BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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For the Love of Chocolate

There are few universal truths in life, which makes each one of them that much more significant: Spring will always follow winter, love cannot be faked, and everyone enjoys chocolate. If any of those statements can be proven otherwise, I don’t want to know about it, especially when it comes to the latter. Quite frankly, person who claims to dislike chocolate is simply lying, revealing questionable character on their part. Thus, with no shortage of fanfare, Fran Costigan unleashed Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts upon the world, an ode to this “food of the gods” that fully lives up to its title. Every bit deserving of the effusive praise that gushes forth from each breathless review, I can only add my own cheers to the chorus.

Giving credit that’s long overdue, the Aztec Truffles (page 53) were the shining stars in my holiday candy boxes way back in festive days of December. Pressed for time and exhausted of fresh ideas, that surprisingly simple recipe yielded stunning results, above and beyond my traditional approaches. The fiery combination of ancho chili powder and cinnamon gave those tiny chocolate bombs an invigorating kick that all the tired old classics seemed to lack. Though notably soft in consistency, storing the little morsels in the freezer solved all structural concerns while adding a delightfully cool contrast to the punch of bold, smoky spices which paired beautifully with the dark, bitter chocolate.

The standard chocolate recipe by which I judge the merit of any cookbook, bakery, or individual baker is the humble brownie. Let me cut straight to the chase and say that Fran’s Very Fudgy Chocolate Chip Brownies (page 128) passed the test with flying colors. Complete with the elusive crackled top and rich, chewy interior, these simple squares live up to expectations, to say the least. A touch greasy but not prohibitively so, it’s a small price to be paid for ideal brownie indulgence.

Covering a wide range of applications and pairings for chocolate, there are plenty of more delicate, nuanced treats included as well. Case in point: The Chocolate, Orange, and Almond Olive Oil Cake (page 72). Though the name is a mouthful, it’s worth every bite! Impossibly moist, even after days of sitting on the counter, it’s one of those rare cakes that seems to get even better with age… If you can leave it alone long enough for it to mature, that is. Bright citrus notes enliven the almond-infused crumb, and while that would really be enough to satisfy any sweet craving, a thick glaze of chocolate ganache truly puts it over the top.

Coming from the vegan dessert queen herself, I would expect no less than a masterpiece and with Vegan Chocolate, I was not disappointed.


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The Life of Pie

Not all brilliant ideas start out that way. Anyone that’s spent a decent amount of time tinkering with recipes can attest to that, often chalking up more failures than successes despite any amount of experience at the stove. Case in point: This stubborn crusted wonder known fondly as a Caramel Corn Pie, which should have graced the pages of Easy as Vegan Pie.

Conceptually sound yet more temperamental than a 5-year old crashing from a sugar high, it was my problem child of the bunch. After sending it through the ringer with over a half-dozen different trials, completely revamping the base and rendering it unrecognizable from the original approach, sweet relief seemed to be in sight. Handing over the results to my unsuspecting recipe testers, I stood back with a smug sense of pride, awaiting the flood of enthusiastic feedback sure to return in no time.

Needless to say, that was not the case. Still baking unevenly, working in fits and starts, there was no rhyme nor reason to why it would work for some but flop spectacularly for others. Endless last minute tweaks caused it to miss the final deadline for joining the other perfect pies in the book, but finally, a gem I’ve been saving up to celebrate Pi Day (3.14!) the right way, its time has finally come.

For all the love that popcorn wins as a stand-alone snack, you’d think that more treats would seek to share in its reflected glory, utilizing the humble kernel for all that it’s worth. It strikes me as a huge failure of creativity that there aren’t more attempts at popcorn cupcakes, popcorn cookies, or popcorn pies. Luckily, with a bit of custard and caramel, this is a problem we can fix. Notes of burnt sugar compliment a buttery undertone, accented with a good pinch of salt. If you’re craving popcorn, it might be a wise idea to think inside the crust.

