BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Well-Traveled Treats

Time was not on my side. Mere days before departing for my two month stint in Hawaii, a generous package from Dear Coco landed on my doorstep, over a half dozen glossy chocolate bars embellished with huge chunks of amber brown toffee. These were no ordinary candies, boasting flavors as wild as curry and wasabi, each one inspired by various cuisines across the globe. Despite my voracious sweet tooth, I couldn’t have possibly eaten them all before jetting off, but there was no way I could leave them behind. Somehow it seemed fitting that such a worldly collection of chocolates should accompany me on this exciting adventure. After ejecting shoes and shampoo from my overstuffed suitcase (you know, the less important things) I miraculously made enough space to squeeze in the whole range of treats. Sure, I bore a striking resemblance to Cousin Itt for a full day or two, but any cosmetic sacrifice was worth it.

Boasting eight unique varieties, there truly is something to suit all tastes in this powerful lineup. A brief overview of the creative flavor options wouldn’t truly do these innovative chocolate creations justice. Sharing a peek at my tasting notes is the only way to properly explain these treats, since complete sentences seem to fail me when faced with such intense chocolate treasures.

Sidama (coffee toffee with Buunni Ethiopian coffee beans and sea salt):

  • Whole coffee beans! Not fooling around here
  • Aroma of freshly brewed coffee erupts from the package as soon as the seal is broken
  • A must for mocha-lovers
  • Dark, smoky chocolate is a match made in heaven with those warm, roasted coffee notes
  • Sweet, crunchy toffee makes the perfect counter point
  • Caramel incorporates a symphony of burnt sugar flavor to round the whole bar out
  • Utterly addictive, not to mention highly caffeinated
  • I feared that the whole beans would be off-putting, but they meld beautifully- Not at all gritty like ground beans can become

Savanah (pie spiced toffee with roasted pecans and sea salt):

  • The toffee is absolutely divine! I would gladly eat that alone, and by the handful
  • Delicately balanced yet warmly spiced, the salt is really bumps the flavor up to a whole new level
  • Toffee really is the star here, with pecans lending their nutty essence and crisp bite
  • The chocolate, while snappy, rich, and deep, is really the backup singer to this melody, emerging with a smooth baritone once the high notes have melted away

Barcelona (roasted almond toffee and sea salt):

  • The most tame, traditional of all offerings
  • Not really sure what makes it so distinctly “Barcelona”
  • Solid rendition of the classic chocolate/toffee combination
  • Toffee really holds its own against the dark chocolate, both share about equal time in the spotlight
  • Nicely snappy, crisp and crunchy throughout
  • Liberal use of salt makes flavors pop
  • Something that everyone would enjoy, very agreeable; no doubt a crowd pleaser

Shanghai (chinese five spice toffee with roasted white sesame seeds and sea salt):

  • Especially thick, crunchy slabs of toffee chunks
  • Lovely licorice-driven spice; gentle yet persistent
  • Sesame seeds really do get lost in the mix
  • Seeds look nice and are conceptually sound, but don’t contribute discernible flavor or texture
  • Very good, just not exceptional like the others

Oaxaca (Mexican cinnamon and smoky hot pepper toffee with roasted pepitas and sea salt):

  • Toffee has taken on a distinctly red hue from the pepper
  • Gentle warmth from the cinnamon lures you in, but the fiery aftertaste of cayenne bites back with a vengeance
  • Definitely has a kick, but isn’t overly aggressive
  • Spice adds flavor without so much heat that it would make me hesitate to break off a second (or third, or fourth) piece
  • May take you by surprise, but there are no alarm bells going off here
  • Pepitas are overshadowed by the bold toffee
  • One for you thrill-seekers and hot sauce-lovers out there

Madras (sweet curry toffee with roasted sunflower seeds and sea salt):

  • Golden-yellow colored toffee chunks
  • Notes of coriander and cumin come through most clearly, but are soft and subdued
  • Not the least bit hot; Spice adds a certain je ne sais quoi, an undefinable complexity
  • Doesn’t ring quite true as the madras curry powder I know and love, but it’s certainly a tasty riff on the flavor.
  • Love the addition of sunflower seeds. An unexpected addition that really pulls the bar together with a nutty, toasted undercurrent

Istanbul (cinnamon toffee with rosewater, roasted walnuts and sea salt):

  • Sings with sweet cinnamon!
  • Brighter pops of clove follow, adding excitement and energy to each bite.
  • Rosewater is an intriguing addition, but is sadly smothered by the stronger spices
  • Occasionally, if you’re really looking for it, you might get the faintest hint of something floral… But that might also be imagined
  • If rosewater hadn’t been listed on the label, I would have never guessed

Tokyo (ginger toffee with crispy rice and sea salt):

  • Definite zing to the toffee
  • Bright, almost floral/citrus-y ginger
  • Very vibrant and fresh
  • Deep dark chocolate balances out the high notes
  • Rice crisps lighten the toffee just a touch, but are barely noticeable
  • All you taste is ginger and crunch, but there could be far worse things of course
  • A fairly straight-forward combination that’s still a nice change of pace
  • Any easy leap for anyone looking for something slightly different

No matter your location or destination, any one of these stellar confections can instantly transport you to a whole new world of flavor. There isn’t a single dud in the whole bunch, but don’t just take my word for it. There’s good reason why all eight are available as a neatly bundled gift pack!


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For the Love of Chocolate

There are few universal truths in life, which makes each one of them that much more significant: Spring will always follow winter, love cannot be faked, and everyone enjoys chocolate. If any of those statements can be proven otherwise, I don’t want to know about it, especially when it comes to the latter. Quite frankly, person who claims to dislike chocolate is simply lying, revealing questionable character on their part. Thus, with no shortage of fanfare, Fran Costigan unleashed Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts upon the world, an ode to this “food of the gods” that fully lives up to its title. Every bit deserving of the effusive praise that gushes forth from each breathless review, I can only add my own cheers to the chorus.

Giving credit that’s long overdue, the Aztec Truffles (page 53) were the shining stars in my holiday candy boxes way back in festive days of December. Pressed for time and exhausted of fresh ideas, that surprisingly simple recipe yielded stunning results, above and beyond my traditional approaches. The fiery combination of ancho chili powder and cinnamon gave those tiny chocolate bombs an invigorating kick that all the tired old classics seemed to lack. Though notably soft in consistency, storing the little morsels in the freezer solved all structural concerns while adding a delightfully cool contrast to the punch of bold, smoky spices which paired beautifully with the dark, bitter chocolate.

The standard chocolate recipe by which I judge the merit of any cookbook, bakery, or individual baker is the humble brownie. Let me cut straight to the chase and say that Fran’s Very Fudgy Chocolate Chip Brownies (page 128) passed the test with flying colors. Complete with the elusive crackled top and rich, chewy interior, these simple squares live up to expectations, to say the least. A touch greasy but not prohibitively so, it’s a small price to be paid for ideal brownie indulgence.

Covering a wide range of applications and pairings for chocolate, there are plenty of more delicate, nuanced treats included as well. Case in point: The Chocolate, Orange, and Almond Olive Oil Cake (page 72). Though the name is a mouthful, it’s worth every bite! Impossibly moist, even after days of sitting on the counter, it’s one of those rare cakes that seems to get even better with age… If you can leave it alone long enough for it to mature, that is. Bright citrus notes enliven the almond-infused crumb, and while that would really be enough to satisfy any sweet craving, a thick glaze of chocolate ganache truly puts it over the top.

Coming from the vegan dessert queen herself, I would expect no less than a masterpiece and with Vegan Chocolate, I was not disappointed.


