BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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A Whole Lava Love

Pastry chefs, restaurateurs, and seasoned eaters the world over groan with a deliberate roll of the eyes as the dessert menu lands on their tables. Invariably, no matter the cuisine, listed there amongst the sweet offerings will be the classic chocolate lava cake. No one can begrudge the treat for its flavor, as chocolate boasts a nearly universal approval rate across all dining demographics, but it simply seems like the default, stock answer to the question a lazy cook doesn’t want to address. To continually make such an obvious culinary faux-pas, whoever is at the helm in the kitchen must be terribly uncreative, tone-deaf, or simply apathetic about the meal’s final course. We can all agree that there are few innovations to be found in this antiquated cake, despite the richest, most flowery printed descriptions.

So why do they keep turning up around every dining room corner, and better yet, why do we keep ordering them? For all our claims of being adventurous eaters, open to new, sometimes risky flavor pairings, the attraction to tried-and-true chocolate decadence is simply irresistible. Whether you’ve indulged in one lava cake or 80 in your lifetime, it just doesn’t get old.

Putting food snobbery aside and conceding that there are far worse ways to end a meal, it becomes clear that the real issue isn’t necessarily the sheer number of molten chocolate cakes, but the number of poorly executed renditions. There’s still plenty of room for improvement.

My inspiration to revisit the original, antiquated recipe came from an unlikely source. Protein powder and downright hedonistic desserts are hardly a natural combination, but from one sip of the newly released Natural Whipped Chocolate protein powder by Pro(Zero), I knew it wasn’t so far fetched. Not only did this highly nutritious base help to foster the perfect gooey interior texture, but its natural thickening powers abolished the need for any gluten at all.

There’s no shame in falling for these babycakes containing a rich pool of hot chocolate lava, especially when they deliver a surprising punch of protein and fiber, too.

Molten Mocha Protein Cakes

2 Ounces (1/3 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Chocolate Protein Powder
3 Tablespoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Instant Espresso Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Baking Powder

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and lightly grease 4 standard muffin cups. Fill the remaining 2 in the pan halfway with room temperature water; set aside.

Place the chocolate chips in a medium, microwave-safe bowl along with the aquafaba and oil. Heat for 30 – 60 seconds, stirring thoroughly until the chocolate has completely melted. Add in the protein powder, sugar, espresso powder, salt, and baking powder, mixing well, being sure to beat out any clumps. The batter should be smooth and fairly thick.

Divide the batter equally between your four prepared muffin cups and gently slide the pan into the oven. Bake for just 7 – 8 minutes, no matter how under-baked they may look. The sides should be firm, but the centers will remain soft and may fall slightly as they rest. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes before carefully pouring out the water from the empty tins. Invert the whole pan over cutting board a or large, flat plate before transferring them to individual dessert plates. Serve immediately while still warm.

Makes 4 Small Cakes

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by HPN Supplements, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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For the Love of Chocolate

Chocolate is a gift that is always in style, matches with everything you already own, and always fits. It should come as no surprise that it’s the Valentine’s Day token of choice, ranking well above the typical flowers, cards, and unintentionally tragic stuffed animals. Let’s keep it that way, and let’s keep it classy, folks. No dollar store mockolate to show your sweetheart how bad you are at planning ahead, please. Considering the explosion of high-quality options now on the market, there’s no excuse not to go the extra mile to seek out something special. Those efforts to find a truly transcendent box of cacao decadence will be repaid in full with just one bite.

Amore di Mona is part of the new wave of contemporary chocolatiers that stands apart from the rest. Committed to producing exceptional treats that can be enjoyed by all, every exquisite morsel they produce is vegan and gluten-free.

Even the gold wrapping and immaculate box of the Connoisseur Collection exudes opulence and indulgence. It’s clear from square one (no pun intended) that these are no average candies. Impeccably molded, dipped, and decorated, each piece glistens in the sunlight and snaps firmly under pressure. Seven entirely unique flavors are included in the assortment, ranging from solid chocolate hearts with various accouterments to dipped and drizzled caramels. Unsurprisingly, the chocolate itself is exceptional: Dry, smooth, intense dark chocolate, but not the least bit harsh, it’s very easy to eat without risking either palate fatigue or a sugar coma.

