BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Through Rose-Tinted Glasses

It was born from a backup plan; a plan B that was never needed. Planning for a photo shoot means preparing for the worst, and in this case, the “worst” translated to a late shipment of candied rose petals. Though only a small element of a demanding, detailed set, it was no small source of stress for the perfectionist in me. Destined for the cover of an ebook, the weight of its prominent placement and supreme visibility raised the stakes to dizzying heights. With all the hero dishes and supporting characters prepped to go, there was no stopping this shoot from barreling forward as planning, with or without those tiny crystalline flowers. Facing intense pressure not only to get it right, but to nail it on the first take, nothing else motives quite like the fear of failure. What else could have explained my mad dash to find unsprayed, organic roses at such a late hour, to paint them gingerly, one by one, with extra-fine granulated sugar? That dedication, bordering on obsession, has come to define my days of back-to-back photo shoots.

Of course, as luck would have it, the plan A roses arrived at the very last moment, just in time for their closeup. Crisis averted, the shoot went off without a hitch, leaving behind a wealth of sugared pink petals in its wake.

Incorporating my other ingredient excesses- namely, fresh strawberries as sweet as jam and the ever-present chocolate sandwich cookies that seem to have taken up permanent residence in my cupboard- that additional effort definitely didn’t go to waste. Fruity and floral, the resulting strawberry and rose tartlettes are personal portions of show-stopping desserts. Layered with a crimson strawberry curd at the bottom and a rich rose-scented pastry cream on top, each bite is accented by a crunchy chocolate crust containing the harmonious duo. Delicate, fragrant candied rose petals are truly the icing on the cake, or tartlette, as it were. Though technically an optional garnish, I wouldn’t dream if making these blushing beauties without them. They provided m initial inspiration, after all.

Strawberry and Rose Tartlettes

Chocolate Crust:

1 1/2 Cups Vegan Chocolate Cookie Crumbs (15 Chocolate Sandwich Cookies)
5 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted

Strawberry Curd:

2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Agar Powder
1 1/4 Cups Seedless Strawberry Puree*
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice

Rose Cream:

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Raw Cashews
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Arrowroot Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Agar Powder
Pinch Salt
1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Rosewater

To Finish:

Candied Rose Petals (Optional)

*To make strawberry puree, start with about 1 1/2 pounds of fresh strawberries and thoroughly puree them in your blender or food processor, until completely smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, discard the seeds, and measure out the amount called for in the recipe before proceeding.

Begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees and placing four 4-inch springform pans on a baking sheet. Once finely ground, combine the cookie crumbs with the melted margarine in a large bowl, and stir well until there are no dry patches. Divide the mixture evenly between your ready and waiting tins, using lightly moistened fingers to press it evenly across the bottoms and up the sides. Bake for 8 minutes, turn off the oven, and set aside to let cool.

Meanwhile, to make the strawberry curd filling, whisk together the sugar and agar powder to combine. Place the two into a medium saucepan along with the strawberry puree and lemon juice, turning on the stove to medium heat. Whisk to break up any lumps of sugar, and continue whisking occasionally as it comes up to temperature. Once the mixture reaches a boil, turn off the stove and transfer the hot, liquid curd your baked tartlette shells. Fill each one halfway to the top with the mixture. Don’t worry that if it seems very loose and watery at this point; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Allow the curd to come down to room temperature before refrigerating the half-filled tartlettes. This step is very important, because tossing it in the fridge too early will weaken the gel, and you will end up with a runny filling.

Finally, for the pastry cream, toss the non-dairy milk, cashews, sugar, arrowroot, agar, and salt into your blender and let it rip. Blitz until completely silky-smooth, pausing periodically to scrape down the sides of the canister if necessary. Pour the resulting mixture into a medium saucepan over medium heat, and whisk frequently as it cooks. Be sure to continuously scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to prevent anything from sticking and burning. When bubbles begin to break on the surface, whisk in the rosewater and vanilla, and turn off the heat. Distribute the pastry cream evenly over the tartlettes, filling them all the way to the top. Smooth out the surface and let cool to room temperature before chilling in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving. Top with candied rose petals at the last moment to prevent them from getting soft, if desired.

Makes 4 Tartlettes

Printable Recipe


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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


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Pretty in Pink

May the record show that despite previous protestation, I honestly do have nothing against the union of strawberry and rhubarb. They’re a great couple who seem genuinely happy together, so who am I to break them up? Sure, it wouldn’t hurt for either to have a bit more alone time, maybe see a few other people on the side, but I won’t begrudge their magnetism to each other. Rather, it might be wiser to invite a new ingredient or two to the party in order to liven up the typical date night.

White chocolate cheesecake is the ideal sweet compliment to their tart, fruity flavor. Flecked with vanilla bean, lusciously rich and creamy, it seemed a shame to bake that base into a solid brick, so a simple parfait was in order. Crunchy graham cracker streusel makes up the base, lightly spiced with a touch of warm, comforting cinnamon, immediately followed by the rhubarb compote, infused with cardamom, ginger, and a hint of zesty orange. The real star of the show, the white chocolate cheesecake mousse, comes together in a snap, and is decadent enough to go well with just about any fruit or cookie combo. A dice of fresh strawberries on top keeps things light and refreshing, but it’s hard to resist one final flourish of mousse to top it all off.

It’s spring in a glass, complete with those star-crossed lovers strawberry and rhubarb, a delicious duo if there ever was one.

Spring Cheesecake Parfaits

Graham Cracker Streusel:

9 Rectangle Graham Crackers (1 Sleeve)
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Rhubarb Compote:

1 1/2 Pounds Chopped Rhubarb, Divided
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Orange Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom

White Chocolate Cheesecake Mousse:

6 Ounces Vegan White Chocolate, Homemade Chunks or Store-Bought Chips
1/4 Cup Vegan “Creamer”
2 8-Ounce Packages Vegan “Cream Cheese”
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract*
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

1/2 – 1 Pound Fresh Strawberries, Hulled and Diced

*I used my homemade white chocolate, which is what gave it those lovely vanilla bean specks. If you opt for the store-bought alternative, you may wish to use vanilla bean paste or 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped, for the same visual effect.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silpat; set aside.

Break up the graham crackers and toss the pieces into your food processor. Pulse until mostly broken down, with a few larger chunks remaining. Add in the melted margarine, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse to combine. Spread out the resulting crumbs into small clumps on your prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until golden brown. Let cool.

Meanwhile, you can get the compote started. Set a medium saucepan on the stove over moderate heat, and mix together 1 pound of the rhubarb along with the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture up to a simmer, and let the rhubarb stew for 10 – 15 minutes, until broken down and jammy. Add in the remaining measure of rhubarb, and simmer for an additional 5 – 10 minutes, just until tender. This will give the compote a nice variety of textures. Let cool and chill thoroughly before using.

Finally, for the cheesecake portion, place the chunks of chips of white chocolate in a microwave-safe dish, and pour the “creamer” on top. Microwave for 1 – 2 minutes at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each heating. White chocolate can be stubborn about melting, so be patient and keep a close eye on the mixture so that it doesn’t burn. Once it’s burnt, there’s no fixing it.

Place the “cream cheese,” vanilla extract, and salt in your (washed and dried) food processor, and blend to combine. Pour in the melted white chocolate, and thoroughly puree, until completely smooth and all ingredients are incorporated. If it seems to loose to pipe, chill for 30 minutes before proceeding.

To assemble your parfaits, find 6 – 8 matching glasses, and start with a spoonful or two of the streusel at the bottom. Top that with a good layer of the compote, and then pipe or spoon over a layer of the cheesecake mousse. Cover that with an even layer of diced strawberries, and if desired, finish with one final dollop of mousse. Garnish with halved strawberries and mint leaves for extra flair. Serve chilled.

Makes 6 – 8 Parfaits

Printable Recipe


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April Showers Bring May Berries

Though April may feel like a thing of the distant past, long gone and almost entirely forgotten, it was indeed a rainy one. Gloomy, grey, and wet, it teased mercilessly of a lingering winter, a chill that could not be shaken embedded deep within the core of every moment. Finishing with hurricanes and floods, April sure did go out like a lion this year. But May, oh, lovely little May, did she ever make up for the previous month’s cruelty. Literally overnight, buds on trees appeared and exploded in a flourish of aromatic petals and vibrant green leaves. A forecast filled with nothing but sun for a full week, paired with temperatures around the mid-60′s? I think I can manage with that.