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Healthy Decadence

There’s a real art in finding the delicate balance between want and need, sweet and savory, austere and indulgent. All too often battling cravings that fall on the more hedonistic side of the scale, reaching some semblance of middle ground is especially important for this constant snacker. Grazing through my day with the greatest of ease, finding that ideal combination that will satisfy both my sweet tooth and my hunger is always the goal, but rarely the result of endless pantry raids throughout the day.

Inspired by yet another excellent new protein powder kindly provided as a sample by Ka’Chava, rather than just drink my superfoods straight, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get in the kitchen and play around. Energy bars were a natural first though, but too obvious, too easy to get excited about. Healthy, protein-packed fudge, though? Now that’s a wholesome treat one could lust after.

Rich, but not overwhelmingly so, crunchy cacao nibs punctuate the soft texture, much like chocolate chips strewn through unbaked cookie dough. A thin sheet of dark, slightly bitter chocolate caps off each small square with just the right extra dose of decadence, although it’s strictly optional if you’re more of a protein purist. Eaten straight out of the fridge, there are few tastier yet still healthy tidbits out there that can power me through a long day.

Protein Fudge

1 Cup Raw Cashews, Soaked for 4 – 6 Hours
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
1/3 Cup Coconut Sugar
1 Packet (58.5g) Ka’Chava Chocolate Protein Powder
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Cacao Nibs

To Finish:

3 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon Coconut Oil, Melted

Thoroughly drain your cashews before tossing them into your blender. A high-speed blender is recommended for this recipe to ensure the smoothest texture possible, but as long as you’re patient with a lower-powered model and let it process for a bit longer, the recipe shouldn’t suffer. Add in the melted coconut oil, coconut sugar, protein powder, vanilla, and salt, and start the machine on the lowest setting to begin breaking down the cashews. Slowly increase the speed until you reach the highest setting, using the plunger to keep the contents of the blender all moving towards the blade, or pausing to scrape down the sides of the container, as needed. It may take some time for everything to combine smoothly, without any residual cashew pieces or graininess to be found.

Meanwhile, line an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with foil, lightly grease, and set aside.

Once your fudge mixture is thoroughly blended, stir in the cacao nibs by hand to evenly distribute them throughout. Transfer everything to your prepared pan and use a wide spatula to smooth out the top. Place the pan on a flat surface in your freezer to begin solidifying.

To finish off your fudge, place the finely chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe dish and heat for 60 seconds. Stir thoroughly until all of the chocolate is melted and no pieces remain. If necessary, continue microwaving at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well after each one, until perfectly smooth. Retrieve the fudge from the freezer, pour the melted chocolate all over the top, and spread it out evenly so that it covers the entire pan. Return the pan of fudge to the freezer and let rest, undisturbed, for at least 3 hours.

Using the foil as a sling, pull the fudge out of the loaf pan and slice into small squares with a very sharp knife. To make cleaner cuts through the chocolate topping, first run the knife under very hot water and dry thoroughly before making your first incision.

Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes 16 – 20 Small Squares

Printable Recipe


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Savoring Chocolate

Chocolate goes with everything, or so the enthusiasts proclaim, and for once I’m not here to argue. Though not a rabid chocoholic myself, a square or two of good dark chocolate is frequently the emergency fuel of choice, staving off everything from common hunger pangs to emotional flights of fancy. No stranger to the great range of flavors that can be coaxed from the humble cacao, my greatest disappointment is that fewer feel the need to explore beyond the most commonly accepted flavor pairings. More adventurous confections are beginning to emerge, giving rise to bars dusted with curry, sprinkled with popped amaranth, or blended with beer, but all of these treats still land firmly on the dessert menu. Enough with the candies and confections, just for once! I would challenge those who see chocolate only as a source of sweet gratification to take a walk on the savory side.

