Dessert


If you have a kid with food allergies — especially one who loves chocolate as much as mine does — eventually the candy holidays start to get to you.  Swapping a Halloween haul of peanut butter cups and M&Ms for a handful of Dum Dums is standard practice in our house.  The Easter Bunny brings us jelly beans, but not the speckled, malted eggs that were my childhood favorite.  And as for the red cellophane-wrapped, heart-shaped boxes of caramel- and praline-filled confections… well, I’ve (almost) stopped thinking about those.

But all is not lost.  With a little extra effort — very little, in fact — Valentine’s Day can be a decadent holiday once more. Turns out, if you can open a bag of chocolate chips and push the buttons on a microwave, you can make some pretty special treats for your beloved little ones.

Unlike couverture chocolate, which requires a fussy heating and cooling process called tempering to keep molded chocolates from melting at room temperature, chocolate chips are made with stabilizing ingredients that help them set up again after exposure to heat (think chocolate chip cookies).  Not having to worry about the temperature of your chocolate lets you focus on the creative part of candy making: filling and decorating!  I used whimsical toppings like sprinkles and marshmallows  and imitated classics with Rice Krispies and creamy Sunbutter filling.  Use your imagination!  And have a super sweet Valentine’s Day.

Easy Homemade Valentine Chocolates

About 1 c. chocolate chips (enough to yield 30, 1-inch hearts)

Candy molds

A glass liquid measuring cup for melting chocolate (the glass retains heat so your chocolate won’t set up too fast while you work) and a small rubber spatula

Fillings and decorations of your choice.  I used rainbow sprinkles, halved mini marshmallows, Rice Krispies, and Sunbutter (instructions below).  Chopped dried fruits or nuts would also work.

Assemble all of your ingredients before you begin.  Make sure your molds, measuring cup, and spatula are clean and dry.

Melt chocolate chips in the measuring cup in the microwave.  Start with 60 seconds on high power.  Stir well with the spatula, then continue heating on high for 20 seconds at a time until chocolate is melted and smooth. Make sure the chocolate is not just melted but warm and somewhat fluid — if it doesn’t get hot enough, it won’t set up correctly when cooled.

Pour chocolate into molds.  Using a spatula will help you control the chocolate and keep it from overfilling the molds or dripping.  Tap the mold gently on the counter to settle the chocolate and remove air bubbles.  Decorate as desired, then put the molds in the freezer — this helps the chocolates set up quickly, making them easy to remove.

To decorate with sprinkles or colored sugar, fill the molds to the top then sprinkle evenly while still very soft.

To decorate with marshmallows, fill the molds nearly to the top, then partially submerge a halved mini marshmallow in the chocolate.  This would work with raisins or dried cherries, too.

To decorate with Rice Krispies, fill the molds about half way, sprinkle on a few Krispies, then fill with a little more chocolate.  Tap mold on the counter to settle chocolate around cereal.

To make a Sunbutter, peanut butter, or other nut butter filling, stir a tablespoonful with enough confectioner’s sugar to form a dough-like consistency (do this before you melt the chocolate).  Roll a tiny amount of filling into a ball and flatten into a disc.  Fill molds half way with chocolate.  Let sit for a minute to firm up a bit, then place disc of filling in the center of the mold.  Fill with a little more chocolate, then tap mold on the counter to cover filling.

Once set, store chocolates at room temperature.

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Three days into a nor’easter, the library books have been read, the blocks built and rebuilt into every possible configuration, and the crayons (and everyone’s patience) are worn to nubs.  I have a few trick up my sleeve for coping with the monotony of indoor days like these.  Some of them happen in the kitchen.  Many come from memories of my own childhood.  Today’s activity involved both: we baked my grandmother’s mouse cookies.

The stiff, workable dough can be shaped however you like — no need to limit yourself to mice — or just rolled into balls and crisscrossed with the tines of a fork.  Grandma decorated hers with minced raisins for eyes and noses, peanut halves for ears, and red licorice laces for tails.  I subbed sunflower seeds for peanuts, and decided against trekking out for licorice (which didn’t sit right with the budding naturalist, who decided to stick an extra sunflower seed in the rear and call it a hamster).  However you adorn them, these soft, tender cookies are simply delicious.

Brown sugar mice

Yield:  Makes about 4 dozen

1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 c. dark brown sugar

1 egg

2 tsp. almond extract

1 tsp. vanilla extract (or omit the almond and use 1 tbsp. vanilla)

3 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. fine sea salt

Chopped raisins, sunflower seeds or peanut halves, and red licorice laces cut into 3-inch lengths, for decorating

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine butter and sugar.  Beat on high speed, scraping down sides of bowl and beater every so often, until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add egg and extracts, beat until well mixed.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour and salt.  With mixer running on low speed, gradually add flour mixture to butter and egg mixture, scraping bowl and beater as needed, until evenly incorporated.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll rounded tablespoons of dough into 1 1/4-inch balls.  Taper balls at one end to form teardrop shapes.  Press in sides a bit to raise back and pinch in front to form snout.  Push in sunflower seeds or peanut halves to form ears.  Use small pieces of raisin for eyes and noses.  Press in licorice a bit to make a tail.  Bake for about 12 minutes or until tops are set and bottoms are lightly browned.  Let cool briefly on pan, then remove to wire racks.  Store at room temperature in a tightly sealed container.

Make it egg- and dairy-free: Use dairy-free margarine (I like Earth Balance Buttery Sticks) instead of butter.  If your margarine is salted, reduce salt in the recipe to 1/2 tsp.  To replace egg, add 2 tbsp. water along with vanilla extract and add 1/2 tsp. baking powder to dry ingredients.

sheet  Press in sides a bit to raise back and pinch in front to form snout.  Push peanut halves in to form ears.  2 pieces of raisins for eyes.  Press in licorice a bit to make a tail.  Bake 9-12 min. or til lightly browned on bottoms.  Makes 45 mice.

A few tablespoons of non-dairy milk and a little extra baking powder replace eggs in this tender sugar cookie.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Egg-free, dairy-free sugar cookies

Yield:  Depends on the size of your cutters

2 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

Scant 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1 c. Earth Balance Buttery Sticks or dairy-free margarine

1 c. granulated sugar

3 tbsp. soy or rice milk

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl.  Stir well with a whisk.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream Buttery Sticks or margarine and sugar until very light and fluffy, scraping bowl and beater occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Add milk and vanilla and mix until well combined.  Scrape bowl.  With mixer running on low speed, add flour in three additions.  Mix until just combined.  Divide dough into two balls, flatten into discs, and wrap tightly in plastic.  Refrigerate at least one hour or up to three days, or freeze for up to three months.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.  On a floured counter, with a floured pin, roll one dough disc to 1/8-inch thickness.  Cut out cookies, placing cutters as close together as possible.  Using an offset spatula, transfer cookies to baking sheet.  Gather scraps, re-roll, cut more cookies.  Repeat with remaining dough disc.

Bake cookies 8-10 minutes, until centers are set and edges are golden.  Let cool briefly on pan, then remove to a wire rack.

I love a cookie with a story.  This one originates beside a pond in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in the kitchen of a Revolutionary War veteran called Black Joe and his wife Lucretia.  Legend has it that their home sometimes served as a tavern where the locals could drink grog, listen to Joe play the fiddle, and enjoy Aunt Crease’s cooking.  One of her specialties was a saucer-sized, rum-spiked molasses cookie.  These so-called Joe’s froggers, named for their likeness to the lily pads on the nearby pond, were favored by fisherman who brought barrels full of the sturdy cookies on their ocean voyages.

A little like a gingersnap, a little like gingerbread, this Yankee favorite was new to me when I saw the recipe in the paper this weekend.  I used unsulphured molasses, because that’s what I had, and cut them smaller than tradition dictates.  You can use thick and sticky blackstrap molasses instead, if you like (you’ll probably need to reduce the flour by 1/2 c. to accommodate it).  Shortening makes a crisper cookie with a longer shelf life, but butter will work as well.

Joe froggers

Adapted from The Boston Globe

Yield:  Makes about 2 dozen, 4-inch cookies

2 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

3/4 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp. allspice

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 c. non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (or use butter)

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. molasses

3 tbsp. hot water

1 tbsp. dark rum

1/2 tsp. baking soda

Sift flour, salt, and spices into a mixing bowl.

In the work bowl of an electric mixer, cream shortening or butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl or large liquid measure, whisk together molasses, hot water, rum, and baking soda.  Mixture will bubble and foam.

With mixer running on low speed, add flour and molasses  mixtures to butter mixture in alternating additions until well combined.

Divide dough into two balls, the press each ball into a disc and wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight, until firm enough to roll.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  On a floured counter, roll out one dough disc to between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thickness.  Using a round cutter or the rim of a drinking glass, cut out cookies as close together as possible.  Place cookies at least 1/2-inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Gather scraps and set aside.   Roll and cut second dough disc.  Combine all scraps, roll out and cut remaining cookies.

Bake for about 9 minutes, or until centers of cookies are set and edges are starting to brown.  Let cookies cool briefly on pan, then remove to wire racks.  Cookies keep well at room temperature in a tightly sealed container for a few days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

The holiday baking frenzy is well underway in our house.  Good thing, since the 18-plus inches of snow we’re expecting to fall overnight will mean more shoveling and snowman building (and less cookie making) tomorrow.

Two dozen gingerbread people are already tucked away in the freezer, as are two pans of cinnamon rolls (one for Christmas morning, the other for New Year’s Day).  A pot of clementines is simmering on the stove right now, the first step in making a candied clementine bundt cake for the grown-ups in the house.  And the kids helped out this morning with these snickerdoodles, rolling the tiny balls of dough in cinnamon sugar and sampling the finished products.  Firm on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, and delicately spicy-sweet, these little cookies are lovely with a cup of hot chocolate after a busy morning out in the snow.

