A Flurry of Inspiration

Winter is in full force, or at least, so I’m told. Forecasts filled with snow and ice threaten large swaths of the US, while records show that this year’s Superbowl was the coldest on record, crushing previous predictions with an icy flourish. Temperatures ranking just above negative numbers boggle my mind; a sensation so unthinkable, so impossible, it’s almost painful to imagine. That’s because beautiful California remains a shining beacon of eternal summer, setting records pushing the mercury up in the opposite direction. Basking in the sunshine on a brilliant 75-degree day, I have to remind myself that this is still February. Somehow, this is still winter.

Although that does make it less appealing to crank up the oven, those longer days of bright natural light inspire an endless stream of photo shoots, and with them, new recipes galore. In homage to the flurries still blanketing the rest of the northern hemisphere with frozen white fluff, my mind went to memories of clean, pure, white snow, freshly fallen and immaculate. So delicate were those perfectly formed crystals, which I examined closely on gloved hands as they landed, that they seemed as if they were formed individually by some master craftsman in the sky.

These particular snowflakes are cut from the same cloth, but as a handmade treat, still retain personalities all their own. Celebrating simplicity, they’re merely the best vanilla cookie you’ve ever tasted. Boldly infused with powder from the whole bean, they’re not shy about shouting this warm, classic flavor from the rooftops- Or wherever else they may settle. Mochiko is the secret to keeping each bite soft and tender, while remaining firm enough to resist spreading in the oven. Do not confuse this with regular rice flour, as the texture is very different.

Whether your snow day involves making snowmen or spending an unseasonably sweltering afternoon in the kitchen, may the end results always be as sweet!

Ultimate Vanilla Bean Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

1 Cup Vegan Butter
1 1/4 Cups Granulated Sugar
2 3/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Mochiko
1/4 Cup Arrowroot Powder
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Bean Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/3 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk

Use your stand mixer to thoroughly cream the butter and sugar together. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, mochiko, arrowroot, vanilla powder, salt, and baking powder, stirring well to combine. Add about half of these dry ingredients into the mixing bowl, processing it until fully incorporated. Pour in the non-dairy milk along with the remaining flour mixture. Continue to mix until it forms into a smooth, homogeneous dough. Form the dough into two balls, flatten them out a bit, wrap separately in plastic and chill for at least one hour before proceeding.

After the dough has had time to rest in the refrigerator, start heating your oven to 350 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the first ball of dough to about 1/8th of an inch in thickness. Use your favorite cookie cutters to shape the cookies, and place them on baking sheets lined with silpats or parchment paper. Brush any excess flour off the cookies, but don’t go crazy if it still has a light coating; most of it will bake in seamlessly.

Bake for about 8 – 14 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies, until no longer shiny and the edges are firm. Don’t wait for them to brown because they will become overcooked and dry by the time they cool.

Cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container at room temperature.

Yield is variable, depending on size of cookie cutter

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Treat Yourself Well

Highly skeptical, but equally ravenous, I tore into the tiny package with abandon. Crunchy cookies never get as much love as the giant, soft and chewy sort popularized by American bakeries; a bias that I too am guilty of possessing. That said, despite being dubious of the format, there seemed to be a lot of potential locked away in these single-serve packages of Zemas Madhouse Wholegrain Cookies.

Placing an emphasis on wholesome ingredients and nutritionally sound snacks, these are not just empty sugar bombs to throw down when cravings strike. Rather, they’re designed to satiate and energize, and all in good taste, of course. Sorry to spoil the surprise; each variety wildly exceeded all expectations on that front.

Sweet Potato Spice impresses with a flavor profile that actually tastes like yam, as promised! Tossed in not just for color, but genuine flavor, it’s subtly spiced bite pock marked with equally crisp pepitas for an added nutty undertone. Oatmeal Cranberry follows up with a strong encore of millet, quinoa, and amaranth as well as the aforementioned featured grain. Comforting, cozy, and easy to eat, the addition of chewy cranberries adds nice textural contrast, softening the cookies overall and bringing to mind the warmth of a bowl of hot oatmeal.

