BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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A Whole Lava Love

Pastry chefs, restaurateurs, and seasoned eaters the world over groan with a deliberate roll of the eyes as the dessert menu lands on their tables. Invariably, no matter the cuisine, listed there amongst the sweet offerings will be the classic chocolate lava cake. No one can begrudge the treat for its flavor, as chocolate boasts a nearly universal approval rate across all dining demographics, but it simply seems like the default, stock answer to the question a lazy cook doesn’t want to address. To continually make such an obvious culinary faux-pas, whoever is at the helm in the kitchen must be terribly uncreative, tone-deaf, or simply apathetic about the meal’s final course. We can all agree that there are few innovations to be found in this antiquated cake, despite the richest, most flowery printed descriptions.

So why do they keep turning up around every dining room corner, and better yet, why do we keep ordering them? For all our claims of being adventurous eaters, open to new, sometimes risky flavor pairings, the attraction to tried-and-true chocolate decadence is simply irresistible. Whether you’ve indulged in one lava cake or 80 in your lifetime, it just doesn’t get old.

Putting food snobbery aside and conceding that there are far worse ways to end a meal, it becomes clear that the real issue isn’t necessarily the sheer number of molten chocolate cakes, but the number of poorly executed renditions. There’s still plenty of room for improvement.

My inspiration to revisit the original, antiquated recipe came from an unlikely source. Protein powder and downright hedonistic desserts are hardly a natural combination, but from one sip of the newly released Natural Whipped Chocolate protein powder by Pro(Zero), I knew it wasn’t so far fetched. Not only did this highly nutritious base help to foster the perfect gooey interior texture, but its natural thickening powers abolished the need for any gluten at all.

There’s no shame in falling for these babycakes containing a rich pool of hot chocolate lava, especially when they deliver a surprising punch of protein and fiber, too.

Molten Mocha Protein Cakes

2 Ounces (1/3 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Chocolate Protein Powder
3 Tablespoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Instant Espresso Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Baking Powder

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and lightly grease 4 standard muffin cups. Fill the remaining 2 in the pan halfway with room temperature water; set aside.

Place the chocolate chips in a medium, microwave-safe bowl along with the aquafaba and oil. Heat for 30 – 60 seconds, stirring thoroughly until the chocolate has completely melted. Add in the protein powder, sugar, espresso powder, salt, and baking powder, mixing well, being sure to beat out any clumps. The batter should be smooth and fairly thick.

Divide the batter equally between your four prepared muffin cups and gently slide the pan into the oven. Bake for just 7 – 8 minutes, no matter how under-baked they may look. The sides should be firm, but the centers will remain soft and may fall slightly as they rest. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes before carefully pouring out the water from the empty tins. Invert the whole pan over cutting board a or large, flat plate before transferring them to individual dessert plates. Serve immediately while still warm.

Makes 4 Small Cakes

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by HPN Supplements, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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Pumpkin Puree for Days

Mea Culpa; there’s been a terrible mistake. While every other year brings me closer to alternative squashes, embracing the less celebrated deep green kabochas and stout, pointed acorns, the overwhelming pumpkin mania has finally engulfed my kitchen as well. Beggars can’t be choosers, and when beggars accidentally order about eight times as much canned pumpkin as intended, well… One must learn to get on board with the pumpkin trend, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Luckily, as much of America is already well aware, pumpkin puree is not such a difficult ingredient to love. Whether it plays a starring role or disappears quietly into the background, its just as much at home in any sweet or savory dish. After a few weeks of pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin protein shakes, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin salad dressing, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin butter, there’s a strong possibility that I’m already seeing the world through orange-tinted glasses. There are far worse fates to befall a voracious vegan, and despite the complete dietary takeover, there is always still room for more pumpkin come dessert.

So nice I made it twice, this is what happens when my classic Self-Frosting Peanut Butter Cupcakes grow up and take on a seasonal affectation. No longer nutty but bolstered by another cult craze, speculoos spread, the concept morphed into a full sheet cake, ideal for serving up at potlucks or big family affairs. Sweet and warmly spiced, the soft crumb is positively irresistible, even to those who have sworn off the old orange gourd.

