cake with Perfect Chocolate Frosting

Spread ganache on cake layers, leaving some in the bowl for licking!

A rare thunderstorm in San Diego, after days of 100+ degree heat.  A few drops of rain and enough crashing to make my dogs nervous.  They are happily taking advantage of my push-over self and are in the living room, while my cats are furious in the rest of the house.  The cooler fallish weather and darker skies makes me want to cook!

I bake for friends, and this is one of my most requested cakes.  It is easy, it is wonderful, it is satisfying: it is chocolate.  I don’t like wimpy chocolate cakes; if I’m going to invest my calories in a dessert, it better pay off in flavor and texture.   Making this cake a day ahead allows the flavors to meld, but it can be eaten right away in case of chocolate emergency.  This recipe does use dairy products, and the acid reaction between the buttermilk and baking soda helps it rise and makes the chocolate flavor be yum.   I have directions for a layer cake or sheet cake, but it makes great little bundt cakes, too.  I have a humongous sheet cake pan and I quadruple the recipe with complete success.  I’ve given directions for chocolate frosting, which is absolutely great, by the way, but feel free to use other colors for decorations.  Although I enjoy dark chocolate, I find semi-sweet is best in the ganache, although I’ve used extra-dark baking cocoa for the batter and frosting with much success.  Enjoy!

Easy and Incredible Buttermilk Chocolate Ganache Cake with Perfect Chocolate Frosting
Author: 
Recipe type: Dessert
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 10 - 12
 
My best and most satisfying chocolate cake recipe, without a lot of hassle!
Ingredients
  • Buttermilk Chocolate Ganache Cake
  • For Cake:
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • cups powdered unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • For Ganache:
  • cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate in pieces
  • For Frosting:
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
  • ⅔ cups powdered unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • ⅓ cups milk, water or buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Grease and flour 2 9-inch round baking pans, or one sheet cake pan.
  3. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).
  6. Pour evenly into baking pan(s).
  7. Bake 30 – 35 minutes, or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out cleanly.
  8. Cool ten minutes.
  9. For layer cake, or for the more adventurous sheet cake bakers, turn cake(s) out onto wire racks and cool completely.
  10. For ganache, combine heavy cream and butter in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.
  11. Turn off heat.
  12. Add the chocolate pieces and swirl around to cover them with the hot milk mixture, and then cover for five minutes until chocolate is melted.
  13. Stir until smooth and creamy.
  14. Pour into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until ganache is thick enough to spread.
  15. For frosting, melt butter and pour into bowl.
  16. Stir in the cocoa.
  17. Alternately add sifted powdered sugar and milk, beating on medium speed to spreading consistency.
  18. Add more milk if needed.
  19. Stir in vanilla.
  20. Makes about 2 cups.
  21. To finish: If making a layer cake use the ganache as filling.
  22. Cake may then need to be chilled to keep ganache firm before and after frosting. Ganache can also be used both as filling and as a coating for the top layer, and the frosting spread around the sides of the cake and piped decoratively around the top edge as a barrier to contain the ganache.
  23. If making a sheet cake, spread thickened ganache on top of cooled cake.
  24. Pipe frosting decoratively around edge to contain ganache and, if you’ve managed to turn the cake out of the pan, spread the frosting around the sides.
  25. This cake is excellent if made the day before serving, to give the flavors a chance to meld.