Look Out for Lemons

Heads up!

If you’re not paying attention, there’s a real danger of being pummeled by falling fruit while walking the city streets of Berkeley. Woven in among the cozy cafes and compact apartment buildings, fruit trees flourish, exploding with fragrant citrus fruits that rain down like hail on the unsuspecting passersby below. Streets are littered with lemons, oranges, and other unidentified flaxen orbs, as if a fruit cart had overturned on its way to market. Some shatter upon impact, hemorrhaging precious sweet nectar in a macabre spray, but many other remain perfectly intact, perfectly viable for salvage.

Like any other compassionate cook, I’ve taken it upon myself to rescue any forlorn fruit. Given the conditions, you could understand why my fridge is overflowing with citrus, particularly Meyer lemons, which land in my direct path on the way to the bus.

Best practices for managing the surplus is expeditious disassembly, before they have time to spoil. Zest and juice all fruits, freezing liquids in ice cube trays and solids in little baggies. I’m not much for canning, but I like to think of my freezer as an icy pantry, extending the life of these abundant sweet and sour gems for later days.

Thrifty and measured as I am, don’t think for a minute that some of this gracious surfeit hasn’t been used for more immediate gratification.

Crisp, lightly sweetened shortbread cookies come to life with the bright acidity of fresh lemons, which also plays of the natural bitter edge of raw cacao nibs. Though undeniably buttery, their richness comes entirely from olive oil, adding a complementary grassy, peppery undertone. Irresistibly adorable spoon molds make them the idea shape for dunking, but a regular old round cake pan will do the trick for simple, standard wedges.

Even if the urban landscape isn’t quite so generous in your locale, now is the time to enjoy citrus of all shapes and sizes, so stock up!

Yield: 16 - 18 Cookies

Lemon-Cacao Crunch Shortbread Cookies

Lemon-Cacao Crunch Shortbread Cookies
Crisp, lightly sweetened shortbread cookies come to life with the bright acidity of fresh lemons, which also plays of the natural bitter edge of raw cacao nibs. Though undeniably buttery, their richness comes entirely from olive oil, adding a complementary grassy, peppery undertone.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Cacao Nibs
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 and set out (but do not grease) a spoon-shaped baking tray or a 9-inch round springform pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, and the salt. Add in the cacao nibs and toss to coat with the dry ingredients.
  3. Separately, mix the oil, lemon juice, and zest together before pouring the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Stir well to combine; you may need to use your hands, as it's a very thick, stiff dough.
  4. If using spoon molds, fill each indentation about 3/4 of the way to the top, pressing firmly to make sure there are no gaps. For a springform pan, gather the dough into one large ball and press it flat and even across the bottom. Score into thin wedges with a sharp knife.
  5. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
  6. For cookies baked in a springform pan, they may need to be re-scored at this point and baked for another 5 minutes, depending on spread and color.
  7. Let cool completely in the pans.

Notes

Both unbaked dough and finished cookies keep well in the freezer. Baked cookies keep for 2 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

18

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 135 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 31mg Carbohydrates: 13g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 3g Protein: 2g
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Think Outside the Chocolate Box

Romance comes in many flavors, but chocolate is the dominant taste on lovers’ lips come February 14th. Truffles, molded and dipped, lavished with nuts, caramel, spices, and salt, line up in neat lines across interminable rows of red boxes, nestled into fluted paper cups serving more as garnishes than practical storage solutions. Chocolate, the ubiquitous sweet aphrodisiac, is easily the top treat for this loving affair, beating both flowers and jewelry offerings by a mile. Predictable yet indisputably in demand, it’s hard to argue with another chocolate-covered Valentine’s Day.

That doesn’t mean you need to stick with conventional confections to win over a fickle mistress. Consider a deeper dive into the cacao pool with a Homemade Tunnel of Fudge Bundt Cake. Originally devised as an amalgamation of questionable packaged baking mixes, a true tunnel of fudge cake is easier to assemble than your average Bundt. With a river of gooey, rich chocolate running through the core, it’s essentially a supersized lava cake if eaten warm. Dense, rich, and intense, at the core resides the famed heart of fudge, thick as cookie dough without the harsh sugar rush synonymous with unbaked batter. Nuts traditionally make up the bulk of this blend, but to make it allergen-free, they’re replaced with decadent chocolate morsels instead, much to the delight of devoted chocoholics and picky eaters, as well.

