Gluten-Free Blueberry and Cherry Bars

gluten free blueberry and cherry bars
gluten free blueberry and cherry bars

On a hot summer day, it’s nice to have an easy dessert recipe. Turning on the oven can take all of your energy, so slaving over a complicated treat is not welcome. Sometimes scooping out individual servings or cookies can be just too tiring. That’s when bar cookies come to the rescue. Mix, pour into a pan, bake, cool, and cut.

The bar cookie recipe I found was fruity (yay!), and I decided to make it gluten-free to share with friends (yay, again!). It was already vegan, and high altitude wasn’t much of an issue, so I subbed gluten-free ingredients, mixed up the fruit choices, and added a decadent icing. Now I had a dessert that was not only easy, but bursting with flavor and allergy-friendly goodness.

Gluten-Free Blueberry and Cherry Bars adapted from Blueberry Crumble Bars

1.75 cups gluten-free flour blend
1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup organic sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup vegan margarine, room temperature and cut into slices
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup + 4 teaspoons nondairy milk, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup frozen cherries, chopped into quarters
1/4 cup organic sugar
2 tablespoons potato starch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 cup organic confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8 x 8-inch pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, including an overhang of a few inches on two opposite sides.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, oats, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt to combine. In a medium bowl, combine the margarine, oil, 1/4 cup milk, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until mixed but with a few small clumps.

dry ingredients for blueberry cherry bars
dry ingredients for blueberry cherry bars

In a small bowl, gently combine the blueberries, cherries, 1/4 cup sugar, potato starch, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

Using your hands, press three-quarters of the dough mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the coated fruit evenly on top of the dough. Sprinkle the remaining dough over the fruit layer. Bake for 50 minutes, until the top is crisp and bubbly. Place pan on a wire rack to let cool completely.

Meanwhile, make an icing by whisking the confectioner’s sugar over a bowl. Stir in the 4 teaspoons milk until well combined. When the bars have cooled, drizzle the icing over the bars. Then use the parchment paper overhand to lift the bars out of the pan and place on a cutting board. Cut into squares, and store in an airtight container.

Until next time, happy baking!

Gluten-Free Marshmallow-Studded Cookies

gluten-free marshmallow studded cookies
gluten-free marshmallow studded cookies

Marshmallows and chocolate — what a yummy combination. Just thinking of them reminds me of summer parties with marshmallows made oooey gooey from time spent over a fire’s flame. Add a graham cracker or two with a chocolate square and you have s’mores. Or you can bake these cookies in the oven for a similar tasting but easier to make treat.

I discovered a vegan cookie recipe with these flavors that I could make gluten-free and adapt to my circumstances. Aquafaba was used to make a super flax egg for extra moisture and structure that is lacking at high altitude and in many gluten-free desserts. Also, I made sure to use baking powder to help activate the dutch-processed cocoa powder. The last change made to add extra rise was to use vegan butter that was not melted. The result was a chewy cookie with a crisp exterior.

My gluten-free testers raved about the cookie. One said that each bite was a different combination of tastes and flavors, while another said it was the best cookie she ever had. Not too shabby for a gluten-free and vegan treat baked at high altitude.

Gluten-Free Marshmallow-Studded Cookies adapted from Chocolate Marshmallow Cookies

1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
3 tablespoons aquafaba
1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour blend
1/2 cup dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup vegan butter
1 cup vegan sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons non-dairy milk
1 cup vegan chocolate chips
1 cup vegan marshmallows, chopped large or unchopped minis

Preheat oven to 350F and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together flaxseed and aquafaba and set aside to thicken.

In a bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place vegan butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, and combine on medium-high speed. Add flax mixture, vanilla, and non-dairy milk, and combine on medium speed until the batter is soft and smooth. Add dry ingredients and beat to combine. Add chocolate chips and marshmallows and stir with a spoon to combine.

Scoop up 2 tablespoons of batter at a time and roll into a ball. Place each ball on a baking sheet and flatten slightly with the heel of your hand. Bake for 12-13 minutes, one tray at a time, rotating halfway through bake time. Let cool on the baking sheet for five minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. They may seem too soft, but will become firm and crisp as they cool. Do not store airtight or they will get soggy. Yield: 24-26 cookies.

Until next time, happy baking and happy 4th of July!

