Think Outside the Chocolate Box

Romance comes in many flavors, but chocolate is the dominant taste on lovers’ lips come February 14th. Truffles, molded and dipped, lavished with nuts, caramel, spices, and salt, line up in neat lines across interminable rows of red boxes, nestled into fluted paper cups serving more as garnishes than practical storage solutions. Chocolate, the ubiquitous sweet aphrodisiac, is easily the top treat for this loving affair, beating both flowers and jewelry offerings by a mile. Predictable yet indisputably in demand, it’s hard to argue with another chocolate-covered Valentine’s Day.

That doesn’t mean you need to stick with conventional confections to win over a fickle mistress. Consider a deeper dive into the cacao pool with a Homemade Tunnel of Fudge Bundt Cake. Originally devised as an amalgamation of questionable packaged baking mixes, a true tunnel of fudge cake is easier to assemble than your average Bundt. With a river of gooey, rich chocolate running through the core, it’s essentially a supersized lava cake if eaten warm. Dense, rich, and intense, at the core resides the famed heart of fudge, thick as cookie dough without the harsh sugar rush synonymous with unbaked batter. Nuts traditionally make up the bulk of this blend, but to make it allergen-free, they’re replaced with decadent chocolate morsels instead, much to the delight of devoted chocoholics and picky eaters, as well.

Just in time for this sweet heart’s holiday, you can find my recipe over on Go Dairy Free.

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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

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.

Stella! Hey, Stella!

You’d think that with age, one develops a greater sense of independence. At least I did, but at approximately 10 months old, Luka began refusing to sleep in his own bed. It’s not like he was ever alone; a mere step away and within clear eye-shot, there isn’t space in my tiny apartment to place him out of reach. Nonetheless, that short distance is suddenly intolerable, a terrifying void into which his cries for help echo endlessly, pitifully, desperately. No matter how happily he’s climbed into that plush pineapple earlier this evening, it’s a different story the moment the lights go out.

Despite growing up with a dog through most of my childhood, I never let Isis sleep with me in bed. The sweet little ball of fur was liable to wake up in the middle of the night and either tear through irreplaceable stuffed animals or leave her mark in all new places, if you get my drift. For the sake of my sanity though, I started to relent, to do anything to stop Luka’s ear-splitting howls. Though we’ve mostly gotten along as harmonious bedfellows, it’s still a considerable challenge for me to slumber soundly through the night, as a lifelong solo sleeper. It’s not uncommon to wake up around 2 AM to discover Luka burrowing deep into my armpit, licking my bare feet, or rubbing his balls across my neck. Oh, the glamorous life of dog motherhood.

If we can both clock at least 6 hours of solid shut-eye before sunlight spills out from between the curtains at daybreak, I think that at least one of us has earned a serious breakfast treat.

Make that a replica Stella D’Oro breakfast treat, to be exact. A relic of old school Italian baking rarely found on grocery store shelves these days, such basic biscuits hearken back to simpler times, when just a subtle sweetness and a light crunch would do the trick. It had been many years since these crisp morsels passed my mind, but in conversations about cravings, a friend insisted that these were the only thing that she missed from her pre-vegan days. Clearly, this was a critical omission in great annals of eggless baking.

Better than biscotti, these essential s-shaped cookies are ideal for dunking into coffee, slathering with jam, or munching on the go. There’s no wrong way to enjoy them since their neutral palate pairs beautifully with any drink, side, or topping you can dream up. Just make sure you do stop dreaming in time to wake up for breakfast; you won’t want to miss out on these treats.

Yield: About 2 Dozen Cookies

Copycat Stella D’Oro Breakfast Treats

Better than biscotti, these essential s-shaped cookies are ideal for dunking into coffee, slathering with jam, or munching on the go. There’s no wrong way to enjoy them since their neutral palate pairs beautifully with any drink, side, or topping you can dream up. Just make sure you do stop dreaming in time to wake up for breakfast; you won’t want to miss out on these treats.