Caramel Corn Pie

1 Unbaked Classic Crust (page 36 of Easy as Vegan Pie)

Crunchy Caramel Corn Topping:

4 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn* (From about 1/4 Cup Kernels)
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Baking Soda

Caramel Corn Custard:

4 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn* (From about 1/4 Cup Kernels)
2 1/4 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/3 Cup Cornstarch
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

*To pop your corn, place the popcorn kernels in a medium-size brown paper bag (if you’re not sure if it’s big enough, err on the side of caution and pop the corn in two separate batches). Use scotch or masking tape to seal the bag shut, and put it in the microwave. Use the “popcorn” setting if possible, or set the timer for 3 ½ minutes at full power. When the popping slows to about once every 5 seconds, remove the bag, and open it very carefully, making sure your hands and face are out of the way- The steam can be quite painful! Sift out any unpopped kernels.

The caramel corn topping takes a bit longer to bake than the pie itself, so your best bet is to prepare it in advance. Preheat your oven to 225 degrees and line a jellyroll pan with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Place the first four cups of popped corn in a large bowl near the stove. In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine the brown sugar, non-dairy margarine, agave, and salt, stir well and bring to a boil. Cook at a vigorous bubble while stirring continuously for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda. It will foam and bubble angrily, but don’t just stand around and watch it- Make haste and pour the mixture all over the popcorn. Toss to coat each and every kernel, and spread the syrupy corn out in an even layer on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. It will become perfectly crisp once cool, so despite the tempting aroma, resist the urge to take a bite until it reaches room temperature.

Once the topping is baked and out of the oven, increase the temperature to 325 degrees.

Bring together the custard filling by combining the second measure of popped corn and non-dairy milk in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and turn off the heat. Let sit for 1 hour for the corn to soften and infuse into the liquid.

Transfer the popcorn milk to your blender or food processor and thoroughly puree. Give it at least 5 full minutes at high speed to break down the kernels as much as possible, and longer if necessary. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing to get all the liquid out. Discard the solids.

Pour the popcorn milk back into the medium saucepan, and vigorously whisk in all the remaining ingredients for the filling. When perfectly smooth, turn on the heat to medium, and bring to a boil while stirring continuously, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent the mixture from burning. Once the mixture has thickened to the point that the bottom of the pan remains visible when you stir, without the filling immediately flowing back over the surface, turn off the heat and quickly transfer it to your unbaked pie shell.

Bake until custard is set and browned on top, about 45 – 50 minutes. The center should still be a bit jiggly when tapped, much like a cheesecake. Let cool completely and top with a generous mound of the crunchy caramel corn topping before serving at room temperature.

Makes 8 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Working for Peanuts

Let’s start the week out right with something sweet and simple: Peanut butter cookies. They come in all shapes and sizes, textures and shades of brown, and I have yet to meet a single rendition that failed to satisfy. Midterm exams are leaving me with few extra words to extoll the wonders of these nutty morsels, but a ravenous hunger for their gently salted, roasted, and rich flavors. To celebrate the diversity of the classic cookie, I present to you two distinct approaches for fellow equal opportunity cookie lovers out there.

First up, a crisp, buttery, slightly crumbly rendition speckled with bittersweet chunks of chocolate. Perfect to accompany a cup of tea or coffee, they strike me as the perfect treat to power a last-minute study session. Indulgent yet refined, they’re the sort of peanut butter cookies that could effortlessly transition from a standard snack time munch to elegant after dinner offering.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have these soft, chewy, and utterly crave-worthy cookies which conceal a stunning list of healthy qualifications. Created for a demo at the Honolulu YMCA on healthy vegan baking, these beauties are soy-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and if you ask me, entirely guilt-free! Best of all, these babies can be whipped up in a flash, with pantry staples that I always keep on hand.

You can’t go wrong with either peanut-packed delight. The hardest part will be deciding which to bake first!

Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
3/4 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Cornstarch or Potato Starch
1/2 Cup Bittersweet Chocolate Chunks or Chips

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or pieces of parchment paper.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the Earth Balance and peanut butter at medium speed until perfectly smooth and homogeneous. Add in the brown sugar, salt, and vanilla, mixing briefly to incorporate. Gradually introduce the flour and cornstarch to the mixture, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl and ensure there are no lumps remaining. Mix just enough to fully integrate all of the dry goods. Lastly, stir in the chocolate by hand.

