Wordless Wednesday: Donut Worry, Be Happy

Apple Fritter from Vegan Donut Gelato

Jelly Doughnuts and Boston Creme Doughnuts from The Butcher’s Son

Strawberry Doughnut from Rainbow Donuts

Matcha-Glazed Chocolate Doughnut from The Flying Apron

 

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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

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!

Riches Beyond Your Wildest Beans

Good vanilla is more precious than most gemstones right now. Believe it or not, demand for this everyday extract is skyrocketing while supply of the genuine article is plummeting due to devastating cyclones in Madagascar, poor harvests, and labor shortages. Some unsavory companies are resorting to questionable shortcuts, using spent, ground vanilla bean pods to add those eye-catching black flecks to their products. Doing so allows them to list “vanilla beans” on the label, even if the actual flavor comes from artificial ingredients. It’s not just food products though; try going straight to the source, and you might be surprised to find that even basic baking extracts are far from whole blends.

For something as important as holiday cookies, quality counts more than ever. Sugar cookies especially rely on full-bodied, robust vanilla flavor. An elusive, nuanced taste that’s difficult to capture in baked dough, the difference between a chemical cocktail and the genuine article is immediately evident with a single bite. Now is the time to splurge on the good stuff, revel in it, fully indulge yourself and your loved ones, and look back on your festive contributions with zero regrets.

Highlighting the very best vanilla I know, I’ve joined forces with Rodelle Kitchen to participate in their annual Holiday Cookie Campaign. Starting with an unconventional base of cocoa butter rather than a neutral oil imparts the ambrosial flavor like pure white chocolate, but in cookie form. Tender, chewy morsels punctuated by a barrage of crunchy macadamia nuts, no one would dare call this “plain vanilla.” Notes of marshmallow, custard, and even rich toffee all come from a generous dose of vanilla paste, unleashing a world of sweet flavors from one humble bean.

GIVEAWAY ALERT! Just in time for holiday baking, Rodelle has generously offered to gift one lucky reader with a bundle of their sweet riches. Stocked with an 8 ounce canister of baking cocoa, 4 ounce bottle of pure vanilla extract, and 2 count vanilla bean jar, the treats such ingredients can manifest will be truly priceless. To enter, get the details below, and tell me about your favorite holiday cookies in the comment section. Do you have a classic heirloom recipe passed down for generations, or do you put a new twist on tradition every year? Extra credit goes to anyone willing to share their secret formula!

Rodelle Vanilla Holiday Baking Bundle Giveaway

Regular old roll-out cookies will crumble in the face of these bold, buttery, unapologetically vanilla treats. Fancy frostings need not apply; these beauties already sparkle with natural plant-based sprinkles baked right in.

White Chocolate Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

4 Ounces 100% Food-Grade Cocoa Butter
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup Aquafaba
1 Tablespoon Rodelle Reserve Pure Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Rodelle Vanilla Paste
1 Cup Macadamia Nuts, Roughly Chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper.

Melt the cocoa butter on low power in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring well at each interval until completely liquefied. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before proceeding, waiting until it’s just warm to the touch.

Cream together the vegan butter and sugar in your stand mixer, beating until light and fluffy. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and soda separately, and slowly incorporate the dry goods, alternating with the melted cocoa butter. Add the aquafaba and both vanilla extra and paste, finally followed by the nuts, mixing just until blended and lump-free.

Use a medium cookie scoop to portion about 3-tablespoons of dough per cookie onto your prepared baking sheets, placing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Use lightly moistened hands to press them down slightly before sliding the pans into the oven.

Bake for 10 – 14 minutes, until puffed in the center, set around the edges, and just barely beginning to take on color on the bottom. Allow them to remain on the sheets until cool enough to handle. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week… If you can make them last that long!

