BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Open Sesame

Just think: Every time you blend up a new batch of hummus, sprinkle on the finishing touch to a bagel headed into the oven, or slather your morning toast with a savory spread, you’re partaking in the oldest oil seed crop known to humanity. The sesame seed truly is an ancient wonder that’s managed to stay as relevant as ever in modern life. You might reasonably imagine that this old dog no longer has any new tricks left up its sleeve, but if so, you’d be dead wrong.

Taking on the Simply Sesame Blogger Recipe Challenge was no challenge at all, given the subtle but transformative new twists presented by Simply Sesame. Each spread contained a wealth of rich, warm sesame flavor, but one in particular will continue to haunt my memories. The unconventional combination of crisp, nutty pistachios with a subtle undercurrent of spicy cardamom flavor immediately leapt out at me from my very first taste. It didn’t take much effort to find fresh inspiration from this primeval paste.

Infusing sesame essence throughout each soft, tender crumb, these are no mere snack cakes. Though baked rather than fried like traditional doughnuts, each bite is so rich and full of flavor that you’d never dream of adding another drop of oil. Freshly toasted pistachios add another dimension of roasted aroma, not to mention a satisfying crunch every now and then. Cardamom continues to sing quietly in the background; just enough to add a certain something special, without necessarily shouting its name from the rooftops.

Top the whole treat off with a gossamer-thin glaze enhanced simply with delicate vanilla bean flecks, and it’s impossible to resist the complete package. As soon as they emerged from the quick icing dip, I regretted making only a single batch.

Consider this the least challenging “challenge” on the entire internet. I dare you to take it yourself, but be warned; no other mere tahini will ever quite measure up again. Keep in touch with Simply Sesame through Facebook, Twitter, and Instgram for the contest results and more delicious inspirations.

Baked Sesame-Pistachio Doughnuts

1 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Chopped
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Cup Simply Sesame with Pistachio Morsels
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar

Vanilla Bean Glaze:

1 1/4 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 – 3 Tablespoons Water

Dragees or Sprinkles to Garnish (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a standard doughnut pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, chopped pistachios, baking powder and soda, salt, and cardamom. Thoroughly combine to distribute all of the ingredients equally throughout the mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the Simply Sesame with Pistachio Morsels with the non-dairy milk, sesame oil, vanilla, and vinegar. Once smooth, pour these liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to incorporate. Mix just until the batter is smooth.

Either transfer the batter to a piping bag to dispense it cleanly into the prepared baking pan, or simply use a spoon to carefully distribute it between the six indentations. Leave it slightly mounded up towards to center of the rings, rather than smoothing it out.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the centers of the cakes comes out clean. Cool completely before preparing the glaze.

For the glaze, simply whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla paste, and 1 tablespoon of water. Continue slowly drizzling in additional water water until it reaches your desired consistency. Dip each doughnut into the glaze, allowing the excess to drip off, and apply dragees or sprinkles to your heart’s content.

Makes 6 Doughnuts

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Steamy Secrets

It’s remarkable how the most ubiquitous, seemly mundane ingredients can be utterly transformed with a fresh perspective. For example, eggplants show up in nearly every culture, every grocery store, and every cookbook. For the wide range of varieties available across the world, accompanied by the distinctive palate of flavors that each locale prefers, there’s truly an eggplant preparation for everyone. Despite the abundance of options, it seems we’re drawn back to the same recipes time and again, sticking to the familiar for the sake of simplicity. That was certainly the case for me, which is why the promise of an all-eggplant cooking class held both intrigue and skepticism. What new was there to learn about this staple vegetable that I naively presumed had already divulged its culinary secrets long ago?

The one way I would never have attempted to cook an eggplant turned out to be one of the most revolutionary. Believe it or not, steaming these burnished violet nightshades created one of the most superlative eggplant dishes to hit my plate in years. Previously ignorant to this dramatic metamorphosis, the idea of steamed eggplant sounded about as appealing as stewed gym socks. On the contrary, the softened and shredded fruit is downright silky, luxuriously caressing the tongue with unexpected richness.

Hailing from China, this unsung hero of eggplant cookery comes to life with an impossibly creamy glaze of toasted sesame, soy sauce, vinegar, and a gentle kick of heat. Such complex flavors seem to contradict the simple procedure, but that’s the true beauty of this secret formula. This radical departure from the standard menu was right there all along, hidden in plain sight

Beijing-Style Steamed Eggplant with Sesame Sauce
by Chef Philip Gelb

2 Chinese Eggplants, Halved Lengthwise
2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Oil
2 Teaspoons Light Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon Black Vinegar
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Teaspoon Palm Sugar
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 Tablespoon Chili Paste (Optional)
1 Thinly Sliced Scallion, to Garnish

Steam the eggplants for 10 – 15 minutes, until very tender. Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients for the sauce in a large bowl.

Let the eggplants cool for a few minutes so that you can handle them comfortably, and then use your hands to tear them into long strips.

Toss the eggplants with the sauce and top with scallion. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 – 4 Servings

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Lady Marmalade

Batten down the hatches and hide the good porcelain; the holidays are here again. Ready or not, Thanksgiving hits in just over a week, throwing cooks and eaters across the country into a predictable annual frenzy. If your menu is already planned and locked down, you’re probably sick of reading the incessant recipe suggestions churning out of every food publication, online, in print, on TV, over the radio waves, and beyond. If you’ve been remiss in your advanced preparations, your blood pressure is probably spiking to greater heights with every mention of yet another overly complicated, time consuming new dish to consider adding to the elaborate affair.

Let’s take it back a step, shall we? Eight days is still plenty of time from either perspective, whether you need to get your act together or just stick to the script. No matter what, you’ve still gotta eat in the meantime.

There’s enough to stress about without adding another random recipe into the mix, so I’m not saying this is one for the Thanksgiving table. It does just happen to fit the theme beautifully, incorporating seasonal root vegetables into an easy condiment that would be just as home atop crackers as it would alongside your festive roast of choice. Ruby red, it glistens with the same luminosity as cranberry sauce, but shines with an entirely unique earthy yet sweet and zesty flavor. Beet marmalade was one of our top selling items at Health in a Hurry, and it remains a nostalgic favorite of mine. It’s the one single dish that I can point to that finally converted me from beet hater to lover.

I deeply regret not writing down that secret formula before the restaurant closed, but the good news is that it’s such a simple concept, it doesn’t take much effort to recreate a very close proxy. Caramelized onions lay down a rich, savory baseline, while jazzy orange peel hits the high notes, complimented by the sweetness of maple syrup. Perhaps an unlikely combination on paper, the final flavor sings with a resonance that far exceeds the sum of its parts.

I’m not saying you should save it for Thanksgiving… But I’m not saying it would be a bad guest at the table, either.

Beet Marmalade

4 Medium Red Beets
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Large Red Onion, Sliced
1 Large Orange, Zested and Juiced
2 Tablespoons 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets up in aluminum foil so that they’re completely covered, and roast for about an hour, or until fork tender. Let cool before peeling. If they’re cooked properly, the skins should just rub right off with a bit of pressure.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat and add in the sliced onion. Cook gently, stirring frequently, for 30 – 40 minutes, until deeply caramelized and almost silky in texture. Add in the orange juice about halfway through, and reduce the heat if necessary to prevent burning.

Roughly chop the cooked beets and place them in your food processor along with the caramelized onions. Add in the maple syrup and salt. Lightly pulse all of the ingredients together until broken down and thoroughly combined but still quite chunky.

Serve warm or chilled, as a dip or topping for crackers, a condiment on the dinner table, or as a spread with bread.

Makes about 2 Cups

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Flying High on Plants

No one looks forward to being locked in an airborne tin can, strapped down at an unnatural acute angle for hours on end, and that’s to say nothing of the hoops to jump through to qualify for such abuse in the first place. Yet we all accept these offenses as the necessary evils of air travel; small, cumulative personal injustices that must be suffered for the prize of a new adventure. On the bright side, this mild form of torture makes the joy of arrival all the greater, if only for the relief that comes from getting out of that maddening contraption.

Every small pleasure found in this unpleasant process is thus magnified, savored with aplomb, in hopes of turning down the volume on the rest of that logistical cacophony. for this reason alone, it’s worth the extra hassle whenever I book a flight out of SFO, because that means I can at least find a good meal while waiting at the gate.

It’s true: There’s fresh, healthy, and satisfying food to be found in an airport! The Plant Cafe Organic lays claim to many outposts across the bay area, but ironically, this inaccessible, highly guarded location is the one I stop by most often. Every time, the only thing I ever want is a pile of delicious produce, and every time, the understated yet dazzling grapefruit and avocado salad delivers.

Thankfully, there’s no need to subject yourself to such pain for such gustatory gratification, nor schlep out all the way to that isolated airport terminal, either. It turns out that while the sharply unpleasant contrasts surrounding this small morsel of pleasure do enhance the experience to a degree, it’s even more enjoyable when eaten at leisure, sprawled on the couch at home, preferably clad in completely unflattering sweatpants and slippers.

Something about the acidic, subtly sweet citrus, creamy avocado, and crunchy macadamia nuts make this salad utterly unforgettable. Don’t just take my word for it, because I’m afraid I can’t do it full justice in a few short sentences. It’s just too good to fully explain in words. This simple, invigorating combination will brighten the darkest of post-daylight savings time evenings.

Avocado Grapefruit Salad

Macadamia Nut Dressing:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons White Wine Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Scallions, Sliced
1/4 Cup Raw Macadamia Nuts
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Salad:

8 Cups Arugula
2 Cups Thinly Sliced Fennel
1 Large Pink Grapefruit, Sliced into Segments
1 Large, Ripe Avocado, Sliced
1/3 Cup Toasted Macadamia Nuts, Roughly Chopped
Salt and Pepper, to Taste

The procedure is pretty much self explanatory once you glance through the ingredient list, but here goes. Toss all of the ingredients for the dressing into your blender or food processor and puree on high, until creamy and completely smooth. Toss the dressing with the arugula and fennel, and divide the greens between 2 or 3 bowls. Top with equal amounts of grapefruit, avocado, and macadamia nuts. Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper if needed, and enjoy.

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

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Thai One On For Size

What is your personal litmus test when judging a new restaurant? Is it the spaghetti marinara at a place touting homemade pasta? The scallion pancakes at a dim sum joint? Hopefully it’s something common, found across all menus, to best compare, since the simplest dishes are the most telling. It takes attention to detail, consideration for ingredients, and true skill to make the basics stand out within a sea of similar options. Perhaps it’s unfair to appraise an eatery based on their drinks, but for me, Thai restaurants live or die by their Thai tea.

Traditionally made with copious amounts of syrupy dairy mixed in, simply finding a vegan brew can be quite a feat. If you’re willing to swap coconut milk and sugar for the sweetened condensed milk, you’ve already won a gold star by my assessment. Honestly, it doesn’t take much to convert this special treat, and yet surprisingly few think to offer such flexibility in the first place. It wouldn’t be such an issue if I could just whip up a big pot of it at home, but like all things that seem deceptively simple, hitting those same sweet, subtly spicy notes had proven elusive through exhaustive trials.

Mixes exist for those who want the authentic flavor without any of the extra work, but there’s no way around those pesky artificial colors. While I can’t promise that my unique blend would pass the standard litmus test, I’m quite pleased to say that it will do the trick when a craving hits.

That’s especially true when those same flavors enliven a cool and refreshing glass of chia pudding. Coconut milk thickened with yogurt and sweetened with a restrained hand top off this healthy reinterpretation, suitable for breakfast, snack, and dessert alike. Celyon or assam tea would be most traditional for this application, if you can get your hands on either, but let’s be honest: True “authenticity” goes out the window as soon as a home cook picks up the whisk. In this case, I’d argue that might be a very good thing indeed.

No one will think that this take on Thai tea came from the latest and greatest restaurant on the block, but it sure does satisfy the craving in a whole new way.

Thai Tea Chia Parfaits

3 1/2 Cups Water
1 Tablespoon Black Tea
1 Tablespoon Rooibos Tea
1 Whole Star Anise
1 Green Cardamom Pod
2 Whole Cloves
1/2 Teaspoon Tamarind Concentrate
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/2 Cup Coconut Palm Sugar or Light Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Cup Whole Chia Seeds

1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Cup Vegan Vanilla Coconut Milk Yogurt
2 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar

To make the pudding, you’ll first need to make strongly brewed of Thai tea. You’re welcome to use a prepared mix in place of the tea leaves and spices, but for anyone who doesn’t have access to such luxuries or doesn’t have it on hand in time to satisfy urgent cravings, this blend of black and rooibos tea will do the trick. Heat the water in a medium saucepan along with both teas. Lightly smash the whole spices with the side of your knife to help release their flavors before adding them all in, along with the tamarind concentrate and turmeric. Cover and bring the mixture just to the brink of boiling.

Stir in the sugar, turn off the heat, and keep covered. Let steep for at least 30 minutes, undisturbed. The longer the tea steeps, the more flavorful it will be, but let it sit for no more than 2 hours to prevent the more bitter compounds of the tea from being released.

Strain out the leaves and whole spices before stirring in the vanilla extract and chia seeds. Let the chia seeds begin to hydrate and absorb the liquid, and stir again after 15 minutes to break up any clumps. Divide the mixture between 4 – 6 glasses and place them into the fridge. Chill thoroughly, for at least 2 – 3 hours, before serving.

Right before serving, mix together the coconut milk, yogurt, and agave. Drizzle it over the top of each chia pudding and lightly swirl it in. Don’t blend it entirely for the most striking effect, and the most satisfying flavor contrast.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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Plot Twist

It’s one of those days. The sky is still dark when you finally wrestle off the heavy covers and swing your feet out of bed, never seeming to lighten a single shade all day. Rain falls intermittently, just enough to mock any attempt made to leave the house while remaining dry. Strangers hustle by with umbrellas carelessly outstretched, acting more as blunt weapons than shelters from the elements. How many times can you get whacked in the face during a brief 10-minute walk? Oh, let’s keep a tally and find out; it’s easy to lose count while tabulating the results in your head.

You know the script and play your part, muddling through as best you can, but wait- Who’s writing this story anyway? Why should you stick to your lines when a much more satisfying ending could be crafted with a bit of improvisation?

Here’s the plot twist you’ve been craving. Get home, throw off your muddy boots, cozy into a soft sweater, and break out the flour and yeast. There’s no antidote to those days, but there is a salve, and it comes in the form of baking bread. Something about the kneading of dough is indescribably cathartic, while the warmth of the oven can melt the iciest of hearts. Merely the smell of fresh dough transforming into golden brown loaves has a wholly restorative quality, even before taking a single bite.

Savory herbs mingle with roasted garlic in a rich, aromatic filling woven through every layer of soft, tender dough. You might think that they’re fussy, or too fancy to serve as an everyday loaf, but it takes no more work than the average bread. Treat yourself to something a bit more special than the standard; take back control and write your own story.

World Bread Day 2016 (October 16)

 

These two loaves are my ninth annual contribution to World Bread Day, and second submission to the baking contest mixed up by Simply Organic and Go Dairy Free. Should you find yourself in a baking rut and need new material to revise your personal script, just hit these links for ample inspiration, both sweet and savory.

Twisted Garlic and Herb Bread

Dough:

1 Package (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 3/4 Cups Warm Water
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
3 – 3 1/2 Cups Bread Flour

Garlic and Herb Schmear:

2 Heads Garlic, Roasted
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Simply Organic Dried Parsley
2 Teaspoons Simply Organic Dried Rosemary
2 Teaspoons Simply Organic Dried Thyme
1 Teaspoon Simply Organic Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Simply Organic Ground Black Pepper

In a large bowl, combine the yeast, agave, and warm water. Let stand until the yeast reactivates and surface of the liquid becomes bubbly; about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil, salt whole wheat flour, and 2 cups of the bread flour, mixing with a sturdy wooden spoon or the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer.

Once the initial addition of dry goods has been completely incorporated, add the remaining cup of bread flour. Slowly knead by hand or machine for 10 – 15 minutes until the dough is smooth, supple, and elastic. If it still seems very wet, add up to 1/2 cup additional bread flour.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel.
Let rest at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size; about 1 – 1 1/2 hours, depending on your local climate.

Meanwhile, prepare the garlic and herb schmear by first squeezing the cloves of roasted garlic out of their skins. Place them in a small bowl and roughly mash with the salt. Let the mixture remain somewhat chunky, but smooth enough to spread without too much difficulty. Add in all of the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine. Set aside.

After the dough has properly risen, punch it down and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Take one at a time and on a lightly floured surface, press it into a rough rectangular shape. Use a rolling pin to further smooth it out, until it measure approximately 15 – 16 inches long (the exact width isn’t critical.) Cover the surface evenly with 1/4 of the garlic and herb schmear, and roll the dough up in a tight cylinder exactly the same way you would for cinnamon buns. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and schmear.

Now that you have your 4 filled rolls of dough, focus your attention at two at a time, to form each loaf. With the seam-sides down, use a very sharp knife to slice right down the center of each roll, but NOT all the way through. You want to reveal the layers within, but not cut the dough entirely in half. Press the tops of the two split rolls together to adhere, and very gently twist the pieces together, keeping the cut sides facing up. When you reach the end, press the bottoms together to seal, and curl both ends under to keep the pieces from separating in the baking process. Very carefully move the twisted loaf over to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and allow the loaves to rise once more, until not quite doubled in size. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until golden brown and utterly aromatic. The tempting smells will make it very difficult to wait, but allow the bread to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Makes 2 Loaves

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Where There’s Smoke…

What does autumn taste like to you? Millions would likely respond with a resounding cry of “pumpkin spice” without a second thought, while others might venture down the less celebrated paths of chai, chili, apple pie, or perhaps speculoos. Happily, this isn’t a question we need to fight over. There are no wrong answers, nor any unsatisfying suggestions on this list. They all share one common thread, and that is a palate of bold, warm, yet utterly soothing spices. Colder days call for hotter dishes; succulent blankets to wrap around our tongues. While there’s never a bad time to ramp up the seasonings, a well-equipped spice rack comes in particularly handy around this time of year.

If asked the same question, I might hem and haw in my typically indecisive fashion, but in my heart I always know the answer immediately: Gingerbread is my everything when the temperatures drop and the sunlight wanes. Something about the combination of sticky dark molasses paired with the bite of ginger, belting out its sweet song along with a full cadre of spicy backup singers, makes it feel as though everything is right with the world, at least for those fleeting moments of indulgence. If it were lacking even one of those critical spices, the harmony would be thrown out of balance.

Even so, I can’t help but tinker. Lately I’ve been obsessed with smoky flavors, starting with a few innocent additions of smoked tofu and beets gracing my daily salads and quinoa bowls. Now I’m looking farther afield to the dessert course, finding little if any smoky sweets to experiment with. Clearly, this is a void that needs to be filled. I can think of no better candidate to step up to the plate, quite literally, than gingerbread. Smoky chipotle powder is right at home here, adding a piquant peppery accent to liven up the typical palate. Smoked salt was an obvious winner to continue the theme throughout each tender, sticky bite, and crunchy smoked almonds absolutely seal the deal. It might sound overwhelming in print, but there’s no denying the taste- It may be difficult to return to the same old gingerbread blend after adding a bit of smoke into the mix.

The primary push to explore the smokier side of dessert came from a call to action by Simply Organic and Go Dairy Free. They’ve invited a very talented team of bakers and food obsessives to spice things up with both sweet and savory recipes fit for dairy-free diets. To check out these submissions, vote, enter to win prizes, and find more exclusive recipes, visit Go Dairy Free.

Take your time to luxuriate in all the spicy possibilities out there. The good news is that this cake only gets better with age, as the flavors mingle and meld, over the course of a day or two. Don’t wait too long though; it may be hard for others to resist nibbling away at the edges, until not a single crumb is left. Trust me on this one.

Smoky Chipotle Gingerbread Cake

2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Smoked Almonds, Roughly Chopped
1/4 Cup Crystallized Ginger, Finely Chopped
2 Tablespoons Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Salt
1 1/4 Teaspoons Simply Organic Chipotle Powder
1 Teaspoons Simply Organic Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Brewed and Cooled Coffee
1/2 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Molasses
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree
3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Grated Fresh Ginger

Faux-Fondant Glaze:

3 Cups (3/4 Pound) Confectioner’s Sugar
1/4 Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Simply Organic Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan; Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Mix well to distribute all of the seasonings throughout the dry goods, and double-check that there are no clumps.

Separately, mix the coffee, maple syrup, molasses, pumpkin, sugar, oil, and ginger until smooth. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula to bring the two together. Being careful not to over-mix, stir just until the batter is smooth and not a second longer. Transfer the batter into your prepared baking pan, smooth out the top, and pop it in the oven.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean- Perhaps with a few moist crumbs sticking to it but certainly not wet. Let cool completely before preparing the icing.

In a medium saucepan, combine confectioner’s sugar, water, and agave. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until it reaches 100 degrees. It won’t look very different from when you began, but should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Quickly pour the icing over the cake and smooth across the top and over the edges. It sets quickly so you want to work fast!

If time allows, this cake does get even better with age, so try to make it a day in advance for the flavor to really meld and sing. I don’t blame you if you can’t wait though; simply allow the glaze to set before slicing and serving, at least.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

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