BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Chocolate Conquers All

Time has a way of wearing down the rough edges, if not healing all wounds. No longer quite as embittered about all the artifice and commercial underpinnings of Valentine’s Day, even without a significant other for another year, it doesn’t rile me up in quite the same way any more. Gone is the angst-filled teenager adorning black t-shirts with glittery beads spelling out the words “LOVE BITES” or handing out anti-love letters to friends and frenemies alike. Truthfully, it’s not all so terrible as it once appeared. Having an annual reminder to appreciate the people in your life, romantically or not, certainly doesn’t hurt. Above all else though, it’s an excellent excuse to splurge on dessert once more, pulling out all the stops under the guise of treating someone else. It’s okay, we all know the baker wants to indulge their own tastes, too.

Chocolate is the taste du jour, so popular that no mere box of truffles could contain it. Brownies, thick, fudgy squares far more versatile than the classic little black dress, are easy to glam up for the occasion. Unintentionally adding a supposed aphrodisiac to the mix, a few dried black figs simply struck me as a perfect pairing to all cacao decadence, light and fruity with a bit of toothsome pull. Likewise, the inclusion of fresh mint seemed like the ideal way to brighten the whole treat, lest the density of these brownies overwhelm the palate.

No, it’s not a figment of your imagination, but they are indeed fig-mint brownies. Stranger things could happen- Just take my gradual acceptance of V-Day as proof.

Fig-Mint Brownies

1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Lightly Packed Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/4 Cups Dried Black Mission Figs, Chopped
1/2 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
10 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
2/3 Cup Canola Oil
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Cup Vegan Sour Cream or Greek-Style Yogurt
1 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees, and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and cocoa. Toss in the minced fresh mint, instant coffee, baking powder, and granulated sugar, mixing together thoroughly. Add in the chopped figs and chocolate chips, and toss to coat in the dry mixture. This will help prevent them from sinking to the bottom of your brownies during baking.

Place the chopped chocolate and oil in a separate, microwave-safe bowl, and heat for about 60 seconds. Stir vigorously, and continue to heat at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well each time, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Mix in the brown sugar, sour cream or yogurt, and vanilla and peppermint extracts.

Let the chocolate cool for a few minutes so that it doesn’t melt your chips, and then pour that wet mixture into the dry. Stir just enough to bring the batter together into a thick, fudgy mass, and transfer it into your prepared pan. Press it out into one even layer. Scatter the quartered sandwich cookies over the top, and press them gently.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until the top no longer looks glossy and is somewhat crackled, and the edges are firm. Do not be alarmed if it still seems extremely wet. Let cool fully and completely. Blot any excess oils off with paper towel if necessary before slicing. Share with many someones that you love!

Makes 16 – 24 Brownies

Printable Recipe


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Let Them Eat Vegan!

A title like that truly needs no further introduction, but I still can’t resist gilding the lily a bit. To anyone in the market for a well-rounded cookbook with delicious ideas from breakfast through dessert, all developed with an eye towards wholesome ingredients, there isn’t a title I can recommend more highly than Dreena Burton‘s latest masterpiece, Let Them Eat Vegan! I won’t hesitate to admit that my advice on the matter is entirely biased, though; It was my incredible fortune to supply the photographs found inside, tasting my way through the whole experience. A dream job if I ever did land one, these dishes came together with ease, and were so naturally enticing that they practically styled themselves.

Pan-Fried Falafel Patties (page 145), Smoky Spiced Tahini Sauce (page 54), and Quinoa Taboulleh with Olives (page 40) all go together to create one transportive middle eastern feast. Preparing three recipes for one photo can be a daunting task, but not so for this trio; each component was a snap to whip up, and keeps beautifully if made in advance, too. I do love all things falafel, and these bad boys have the edge on the competition, because they’re cooked in only a dab of oil, rather than the traditional vat for deep-frying. The texture and taste don’t suffer one bit from this adaptation- If anything, it allows those complex spices to shine through even brighter.

Even something as unassuming as a tempeh sandwich- or “Tempeh Tickle“- (page 122) with Spinach-Herb Pistachio Pesto (page 154) is a meal to remember. Satisfyingly hearty without being overtly “meaty,” it’s something both crunchy-granola vegans and staunch carnivores could enjoy in peace.

Rarely do brownies sweep me off my feet any more, as reliably rich and chocolaty as they are, but Dreena’s are something else entirely. Layered with a decadent, lightly tangy blanket of “cream cheese” and topped with whole chocolate chunks, each bite is a delicious study in complimentary textures. An additional pinch of salt crowning the whole tray is truly better than the icing on the cake. Even if you’re as jaded on these classic bar cookies as I am, give this recipe a shot. In Ms. Burton’s talented hands, brownies are still every bit as revolutionary as when they were first “accidentally” invented in the early 1900’s.

Creamed Cheese Brownies with Salted Dark Chocolate Topping

From the book Let Them Eat Vegan! by Dreena Burton. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012. http://www.dacapopresscookbooks.com Photo by Hannah Kaminsky.

Wheat-Free, Soy-Free

“No faux cream cheese to be found in these deep, rich, fudgy brownies. Cashews stand in for a cream cheese–like layer, which takes these brownies to, ‘OMG these are freaking good!’ ’Nuff said—go make them.”

