Vegan Italian Chocolate Cookies

Lumpy. Bumpy. Chewy. Deeply chocolaty with an undertone of spice. And easy – so easy.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am not a vegan. However, I always like to have some good vegan recipes – especially desserts – in my back pocket. Whether you keep kosher or eschew dairy products for ethical reasons or because of food allergies, vegan desserts can be a wonderful option.

However, I will not serve a vegan dessert unless it is just as good as a non-vegan one. I came across this recipe and after a few tweaks, the result is a delicious cookie that chocolate lovers will adore. The hint of exotic spices gives a Mediterranean flavor that marks it as unique.

This recipe comes together quickly and requires no special equipment or techniques – and I had everything on hand in my pantry. Do use a really good quality unsweetened Dutch Processed cocoa like Droste or Valrhona when making these. Chocolate and cocoa powders each have their own unique flavor profile so find one that you like and use it in all of your recipes.

I confess that I made my cookies with unsalted real butter, but they absolutely will not suffer if they are made with a buttery vegan solid such as Earth Balance.

My husband and I tried the cookies still slightly warm from the oven and after a day in an airtight tin. While both were good, we agreed that the flavors and texture were at their peak after sitting overnight. The cookies will easily keep for a week, if stored properly, and are luscious with a glass of milk (dairy or non), a cup of coffee or with a sweet dessert wine.

Because the cookies are such a deep, dark brown, it can be difficult to tell when they are fully baked. I made three batches and baked each one for a different amount of time – from 14 minutes to 20 minutes. All worked, but the one that baked for 14 minutes was the best. The dough does not spread during baking so however the cookies go onto the baking sheet is pretty much how they will come out at the end. Try one of these deeply satisfying and not overly sweet cookies soon.

Recipe

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup of unsalted, solid vegan buttery margarine or unsalted real butter (1 stick)

2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch Processed Cocoa

2 cups light or dark brown sugar

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup strong coffee (the liquid and NOT granules!)

2.5 cups whole wheat flour

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup coarsely chopped, lightly pan-toasted blanched almonds or walnuts

1 cup of raisins tossed with 1 teaspoon of flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets or pans with parchment paper or a non-stick silicone mat like Silpat.
  2. Combine first five ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium/low heat. Allow the mixture to melt until it resembles chocolate syrup. Do not allow it to boil. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
  3. Combine the flour with the baking powder, spices and salt in a large bowl.
  4. Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the flour mixture and stir to combine until no flour is visible. Add the almonds and raisins and work through the batter so that everything is evenly distributed.
  5. Lightly spray a 1 Tablespoon cookie scoop or measuring spoon with a non-stick spray. Scoop out slightly rounded Tablespoonfuls and place on the prepared baking pan. The cookies do not spread during baking so they can be fairly close together.
  6. Bake for 14 minutes, turning once if your oven bakes unevenly like mine!
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 3-5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack. Allow the cookies to cool completely before storing.

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Blueberry Galette

So what’s a galette, you say? Very simply, it is a free-form tart. It can have a sweet or savory filling and is usually referred to as “rustic.” The galette is unfussy. But my favorite aspect of a galette is the lovely filling that gets hidden under the part of the crust that is folded over. So when I take that bite, I get all of the luscious, fruity filling nestled into the buttery, sugary crust. It’s kind of like a pop-tart – if it were made by the goddess Hestia.

Now nothing says summer like fresh, gorgeous, purpley blueberries. I have been using them in my yogurt, on cereal or right out of the box. So, of course, it followed that the next dessert I made would include them. And since I recently discovered this wonderful and easy to work with pastry dough, a galette was the perfect response. It’s the same dough that I used for my apricot frangipane tart. This dough was a revelation.

I have been making pie dough for decades. Now don’t get me wrong. My Crisco vegan crust still makes a wonderful pie crust – but it is a bit temperamental. A LOT of patching is frequently involved and occasionally a few tears.

But this all-butter crust is tender and crispy with sugar crystals on top and just plain yummy. And BEST of all – it is fool-proof. I have made it several times this summer and it works out perfectly each time. The dough comes together easily and rolls out beautifully – no patching involved! Valerie Bertinelli deserves all of the credit and I am happy to give it to her.

Throw the dough together in the morning or the night before and bake up this luscious galette for dinner.

Note: Yes, that is an apricot in the middle of the galette. I discovered it in my fruit drawer as a left-over from my Apricot Frangipane Galette. It was past the point of eating fresh so I decided to throw it on top so it wouldn’t go to waste. It is NOT essential to the tart although the color contrast was nice and the apricot was delicious when baked. That dark brown on top is simply caramelized butter and sugar.

