Honey-Do List

I think we can all agree that the end of year 2020 cannot come soon enough, for all its trials and tribulations. However, I’ll settle for striking a line through the year 5780 for now. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year arrives at sunset tonight. Offering an opportunity for a fresh start, rebirth and renewal, the significance of this holiday feels especially salient this time around.

Apples and honey are practically synonymous with the occasion, expressing edible wishes for a sweet new year. There’s usually a loaf of challah on the table, a lustrous golden crust shining beside tall pillar candles, perfumed with that same nectarous sweetener, too. In celebrations past, maple syrup was the default replacement, and plain bread the only alternative. Now we have truly ambrosial bee-free honey, either store-bought or homemade, and egg substitutes galore.

Rather than simply veganizing the classic round loaf, I felt that we could all use an extra measure of sweetness to rebound from such a miserably bitter 12-month cycle. Honey cake is a common addition to the festive table, but probably not like this one.

Kasutera, the Japanese interpretation of Portuguese castella sponge cake, is the perfect non-traditional dessert for Rosh Hashanah. Light and fluffy, yet still dense and rich, it glows with a golden interior crumb singing with floral aroma. The top and bottom are deeply caramelized from the high sugar content, but the interior remains as bright as a sunny day. Having the opportunity to enjoy such delicacy, tenderness, and indulgence strikes me as an ideal catalyst for a truly sweet new year on the horizon.

Chag sameach! Sweetest wishes for the year 5781!

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Christmas in July

Christmas in July is a lot like a half-birthday party. Most people ignore the midway marker, saving their energy for the main event later on down the road, but those who do observe go all out. More than a thinly veiled excuse to eat cake and throw a party on an otherwise mundane day, it’s an opportunity to spread holiday cheer when spirits may be flagging. Of course, cake is a necessary component.

Sometimes I wonder if the concept was originally popularized by writers and photographers hell bent on meeting magazine deadlines. Traditional publications are notorious for their extensive lead times, which means that July is high time to get those winter columns locked in. While visions of sugar plums dance in their heads, children splash through sprinklers beneath the summer sun. Feasts are prepared for readers to devour many months later, but right now, what’s one to do with the actual food? Really, the only responsible thing to do is turn it into a full-fledged holiday, lest all that festive effort go to waste.

While it’s still a temporary tease to patient VegNews subscribers, rest assured that this year’s yule log will be epic whenever you can roll it up. Fluffy peanut butter mousse wrapped up in a spiral of salted pretzel sponge cake sets this one apart from the predictable pumpkin spice or gingerbread affairs. A thin coating of whipped coconut cream provides the edible adhesion for thin planks of chocolate bark, making for an impressive finish that anyone can achieve. Flurries of soft confectioner’s sugar stand in for snow, melting away on the tongue, not in the mid-July heat.

Merry Christmas, one and all, now or later! If you’re a good, Santa might just swing by with this sweet treat in six month’s time.

Spring Thaw

Drinking in the sunshine with a bottomless thirst, tiny shoots burst forth with renewed vigor after a long winter’s slumber. Awakened by the warmth, heads still full of dreams, they blossom with intoxicating brilliance. Splashing color like splattered pant across cracked sidewalks, breaking through the earth’s crust in empty alleyways, everything is fresh and new again. Anything is possible.

Spring is the season of renewal, a shift toward forward motion that I can feel acutely in my bones. At last, I can throw off heavy knit blankets and rise with the sun again. At last, I can take deep, restorative breaths, not sharp and shallow gasps, to fill my lungs with the scents of freesia, jasmine, and lilac.

Inspiration abounds; from farmers markets to urban foraging, there’s no shortage of new, novel, inspiring ingredients. One unconventional source has haunted me for years, though, like a promise unfulfilled. Back when I aspired to a career in fine pastry, crafting fancy plated desserts in Michelin-starred kitchens, El Bulli positively captivated me. Creating dishes based upon nature but crafted with startlingly sophisticated, scientific methods, it was like nothing I had seen before. I spent all my allowance money on obscure, out of print cookbooks, trying to decode their magic. That’s where I first came across the concept of “Deshielo,” also known as “Thaw”

Deshielo was inspired by the ice melting in spring with the first shoots sprouting out of the frozen blanket. The description of the dessert itself is as daunting as it is confounding. “Coffee and licorice sponge and yogurt gelatin with concentrated lemon sorbet, rose sugar, and frozen water powder. Different herbs and flowers blooming in matcha tea sugar.”

Many years later, modified, simplified, my rendition has finally blossomed into a reality. Cake is now the feature, infused with robust coffee flavor and the licorice-y perfume of fennel. Crisp cacao nibs contrast sharply to the soft, moist crumb beneath, but that’s only the beginning. Lemon granita lends a unique chilling effect which draws out the citrus elements of the brew. Matcha sugar, a study in balance between the bitter tea leaves and pure crystalline sweetness, peeks out from this frigid topper, crowned with a glorious shoot of fresh mint, a few fallen candied rose petals at its side. Yes, it’s quite a lot of flavors all in one bite, many that would seem to conflict on paper, but they coalesce into a stunning springtime celebration on the plate.

