BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Sucré: A Sweet Boutique

When words fail and sweeping gestures go unnoticed, a little square of chocolate can warm the iciest of hearts. Not just any chocolate will have this same miraculous effect; quality truly counts here. To deliver a single perfect bite, the ideal snap and melt, that flood of unadulterated cacao bliss, you must know how to pick and choose your chocolate ally. Even for the unromantic and Valentine-immune, it’s no secret that the gift of chocolate can score serious brownie points, no matter who is the recipient.

Based in New Orleans, Sucré takes the guess work out of selecting sumptuous treats. Available both locally and through mail order, all of their tempting offerings are just a few clicks and a few days away. Some might say there are slim pickings for vegans here, offering only two options in total that are free of dairy and eggs, but those two are more than enough to sate the discerning sweet tooth.

Though taste will always trump all fanciful facades, it’s impossible not to be wooed by the beautiful packaging surrounding the Coconut and Toasted Almond Bar. A cut-out window provides glimpse of the bar within its turquoise box, teasing with a flawlessly tempered surface and a hint of the goodies sprinkled on top. The bottom is really the top in this case, revealing a slightly scuffed break-away design on the opposite side, but such an imperfection is barely worth noting. The easily snapped squares will hardly stick around long enough to be examined that thoroughly. Melting readily over the tongue, this bar packs a serious cacao punch, coating the whole mouth with deep, woodsy, and slightly smoky dark chocolate flavor. Fresh, crisp almonds and shredded coconut add a bit of crunch and interest to the party, but are overwhelmed by the strength of the chocolate. Although they get top billing in the title, they’re bit players at best. At the end of the day, it’s just all about the chocolate.

Utilizing that same rich chocolate, the Dark Chocolate Bark is also worth a taste (or five.) Each generous shard is positively stuffed with goodies; a varied mix of roasted cashews, whole almonds, pistachios, pecans, and dried cherries litter the cacao landscape. It’s the pinch of salt over the top that really allow all those flavors to pop, lending a brightness that the plainer bars might have lacked. For better or for worse, this only leads to creating an even more addictive sweet snack, and I could barely stop myself from popping piece after piece. Incredibly well balanced for containing so many disparate ingredients, sweet chewy fruits perfectly contrast with the gently bitter edge of cacao, while the crunchy nuts lend a nutty, toasted essence to the mix.

I’m typically not one to sit down and snack on straight chocolate, but Sucré‘s confections are a completely different story. Valentine’s Day is not a big event on my radar, but I would certainly give it more attention if it always involved this kind of instant gratification.


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Run, Run, as Fast as You Can…

…But you’ll never escape my ravenous sweet tooth, Mr. Gingerbread Man.

Fully embracing the temptations of excess, especially abundant in this celebratory season, all I want to make and eat is candy. Typically, just a bite or two of concentrated sweetness will do me, but reaching a sugar coma has seemed to be the end goal recently. At least, that’s how the revelry tends to end, with my poor throbbing head so much the worse for wear. Must the desire for a few extra comforting confections always carry such a terrible price tag? Turns out that raw nuts help quite a bit to satiate the inner sweet-toothed monster, and a handful of whole grains give even tiny morsels far greater staying power.

When Hodgson Mill originally sent a box of pro bono flours and baking mixes, I found myself stumped by the pre-measured mixtures. They’re simply not something I stock my pantry with or employ, so straight away, it was a curious puzzle: What can be made with cake mix, that isn’t cake? Perhaps it’s fudging the boundaries of definition a bit, but how about cake truffles?

With a half-empty jar of speculoos spread just begging to be finished off, the pairing was inevitable, and a delicious match indeed. Enrobed in dark chocolate, the tender cake centers have just enough spice and sweetness to disguise the whole wheat and flax within. Each bite yields nothing but candy bliss, without the sugar hangover afterward.

Better yet, these adorable treats can be dressed up as cake pops. Adorable hand-held gifts or party favors, not a single one of these gingerbread men will escape the mouths of delighted guests.

Naturally, you can just as well whip up a little over one pound of gingerbread cake from any recipe you desire, boxed or fully homemade. Just be mindful of the amount of sugar, because the frosting itself is quite sweet. In the end, though, it’s all good when it’s dipped in chocolate.