Makes 15 – 18 Cookies

Printable Recipe

Fudging the Dates

Is it too early to start talking about homemade holiday gifts? Thanksgiving decorations still liter the seasonal aisles and many dining rooms lay in ruin awaiting the grand feast, just a day away, but let’s be honest. We’ve all been looking warily towards Christmas and Hanukkah for the past month or two. The “Christmas Creep” is a real threat, as retailers try foist merriment upon us earlier each year, making it impossible to forget that presents must be purchased, urgently, abundantly, more generously than ever before. Rather than having their intended effect of spurring sales, it has quite opposite impact on me. Recoiling from such forced jolliness, I rebel, scorning the very things I love most. The limited edition items that I love, that I wait for with baited breath to return after a year’s absence, the bright spots of the dark days of winter; I deny their existence until at least Black Friday has safely passed. However, there are some seasonal specialties too good to resist. Fully embracing that urge to indulge, Voortman Bakery Chocolate Mint Wafers have made the shortlist of annual delicacies that are worth stockpiling as soon as they hit store shelves.

Delicate, light, and crisp, you’ve likely seen these classic treats before. Voortman Bakery has been baking with the best of them since 1951, slowly expanding and diversify their offerings over decades of experience. What hasn’t changed is their focus on real ingredients and fresh flavors. Though many times those bright packages caught my eye, I never stopped to investigate, wrongly assuming that such a classic staple couldn’t possibly be vegan. Shockingly, happily, it turns out there are no animal products layered between those thin pastry sheets and sweet cream fillings!

Reliably found in grocery stores across the nation, the everyday flavors are delights themselves, but mint chocolate, as I might have mentioned before, is one of my favorite combinations. The simple pleasure of biting into one of these crisp biscuits is amplified when eaten chilled. At first I thought I’d prolong my stash by hiding them away in the back of my freezer, but I discovered with both dismay and delight, that made them even more irresistible.

Taking that inspiration one step further, I reached into the candy jar for some minty fresh candy canes, gleaming in a crisp coat of red and white stripes. Enrobed in a rich coat of chocolate fudge that melts in your mouth, fast and sweet like freshly fallen snow, those wafers stay as snappy as ever.

The whole treat comes together so quickly, even taking into account the time it takes to set, it feels like a bit of homemade holiday magic.

If you’re not such a big peppermint fan, that’s okay, we can still be friends. You can also find the illustrious gingerbread wafers for a limited time, which positively sing when smothered with chocolate and topped instead with very finely chopped crystallized ginger.

Can fudge still make the cut on a holiday cookie platter? With wafers at the ready, crunching throughout every festive bite, I think that these exceptional little squares get the green light; no one said you had to do all the baking!

Peppermint Crunch Fudge

1/4 Cup Vegan Butter
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Cups (12 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Teaspoon Peppermint Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
5 Ounces (1/2 Package) Chopped Voortman Bakery Chocolate Mint Wafers
1/2 Cup Roughly Crushed Candy Canes or Peppermint Starlight Hard Candies

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking dish with parchment paper or aluminum foil, lightly grease, and set aside.

Place the butter, non-dairy milk, and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl. Heat on full power for 60 – 90 seconds, pausing at 30-second intervals to stir thoroughly, until the chocolate has completely melted. Once smooth, mix in the peppermint extract and salt. Use a wide spatula to gently fold the chopped wafer cookies into the chocolate mixture, being careful not to crush them.

Transfer to your prepared pan, smoothing it out into as even a layer as possible. Sprinkle the crushed peppermint candy over the top. Place the dish in the fridge for at least 1 hour, or in the freezer for 30 minutes, until fully set.

Use the parchment or aluminum as a sling to remove the fudge from the pan and slice into small squares with a very sharp knife. Enjoy chilled for the most refreshingly minty experience!

Makes About 1 Pound Fudge; 24 – 30 Servings

Printable Recipe

This post was made possible thanks to the support of Voortman Bakery and Towers Marketing Group. All content and opinions are unbiased and entirely my own.

Peter Peter, Pumpkin Eater

Do you know what’s in your pumpkin puree? No, do you REALLY know what’s mashed into that aluminum tomb, wrapped up like an autumnal present with labels that promise “all natural” and “100% pure!” contents? This isn’t not a trick question like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb, but a real head-scratcher that might surprise you. That golden orange goo has little to do with actual pumpkins, which are much more stringy, watery, and bland than what we’ve been raised to enjoy. Rather, a blend of hardy squash, such as butternut, Hubbard, Boston marrow, and golden delicious are the unsung gourds that have bakers swooning. Like orange juice, natural variations between harvests turn the job of maintaining consistent flavors a perpetual challenge between batches. It takes more than one source to hit just the right standards for the tastes and textures we’ve come to know and love. If you thought you were really just getting plain Jane pumpkin all along, I’m very sorry to pull the curtain back and ruin the illusion.