On the second go around, when I found the stash of puree still not dwindling as rapidly as desired, a more wholesome, breakfast-like cake emerged from the oven. Replacing the maple syrup from the topping with plain water for less intense sweetness, that more subtle swirl paired beautifully with a hearty touch of instant oatmeal thrown into the mix. Consider varying (or removing) the nut, adding in raisins or cranberries, or go totally wild and swap in chocolate chips instead. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no wrong approach with this rock-solid formula.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a terrible mistake to supersize my pumpkin puree after all. I’ll let you know when I finally finish the stash, possibly sometime next year.

Self-Frosting Speculoos Pumpkin Cake

Pumpkin Cake

2 1/2 Cups 100% Pumpkin Puree
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Toasted Walnuts, Roughly Chopped

Speculoos Frosting:

1 Cup Creamy Speculoos Spread
1/4 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease either (2) 8×8-inch square pans or (1) 9×13-inch rectangular pan, and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the pumpkin puree, sugar, oil, and aquafaba, mixing until smooth. Separately, whisk together the the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Once all of the dry goods are well-distributed throughout the mixture, add in the walnuts, tossing to coat.

Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients. Mix with a wide spatula until relatively lump-free, but be careful not to mix more than necessary.

In a smaller, separate bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the frosting, and blend until completely smooth. Add the non-dairy milk until the consistency is similar to a thick icing.

Smooth the cake batter into your prepared pan(s). Drop dollops of frosting at random intervals across the top, swirling it in with a knife or thin spatula until it more or less covers the entire surface. It may seem like too much frosting at first, but trust me: You won’t regret the small excess once you take a bite.

Bake for 40 – 50 minutes if using (2) 8×8-inch pans or 45 – 60 minutes for (1) 9×13-inch pan. It should be golden brown all over and a toothpick inserted near the center will come out clean. Let cool completely before slicing and indulging.

Makes 24 – 36 Servings

Printable Recipe


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No Dumb Blonde

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; applied to baked goods, this theory could be interpreted to say that for every brownie, there is a blondie. Isn’t science great?

Thus, when my brownie crisps were received with such voracious enthusiasm, I knew right away that there would need to be a round two for this experiment. Boasting the same satisfying crunch in a lighter golden-brown package, these sweet squares are the perfect contrast to the dark, devilish rendition that inspired them. I can’t say that one is better than the other- In fact, I think it would be unfair to pick one over the other. Clearly, the only way to maintain a harmonious balance is to make a batch of both at once.

Blondie Crisps

1/3 Cup Aquafaba (Liquid from a Can of Chickpeas)
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Pure, Unflavored Pea Protein
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Molasses
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Vegan White Chocolate Chips, Divided
3 Tablespoons Chopped Walnuts, Divided

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl with a hand mixer,) combine the aquafaba and sugar and beat until foamy. You’re not looking to whip it into a firm meringue here, but a loose froth with the sugar fully dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, pea protein, salt, and baking powder, stirring to ensure that all of the ingredients are equally distributed throughout the mixture.

Slowly add in the dry ingredients while the mixer runs, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Immediately follow with the oil, molasses, and vanilla, and stir just until the batter comes together smoothly. Fold in the half of the white chocolate chips and walnuts by hand.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking sheet and use an offset spatula to spread it out as thinly as humanly possible. The batter should just about cover the whole sheet. Sprinkle the remaining white chocolate chips and walnuts evenly over the top.

Bake on the center rack in the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pan, and continue baking for 10 more minutes. Pull the sheet out and use a pizza cutter to slice the square or rectangular shapes you desire, but don’t separate them yet. Return the cookies to the oven and bake for a final 10 – 14 minutes. They may still feel slightly soft in the center, but they’ll continue to crisp as they cool.

Let the crisps cool completely on the baking sheet before breaking the cookies apart. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if you can manage to keep them around that long.