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 Cups Bread Flour
  • 3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Potato Starch
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 Cup Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Almond Extract
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Extract

Eggless Wash:

  • 1 Tablespoon Aquafaba
  • 1 Tablespoon Maple Syrup

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or pieces of parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the bread flour, sugar, potato starch, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separately, combine the water, oil, and all three flavored extracts. Pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl of dry, mixing thoroughly to combine, forming a thick dough. You may need to use your hands or a stand mixer to completely incorporate all the flour.
  3. Pinch off golf ball-sized pieces of dough. Roll each between lightly moistened hands, forming them into snakes approximately 4 – 5 inches long. Twist into “S” shapes and place on your baking sheets.
  4. Prepare the eggless wash by simply combining the aquafaba and maple syrup in a small dish. Brush evenly over the tops of the cookies just before baking.
  5. Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before enjoying or storing in an airtight container for up to a week at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

20

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 110 Total Fat: 1g Saturated Fat: 0g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 103mg Carbohydrates: 23g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 8g Protein: 2g

Peace, Love, and Avocado for All

San Francisco is home to the original hippie, the flower child borne of the 1967 Summer of Love, though only faint traces of the counter culture movement remain today. Largely replaced by tech workers with smartphones in their pockets rather than floral ornaments in their hair, it disappoints me to no end that we don’t even have an outpost of Flower Child out in the bay area. Had it not been for a trip out to Austin, TX, I never would have even known of the peaceable chain.

During my whirlwind five-day visit, I managed to drop in not once, but twice; a real rarity for a food traveler with a bucket list of restaurants to eat at, not historical sights to see. Given more time, I might have simply taken up residence on those plush benches lining the walls instead of booking a proper hotel room. True to concept, the vibe is essential to the experience, setting it apart from other fast-casual dining experiences. Seeking harmony between all sorts of eaters, the menu is clearly labeled with abundant options for the vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, and omnivorous among us.

Vegetable-forward dishes allow peak produce to shine, like the simple heirloom tomato salad spiked with balsamic vinegar and shreds of fresh basil strewn about like confetti. Crisp cubes of watermelon sweetly contrast and provide balance overall. A rotating list of seasonal sides offers other savory treats like roasted yuzu Brussels sprouts, blistered snap peas, or curried cauliflower, depending on the time of year.

Poke bowls are a rising food trend for good reason, especially evident when the concept is applied to a fishless main. Tender cubes of marinated beets join forces with lighted brined mushrooms, both salty and umami, with all the fatty decadence of avocado to drive the combination home. Crunchy wasabi peas are an unexpected touch of whimsy in this ode to whole foods. The spicy bites are a good reminder that healthy eating shouldn’t be boring, nor are those choices black and white.

If there was a signature dish at Flower Child, the Mother Earth Bowl would be the undisputed winner of that title. It’s the one that everyone talks about in newspapers, magazines, and blogs the world over, each source breathlessly extolling the virtues of its copious components. The appeal is obvious just from a glance at the bare ingredients; roasted sweet potato and portobello mushrooms, broccoli pesto, charred onions, avocado, and cucumber, all perched upon a bed of ancient grains and lavished with red pepper miso vinaigrette. It really is like having the whole world in a bowl before you.

While I can’t get those same chill vibes out in NorCal, the flower children in the kitchen were generous enough to spread the love with this harmonious secret formula.

Mother Earth Bowl
From Flower Child

6 ounces Super Grain Mix: red quinoa, farro, and barley, cooked and tossed.
2 ounces sweet potatoes, roasted
2 1/2 ounces Portobello Mushroom, roasted
½ ounces Arugula
1 teaspoon daikon sprouts
1 teaspoon rice wine vinaigrette
1 tablespoon broccoli pesto*
1 tablespoon red pepper miso marmalade*
2 tablespoons cucumber relish*
¼ avocado, fanned
1 teaspoon hemp seeds

Broccoli Pesto:
1 cup broccoli, blanched
4 ½ tablespoons black kale, blanched
2 ¼ tablespoons roasted salted pistachio
1 1/3 tablespoons spinach
1 teaspoon garlic
1 teaspoon mint leaves
1 ¼ teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
¼ tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water

Red Pepper Miso Marmalade:
½ cup peppadew peppers, rough chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, rough chopped
2 teaspoons ginger, peeled & rough chopped
1 1/3 tablespoons miso paste
1 ½ tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
3 teaspoons tamari
3 teaspoons grapeseed oil
1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cucumber Relish:
1 cup cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed, and ¼ dice
2 tablespoons. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon evaporated cane sugar
2 teaspoon sesame chili oil
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
½ teaspoon mint leaves, minced
¼ teaspoon Kosher salt

Broccoli Pesto Directions
1. Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and emulsified.

Red Pepper Miso Marmalade Directions
2. Combine all ingredients and blend until smooth and emulsified.

Cucumber Relish Directions
3. Combine all ingredients and mix until incorporated.

Mother Earth Bowl Directions
4. Roast sweet potatoes and Portobello mushrooms and set aside.
5. To prepare dish, toss arugula with sprouts and vinaigrette, then spoon Super Grain mix in
the center of the bowl.
6. Place sweet potatoes on top, next to Portobello.
7. Place arugula next to mushrooms and cucumber salad next to arugula.
8. Top with pesto, marmalade, and avocado across the center of the dish.
9. Finish with hemp seeds.

Printable Recipe

Souped Up

Tracking watery footprints all through the kitchen, there was no use pretending to be tidy. Saturated socks dripped with every step, more absorbent than the sponge idle in the sink. Washing away drought warnings, the rainy season has come to drown the bay area once again. Punishing storms drop gallons of water in an instant, drenching everything unfortunate enough to be outside at that inopportune moment. Of course, this is inevitably the time I would chose to venture out, certain that only light drizzle would fill the skies. Wrong, wrong again.

Cold, wet, clammy, and seeking comfort, I won’t even bother removing my jacket before banging a stock pot onto the stove. Soup is the only thing that can make the situation better; the simpler, the better. French onion is at the top of the list, rich and soothing, without any challenging preparation to contend with on a day that’s already difficult to endure.

In an Ayurvedic twist inspired by sweet golden milk, Golden Onion Soup glows with gilded turmeric and ginger-laced broth. Creamy coconut milk swirls throughout, lending body to this soulful bowlful, ensuring a satisfying experience down to the last spoonful.

So bring on the rain, I say! With a bare handful of pantry staples and a bit of restorative time in the kitchen, we can weather this storm. Just make sure you have an extra pair of dry socks at the ready.

Golden Onion Soup

1/4 Cup Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil
4 Sweet Vidalia Onions, Quartered and Thinly Sliced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
1/2 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Minced
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Garbanzo Bean Flour
1 Teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
4 – 5 Cups Vegetable Stock
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper

In a large stock pot, melt the butter or coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat for about 30 minutes. The onions should be lightly caramelized and highly aromatic. Add the garlic, ginger, and salt, sauteing for 30 minutes more, stirring every 5 minutes. The mixture should be very soft and amber brown.

Add the garbanzo bean flour and turmeric, stirring to incorporate. Saute for just 2 – 3 minutes to lightly toast the flour before deglazing with the coconut milk. Whisk the miso paste into 4 cups of stock, until fully dissolved, before adding the liquid in as well. Bring the soup to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer gently for 15 – 20 minutes. Season with black and cayenne pepper and add more stock, if needed, to reach your desired thickness.

Makes 6 – 8 Servings

Printable Recipe

Dirty Mouth?

While I can’t promise I have a fix for rampant vulgar language, I can offer a solution for cleaning out the evidence of a snack attack in the middle of the night. After sharing so many sugar-coated recipes over the years, it’s really the least I can do!

One thing I always have on hand, in abundance to the point of absurdity, is toothpaste. From free samples to irresistible coupon deals, the impulse to stock up lead to an unfathomable overflow of minty paste, gel, goop, schmears, and anything else you can slather on the end of a toothbrush. Considering that wealth, why bother making even more from scratch? That’s exactly what I was wondering, until I discovered the difference of homemade.

A full batch costs cents on the dollar, contains no questionable ingredients, and feels like a refreshing massage against my gums. It’s not harsh like some brands but every bit as effective, which is a relief for sensitive teeth. Sometimes I’ll even melt it down and gargle with it, like oil-pulling version 2.0. That’s why I store mine in a glass jar, especially in the cold days of winter when it might be too solid to use right away. Just pop it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften and it’s ready to go!

This is a different recipe than most I’ve shared in this space, so a few notes on ingredients here:

  • Virgin coconut oil will also work, but impart a more distinctive flavor. If you don’t mind that, go for it!
  • Xylitol is technically optional, but very strongly recommended. Not only do studies show that it genuinely helps to prevent cavities, but it gives the toothpaste a sweeter flavor, to put it on par with more commercial options. Please be very careful though because xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs.
  • Peppermint oil or cinnamon oil refers to essential oil, which is much stronger than extract. Also optional, if you don’t mind an unflavored paste or don’t want to buy a whole bottle, and highly flexible if you wanted to mix in different flavors instead.

Seems like my push for cleaning out the pantry has inadvertently lead to a cleaner mouth, too. Now that I have this staple to replace all those old tubes cluttering up the bathroom cabinets, I don’t think I could go back to the old trash talk.

Homemade Toothpaste

1/2 Cup Refined Coconut Oil
2 Tablespoons Baking Soda
6 Tablespoons Calcium–Magnesium Citrate Powder
3 Tablespoons Xylitol
1 – 3 Drops Peppermint Oil or Cinnamon Oil

Simply melt down the coconut oil and whisk everything else in, until smooth. Transfer the liquid toothpaste to two small glass jars. Seal and store in a cool, but ideally not cold, place. Keeps indefinitely.

Printable Recipe