Finding good vegan caramels can still be challenging at best, but this box may very well end the search. Each “caramela,” as they are called, possesses a firm bite, soft chew, and subtly nutty, toasted sweet flavor. Although I must admit that I found myself craving a tiny extra pinch of salt at times, there’s really little to fault about the final execution. Favorites will only be a matter of preference, because you can do no wrong with any of the options. Pieces containing cranberries shine with tartness from the dried fruits, bitterness of the chocolate, and just the right amount of sugar to smooth out any hard edges. Meanwhile, those that incorporate whole coffee beans are predictably bold, in all the right ways; the coffee flavor never overwhelms, only delights with an extra crunchy texture.

Each morsel is a handcrafted work of edible art. Beautiful to look at, and even more enjoyable to eat. Valentine’s Day is a good excuse to spoil someone you love or simply yourself, but don’t forget that chocolate is always in season.


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Brownie Points

Way to steal my thunder, Trader Joe. After all of these years, countless visits, and quite a few generous “donations,” I thought you were my friend. Why did you have to deprive me the glory of unleashing brownie crisps upon the hungry, sweet-toothed masses? Granted, I’m far from the first person to invent the concept of thin, crunchy planks of brownie goodness, but earlier offerings were hardly widespread, and far from affordable. You just had to make them so easily available, effortlessly satisfying chocolate cravings across the country, no hunting or penny pinching required. Oh Joe, I’m happy for your success, but I can’t help but feel at least slightly robbed here.

That said, store-bought cookies will never live up to anything homemade, if you ask me. Even if these heavenly morsels of shatteringly crisp cocoa wafers become the next speculoos spread, they will still taste much better coming out of one’s own oven. No matter how low Joe pushes that price point, the cost of mere flour, sugar, and cocoa will always be a better deal, too. You may have beaten me to the punch, Joe, but I’m sure not down for the count!

For anyone who’s fought to get the corner piece from a pan of fudgy brownies or relished the distinctive crackled top, these crisps have your name written all over them. Deceptively light, it’s disturbingly easy to munch straight through half a batch without even pausing to take a breath. Whether or not they start a new craze is yet to be seen, but based on the reception they’ve received from diverse crowds of dessert-lovers, they do seem to have universal appeal.

Brownie Crisps

1/3 Cup Aquafaba (Liquid from a Can of Chickpeas)
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoon Dutch Cocoa Powder
1 Tablespoon Pure, Unflavored Pea Protein
1/4 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Granules
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
3 Tablespoons Chopped Walnuts, Divided

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl with a hand mixer,) combine the aquafaba and sugar and beat until foamy. You’re not looking to whip it into a firm meringue here, but a loose froth with the sugar fully dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, pea protein, instant coffee, salt, and baking powder, stirring to ensure that all of the ingredients are equally distributed throughout the mixture.

Slowly add in the dry ingredients while the mixer runs, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Immediately follow with the oil and stir just until the batter comes together smoothly. Fold in the half of the chocolate chips and walnuts by hand.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking sheet and use an offset spatula to spread it out as thinly as humanly possible. The batter should just about cover the whole sheet. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips and walnuts evenly over the top.

Bake on the center rack in the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pan, and continue baking for 10 more minutes. Pull the sheet out and use a pizza cutter to slice the square or rectangular shapes you desire, but don’t separate them yet. Return the cookies to the oven and bake for a final 10 – 14 minutes. They may still feel slightly soft in the center, but they’ll continue to crisp as they cool.

Let the crisps cool completely on the baking sheet before breaking the cookies apart. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if you can manage to keep them around that long.

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 Dozen Brownie Crisps

Printable Recipe


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Veni, Vidi, Videri

Why do people save the best for last? As one of those people, I’m not sure I can fully explain the compulsion to leave the very best bite for the end of the meal, or my favorite song for the end of a playlist. This very same impulse to delay gratification seems to get me in trouble at times, particularly when the end is not something clearly defined. Such is the case for many product reviews, languishing on my to-do list simply because the item in question was so good, I want to reserve it as a final reward. In realistic terms though, this just means that the post never gets written because an active blog never ends. That’s the only excuse I can come up with for explaining why these stellar chocolates remained without a proper feature for over two years.