Chocolate Chip starts with a creamy vanilla base, but that rich chocolate flavor sure does carry! A snack that could transcend all boundaries, this timeless treat would be an easy hit with any crowd. This tastes like childhood but with wisdom beyond its years. Double Chocolate Chip follows up that stellar performance with a slightly softer bite with a pure cocoa base that provides less contrast than the previous option, but supports the chips with a more serious, slightly bitter edge. The overall impact is surprisingly sophisticated for such an unassuming little package.

Did I mention that all of these mini cookies, for all their benefits, are also certified gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, top 8 allergen-free, and kosher? That’s quite a mouthful of dietary designations, which is perhaps fitting for these bold little snacks. Despite my initial misgivings about crunchy cookies, these diminutive treats from Zemas break the mold, offering something that defies the category as beneficial to both the body and soul.

Deep-Freeze Delights

Given my extreme aversion to even the slightest hint of cold temperatures, it can be quite challenging to placate the daily cravings for ice cream when the dark ages of winter arrive. Usually, it’s a battle of mind over matter, ignoring the chills that go down my spine, shivering through every sweet lick. Particularly bad cases will send me straight to the tea kettle for sips to thaw out of the inevitable brain freeze. The pain is always worth the pleasure, but surely, there must be a better way to sooth the more sensitive sweet tooth.

Not only is there a way to stay toasty and warm while snacking, but there’s an even healthier way to indulge, too. Froozer is a great tasting frozen snack made with 100%fruit – all the goodness and great taste of perfectly ripened fruits, with no added sugar, juice or concentrate. The moment I first tried these wholesome treats, I knew it would shake up my whole winter routine. First of all, these are not mere popsicles flavored with juice or concentrate, but fully blended fruits with nothing added nor taken away. Stunningly creamy and sweet without any sugar, each slow-churned flavor tastes as bright and fresh as a summer’s day. Before I knew it, I was even tossing them into smoothies for instant morning fuel, delicious enough to qualify as milkshakes.

Still, as the frigid winds howled with increasing volume outside, I found myself on the verge of a seriously hangry meltdown… When I realized that’s exactly what I should do. Since they’re made of simply whole fruits, each stick is like an instant flavor infusion for any recipe, ready in your freezer whenever you are. Thinking quickly and pulling ingredients from the pantry, it was a matter of minutes before a brand new cookie creation came to be.

An edible island escape, the sprightly combination of pineapple, mango, and banana found within each Tropical Sunset frozen fruit snack transforms a pile of shredded coconut into an nutritious and delicious bite of paradise. These coconut macaroons couldn’t be more simple to craft, which is why they suit this no-nonsense source of inspiration so well.

It might be tough to sacrifice that perfectly churned, creamy consistency by bringing up the temperature a bit, but once you taste these new, equally satisfying healthy confections, you won’t regret taking the risk.

This post was made possible thanks to Froozer and Mambo Sprouts.

Tropical Sunset Coconut Macaroons

1/4 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
6 Froozer Tropical Sunset Frozen Snacks, Thawed
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Shredded Coconut

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the melted coconut oil, thawed Froozer snacks, vanilla, and salt until smooth. Add in the shredded coconut and stir thoroughly to combine. Once the whole mixture is homogeneous, scoop out cookies with a small ice cream scoop and place on a small sheet pan. Chill until firm, at least 1 hour, or expedite the process by stashing them in the freezer for 20 minutes. Store in an air-tight container either in the fridge or in a cool, dark place. The cookies will keep for 5 – 7 days.

