BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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No Churn? No Problem!

tIn the heat of the moment, or scorching rays of the sun, as it may be, it’s easy to get carried away. Serial shoppers and gadgeteers alike can relate, getting swept up by the temptation of shiny new toys and tools guaranteed to make life easier, cleaner, brighter, tastier, smarter, or generally yet indefinably better. While ice cream makers are seen as a superfluous luxury good for most casual kitchen creatives, rapidly advancing technology has brought the average entry-level machine down to pocket change territory.  Even for an impulse buy, you could do much greater budgetary damage with just a few fancy umbrella drinks on the beach.


No-Churn Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

As a self-professed ice cream obsessive, it should come as no surprise that I’ll always advocate churning your own frozen treats above all else. Sadly, I’ve come across scores of misinformed folks that think it’s an arduous process, not worth the time or effort, having never been fortunate enough to taste the fruits of that labor themselves. Lacking the proper equipment should no longer be a valid excuse for not diving in, or at least dipping a toe in, to the refreshing world of iced sweet treats.

Believe it or not, any ice cream base can be made without a machine, right here and now, with a wide range of alternative methods at your disposal. Start with a solid recipe and clear out your freezer; your summer is about to get a whole lot cooler.


Carrot Granita

1. The Granita Method: A traditional Italian method of making fruit-based ices much like instant snow cones, this method creates desserts with larger, crunchy ice crystals. That same idea can be used with an ice cream base, and naturally yield smoother, creamier results. Simply prepare your ice cream recipe of choice as directed, and chill thoroughly. Pour out the cold mixture into a baking dish. The exact size is not important, provided it can fit comfortably in your freezer on a flat surface. Don’t chance it and try to balance the pan on top of numerous unequally sized items; trust me, it’s a pain to clean melted and re-frozen liquids from inside a freezer! Simply bear in mind that the larger the pan, the greater surface space the base will have, and the faster it will freeze.

Place your baking dish filled with liquid ice cream base in the freezer, and let it sit for 30 – 45 minutes. At this point, it should begin to freeze around the edges. Take a fork and scrape up those ice crystals into the center. Place it back in the freezer, and repeat this process every 30 minutes or so until the entire contents of the pan has frozen; approximately 2 – 3 hours, depending on the temperature of the freezer and size of the pan. When ready, spoon into glasses and serve immediately, or it will ultimately freeze solidly into once piece.

2. The Cube-and-Crush Method: Easier than the granita method but similar in concept, this approach is much less hands-on, so you can occupy yourself with other projects while the actual freezing takes place. Additionally, this procedure yields ice cream that’s more like a soft serve texture. Pour prepared and thoroughly chilled ice cream base into one or two ice cube trays, and set them on a flat surface in your freezer. Smaller cubes are better, as they’ll freeze faster and put less of a strain on your blender. Allow at least 6 – 8 hours for the ice cream cubes to freeze solidly, but you can prepare them up to this stage a day or two in advance. When the need for ice cream strikes, pop out at least one tray of cubes at a time, and plunk them into your blender or food processor. Begin by pulsing to break them up, and then puree just long enough to get the ice cream smooth and creamy. Be careful not to overdo it, or the entire mixture will melt. Serve immediately.


Citrus Popsicles

3. Popsicle Method: This should be a foreign concept to precisely no one, but an idea worth revisiting. All it takes is chilled ice cream base poured into pop molds and frozen until solid. To get a stick to stand up straight, be sure to insert it about 30 – 45 minutes after first placing the molds in the freezer, so that the mixture has had time to thicken up a bit. If you don’t already own molds, seek those that are BPA-free, or rig your own by lining up paper cups on a baking sheet. Lollipop sticks or wooden popsicle sticks can be found in most craft or kitchen supply stores.

4. Coffee Can/Baggie Method: Although arguably the most involved of all four approaches, this procedure can be a fun activity for a crowd, and especially with young children. It makes the smallest amount of ice cream at a time as well, so you must start with a maximum of only 2 cups (1 cup) of prepared, chilled ice cream base. In addition to the edibles, you will need a cleaned and rinsed coffee can that once held 3 pounds of coffee (gallon baggie), and a second that once held 1 pound of coffee (1-pint baggie). Additionally, you should have at least 1 ½ cups (6 tablespoons) of rock salt, 10 cups of ice cubes, and strong duct tape on hand.