Brown Sugar Rice Krispie Treats

brown sugar rice krispie treats
brown sugar rice krispie treats

With temperatures hovering around 100F I vowed not to turn on the oven. That meant no baking of any kind, including that of tasty desserts. Still I was craving a yummy snack so I turned to the classic Rice Krispie Treats. After the ingredients spend a short time in a saucepan and then a mixing bowl, they transform into a cool and decadent pleasure.

I have offered various versions of this in the past, but I delved deep into my archives to find a brown sugar cereal bar. The website I retrieved it from is defunct, so I am glad to share my take on these Krispie Bars. The recipe was already vegan and needed no high altitude adjustments. The changes made were to adapt the ingredient amounts for my tastes, including the addition of chocolate chips. These cereal bars taste a bit caramely, a bit marshmallowy, a bit chocolatey, and a whole lot of delicious.

Brown Sugar Rice Krispie Treats

2.5 cups brown rice crisps cereal
2 TBS + 2.5 tsp light brown sugar, packed
1 TBS almond milk
1/8 tsp sea salt
2 TBS vegan margarine or coconut oil, plus extra to grease the pan
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
5 oz (or 14 large) vegan marshmallows
1/4 cup mini vegan chocolate chips

Line and grease an 8 x 8” pan with foil, leaving an overhang to help lift the finished bars from the pan. Pour the cereal into a large bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan, over medium-low, heat the brown sugar, milk, salt, and 1 TBS margarine. Cook for 5 minutes, whisking continuously, until the mixture looks like caramel sauce. Add the vanilla and cook an additional minute. Whisk in the remaining 1 TBS margarine until completely combined. Remove from heat and immediately add the marshmallows, stirring until smooth. Pour marshmallow mixture over the cereal and stir until partially combined. Add the chocolate chips and stir until well combined.

Press the mixture firmly into the prepared pan. Allow to cool before removing from the pan and placing on a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares, or maybe just 9 squares as I did.

Until next time, happy non-baking!

Charoset-Inspired Dessert Bites

Charoset-Inspired Dessert Bites

This time of year I get a little excited for Charoset, the classic Passover relish made from fruits, nuts, spice, and grape (in the form of juice or wine). The combined tastes of those food elements dance playfully on my tongue. Some traditions make charoset into a paste rather than a relish, so I thought it would be fun to make a food item that melded the two forms. That is how I decided on dessert bites. A little pureed and a little chunky, with all of the wonderful flavors that I love.

This recipe is raw so high altitude baking wasn’t an issue. I merely wanted to create my version of this treat and share it with you. These bites make an energetic afternoon snack, a quick breakfast, or a healthy dessert. They would be appreciated for Passover or Easter, or anytime you want to savor the combination of apples, nuts, and grape juice.

Charoset-Inspired Dessert Bites inspired by Haroset Balls

1 cup dried apple
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup grape juice
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/8 tsp powdered ginger
1/8 tsp powdered clove
2 TBS almond meal
powders to roll the bites in, optional

Line a tray or baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Place dried apples, apricots, dates, and raisins in a bowl and cover with grape juice. Let sit for 15 minutes so the juice can soak into the fruit.

Place walnuts and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are roughly chopped. To the food processor, add the soaked fruit and any juices from the bowl. Add the spices and pulse until everything is finely chopped and well combined. Add the almond meal and pulse a few times to evenly distribute. The mixture will form a large ball in the food processor bowl.

Transfer the large ball to a bowl. Remove small amounts at a time to form balls the size of walnuts. Place balls on the lined tray and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. When firm, roll each ball into powder, if desired. I used ground up freeze-dried blueberries, dried raspberry powder, cocoa powder, goji berry powder, and maca powder. (Can you tell in the picture which bite has which powder?)

charoset dessert bites and toppings

Store up to 3 weeks in a covered container in the refrigerator. Yields: 24 sweet treats

Until next time, happy non-baking!

Apricot Pistachio Bark with Tahini Swirl

apricot pistachio bark with tahini swirl
apricot pistachio bark with tahini swirl

Dried apricots and pistachios seem to be ending up in so much of my food lately. They were in my muffins last week, and my Moroccan stew the other night. And now they feel right at home in this chocolate bark. I started out with the idea of making a bark, and the two just showed up in my ingredient list. Luckily they pair well together, and they are complimented by a touch of tahini.

