BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Salty Language

Sweet loves salty; salty loves sweet. Together, they give life to a far greater taste sensation than either could achieve individually. Even casual bakers have gotten hip to the fact that an extra pinch of salt really makes their cookies pop and chocolates sing, but what happens when you add a touch of umami into the mix?

Reach beyond the salt shaker and head straight for miso paste for this sticky, sultry caramel sauce.

Pure sodium can do wonders for this burnt sugar syrup, effectively reducing the inherent bitterness created in the Maillard reaction while simultaneously enhancing the impact of its overall sweetness. No wonder why simple salted caramel has taken hold of eaters worldwide- Even those crazy enough to declare themselves unaffected by the siren song of sugar. Now, take those same flavor enhancing properties and bolster them with a seductively savory edge, and you’ve just elevated your dish to an entirely new realm of decadence.

Cara-miso, my miso-infused caramel sauce, has no boundaries when it comes to usage. Chocolate cake pops with every bite when you grace it with a tiny drizzle; black coffee comes to life with a taste that will make you forget all about any pumpkin spice nonsense; whipped coconut cream sparks and pops with just a few drops. Naturally, this endlessly versatile syrup finds itself most at home atop luscious scoops of ice cream, but that alone wasn’t enough to satisfy my sweet tooth during the latest great heatwave. Take it even one step further for the single best milkshake you will ever stick a straw into.

If that photo alone doesn’t have you scrambling into the kitchen, I don’t know what will. Thankfully, once you whip up a batch of the caramel sauce, you’ll have enough for a few more rounds of this crave-worthy nectar made in sweet and salty heaven. Still, it might not hurt to double it, just in case.

Cara-Miso Milkshake:

2 Cups Vegan Vanilla Ice Cream
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Vanilla Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Miso Caramel Sauce, Plus More for Garnish (see following recipe)
Whipped Coconut Cream (Optional)

Cara-Miso (Miso Caramel) Sauce:

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
3/4 Cup Full Fat Coconut Milk
3 Tablespoons Sweet White Miso Paste
3 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

To make the milkshake, simply combine the ice cream, almond milk, and caramel sauce in a blender and blend until smooth. Divide the mixture between two glasses and top with whipped coconut cream and additional caramel sauce, if desired.

For the miso caramel sauce, combine the sugar and water in medium-sized saucepan. Place the sugar and water inside before setting over moderate heat. Resist the urge to stir, but rather, gently swirl the pan in a circular motion mix the contents.

Meanwhile, mix together a few tablespoons of coconut milk with the miso paste. Whisk vigorously to thoroughly incorporate the miso. Make sure that there are no remaining lumps before stirring in the rest of the coconut milk, and set aside.

Continue to cook the sugar mixture, swirling occasionally, until it turns deep amber in color, but do not allow it to begin smoking or smelling burnt. You want to cook it to a fairly dark shade to give it the most flavor, but if it smells burnt, it’s already too late and you must start again. Once it begins to color, it will progress very quickly, so do not walk away at this point.

Once deeply colored, very carefully pour in the coconut milk along with the coconut oil. The mixture is likely to sputter and bubble up, so you may want to stand to the side while making this addition, and it’s not a bad idea to wear long sleeves to cover your arms, just in case. The mixture may seize and crystallize slightly, but don’t worry, it’s easy to fix. Continue to cook the syrup over gentle heat until any crystals are dissolved and the mixture is completely smooth again. Stir in the salt and turn off the heat.

Let cool completely before using or storing in a glass jar.

Milkshake Makes 2 Servings
Caramel Sauce Makes about 1 1/2 Cups

Printable Recipe

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As Good As Ten Mothers

Instantly, his face contorted with a mixture of skepticism and disgust. Though I knew the concept was a bit unconventional, I didn’t realize just how contentious it could be. Just one mention of the recipe sent this man into a fit of mock dry heaves, illustrating the depth of his disapproval with comic effect.

That’s when I knew I had to make it.

More infamous than any other single element of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, garlic ice cream has become the main event for many. Tiny cones of soft serve can be found in every corner of the pungent fair grounds, delighting and appalling in equal measure. Gaining mainstream traction, or at least dubious acceptance, purely as a novelty, the idea nonetheless captured my imagination. Rather than playing it up as a token offering merely for shock value, my goal was to truly celebrate the sweeter side of garlic.