Speculoos Gingerbread Cake Truffles

Gingerbread Cake:

1 15-Ounce Package Hodgson Mills Whole Wheat Gingerbread Mix
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
2 Tablespoons Water
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Canola Oil

Speculoos Frosting:

3/4 Cup Speculoos Spread
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, at Room Temperature
1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 – 1 Tablespoon Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Chocolate Coating:

12 Ounces (2 Cups) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil or 100% Cocoa Butter

Optional Additions and Garnishes:

Small Lollipop Sticks
Colored Nonpareil Sprinkles
Chocolate Jimmies*

*Before dipping the truffles, go through the bottle of sprinkles and pick out any that have a slight curve to them. The majority will be straight, but if you look closely enough, you will find plenty that are “smiling.” You may also want to apply your sprinkles with a pair of tweezers for the most precision.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8 square pan.

In a large bowl, whisk all of the cake ingredients together until thoroughly combined, with no pockets of dry ingredients remaining. Bake for 28 – 32 minutes, until set around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake pulls out cleanly, without any slick of raw batter. Let cool completely before breaking up the cake and crumbling it into small, even pieces.

The frosting is equally effortless and speedy: Place the speculoos spread, margarine, and confectioner’s sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer, and start the machine on a low speed. Once the powder has been incorporated and is no longer at risk of flying out, turn up the speed to high, and slowly drizzle in the “milk,” until the frosting is smooth, homogenous, and a spreadable consistency.

Add a modest dollop into the bowl of cake crumbs and mix it all around. This is a messy job, as the best way to combine the two components is to get in there with your hands. Don’t be shy! It could be a fun job for the kids to help out with, too. Add in more frosting as needed, until the mixture just comes together when squeezed. You will likely have extra frosting, so don’t be tempted to add all of it, lest you want mushy truffles.

Dump the cake mixture out onto a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and flatten it out to about 1/2 – 3/4 inch in thickness. Use a small gingerbread man cookie cutter to cut out the shapes, pulling away the excess. Recombine the extra “dough”, flatten out once more, and cut more figures until the cake is all used up. Insert sticks now if using, and carefully move the silpat or parchment onto a baking sheet. Place the whole thing in the freezer on a flat surface, and let freeze for at least 3 hours, until solid.

To coat the truffles, combine the chocolate and coconut oil or cocoa butter in a microwave-safe dish, and heat for 60 seconds. Stir very well until the mixture is smooth. If there are still a few stubborn chips that refuse to melt, continue heating the coating at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each, until entirely lump-free.

Dip each truffle center, one at a time, into the melted chocolate. Use a fork to pull individual truffles out of the mixture and allow the excess coating to drip free. Be especially careful with any truffles on sticks, because they are particularly delicate. Move each piece back onto the silpat or piece of parchment paper, and quickly add sprinkles for the eyes and mouth before the coating solidifies. Repeat with the remaining truffles. Store in the fridge in an air-tight container.

Makes 30 – 40 Truffles

Printable Recipe


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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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Failing at Preparedness

Blame it on an intoxicating emotional cocktail of stress, fear, and hunger, but there are no two ways around it: I deserve a big fat “F” in storm readiness. Like most people in the tri-state area, my time before Super Storm Sandy hit was spent frantically stocking up on food, gasoline, and low-tech entertainment like library books (remember those archaic things?) in case the hurricane truly was as bad as threatened. Furiously running at full capacity to not lose my shit in the middle of a swamped grocery store, my overloaded brain failed to consider each purchase in a truly rational light. Canned goods were fantastic, soups and dried meals could be heated over the gas range, but the double dip on washed, bagged greens? The attractively priced frozen puff pastry? The full case of almond milk Greek yogurt? Hate to ruin the suspense, but those hasty acquisitions proved poor purchases in short time.

Even without power, I held out hope that it would be a quick recovery. Wires came down right at the end of our sparsely populated dead end street and the damage was extensive, but we had been relatively lucky in past disasters. Keeping fridge and freezer doors tightly shut, it should have been easy to wait it out and return to normal life in no time. Days turned into the darkest nights imaginable, back into overcast days, rinse and repeat. The kitchen remained silent, without the comforting hum of appliances or crackling radiators. All that was left was the awful wind, whipping more gently now, but just as cruelly as ever.

Like a sick magic trick, those delicate, frilly salad greens transformed into a murky sludge pooling at the bottom of the bag. Many of the other well-meaning but badly executed purchases met similar fates; never before had I seen such a kaleidoscope of mold on a single cut lemon. With nothing left to cook, little that anyone cared to eat, and the days growing increasingly frigid, it was time to abandon ship.

