BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Dreaming of a White Chocolate Christmas

Gleaming in the early morning light, bright and luminous as freshly fallen snow, white chocolate is an irreplaceable staple for the holiday baker. Generous pans of fudge, slabs of peppermint bark, and boxes of cookies all shimmer with these sweet morsels, unrivaled in their versatility for ornamentation and flavor enhancement. The trouble, as every careful shopper knows, is that mainstream options contain far more dairy than cacao. White chocolate gets a bad rap for precisely this reason, to say nothing of the waxy hydrogenated oils that often bind the whole sugary messes together. While relatively limited vegan options exist on the market, the tides are slowly changing.

Homemade options are always a treat, and you’ll find boutique bars aplenty online, but what I’m talking about today are genuine chips, capable of holding their own in any dessert rather than functioning simply as a treat to eat out of hand. Right now, there are two types of vegan chocolate chips: Those that are good for melting, dipping, and drizzling, and those that maintain their shape, more resistant to the heat of the oven.

The newest chip off the block is somewhat revolutionary; 100% organic, no hydrogenated oils or questionable fillers in sight. Cocoa butter, rice milk powder, sugar, and vanilla are the only things that go into Pascha Chocolate‘s new rice milk white chocolate chips. For the obsessive label-readers or highly allergic eaters, this stuff is heaven-sent. Flatter than the traditional snowy peaks of conventional chocolate chips, they’re more like crisp white disks, ideal for melting down into creamy cacao creations.

Mildly flavored, they don’t beat you over the head with sweetness, but whisper gently of vanilla with a subtle buttery undertone. This nuanced approach is perfect for crowning more aggressively flavored baked goods, like these gingerbread bars pictured above, cutting their intensity without detracting from the overall experience. Although their more delicate composition means they’re more likely to pool and puddle when faced with a trip through the oven, they’re perfect for turning into white ganache or icing once your treats are fully baked. For your highest quality option with the cleanest label, Pascha Chocolate is your one and only choice.

If you’re craving a smattering of white chocolate freckles throughout your cookies or cakes, however, you still have one great option! While there are a few white chips out there designed for the kosher crowd, most of those taste of little more than wax and sugar, entirely eschewing cocoa butter and thus losing the essence of this simple sweet addition. Not so with the White Chocolate Chips offered by Chocolate Emporium. These are the little morsels of pale cacao goodness that I’ve been buying (and hoarding) in bulk for years.

Although they’re stubbornly resistant to melting down smoothly, that quality serves them perfectly for baked applications. They have a slightly softer chew right out of hand, but somehow manage to hold their own in the face of a 350 degree inferno. Their flavor would be described as subtle at best, but their main function should be to add sweetness, creaminess, and color contrast anyway.

When the chips are down, these two are your very best bets, and both should have a place of honor in your kitchen year round. Vegan white chocolate is still something of a rarity, so these sweet treats will undoubtedly elicit astonishment, wonder, and awe- Not to mention hunger.


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Short, Sweet, and Sharp

This is not a gift guide. To call it as much would be self-congratulatory exaggeration, promising far greater shopping insights than such a short list could deliver. The truth of the matter is that every year, I dream of highlighting my favorite products, sharing them far and wide, but every year I find that proposition entirely overwhelming. A serial online shopper, I’m guilty of stuffing my virtual cart all year round, amounting to scores of marvelous new finds that go entirely unsung, despite best intentions.

Besides, I’m not about to declare how you should be spending your hard-earned money, whether it’s on gifts for loved ones or yourself. Rather, this is just a short, sweet, and sharp round up of just the latest things I’m loving, and think that you might enjoy, too.

Short: Microplane has become synonymous with the product they’ve innovated, and for good reason. They continue to produce the incontrovertibly best tools for removing zest in short, attractive, and flavorful little strips, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of their range. All graters are not created equal, and now that Microplane offers a wide variety of shredding textures through their attractive Master Series, I could never go back to my cheap dollar store stand-in. From fine to extra coarse, these sharp tools are a simple but drastic upgrade for anyone who likes to zest it up in the kitchen.

