All It’s Choc-ed Up To Be

Walk two steps into your average supermarket, corner store, or pharmacy, and you’re liable to trip over a stand of assorted chocolate temptations. The field has grown at an exponential rate ever since the first bite of tempered cacao passed through discerning lips, and that explosive growth shows no sign of slowing down. It’s impossible to keep up with all the new varieties proliferating from old favorites, let alone stay in the loop about fledgling brands. Any reasonable person can at least appreciate a good square of chocolate, so it doesn’t take much to explain the steady upward trend.

Valentine’s Day is a particularly good excuse to single out some exceptional chocolate options, should you need a reason to indulge in the first place. Gourmet truffles represent the height of the art form, but for the more casual chocoholic, a whole world of superlative bars now exist within easy reach, right on shelves alongside more accessible sweets.

Better known for their whole grains, Alter Eco has colored countless meals with their rainbow of quinoa options, but also pours that same passion for quality into their chocolate molds. Carefully, consciously sourced in order to support the farmers and workers contributing to every step of the process, it’s a brand I feel especially proud to call local to the San Francisco bay area. They truly put their money where their mouth is… In between bites of luscious cacao, of course.

Not all their confections are vegan, but the dairy-free options are so dark, rich, and deeply satisfying that it’s hard to understand why they would need such a crutch at all. Look no further than the Quinoa, Mint, and Orange varieties to see for yourself.

Move over Crunch and Crackle! The most unique option of the three, popped quinoa offers all the crispy texture you love, with the sophisticated, slightly bitter chocolate you crave. Just sweet enough to take the edge off, it’s the darkest of these three, which makes even a tiny shard quite satisfying. The quinoa adds very little flavor, but big visual and textural impact. You get all the whimsy of a childhood classic but with serious chocolate taste.

Mint chocolate is perhaps one of the most perfect flavor marriages in my mind, and this rendition does not disappoint. Luscious herbal aroma perfumes the air as soon as the seal is broken, revealing a flawlessly molded bar. Tempered to a crisp snap, it has a smooth, creamy melt with a refreshing, bright, but not overpowering undercurrent of mint. Well-balanced sweetness highlights the fresh flavor while rounding out the chocolate profile.

Substantial, chunky pieces of candied zest immediately gleam across the surface of the orange twist bar. Subtly smoky, woodsy chocolate lends a more earthy essence to contrast with the bold taste of citrus. The orange itself is relatively subdued, but still clean and fresh. Those whole pieces are the best element, adding a bit of chew and excitement into the experience.

Even bad chocolate is generally pretty good, but with so many exceptional options to choose from now, why settle for second rate? It doesn’t need to be a special occasion to indulge in any of these delights.

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Tapping into Maple Treats

Far from revolutionary yet uncommonly combined, the idea of sweetening a simple latte with maple syrup stopped me in my tracks. Hustling downtown from one errand to the next, I practically tripped over the sidewalk sandwich board touting the debut of a “salted maple latte,” mercifully indicating an end to Pumpkin Spice season. Trying to play off my ungraceful footwork like a premeditated pause, I took a small detour to squint into the open cafe window, as if I might catch sight of this mystical creation, to no avail. Short on time but long on tasks, I had no choice but to continue ahead as planned, latte-less.

All day and later that night, I still couldn’t shake visions of coffee and maple from my head. That final suggestion of a subtly salty finish truly sealed the deal. While undeniably appealing as a quick-fix caffeine infusion, it didn’t take long for me to realize the potential for baked good conversion.

Consider this the grown-up take on this nostalgic chewy cookie; a bit more edgy than its simple cinnamon-scented origins, occasionally salty, crisp on the outside but still soft and supple in the center. Pure maple syrup provides a comforting woodsy undercurrent, perfectly paired with the more earthy notes of strong coffee, concentrated down into powdered format. I daresay one perfectly chewy cookie easily outshines a whole round of foamy coffee shop drinks- No baristas necessary.

