In Crust We Trust

In a rapidly changing world, there are certain constants we can depend on. Mathematically speaking, we have Euler’s number, Archimedes’ principle, and the Pythagorean theorem, of course, but for someone as nonacademic as myself, there’s little comfort to be found in such jumbles of numbers, no matter how concrete in concept.

Pie, on the other hand, immediately soothes the mental strain of of the scholarly and simple-minded alike. Also reliable is the knowledge that Pi Day will always fall on March 14th (3.14 of course), celebrating the golden ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pie itself, however, should really be honored everyday.

This time, I propose we all cozy up to an everyday sort of pie. Mini pies, actually, easy to prepare, perfect quick snacks or last-minute desserts, they can even be prepared in advance, frozen, and thawed on demand. Warm out of the oven or reheated after a quick blast in the toaster oven, tender chunks of apple mingle with a soft, almost gooey peanut butter filling, infused with the warmth of cinnamon and lavished with a sweet crumb topping.

The combination is nothing earth-shaking, nor should it be. It’s a universally satisfying combination that’s stood the test of time, and will reliably treat you to a taste of nostalgic comfort in every mini morsel.

Yield: Makes 24 Mini Pies

Mini Peanut Butter Apple Pies

Mini Peanut Butter Apple Pies
Enjoy a tiny little bite of nostalgia with these cute mini pies! Nutty, fruity, and full of comforting cinnamon spice, they're best eaten warm.

Ingredients

Crust:

Peanut Butter-Apple Filling:

  • 1/2 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Medium Granny Smith Apples, Peeled, Cored, and Chopped (About 3 Cups)

Crumb Topping:

  • 3 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 3 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted

To Serve:

  • Confectioner's Sugar (Optional)

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease 2 dozen mini muffin tins.

Roll out your prepared pie dough to about 1/8th of an inch in thickness and use a round cookie cutter, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, to cut out the crust pieces. In a pinch, the top of a drinking glass could work as well. Gather scraps, re-roll, and cut again as needed.

Ease the pieces into the greased pans, pressing them to fill the bottoms and up the sides as evenly as possible. There will likely be some overlap, but try to smooth out the edges to keep things neat and consistent.

Place the unbaked crusts in the fridge to chill while you turn your attention to the filling.

In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, brown sugar, yogurt, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla until smooth. Toss in the chopped apples and stir to incorporate, covering the fruit thoroughly with the peanut butter mixture. Set aside.

For the crumb topping, simply combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and use a fork to combine. Continue stirring until the mixture is coarse, chunky, but cohesive.

To assemble, fill the chilled pie shells with the peanut butter and apple mixture and top each with about a teaspoon of the crumb topping.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until the crusts and crumb are golden brown. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pans and serving.

If desired, sprinkle confectioners sugar over the top very lightly just before enjoying.

Notes

To save these for a rainy day, let them cool completely before storing them in an airtight container, seperated by layers of parchment or waxed paper. Stash in the freezer for up to 4 months, or in the fridge for up to a week.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

24

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 72 Total Fat: 4g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 3mg Sodium: 36mg Carbohydrates: 9g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 6g Protein: 2g
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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

Ready… Set… Dough!

Can you imagine a time when a flavor as ordinary as cookie dough ice cream would have been deemed controversial? The year was 1984 when Ben & Jerry’s shocked the world by dishing out scoops of vanilla ice cream riddled with unbaked batter. We’ve certainly come a long way, but the drive for sweet innovation remains the same.

Unafraid to venture off the eaten trail from day one, Ben & Jerry’s has been pushing frozen boundaries as open-minded eaters grow more adventurous, and diverse diets pose unique challenges. The game-changing release of four non-dairy pints almost three years ago was just another chapter in this never ending story. Now the full lineup stands eleven tall, as two new doughboys join the ranks. Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, described as having “gobs of chocolate chip cookie dough and fudge flakes,” answers the demand for this familiar childhood staple, while Chocolate Caramel Cluster treads a new path along a cocoa terrain, littered with peanuts, fudge chunks, and salted caramel swirls.

Ben & Jerry’s has been seriously rolling in dough recently, starting with the limited release of Snackable Dough Chunks back in fall, followed by the line of Cookie Dough Core ice creams in their original dairy base. Amidst all of that dough-licious decadence, it only stands to reason that vegans should get to enjoy “the number one global flavor” at long last.

Made with a blend of almond milk and pea protein just like its predecessors, the cookie dough ice cream scoops easily right out of the freezer, soft and smooth, with a premium texture that translates into a rich creamy sensation on the tongue. The buttery, warm vanilla base is rounded out by a marshmallowy sweetness that strikes me as a marked improvement over the first submissions to the dairy-free field. Each spoonful is pockmarked with shatteringly crisp stracciatella chocolate shards, rather than rock-hard chunks. As promised, Ben & Jerry’s delivers the goods in great abundance. Dense nuggets of dough with a fine grain, dominated by brown sugar flavor, turn up in every bite.

