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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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

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!

Riches Beyond Your Wildest Beans

Good vanilla is more precious than most gemstones right now. Believe it or not, demand for this everyday extract is skyrocketing while supply of the genuine article is plummeting due to devastating cyclones in Madagascar, poor harvests, and labor shortages. Some unsavory companies are resorting to questionable shortcuts, using spent, ground vanilla bean pods to add those eye-catching black flecks to their products. Doing so allows them to list “vanilla beans” on the label, even if the actual flavor comes from artificial ingredients. It’s not just food products though; try going straight to the source, and you might be surprised to find that even basic baking extracts are far from whole blends.

For something as important as holiday cookies, quality counts more than ever. Sugar cookies especially rely on full-bodied, robust vanilla flavor. An elusive, nuanced taste that’s difficult to capture in baked dough, the difference between a chemical cocktail and the genuine article is immediately evident with a single bite. Now is the time to splurge on the good stuff, revel in it, fully indulge yourself and your loved ones, and look back on your festive contributions with zero regrets.

Highlighting the very best vanilla I know, I’ve joined forces with Rodelle Kitchen to participate in their annual Holiday Cookie Campaign. Starting with an unconventional base of cocoa butter rather than a neutral oil imparts the ambrosial flavor like pure white chocolate, but in cookie form. Tender, chewy morsels punctuated by a barrage of crunchy macadamia nuts, no one would dare call this “plain vanilla.” Notes of marshmallow, custard, and even rich toffee all come from a generous dose of vanilla paste, unleashing a world of sweet flavors from one humble bean.

GIVEAWAY ALERT! Just in time for holiday baking, Rodelle has generously offered to gift one lucky reader with a bundle of their sweet riches. Stocked with an 8 ounce canister of baking cocoa, 4 ounce bottle of pure vanilla extract, and 2 count vanilla bean jar, the treats such ingredients can manifest will be truly priceless. To enter, get the details below, and tell me about your favorite holiday cookies in the comment section. Do you have a classic heirloom recipe passed down for generations, or do you put a new twist on tradition every year? Extra credit goes to anyone willing to share their secret formula!

Rodelle Vanilla Holiday Baking Bundle Giveaway

Regular old roll-out cookies will crumble in the face of these bold, buttery, unapologetically vanilla treats. Fancy frostings need not apply; these beauties already sparkle with natural plant-based sprinkles baked right in.

White Chocolate Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

4 Ounces 100% Food-Grade Cocoa Butter
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup Aquafaba
1 Tablespoon Rodelle Reserve Pure Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Rodelle Vanilla Paste
1 Cup Macadamia Nuts, Roughly Chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper.

Melt the cocoa butter on low power in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring well at each interval until completely liquefied. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before proceeding, waiting until it’s just warm to the touch.

Cream together the vegan butter and sugar in your stand mixer, beating until light and fluffy. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and soda separately, and slowly incorporate the dry goods, alternating with the melted cocoa butter. Add the aquafaba and both vanilla extra and paste, finally followed by the nuts, mixing just until blended and lump-free.

Use a medium cookie scoop to portion about 3-tablespoons of dough per cookie onto your prepared baking sheets, placing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Use lightly moistened hands to press them down slightly before sliding the pans into the oven.

Bake for 10 – 14 minutes, until puffed in the center, set around the edges, and just barely beginning to take on color on the bottom. Allow them to remain on the sheets until cool enough to handle. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week… If you can make them last that long!

Makes 15 – 18 Cookies

Printable Recipe

Baking a Difference

You wouldn’t know it at a glance or from the taste, but there’s a lot more than meets the tongue baked into every immaculate mahogany and tawny brown square from Greyston Bakery. If you can temper your appetite long enough to examine the label, you’ll know there’s something different about these treats beyond the essential formula. Raising up people within the community is just as important as raising dough, literally and figuratively, which their Open Hiring Model especially admiral. It should come as no surprise that this progressive company would partner with fellow corporate radicals, Ben & Jerry’s, to supply the infamous brownies in their game-changing vegan pints. My first taste of those darkly decadent, fudgy chunks came smothered in rapidly melting chocolate ice cream, but it wasn’t long before they compelled me to seek out a whole, bare bite.