Admittedly, the idea of adding tahini to chocolate bark wasn’t mine. I borrowed it, but made a few alterations in the no-baking-needed recipe I found. Chocolate bark can really be any combination that sounds tasty to you, so feel free to borrow my recipe then modify it to suit your tastes. But keep the tahini swirl in. Trust me.

Apricot Pistachio Bark with Tahini Swirl adapted from Chocolate Bark with Pistachios and Tahini

1/3 cup chopped roasted pistachios
3 TBS chopped dried apricot
6 oz vegan chocolate (I used a bar with fruity notes to complement the other flavors)
2 tsp runny tahini, warmed (I used Soom Premium Tahini)

Line an 8×8” pan with parchment paper and set aside. Combine the pistachios and apricot in a bowl and set aside. Chop the chocolate and place it in a stainless steel bowl. Melt it gently over a double boiler. To do this, fill a saucepan with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Place the bowl of chocolate over the simmering water making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Let the chocolate melt, stirring occasionally. When it is almost fully melted, remove the bowl from atop the saucepan and gently stir the chocolate until it melts completely. Add the pistachios and apricot to the chocolate and mix it in with a spatula.

Pour the chocolate into the lined baking pan, spreading it out evenly. Drizzle warm tahini over top and swirl it with a toothpick. Place the pan of bark in the fridge until it hardens, 30-45 minutes. Break the bark up into pieces. Store bark in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.

Until next time, happy nonbaking!

Pistachio Apricot Muffins

pistachio apricot muffins
pistachio apricot muffins

As the United States is in the midst of American Heart Month, I thought a heart-healthy recipe would be fitting. Muffins are usually a healthier option, and when they are loaded with fruit flavor they can be especially tasty. Then, when you accent them with nuts, you boost the nutrition. The combination of apricot and pistachio in these muffins makes them so delicious that you’ll forget they are good for your heart.

Several fruity recipes caught my eye while I was doing research, but I knew a vegan recipe with no oil would be a bonus. I found one and then altered it for altitude by reducing the leavener. I also amped up the apricot flavor by adding apricot jam and the apricot soaking water to the batter. Another change was to include non-dairy yogurt as part of the egg substitute, thereby reducing the sugar content. Yes, these muffins sound way too healthy. But I really enjoyed their flavor and I know you will, too.

Pistachio Apricot Muffins adapted from Healthy Vegan Cherry-Pistachio Muffins

1/3 cup diced dried apricots, packed
1 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, divided
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
up to 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
2 TBS apricot jam
2 TBS unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy yogurt
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup maple syrup

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line 14 standard muffin cups with paper liners and set aside. Place diced dried apricots in a small bowl and cover with warm water to rehydrate. Meanwhile, place half of the pistachios in the bowl of a food processor. Process to the consistency of coarse crumbs. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. Stir in the pistachio crumbs.

Strain the apricots over a glass measuring cup, saving the liquid in the cup. Set the apricots aside. Fill the measuring cup with almond milk until it reaches 3/4 cup. Put this mixture into a large bowl along with the apricot jam, applesauce, yogurt, apple cider vinegar, vanilla, and maple syrup. Whisk to combine.

Roughly chop the remaining pistachios, reserving a small handful for decorating the tops of the muffins. Whisk the wet ingredients again, then add the dry ingredients to the bowl. Stir until no dry flour remains. Fold in the strained apricots and the larger amount of pistachios. Scoop batter into the muffin cups, filling them ¾ full. Sprinkle reserved handful of pistachios on top of each muffin. Bake for 16 to 18 minutes. Muffins are ready when the tops are firm to the touch. Place muffin tins on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove the muffins to a wire rack to cool completely. Store muffins in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Until next time, happy baking!

Chocolate Caramel Cream Valentine’s Day Tart

chocolate caramel cream tart
chocolate caramel cream tart

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, I thought I would create a special dessert for my sweetie. It had to be more than decadent. I wanted it to be lavish so he would know how much I loved him. That, and I wanted to enjoy an amazing treat with him. Eying my new tart pan, I decided that a layered tart would be perfect. The indulgent delight I made has several steps, one of which requires advanced preparation, so I am sharing with you a week early to give you time.

My final creation is an amalgamation of several recipes. One of the recipes was not vegan, but it only required a butter substitution. And, although the crust is baked, it didn’t have to be adjusted for high altitude due to its lack of leaveners. So, I brought together a chocolate crust filled with a layer of carmel-like goodness and topped with rich ganache. The combined result is similar to a gooey chocolate bar with a crust. Yes, happy Valentine’s Day to me, too!