Near the end of the nightmare, as temperatures dipped below freezing, we sought shelter with our incredibly generous, hospitable extended family a few towns away. Easily the best outcome of a bad situation, things certainly felt far less desperate when wrapped in a cloak of warm air, bright light, and wifi. There aren’t words enough to express just how grateful I am that they would unhesitatingly take in all four of us girls (myself, my sister, my mom, and my Isis.) Instead of fumbling through awkward and insufficient “thank you’s,” it was best to manifest that sentiment into something edible, of course.

Dangerously ripe bananas sitting on the counter were the catalyst, further fleshed out by available ingredients and the need for low-impact prep work in an unfamiliar kitchen. Fully enmeshed in all things pie thanks to the upcoming cookbook, that shallow glass pan was the first thing that made sense in so many painful days.

Bananas and chocolate, uncomplicated and unfussy, there would have been no recipe nor record if not for the rave reviews. Silky ganache lightened by the fruity accents and brightened with a light sprinkle of sea salt to finish, it seemed unremarkable at first, but now will never be forgotten. In fact, considering how the whole experience has forced us all to reevaluate the meaning of being thankful, I have a feeling that this may become our family’s new Thanksgiving pie for many years to come.

Frankenstorm Pie (AKA Banana Ganache Pie)

Graham Cracker Crust:

1 1/2 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbs (About 12 Full Rectangle Sheets)
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

Banana Ganache Filling:

4 Medium-Sized Ripe Bananas
3 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
2 Cups (12 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Vanilla or Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Coarse Sea Salt

To make the crust, break up the graham crackers into smaller pieces before pulsing in a food processor until very finely ground. The resulting crumbs should be about the consistency of coarse almond meal. Pick out any larger pieces and re-process as needed.

Drizzle the melted margarine into the crumbs, and stir thoroughly to moisten the ground cookies. The mixture should be capable of sticking together when pressed.

Transfer the mix to a 9-inch round pie pan, and use lightly moistened fingers to firmly press it down on the bottom and along the sides. Use the bottom of a flat measuring cup or drinking glass for smoother edges.

For the filling, toss the peeled bananas into the food processor or blender, and thoroughly puree along with the agave and vanilla. Meanwhile, place the margarine, chocolate chips, and non-dairy milk in a microwave-safe dish and heat for about 1 minute. Stir well to smooth out the mixture and allow any remaining chips to fully melt. Reheat at intervals of 20 seconds if necessary, stirring well after each one.

Transfer the melted chocolate into the blender or food processor, and puree once more to fully integrate. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary to ensure that everything is incorporated. Once completely smooth, pour the filling into your prepared crust, smooth out the top, and sprinkle very lightly with a pinch of coarse sea salt.

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving, or until set.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Around the World in 80 Plates: Lyon, France

Moving right along on our culinary world tour, our next stop will be in Lyon, France! Although I’ve never been to Lyon, I have visited Paris, and am rather familiar with one French specialty in particular… Pastry! As soon as I learned of this destination, there was no doubt in my mind that another grand dessert experiment was in store. How many times do I have the opportunity to let loose and go wild with chocolate, sugar, and cake? Perhaps more than the average person, true, but French pastries are something different altogether.

Recalling towers of multi-colored macaron shells, spiraling upwards to impossibly tall heights, and glass cases lined with glittering fruit tarts so dazzling, they could easily be confused with a jeweler’s wares, all my inspiration could be found in one memory of one patisserie. Pierre Hermé, the so-called “Picasso of Pastry,” pairs daring flavors into modern pastry presentations, which is right up my alley.

On my “dream pastry challenge” list, (Yes, such thing really does exist! The pages are lined with ideas of croquembuche and napoleons, but those are for another day) there sat the scribbled title of “plaisir sucré.” An individual portion that unflinchingly packs in the chocolate in a layered attack that seems greater than each component would be capable of. Originally based on a hazelnut cake and hazelnut praline foundation, followed by waves of milk chocolate, I just had to put in my own little twist. Speculoos is my secondary flavor, playing harmony to many shades of dark chocolate instead. There’s a lot going on in each bite, so let me break it down for you…

Though far from perfect, it felt as though I had scaled Mount Everest when that final sheet of chocolate fell into place. It’s true, I could use a whole lot of work on my chocolate skills, but a nice transfer sheet covers a multitude of tempering sins. I’m not sure that Monsieur Hermé would approve of my eggless and dairy-free rendition on his masterwork, but I’m fairly certain that my tasters did, in any event. Who knows if the competitors on the upcoming episode will turn to pastry, but I would crown them the winner right then and there if they did the French tradition justice! Tune in when Around the World in 80 Plates heads to France, this Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo, to find out.

