An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


Sucré: A Sweet Boutique

When words fail and sweeping gestures go unnoticed, a little square of chocolate can warm the iciest of hearts. Not just any chocolate will have this same miraculous effect; quality truly counts here. To deliver a single perfect bite, the ideal snap and melt, that flood of unadulterated cacao bliss, you must know how to pick and choose your chocolate ally. Even for the unromantic and Valentine-immune, it’s no secret that the gift of chocolate can score serious brownie points, no matter who is the recipient.

Based in New Orleans, Sucré takes the guess work out of selecting sumptuous treats. Available both locally and through mail order, all of their tempting offerings are just a few clicks and a few days away. Some might say there are slim pickings for vegans here, offering only two options in total that are free of dairy and eggs, but those two are more than enough to sate the discerning sweet tooth.

Though taste will always trump all fanciful facades, it’s impossible not to be wooed by the beautiful packaging surrounding the Coconut and Toasted Almond Bar. A cut-out window provides glimpse of the bar within its turquoise box, teasing with a flawlessly tempered surface and a hint of the goodies sprinkled on top. The bottom is really the top in this case, revealing a slightly scuffed break-away design on the opposite side, but such an imperfection is barely worth noting. The easily snapped squares will hardly stick around long enough to be examined that thoroughly. Melting readily over the tongue, this bar packs a serious cacao punch, coating the whole mouth with deep, woodsy, and slightly smoky dark chocolate flavor. Fresh, crisp almonds and shredded coconut add a bit of crunch and interest to the party, but are overwhelmed by the strength of the chocolate. Although they get top billing in the title, they’re bit players at best. At the end of the day, it’s just all about the chocolate.

Utilizing that same rich chocolate, the Dark Chocolate Bark is also worth a taste (or five.) Each generous shard is positively stuffed with goodies; a varied mix of roasted cashews, whole almonds, pistachios, pecans, and dried cherries litter the cacao landscape. It’s the pinch of salt over the top that really allow all those flavors to pop, lending a brightness that the plainer bars might have lacked. For better or for worse, this only leads to creating an even more addictive sweet snack, and I could barely stop myself from popping piece after piece. Incredibly well balanced for containing so many disparate ingredients, sweet chewy fruits perfectly contrast with the gently bitter edge of cacao, while the crunchy nuts lend a nutty, toasted essence to the mix.

I’m typically not one to sit down and snack on straight chocolate, but Sucré‘s confections are a completely different story. Valentine’s Day is not a big event on my radar, but I would certainly give it more attention if it always involved this kind of instant gratification.


Run, Run, as Fast as You Can…

…But you’ll never escape my ravenous sweet tooth, Mr. Gingerbread Man.

Fully embracing the temptations of excess, especially abundant in this celebratory season, all I want to make and eat is candy. Typically, just a bite or two of concentrated sweetness will do me, but reaching a sugar coma has seemed to be the end goal recently. At least, that’s how the revelry tends to end, with my poor throbbing head so much the worse for wear. Must the desire for a few extra comforting confections always carry such a terrible price tag? Turns out that raw nuts help quite a bit to satiate the inner sweet-toothed monster, and a handful of whole grains give even tiny morsels far greater staying power.

When Hodgson Mill originally sent a box of pro bono flours and baking mixes, I found myself stumped by the pre-measured mixtures. They’re simply not something I stock my pantry with or employ, so straight away, it was a curious puzzle: What can be made with cake mix, that isn’t cake? Perhaps it’s fudging the boundaries of definition a bit, but how about cake truffles?

With a half-empty jar of speculoos spread just begging to be finished off, the pairing was inevitable, and a delicious match indeed. Enrobed in dark chocolate, the tender cake centers have just enough spice and sweetness to disguise the whole wheat and flax within. Each bite yields nothing but candy bliss, without the sugar hangover afterward.

Better yet, these adorable treats can be dressed up as cake pops. Adorable hand-held gifts or party favors, not a single one of these gingerbread men will escape the mouths of delighted guests.

Naturally, you can just as well whip up a little over one pound of gingerbread cake from any recipe you desire, boxed or fully homemade. Just be mindful of the amount of sugar, because the frosting itself is quite sweet. In the end, though, it’s all good when it’s dipped in chocolate.

