In Crust We Trust

In a rapidly changing world, there are certain constants we can depend on. Mathematically speaking, we have Euler’s number, Archimedes’ principle, and the Pythagorean theorem, of course, but for someone as nonacademic as myself, there’s little comfort to be found in such jumbles of numbers, no matter how concrete in concept.

Pie, on the other hand, immediately soothes the mental strain of of the scholarly and simple-minded alike. Also reliable is the knowledge that Pi Day will always fall on March 14th (3.14 of course), celebrating the golden ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pie itself, however, should really be honored everyday.

This time, I propose we all cozy up to an everyday sort of pie. Mini pies, actually, easy to prepare, perfect quick snacks or last-minute desserts, they can even be prepared in advance, frozen, and thawed on demand. Warm out of the oven or reheated after a quick blast in the toaster oven, tender chunks of apple mingle with a soft, almost gooey peanut butter filling, infused with the warmth of cinnamon and lavished with a sweet crumb topping.

The combination is nothing earth-shaking, nor should it be. It’s a universally satisfying combination that’s stood the test of time, and will reliably treat you to a taste of nostalgic comfort in every mini morsel.

Yield: Makes 24 Mini Pies

Mini Peanut Butter Apple Pies

Mini Peanut Butter Apple Pies
Enjoy a tiny little bite of nostalgia with these cute mini pies! Nutty, fruity, and full of comforting cinnamon spice, they're best eaten warm.

Ingredients

Crust:

Peanut Butter-Apple Filling:

  • 1/2 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter
  • 1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Medium Granny Smith Apples, Peeled, Cored, and Chopped (About 3 Cups)

Crumb Topping:

  • 3 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 3 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted

To Serve:

  • Confectioner's Sugar (Optional)

Instructions

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease 2 dozen mini muffin tins.

Roll out your prepared pie dough to about 1/8th of an inch in thickness and use a round cookie cutter, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, to cut out the crust pieces. In a pinch, the top of a drinking glass could work as well. Gather scraps, re-roll, and cut again as needed.

Ease the pieces into the greased pans, pressing them to fill the bottoms and up the sides as evenly as possible. There will likely be some overlap, but try to smooth out the edges to keep things neat and consistent.

Place the unbaked crusts in the fridge to chill while you turn your attention to the filling.

In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, brown sugar, yogurt, flour, cinnamon, and vanilla until smooth. Toss in the chopped apples and stir to incorporate, covering the fruit thoroughly with the peanut butter mixture. Set aside.

For the crumb topping, simply combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl and use a fork to combine. Continue stirring until the mixture is coarse, chunky, but cohesive.

To assemble, fill the chilled pie shells with the peanut butter and apple mixture and top each with about a teaspoon of the crumb topping.

Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until the crusts and crumb are golden brown. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the pans and serving.

If desired, sprinkle confectioners sugar over the top very lightly just before enjoying.

Notes

To save these for a rainy day, let them cool completely before storing them in an airtight container, seperated by layers of parchment or waxed paper. Stash in the freezer for up to 4 months, or in the fridge for up to a week.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

24

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 72 Total Fat: 4g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 2g Cholesterol: 3mg Sodium: 36mg Carbohydrates: 9g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 6g Protein: 2g
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Look Out for Lemons

Heads up!

If you’re not paying attention, there’s a real danger of being pummeled by falling fruit while walking the city streets of Berkeley. Woven in among the cozy cafes and compact apartment buildings, fruit trees flourish, exploding with fragrant citrus fruits that rain down like hail on the unsuspecting passersby below. Streets are littered with lemons, oranges, and other unidentified flaxen orbs, as if a fruit cart had overturned on its way to market. Some shatter upon impact, hemorrhaging precious sweet nectar in a macabre spray, but many others remain perfectly intact, perfectly viable for salvage.

Like any other compassionate cook, I’ve taken it upon myself to rescue any forlorn fruit. Given the conditions, you could understand why my fridge is overflowing with citrus, particularly Meyer lemons, which land in my direct path on the way to the bus.

Best practices for managing the surplus is expeditious disassembly, before they have time to spoil. Zest and juice all fruits, freezing liquids in ice cube trays and solids in little baggies. I’m not much for canning, but I like to think of my freezer as an icy pantry, extending the life of these abundant sweet and sour gems for later days.

Thrifty and measured as I am, don’t think for a minute that some of this gracious surfeit hasn’t been used for more immediate gratification.

Crisp, lightly sweetened shortbread cookies come to life with the bright acidity of fresh lemons, which also plays off the natural bitter edge of raw cacao nibs. Though undeniably buttery, their richness comes entirely from olive oil, adding a complementary grassy, peppery undertone. Irresistibly adorable spoon molds make them the ideal shape for dunking, but a regular old round cake pan will do the trick for simple, standard wedges.