Packaged lovingly with handwritten, individual numbers, one could easily mistake these for jewelry boxes rather than containers for edible treats. Crafted in small batches in Raleigh, North Carolina, Videri is one of the few American bean-to-bar operations. Not all of the offerings are vegan, but the dairy-free options will not leave you wanting. Defined by a clean, crisp snap and smooth melting texture, even a small square promises to satisfy the most voracious chocoholic.

Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt is an instant winner. Large flakes of salt are easily visible on the underside of each bar, immediately hitting the tongue with a strong saline hit. This serves to balance out the overall sweetness beautifully, while eliminating any bitter notes typically associated with dark chocolate.

Classic Dark Chocolate with 70% cacao is the everyday sort of treat that goes well with everything. Slightly woodsy with notes of raisin, the complexity packed into this little bar reminded me of tasting a fine wine.

90% Ecuadorian Dark Chocolate is a seasonal special, and one that you’ll definitely want to take advantage of while you still can. Dry, with a pleasantly bitter edge and slightly tannic aftertaste, this bold bar is not for the timid. Crushing sugar cravings without piling on the sweetness, these powerful chocolates became my secret weapon for vanquishing a snack attack.

Gifted with this wealth of cacao goodness, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take them into the kitchen for a bit of sweet experimentation. Especially in the heat of summer, peppermint patties are one of my favorite treats. Best stashed in the freezer for full cooling effect, I love the way the chocolate shell shatters upon impact, revealing a soft, creamy center with minty fresh flavor. The only thing that could be improved is perhaps the ratio of chocolate to peppermint, which is why I decided to flip the classic patty inside-out. Now, a solid chocolate center is graced by a blanket of white peppermint coating, allowing the chocolate to truly shine.

Inside-Out Peppermint Patties

Chocolate Centers:

6 Ounces 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/4 Cup Light Corn Syrup

Mint Coating:

1/2 Cup (4 Ounces) 100% Cocoa Butter
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Peppermint Oil

To form the centers, place the chopped chocolate and corns syrup in a 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. Transfer the mixture to a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and refrigerate until set; about 1 hour.

Roll the chocolate disk out to about 1/4-inch thick and use 1-inch round cookie cutters to punch out the candy pieces. Should the chocolate dough become too soft or difficult to work with, just toss it back in the fridge for another 15 – 30 minutes before proceeding. Once all of the center are cut, stash them 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. Whisk in the confectioner’s sugar and mint oil, stirring vigorously to make sure that everything is completely dissolved.

Pull out your semi-frozen patties and dip each into the mint coating, one at a time. Place them back on the silpat, allowing the coating to set. This top coat is thinner than the standard pure chocolate shell, so you may wish to double-dip once the first layer has solidified.

Makes 30 – 34 Patties

Printable Recipe


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Smart Sweets

Though self-prescribed with good intentions, a striking majority of New Year’s resolutions are imagined in a world of extremes. Everything is painted in black and white; there is success and failure, productivity and laziness, good or bad foods. The temptation to simplify the complex “rules” of the road is great for those most desperate for change, especially when so much mainstream advice points in that very direction. What excitement is there in moderation? How could you sell anything based on common sense?

Quite frankly, I’m sick of this all-or-nothing approach. Resolutions themselves are not the problem, but the way society holds us to them. Friends, I’m not expert on the matter, but if you want my advice, I think we should make a bit more room in this renewed healthy eating regimen for chocolate.

As with all healthy eating choices, quality is absolutely essential for success, which is exactly what Vega has built their reputation on. Though best known for their powdered protein and meal-replacement shakes, I was naturally drawn more to their enticing array of snacking selections. Given the opportunity to investigate these unsung heroes further, I knew from the start that it would somehow end in a deceptively decadent dessert. Maca Chocolate Bars provided the real inspiration, with their gently earthy, mineral-y quality and slightly bitter edge calling out for a touch more sweetness to round out the deep cacao flavors. Lovers of deep, dark, serious chocolate would love them as is, but for someone coming off of a holiday sugar high, I must admit that my palate calls for something a bit less intense.

