BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Pop It Like It’s Hot

Freshly fallen leaves have settled in crispy piles everywhere the eye can see, while cooler breezes have swept away the summer heat so thoroughly and completely, it’s hard to believe we ever faced such oppressive temperatures. For most people, this shift tends to evoke thoughts of apples, pumpkins, and mulled wine, but for me, this time is inextricably linked with a craving for popcorn, of all things. Popcorn was never a part of any particular seasonal traditions in my childhood, nor was it reserved only for specific times of year, but something about the colder weather and advancing calendar days makes me crave the crunchy stuff. Best of all is the sweet and salty combination of kettle corn, packing in a more satisfyingly crispy texture than plain old Jiffy Pop.

There’s just one self-imposed rule to my annual popcorn cravings: Never pop the same flavors twice. This year, I was inspired by a recent taste of sriracha popcorn, a delightfully fiery little snack that delivered a nice, warm burn with every bite. What it lacked was balance, and all I could do was dream of how much better the concept could be executed with just a bit of sweetness to round things out… At least, until I got into the kitchen for myself.

Like standard kettle corn, these sweet, salty, and spicy little morsels couldn’t be easier or faster to whip up. Whether it’s a sudden craving that strikes or a house full of hungry guests to accommodate, you can’t go wrong with this crowd-pleasing treat. Adjust the sriracha to taste, depending on just how hot you like it.

Sriracha Kettle Corn

3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1/2 Cup Popcorn Kernels
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
3 – 5 Teaspoons Sriracha
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Flaky Sea Salt

Heat the coconut oil in a large stockpot over medium heat, along with two or three kernels. Keep covered, and when the first few kernels pop, go ahead and add in the rest, along with the sugar and sriracha. Stir well to coat before quickly covering with the lid once more. Shake the pot constantly and vigorously to prevent your corn from burning. This is critical for even cooking and fewer “dead” (unpopped) kernels as well.

Once the popping has slowed to one every two to three seconds, remove the pot from the heat and uncover, continuing to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped. Pour the popcorn out onto a sheet pan and sprinkle evenly with salt, to taste. Let cool and break up the large clumps, picking through to remove any unpopped popcorn kernels that might remain.

Makes 8 – 10 Cups Popcorn

Printable Recipe


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Wordless Wednesday: San Francisco Treats

Vanilla Soy Frozen Yogurt at Fraiche

Like a Vegan (Ratatouille Crepe) at Galette 88

Charlie Brown’s Nightmare (Chocolate Soy Ice Cream with Peanut Butter and Cookies) at Holy Gelato!

Vegan Deep Dish at Patxi’s Pizza

Onigilly Set with Shiitake, Hijiki, and Natto Onigiri at Onigilly

The Curried Veg Pasty at The Pie Shop


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Back to Baking

Is the coast clear yet? Has the holiday sugar overload and palate fatigue worn off? Have the chronic dieters lost their New Year’s resolve? I sure hope so, because I’ve got one killer dessert recipe burning a hole in my archives and I don’t think I can’t wait to share it much longer. Never mind the terrible picture, because this one has inner beauty hidden within every fold.

Singing out with the depth and soul that only dark, sticky molasses can bring to the table, these are not your average plain Jane cinnamon rolls. Boldly spiced with ginger taking the clear lead, cinnamon is still invited to the party of course, but no longer the sole center of attention. It’s finally time for the rest of the well-seasoned entourage to shine, with all their lively, distinctive degrees of warmth on full display. Gingerbread may be most closely associated with the holidays, but if you ask me, that flavor bomb of a spice blend never goes out of style.

With all that goodness contained within the very foundation of the buns, what more could one possibly think of rolling up inside? All it takes is a simple combination of lemon and sugar to really push each yeasted spiral over the top. Brightening up breakfast, dessert, or snack time with a zesty contrast to those darker, richer tastes, any citrus fruit could make for an equally irresistible addition. Don’t stop at dabbling with just orange or lime zest- Tangerine, grapefruit, or even finely chopped kumquats sound pretty tempting, too.

Gingerbread Lemon Buns

Gingerbread Dough:

1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Cube Fresh Yeast or 1 (1/4-Ounce) Packet Active Dry Yeast
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Molasses
2 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Pinch Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
3 – 3 1/2 Cups All-Purpose flour
1 Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Lemon-Sugar Filling:

3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
1 Cup Granulated sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon

Heat the non-dairy milk of your choice in a microwave safe bowl for just a minute to warm, but do not bring it to a boil. Stir in the yeast and let is sit for about 5 minutes until frothy and active. Once re-awakened, pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer, along with the sugar, oil, and molasses. Mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the first 3 cups of flour, spices, wheat gluten (if using), plus the salt. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed and there are no large pockets of unblended spices remaining. Add the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet, and beginning at the lowest speed, use the dough hook to slowly combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed to keep everything incorporated, until the dough forms a cohesive ball. If it still seems excessively wet, add up to 1/2 cup of flour.

