BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Have a GRAIN Holiday!

Funny how the most open-ended requests are often the most challenging to fulfill. Narrow down the criteria to something incredibly specific, to what might be consider severely limited, even, and that’s where it’s easy to excel. The answer has almost been handed over, outlined in great detail about what it must or must not be, so it’s hard to go too far wrong. When tasked with creating something as vague as a “holiday dessert,” however, my mind goes blank. With endless paths to go down or ideas to explore, how can one determine what would be best? Similarly, the concept of creating a recipe that simply must have flour as an ingredient left me just short of baffled. Flour, that ubiquitous ground wheat product, is so prevalent in this household that I’d swear I could sweep up all the dust on the shelves and bake a loaf of bread with it. After churning out hundreds of desserts over the past decade, it takes a deliberate effort not to start a recipe with flour.

That’s what made Hodgson Mill‘s call to arms equally enticing and perplexing. Mandating only that recipes include one or more of their whole grain flours, such an ambiguous lure proved impossible to resist. Surely I could make something with flour- What else do I do? And yet the concepts flew by, turning out only cakey, disappointing scones and a platter of cookies with an identity crisis, seeming more like little pies than discrete 2-bite confections. Given so much free rein, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.

Until I focused my attention on chestnuts, that is. Gravely undervalued, these nuts have only a short window of availability, and rarely get the attention they deserve. Thinking more about the featured flavors than the construction allowed me to get around my baker’s block and create something truly prize-winning, if only amongst my taste testers.

Creating a hearty crumb that isn’t too dense, a blend of both whole wheat pastry flour and bread flour lends this sweet loaf a unique texture, slightly fluffier than your average pound cake. Chestnuts are blended to weave their unique essence into every bite, paired with sizable pieces for toothsome pops of nutty flavor. Though icing is typically an after though, something that could be listed as optional, this particular spicy topping is absolutely essential to contrast the hearty crumb. Don’t rush it either; the crunch and slight cooling sensation it provides after it hardens is critical to maximum enjoyment.

I’m entering this flour-inspired treat into Hodgson Mill‘s Have a GRAIN Holiday contest, and lucky for you, they’ve sweetened the deal for more than just the entrants. Anyone is welcome to enter their sweepstakes to win 1 of 50 baking gift packs, no recipe entry required. Plus, I’m happy to host an entirely separate $25 gift pack giveaway just for you lovely readers of BitterSweet, too! To get in on this great grain action, just leave me a comment about what you’re planning to bake for Thanksgiving, or simply a seasonal baking recipe that’s on your to-do list. Make sure you fill out your name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes, and leave your message before Sunday, November 25th at midnight EST. If you just can’t wait to get baking, you can also snap up a $1 coupon off of any 5 pound bag of Hodgson Mills flour.

Now there’s simply no excuse to get into the kitchen and start your oven!

Chestnut Pound Cake

1 Cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
1/2 Cup Bread Flour
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Cup Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
10 Ounces (About 1 1/2 Cups) Whole Roasted and Shelled Chestnuts, Divided
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Almond Extract

Spiced Icing:

1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, sift together both flours along with the confectioner’s sugar, cornstarch, baking powder and soda, and salt. Roughly chop half of the chestnuts and toss them in, stirring to coat with flour to help prevent the pieces from all sinking to the bottom while baking. Set aside.

Place the oil, brown sugar, and the remaining half of the chestnuts into the container of your blender or food processor and thoroughly puree. Pause to scrape down the sides if necessary, ensuring that everything is smoothly combined. Add in the “milk,” cinnamon, vinegar, vanilla, and almond extract, blending once more to incorporate.

Pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry goods, and stir with a wide spatula just enough to bring the batter together. A few small lumps are far better than an overworked, tough cake. Pour the batter to your prepared pan and bake for 50 – 60 minutes, until amber brown all over an a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out cleanly. Let sit in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To prepare the icing, simply whisk together all of the ingredient, slowly adding water one drop at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. Drizzle generously over the top of the cake and allow it 1 – 2 hours to set and harden. Slice, serve, and enjoy!

