Crumby, Not Crummy

I love coffee cake, but I take issue with the false promises it makes right from the start. It strikes me as disingenuous to lure in the under-caffeinated with such a title, only to deliver a cinnamon-infused experience. I’ve heard the old argument that it’s simply suggesting how well it pairs with a cup of Joe, but that sounds like a poor excuse for deceptive branding, like “juice” that’s never seen a fruit in its short squeezed life. Coffee cake was an evolution, not an invention, derived from many other styles of baked confections in the early days of sugar cravings all across Europe, which can partially explain the indistinct, ambiguous definition of the form.

Some coffee cakes had fruits, others nuts, some were fashioned as loaves while others rose into towering rings and bundts; the one common factor that united them was the uncanny ability to eat them during a coffee break. Bearing out that logic, there would be some fresh hell to pay if we started calling all types of cookies “snack biscuits.” Can you imagine the anger and confusion that would result from the hangry sweet-toothed eaters receiving dry wafers when they were expecting rich, decadent brownies? That’s not a world I want to live in, quite frankly.

Steering clear of the controversy all together, I much prefer a more accurate headline. for my coffee complement: Crumb cake or struesel cake are equally appropriate. No one can deny that coarse, buttery topping, no matter the flavor nor format, for lack or abundance of additional mix-ins. The issue is far from black and white, contrary to this unconventional expression of the concept.

Inspired by the jar of black tahini remaining in my fridge after a fortuitous visit to the Living Tree Community Foods offices, this particular coffee-free spin on the classic fully embraces and celebrates the very best part of its namesake. Living up to its moniker, unlike so many cakes of yore, the struesel topping is thick, bold and unmistakable.

While we’re disrupting the usual routine anyway, why should cinnamon have all the crumb fun? A touch of cardamom and a hint of lemon complement the nutty notes of sesame throughout, subtle yet unmistakable nuances against the tender crumb.

A strong cup of spiced Turkish coffee would certainly be a welcome accompaniment, but as we’ve established, far from mandatory for maximum enjoyment. Whether you serve your slices with tea, lemonade, or nothing else at all, they will always make good on the promise of a delicious sweet treat.

Black and White Sesame Streusel Cake

Black Sesame Streusel:

1/2 Cup Black Sesame Tahini
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Black Sesame Seeds
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

White Sesame Cake:

1/2 Cup Raw Sesame Tahini
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter, at Room Temperature
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a square 8 x 8-inch baking pan; set aside.

Begin by preparing the streusel topping. In a large bowl, stir together the black tahini, melted vegan butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Add in the flour, sesame seeds, and salt, mixing with a fork to create coarse, chunky crumbs. Set in the refrigerator to chill while focusing on the cake batter next.

Place the raw tahini, vegan butter, sugar, and yogurt into the bowl of your stand mixer and thoroughly cream everything together using the paddle attachment. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, making sure that all the ingredients are incorporated into a homogeneous blend before proceeding.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon together into a separate bowl, whisking to combine. In a small pitcher, stir the non-dairy milk, lemon juice, and vanilla together as well. Add about half of the dry goods into the stand mixer, blending until mostly incorporated. Introduce half of the liquids, continuing to mix at a low speed. Repeat the procedure until both are smoothly blended in. Be careful not to over-beat the batter though; a few errant lumps are perfectly fine.

Smooth the batter into your prepared baking dish. Break up the crumbs with a fork and sprinkle them evenly all over. It may seem like a lot, but you want full coverage here, so don’t hold back.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan before slicing and serving.

Makes 9 – 12 Servings

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Golden State of Mind

Without cake, does it really even count as a birthday? Sure, it’s inevitable that the celebrant will still wake up another day older regardless of the day’s festivities or lack thereof, but don’t we all? Just like a cupcake without frosting is really just a muffin, a birthday bereft of cake is not only a sad situation to imagine, but one that truly misses the point. How often do we have a legitimate excuse to eat ungodly amounts of sweets as if there was no tomorrow, despite our best efforts at self-preservation to survive up until this milestone?

With that in mind, my own sweet birthday reward is a bit more minimal than in years past, but necessary for a proper observation of the day. Shaking off the January chill, each glorious, golden bite of these turmeric cupcakes is a warming embrace from within. Originally inspired by the luminous golden lattes served at Nourish Cafe, these sweet treats are suitably more nourishing than your average dessert. Boasting only natural sweeteners and gluten-free flours, even I would be skeptical of this formula if it hadn’t been my own creation.

Most importantly, these treats pack a bold punch of spicy flavor into a small package, turning any day into an occasion worth celebrating.

