BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Nog-Off: Speed Round Rematch!

Two years after the first fight for vegan nog supremacy went down, the landscape of dairy-free, egg-free holiday beverages has finally shifted once more. The first change is not a happy one; it seems that the Earth Balance Soy Nog has thrown in the towel, bowing out of the game altogether. This would have left a gaping hole in the lineup, but the good news is that a spry newcomer has stepped up to the plate in its wake. Going by the name of “Holiday Nog” by Califia Farms, this rookie is a definite underdog, having appeared on the scene with little fanfare and almost no web presence. It doesn’t help matters that these shapely 48-ounce bottles are Whole Foods Market exclusives, severely limiting their availability across the country.

What the Holiday Nog lacks in distribution, it makes up for in innovation. The first almond-based nog on the market, it fills a niche previously untouched, meaning that those first punches land with great impact on the largely soy-based competitors. Touting itself as a lighter choice, it goes beyond the standard comparison to traditional eggnog, and goes straight for the kill, hitting where it hurts and boasting lower sugar content than any of the other commercial options out there. True to the claims, this milky elixir pours freely, approximately the same viscosity of standard almond milk. Fine for a solo sip, but that kind of thickness really can’t support an added splash of holiday “spirit”.

Without any detectable almond flavor, it was a brash, borderline harsh and definitely manufactured nutmeg note that dominated, storming in a bit too hard and heavy to really enjoy. The rookie must have tired itself out in that first barrage, because the sweetness struck me as rather lacking, too. Some will definitely appreciate this aspect, owing to a light hand on the organic cane sugar, but quite frankly, I wanted a treat that could stand up to the promise of eggnog, and this just wasn’t doing it. Sorry, sports fans, but this kid is down for the count, leaving So Delicious as the reining champ.

For you folks keeping score at home, that brings the final ranking, from most highly to least recommended, to…

1. Coconut Nog by So Delicious

2. Silk Nog by Silk

3. Holiday Nog by Califia Farms

4. Rice Nog by Rice Dream

Don’t let me tell you what to fill your mug with, though. Host you own nog-off at home and taste the options for yourself! I’m giving away a $25 gift certificate for Whole Foods Market, furnished by the natural grocery giant itself, so that you can pick up a full complement of eggless nogs, or whatever else might bring you a bit of edible holiday cheer. All you need to do is be a resident of the US, and leave me a comment about your favorite commercial nog, homemade recipes, or what you like to make with your excess nog once the holidays are over. Make sure your name and email are both entered into the appropriate boxes so I know who to contact! The entry period will be open until Friday the 13th at Midnight EST, so start talking!

UPDATE: After consulting with my very favorite random number generator, together we determined that the winner of the gift card would be…

The owner of comment #40, otherwise known as sara!

If that wasn’t the result you were hoping for, don’t despair. You can still snap up a coupon good for 50 cents of off Califia Holiday Nog should you want to give it a try yourself. Stay tuned for more giveaways to come, too!


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Leftover Links

Another day, another delicious project! Although the blog hasn’t exactly been a hub of activity lately, the kitchen is another story. Churning out recipes and photos at every turn, fresh assignments for other outlets have kept me busy lately, but with less to share in this space of my own. Happily, many of those features are now hitting the internet, so it seemed like as good a time as any to round them up and share what I’ve been working on…

I make no secret of my strong bias towards all of Nava Atlas‘ unbeatable creations, but it’s been an absolute joy to continue our partnership beyond her forthcoming cookbook. Essentially cooking my way through the archives of VegKitchen, I’m proud to report that the Thanksgiving selections in particular are now lavishly illustrated, with photos that will hopefully inspire and entice in equal parts. From main courses to sides to sweets and beyond, there’s everything you could need to prepare for the festive meal, and I can vouch for the flavor of each and every one of them.

In case that’s not enough dessert for you, I also shared a super-simple No-Bake Apple Ice Cream Pie over on Go Dairy Free. Use a few store-bought shortcuts and whip this beauty up in mere minutes, or go all the way with homemade components; you can’t lose with either approach, and the results are guaranteed to impress.