Genuinely baked bars of soft dark chocolate, they’re the platonic ideal of any brownie, making the case for vegan desserts on a grand new scale. Very sweet, undeniably indulgent, super chewy, and complete with gently crackled top, I dare you to find a single flaw along those edible fault lines.

Now, after 36 years, achieving such lofty goals with unprecedented success has encouraged these bold bakers to expand their offerings with that same spirit of inclusivity in mind. For their second act in vegan baking activism, at long last, a blondie has been born.

The Vegan Cinnamon Roll Blondie is so soft and tender, each sweet morsel practically melts in your mouth. Sprinkled with cinnamon sugar for a light crunch and extra pop, they could be alternately called “snickerdoodle bars” to suit the simplistic approach. No nuts, no fruits, no nonsense, they’re sure to please the pickiest of eaters. Every bit as dense and satisfying as their cocoa counterparts, it’s a victory for all of us to celebrate, right down to the factory line, alongside the workers themselves.

Though it’s hard to beat a fresh blondie straight out of the box, they really come alive when served slightly warm… And, it should come as no surprise, with a scoop of ice cream on top.

You’re a Peach, My Dear

Few things can match the sensation of biting into a ripe, fresh peach at the height of summer, so juicy that it must be eaten over a sink. Soft fuzz easily gives way to tender flesh brilliantly sweet, floral, and aromatic. It’s a perfect dessert, all by itself, no garnishes need apply.

Sadly but surely, the seasons are marching onward, away from this most wonderful time of year. Don’t miss your chance to indulge in the last of this year’s harvest.

These delightfully chewy cookie bars present another way to enjoy these incomparable fruits, even if the selection isn’t quite as robust. Toasted pecans and fresh peaches, the star of the show, lend these treats a gentle Southern accent. Each sweet square is lightly caramelized through the baking process, ending with a rich, toffee-like flavor.

Southern Peach Streusel Bars

Peach Filling:

5 Ripe Peaches, Divided
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

Cookie Base and Streusel:

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose or White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Finely Ground Pecan or Almond Meal
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
3/4 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

First, prepare the filling so that it has time to cool. Begin by removing the pits from four of your peaches, and roughly chopping the flesh before tossing it into your food processor along with the sugar and cornstarch. Blend thoroughly until smooth, and then transfer the puree into a medium sauce pan. Set on the stove over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture has thickened significantly and bubbles are breaking regularly on the surface. Turn off the heat, and incorporate the vanilla and ginger. Set aside and let cool.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, lightly grease 9 x 13-inch baking pan; Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor, beat the butter briefly to soften. Add in the brown sugar and thoroughly cream together with the margarine, until fluffy and homogeneous. Sift in the flour, pecan or almond meal, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt, and mix on low speed to combine. The resulting mixture will be rather dry, so with the mixer running. slowly drizzle in the non-dairy milk, a teaspoon at a time, using just enough to bring everything together into a cohesive dough when pressed.

Take 2/3 of that dough and crumble it across the bottom of your prepared pan. Use your fingers to press it out into one even layer that will form the base. If you don’t have enough to cover the bottom, you can use a bit more of the dough, but bear in mind that the base shouldn’t be too thick. Bake in your preheated oven for 12 – 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, take your chopped pecans, and knead them into the remaining dough to create the streusel topping.

Once the base is ready, remove it from the oven, and evenly spread the cooled peach filling on top. Pit and roughly chop the one remaining peach, and scatter it across the peach jam filling. Finally, use your fingers to break apart clumps of streusel, and sprinkle them over the peaches. Slide the pan bake into the oven, and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes, until aromatic and the streusel is golden brown all over. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 24 – 30 Bars

Printable Recipe