Listen up, everybody! The rumors are true. I’m throwing a surprise party and everyone’s invited. For whom, you ask? This grande soiree is for Margaret Fox.
I mean…I don’t know her personally, but what the hell? If she’s responsible for one of the easiest recipes I’ve ever made, then she deserves a vat of bourbon and a chocolate cake. One that she doesn’t have to bake herself, of course.
I spotted the recipe for Margaret Fox’s Easy Vegan Chocolate Cake on Food52. Immediately, I knew that it was something I had to make and probably very soon. One of the great things about this recipe is its simplicity. If you’re a baker, you probably have everything you need on hand. There will be no trips to the market because your boyfriend finished the eggs this morn. And don’t worry if your milk has gone south; you won’t need it, this go ’round. You’re good. Sit back and relax. You’ve got this.
You can file this recipe under quick. Well, not as quick as Usain Bolt, but quick nonetheless. Quick as in: your batter has come together, you’ve placed it in the pan and it’s all set to go, but your oven hasn’t preheated yet. What? Yeah, this recipe is no joke. Just think of all the things you can do with that extra time. You could wash all the dirty dishes before you even open your oven door. Now, I’m not telling you to do that, I’m just saying it’s a possibility.
Full disclosure: if you’re looking for a super-chocolatey cake, I’d give this one a pass. However, it’s super moist, pairs well with a straightforward icing and will be ready in 45 minutes-start to finish. I went with a light sprinkling of powdered sugar which made the preparation even quicker. As a result, I had just enough time to wrap Margaret Fox’s gift. I hope she likes Chia Pets.
5 tablespoons neutral oil (like corn, canola, or vegetable)
1 cup cold water
1½ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cider or white vinegar
Confectioners' sugar (optional, for dusting)
Heat the oven to 350° F.
Mix together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar, and salt. Sift. In a separate bowl, whisk together the water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar.
Whisk together the wet and dry mixtures. If lumpy, whisk until smooth.
Pour into a greased and floured 9-inch round cake pan. (I used an 8-inch which I lined with a greased aluminum foil round)
Tap the edge of the pan against the edge of the counter, or drop from 6 inches to the counter several times to pop air bubbles.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently. (My 8-inch cake needed the full 30 minutes)
Cool before removing from the pan and dusting with confectioners' sugar, or frosting if desired.
Easy Vegan Chocolate Cake Photo Notes
After being away from the studio for a few weeks due to illness, it was good to be back in the saddle. Unfortunately, I share a studio with a couple of fashion photographers and I’m the Felix Unger of our crew. Needless to say, the studio was in rough shape. Models are some of the messiest people on earth, so this ended up being more of a studio decontamination than photo shoot.
This was going to be pretty simple. I wanted to replicate window light with a bit of on-axis fill. The large simulated window would hopefully reduce the specularity created by the shiny surface of the easy vegan chocolate cake.
I setup a light panel made up of 400 leelux as my main light 45 degrees behind the cake and used a silver umbrella for on-axis fill. I also added a white bounce card opposite the main light. I dialed in the exposure with my trusty Sekonic L-758dr and everything went according to plan.
The real challenge wasn’t the lighting but the styling. A round dark cake without frosting isn’t the most photogenic object, so I decided to do something graphic and focus on the shape from above. To finish off the shoot, Mondo cut the cake and we did the traditional commercial shot with a slice on a plate. Overall, it was a pretty easy shoot with a clean studio as the payoff.
This photo shoot did not go well-not on the first day or the second. And when photo shoots don't go well the d-man has a meltdown. You know, the "I don't need this shit!" kind of meltdown. It's not fun to be around, but I stick it out. Why, do you ask? Three words...Post. Meltdown. Magic.
Let me explain.
When something goes wrong the d-man gets mad-angry, temporarily succumbs to defeat and you think he's given up. But if you give him a minute, he refocuses, kicks it into high gear and puts-it-on-ya...photography-style. See Exhibit A below.
...but enough about the d-man's temperament.
Let's talk cookies. Vegan. Quick. Yummy. These bad boys are crazy-easy and you'll be finished inside of thirty minutes. What? You read me. The main flavor of this cookie is espresso combined with a dash of vanilla and a hint of cinnamon. What's surprising is not one flavor dominates.
I loved this cookie with its crunchy edge, non-dairy buttery-ness and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Fresh, out of the oven these cookies were amazing. With its espresso base the cookie is perfect for dunking in hot black coffee.
Guess what Dave did the next morning?
Easy Vegan Cookies? Meet my Go-To List.
Easy Vegan Cookies Photo Notes
by DavidGame Plan
This was going to be easy. I've shot a million cookies so I had this shoot in the bag. Since I went high key on the white acrylic for the Chocolate Covered Potato Chips, I would go low key and moody for the Easy Vegan Cookies. Simple.