Speculoos Gingerbread Cake Truffles

Gingerbread Cake:

1 15-Ounce Package Hodgson Mills Whole Wheat Gingerbread Mix
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Tablespoon Whole Flaxseeds, Ground
2 Tablespoons Water
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Canola Oil

Speculoos Frosting:

3/4 Cup Speculoos Spread
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, at Room Temperature
1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1/2 – 1 Tablespoon Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Chocolate Coating:

12 Ounces (2 Cups) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil or 100% Cocoa Butter

Optional Additions and Garnishes:

Small Lollipop Sticks
Colored Nonpareil Sprinkles
Chocolate Jimmies*

*Before dipping the truffles, go through the bottle of sprinkles and pick out any that have a slight curve to them. The majority will be straight, but if you look closely enough, you will find plenty that are “smiling.” You may also want to apply your sprinkles with a pair of tweezers for the most precision.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8 square pan.

In a large bowl, whisk all of the cake ingredients together until thoroughly combined, with no pockets of dry ingredients remaining. Bake for 28 – 32 minutes, until set around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake pulls out cleanly, without any slick of raw batter. Let cool completely before breaking up the cake and crumbling it into small, even pieces.

The frosting is equally effortless and speedy: Place the speculoos spread, margarine, and confectioner’s sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer, and start the machine on a low speed. Once the powder has been incorporated and is no longer at risk of flying out, turn up the speed to high, and slowly drizzle in the “milk,” until the frosting is smooth, homogenous, and a spreadable consistency.

Add a modest dollop into the bowl of cake crumbs and mix it all around. This is a messy job, as the best way to combine the two components is to get in there with your hands. Don’t be shy! It could be a fun job for the kids to help out with, too. Add in more frosting as needed, until the mixture just comes together when squeezed. You will likely have extra frosting, so don’t be tempted to add all of it, lest you want mushy truffles.

Dump the cake mixture out onto a silpat or piece of parchment paper, and flatten it out to about 1/2 – 3/4 inch in thickness. Use a small gingerbread man cookie cutter to cut out the shapes, pulling away the excess. Recombine the extra “dough”, flatten out once more, and cut more figures until the cake is all used up. Insert sticks now if using, and carefully move the silpat or parchment onto a baking sheet. Place the whole thing in the freezer on a flat surface, and let freeze for at least 3 hours, until solid.

To coat the truffles, combine the chocolate and coconut oil or cocoa butter in a microwave-safe dish, and heat for 60 seconds. Stir very well until the mixture is smooth. If there are still a few stubborn chips that refuse to melt, continue heating the coating at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each, until entirely lump-free.

Dip each truffle center, one at a time, into the melted chocolate. Use a fork to pull individual truffles out of the mixture and allow the excess coating to drip free. Be especially careful with any truffles on sticks, because they are particularly delicate. Move each piece back onto the silpat or piece of parchment paper, and quickly add sprinkles for the eyes and mouth before the coating solidifies. Repeat with the remaining truffles. Store in the fridge in an air-tight container.

Makes 30 – 40 Truffles

Printable Recipe


Holly, Jolly, Nog-gy

Thank goodness Christmas is still ahead of us. Winding down one winter holiday so early in the season turns out to be a brilliant stroke of good luck, because now the celebrations can go on twice as long. Eggnog is hands-down my favorite flavor of the upcoming fete, despite the fact that I’ve never had a nog with egg in it. An rich and frothy beverage combining all the best sweet, savory, and salty elements that could possibly mingle in one glass, it doesn’t have to be “authentic” to be utterly delicious. As long as there’s a light splash of rum and a generous sprinkle of nutmeg, it’s all nog to me.

Converting those essential essences into a bite-sized sweet treat was a must for gift giving and snacking this year. A truffle of a different color, these would be beautiful mixed into an assortment of various spiced, mint, or dark and candies as well. In fewer words, they play well with others.

Nog Truffles

1 Cup Raw Whole Cashews, Soaked for 2 – 3 Hours and Thoroughly Drained
1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Cup (2 Ounces) 100% Pure Cocoa Butter, Melted
1 Tablespoon Dark Rum
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Teaspoons Nutritional Yeast
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Kala Namak (Black Salt)

White Chocolate Coating:

2/3 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
1 Tablespoon 100% Pure Cocoa Butter
Ground Nutmeg, to Garnish

Place the soaked and drained cashews in your blender or food processor, along with all of the remaining ingredients that make up the centers. Blend until completely and perfectly smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the work bowl as needed to ensure that all small nut fragments are incorporated. Transfer the sweet puree to a heat-safe bowl and let rest in the freezer until firm; at least 1 hour.

Retrieve the truffle centers from the freezer and use a small cookie scoop or 2 spoons to scoop out about 1 tablespoon of the mixture at a time, rolling the chunks into smooth balls between the palms of your hands. Place the rounded centers onto a silpat or piece of parchment paper on top of a sheet pan, and repeat until the mixture is used up. Work quickly to prevent the filling from becoming too soft and unworkable. Move the whole sheet of naked truffles back into the freezer on a flat surface, and chill until solid; at least another hour.

