BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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


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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.


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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


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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


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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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Twenty-Three

In the most minimal fashion, much like the twenty-second year preceding it, my twenty third birthday came and went. There was ice skating with my dad, a shared lunch, a black and white movie at home, and cake; no party, and no candles. Not so much a day of celebration as a day of rest, which sounds just about right to me.

Birthdays of mine have been historically bad days in the past, taking into consideration both apocalyptic winter weather and borderline psychotic meltdowns, so this quieter, uneventful rendition was a merciful change of pace. Less a marker of having arrived at some milestone, I found the date reassuring, a small checkpoint within the greater journey. I’m still here, twenty three years later, and it’s beginning to look like I may just be here in another twenty three as well. Imagine that.

Corresponding with my laid back non-celebration, the cake at hand was simple, unfussy- Homely by some estimations. All I wanted was a dark, moist, spicy gingerbread cake, one that reminded me of The One That Got Away. Ten years ago, scouting out a location for my Bat Mitzvah, I chose the final restaurant based solely on the gingerbread cake served for dessert. Dripping with caramel and finished with a fluffy halo towering over the plate, it’s now all I remember about that meal. In my youth and excitement, it never occurred to me that the event would be catered, and I would never see that beauty of a cake again. In fact, the restaurant has since gone out of business, just to close that book entirely.

So I made it for myself, ten years later. (Ten years. 10. It bears repeating because it seems wildly impossible that so much time could have passed.) Even if there were no candles and no fanfare, it was the perfect ending to my non-celebration.

Gingerbread Blackout Cake

2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Black Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
6 – 7 Teaspoons (2 Heaping Tablespoons) Ground Ginger
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
3/4 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup No Sugar Added Pumpkin Butter or Apple Butter
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Canola Oil

Vegan Butterscotch Sauce (From Vegan À La Mode, coming soon!) or Caramel Sauce, and Whipped Creme

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 9-inch square baking pan; Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and spices. Whisk well to distribute all of the dry goods throughout, and double-check that there are no clumps.

Separately, mix the coffee, molasses, pumpkin butter, sugar, and oil until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to bring the two together. Being careful not to over-mix, stir just until the batter is smooth and not a second longer. Transfer the batter into your prepared baking pan, smooth out the top, and pop it in the oven. Immediately turn down the heat to 325 degrees, even before you close the oven door.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean- Perhaps with a few moist crumbs sticking to it but certainly not wet. Let cool completely before slicing and serving with butterscotch sauce and whipped creme.

If time allows, this cake does get better with age, so try to make it a day or two in advance for the flavor profile to become more nuanced and balanced.

Makes 16 – 20 Servings

Printable Recipe


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A Cookie in Every Oven

If ever there was an ideal time to bake cookies, it would be now. At this very moment, cookie swaps are happening across the nation, and gifts of cookie platters and cookie baskets are being piled high. Rainbows of doughs are rolling out on kitchen counters, a world of flavored batters are being dropped onto baking sheets, and scores of every shape a cookie cutter can create are cooling on wire racks. Just imagine what it would look like if we could take a peek at the combined efforts of all those holiday bakers, hard at work. The scent of sugar rising into the brisk air and cookbook pages encrusted in flour, it just wouldn’t be Chanukah or Christmas without a full menu of cookies planned for hungry friends and family to devour.

As much as I may crave the classics, the desire to create something new and exciting always take the reins when assembling ingredients, and no two cookie trays ever end up alike. Simple, straight-forward bakery-style chocolate chip cookies are easily my most requested variety, a rare recipe that I do actually follow without variation… Most of the time.

Using the holidays as my license to experiment, I wanted to give the basic idea a bit of a savory, salty twist, to balance out the sweeter items sure to follow. An unexpected hint of herbaceous rosemary adds an unexpected but entirely welcome change of pace, further enhanced by the natural nuttiness of crunchy toasted pecans. Inspired by the addictive party snack of spiced rosemary nuts, I couldn’t help but keep the theme going and tossing in a generous dose of spice here as well. Lending a bright kick just as the taste of chocolate and pecans begin to fade, it’s the element that makes you go back for just one more bite, trying to pinpoint what that enchanting flavor was.

It’s certainly not your grandma’s or your mom’s chocolate chip cookie, but that’s probably a good thing, too. With so many options already available around this time of year, why not take the opportunity to try something a bit different?

Spiced Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Tablespoon Fresh Rosemary (or 1 Teaspoon Dried), Finely Chopped or Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans
1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks

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

In the bowl of your stand mixer, blend together the melted margarine, both sugars, maple syrup, and vanilla until smooth and fully combined.

Sift the flour into a separate bowl, and add in all of the spices, rosemary, baking soda, and salt. Lightly toss both the pecan pieces and chocolate chips in, to coat with the flour.

Add the dry goods into the stand mixer in two additions, being careful not to overwork the dough but mix it just enough to bring everything together, without any pockets of flour lurking at the bottom. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions so that everything gets incorporated.

Scoop out dough with a medium-sized cookie scoop, or two large spoons in about 3 – 4 tablespoon portions. Give the cookies plenty of space on your prepared baking sheets, leaving at least and inch between blobs. I usually bake only 9 per sheet, to ensure that none of them spread and collide. Flatten the raw cookie dough out lightly with the palm of your hand, so that they’re nice and round, and about 1/2 inch in thickness.

Bake for 12 – 16 minutes, watching closely to make sure that they are just barely golden brown around the edges when you pull the from the oven. They should still look fairly under-baked in the center, to ensure a soft and chewy texture.

Let cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, and then move them off to a wire rack. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week, if they last that long.

Makes 12 – 18 Large Cookies

Printable Recipe

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