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 Dozen Blondie Crisps

Printable Recipe


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Brownie Points

Way to steal my thunder, Trader Joe. After all of these years, countless visits, and quite a few generous “donations,” I thought you were my friend. Why did you have to deprive me the glory of unleashing brownie crisps upon the hungry, sweet-toothed masses? Granted, I’m far from the first person to invent the concept of thin, crunchy planks of brownie goodness, but earlier offerings were hardly widespread, and far from affordable. You just had to make them so easily available, effortlessly satisfying chocolate cravings across the country, no hunting or penny pinching required. Oh Joe, I’m happy for your success, but I can’t help but feel at least slightly robbed here.

That said, store-bought cookies will never live up to anything homemade, if you ask me. Even if these heavenly morsels of shatteringly crisp cocoa wafers become the next speculoos spread, they will still taste much better coming out of one’s own oven. No matter how low Joe pushes that price point, the cost of mere flour, sugar, and cocoa will always be a better deal, too. You may have beaten me to the punch, Joe, but I’m sure not down for the count!

For anyone who’s fought to get the corner piece from a pan of fudgy brownies or relished the distinctive crackled top, these crisps have your name written all over them. Deceptively light, it’s disturbingly easy to munch straight through half a batch without even pausing to take a breath. Whether or not they start a new craze is yet to be seen, but based on the reception they’ve received from diverse crowds of dessert-lovers, they do seem to have universal appeal.

Brownie Crisps

1/3 Cup Aquafaba (Liquid from a Can of Chickpeas)
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoon Dutch Cocoa Powder
1 Tablespoon Pure, Unflavored Pea Protein
1/4 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Granules
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
3 Tablespoons Chopped Walnuts, Divided

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large bowl with a hand mixer,) combine the aquafaba and sugar and beat until foamy. You’re not looking to whip it into a firm meringue here, but a loose froth with the sugar fully dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, pea protein, instant coffee, salt, and baking powder, stirring to ensure that all of the ingredients are equally distributed throughout the mixture.

Slowly add in the dry ingredients while the mixer runs, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Immediately follow with the oil and stir just until the batter comes together smoothly. Fold in the half of the chocolate chips and walnuts by hand.

Transfer the batter to your prepared baking sheet and use an offset spatula to spread it out as thinly as humanly possible. The batter should just about cover the whole sheet. Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips and walnuts evenly over the top.

Bake on the center rack in the oven for 20 minutes, rotate the pan, and continue baking for 10 more minutes. Pull the sheet out and use a pizza cutter to slice the square or rectangular shapes you desire, but don’t separate them yet. Return the cookies to the oven and bake for a final 10 – 14 minutes. They may still feel slightly soft in the center, but they’ll continue to crisp as they cool.

Let the crisps cool completely on the baking sheet before breaking the cookies apart. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if you can manage to keep them around that long.

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 Dozen Brownie Crisps

Printable Recipe


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Bread Meets Spread

“Have you heard of HUMMUS?” you might ask of a caveman recently unearthed after a million-year marathon nap. Now as ubiquitous as ketchup or salsa, hummus has managed to surpass all cultural boundaries, weaving its way into the homes and hearts of food lovers worldwide. What might be a more relevant question in this day and age is “Have you heard of MASABACHA?” Hummus’s lesser-know cousin should rank just as highly on the snacking scale, and yet somehow lacks the same renown, barely registering as a blip on the radar. Depending on your circle of friends, it might also be referred to as msabbaha, musabbaha, or even mashausha. Consider it deconstructed hummus, replete with whole chickpeas and a tangy lemon tahini sauce to bind them all together. From that base, the sky’s the limit; fancier, more fun renditions include everything from pine nuts and paprika to a smattering of herbs and hard-boiled eggs. When you can choose your own adventure with such savory results, what’s not to love about this chunky chickpea dip?

Although I would never be so bold as to say that there’s room to improve on the classic, I would venture to suggest that there’s always room to innovate. Instead of serving up the tried and true masabacha with bread and the standard accoutrements, let’s skip the middleman and combine the whole array of irresistible flavors. Bean-based bread is nothing new, but this particular yeast-risen loaf is a veritable ode to the humble legume, employing both chickpea flour and whole, seasoned and roasted garbanzo beans. Richly spiced with cumin, coriander, and my current favorite, smoked paprika, the aroma that engulfs the kitchen as it bakes is positively maddening. Just try not to tear into the hot, freshly baked loaf right away- it genuinely does improve with just a bit of patience. The spices take their sweet (and savory) time to mingle and for them to reach their collective peak of flavor, so it’s important to sit by and let it cool completely before diving in.