Makes 12 – 15 Cookies

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One Tough Cookie Contest

Judging any sort of food competition sounds like a pretty cushy job at first glance. You get to taste all sorts of exotic delights, compare and contrast, ultimately laying down the official ruling on which entry takes the cake- Or cookie, as was the case for the 2017 VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. However, I don’t envy the ruling critics on this panel, tasting their way through an onslaught of sweet morsels, every one of them with the potential to win hearts, if not the entire competition. Luckily, such agonizing decisions were not mine to make, as I merely provided photos for the feature while relishing the end results on my own terms. No need to pick favorites between these three; you’ll be a winner no matter which treats end up on Santa’s plate!

Officially, first place went to the classy and classic Chocolate-Dipped Almond Cranberry Shortbread Cookies by Rosie Scott-Benson. This cookie pairs an irresistibly buttery shortbread cookie with rich chocolate for a winning combination.

Coming in at a close second, Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal Cream Pies by Mary-Kate Lynch are lightly spiced, soft and sweet; sure to be a hit at your holiday parties, and beyond.

Third but far from last, the Dirty Chai Sugar Cookies by Amy McDonough may honestly have been my personal favorites from this round. These are tender, chewy cookies infused with warming chai spices and topped with a creamy espresso-spiked frosting. Honestly, does it get much better than that? I think that even Santa would forgive you for scarfing down the whole batch before he has time to shimmy down the chimney.

Given the diverse array of tempting last-minute additions, are you changing up your holiday cookie game this year? What’s going on your platters, and tell the truth: Are you really planning on sharing with Santa? There’s no shame is giving yourself a little gift of sweetness as well!

Mocha Me Crazy

Crispy edges shatter upon the most tender, tentative of bites, giving way to a gently chewy interior rife with toasted nuts. Sweet, but balanced by the naturally bitter nuances of coffee and dark cocoa, this riot of flavor and texture all comes in a modest, unassuming little bar. While most holiday cookies are lavished with bold frosted jewels and colorful sugar crystals, the prettiest confections would be hard-pressed to compete with such unvarnished indulgence. Most would dub such an accomplishment as a resounding baking success, so it might come as a surprise that the whole lot of them was almost destined for the trash heap.

Though glorious in their own quiet sort of way, these treats were born of much loftier aspirations- Literally. Back in the very early stages of aquafaba awareness, many crazy experiments were carried out in the name of science, and sweet tooth-fueled cravings, of course. Admittedly, the frustration of failure has darkened the memory of their origins, so it’s hard to say exactly what I had intended while dutifully whipping chickpea brine into submission. A seriously nutty sponge cake, perhaps? Regardless of intention, the results fell flat.

Trying hard to salvage the thin, brittle sheet of confectionery matter, I picked up the pieces and dutifully went through the motions of styling and photography, but remained dispirited. If not for certain interlopers that kept swiping errant crumbs and strongly suggesting that a proper taste test was in order, the recipe would have immediately hit the digital dust bin. Thank goodness for that persistence which saved a new family favorite.

Rising from the ashes and crumbs, I’m pleased to finally present these Mocha-Nut Bars as part of Rodelle’s 2017 Holiday Cookie Campaign. Pooling together some of the brightest (and sweetest) minds in the blogosphere, there’s no shortage of sugar or spice here. In fact, the master bakers at Rodelle have taken it upon themselves to ensure that, and have generously offered to provide their unrivaled baking cocoa for many more rounds of delicious experimentation.

GIVEAWAY ALERT! Enter to win one of two 8-ounce jars of this superlative baking cocoa by telling me in the comment section: What has been your most delicious recipe “failure” or mistake to date? Log your submission and find more ways to enter though the official giveaway form.

Baking, as with most things in life, doesn’t always go exactly according to plan on the first try. The only real mistake, however, would be letting those challenges prevent us from finding entirely new successes in the process.

Mocha-Nut Bars

1/2 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Chopped
1/2 Cup Toasted Cashews, Chopped
1/2 Cup Toasted Pecans, Chopped
1/2 Cup Almond Meal
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1/3 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Instant Coffee Powder or Granules
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Aquafaba
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9×9-inch square pan.

Mix together the nuts, almond meal, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder, flour, instant coffee, salt, and baking soda. Make sure there are no clumps, and that all the ingredients are well distributed throughout before proceeding.

Place the aquafaba in the bowl of your stand mixer and whip on high speed for about 10 minutes, until light and fluff. Slowly add in about half of the dry mixture, mixing gently until incorporated. Fold in the remaining half by hand using a wide spatula. Add in the oil and vanilla last, stirring as little as possible to keep the batter nice and airy.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the top is glossy (but not wet) and slightly crackled in appearance. Let cool completely before slicing. Store in an airtight container for 3 – 5 days.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

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A Very Merry Unbirthday to You!

Birthdays come and birthdays go. Some are occasions to rejoice, some are best forgotten. Ready or not, they happen to the best of us, and we find a way to struggle through, as it sure beats the alternative. For the remaining 364 days a year, we tend to gloss over the fact that we’re still getting older, still surviving to see another morning; why shouldn’t we celebrate that too? Treat yourself to a nice dinner because it’s Monday. Splurge on some fancy olive oil because you answered all your emails. Throw yourself a party because you damn well feel like it. Most importantly of all, eat cake simply because it’s delicious.

Birthday cake is the first thing that came to mind upon cracking open a bottle of baker’s extract, my new favorite secret ingredient. Primarily vanilla but so much more, Rodelle describes it as having notes of chocolate, caramel, cream and oak mingling within the dark emulsion. If you ask me, it’s like vanilla with the dial turned up to 11. Robust and smooth, just a few drops add incredible richness and complexity to any sweet treat, which is why I’ve been reaching for this bottle more often than not. Blend it into pancakes for legitimate cakes made in a pan. Add a splash to a protein drink transform it into a cake batter milkshake. In the case of today’s recipe, mix things up with simple cereal bars, and create an everyday birthday treat.

The much beloved childhood cereal bar morphs into a convincing cookie and cake hybrid with just a few small tweaks. Crunchy, chewy squares of crisp rice are bound together with a simple sticky syrup, bolstered by that extraordinary baker’s extract and just a touch of cake flour to really cement the theme. White chocolate stands in for frosting, keeping these snacks packable, portable, and perfectly suited for whipping up on every unbirthday you please. Speaking of which, don’t you have one coming up soon, too? Maybe you should start planning your next batch right now.

Though technically optional, I would argue that it’s really not a birthday without sprinkles, so err on the side of whimsy and let it rain. If you really insist on being an adult about it, chopped nuts could be an acceptable topping as well… Albeit considerably less fancy-free.

This post was made possible thanks to Rodelle and their sweet contributions.

Birthday Cake Crispy Rice Treats

5 Cups Crispy Brown Rice Cereal
3 Tablespoons Cake Flour
1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter
1/2 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Rodelle Baker’s Extract

6 Ounces (About 1 Cup) Chopped Vegan White Chocolate, Homemade or Store-Bought
1 – 3 Tablespoons Assorted Sprinkles

Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease. Combine the cereal and flour in a large bowl; set aside.

Set a medium saucepan over low heat and begin by melting the butter. Once liquefied, add in the agave, sugar, and salt, stirring as needed until the sugar crystals dissolve. Bring the mixture to a steady boil and then cook for an additional 3 – 5 minutes, until it appears to have thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the both extracts.

Pour the contents of your saucepan over the dry mix and fold it in carefully but briskly with a wide non-stick spatula, being careful not to crush the cereal.

Transfer the sticky mixture into your prepared pan and gently press it out into an even layer. It’s easiest if you grease the bottom of a flat measuring cup and use that to smooth it down, applying firm downward strokes across the full pan of cereal.

Seal the deal by melting down the white chocolate and pouring it on top. Distribute the sprinkles equally across the top, and let the chocolate cool until set. Slice and celebrate!

Makes 10 – 12 Bars

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