Slowly roasted to golden caramelized perfection, the cloves lose their assertive, harsh bite, bringing their natural sugars to the fore. Every cook and eater the world over has experienced this glorious transformation and knows the magic well. The real secret ingredient in my blend, however, is black garlic. Aged for at least 30 days, the cloves turn into spreadable nuggets of pure garlic candy. The mysterious process transforms the ubiquitous seasoning into an entirely new ingredient, difficult to describe but impossible to forget. It’s the key here to balancing out the more savory undertones of the garlic, while maintaining its integrity. The end results should still taste like garlic, after all- Not like syrupy scampi sauce.

Crunchy garlic chips aren’t necessary to enjoy the full effect of this ode to garlic, but they do undeniably elevate it to a higher level, fit for a fancy affair if you should be so bold. Though they make the scoops look tiny, go for the giant, oversized cloves found in elephant garlic, which are easily 4 times the size of the average bulb and far milder in flavor. They’ll add a satisfying crunch to contrast with this creamy, cool treat.

Granted, this unusual frozen dessert will not be for everyone, like my aforementioned critical friend. Proceed with an open mind and a genuine love of garlic, and you will be in for a treat.

In reference to the post title, if you didn’t see the eponymous documentary, you really must do yourself a favor and download it, posthaste. Another friend on mine, not featured in this brief story, has told me that it was what inspired her to move to California many years ago.

Garlic Ice Cream

3 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 1/2 Tablespoons Arrowroot
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Vegan Cream Cheese
1 Tablespoon Black Garlic, Mashed
2 Teaspoons Roasted Garlic, Mashed

Garlic Chips (Optional):

2 – 3 Cloves Elephant Garlic
Olive Oil Spray

To make the ice cream, simply toss all the ingredients into your trusty blender or food processor. Thoroughly puree on high speed for for 2 – 3 minutes, until completely smooth. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer to ensure a flawlessly silky texture, if desired.

Transfer to a medium saucepan and set over moderate heat. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the mixture just comes to a boil. Turn off the heat and let cool. Chill for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator before churning in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Spoon the soft ice cream into an airtight container, and let set in the freezer for at least 3 hours before serving, until solid enough to scoop.

For the garlic chips, peel and slice the giant cloves of elephant garlic as thinly as possible. If you have a small mandoline to ensure consistency, now is when you want to break it out. Lay out the slices in one even layer on a silpat- or parchment paper-line baking sheet, making sure that none overlap.

Lightly spritz with olive oil to evenly coat the pieces. Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees 15 – 30 minutes (depending on the thickness of your slices), rotating the pan and flipping over the slices every 10 minutes or so to ensure even cooking, until golden brown and crispy. Let cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 – 3 days, maximum. Top scoops of ice cream with garlic chips as desired.

Makes About 1 Quart Ice Cream

Printable Recipe


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Wave of the Future

If you can blend it, you can milk it. Once defined and dominated by soybeans alone, the very nature of non-dairy drinks is hotly debated by enthusiasts and detractors alike, struggling to find commonalities that might link that vast array of plant-based sources crowding out the antiquated plastic jugs of cow juice. It’s not just the sales figures that are booming, but the unparalleled variety and access that consumers can now enjoy, just as easily opting for an almond, hemp, or oat mustache instead. New blends are still popping up rapidly, before you can even empty your first frothy glass. Now, along with those nutty and beany staples, the lactose intolerant can stock their fridges with banana milk.

Banana Wave presents itself as a game changer seeking to disrupt the industry, but the whole truth is less likely to make real waves. Built upon a foundation of bananas, soymilk, and gluten-free oats, in that order, it’s more like a thin blended smoothie than a true dairy substitute, bearing a viscosity similar to a simple protein shake.