To call them “cookies” may be a bit deceptive, but their construction has much more in common with your standard shortbread than any cracker or chip I’ve ever known. Ultra-dark, dry, and slightly bitter chocolate chunks put to rest any preconceived notions of classic chewy chocolate chip cookies- Switching up cacao percentages alone makes an incredible world of difference! Of course, such a small adjustment didn’t satisfy my craving, which is where the unconventional addition of oil-cured olives comes into play. Yes, you heard right: Olives. Briny, rich with oil, vaguely fruity, and very concentrated in their inherent olive goodness thanks to the slow drying process, this salty addition serves to brighten the chocolate while adding a surprising pop of flavor. Catching eaters off-guard at first bite, it won’t be a taste for everyone, but a delight for adventurous eaters seeking something new.

Best served as an appetizer or snack, these delicate cookies shine their brightest when paired with a glass of dry red wine and an equally salty olive-infused hummus on the side. Don’t be afraid to really drive the theme home with a robust tapenade. Trust me, that intense dark chocolate can stand up to anything you throw at it. The saying really is true; chocolate goes with everything, or perhaps more accurately, everything goes with chocolate.

Savory Chocolate-Olive Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Oil-Cured Olives, Pitted and Chopped
2.5 Ounces 90% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Chopped
2 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Fit your stand mixer with the paddle attachment and thoroughly cream together the margarine and sugar, until the mixture is homogenous. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, tarragon, pepper, and salt, making sure that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout. Add in the chopped olives and chocolate, tossing gently to coat all of the pieces with flour. Break up any clumps of olives that may remain sticking together so that they’re equally blended throughout each finished cookie. Starting the mixer back up on the lowest setting, slowly incorporate the dry goods in two additions, alternating with the olive oil, until all the remaining ingredients are used.

The dough should be just moist enough to stick together in a coherent ball when pressed; don’t be tempted to incorporate extra liquid! Gather it all up and form it into a log about 6 – 8 inches long. You can choose to either keep your cookies rounded or square off the edges by gently dropping the log on the counter at regular intervals. It’s merely a stylistic choice, so feel free to play around with it. Once shaped as desired, wrap the dough log in plastic and place it in your freezer. Allow at least 2 hours for it to chill, or store for up to 3 months before baking.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or pieces of parchment paper.

Unwrap the chilled dough, handling it as little as possible to prevent it from warming up, and use a very sharp knife to cut it into slices approximately 1/4 inch in thickness. (The cookies pictured above are admittedly a bit too thick- Don’t go too chunky here or they will be very dry and cloying!) Lay the cookies out with about 1/2 inch in between them on your prepared sheets, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until lightly golden brown.

Let cool completely on the sheets before enjoying or storing in an air-tight container.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Mochi Madness

Standing outside on the first cold, crisp day of 2014, I could have sworn I heard the distinctive “don…don…don” of a kine (wooden mallet) striking an usu (stone mortar), far off in the distance. Though unlikely, the tradition of making mochi for oshogatsu is so ubiquitous in Japanese culture, it would be unthinkable for anyone immersed in the culture to ignore it. Pounding sweet glutenous rice into submission is no simple task, typically requiring a whole village to pitch in and churn out enough mochi to ring in the new year. Celebrations are based around the ritual and everyone gets something delicious as their reward. Though ozoni soup is the most authentic way to commemorate the turning of the calendar, ensuring good luck and prosperity for the coming months, mochi is the perfect blank canvas for any flavors sweet or savory. Naturally, my inclination is to play up its capacity for creating unique sweet treats.

Forget pounding stubborn grains of rice until your arms ache and your hands throb. This is mochi for the modern baker, dressed up in a rich cloak of chocolate, no less. Mochiko, otherwise known as finely powdered sweet rice flour, makes the process move along much more smoothly- literally. Crossing cultural boundaries and incorporating some unconventional ingredients, the resulting brownies are a curious hybrid of Japanese and American tastes. Shockingly decadent in comparison to the plain white spheres produced from typical methods, these mahogany brown squares are a definite indulgence, which strikes me as a fitting way to kick off a joyful new year. For anyone expecting a standard brownie though, the texture may come as a shock. Chewy with a delightfully bouncy, sticky texture between the teeth, it makes no secret of its glutenous rice foundation. To some who struggles with anything that isn’t either crispy-crunchy or pudding-soft, these may not be the most winning recipe.