Turn the cookie dough out onto a lightly floured, cool surface and roll out to about 1/8 – 1/4 inch in thickness. Sprinkle additional flour over the top of the dough if it threatens to stick to the rolling pin. Use 2-inch round fluted cookie cutters, or any comparably sized shape, and punch out as many cookies as possible. Transfer them to your prepared baking sheets, spaced about 1/2 inch apart. Gather up the scraps, re-roll, and repeat until all the dough is used up.

Bake for 13 – 16 minutes, until just barely golden brown around the edges. Let the cookies finish cooling on the sheets, where they will continue to crisp as they reach room temperature. Once completely cool, store in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks.

About 3 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe

Healthy Peanut Butter Cookies

1 Cup All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate, larger bowl, use a sturdy spatula to mix the peanut butter, agave, oil, and vanilla, stirring until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous. Add in the dry ingredients and stir until fully incorporated, being careful not to overwork the dough.

Use a spoon to scoop out 1 – 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie and drop each ball on your prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 1 inch of space in between. Use a fork to press a crisscross pattern into the top of the raw cookies, flattening them out slightly at the same time. If the dough sticks to the fork, very lightly grease the tines before proceeding.

Bake for 8 – 12 minutes, until just golden around the edges. Let cool completely before enjoying or storing in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Makes 1 – 1 1/2 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Back to Baking

Is the coast clear yet? Has the holiday sugar overload and palate fatigue worn off? Have the chronic dieters lost their New Year’s resolve? I sure hope so, because I’ve got one killer dessert recipe burning a hole in my archives and I don’t think I can’t wait to share it much longer. Never mind the terrible picture, because this one has inner beauty hidden within every fold.

Singing out with the depth and soul that only dark, sticky molasses can bring to the table, these are not your average plain Jane cinnamon rolls. Boldly spiced with ginger taking the clear lead, cinnamon is still invited to the party of course, but no longer the sole center of attention. It’s finally time for the rest of the well-seasoned entourage to shine, with all their lively, distinctive degrees of warmth on full display. Gingerbread may be most closely associated with the holidays, but if you ask me, that flavor bomb of a spice blend never goes out of style.

With all that goodness contained within the very foundation of the buns, what more could one possibly think of rolling up inside? All it takes is a simple combination of lemon and sugar to really push each yeasted spiral over the top. Brightening up breakfast, dessert, or snack time with a zesty contrast to those darker, richer tastes, any citrus fruit could make for an equally irresistible addition. Don’t stop at dabbling with just orange or lime zest- Tangerine, grapefruit, or even finely chopped kumquats sound pretty tempting, too.

Gingerbread Lemon Buns

Gingerbread Dough:

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Cube Fresh Yeast or 1 (1/4-Ounce) Packet Active Dry Yeast
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Molasses
2 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Pinch Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
3 – 3 1/2 Cups All-Purpose flour
1 Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Lemon-Sugar Filling:

3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1 Cup Granulated sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon

Heat the non-dairy milk of your choice in a microwave safe bowl for just a minute to warm, but do not bring it to a boil. Stir in the yeast and let is sit for about 5 minutes until frothy and active. Once re-awakened, pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer, along with the sugar, oil, and molasses. Mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the first 3 cups of flour, spices, wheat gluten (if using), plus the salt. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed and there are no large pockets of unblended spices remaining. Add the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet, and beginning at the lowest speed, use the dough hook to slowly combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to keep everything incorporated, until the dough forms a cohesive ball. If it still seems excessively wet, add up to 1/2 cup of flour.

Let the mixer continue to knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. You could also knead it by hand; just take 15 minutes to do so instead. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic, and let rest in a warm area for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and turn it out on to a well-floured surface. Roll it out into a rectangle of about 14 x 18 inches. Brush generously with the melted margarine. Combine the sugar and zest in a small bowl before sprinkling the mixture evenly over the entire surface. Starting from one of the shorter ends, roll the rectangle up as tightly as possible, pinching the seam shut when you reach the other end.

Use a very sharp knife to cut the roll into approximately 1 1/2-inch pieces. Fit them into a lightly grease 9 x 9-inch pan, spacing them as evenly as possible. Begin preheating your oven at this point to 350 degrees, and allow the rolls to rise for 45 – 60 minutes before sliding them into the hot oven.

Bake for 25 – 35 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before digging in.

Makes 9 – 12 Buns

Printable Recipe


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The Heart of the Matter

Perhaps I’ve been looking at the Valentine’s Day ritual from the wrong perspective. Instead of recoiling at the sight of puffy pink hearts and greeting cards of dubious sincerity, focusing on the abundance of new opportunities to indulge my sweet tooth would surely help the occasion pass with less pain.

Chocolate truffles and ornate confections are the “traditional” treats associated with this annual love-fest, but my own cravings have taken a turn for the lighter and fresher this year. Wild Frozen Blueberries never go out of style, especially in Hawaii where discovering fresh berries is about as likely as spying Menehune in Waikiki. Postage stamp-sized freezer space be damned, these tiny blue gems were a necessity to squeeze in. Fully stocked on this taste of home, it was a natural decision to go blue this holiday.

Unimpressive, even homely at first glance, the true beauty of this festive cake is revealed within the very first slice. Concealed beneath an ocean of deep blue batter lies heart of gold- Well, golden vanilla pound cake, at least! Talk about a sweet surprise.

Let the lucky recipient believe that it’s a testament to the power of love, or perhaps some wild baking alchemy, but the truth is grounded in good old-fashioned advanced planning. Little more work than crafting two standard, separate cakes, some clever cookie cutter usage and a heaping cup of patience are the only secret ingredients here.

Proving the power of Frozen Wild Blueberries in every moist, tender forkful, what appears to be a modest measurement goes a very long way, translating into volumes of robust berry flavor throughout. Wrapping around the heart-y core in a gentle embrace, the two components meld harmoniously, while nonetheless remaining distinct. They’re a perfect couple if I ever did see one.

Even if there isn’t a special someone to indulge this Valentine’s Day, don’t hide your heart away! Just cut yourself a thick slice of cake and taste the love that only Wild Blueberries have to share, no strings attached.

Hidden Heart Wild Blueberry Cake

Vibrant Vanilla Pound Cake:

1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Vanilla Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Extract

Wild Blueberry Cake:

1 Cup Frozen Wild Blueberries, Thawed
1/3 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

Beginning with the vanilla cake, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. Once the dry goods are well-distributed, turn your attention to the wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the non-dairy milk of your choice with the lemon juice, allowing it to sit for about 5 minutes to curdle slightly. Add in the oil and vanilla, stir thoroughly, and introduce this liquid mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients.

Mix gently with a wide spatula, stirring just enough to bring the batter together with few remaining lumps. Transfer into your prepared loaf pan, smooth out the top, and slide it into the center of your oven. Bake for 50 – 55 minutes, until lightly golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out cleanly. Let cool completely and chill for at least 1 hour before proceeding.

Once your cake is nice and cold all the way through, use a very sharp serrated knife to slice it into 1-inch thick slabs. Take a large heart-shaped cookie cutter that fits within the confines of the slices and punch out your heart shapes; cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees once more and lightly grease another 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

Moving on to the Wild Blueberry batter, toss the berries into your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree. Slowly drizzle in the water, lemon juice, oil, and vanilla to incorporate. Add in the sugar into the machine last, and continue blending until completely smooth, with just a few visible seeds remaining.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder, soda, and salt.  Just as before, pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry goods, stirring to combine with as few strokes as possible.

Pour a thin layer of the batter into the prepared loaf pan, spreading it out smoothly so that it evenly reaches about ½ – ¾ of a centimeter all the way across the bottom. Retrieve your heart-shaped vanilla cake cut-outs, and line them up in a row along the center. Naturally, they’ll fit if you can arrange them in the same order as they were cut, but it will work just as beautifully if they’ve gotten mixed up too. Pour the remainder of the blue batter around the sides and over the tops of the hearts, being careful to fill up any crevices. Tap the pan firmly but gently on the counter to release any air bubbles that may disrupt the pattern. It’s likely that you’ll end up with some extra batter that won’t fit into the pan; bake it off separately as cupcakes or mini-loaves to enjoy later!

Carefully slide the loaf pan into the oven and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into one of the blue sides pulls out cleanly. Don’t test for doneness in the center; of course the vanilla cake will be done, since it was already well-baked to begin with.