Makes 1 Loaf Cake; 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Sweet Souvenirs

Most people seek out symbolic or iconic knickknacks to commemorate their travels, but as one might expect, I’m not like most people. Rather, I go out in search of memorable edibles. A trip to the farmer’s market just a few blocks down the street, glowing from a bright but brittle winter sunlight, still has a shocking array of exotic, ripe, gorgeous produce, the likes of which can’t even be found in mainstream markets at home. For the first time in my life, I understood the hype around persimmons, which I wouldn’t have even bothered with if not for the generous samples offered by smiling vendors. Clearly, they know what the good stuff is, so you should take and eat whatever odd fruit they hand you.

Blisteringly hot chestnuts, cracked open with thinly gloved hands in nighttime Christmas markets are likewise an uncommonly good treat. Standing around with locals drinking gluhwein and laughing freely, tossing shells into the combination trashcans/tables, you can’t help but feel a bit of holiday cheer. Even that misshapen glass, filled with mint tea that’s approximately half sugar by weight, provides comfort when said gloves prove too thin to lock out the sub-freezing temperatures. Add in some willing and patient cohorts for company, and those will forever be some of my favorite moments in Germany.

That’s not to say that all of my souvenirs are of the intangible sort. Far from it- This compulsive impulse-shopper was in vegan heaven upon visiting the nearby bio (organic) market, immaculate but well-stocked with exotic natural treats. A poorly packed jar of shiitake streich just barely missed the plane, sadly being tossed after discovery, but less liquid goods like two carefully covered packs of stroopwafles made it through. A treat first introduced to me in the Netherlands over a year ago, it’s not a native German delicacy, but they have a damn good selection of accidentally vegan options. Packages that reassure “ohne milch” and “ohne ei” (without milk, without eggs) are a good place to start, but also be on the lookout for “honig” (honey) which is a common flavoring.

Still, questionably smuggled, accidentally vegan snack packs of 6 wafels only last so long around me, and I didn’t wait long before scheming up how to fill the void when all that remains are those empty wrappers.

Made on a pizzelle maker, the biggest road block in this recipe is simply acquiring the proper equipment. After that, the cookie batter is just a pour-and-stir affair, ready to turn into crisp wafels with just a minute or two on the hot iron. The very same recipe could just as easily be used to make ice cream cones, too; immediately roll up the hot but still pliable wafers around a cone-shaped form, and let cool to a firm, crunchy consistency.

It’s all about the stroop, or syrup, for the finished cookie sandwich, though. A chewy, sticky filling of buttery caramel is what glues the whole treat together, and makes it so utterly irresistible. Once cool, it will set up into a soft but still malleable texture, creating an addictive contrast between easily shattering cookie exterior and toothsome, sweet interior. One bite, and you’ll understand why it’s worthwhile to smuggle them across borders should you ever come across those illustrious vegan versions.



Stroopwafels

Wafer Cookies:

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Whole Flax Seeds, Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
Pinch Ground Cinnamon
6 Tablespoons Margarine, Melted
2/3 Cup Water
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Caramel Stroop:

3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
3 Tablespoons Golden Syrup or Maple Syrup
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

Begin heating you your pizzelle maker first, because the batter comes together very fast. Set out a wire rack to accommodate the finished wafers while you’re at it.

Sift together the flour, sugar, ground flax, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl, whisking lightly to combine. Mix the margarine, water, and vanilla briefly in a second container before pouring into the dry ingredients. Stir just enough to bring the batter together without any lumps.

Very lightly grease each side of the pizzelle iron. I like to use a small cookie scoop to ensure even sizes of all of my wafer cookies, but you can also just measure out about 2 – 3 teaspoons of batter per wafel. Try placing it slightly off-center on the iron, just above the middle, because the action of smushing the top iron down tends to spread it outwards. After securing the lid (usually there’s a latch, which I recommend employing for the thinnest, most even wafers) bake for about 30 – 60 seconds, until golden brown. Quickly pry the cookies loose with a thin metal spatula and transfer to your wire rack. Though floppy at first, they will continue to crisp up as they cool. Repeat with the remaining batter.

Once you have all of the cookies ready and waiting, you can move on to the filling. In a saucepan, stir together and boil the brown sugar, margarine, syrup, and cinnamon, until them mixture reaches the soft ball stage (234-240 degrees.) Immediately remove from the heat and waste no time in filling your wafers.

