BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Sweets for the Sweet

Some people on my holiday gift list are simply so sweet that they don’t need any added sugar. At least, that’s how I’ve come to interpret their need for lower glycemic and more health-supportive eats. Rather than going straight to savories, there’s still plenty of delicious middle ground to cover. Besides, chocolate is already well known to be health food, right?

Stevia is what turns these truffles into genuine candies, but it can take some play to get just the right level of sweetness. Tolerance varies by personal taste and brand, so be sure to sample and adjust your chocolate mixture (multiple times, if needed) before letting them set up.

Sugar-Free Citrus and Spice Truffles

1/4 Cup Refined Coconut Oil*
2/3 Cup Cocoa Powder**
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Pinch Ground Cloves
Pinch Salt
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Stevia Powder or 4 – 8 Drops Stevia Extract, to Taste
1 Teaspoon Hot Water

*I prefer to use refined coconut oil in this sort of application, because I don’t want these treats to have a particularly coconut-y flavor. If you don’t mind that added element, then by all means, go ahead and use virgin/unrefined coconut oil instead. It will work exactly the same way.

**Quality counts here! This is the time to break out the good cocoa, since the entire chocolate taste depends on it.

The procedure for completing this recipe is so simple, it barely needs written instructions. Start by melting your coconut oil down to liquid form. Meanwhile, whisk together all of the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Add in the coconut oil and stir the mixture until it’s a smooth, thick paste. Mix in the water so that it’s a looser, more pourable consistency. Carefully pour the liquid chocolate into a silicone candy mold. Place it in the fridge to set up; about 30 minutes. Pop the chocolates out and store either at room temperature (as long as the room is below 75 degrees) or back in the refrigerator.

Makes About 1 Dozen Truffles

Printable Recipe


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You Don’t Know Jack-o-Lantern

Once the highlight of every autumn, Halloween has begun to lose its charm. Once an opportunity to escape into an alternate persona, collect hordes of sweet treats, and explore new neighborhoods filled with bright lights and wild decorations, now it’s little more than a note on a calender page. Much of that has to do with simply growing older no doubt, an unfortunate side effect of becoming too mature or too serious. More than that, however, the great prize at the end of the journey holds little allure now. Artificially flavored, colored, and pumped full of unsavory fillers, not to mention the sad prevalence of animal products in mainstream options, the whole song and dance seems somehow hollow without that great candy climax to look forward to. For someone with an active and voracious sweet tooth to reject free candy has got to say something.

Rest assured, not all candy has lost its appeal. The homemade, hand-crafted stuff is in a category of its own, especially since it’s the sort that no parent would allow their child to take on a trick-or-treat outing. Ironic that the mass-produced junk would be considered a safer, better option. Fine by me though, because that only means I get to horde more of the choice picks for myself, such as these lightly spiced pumpkin pâte de fruits. Gummy candies all grown up, these seasonal treats are perfect for the entire autumn season, not just the standard Halloween sugar high.

Soft yet toothsome, the crunch of sugar coating the outside gives way to smooth pumpkin jelly, tinged with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. A hint of molasses adds depth, contrasted by a bright splash of cider vinegar. Unlike so many other “pumpkin spice” novelties, these edible orange jewels genuinely taste like the gourd of their namesake.

Pumpkin Pâte de Fruits

1/4 Cup Solid-Packed (Canned) Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Juice*
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Molasses
2 Cups Granulated Sugar, Plus Extra to Coat
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 3-Ounce Package Liquid Pectin

*I ran about 1/4 of a medium-sized sugar pumpkin, gutted, peeled, and sliced into 1-inch strips, through my juicer to yield around 1 cup of pumpkin juice. If you don’t have a juicer, don’t fret! You can also chop up the raw pumpkin into piece, toss them into a food processor or blender, and thoroughly puree. Strain from a very fine-meshed sieve or nut milk bag, and save the solid pulp for another use. It’s great for making crackers or dog treats!

Line a 4 x 8-inch loaf pan with aluminum foil, and lightly grease; Set aside.

Place the pumpkin puree, pumpkin juice, cider vinegar, molasses, sugar, and all the spices in a medium saucepan, stirring to combine. From this point forward though, keep that spatula out of the pot until the very end, lest you create nasty sugar crystals while the candy is forming. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, gently swirling the pot periodically, until the mixture reaches 238 degrees (soft ball stage.) At last, pour in the pectin, and stir briefly to incorporate. Continue cooking at a steady boil 2 minutes longer.

Transfer the hot, liquid candy into your prepared pan, and let sit at room temperature until completely cool. It should be solid enough to pull out of the pan at this point, using the foil as a sling. Use a very sharp knife, lightly coated in oil, to slice the rectangle into small, two-bite squares. Toss the squares in additional granulated sugar to coat, and store in an air-tight container at room temperature. The candies will last for about 1 week… If you can keep the ghouls and goblins away!

Printable Recipe


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Coming to a Newsstand Near You

A new pair of months means a new VegNews, and for the March/April issue, it also means a new My Sweet Vegan column! After what felt like an inordinately long break, it’s time to break out the sugar and salt shaker, because I’m bringing the sweet and and the salty together for two easy, palate-pleasing candies.

Potato Chip Chocolate Truffles may steal the show, their intense, dark chocolate centers covered in crunchy shards of crushed potato chips, but Buttery Popcorn Brittle is not far behind in the lineup. Like kettle corn in one thick plank, it’s a new way to enjoy that classic theater snack with less muss and fuss. Both could be whipped up on a whim, and let me tell you, they make for excellent gifts… If you can bear to part with either treat.

In addition, I had the pleasure of shooting more savory delights by the lovely and talented Allison Samson. Bringing Cheesy Twice-Baked Potatoes to the party this time around, these rich spuds are not to be missed. Stuffed with creamy mashed potatoes and smothered in gooey “cheese” sauce, it may be tough to go back to plain baked potatoes after trying these tempting tubers.

Have you gotten your issue yet?  Of course, it’s packed full of other recipes, too, so there are plenty of equally attractive dishes to choose from.  What do you plan on making first?


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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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