It’s not quite molecular gastronomy, far more humble than fine patisserie, but a genuine, passionate ode to the spirit of the season.

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Age is Just a Number

“14 (fourteen) is a natural number following 13 and succeeded by 15,” as the dictionary so helpfully explains. That’s one earth-shaking headline for you there, right? Try as I might to find something witty to say about the figure, some pop culture reference to connect it with, there’s just nothing particularly exciting about the figure. So here we are, the day of BitterSweet‘s fourteenth blogoversary, which is little more than a blip on the radar at this point.

Growing older isn’t easy, but as they say, it sure beats the alternative. Merely surviving for so many years in a world that’s constantly evolving, rewriting the rules of the game at every stage of play, definitely calls for some sort of celebration. Rather than writing at length about my navel-gazing and self-congratulatory blogging victories over the years, I’m raising a glass to you, my dear reader, for really keeping this crazy dream alive.

Tempting as it was to just keep on writing without proper acknowledgement of the milestone, that would be like forgetting your birthday, and I just wouldn’t be so cruel. Even if it’s an unremarkable age, a relatively unimportant number, you still deserve cake.

Little cakes for a little festivity; seems to fit the bill, don’t you think? Mini bundt cakes condense all the show-stopping beauty of a full, gargantuan baked good down into manageable single serving portions. Make a batch for a party, freeze extras for later, and never worry about either running out or over-serving. We can make this revelry even more low-key by fashioning the batter into standard muffins, for those seeking that everyday sort of sweet gratification instead.

Suitably unconventional for such a quirky little blog, gluten-free sorghum flour and maca powder work in concert to create a uniquely malty, nutty, toasted cereal flavor that plain malted milk powder could never replicate. Chocolate is a natural pairing with that nostalgic scoop shop taste, which is why I doubled down, employing both rich chocolate chips and crisp, crunchy cacao nibs. Decadent enough that there’s no need to gild the lily with frosting, you get the complete package in every bite. If you had to add a bit of extra sparkle, I suppose a gentle dusting of confectioner’s sugar wouldn’t hurt, though.

Should I have something more profound to share on this 1900th post on the 14th year of BitterSweet? Perhaps. Then again, I’d like to think that it’s just one of many more birthdays to come. We’ll have plenty of other opportunities to trade wisdom on aging gracefully, and sweetly.

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Dogged Ambition

Dogs are more than just man’s best friends. Dogs are family members, every bit as precious and vital as the small creatures with two legs. Some recoil at the comparison, loathe to grant a “fur baby” the same sort of allowances, but the bottom line is that we need dogs just as much as they need us. Beyond basic care and feeding, your most valuable resource costs nothing to invest: Compassion. So many hundreds, thousands, and yes, millions of dogs out there are changing lives, yet find little to no love in return. Today is the time to celebrate these canine companions, big and small, mixed breed and pure, because it’s National Dog Day.

Yes, so many national “holidays” are silly, baseless non-events schemed up by corporations looking to make a quick buck or steal the social media spotlight for a minute. This day, however, was founded in 2004 with a far more noble objective. The goal was to not only show appreciation for dogs, but to bring attention to the plight of abused dogs, to end puppy mills and to bring an end to breed-specific legislation that regulates, or outright bans, certain breeds in the hope of minimizing dog attacks. Every day should be dog day, whether or not you’re a proud puppy parent.

I’d like to raise a glass to all the hard working canines out there, as well as the simply doggedly adorable fluff balls. The only thing fitting here would be a salty dog cocktail; classically composed of grapefruit juice and gin, with a salted rim, the origin of the name is a bit murky, but the bright, punchy flavor profile is clear. Tangy citrus, herbaceous spirits, and a salty kick to accentuate the two leaves nothing left to be desired. Well, okay, a bit of sweetness might be nice… and on that note, how about a dessert while we’re at it?

My take on the salty dog involves cake, because what’s a celebration without cake?

If the dog bone shape strikes you as a bit over-the-top, or you’re baking to suit a different theme, it’s even easier to simply cut the cake into squares instead. Better yet, bake the batter into cupcakes and no cutting will be necessary.

These treats are for adult humans only, as they do include a decent splash of alcohol that doesn’t cook or bake out. Each morsel is glazed with a poured fondant icing spiked with gin that sets up as a crisp, sugary shell for the tender grapefruit cake within. Don’t forget the pinch of flaky salt on top to complete the experience. While such garnishes are often listed as “optional,” it’s utterly essential here- it’s in the name, after all. It’s a bold change of pace, bright and refreshing, just like the original inspiration.

Let’s all raise a glass, or a piece of cake, to all the canines in our lives. Whether you have one, two, three, or none, there’s never a bad time to adopt

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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.