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baklava – dairy & nut-free (vegan)

It’s perfect weather for a picnic! For a recent picnic, the theme for the food was “Mediterranean”. Since my usual role includes bringing desserts, I had picked out a recipe for some date-filled cookies.  Then the gauntlet was thrown with a casual comment about whether I could come up with a nut-free baklava.  Since I love a challenge, I accepted and dove into searching the web. The first few recipes I found for “nut free” baklava substitute sesame seeds or sunflower seeds for the nuts. Sounds yummy, but not going to work with the set of foods we need to avoid.  A little more searching led to this “Nut-free Fruity Baklava” recipe.  Tah dah!  A bit untraditional, but looked like some tasty flavor combinations.

The only tinkering I did with the ingredients was to substitute Earth Balance vegan buttery stick for the butter. The version here translates the instructions into U.S. English, including the measurements and cooking temperatures.

The results are very “baklava”. Flaky, sticky and slightly too sweet goodness. They got very positive reviews from all at the picnic, as well as the neighbors who are helping polish them off.

Oh – and the “trick” for working with phyllo dough is just to be patient and move slowly. The paper-thin dough does rip easily, but when I take my time things generally turn out okay. Read the package instructions for tips on how to handle the fragile dough. And remember that you need to plan ahead and leave enough time to fully defrost frozen phyllo dough before you start to assemble the baklava.

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
3/4 cup currants (or you could probably use raisins)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 package phyllo dough (check the package instructions – needs to defrost before use!)
1 cup (2 sticks) margarine, melted

1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind (I like to use a microplane)
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup cold water

1) Preheat oven to 350°F.
2) Place coconut and dried fruit in a food processor with a metal blade and process until finely chopped.  Transfer to a bowl, and stir in sugar and cinnamon.  (NOTE: The filling mixture can be made in advance. Store in an air-tight container.)
3) Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9×13 inch metal pan.
4) Gently unroll the defrosted phyllo dough.  See the package instructions for tips on how to work with phyllo.  It helps to keep the stack of phyllo dough covered with a damp towel to keep it from drying out and getting even more fragile.
5) Depending on the size of the phyllo dough you are working with, you may need to cut the stack of phyllo sheets in half to fit in your pan.  OR you can just fold the sheets in half as you go.  I folded and it worked well – plus it was easier to pick up and transfer the folded sheets without ripping them too much.
6) Brush 1 large sheet phyllo with melted margarine.  Fold sheet in half, then gently place into the pan.
7) Repeat with 3 or 4 more sheets of phyllo until you have a total of 8 or 10 layers.
8) Sprinkle the layers of phyllo with 1/2 cup of the coconut and dried fruit mixture.
9) Brush 1 sheet phyllo with melted margarine.  Fold sheet in half, then layer on top of the coconut and dried fruit mixture.
10) Sprinkle with about 3 tablespoons of the coconut and dried fruit mixture.
11) Repeat layers of phyllo brushed with melted margarine and the coconut and dried fruit mixture, ending with several layers of phyllo on top.  You may have extra phyllo – that’s okay.
12) Use a large, sharp knife to cut the baklava into squares or triangles.  I cut mine into fourths the long ways (cut in half then in half again), then cut across the short side of the pan to create squares approximately 2×2 inches.
13) Bake for 30 minutes.  Reduce the oven heat to 300°F.  Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until golden.  My total baking time was a bit longer – about 50 minutes total.
14) While the baklava is in the oven, make the syrup.  Place honey, cinnamon, orange rind, sugar and 2/3 cup cold water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.  Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the syrup has slightly thickened.
15) Pour the hot syrup over hot baklava.  Cool in the pan, then re-cut the baklava along the same cuts that you previously made.


hamburger buns / dinner rolls – dairy & egg-free (vegan)

Baking yeast bread.  From scratch.  Wait – wait!  Don’t run away!  It’s really not that hard – just requires some patience and lots of time.  And once you figure it out, well worth the effort since the results are SO delicious.  There are LOTS of great resources to get you started.  One my favorite bread instructional guides is in the Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook – great instructions and step-by-step illustrations.  I’m also a big fan of Baking Illustrated by the America’s Test Kitchen team.  An online resource that I’m just beginning to explore is The Fresh Loaf, which has step-by-step lessons and lots and lots of resources.

I used to swear by making bread only “by hand”.  And then we got a stand mixer.  Oh my!  A purist might shudder at the idea of using a stand mixer to mix and knead bread, but it makes the whole process MUCH easier.  Which means that fresh bread is a regular occurrence in our house.

