BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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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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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The “F” Word

Just when you thought it was safe to open up your home to visitors once again, now that the tinsel dust and artificial pine scent has settled, I’ve come to ruin your day. More of a curse than a gift, it’s a dubious “treat” that has gained (and quite frankly earned) little respect over centuries of unsavory history. Not to be rude or anything, but it’s time that I dropped the F-bomb.

Fruitcake. Pardon my language.

Yes, I know, head for the hills and don’t accept packages from strangers; I’m offering you a genuine fruitcake, of all things! Trust me, I’ve been a very vocal naysayer of this brick-like food substance, never having seen the benefit to preserving mysteriously colored fruits in a metric ton of sugar before binding them all up into an impenetrable, flavorless batter. Better employed as entertaining projectiles than food stuffs, I would gladly get out there on the field with all the other unlucky fruitcake recipients as well. But, not with this new spin on the concept.

Rummaging through a pantry overstuffed with odd ingredients, I discovered an abundance of so-called “superfoods” that had no clear destination, and little use outside of random nibbles. Instead of simply frittering them away through impulse snacking, such special ingredients deserved a greater end. Baked up into a lighter cake than the traditional take, the crumb stays impossibly moist and does indeed only get better with age. Enhanced with the complex, caramel nuances of coconut sugar, volumes of flavor can shine through without the sticky veil of syrupy sweetness. Kombucha, with its very faintly alcoholic buzz, takes the place of harder liquor or rum here, so even teetotalers can indulge with abandon.

Of course, consider the exact superfruits and nuts listed here merely suggestions. As long as you throw in 1 1/2 – 2 cups of dried mix-ins in addition to the pomegranate arils, your cake will be golden… Literally, once baked.

Super-Fruitcake

1/2 Cup Fresh Pomegranate Arils
1/2 Cup Goji Berries
1/2 Cup Dried Mulberries
1/4 Cup Dried Goldenberries
1/4 Cup Chopped Walnuts
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs
1 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Zest
1/2 Cup Kombucha, Divided
1/3 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
2/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
2 Tablespoons Molasses
1 (3.5-Ounce) Packet Frozen Acai Puree, Thawed (or Applesauce, in a Pinch)

Confectioner’s Sugar, To Serve (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 6-inch round, 3-inch high cake pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the pomegranate arils, all of the dried superfruits, walnuts and cacao nibs. Add in the flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, cardamom, and zest, tossing to coat all of the goodies.

Remove 2 tablespoons of the kombucha and set aside for later. Separately, whisk together the remaining kombucha, coconut oil, coconut sugar, molasses, and acai puree until fairly smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together. A few lumps are fine, especially since it’s a fairly coarse mixture to begin with.

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out mostly clean, with just a few moist crumbs clinging to the sides. Immediately pour the reserved kombucha evenly over the hot cake so that it can soak in as it cools. After cooling completely, the cake sit covered at room temperature, for at least 24 hours for the best results.

If you’d like a little pinch of additional sweetness, top with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar right before serving.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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True Blue Summer

As the summer growing period reaches a crescendo, the sheer abundance is enough to make me giddy, tearing through mile-high stacks of tomatoes with abandon. Fresh produce flooding markets near and far, a riot of colors and shapes adorn farm stand shelves as far as the eye can see, and everything looks good enough to eat. It feels silly to crave more in light of such abundance, yet I can’t help but yearn for the local specialties so precious and so fragile that they never see mainstream distribution. Though less exotic than some prime picks, the Frozen Wild Blueberries from Maine are the first things that come to mind. It’s harvest time up north, and the good news is that everyone, not just New Englanders, can enjoy those tiny blue jewels because much of the crop is flash frozen within 24 hours of picking, locking in both taste and nutrients at the peak of perfection.

Uncompromising standards of production mean that Frozen Wild Blueberries are some of the rare treats available all year long in any grocery store’s freezer case. Don’t let that luxury lure you into a false sense of complacency, though- Now is the time to act! Make the most of prime seasonal pairings to bring out the best flavors nature can create. Perhaps not the most obvious couple in the culinary spectrum, blueberries and corn are truly a match made in summertime heaven. Starting with ingredients so perfect to begin with, it doesn’t take much to draw out their best qualities in any recipe. Especially when it comes to Frozen Wild Blueberries, there’s no gamble as far as quality is concerned; every bag contains the same sweetness and complexity as you would get right off the bush, no matter where or when you eat them.