Just in time for this sweet heart’s holiday, you can find my recipe over on Go Dairy Free.

Lucky Number Thirteen

Dearest BitterSweet,

Mazel tov! Today, you have crossed the invisible line separating childhood from the rest of your life, straight into ranks of adulthood. It’s unthinkable that your journey began thirteen years ago, back in the early days of blogging and before Blogging, capital B, became a legitimate occupation. Granted, you still have a long way to go before you reach that lofty pinnacle of professional success, but pure and simple survival is a triumph to be celebrated in this competitive, ever-changing field. You have beaten the odds to officially become a teenager.

I still struggle to define you at times, to explain your occasionally baffling tantrums and errors, but what child doesn’t have their rebellious moments? Even when we fight, no matter how ugly the language gets, it’s never enough to pull us apart. Thirteen years in, I couldn’t imagine my life without you.

Little did I know what I was getting myself into when I hit that fateful “publish” button on day one. The lessons came in fast, tough to swallow, painful at times, but always for the best. Let’s review in brief…

  • If you don’t love what you do, it won’t work out. Like any relationship, it can’t be about money, fame, or any other traditional marker of success. At the end of the day it’s always about passion and inspiration.
  • These things can’t be forced. You, little BitterSweet, only began to grow and thrive when given the freedom to do so. True followers can’t be bought and genuine comments seeking further conversation, not just self-promotion, can’t be be forced.
  • Perfection is the enemy of progress. It would be impossible to move forward if we focused on all the little shortcomings of every post, every photo shoot, every social sharing; the endless tally of flaws would be downright laughable.
  • Community is everything. It takes a village to raise a blog, or support one long enough for it to survive infancy. There’s not a chance that BitterSweet would still exist without the kindness and encouragement of a thousand voices chiming in from all corners of the earth. It still boggles to mind to consider how this tiny corner of the internet has brought together such an incredibly vast, diverse array of friends, whom I would have had no chance of finding otherwise.
  • Most importantly, if there’s anything I’ve learned after all this time, there’s only one real way to mark the occasion: Cake.

A grand cake, pitch-perfect with bittersweet layers of chocolate ganache sandwiched between tender yet bold espresso cake layers and dressed in a robe of the finest white chocolate frosting you ever did see.

Strong espresso, the kind that makes your eyes open wide and sends you flying high on a rush of energy, has become a recent obsession. Though I typically limit myself to one shot per day, for fear of never sleeping again should I exceed that modest dose, this treat really packs a serious punch of caffeine in each slice. Rest assured, however, that the belated bedtime will be worth every last bite. Tempered by the light, luscious buttercream, flecked with vanilla beans and redolent of cocoa butter, chocolate ganache could tread dangerously into the realm of excess, but it’s just the right amount of sweet indulgence here. The trio sings like a well-practiced choir, supporting without smothering one another… Much like a succession of outstanding blog posts, I suppose.

So today, BitterSweet, you turn thirteen years old. Happy birthday, my dear. You’ve come a long way, but we have so much further still to go.

Yield: 12 - 16 Servings

Bittersweet Espresso Layer Cake with White Chocolate Frosting

Bittersweet Espresso Layer Cake with White Chocolate Frosting
A dessert worthy of a celebration all on its own, the contrast of light and dark flavors is positively irresistible. Bold espresso layer cake with bittersweet chocolate ganache filling, covered in light, fluffy white chocolate buttercream frosting.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 3 hours
Total Time 4 hours

Ingredients

Espresso Cake

  • 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 3 Tablespoons Arrowroot
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Cups (About 12 - 14 Shots) Brewed Espresso, Cooled
  • 1/4 Cup Kahlua or Coffee Liqueur
  • 1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

BitterSweet Chocolate Ganache

  • 2/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
  • 2 Cups (12 Ounces) Bittersweet Chocolate Chips