Let the mixer continue to knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. You could also knead it by hand; just take 15 minutes to do so instead. Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic, and let rest in a warm area for about 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and turn it out on to a well-floured surface. Roll it out into a rectangle of about 14 x 18 inches. Brush generously with the melted margarine. Combine the sugar and zest in a small bowl before sprinkling the mixture evenly over the entire surface. Starting from one of the shorter ends, roll the rectangle up as tightly as possible, pinching the seam shut when you reach the other end.

Use a very sharp knife to cut the roll into approximately 1 1/2-inch pieces. Fit them into a lightly grease 9 x 9-inch pan, spacing them as evenly as possible. Begin preheating your oven at this point to 350 degrees, and allow the rolls to rise for 45 – 60 minutes before sliding them into the hot oven.

Bake for 25 – 35 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before digging in.

Makes 9 – 12 Buns

Printable Recipe


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Crème de la Crème Caramel

Quick! Drop what you’re doing and whip up decadent, restaurant-quality dessert in a matter of minutes, without even turning on the oven. Don’t think it’s possible? With a properly stocked pantry and some shrewd thinking, you’re much closer to sweet indulgence than you may realize.

Spur of the moment, inspired by the full jar of speculoos spread sitting idly by in the cupboard, it suddenly became clear that this simple ingredient had a much greater destination than the average toast topper. Lending richness, body, and flavor all in one fell swoop, the cinnamon-scented cookie butter shines in this creamy custard. The slightly bitter edge of a dark caramel sauce envelopes each trembling round, adding greater depth than speculoos itself could hope to achieve. This is some swoon-worthy stuff, make no mistake. It may be a snap to throw together, but it sure doesn’t taste like it.

This is also my entry in the latest contest sponsored by So Delicious and hosted by Go Dairy Free.

Speculoos Crème Caramel

Caramel:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
1/4 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Speculoos Custard:

3 Cups So Delicious Vanilla Almond Milk
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Creamy Speculoos Spread
1 Tablespoon Agar Agar Powder
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot Powder
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Lightly grease six 6-ounce ramekins and set aside, but keep them nearby so they’re easily accessible.

Beginning with the caramel layer, combine the sugar, water, and vinegar in a small saucepan. Stir to moisten all of the sugar, but keep your spatula out of the pan from here on in, to prevent crystallization. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture starts to darken around the edges; 8 – 10 minutes.

Rather than stirring, gently swirl the pan to mix the sugar syrup and evenly color the whole mixture at once. This will also ensure that it doesn’t burn in the corners or on the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until the sugar turns dark amber. It should be just on the edge of burning and smoking, but not so close that it smells acrid. Once it starts to darken, it will continue to take on color very quickly, so keep a very close eye on it.

Turn off the heat and immediately pour the liquid caramel into your prepared ramekins, equally distributing it between the six. Let the custard cups sit, undisturbed at room temperature for the caramel to harden.

Meanwhile, turn your attention to the custard portion of the dessert.

In a medium saucepan, vigorously whisk together the non-dairy milk, sugar, salt, speculoos, agar, and arrowroot. It can be difficult to break up the mass of speculoos spread at first, so you may find it easier just to toss everything into your blender and give it a quick blitz instead. Either way, make sure that there are no lumps remaining before placing the saucepan on the stove over medium heat. Whisk frequently but gently, taking care to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan as as it heats. Cook until bubbles begin to break regularly on the surface and the liquid has significantly thickened.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla, stirring until fully incorporated. Carefully pour equal portions of the custard into the waiting ramekins. Tap the bottoms of the cups lightly on the counter to knock out air bubbles. Smooth out the tops with a spatula if necessary.

Let cool to room temperature before transferring to the fridge. Let rest until chilled; at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days.

To serve, simply tip each custard out of its ramekin and onto its own dessert plate. If it doesn’t release right away, run a thin knife around the edges and try again.

Makes 6 Servings

Printable Recipe


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A Recipe is a Terrible Thing to Waste

New cookbooks are born every day and the internet is flooded in a sea of recipes, free and for profit, good and bad, garnering raves and rants alike. Still, it seems that the hunger for more can never be satisfied, and the quest to continue creating is never ending. For as many recipes as I make, some get lost in the shuffle, or forgotten in the archives like that lone jar of mustard pushed to the back of the fridge. Luckily, in this case at least, these things don’t go bad. No matter when they’re rediscovered, they taste as fresh as the day they were made. When it comes time to clean out the shelves, or the digital file cabinet, there can be all sort of delightful surprises.