Sweet: Opening up this box on Christmas Day really would be pretty magical for recipients of any age. Custom made to your tastes, the Magic Candy Factory lets buyers pick out flavors, shapes, and glittery finishes to fabricate their very own 3D-printed gummy candies. All vegan, delicious, and beautifully rendered, this just might be the big winner of the gift giving season. After all, who could ever be disappointed by a mango-flavored, sparkling, gummy octopus?

Sharp: They say you should never give a knife as a present because it will sever your relationship with that person, but I’m not buying it. I am, however, buying this W├╝sthof Epicure 9″ Double-Serrated Bread Knife, which cuts through even the toughest crusts just like… Well, you know. Those pointed teeth really dig right in and create clean slices with little effort. Leave your dull knife in the dust and consider upgrading your current arsenal with this well-balanced blade.

Now tell me, what are you currently loving, coveting, and craving? There’s always space for more on my wish list…


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Go Big or Go Bake

Six ounces of flour, sugar, chocolate, and nuts. Tipping the scales at almost a half pound of dough, the chocolate chips cookies from Levain Bakery in NYC are infamous for good reason. Instantly recognizable, these behemoth baked goods have inspired a cult-like following and countless imitators over the years. Size alone sets them apart from the pack, but it’s the distinctive combination of the very best textural aspects of America’s favorite chewy cookie that cements their place in popular culture. Crisp on the outside, each miniature mountain is tanned golden brown from a blazing hot oven, yet still nearly raw and luxuriously gooey on the inside. If the mere mental image of that sort of decadence doesn’t send your sweet tooth into overdrive, then perhaps you should check your pulse.

Copycat formulas are a dime a dozen as just a cursory internet search will show. Some remain more faithful than others, and I will shamelessly declare mine a vast departure from the inspiration. Naturally, translating the concept into vegan vernacular takes the results out of the running for best doppelgangers, so I saw no harm in taking a few more flavorful liberties from there.

Levain Bakery makes a big fuss about stripping down their dough to the bare essentials, omitting even vanilla extract, which quite frankly strikes me as a crime against all cookies. Also, rather than sticking with the traditionally prescribed walnuts, cashews add a more buttery crunch to my mixture. Finally, and I must apologize to the Levain Bakery fanatics here, but I simply didn’t have the gustatory fortitude to form my balls of batter into full six-ounce cookie bombs. Knocking them down to a mere quarter pound still yielded enormous treats will all the right ratios, but in ever so slightly more manageable portions.

If this is your first introduction to the iconic cookie, consider yourself warned: Each one is truly a mouthful. For the jaded eater who thinks that all chocolate chip cookies are more or less the same, I dare you to try just one bite while maintaining a straight face. Something as universally adored as the classic chocolate chip cookie truly needs no further explanation, so for all those voracious bakers who have already skipped on to the recipe, I don’t blame you. All anyone really needs to know is that you’re in for a treat.

Levain Look-Alike Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cup Vegan Butter, at Room Temperature
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Vital Wheat Gluten
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1 Cup Cashews, Toasted and Roughly Chopped

Place the vegan butter in the bowl of your stand mixer and begin beating it on low speed to soften. Add in both sugars and cream together until completely homogeneous, pausing as needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Slowly pour in the aquafaba, vanilla, and vinegar, blending thoroughly to incorporate. It may look somewhat strange and curdled at this point, but don’t worry as long as the it’s well mixed.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, vital wheat gluten, salt, baking powder and soda. Add the dry ingredients into the stand mixer bowl and start it on low speed. Once mostly incorporated, add in chocolate and nuts, and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and all of the goodies are properly distributed.

Stash the dough in the fridge and chill for at least 1 hour before proceeding.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line 3 – 4 baking sheets with slipats or parchment paper.

Scoop out about 1/3 cup of dough for each cookie, roll the dough lightly between moistened palms into round balls, and do NOT flatten them out. Allow a generous margin of space between each mound on the baking sheets; at least 1 1/2 – 2 inches of breathing room in between the cookies.

Bake for 10 – 14 minutes, until lightly golden brown all over. Quickly remove the silpats from the hot baking sheets as soon as they emerge from the oven and let cool completely. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for up to a week… If you can resist them that long.

Makes About 16 Giant Cookies

Printable Recipe


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Spread Hope

Once relatively unheard of in the US, the popularity of hummus has risen to astronomic new heights within the condiment hierarchy. Now rivaling longtime champions ketchup and salsa for top honors, it’s more noteworthy when you can’t find this beloved dip at any establishment selling food. No where is the craze made clearer than in the mainstream marketplace, where even corner store bodegas are likely to carry at least one or two brands. For that matter, there’s a good chance you can even scrounge up a package of the creamy chickpea puree at your local drug store, right alongside the emergency rations of plain saltine crackers and white bread. It’s impossible to escape, as if anyone would ever want to, but such an overwhelming abundance of options does make it challenging to weed out the winners and losers in the field.

Hope Hummus sets itself apart from the pack by blending up unique yet approachable flavors that offer a delicious departure from the average bean dip. Sure, there’s still the austere plain and garlic options for the traditionalist, providing a solid standby for the pickiest palates, but greater gustatory adventures await the more intrepid eater. Heat things up with Thai Coconut Curry or Sriracha hummus, or explore new territory entirely with sweet Dark Chocolate hummus.

Though I can’t claim to have experienced the full range of inventive combinations, it’s only a matter of time before I can hunt them down, since my initial experiences have proven so gratifying. Picking favorites is never easy, but I need to give a special shout out to the Kale Pesto hummus, which combines everyone’s favorite leafy green superfood with basil pesto, lending vibrant, fresh flavor to this coarse blend. Primed for any party platter, it also strikes me as a promising candidate for enlivening creamy pasta sauce or topping a bowlful of piping hot tomato soup. Speaking of hot, Spicy Avocado hummus lights a smoldering savory flavor with piquant jalapeno peppers, tempered by creamy avocado. Though not nearly a five-alarm fire, it certainly boasted a well-defined spice that would appease any heat seekers in the crowd.

In this booming category, surprisingly few variations can be found on the classic staple, despite increasing demands. Hope Hummus is one company clearly thinking outside the plastic tub while always emphasizing high quality, organic ingredients. For a quick fix snack, consider branching out and trying their fresh twists on hummus next time.


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Lady Marmalade

Batten down the hatches and hide the good porcelain; the holidays are here again. Ready or not, Thanksgiving hits in just over a week, throwing cooks and eaters across the country into a predictable annual frenzy. If your menu is already planned and locked down, you’re probably sick of reading the incessant recipe suggestions churning out of every food publication, online, in print, on TV, over the radio waves, and beyond. If you’ve been remiss in your advanced preparations, your blood pressure is probably spiking to greater heights with every mention of yet another overly complicated, time consuming new dish to consider adding to the elaborate affair.

Let’s take it back a step, shall we? Eight days is still plenty of time from either perspective, whether you need to get your act together or just stick to the script. No matter what, you’ve still gotta eat in the meantime.

There’s enough to stress about without adding another random recipe into the mix, so I’m not saying this is one for the Thanksgiving table. It does just happen to fit the theme beautifully, incorporating seasonal root vegetables into an easy condiment that would be just as home atop crackers as it would alongside your festive roast of choice. Ruby red, it glistens with the same luminosity as cranberry sauce, but shines with an entirely unique earthy yet sweet and zesty flavor. Beet marmalade was one of our top selling items at Health in a Hurry, and it remains a nostalgic favorite of mine. It’s the one single dish that I can point to that finally converted me from beet hater to lover.

I deeply regret not writing down that secret formula before the restaurant closed, but the good news is that it’s such a simple concept, it doesn’t take much effort to recreate a very close proxy. Caramelized onions lay down a rich, savory baseline, while jazzy orange peel hits the high notes, complimented by the sweetness of maple syrup. Perhaps an unlikely combination on paper, the final flavor sings with a resonance that far exceeds the sum of its parts.

I’m not saying you should save it for Thanksgiving… But I’m not saying it would be a bad guest at the table, either.

Beet Marmalade

4 Medium Red Beets
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Sliced
1 Large Orange, Zested and Juiced
2 Tablespoons 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets up in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered, and roast for about an hour, or until fork tender. Let cool before peeling. If they’re cooked properly, the skins should just rub right off with a bit of pressure.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat and add in the sliced onion. Cook gently, stirring frequently, for 30 – 40 minutes, until deeply caramelized and almost silky in texture. Add in the orange juice about halfway through, and reduce the heat if necessary to prevent burning.

Roughly chop the cooked beets and place them in your food processor along with the orange zest and caramelized onions. Add in the maple syrup and salt. Lightly pulse all of the ingredients together until broken down and thoroughly combined but still quite chunky.

Serve warm or chilled, as a dip or topping for crackers, a condiment on the dinner table, or as a spread with bread.

Makes about 2 Cups

Printable Recipe


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NuGo On the Go

The idea of going “back to school” has taken on a new meaning. Mere months after graduating, I find myself returning to campus bright and early each morning once again, eager to learn about the latest in photo technology. Now the difference is that instead of heading into the classroom, I plunge into the stacks of rental lenses in the equipment room, trying furtively to teach myself the intricate codes to their order and maintenance. These lessons are quite possibly even more difficult than those I grappled with as an undergrad, and while the days are long, the hours seem to evaporate in an instant. It’s the most I can do keep my head above water in the flood of paperwork, let alone steal away a full 30 minutes for a lunch break. After just a few hours in this position, I came to realize how little I appreciated those assiduous lab techs in my days as a student.

Times like these call for emergency sustenance; packable and compact, shelf-stable and easy to eat, healthy but of course, above all else, delicious.

The field of energy bars certainly has exploded over the past decade, expanding into a dizzying array of flavors, macro-nutrient combinations, and special dietary considerations. A blessing and a curse to those in need of quick snacks on the go, it’s difficult to discern when you’re actually picking up a cookie bar or sidewalk chalk dressed up in a shiny Mylar wrapper.

NuGo is a brand that’s been on the scene for ages, diversifying its offerings along different lines to accommodate shifting eater demographics. While their more old-school products contain milk and some admittedly questionable ingredients, their vegan NuGo Slim bars are more than enough to sustain the discerning herbivore. The company was kind enough to share a taste of their new Chocolate Mint and Toasted Coconut bars with me, and both were fine fodder for these busy days on the job.

Dressed in a cloak of dark chocolate, each one gives off the impression of a candy bar, but at half the sweetness, bear no threat of inducing a sugar coma. Although slightly dry, the texture is soft, with an easy bite that is not difficult to swallow- No pun intended. Imagine a very firm cookie dough binding together crispy rice cereal, and you’d come pretty close to the heart of these chocolate-covered protein bombs.

For those in need of a midday wake-up call, the mint option is the one for you. Sharp like spearmint rather than the more standard peppermint, it’s not messing around, leading with a fresh, bright punch of mint right from the first bite. Coconut, on the other hand, takes somewhat of a backseat to the chocolate, but still sings loud and clear with a comfortingly nutty resonance.

Though I can’t say either has instantly risen through the ranks to reach a new personal favorite, both are a boon to busy, hungry eaters of all stripes, with very impressive nutritional stats to boot. I’m certainly happy to have them on standby in my camera bag, ready in a flash when it’s time to go back to school all over again.