I've never seen moody cookies and now I know why. Cookies are happy and fun and going dark defeats the inherent nature of the subject. I put the cookies on gray slate with a dark background and started shooting. From a technical standpoint, I had my lighting mojo going but brown cookies against a gray surface is like wearing brown shoes with a black suit. It just doesn't work. Here's the shot:
Since the shot wasn't working, Mondo and I called it a day and went to the opening of an art show. Considering I was shooting the same thing the next day, I left everything setup in the studio. I never do this and always break everything down, but what could go wrong?
The Next Day
On the way down to the studio, I started thinking about Victor Schrager and theMartha Stewart Cookie book. I loved this book and always wanted to shoot a job like this. I had my inspiration.
I reset the studio, metered the lights down to perfection and was ready to rock. One problem:
------>I forgot to turn off my camera the night before and the battery was dead!
I didn't have a backup and I didn't have the charger with me. Damn! Mondo says I had a meltdown, but I was just a guy working through some things. I got in my car, drove through 45 minutes of LA traffic, recharged the battery for a couple of hours and drove back to the studio.
The New Setup
This was going to be super clean and super Martha Stewart. Mondo did her styling magic and staged the cookies. Here is the lighting setup:
This lighting setup is so simple, it's stupid. The main light is a V-Flat (two 5x8 foamcore panels taped together) closed to a narrow strip with some bounce light going into it. The white background is just a light bounced into the back of the studio and the fill light is from a piece of white cardboard. For the stack shot, I used a piece of silver foil instead of the white board so I would have more texture and specularity on the side cookie.
When things go wrong, I should chill because most of time everything works out. After all, life's pretty good when you get to eat a big plate of cookies at the end of the day.
½ cup vegan chocolate chips(I used Guittard Semisweet)
1 cup raw sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp real vanilla extract
¼ cup water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ground coffee. Reserve a teaspoon of the dry ingredients and set aside. Coat the chips with the teaspoon of the dry ingredients.
In a mixer add sugar and oil and mix for 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and then add the water. Again, mix well. Add the dry ingredients. Fully combine but don't overwork the dough.
Stir the chocolate chips into the dough.
Use a tablespoon to scoop onto ungreased cookie sheets (I used a size 40 scoop). Put them in the oven. Bake for 6 minutes and then rotate the sheet 180 degrees. Bake another 4 minutes. Remove from the oven. They will continue to cook a bit after being removed so they won't appear fully cooked yet.
Tarts are cool. Much cooler than cake or pie, for that matter. Tarts are just so laid back-like they have no worries. Unlike me; I worry about everything.
Ages ago I bought a tart pan…and when I write ages I mean sometime in 2011. Whilst pondering the very cool and laid back things I wanted to bake in said pan, I came across this recipe from Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. It is simple and unfussy, which is definition of laid back. Is it not?
This recipe is great if you want to make something quick and impressive for dessert or a lazy Sunday morning. I used whatever apples I had on hand which is invariably, Fuji. Fuji is my favorite apple, unless Honey Crisp is in season. Then I’m like…Fuji who?
This batter makes quite a bit of dough, too much for my 9 x 1.5 pan. I suggest halving the recipe or baking it in two pans. Otherwise, your finished product will be quite dense and won’t cook all the way through.
My favorite part of the cake was the crust-all shiny and golden. Would you consider me weird for slicing the crust off the top and leaving the rest behind? Yes? Then I guess I’m weird…and I’m ok with that.
P.S. Apple Cake accessories may include: floral jammies, french press and a king-sized comforter.
Check out the d-man’s lighting technique below.
Apple Cake Photo Notes
This shoot was a bit of a bust. It started off fine, but plumbers + food photography = disaster. Let me explain.
I work out of a really cool photo studio in a beautiful apartment complex built in the 1920’s. I love the space, but last year, the adjoining art studio was taken over by a plumbing company. Unfortunately, we share a common bathroom and I’ve learned photographers and plumbers don’t mix. I have a “live and let live” attitude, but these guys can be a headache.
The latest drama came in the middle of the apple cake shoot. A plumber knocked on my door and said “We need to run a cable through your studio for the new security cameras we’re putting up in the hallway.” This wasn’t good. I told them to call the landlord and went about my business. After a few minutes, the owner came over and told me he really needed to run a cable through my studio and I told him he really needed to call the landlord. That never happened and they bypassed my studio and did the job anyway. I don’t know why a plumbing company needs “Mission Impossible” style security in a common hallway, but I now have the most secure shared bathroom America. I also have a blown apple cake photo shoot, but those are the breaks.
Here is a lighting diagram for the abbreviated shoot. The setup is the same as the cinnamon rolls recipe.
Lighting: White Lightning X1600 monolight bounced through Calumet light panel
Camera: Nikon D90
Lens: Tamron 17-50mm 2.8
Tripod: Manfrotto with trigger grip
Focal Length: 50mm