Golden Latte Cake

2 Cups Almond Flour
1 Cup Oat Flour
1/3 Cup Arrowroot
1/2 Cup Golden Latte Mix, Store-Bought or Homemade
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups White Grape Juice Concentrate
1/2 Cup Applesauce
2/3 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

Maple Frosting:

1 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Arrowroot
1/2 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract

Garnish (Optional):

Pinch Ground Turmeric or Yellow Sprinkles

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line 28 – 30 standard cupcake tins with papers. Alternatively, if you’d like to make a layer cake, lightly grease 2 9-inch round cake pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, oat flour, arrowroot, latte mix, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Separately, mix together the grape juice concentrate, applesauce, coconut oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, folding the mixture together just until smooth. A few errant lumps are perfectly fine; don’t drive yourself crazy trying to beat them all out.

Fill the cupcake papers about 2/3rds of the way full, or divide the batter equally between the two cake rounds, and ease the pans into the center of your preheated oven. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes if making cupcakes. If preparing cake layers, bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Bake until lightly golden on top, and a toothpick inserted into the centers pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely before frosting.

Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. Toss the butter and arrowroot into your stand mixer, beating on low speed to cream the two together. Once completely smooth and homogeneous, slowly pour in the maple syrup, followed by the vanilla. Whip on high speed for 2 – 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until light and fluffy. Be careful not to overheat the frosting, though, as it will soften and break down if it gets too warm. Pop the whole bowl into the fridge for a few minutes if it’s giving you trouble.

Spread the frosting on your cakes as desired. Keep cool until ready to serve.

Makes 28 – 30 Cupcakes or 2 9-inch Round Cake Layers

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Let Them Eat Cornbread

Unwittingly, shamefully, it seems I’ve committed yet another culinary corruption. It was a crime of passion, as most are, born of unrequited cravings stemming from a deep, indecipherable source, compelling yet not entirely comprehensible. True love could hardly be described as rational, illuminating a clear path towards happiness, which is how this particular journey somehow got derailed into delinquency.

Cornbread, soft and sweet, haunted my dreams. Containing an impossibly dense yet fluffy crumb, melting away to a light, satisfying coarse grit on the tongue, this was the stuff of legend, a memory logged long ago during those early formative years that lack clear timestamps. It wasn’t any old Jiffy mix calling to me from beyond the periphery of cognition. It was cornbread you eat as an event by itself, not a mere side dish to a grander spread; cornbread that stole the show.

Without a second thought or further consultation, propelled by sheer passion and blissful ignorance, I tore into the cabinets to assemble my team. Cornmeal, coconut milk, olive oil, and sugar; all guilty by association. Any born and bred southerner could see in an instant where this is going by now, but in the heat of the moment, this uninformed Yankee hadn’t a care in the world.

Encrusted with a crunchy crumb topping and pock-marked with juicy red berries, still hot from the kiss of the oven, it was a sight to behold. Exactly what I had always wanted out of a cornbread without being able to fully verbalize the details, it exceeded expectations in a single bite. Though considerably more decadent than perhaps originally intended, one could hardly hold such delicious extravagance against it.

Hardly an hour passed before I settled in with a glossy food magazine that by some ironic twist of fate focused in on cornbread. Unscrupulously, the author decried the sugared excesses of modern cornbread recipes, claiming that true cornbread should remain entirely austere; unsweetened, unembellished, little more than baked corn puree. Strongly worded with equal parts revulsion and horror, I immediately understood the error of my ways.

Cake. This is corn cake. Are we clear? A mighty fine corn cake at that, but under no circumstances should it be categorized as cornbread. Can I plead innocence if we reconsider the end goal? Don’t call it a side dish and don’t invite it to dinner. Honestly, it won’t be offended! Rather, save it for a midday snack with a glass of iced tea, after the main meal with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or heck, save yourself a wedge for a rich breakfast treat in the morning.

Truth be told, this crime occurred so long ago that my original corn cake was prepared with red currants, found during a very brief seasonal window, and I was too ashamed to admit my wrongdoing at the time. Thankfully, I can attest that this treat won’t suffer the least bit if you swap them for ripe raspberries, or omit the fruit addition entirely. It’s highly flexible and fairly infallible, even if you prepared it as individual cupcakes. Just remember that this is a cake, through and through, and you’ll be golden.

Cornbread Crumb Cake

Crumb Topping:

1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Cornbread Cake:

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Fresh Red Currants or Raspberries (Optional)
1 Cup Light Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees lightly grease an 8-inch round baking pan; set aside.

