BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Sweets for the Sweet Tooth

Extreme sweet teeth are a dominant trait in my family, but it tends to manifest itself in different ways. For example, both my mom and I are happier with carefully composed desserts and baked goods, complex with layers of cake, creamy fillings, and perhaps a bit of a crunch hidden somewhere, but neither my sister nor my dad would likely be as pleased. They have straight-up sugar teeth; the sort of teeth that crave pure, unadulterated sweetness, and are much more likely to drift towards a candy shop than a bakery come dessert time.

While I will admit that I tend to cater to my own tastes when dreaming up new recipes, I do aim to please, so this little sugar-bomb was developed with the other half of my family in mind.

Simple and super-sweet, just a tiny square of this maple fudge should satisfy even the most intense sugar cravings. Homemade candies in general are always a favorite for gift-giving, and this decadent option would certainly fit the bill. Throw in a pinch of spices to shake things up a bit if you’d like, but the unique and irreplaceable flavor of maple is a treat enough to me.

Maple Fudge

2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/4 Cups Grade B Maple Syrup
1/3 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Chopped and Toasted Walnuts
Pinch Salt

Lightly grease an 8 x 8 inch square pan and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar, maple syrup, and non-dairy milk, and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Once the mixture comes to a full boil, stop stirring, and insert your candy thermometer. Continue to cook, swirling the pan instead of stirring if necessary, until it comes to about 238 – 240 degrees (soft ball stage). Remove the pan from the heat, and let it sit until it has cooled to 145 degrees. At that point, the top of the candy may have crystallized, and the whole mixture should be somewhat thicker, albeit grainy. Incorporate the margarine and continue to beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 10 full minutes- You’ll know that you’re doing it right when it feels like your arm is about to fall off. The mixture should become thicker, lighter in color, and less glossy. Beat in the nuts and salt, and spread it into your prepared pan, pressing it into the corners and smoothing down the top with a spatula. Let sit for at least 3 hours before cutting into very, very small squares. Just a bite will satisfy!

Never refrigerate, or the fudge will become damp and mushy. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Makes 36 – 45 Small Squares

Printable Recipe


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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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Fool-Proof

If ever there was one homemade holiday gift that I would recommend above the rest, it would undoubtedly be some form of nut brittle. Barring allergies, I have yet to meet a soul who didn’t enjoy the salty-sweet dichotomy of roasted nuts and crunchy homemade candy. Versatile to a fault, every year could bring a new variety of brittle, between the numerous choices of nuts and additional flavorful accompaniments. Best of all, it’s so simple, it’s one of the few edible treats I might venture to call “fool-proof.” Easy enough to be made in the microwave, for crying out loud, even the mostly kitchen incompetent should be able to master this rewarding recipe.

Classic but a bit played out, quiet flavors like plain old peanut brittle don’t quite light my fire anymore. Flaming Hot Peanut Brittle, though, sure adds a bit of excitement to a deceptively homely candy. Pistachio Chai Brittle remains one of my favorite variations, a beautiful hue of green that fits in so nicely with a Christmas color scheme.

This year, I’m pushing the boundaries between sweet and savory food just a little bit further. Curry strikes me as the perfect ingredient to add some interest into this simple candy, especially when paired with equally exotic coconut and cashews. A welcome change of pace that reminds me of tropical climates, far from the chilly winds that blow right outside, it’s a sweet little escape that is sure to disappear almost as quickly as it’s made.

Curried Cashew and Coconut Brittle

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Light Corn Syrup or Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 1/2 Cups Roasted or Toasted Cashew Pieces
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
1 1/4 Teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; blend in butter. Swirl the pan ocassionally rather than stirring, to prevent the sugar from boiling over. Cook until the syrup hits 300 – 310 degrees (the hard crack stage) according to a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, lay out a silpat on a baking sheet nearby. Combine the cashews, coconut, curry powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, and have at the ready.

Once the hot sugar syrup hits the proper temperature, immediately turn off the heat and very quickly stir in the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla extract last, and mix thoroughly to incorporate. Without pausing, scrape the hot candy out of the pan and onto your prepared baking sheet, pressing it out with a spatula to achieve a flat, thin shape as needed.