To assemble, spread 1 – 2 teaspoons of the warm caramel syrup over one of the crisp wafer cookies, and top with a second. Be somewhat sparing, as a little bit covers much more than you’d expect, and it tends to squish out the sides if you over-fill. Let cool completely before enjoying.

Makes Approximately 20 – 24 Wafers; 10 – 12 Finished Stroopwafels

Printable Recipe


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Sweets for the Sweet Tooth

Extreme sweet teeth are a dominant trait in my family, but it tends to manifest itself in different ways. For example, both my mom and I are happier with carefully composed desserts and baked goods, complex with layers of cake, creamy fillings, and perhaps a bit of a crunch hidden somewhere, but neither my sister nor my dad would likely be as pleased. They have straight-up sugar teeth; the sort of teeth that crave pure, unadulterated sweetness, and are much more likely to drift towards a candy shop than a bakery come dessert time.

While I will admit that I tend to cater to my own tastes when dreaming up new recipes, I do aim to please, so this little sugar-bomb was developed with the other half of my family in mind.

Simple and super-sweet, just a tiny square of this maple fudge should satisfy even the most intense sugar cravings. Homemade candies in general are always a favorite for gift-giving, and this decadent option would certainly fit the bill. Throw in a pinch of spices to shake things up a bit if you’d like, but the unique and irreplaceable flavor of maple is a treat enough to me.

Maple Fudge

2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/4 Cups Grade B Maple Syrup
1/3 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Chopped and Toasted Walnuts
Pinch Salt

Lightly grease an 8 x 8 inch square pan and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar, maple syrup, and non-dairy milk, and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Once the mixture comes to a full boil, stop stirring, and insert your candy thermometer. Continue to cook, swirling the pan instead of stirring if necessary, until it comes to about 238 – 240 degrees (soft ball stage). Remove the pan from the heat, and let it sit until it has cooled to 145 degrees. At that point, the top of the candy may have crystallized, and the whole mixture should be somewhat thicker, albeit grainy. Incorporate the margarine and continue to beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 10 full minutes- You’ll know that you’re doing it right when it feels like your arm is about to fall off. The mixture should become thicker, lighter in color, and less glossy. Beat in the nuts and salt, and spread it into your prepared pan, pressing it into the corners and smoothing down the top with a spatula. Let sit for at least 3 hours before cutting into very, very small squares. Just a bite will satisfy!

Never refrigerate, or the fudge will become damp and mushy. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Makes 36 – 45 Small Squares

Printable Recipe


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A Cookie in Every Oven

If ever there was an ideal time to bake cookies, it would be now. At this very moment, cookie swaps are happening across the nation, and gifts of cookie platters and cookie baskets are being piled high. Rainbows of doughs are rolling out on kitchen counters, a world of flavored batters are being dropped onto baking sheets, and scores of every shape a cookie cutter can create are cooling on wire racks. Just imagine what it would look like if we could take a peek at the combined efforts of all those holiday bakers, hard at work. The scent of sugar rising into the brisk air and cookbook pages encrusted in flour, it just wouldn’t be Chanukah or Christmas without a full menu of cookies planned for hungry friends and family to devour.

As much as I may crave the classics, the desire to create something new and exciting always take the reins when assembling ingredients, and no two cookie trays ever end up alike. Simple, straight-forward bakery-style chocolate chip cookies are easily my most requested variety, a rare recipe that I do actually follow without variation… Most of the time.

Using the holidays as my license to experiment, I wanted to give the basic idea a bit of a savory, salty twist, to balance out the sweeter items sure to follow. An unexpected hint of herbaceous rosemary adds an unexpected but entirely welcome change of pace, further enhanced by the natural nuttiness of crunchy toasted pecans. Inspired by the addictive party snack of spiced rosemary nuts, I couldn’t help but keep the theme going and tossing in a generous dose of spice here as well. Lending a bright kick just as the taste of chocolate and pecans begin to fade, it’s the element that makes you go back for just one more bite, trying to pinpoint what that enchanting flavor was.

It’s certainly not your grandma’s or your mom’s chocolate chip cookie, but that’s probably a good thing, too. With so many options already available around this time of year, why not take the opportunity to try something a bit different?

Spiced Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Tablespoon Fresh Rosemary (or 1 Teaspoon Dried), Finely Chopped or Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans
1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks

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

In the bowl of your stand mixer, blend together the melted margarine, both sugars, maple syrup, and vanilla until smooth and fully combined.

Sift the flour into a separate bowl, and add in all of the spices, rosemary, baking soda, and salt. Lightly toss both the pecan pieces and chocolate chips in, to coat with the flour.

Add the dry goods into the stand mixer in two additions, being careful not to overwork the dough but mix it just enough to bring everything together, without any pockets of flour lurking at the bottom. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl between additions so that everything gets incorporated.

Scoop out dough with a medium-sized cookie scoop, or two large spoons in about 3 – 4 tablespoon portions. Give the cookies plenty of space on your prepared baking sheets, leaving at least and inch between blobs. I usually bake only 9 per sheet, to ensure that none of them spread and collide. Flatten the raw cookie dough out lightly with the palm of your hand, so that they’re nice and round, and about 1/2 inch in thickness.

Bake for 12 – 16 minutes, watching closely to make sure that they are just barely golden brown around the edges when you pull the from the oven. They should still look fairly under-baked in the center, to ensure a soft and chewy texture.

Let cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, and then move them off to a wire rack. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week, if they last that long.

Makes 12 – 18 Large Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Fool-Proof

If ever there was one homemade holiday gift that I would recommend above the rest, it would undoubtedly be some form of nut brittle. Barring allergies, I have yet to meet a soul who didn’t enjoy the salty-sweet dichotomy of roasted nuts and crunchy homemade candy. Versatile to a fault, every year could bring a new variety of brittle, between the numerous choices of nuts and additional flavorful accompaniments. Best of all, it’s so simple, it’s one of the few edible treats I might venture to call “fool-proof.” Easy enough to be made in the microwave, for crying out loud, even the mostly kitchen incompetent should be able to master this rewarding recipe.

Classic but a bit played out, quiet flavors like plain old peanut brittle don’t quite light my fire anymore. Flaming Hot Peanut Brittle, though, sure adds a bit of excitement to a deceptively homely candy. Pistachio Chai Brittle remains one of my favorite variations, a beautiful hue of green that fits in so nicely with a Christmas color scheme.

This year, I’m pushing the boundaries between sweet and savory food just a little bit further. Curry strikes me as the perfect ingredient to add some interest into this simple candy, especially when paired with equally exotic coconut and cashews. A welcome change of pace that reminds me of tropical climates, far from the chilly winds that blow right outside, it’s a sweet little escape that is sure to disappear almost as quickly as it’s made.

Curried Cashew and Coconut Brittle

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Light Corn Syrup or Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1 1/2 Cups Roasted or Toasted Cashew Pieces
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Coconut Flakes
1 1/4 Teaspoons Madras Curry Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

In a large saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; blend in butter. Swirl the pan ocassionally rather than stirring, to prevent the sugar from boiling over. Cook until the syrup hits 300 – 310 degrees (the hard crack stage) according to a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, lay out a silpat on a baking sheet nearby. Combine the cashews, coconut, curry powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, and have at the ready.

Once the hot sugar syrup hits the proper temperature, immediately turn off the heat and very quickly stir in the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla extract last, and mix thoroughly to incorporate. Without pausing, scrape the hot candy out of the pan and onto your prepared baking sheet, pressing it out with a spatula to achieve a flat, thin shape as needed.

Let cool completely before breaking into pieces and either eating right away, or storing in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Makes About 1 Pound of Brittle

Printable Recipe


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Dreaming of a Sweet Christmas

No amount of planning ever seems to leave me properly prepared for the holidays, despite mustering all the enthusiasm possible and diligently keeping an eye on the calendar. Days mysteriously grow shorter, schedules fuller, and to further complicate matters, those originally simple plans of mine curiously evolve to become more and more complicated. Getting a head start usually means laying out a detailed list of presents to make, recipes to try, and fun activities to participate in… Which is lost or completely disregarded by the time December actually rolls around. After spending one too many of the last mailing days before Christmas stuck in line at the post office, fighting off the other hordes of procrastinators frantic to make the final cut off, it became clear that my approach wasn’t working.