However, I might argue that these dead-easy cookie bars are better than finding a half-used jar of old mustard. Both creamy and crunchy, sweet and salty, and chocolatey all over, the combination of these few ingredients tastes something like a cross between peanut butter cups and party mix. Invented on one cold day in the college dorms when few ingredients could be scrounged up, these humble pantry staples were all I had to work with, but did they ever exceed expectations. Sliced into generous chunks and left on the kitchen table to share, not a crumb remained by nightfall. I like to think that these crowd-pleasing treats won me a couple more friends that day.

Rediscovered and revamped to better suit my current baking style, this seemed like the perfect time to bring these sweet squares back to life and into the public eye. What might have spurred on their overdue reveal? Why, the Earth Balance Spring to Life Contest! Made with their creamy peanut butter, I can’t imagine a more rich, nutty topping to crown these jewels. Though the competition is already underway, the entry period for desserts will be opening on Monday, April 30th, and now I’m ready to join the fray with this stunningly simple recipe. Bake up a storm this weekend and join me- Of course I’d love to win, but moreover, I want new winning recipes to add to my collection!

Peanut Butter Fudge Pretzel Bars

Pretzel Crust:

3/4 Cup White Whole Wheat or All Purpose Flour
3/4 Cup Coarsely Ground Pretzels
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread
2 – 4 Tablespoons Water

Peanut Butter Fudge Topping:

12 Ounces (2 Cups) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Cup Earth Balance Creamy Peanut Butter
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Roughly Crushed Pretzel Twists

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

Mix together the flour, ground pretzels, and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter or a fork, cut in the margarine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Drizzle in the water, one tablespoon at a time, until the crumbs come together into a cohesive dough. Transfer to your prepared pan, and press the dough firmly and evenly into the bottom. Bake for 20 – 24 minutes until golden brown all over. Allow to cool for at least ten minutes before proceeding.

Place the chocolate pieces and agave in a microwave-safe container. Heat on full power for one minute. Stir vigorously, and add the peanut butter. Heat once more for about 30 seconds and stir again thoroughly, until completely smooth. If the chocolate hasn’t all melted yet, continue heating in 30-second increments on half power until the mixture is perfectly smooth. Mix in the vanilla, and quickly pour over the cooled crust. Sprinkle the crushed pretzels evenly over the top, and be generous! It may seem like a lot, but you want to almost completely cover the fudge layer. Use the palms of your hands to gently press the pieces in so that they adhere.

Refrigerate for about 1 hour, until firm. Slice into bars or squares, and let come back up to room temperature before serving. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature, in one layer. Though the fudge is firm enough, stacking squares is a bad idea because they’re likely to smear and become extremely messy.

Makes 12 – 16 Bar Cookies

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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Trading Milk for Cookies

Bloggers are easily the most generous people on the planet. Perhaps it’s a shared gene that includes the desire to write and confide one’s intimate thoughts to complete strangers on the internet, but for whatever reason, I’ve found that those with blogs seem to go above and beyond to share the things they love with the world. All it took was a passing a mention of my jealousy for Marika‘s new found soy creamer, only available in Canada, and I found myself with a parcel containing just that a few weeks later, with a few single serve soymilks thrown in for good measure. I’m still floored by such unhesitating kindness.

Despite her protests that she needed nothing in return, no good deed can go unpunished, so I set to work scheming up an appropriate ‘thank you’ present. Trying to settle on a special treat that would still hold up to shipping across the border, it quickly became clear that the only option would be to trade cookies for milk.

Turning yet again to my Bakery-Style Chocolate Chip Cookies as printed in Go Dairy Free, I built an entirely new framework with the help of that solid foundation. Have I given myself away by now? I simply love that darn cookie, any way you slice it (or more accurately, any way you scoop and flatten it.)

This time, seeking to spice things up a bit and liven up the same-old, same-old, I created what I lovingly named Lively Lemon Cookies. Zesty citrus meets spicy galangal, essentially the southeast Asian version of ginger root, for a hot and sweet union. White chips add pops of cooling sweetness, but I can imagine that the bitter contrast of dark chocolate could make for an equally addictive treat. Spiciness is highly subjective, so I erred on the side of caution, dialing it back a bit, but now I feel that I might actually have done better to double the dose. Thus, I’m providing a range so you can suit your own taste buds.

Starting with the aforementioned chocolate chip cookie recipe, use all granulated sugar, add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon ground galangal (or ginger), the zest of 1 lemon, 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and a pinch cayenne pepper. Finally, switch out the semi-sweet chocolate chips for white chocolate chips, or if unavailable, roughly chopped macadamia nuts.

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