BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Who hasn’t landed on a lavishly curated new blog, garnished with extravagant photos tucked between every mouthwatering paragraph, and cursed the fact that the potential for smell-o-vision technology has not been fully realized yet? Better yet, where are those edible 3-D printer inks when you need them? It’s the best and worst aspects of the blogosphere that are inseparable: Inspiring recipes from all corners of the globe can be instantly beamed into your home, but the ferocious hunger that they incite cannot be be satisfied by mere visuals alone. Although this far-flung community is closer than many social groups in real life, it’s hard to bridge that physical gap when you can’t just reach out and share a cookie with your friends.

Thus, the annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap is nothing short of a holiday miracle. Started in 2011, I only regret jumping onto this bandwagon so late in the game. Imagining the joy that my own homemade cookies might spread, the moments that their sweetness might brighten, kept my oven churning even through the stress of work deadlines. Finally having like-minded recipients for my sugared creations was a singular thrill, but admittedly, it wasn’t my only motivation. Tired of winter dinner parties where all meals ended with a cacophony of eggs and butter, I wanted some special holiday cookies for myself, gosh darn it!

Sending out three carefully wrapped parcels and anticipating three others in return, my already lofty expectations were far exceeded by the sweetness soon to arrive.

The Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies from Happy To Be a Table of Two were the first guests to check in at this sugar-fueled gathering. The brilliant aroma of chocolate and cinnamon mingled in the air before the zip-lock bag was even unsealed, and I knew I would be in for a treat. Tender, soft, and supple, each generous round was the perfect texture, made even more impressive due to the time and travel involved. Every bite packs in an ideal amount of chips to add bursts of rich chocolate flavor without dominating the whole cookie. A delightful combination of flavors that seems well suited for all seasons, this is one recipe I’m definitely adding into my collection.

The next, truly outstanding creation came courtesy of Loose Leaf Vegan. Her impeccable Chai Thumbprint Cookies rang with a measured balance of salt and spices, culminating in luscious pools of toothsome fudge on top. Supported by a pillow-y yet satisfyingly dense base, the rich chocolate filling absolutely put these morsels over the top. I’m afraid you’ll just have to take my word for it though, since I selfishly horded, and have since eaten, every last cookie by myself. The baked beauties are just too good to share.

Unfortunately, the final package didn’t fare as well in the hands of our good old postal system. Delivered with a resounding thud at the front door, it’s no surprise that the contents were crumbled to almost indistinguishable grains of sand. At least two or three good bites survived intact, and I was still able to savor the Orange Almond Cookies and Chocolate Vanilla Swirl Cookies baked by Not So Cheesy Kitchen. Of the two buttery shortbread cookies, I was particularly fond of the subtle citrus notes in the former. Though I could have eaten a boxful in that one sitting, I was happy to get a fine sampling all the same.

As for my own contribution to this grand exchange, I shared a few dozen Speculoos (AKA Cookie Butter) Pinwheel Cookies. Rolled with a stripe of chocolate dough, the trendy brown sugar and cinnamon spread sings with harmonious contrasting tastes. That recipe is one I’ve shared with Go Dairy Free, so please pop on over there to grab the details.

This was my very first cookie swap of any sort, and I can tell you without hesitation that it certainly won’t be my last.


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Planting the Seed to Sweet Success

Milk candy, milk jam, dulce de leche, or just plain caramel: Comparisons are easily made, but thick and creamy cajeta is truly a step above all the other simple burnt sugar toppings out there.

Inspired by Brian Huston, my take on this classic milk confection is a modern departure from the typical goat milk base. He is a BlueStar All-Star chef, so I knew this basic formula would be the best place to start my recipe experiment. (In case you don’t know about BlueStar, they are makers of restaurant-quality kitchen appliances for the home chef. They are based in the U.S. and can offer lots of great customization options! Click here for more information.)

Rather than just swap out the milk for a standard non-dairy alternative, I wanted to start from scratch with whole sunflower seeds. Why sunflower, of all things? I’ve found them to be fairly neutral in flavor when raw, and by using the whole seed, the resulting blend would be plenty rich from those natural fats- No need to add any oils to compensate for a leaner dairy-free drink.

Cajeta takes a bit of patience to perfect, but very little actual work. It’s kitchen alchemy at its best, seeing that pale, unexciting liquid transform into a thick, decadent, caramelized topping. In fact, mine became substantial enough to even use as a spread once fully cooled. Although it was highly tempting to use this golden milk jam as an indulgent new peanut butter sandwich filling, I took Mr. Huston’s suggestion in making a sweet cajeta sundae instead.

Of course, I substituted additional sunflower seeds for the recommended peanuts, since it only seemed right to match. It may be tough to see the pool of cajeta at the bottom of the glass here, but the beauty of this caramel accompaniment is that a little bit really does go a long way! No matter how you drizzle or slather it on, it’s hard to go wrong with such a versatile dessert topping.

