BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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I Only Have Pies For You

March 14th is always a cause for celebration, a holiday that deserves more fanfare than it ever earns. For those who haven’t marked their calendars and awaited the day with enthusiasm, just take a peek at the numerical representation: 3.14. Ring any bells? Yes indeed, it’s Pi Day!

Every year, bakers and bloggers across the globe try to out do themselves, coming up with some truly brilliant representations of this most delicious mathematical value. You wouldn’t guess it based on the current state of my recipe index, but I’ve been working especially hard on my pie contribution this time around. In fact, I have not one mere pie to share, but well over one hundred. There’s just one small catch…

You’ll have to wait until Easy as Vegan Pie is released this coming October.

All you pie-lovers out there, can I get a “Hell Yeah!”? It’s been a difficult path, paved with crumbly, sticky, and otherwise uncooperative dough; runny custards and undercooked fruits; every pie-related woe possible stood in my way of the perfect slice. Now I can confidently promise a fix to all those problems, along with dozens of mouth-watering, near revolutionary fillings never before seen in a crust. Get excited everyone- This book will make every day a pi day.

As if that wasn’t enough news to make you jump up and dance around the kitchen, brace yourself because I have another reason for you to start preheating your oven in anticipation… Vegan Desserts, out of print for many months now, is to be reprinted and re-released in paperback format, come November!

It’s going to be one sweet fall season…


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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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Citrus, Spice, and Everything Nice

Rather than just talk and tease about delicious homemade cookies, how about we get down to the knitty gritty, bust out the flour and sugar, and get serious about this holiday baking business?

To be frank, I hate doing what’s expected of me, so it would only follow suit that I can’t stand to give the same old Christmas cookies every year. Biscotti are classics, tried and true, so perfect for shipping thanks to their sturdy structure. Not in a million years would I whip up a batch that was merely almond, or chocolate chip, or another standard (albeit delightful!) flavor, however. This year, the dreary weather has me searching out some citrus sunshine, with an invigorating punch of spice.

Bright, bold flavors help to combat the slowly advancing grey days of winter. In a time when fewer fruits are ripe and fresh inspiration is harder to come by, a well stocked spice rack is key. Transforming the traditionally savory spices of the kitchen into something sweeter, black pepper and cayenne liven up these crisp biscotti, ideal for dunking in tea or coffee. Adding a bold hit of lemon zest to finish it off is guaranteed to wake anyone up and out of hibernation.

Lemon-Pepper Biscotti

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Zest of 2 Medium-Sized Lemons (About 3 Tablespoons)
1/2 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
Pinch Dried Red Pepper Flakes
1 6-Ounce Container (3/4 Cup) Plain Soy or Coconut “Yogurt”
2 Tablespoons Smooth Almond Butter
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt just to combine. Zest the lemons directly into the dry goods and toss to distribute, along with the black pepper and cayenne. Follow that with the vegan yogurt, almond butter, and vanilla. Use a wide spatula to incorporate the wet ingredients thoroughly. The mixture will still be rather dry, but it should start to come together into a cohesive ball of dough. Drizzle in one tablespoon of non-dairy milk at a time, until the dough is no longer dry but not quite sticky.

Divide the dough in half and shape each piece on your prepared baking sheet. Form the dough into equally sized logs, 2 inches apart from each other and about an 1 1/2 wide by 8 or 9 inches long. The exact measurements aren’t critical, but make sure that the logs are rather skinny and long, and not mounded up higher than an inch or so. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until lightly golden brown and top. Remove the biscotti logs from the oven on but leave the heat on. Let the loaves cool for at least 15 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, cut the biscotti into 1/2 – 3/4 inch slices and lay them with the cut side down on a fresh piece of parchment or cleaned silpat. Return them to the oven and bake for another 10 – 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Flip the biscotti over the other cut side and repeat. Let cool completely before removing them from the baking sheet.

Makes 2 – 3 Dozen Biscotti

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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Coming Soon to a Mailbox or Newsstand Near You…

Typically, sharing about the latest and greatest issue of VegNews is a big waiting game. Rarely does my own copy arrive before I spill the beans, but I can usually resist the urge to post about it at least until the designated month on the cover. Needless to say, that’s not the case for the incoming November/December issue. As soon as I learned that at least one copy was out in the wild, that signaled that it was fair game. This collection of articles and recipes is so enticing, so irresistible, that hopefully my impatience is pardonable this time around.

Returning with another column of My Sweet Vegan, I’m thrilled to share what may very well become the holiday dessert that everyone talks about for years to come: Black Forest Parfaits. The classic Christmas cake has been broken down into its essential components to be reassembled in delicate layers of chocolate cake, vanilla creme, and a lightly boozy drunken Morello cherry sauce. Not only does this presentation allow each element to shine, visible through clear glass walls, but it means individual servings can be prepared in advance and served without any messy slicing or scooping. Easier on the cook and tastier on the palate; can you say, “win-win”?

After coming down from my cake-induced sugar high, I was thrilled to photograph a deeply satisfying, warming soup as well. Effortless to whip up, the depth of flavor that Jesse Miner managed to create in his Smoky Tomato and Kale Soup is astonishing. Spiked with chili and rounded out by hearty potatoes and quinoa, this is not your average pallid tomato water. More like a stew than a modest soup, it could easily pass as a main course, rather than merely a humble side.

Let’s not forget, this is also the issue where the annual Veggie Award winners are revealed, among many other exciting features. Who’s won favorite cookbook or blog author this year? Now, I wouldn’t spoil that surprise even if I knew!


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Bottomless Pits

Driven by an embarrassment of stone fruits to dispatch before their perfectly ripe flesh turned the corner into rotten town, the idea of using up every last scrap of their beings appealed immensely. Thrifty by nature, it always seemed such a waste to throw away the nucleus of these incredible candies of the tree. Surely, equally potent flavor was locked inside those mysterious hard cores, protected from the layperson by their impenetrable hard exteriors. Convinced that there were treasures locked away inside each and every pit, years of curiosity finally peaked when the term “noyaux” was added to my vocabulary. Rolling luxuriously off the tongue in the way that only French words can, at last, this was the answer to the typical waste of discarded stone fruit pits. Indeed, they were rumored to have just as much culinary potential as imagined!

Compared favorably to bitter almonds, noyaux is most commonly prepared with apricot kernels, and often found in the form of a crème liqueur similar to amaretto. What really sets critics buzzing is not the taste, however, but its supposed toxic composition. No two ways about it, noyaux does in fact contain minute amounts of cyanide, a well known poison. Unlike the pure, deadly substance, the dangers about stone fruit-derived cyanide are vastly overstated, and easily sidestepped at that. Roasting significantly denatures the toxic substance, leaving only the toasty, nutty aroma behind.

Mix that slightly edgy fact in with something potentially delicious, and you’ve got yourself the next big food craze around. So why hasn’t this curious, economical, and tasty treat caught on? Collecting a combination of cherry, apricot, nectarine, and peach pits to make up a sizable yield, I was determined to find out.  After dutifully cutting out, washing, smashing (with a hammer!), roasting, and infusing a veritable mountain of the rock-hard stones into ice cream base, I can say with the utmost confidence that it’s because… It wasn’t worth it. After all the hype, the first, and second, and still third bite was a huge letdown. Call the flavor “delicate” if you like, but I’d venture to call it “non-existent.” Perhaps, if you closed your eyes tight, plugged your ears, and focused all of your being on the food in your mouth, there might be a bare hint of detectable nuttiness. For all that work, I’d rather just add a tiny drop of almond extract to a standard ice cream base, and end up with something even more flavorful anyway.

Not all recipes work, not all foods live up to their big reputation, but every experience is one to learn from. Noyaux? No thanks!