It is with great pleasure that I’m sharing this magnificent baked good in honor of the 9th Annual World Bread Day. I haven’t missed a single celebration since the birth of BitterSweet, and I don’t intend to sit out for one yet! Although I hate picking favorites amongst recipes, this entry definitely ranks highly on my list of most crave-worthy submissions thus far. Be sure to check out the roundup coming in the next few days for more yeasted inspiration.

World Bread Day 2014 (submit your loaf on October 16, 2014)

Masabacha Bread

3 Cups White Whole Wheat or All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Chickpea Flour
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1 Teaspoon Dried Parsley
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Cumin Seeds
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/4 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
1 Packet Dry Active Yeast
1 1/4 Cups Warm Water
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Cup Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas, Store-Bought or Homemade
1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts

Mix together both flours with all of the herbs and spices in a large bowl. Separately, whisk together the agave, salt, yeast, warm water, oil, and tahini. Once fully blended, let the mixture stand briefly until the yeast reawakens, becoming active and frothy. pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and mix well. Now would be a great time to pull out the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer if you have one, but no matter your equipment, stir thoroughly to bring the dough together with no remaining dry patches. The resulting dough should be fairly soft, but continue to knead it until smooth, elastic, and somewhat tacky; about 15 – 20 minutes by hand or 10 – 15 minutes by hook, with the mixer on the lowest setting.

Lightly grease a large, clean bowl. Shape your kneaded dough into a smooth ball before dropping it in, rolling it around lightly to coat it with the oil. Cover loosely and and let it rest in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in volume. This could take anywhere from 45 minutes – 1 1/2 hours, depending on your climate.

Grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan and set aside. Once properly puffy, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and use your knuckles to gently work through the air bubbles. Add in the chickpeas and pine nuts, kneading the whole loaf until the goodies are completely worked in and well-distributed. Work the dough into a rough rectangle no wider than the length of your pan, and roll the dough up into a neat cylinder. Place the dough log into the pan, seam side down, and let rest for another 30 – 60 minutes, until approximately doubled in size, or until it’s peeking about 1/4-inch over the rim of the pan. While you’re waiting, begin preheating your oven to 400 degrees.

When the loaf is fully risen and the oven has reached the proper temperature, slide the pan into the oven. Immediately drop the heat down to 375 degrees and bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until deeply golden brown all over. Let cool in the pan for about 10 – 15 minutes before turning it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. No matter the temptation, all it to come all the way down to room temperature before slicing and enjoying.

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe


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All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes

When it comes to the divide between sweet and savory, the line that separates the two is becoming thinner and more difficult to distinguish with every passing year. Palates are opening up, eaters from all walks of life are growing more adventurous, and chefs are gleefully pursuing their wildest culinary dreams. Such reckless innovation inevitably comes at a price, paid in disappointing or sometimes downright repulsive new tastes (I’m looking at you, cappuccino potato chips) but it’s a gamble well worth taking. In a world with such a vast array of flavors, there must still be countless winning combinations merely waiting to be discovered.

In my eyes, this one wasn’t such a stretch of the imagination. Tomato soup cakes have been around since the turn of the century as a thrifty way of making something sweet in the times of rationing. Originally dubbed “mystery cake” as a way of concealing the secret ingredient, perhaps acknowledging that unwitting diners might be scared off by the novel concept, the processed tomato product was merely an extender, filling in the bulk of the cake without using eggs, only to be covered up in heavy gingerbread-like spices. You’d never know there was ever a tomato present in the tender crumb, which is both the beauty and tragedy of this classic recipe.

Taking inspiration from these humble origins but with the desire to celebrate the bold, beautiful tomatoes now in season rather than bury them in an avalanche of sugar, it seemed high time to revisit the idea of a tomato cake. Now with 100% more tomato flavor! I can just picture the vintage advertisements and their hyperactive proclamations now.