This recipe – most commercial hamburger buns / dinner rolls have milk in the ingredients and use egg to make them nice and shiny.  I browsed around a bit, and found this Hamburger Bun recipe to use as a starting point.  I’ve found bread recipes to be pretty forgiving about doing milk / butter subs.   The egg wash is just to make the final bread extra pretty, so I just leave that part off of the recipe.  This makes a nice soft slightly sweet roll that could be used as a hamburger bun or as dinner rolls.

1 cup “milk” (I used rice milk, soy milk would work as well)
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons margarine (I use Earth Balance “vegan buttery stick”)
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (approximately)
1 envelope yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)

1)      Combine “milk”, water, sugar, margarine, and salt in a small saucepan.  Heat on low, stirring occasionally, until the margarine melts.  Remove from heat and cool until lukewarm.  IMPORTANT:  If your liquid mixture is too hot, it will kill the yeast.  I go by feel and wait until the liquid is barely warm to touch.  If you like to use an instant-read thermometer – the temperature should be about 110°F.
2)      In a medium bowl, stir together 3 cups flour and the yeast.
3)      Pour the liquids (cooled to “warm to the touch”) into the bowl of a stand mixer.
4)      Using the “flat beater”, mix in the flour/yeast mixture  1 cup at a time on low speed. Mix until smooth.
5)      Switch to the dough hook, and add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough starts to form a ball.  Stop as needed to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl and the dough hook.
6)      Use the dough hook to “knead” the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic (about 8 to 10 minutes).  If the dough is still sticky, add small amounts of flour (about 1 Tablespoon at a time).
7)      Remove dough from the mixer bowl and squish into a nice ball.  Remove bowl from the mixer and scrape down the sides (a silicone spatula works well).  Coat the inside of the bowl with a small amount of oil.  Swirl the ball of dough around the oiled bowl until it is lightly coated with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot to rise until the dough is doubled in size (about 60 minutes).
8)      Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
9)      After the dough has doubled in size, uncover the bowl and “punch down” the dough.  (If you have kids, letting them do this step is great fun for all!  Wash hands, roll up sleeves, and let the kids go for it.)
10)   Form the dough into a thick log, and use a sharp knife to evenly divide it into 12 to 16 pieces, depending on how large you want each bun/roll to be.  I find it easiest to cut the dough into two pieces, and then continue to cut into “halves”.
11)   Form each piece into a tight ball. To get a nice smooth ball, I squish the dough, then stretch the dough into a ball by pulling the “edges” underneath and pinching them together. The “pinched” part becomes the bottom of the roll.
12)   Place formed balls of dough on the parchment-lined cookie sheets, approximately 2 inches apart. Use the heel of your hand to slightly flatten each ball.
13)   Cover with a clean tea-towel and let rise until the dough is doubled in size (about 30 to 40 minutes).
14)   Preheat oven to 400°F.
15)   Remove cover from your risen dough, put baking sheets into the oven, and bake about 20 to 25 minutes until the rolls are golden and they sound hollow when tapped.  NOTE:  Start with the shorter time then keep checking.
16)  Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

coconut macaroons for Passover – egg-free (vegan)

What I really WANTED to make was an egg, dairy, and nut-free Passover cake (or cupcakes).  I experimented with trying egg-free versions of a Passover Charoset Cupcake recipe, but trying to sub 5 eggs (including egg whites!) was just a bad idea and I should have known better.  Really yummy tasting but a total flop.  I finally gave up the cake / cupcake idea, and instead looked for a macaroon recipe to “Passoverize”.  I’d tried some egg-free macaroons in the past that (for me) were a flop.  Too crumbly.  Or too tooth-achingly sweet.  My late-night searching turned up a Vegan Coconut Macaroon recipe that looked promising.  It looked like it would be moist, not too sweet, and easy to do Passover subs.

(makes approximately 36 bite-sized cookies)

2 cups shredded coconut (I used unsweetened)
1 cup coconut milk (coconut milk in a can tends to separate – I put the whole UNOPENED can in a bowl of hot water for a couple of minutes, then shake well)
2 tablespoons agave nectar (or honey)
4 teaspoons matzah cake meal (non-Passover version:  2 Tablespoons flour, or gluten-free “flour”)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
(cocoa powder – optional)

1) Preheat the oven to 350°.
2)  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray).
3)  In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the coconut milk, agave nectar, and salt.
4)  Add the matzah cake meal and whisk thoroughly.
5)  Heat the mixture to a full boil, and continue to boil for about two minutes or until it has thickened (OPTION FOR CHOCOLATE MACAROONS: add 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder to the coconut milk / agave mixture).
6)  Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla and shredded coconut.
7)  Drop the mixture by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheet.
8)  Bake the macaroons for about 16 minutes, or until golden brown.
9) Cool on the cookie sheet for a couple minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Note: This recipe was shared on Cybele Pascal’s Allergy-Friendly Friday on 4/23/2011.  Please check out the other recipes shared here.

thumbprint cookies for Passover – dairy, egg & nut-free (vegan)

More cookies!   This time I started with a recipe that was already dairy, egg & nut-free, then did some substitutions to make them into Passover cookies.  The recipe I started with is a favorite from The Food Allergy Mama – Kelly’s delicious (and easy) Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Thumbprint Cookies.  This was the first recipe that I attempted to “Passoverize”, and since it was a success gave me the little “push” to try tinkering with other recipes.  In addition to substitutes for the flour, I also added some lemon zest because I like a little lemony flavor in cookies.  And also because I wanted to get away from a taste that screams “Passover cookie!”.  The cookies are a little crumbly, so handle with care.

The Passover flour conversion comes from Joan Nathan’s cookbook “Jewish Holiday Kitchen”.

NOTE:   Powdered (confectioners’) sugar usually includes cornstarch; you can either buy Passover powdered sugar, or make your own.

1/2 cup powdered (confectioners’) sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) margarine, softened
2 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Zest from 1 lemon
1/2 cup matzah cake meal
1 1/2 cups potato starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
fruit preserves such as strawberry, raspberry, apricot (for the filling)

1)      Preheat oven to 350°.
2)      Use an electric mixer to beat together the powdered sugar and margarine; add vanilla and lemon zest.
3)      In a small bowl, combine the matzah cake meal, potato starch, and salt.
4)      Add “dry” ingredients to “wet”, and mix until the dough forms a ball. The dough will be very soft, but holds up well to being handled.
5)      Roll tablespoons of dough into balls and place on cookie sheets lined with either parchment or a silicone baking sheet.
6)      Use your finger or thumb to gently make an indentation in the middle of each ball. The cookie may crack a little around the edges.
7)      Fill each indentation with about ¼ teaspoon of your favorite fruit preserves.
8)      Bake about 14 minutes or until barely golden.
9)      Cool on the cookie sheet for a couple minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Egg-free Passover Pancakes – Round Two

Round Two – I drew inspiration from several Passover matzah meal pancake recipes, and decided to try substitutions for the eggs. Result – this one is a keeper! The pancakes are tasty and with a nice sweetness from the fruit. I think they’ll hold up well to being re-heated in the toaster oven for quick breakfasts later in the week.

(There might be more tinkering – my taster liked the maple syrup flavor of the other pancakes, so I will try subbing the sugar in this with maple syrup.)

1/2 cup matzah meal
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup applesauce
1 banana, mashed
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Oil for cooking

1)      In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients (except the oil).
2)      Cover and set aside for at least 20 minutes. Matzah meal is super absorbent, and you need to give it time to soak up the liquids!
3)      Adjust thickness of the batter as needed by adding water 1 tablespoon at a time; it should be thin enough to “drop” off of a spoon.
4)      Lightly grease a non-stick pan or griddle with some oil. (NOTE: you really DO need to use a non-stick pan or griddle!)
5)      Pour 1 tablespoon batter into the pan. Cook until golden brown, flip, and cook on the other side.

Egg-free Passover Pancakes – Round One

Cooking during Passover is a challenge.  Cooking during Passover while avoiding all eggs is a significant challenge.  Since most forms of leavening are off-limits, Passover baking relies heavily on eggs and more eggs to create some “lift” in baked goods.  I’ve taken two approaches to try and make egg-free Passover goodies:  start with an egg-free recipe and do Passover substitutions for the flour, or start with a Passover recipe and do substitutions for the eggs (and dairy).

Round One – I started with a vegan crepe recipe and applied Passover substitutions for the flour.  Result – yummy, a bit sweet, but also somewhat too “crunchy”, I think from the use of potato starch. Time to go do some more tinkering.

1/2 cup rice milk (NOTE: we do Sephardic rules for Passover, if you follow Ashkenazic rules for Passover, substitute with water!)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup melted margarine
1 tablespoon turbinado (“raw”) sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup matzah cake meal
3/4 cup potato starch
1/4 teaspoon salt

Oil for cooking

1)      Mix together rice milk, water, melted margarine, sugar, and maple syrup.
2)      In another bowl, mix together the matzah cake meal, potato starch, and salt.
3)      Mix wet ingredients into dry.
4)      Cover and refrigerate the batter for 2 hours.
5)      Lightly grease a non-stick pan or griddle with some oil.
6)      Pour 1 tablespoon batter into the pan. Cook until golden brown, flip, and cook on the other side.