Let cool completely before breaking into pieces and either eating right away, or storing in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Makes About 1 Pound of Brittle

Printable Recipe


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Perfect Pumpkins

Is it just another nasty side effect of growing older, or are pumpkin patches slowly losing their luster? No longer the exciting field trip out into an amber- and golden-hued land, far from reality, where the gourds sit proudly in tangled and vine-covered rows, but a meager errand. Hay rides serve only to incite a maddening barrage of sneezes and itches, and most disconcerting, the pumpkin selection is nothing to raise an eyebrow at. Small to medium orange orbs of approximate roundness, more often than not, scarred with moldy spots, contagious-looking warts, or odd concave surfaces, most are not suited to carving even on a good day. Pick out something adequate in the pumpkin patch, only to discover the thickest inner walls ever created out of squash, or worse yet, empty seed pods that are no good for roasting. So many stumbling blocks, so few “perfect” pumpkins.

Dead-set on ending this cycle of disappointment once and for all, I set off to a brand new pumpkin patch this year in search of something better. Would you believe it, I found gourds there so impossibly ideal, it was a downright magical discovery. Flawlessly shaped, smooth, and glittering in the sunlight, I could overlook their diminutive size in favor of their other advantages. Cracking one open straight away to investigate the seed situation, the reality of what filled those thing shells was far sweeter…

Pumpkin candy! Forget those truly scary mass-produced sweets for Halloween and try making easy treats like these. Taking a page from my Shamrock Patties, these festive treats do indeed have real pumpkin in them, along with bright, pie-inspired spices. Should you get a hold of edible ink markers, you could even dress them up as jack-0-lanterns, complete with uniquely cute or creepy faces.

Turns out that the elusive perfect pumpkin may actually exist… In candy form, at least!

Pumpkin Patties

Patties:

1/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine, at Room Temperature
3 – 4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
Pinch Salt

Candy Coating:

1/4 Cup (2 Ounces) Food-Grade Cocoa Butter
1/4 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Tomato Powder (Optional, for Color)
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric (Optional, for Color)
Pinch Ground Cinnamon

Orange Colored Sugar, if Desired

Place your pumpkin puree in the bowl of your food processor fitted with the paddle attachment, or in your food processor. Add the margarine and cream the two together until smooth. Incorporate 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar to start, along with the vanilla, spices, and salt. Start on a slow speed, or pulse to combine. The mixture will likely look like thick icing at this point, so add in another cup of confectioner’s sugar, and once again mix on low. You’re looking for it to become the consistency of soft cookie dough; malleable, but not gooey or drippy. If it still seems to be too loose, mix in up to an additional cup of the sugar, as needed.

Turn the pumpkin candy out onto a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and gently flatten it out to about 1/4 – 1/2 inch in thickness. To prevent sticking, either sprinkle on a very light dusting of confectioner’s sugar, or top it with a second silpat or sheet of parchment before taking the rolling pin to it. Stash your candy disk in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Once chilled, pull out a small pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter approximately 1-inch wide. Lay out a second silpat or piece of parchment on top of a baking sheet. Cut out your pumpkins, and transfer them to the prepared sheet. Gather up the candy scraps, re-roll, and cut again, until you’ve used all of the dough. Should the dough become too soft and finicky to work with, just toss it back in the fridge for another 15 – 30 minutes, and try once more. Now, stash the whole sheet of cut centers in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before getting to work on the coating.

Place your cocoa butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 – 3 minutes, so that it completely liquefies. Meanwhile, mix together the remaining ingredients for the coating in a small dish, making sure that they’re thoroughly combined and that there are no clumps. Once the cocoa butter is melted, whisk in the dry ingredients, stirring vigorously to make sure that everything is completely dissolved into the liquified fat.

Pull out your semi-frozen candy centers, and dip each into the coating, one at a time, letting the excess drip off. Place them back on the silpat, and watch the coating set up right before your eyes. This top coat is thinner than regular chocolate, so you may wish to double-dip once the first layer has solidified. If using, quickly sprinkle the decorative sugar over the dipped patties as soon as you set them down.

Make 3 – 4 Dozen Patties

Printable Recipe


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St. Patty’s

Leprechauns; Lucky four-leaf clovers; Soda Bread; Potatoes; Excessive amounts of beer; Green-colored anything and everything; These are the only things I know about St. Patrick’s Day, but with an understanding that’s as spotty as an inbred dalmatian at best, I couldn’t tell you how any of the above are interrelated here. Who is St. Patrick? What did he once do? Why are we celebrating him? The best answer ever offered tends to be along the lines of “…Does it really matter? Pass me another drink!” There is no doubt good reason to declare the 17th of March a holiday every year, and yet I still couldn’t tell you a single thing about it. Rather than fuss over the details, it really is better just to take the opportunity to make merry.

Happy to fill in the gaps on any day that give me an excuse to compose a special sweet treat, this one didn’t immediately fill me with dessert inspiration. Not wanting to go along the route of a big, boozy, knock-out grand finale, the options, like my knowledge of official St. Patrick’s Day traditions, were severely limited. At the last minute possible, it all began to fall into place. Potatoes were the start of this production, and remembering the old-fashioned formula for potato candy, the remaining pieces quickly fell into place.

Sweet, refreshing, and strongly minty, these soft patties are the green cousins to the typically chocolate-covered mint fondants. Contrasted by an emerald-colored coating of slightly bitter matcha, these mature treats are far more complex in flavor than their playful appearance might suggest.

Considering how last-minute this recipe is being delivered, you could certainly run with the idea and just use a simple coating of melted bittersweet chocolate instead… They simply won’t be nearly as festive. And for a holiday that I have the only loosest grasp on to begin with, I need all the bells and whistles I can get! Consider glamming up your patties with colored sugar or sprinkles, too.

Shamrock Patties

Mint Patties:

1/4 Cup Smooth Mashed Potatoes*
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine
3 – 4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Oil**
Pinch Salt

Matcha Coating:

1/4 Cup (2 Ounces) Cocoa Butter
1/4 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Matcha Powder

Green Colored Sugar, if Desired

*Peel and chop one russet potato into small chunks. Boil for 7 – 10 minutes, until very tender, and drain thoroughly. Beat well either with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, or a potato masher, until completely smooth and lump-free. Do not add any liquid or seasoning. Measure out 1/4 cup and reserve the rest for another use.

**Peppermint oil is much stronger than peppermint extract, and thus the two are not directly interchangeable. If you can’t get a hold of the oil, try substituting 3/4 – 1 1/4 teaspoons of extract, to taste, and bear in mind that you will likely need more confectioner’s sugar to make up for the added liquid.

Place your mashed potatoes in the bowl of your food processor fitted with the paddle attachment, or in you food processor. Add the margarine and cream the two together until smooth. Incorporate 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar to start, along with the vanilla, peppermint oil, and salt. Start on a slow speed, or pulse to combine. The mixture will likely look like thick icing at this point, so add in another cup of confectioner’s sugar, and once again mix on low. You’re looking for it to become the consistency of soft cookie dough; mailable, but not gooey or drippy. If it still seems to be too loose, mix in up to an additional cup of the sugar, as needed.

Turn the potato candy out onto a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and gently flatten it out to about 1/4 – 1/2 inch in thickness. To prevent sticking, either sprinkle on a very light dusting of confectioner’s sugar, or top it with a second silpat or sheet of parchment before taking the rolling pin to it. Stash your candy disk in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Once chilled, pull out a small shamrock-shaped cookie cutter approximately 1-inch wide. Lay out a second silpat or piece of parchment on top of a baking sheet. Cut out your clovers, and transfer them to the prepared sheet. Gather up the candy scraps, re-roll, and cut again, until you’ve used all of the dough. Should the dough become too soft and finicky to work with, just toss it back in the fridge for another 15 – 30 minutes, and try once more. Now, stash the whole sheet of cut centers in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before getting to work on the coating.

Place your cocoa butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 1 – 3 minutes, so that it completely liquefies. Meanwhile, mix together the remaining ingredients in a small dish, making sure that they’re thoroughly combined and that there are no clumps of matcha. Once the cocoa butter is melted, whisk in the dry ingredients, stirring vigorously to make sure that everything is completely dissolved into the molten fat.

Pull out your semi-frozen mint patties, and dip each into the matcha coating, one at a time. Place them back on the silpat, and watch the coating set up right before your eyes. This top coat is thinner than chocolate, so you may wish to double-dip once the first layer has solidified. If using, quickly sprinkle the decorate sugar over the dipped patties as soon as you set them down.

Make 3 – 4 Dozen Patties

Printable Recipe

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