BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Working for Peanuts

Let’s start the week out right with something sweet and simple: Peanut butter cookies. They come in all shapes and sizes, textures and shades of brown, and I have yet to meet a single rendition that failed to satisfy. Midterm exams are leaving me with few extra words to extoll the wonders of these nutty morsels, but a ravenous hunger for their gently salted, roasted, and rich flavors. To celebrate the diversity of the classic cookie, I present to you two distinct approaches for fellow equal opportunity cookie lovers out there.

First up, a crisp, buttery, slightly crumbly rendition speckled with bittersweet chunks of chocolate. Perfect to accompany a cup of tea or coffee, they strike me as the perfect treat to power a last-minute study session. Indulgent yet refined, they’re the sort of peanut butter cookies that could effortlessly transition from a standard snack time munch to elegant after dinner offering.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have these soft, chewy, and utterly crave-worthy cookies which conceal a stunning list of healthy qualifications. Created for a demo at the Honolulu YMCA on healthy vegan baking, these beauties are soy-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and if you ask me, entirely guilt-free! Best of all, these babies can be whipped up in a flash, with pantry staples that I always keep on hand.

You can’t go wrong with either peanut-packed delight. The hardest part will be deciding which to bake first!

Peanut Butter Shortbread Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
3/4 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Cornstarch or Potato Starch
1/2 Cup Bittersweet Chocolate Chunks or Chips

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

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the Earth Balance and peanut butter at medium speed until perfectly smooth and homogeneous. Add in the brown sugar, salt, and vanilla, mixing briefly to incorporate. Gradually introduce the flour and cornstarch to the mixture, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl and ensure there are no lumps remaining. Mix just enough to fully integrate all of the dry goods. Lastly, stir in the chocolate by hand.

Turn the cookie dough out onto a lightly floured, cool surface and roll out to about 1/8 – 1/4 inch in thickness. Sprinkle additional flour over the top of the dough if it threatens to stick to the rolling pin. Use 2-inch round fluted cookie cutters, or any comparably sized shape, and punch out as many cookies as possible. Transfer them to your prepared baking sheets, spaced about 1/2 inch apart. Gather up the scraps, re-roll, and repeat until all the dough is used up.

Bake for 13 – 16 minutes, until just barely golden brown around the edges. Let the cookies finish cooling on the sheets, where they will continue to crisp as they reach room temperature. Once completely cool, store in an air-tight container in a cool, dry place for up to 2 weeks.

About 3 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe

Healthy Peanut Butter Cookies

1 Cup All Purpose Gluten-Free Flour Blend
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a small bowl and set aside. In a separate, larger bowl, use a sturdy spatula to mix the peanut butter, agave, oil, and vanilla, stirring until the mixture is smooth and homogeneous. Add in the dry ingredients and stir until fully incorporated, being careful not to overwork the dough.

Use a spoon to scoop out 1 – 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie and drop each ball on your prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 1 inch of space in between. Use a fork to press a crisscross pattern into the top of the raw cookies, flattening them out slightly at the same time. If the dough sticks to the fork, very lightly grease the tines before proceeding.

Bake for 8 – 12 minutes, until just golden around the edges. Let cool completely before enjoying or storing in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Makes 1 – 1 1/2 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Freedom Cookie Press

Hands down, the best part about being a freelance photographer is when exciting new projects practically fall into my lap, and my greatest struggle is figuring out how to say “YES!” without sounding like an overeager puppy. A rare occurrence indeed, that intermittent system of rewards has me hooked, reinforced by the random, incredible opportunities that happen to come my way. After recently being recruited by Carina Comer to shoot the cover of her premier cookbook, Freedom Cookie Press, that addiction has only grown stronger.

Though the work of creating the cookies and capturing their best sides was deeply satisfying, having such delicious treats to enjoy at the end of the day was the greatest payoff. Featuring a cookie inspired by each of the fifty United States, baking your way through this innovative collection is like taking an edible road trip, without ever leaving the comfort of your own kitchen. Pictured here on the cover are the CT Nutmeg Doodles, TX Texmex Wedding Cookies, and OR Flowering Filbert Petit Fours, to provide some insight on the creative combinations that Carina has dreamed up. Though nostalgic and comforting in a way that only heartfelt recipes can be, these aren’t your grandma’s cookies, and you’re not likely to find such daring sweet flavors anywhere else.

I may be completely biased, but take my word for it: Freedom Cookie Press, hot of the digital presses, is truly a must-buy for anyone with a sweet tooth!


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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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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.


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Plight of the Persimmon

Browning, bruised, and overlooked, the rare half-dozen persimmons nestled on the grocery store shelf hardly looked like winners. Though far from blameless, these overgrown orange berries don’t deserve the cold shoulder that consumers give, turning away to more common fare. Myself included, few understand the full culinary potential hidden within those mysterious fruits, and much of that stems from misunderstanding. Though I never did have the jarring experience of biting into an unripe Hachiya, an mistake sometimes likened to sampling industrial strength cleaner for all of its astringent, mouth-numbing properties, neither did I have the luck of eating a truly transcendent specimen. While some food writers waxed poetic about this oddball piece of produce, hundreds of recipes outnumbered those few, suggesting the least painful ways to bake and otherwise get rid of an unwanted surplus. So which was is: Pest or prize?