When you’re ready to finish off the candies, combine the white chocolate chips and cocoa butter in a microwave-safe dish, and heat for 60 seconds. Stir very well until the mixture is smooth. If there are still a few stubborn chips that refuse to melt, continue heating the coating at 30 second intervals, stirring thoroughly between each, until entirely lump-free.

Dip each truffle center, one at a time, into the melted white chocolate. Use a fork to pull them out of the mixture and allow the excess coating to drip free. Move each piece back onto the silpat or piece of parchment paper, and quickly sprinkle lightly with additional ground nutmeg before the coating solidifies. Repeat with the remaining truffles. Store at room temperature in an air-tight container.

Makes 12 – 18 Truffles

Printable Recipe


Sweets for the Sweet

Some people on my holiday gift list are simply so sweet that they don’t need any added sugar. At least, that’s how I’ve come to interpret their need for lower glycemic and more health-supportive eats. Rather than going straight to savories, there’s still plenty of delicious middle ground to cover. Besides, chocolate is already well known to be health food, right?

Stevia is what turns these truffles into genuine candies, but it can take some play to get just the right level of sweetness. Tolerance varies by personal taste and brand, so be sure to sample and adjust your chocolate mixture (multiple times, if needed) before letting them set up.

Sugar-Free Citrus and Spice Truffles

1/4 Cup Refined Coconut Oil*
2/3 Cup Cocoa Powder**
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Pinch Ground Cloves
Pinch Salt
1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoon Stevia Powder or 4 – 8 Drops Stevia Extract, to Taste
1 Teaspoon Hot Water

*I prefer to use refined coconut oil in this sort of application, because I don’t want these treats to have a particularly coconut-y flavor. If you don’t mind that added element, then by all means, go ahead and use virgin/unrefined coconut oil instead. It will work exactly the same way.

**Quality counts here! This is the time to break out the good cocoa, since the entire chocolate taste depends on it.

The procedure for completing this recipe is so simple, it barely needs written instructions. Start by melting your coconut oil down to liquid form. Meanwhile, whisk together all of the dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Add in the coconut oil and stir the mixture until it’s a smooth, thick paste. Mix in the water so that it’s a looser, more pourable consistency. Carefully pour the liquid chocolate into a silicone candy mold. Place it in the fridge to set up; about 30 minutes. Pop the chocolates out and store either at room temperature (as long as the room is below 75 degrees) or back in the refrigerator.

Makes About 1 Dozen Truffles

Printable Recipe


You Don’t Know Jack-o-Lantern

Once the highlight of every autumn, Halloween has begun to lose its charm. Once an opportunity to escape into an alternate persona, collect hordes of sweet treats, and explore new neighborhoods filled with bright lights and wild decorations, now it’s little more than a note on a calender page. Much of that has to do with simply growing older no doubt, an unfortunate side effect of becoming too mature or too serious. More than that, however, the great prize at the end of the journey holds little allure now. Artificially flavored, colored, and pumped full of unsavory fillers, not to mention the sad prevalence of animal products in mainstream options, the whole song and dance seems somehow hollow without that great candy climax to look forward to. For someone with an active and voracious sweet tooth to reject free candy has got to say something.

Rest assured, not all candy has lost its appeal. The homemade, hand-crafted stuff is in a category of its own, especially since it’s the sort that no parent would allow their child to take on a trick-or-treat outing. Ironic that the mass-produced junk would be considered a safer, better option. Fine by me though, because that only means I get to horde more of the choice picks for myself, such as these lightly spiced pumpkin pâte de fruits. Gummy candies all grown up, these seasonal treats are perfect for the entire autumn season, not just the standard Halloween sugar high.

Soft yet toothsome, the crunch of sugar coating the outside gives way to smooth pumpkin jelly, tinged with cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. A hint of molasses adds depth, contrasted by a bright splash of cider vinegar. Unlike so many other “pumpkin spice” novelties, these edible orange jewels genuinely taste like the gourd of their namesake.

Pumpkin Pâte de Fruits

1/4 Cup Solid-Packed (Canned) Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Juice*
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Molasses
2 Cups Granulated Sugar, Plus Extra to Coat
3/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
Pinch Ground Nutmeg
1 3-Ounce Package Liquid Pectin

*I ran about 1/4 of a medium-sized sugar pumpkin, gutted, peeled, and sliced into 1-inch strips, through my juicer to yield around 1 cup of pumpkin juice. If you don’t have a juicer, don’t fret! You can also chop up the raw pumpkin into piece, toss them into a food processor or blender, and thoroughly puree. Strain from a very fine-meshed sieve or nut milk bag, and save the solid pulp for another use. It’s great for making crackers or dog treats!

