Saturday, July 30, 2016

About the recipe: Pupcakes for Presley

My happy boys!

So one day while casually perusing the internet,  I decided to YouTube “Doggie Birthday Cakes”… and yes, the results were as expected—and they were amazing. Well, like most things on the internet, some of them were amazing while some of them were…odd. At any rate, I was inspired to make a birthday cake for our “furbaby” Presley, a then turning 7-year old Labradoodle (his birthday was July 22nd but this was the research phase like two weeks ago); and for me, it seemed like something that I really wanted to do for him.

For like the past year or so, I’ve been making Presley and his 3-year old Husky-Wolf mix brother Jesse homemade, “artisanal” (and yes, I use that word to sound as pretentious as possible) dog treats in an effort to make my then future-step-children love me; and like most men, the way to their hearts is indeed through their stomachs. They loved (and still love) the treats which drove me to research new ingredients and develop new recipes to impress their taste buds; and like any new parent, I wanted to make sure the treats I made were not only delicious but also healthy. 

And if any of my original readers are reading this, you’re probably thinking to yourself—“whoa…what? This can’t be the same person…” or “when did this hoe turn into a housewife?” because in my old posts, I can assure you that “casually perusing the internet” never ended with a recipe for dog treats. That was then… Needless to say, my life has taken a different direction.


YouTube…Doggie Birthday Cakes…while I didn’t use her recipe, I watched several of Gone To the Snow Dogs’ videos because her huskies are just too freaking cute; and I liked how she shared her ingredients with them along the way. Her recipes were simple and sounded like they would turn out just fine. Plus, my boys can’t stay out of the kitchen when I’m baking either; so I related to the way she was constantly telling them to stay down.

After I was done with YouTube (which included my handing the Roku remote to Rob whilst saying, “Umm…you’re going to have to stop this because I don’t think I can do it on my own”), I decided to turn to Google to find a recipe that I wanted to use. There are several wonderful recipes out there—so many, in fact, that it was just too difficult to decide on just one. Well, that’s not true. As an avid baker myself, I really just didn’t find one that just stuck out to me as “the one”; and just like when I make more traditional dog treats, I really wanted to tailor it to be what I know my boys like—so while I went looking for the perfect recipe, I really was looking for ratios and inspirations for flavor combinations. 

Some people may find baking kind of intimidating because it really is science—specific ingredients and accurate measures are paramount for successful results; however, I think you’ll find that baking treats for your dogs will alleviate those concerns because you can fib a little here and there. Now, I’m not saying that it’s not important to follow the recipes just because it's being made for dogs—and in that, certainly don’t interpret that as my saying that dogs aren’t as important as human consumers. All I’m saying is that, I don’t feel as pressured when I create something for my boys because they love and appreciate the effort and time it took every time so long as the flavors are there even if it doesn’t rise correctly or if I bake it a little too long. 

Being connoisseurs of only store-bought treats prior to the introduction of my homemade versions, my two dogs—probably like yours—are only used to the hard treats that come from cardboard boxes and are mass produced in factories. Any diversion from this norm will seem new and exciting to them. Also, I think dogs—like almost anyone—really can appreciate and taste the difference when you’ve made something yourself; and whereas humans know when the texture is off or if something didn’t turn out correctly, your pouches simply won’t care—unless they’re a particularly picky husky-wolf mix who turns his nose up at anything that doesn’t meet his exceedingly high standards… sure he’ll eat cat shit in the yard, but try to feed him a banana and all bets are off… Thankfully, the Labradoodle will take almost anything without blinking which kinda gives me a little boost of confidence despite the fact that he, too, loves himself some cat shit in the yard. 

But I digress.

From past experience, I know my boys love peanut butter and cinnamon. Both are fine for dogs to eat. I do ensure that I buy an all-natural or organic peanut butter because I don’t want the boys to have too much salt, sugar, or high-fructose corn syrup. No, I don’t live in an organic only household; and no, I don’t give two shits about all the crap I eat myself—but when it comes to my boys, I try to shop clean or as cleanly as possible without multiple trips to the natural market or becoming obsessed with the idea (as I hope it will become abundantly clear if you read all of this, I try to stay conscious of the ingredients I feed them—especially when I’m making something for them). 

To be honest here, I bought the store-brand natural (creamy) peanut butter over the organic because the price difference was more than I thought was necessary; and the ingredients weren’t all that different—neither had high-fructose corn syrup, which was what I was ultimately trying to avoid in choosing a peanut butter. The peanut butter I went with did have added sugar; and when we get into the recipe itself, you’ll find that I didn’t add any extra sugars or sweeteners for this very reason (and the world makes sense again!). 

Now as for Cinnamon, it actually has anti-inflammatory properties (according to a few random websites I visited during my Google search for “is cinnamon good for dogs”—so take my authoritative writing style with a grain of salt and feel free to supplement my findings with your own) so I like to add a healthy dose of this spice to most of the treats I make because Presley is 7 now. As dogs get older—just like humans—their joints become inflamed which slows them down and can make it more painful to jump and play—FYI: arthritis is inflammation of the joints, and any anti-inflammatory will help with that situation. Helping or not, I feel better for adding the cinnamon…and like I said earlier, both of my dogs love the taste. 

As a note, turmeric is also a great anti-inflammatory which I usually use in tandem with cinnamon or on its own in more savory treats (they seem to like it as well—and I read several different articles which said that you can sprinkle turmeric on their food with the caution that too much could stain their fur and your furniture). 

I actually started the recipe by mashing a medium-sized banana; and yes, I realized that I told you earlier that Jesse doesn’t particularly like bananas—so wtf, yo? Am I only catering to one of my dogs? Well, they are being made for Presley’s birthday; so the yellow bastard (Jesse is yellow, btw—and since I mention it, Presley is black) doesn’t count… Un huh…un huh…right. No, while Jesse won’t take a banana from my hand as a treat by itself, he has no issues with eating baked goods which include bananas as an ingredient (I love both my boys equally—well, I don’t love Presley any more than Jesse). In the end, I used two bananas total; and I mashed them until they were, for lack of a better word, slimy (the banana will continue to mash as you mix in the other ingredients, but you want to try to end up with as few lumps of whole banana as possible).

 And while we’re talking about bananas… did you know that you can substitute a medium-sized banana for an egg in a recipe for cakes and cookies? It’s a wonderful option if you’re trying to stay vegan or are out of eggs unexpectedly—neither was the case here; however, my original intention was to use bananas in place of the eggs. I think I may have started with the intention of making the treats vegan...or perhaps low-fat because I used ½ cup unsweetened applesauce with the full intention of substituting it for the fat (it’s a one-to-one ratio, fyi, when replacing a fat with applesauce… and back to the egg thing...a tablespoon of applesauce can stand in for an egg…I wouldn’t sub applesauce for both eggs and the fat (fats being butter or oil) in the same recipe ever, but I have used the banana for an egg and applesauce for butter in the same recipe with interesting—and very edible—results).  

The aforementioned peanut butter was mixed in next to the tune of ½ cup—while for this recipe the order of the ingredients isn’t doesn’t really matter…I added it at this point because I didn’t want to forget it (like I did the carrots—visible eye roll to myself), and I wanted to make sure it got really well incorporated with the bananas and applesauce. It’s also why I added the egg at this point.

Wait, what? I thought we substituted a banana for an egg. Well, my dogs aren’t vegan; and eggs are not only a great binding agent (they make ingredients stick together) but they’re also a healthy source of protein. Ultimately, I used the egg because I wanted to try to make this recipe as close to the texture of a “real” cupcake as possible; and eggs are essential to that. 

Despite being conscious of the fact that I wanted these pupcakes to be as healthy and low fat as they could be (which is the point of making your own dog treats—or it should be, anyway), some fats are good for dogs. Coconut and olive oils have positive effects on dogs’ coats when used in moderation; and while I didn’t start out the recipe with the intention to use both, I did due to a consistency issue when I was mixing my ingredients (it started to look too much like cookie dough and I wanted to ‘thin” it out a bit to be cake batter)—which is why there are two tablespoons of each instead of ¼ cup of one or the other—which is a perfectly acceptable stand in if you don’t want to mess with measuring the tablespoons…but if you use only coconut oil, I’d suggest melting it all the way to keep the batter the right thickness (yes, this recipe was totally an experiment).

Now I added my “flavoring agents”—1 ½ tsp of the aforementioned cinnamon and ¼ tsp of dried ginger. I’ve already talked about cinnamon and probably would use a full 2 tsp if I make these treats again (to make them smell just that much more amazing); and you could probably drop the ginger altogether or increase it to 1 tsp if you think your dogs will enjoy the flavor. I was trying to find a way to try to round out the flavor of the cinnamon; and I know my dogs like ginger (my ginger-chicken dog treats were a big hit). I would normally use nutmeg to help balance the cinnamon; but I read somewhere that nutmeg isn’t good for dogs—I can’t remember where I read it, but I took it to heart.

My next ingredient was ¼ cup ground flax seeds (mine were organic, too—HA!); and I used them mainly because I had them on hand since I’ve used them in other dog treats. They are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids which will help dogs' skin and coats and are an excellent source of fiber which helps other dietary issues. Then I used ¾ cup whole-wheat flour as opposed to white flour—if you only have white flour and don’t think you’re dogs are good enough to warrant an extra staple in your pantry, you can substitute 1 cup of white flour for the wheat flour before putting your dogs up for adoption because you’re simply not fit to be a dog parent. Or you could ignore my previous remark and simply make the substitution and go on with your life like a normal human because if this is your first foray into baking for your pets(or even if it’s not), it only makes sense to use what you have…and speaking of, if you don’t have the flax seeds…well…again, it’s clear that you don’t really care about your pets; but you can just increase the flour by the same amount, or use the same ¼ cup of quick cooking rolled oats—and ignore my condescending remarks, yet again.  

A note: when substituting flours in a recipe, be mindful that it’s not always a 1 to 1 ration. Wheat flour generally substitutes for white flour at a ratio of ¾ cup wheat flour to 1 cup white flour (and while I typed that based off of previous research, I did just re-Google it to be sure). 

If you’re really into wheat flour and are peeved that there aren’t more great whole-wheat flour recipes, wheat flour “behaves” differently than white flour (that’s really simplified—to say the least); but you can take a recipe which calls for only white flour and substitute up to half with wheat flour and have it turn out almost the same without any further alternations. I do this sometimes if I want to sneak in a healthy grain to Rob’s diet when I make bread—at the full ½ substitution, he can tell a difference because of the color and slight texture variance; but he doesn’t complain half as much if it’s 100% whole wheat (and sometimes it’s more about the little wins than the big ones). 

I mention this because I’ve made gluten-free dog treats despite the fact that my dogs don’t have gluten sensitivity and don’t give two shits about the fact that their treats sound 1000% more pompous as “gluten-free, artisanal treats”…So, yes, I did it mostly for my own satisfaction…

Anyway, like with whole-wheat flour, gluten-free flours behave differently in recipes. The texture of the final product and the way it rises (or doesn’t) will be greatly affected by a change in the flour. I’ve not done the research to overcome this issue, nor do I care to as I believe it involves xanthan-gum, which creeps me out for whatever reason (I do know my local natural market sells it in its bulk section and yours probably does, too…not to mention that your local big-box retailer probably has a container of it in their gluten free section). 

If you attempt to use a non-wheat-based flour substitute, just know that the final result will probably not rise and turn out dry—but that might be your segue to turn this pupcake recipe into more traditional doggie treat—you could do a drop method or roll them out and cut them with a bone-shaped cookie cutter…or do a free hand cut out of various shapes…what does that sound like too much work? Well, just put your dogs on Craigslist and call it a day, then. But for real though, you may just want to add a little bit of milk, low-sodium stock, or water to make up the difference and continue on--and don't skip the part where you let the mixture hydrate (the five or more minute resting period). 

As far as gluten-free flours go, I use oat flour a lot if only because I can take the quick cooking oats I already have in my cabinet and pulverize it in my food processor until it becomes more flour like—and yes, that’s how oat flour is made anyway; and it’s a lot cheaper than buying that tiny bag of it at the store… if you were to use this substitution, I would suggest adding some whole quick cooking oats to the mix as well—they seem to do better that way…or perhaps it just looks prettier…

One of the last ingredients, I think—hell, I’m not going to lie, I lost track a little while back—is baking powder. I visited my local natural food bulk section and bought some aluminum-free, organic baking powder (it’s really cheap if you buy it like that, just FYI) because I read somewhere that aluminum isn’t good for dogs. While writing this, I read that most baking powders don’t have aluminum in them anyway? But read your ingredients people—it’s important… I know I’d read or heard or whatever at some point that aluminum consumption by humans had been linked to Alzheimer’s (my Google search just then concluded that it was a myth)… I still use my antiperspirant which has anywhere from 17 to 19% aluminum-chloride as its main active ingredient…but again, I don’t care about myself half as much as I do for my dogs.

Okay, the real last ingredient was ¼ cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds). These were also leftovers from another recipe, and I threw them in because I thought they’d add an interesting texture to the final product. They do…but these pupcakes will be just as good without them. My local natural food store also sells these in bulk roasted and unsalted (your dogs don’t need any extra salt). Pepitas are really good for you and your dog; but if you don’t have them, I’d suggest another seed or maybe some unsalted peanut pieces—the outcome of the recipe isn’t all that dependent on this ingredient, and you can easily omit it.

If you’re thinking about substituting nuts—I probably wouldn’t. For your pets, stay away from nuts in general, as nuts, in general, aren’t good for your dogs (peanuts are fine, but I remember reading that walnuts are definitely not—also I just Googled, and cashews and hazelnuts are alright so long as you roast them and only feed them in moderation; but most of the others can cause problems).

Once everything is mixed, I’d let it sit on your counter for five minutes or while you preheat your oven to 350 and get your muffin tins prepared. It could be a just a fluke, but I think wheat flour (and gluten-free flours) benefit from the pause… I think it helps the flour absorb the liquids and work out better… and while this recipe was originally intended to make only 6 pupcakes, it actually made 12 regular sized cakes when the final ingredient was added. 

When you’re preparing your tins, you have the choice to use cupcake liners or to simply spray the pans. I went with the liners; but then again, I don’t mind peeling them off the cake before I give one to my boys—it’s probably just easier all the way around to just spray the pan. When filling the molds, be sure to go about ¾ of the way up the pan as these will rise a bit. After the oven comes to temperature, put in your pans and bake for 17-20 minutes—if you make mini-pupcakes, they’re smaller and will make more and cook faster; and likewise, a larger loaf or cupcake pan will make fewer and bake longer.

If you can’t tell by looking or by touch (the tops will spring back with lightly touched), you can insert a toothpick directly in the center and it should come out clean.

My vintage muffin pan (I've got two)

After they’re baked, let them cool completely; and once cool or while they’re cooling, you can make the icing. Yes, I iced them because unlike my other treats I really wanted these to be something special. Besides, the icing was super simple.

Starting with a single-serve plain (low fat) Greek-style yogurt, I mixed it in a bowl with ½ cup of peanut butter until it was super smooth. Then as it was still fairly thick and not really much like icing, I added 1 tablespoon of agave nectar—which I had on hand because I found it fascinating while, again, in the bulk section of my local natural food market. Honey would work here as well, or you could just use some milk (preferably, skim). Agave nectar and honey are perfectly safe for dogs; however, they do add sugar (albeit natural sugars) which can be disruptive to their diets. Since I was mindful of the added sugars throughout the recipe (and since these are special treats they won't get daily), I didn’t think the agave was a bad additive; and when you spread the small amount over the 12 pupcakes, the per cake amount of sugar is minimal. 

I also added 1 tsp of cinnamon and a dash of ginger to the mix to mimic the flavors in the cake itself; and rounded things out with 1 tsp of vanilla. Once everything was mixed thoroughly, I set it aside until the cakes were totally cool. Then I used a plain off set spatula to ice each pupcake. The final flourish came with bacon bits which take the place of sprinkles; and if you’re concerned about the salt or whatever in the bacon bits, then I say just live a little… and if you don’t have them, you can always kind of crush up one of those boxed doggie treats and sprinkle on top—because four-legged or two, everyone likes sprinkles. 

When they were finally done, I peeled the liner off of two and put one in each of my boys’ bowls; and as soon as they got the signal, both of my boys wolfed down their pupcakes so quickly that I don’t think they even tasted anything. With Presley, his reaction simply means that he was given food from his daddy—he rarely hesitates when it comes to food; however, with Jesse this means that either I’ve fooled him into eating something with all the pomp from baking or that he really like it. Whatever the case may have been, I took another one and broke it up into pieces and fed it to them slower…and they both kept coming back for more—and once it was gone, they looked at me like they knew there were 9 more of them on the counter. I call that a success.

Overall, they smelled really good; and both the batter and icing tasted pretty good by themselves (because, yes, I tried it). The icing had a very strong peanut butter flavor and kind of left that lip smacking feeling you get from peanut butter alone. The texture and consistency of the final baked cake was nice too. It seemed soft and moist like a normal cupcake would have been although I didn’t try a bite of it baked. 

Before I posted the picture of the finished product to Instagram, I asked a friend (who is into clean eating) if I’d gone too far with my dog treats (considering I worked on making a dog-friendly icing, as well)…she said no, and then asked for the recipe for human consumption. As you can tell, there’s nothing crazy or dog specific in the recipe; however, if I were making them for myself, I would definitely either add white sugar (probably ¼ cup) or some honey or agave (the same ¼ cup—I think would do)… and I don’t think you’d even have to alter the other ingredients. 

If you make these, let me know! And be sure to follow Jesse on Twitter @jdawg_yellow—there’s a follow button at the top right of the screen…and as I never intended to return to blogging, I didn’t take more pictures of the step by step. I’ll try to do that in the future because you know they’ll be more dog treat recipes to come!

Check out the recipe here or keep scrolling!

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