BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Spice Up Your Life

Black pepper, an ingredient whose ubiquity is matched only by something so elemental as salt itself, is so much more than the one-note spice that it’s frequently written off as. Few cooks play up the unique flavor profile of pepper as a feature in and of itself, as it deserves to be celebrated, and I’d venture to guess that even fewer realize the fine nuances between peppercorn varieties. Pepper is not just pepper, and especially not if it’s Kampot pepper.

Found in colors of the peppercorn spectrum, Cambodian-grown Kampot pepper has different distinctions depending on how it’s harvested and cured, but the overall flavor profiles are similar. I only had the opportunity to sample the black pepper, but found it a fascinating departure from the standard spicy but flavorless seasoning. More floral, gentle, and subtle than the miscellaneous black powder kept in kitchens the world over, this is one unique variety worth seeking out. Immediately detecting a vague natural sweetness, it seemed perfect for brighten up desserts. Black pepper has always struck me as an ideal match for fresh fruit, so why couldn’t the same pairing work as successfully for other sweet treats?

One can never go wrong with soft, chewy sugar cookies, especially when there’s icing involved, but these are not your average childhood snack. Enlivened with Kampot pepper’s warm bite, the contrast between sweet and spicy makes it impossible to stop at just one cookie.

Of course, the savory applications are near endless, considering how easily pepper can slip into every dish of any cuisine. Seeking to really highlight this unique ingredient, starting with a straight-forward formula seemed like the best approach. Made with only five ingredients and a minimal amount of labor, it’s hard to imagine that such an addictive appetizer could really be simple. Cheese straws are an easy sell at any party, and these in particular will fly off the plate. Bold, zesty, buttery, and crisp, lemon-pepper cheese straws made with Kampot pepper are crowd-pleasing snacks that will make it difficult to save room for dinner.

Lemon-Pepper Cheese Straws

1 Sheet Frozen Puff Pastry, Thawed According to Manufacturer’s Instructions
1/2 Cup Pepper Jack-Style Vegan Cheese Shreds
Zest of 1 Lemon
1 Teaspoon Kampot Peppercorns, Coarsely Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Kosher or Coarse Sea Salt

Lightly flour a clean, flat surface and roll the sheet of puff pastry to an 1/8th of an inch in thickness. Try to keep it approximately the shape of a rectangle for smoother edges.

Sprinkle the vegan cheese, lemon zest, ground pepper, and salt evenly over the long top half. Fold the ungarnished bottom half over, gently pressing the two sides together to seal. Use a very sharp knife to cut 1/2 – 3/4 inch wide strips.

Handling one strip at a time, take one end in each hand and carefully twist them in opposite directions to form a tight spiral. Place them on a parchment paper- or silpat-lined baking sheet, pressing the ends down firmly to discourage them from uncurling. Repeat with the remaining dough, placing the twists about 1 inch apart. Move the entire batch into the freezer and let rest for 30 minutes before baking.

Once the straws are nearly done chilling, begin preheating your oven to 425 degrees.

Move the frozen baking sheet immediately into the oven and bake for 13 – 16 minutes, until the straws are golden brown all over. Transfer to wire racks and let cool completely before eating.

Makes 1 1/2 – 2 Dozen Cheese Straws

Printable Recipe


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An Edible Adventure

Inspired by the call for adventurous chocolate recipes by the annual Chocolate Adventure Contest hosted by Scharffen Berger, the only restrictions were that it involve chocolate (naturally) and the results were presented in sandwich cookie format. Still buzzing with frozen dessert ideas after wrapping up Vegan a la Mode at the time, my thoughts naturally turned to ice cream.

Featuring cornmeal, coconut milk, and jalapeño as my adventuresome ingredients, it may not have placed in the contest, but it was still a big winner by my estimation. At the center of it all, rich, creamy chocolate ice cream is accented with a bright pop of fresh peppery spice, combining the contrasting sensations of hot and cold all in one taste. Each slab of the frozen dessert is wedged between two thick, chewy cornmeal blondies sprinkled with big chocolate chunks. While each component is drop-dead delicious separately, they create one truly memorable treat when eaten together in one bite.

Tex-Mex Ice Cream Sandwiches

Jalapeño Chocolate Ice Cream:

1 1/4 Cups Plain Almond Milk
1 14-Ounce Can (1 3/4 Cup) Coconut Milk
1 Large (Approximately 2 Ounces) Fresh Jalapeño Pepper, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
3 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Tequila (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Cornmeal Chocolate Chunk Blondies:

1 1/2 Cups Yellow Cornmeal
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Soybean or Garbanzo Bean Flour
1 3/4 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric (Optional, for Color)
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Cup Semisweet Chocolate Baking Chunks
3/4 Cup Frozen Corn Kernels, Thawed
3/4 Cup Canola Oil
1/4 Cup Maple Syrup
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

For the ice cream, start by combining the almond milk, coconut milk, and jalapeño in a medium saucepan. Toss in the seeds and all, set it over moderate heat, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once bubbling vigorously, immediately turn off the heat, cover with the lid, and let infuse for about 2 hours. Strain, pressing all of the liquid out of the spent pepper, and discard the solids.

Whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, arrowroot, salt, and cayenne, adding in about 1/4 cup of the jalapeño milk and stir into a thick paste, beating out any lumps of starch. When smooth, incorporate the rest of the liquid, along with the agave, and whisk thoroughly to homogenize. whisk occasionally as it comes up to temperature. When bubbles begin forming around the edges of the liquid, add in the chocolate chips, and just let the mixture sit for 2 minutes, to allow the chocolate to begin melting.

Switch over to a wide spatula, and stir gently, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan, to make sure that nothing sticks and that the chocolate fully melts. Once the mixture comes up to a full boil, cook for just a minute or two longer, and as long as there are no more whole chocolate chips remaining, turn off the heat. Stir in the tequila (if using) and vanilla extract, and let cool completely before chilling thoroughly in the refrigerator; about 3 hours.

Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once frozen but still soft, transfer the ice cream into an air-tight container and let set up more solidly in the freezer before assembling the sandwiches.

To prepare the blondies, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, sift together the cornmeal, all purpose flour, and soy or garbanzo flour, and whisk in the sugar, paprika, salt, turmeric, and baking powder. Toss the chocolate chunks around in the dry goods to distribute them throughout and coat them with flour. This will help to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the bars while baking. Set aside.

Place the corn, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and vinegar into your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour these wet goods into the bowl of dry, and with a wide spatula, gently stir the two together.

Transfer to your prepared pan, and spreading the batter out evenly into the corners and smoothing down the top with your spatula.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the top of the blondies appears set is golden brown. Let cool before slicing.

When you’re ready to assemble to bars, line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Slice the full rectangle of baked blondies in half so that you’re left with two equal squares. Place one square into the prepared pan, lining it up flush with at least two of the pan’s sides. If there’s extra space between the other sides, construct a barrier with more foil and stand it up right next to the edge of the blondies. This will help prevent the ice cream from melting out initially.

Soften the ice cream slightly if needed, and mound it on top of the blondie square as evenly as possible. Working quickly, place the second half of the blondies on top, pressing down lightly to smooth the ice cream and adhere the sheet of cookies. Move the whole thing back into the freezer on a flat surface. Let freeze until very solid before slicing. The longer the better- At least overnight.

Finally, turn the entire affair out onto a large cutting board, and with a very sharp knife, slice into 12 – 16 sandwiches. Wrap individually in plastic wrap, or transfer into a spacious container with an air-tight lid. Store the sandwiches in the freezer until you’re ready to enjoy.

An alternate method for assembly: Slice the blondies into bars beforehand and store at room temperature in an air-tight container. Simply top a single bars with a scoop of ice cream when desired, and press a second blondie on top.

Makes 12 – 16 Ice Cream Sandwiches

Printable Recipe


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Blog, Interrupted

Breaking such a long stretch of radio silence and launching right back into the regular routine is proving far more difficult than first imagined. Even with an abundant backlog and ample time carved out for writing, the words still won’t manifest into satisfying sentences. A little over one week without blogging is all it takes to shatter the easy flow of ideas and photos, it would seem. While I’m still struggling to get back on my feet, the pile of material only grows, pushing against the impulse to curl up in bed and shun all critical thought. That’s a good thing.

One time-sensitive piece that is begging to be shared, asap, is the launch of So Delicious‘ brand new Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk Beverage. Originally I had wanted to nominate this beverage as the unofficial nog of Halloween, but since our town’s spooky celebration was canceled for yet another year, it’s just as well that this is a drink suitable for any festive events. Powerfully rich and thick enough to coat the palate with one sip, this is not a drink to mess around with. Sweet as a dessert in itself, a straight shot of this autumnal treat reminds me of melted ice cream. Truth be told, it’s so sugary and viscous that I’m not sure I would recommend sipping it plain. Rather, it’s the kind of ingredient begging to be cut with a shot of espresso, or spiked with a splash of rum.

Lightly seasoned with warm spices, cinnamon leads the pack of usual suspects, ginger and nutmeg. My biggest disappointment is that despite listing pumpkin as an ingredient, the squash flavor is entirely absent. Perhaps an added pinch of salt would help awaken those more savory notes, but at least an effort was made to go beyond the typical artificially flavored route.

To make the Pumpkin Spice Coconut Milk really shine, it simply must be used in baking or cooking. Imagine using it to soak French toast, instantly creating a custard without any further prep necessary. Or consider tapioca pudding with a spicy, autumnal twist. What about caramels, where any cream or coconut milk could easily be swapped out for this treat instead? Though it may not succeed as a drink by itself, it certainly has enough culinary potential to warrant a place in your fridge.


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Twenty-Three

In the most minimal fashion, much like the twenty-second year preceding it, my twenty third birthday came and went. There was ice skating with my dad, a shared lunch, a black and white movie at home, and cake; no party, and no candles. Not so much a day of celebration as a day of rest, which sounds just about right to me.

Birthdays of mine have been historically bad days in the past, taking into consideration both apocalyptic winter weather and borderline psychotic meltdowns, so this quieter, uneventful rendition was a merciful change of pace. Less a marker of having arrived at some milestone, I found the date reassuring, a small checkpoint within the greater journey. I’m still here, twenty three years later, and it’s beginning to look like I may just be here in another twenty three as well. Imagine that.

Corresponding with my laid back non-celebration, the cake at hand was simple, unfussy- Homely by some estimations. All I wanted was a dark, moist, spicy gingerbread cake, one that reminded me of The One That Got Away. Ten years ago, scouting out a location for my Bat Mitzvah, I chose the final restaurant based solely on the gingerbread cake served for dessert. Dripping with caramel and finished with a fluffy halo towering over the plate, it’s now all I remember about that meal. In my youth and excitement, it never occurred to me that the event would be catered, and I would never see that beauty of a cake again. In fact, the restaurant has since gone out of business, just to close that book entirely.

So I made it for myself, ten years later. (Ten years. 10. It bears repeating because it seems wildly impossible that so much time could have passed.) Even if there were no candles and no fanfare, it was the perfect ending to my non-celebration.

Gingerbread Blackout Cake

2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Black Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
6 – 7 Teaspoons (2 Heaping Tablespoons) Ground Ginger
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
3/4 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup No Sugar Added Pumpkin Butter or Apple Butter
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Canola Oil

Vegan Butterscotch Sauce (From Vegan À La Mode, coming soon!) or Caramel Sauce, and Whipped Creme

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 9-inch square baking pan; Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, and spices. Whisk well to distribute all of the dry goods throughout, and double-check that there are no clumps.

Separately, mix the coffee, molasses, pumpkin butter, sugar, and oil until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to bring the two together. Being careful not to over-mix, stir just until the batter is smooth and not a second longer. Transfer the batter into your prepared baking pan, smooth out the top, and pop it in the oven. Immediately turn down the heat to 325 degrees, even before you close the oven door.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean- Perhaps with a few moist crumbs sticking to it but certainly not wet. Let cool completely before slicing and serving with butterscotch sauce and whipped creme.

If time allows, this cake does get better with age, so try to make it a day or two in advance for the flavor profile to become more nuanced and balanced.

Makes 16 – 20 Servings

Printable Recipe

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