Tough Cookies

Christmas isn’t for everyone. The forced merriment and artificial optimism, sour memories that fall short of Hollywood-produced nostalgia, stressful family gatherings topped off by unnecessary expenses; it’s enough to make the most joyful person into a real Scrooge. Even the most committed holiday reveler would struggle to maintain the same level of enthusiasm in this harsh reality. You know what is for everyone, though?

Cookies.

Chocolate cut-out cookies, to be precise, will never disappoint. With a batch of homemade cookies, you can express how you really feel about the holiday season without coming off as a miserly curmudgeon. No one ever said they had to be decked out in colorful sprinkles or intricate icing, so why not keep it simple, classic, and versatile?

This particular recipe may just be a new staple in your repertoire. You’d never know that they’re gluten-free or vegan by their soft, toothsome texture or rich cocoa flavor. The dough comes together quickly, rolls out like a dream, and never judges you for your low spirits.

Like any good cookie dough, this one is as versatile as Christmas carols are grating.

Easily change up the flavor by switching out the extract.

A few tried-and-true additions include:

  • Peppermint extract
  • Almond extract
  • Orange zest or extract
  • Instant coffee powder
  • Coarse or flaky sea salt

No cookie cutters? No problem!

You may need to cut back on the snark without such clear messaging, but you don’t need to forgo a sweet treat altogether. Simply roll out the dough as instructed, then use a sharp knife, pizza cutter, or fluted pastry cutter to slice squares or rectangles of any size. Think of this approach as the dessert equivalent of making crackers, if that procedural reference helps you visualize the steps.

Don’t succumb to the Christmas crazies. Celebrate at your own speed, even if that means staying home and keeping holiday content completely off the program. Just don’t forget to treat yourself while you’re at it. Holidays come and go, but a good recipe for chocolate cut-out cookies is forever.

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Ube On My Mind

If pumpkin is for autumn, ube is for winter. Replacing subdued, smokey orange with bold shades of purple, there’s no denying that the vibrant hue alone is a huge attraction. Naturally sweet with subtle hints of vanilla and toasted nuts, ube is the clear winner when it comes to dessert. Start your annual holiday cookie platter with Ube Thumbprint Cookies, glistening like jewels in a sea of browns and whites, for a stand-out homemade gift that no one can refuse.

What is ube?

Let’s start by clarifying what ube isn’t. Ube are different from taro and purple sweet potatoes, despite the common misconception. Ube are yams, most commonly found in Filipino cuisine and particularly popular in desserts. Their vivid magenta pigmentation creates brilliantly colored treats, and as such, can be found as powdered and liquid extracts. Fresh ube can still be tricky to find in the US, which is why ube extract comes in handy for all your essential baking needs.

While most commercial ube extract does have added artificial flavoring, it’s the easiest, most accessible way to add that unmistakable essence whenever and where ever you crave it. When it comes to recipes with a delicate balance of dry and liquid ingredients, it’s the best way to infuse the goodness of ube without throwing off the texture.

What else is ube extract good for?

Once you have a bottle, the potential for ube extract is endless. It’s particularly well-suited for use in:

  • Ice cream
  • Frosting and icing
  • Candy
  • Lattes
  • Cheesecake
  • Pudding and custard
  • And of course, cookies!

When it comes to cut-out cookies, these are the GOAT. Easy to make, shape, and bake, this dough is a dream to work with. More importantly, the soft, tender bite and balanced sweetness makes an ideal base for any festive flavors. Beyond the ube base, put your own personalized finishing touch on each batch with any jam, marmalade, or fruit preserves you fancy. Mix and match to make every bite a little bit different!

A few fruit flavors that pair particularly well with ube are:

  • Mango
  • Apricot
  • Guava
  • Orange
  • Pear

Put a flavorful twist on tradition this year and invite ube to your cookie swap. It won’t take long before it becomes the life of the party.

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Fade To Black Friday

Black Friday is upon us yet again. While it will never be quite the same since the pandemic pushed many frenzied bargain shoppers online and out of stores, such celebrated holiday traditions are unshakable. To some, the thrill of the hunt can be even more joyous than giving or opening this plunder. I salute these people for their tenacity and thrift, while staying cozy in fuzzy slippers and do everything in my power to avoid the crowds.

Is there a better way to do Black Friday?

If you’re on team Stay Home today, welcome to the party! I have an even better prize to share that does proper justice to this dark day.

Straight from the pages of Super Vegan Scoops!, my Brooklyn Blackout Blizzard Cake will give all new meaning to Black Friday that everyone can get behind. It’s been one of the biggest hits from the book for obvious reasons. As an early gift, I’d like to give this one to you and start the festivities on a sweet note. Sure, the weather outside might be frightful, but that’s all the more reason to bundle up inside, blast the heat, and take off the edge with a frozen treat.