Hitting newsstands and mailboxes shortly, you’ll find these Caramel Apple Crisp Cupcakes stashed within the pages of the November/December issue of VegNews Magazine. Lavished with ribbons of salted caramel sauce and a crown of caramel frosting, the tender, lightly spiced apples within never had it so good. Who said the cupcake trend was over?

I’m delighted to announce that Vegan Desserts is finally available for purchase again, now in its second printing and paperback format! In case you missed out on the first round, you now have a chance to enjoy all the same tried-and-true recipes, but now with fewer errors and two additional photos that were originally omitted. Not to mention, an even further reduced price over the hardcover version.

Finally, for any local readers, I want to point your attention to the Small Business Saturday event at the Fairfield University Bookstore on November 30th, where eight local authors will share their favorite books- Myself included! Get your cookbooks signed to give as gifts, if you can bear to part with them, and taste some samples of the recipes within. Hope to see you there!


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Stick With It!

Less than a week’s time separates today from the Great National Food Coma, otherwise known as Thanksgiving. More hotly anticipated than any splashy movie premier, most plans for this year’s grand event have long since been laid, solidified, and are now gradually shifting into gear. Menus are set, tasks have been doled out to eager participants, and non-perishables have been procured; no detail, neither big nor small, shall be left unattended.  Only the actual cooking remains for the particularly well organized and industrious few. Knowing just how much work goes into such a grand production, I wouldn’t dream of waltzing in here and suggesting that you turn your carefully crafted game plan completely upside-down with crazy new dishes, not yet passed the test of time. You’ve already got the raw components for the typical fixings, right? I’m merely imploring you to consider them from a new perspective.

All the classic accoutrements threaded neatly onto portion-controlled, hand-held, and highly dippable little packages, Thanksgiving kebabs are the answer to menu malaise. Stick with tradition, keep the Brussels sprouts and “turkey,” but present them in a whole new light. Consider this concept with an open mind for the greatest degree of success, since all the ingredients can be effortlessly swapped with your own holiday favorites, or tweaked to achieve ideal proportions and flavors. Consider adding cubes of sourdough or sturdy cornbread to evoke stuffing; pumpkin or sweet potato could be excellent understudies for butternut; trimmed green beans can comfortably slip into any empty spaces; these kebabs are limited only by a lack of imagination.

Small skewers could be fun teasers for guest to enjoy while awaiting the full spread, but more generous cuts fit perfect on the dinner plate for the main event, too. Send out a heaping platter of kebabs nestled cozily atop a bed of creamy mashed potatoes, gravy for dipping on the side, and you could be on the cusp of a whole new annual tradition, with all the familiar flavors comfortably intact.

Thanksgiving Kebabs

Amounts will vary depending on how many people you plan to serve and which vegetables/add-ins you choose, but the concept remains the same. What follows is largely a reflection of what is pictured above, but the formula is entirely open to interpretation.

Seitan, Tempeh, or Vegan “Turkey,” Cubed
Peeled, Gutted, and Cubed Butternut Squash
Small Brussels Sprouts, Cleaned and Trimmed
Large Fresh Cranberries*

Marinade:

2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoons Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Tamari
2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
Pinch Rubbed Sage

To Serve:

Mashed Potatoes (Optional)
Gravy, for Dipping (NOT Optional!)

*When selecting cranberries, be sure to use particularly large berries and skewer them precisely in the center, as they have a tendency to wither and/or split while baking.

Before you start prepping vegetables or turning on the heat, submerge your wooden skewers for at least 20 minutes to prevent them from burning (or worse, catching fire) while in the oven. If using metal skewers, go ahead and skip this precaution.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease a shallow baking dish that can accommodate the full length of your skewers.

Thread individual vegetables and “meat” on the skewers in any pattern or proportion you like. There’s no right or wrong answers here, just do what’s easiest, looks good, and tastes good. Just make sure that all your components are roughly the same size so that they cook evenly. Place the finished skewers in a single layer in your prepared baking dish. If you’re making enough for a big party, you may need to consider a second vessel.