Chocolate Caramel Cream Valentine’s Day Tart, with a nod to Rodelle Kitchen, Vegan Richa, and Deborah Durrant

Chocolate Crust

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

2 TBS dutch process cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

6 TBS cold vegan Flora Butter

Caramel Cream

3/4 cup pitted medjool dates (8-9 dates)

1 TBS almond butter

1 TBS agave syrup

1.5 TBS coconut oil

1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk

1/8-1/4 tsp fine sea salt, to taste

Chocolate Ganache

1 cup raw cashews

1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup raw cacao powder

1.75 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch sea salt

1/4 cup melted cocoa butter, allowed to cool but not harden

Advance prep: Soak 1 cup raw cashews for the ganache in cold water for at least 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.

Chocolate Crust: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line the bottom of a 9” diameter removable-bottom tart pan with parchment paper, and lightly spray with oil. (This size is best. I used my new rectangular pan but had leftovers that I put in a small pan). Using a food processor, combine oats, flour, brown sugar, dutch process cocoa powder, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp salt, and vegan butter. Pulse until mixture resembles wet sand. Firmly press mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Pressing down with the flat bottom of a measuring cup makes this easier. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the crust is firm. Cool the pan on a wire rack before filling the tart.

Caramel Cream: Soak the dates in hot water for 15 minutes. Drain the dates. Add drained dates to a food processor, along with almond butter, agave syrup, coconut oil, 1/3 cup almond milk, and 1/8 tsp salt. Process into a smooth puree. Taste and adjust for salt, the amount dependent on the salt content of your almond butter. Spread a thin, even layer of this caramel cream on the cooled, baked crust.

Chocolate Ganache: Drain soaked cashews and rinse under cold water. To a food processor, add drained cashews, 1/4 cup almond milk, maple syrup, raw cacao powder, 1.75 tsp vanilla extract, and pinch salt. Process for 1 minute. With the food processor running, slowly pour in the melted cocoa butter. Process until the ganache is smooth and glossy; this may take up to 5 minutes. Pour the ganache on top of the caramel layer in the crust. Smooth out with a spatula. Place in the fridge to set. After 15 minutes, remove the tart pan from the fridge and remove the tart from the pan. Peel the parchment paper off of the bottom and place on a serving plate.

Until next time, happy baking!

Rice Cereal Marshmallow Bark Bars

rice cereal marshmallow bark bars
rice cereal marshmallow bark bars

Many of us start the new year with healthy ideals — eating better, exercising more, taking vitamins. But it’s midway through the month and I held off as long as I could. Now I’m yearning for a decadent treat. If you are as well, then keep reading. The recipe I offer today is loaded with layers of rich and gooey deliciousness. Dig in and enjoy!

This tasty dessert is my mash-up of rice cereal treats, s’mores, and peppermint bark. The components had all vegan ingredients and no baking, so there were no changes needed there. I altered the original recipe to make it more reminiscent of s’mores. There are layers of luxurious chocolate with a hit of cool peppermint wrapped up in a chewy yet crunchy bite. It has everything you deserve after being good for over two whole weeks.

Rice Cereal Marshmallow Bark Bars based on Chocolate Peppermint Rice Krispie Treats

Rice Cereal Layer
5 ounces vegan dark chocolate
1 cup puffed brown rice cereal
Marshmallow Layer
20 large vegan marshmallows
1 TBS vegan butter
1.25 tsp peppermint extract
Peppermint Bark Layer
6 ounces vegan chocolate chips
2 full-size 5” vegan candy canes, crushed

Prepare an 8.25 x 4.25” loaf pan by lining it with parchment paper then greasing it with shortening or vegetable oil spray. For the Rice Cereal Layer: Melt the dark chocolate in a double boiler over medium heat. When melted, remove from stove and stir in the rice cereal, mixing gently until evenly coated. Use a spatula to gently spread it in the bottom of the prepared loaf pan. Set aside to cool.

For the Marshmallow Layer: Place the marshmallows and vegan butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir occasionally until melted. Remove from stove and quickly stir in the peppermint extract. Gently smooth it over the rice cereal layer. Set aside. For the Peppermint Bark Layer: Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler over medium heat. When melted, remove from stove and spread over the marshmallow layer. Sprinkle the candy cane bits evenly over the warm chocolate. Set aside to cool for a few minutes. Cut squares with a hot knife and set aside to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for 5 days.

