Bar None

May I introduce you to your new sweet obsession?

Every baker dreams of instantly whipping up sure-fire hits every time they turn on the oven, and eaters, no matter how adventurous, always crave certain comforting staples. While the internet hardly needs another plain old blondie recipe, it DOES need this one. It’s the one I always turn to for potlucks, for presents, and for random sweet tooth satisfaction, year in and year out. Something with enough staying power to see that many repeat performances in my kitchen deserves greater attention.

Super chewy, surprisingly buttery, and singing with sweet vanilla essence, they’re simply the best rendition of the classic bar cookie that everyone should have in their repertoire. There’s nothing crazy going on here; no complicated preparation, drawn out chilling or baking times, crazy ingredients, or any other shenanigans. Just tender slabs of caramelized brown sugar sweetness, filled with rich chocolate morsels, ready to be devoured in under an hour.

The only element that may give you pause is the cassava flour, but it’s not so scary as it may sound. It’s made from the yucca root, like tapioca starch, but comes from the entire tuber, thus affording it more fiber and nutrition than the later. If you can’t find it, don’t want to hunt it down, or don’t care about making your treats gluten-free, make it even easier by swapping in good old fashioned all-purpose flour.

In closing, I must apologize for making this introduction. If you had any attachments to particular blondie recipes previously, I’m afraid this fresh suitor will prove irresistible, leading to quite the sordid affair. I’m not sorry, however, for the joy it will create once you surrender to such an inevitability.

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Birthday Boom

For reasons beyond my grasp, it seems like May marks the beginning of birthday season. Inexplicably, it’s as if millions of mothers across the globe decided that the late spring and early summer months were the ideal time to bring a new life into the world, plotting out their pregnancies accordingly. Facebook alerts me every morning about another dozen, two dozen friends celebrating another year on earth, growing more numerous and incessant with every passing day. Though entertaining in theory- and I’d never doubt the determination of a woman about to bear children- I can only chalk it up to coincidence, or at least on my part, good luck.

Having so many parties clustered closely together can be stressful for planning, but a boon for batch baking. Fire up the oven once, whip up a single batter in bulk, and fulfill your festive commitments for scores of friends with ease. The trick is picking something that everyone will like, won’t break the budget, and can suit all sorts of dietary restrictions.

Meet your new best birthday friends. These babies have it all, and yet, demand so little. Just three main ingredients gives rise to tender, chewy blondie bites that taste like cake, but are healthy enough to qualify as a legitimate protein bar. In fact, I must sheepishly admit, it was Luka’s first birthday that originally inspired these almond butter-based morsels. After adding rainbow sprinkles for the human party goers, it became abundantly clear that these were way better than bland dog biscuits here. No added sugar keeps these treats well balanced, but for the voracious sweet tooth, you may want to consider inviting up to 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar to the soiree.

The magic ingredient here is Noosh Birthday Cake Almond Butter. No, they didn’t sponsor this post; I’m just a super fan and can’t get enough of the stuff. How nuts can taste like spreadable cake is beyond me, but there’s no denying that buttery taste, rich with childhood nostalgia and subtle notes of vanilla frosting. Combining that with gluten-free flour and everyone’s favorite bean brine sounds like a formula too simple, too basic, too good to be true… But like the sudden abundance of birthdays, some mysteries aren’t meant to be solved.

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The Straight Dough(p)

It was only a matter of time. After releasing a glorious vegan version of their infamous cookie dough ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s has now unveiled the next level of dough indulgence upon the world. Joining the previously limited run of “just the chunks,” vegans will soon see a variation with their names on it appearing in grocery stores and scoop shops nationwide.

This is the real deal; the straight dough(p). Cylindrical extrusions exactly like you would see rolling down factory conveyor belts, destined for an unceremonious ice cream burial. Now, they’ve been freed of that typical, undistinguished fate for a glorious full feature. No longer the sidekick but the true hero, every nuance of their buttery, brown sugar sweetness can be properly appreciated. Never before have I tasted anything so closely matched to the flavors of homemade dough without reaching right into the bowl of my stand mixer.

Suddenly, I’m three years old again, standing on a chair to see over the tiled kitchen counter while my mom prepares cookies. Stretching to reach the very edge of the beater, I surreptitiously swipe tiny morsels of soft batter, one after another, letting the flavors explode across my palate and slowly dissipate before going in for another bit. Each stolen taste was just enough to flood my senses with the slightly grainy texture of undissolved sugar and flour, subtly balanced salted edge, and deeply satisfying richness. Stealthy, I was not, but my mom charitably humored my advances, pretending to be engaged with very complicated oven calibration every now and then while I made my moves.

Like the flashbulb of an antique camera, the memory fades off into black, and just like that, the bag is empty, too.

Ben & Jerry’s, take another bow. This is a completely faultless edible masterpiece by any standards. If you’ve ever craved raw cookie dough, this is what you’ve wanted all along.

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 others 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 off 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 ideal 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

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!