This year, the plan is to plan less. Stick to simple but nice holiday cards, rather than elaborate gifts with complicated shipping requirements and deadlines. Make whatever recipes strike my fancy, whenever that might happen. Enjoy the holidays whenever they allow, without forcing artificial merriment at every turn. “Low-key” is the mantra of the season- No pressure, no anxiety, no self-flagellation when things don’t work out perfectly. Sounds like a much more enjoyable way to pass the next few weeks, don’t you think?

And just like that, I find myself almost on top of the key points that constantly evaded my grasp the previous year. Greeting cards are done and printing, and the first set of festive sweets has already sprung forth from the oven, seemingly without effort. It may be a push to fit that pending manuscript into the festivities, but at least it doesn’t seem like such a great burden to squeeze into the jam-packed holiday game plan.

It needn’t be a grand holiday, or one to remember above others, even. It just needs to be less than torturous, and adding in a bit of sweetness and good company would be a nice touch, too.

Pistachio Praline Linzer Cookies

Pistachio Praline Paste:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
2 Cups Shelled, Skinned and Toasted Pistachios
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Allow the sugar to cook until it caramelizes to a deep amber color; about 10 – 15 minutes. Quickly add in the pistachios, stir to coat with the hot sugar, and immediately transfer everything out to a silpat or piece of parchment paper. Let cool completely before breaking it into chunks, and tossing the pieces into your food processor, along with the salt and oil. Pulse to break down the brittle to a coarse consistency, and then let the motor run until very smooth. It may take as long as 10 minutes, so be patient. Let cool before using, or store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Linzer Cookies:

1 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Almond Meal
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Zest of 1 Orange
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/3 Cup Plain Vegan Greek-Style “Yogurt” or “Sour Cream”
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line three baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. Set aside.

Cream together the margarine and both sugars until homogeneous and fluffy pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour, almond meal, baking powder, salt, zest, and ginger, starting the mixer slowly to prevent the dry goods from flying out. Mix briefly before introducing the “yogurt” and vanilla as well. Mix just until a cohesive, smooth dough is formed, and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Press the dough into an even round and roll it out to 1/8th of an inch in thickness.

Use a 2 1/2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out the shapes. Cut out the centers of half of the rounds with a smaller shape of your choice. Transfer the cookies to your prepared sheets, and chill them for 15 minutes before moving them right into the oven. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, until just barely golden around the edges. Let cool.

Assemble the linzer cookies by spreading 1 teaspoon of the praline paste on a whole cookie, and topping it with a cut-out cookie. Repeat with remaining cookies, and enjoy.

Makes 52 – 60 Cookies; 26 – 30 Sandwiches

Printable Recipe

Bonus! For a gift that keeps on giving, nothing beats a delicious, tried-and-true recipe from a friend. To share this recipe with someone you love, snatch up the free printable recipe card below. Just set your printer to “scale to fit” your paper, trim the excess as needed, fold down the center, and doodle something on the cover, or paste a photo if you prefer.


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Moving Right Along

…Is it safe to come out now? Has the Thanksgiving madness come and gone for another year? Thank goodness, it passed without too much fuss or duress around here, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Now that we’re over that hurdle, there’s nothing standing between us and full-blown winter holiday immersion. Decorations and wrapping may have been pushed to a prominent place in stores since Halloween, but now we can finally stop ignoring them- There’s no longer any shame in diving head-first into that sea of iridescent tinsel. It’s my favorite time to cook and bake, when diets don’t even factor in and everyone eats with abandon, simply enjoying the festive foods on offer. Desserts can be desserts, not healthy desserts or breakfast-like desserts (although they may very well be on the menu first thing in the morning, too) and extravagant ingredients can be just par for the course.

If ever there was an easy show-stopper of a treat for the holidays, for me, it would have to be a rum cake. Doused with spirits and emboldened with light spices, I have fond memories of picking moist crumbs off of empty serving plates as I carried them back to the kitchen. Under the guise of being a helpful child, I was really after those leftover scraps.

This year, I gave the traditional bundt a cloak of chocolate, transforming it into a downright fudgy mountain of gently boozy cake. Dotted with sizable chunks of candied ginger, every bite is a little bit different.

Sorry to be a tease, but my Chocolate Rum Bundt recipe can be found in the new November/December issue of Joy of Kosher. Keep an eye on the website though, because they often generously share the recipes after a certain time of having the magazine on the news stands.

I’m certainly in the holiday spirit now! How about you?

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