All For One, One For Allulose

Light as air, crisp, and sweet, the best sort of meringue is one that is so ephemeral, it barely even casts a shadow. Disappearing instantly into a whisper of vanilla, a kiss of marshmallow, a whole batch could melt away in the blink of an eye, with or without the assistance of a a second eater. Made of little more than aquafaba and sugar, these pristine white clouds might have well descended straight down from heaven. How could a food so divine, so pure, possibly become further enlightened? Try switching out the sweetener.

A feat of modern baking, an eggless, sugarless meringue is not only conceivable, but is incredibly gratifying both to make and devour. This edible marvel is possible all because of allulose.

Allulose is a naturally occurring monosaccharide, just like glucose (sugar found in blood) and fructose (sugar found in fruit.) It’s simply harder to find, popping up in minute quantities in a very limited range of foods, such as figs, raisins, and jackfruit, although it’s typically produced on a commercial scale from corn. It’s also more difficult for the human body to process as energy, endowing it with a remarkably low caloric impact. While sweetness is subjective, the general consensus is that allulose is only about 70% as sweet as granulated white sugar.

Inspired by the Keystone Pantry Allulose Blogger Recipe Challenge, my goal was to create a winning combination of flavor and flair, of course, while putting this innovative ingredient to the ultimate test. In a recipe where there’s nowhere to hide, could allulose stand at firm peaks, before and after the battery of the oven’s blast?

If not for the photographic evidence, even I would have a hard time believing this wildly successful operation, long after the subjects have been annihilated. Personal pavlovas, miniature rafts of meringue carrying precious cargo in the form of whipped coconut cream and fresh golden raspberries, are guaranteed to drop jaws as they float on by. Completely allergen-free, diabetic-friendly, and universally appealing, I can think of no dessert more angelic. Not even old-fashioned angel food cake can hold a candle to this sinless sweet treat.

For more inspiration and information about allulose, check out Lang’s Chocolate and Keystone Pantry products on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Angel Nests

Meringue Nests:

1/3 Cup Aquafaba, Chilled
2/3 Cup Keystone Pantry Allulose
1 Teaspoon Tapioca Starch
1/2 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1/8 Teaspoon Xanthan Gum
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Whipped Topping and Garnish:

1 (14-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk, Chilled
1 Tablespoon Keystone Pantry Allulose
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Fresh Berries
Edible Glitter (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.

Pour the aquafaba into the bowl of your stand mixer and begin beating on moderate speed with the whisk attachment installed. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine the allulose, tapioca starch, cream of tartar, and xanthan gum, stirring thoroughly to integrate all the dry goods.

Once the aquafaba has built up a sturdy froth and almost doubled in size, increase the speed to high, and very slowly begin to sift the dry mixture into the mixer bowl while the motor runs. Add just about a tablespoon at a time, to allow the foam structure to develop. Continue to beat at full speed for until stiff, glossy peaks form and can hold their shape. This could take 10 – 15 minutes in all. Fold in the vanilla last, being very gentle so as not to pop that fine matrix of bubbles you just worked so hard to build.

Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe out round bases about 2 – 3 inches in diameter, building up the outer walls with an extra layer of meringue, creating a nest with space in the center for filling. Repeat until the meringue is used up.

Bake at 250 degrees for two hours before rotating the sheets and dropping the temperature down to 200 degrees. Bake for an additional 2 – 2 1/2 hours, until evenly golden all over, dry to the touch, but just slightly soft still. Turn off the heat, leave the nests in the oven, and leave the door ajar. Let cool completely before proceeding.

To make the coconut whipped cream, carefully open the chilled can of coconut milk, being sure not to shake it, and scoop off the top layer of thick coconut cream. Save the watery liquid left behind for another recipe (it’s great in curries or soups!) Place the coconut cream in the bowl of your stand mixer and install the whisk attachment. Whip on high speed for about 3 minutes before slowly beginning to sprinkle in the allulose, just a little bit at a time. Continue beating the mixture for up to 10 minutes, until light and fluffy. Finally, fold in the vanilla extract; keep refrigerated until ready to use.

When ready to serve, spoon dollops of whipped coconut cream into the center of each nest. Top with fresh berries and just a touch of edible glitter, if desired. Eat immediately, before they float away!

Makes 8 – 12 Personal Pavlovas

Printable Recipe

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Few fruits are more loaded with symbolism than the common, everyday apple. Johnny Appleseed planted the trees straight into early American culture, likely with little more than basic sustenance in mind, but their importance goes far deeper than those shallow roots. Well before that, the Greeks associated the apple with Aphrodite,
the goddess of Love. The Christian mythology of Adam and Eve is well known, ascribing both great and terrible wisdom to the humble apple, the catalyst for the creation of civilization as we know it.

Those are some pretty weighty claims for such a simple, sweet little morsel. While a bite of one perfectly crisp, tart Fuji can feel like a moment of temporary enlightenment, sweetness, and all the comforting, optimistic, uplifting sentiments that go with it, are my ultimate takeaway. Enjoying apples on Rosh Hashanah in hopes of assuring a sweet New Year ahead feels almost redundant, almost too obvious, but still too good to question.

