Icing on the Proverbial Vegan Cake... or Not.

After reading some of my posts, a friend said he pictured the Benny Hill theme song playing in the background as I bake. I admit it's not a totally outlandish statement. I, however, have always felt a much stronger kinship with Bridget Jones. I realize this makes the men in the audience groan, but it's true. My oldest childhood friend once told me that I simply was not Bridget-Jones-like because Bridget's schtick is that she is unmarried and in her thirties. And I argued that while, yes, I am a decade behind Ms. Jones, an integral part of her persona is that she feels like an idiot most of the time. I feel pretty much the same way.

My first attempt at vegan icing is case in point.

I am no icing novice. In fact, my first job was at a bakery in Marietta, Georgia and it was there I discovered a hidden talent for cake decoration. Most of my bakery colleagues had to practice their frosting penmanship on wax paper before they were allowed near actual sheet cakes. Not me. I had such a way with the pastry bag that they let me write on real cakes virtually the first day.

Standard icing recipes are simple. They generally call for a box of powdered sugar and egg whites...and anything from water to lemon juice and vanilla extract for a little panache.

I really wanted to write names on some of the vegan cookies I was handing out and it seemed simple enough to create a vegan version -- I just had to find a replacement for those egg whites. After a bit of Googling, I discovered I would have to use flax seeds. Most of the Web sites I came across said that if you mix one tablespoon of ground flax seeds with three tablespoons of water, you get a milky consistency that is very much egg-like. I had shied away from the flax seed option offered on the Post Punk Kitchen Web site for earlier recipes...but I realized I was going to have to confront my demons if I wanted to write on those cookies.

I should have just gone straight to a Trader Joe's or a Whole Foods, but I really wanted the flax-seed-buying errand to be convenient to my commute, so I stopped off at several grocery stores that were flax-less first. They had plenty of fennel seeds, but no flax. A bit disheartened, I decided to give the new Gourmet Fresh in my neighborhood a shot and, lo and behold, they had it. (The Benny Hill friend marveled that in Boulder, Colorado you can't "swing a dead cat" without finding flax seeds.)

When I combined my flax seeds with water, the mixture did become quite milky...but you could definitely still see the seeds and so I hoped that food color would be enough hide them. That was the other exciting thing about this experiment -- I make a lot of red velvet cake and so I use a lot of red food color...and it wasn't until late in my red velvet production that I realized you can buy red all buy itself...so, long story short, I have more than my fair share of yellow, green and blue food color from sets I bought simply to get red (this prompted a coworker to tell me that I should try my hand at blue velvet cake).

Green was the most festive, so I decided to try it out first...but before I could color anything, I had to get stiff peaks to form from my sugar-flax-water mix. And maybe it was that there was some residue in my bowl or maybe it was that I didn't do the egg replacement quite right...or maybe you just don't get stiff peaks if you don't use egg whites, but I mixed and mixed and mixed...and nothing. It refused to stiffen.

I eventually decided to give it a go anyway because time was a-wasting and I was tired of mixing...so I added my food color (and dyed three of my fingers green) and poured it into one my two pastry bags. I was afraid it was going to run right through the bag. But no such luck. It wouldn't come out at all...and when I tried to examine what was wrong, icing ended up pouring out the other end (cue theme song?). I obviously had to switch pastry bags -- which I did -- but then my earlier fear was confirmed and the icing poured right through. I tried to write anyway, but ended up creating blobs. Had I just wanted to fill in the cookies, maybe I would have been in business. But, alas.

One thing about it though -- it sure tasted like a good batch of decorative icing. Even though there were no names.