Begin by making the crumb topping first. Combine the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Drizzle the olive oil all over and use a fork to mix, forming chunky, coarse crumbs. It may seem dry at first but don’t be tempted to add more liquid; slowly but surely, it will come together, and there’s no need to stress if it remains fairly loose. Set aside.

Moving on to the main cake, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, both types of cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt, stirring to thoroughly combine. Add in the currants or raspberries if using and toss to coat. This will help prevent them from simply sinking to the bottom during the baking process.

Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, olive oil, apple sauce, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Once smooth, pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and use a wide spatula to gently incorporate, being careful not to crush the berries or over-mix the batter. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few errant lumps in the matrix.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and sprinkle evenly with the crumb topping.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 – 30 minutes before slicing and serving, if you can bear the wait. It’s also fabulous at room temperature and can (theoretically) keep for 3 – 4 days if kept wrapped or sealed in an air-tight container.

Makes 8 – 12 Servings

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Neither Flowers Nor Flours

Valentine’s Day kicks into high-gear and still the debate rages on: Boxed chocolates or a bouquet? Countless delinquent romantics face this dilemma right at this very moment, weighting their options at the nearest corner store. It seems like an obvious choice to me, and the numbers agree; polls consistently rank candies and sweets as the top pick, beating out everything from cards to cologne by a landslide. They say it’s the thought that counts, but let’s be honest: For this occasion, any gift less than cacao decadence would be given in bad taste.

While I don’t have a sweetheart to spoil, there’s still plenty of love to go around because the passion for chocolate knows no bounds. Even for those procrastinating Romeos and Juliets out there, this quick-fix flourless cake is simple enough to have ready in about an hour, and is far more impressive than any handful of wilted blossoms or waxy confections. Each dense, dark, and fudgy wedge is incredibly rich so it may very well serve more than just one happy couple… but then again, for my fellow single ladies and lads out there, I certainly wouldn’t judge you for considering it as a single serving, too.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

3 Tablespoons Vegan Butter
5 Ounces Dark or Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1 Tablespoon Finely Ground Chia Seeds
2 Teaspoons Arrowroot Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees with a rack in very center. Lightly grease a 6-inch round mini springform pan and set aside.

Place the vegan butter and chocolate in a large, microwave-safe bowl and heat at 30-second intervals, stirring thoroughly each time, until melted and completely smooth.

Meanwhile, begin whipping the aquafaba in your stand mixer at low speed. Once you work up a stable froth, increase the speed to high. Mix together the sugar and cream of tartar in a small bowl and slowly begin adding the mixture as the machine continues to run. Allow 8 – 10 minutes of steady whipping for the meringue to reach full volume.

Stir the remaining ingredients into the bowl of melted chocolate, taking care to beat out any clumps. Whisk about 1/4 of the stiff meringue into the chocolate to help lighten the mixture, and then switch over to a wide spatula. Gently fold in the remaining meringue until, keeping as much air in the mixture as possible, until fully incorporated. A few residual pale streaks are just fine.

Transfer the batter into your prepared pan and smooth down the top with a spatula. Bake until cake pulls away from the sides of the pan and is set on top; about 40 – 45 minutes. Don’t worry if it seems to collapse in the center! It will just give you more space to fill with fresh berries or whipped coconut cream.

Serves 2 – 4

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Nothing Bundt Chocolate

Despite the recent influx of chocolate-covered features here on BitterSweet, I swear the trend is entirely unintentional. Given the festive season that’s upon us, I’d much rather share treats infused with bright spices, sweet winter fruits, and hearty whole grains. The catch here is that I’m typically not baking for myself, but for others, and there are quite a few picky eaters on my list. While you can never please everyone, you can bet I’m still going to try.

Thus, most nuts and dried fruits are out. Anise and clove are incredibly polarizing flavors. Nothing with booze for the staunch non-drinkers. Vegetable-haters object loudly to pumpkin in any format, which means that butternut and sweet potatoes are also out. What, then, is left in the average baker’s arsenal?

Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate, aside from liars and the mentally unstable. This one is nothing new, and in fact, is quite a throw back. Pilfered from my mother’s recipe box on a recent visit, this classic chocolate cake is brought to you by my Great Nana Blanche. I never met the woman, but clearly, she knew how to cook for a crowd. Easily modified to yield layers, cupcakes, or a bundt, the basic formula never disappoints.

If you’re also going crazy trying to make something special for a number of picky eaters, take a hint from the classics. Sometimes, you just can’t beat a tried-and-true, old-fashioned chocolate cake. There’s a reason why those recipes have survived through so many years.

Great Nana Blanche’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (Veganized)

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Hot Water

Simple Chocolate Glaze (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease your baking vessel of choice.*

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the vegan butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add in the sour cream, yogurt, and vanilla, mixing until homogeneous. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed to ensure that all the ingredients are fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the hot water. Mix just until smooth.

*You have many options for the final shape of this cake, and all are equally delicious! Simply adjust the baking time accordingly:

9×5 loaf pan = 45 – 50 minutes
12 – 14 cupcakes = 16 – 18 minutes
8 layer cake round = 30 – 35 minutes
10-cup bundt pan = doubled recipe, baked for 60 – 70 minutes
6 – 8 mini bundts = 20 – 25 minutes

Let cool completely before glazing, if desired.

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Where There’s Smoke…

What does autumn taste like to you? Millions would likely respond with a resounding cry of “pumpkin spice” without a second thought, while others might venture down the less celebrated paths of chai, chili, apple pie, or perhaps speculoos. Happily, this isn’t a question we need to fight over. There are no wrong answers, nor any unsatisfying suggestions on this list. They all share one common thread, and that is a palate of bold, warm, yet utterly soothing spices. Colder days call for hotter dishes; succulent blankets to wrap around our tongues. While there’s never a bad time to ramp up the seasonings, a well-equipped spice rack comes in particularly handy around this time of year.

If asked the same question, I might hem and haw in my typically indecisive fashion, but in my heart I always know the answer immediately: Gingerbread is my everything when the temperatures drop and the sunlight wanes. Something about the combination of sticky dark molasses paired with the bite of ginger, belting out its sweet song along with a full cadre of spicy backup singers, makes it feel as though everything is right with the world, at least for those fleeting moments of indulgence. If it were lacking even one of those critical spices, the harmony would be thrown out of balance.

Even so, I can’t help but tinker. Lately I’ve been obsessed with smoky flavors, starting with a few innocent additions of smoked tofu and beets gracing my daily salads and quinoa bowls. Now I’m looking farther afield to the dessert course, finding little if any smoky sweets to experiment with. Clearly, this is a void that needs to be filled. I can think of no better candidate to step up to the plate, quite literally, than gingerbread. Smoky chipotle powder is right at home here, adding a piquant peppery accent to liven up the typical palate. Smoked salt was an obvious winner to continue the theme throughout each tender, sticky bite, and crunchy smoked almonds absolutely seal the deal. It might sound overwhelming in print, but there’s no denying the taste- It may be difficult to return to the same old gingerbread blend after adding a bit of smoke into the mix.

The primary push to explore the smokier side of dessert came from a call to action by Simply Organic and Go Dairy Free. They’ve invited a very talented team of bakers and food obsessives to spice things up with both sweet and savory recipes fit for dairy-free diets. To check out these submissions, vote, enter to win prizes, and find more exclusive recipes, visit Go Dairy Free.

Take your time to luxuriate in all the spicy possibilities out there. The good news is that this cake only gets better with age, as the flavors mingle and meld, over the course of a day or two. Don’t wait too long though; it may be hard for others to resist nibbling away at the edges, until not a single crumb is left. Trust me on this one.

Smoky Chipotle Gingerbread Cake

2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Smoked Almonds, Roughly Chopped
1/4 Cup Crystallized Ginger, Finely Chopped
2 Tablespoons Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Salt
1 1/4 Teaspoons Simply Organic Chipotle Powder
1 Teaspoons Simply Organic Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
1/2 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Grated Fresh Ginger

Faux-Fondant Glaze:

3 Cups (3/4 Pound) Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Simply Organic Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan; Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Mix well to distribute all of the seasonings throughout the dry goods, and double-check that there are no clumps.

Separately, mix the coffee, maple syrup, molasses, pumpkin, sugar, oil, and ginger until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to bring the two together. Being careful not to over-mix, stir just until the batter is smooth and not a second longer. Transfer the batter into your prepared baking pan, smooth out the top, and pop it in the oven.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean- Perhaps with a few moist crumbs sticking to it but certainly not wet. Let cool completely before preparing the icing.

In a medium saucepan, combine confectioner’s sugar, water, and agave. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches 100 degrees. It won’t look very different from when you began, but should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Quickly pour the icing over the cake and smooth across the top and over the edges. It sets quickly so you want to work fast!

If time allows, this cake does get even better with age, so try to make it a day in advance for the flavor to really meld and sing. I don’t blame you if you can’t wait though; simply allow the glaze to set before slicing and serving, at least.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

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