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Still Coconuts for So Delicious

Summer may be winding down, as evidenced by countless back-to-school sales if nothing else, but ice cream season never ends. Even when I’m not churning my own, there’s always a backup “emergency” pint or two in the freezer, standing by for any unexpected guests… Or cravings. So Delicious frequently occupies that frost-covered spot, hidden behind stiff bags of frozen peas and berries to protect such bounty from hungry scavengers. No matter how many times a new pint is purchased, another one is sure to follow, quick to replace that sweet stash with something different. Each time that switch must be made, the longest part of the shopping trip is inevitably spent poring over the different options. It seems as though So Delicious keeps tucking new flavors into those sub-zero cases on every repeat visit, and choosing between the enticing combinations can be trickier than finding a fast-moving checkout line. When they offered to make the tough decisions for me and send a bundle of new offerings, it was a done deal before I could finish hammering out an ecstatic response on my keyboard.

Cashing in on the universally known fact that everything tastes better on a stick, releasing their latest Coconut Milk No Sugar Added Fudge Bars was sheer brilliance. Perfect little individual portions that satisfy that need for a tiny indulgence at the end of the day, these treats seem like they were made with me in mind. Sweetened with stevia and packing a jaw-dropping 8 grams of fiber into each miniature pop, forget about needing to rationalize that extra serving of dessert- These feel downright virtuous. Luckily, they don’t taste it. Strong initial coconut flavor gives way to a gentle, delicate taste of cocoa. Not the deep, rounded flavor of decadent chocolate that we all know So Delicious is capable of, but that’s the price to be paid for such lightness. It’s a grownup version of the childhood classic, although kids would undoubtedly partake with glee if given the chance.

Coconut Milk Passionate Mango Ice Cream is a bit of a departure from the standard set of flavors you might find at the store, which is a shame, since it was a tropical delight from the first lick. Bright, clean, citrus-y mango blended perfectly with the passion fruit, allowing each one an equal role in the overall production. Not only refreshing but also invigorating, it’s the kind of flavor that could brighten up a grey day. The coconut milk base is practically invisible in this particular pint, easily fooling unsuspecting eaters who may not like the popular drupe or seek out dairy-free alternatives in the first place.

Saving what I hoped to be the best for last, Coconut Milk Cookie Dough Ice Cream had a big title to live up to. Coconut haters beware: This one is unafraid to shout its origins from the rooftops and make its presence known. Happily, for those who appreciate the coconut for all it brings to the table, that flavor melds nicely with the plentiful chunks of soft cookie batter strewn throughout. Brown sugar is the main flavor of the dough, accented by a decent touch of salt, which is pretty accurate for most cookie doughs I’ve tasted raw baked and then eaten like a well-behaved, patient baker. Crunchy chocolate shrapnel strewn about the body of the creamy concoction adds much-needed textural contrast, and provides greater depth than the vanilla base alone could muster. Each bite is different and exciting, which makes it the most addictive pint to dig into.

Ice cream is best when shared, no matter how delicious it is alone, so I’m thrilled to make the experience sweeter by offering coupons for a free pint to two lucky readers. If that sounds like a good deal to you too, leave a comment about which flavor you’d buy should you win. The coupons are only valid in the US, so only residents or current visitors are able to enter this one, and please leave only one comment per person. You have until Friday, August 24th at midnight EST to add your comment to the pool, and winners will be contacted shortly thereafter.

Get your scoops primed and ready, because colder weather doesn’t mean a break in the ice cream action here!

UPDATE: The contest is now closed, and the two winners are…

Allie and Gabby! Congrats ladies, you’ll be hearing from me soon and enjoying your very own pint of coconut ice cream before you know it!


