BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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…

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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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A Frozen Fourth of July

Our Independence Day, the most patriotic of national holidays here in the US, typically fails to stir up much enthusiasm from me. The backyard barbecues are a welcome excuse to grill some easy entrees and catch up with old friends, but that could happen on any summer day, too. Plus, that red, white, and blue color scheme is a bit uninspiring… Most of the time. Inexplicably and without warning, it just hit me the right way this time around. Without plans or any party to attend, I still couldn’t resist the bait- I went all out to make a festive fourth of July dessert. In fact, now I want to throw my own little fete because of this impromptu project…

This cake is the key to turning the holiday into a real celebration. Fluffy billows of snow-white whipped coconut creme obscure a sweet surprise within. Though plainly ordinary from the outside, just remove a slice and watch guests’ faces light up…

To cool off a sweltering summer day in the sun, ice cream cake is just what the doctor ordered. Trust me on this one, it’s the only prescription suitable to combat exhaustion, hunger, heat, and dessert cravings all at once. Red velvet cake, one of my unexpectedly most popular recipes, has been given new life as the base of this icy layered treat. Revised and tweaked to perfection, it now practically glows with a crimson-red hue, all from a little can of cooked beets. For anyone who complained about an overtly lemon flavor, that issue is now a thing of the past. All you can taste is cake, sweet, moist, lightly cocoa-flavored cake.

Blue Moon Ice Cream lends a subtly fruity, mysterious yet comfortingly familiar flavor to the assembly. The real inspiration for this whole frozen dessert, it’s rare to find such a bright blue food, and so I seized the opportunity as soon as I could. Never mind dusty blue corn chips or purplish-blue potatoes- This ice cream is really blue!

If you didn’t plan ahead and pre-order a copy of Vegan a la Mode, then you’re in luck- Sarah of The Sweet Life is generously hosting a giveaway, which she put together without any prompting and paid for out of her own pocket. There’s still time to get in on the action and see this recipe for yourself, so don’t delay and enter the contest now!

Putting together this ice cream cake is much easier than it looks. Simply prepare the red velvet cake according to the instructions, but transfer the batter into a 9-inch round springform pan lined with a round of parchment paper on the bottom and lightly greased. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out clean, with perhaps a few moist crumbs clinging to it (but absolutely no wet batter.) Let cool completely, and chill before proceeding. Meanwhile, prepare the Blue Moon Ice Cream from Vegan a la Mode (page 8) according to those directions, and after churning, transfer the still soft ice cream to the same springform pan, smoothing it over the baked cake evenly, leveling out the top with a spatula. Let the whole thing harden in the freezer overnight before attempting to unmold.

Once firmly frozen, remove the sides from the pan, peel the parchment off the bottom of the cake, and transfer the two layers to a serving platter, cake plate, or cake stand (remember that you’ll have to fit it back into the freezer though, so double-check that there will be enough space to accommodate your dish!) Frost with coconut whipped creme, and top with edible star glitter, if desired. Store in the freezer until ready to serve, and then…

Celebrate!

Have a Happy Fourth of July!


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The Ultimate Ice-Breaker

You may not yet find the VegNews July/August 2012 issue on newsstands or in your mailbox, but because advance issues are now available online, I see that as free rein to start talking about it. Honestly, I can’t help myself- The summer edition is always a joy to work on, now that fresh fruits and vegetables are flooding back into stores, and every recipe sounds equally compelling. Best of all, it means I can bust out the frozen and chilled treats like there’s no tomorrow, better suited to tempering the summer sun than any blast of artificial air conditioning. Returning triumphantly with my thrice annual column, this sweet idea is one grand finale that will beat the pants off of picnic fruit salads and watery popsicles.

Key Lime Icebox Cake, complete with dozens of crunchy macadamia-flecked cookies and a tropical coconut and citrus creme. A single towering cake feeds a crowd with ease, and is best after sitting in the chill chest for at least a day, so advance prep makes it an ideal party guest. It’s the dessert that friends and family will be talking about long after the crowds go home and the summer sun goes back into hibernation. Yes, it’s that good.

It shouldn’t be long now before the issue officially lands, so you may as well start clearing space for this cake in your fridge right now!


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Jubilant Jubilee

Scurrying about the airport with the urgency of a mouse in a maze, darting in between shelves teaming with overpriced knickknacks, there were mere minutes to gather last minute rations before our seven hour flight was due to depart. After hoarding every last piece of fresh fruit in the terminal, only a few pounds and pence still rattled heavily in my pocket and there was still the matter of entertainment to attend to. A diversion, anything to take my weary mind off the mountains of work accumulating at home, was essential to surviving the last leg of this trip. Glancing skyward at the towering stacks of magazines, at the top of the heap lay the answer to my prayers: Vegetarian Living Magazine. No time to double-check the content, it was one last dash to the register and back to the gate before plopping into a rigid, non-reclining, barely-padded seat. I steeled myself for a long ride.

That impulse buy of a magazine turned out to be a boon, both to passing the time and getting my creative wheels spinning. Incredibly, it was there that I found the most fascinating cultural differences, and not just in a few exchanged words and alternate spellings. Jubilee was practically the feature of the entire issue, and yet somehow this event was not one I had ever heard of before. Was it really such a big deal?

Well, when you’re the queen of England for a whole 60 years, yeah, it’s kind of a big deal. The Diamond Jubilee is not exactly an event that comes around every year… Or every century, for that matter. Though I may have been a bit late to get clued in, now I wouldn’t have missed this holiday for anything!

Is there anything more English than the iconic Battenberg cake? Other than fish and chips, perhaps, this elegant tea cake has graced many a plate since its invention back in the late 1800’s for Queen Victoria. Traditionally only four checkered squares of pink and yellow make up the interior design, but I wanted to go all out for this party. Expanding my cake to accommodate a Neapolitan palate, strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla cake meet in a blanket of sweet marzipan, and the whole assemblage is glued together with seedless strawberry jam.

Admittedly, the recipe is not quite ready for prime time, but it certainly was an ideal accompaniment to a spot of English tea. The good news is that it looks far more complicated than it really was to bake, thanks to the aid of a handy checkerboard cake set. After a few more tweaks to achieve fluffier, fuller layers, I’d say that this could be a creation fit for a queen. Hopefully it won’t take me until the next Diamond Jubilee to figure it out!

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