Indeed, you can truly taste the tomato in these fiery red cupcakes. Not only that, but the unassuming beige frosting holds yet another surprise taste sensation: A tangy punch of balsamic vinegar, tempered by the sweetness of the rich and fluffy matrix that contains it. Trust me, it’s one of those crazy things that you’ve just got to taste to believe. Although it may sound like an edible acid burn, that small splash is just enough to brighten up the whole dessert.

While tomatoes are still at their peak, sweet as ever and available in abundance, now is the time to experiment and try something new. Don’t call it a secret ingredient this time around and finally let them shine when the dessert course rolls around.

Tomato Cakes with Balsamic Frosting

Tomato Cupcakes:

2 Cups Diced Fresh Tomatoes, Roughly Blended, or 1 14-Ounce Can Crushed Tomatoes
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Balsamic Frosting:

1/2 Cup Vegan Margarine
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Tablespoon Balsamic Reduction
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
Up to 1 Tablespoon Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 15 – 16 cupcake tins with papers.

Combine the blended (but not completely pureed) tomatoes, olive oil, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and set aside.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Make sure that all the dry goods are thoroughly distributed before adding in the wet ingredients. Mix everything together with a wide spatula, stirring just enough to bring the batter together and beat out any pockets of unincorporated dry ingredients. A few remaining lumps are just fine.

Distribute the batter between your prepared cupcake pans, filling them about 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 17 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly, with perhaps just a few moist crumbs clinging to it. Do not wait for the tops to brown, because the centers will be thoroughly overcooked by then. Let cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, place the margarine in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat briefly to soften before adding in the confectioner’s sugar, balsamic glaze, and vanilla. Begin mixing on low speed until the sugar is mostly incorporated, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Turn the mixer up to high and slowly drizzle in non-dairy milk as needed to bring the whole mixture together. Continue whipping for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Apply to cupcakes as desired.

Makes 15 – 16 Cupcakes

Printable Recipe


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For the Love of Chocolate

There are few universal truths in life, which makes each one of them that much more significant: Spring will always follow winter, love cannot be faked, and everyone enjoys chocolate. If any of those statements can be proven otherwise, I don’t want to know about it, especially when it comes to the latter. Quite frankly, person who claims to dislike chocolate is simply lying, revealing questionable character on their part. Thus, with no shortage of fanfare, Fran Costigan unleashed Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts upon the world, an ode to this “food of the gods” that fully lives up to its title. Every bit deserving of the effusive praise that gushes forth from each breathless review, I can only add my own cheers to the chorus.

Giving credit that’s long overdue, the Aztec Truffles (page 53) were the shining stars in my holiday candy boxes way back in festive days of December. Pressed for time and exhausted of fresh ideas, that surprisingly simple recipe yielded stunning results, above and beyond my traditional approaches. The fiery combination of ancho chili powder and cinnamon gave those tiny chocolate bombs an invigorating kick that all the tired old classics seemed to lack. Though notably soft in consistency, storing the little morsels in the freezer solved all structural concerns while adding a delightfully cool contrast to the punch of bold, smoky spices which paired beautifully with the dark, bitter chocolate.

The standard chocolate recipe by which I judge the merit of any cookbook, bakery, or individual baker is the humble brownie. Let me cut straight to the chase and say that Fran’s Very Fudgy Chocolate Chip Brownies (page 128) passed the test with flying colors. Complete with the elusive crackled top and rich, chewy interior, these simple squares live up to expectations, to say the least. A touch greasy but not prohibitively so, it’s a small price to be paid for ideal brownie indulgence.

Covering a wide range of applications and pairings for chocolate, there are plenty of more delicate, nuanced treats included as well. Case in point: The Chocolate, Orange, and Almond Olive Oil Cake (page 72). Though the name is a mouthful, it’s worth every bite! Impossibly moist, even after days of sitting on the counter, it’s one of those rare cakes that seems to get even better with age… If you can leave it alone long enough for it to mature, that is. Bright citrus notes enliven the almond-infused crumb, and while that would really be enough to satisfy any sweet craving, a thick glaze of chocolate ganache truly puts it over the top.

Coming from the vegan dessert queen herself, I would expect no less than a masterpiece and with Vegan Chocolate, I was not disappointed.

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