Line a 4 x 8-inch loaf pan with aluminum foil, and lightly grease; Set aside.

Place the pumpkin puree, pumpkin juice, cider vinegar, molasses, sugar, and all the spices in a medium saucepan, stirring to combine. From this point forward though, keep that spatula out of the pot until the very end, lest you create nasty sugar crystals while the candy is forming. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, gently swirling the pot periodically, until the mixture reaches 238 degrees (soft ball stage.) At last, pour in the pectin, and stir briefly to incorporate. Continue cooking at a steady boil 2 minutes longer.

Transfer the hot, liquid candy into your prepared pan, and let sit at room temperature until completely cool. It should be solid enough to pull out of the pan at this point, using the foil as a sling. Use a very sharp knife, lightly coated in oil, to slice the rectangle into small, two-bite squares. Toss the squares in additional granulated sugar to coat, and store in an air-tight container at room temperature. The candies will last for about 1 week… If you can keep the ghouls and goblins away!

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Coming to a Newsstand Near You

A new pair of months means a new VegNews, and for the March/April issue, it also means a new My Sweet Vegan column! After what felt like an inordinately long break, it’s time to break out the sugar and salt shaker, because I’m bringing the sweet and and the salty together for two easy, palate-pleasing candies.

Potato Chip Chocolate Truffles may steal the show, their intense, dark chocolate centers covered in crunchy shards of crushed potato chips, but Buttery Popcorn Brittle is not far behind in the lineup. Like kettle corn in one thick plank, it’s a new way to enjoy that classic theater snack with less muss and fuss. Both could be whipped up on a whim, and let me tell you, they make for excellent gifts… If you can bear to part with either treat.

In addition, I had the pleasure of shooting more savory delights by the lovely and talented Allison Samson. Bringing Cheesy Twice-Baked Potatoes to the party this time around, these rich spuds are not to be missed. Stuffed with creamy mashed potatoes and smothered in gooey “cheese” sauce, it may be tough to go back to plain baked potatoes after trying these tempting tubers.

Have you gotten your issue yet?  Of course, it’s packed full of other recipes, too, so there are plenty of equally attractive dishes to choose from.  What do you plan on making first?


Sweets for the Sweet Tooth

Extreme sweet teeth are a dominant trait in my family, but it tends to manifest itself in different ways. For example, both my mom and I are happier with carefully composed desserts and baked goods, complex with layers of cake, creamy fillings, and perhaps a bit of a crunch hidden somewhere, but neither my sister nor my dad would likely be as pleased. They have straight-up sugar teeth; the sort of teeth that crave pure, unadulterated sweetness, and are much more likely to drift towards a candy shop than a bakery come dessert time.

While I will admit that I tend to cater to my own tastes when dreaming up new recipes, I do aim to please, so this little sugar-bomb was developed with the other half of my family in mind.

Simple and super-sweet, just a tiny square of this maple fudge should satisfy even the most intense sugar cravings. Homemade candies in general are always a favorite for gift-giving, and this decadent option would certainly fit the bill. Throw in a pinch of spices to shake things up a bit if you’d like, but the unique and irreplaceable flavor of maple is a treat enough to me.

Maple Fudge

2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1 1/4 Cups Grade B Maple Syrup
1/3 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine
1 Cup Chopped and Toasted Walnuts
Pinch Salt

Lightly grease an 8 x 8 inch square pan and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, combine the sugar, maple syrup, and non-dairy milk, and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Once the mixture comes to a full boil, stop stirring, and insert your candy thermometer. Continue to cook, swirling the pan instead of stirring if necessary, until it comes to about 238 – 240 degrees (soft ball stage). Remove the pan from the heat, and let it sit until it has cooled to 145 degrees. At that point, the top of the candy may have crystallized, and the whole mixture should be somewhat thicker, albeit grainy. Incorporate the margarine and continue to beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 10 full minutes- You’ll know that you’re doing it right when it feels like your arm is about to fall off. The mixture should become thicker, lighter in color, and less glossy. Beat in the nuts and salt, and spread it into your prepared pan, pressing it into the corners and smoothing down the top with a spatula. Let sit for at least 3 hours before cutting into very, very small squares. Just a bite will satisfy!

Never refrigerate, or the fudge will become damp and mushy. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Makes 36 – 45 Small Squares

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