BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


33 Comments

The Heart of the Matter

Perhaps I’ve been looking at the Valentine’s Day ritual from the wrong perspective. Instead of recoiling at the sight of puffy pink hearts and greeting cards of dubious sincerity, focusing on the abundance of new opportunities to indulge my sweet tooth would surely help the occasion pass with less pain.

Chocolate truffles and ornate confections are the “traditional” treats associated with this annual love-fest, but my own cravings have taken a turn for the lighter and fresher this year. Wild Frozen Blueberries never go out of style, especially in Hawaii where discovering fresh berries is about as likely as spying Menehune in Waikiki. Postage stamp-sized freezer space be damned, these tiny blue gems were a necessity to squeeze in. Fully stocked on this taste of home, it was a natural decision to go blue this holiday.

Unimpressive, even homely at first glance, the true beauty of this festive cake is revealed within the very first slice. Concealed beneath an ocean of deep blue batter lies heart of gold- Well, golden vanilla pound cake, at least! Talk about a sweet surprise.

Let the lucky recipient believe that it’s a testament to the power of love, or perhaps some wild baking alchemy, but the truth is grounded in good old-fashioned advanced planning. Little more work than crafting two standard, separate cakes, some clever cookie cutter usage and a heaping cup of patience are the only secret ingredients here.

Proving the power of Frozen Wild Blueberries in every moist, tender forkful, what appears to be a modest measurement goes a very long way, translating into volumes of robust berry flavor throughout. Wrapping around the heart-y core in a gentle embrace, the two components meld harmoniously, while nonetheless remaining distinct. They’re a perfect couple if I ever did see one.

Even if there isn’t a special someone to indulge this Valentine’s Day, don’t hide your heart away! Just cut yourself a thick slice of cake and taste the love that only Wild Blueberries have to share, no strings attached.

Hidden Heart Wild Blueberry Cake

Vibrant Vanilla Pound Cake:

1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Vanilla Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Extract

Wild Blueberry Cake:

1 Cup Frozen Wild Blueberries, Thawed
1/3 Cup Water
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 1/4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

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

Beginning with the vanilla cake, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. Once the dry goods are well-distributed, turn your attention to the wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the non-dairy milk of your choice with the lemon juice, allowing it to sit for about 5 minutes to curdle slightly. Add in the oil and vanilla, stir thoroughly, and introduce this liquid mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients.

Mix gently with a wide spatula, stirring just enough to bring the batter together with few remaining lumps. Transfer into your prepared loaf pan, smooth out the top, and slide it into the center of your oven. Bake for 50 – 55 minutes, until lightly golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out cleanly. Let cool completely and chill for at least 1 hour before proceeding.

Once your cake is nice and cold all the way through, use a very sharp serrated knife to slice it into 1-inch thick slabs. Take a large heart-shaped cookie cutter that fits within the confines of the slices and punch out your heart shapes; cover with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out and set aside.

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

Moving on to the Wild Blueberry batter, toss the berries into your blender or food processor, and thoroughly puree. Slowly drizzle in the water, lemon juice, oil, and vanilla to incorporate. Add in the sugar into the machine last, and continue blending until completely smooth, with just a few visible seeds remaining.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour and baking powder, soda, and salt.  Just as before, pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry goods, stirring to combine with as few strokes as possible.

Pour a thin layer of the batter into the prepared loaf pan, spreading it out smoothly so that it evenly reaches about ½ – ¾ of a centimeter all the way across the bottom. Retrieve your heart-shaped vanilla cake cut-outs, and line them up in a row along the center. Naturally, they’ll fit if you can arrange them in the same order as they were cut, but it will work just as beautifully if they’ve gotten mixed up too. Pour the remainder of the blue batter around the sides and over the tops of the hearts, being careful to fill up any crevices. Tap the pan firmly but gently on the counter to release any air bubbles that may disrupt the pattern. It’s likely that you’ll end up with some extra batter that won’t fit into the pan; bake it off separately as cupcakes or mini-loaves to enjoy later!