Thick slices of freshly harvested apples, lavished with an golden drizzle of thick honey, always stood at attention on the festive dinner table, waiting for takers. Even when darker, more robust maple syrup was offered alongside, those pale slivers sat as little more than those iconic symbols. A nice thought, a hospitable offering of well wishes, but not an actual appetizer, or palate cleanser- And certainly not dessert.

Given the abundance of apples all across the globe and their rich tradition in almost all cultures, it’s hard to come up with a truly original treat for Rosh Hashanah. I still can’t claim to have done so, but the last thing I want to serve is another standard-issue apple pie or apple cobbler. While I wouldn’t turn up my nose at either given the chance to serve myself, there are simply more decadent things I crave… Like apple fritters.

Doughnuts are hit-and-miss affairs, only good for the first hour or so out of the vat of hot oil. Their texture declines exponentially with every passing minute after that, and don’t get me started about the logistics of making enough for a crowd. To satisfying this particular, powerful longing, it was straight to the oven for me.

Sweet yeasted dough, rich enough to pass for challah, swaddles tender chunks of lightly simmered and spiced apples, prepared just as it might be for your typical deep fried function. After the usual chopping and division, however, these pieces are reunited in one large cake pan and baked together, emerging from the oven as one grand, show-stopping dessert fit for a crowd.

To keep more closely with tradition, the torte could be just as easily finished with a drizzle of vegan honey, agave, or maple syrup, but a simple vanilla bean glaze takes it over the top for me, more closely echoing its original doughnut inspiration.

Read whatever deeper meaning that you may, but there’s no questioning one thing about this latest twist in the apple saga: These are symbols that are meant to be eaten. Prepare to go home with an empty pan after this particularly sweet holiday.

Apple Fritter Torte

Torte Dough:

2 1/2 – 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Active Dry yeast
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
6 Tablespoons Warm Water
6 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted and Divided

Cinnamon-Apple Filling:

2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Large Fuji Apples, Peeled, Cored, and Diced
1 Teaspoon Tapioca Starch

Vanilla Bean Glaze:

1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the 2 1/2 cups of the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, yeast, aquafaba, lemon zest, and water. Beat on a medium speed for 5 – 8 minutes, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl and forms a soft, slightly sticky ball. Slowly add more flour, just a tablespoon at a time, to get it to a workable consistency. It should still be very tacky, and not as firm as bread dough. Allow the dough to rest for a minute.

Start the mixer again on low speed and slowly drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the melted butter, about a teaspoon at a time. Once fully incorporated incorporated, continue to knead with the hook attachment for about 5 minutes, until glossy, smooth, and elastic. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the apple filling by heating the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the cinnamon and sugar, cooking until dissolved. Introduce the apples, reduce the heat to medium low, and gently simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until fork-tender. Sprinkle the starch evenly over the mixture and quickly incorporate, whisking out any lumps. Cook just until slightly thickened and turn off the heat. Cool completely before using.

After the dough has properly rested, turn it out onto a floured surface and roll it into a large rectangle. Don’t sweat the actual size; just aim for about 1/4-inch thickness. Spoon the apple filling down half, lengthwise, and fold over the dough, pinching the edges together to seal. Use a very sharp knife to cut the skinny rectangle into 1-inch strips, and then cut those strips diagonally. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry! I made a fancy diagram in Paint to help you out:

And yes, it will be an absolutely terrific mess.

Fear not! Gather up all the pieces and press them into a lightly-greased 9-inch round springform pan. Let rest and rise for 1 hour, and in the meantime, begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes, until amber brown all over; just a shade darker than simply “golden.”

Prepare the glaze by whisking together all the ingredients, adding just enough water to reach your desired consistency.

Cool the torte for at least 25 minutes before serving, but don’t let it sit too long! It’s best served warm, with the vanilla bean glaze lavished on top just prior to slicing.

Makes 14 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe

Noodling Beyond Pho

Plumes of stream erupt in the dining room as waiters hurriedly scuttle oversized bowls from the kitchen to waiting eaters. Each one large enough for a small child to bathe in, filled to the brim with boiling hot broth and vermicelli noodles, each portion is like a self-contained bottomless buffet. No appetite can rise to the challenge, despite the compulsively slurpable soup, explosive with fresh chilies, redolent with bright lemongrass and fresh cilantro. You’d think this wildly popular order was something highly recognizable like pho, but you’d be wrong. Bún riêu, Vietnamese crab noodle soup, is the worst kept secret that the Western world is just catching onto.

Complicated to prepare, most recipes lay claim to over two dozen components for the soup base, let alone the additional garnishes that finish each bubbling cauldron. Given that difficulty and the expense of such luxurious ingredients, Bún riêu would typically be reserved for special occasions, but that distinction has faded with increased prosperity and accessibility. Still, if you’re hoping for a meatless facsimile when dining out, you’d be more likely to get struck by lighting on the way out to the restaurant. Few chefs see vegetarian alternatives for the distinctive texture and flavor of fresh crab… But they’ve clearly never experienced fresh yuba.