Built upon a tender crumb containing both blue cornmeal and whole, roasted corn kernels pureed to a silky-smooth consistency, this cake isn’t any old cornbread with frosting. Softer, sweeter, and infinitely more luscious, even the most hesitant taste testers were won over after a single bite. Truth be told, I only managed to sneak in a few forkfuls myself, fighting for a taste before the entire assembly was devoured before my very eyes. Frozen Wild Blueberries really pack in the flavor in both the jammy compote filling and creamy frosting, managing an intensity that larger, watery berries could only dream of.

There has never been a better time to indulge than right now. Whether it’s the cake that all the neighbors will buzz about for the Labor Day block party, or just a treat that brightened up the back-to-school blues, I can think of no greater grand finale to celebrate the end of summer.

Summer Blues Layer Cake

Blue Corn Cake:

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Blue Cornmeal
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Roasted or Grilled Sweet Corn Kernels (From About 2 Ears)
3/4 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Cup Olive Oil

Wild Blueberry Compote Filling:

10 Ounces (About 2 Cups) Frozen Wild Blueberries
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch

Cooked Wild Blueberry Frosting:

5 Ounces (About 1 Cup) Frozen Wild Blueberries
About 1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1/2 Lemon
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and pepper. Whisk lightly to aerate and combine.

Pull out your blender or food processor and place the shucked corn kernels in the canister, along with the coconut milk. Blend on high speed, pausing to scrape down the sides as needed, until the corn is completely pureed and perfectly smooth. Add in the non-dairy milk, vinegar, and oil, and pulse to combine.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, mixing with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together. It’s fine to leave a few lumps, as long as there are no big pockets of flour remaining. Divide the resulting batter equally between your prepared cake pans, smoothing out the tops with your spatula before sliding them onto the middle rack in your oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the centers cake comes out clean.

Cool completely before assembling the cake.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by combining the Frozen Wild Blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in small saucepan over medium heat. Allow the Frozen Wild Blueberries to thaw and become juicy, bringing the liquid to boil and stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil steadily until the berries have burst and the mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally and mashing berries roughly with fork, for about 8 – 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, and chill thoroughly before using; at least 30 minutes.

For the frosting, toss the Frozen Wild Blueberries into your blender or food processor and thoroughly puree. Pass the smooth puree through a fine mesh strainer to catch any remaining pieces, pressing hard to extract all of the liquid, and discard the solids. Measure the resulting seedless puree and add enough non-dairy milk to equal 1 cup total. Place the mixture in a medium sauce pan, along with the cornstarch and salt. Whisk vigorously to dissipate any lumps of starch before turning on the heat to medium. Continue whisking gently until the mixture thickens and large bubbles begin to break on the surface. This won’t take very long since it’s a small amount of liquid, so don’t walk away! It takes mere seconds for it to scorch miserably on the bottom. Let cool to room temperature, and then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Move the whole pot into your fridge to chill thoroughly- This should take about 1 – 2 hours.

Once the thickened blueberry mixture is completely chilled, place the margarine and sugar (yes, granulated! Do not try using confectioner’s here) in the bowl of your stand mixer, and cream together until homogenous. Don’t rush this step, as thorough creaming ensures that the sugar granules actually dissolve into the frosting; Allow a solid 3 – 5 minutes here, depending on how cold the margarine is. Finally, add the cooled blueberry mix into the bowl, along with the lemon zest and vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, and whip on high speed until the frosting is smooth, creamy, and fluffy. Again, patience is key, so give it time and you will be rewarded!

To assemble, level off the tops of your cake layers by slicing off any domed humps with a serrated knife. Once flat, place one layer on your serving plate or pedestal of choice. Evenly smooth the cooked blueberry compote all over, leaving about 1 cm of cake uncovered around the borders. When you place the next layer on top, it will likely push some of the jammy filling outwards, so you want to prevent it from running over the sides. After the second layer is secured in place, apply your frosting liberally to the top, smearing it outwards and down the sides. Pipe decorative borders and garnish with additional blueberries, if desired.

Makes 14 – 20 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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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


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Everyday Indulgence

Tempted by the promise of Brooklyn Blackout Cake (page 126) every time I flipped through Chloe Coscarelli’s latest masterwork, forthrightly titled Chloe’s Vegan Desserts, it was high time to take matters into my own hands. One could only resist that siren song for so long, and after having the book sitting idly in my kitchen for the past few months, I would wait no longer for a good excuse. It was time for cake, and that was that.