Whisk together the ingredients for the marinade and brush it generously over the skewered “meat” and veggies. If you have any leftover, reserve it to baste the skewers once more halfway through the cook time. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on the size of your vegetables, flipping after 10 and basting if desired. The vegetables should be nicely browned and tender when done.

Serve immediately over hot mashed potatoes with a small bowl of gravy for dipping on the side.

Printable Recipe


30 Comments

Summer Loving

Dear fellow food bloggers, hear me out. Put the pumpkin down, step away from the cinnamon, ginger, and clove, and stash those cranberries back in the fridge for a little while longer. It’s still summer, for crying out loud! Sure, there are more brisk mornings and fewer sweltering afternoons, but even the calendar agrees that summer hasn’t given up the ghost just yet. Rather than rush head-long into the colder part of the year, I’m relishing every remaining minute of sun, and yes, even the humidity that it sometimes brings. While so much of the blogosphere seems to have moved on, casting aside the brilliant berries, tomatoes, and corn still at the market, the move seems painfully premature. Those root vegetables will still be there next month- For the next 5 months, at that- So I hope you’ll at least indulge me while I share a brief overview of a few things I’ve been loving all season long. It’s not too late to enjoy them for yourself!

Essentially an enhanced water drink, Bai5 was initially an impulse buy that turned into something of an obsession. It’s definitely a treat, considering the expense, but I can’t get enough of the intense yet natural fruit flavors. Congo Pear is my all-time favorite, granted I haven’t tried any that I wasn’t fond of. For hot summer days, there were few drinks more refreshing that I found to stock my fridge with, although that stash never lasted long.

Homegrown tomatoes. ‘Nuff said.

Up the ante a bit with heirloom tomatoes and juicy peaches together, namely in a bold salad with corn, tofu feta, and fresh basil. Eat it chilled or stuff it into some puff pastry and you’ve got yourself one killer appetizer. Get the recipe at Go Dairy Free.

Not one to shy away from sugar, I was reluctant to taste the No Sugar Added Coconut Ice Creams recently release by So Delicious. They aren’t without flaws, as they carry a faint stevia aftertaste that detracts somewhat from the overall experience, but the texture doesn’t suffer one bit. An incredible feat considering how essential sugar is to the prevention of ice crystals in traditional scoops. I would heartily recommend the Butter Pecan in particular to anyone watching their intake of sweets.

Rich, highly spiced Ethiopian food at Lalibela in New Haven, CT. Okay, so this one isn’t actually seasonal at all, and may in fact be better suited for colder weather, but I can’t resist listing this gem of a restaurant. It just so happens that a recent trip stands out as one particular high point of my summer dining experiences. A whole vegan section of the menu ensures a wealth of choices for eaters of all persuasions, and that delightfully spongy injera can’t be beat when paired with absolutely any dish on offer. Although my visits are few and far between, it always exceeds my expectations, seeming to improve upon each subsequent visit. If you’re local, or semi-local, it’s definitely worth a trip from a hundred miles away.

That’s all for now, but by no means an exhaustive list of all the edible and drinkable delights that have crossed my path this season. For those, you’ll have to stay tuned for more in-depth reviews to come!


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Do You Believe In Magic?

Imagining them as the product of sorcery or witchcraft does a disservice to the whole concept of magic bars. Rather, the creation of such enchanting treats ought to be considered as kitchen alchemy, no less miraculous than an otherworldly spell.

How else could one explain the process of turning what appear to be discordant ingredients into this classic layered assembly of cookies, chocolate, nuts, and coconut? Especially when the process demands little more effort than what’s required to switch on the oven, it strikes me as a particularly bewitching sort of everyday magic. Of course, the original cast of characters is fairly mundane, in need of a new rising star and fresh script. Inspired by the play on words, black magic lured me over to the dark side for this delicious twist.