Girasol Cajeta (Sunflower Caramel Sauce)

4 Cups Warm Water
1 Cup Raw Sunflower Seeds
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Combine the water and sunflower seeds well in advance, and allow the seeds to soak for about 4 hours. This will soften them and allow them to blend much more easily than if they were simply raw. Transfer the mixture to your blender, and thoroughly puree until perfectly smooth. If you’re using a lower-powered machine, pass the resulting sunflower milk through a sieve to catch any remaining grit, discarding the solids.

Pour the fresh sunflower seed milk into a large stock pot and introduce the sugar, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Whisk thoroughly to incorporate before setting the pot over medium heat on the stove. Slowly bring the mixture up to a boil, whisking periodically. Keep a close eye on the mixture at this point, because it can go from inactive to an overflowing bubbly mess in two seconds flat!

Reduce the heat to medium low and continue cooking at a gentle simmer, whisking frequently, as the milk cooks down and gradually darkens in color. After about 30 minutes, it will be especially important to keep stirring so the milk doesn’t burn on the bottom. Be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent anything from sticking. Add in the vanilla extract at this point.

After another 30 – 40 minutes, the mixture should be a deep amber brown and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat and cool for at least 5 minutes before serving, or let cool completely before storing in an air-tight container. Stashed in the fridge, the cajeta will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Makes About 1 Cup

Printable Recipe

This post was sponsored by BlueStar. All opinions, photos, and recipes are completely my own.


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Earthy Elegance

As an avid baker and dessert-lover, it may come as a surprise that the greatest indulgence I can think of is eating something sweet that I didn’t make myself. While I enjoy the process and crave the creative control that starting from scratch always brings, a truly decadent experience is one that doesn’t require any work. Although I always get exactly what I want when I make my own birthday cake, I must admit that there are times when I wish I could just sit back and relax, leaving the heavy whisking to someone else. That’s precisely where Earth Cafe comes in, online purveyors of fully prepared, ready-to-eat, raw, vegan cheesecakes. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of, especially for a vegan eater who grew up in the days of cardboard bran muffins being peddled as “dessert,” for lack of better options. Balancing out wholesome ingredients with decadent flavors, the result promises to impress all palates. There truly is a taste for everyone, and I was lucky enough to snag a bite of four popular flavors.

Impeccable, perfectly applied ultramarine stripes adorn the top of the Find Your Thrill on Blueberry Hill Cheesecake. Whole berries rest near the bottom, adding a punch of fresh, full-bodied berry flavor while the cheesecake base remains fairly plain. Lacking in typical cheesecake tang, I might describe it more as a somewhat firmer cream pie instead. It may be the most visually striking of the bunch, but I felt it left the most to be desired in tasting.

Pale, dusty pink and redolent of vanilla and berries, Strawberry Fields Forever Cheesecake bears a strikingly bright, fresh flavor, just as promised. More of a custard consistency than traditional cheesecake, the soft bite was perfectly silky-smooth and creamy. Incredibly rich, even I could only manage half a slice at most before reaching my limit, and I don’t mess around when it comes to the last course of a meal. Most regrettably though, it was stunningly, almost stupefyingly sweet. It comes as an initial shock to the system, tasting almost like a wedge of berry frosting at first taste, especially after a savory supper. For those who would rather a candy than a cake, this might just deliver exactly that sensation.

Things got much better from here on out. Adorned with graceful decorative swirls, Rockin’ Raspberry Cheesecake definitely had a rhythm and jive all its own. Super sweet raspberry flavor infused this slice, much like homemade jam. The intact raspberry seeds are actually a nice touch here, adding some textural interest and reinforcing the fresh, raw concept, all while managing to make themselves sparse enough to resist sticking in your teeth.

For me, the sleeper hit of the batch was the unassuming Who’s Your Daddy? Carob Mousse Pie. Slightly firmer in texture than the other slices, it isn’t some sad attempt at replacing chocolate, but a whole new world of flavor, complex and delicious in its own right. Tasting primarily of dates and caramel, with warm, woodsy notes reminiscent of chicory to round the whole slice out, it could convert a carob-hater with ease. All it needs is a light sprinkle of flaky sea salt to really take this treat over the top.

Since I do work with dessert so often and have developed some strong opinions on the matter, I would definitely suggest that these assessments be taken with a pinch of salt (perhaps literally, too.) Your mileage may vary, especially when it comes to your level of preferred sweetness. The only way to find out for sure is to give Earth Cafe a taste for yourself! Enter the coupon code “SAVE15” at checkout to snag- You guessed it- a 15% discount off your order.

From one baker to many others, there is no shame in indulging in a prepared dessert, especially when it’s as good as any one of these luxurious slices.

These product were provided by the manufacturer free of charge for the sake of this review, but I was not paid for my time or opinions.


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Whipped Into Shape

So Delicious is on a tear lately, introducing greater innovations faster than grocery stores can stock them all. In the midst of this dairy-free influx, the much-loved seasonal beverages have returned once more, but that’s not all. My tall, frosty glasses of Pumpkin Spice Beverage will all be sporting stately white coiffures this year…

CocoWhip, the very first commercial analog to Cool Whip, beats the fluffy white pants off the competition in every way imaginable. Taste is pretty much a given at this point; based on prior So Delicious creations, I would expect nothing less than each bite to live up to its namesake. Subtle hints of coconut remind the lucky eater that they’re eating an actual food item, rather than some chemical concoction of unknown origin. Bearing a distinct cooling sensation on the tongue, it does, in fact, stay true to the Cool Whip theme, clearly distinguishing it from homemade coconut whipped cream. A lighter, airier but not insubstantial texture defines this brave new entry into the world of dairy-free delights.

Offered in both an Original and Light rendition, I found the original to be the perfect ready-to-use dessert topping of my dreams. Maintaining perky peaks on top of every dollop, it stood the test of time, refusing to melt under pressure. The light version was a bit less robust, approximating softly whipped cream or perhaps clotted cream more closely. Though initially disappointing, I realized quickly that this looser CocoWhip was a prime ingredient, waiting to be turning into something much greater than it could become as merely a dessert topper.

A beauty to behold and a treat to partake in, the real secret to this fluffy frozen pie is how laughably easy it is to whip up. If you’ve ever stood in a kitchen, even once in your life, I think you could manage this recipe with aplomb. Plus, since it’s based on yogurt and jam with no additional sweeteners to speak of, I would feel entirely justified slicing off a generous wedge for breakfast, lunch, or dessert alike.

As the seasons change, this same formula can be adapted to any flavor variations your cravings demand. For example, opt for plain vanilla yogurt in the base while swirling in pumpkin or apple butter to effortlessly compliment any Thanksgiving or Christmas table. That’s only scratching the surface of what’s possible with this versatile, innovative ingredient.

Berry Froyo Chiffon Pie

Graham Cracker Crust:

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

Berry Froyo Filling:

1 9-Ounce Container Light CocoWhip, Thawed
1 6-Ounce Container Almond, Coconut or Soy Strawberry Yogurt
1 6-Ounce Container Almond, Coconut or Soy Blueberry Yogurt
1/2 Cup Raspberry Jam or Preserves

To Garnish (Optional):

Original CocoWhip, Thawed
Fresh Berries

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.

In medium bowl, combine the CocoWhip and both yogurts, folding gently with a large spatula until well-blended. Be careful to stir gently so as not to knock all of the bubbles out of the airy, whipped mixture. stir with whisk until blended. Spoon into crust. Add in the jam or preserves last, mixing just enough to incorporate but leaving it slightly marbled throughout the filling. Transfer to your prepared crust, smooth over the top, and move the whole pie into a flat surface in your freezer. Let rest until solidified; at least 4 – 6 hours.

To serve, simply slice the pie into wedges and top with additional dollops of CocoWhip and fresh berries, if desired.

Makes 8 – 10 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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Summer’s Sweet Bounty

Much has been said of California cuisine, and as it remains a nebulous and often contentious concept at best, I won’t even begin to add my two cents to that short-changed conversation. Rather, I can’t help but marvel at the availability and variety of raw ingredients that make it all happen. It’s easy to see how a chef could be inspired to try anything once, maybe twice, when the basic components are all so accessible, to say nothing of their inherent flavor or beauty. Each trip to one of the many farmers markets is guaranteed to yield a cornucopia of edible inspiration. Where else can you find locally grown pistachios, two or three dozen distinctive varieties of peaches, and rainier cherries for an unbelievable price of $2 per pound, all in one place? San Francisco has developed a reputation as being a farm-to-table foodie’s paradise, and it sure is working hard to keep that title.

Of course, I took this opportunity to positively gorge myself on ripe seasonal fruits. The siren song of those soft, explosively juicy nectarines was impossible to resist, no matter how messy they were to eat. Apricots came home with me in aromatic, golden heaps, piled so high on the kitchen counter that it seemed impossible to eat them without aid. Somehow, I always managed.

That’s to say nothing of the berries. Despite missing out on the prime berry bounty, it was still a real treat to enjoy locally grown options, and at such bargain basement prices. As a little ode to my Californian summer, it was only fitting to gather up a small sampling of what I had on hand, along with the famed sourdough that beckons irresistibly in every reputable bakery’s store front. Fresh mint plucked straight from the tiny windowsill garden completed this little love note to my temporary, adoptive home state.

Light, fresh, fast, it’s the kind of recipe that depends entirely on the quality of your ingredients. Consider it as a serving suggestion; more of an idea than a specific schematic, to be tailored to whatever fruits are fresh and in season in your neck of the woods.

California Dreamin’ Panzanella

5 Cups Cubed Sourdough Bread
2 Cups Pitted and Halved Cherries
2 Cups Seedless Grapes
1 Cup Blackberries
1/4 Cup Zulka Sugar or Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Walnuts
Fresh Mint Leaves, Thinly Sliced

To Serve:

Coconut Whipped Cream (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spread your cubes of sourdough bread out on a baking sheet in one even layer and bake them for about 15 minutes, until golden and lightly toasted all over. Let cool completely before proceeding.

In a large bowl, toss together all of the fruits and remaining ingredients. Toss in the toasted bread, right before serving, last to ensure that it stays crisp. Mix thoroughly so that everything is well distributed and entirely coated with the sugar mixture. Enjoy immediately with a dollop of whipped coconut cream, if desired.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

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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