Indulgent but not quite hedonistic, I cut the recipe down to a third of its original grandeur, simultaneously putting my new 3-inch round cake pans to the test. Happily, they passed with flying colors, holding tight and not spilling a drop, despite ominous reports of leakage.

Carefully sliced and layered with rich chocolate pudding, the moist crumb was perfectly compliant with the demands of assembly. Just enough for two, maybe three people if they were all well-practiced in the fine arts of both self control and sharing, it’s just the right amount of decadence for a Friday. Or a Tuesday. Or whatever day it happens to be when the urge to bake hits.

Don’t be fooled by the festive candle; there was no celebration or particular occasion to commemorate here. Perhaps I was just trying to rationalize such a random act of cakery, fooling myself into painting a grander picture than was accurate. If I could invent a story about a party, and weave this cake in somehow… It was a far-fetched ruse to begin with, my motivation as transparent as the clear bottles filled to the brim with ice cold, unsweetened almond milk. So I’m not going to lie: I just wanted cake.

And oh, what a cake it was! Sure, the recipe was very standard, the sort of thing you’ve probably already made a hundred times and could find closely related renditions of within a few seconds of searching, but there’s no denying that it’s pretty much fool-proof. Best yet, it’s the perfect cake for the baker that hates fussy frosting, because all decorative sins are instantly erased by a thick layer of crumbs coating the entire exterior. Satisfying to make and eat, I’d say that’s a win-win situation if I ever did taste one.


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It’s Easy Being Green

Some of my most popular posts have been focused on finding natural alternatives to food coloring, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Colors make drab foods fun, increase appetite appeal, and everyone can agree that the fewer chemically-enhanced edibles on the market, the better.

St. Patrick’s day in particular has many people feeling a bit green around the edges. Being that I’m not Irish and don’t drink, my only strong associations with the holiday date back to the elementary school cafeteria, where the milk and bagels were dyed brilliant, neon green for the holiday. Oh, what fun it is to receive a meal that looks suspiciously moldy- Now that’s a real party! I can’t say I sorely miss that tradition, but it’s so laughably easy to offer a natural alternative to those artificial hues, I feel no compunctions about going green on any day of the year.

You have a whole range of green options, depending on the depth and intensity desired, all of them generally accessible and easy to use. To illustrate my point and add a bit of emerald cheer to this festive weekend, the above layer cake was baked using three separate natural green tints; one in each layer. For anyone who knows the usual suspects, can you guess what’s responsible for each separate shade? Take your time, and don’t cheat! Skip ahead for the answers…

Continue reading


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Seven Strong

February seventh never fails to sneak up on me, craftily covering my eyes for a brief moment of pure terror, whispering “Guess who?” with an air of barely veiled menace. It’s an unremarkable date, wedged in between real holidays and coming just at the tail end of January’s madness, which is also something I can set my watch by. It’s BitterSweet’s birthday, or blogaversary if you will, and today makes seven years on the air. Enough to stun me into uncomprehending silence, the hardest part is knowing where to go from here. 2013 does mark a clear shift though, as the sentiment morphs and mutates, it has come to mean something else at last. No longer is my disbelief surrounding the blog’s survival, because after all of the sweat, tears, laughter, and joy, it feels real. It feels permanent. Who would be so surprised that their child has made it to their seventh birthday, after all? I would hope that’s merely a happy side effect of the overall goal.

Time continues to march forward, and as a sign of growing older and maybe, just maybe, a little bit wiser, I’m no longer fighting quite as hard. BitterSweet has proven that we can all move with the current, swimming rather than being swept away, but that’s only true because of the beautiful people I’ve met on this crazy journey. My faceless online escape has effectively put me fully situated in the spotlight, more public and social than ever; it’s another aspect of the process that I’m trying not to struggle against too much.

A blog is only as good as its readers, and I do fully believe that I have the best on the web. Any other awards or accolades are a bonus. Thank you for giving me reason to keep nurturing this space, feeding my own imagination in concert. Even for those who never left a single comment or let their presence be known, I’m so grateful that there’s someone out there reading. Thank you, thank you.

And so we move on, because who could be too surprised about something as predictably scheduled as a birthday? This wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last. For today, I’d be delighted to offer up a few party favors, starting with a big cookbook giveaway. Sharing books that I’ve reviewed and loved, I would be so happy to spread the joy and good food that they brought me. Up for offer are a single copy each of…

Let Them Eat Vegan! by Dreena Burton
Raw for Dessert by Jennifer Cornbleet
The Natural Vegan Kitchen by Christine Waltermyer
American Vegan Kitchen by Tamasin Noyes
Sweet Utopia by Sharon Valencik

If any of those titles caught your eye, leave me a comment detailing exactly which one you’d most want to win before this time next week, February 14th at midnight EST. Consider it an extra little dose of love, in case Valentine’s Day doesn’t quite deliver. Unfortunately, I must restrict this to residents of the US and Canada only for shipping purposes. There will be five winners in total, who will be chosen by a random number generator and contacted shortly thereafter.

UPDATE: It’s all over folks! The five lucky winners are as follows…

Let Them Eat Vegan – Julia H.
Natural Vegan Kitchen – Barb@ThatWasVegan?
Sweet Utopia – Anita
American Vegan Kitchen – Lovlie
Raw for Dessert – Natalie

Thanks for playing everyone! Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait another year for more giveaways… Keep your eyes peeled for more fun and freebies, coming soon.

In the meantime, what kind of birthday party would it be without a bit of cake? Since this is really all about you, my dear readers, I thought I would give out what the majority seems to want. Shockingly, despite my willingness to combine some crazy flavors and intricate treats, it’s still the easy, the classic, and the comforting that get all the attention. Thus, it’s about time I hit another staple out of the park, perfecting it into something that I would still want to eat in all of its unfussy glory.

Yellow vanilla cake, topped with dense chocolate fudge frosting, is about as classic as it gets. Rather than using the typical eggs and butter to impart that iconic golden hue, my cakes are tinted through a combination of turmeric and Yukon gold potatoes. Enriched and ultra-moist thanks to that tuber addition, the crumb is fluffy, tender, but sturdy enough to be baked into layers and stacked as well. It’s the birthday cake you always hope for but never quite get.

Well, this is for you, my friends. Thank you for making this birthday, and all the rest, possible.

Classic Yellow Cupcakes

3 Cups Cake Flour
1/2 Cup Potato Starch
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1 Cup Super-Smooth Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted and Cooled
1/4 Cup Canola Oil
1 2/3 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

Chocolate Fudge Frosting:

6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
6 Tablespoons Hazelnut or Vanilla-Flavored Vegan Creamer
3 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 1/2 Cups Non-Dairy Margarine, at Room Temperature
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 28 – 30 standard cupcake tins with papers. Alternatively, if you’d like to make a layer cake, lightly grease 2 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, potato starch, baking powder and soda, salt, and turmeric, fluffing up the dry goods and thoroughly combining them all. Once the mixture is homogeneous, set aside.

While the mashed potatoes are still warm, mix in the melted margarine. To get the potatoes silky-smooth and perfectly lump-free, toss them into your stand mixer and beat them mercilessly with the whisk attachment. Continue stirring while adding in the oil, sugar, and vanilla.

Separately, combine the non-dairy milk and vinegar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure that everything is getting incorporated. Add half of the dry mixture into the stand mixer, along with half of the liquid. Start the machine in a low speed, and stir until mostly smooth. Finally introduce the remaining dry and wet ingredients, and mix just until the batter comes together with only a few lumps remaining. Be careful not to over-mix.

Fill the cupcake papers about 2/3rd of the way full and ease the pans into the center of your preheated oven. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes. If preparing cake layers, divide the batter equally between your two pans, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Bake until lightly golden on top, and a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, place the chocolate and “creamer” in a microwave-safe dish, and heat on high for 1 minute. Let stand for 5 minutes before stirring vigorously, to allow any remaining chocolate chunks to fully melt. Keep stirring until the mixture is perfectly smooth. If stubborn lumps remain, heat at additional intervals of 30 seconds until, stirring thoroughly after each trip to the microwave. Let the chocolate stand for 10 minutes before placing it in your food processor along with all of the remaining frosting components. Pulse a few times to get everything moving, and then blend, pausing periodically to scrape down the sides. Allow 1 – 3 minutes of blending for the frosting to come together and whip slightly. Once the mixture is silky-smooth, transfer it to a piping bag and frost away!

Makes 28 – 30 Cupcakes or 2 9-inch Round Cake Layers

Printable Recipe


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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


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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

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