Creamed Cheese Layer:
1 cup soaked cashews
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp vanilla non-dairy yogurt (if using coconut yogurt instead of soy, add another 1 tsp lemon juice)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp (rounded) sea salt

Brownie Layer:
1 cup + 2 tbsp sifted (or light) spelt flour
¾ cup unrefined sugar
½ tsp sea salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp arrowroot powder
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup + 1 tbsp plain or vanilla non-dairy milk
3½ tbsp neutral-flavored oil

Topping:
1/3 – ½ cup chocolate chunks (use a good quality dark chocolate bar, and break/cut into small chunks)
Few pinches coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.

Prepare cream cheese layer: Puree all those ingredients with an immersion or high-speed blender until very, very smooth (a mini food processor can also be used, but it usually doesn’t produce as smooth a texture as does an immersion blender). Process for several minutes, if necessary, until very smoothed out.

Prepare the brownie layer: In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt, and sift in the cocoa and baking powder.

In a small bowl, first combine the arrowroot with the maple syrup, stirring until smooth, then add the vanilla, milk, and oil. Add the wet mixture to the dry. Stir until evenly mixed and thick. Transfer about two-thirds of the mixture to the prepared pan. Use a square of parchment to help the press mixture into the pan evenly and spread it out. Spread the cream cheese layer over the top. Then, as best as you can, spread the remaining brownie batter over the cheese layer. You can take pieces and lightly spread first with your fingers and place in patches over the cream cheese layer—and it doesn’t have to fully cover; there can be spaces—most will fill in and come together while baking.

Add the topping: Place the chocolate chunks on top, and then sprinkle with the salt. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan, running a spatula around the outer edge to loosen. (The brownies will appear not fully cooked, but do not cook longer—I repeat, do not cook longer! Instead, let cool and they will become fudgy!) Once cooled, score the brownies with a sharp knife to ease cutting the chocolate before it completely hardens. Then refrigerate brownies to cool more, cut into squares and dig in! Makes 16-20 brownies.

If This Apron Could Talk: Trust the baking process! The amount of batter used for the base—and then topping— looks like it cannot possibly fill out to form a beautiful brownie. Lucky for us, the oven creates some magic in about half an hour!

Printable Recipe


Now that’s just barely even the tip of the iceberg. It would be a shame to keep such a gem to myself, so I’m thrilled to offer one lucky reader a copy of Let Them Eat Vegan!, as generously furnished by Da Capo Lifelong Books. For your chance to snag a copy, you know the drill; Leave a comment with a name and functioning email address in the appropriate boxes, and tell me about your favorite Dreena Burton recipe, from any of her equally fabulous books or website. If you haven’t yet tried any (What are you waiting for?!) talk to me instead about what you want to make first from Let Them Eat Vegan! The winner will be chosen at random May 9th at midnight EST, and announced shortly thereafter within this same post. Check back to find out who will end up 200 recipes richer!

PS, you may not want to wait for the contest to run its course, because Dreena has a special promotion going on now, including autographed bookplates and plenty of delicious extras along with your shiny new cookbook. If you end up winning a second book here, it also makes an excellent gift for anyone who likes food, so check it out!


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Baking a Difference

You’d think that someone so immersed in baking as myself, whipping up various sugared confections nearly everyday, could care less about similar sweet gifts. Well allow me put that misconception to rest; You’d think wrong. Though there’s no shortage of sweetness in this particular kitchen, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the craftsmanship and careful pastry art of other bakers. Enjoying a dessert that wasn’t created by me is truly a rare treat now. As the resident baker of the family, it’s up to me to “surprise” myself with my own birthday cake, or plan to go without.

That’s why, so many years ago, when an unassuming but delicately wrapped purple box by Allison’s Gourmet landed on my doorstep, I could barely contain my joy. An unexpected gift, which is always a delight by itself, little did I know that the contents of that package would open my eyes to a whole new option for handmade vegan sweets. Not made by my own hands, but assembled and baked with as much attention to detail as I could muster myself.

Butterscotch Pecan Fudge. More beautiful words were never strung together and attached to something edible. Finding something delicious in the mail was still such a novel concept, and to get something that seemed impossible to make without dairy, it was easily one of my favorite holiday presents that year. Though the packages are all very well wrapped and provide explicit instructions on freezing to make your treasures last, I’m afraid that whole pan of fudge disappeared at warp speed, without any help from hungry gawkers.

Another year, one of my favorite indulgences to date showed up at the party unannounced; Those Peppermint Brownies were legendary. One of my top 5 favorite combinations, chocolate and mint, I already knew it was love at first sight. Taking that initial bite merely sealed the deal. Deeply chocolate-flavored and fudgy to a fault, the sprinkling of crunchy candy cane pieces on top created the most irresistible textural contrast. It’s a shame this offering isn’t for sale this year, because I would recommend it to anyone who likes dessert, period.

My most recent opportunity to sample Allison’s incredible creations was a crazy stroke of luck. Another serendipitous gift, out of the blue, that coincided with the talented baker’s need for a promotional photo. Truly, it just happened that way! A good business deal is one that ends with a rich brownie sundae, peppered with chopped chocolate-covered toffee, a mouth-watering photo, and a new friendship. I can tell you with absolute certainty now that Allison is every bit as thoughtful and kind as her baked goods are irresistible.

My brief sampling doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the goodies on offer at Allison’s Gourmet. There are chocolates, cookies, and candies beyond any vegan’s wildest dreams, and I trust that they’re every bit as delicious. Now, lucky for you, Allison has generously offered a very sweet holiday gift indeed- The opportunity to win a $25 gift certificate for anything in her online bakery! Just imagine the possibilities!

To enter, leave me a comment before Midnight EST on Friday, December 9th, telling me what you would buy with your winnings. For extra entries, follow Allison’s Gourmet on Facebook and/or Twitter, and leave separate comments saying as much for each.

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