Pour the chilled base into the smaller can, and tape it up tightly. Place it in the larger can, and surround it with salt and ice, layering the two a few scoops at a time. Seal the larger can with duct tape as well, and start rolling! Roll the can on its side, shake it up, or toss it around continuously; anything to keep it moving. The ice cream should be rather soft, but ready to eat in about 20 – 30 minutes.

Even if you can’t spare the cash or counter space for a full-featured ice cream machine, that shouldn’t stop you from chilling out with a double or triple scoop treat this season. Skip the churn, but give it a whirl!

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Batter Up

Dumping, stirring, scooping; it was a hard job. Such were the demands of a fledgling baker, still too young to read the recipe and too small to reach the kitchen counter without the assistance of a stepping stool. Measuring ingredients was a task just slightly more advanced than my skill level, but diligently, carefully, I took pre-portioned scoops of flour and sugar, adding them to the mixing bowl with earnest precision. At the age of five, it was impossible to understand the alchemy that would transform these raw, unappealing components into my favorite treat. The magic started well before the batter ever hit sheet trays, though. Even better than the finished chocolate chip cookies themselves would be the reward for all my painstaking efforts: a lick from the beater or bowl, still coated in unbaked dough.

Golden and slightly granular from the coarse brown sugar, those morsels were the ones I savored most. Though each piece of the appliance was thoroughly scraped before being surrendered for my inspection, more than enough remained to sate my sweet tooth. Looking back, those errant chunks and chips left behind within the tightly coiled metal whisk may not have been so accidental, after all.

A love for cookie dough was fostered at a very young age, from some of my very earliest memories of cooking with my mom. It seems to be a common thread across almost all demographics, even for those who learned to bake later in life, that raw cookie dough evokes a certain nostalgia. Unpretentious, undemanding, its inherent simplicity is all part of the appeal. Especially when the heat of the oven loses its appeal through the steamy summer months, it’s difficult to resist the urge to skip baking when you could just as easily dive in with a spoon.

If you can delay gratification just a little bit longer though, I have an even cooler way to appease those childhood memories. Cookie dough pudding pops, with all the familiar flavors in a creamy, frozen package, may become the new nostalgic sweet treat.

Toasting the flour brings out the subtle nutty, roasted flavors imparted by baking, without the same intense heat. The base is otherwise prepared the same as any other cooked custard, so if you can stir a pot, you can whip up this buttery brown sugar pudding in no time. In fact, you may be tempted to eat the plain pudding prior to its trip to the freezer, and I wouldn’t blame you. Just try to leave a little bit for the popsicles themselves; you’ll be grateful to have them on hand (and in hand) the next time a craving strikes.

Cookie Dough Pudding Pops

1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter, Melted
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Cup Chocolate Chips

Begin by lightly toasting the flour in a dry skillet. Place the skillet over medium heat and continuously, gently stir the flour, until faintly golden brown all over. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup of the non-dairy milk to form a thick paste, beating out any lumps before proceeding. Continue to add in the remaining non-dairy milk and whisk vigorously to smooth out the mixture. Incorporate the sugar, vegan butter, and salt, stirring well. Cook, stirring periodically, until bubbles break regularly on the surface and the liquid has thickened significantly.

Turn off the heat, cool to room temperature, and then let rest in the fridge until thoroughly chilled. Stir in the vanilla and chocolate chips before transferring the mixture to popsicle molds. Place in the freezer and let rest until frozen; at least 3 hours.

Yield will vary depending on the size of your molds.

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What’s in a Name?

One name is pretty standard baggage, if not the bare minimum for informal identification. Whether you’re a fan of your moniker or not, it sure beats yelling out “Hey, you! You with the face!” to command attention from friends and family. We all have at least one good name, and often two, perhaps three, and even a nickname for closer confidants. However, the web of casual connections grows increasingly tangled from there, when a seemingly endless stream of unrelated aliases all point in the same direction. What kind of secrets are hidden behind each different title? Where did all those names come from, and why did they keep relabeling the exact same item?

Sea foam, fairy food, hokey pokey, honeycomb, sponge candy- There could very well be more pseudonyms that I’ve missed, well concealed by this cunning candy. This vintage sweet had taken on a new assumed name with each community of unsuspecting bakers. None were troubled enough to ask many questions, so utterly enchanted by its signature matrix of sugary bubbles, forever frozen at the hard-crack stage, that all other concerns were quickly abandoned.