Let cool completely before slicing and serving.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe

This post was written for and is sponsored by Wild Blueberries, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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Savoring Chocolate

Chocolate goes with everything, or so the enthusiasts proclaim, and for once I’m not here to argue. Though not a rabid chocoholic myself, a square or two of good dark chocolate is frequently the emergency fuel of choice, staving off everything from common hunger pangs to emotional flights of fancy. No stranger to the great range of flavors that can be coaxed from the humble cacao, my greatest disappointment is that fewer feel the need to explore beyond the most commonly accepted flavor pairings. More adventurous confections are beginning to emerge, giving rise to bars dusted with curry, sprinkled with popped amaranth, or blended with beer, but all of these treats still land firmly on the dessert menu. Enough with the candies and confections, just for once! I would challenge those who see chocolate only as a source of sweet gratification to take a walk on the savory side.

To call them “cookies” may be a bit deceptive, but their construction has much more in common with your standard shortbread than any cracker or chip I’ve ever known. Ultra-dark, dry, and slightly bitter chocolate chunks put to rest any preconceived notions of classic chewy chocolate chip cookies- Switching up cacao percentages alone makes an incredible world of difference! Of course, such a small adjustment didn’t satisfy my craving, which is where the unconventional addition of oil-cured olives comes into play. Yes, you heard right: Olives. Briny, rich with oil, vaguely fruity, and very concentrated in their inherent olive goodness thanks to the slow drying process, this salty addition serves to brighten the chocolate while adding a surprising pop of flavor. Catching eaters off-guard at first bite, it won’t be a taste for everyone, but a delight for adventurous eaters seeking something new.

Best served as an appetizer or snack, these delicate cookies shine their brightest when paired with a glass of dry red wine and an equally salty olive-infused hummus on the side. Don’t be afraid to really drive the theme home with a robust tapenade. Trust me, that intense dark chocolate can stand up to anything you throw at it. The saying really is true; chocolate goes with everything, or perhaps more accurately, everything goes with chocolate.

Savory Chocolate-Olive Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Oil-Cured Olives, Pitted and Chopped
2.5 Ounces 90% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Chopped
2 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment and thoroughly cream together the margarine and sugar, until the mixture is homogenous. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, tarragon, pepper, and salt, making sure that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout. Add in the chopped olives and chocolate, tossing gently to coat all of the pieces with flour. Break up any clumps of olives that may remain sticking together so that they’re equally blended throughout each finished cookie. Starting the mixer back up on the lowest setting, slowly incorporate the dry goods in two additions, alternating with the olive oil, until all the remaining ingredients are used.

The dough should be just moist enough to stick together in a coherent ball when pressed; don’t be tempted to incorporate extra liquid! Gather it all up and form it into a log about 6 – 8 inches long. You can choose to either keep your cookies rounded or square off the edges by gently dropping the log on the counter at regular intervals. It’s merely a stylistic choice, so feel free to play around with it. Once shaped as desired, wrap the dough log in plastic and place it in your freezer. Allow at least 2 hours for it to chill, or store for up to 3 months before baking.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or pieces of parchment paper.

Unwrap the chilled dough, handling it as little as possible to prevent it from warming up, and use a very sharp knife to cut it into slices approximately 1/4 inch in thickness. (The cookies pictured above are admittedly a bit too thick- Don’t go too chunky here or they will be very dry and cloying!) Lay the cookies out with about 1/2 inch in between them on your prepared sheets, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until lightly golden brown.

Let cool completely on the sheets before enjoying or storing in an air-tight container.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


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In Good Spirits

Infused with a generous pour of Cabernet from the start and doused with an additional slug of brown sugar-enriched syrup, soaking each nook and cranny with a strong dose of sweet red wine, this cake knows how to party. Perhaps the holidays would have been easier to manage had we all been so thoroughly sloshed.

Studded with large pieces of roasted chestnuts, it’s a limited time treat ideal for these winter months. Though the jubilant days of Christmas and New Year’s feel like a lifetime ago already, surely there are plenty of other occasions worth celebrating. Even a good old fashioned snow day could be an excellent excuse to batten down the hatches and drown your sorrows not in a stiff drink, but a strong slice of this tender cake. It’s perfectly acceptable to disregard the notion of “happy hour” if it’s just a snack, midday, mid-morning, or whenever the craving strikes- Right?

Plus, purely by accident, the formula became much leaner than intended by the clumsy omission of any added fat, so you can absolutely pass this off as resolution-friendly diet fare. Happily, the texture doesn’t suffer one bit without the oil; I would have never realized my mistake if not for my recipe notes. I guess it’s obvious that not all of the wine made it into the cake first.

Tipsy Chestnut Cake

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Five-Spice Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups (10 Ounces) Very Coarsely Chopped Roasted Chestnuts
3/4 Cup Dry Red Wine (Such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Pinot Noir)
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Crimson Wine Syrup:

1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup Dry Red Wine
Pinch Salt

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease and flour an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, five-spice powder, baking powder and soda, and salt. Make sure all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined and distributed throughout before adding in the chopped chestnuts. Toss to coat with the flour to prevent the pieces from sinking to the bottom of you cake while baking, and set aside.

Mix the red wine, applesauce, and vanilla in a separate bowl before introducing those wet goods into the bowl of dry goods. Use a wide spatula to bring the two together, stirring just enough to combine without over-mixing. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few lumps remaining.

Transfer the batter to your prepared loaf pan and smooth out the top before sliding it into the center of your oven. Bake for 55 – 60 minutes, until deeply browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

While the cake is baking, prepare the red wine syrup by simply adding the wine, brown sugar, and salt into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Cook just until the sugar has dissolved if you’d like the wine to retain a bit of its alcoholic bite, or allow it to simmer for 5 – 10 minutes to lessen its boozy punch.

Once the cake is baked but still warm, poke it numerous times with a skewer to allow the syrup to penetrate deep into the crumb, and pour the hot syrup all over. Let cool completely before removing from the pan. Although the cake tastes best the next day after soaking a bit, it’s quite delicious to slice and serve as soon as it’s cool.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Oh, My Darling Clementines

Like clockwork, I’m right back at my usual tricks again, infusing every morsel that crosses my path with a bit of edible sunshine while the real thing plays hard to get. Grapefruits, oranges, lemons, and limes are always close at hand, spilling out of the refrigerated fruit bin and lining the kitchen counters, decorating these dark spaces with a cheerful spray of neon colors. Their natural luminescence does wonders to lift spirits through the most gloomy of days, but it’s truly the bold, bright, astringent flavors that sustain me through winter. This year, I’ve added a new comer to that line-up of faithful fruity regulars: The petite yet powerful clementine.

Luck was on my side this season, as the kind folks representing Cuties Clementines were generous enough to ship an entire crate full of these glowing orange orbs straight to my door. Not to be overly dramatic, but what a revelation! Gone are the days of meticulously picking at the stringy pith of oranges before the segments become edible. The skin practically falls off of these juicy half-moons, nary a seed in sight. No muss, no fuss, they’re the ultimate winter pick-me-up. Naturally, they’re a boon to desserts and other treats as well.

Citrus supremes are a beautiful addition to all sorts of desserts, but they’re such a pain to prepare. Thanks to a combination of dull knifes and insufficient handiwork, mine always end up ragged, sad little slivers of their former selves; certainly nothing to crown a grand finale with. Clementines, on the other hand, pop out of their peels ready to use, unblemished and the ideal size to toss into just about any dish. Simply layering them with plain old soy yogurt, sliced almonds, and berries elevated my boring lunchtime routine into something worth remembering.

Bursting with flavor, sweeter and more mellow than an orange but still plenty punchy, clementines sounded like the ideal pairing with matcha. Cutting through the bitter powdered tea and balancing out the whole dessert, segments top chewy tapioca pearls, cradled in the easiest mini tart shell you’ll ever slap together. No need to break out the rolling pin, this crust is merely pressed into the pans and won’t slip or slide under the heat of the oven, standing tall without the need for pie weights.

Winter, you have officially met your match; the bright taste of these Cuties makes a day without sunshine no big deal. In case you’re suffering from the winter blues as well, I have good news! Furnished by Cuties Clementines, I have a coupon for one free 5-pound crate of these tiny fruits that one lucky commenter can redeem at their local grocery store. Recipients must be located in the US as a result. To enter, leave me a comment before January 18th at midnight EST, and tell me about your favorite citrus fix. What would you do with all of those clementines, if you can resist merely eating them out of hand? Trust me, five pounds sounds like a lot, but they won’t last long with any citrus enthusiast!