Blackberry puree, spiked with a touch of lime and vanilla, cloaks my supernatural sweets in fresh, seasonal berry flavor. Supported by a dark, devious crust of chocolate cookies rather than the standard graham crackers, the bars take on a high-contrast color scheme to better match their title, not to mention add a bolder bite.

Treading that fine line between crumbly, crunchy, and even a bit chewy, the toothsome texture is only one of many reasons why this classic concept took hold so many years ago. What’s even more incredible is how little effort goes into whipping up a batch. From fridge to table in under and hour, they may truly seem like the product of some black magic.

Black Magic Cookie Bars

1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine or Coconut Oil, Melted
1 Cup Finely Ground Chocolate Cookie Crumbs
1 Cup (5 Ounces) Fresh Blackberries
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1 1/2 Teaspoons Arrowroot
1/2 Teaspoon Lime Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2/3 Cup Unsweetened, Shredded Coconut
1/2 Cup Chopped Raw Walnuts or Pecans

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

In a medium bowl, stir together the chocolate cookie crumbs and melted margarine or coconut oil so that the whole mixture is nicely moistened. Transfer to your prepared baking pan and use the flat bottom of a measuring cup or drinking glass to firmly press the crumbs down in an even layer. Place in the fridge to chill while you prepare the remaining layers.

Place the blackberries and lime juice in your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree, until the berries are are smooth as your machine can manage. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing down hard on the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the seeds.

Mix the resulting seedless blackberry puree, sugar, cornstarch, arrowroot, lime zest, vanilla and salt together, and pour over your chilled crust. Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, coconut, and nuts over the top, gently pressing all the goodies in to ensure that they stick.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until the berries mixture bubbles up slightly around the sides and the coconut on top appears to have toasted to a golden brown hue. Cool completely before cutting into bars or squares. Store covered at room temperature for up to four days.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe


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Sweet Relief

National Ice Cream Day, decreed to fall on the third Sunday of July, couldn’t have come at a better time. Still grappling with a week-long heat wave that stubbornly refuses to break or bend, keeping cool is the top priority for anyone living on the east coast. Though always a favorite treat no matter the weather, my appetite for ice cream really kicks into high gear during the dog days of summer, and this year’s sweltering forecast has prompted the same hunger to return with a vengeance.

Well over a year has passed since Vegan a la Mode was published, and yet I can’t stop churning up new flavors. Case in point, the Peach Pie Ice Cream pictured above was inspired by the abundance of explosively ripe stone fruits sitting on the kitchen counter, combined with my new focus on pies. Tender fragments of buttery pie crust are tossed in cinnamon and sugar before being baked to an even golden-brown. Nestled in between lashings of gooey peach jam, each scoopful of peach ice cream tastes like a creamier, cooler version of its namesake. Don’t wait until the next heat wave to add this refreshing yet decadent dessert to you to-do list: Grab the recipe on GoDairyFree.org and start churning as soon as your peaches are ripe!


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Stock Up on Strawberries

Nothing serves as better inspiration for new recipes than abundance, or if I’m the one grocery shopping, overabundance. With extra ingredients on hand, it’s easier to experiment a bit beyond your comfort zone, while still getting your fill of the classic preparations. Always wanted to try something new, but find the standby recipes irresistible? Well, you have no more excuses when piles of fresh produce are staring you down, demanding attention before they take over the kitchen. This is precisely the situation I’m expecting with strawberries as the star, because Whole Foods Markets across the country are gearing up for a blowout one-day sale tomorrow, Friday the 19th, on organic strawberries. At only $1.99 per pound, down from their regular price of $4.99, you would have to be crazy to walk out of that store without at least two or three punnets, minimum. I know I’ll be stocking up!

Maybe I’ll see you there, because at the Fairfield, CT location from noon to 2:00, I’ll be demonstrating one of my favorite pie recipes, a Roasted Strawberry Tomato Galette, along with some pie tips and tricks to help you make the most of your berries. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, Whole Foods Market has very generously offered to include a voucher for 1 free pound of strawberries with the purchase of one of my books, or the pre-order of Easy as Vegan Pie. This offer is valid only at the Fairfield store, but if you’re in the area, that’s all the more reason to make a special trip and stop by.