White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease two 8-inch round baking pans.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, arrowroot, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Separately, combine the oil, cooled espresso, kahlua or liqueur, vinegar, and vanilla, blending well before adding the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry.
  4. Stir with a wide spatula to bring the two mixtures together. It's perfectly fine to leave a few lumps remaining in the batter, rather than running the risk of over-mixing.
  5. Divide the batter equally between your two prepared pans, smoothing the tops as needed.
  6. Bake for 20 - 24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Cool completely before assembling.
  7. Meanwhile, prepare the ganache by heating the coconut milk and chocolate together either on a double-boiler or in the microwave. Stir frequently until perfectly smooth. If using the microwave, heat in 30-second intervals at full power. Chill, stirring periodically, until thickened but spreadable; about 3 hours in the fridge or 1 hour in the freezer.
  8. For the frosting, heat the white chocolate over a double-boiler or in the microwave but be vigilant! White chocolate is very easy to burn, so stir constantly, until smooth. If using the microwave, heat in 20-second intervals at full power. Cool to room temperature.
  9. Cream together the butter and sugar in your stand mixer using the whisk attachment. Once smooth, add in the cooled but still liquid white chocolate along with the vanilla. Beat on high speed, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula, until smooth and fluffy.
  10. To assemble the cake, slice both layers into two equal halves, creating four thin layers. Place your first round of cake on your desired serving plate and top with a third of the ganache. Carefully spread it to cover the top evenly. Top with another round of cake and repeat, until you end with the final round of plain cake.
  11. Smoother with frosting and decorate as desired. Be aware that if the cake is cold, the frosting will begin to set immediately. You can slightly melt and coerce it to a smoother finish by heating a metal offset spatula, but bear in mind that this will darken it to a more yellow finish, rather than bright white.

Notes

Cake layers can be baked in advance and stored separately in the freezer until ready to assemble. Thaw completely and bring to room temperature before beginning the process. Ganache and frosting must be made just prior to using.

Stella! Hey, Stella!

You’d think that with age, one develops a greater sense of independence. At least I did, but at approximately 10 months old, Luka began refusing to sleep in his own bed. It’s not like he was ever alone; a mere step away and within clear eye-shot, there isn’t space in my tiny apartment to place him out of reach. Nonetheless, that short distance is suddenly intolerable, a terrifying void into which his cries for help echo endlessly, pitifully, desperately. No matter how happily he’s climbed into that plush pineapple earlier this evening, it’s a different story the moment the lights go out.

Despite growing up with a dog through most of my childhood, I never let Isis sleep with me in bed. The sweet little ball of fur was liable to wake up in the middle of the night and either tear through irreplaceable stuffed animals or leave her mark in all new places, if you get my drift. For the sake of my sanity though, I started to relent, to do anything to stop Luka’s ear-splitting howls. Though we’ve mostly gotten along as harmonious bedfellows, it’s still a considerable challenge for me to slumber soundly through the night, as a lifelong solo sleeper. It’s not uncommon to wake up around 2 AM to discover Luka burrowing deep into my armpit, licking my bare feet, or rubbing his balls across my neck. Oh, the glamorous life of dog motherhood.

If we can both clock at least 6 hours of solid shut-eye before sunlight spills out from between the curtains at daybreak, I think that at least one of us has earned a serious breakfast treat.

Make that a replica Stella D’Oro breakfast treat, to be exact. A relic of old school Italian baking rarely found on grocery store shelves these days, such basic biscuits hearken back to simpler times, when just a subtle sweetness and a light crunch would do the trick. It had been many years since these crisp morsels passed my mind, but in conversations about cravings, a friend insisted that these were the only thing that she missed from her pre-vegan days. Clearly, this was a critical omission in great annals of eggless baking.

Better than biscotti, these essential s-shaped cookies are ideal for dunking into coffee, slathering with jam, or munching on the go. There’s no wrong way to enjoy them since their neutral palate pairs beautifully with any drink, side, or topping you can dream up. Just make sure you do stop dreaming in time to wake up for breakfast; you won’t want to miss out on these treats.