Carefully slide the loaf pan into the oven and bake for 30 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into one of the blue sides pulls out cleanly. Don’t test for doneness in the center; of course the vanilla cake will be done, since it was already well-baked to begin with.

Let cool completely before slicing and serving.

Makes 10 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe

This post was written for and is sponsored by Wild Blueberries, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


39 Comments

Chocolate Conquers All

Time has a way of wearing down the rough edges, if not healing all wounds. No longer quite as embittered about all the artifice and commercial underpinnings of Valentine’s Day, even without a significant other for another year, it doesn’t rile me up in quite the same way any more. Gone is the angst-filled teenager adorning black t-shirts with glittery beads spelling out the words “LOVE BITES” or handing out anti-love letters to friends and frenemies alike. Truthfully, it’s not all so terrible as it once appeared. Having an annual reminder to appreciate the people in your life, romantically or not, certainly doesn’t hurt. Above all else though, it’s an excellent excuse to splurge on dessert once more, pulling out all the stops under the guise of treating someone else. It’s okay, we all know the baker wants to indulge their own tastes, too.

Chocolate is the taste du jour, so popular that no mere box of truffles could contain it. Brownies, thick, fudgy squares far more versatile than the classic little black dress, are easy to glam up for the occasion. Unintentionally adding a supposed aphrodisiac to the mix, a few dried black figs simply struck me as a perfect pairing to all cacao decadence, light and fruity with a bit of toothsome pull. Likewise, the inclusion of fresh mint seemed like the ideal way to brighten the whole treat, lest the density of these brownies overwhelm the palate.

No, it’s not a figment of your imagination, but they are indeed fig-mint brownies. Stranger things could happen- Just take my gradual acceptance of V-Day as proof.

Fig-Mint Brownies

1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1/4 Cup Lightly Packed Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/4 Cups Dried Black Mission Figs, Chopped
1/2 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
10 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
2/3 Cup Canola Oil
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Cup Vegan Sour Cream or Greek-Style Yogurt
1 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees, and lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and cocoa. Toss in the minced fresh mint, instant coffee, baking powder, and granulated sugar, mixing together thoroughly. Add in the chopped figs and chocolate chips, and toss to coat in the dry mixture. This will help prevent them from sinking to the bottom of your brownies during baking.

Place the chopped chocolate and oil in a separate, microwave-safe bowl, and heat for about 60 seconds. Stir vigorously, and continue to heat at intervals of 30 seconds, stirring well each time, until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Mix in the brown sugar, sour cream or yogurt, and vanilla and peppermint extracts.

Let the chocolate cool for a few minutes so that it doesn’t melt your chips, and then pour that wet mixture into the dry. Stir just enough to bring the batter together into a thick, fudgy mass, and transfer it into your prepared pan. Press it out into one even layer. Scatter the quartered sandwich cookies over the top, and press them gently.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until the top no longer looks glossy and is somewhat crackled, and the edges are firm. Do not be alarmed if it still seems extremely wet. Let cool fully and completely. Blot any excess oils off with paper towel if necessary before slicing. Share with many someones that you love!

Makes 16 – 24 Brownies

Printable Recipe


43 Comments

Heart Beets

Unromantic and full of teenage angst, I’ve hated Valentine’s Day with a passion for the better part of my “adult” life. Back in middle school, while all the other kids were still crafting cute cards to share amongst friends, I went home and embroidered the words “Love Bites” in sparkly seed beads on a black t-shirt. Paired with inky-black dyed hair and baggy pants approximately eight sizes too large for my frame, it was the perfect ensemble that said Don’t even think about talking to me today. I was simply charming as a child.

Though still fairly bitter about the rampant commercialism inherent in most Valentine’s Day celebrations, forced sentimentalism, and being single in general, I’ve warmed considerably to the concept since then. Instead of writing it off as a couples-only event, it’s become more about appreciating the people I care about most in my life, be it my mom, my dad, my dog, or what have you. Sure, there’s a good bit of love shared everyday so a holiday needn’t be necessary, but isn’t it nice to have a legitimate excuse to spoil these wonderful people more than normal? That’s my new understanding of Valentine’s Day.

The perfect V-Day dinner isn’t full of supposed aphrodisiacs or drenched in fine wine; It’s all about the care that goes into preparation. Pierogi, a delight that rarely if ever graces our table, sounded like the ideal dish. More involved than your average weeknight meal, shaping each individual potato pillow must be created with great attention to detail. If that sort of dedication doesn’t say “I love you and I want to feed you very well tonight,” then I don’t know what does.

A casual affair through and through, it’s the gesture that speaks louder than words. You don’t need to make your pierogi shaped like fussy hearts (although you certainly could) because it says enough that you would make them from scratch. Better yet, these are no average pierogi…

Made to match the occasion, they’re stuffed with an alluring pink filling of red beets and mashed potato! That savory, earthy flavor paired with the lightly herbaceous wrapping is simply irresistible, especially when pan-fried and paired with a smidgen of vegan “sour cream” on the side. Of course, you could go the healthier route and boil them more like ravioli, but come on, live a little- Treat your loved ones to a truly special meal!

Blushing Beet Pierogi

Herbed Pierogi Dough:

2 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Dried Parsley
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Dill Weed
1 Teaspoon Dried Basil
1 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Plain Greek-Style Vegan Yogurt or Vegan “Sour Cream”
1/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

Beet and Potato Filling:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Diced
1/3 Cup Sauerkraut, Drained
1/2 Pound Peeled, Cooked and Cubed Yukon Gold Potatoes
1/2 Pound Peeled, Cooked and Finely Chopped Red Beets
1/4 Cup Plain Greek-Style Vegan Yogurt or Vegan “Sour Cream”
Salt and Pepper to Taste

To Cook (Optional):

3 – 4 Tablespoons Margarine or Coconut Oil

Prepare the dough by combining the flour, dried herbs, and salt in a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer.  Separately, mix together the vegan yogurt, water, and oil before pouring these wet ingredients in as well.  Stir thoroughly until the mixture comes together into a cohesive dough, and then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead by hand for 5 – 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes so the gluten can relax, which will allow it to roll out more easily. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet, and add in the diced onion when hot.  Saute for 5 – 8 minutes on medium heat, until softened and beginning to brown around the edges.  Add the sauerkraut, and cook for just 1 or 2 more minutes.  Turn off the heat, and combine the contents of your skillet with the cooked potatoes, beets, and “yogurt” in a medium bowl. Mash together until creamy but still good and chunky, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool for at least 20 minutes before assembling your pierogi.

NOTE: You can prepare both components up to this point up to one day in advance. Just wrap the dough up tightly, stash the filling in an air-tight container, and store both in the fridge.

Roll out your dough as thinly as possible, pausing to allow it to rest if it continues to spring back and resist rolling thinner. Cut it out into equal circles with a 3-inch round cookie cutter. Re-roll scraps and repeat.

Place 1 – 2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each circle, paint a dab of water around the edge, and seal into half-moon shapes. Crimp the outer edges with a fork to secure.

NOTE: You can again pause here and freeze the pierogi for up to a month. Just line them up on a baking sheet so that none are touching, and let them chill down in the freezer until solid. Transfer to a zip-lock bag or an air-tight container, label clearly, and fit them back into the freezer until you’re ready to enjoy. Don’t defrost; cook them as you normally would, but allow a few extra minutes.

To cook, slide them in a large pot of salted, simmering water for 5 – 9 minutes (up to 15 minutes if frozen), or until they float. Cook only 12 at a time so that you don’t crowd the pot. Remove gently with a slotted spoon. Serve, or for the more indulgent option, pan-fry them in the optional margarine or coconut oil until each side is golden brown; about 5 – 8 minutes. Enjoy with someone (or many someones) that you love!

Makes 30 – 40 Pierogi

Printable Recipe

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,813 other followers