Incredibly, that’s not the end of the exciting news. To celebrate berry season, and not just strawberries, Whole Foods Market is providing a $75 gift card for one lucky reader to go on a bonafide berry shopping spree. Just imagine- If it weren’t for volume limitations, that could cover enough strawberries to fill a small swimming pool! Since that’s more than any one person, or even a small army could consume, I’m dying to know what you would do with the cash if you won. To enter, tell me what you plan to buy with the gift card, and what recipes you’d like to make from the windfall. Simply enter your name and a valid email address in the appropriate boxes before midnight (EST) on July 25th. You must be a resident of the US to enter.

The almighty random number generator has spoken, and chosen commenter #3 as the winner of the $75 Whole Foods gift card!

That means gaiantlc, congratulations: You’re the lucky shopper about to be that much richer in bulk beans, grains, and nooch!

This is the perfect opportunity to use vast quantities of strawberries and create a stunning summer pie, which is why I know I won’t be able to stop rolling out the dough when I get home. My Strawberry-Kiwi Pie from Vegan Desserts has been a rare treat throughout the years, only emerging periodically, as the strawberries tend to be quite a splurge. Finally, I don’t need an excuse to indulge!

Though currently out of print, Vegan Desserts is being refreshed in paperback format as we speak, due for a triumphant return to bookstores this coming November. Since I would hate to leave you hanging without a copy, at the height of this strawberry sale, consider this pie a small taste of what’s to come.

Strawberry-Kiwi Pie
From Vegan Desserts

Crust:

2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Margarine, Chilled
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
4 to 6 Tablespoons Ice-Cold water

Strawberry-Kiwi Filling:

3 Medium Kiwis
2 Cups Fresh Strawberries, Sliced
1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Tapioca Flour
Pinch Salt

The crust for this pie is made like an traditional pie crust; Start by combining the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the margarine into small cubes and add it into the dry mix, tossing to coat. Using a pastry cutter or fork, cut the margarine into the flour until you achieve a dry, crumbly mixture with lumps about the size of pebbles or peas. You can also pulse all of these ingredients in your food processor to speed the process along, if desired. Pour in the vinegar, and add the water one tablespoon at a time, continuing to mix or pulse until it just comes together into a cohesive ball. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for about 30 minutes before working with it further.

Divide the dough into two pieces, returning half to the fridge for the time being and placing the other half onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle additional flour over the top to prevent it from sticking, and roll it out to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, making it into a round shape at least 10 – 11 inches in diameter. Carefully fold it into quarters, without pressing down, and quickly move it into a lightly grease pin tin. Place the point of the folded dough in the center, and very gently unfold the sides so that it fills the pan, using your fingers to press it in evenly. Cut the excess dough away from the sides and add it into the second half sitting in the fridge. Place the whole pan in the fridge as well.

Now you’re ready to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

The filling is very easy to make and comes together quickly. In a large bowl, combine the kiwis, sliced strawberries, and lemon zest. Sprinkle on the sugar, tapioca flour, and salt over the top and toss to combine, thoroughly coating the fruit. Move all of the fruit filling into your prepared crust and set aside.

Take the remaining dough out and roll it out to the same thickness, cutting it into 1/2 inch wide strips. Arrange it in a lattice design over the top of the pie and crimp it by pinching it to the edges. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 – 55 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling away. Let cool completely before slicing or else the juices will run out.

Serves 8 – 10

*To easily peel kiwi fruits, cut off both ends with a paring knife and starting from one of the cut sides, insert a spoon just under the skin and twist the kiwi so that the spoon goes all the way around the circumference of the fruit. Repeat the process on the other end, and the “meat” of the fruit will simply pop out.

Printable Recipe


22 Comments

Pommes d’Amour

Botanically incorrect but poetically true, the French demonstrated great wisdom when they named tomatoes “love apples.” What savory fruit is more beloved than the tomato, across all continents with favorable growing climates? Watching their vines twist upwards towards the sky, reaching out for the sun’s warmth, it’s only a matter of time before flowers come, begetting tiny green globes. Initially sour, unpromising at first glance, they slowly swell larger, growing juicier and sweeter with every blush. Even if you’re not a gardener and don’t watch your own tomato babies mature from seed, it’s impossible not to fall for them.