Surprisingly subdued in flavor, the initial impact was less sweet and potent than anticipated, perhaps to placate drinkers that might not be entirely on board with a fruity intrusion. Flax oil, though a welcome change of pace from lower quality canola or safflower, contributes a discordant note and slightly mineral aftertaste. An impressive battery of vitamins and minerals bolster the nutritional profile, proving that it has more to offer than the average watery mammalian formula. Undeniably smooth and creamy, it certain still has its charm. I could see this being a great grab-and-go snack, if only it was packaged in single-serving cartons. Overall, it’s a great concept that hasn’t yet realized its own full potential. I’m looking forward to the day when I see Banana Wave on the shelf, right alongside the heavyweights battling it out for non-dairy dominance, but I don’t think it’s quite ready to roll with the punches just yet.


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All It’s Choc-ed Up To Be

Walk two steps into your average supermarket, corner store, or pharmacy, and you’re liable to trip over a stand of assorted chocolate temptations. The field has grown at an exponential rate ever since the first bite of tempered cacao passed through discerning lips, and that explosive growth shows no sign of slowing down. It’s impossible to keep up with all the new varieties proliferating from old favorites, let alone stay in the loop about fledgling brands. Any reasonable person can at least appreciate a good square of chocolate, so it doesn’t take much to explain the steady upward trend.

Valentine’s Day is a particularly good excuse to single out some exceptional chocolate options, should you need a reason to indulge in the first place. Gourmet truffles represent the height of the art form, but for the more casual chocoholic, a whole world of superlative bars now exist within easy reach, right on shelves alongside more accessible sweets.

Better known for their whole grains, Alter Eco has colored countless meals with their rainbow of quinoa options, but also pours that same passion for quality into their chocolate molds. Carefully, consciously sourced in order to support the farmers and workers contributing to every step of the process, it’s a brand I feel especially proud to call local to the San Francisco bay area. They truly put their money where their mouth is… In between bites of luscious cacao, of course.

Not all their confections are vegan, but the dairy-free options are so dark, rich, and deeply satisfying that it’s hard to understand why they would need such a crutch at all. Look no further than the Quinoa, Mint, and Orange varieties to see for yourself.

Move over Crunch and Crackle! The most unique option of the three, popped quinoa offers all the crispy texture you love, with the sophisticated, slightly bitter chocolate you crave. Just sweet enough to take the edge off, it’s the darkest of these three, which makes even a tiny shard quite satisfying. The quinoa adds very little flavor, but big visual and textural impact. You get all the whimsy of a childhood classic but with serious chocolate taste.

Mint chocolate is perhaps one of the most perfect flavor marriages in my mind, and this rendition does not disappoint. Luscious herbal aroma perfumes the air as soon as the seal is broken, revealing a flawlessly molded bar. Tempered to a crisp snap, it has a smooth, creamy melt with a refreshing, bright, but not overpowering undercurrent of mint. Well-balanced sweetness highlights the fresh flavor while rounding out the chocolate profile.

Substantial, chunky pieces of candied zest immediately gleam across the surface of the orange twist bar. Subtly smoky, woodsy chocolate lends a more earthy essence to contrast with the bold taste of citrus. The orange itself is relatively subdued, but still clean and fresh. Those whole pieces are the best element, adding a bit of chew and excitement into the experience.

Even bad chocolate is generally pretty good, but with so many exceptional options to choose from now, why settle for second rate? It doesn’t need to be a special occasion to indulge in any of these delights.


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Dreaming of a White Chocolate Christmas

Gleaming in the early morning light, bright and luminous as freshly fallen snow, white chocolate is an irreplaceable staple for the holiday baker. Generous pans of fudge, slabs of peppermint bark, and boxes of cookies all shimmer with these sweet morsels, unrivaled in their versatility for ornamentation and flavor enhancement. The trouble, as every careful shopper knows, is that mainstream options contain far more dairy than cacao. White chocolate gets a bad rap for precisely this reason, to say nothing of the waxy hydrogenated oils that often bind the whole sugary messes together. While relatively limited vegan options exist on the market, the tides are slowly changing.

Homemade options are always a treat, and you’ll find boutique bars aplenty online, but what I’m talking about today are genuine chips, capable of holding their own in any dessert rather than functioning simply as a treat to eat out of hand. Right now, there are two types of vegan chocolate chips: Those that are good for melting, dipping, and drizzling, and those that maintain their shape, more resistant to the heat of the oven.

