BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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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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Cacao Concerto

To talk of decadent white chocolate treats but withhold all the corresponding recipes would be terribly cruel.

Inspired by the myriad shades of chocolate that color the culinary world, I wanted to create a cookie that celebrated as many facets of these revered beans as possible. Not just in chips or chunks, but in powdered format, and even sticky syrup too. The results came out exceptionally tender, chewy beyond my wildest dreams, and utterly, thoroughly, chocolatey. Though I would never tempt fate to suggest that these darker, richer morsels could replace traditional chocolate chip cookies altogether… Let’s just say that the classics have some serious competition to contend with now.

Chocolate Quartet Cookies

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Natural Cocoa Powder
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips or Chunks
1/4 Cup Vegan White Chocolate Chips
2/3 Cup Natural Chocolate Syrup
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with either parchment paper or silpats.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Add in both kinds of chocolate chips and toss to coat.

Separately, combine the chocolate syrup, oil, and vanilla. Stir well, and then add the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Using a wide spatula, mix just enough to bring the batter together smoothly. Portion out cookies with a medium-sized ice cream scoop, and place them with at least 1 1/2 inches between each cookie on your prepared baking sheet. They spread out to become sizable cookies, so I usually bake about 8 or 9 per sheet.

Flatten them out slightly with lightly moistened hands, and bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until barely browned around the edges and no longer shiny on top. They may looks a bit underdone, but they will continue to bake once removed from the oven, and you want to keep them nice and chewy. Let the cookies rest on the sheets for 10 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Makes 16 – 20 Large Cookies

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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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Lazy Day Luxuries

Browsing through the latest issue of a prominent food magazine, the leading sentence of yet another summer recipe round up grabbed me by the throat. Proclaiming August the “laziest month,” it struck me as a particularly bold declaration, forcing me to consider how plausible such a blanket statement might actually be. When else would we, collectively as a workaholic society, sneak out of the office sooner, take longer siestas, or justify more extended weekend adventures? December would be a close contender, but when you factor in the stress of holidays and family obligations, it’s clearly out of the running. Perhaps they’re right; perhaps August does take the cake for stringing together the most laid-back, unhurried days on the calendar.

So, as July inevitably slips through our fingers, it’s time to batten down the hatches and prepare to seriously take it slow. I’m all about minimal effort resulting in maximum impact, which is why I can’t get enough of The Blender Girl‘s raw key lime pudding.

It first graced my hot and humid east coast kitchen a number of years ago and has become an annual summer staple ever since. It’s baffling that I somehow neglected to include it in my initial review of her brilliant cookbook, but I suppose I was subconsciously saving it for the more languorous days that best suit the no-muss, no-fuss preparation.

I’ve barely done anything to the original formula, which only goes to show what a solid recipe Tess has concocted here. I’ve never gone out of my way to actually use key limes, and yet it still bears a sprightly, zesty flavor thanks to the balance between standard limes and lemons. I’d venture to say that adding a touch of grapefruit to the party might be a delightfully tangy addition, too. It’s a good thing we have the whole month of August ahead of us- I’ll undoubtedly have many more batches of this refreshing raw treat to experiment with.

Raw “Key Lime” Pudding
Modified slightly from The Blender Girl Cookbook by Tess Masters

1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Lime Juice
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
2 Medium-Sized, Ripe Avocados, Pitted and Peeled
2 Medium-Sized, Ripe Bananas, Chopped
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lemon Zest
1 Teaspoon Finely Grated Lime Zest
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

It’s easy enough to figure out how this one comes together, but in case you need some hand-holding, here’s how it all goes down: Throw everything into your blender and process until completely smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the container if needed. Transfer to four individual glasses or ramekins, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, until chilled. Serve the same day to prevent browning.

Makes 4 Servings

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Back to the Roots

A flavor that defies all seasons and locations, root beer is nonetheless inextricably linked to memories of my childhood summers, celebrations both big and small in cozy easy coast suburbs. Reserved for grand finales rather than the accompaniment to a meal, this fizzy elixir would rarely arrive at the party alone. Creamy scoops of ice cream always set those bubbles off in perfect contrast, the pale vanilla dollops slowly melting, melding into the dark sea of syrupy sweetness. If you were lucky, it might all be topped off with a swirl of chocolate syrup; just enough to hint at a cocoa undertone, never so much as to steal the show.

Few desserts have shaped my palate quite like that combination, inspiring a wide range of spin-offs over the years, the most “famous” of which can more or less lay claim to landing my first cookbook deal. No matter how many times root beer re-enters my consciousness, in any sort of shape, I will never grow tired of its unique spices, herbal and earthy in all the right ways.

It’s effortless to infuse root beer flavor into absolutely anything, thanks to the magic of baking extracts and concentrates. Armed with this secret ingredient, I’ve set my sights on another adolescent favorite: The classic rice crispy treat.

Not only is the flavor more mature, but the grains themselves are all grown up. There’s still some rice in there for good measure, but it’s kissed with cocoa, adding a greater depth to the whole conversation. Most notably, tiny flecks of crunchy quinoa cereal and popped sorghum round out the affair, lending a distinctive nuttiness not found in the original invention.

That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more appealing treat for kids and adults alike. Lacking the fancy cereals, this formula will easily work with all rice crispies just as well. Go ahead and play around with your top breakfast cereals, because as it turns out, just about anything light and crunchy will do. Bathed in a binding mixture of root beer and maple syrup, even the most humble of breakfast fodder can be transformed into an ambrosial sweet snack.

Nostalgia is a strong pull for the overall concept, but the flavor itself will bring you back for more, whether you grew up indulging in root beer floats or not.

Popped Root Beer Crispy Treats

2 Cups Crispy Quinoa Cereal
2 Cups Cocoa Crispy Rice Cereal
1 Cup Popped Sorghum
1 1/2 Teaspoons Refined Coconut Oil*
1/2 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
6 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
2 Teaspoons Root Beer Extract

*Opt for refined coconut oil to minimize the coconut flavor, or if you’d prefer, simply use your favorite vegan butter instead.

Line an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease. Combine both cereals and popped sorghum in a large bowl. Set both aside.

Set a medium saucepan over low heat and begin by melting the margarine coconut oil. Once liquefied, add in the maple syrup, sugar, and salt, stirring as needed until the sugar crystals dissolve. Bring the mixture to a steady boil and then cook for an additional 3 – 5 minutes, until it appears to have thickened slightly. Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the root beer extract.

Pour the contents of your saucepan over the dry mix and fold it in carefully but briskly with a wide non-stick spatula, being careful not to crush the cereal.

Pour everything into your prepared pan and gently press it out into an even layer. Let cool completely before cutting into bars.

Makes 10 – 12 Bars

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