Speculoos Plaisr Sucré

Chocolate Sheets:

10 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped, Melted, and Tempered

Bittersweet Ganache:

12 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Speculoos Dacquoise:

3/4 Cup Speculoos Spread
1 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Cake Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Roughly Crushed Speculoos Cookies

Speculoos Praline:

1 1/3 Cups Speculoos Spread
6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Melted
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
2 Cups Crispy Rice Cereal

Chocolate Chantilly

Starting with the chocolate sheets, use an offset spatula to spread your tempered chocolate onto plain acetate sheets, or chocolate transfer sheets, large enough to cover a baking sheet. Mine had been rolled up for quite some time, so in order to get it flat, I had to tape down the corners with masking tape; you may choose to do the same, just to prevent it from sliding around. Spread the chocolate very thinly (thinner than is pictured- these layers were a bit tough to get a fork through) and as evenly as possible. Allow them to set, undisturbed, until completely solidified. If your kitchen is particularly warm, you can place the whole sheet in the refrigerator to help them firm up. Once solid, warm a sharp knife to allow for smoother cuts, and slice the sheet into 2 x 4-inch rectangles. Set aside.

Next up, prepare the ganache. Simple place the chocolate and “milk” in a microwave-safe dish, and heat on full power for 60 seconds. Let sit for 60 seconds more, and then stir thoroughly, until completely smooth. If there are still a few stubborn pieces of chocolate that haven’t fully melted, heat again at intervals of 20 seconds, stirring well after each heating, until smooth. Let cool until firm enough to pipe. You may wish to hasten the process by chilling the mixture in your fridge, but don’t just leave it there, because it will set to hard if allowed to reach such a cold temperature. Set aside.

Moving on to the dacquoise, preheat your oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan.

Place the speculoos spread, water, sugar, and vanilla in your blender, and process to emulsify. Scrape down the sides of the container if any of the spread is sticking, and blend once more, until the liquid mixture is entirely homogeneous.

Separately, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. Pour the liquid mix into the dry goods, and whisk just until the two are combined to create the batter. Transfer to your prepared jelly roll pan, and smooth it out into a thin but even layer. It may not seem like enough cake to cover all that space, but just keep spreading and you’ll get there! Sprinkle the crushed speculoos cookies equally over the entire surface.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely before proceeding.

For the praline, simply mix together all of the ingredients until well incorporated, and quickly spread it on top of your cooled sheet of cake. This mixture is extremely thick and sticky, so I would highly recommend lightly greasing your offset spatula before going at it. It only gets thicker as it cools, too, so don’t waste any time or let it sit there unattended! Spread it out as evenly as possible, to ensure that the rest of your layers follow suit.

Lastly, prepare the chocolate chantilly according to the recipe linked, and take a moment to thank Hervé This for his brilliance.

Okay, now we’re finally ready for assembly! Slice the praline-topped cake into rectangles measuring 2 x 4-inches. Load the ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a medium-sized round tip, and pipe ganache in a zigzagging pattern across the top of each piece. Place a sheet of chocolate on top, and pipe another zigzag of ganache over that. Add another sheet of chocolate, and now grab your chocolate chantilly. Place that into a second piping bag, this one fitted with a large round tip, and pipe two straight lines lengthwise down each piece. At long last, finish it all off with a third sheet of chocolate. You’re done! Now, savor every single bite; this isn’t an ordinary, everyday sort of treat!

Makes Approximately 18 – 24 Servings (depending on how many scraps you eat during the process)

Printable Recipe

For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.


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Let Them Eat Vegan!

A title like that truly needs no further introduction, but I still can’t resist gilding the lily a bit. To anyone in the market for a well-rounded cookbook with delicious ideas from breakfast through dessert, all developed with an eye towards wholesome ingredients, there isn’t a title I can recommend more highly than Dreena Burton‘s latest masterpiece, Let Them Eat Vegan! I won’t hesitate to admit that my advice on the matter is entirely biased, though; It was my incredible fortune to supply the photographs found inside, tasting my way through the whole experience. A dream job if I ever did land one, these dishes came together with ease, and were so naturally enticing that they practically styled themselves.