Yield: About 2 Dozen Cookies

Copycat Stella D’Oro Breakfast Treats

Copycat Stella D’Oro Breakfast Treats
Better than biscotti, these essential s-shaped cookies are ideal for dunking into coffee, slathering with jam, or munching on the go. There’s no wrong way to enjoy them since their neutral palate pairs beautifully with any drink, side, or topping you can dream up. Just make sure you do stop dreaming in time to wake up for breakfast; you won’t want to miss out on these treats.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 Cups Bread Flour
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Potato Starch
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Almond Extract
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Extract

Eggless Wash:

  • 1 Tablespoon Aquafaba
  • 1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or pieces of parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the bread flour, sugar, potato starch, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separately, combine the water, oil, and all three flavored extracts. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, mixing thoroughly to combine, forming a thick dough. You may need to use your hands or a stand mixer to completely incorporate all the flour.
  3. Pinch off golf ball-sized pieces of dough. Roll each between lightly moistened hands, forming them into snakes approximately 4 – 5 inches long. Twist into “S” shapes and place on your baking sheets.
  4. Prepare the eggless wash by simply combining the aquafaba and maple syrup in a small dish. Brush evenly over the tops of the cookies just before baking.
  5. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before enjoying or storing in an airtight container for up to a week at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

20

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 110 Total Fat: 1g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 103mg Carbohydrates: 23g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 8g Protein: 2g

All Hail Wassail

Cheers, to the drink that’s worthy of a toast in and of itself! “Wassail” was actually an Old Norse salutation meaning “be well,” spreading merriment and good spirits, long before it ever became a drink spiked with them. Typically red wine but occasionally beer and cider join the festivities as well. Regardless of the base, the warm, spicy blend of seasonings have come to define wassail today, inextricably linking it with the flavors of Christmastime. Just like chai or pumpkin pie, every mix is a little bit different, balancing a unique bouquet of floral, hot, sweet, and earthy tastes; a delicate harmony as distinctive as the deft hand holding the whisk.

There’s a lot to be said for the complex nuances of every different batch, but just as many reasons to recommend the consistency and reliability of a set approach. When you nail down the perfect combination, it quickly becomes one tradition you can’t mess with. For ease and nostalgic comfort, there’s no beating the wassail mix from Rodelle Kitchen. Like clockwork, I’ve been emptying those jars every winter since I first discovered this secret shortcut. Robust, sweet but not sugary, it’s a staple for serving up some instant holiday cheer.

While I would never mess with an essential, tried-and-true ingredient like this, I certainly would mess with the format.

Sandwiched between disks of buttery, flaky biscuit dough, the spicy seasoning turns into the delicious, edible spackling paste holding together a loosely glued loaf, just waiting to be ravaged. Rip apart the pieces at the seams, still warm and covered in a light, lemony glaze for greatest effect. The aroma is transportative but the taste is like nothing else.

Lightly caramelized from the heat of the oven, this singular spice mix needs no additional ingredients to sing. Alcohol need not apply to turn any gathering into a party when this fun, festive loaf hits the table. Even if it’s just plain apple cider, I’d definitely raise a glass to that!

Wassail Pull-Apart Bread

Biscuit Dough:

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

Wassail Filling:

1/2 Cup Wassail Mix
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce

Lemon Glaze:

2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 – 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice

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

The dough is prepared exactly like any batch of biscuits at first, so start by combining the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces, drop them in, and use a fork, pastry cutter, or your fingers to slowly incorporate the cubes. The resulting mixture should be the consistency of coarse crumbs, with no chunks of butter remaining that are any bigger than the size of peas. Pour both the non-dairy milk and vinegar in together, stirring gently just until everything comes together into a cohesive, slightly shaggy ball.

Press the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to about 1/2 an inch in thickness. Use round cookie cutters, approximately 4-inches in diameter, to stamp out circles, re-rolling scraps and cutting them to fit until the dough is entirely used up.

To assemble to loaf, start by stirring together the applesauce and wassail mix until smooth. Take one round of dough and smear around a 1 – 2 teaspoons of the filling, to cover. With the naked side facing out, line this up flush with the heel of the loaf pan; it’s easiest to stack the pieces if you tip the pan on the short end, allowing gravity to help keep the rounds together until the pan is full. Repeat with the remaining dough, flipping the final piece so that the uncovered side is also facing out.

Bake for 24 – 28 minutes, until deeply amber brown all over. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before applying the glaze. If you glaze it while warm, it will soak in, but if you want it to be more visible and sit on top, wait for it to cool completely.

Make the glaze by simply whisking together the confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice, adding more or less liquid until it reaches your desired consistency. Pour generously over the finished bread and raise a toast, to your health and happiness!

Makes 1 Loaf; 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe

10 Out of 10, Would Bake Again

Cookies, cookies everywhere, and not enough time to bake! We’re in the final stretch of the Christmas preamble, which means it’s now or never for holiday cookie platter planning. The options are truly endless, as every blogger and their best friend has the “perfect” recipe that will change your life, must go on your list right this minute, and may very well be the secret to world peace. Hyperbole aside, there are really no bad cookies out there, especially when given as a gift of good will, so we can all take a minute to review the options calmly, methodically, without going down the rabbit hole in search of the mythical “best” Christmas cookie.

My criteria for determining the ideal Christmas cookie assortments are slightly different from everyday cookie rules:

  1. They must be somewhat sturdy to keep their composure in transit.
  2. Nothing excessively messy, sticky, or smelly, so they don’t contaminate other cookies on the same tray.
  3. Festive, seasonal flavors always get the edge, of course. They should be special, to suit the occasion, after all!

So without further ado, here are my top ten recommendations for holiday cookie supremacy. Are they the very best out there, bar none? I’ll let you decide for yourself…

Brownie Crisps are like chocolate cookie brittle; the perfect mashup between classic peppermint bark and baked goods is waiting to happen if you just swap the chopped walnuts for crushed candy cane pieces.

Ultimate Vanilla Bean Cut-Out Cookies definitely make the cut, because it wouldn’t be Christmas without some sort of sugar cookies. Soft and tender yet structurally sound to meet the demands of more complex shapes, they’re the optimal blend of form and function.

Pumpkin Spice Blondies sing with warm spices to complement everyone’s favorite orange gourd. That said, try switching it up with sweet potato puree if you’ve already had your fill of pumpkin by now.

Persimmon Oatmeal Cookies are a slightly unconventional twist on the classic, which is always appreciated in a sea of unchanging traditional treats. Lightly iced, soft and sweet, it’s an easy way to introduce a new fruit to recipients yet to venture outside of the tried-and-true assortment.

Maple Ginger Sandwich Cremes will satisfy the sweet teeth of everyone on your list. Rich maple flavor carries these surprisingly soft cookies, accented by the subtle warmth of ginger.

Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies with either chai or classic spicing are boldly flavored, crisp, and sturdy cookies that retain their shape when baked, travel well, and make a solid foundation for edible buildings. Make a village or just a herd of fawns; they’ll all be demolished in short order.

Pistachio Praline Linzer Cookies are dressed to impress, glittering on the outside with decorative pearl sugar and glittering on the inside with caramelized pistachio paste. These are real show-stoppers that could proudly crown any platter.

Christmas Popcorn Bars are a quick and easy way to add color, texture, and a dash of fun to your assortment. Like popcorn balls but more consistent in shape, and fewer sharp kernels to contend with, they’re a great option to have the kids help create, too.

1-2-3 Peanut Butter Cookies are clutch when you’ve run out of time, ingredients, and energy. They literally take just three ingredients that are probably already sitting in your pantry, are gluten-free, and universally loved. You can even transform them into classic Peanut Butter Blossoms by sticking chocolate nonpareils in the center before baking.

Chocolate Spritz Cookies take advantage of those old-school cookie presses that only come out once or twice a year, but their effortless elegance will make you reconsider that limited utility. Candy cane filling glues these cocoa morsels together, but if you’re already over “minter” (mint-winter,) omit the candies in favor of orange zest for an invigorating citrus punch.

I could go on, but sometimes it’s better to keep it simple, limiting the options to only the best, rather than exploring the full scope of wildly divergent possibilities. See anything here that catches your eye or makes your mouth water? Do you have your holiday baking game plan down pat?

So with these aces up your apron sleeves, preheat your ovens and start softening your vegan butter… The baking season is here, and it’s time to make to make the days sweet!