Until next time, happy non-baking!

Healthier Chocolate Cookies

healthier chocolate cookies
healthier chocolate cookies

When I mention that the desserts I bake are vegan, the usual response is, “That’s healthy, right?” Well, I hate to burst a person’s bubble, but I can’t say that food made with sugar and flour promotes physical health. I would admit that it boosts my mental health but, generally speaking, desserts aren’t overly healthy. So, I dug into my recipe collection and found a cookie that was healthier and wasn’t just a blast of carbs. Now, wait a minute; don’t be alarmed. That’s not a bad thing. You see, I added chocolate to it.

The recipe I worked with was already vegan, and high altitude doesn’t have a big affect on cookies. I did sub in gluten-free flour to lighten the texture a bit, and added non-dairy milk to account for dryness at altitude. The other changes I made were for flavor. I used chocolate tahini (made by Soom Foods – it is as amazing as it sounds) and added chipotle powder to give the chocolate a kick. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if the dense dough balls were going to be more than hockey pucks. But the cookies came out light and chewy at the same time. It was the winning combination of a healthier cookie with a tempting flavor and satisfying texture. Maybe vegan desserts can be healthy.

Healthier Chocolate Cookies adapted from Maple Tahini Cookies

1/2 cup + 1/3 cup gluten free flour
1/2 cup fine almond flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 cup Soom Foods Chocolate Sweet Tahini
1/3 cup + 1 TBS maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp non-dairy milk

Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium bowl, sift together the gluten free flour, almond flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and chipotle powder. In a large bowl, whisk together the chocolate tahini, maple syrup, vanilla, and milk. Add the flour mixture into the tahini mixture and stir with a spatula until a dough forms. It should be moist and rollable, but not sticky. Roll walnut-sized balls of dough in the palm of your hand then place them 2-inches apart on a baking sheet. Lightly press down on the cookies to flatten.

Bake for 12-13 minutes. The cookies may seem soft but they will firm up upon cooling. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack for the cookies to cool and get firm enough to remove. Makes 20 cookies.

Until next time, happy baking!

Cranberry-Studded Pumpkin Breads with Streusel

cranberry pumpkin breads with streusel
Cranberry-Studded Pumpkin Breads with Streusel

‘Tis the season for pumpkin and pumpkin spice. But, to be honest, I’m only a fan of pumpkin spice when it’s in pumpkin bread. To get on board with the seasonal flavor, I had to make pumpkin bread soon. In order to make things more interesting, I added dried cranberries inside the bread and streusel on top. Now that’s a bread combination that would make anyone a fan.

The pumpkin bread recipe is an adaptation of a vegan cake recipe I found. To make it high altitude friendly, I reduced the baking powder and oil, and split it into smaller loaves, all of which created beautifully domed breads. The added sweet streusel topping and tart cranberries played nicely off of each other, but didn’t overpower the pumpkin and spice flavors. These tasty mini breads would look great on any fall holiday table.

Cranberry-Studded Pumpkin Breads with Streusel adapted from Pumpkin Spice Cake

Topping
2 1/2 TBS vegan butter (such as Flora Plant Butter)
1/2 cup vegan sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 cup sweetened roasted almonds, chopped (such as Monk Crunch Cinnamon)
Mini Breads
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp powdered ginger
3/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 TBS vegetable oil
1 cup pumkin purée
1/2 cup + 1 tsp almond milk
1 cup dried diced cranberries (such as Patience Fruit & Company’s with no added sugar)

Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly spray 3 mini loaf pans with cooking spray. To prepare the topping, melt the butter in a pan over low heat. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt, flour, cinnamon, and almonds. Stir in the melted butter, making sure to leave some streusel clumps. Set the topping aside while you prepare the bread batter.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. Whisk in brown sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk together vanilla, oil, pumpkin purée, and almond milk. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until evenly moistened. Mix in the dried cranberries. Transfer the batter to prepared pans and spread the topping over all loaves.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on a wire rack. Tip out of loaf pans, trying not to lose the topping. To store leftovers, cool completely and wrap well. Will keep at room temperature for several days, or in the freezer for longer storage.

Until next time, happy baking!

Choosing the almond flavor for the streusel
Choosing an almond flavor for the streusel