Incorporating the brilliantly “Karamelized” SaviSeed, roasted and sugar-coated Inca peanuts, for a satisfying crunch, Nava Atlas’ fool-proof recipe for unbaked brownies seemed custom made for just these ingredients. A few easy substitutions yielded the tastiest, yet healthiest, raw brownie that has ever passed my lips. As the original formula proves, however, no specialty ingredients need apply; switch up the fruits, nuts, and chocolate for equally delicious treats that will help keep your resolutions on track. I’ve successfully used raisins instead of prunes, almonds instead of cashews, and regular dark chocolate, in additional to Nava’s suggestions, all to the same enthusiastic reception. You have my sweet-toothed word that they don’t taste the least bit like “health food,” and you will never regret savoring that one extra square.

Mega Maca Brownies
Adapted from Nava Atlas’ Unbaked Fudgy Brownies from Plant Power

1 Cup Raw Cashews
1 Cup Pitted Prunes
3 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
4 (1.4 Ounce) Maca Chocolate Bars, Finely Chopped, Divided
1/4 Cup Sacha Inchi, Roughly Chopped

Place the cashews in your food processor and pulse until ground to a fine powder. Add in the prunes, cocoa powder, vanilla, salt, and half of the chopped chocolate. Pulse once more to incorporate, processing until the mixture holds together when pressed. Be patient, as this may take a few minutes.

Add the remaining chocolate along with the sacha inchi and pulse just briefly to distribute the goodies throughout the mixture. These final additions should be roughly chopped but still easily visible. You don’t want to puree the whole thing, since it’s much more satisfying with a bit of texture left in it.

Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased 8 x 8-inch square pan. Use a wide spatula to press it evenly into the bottom before stashing it in the fridge. Chill for at least an hour before slicing and serving. Keep leftovers covered and stored in the refrigerator for no more than a week, or in the freezer for up to a month.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe


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By Bread (and Chocolate) Alone

As far as dietary sacrifices go, I can imagine far worse conditions than living by bread alone. Anyone who says otherwise must not know of the wonders of flour, water, and yeast, and the incredible range of flavors such a humble combination can produce. Of course, a smidgen of chocolate would turn the whole affair into a genuine treat rather than a trial, but the same could probably be said for any sort of cocoa-infused pairing.

Let’s keep this one short and to the point: If you like bread and/or chocolate, together or separately, this is a recipe you should take for a spin. Crunchy croutons take the place of bland wafer cookies in this classic no-bake bar cookie. Accented with chocolate and hazelnuts, the whole mixture is bound with a dark, toasty caramel. Finally, a touch of salt and pepper sets this unique treat apart.

Bread and Chocolate Slice

8 Ounces Fresh Baguette, Diced into Very Small Cubes (1/4 – 1/2 inch)
3 Tablespoons Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Tablespoon Flaxseeds, Finely Ground
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1 Cup Toasted Hazelnuts
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Turbinado Sugar

5 Ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Coconut Oil
Flaky Sea Salt, Optional

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and have a baking sheet at the ready.

Slice the baguette into very small cubes, between 1/4 – 1/2 inch, as long as they’re equally to ensure that they’ll bake evenly. Toss the pieces with the olive oil, salt, and pepper until full coated, and then spread the bread out in one even layer on your waiting baking sheet. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely.

While the oven is still hot, place the hazelnuts in a small baking dish and slide them into the oven for 5 – 10, until lightly toasted and aromatic. Let them cool for about 5 minutes before rubbing them in a kitchen towel to remove the papery skins.

Measure out 3 cups of croutons and set them aside. Place the rest of them in your food processor along with the cocoa powder, ground flaxseeds, and cornstarch, and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl along with the reserved whole croutons, skinned hazelnuts, and shredded coconut, stirring lightly to combine. Set aside.

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking dish with foil and lightly grease.

Combine the melted coconut oil and sugar in a medium saucepan over moderate heat on the stove. Resist the urge to stir again once the sugar has dissolved, swirling the pan gently instead to mix the contents. Bring to a boil and let cook until the sugar caramelizes and turns a deep amber color. Quickly pour the hot caramel into the bowl of dry ingredients, stir thoroughly to incorporate, and transfer the whole thing into your prepared pan, spreading it out into as flat a layer as possible.

Finally, mix together the chocolate and 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil in a small pitcher, and pour it all over the top of the bars while they’re still warm. Use a spatula to smooth it over and distribute it evenly across the whole pan. Sprinkle lightly with flaky sea salt if desired.