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

For dough

1.5 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

1 stick (8 oz.) cold unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon distilled or apple cider vinegar

4-5 Tablespoons ice water (I used 5 T every time)

For filling

18 ounces blueberries, washed and dried

1 apricot cut into quarters (Optional)

Zest of one lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon (About 2 Tablespoons)

pinch of kosher salt

1/3 cup granulated sugar plus 2 Tablespoons

1 rounded Tablespoon berry jam

2 slightly rounded Tablespoons cornstarch

3 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup crushed amarettini cookies

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking pan or sheet with parchment.

For the dough

  1. Pulse the flour, sugar and salt together in a food processor. Add the butter cubes and give 10 quick pulses. The mixture should resemble coarse crumbs with some lumps of butter.
  2. Drizzle in the vinegar and 4 Tablespoons of the water. Pulse just until the dough comes together and begins to ball up. If necessary, add up to 1 more tablespoon of the water but use as little as possible. [I used 5 T every time.] Gather the dough into a ball on a piece of plastic wrap or waxed paper. Flatten into a thick disk and refrigerate for at least one hour but up to 3 days.
  3. When you are ready to bake, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 12″ round. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet or pan lined with parchment.

For the filling

  1. Gently toss the blueberries with the zest, lemon juice, cornstarch, salt, jam and 1/3 cup of sugar just before you are ready to fill the pastry.
  2. Scatter the crushed amarettini cookies over the dough leaving about a 2-inch border. Carefully pour the blueberries over the crushed cookies. If you are using an apricot, place the quarters in the middle of the blueberries. Dot with 2 Tablespoons of the butter.
  3. Fold up the edges of the dough, gently pleating them where necessary to close the “circle.” Melt the remaining Tablespoon of butter and brush it all over the pastry edges. Sprinkle liberally with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar. If you have a coarser-grained sugar, you can use that.
  4. Bake for 35 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the fruit is bubbling. Remove the pan to a cooling rack and allow to sit for at least 20 minutes before cutting. This gives the juices time to be absorbed. It’s wonderful on its own or with a little vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

Watercress, Spinach & Chickpea Soup

Easy Does It

We recently hosted our nephew and his girlfriend for Shabbat dinner. Since I hadn’t been cooking for anyone but the two of us for awhile, I decided to go all out on a Mediterranean feast. I baked challah and made hummus, baba ghanoush, several salads, lamb with apricots and basmati rice and an apricot frangipane tart. With so many different pieces to the meal, I wanted something that was flavorful and bright for the soup but which wasn’t overly complicated. Surprisingly, I found it in my Jerusalem Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

While I like the foods that appear in this cookbook, I generally find that the recipes are overly complicated with unnecessary steps. This one was pretty simple and since I already happened to have the Ras El Hanout spice mix and rose water in my pantry, I didn’t even have to buy any special ingredients. You can, of course, make your own spice mix, but it is also perfectly acceptable to buy it. Any good spice shop such as Kalustyan’s should have it or it can be ordered online.

Herbaceous, Bright and Vegan

This creamy, bright green soup is perfect as part of a meat, vegetarian or vegan meal. And while I mentioned in an earlier post that my husband thinks foods with rose water taste like fancy hotel soaps, the amount used here is small. He was unaware that it was even in there. The rose water does lend the soup some indefinable, slightly exotic flavor, but the soup would still be delicious if you left it out.

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2-3 medium carrots, cut into 3/4-inch dice

3 Tablespoons of EVOO, divided

2.5 teaspoons Ras El Hanout

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

15 ounce can cooked chickpeas, well-drained

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2.5 Tablespoons, peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger (I used the stuff in a jar)

2.5 cups of vegetable stock

7 ounces of fresh watercress

3.5 – 4 ounces fresh spinach leaves

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon rose water (optional)

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F

Mix the carrots with 1 Tablespoon of the EVOO, the Ras El Hanout. cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt. Spread in a single layer on a pan lined with parchment paper. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes and then add 1/2 of the drained chickpeas. Mix well and continue roasting for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. This can be made ahead and refrigerated over-night.

Place the remaining 2 Tablespoons of EVOO in a large saucepan and add the ginger and onions. Saute for about 10 minutes over medium heat, until the onion is softened and becomes golden at the edges.

Add the remaining chickpeas, stock, watercress, spinach, sugar and 3/4 teaspoon of salt and a few cracks of black pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cook for only about 2 minutes or just until the leaves wilt. You want the greens to remain bright.

When the soup has cooled somewhat, blend it until smooth in a food processor or blender. Add the rose water and check to see if you want more salt and pepper. This can also be made ahead and gently reheated.

To serve, divide the soup among four bowls and top with the carrot, chickpea mixture.