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The Right Tool for the Job: Ice Cream Machines

Questions keep on pouring into my digital inbox about all things ice cream, but surprisingly, rarely about the recipes themselves. 9 messages out of 10 are from ice cream-churning virgins, first dipping a toe into the great pool of frozen treats. It’s the very machines that turn liquid into creamy confections that are the cause of most confusion, since there are so many models on the market these days and little guidance for the inexperienced shopper. The one most critical tool to have on your side is the ice cream maker, and that can be an intimidating and pricy investment- But it doesn’t have to be. As excerpted from my latest cookbook, Vegan a la Mode

Once a prohibitively expensive luxury item, both unwieldy to use and incapable of churning out any decent amount of ice cream, it’s a whole new world of frozen dessert technology out there now. Making ice cream at home has never been easier or more accessible, with countless options to delight your inner gadget geek. Originally limited to different sizes of hand-cranked wooden buckets, you can now find machines that will mix the base, chill themselves, churn the ice cream, do your taxes, and all under 30 minutes. Okay, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration (it may take closer to 45 minutes), but frozen dessert technology has come a long way. Prices rise precipitously with each additional feature, so be prepared to pay for the luxury of a self-contained unit that can freeze simply with the flip of a switch.

For starters, let’s get one thing straight: I do not recommend hand-cranked machines. They may have an irresistible nostalgic quality, and the illusion of creating a more DIY experience, but trust me here, the novelty will wear off after the first batch, if not during the first batch. These archaic machines take much longer to freeze a quart of liquid base, can be terribly messy if they require salted ice as the chilling medium, and are downright exhausting. Plan to skip your workout if you’re churning ice cream by hand; the amount of labor that goes into such a process is no joke. If this hasn’t yet dissuaded you, bear in mind that at the point when it becomes thicker and even harder to crank, you must actually increase your vigor, to ensure that the finished ice cream has the smallest ice crystals possible, and thus smoothest, richest mouth-feel.

One of the most basic, affordable, and thus popular models is the simple freezer bowl design, which, just as the name suggests, has a separate insulated bowl that must sit in the freezer for a minimum of 24 hours before each batch. It’s essentially a giant ice pack shaped like a bowl, which rotates around a stationary but removable paddle. The downside is that you must plan your ice cream forays well in advance; a partially frozen bowl hastily pulled from the deep freeze will yield only slush. The big upside, however, is that $40 – $50 can get you one of these babies, brand spanking new. I would argue that these modest appliances are ideal for just about everyone, from newbie ice cream creators to those with intermediate experience. This is what I employed for many years, until the base fell on the ground one time too many and cracked beyond repair. Treat your machine nicely and it should last your whole lifetime.

If you have a stand mixer, there is likely an ice cream attachment created for your particular brand that can be purchased separately. A fine option, these are also of the freezer-bowl variety, but have the added benefit of making use of your existing appliance, saving space and hassle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of multi-taskers, but there’s also something to be said for specialized equipment that does one thing, and one thing very well. These types are fine options, but are actually a bit more expensive than the stand-alone sort, ringing up at about $70 – $100. Additionally, when trialing the attachment designed for my KitchenAid® stand mixer, I found that the resulting ice cream was slightly icier than average.

Panicked when I had to replace my trusty freezer bowl machine, I turned to the generosity of my grandmother. It occurred to me that my grandpa had made sorbet every Thanksgiving, but since his passing, that contraption hadn’t seen the light of day. Luck was on my side, because my grandma was thrilled that I would take that bulky thing off her hands, which had simply been collecting dust for nearly a decade, and also because it turned out to be a self-freezing unit. I shouldn’t have expected anything less from my grandpa, a self-confessed gadget lover. Fond of having the top-of-the-line tools before anyone else on the block, though the machine was perhaps twenty years old, it was still a state-of-the-art ice cream churn. This variety of machine has in-set bowls that typically can’t be removed, which makes for trickier clean up, but freeze down from room-temperature to a state of readiness in about five minutes. You can generally churn consecutive batches to your heart’s content, with a 10 – 15 minute pause in between. A good substitute for this outdated brand now would be the Cuisinart® ICE-50BC Supreme Ice Cream Maker, which has largely the same design and functionality. For hardcore frozen dessert divas, these are your only option, but they will set you back quite a few pretty pennies. Most start at about $250, and can escalate all the way to $1,000 and beyond, depending on the brand and capacity. For some, the investment is absolutely worthwhile, but most can get by just fine without such a fancy tool.

Of course, there are also many methods for making ice cream without any specialized equipment altogether… But that’s another post.


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Feed Your Hungryface

It’s a small world after all. The blogosphere brings together people from the furthest pockets of the Earth, and yet somehow the perception of an immense distance remains between even “real life” friends. After lurking about on Vanessa’s blog and admiring her tasty recipes for a good number of years, it would never in my wildest dreams have occurred to me that she might be closer much than I thought. Upon learning about her latest sweet venture, Hungryface Bakery, that imagined gap was compressed down to nothing when she suddenly arrived at my doorstep bearing boxes of incredible treats. Rather than ship them, it was easier and faster for her to cross a few town lines and meet me face to face. I’m still reeling at how dangerously close such a talented source of delicious baked goods is to my home!

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Vanessa takes the same stance on baking vegan as I do, which means that the fruits of her labor are just damned good eats that happen to be vegan. No more qualifiers, no more excuses. Vegan desserts aught to be held to the same standard as any others, so it’s heartening to see this point of view in those who really can spread the word- And sweetness. Her current selection ranges from cookies to tea cakes, all available to ship anywhere in the US, even if you aren’t as lucky to be practically neighbors with the baker herself.

Heart of Darkness Brownies are the most visually arresting of the group; Bars that are this dark and dense are guaranteed to be a rich chocolate experience. Living up to their outward appearance, each bite packed a punch of full-frontal fudge goodness, offset by deep, dark notes of roasted espresso. A minefield of chocolate chips, hidden by the pitch black surroundings they’re buried in, just a few bites would satisfy even the most voracious chocoholic.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Moon & Stars Shortbread glittered with a topping of snowy white granulated sugar, covering a dense yet delicate, buttery cookie. Slightly bitter thanks to the smattering of toasted black sesame seeds woven throughout that soft yet crisp crumb, a restrained dose sweetness balanced out the whole equation perfectly. Periodic bites of chocolate were also a surprising delight to discover within. A subtle aroma of coconut lends a slightly exotic undertone, making it reminiscent of an Asian chocolate chip cookie.

Another standout was the Earl Grey Tea Cake. Straddling that fine line between muffin and cupcake, it’s certainly sweet enough to be right at home on a dessert platter, but has a more sturdy, substantial crumb, and of course no superfluous frosting to cover up the delicate flavors of tea. Whole tea leaves impart a floral and slightly citrus flavor throughout the moist miniature cakes, accented with a bright spike of sea salt to really draw out the full intensity of typically demure earl grey. Though packed with tea already, they would indeed make an excellent accompaniment to a cup of one, too.

Pistachio Cherry Shortbread stays true to its name and tastes like actually pistachios, which is a subtle and difficult flavor to convey in any baked good. Seemingly sweeter than the previous offerings, for some odd reason these reminded me of strawberry marshmallows, of all things. Though plenty delicious, they seemed out of place amongst the other more adventurous pairings. By comparison, it was simply a bit too tame.

Building up expectations pretty high with a name like The Sugar Cookie to End All Sugar Cookies, these flat, monstrous frisbees of cookie dough have a classically homey appearance that implores you to dive right in. Perfectly chewy, through and through, Vanessa nails the texture, which is arguably the single most important aspect of a solid sugar cookie. Subtle hint of brown sugar adds complexity, but these are really straight-forward, simple sugar cookies, sure to please younger palates as well.

My very first whiff of the Drunken Shortbread tells me that these will be a doozy. Thankfully, the cookie’s aren’t as powerfully alcoholic as they first threaten, but a comfortable undercurrent of bourbon is constantly present from the first bite to the last. Chocolate chips lined up neatly on top like the buttons on a double-breasted jacket add just enough interest to keep the cookie from becoming monotonous. These melt-in-your-mouth tender bars are sophisticated with a touch of whimsy; not too sweet, and just a little bit naughty.

The creative flavor pairings matched up in Hungryface Bakery are what set them apart from the pack, but the superb execution of each individual offering is what will keep the curious coming back. Even if you’re a passionate baker, it’s nice to take a break and let someone else fire up the oven to satisfy your sweet cravings every now and then. Rather than give in to the siren song of stale, store-bought biscuits, take the time to order online. These cookies tastes about a hundred time better and fresher because they’re all still handmade.


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Around the World in 80 Plates: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

This is it: The final stop on our edible adventure. It’s been quite a journey, tasting our way through nearly a dozen unique cuisines, and racking up just as many recipes as souvenirs.  Converting a different palate of flavors into a vegan plated dessert every week has proven more difficult than I initially envisioned, but it’s impossible to imagine having approached the challenge any other way. To think, that I would have once considered adding savory dishes into the mix! I guess that’s just not what comes most naturally to my sweet-toothed disposition. So, for a grand finale to cap off a feast of world travel, we’ve arrived at last in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.

While I’d like to say that I’m well acquainted with the culture and the fine nuances in the indigenous edibles, the truth is that I spent about 15 minutes just trying to pronounce “Uruguay” correctly. Sure, it doesn’t seem so complicated, but for some reason I could just not wrap my tongue around all of those consecutive vowels. Luckily, it turns out that one of the most popular desserts there is much easier to swallow.

Postre chajá, a layered affair involving sponge cake, peaches, whipped cream, and meringue is actually named after a type of bird. Somehow the fluffy dessert made its inventor think of this feathered creature, however inexplicably, and the name has remained intact since. Though the combination of flavors and textures immediately grabbed me, inspiration for my final dessert didn’t come until the last minute. Rather than simply creating an elegant, bite-sized version of the original, it suddenly became clear that I had all the components here for a baked Alaska to remember.

Tender rounds of vanilla cake are topped with a dome of creamy peach ice cream. The whole stack is smothered in my foamy eggless meringue, doused in high-octane spirits, and promptly set ablaze. Admittedly, I hit a snag at this stage and had to resort to the trusty kitchen torch for a more even browning, but the little cakes can easily be tossed into a fast oven should the meringue need a bit more of a crisp. The quickly melting interior is revealed after slicing each snowy peak in half, and the plate is completed with slices of soft peaches and a simple fresh peach sauce. In fact, the sauce is so simple that I didn’t measure a thing. Two whole, ripe peaches went into the blender along with agave to taste, and just enough non-dairy milk to puree. It’s a fittingly sweet note to end this series on.

The final episode of Around the World in 80 Plates airs this Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo. Who will win, and what will they cook? Don’t miss the culmination of this whirlwind trip across the globe!

Postre Chajá Baked Alaska

Vanilla Cake
Peach Melba Ice Cream, Minus Raspberry Ripple (Vegan a la Mode, page 164)
Meringue (Vegan Desserts, page 191)

80-Proof or Greater Rum, Brandy, or Vodka
Sliced Fresh Peaches
Lightly Sweetened Peach Puree, if Desired

To put the baked Alaska together, freeze the freshly churned and still soft peach ice cream into silicon hemisphere molds. Let them set up solidly in the freeze; at least 4 hours. Meanwhile, slice out rounds of cake with 2 3/4-inch circular cookie cutters. Line the pieces up on a small tray, and chill thoroughly in the fridge.

When you’re ready to serve, top each round of cake with a hemisphere of ice cream, and smooth a generous coating of meringue all over. Make sure that you seal the edge where the cake meets the plate, to prevent heat from getting in and melting the ice cream too soon. Sprinkle each meringue-covered dessert with alcohol, and use a long match to set each on fire. Once the flames burn out, quickly slice the towers in half, and plate each half with a few fresh peach slices and a smear of peach puree, if desired. Eat immediately!

Makes about 6 Servings

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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