Pan-Fried Falafel Patties (page 145), Smoky Spiced Tahini Sauce (page 54), and Quinoa Taboulleh with Olives (page 40) all go together to create one transportive middle eastern feast. Preparing three recipes for one photo can be a daunting task, but not so for this trio; each component was a snap to whip up, and keeps beautifully if made in advance, too. I do love all things falafel, and these bad boys have the edge on the competition, because they’re cooked in only a dab of oil, rather than the traditional vat for deep-frying. The texture and taste don’t suffer one bit from this adaptation- If anything, it allows those complex spices to shine through even brighter.

Even something as unassuming as a tempeh sandwich- or “Tempeh Tickle“- (page 122) with Spinach-Herb Pistachio Pesto (page 154) is a meal to remember. Satisfyingly hearty without being overtly “meaty,” it’s something both crunchy-granola vegans and staunch carnivores could enjoy in peace.

Rarely do brownies sweep me off my feet any more, as reliably rich and chocolaty as they are, but Dreena’s are something else entirely. Layered with a decadent, lightly tangy blanket of “cream cheese” and topped with whole chocolate chunks, each bite is a delicious study in complimentary textures. An additional pinch of salt crowning the whole tray is truly better than the icing on the cake. Even if you’re as jaded on these classic bar cookies as I am, give this recipe a shot. In Ms. Burton’s talented hands, brownies are still every bit as revolutionary as when they were first “accidentally” invented in the early 1900’s.

Creamed Cheese Brownies with Salted Dark Chocolate Topping

From the book Let Them Eat Vegan! by Dreena Burton. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012. http://www.dacapopresscookbooks.com Photo by Hannah Kaminsky.

Wheat-Free, Soy-Free

“No faux cream cheese to be found in these deep, rich, fudgy brownies. Cashews stand in for a cream cheese–like layer, which takes these brownies to, ‘OMG these are freaking good!’ ’Nuff said—go make them.”

Creamed Cheese Layer:
1 cup soaked cashews
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp vanilla non-dairy yogurt (if using coconut yogurt instead of soy, add another 1 tsp lemon juice)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp (rounded) sea salt

Brownie Layer:
1 cup + 2 tbsp sifted (or light) spelt flour
¾ cup unrefined sugar
½ tsp sea salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp arrowroot powder
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup + 1 tbsp plain or vanilla non-dairy milk
3½ tbsp neutral-flavored oil

Topping:
1/3 – ½ cup chocolate chunks (use a good quality dark chocolate bar, and break/cut into small chunks)
Few pinches coarse sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.

Prepare cream cheese layer: Puree all those ingredients with an immersion or high-speed blender until very, very smooth (a mini food processor can also be used, but it usually doesn’t produce as smooth a texture as does an immersion blender). Process for several minutes, if necessary, until very smoothed out.

Prepare the brownie layer: In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, and salt, and sift in the cocoa and baking powder.

In a small bowl, first combine the arrowroot with the maple syrup, stirring until smooth, then add the vanilla, milk, and oil. Add the wet mixture to the dry. Stir until evenly mixed and thick. Transfer about two-thirds of the mixture to the prepared pan. Use a square of parchment to help the press mixture into the pan evenly and spread it out. Spread the cream cheese layer over the top. Then, as best as you can, spread the remaining brownie batter over the cheese layer. You can take pieces and lightly spread first with your fingers and place in patches over the cream cheese layer—and it doesn’t have to fully cover; there can be spaces—most will fill in and come together while baking.

Add the topping: Place the chocolate chunks on top, and then sprinkle with the salt. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan, running a spatula around the outer edge to loosen. (The brownies will appear not fully cooked, but do not cook longer—I repeat, do not cook longer! Instead, let cool and they will become fudgy!) Once cooled, score the brownies with a sharp knife to ease cutting the chocolate before it completely hardens. Then refrigerate brownies to cool more, cut into squares and dig in! Makes 16-20 brownies.

If This Apron Could Talk: Trust the baking process! The amount of batter used for the base—and then topping— looks like it cannot possibly fill out to form a beautiful brownie. Lucky for us, the oven creates some magic in about half an hour!