Even for an old-school omnivore, it would be hard to find fault in this pint. If you’re already a cookie monster, you know exactly what to expect here: it’s a simple concept, simply done right.

This post was made possible thanks to Ben & Jerry’s, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.

Lucky Number Thirteen

Dearest BitterSweet,

Mazel tov! Today, you have crossed the invisible line separating childhood from the rest of your life, straight into ranks of adulthood. It’s unthinkable that your journey began thirteen years ago, back in the early days of blogging and before Blogging, capital B, became a legitimate occupation. Granted, you still have a long way to go before you reach that lofty pinnacle of professional success, but pure and simple survival is a triumph to be celebrated in this competitive, ever-changing field. You have beaten the odds to officially become a teenager.

I still struggle to define you at times, to explain your occasionally baffling tantrums and errors, but what child doesn’t have their rebellious moments? Even when we fight, no matter how ugly the language gets, it’s never enough to pull us apart. Thirteen years in, I couldn’t imagine my life without you.

Little did I know what I was getting myself into when I hit that fateful “publish” button on day one. The lessons came in fast, tough to swallow, painful at times, but always for the best. Let’s review in brief…

  • If you don’t love what you do, it won’t work out. Like any relationship, it can’t be about money, fame, or any other traditional marker of success. At the end of the day it’s always about passion and inspiration.
  • These things can’t be forced. You, little BitterSweet, only began to grow and thrive when given the freedom to do so. True followers can’t be bought and genuine comments seeking further conversation, not just self-promotion, can’t be be forced.
  • Perfection is the enemy of progress. It would be impossible to move forward if we focused on all the little shortcomings of every post, every photo shoot, every social sharing; the endless tally of flaws would be downright laughable.
  • Community is everything. It takes a village to raise a blog, or support one long enough for it to survive infancy. There’s not a chance that BitterSweet would still exist without the kindness and encouragement of a thousand voices chiming in from all corners of the earth. It still boggles to mind to consider how this tiny corner of the internet has brought together such an incredibly vast, diverse array of friends, whom I would have had no chance of finding otherwise.
  • Most importantly, if there’s anything I’ve learned after all this time, there’s only one real way to mark the occasion: Cake.

A grand cake, pitch-perfect with bittersweet layers of chocolate ganache sandwiched between tender yet bold espresso cake layers and dressed in a robe of the finest white chocolate frosting you ever did see.

Strong espresso, the kind that makes your eyes open wide and sends you flying high on a rush of energy, has become a recent obsession. Though I typically limit myself to one shot per day, for fear of never sleeping again should I exceed that modest dose, this treat really packs a serious punch of caffeine in each slice. Rest assured, however, that the belated bedtime will be worth every last bite. Tempered by the light, luscious buttercream, flecked with vanilla beans and redolent of cocoa butter, chocolate ganache could tread dangerously into the realm of excess, but it’s just the right amount of sweet indulgence here. The trio sings like a well-practiced choir, supporting without smothering one another… Much like a succession of outstanding blog posts, I suppose.

So today, BitterSweet, you turn thirteen years old. Happy birthday, my dear. You’ve come a long way, but we have so much further still to go.

Yield: 12 - 16 Servings

Bittersweet Espresso Layer Cake with White Chocolate Frosting

Bittersweet Espresso Layer Cake with White Chocolate Frosting
A dessert worthy of a celebration all on its own, the contrast of light and dark flavors is positively irresistible. Bold espresso layer cake with bittersweet chocolate ganache filling, covered in light, fluffy white chocolate buttercream frosting.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Additional Time 3 hours
Total Time 4 hours

Ingredients

Espresso Cake

  • 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 3 Tablespoons Arrowroot
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Cups (About 12 - 14 Shots) Brewed Espresso, Cooled
  • 1/4 Cup Kahlua or Coffee Liqueur
  • 1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

BitterSweet Chocolate Ganache

  • 2/3 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
  • 2 Cups (12 Ounces) Bittersweet Chocolate Chips

White Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease two 8-inch round baking pans.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, arrowroot, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Separately, combine the oil, cooled espresso, kahlua or liqueur, vinegar, and vanilla, blending well before adding the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry.
  4. Stir with a wide spatula to bring the two mixtures together. It's perfectly fine to leave a few lumps remaining in the batter, rather than running the risk of over-mixing.
  5. Divide the batter equally between your two prepared pans, smoothing the tops as needed.
  6. Bake for 20 - 24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Cool completely before assembling.
  7. Meanwhile, prepare the ganache by heating the coconut milk and chocolate together either on a double-boiler or in the microwave. Stir frequently until perfectly smooth. If using the microwave, heat in 30-second intervals at full power. Chill, stirring periodically, until thickened but spreadable; about 3 hours in the fridge or 1 hour in the freezer.
  8. For the frosting, heat the white chocolate over a double-boiler or in the microwave but be vigilant! White chocolate is very easy to burn, so stir constantly, until smooth. If using the microwave, heat in 20-second intervals at full power. Cool to room temperature.
  9. Cream together the butter and sugar in your stand mixer using the whisk attachment. Once smooth, add in the cooled but still liquid white chocolate along with the vanilla. Beat on high speed, pausing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula, until smooth and fluffy.
  10. To assemble the cake, slice both layers into two equal halves, creating four thin layers. Place your first round of cake on your desired serving plate and top with a third of the ganache. Carefully spread it to cover the top evenly. Top with another round of cake and repeat, until you end with the final round of plain cake.
  11. Smoother with frosting and decorate as desired. Be aware that if the cake is cold, the frosting will begin to set immediately. You can slightly melt and coerce it to a smoother finish by heating a metal offset spatula, but bear in mind that this will darken it to a more yellow finish, rather than bright white.

Notes

Cake layers can be baked in advance and stored separately in the freezer until ready to assemble. Thaw completely and bring to room temperature before beginning the process. Ganache and frosting must be made just prior to using.

All Hail Wassail

Cheers, to the drink that’s worthy of a toast in and of itself! “Wassail” was actually an Old Norse salutation meaning “be well,” spreading merriment and good spirits, long before it ever became a drink spiked with them. Typically red wine but occasionally beer and cider join the festivities as well. Regardless of the base, the warm, spicy blend of seasonings have come to define wassail today, inextricably linking it with the flavors of Christmastime. Just like chai or pumpkin pie, every mix is a little bit different, balancing a unique bouquet of floral, hot, sweet, and earthy tastes; a delicate harmony as distinctive as the deft hand holding the whisk.

There’s a lot to be said for the complex nuances of every different batch, but just as many reasons to recommend the consistency and reliability of a set approach. When you nail down the perfect combination, it quickly becomes one tradition you can’t mess with. For ease and nostalgic comfort, there’s no beating the wassail mix from Rodelle Kitchen. Like clockwork, I’ve been emptying those jars every winter since I first discovered this secret shortcut. Robust, sweet but not sugary, it’s a staple for serving up some instant holiday cheer.

While I would never mess with an essential, tried-and-true ingredient like this, I certainly would mess with the format.

Sandwiched between disks of buttery, flaky biscuit dough, the spicy seasoning turns into the delicious, edible spackling paste holding together a loosely glued loaf, just waiting to be ravaged. Rip apart the pieces at the seams, still warm and covered in a light, lemony glaze for greatest effect. The aroma is transportative but the taste is like nothing else.

Lightly caramelized from the heat of the oven, this singular spice mix needs no additional ingredients to sing. Alcohol need not apply to turn any gathering into a party when this fun, festive loaf hits the table. Even if it’s just plain apple cider, I’d definitely raise a glass to that!

Wassail Pull-Apart Bread

Biscuit Dough:

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

Wassail Filling:

1/2 Cup Wassail Mix
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce

Lemon Glaze:

2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 – 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

The dough is prepared exactly like any batch of biscuits at first, so start by combining the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces, drop them in, and use a fork, pastry cutter, or your fingers to slowly incorporate the cubes. The resulting mixture should be the consistency of coarse crumbs, with no chunks of butter remaining that are any bigger than the size of peas. Pour both the non-dairy milk and vinegar in together, stirring gently just until everything comes together into a cohesive, slightly shaggy ball.

Press the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to about 1/2 an inch in thickness. Use round cookie cutters, approximately 4-inches in diameter, to stamp out circles, re-rolling scraps and cutting them to fit until the dough is entirely used up.

To assemble to loaf, start by stirring together the applesauce and wassail mix until smooth. Take one round of dough and smear around a 1 – 2 teaspoons of the filling, to cover. With the naked side facing out, line this up flush with the heel of the loaf pan; it’s easiest to stack the pieces if you tip the pan on the short end, allowing gravity to help keep the rounds together until the pan is full. Repeat with the remaining dough, flipping the final piece so that the uncovered side is also facing out.

Bake for 24 – 28 minutes, until deeply amber brown all over. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before applying the glaze. If you glaze it while warm, it will soak in, but if you want it to be more visible and sit on top, wait for it to cool completely.

Make the glaze by simply whisking together the confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice, adding more or less liquid until it reaches your desired consistency. Pour generously over the finished bread and raise a toast, to your health and happiness!

Makes 1 Loaf; 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe