BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


20 Comments

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


23 Comments

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


39 Comments

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.


23 Comments

Freedom Cookie Press

Hands down, the best part about being a freelance photographer is when exciting new projects practically fall into my lap, and my greatest struggle is figuring out how to say “YES!” without sounding like an overeager puppy. A rare occurrence indeed, that intermittent system of rewards has me hooked, reinforced by the random, incredible opportunities that happen to come my way. After recently being recruited by Carina Comer to shoot the cover of her premier cookbook, Freedom Cookie Press, that addiction has only grown stronger.

Though the work of creating the cookies and capturing their best sides was deeply satisfying, having such delicious treats to enjoy at the end of the day was the greatest payoff. Featuring a cookie inspired by each of the fifty United States, baking your way through this innovative collection is like taking an edible road trip, without ever leaving the comfort of your own kitchen. Pictured here on the cover are the CT Nutmeg Doodles, TX Texmex Wedding Cookies, and OR Flowering Filbert Petit Fours, to provide some insight on the creative combinations that Carina has dreamed up. Though nostalgic and comforting in a way that only heartfelt recipes can be, these aren’t your grandma’s cookies, and you’re not likely to find such daring sweet flavors anywhere else.

I may be completely biased, but take my word for it: Freedom Cookie Press, hot of the digital presses, is truly a must-buy for anyone with a sweet tooth!


25 Comments

Lost and Found

Organization doesn’t come naturally or easily to me. Growing up, my favorite filing system was to stash nearly everything in my designated “junk drawer.” Cramming everything from silly putty, scribbles on torn half-sheets of paper, old holiday decorations, underwear, and beyond occupied that small space; a veritable stew of everyday detritus. Delving into the depths of the junk drawer was a journey into uncharted territory. Each exploration through that wild mishmash was a genuine treasure hunt, yielding long-forgotten favorite toys or memories of happy occasions. The junk drawer was my earliest attempt to save everything near and dear to me, which ironically resulted in many more of those items getting lost.

You’d think I would learn from such a noteworthy mistake, and yet the junk drawer lives on, only in a digital format. Computers and memory disks and burned CD’s all have a random sampling of of past works, essays from high school mixed freely with more recent recipes and photos. Though the situation has improved greatly over the years, I still find myself sorting out the mess, sometimes stumbling upon a gem worth polishing back to its original luster.

Such is the case with these Oatmeal Cream Cupcakes. Originally shared merely as a photo in a review post, it was a killer recipe that was meant for prime time, not just late fringe. Shockingly little was said about the sweets themselves, which is a real shame considering what a hit they were, despite the failings of the original frosting. Inspired by oatmeal cream pies, a classic childhood treat that I never actually had. Compact, portable, and boasting comforting, simple flavors, it’s easy to understand their appeal even without firsthand experience. Soft, chewy oatmeal cookies can do no wrong, and with a smidgen of creamy frosting uniting two in harmony, such a fool-proof formula elicits a feeling of nostalgia even for this outsider.

Rather than going through the fuss of scooping, rolling, and patting out cookies, it just sounded easier to convert that concept into cupcakes. Having the opportunity to hone the original recipe further to better suit my evolving tastes, perhaps becoming lost in the virtual junk drawer wasn’t such a terrible misfortune to befall this file. Now, if only I could find the others missing in action…

Oatmeal Cream Cupcakes

1 1/2 Cups Old Fashioned Rolled Oats, pulsed in food processor
1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Optional Add Ins: For a less literal but more exciting approach to the original creme pie, consider adding up to 1 cup total of toasted, chopped walnuts, chocolate chips, and/or raisins.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 8-Ounces Package Vegan Cream Cheese
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 12 standard muffin tins with cupcake papers.

Pull out your food processor and toss in the rolled oats. Briefly pulse to break them down, keeping the flakes fairly coarse, much like instant oatmeal. Transfer to a large bowl and add in the flour, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon and ginger, whisking thoroughly to combine.

In a separate bowl, mix together the oil, melted margarine, both sugars, non-dairy milk, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula until just combined. A few remaining lumps are fine, as long as there are no large pockets of dry goods.

Divide the batter evenly between your prepared tins, filling them each about 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 18 – 22 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centers of the cakes pulls out cleanly. Cool completely before applying frosting.

Make the frosting by simply beating together the “cream cheese” and margarine in the bowl of your stand mixer until smooth, adding in the sugar and vanilla, and then whipping on high speed for a minute or two, until homogenous, light, and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl periodically to make sure that everything is fully incorporated. Pipe or spread to your heart’s content.

Makes 12 Cupcakes

Printable Recipe

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,104 other followers