Though I set out on a mission to uncover the truth, that cause fell by the wayside as I cooked and caramelized, stirred and stewed, bubbled, boiled, and crystallized my very own sweet mystery. If anything, the kitchen enigma I created was even darker, more powerful than the old fashioned candies of yore. Crisp foamy craters redolent of chocolate define this newest incarnation, possessing almost as many forms of cacao as its storied names. There’s cocoa and dark chocolate of course, and cacao nibs for extra crunch, but the real secret ingredient here is chocolate extract. Nothing else is able to convey such a depth of flavor in this fragile ratio of sugars and liquids without collapsing the delicate framework of airy perforations.

I’m no closer to uncovering the true indentity of this culinary chameleon… But I do understand why so many before me have fallen for such a sweet devil without question. Now that I’ve given it yet another name to contend with, the waters of history grow murkier, tinted with the all-consuming powers of chocolate, but that’s far from a bad thing. What’s in a name, anyway?

This post was made possible thanks to Rodelle and their superlative cacao contributions.

Quadruple Chocolate Honeycomb

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
5 Tablespoons Water, Divided
1 Teaspoon White Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Chocolate Extract
2 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
2 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
1 Tablespoon Cacao Nibs

Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper and lightly grease. It doesn’t need to fit perfectly inside the pan, as long as it will cover the bottom and sides without any holes for the liquid candy to escape through.

Combine the sugar, agave, 4 tablespoons of the water, and vinegar in a medium saucepan. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar and place over medium heat. Swirl the pan gently to mix the ingredients as the sugar slowly melts, but avoid stirring from this point forward to prevent premature crystallization.

Meanwhile, mix together the remaining tablespoon of water, cocoa powder, and chocolate extract in a small dish; set aside.

Cook until the mixture caramelized and reaches 300 – 310 degrees, also known as the hard crack stage in candy-making terminology, and remove the pan from the heat. Things will move very quickly from here, so be on your toes. Vigorously stir in the cocoa paste along with the baking soda, allowing the mixture to froth and foam violently. Immediately transfer the liquid candy mixture to your prepared baking dish but do not spread or smooth it down. Allow it to settle naturally to maintain the structure of fine bubbles trapped within.

Let cool for at least 1 hour until fully set. To finish, melt the the dark chocolate in a microwave-safe dish, heating at intervals of 30 seconds and stirring thoroughly in between each one, until completely smooth. Pour over the top and spread it evenly across the surface. Sprinkle with cacao nibs and let rest until solidified. Break the candy into pieces and enjoy.

Sadly, it doesn’t keep well for more than a two or three days at room temperature, even when sealed in an air-tight container, so enjoy without delay!

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Mathematically Impossible Pi

There are “math people,” and then there’s everyone else. Math people breeze through tabulations for group dinners, factoring in precise tip percentages and taking individual drink orders into account, while the rest of us are still fumbling to pull up the calculator app on our phones. Math people relish real-life opportunities to crunch numbers when others can only feebly chew on their finger nails. To me, those skills are a sort of magical, superhuman power that I can only admire from afar, left behind in the dust as soon as we advance beyond basic multiplication and division. Needless to say, I am NOT a math person, but for the enviable folks who are, this day is for you.

Pi Day, March 14, 3.14, is the most mathematically sound day of the year to indulge in a slice of pie. At least that’s what the experts seem to say, and with my shaky analytical understanding, who am I to question the specifics?

Anything beyond the most basic math is an impossibility in my hands, but despite the name, this pie is not. The title merely refers to the way it “impossibly” forms its own crust as it bakes, no pastry needed to support a luscious custard filling. Riffing off my favorite childhood sandwich, stacked thick with gooey marshmallow cream slathered over crunchy peanut butter, this reinterpretation skips the bland bread and gets right to the good stuff. Deceptively simple, it takes little more effort to assemble than the classic school lunch inspiration itself.

Prepare for a decadent peanut butter and marshmallow onslaught; just a small slice will satisfy the most intense cravings, and it doesn’t take a math person to figure that out.

Impossible Fluffernutter Pie

1 Cup Crunchy Peanut Butter
1/2 Cup Vegan Vanilla Yogurt
1/2 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup all-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt*
1/2 Bag (5 Ounces) Dandies Vegan Mini Marshmallows
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Roasted Peanuts

*If you’re using salted peanut butter to begin with, dial back the additional salt or omit entirely, to taste.

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

Whisk together the peanut butter, yogurt, non-dairy milk, vinegar, and vanilla in a small bowl, and set aside. Separately, combine the sugar, flour, arrowroot, baking powder, and salt. Mix thoroughly so that no lumps remain and all of the dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Add in the liquid mixture and stir until smooth.

Pour the batter into your prepared pie pan, and bake for 40 – 45 minutes. It should be set around the edges but quite wobbly in the center, much like a cheesecake. Pile the marshmallows on top in an even layer and return the pie to the oven. Set the broiler to high and cook for just 5 – 10 minutes, until the marshmallows are lightly toasted and golden brown.

Let cool to room temperature before garnishing with peanuts, slicing, and serving.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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A Sweet and Sour Valentine

True love isn’t just pure sweetness, contrary to popular belief. To take such an overly simplified view would miss the whole point of any affair worth having. Like a story without conflict, a relationship that doesn’t face adversity at some point is unlikely to survive. It’s the nuances, the bitter moments and surprising twists, that enhance and further strengthen the attraction. The same should be said of desserts; if one is based purely on sugar and no true substance, it’s not worth eating in the first place. That’s why my Valentine’s Day contribution is quite simple on the surface, but surprisingly complex and perhaps controversial once you dig in deeper.

Lightened with cool, fluffy CocoWhip from So Delicious, this charming frozen souffle is effortless to make. Unlike the traditional baked rendition, there’s no fear of deflation before the lofty treats reach the table, leading to premature heartbreak. Strawberries lend a pretty pink hue, but the first bite proves that this treat is far from child’s play. Tangy balsamic vinegar smacks with acidity and brightness, jarring at first but an unexpectedly satisfying contrast to the fruity jam. The combined flavors linger, hauntingly, temptingly, long after dessert spoons have been licked clean.

Prepare to fall in love- Deep, unforgettable, true love. Valentine’s Day isn’t just for couples, but for those seeking a bit of bitter-sweet complexity in their lives, too. After experiencing it once for yourself, it’s hard to imagine being satisfied with anything else.

This post is sponsored by So Delicious Dairy Free, inspired by their 21-Day Dairy-free Challenge and is part of the Dairy-Free Menu Plan event hosted by Go Dairy Free. Stay tuned for a full week menu plan coming to Go Dairy Free at the end of the challenge, crafted by a dozen creative bloggers ditching dairy.

Frozen Strawberry-Balsamic Souffle

1/2 Cup Seedless Strawberry Jam
1/4 Cup So Delicious Coconut Milk Strawberry Yogurt
1/4 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
2 Teaspoons Balsamic Glaze or Reduction
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Original So Delicious CocoWhip

To Serve:

Original So Delicious CocoWhip
Fresh Strawberries, Sliced

Set out three 4-Ounce ramekins on a small tray to more easily maneuver them in and out of the freezer. Cut three strips of aluminum foil or parchment to fit comfortably inside each ramekin, extending a above the rim by about 2 inches. Tape the strips to ensure that they stay in place. Lightly grease and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the jam, yogurt, sugar, balsamic glaze, and salt. Once smooth, add about half of the CocoWhip, mixing to incorporate. Fold in the remaining half more gently, keeping it as light and fluffy as possible.

Spoon the mixture into your prepared ramekins, dividing it equally between the three and smoothing out the tops. Place the ramekins into the freezer on a level surface, and allow them to rest, undisturbed, for at least three hours or until set.

Remove from freezer 10 minutes before serving. Remove parchment collars and garnish with additional CocoWhip sliced strawberries, if desired.

Makes 3 Servings

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Layered in Sweet History

Towering stacks of gossamer-thin pastry, impossibly crisp and glistening with sticky syrup gleam from within bakery cases across the globe. Though typically full to bursting with crisp walnuts and warm spices, baklava is no stranger to alternative approaches. Considering the fact that it’s been at the mercy of creative bakers for centuries, this well-loved treat has managed to maintain its core identity far better than most, thanks in no small part to its sheer simplicity.

All you need is phyllo dough and a bit of patience to bring any dessert-lover to their knees. Swapping in pistachios for the filling is my favorite twist, inspired by my dad’s equal distaste for walnuts and love for pistachios, but this is a new rendition that he can endorse as well. Toasted coconut adds tropical flare without venturing too far into the dangerous waters of “fusion” cuisine. Sweet cinnamon and floral syrup closely reminiscent of honey bring familiar flavors back into the fold, sure to satisfy traditionalist and more adventurous eaters alike.

Coconut Baklava

Syrup:

1 Cup Water
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Orange Blossom Water
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Filling:

4 Cups Shredded, Unsweetened Coconut, Toasted
3/4 Cup Raw Cashew Pieces, Roughly Chopped
1/2 Cup Coconut Sugar or Turbinado Sugar
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt

For Assembly:

1 (1-Pound) Box Frozen Phyllo Dough, Thawed
1/2 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted

Make sure that your phyllo dough is completely before beginning. Keep it covered with a lightly moistened kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Prepare the syrup first so it has time to cool. This can also be made well in advance, as it will keep almost indefinitely in an air-tight container. Simply combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook just until the sugar has fully dissolved; set aside.

Moving on to the filling, briefly pulse the coconut and cashews in your blender or food processor to achieve a coarse grind while still allowing the mixture to remain very rough and chunky. Transfer to a large bowl and mix with the sugar, cinnamon, and salt.

Cut (or tear) the phyllo so that it will fit into the bottom of your prepared baking pan. It is okay if the pieces overlap a little. Begin by laying down one sheet and brushing the pastry with melted coconut oil. Add another sheet of phyllo once the first is lightly but thoroughly coated. Brush the second sheet with coconut oil. Repeat these steps up to 4 times to create a phyllo layer; the exact number is up to you. After applying the coconut oil to the last sheet in your first phyllo layer, sprinkle it evenly with the nut mixture. Repeat the entire process to create a second layer of phyllo, followed by another layer of the nuts. Continue this pattern until you run out of the dry ingredients, ending with layers of pastry on top.

Before placing the baklava in the oven, pre-cut the little triangles, or, if you are not feeling so handy with a knife, little squares are just fine. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes, until golden brown and slightly crispy-looking, but watch to make sure that the edges do not burn. Cover the pan with foil to prevent overcooking, if needed.

Pour the warm syrup all over over the baked pastry. It may look excessive, but it will all soak in over time. Allow the baklava to cool for at least an hour or two before slicing and serving.

Makes 24 Triangles

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Nothing Bundt Chocolate

Despite the recent influx of chocolate-covered features here on BitterSweet, I swear the trend is entirely unintentional. Given the festive season that’s upon us, I’d much rather share treats infused with bright spices, sweet winter fruits, and hearty whole grains. The catch here is that I’m typically not baking for myself, but for others, and there are quite a few picky eaters on my list. While you can never please everyone, you can bet I’m still going to try.

Thus, most nuts and dried fruits are out. Anise and clove are incredibly polarizing flavors. Nothing with booze for the staunch non-drinkers. Vegetable-haters object loudly to pumpkin in any format, which means that butternut and sweet potatoes are also out. What, then, is left in the average baker’s arsenal?

Chocolate. Everyone loves chocolate, aside from liars and the mentally unstable. This one is nothing new, and in fact, is quite a throw back. Pilfered from my mother’s recipe box on a recent visit, this classic chocolate cake is brought to you by my Great Nana Blanche. I never met the woman, but clearly, she knew how to cook for a crowd. Easily modified to yield layers, cupcakes, or a bundt, the basic formula never disappoints.

If you’re also going crazy trying to make something special for a number of picky eaters, take a hint from the classics. Sometimes, you just can’t beat a tried-and-true, old-fashioned chocolate cake. There’s a reason why those recipes have survived through so many years.

Great Nana Blanche’s Sour Cream Chocolate Cake (Veganized)

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Vegan Sour Cream
1/4 Cup Plain Vegan Yogurt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Hot Water

Simple Chocolate Glaze (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease your baking vessel of choice.*

In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the vegan butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Add in the sour cream, yogurt, and vanilla, mixing until homogeneous. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed to ensure that all the ingredients are fully incorporated.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the hot water. Mix just until smooth.

*You have many options for the final shape of this cake, and all are equally delicious! Simply adjust the baking time accordingly:

9×5 loaf pan = 45 – 50 minutes
12 – 14 cupcakes = 16 – 18 minutes
8 layer cake round = 30 – 35 minutes
10-cup bundt pan = doubled recipe, baked for 60 – 70 minutes
6 – 8 mini bundts = 20 – 25 minutes

Let cool completely before glazing, if desired.

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