For the rest of you adventurous eaters and bakers though, it’s a stunningly simple mash-up that’s long overdue. Have your mochi and enjoy it too, without any of the hard labor (or choking hazards) associated with the original. As a side bonus, these rice flour-based treats are “accidentally” gluten-free, so everyone can start their year on a sweet note!

Mochi Brownies

2 Cups Mochiko
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
9 Ounces (1 1/2 Cups) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 1/2 Cups Plain Vegan Creamer
1 14-Ounce Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Plain or Vanilla Vegan Yogurt
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 9 x 13-inch rectangular baking pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the mochiko, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and powder, and salt. Stir until all the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the mixture and set aside.

Place the margarine and 6 ounces (1 cup) of the chocolate chips in a large, microwave-safe container along with half of the creamer. Microwave for a minute, stir well, and then continue heating at 30-second intervals, mixing thoroughly in between each new cycle, until the chocolate has completely melted. Add in the remaining measure of creamer plus the coconut milk, yogurt, and vanilla. Stir until smooth.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry and stir thoroughly with a wide spatula. Don’t worry about over-mixing, since there’s no gluten here that might form. Go ahead and beat the tar out of that batter! Toss in the remaining 3 ounces (1/2 cup) of chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Once there are no lumps remaining, transfer it into your prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 55 – 60 minutes, until dry and slightly crackled on top. The toothpick test won’t be particularly helpful for this brownie, so just trust your intuition when it appears to be done on the surface.

Let cool completely before slicing into bars.

Makes 16 – 24 Brownies

Printable Recipe


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Yay or Nay?

Freed of a decade-long mayonnaise aversion, the unctuous white condiment may not be the first thing on my grocery list, but certainly has earned its keep as a refrigerator staple, thanks to its irreplaceable contribution to my very favorite chocolate cake recipe. Thus, I’m probably not the ideal judge of a new take on the classic spread, but the offer to taste Nasoya‘s latest contribution to the category was irresistible. Curiosity fueled my investigation, since the original Nayonaise and I have a considerable history. It was the first time I ever tasted vegan mayonnaise, which sadly but quite frankly reinforced my original bias against it. Somehow a bottle of the stuff found its way into my fridge, likely after a photo shoot had wrapped and left the extra behind, and I couldn’t seem to get rid of it for the life of me. Eventually I became desperate, attempting to pawn it off on any friends who visited. It was convenient that each and every one “forgot” the glass jar when it came time to depart…

Revitalized and reformulated, my hopes were high for a surprise comeback. In addition to the previous offerings of their Original Sandwich Spread and Light (which I didn’t get to sample), there is now the option of Whipped, which is said to approximate the taste of Miracle Whip more closely. Let’s not beat around the bush here: I do not like Nayo Whipped, Sam I am. It strikes me as being too sweet, pulling my taste buds in the opposite direction of what they would desire in a savory dish, all with a beany undercurrent that muddies up the flavor. Unfortunately, this is exactly what I feared when I signed on for a sample. The jar of Whipped may be around for quite some time, wedged into the farthest reaches of the fridge, unless anyone would care to drop and take it off my hands.

The outlook isn’t as bleak for the Original, however. Despite an inauspicious appearance of a broken, greasy emulsion, the mixture does genuinely feel smooth and creamy on the tongue. The leading and finishing note is one of mustard, with a gentle touch of vinegar and salt chiming in. Appropriately rich and just slightly sweet, I do believe it’s an improvement over the first version that turned me off so many years ago. Is it my favorite mayonnaise option? No. But is it a perfectly serviceable alternative? You bet! The odds of success only improve once it’s mixed into a recipe with more complimentary flavors to enhance that baseline taste.