What is a Brooklyn Blackout Blizzard Cake?

Sink your fork into a thick slice and close your eyes. This sensation, this euphoric, intoxicated, suddenly blissful feeling you’re experiencing? This isn’t death by chocolate, it’s LIFE by chocolate! The original Brooklyn Blackout Cake, iconic for its jet-black crumb coating and pudding-smothered layers, really does mean well, but doesn’t quite reach the frosty peaks that my ice queen here does. Firm yet supple layers stacked up with a no-churn chocolate custard beckon, reviving jaded chocolate lover with one bite. Kids and adults alike will clamor to help “clean up” the fallen crumbs left behind.

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Dashboard Cookie Confessional

Ever since I was a little kid, it’s something I wanted to do. Young and naive, I couldn’t wait to grow up to have such freedom and access. Now that I’m an adult, I’m finally making my inner child proud: I baked cookies inside my car.

As temperatures began to exceed 100℉ on a regular basis, I knew this was my time to shine. Finally, I have my own car, live in an environment that’s somewhere between the depths of hell and the surface of the sun, and am still crazy enough to do it. If you’ve always wanted to open up your car door and step into your own mobile oven, here’s what you need to know.

Use Protection

  • Metal baking sheets are the best conductors of heat, but that goes both ways. Place a kitchen towel, pot holder, or trivet underneath so it doesn’t melt or burn the interior of your car.
  • Line the baking sheet with parchment paper to prevent the cookies from sticking. A silicone baking mat will absorb too much heat to be effective, and aluminum will reflect too much and cause the edges to get too crispy.
  • Likewise, use a pot holder whenever moving the sheet because it will be hot.

Placement and Timing Are Important

  • Make sure you park your car in direct sun to maximize those UV rays.
  • Start baking when the sun is at its peak; usually around noon or 1:00pm.
  • While your cookies will bake in any position, I found it was most effective to place the baking sheet directly on the dashboard, as close to the windshield as possible. Barring that, the next best place is the trunk, as long as you have a glass window in back too.

Turn Up The Heat

  • Keep the windows rolled up and the doors closed. Any time you open them or break the seal, you’re letting the heat drop.
  • It needs to be at least 95℉ (35°C)outside to attempt this with any level of success.
  • Keep a thermometer inside your car to monitor the temperature, and place it somewhere that you can see it without getting into the car.
  • The interior needs to reach at least 160℉ (71°C) to “bake” effectively.
  • Cooking time will vary, since this isn’t a regulated heat source. Expect it take anywhere from 2 – 5 hours for the cookies to set. They may not brown as much as you’d normally expect, but should be firm enough to pick up and no longer shiny on top.

Recipe For Success

  • While any recipe can technically work, simple drop cookies are your best bet, since they’re more forgiving with variable times and temperatures. A cookie with a high butter to flour ratio is more likely to end up greasy, which means that chewy wins the battle over crunchy for this round.
  • Size does matter. My usual cookies use about 1/4 cup of dough, which took roughly 3 hours to bake while it was 104 degrees outside. You can expedite the process by making smaller cookies, especially if it’s not as hot in your neck of the woods.
  • Vegans have the added benefit of being able to eat semi-baked or even raw cookies without fear. Look ma, no raw eggs! That means every attempt is always successful, with or without an excessive heat warning in effect.

The beauty of car-baked cookies is that you’re using a completely renewable, entirely free energy source while saving electricity inside your home! No need to blast the AC after cranking up the oven, which can add up quickly.

The only thing better than sinking your teeth into warm, gooey, homemade cookies on a hot summer day is getting to enjoy that freshly baked aroma for weeks to come. Hope you don’t drive hungry!

Snow Day in July

Snow is the stuff of both dreams and nightmares. Growing up on the east coast, I could anticipate at least two or three days off from school every year due to impassable, slush-covered, perilously icy roads. In those early days before driving or work deadlines were a concern, snow days were gifts better than any mandated calendar holiday. Something about their randomness made them more special; the element of surprise was part of the fun.

With age came a creeping dread of the unknown, intolerance for the cold, and overall distaste for winter. I spent all of my adult life running from it, moving to the warmest places possible to avoid snow days at all costs. Snow is much more acceptable from afar, enjoyed on a TV screen or within a controlled environment. Case in point: Snow cones will always be welcomed with open arms as the best type of blizzard possible.

Nothing takes the edge off of a scorching summer day like a heaping spoonful of freshly shaven ice, ground as finely as a powdery snowfall. It’s brilliantly easy to make this refreshing treat at home! Special equipment is helpful for the best results, but you can absolutely get by with what you have, IE, a food processor or blender. A shave-ice machine will give you a fluffier texture while this alternative method will create a denser texture, more like a packed snow ball.