Since dreaming up this sweet-and-sour brew, I’ve come to realize how much more potential there is to play with substituting jackfruit, simmered until meltingly tender, should Hikiage Yuba remain out of reach. Standard tofu puffs, found in most Asian markets, can stand in for the more highly seasoned nuggets as well. Worst comes to worst, should all grocery stores fall short, you could simply saute some standard firm tofu until crisp on all sides and toss it into the broth. The only mistake here would be thinking that pho is the only spicy noodle soup to savor, without getting a taste of this hot rival.

Bún Riêu Chay (Vegetarian Vietnamese Crab Soup)

Soup Base:

2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
2 Medium Shallots, Diced
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3.5 Ounces Fresh Oyster Mushrooms, Roughly Chopped
1 (14-Ounce)Can Diced Tomatoes
1/4 Cup Pineapple Juice
2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
1 Tablespoon Light Soy Sauce
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
4 Cups Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock

Toppings:

8 Ounces Thin Rice Noodles, Cooked, Drained, and Rinsed with Cold Water
8 Ounces Hodo Hikiage Yuba
8 Ounces Hodo Soy Five-Spice Tofu Nuggets
1/4 Cup Crispy Fried Onions
1/2 Cup Fresh Mint and/or Basil
3 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1 1/2 Cups Fresh Bean Sprouts

Set a large stock pot over medium heat on the stove and begin by melting the coconut oil. Once shimmering, add the shallots, garlic, and mushrooms, sauteing until aromatic and tender. When the vegetables begin to just barely take on color, introduce the tomatoes and pineapple juice, scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing sticks. Simmer for about 10 minutes before adding in the vegan fish sauce, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, and vegetable stock. Cover and simmer for another 20 – 30 minutes for the flavors to mingle and meld. The soup base can be made up to 4 days in advance, when properly cooled and kept in an airtight container in the fridge.

To serve, simply divide the noodles, yuba, and tofu nuggets equally between 4 – 6 bowls, depending on how hungry you and your guests are. Top with a generous portion of broth, and pass around the crispy onions, mint and/or basil, scallions, and bean sprouts at the table, allowing each person to garnish their bowlful as desired. Slurp it up immediately, while steaming hot!

Makes 4 – 6 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, 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

Thrill of the Grill

Labor Day is right around the corner, signifying the dwindling days of summer while offering one last chance to celebrate. That means it’s time to gather up all your friends, neighbors, and coworkers, throw down an ice bucket packed with refreshing beverages, and uncloak that glorious grill in the heat of the midday sun. It’s your last best chance to fire that baby up, so make it count!

I’m probably the last person to ask about expert grilling practices, but I’d like to think that my novice status is actually my greatest asset here. I’m not about to pull some crazy, unreasonable, daredevil tricks when the metal grates get hot and the smoke starts blowing. While I can’t weigh in on the timeless debate of gas vs. charcoal, steering clear of debates over specific fuels or equipment, it shouldn’t be so complicated just to start a fire and get cooking outdoors. No matter what that means to you, even if the party gets rained out and you use a simple grill pan over the stove instead, it’s still important to start searing and making a mark!

Speaking of which, there are a few key principles to remember for emblazoning perfect stripes every time:

1. Start with a VERY hot grill. Give it at least 15 minutes, if not 25, to preheat before lubing up. If the food is par-cooked or semi-cooked (like meatless hotdogs or burgers, fruits or softer veggies,) aim for about 400 degrees.

2. Grease well to prevent sticking but do NOT use an aerosol non-stick spray over a hot grill! Trust me, you don’t want to light your backyard up like a torch here. Opt for an oil with a high smoke point, like rice bran oil, avocado oil, or peanut oil.

3. Don’t walk away, but don’t fuss with your feast either. Once you throw something on the hot grates, leave them there! Don’t start pushing them around, flipping again and again, repositioning them closer or farther apart. To leave a dark, solid mark, you need to allow full, uninterrupted contact. Yes, the food does still need to be turned over to even cooking, but just once, and only after a solid 5 minutes at minimum.

4. Use tongs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chased around ears of corn with a flat spatula because I was too stubborn to go back inside to get the right utensils. Seriously, save yourself the frustration, potential burns, and charred food. Just use the right tools for the job.

5. Go ahead and grill EVERYTHING! Once you’ve made the effort of dragging that beast out of storage, cleaning it up, and bringing it back to life, keep it busy from noon to night. Grill your tofu pups and corn on the cob, of course, but don’t stop there. Grill the buns! Grill the avocados! Grill pineapples and watermelon for a palate cleanser! Keep the party going and grill s’mores for dessert! Heck, if you’ve still got fire to burn and time to spare, grill any leftover veggies in the fridge to start meal prep for the coming week. After all, Labor Day is but a short respite from the daily grind… It’s right back to work tomorrow, ready or not.

Do you have any simple grilling secrets to share? I’m all ears, and not just with yellow kernels of corn. There’s a wide world of charbroiled delights to discover; I’m just getting started.

Many thanks to LightLife for simply providing meatless dogs to inspire this post. All content remains my own original creations, free of bias, and dedicated to an honest appreciation of cruelty-free food.