For my first trick, I thought I would turn the classic BLT sandwich into a fun summer hor d’oeuvre, taking out the bread and stuffing the contents into hollowed out tomato shells. BLT bites, so simple that a formal recipe would be overkill, are nothing more than seeded roma tomatoes filled with shredded romaine lettuce and chopped chives, tossed with Original Nayonaise, and finally topped with coconut bacon. Serve thoroughly chilled for the best eating experience, especially on a hot day.

Where Nayonaise really shines, however, is in baking, just as I had predicted due to the success of my experimental chocolate cake so long ago. Churning out a batch of chocolate chip cookies in record time and only seven ingredients all told, this recipe is reason enough for me to always keep a jar on hand. Amazingly, the mustard flavor mellowed significantly in baking, becoming nearly undetectable when paired with the right ratio of sugar and chocolate. The combination shouldn’t work, couldn’t possibly be delicious, but somehow, it really is. The best part is the texture- You would be hard-pressed to find a chewier, gooier, or more lusciously toothsome treat for so little effort. For that incredible contribution alone, Original Nayonaise gets the official thumbs-up from me.

Miraculous Mayonnaise Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 1/2 Cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheet with parchment paper or silpats.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the mayonnaise, vanilla, and both sugar. Stir until smooth and homogeneous before adding in the flour, baking soda, and chocolate chip. Begin the mixer on low speed to prevent any of the dry goods from flying out, and allow the machine to gently combine all the ingredients. Be careful not to over-mix to prevent the cookies from becoming too tough. Stir just until the dough comes together and there are no remaining pockets of unincorporated flour.

Use a medium cookie scoop or large spoon to portion out about 3 – 4 tablespoons of dough per cookie. Place them about 1 1/2-inches apart on your prepared baking sheets, and use lightly moistened hands to flatten them out slightly if domed.

Bake one sheet at a time for 11 – 13 minutes, until golden brown around the edges. Immediately pull the silpat or parchment paper off of the hot baking sheet to allow the cookies to cool completely.

Makes 20 – 24 Cookies

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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An Edible Adventure

Inspired by the call for adventurous chocolate recipes by the annual Chocolate Adventure Contest hosted by Scharffen Berger, the only restrictions were that it involve chocolate (naturally) and the results were presented in sandwich cookie format. Still buzzing with frozen dessert ideas after wrapping up Vegan a la Mode at the time, my thoughts naturally turned to ice cream.

Featuring cornmeal, coconut milk, and jalapeño as my adventuresome ingredients, it may not have placed in the contest, but it was still a big winner by my estimation. At the center of it all, rich, creamy chocolate ice cream is accented with a bright pop of fresh peppery spice, combining the contrasting sensations of hot and cold all in one taste. Each slab of the frozen dessert is wedged between two thick, chewy cornmeal blondies sprinkled with big chocolate chunks. While each component is drop-dead delicious separately, they create one truly memorable treat when eaten together in one bite.

Tex-Mex Ice Cream Sandwiches

Jalapeño Chocolate Ice Cream:

1 1/4 Cups Plain Almond Milk
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup) Coconut Milk
1 Large (Approximately 2 Ounces) Fresh Jalapeño Pepper, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
3 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Tequila (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Cornmeal Chocolate Chunk Blondies:

1 1/2 Cups Yellow Cornmeal
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Soybean or Garbanzo Bean Flour
1 3/4 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric (Optional, for Color)
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Cup Semisweet Chocolate Baking Chunks
3/4 Cup Frozen Corn Kernels, Thawed
3/4 Cup Canola Oil
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

For the ice cream, start by combining the almond milk, coconut milk, and jalapeño in a medium saucepan. Toss in the seeds and all, set it over moderate heat, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once bubbling vigorously, immediately turn off the heat, cover with the lid, and let infuse for about 2 hours. Strain, pressing all of the liquid out of the spent pepper, and discard the solids.

Whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, arrowroot, salt, and cayenne, adding in about 1/4 cup of the jalapeño milk and stir into a thick paste, beating out any lumps of starch. When smooth, incorporate the rest of the liquid, along with the agave, and whisk thoroughly to homogenize. whisk occasionally as it comes up to temperature. When bubbles begin forming around the edges of the liquid, add in the chocolate chips, and just let the mixture sit for 2 minutes, to allow the chocolate to begin melting.

Switch over to a wide spatula, and stir gently, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, to make sure that nothing sticks and that the chocolate fully melts. Once the mixture comes up to a full boil, cook for just a minute or two longer, and as long as there are no more whole chocolate chips remaining, turn off the heat. Stir in the tequila (if using) and vanilla extract, and let cool completely before chilling thoroughly in the refrigerator; about 3 hours.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once frozen but still soft, transfer the ice cream into an air-tight container and let set up more solidly in the freezer before assembling the sandwiches.

To prepare the blondies, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, sift together the cornmeal, all purpose flour, and soy or garbanzo flour, and whisk in the sugar, paprika, salt, turmeric, and baking powder. Toss the chocolate chunks around in the dry goods to distribute them throughout and coat them with flour. This will help to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the bars while baking. Set aside.

Place the corn, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and vinegar into your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour these wet goods into the bowl of dry, and with a wide spatula, gently stir the two together.

Transfer to your prepared pan, and spreading the batter out evenly into the corners and smoothing down the top with your spatula.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the top of the blondies appears set is golden brown. Let cool before slicing.

When you’re ready to assemble to bars, line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Slice the full rectangle of baked blondies in half so that you’re left with two equal squares. Place one square into the prepared pan, lining it up flush with at least two of the pan’s sides. If there’s extra space between the other sides, construct a barrier with more foil and stand it up right next to the edge of the blondies. This will help prevent the ice cream from melting out initially.

Soften the ice cream slightly if needed, and mound it on top of the blondie square as evenly as possible. Working quickly, place the second half of the blondies on top, pressing down lightly to smooth the ice cream and adhere the sheet of cookies. Move the whole thing back into the freezer on a flat surface. Let freeze until very solid before slicing. The longer the better- At least overnight.

Finally, turn the entire affair out onto a large cutting board, and with a very sharp knife, slice into 12 – 16 sandwiches. Wrap individually in plastic wrap, or transfer into a spacious container with an air-tight lid. Store the sandwiches in the freezer until you’re ready to enjoy.

An alternate method for assembly: Slice the blondies into bars beforehand and store at room temperature in an air-tight container. Simply top a single bars with a scoop of ice cream when desired, and press a second blondie on top.

Makes 12 – 16 Ice Cream Sandwiches

Printable Recipe


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Classic Comfort

Struggling to keep up with the maddening pace of monthly publications, churning out new recipes at every turn, it’s easy to lose sight of once beloved dishes. With barely enough hours in a day to complete any assigned cooking ventures, cherished classics are slowly forgotten, sealed within the pages of cookbooks collecting dust. Sad to say, but unless it’s for a review, I never touch my cookbook shelf anymore. As much as I love each and every mouth-watering text, one can only bake so many cakes, or cook so many dinners, within a limited space of free time.

That’s why it’s the ultimate luxury not to visit a restaurant or bakery, but to to revisit those tried-and-true recipes from other equally prolific authors. Something as simple as a chocolate cookie can make my heart sing, if only for the comforting familiarity and good memories each bite brings. I could never claim to create the elusive “perfect” chocolate cookie for any magazine or cookbook, but thankfully, Isa’s fool-proof formula means that I never need to. For this rare recipe repeat, I chose to shake things up a bit, adding in dried cherries and taking the opportunity to try out some cherry extract. Just a splash provided the flavor boost I sought, effectively refreshing the golden standard as a unique treat- Proof positive that good recipes have no expiration date.


39 Comments

Chocolate Conquers All

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

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

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

Fig-Mint Brownies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 16 – 24 Brownies

Printable Recipe

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