Now that real tomatoes have returned to markets, little by little, it’s about time I shared my recipe for tomato pie. Though initially created only for looks to fulfill a photography assignment, and inspired by a less than attractive recipe with highly processed ingredients, it didn’t take much work to create something worthy of the fresh tomatoes that fill it.

Brightened up with additional herbs and garlic, subtle seasonings make a world of difference in banishing blandness, all while still allowing the tomato to take center stage. It’s the kind of recipe that’s so simple that only the best ingredients will do, because you taste each and every one of them. Don’t even dream of whipping this one up in the middle of January- A winter tomato is nowhere near as lovable.

Tomato Pie

2 Unbaked Classic Crusts (page 36 of Easy as Vegan Pie, or Your Favorite Recipe), 1 Lining an 9-Inch Pie Pan and 1 Unrolled

1 8-Ounce Package Vegan Cream Cheese
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Basil
3/4 Teaspoon Dried Parsley, Divided
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch, Divided
3 – 4 Firm, Slicing Tomatoes
3/4 – 1 Cup Vegan Mozzarella-Style Shreds

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Place the cream cheese in a large bowl and thoroughly mash in the garlic, zest, dried herbs, salt, and pepper. Stir until the cream cheese is smooth and all of the seasonings are well-distributed. Smear the mixture evenly across the bottom of your crust-lined pie pan, smoothing out the top as best you can. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the cornstarch over the exposed surface.

Slice your tomatoes to about an 1/8th inch in thickness, and remove the watery seeds. Arrange the slices over the cream cheese layer in concentric circles, overlapping and fitted together as closely as possible. Continue stacking them until they reach the brim of the pie pan. The final amount will depend on the size of your tomatoes and how seedy they are. Sprinkle the final tablespoon of cornstarch over the tomatoes, and then top evenly with your cheesy shreds.

Roll out the second piece of dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut a few vents in the center. Gently drape the dough over filling, and trim so that there’s still about 3/4-inch of dough overhanging the edge. Fold and roll the excess under the bottom crust, pressing the edge to seal it, and crimp decoratively as desired.

Tent with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees, uncover the pie so that it can brown, and bake for a final 25–35 minutes. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before digging in. The pie can be served at any temperature, but best when warm.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe


18 Comments

Hanging with My Peeps

Come March 1st, grocery store shelves are already fully stocked with enough Easter paraphernalia to power non-stop spring fetes lasting a full month, regardless of when Easter Sunday is actually observed. For all the pastel glitter and sugar on offer, they still lack what is arguably the single most important element to a proper holiday celebration: Vegan marshmallow peeps. Peeps may have gotten a life outside of the spring season, but they will forever be inextricably linked with Easter in my mind, and vice versa. Since there was little understanding of what Easter really was in my formative years, all that in my eyes were those colorful, sugar-encrusted chicks and bunnies, staring out of their cardboard sleeves with emotionless dots for eyes.

Sweet & Sara has taken up the task of providing this essential Easter staple, easily surpassing that original standard. This isn’t the first time I’ve shared about these seasonal treats, but I’m happy to say that they’ve only improved over time. Now they too come dusted in a light coat of colored sugar, matching my fond childhood memories, but with real dark chocolate adorning each adorable shape. You won’t find them in stores any time soon, but they’re worth seeking out during this limited window of availability. Spring just wouldn’t be nearly as sweet without them.


21 Comments

Run, Run, as Fast as You Can…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speculoos Gingerbread Cake Truffles

Gingerbread Cake:

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

Speculoos Frosting:

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

Chocolate Coating:

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

Optional Additions and Garnishes:

Small Lollipop Sticks
Colored Nonpareil Sprinkles
Chocolate Jimmies*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 30 – 40 Truffles

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