UPDATE: After consulting with my very favorite random number generator, together, we determined the winner of this sweet prize to be…

Commenter #12, Harvest + Honey! You will be hearing from me shortly, and for everyone else, stay tuned… Not to give away the surprise, but there may just be more clementines to share very soon.

Clementine and Matcha Tapioca Tartlets

Press-In-Pan Olive Oil Pastry Crust:

1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water

Matcha Tapioca:

1/2 Cup Small Tapioca Pearls
2 1/2 Cups Vanilla Coconut Milk Beverage or Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
2Teaspoons Matcha Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

To Finish:

4 – 5 Clementines, Peeled and Segmented
Fresh Mint Leaves (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease 10 – 12 (3-inch) mini tart molds.

To make the crust, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add in the olive oil and lemon juice, stirring thoroughly to incorporate. Drizzle in the water very slowly, adding just enough to bring the dough together without making it wet or sticky. Break off about 2 – 3 tablespoons of dough for each mini tart mold and press it evenly across the bottoms and up the sides of the forms. Make sure there aren’t especially thick edges left around the base so that it all cooks at the same rate.

Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through the process to ensure even baking, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before popping the shells out of their metal molds.

For the tapioca, begin by pouring 2 cups of very hot water over the pearls and allowing them to soak for at least 2 – 3 hours. This will soften them and prevent the centers from remaining after cooking. Rinse with cold water and thoroughly drain.

Place the soaked pearls in a medium saucepan along with the non-dairy milk. Whisk together the sugar, matcha, cornstarch, and arrowroot in a separate bowl to break up any and all clumps of the tea powder before adding it into the pot as well. Set over medium heat on the stove and allow the mixture to come up to a boil, whisking periodically and being sure to scrape along the sides and bottom to prevent anything from sticking and burning. Once it comes bubbles vigorously for a full minute, turn off the heat before throwing in the margarine and vanilla extract. Stir until the margarine has completely melted and distribute the hot pudding between the baked mini tart shells, filling them to the top.

Allow the tapioca to fully cool before topping with clementine segments and a few mint leaves, if desired. Serve at room temperature or chill for 2 hours to enjoy them cold.

Makes 10 – 12 Tartlets

Printable Recipe

This recipe is also my entry for the So Delicious 3 Course Recipe Contest. Wish me luck!


21 Comments

A Call for Comfort

If there’s anything good to be said in favor of the colder, wintery climate slowly but surely settling in across the northern hemisphere, it would undoubtedly be about baking. No longer does the kitchen itself become a sweltering sauna upon preheating the oven, and whipped meringue stays fluffy and pert, regardless of the duration. Holiday cookie plates aren’t the only reason why bakers return to their sugary arsenal around this time of year; the seasonal shift triggers an instinctive need for warmth and comfort, both of which can be found in ample supply within a fresh batch of flaky apple danishes, still steamy within, or gooey chocolate chip cookies, soft as non-dairy butter.

The soothing capacity of homemade baked foods isn’t limited to any single genre, and exactly what sweet treat one pulls out of that radiating electric range is a highly personal choice. For me, tender, sticky gingerbread would be on the menu every day if I was living solo. Since variety is the spice of life, or so I’m led to believe, perhaps it’s a good thing that my family members all have their own words of wisdom once the oven roars back to life after its summer hibernation.

Hands down, scones will always rank near the top of the list for my mom, whether they’re served with extra icing for dessert or a smear of jam for breakfast. My tried-and-true formula, that fool-proof ratio of flour, liquid, and fat effortlessly yielding golden brown and delicious biscuits, rarely varies. The mix-ins are what keeps each subsequent batch exciting, preventing palate fatigue before the frozen earth outsides begins to thaw.

Looking to shake up the standard pastry routine, I was in luck when Meduri Fruit offered to send me a sample of their wares. Calling these morsels “boutique-quality dried fruit” sounds like a dubious compliment at first blush, but these specimens were truly outstanding. Whereas bulk bin picks are certainly more economical, they often dry out to a consistency better suited to beefless jerky, deterring more frequent purchases. None of that can be found here. Each variety is clearly dehydrated with care, maintaining an incredibly soft, chewy texture in each sweet piece.