Let cool until the chocolate has set. Slice into bars and store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe


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The Cold Shoulder

July? Already? Each new month always seem to sneak up out of no where, unannounced and premature, startling me out of my never-ending daydream and back into the present moment. Somehow, the arrival of July doesn’t feel quite so jarring this time around, and yet there’s considerable dissonance between the calendar date and the weather at hand. Oh, it’s been gloriously sunny, aside from the average fog-smothered mornings, but never has a mid-summer month run in with such a cool breeze on its tail. San Francisco summers are unlike any other; I came prepared with plenty of layers, but I still doubted that I would need my autumnal leatherette jacket this late into the year. Thank goodness I suspended that disbelief at least long enough to pack it, since it’s become a constant companion on my brisk campus-bound commutes.

While the rest of the country prepares to celebrate our independence with the standard round of backyard barbeques, pool parties, and fireworks, I’m still struggling to get into a properly jubilant mood. How could anyone think of stripping down to a bathing suit when the thermometer barely registers in the low 60’s on some days? Where do city folk all hide their grills, and how do they not set off the fire alarms every single time a tofu pup hits the searing metal grates? Furthermore, how do I make it back home from the fireworks when the Muni is guaranteed to become missing in action, just in my moment of greatest need? While my plans remain up in the air, it’s clear to see that they’ll end up falling on the more nontraditional side of the tracks.

One thing that can never be altered about any proper 4th of July party, even for a party of one, is the ice cream. I don’t care if I found myself in a freak snow storm come early July- There would still be ice cream on my menu. Trouble is, what with all the festivities and rampant jubilation, it can be tough to find yourself anchored by an unwieldy cupful of frozen confection. This is a job that calls for bite-sized, chocolate-covered, flavor-filled ice cream truffles.

Inspired by a generous gift of shelled pistachios straight from the nutty experts at Diamond of California, these glorious green gems couldn’t be simpler to prepare, and are the prefect offering for a party of any size. Best of all, they can be made well in advance, so all you have to do on the day of celebration is bust them out and look like a total ice cream-churning pro. The creamy emerald interiors are sophisticated enough to suit the most discerning palates, while the shatteringly crisp chocolate coating adds sweetness and whimsy that is sure to appeal to a younger generation of food critics in training.

Pistachio Ice Cream Truffles

Pistachio Ice Cream:

2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Cup Shelled, Toasted Pistachios
1/3 Cup Fresh Baby Spinach, Packed (Optional, for Color)
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla
1/8 Teaspoon Fiori Di Sicilla, or a Tiny Pinch of Orange Zest

Chocolate Coating:

6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil

To prepare the ice cream base, simply drop all of the ingredients, except for the two extracts, into your blender or food processor. A high-speed blender is your best bet for the smoothest texture, but with enough patience and a bit of straining, any model can make do. Blend on high for 5 – 6 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if necessary, until the mixture is thoroughly pureed, without a single fragment of pistachio to be found.

Pour the smooth mixture into a medium saucepan and set on the stove over moderate heat. Whisking frequently, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan to prevent anything from sticking and scorching, bring the liquid up to a gentle boil. Once bubbles begin to burst on the surface with increasing regularity, turn off the heat. Stir in the vanilla and Fiori di Sicilia last. Let the base cool to room temperature before moving it into the fridge to chill thoroughly; about 3 hours.

Churn the cooled base in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the soft ice cream into an air-tight container, and let it “cure” in the freezer for at least 3 more hours before scooping out your truffles.

Use small ice cream scoop to make neat little rounds of ice cream, placing them on a silpat- or parchment paper-lined baking sheet that can fit easily into the freezer. Scoop all of your truffle balls and quickly move the whole baking sheet back into the freezer. You want the interiors to be solidly frozen before attempting to dip them, lest they melt once they hit the hot chocolate coating. Allow at least 3 more hours (yes, again!) or let them chill overnight before proceeding.

Finally, to finish the truffles, heat the chocolate and coconut oil in a microwave-safe container for about 60 seconds. Stir thoroughly until all the chips have completely melted. Use a fork to quickly submerge the frozen ice cream balls into the liquid chocolate and pull them out again, working as fast as you can. Place them back on their silpats and immediately return the baking sheet to the freezer upon finishing. They can be eaten immediately, or stored in an air-tight container for up to 2 months.

Makes a Scant Quart of Ice Cream; 2 – 3 Dozen Truffles

Printable Recipe

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