When I was in high school, my best friend was a vegan. She subsisted primarily on rice, beans, fruit, and the vegan cookies her mom baked in giant batches every weekend. Any time there was a party, she’d bring a plate of these cookies to share. They were overly sweet, weirdly gummy, and not at all appealing to anyone who wasn’t devoted to a strict plant-based diet.
Happily, things have changed a lot in the world of vegan desserts over the last 20 years, in large part thanks to Fran Costigan. She has been working as a vegan pastry chef and baking instructor for more than two decades and is known for desserts that satisfy in a way that’s better for you and for the planet.
In her recent book, Vegan Chocolate (Running Press, 2013), Costigan serves up a luscious array of vegan truffles, cakes, cookies, pies, puddings, tarts, and drinks. Of the recipes I tried, not one felt like a sacrifice or compromise. They were universally delicious and were a pleasure to make, because I could taste freely throughout the prep process without worrying about raw eggs in the batter. MORE
I’ll admit it. When I moved into my new apartment this year, along with my sheets, coffee mugs, and suitcase, I toted along a value-sized tub of animal crackers. It was the kind you could find at your local wholesale club, weighing in at over two pounds, and it didn’t even last three weeks.
Even as a grown adult, I still haven’t grown out of my love for this hallmark childhood snack. I like them plain, dunked in tea, or dipped in peanut butter, but while I was noshing on my latest tub of animal crackers, I noticed something I didn’t like: the ingredient list. Enriched flour, soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin…for such a simple snack, I was surprised to see such a long list of unnecessary and unnatural ingredients. To think that the miniature animals I had so lovingly craved were actually filled with chemical additives was appalling. That was when I began thinking of trying my hand at making my own.
There is no holiday tradition I love more than the baking and sharing of cookies. Most of the year, I do my best to keep the sweet treats at bay, but during December, all bets are off. I make at least half a dozen varieties and hand them out to my friends, neighbors, and family members.
My first cookie of the season is always a basic roll-out sugar cookie. The recipe comes from an old family friend. It’s easy to make, can stand up to repeated rolling, and holds its shape during baking. I like to decorate them with a simple shake of colored sugar or sprinkles, but the truly ambitious can employ frosting as well.
The first morning of a recent business trip to British Columbia, I walked into a bakery for coffee and walked out with coffee and a fascinating treat called a Nanaimo bar. I took a bite. I was a goner. Along with the butter tart, the Nanaimo (pronounced Nuh-NIME-oh) bar is one of the great Canadian sweets, a 3-layer chocolate-and-vanilla cream confection that puts the drab brownie to shame. The genius of the bar lies in its contrasting flavors and textures. A nubby cocoa crust is iced with cool, smooth vanilla cream which is in turn capped with a thin layer of melted chocolate. The recipe first appeared in a 1952 hospital auxiliary cookbook under the name “chocolate square” and while no one is sure who invented it, or where, the town of Nanaimo takes the credit. I spent the next four days of my trip sampling Nanaimo bars everywhere I went, which was easy because they are ubiquitous, the chocolate chip cookie of British Columbia. For the record, if you’re ever in Victoria, Bond Bond’s bakery made the best Nanaimo bar I tasted, although the Nanaimo bar at a Vancouver Starbucks was pretty terrific. MORE
I recently decided to go gluten-free and, most of the time, it doesn’t really bug me. I don’t mind skipping the starchy foods I used to rely on for the easy quick-prep meals that characterized my diet. Of course, there are those little things I miss now and then, like whipping up a plate of fluffy pancakes on Sunday morning, or sinking my teeth into a really good slice of crispy thin-crust New York pizza.
But at this time of year, I’ve found myself only missing one thing: Cookies. When Thanksgiving ends and the holiday season officially begins, seemingly earlier than the year before, the pumpkin pies and cranberry scones disappear in favor of brightly decorated reindeer-shaped sugar cookies and wide-eyed smiling gingerbread men.
If you’re anything like me, you may be worried that your family won’t want to give up their usual holiday cookies in favor of gluten-free treats that you can enjoy. But here are some delicious alternatives everyone will love—so make sure you have extras! MORE
When it comes to home baking, I tend to be utilitarian. I can turn out a serviceable loaf of banana bread, am fairly comfortable with basic yeast doughs and make a mean oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. However, once I stray beyond my familiar territory, things often go sideways.
It’s not that I’m not interested in more adventurous baking, I simply haven’t had much luck when I’ve tried things like homemade Oreo-style sandwich cookies (the filling separated and tasted like a grease slick) and many-layered cakes (never has a baked good so resembled the leaning tower of Pisa). And while even the ugliest disaster can still be delicious, it’s nice when you find that sweet spot of both visual and palatable success.
Knowing this, you’ll understand that I approached Hedy Goldsmith’s Baking Out Loud with both excitement and a little trepidation. Goldsmith is a pastry chef based in Miami, Florida, who is known for making over-the-top versions of familiar treats (like Twinkies and Cracker Jacks) and her glossy, beautifully photographed first book contains many of the items that have made her famous throughout the South. MORE