Even if the urban landscape isn’t quite so generous in your locale, now is the time to enjoy citrus of all shapes and sizes, so stock up!

Yield: 16 - 18 Cookies

Lemon-Cacao Crunch Shortbread Cookies

Lemon-Cacao Crunch Shortbread Cookies
Crisp, lightly sweetened shortbread cookies come to life with the bright acidity of fresh lemons, which also plays of the natural bitter edge of raw cacao nibs. Though undeniably buttery, their richness comes entirely from olive oil, adding a complementary grassy, peppery undertone.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Confectioner's Sugar
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Cacao Nibs
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 and set out (but do not grease) a spoon-shaped baking tray or a 9-inch round springform pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, and the salt. Add in the cacao nibs and toss to coat with the dry ingredients.
  3. Separately, mix the oil, lemon juice, and zest together before pouring the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Stir well to combine; you may need to use your hands, as it's a very thick, stiff dough.
  4. If using spoon molds, fill each indentation about 3/4 of the way to the top, pressing firmly to make sure there are no gaps. For a springform pan, gather the dough into one large ball and press it flat and even across the bottom. Score into thin wedges with a sharp knife.
  5. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
  6. For cookies baked in a springform pan, they may need to be re-scored at this point and baked for another 5 minutes, depending on spread and color.
  7. Let cool completely in the pans.

Notes

Both unbaked dough and finished cookies keep well in the freezer. Baked cookies keep for 2 weeks in an airtight container at room temperature.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

18

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 135 Total Fat: 8g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 6g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 31mg Carbohydrates: 13g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 3g Protein: 2g

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

A Cheesecake for the Ages

Cheesecake as we know it, dense and indulgent, each velvety forkful a marvel of modern baking, has only been around for about a century. That might sound impressive, but when you consider studies finding the concept has been around since at least 2,000 BCE, it’s not even a flash in the pan. Many food historians date the earliest appearance of the treat back to ancient Roman times, with both a sweet and savory version served at the first Olympic games, but the Greeks may in fact take the gold on this one. Molds have been unearthed by anthropologists on the island of Samos dating well in advance of this event, although no one has the recipes or selfies to prove it. Regardless, it wasn’t until the late 1800’s when cream cheese was invented in America that we came to know the  classic dessert as a smooth, sweet, decadent custard gently set atop a cookie crust. What makes for the best cheesecake, however, is still up for debate.

I have no illusions of being able to settle this score once and for all, much like brokering world peace in a day, but I can extend this olive branch that might appeal to the masses: Chocolate and vanilla, harmoniously swirled together yet distinctive and essential as individuals. Thick and properly decadent, but not cloying or heavy. Gently sweetened, satisfying as a single slice with no further accompaniment, and wholly appropriate for any sort of occasion. Not to read too much into this latest evolution of the edible art form, but this may just be history in the making here.

Marbled Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

Chocolate Cookie Crust:

1 3/4 Cups Finely Ground Chocolate Wafer Cookie Crumbs
7 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil, Melted

Cheesecake Filling:

1 12-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
3 8-Ounce Packages Vegan Cream Cheese
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1 Teaspoon Rice Vinegar
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2/3 Cup Bitter-Sweet Chocolate Chips
3 – 4 Tablespoons Chocolate Syrup

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch round springform pan.

Place the cookie crumbs into a medium bowl and pour the melted butter or coconut oil on top, stirring to combine. Using your hands, press the mixture firmly into the bottom of your prepared pan. Set aside.

For the filling, drain the tofu of any excess water and blend it in your food processor or blender until smooth. Add in the cream cheese and blend thoroughly. Scrape down the sides and blend again, ensuring that no lumps remain. Incorporate the sugar, vanilla, vinegar, and salt. Scrape down the sides once more, checking for any concentrated pockets of spice. Blend until the mixture is homogeneous.

Fold in the chocolate chips and pour the whole mixture over your graham cracker crust. Drizzle the chocolate syrup on top and use a thin spatula or knife to swirl it artistically. Tap the whole pan on the counter lightly, to level off the filling and eliminate any air bubbles.

Bake for approximately 80 – 90 minutes, until the sides begin to pull away from the pan and the center still appears to be rather wobbly when tapped. Trust me; it will become firmer in time!

Let cool completely before moving it into the refrigerator (Make sure you have a good quality refrigerator that chills effectively), where I suggest you let it chill for at least 12 to 24 hours before serving. This will allow the flavors to fully develop and intensify.