Salted Maple Latte Snickerdoodles

Salted Maple Latte Cookies:

1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/3 Cup 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Maple-Cinnamon Sugar:

1/4 Cup Maple Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Coarse or Kosher Salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, instant coffee, baking powder, and salt so that all of the dry goods are evenly distributed throughout the mixture. Separately, combine the sugar, maple syrup, melted vegan butter, 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.

Mix together the ingredients for the maple-cinnamon sugar in a small dish. Use a medium ice cream scoop to portion out the cookie dough, and drop each ball one at a time into the sugar mixture. It’s a very soft dough so just toss lightly to coat. Once evenly covered, place them with at least 1 1/2 between each cookie on your prepared baking sheet. They spread out to become sizable cookies, so leave a generous amount of space all around.

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 8 – 10 Large Cookies

Printable Recipe

The Passover Problem

Every year, it’s the same thing; Endless sheets of dry, bland matzo, and very little else.

Passover is not a fun holiday by any stretch of the imagination, having much more to do with loss and suffering than celebration, but I still don’t see why it must always be a miserable week to endure. I’m far from religious, and will readily admit that I do not keep kosher for the whole week, but I do participate in the family Seder and as always, am responsible for an appropriate and delicious dessert.

In this case, it means no barley, wheat, rye, oats, spelt, corn, rice, peanuts, legumes, and leavening in general. As if it wasn’t tough enough being a vegan at a family dinner! This is why I don’t typically continue to observe beyond that one meal, because I value my health and personally can’t maintain a balanced diet with such limitations.

But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and it’s certainly easy enough to brainstorm a solid sweet ending for Seder. In my case, I’m planning on making tartlettes with a toasted coconut crust, and filling them with the lemon curd from My Sweet Vegan, but more on that later.

Your best bet is to rely on fruits and nuts- Go very simply with poached pears, or try some variation of panna cotta subbing in coconut yogurt for the soy (and the sky’s the limit when it comes to flavors) which you could pair with a fresh fruit sauce. Whip up a simple mousse in no time, or a frozen delight like pumpkin ice cream is sure to end the dinner on a sweet note.

If all else fails, many candies are very simple and naturally kosher for Passover, such as peanut butter and peppermint cups, fudge, or an all-time favorite in my household, the matzah toffee, as pictured above, from my cookbook. So simple and crowd-pleasing that even my omnivore mom volunteered to make it this year, it’s one sweet treat that we always have on hand to beat the Passover blues.

While it may be trying to keep kosher, everything will be just fine if you can whip up a batch (or two, or three…) of this stuff. Even if you don’t celebrate Passover, you may want to pick up a box or two of matzah while it’s on the market now; You’ll want to make it all year round!

Yield: Makes 2 Pounds of Candy

Matzah Toffee

Matzah Toffee

Buttery golden-brown toffee shatters on top of crisp matzo boards, smothered with a soft layer of dark chocolate. It's an essential staple for Passover, but so addictive that you'll want to make it all year long.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 – 5 Sheets Matzah, to Fit Pan
  • 1 Cup Vegan Butter
  • 1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 12 Ounces (2 Cups) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 1/3 Cup Sliced Almonds (Optional)
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Flaky Sea Salt (Optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 450ºF (230ºC) and line a 15 x 10-inch jellyroll pan, or other shallow pan, with matzah sheets. Arrange them to cover the bottom evenly, overlapping just slightly; you may need to break them to do so.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, brown sugar, and salt together, bringing them to a slow boil. Maintain a gentle boil without stirring for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour the molten sugar mixture over the matzah and spread evenly. Bake in the oven for 4 minutes and remove carefully.
  3. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the matzah, then return the pan to your oven for another 30 to 60 seconds. After it comes out of the oven for this second time, use a flat, heat-safe spatula to gently spread the melted chocolate so that it covers the top as completely as possible. Sprinkle evenly with sliced almonds and/or sea salt, if desired.
  4. Let the matzah toffee cool to room temperature, leaving it undisturbed until it has completely solidified. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.



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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

24

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 218Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 20mgSodium: 109mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 2gSugar: 19gProtein: 2g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.