The newest chip off the block is somewhat revolutionary; 100% organic, no hydrogenated oils or questionable fillers in sight. Cocoa butter, rice milk powder, sugar, and vanilla are the only things that go into Pascha Chocolate‘s new rice milk white chocolate chips. For the obsessive label-readers or highly allergic eaters, this stuff is heaven-sent. Flatter than the traditional snowy peaks of conventional chocolate chips, they’re more like crisp white disks, ideal for melting down into creamy cacao creations.

Mildly flavored, they don’t beat you over the head with sweetness, but whisper gently of vanilla with a subtle buttery undertone. This nuanced approach is perfect for crowning more aggressively flavored baked goods, like these gingerbread bars pictured above, cutting their intensity without detracting from the overall experience. Although their more delicate composition means they’re more likely to pool and puddle when faced with a trip through the oven, they’re perfect for turning into white ganache or icing once your treats are fully baked. For your highest quality option with the cleanest label, Pascha Chocolate is your one and only choice.

If you’re craving a smattering of white chocolate freckles throughout your cookies or cakes, however, you still have one great option! While there are a few white chips out there designed for the kosher crowd, most of those taste of little more than wax and sugar, entirely eschewing cocoa butter and thus losing the essence of this simple sweet addition. Not so with the White Chocolate Chips offered by Chocolate Emporium. These are the little morsels of pale cacao goodness that I’ve been buying (and hoarding) in bulk for years.

Although they’re stubbornly resistant to melting down smoothly, that quality serves them perfectly for baked applications. They have a slightly softer chew right out of hand, but somehow manage to hold their own in the face of a 350 degree inferno. Their flavor would be described as subtle at best, but their main function should be to add sweetness, creaminess, and color contrast anyway.

When the chips are down, these two are your very best bets, and both should have a place of honor in your kitchen year round. Vegan white chocolate is still something of a rarity, so these sweet treats will undoubtedly elicit astonishment, wonder, and awe- Not to mention hunger.


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Coconuts Get Cultured

“Plain” is almost never a compliment, nor a desirable description. The word evokes a certain homeliness, blandness, a lack of zeal or zest. Even worse than “basic,” which suggests a comforting familiarity, there’s little to say in defense of plainness.

Applied to yogurt, however, “plain” is the holy grail, the standard by which all cultured non-dairy products are to be held, and so few make the cut. Rare is the company that will even venture to offer such a demanding flavor in the first place. Without added fruits or flavors for embellishment, there’s nowhere to hide a lackluster base, marred with unpleasant sour notes or strange aftertastes. What’s even more elusive is a blank slate without sweeteners, making savory applications all but impossible. Despite the abundance of new vegan options on the market now, you still have to plan on making your own or finding a suitable substitution. If you happen to live in the bay area, however, you now have another option: Yoconut.

Yoconut is a small but rapidly growing startup created by self-described foodie Bonnie Lau. If you voted in the recent Veggie Awards, you may have noticed this brand on the ballot, right alongside industry giants like Silk and So Delicious. That alone should say volumes about the product- Not yet distributed in mainstream markets, but already competing with the big shots. What sets Yoconut apart is its focus on quality, which is immediately apparent from a cursory glance at the label. No weird gums, no preservatives, no sugar at all; just smooth and creamy coconut, plain and simple. The Original is a cook’s dream, able to blend seamlessly with dips and dressings of all stripes, finally giving “plain” a good name.

Granted, what most eaters will want to know about are the flavored varieties, and I’ll have you know that they’re held to those very same high standards. Vanilla simply shimmers with seeds from the whole bean, without any syrup sweetness to diminish from its glory. Chocolate is admittedly still under development, but the latest rendition I sampled was a revelation; nothing like the pudding I had come to expect from such a title, but a legitimate cocoa-tinted cultured snack. Nothing else on the market comes close to this sort of highly sophisticated approach, and I for one hope the final formula doesn’t stray too far from this exquisite initial taste.

Right now your best bet for scoring a few of these precious containers is directly from Bonnie herself, at the Fort Mason Farmers Market held every Sunday from 9:30am to 1:30pm. Keep a close eye on local grocery store shelves though, because I have a feeling it won’t be long before this small business strikes out in a big way.