Using such intensely flavorful dried fruits allows the kitchen-sink approach to work so brilliantly in these unassuming scones. Their inner beauty is revealed with each bite, the essence of a different fruit coming forward in alternating nibbles and crumbs. The specifics aren’t terribly important when selecting your own dried fruits; quality counts above all else.

Fruit Basket Scones

1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Almond Meal
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/2 – 2/3 Cup Mixed Dried or Candied Fruits, Chopped into Raisin-Sized Pieces if Necessary
3 – 5 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1/4 Cup Sliced Almonds

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Mix the flour, almond meal, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl until thoroughly blended. Cut the margarine into tablespoon-sized pieces before dropping them into the dry goods. Using a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in the margarine until you have coarse crumbs with chunks of margarine no larger than the size of a lentil. Add in the dried or candied fruits of your choice, tossing to coat with flour before drizzling in 3 tablespoons of non-dairy milk along with the lemon juice and almond extract. Mix thoroughly, using your hands to bring the dough together if necessary, and slowly incorporate additional non-dairy milk if the mixture is still to dry to form a cohesive ball.

Gather up the dough into a big round and place it on your prepared baking sheet. Pat it out into an even round about 1/2-inch in thickness. Use a very sharp knife to slice it into four equal wedges, and then sprinkle them with slice almonds. Press down gently to make sure the nuts adhere to the tops of the scones.

Bake for 18 – 20 minutes, until golden brown all over. Serve warm or cool on a wire rack for later. Place in an air-tight container or wrap tightly in plastic and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Makes 4 Scones

Printable Recipe


45 Comments

Lost at Sea

Nothing is off limits when it comes to capturing the perfect photo. Fulfilling a vision, watching it come to life, and being able to share it with others, no translation necessary, is the most satisfying aspect of the craft. No one said that reaching that goal was ever easy though, which is why I’m willing to go great lengths in order to see a concept through to completion. Even for your garden-variety food photo, every frame counts. Shooting on location presents its own unique set of challenges, but posing a pie for its closeup on the beach is far from my craziest idea yet.

A week of planning, a day of preparation, and day of meticulous baking later, the photo was everything I had dreamed of. With the recipe completed and fine tuned well in advance, the styling went off without a hitch. My Island Breeze Pie from Easy as Vegan Pie looked radiant, a true beach babe if I ever did see one. Never mind the fact that it was a chilly February morning, the wee hours of the AM affording us a quiet, undisturbed spot on the shoreline; the sun’s gentle golden glow suggested otherwise, and the soft ripples of sea water coming in with the tide seemed to lovingly cradle the dish itself. It was perfect, that one moment that every artist lives for when everything in the world feels right.

And the next moment is what every risk-taker dreads.

Splash! Right before my lens, one cruel wave silently crept up from beyond my viewfinder, sneaking around the edges of my painstakingly styled pie, and maliciously scaled the walls of the ceramic vessel, crashing through the latticework in one fell swoop. I never saw it coming, but with camera poised and a finger on the trigger, the devastating attack was inadvertently captured for all eyes to see, detailing the full destruction in a multitude of frames.

“No, not the macadamia nuts!” I howled in anguish, helplessly watching the waters recede. They were one of the rare edible souvenirs that made the journey with me back from Hawaii, you see, much more sentimental than your average ingredient.

Leaving behind a soggy but fully intact pastry in its wake, my rescue efforts came too late, but the whole dish was nonetheless toweled off and taken home. This poor, brave pie made the ultimate sacrifice- Who could be so cold-hearted as to simply shrug and throw it away? Not I; loathe to waste food, and turn my back on this valiant fighter.

Only out of desperation, and only due to one overly optimistic suggestion did the pie return to the oven in an attempt to dry out. The water was removed, but the sand, grit, and salt remained, tasting of of detritus and sadness. Officially beyond salvage, all I could do was honor its memory, publishing that glorious photo to inspire generations of Island Breeze Pies to come.

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Easy as Vegan Pie for yourself! Pretty please, don’t let any of your baked creations anywhere near the water, for your own eating enjoyment.

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