Buckle Up

A relic of a bygone era, buckles appear in books mostly as footnotes, a passing mention as an antiquated dessert with a funny name. For all the cobblers, crumbles, crisps, and pies out there, hardly anyone stops to consider making a slump, grunt, brown Betty, or our hero of the day, a buckle.

While everyone was staying home and stress-baking banana bread during the pandemic, it would have made much more sense to see a resurgence of fruit buckles. The dessert gets its name from its appearance, dimpled with fruit and streusel topping, like the wrinkled surface of a bridge about to give way. Given the way the world itself felt warped out of shape, distorted and liable to collapse any moment, the humble fruit buckle seems well suited to that unstable energy.

Thankfully, this construction is much more structurally sound than it may look. Though there’s a high ratio of fruit to batter, it holds up admirably under pressure, including transportation, advanced prep, and indelicate slicing. In fact, it’s much more stable than our beloved pumpkin pie.

This holiday season, I’m bringing the buckle back. Dressed in a spicy cloak of ginger and warm brown sugar, winter’s finest crimson cranberries sparkle from within, dusted with a heavy snow of confectioner’s sugar over sweet cinnamon crumbs. Blueberry buckles may be the best known of the bunch, but there’s no reason why we can’t switch gears with the seasons here. Emblematic of the fleeting nature of the holidays, cranberries will be gone before you know it, so you had better get your fill of these tart little jewels while they’re still around.

Plan ahead and toss a bag or two of fresh cranberries in the freezer to extend the joy. You can toss them right into the batter without thawing to speed right through to the good part: eating. Enjoy warm, at room temperature, or even chilled. My favorite approach is to enjoy it lightly toasted in the oven or air fryer, individually crisped slices with extra crunchy edges, and a big scoop of ice cream slowly melting on top.

Just because it buckles doesn’t mean it will break. It’s stronger than it looks, just like all of us.

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Peppered with Sweet Presents

Sugar cookies iced with delicate features come to life; chocolate snow caps shake off a light dusting of powdered sugar to reveal cacao crevasses; peanut butter blossoms bloom in the dead of winter. Christmastime is cookie time, and everyone has a favorite. Taste memories are intrinsically linked with these cherished, traditional flavors, which makes it hard to break away and try something new.

What if I told you there was a way to satisfy the craving for nostalgia, while still feeding the desire for adventure? Small twists on established crowd-pleasers make sure that everyone walks away happy. Besides, in the case of my Chocolate Pfeffernüsse, who’s ever complained about adding in some extra chocolate?

German “pepper nuts” are basically soft, anise-forward gingerbread bites with a hint of alluring cardamom that lingers like a sweet memory. Condensing a world of flavors into such small packages, these classic holiday treats are long overdue for a modern revival.

This year, I have Rodelle helping me make that comeback possible. Their extracts and cocoa powder are essential staples in my pantry all year round, but they really shine when it’s time to bring out the very best treats for the holidays. You can taste that quality in every bite thanks to Rodelle Gourmet Cocoa Powder, Vanilla Extract, and Pure Almond Extract here. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t entrust such an important task to any other brand.

As if the boldly re-imagined morsels, blanketed in a powdery sheath of confectioner’s sugar was not enough of a gift, Rodelle has offered to further sweeten one lucky reader’s holiday with a GIVEAWAY!

You’ll be able to bake right along with me using the best possible ingredients. This generous bundle includes (1) 4oz Pure Vanilla Extract, (1) 8oz Gourmet Baking Cocoa, (1) 2oz All-Natural Vanilla Paste, and (1) 2oz Almond Extract. To enter be sure to follow @RodelleVanilla on Instagram, and find more ways to rack up entries below.

Rodelle Baking Bundle Giveaway

Everyone’s a winner here, because you can still enjoy these divine chocolate cookies no matter what. You might want to double the recipe if you plan on sharing, though.

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Nog-Off, 2021

Eggnog is to Christmas what pumpkin spice is to autumn; the flavor that embodies a moment in time, lingering as a taste memory inextricably linked to merriment, lingering with sweet resonance long after the cup has been drained. Originating sometime around the Middle Ages, it was an opulent indicator of wealth, being so laden with expensive spices, sugar, and rich dairy products. Today, as the popularity of eggnog continues to rise, it’s become a widely available indulgence for everyone to enjoy. Greater demand means more options, which follow perfectly in step with an explosive profusion in eggless, milkless nogs.

Oat milk has forever changed the dairy-free landscape which means that this year, we have more vegan options than ever to raise a glass with. Clearly, we’re due for another Nog-Off.

For this fiercely festive showdown between heavyweights, we have fourteen contenders in the ring. Both the bottom and top selections from the previous round have bowed out, setting the scene for a fierce battle on a level playing field.

I soon found myself drowning in a sea of nog. Mercifully, there are no complete losers in this game, and I wouldn’t be upset to have any of these cartons in my fridge again. Different situations call for different drinks, however, so I thought it would be best to break it down accordingly.

Probably the Same Product: Natural By Nature Oat Nog and Sprouts Oatmilk Nog. I noticed after judging, they both had the same lurid yellow color which was notable by itself. Flipping them over to compare labels, the nutritional facts matched exactly, as did the ingredients. Oops. The only difference? Sprouts’ costs $1.50 less.

Most Like Coffee Creamer: Milkadamia Veggnog. The only commercial macadamia nut nog in existence, it’s exceptionally smooth and rich but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was drinking French Vanilla coffee creamer. There’s not a hint of spices nor eggy flavor to speak of. You could doctor them with an extra pinch of nutmeg for an instant fix, but they’re not winning awards straight out of the container. Strikingly, I found this more suitable than the actual coffee creamer made by Nutpods, which is unsweetened and flat out bland.

Most Natural: Fronks Vegan Eggnog. If you want every ingredient to count, you can absolutely taste it in this blend of whole foods. Cashews, almonds, and dates are the foundation, lightly kissed by a touch of cinnamon and cardamom, for a more nuanced spice blend. It tastes pure and fresh because it is! Made by hand in small batches for local distribution, it’s the closest you can get to homemade without pulling out a blender.

Best for Sipping Solo: Califia Holiday Nog Almondmilk. Light but not watery, rich yet low in calories, I could drink this one all day long without any trouble. Thank goodness it also happens to come in the largest bottle of all, with a total of twelve half-cup servings.

Best with Booze: Chobani Oat Nog. Coming from a long line of oat milks and creamers, it should come as no surprise that this thick oat blend is perfectly engineered to balance out the bold, sometimes harsh edge of rum, bourbon, or brandy without tasting watered down. Also, it has a notable malted, toasted, earthy flavor that would harmonize beautifully with additional spirits.

Most innovative: Good Karma Holiday Nog. Allergens, who? Made with cold-pressed organic flax, this is the nog for everyone. No nuts, no soy, no funny business. While it doesn’t carry the same weight as genuine eggnog, for that same reason, it’s exceptionally drinkable and even refreshing.

Best for Baking: So Delicious Coconut Milk Holiday Nog. The last remaining coconut option on the list, this nog has a powerful, candy-like sweetness that puts it squarely in dessert territory. Strong seasonings ensure that it won’t just fall into the background like any other non-dairy milk if employed to make festive cupcakes, cheesecakes, and more.

Best on a Budget: Trader Joe’s O’Nog. The most affordable option on this list, one generous quart will only set you back $2.99. Every dollar counts when budgeting for holiday gifts, and the most expensive option on this list, by contrast, will set you back $12.99 for a pint.

Best for Most People: Good & Gather Oatmilk Holiday Nog. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if there was only one nog I could celebrate the holidays with, to take back home to my family and impress the widest range of palates, after much deliberation, I think it has to be… The Target house brand. I’m still struggling with such a shocking outcome. It’s not the best of all categories, as is made clear above, but those mad food scientists managed to hit the ideal balance that could appeal to the widest audience. Spiced gently, sweet but not sugary, rich but not cloying, it stands out by virtue of… Not standing out.

It’s both a relief and a disappointment that there’s no clear winner, standing tall above all the noise. I wish it was such an easy judgement, but that means it’s hard to go wrong. Where ever you are, whatever you have access to, you can pour yourself a glass of holiday cheer. Isn’t that the real meaning of a Nog-Off?

When all else fails, don’t forget, it’s not so hard to make your own from scratch, too.

What is your personal favorite here? Is there a local specialty in your neck of the woods that would have swept the floor with these national brands? Leave me a comment, and maybe next year, they’ll make it into the rematch!

20 Best Vegan Christmas Cookies

Cookies never go out of season, but the winter holidays are truly the best time to stay warm by the oven and indulge your sweet tooth. So much of the experience has to do with spending time with friends and family, creating memories that will long outlast those cherished treats.

The end results spread joy to all those gifted, and it’s easy to make enough to go around. If you’ve been waiting for a reason to bake cookies, this is your prime opportunity.

Guided by tradition, certain morsels show up to the party year after year. However, there’s always room on the cookie platter for something new.

Whether you’re looking for a twist on a classic or an entirely different way to shake up the dessert course, I’ve got you covered. These are some of my favorite holiday cookie recipes that are guaranteed to keep your celebration sweet.

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