Makes 12 to 14 Servings

Printable Recipe

Sometimes, You Feel Like a Nut…

And sometimes, you feel like a peanut. A peanut butter cookie, to be more specific. Announcements of new national food “holidays” seem to be getting a bit out of control lately, but this one, National Peanut Butter Cookie Day, gets an easy thumbs up from me. Such a classic treat yet so terribly underappreciated, I’m glad this snack time staple is finally getting a moment in the spotlight. Chewy, crunchy, crispy, creamy, chocolatey, salty, spicy, or even savory, there’s no possible way to go wrong when concocting your own. As a peanut butter lover, I have a considerable cache of recipe options myself.

In a rare doubleheader recipe post, I’ve offered contrasting approaches to the same nutty morsel: a buttery, chocolate-flecked shortbread and thick, bakery-style crosshatched beauties

Way back in 2009, I devised a way to get the maximum peanut flavor out of a minimum of ingredients and effort. Thus, the easiest cookie ever was born! You probably have all of the components in your pantry right now, just waiting to join forces and create instant sweet tooth gratification. 1-2-3 Peanut Butter Cookies are a fool-proof option for both the baker and the eater.

If you’re in the mood for a dessert with a bit of bonus protein and fiber, look no further than these Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies (but PLEASE do look beyond those dreadful old photos.) Red lentils add an unexpected nutrition boost without detracting from the peanut buttery goodness.

What’s your favorite type of peanut butter cookie? Do you have a secret formula, or trusted source? How are you celebrating today?

Crumby, Not Crummy

I love coffee cake, but I take issue with the false promises it makes right from the start. It strikes me as disingenuous to lure in the under-caffeinated with such a title, only to deliver a cinnamon-infused experience. I’ve heard the old argument that it’s simply suggesting how well it pairs with a cup of Joe, but that sounds like a poor excuse for deceptive branding, like “juice” that’s never seen a fruit in its short squeezed life. Coffee cake was an evolution, not an invention, derived from many other styles of baked confections in the early days of sugar cravings all across Europe, which can partially explain the indistinct, ambiguous definition of the form.

Some coffee cakes had fruits, others nuts, some were fashioned as loaves while others rose into towering rings and bundts; the one common factor that united them was the uncanny ability to eat them during a coffee break. Bearing out that logic, there would be some fresh hell to pay if we started calling all types of cookies “snack biscuits.” Can you imagine the anger and confusion that would result from the hangry sweet-toothed eaters receiving dry wafers when they were expecting rich, decadent brownies? That’s not a world I want to live in, quite frankly.

Steering clear of the controversy all together, I much prefer a more accurate headline. for my coffee complement: Crumb cake or struesel cake are equally appropriate. No one can deny that coarse, buttery topping, no matter the flavor nor format, for lack or abundance of additional mix-ins. The issue is far from black and white, contrary to this unconventional expression of the concept.

Inspired by the jar of black tahini remaining in my fridge after a fortuitous visit to the Living Tree Community Foods offices, this particular coffee-free spin on the classic fully embraces and celebrates the very best part of its namesake. Living up to its moniker, unlike so many cakes of yore, the struesel topping is thick, bold and unmistakable.

While we’re disrupting the usual routine anyway, why should cinnamon have all the crumb fun? A touch of cardamom and a hint of lemon complement the nutty notes of sesame throughout, subtle yet unmistakable nuances against the tender crumb.

A strong cup of spiced Turkish coffee would certainly be a welcome accompaniment, but as we’ve established, far from mandatory for maximum enjoyment. Whether you serve your slices with tea, lemonade, or nothing else at all, they will always make good on the promise of a delicious sweet treat.

Black and White Sesame Streusel Cake

Black Sesame Streusel:

1/2 Cup Black Sesame Tahini
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Black Sesame Seeds
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

White Sesame Cake:

1/2 Cup Raw Sesame Tahini
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter, at Room Temperature
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a square 8 x 8-inch baking pan; set aside.

Begin by preparing the streusel topping. In a large bowl, stir together the black tahini, melted vegan butter, and brown sugar until smooth. Add in the flour, sesame seeds, and salt, mixing with a fork to create coarse, chunky crumbs. Set in the refrigerator to chill while focusing on the cake batter next.

Place the raw tahini, vegan butter, sugar, and yogurt into the bowl of your stand mixer and thoroughly cream everything together using the paddle attachment. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, making sure that all the ingredients are incorporated into a homogeneous blend before proceeding.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon together into a separate bowl, whisking to combine. In a small pitcher, stir the non-dairy milk, lemon juice, and vanilla together as well. Add about half of the dry goods into the stand mixer, blending until mostly incorporated. Introduce half of the liquids, continuing to mix at a low speed. Repeat the procedure until both are smoothly blended in. Be careful not to over-beat the batter though; a few errant lumps are perfectly fine.

Smooth the batter into your prepared baking dish. Break up the crumbs with a fork and sprinkle them evenly all over. It may seem like a lot, but you want full coverage here, so don’t hold back.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan before slicing and serving.

Makes 9 – 12 Servings

Printable Recipe