For all the anguish and strife caused by the nature of April, it always feels worth it once we emerge on the other side, into the glorious warmth that is inseparable from spring. Little did I know, there is even more reason to rejoice at the arrival of May; Apparently, it’s also National Strawberry Month. Though this declaration strikes me as being a bit premature, since local strawberries aren’t quite ready for the picking for another week or two, I’m happy to take the opportunity to enjoy one of my favorite fruits even more than usual.

Keeping things sweet and simple, all I wanted was a comforting, classic, strawberry cupcake. Bolstered by a base of strawberry puree in the cake, and topped off with a fresh strawberry frosting, these straight-forward but satisfying treats allow the berries to truly shine. Nothing fancy, no unexpected ingredients or big surprises, but a dessert that quite nearly flew off the kitchen counter as soon as my hungry family laid eyes on it.

What’s worth noting here is the topper- My new favorite means of decoration, as demonstrated by a little red heart this time around. Can you guess what it’s made of, and how?

Yes, it’s strawberry fruit leather! Provided by Stretch Island, I knew I wanted to do something different with these natural fruit snacks, other than just devouring them on the go. Since I have yet to taste fondant worth eating, I’m thrilled to find that fruit leather make for an excellent substitute when it comes to cutting out simple flat shapes like this. All you need are small cookie cutter that fit the size of the leather, and any fruit-flavored confetti or sprinkle you desire is at your fingertips. Although I usually purchase Trader Joe’s fruit leather based merely on the price point, I must admit, the splurge for Stretch Island would be worth it… It struck me how much softer and more flavorful it was!

Since I’ve been very disappointed by various strawberry frostings in the past, most of which are either bland or watery, this topping seemed noteworthy, despite its simplicity. If you’re still feeling stuck for the cake, simply take your favorite recipe for vanilla cupcakes, and swap out the non-dairy milk for fresh strawberry puree. Try throwing in a few chopped berries for added texture, too!

Strawberry Frosting

1/2 Cup Strawberry Puree Reduction*
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
Pinch Salt
1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

*The strawberry puree reduction is ultra simple to make, but you must have patience. Just take fresh strawberries (at least 1/2 pound, but it’s easier to work with if you start with more berries and make extra puree) and thoroughly puree them in your blender or food processor, until completely smooth. If you prefer your frosting to be seedless, go ahead and strain your puree before proceeding. Transfer the berry goo into a medium sauce pan, and set over medium-low heat. Allow it to simmer gently until reduced by half; the amount of time will vary depending on the size and shape of your pot, so make sure you keep an eye on it and stir occasionally. Let cool completely, and measure out 1/2 cup for the frosting.

Place the 1/2 cup of strawberry puree reduction into a medium sauce pan, along with the cornstarch and salt. Whisk vigorously to dissipate any lumps of starch before turning on the heat to medium. Continue whisking gently until the mixture thickens and large bubbles begin to break on the surface. This won’t take very long since it’s a small amount of liquid, so don’t walk away! It takes mere seconds for it to scorch miserably on the bottom. Let cool to room temperature, and then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Move the whole pot into your fridge to chill thoroughly- This should take about 1 – 2 hours.

Once the thickened strawberry mixture is completely chilled, place the margarine and sugar (yes, granulated! Do not try using confectioner’s here) in the bowl of your stand mixer, and cream together until homogenous. Don’t rush this step, as thorough creaming ensures that the sugar granules actually dissolve into the frosting; Allow a solid 3 – 5 minutes here, depending on how cold the margarine is. Finally, add the cooled strawberry mix into the bowl, along with the vanilla. Scrape down the sides as needed, and whip on high speed until the frosting is smooth, creamy, and fluffy. Again, patience is key, so give it time and you will be rewarded!

Makes Enough to Frost 1 Dozen Cupcakes Generously

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