Last year, stumbling around one winter market in western Germany, I had the odd impulse to buy one. Smooth, plump, and as large as a softball, it seemed different from previous persimmons. Sporting an acorn-like point at the bottom, it was clearly an entirely different genus. A Fuyu, much firmer and easier to eat out of hand, provided my persimmon revelation. It was the best I had ever had, and still haven’t stumbled across one half as luscious since.

Much of the trouble centers around availability. Only Hachiya have appeared on shelves in my town, and by the time they arrive, it’s likely been weeks since they last saw sunshine. Though the wait allows them to fully ripen, it also gives them more time to be damaged or spoiled. Their flavor is subtle at best, sweet and vaguely floral, but now I understand why so many dessert recipes abound; While you’re searching high and low for that one perfect persimmon, here’s what to do with the rest of them.

When Hachiya persimmons are so ripe that their skin easily peels off and they practically puree themselves, that’s when you know they’re ready. Don’t rush your persimmons or they won’t be nearly sweet enough. Run them through your food processor briefly before use, just to smooth out the puree. Extra puree can be stored in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to 6 months. Should you have an overabundance of the goo, this small batch of soft, lightly spiced oatmeal cookies can be doubled, too.

Persimmon Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Whole Pastry Flour
1 Teaspoon 5-Spice Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats
1 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
3/4 Cup Persimmon Puree
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Cup Toasted, Chopped Walnuts or Pecans

Icing:

1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
2 Tablespoons Persimmon Puree

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a sheet pan with a silpat or piece of parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, 5-spice, baking powder, salt, and ground flaxseeds, mixing thoroughly to combine the dry goods. In a separate bowl, stir the persimmon puree, sugar, oil, and vanilla together until smooth. Pour the wet goods into the bowl of dry, mixing with a wide spatula just until the batter begins to come together, being careful not to overwork it. Add in the walnuts, folding to distribute them evenly throughout.

Use a medium cookie scoop or two large spoons to drop between 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons of batter per cookie on the prepared sheet. Allow at least an inch of space between the cookies, to allow room for them to spread. Pat the mounds down with lightly moistened fingers if they’re particularly heaped up in the centers.

Bake for 11 – 14 minutes, until golden around the edges and just barely set in the centers. Remove the silpat from the hot baking sheet, and let the cookies cool completely before preparing the icing.

For the icing, simply whisk together the confectioner’s sugar and persimmon puree until smooth. Drizzle generously over the tops of the cookies, and let air-dry for at least 12 hours to achieve a hard finish. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, or in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Makes About 1 Dozen Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Popping Up Everywhere

The connection between Christmas and popcorn is tenuous at best, and yet is deeply rooted in the traditions of so many families. Whether it appears in ball format or strings adorning the annual evergreen tree, there is no escaping, nor explaining, those exploded edible kernels around the holiday season. Even as an outsider, I can’t help but associate this otherwise innocuous snack food with the frenzy of festive treats, weaving them into various gifts more often than not. Not even the all-knowing Google can provide a satisfying explanation to the centuries-old affiliation, and yet it remains, as relevant and convincing as ever.

And so come December, the popcorn comes out in force once again. This year, I opted to skip all the fussy individual balls, pressing the whole sticky mixture into one square baking dish instead. Easily yielding neat rectangular bars, they now fit seamlessly onto a cookie platter, amongst other sweet options or featured by themselves. Taking one more short cut by employing popcorn cereal rather than freshly popped maize may seem like a poor choice, but the corny essence still shines through loud and clear. Without the sharp hulls, they pose fewer potential hazards for sticking in between teeth, and there’s no risk of including unpopped kernels. An emergency trip to the dentist is not my idea of a Merry Christmas.

Perfectly festive red and green mix-ins add the excitement here, but if cranberries and pistachios are not your favorites, don’t be afraid to stray into more diverse ingredient pools. Dried cherries, strawberries, or raspberries would be alternatives that still keep the color theme, and of course the options are endless for other hues.

Christmas Popcorn Bars

6 Cups Puffed Corn Cereal
1 Cup Dried Cranberries
3/4 Cup Shelled, Unsalted Pistachios, Toasted
1/2 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 Tablespoon Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Light Corn Syrup or Light Agave Nectar
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Pour the cereal, cranberries, pistachios, and half of the white chocolate chips into a very large bowl and set it aside, but keep it near the stove for easy access.

Lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan. Set a saucepan over medium heat and add in the margarine or coconut oil, along with the corn syrup or agave, sugar, and salt stirring just to moisten all of the dry sweetener. From this point on, resist the temptation to stir the mixture, but swirl the pan gently instead to mix. This will prevent large sugar crystals from forming.

Allow the syrup to cook until it bubbles up vigorously and becomes frothy. Reduce the heat slightly so that it’s at a steady but low boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Turn off the stove
and stir in the vanilla. Pour the hot sugar mixture over your waiting cereal and mix-ins, carefully but quickly fold it in using a wide spatula. Transfer the sticky cereal into your prepared pan, and press gently using the spatula so that it evenly fills the space. Sprinkle the remaining white chocolate chips over the top, pressing them in gently so they adhere.

Let cool completely before turning the whole sweet block out and slicing into bars.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe

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