How To Make Snow Cones without a Machine

  1. Chill the canister of your blender or food processor in advance to prevent the ice from instantly melting upon contact.
  2. Use at least 2 cups of ice cubes per batch, but no more than 4 cups to make sure everything is evenly ground.
  3. Pulse rapidly to break down the ice into smaller pieces, pausing to quickly scrape down the sides of the canister if it’s not all being incorporated.
  4. Continue until the ice is finely ground and looks like snow, with no remaining lumps. Listen closely because the sound will change from loud clattering to a quieter, more even whirring.
  5. Immediately transfer the powdery ice to a container and stash it in the freezer until ready to use.

The only thing more important than the ice is the flavoring! There’s no limit to the possibilities here, whether you want to work with only fresh, whole fruits or go avant-garde with extracts. Add more flair with natural food coloring, which could come out of a bottle or straight from nature. Just as a brief refresher course…

Quick and Easy Natural Food Coloring Options Include:

  • Beet Powder or Beet Juice = Red
  • Carrot Juice = Orange
  • Turmeric = Yellow
  • Matcha, Powdered Spinach or Kale = Green
  • Butterfly Pea Tea Powder AKA Blue Matcha = Blue
  • Ube Extract = Purple

Bear in mind that any liquid colors should replace an equal measure of water to keep the sweetener ratio accurate. These will also be more likely to contribute stronger flavors, so make sure you’re ready to embrace those vegetal tastes or use stronger extracts to cover them up.

When you want a treat with no added sugar, snow cones are just the thing! Prepared sugar-free syrups are an easy, instant fix. For something homemade, just start with ripe, super sweet fruit, and accentuate the flavor with a touch of stevia or monkfruit as needed.

Is it possible to make snow cones or shaved ice without syrup in the first place?

Don’t let syrups limit your imagination. You can start with a full-flavored base by freezing juice, smoothies, and beyond to use as the finely shaved ice going into your cone. An added benefit to this approach is that the ice crystals stay lighter and fluffier since they’re not weighted down with extra toppings, while melting a little less slowly as well.

Minted Matcha Snow Cone
In this minted matcha snow cone, the solids settled at the bottom of the ice. I think that’s a good thing because it makes a uniquely variegated mixture, so every bite is a little different.

Instead of plain water, try freezing any of the following:

  • Brewed and cooled coffee
  • Matcha
  • Fruit juice
  • Smoothies
  • Drinkable yogurt
  • Non-dairy milk (plain, vanilla, chocolate, etc)

Snow cones are truly the best way to enjoy a snow day. They’re naturally vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free, with easy options for making them sugar-free, keto, and paleo-friendly. Best of all, you can enjoy your flurries while chilling poolside under the warm summer sun.

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New Novelties

Summer should be a care-free time of late mornings followed by slow, unhurried afternoons. When the heat becomes unbearable, a brief cat nap in the shelter of leafy, shaded canopy is more than just socially acceptable, but practically mandatory. When fireflies appear along with the onset of nightfall, the warm evenings seem to stretch on forever, infinite as the number of stars brightening the dark sky.

Summers are precious. Don’t force yourself to work when every fiber of your being wants to play. While some commitments are unavoidable, there’s so much more extraneous noise that we could tune out. That’s why I’m happy to spend less time in the kitchen to make those moments count.

This is a quick snack I originally devised to feature a favorite vegan ice cream brand, taking their chocolate-covered raspberry-acai ice cream off the stick and into a fresh parfait. The shatteringly crisp dark chocolate shell gives way to a silken frozen custard filling. Chopping it into cubes makes each layer instantly accessible, without the fear of drips or mess to spoil the snack. Nestled on top of a super fast, fruity chia pudding, the combination is much more substantial than the average novelty to stave off hunger through the most vigorous match of yard darts or pickle ball.

Unfortunately, that brand is no longer the magnificent purveyor of plant-based indulgences I originally fell in love with, so those bars are off the table. Many more have stepped up to the plate, however, making such a simple concept that much more accessible overall.

What brands make the best dairy-free chocolate-covered novelties?

There’s no hard and fast rule that you must use a chocolate-covered pop, but it’s that textural contrast that makes it so compelling. Mix and match flavors at will, swapping in seasonal fruits based on availability, add nuts, sprinkles, or chocolate chips, and most importantly, don’t overthink it. It’s a stretch to call this a full recipe, but for the sake of convenience, here’s the basic blueprint so you can bookmark it for later.

Now get back out there and enjoy the sun. Summer only comes once a year.

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