By spreading this knowledge, my goal is not to incite riots in the canned goods aisle, but encourage everyone to think beyond those metal constrains. There are so many more squash in the sea, looking for love, and a place in your kitchen.

Featuring a few of the unsung heroes of autumn, this grand double decker celebration cake is a gloriously sweet tribute to those underdogs at the farm stand. Butternut squash puree is an easy swap for pumpkin, since you were probably using that anyway without even realizing it, but I’ll readily admit that spaghetti squash might be a bit of a stretch for some. In fact, it rarely makes it onto the dinner table as is; a real shame, considering just how delicious those firm, noodle-like strands are, especially when smothered with red sauce or pesto. We’re talking dessert today though, so just consider this a natural evolution of carrot cake or zucchini bread. You wouldn’t give a second though to including those vegetables in their eponymous confections, so why should this humble gourd be any different?

Crowing this pièce de résistance, naturally artful slices of delicata squash contribute beauty along with brains, adding a moreish bite to the moist, delicate crumb down below. Paper-thin shavings are essential here lest you risk throwing off that careful balance, perfected by the crisp crunch of fresh squash seeds. If you have to call it a day and resort to good old pepitas, well, I won’t tell. A little bit of pumpkin is still welcome on my table, especially if it’s not coming out of a can.

Does this revelation ruin or redeem the classic orange gourd for you? Hopefully I can make amends either way with this offering of the best cake autumn’s bounty has to offer. Trust me, you’ll never miss the pumpkin; you were never eating it anyway.

Harvest Squash Cake

2 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry or All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
1 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 1/2 Cups Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Cup Butternut Squash Puree
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3 Cups Cooked Spaghetti Squash*
Delicata Squash, Seeded and Thinly Sliced (Optional, for Topping)
Reserved Squash Seeds or Pepitas (Optional, for Topping)

Cream Cheese Filling:

1 (8-Ounce) Package Vegan Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Extract or Lemon Zest
1 – 2 Teaspoons Water

*To easily cook your spaghetti squash, slice it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, reserving them for the topping if desired. Place the halves with the cut sides down in a microwave-safe dish, adding about an inch of water around them. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave for 8 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes before carefully removing the plastic. Test for doneness by piercing them with a knife; if it slides in easily, and the squash give under gentle pressure, they’re done! When cool enough to handle, take a fork to the interiors and scrape out the strands of tender squash.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease two 8-inch round baking pans.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices, stirring thoroughly to evenly distribute all of the dry goods throughout the mixture.

Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, vinegar, butternut squash puree, olive oil, and both sugars. Still to dissolve the sugar and smooth out the mixture, so that there are no lumps of butternut remaining.

Toss the cooked spaghetti squash into the bowl of dry ingredients, coating the strands with flour to keep them from simply sinking to the bottom of the cakes. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, folding the two together with a large spatula to combine. Resist the urge to break out the heavy artillery here; the batter will be fairly thick, but it’s perfectly fine to leave a few lumps, rather than risk over-mixing.

Divide the batter equally between your prepared cake pans. If desired, seed and very, very thinly slice the delicata squash, arranging the pieces artfully around the top of one pan of unbaked batter. Sprinkle with the leftover seeds or pepitas for a final flourish. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Bear in mind that the layer topped with squash will take longer to bake due to the excess liquid expressed by the gourd.

Let cool completely before assembling the final cake.

To make the filling, simply toss the cream cheese and butter into your stand mixer and beat until soft, smooth, and homogeneous. Add in the confectioner’s sugar and begin to mix on low speed. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula, as needed. Once mostly incorporated, add in the vanilla and lemon, and increase the speed to high. Add water as needed to reach your desired consistency, but use sparingly! It doesn’t take much at all. Whip for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Turn out the bottom layer of the cake onto a serving vessel and smoother generously but evenly with the filling. Top with with second, decorated layer, press down to adhere, and serve with aplomb. No pumpkins need apply.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe