An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


Have a GRAIN Holiday!

Funny how the most open-ended requests are often the most challenging to fulfill. Narrow down the criteria to something incredibly specific, to what might be consider severely limited, even, and that’s where it’s easy to excel. The answer has almost been handed over, outlined in great detail about what it must or must not be, so it’s hard to go too far wrong. When tasked with creating something as vague as a “holiday dessert,” however, my mind goes blank. With endless paths to go down or ideas to explore, how can one determine what would be best? Similarly, the concept of creating a recipe that simply must have flour as an ingredient left me just short of baffled. Flour, that ubiquitous ground wheat product, is so prevalent in this household that I’d swear I could sweep up all the dust on the shelves and bake a loaf of bread with it. After churning out hundreds of desserts over the past decade, it takes a deliberate effort not to start a recipe with flour.

That’s what made Hodgson Mill‘s call to arms equally enticing and perplexing. Mandating only that recipes include one or more of their whole grain flours, such an ambiguous lure proved impossible to resist. Surely I could make something with flour- What else do I do? And yet the concepts flew by, turning out only cakey, disappointing scones and a platter of cookies with an identity crisis, seeming more like little pies than discrete 2-bite confections. Given so much free rein, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.

Until I focused my attention on chestnuts, that is. Gravely undervalued, these nuts have only a short window of availability, and rarely get the attention they deserve. Thinking more about the featured flavors than the construction allowed me to get around my baker’s block and create something truly prize-winning, if only amongst my taste testers.

Creating a hearty crumb that isn’t too dense, a blend of both whole wheat pastry flour and bread flour lends this sweet loaf a unique texture, slightly fluffier than your average pound cake. Chestnuts are blended to weave their unique essence into every bite, paired with sizable pieces for toothsome pops of nutty flavor. Though icing is typically an after though, something that could be listed as optional, this particular spicy topping is absolutely essential to contrast the hearty crumb. Don’t rush it either; the crunch and slight cooling sensation it provides after it hardens is critical to maximum enjoyment.

I’m entering this flour-inspired treat into Hodgson Mill‘s Have a GRAIN Holiday contest, and lucky for you, they’ve sweetened the deal for more than just the entrants. Anyone is welcome to enter their sweepstakes to win 1 of 50 baking gift packs, no recipe entry required. Plus, I’m happy to host an entirely separate $25 gift pack giveaway just for you lovely readers of BitterSweet, too! To get in on this great grain action, just leave me a comment about what you’re planning to bake for Thanksgiving, or simply a seasonal baking recipe that’s on your to-do list. Make sure you fill out your name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes, and leave your message before Sunday, November 25th at midnight EST. If you just can’t wait to get baking, you can also snap up a $1 coupon off of any 5 pound bag of Hodgson Mills flour.

Now there’s simply no excuse to get into the kitchen and start your oven!

Chestnut Pound Cake

1 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup Bread Flour
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Cup Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
10 Ounces (About 1 1/2 Cups) Whole Roasted and Shelled Chestnuts, Divided
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Almond Extract

Spiced Icing:

1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water

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

In a large bowl, sift together both flours along with the confectioner’s sugar, cornstarch, baking powder and soda, and salt. Roughly chop half of the chestnuts and toss them in, stirring to coat with flour to help prevent the pieces from all sinking to the bottom while baking. Set aside.

Place the oil, brown sugar, and the remaining half of the chestnuts into the container of your blender or food processor and thoroughly puree. Pause to scrape down the sides if necessary, ensuring that everything is smoothly combined. Add in the “milk,” cinnamon, vinegar, vanilla, and almond extract, blending once more to incorporate.

Pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry goods, and stir with a wide spatula just enough to bring the batter together. A few small lumps are far better than an overworked, tough cake. Pour the batter to your prepared pan and bake for 50 – 60 minutes, until amber brown all over an a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out cleanly. Let sit in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To prepare the icing, simply whisk together all of the ingredient, slowly adding water one drop at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. Drizzle generously over the top of the cake and allow it 1 – 2 hours to set and harden. Slice, serve, and enjoy!

Makes 1 Loaf Cake; 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


Precious Peaches

Summer isn’t over until the peaches are picked, but harvesting is only half of the matter. It might be nothing short of heresy to suggest dressing up the fleeting and scarce supply of fuzzy stone fruits, considering how easy it is to eat even a peck of peaches out of hand.  Nothing beats a perfectly ripe peach, still gently warmed from the sun, savored in fading sunlight while the sticky juices run down your arm. A reward for a hard day’s work, but also a mandatory seasonal experience, fresh peaches need no further enhancement to win over gourmets the world around. We all agree on this, right? So we could stop right here and leave perfectly satisfied, bellies full of unadulterated peaches.

But then we couldn’t share this lightly spiced, tender cake, jam-packed with vibrant peach flavor, could we?

Unfailingly, the sight of such a stunning but simple cake is enough to change the minds of the most staunch peach purists. Reducing the puree down by half concentrates their best qualities and makes the cake’s crumb melt-in-your-mouth tender. Dotted with crisp pecans and topped off with a full blanket of the crunchy nuts, the additional sprinkle of sugar is really just for looks, since the single round layer is perfectly sweet as is.

As summer fades, the peaches too will be left in the past, a bittersweet memory to cling to until the next year. Rather than turn the remaining stash into jam, try baking them into this moist, single layer for an exceptionally tempting treat instead. Sliced and well-wrapped, the cake can be frozen and enjoyed long into the fall and possibly even winter- If you can leave it alone for such a stretch of time, of course.

I never did know when to leave well enough alone. The poor stone fruits never had a chance, no matter how delectable straight from the trees. Maybe another slice of cake might help absolve me for the sin of messing with those perfect peaches.

Southern Peach Cake

Peach Cake:

6 Ripe Peaches
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
2 Cups White Whole Wheat or All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
2 Tablespoons Bourbon or Rum*
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Pecan Topping:

1 Cup Raw Pecan Halves
1 Tablespoon Turbinado Sugar

*Poorly stocked liquor cabinet or simply seeking a non-alcoholic option? Substitute 2 tablespoons of water and 1/2 teaspoon rum extract instead.

Pit and puree the peaches along with the lemon juice, and transfer the smooth mixture to a medium saucepan. Gently simmer over medium-low heat until reduced by half. You should end up with approximately 1 1/3 cups of concentrated peach puree when all is said and done. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease and flour a 9-inch round springform pan. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Add in the chopped pecans, and toss lightly to coat. This will help prevent the nuts from sinking to the bottom of the cake while baking.

Separately, whisk together the reduced and cooled peach puree, both sugars, oil, bourbon, vinegar, and vanilla. Pour these liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and mix gently with a wide spatula, just until the batter comes together smoothly. Don’t over-mix; a few small lumps are fine to leave in the mixture.

Spread the batter in your prepared pan, smoothing it evenly across the whole area, and sprinkle the raw pecans all over the top. Finally, sprinkle the turbindo sugar on as well, taking care to fill any of the uncovered crevasses between the nuts especially.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the nuts on top are nicely toasted, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe


Mint Condition

For the sake of argument, let’s just say that you have a garden still overflowing with fresh mint, and for some odd reason or another, you recently bought an entire case of green pea flour on whim. Crazy scenario, I know, but humor me for a moment here. Managing those two surpluses separately would be completely possible, but a wasted opportunity. What combination has stood the test of time better or longer than mint and peas, after all? Bright, sprightly peppermint seamlessly works its way not only into every viable crack in the soil, but also every dish in the kitchen, effortlessly jumping from sweet to savory and back again. That lively punch of flavor is just what an odd-ball ingredient like pea flour needs to shake off its shyness and triumphantly emerge from the pantry once more.

A prime breakfast, brunch, or side dish option, the fluffy yet sturdy crumb of these muffins will make you forget all about mum’s traditional mushy peas. Pops of subtle sweetness from whole green peas balance out this savory affair, while the pea flour keeps the flavor front and center through every bite. Lightly buttery and surprisingly rich, you’ll forget all about the abundant whole grains and vegetables sneaking in at the same time. Keep a stash of these satisfying little quick breads frozen, ready to defrost and serve in an instant, and you’ll never again struggle to finish your peas at dinner.

Minted Pea Muffins

1 Cup Green Pea Flour
1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced
1 1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 1/2 Cups Frozen Green Peas, Thawed
1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
2 Teaspoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a standard-sized muffin tin. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pea flour, white whole wheat flour, minced mint leaves, baking powder and soda, salt, and black pepper. Once all of the dry goods are thoroughly mixed, add in the thawed green peas and lightly toss them to coat. This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins later on.

Separately, mix the non-dairy milk, oil, melted margarine or coconut oil, agave, and vinegar. Once combined, pour the wet into the bowl of dry ingredients, and use a wide spatula to incorporate. Stir just until a smooth batter forms, being careful not to over-mix. Divide the batter evenly between 9 – 10 muffin prepared cups, depending on how tall you want your muffins.

Bake for 16 – 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly. Let cool in the pans for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Eat warm, cool, or freeze for future enjoyment.

Makes 9 – 10 Muffins

Printable Recipe


Caught Sticky-Handed

Sticky Fingers Bakery has long been a sweet sensation within the vegan community, serving up pastries and other delights in the Washington, DC area since 2002, accumulating numerous awards over the years. Most remarkable of all was when chef and owner Doron Petersan broke into the mainstream, not only showing up on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, but stealing the whole show; Her vegan cupcakes won by a landslide against the butter- and egg-based competition. Now, while the bakery that has always been held in high esteem, it’s become a runaway hit sensation, and everyone wants a piece of the pie (or, cake, as it may be.) Luckily, Doron has recently released the secrets to her baking success in a cookbook chronicling the bakery’s most popular recipes, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets.

Upon receiving my copy, I wasted no time and flipped straight to the famed Cowvin Cookies (page 110) I had already heard so much about. Deceptively simple oatmeal cookies, every time I heard these gems mentioned it was breathlessly, typically accompanied by the words “incredible,” or “addictive,” so I couldn’t resist the temptation. However, it was clear that something was amiss when the instructions led me to form the cookies into individual rounds, rather than bars, as they’re found in the bakery. Pleasantly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, they made for fine oatmeal cookies… But didn’t quite live up to the hype. Particularly sweet when paired with the frosting-like filling, an additional hit of salt may have helped balance the whole assembly, and brought out a bit more flavor. I can’t say I would make them again as written.

Undeterred, I charged straight ahead to a breakfast treat in the form of Orange Cranberry Scones (page 175). Fashioned into a heart shape for Valentine’s Day, they held their shape admirably throughout their time in the oven. Utilizing the creaming method to bring ingredients together, rather than cutting in to make flaky layers, the resulting scones are more like cookies in texture. No matter, as they’re still plenty tender and bursting with bright citrus flavor. Accented by tart pops of dried cranberries, this sweet and tangy combo is an invigorating start to the day. Sweetened with restraint, the optional sugar topping really pulls the whole pastry together, and should not be skipped.

Suddenly finding myself with quickly perishing blueberries on hand, Sticky Fingers’ Sweets rescued the day (and the fruits) with classic Blueberry Muffins (page 155.) A sturdy but soft crumb gives way to polka dots of blueberries, lightly sprinkled with a crunchy oat topping. A perfectly respectable muffin, it certainly fit the bill, but may have been more successful with a double dose of berries, at least.

The real crowning jewels to this particular tome are, unsurprisingly, the cupcakes. Now I’m kicking myself for not starting there in the first place. Sure, vegan cupcakes are a dime a dozen these days, but how many times do you come across a George Caramelin Cupcake (page 90)? One of their winning offerings on cupcake wars, a rich chocolate cinnamon cake carried the weight of vanilla bean bourbon frosting, bourbon caramel sauce, and candied pecans with grace. Rising to impressive, perfect domes, the cakes themselves would have been perfectly tasty unadorned, but how could you say no to the suggestion of bourbon caramel? Boozy in a good way, the sauce came together easily and thickened beautifully after cooling, becoming the ideal consistency for delicate drizzling. The whole is so much greater than the parts, as incredible as they may sound alone, and I found myself compelled to “taste test” these beauties repeatedly before I felt satisfied with my assessment. Yes, all in the name of the cookbook review; I really took a hit for you guys on this one. It’s a tough job, but someone had to do it.

Rest assured, this book would be worth purchasing just for the cupcake section. Be prepared to use your kitchen scale though, because while there are mercifully weight and volume measurements included when possible, the difficulties of scaling down bakery-sized quantities leaves the standard American baker with a few fiddly measurements to contend with. Ultimately Sticky Fingers’ Sweets is a well thought-out compilation and homage to the DC bakery that started it all, and while all the recipes aren’t runaway hits, the ones that truly are make trying everything else worthwhile.


Pi by Day, Pie by Night

For once, Pi Day has lined up beautifully with my baking plans, and I’m not ill-prepared for the holiday like most years past. The trusty recipe index makes no secret of my baking habits, and it’s easy to see that pies are not exactly my go-to dessert. Suddenly though, my kitchen is positively teaming with pies of every color in the rainbow, stuffed into the fridge, freezer, and idling on any vacant counter space too. I can’t yet divulge the details about this influx of pies, but I am grateful that Pi Day allows a little sneak peek into this next project I’ve only just embarked on. Rest assured, there will be much, much more pie to come…

New York Cheesecake Pie

Mahalopeño Pie

Old-Fashioned Oatmeal Pie


In [Lemon] Mint Condition

Years ago, back when a trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house really was a trek through the woods, and quite a few miles, I would spend the long car ride anticipating all of the goodies to come. Nothing less than the perfect grandparents, they kept their home stocked with the foods that my young, underdeveloped palate adored, and often was denied in most circumstances. It was as if they went grocery shopping with just us kids in mind. Cabinets stacked high with dried pasta, we could have chosen a new shape each visit and still have never run out of new whimsical noodles to try. Candy dishes decorated every spare flat surface, and I recall on more than one occasion slipping away to “play piano” in order to get dibs on the mint chocolates stashed on the glossy wooden lid.

Best of all, though, was the spare fridge in the basement. That’s where the real treasure was hidden: the cookies.

Perhaps they had a penchant for buying in bulk, but it seemed as though there were never fewer than a half-dozen open packages to pick at. Eaten right away, with the refrigerator’s cool breath still clinging to them, chilling each morsel to the core, it was a unique experience that made even mundane, store-bought baked goods seem somehow special. My absolute favorites were the big, crisp cookies covered in so much powdered sugar that you couldn’t help but spray some of the white sweetness all over your clothes, and the surrounding furniture, as you ate. I never learned the name of those cookies and haven’t seen the exact ones since, but they sound a whole lot like the discontinued lemon coolers, a classic Girl Scouts offering.

With the annual Girl Scouts’ harassment in full-swing, these sweets immediately came to mind, and I couldn’t resist a little trip down memory lane. A bit more grown up than those original cookies, my version adds a bright splash of peppermint to the party, replicating that cooling sensation I enjoyed so much. For the full experience, you’ve simply got to store them in the fridge… Although considering how easy they are to eat, I can’t promise that will allow them to last any longer!

Lemon-Mint Cooler Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon
2 – 4 Drops Peppermint Oil, or 1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoons Peppermint Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla

1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, thoroughly cream together the margarine and granulated sugar using the paddle attachment. Pause periodically to scrape down the side of the bowl as necessary. Once the mixture is homogeneous and fluffy, add in the lemon zest, peppermint, and salt, and mix to combine. Introduce the flour and baking soda next, starting the mixer on a slow speed until the flour is mostly incorporated, to prevent the dry goods from flying out and re-decorating the kitchen. Finally, add the lemon juice and vanilla. It may seem as though the mixture is too dry to come together, but be patient and keep mixing; it will eventually form cohesive dough. Resist the urge to add more liquid!

Scoop out walnut-sized balls and roll them between your palms to achieve smooth spheres. Place them at least 1-inch apart on your prepared baking sheets, and flatten them out slightly. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until the bottom edges just begin to brown. Carefully pull the cookie-topped silpats or baking sheets off of the hot sheet pans, and let rest for 5 minutes before tossing them in the confectioner’s sugar. Let cool completely before enjoying. Better yet, store them in the fridge for an even more cooling treat!

Makes 2 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


Who’s Your Baba?

Winter survival depends on preparedness; Plenty of moisturizer for dry skin, an ample supply of dry beans and other long-lasting pantry staples, and as many types of citrus as you can cram in the fruit bin. When the snow is falling in thick white sheets with no end in sight, the bright, cheerful flavors of winter citrus are the only things that can rescue my dampened mood. For days short on sunshine, vibrant yellow lemons are the next best thing. Their energizing zest makes its way into salads and desserts alike, while whole oranges and clementines are a favorite midday snack. Grapefruit juice kicks off the morning on a high note, and let’s not forget about those sour little limes.

For whatever reason, limes find their way into fewer of my recipes and daily eats than any other citrus, so it seemed only fair to reverse that trend. Perfect for our recent bout of snow, which is still sticking to the ground and discouraging me from driving out into the suburban wilderness, a yeasted, lime-enhanced cake was just what the doctor ordered. Warming the kitchen as they baked and lifting the spirits once eaten, the winter blues don’t stand a chance with these zesty pastries on hand.

Lime Baba Au Rhum

Baba Dough:

1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Package Active Dry Yeast
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Whole Flax Seeds, Ground
3/4 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
2 Teaspoons Lime Zest
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Cup Toasted and Chopped Walnuts

Rum Syrup:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Dark Rum
1/2 Cup Water

Apricot Glaze:

1/2 Cup Apricot Preserves
1 Tablespoon Water

Rather than the typical proofing approach for making bread, these babas are assembled more like a cake. First, whisk together the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and ground flax seeds in the bowl of your stand mixer (if using; otherwise a large bowl will do.) Once the dry goods are thoroughly combined, turn your attention to the liquids. Heat the water and non-dairy milk to about 120 – 130 degrees, but not to a boil, or else you’ll kill the yeast. This should feel hot to the touch but not burn your fingers.

Pour the liquid into the large bowl, and start mixing on low speed. Immediately follow that addition with the lime juice, zest, melted margarine, and walnuts. Continue mixing until the dough begins to come together, and then switch to the dough hook on your stand mixer. The dough will be very soft and sticky, so keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn’t creep up on top of the hook or get stuck to the sides of the bowl. Use your spatula to guide it back as needed, and continue beating for about 5 minutes to develop the gluten. Once fairly smooth, leave the dough in the bowl and cover the whole thing with a piece of plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until nearly doubled in size.

Lightly grease 6 popover tins or 10 – 12 standard muffin cups; set aside.

Gently punch down your risen yeast batter, and divide it equally between your greased tins. Let rise once more for about 30 minutes, or until the dough has expanded to fill the tins. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Once risen, bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown all over. Turn out the yeasted cakes onto wire racks and let cool.

Prepare the rum syrup by simply combining the sugar, rum, and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until the sugar has dissolved, and you’re ready to go.

Prick the babas all around the sides with a fork before dipping each in the syrup, to allow for better absorption. Dip each two or three times, and then return them to the cooling rack to rest, or serve immediately.

To serve, microwave the apricot jam and water together for just 30 – 60 seconds, to loosen up the jam and warm it through. Stir well, and apply liberally to the tops of your babas. Feel free to serve with an additional spoonful of the rum syrup over the top, too.

Makes 6 – 12 Babas

Printable Recipe


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