Printable Recipe


Now that’s just barely even the tip of the iceberg. It would be a shame to keep such a gem to myself, so I’m thrilled to offer one lucky reader a copy of Let Them Eat Vegan!, as generously furnished by Da Capo Lifelong Books. For your chance to snag a copy, you know the drill; Leave a comment with a name and functioning email address in the appropriate boxes, and tell me about your favorite Dreena Burton recipe, from any of her equally fabulous books or website. If you haven’t yet tried any (What are you waiting for?!) talk to me instead about what you want to make first from Let Them Eat Vegan! The winner will be chosen at random May 9th at midnight EST, and announced shortly thereafter within this same post. Check back to find out who will end up 200 recipes richer!

PS, you may not want to wait for the contest to run its course, because Dreena has a special promotion going on now, including autographed bookplates and plenty of delicious extras along with your shiny new cookbook. If you end up winning a second book here, it also makes an excellent gift for anyone who likes food, so check it out!


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A Recipe is a Terrible Thing to Waste

New cookbooks are born every day and the internet is flooded in a sea of recipes, free and for profit, good and bad, garnering raves and rants alike. Still, it seems that the hunger for more can never be satisfied, and the quest to continue creating is never ending. For as many recipes as I make, some get lost in the shuffle, or forgotten in the archives like that lone jar of mustard pushed to the back of the fridge. Luckily, in this case at least, these things don’t go bad. No matter when they’re rediscovered, they taste as fresh as the day they were made. When it comes time to clean out the shelves, or the digital file cabinet, there can be all sort of delightful surprises.

However, I might argue that these dead-easy cookie bars are better than finding a half-used jar of old mustard. Both creamy and crunchy, sweet and salty, and chocolatey all over, the combination of these few ingredients tastes something like a cross between peanut butter cups and party mix. Invented on one cold day in the college dorms when few ingredients could be scrounged up, these humble pantry staples were all I had to work with, but did they ever exceed expectations. Sliced into generous chunks and left on the kitchen table to share, not a crumb remained by nightfall. I like to think that these crowd-pleasing treats won me a couple more friends that day.

Rediscovered and revamped to better suit my current baking style, this seemed like the perfect time to bring these sweet squares back to life and into the public eye. What might have spurred on their overdue reveal? Why, the Earth Balance Spring to Life Contest! Made with their creamy peanut butter, I can’t imagine a more rich, nutty topping to crown these jewels. Though the competition is already underway, the entry period for desserts will be opening on Monday, April 30th, and now I’m ready to join the fray with this stunningly simple recipe. Bake up a storm this weekend and join me- Of course I’d love to win, but moreover, I want new winning recipes to add to my collection!

Peanut Butter Fudge Pretzel Bars

Pretzel Crust:

3/4 Cup White Whole Wheat or All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Coarsely Ground Pretzels
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread
2 – 4 Tablespoons Water

Peanut Butter Fudge Topping:

12 Ounces (2 Cups) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Cup Earth Balance Creamy Peanut Butter
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Roughly Crushed Pretzel Twists

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 8 x 8 inch square baking pan.

Mix together the flour, ground pretzels, and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut in the margarine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Drizzle in the water, one tablespoon at a time, until the crumbs come together into a cohesive dough. Transfer to your prepared pan, and press the dough firmly and evenly into the bottom. Bake for 20 – 24 minutes until golden brown all over. Allow to cool for at least ten minutes before proceeding.

Place the chocolate pieces and agave in a microwave-safe container. Heat on full power for one minute. Stir vigorously, and add the peanut butter. Heat once more for about 30 seconds and stir again thoroughly, until completely smooth. If the chocolate hasn’t all melted yet, continue heating in 30-second increments on half power until the mixture is perfectly smooth. Mix in the vanilla, and quickly pour over the cooled crust. Sprinkle the crushed pretzels evenly over the top, and be generous! It may seem like a lot, but you want to almost completely cover the fudge layer. Use the palms of your hands to gently press the pieces in so that they adhere.

Refrigerate for about 1 hour, until firm. Slice into bars or squares, and let come back up to room temperature before serving. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature, in one layer. Though the fudge is firm enough, stacking squares is a bad idea because they’re likely to smear and become extremely messy.

Makes 12 – 16 Bar Cookies

Printable Recipe

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