Snickerdoodles

Adapted from Vegetarian Times

Yield:  Makes nearly 6 dozen

For dough:

1 3/4 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4 c. cornstarch

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 c. Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (or use dairy-free margarine)

3/4 c. granulated sugar

1/4 c. soy or rice milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

For cinnamon sugar:

1/4 c. granulated sugar

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

Sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine buttery sticks and sugar.  Beat until very light and fluffy, scraping bowl and beater occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Add milk and vanilla and mix until well combined (mixture will look curdled — this is fine).  Scrape bowl and beater again.

With mixer running on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Chill dough at least one hour or overnight before proceeding.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two large sheet pans with parchment paper.  Roll small spoonfuls of dough into 1″ balls.  Roll balls in cinnamon sugar to coat, then place on pans.  Flatten each cookie gently with a fork, making a criss-cross pattern.   Bake 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are set, bottoms are lightly browned, and tops look dry.  Cool on wire racks, then store in an airtight container.

When I was younger, my mom and I would hunker down at the kitchen table on Christmas Eve and churn out scores of these spicy little devils.  Her recipe, if I remember correctly, called for 7 cups of flour and yielded a dough so stiff and massive the stand mixer would whine and groan and nearly lurch off the counter with exertion.  My mixer is smaller, as is my recipe.  The dough is soft and easy to work with, and makes a tender, lightly spiced cookie.  Our kids love them, and love to help — we save this treasured activity for when Grandma comes to visit.

Gingerbread cookies

Yield:  Depends on the size of your cutters

3 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 c. Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (or other non-hydrogenated, vegan shortening)

1/2 c. dark brown sugar

1/2 c. unsulphured molasses

1/4 c. water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Make dough:

Sift together flour, salt, soda, and spices.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine buttery sticks and brown sugar.  Beat until light and fluffy, scraping bowl and paddle occasionally, about 5 minutes.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together molasses, water, and vanilla.  Stir into buttery stick mixture (it will separate — this is fine).  Scrape bowl and paddle.  With mixer running on low speed, add dry ingredients one cup at a time until evenly encorporated.  Divide dough into two balls, flatten each into a fat disc, and wrap tightly in plastic.  Refrigerate at least one hour or up to three days, or freeze for up to three months.

Make cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.  On a floured counter, with a floured pin, roll one dough disc to 1/8-inch thickness.  Cut out cookies, placing cutters as close together as possible.  Using an offset spatula, transfer cookies to baking sheet.  Gather scraps, re-roll, cut more cookies.  Repeat with remaining dough disc.

Bake cookies 8-10 minutes.  Let cool briefly on pan, then remove to a wire rack.

Decorate cookies:

To make icing, sift a cup or two (depending on how many helpers you have) of confectioner’s sugar into a mixing bowl.  Add a small amount of milk (any kind — I use rice) or water, a teaspoon at a time, until icing is smooth and glossy but not runny.  If you accidentally make it too thin, just add a bit more sugar until it’s the right consistency.

If you don’t have a piping tube or pastry bag, you can make one:  Spoon about 1/2 c. icing into one corner of a zip-top freezer bag (not a sandwich bag, as I learned from experience, because the seams tend to burst when you squeeze it).  Press the icing all the way into the corner, then twist the bag a few times right above the icing (for kids, I secure the twist with a rubber band, then press out the excess air and zip the bag for good measure).  Using a scissor or sharp paring knife, snip a tiny piece off the corner of the bag.  Voila!  Leak-proof, miniature pastry bag perfect for any size hand.

Clockwise, from top left: Homemade pastry bag & piping tube; 2-year-old decorates her first gingerbread person; Mummy decorates her billionth; kids' masterpieces.

When adapting pastry recipes to accommodate food allergies or special diets, cookies are by far the most forgiving.  They are small in size, fairy sturdy in texture, and don’t need a lot of rise.  Unlike cakes and loaves, which tend to sink or crumble when eggs are absent, cookies require relatively little leavening (a little baking powder or soda works just fine) and aren’t picky when it comes to binding (pureed fruit, ground flaxseed, or even a little milk or water will suffice).

This chocolate chip cookie is adapted from the classic Toll House recipe and remarkably similar to the original.  I use Earth Balance Buttery Sticks instead of butter.  They’re salted, so I reduced the salt in the recipe from 1 tsp. to 3/4 (you could reduce it further — I like a little extra salt in a chocolate chip cookies).  1/4 c. soy or rice milk replaces the 2 eggs.  Milk adds moisture but won’t bind like eggs, so to prevent excessive spreading I cut the sugar by 1/3 (I find Toll House cookies a little too sweet, anyway) and lowered the oven temperature by 25 degrees.  To compensate for the missing flavor of the brown sugar, I doubled the vanilla.  And since the new cookie dough has less volume than the original, you don’t need the whole bag of chips.

Classic chocolate chip cookies, egg- and dairy-free

Yield: 2 1/2 – 3 dozen

2 ¼ c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

3/4 tsp. fine sea salt

1 c. Earth Balance Buttery Sticks or dairy-free margarine

½ c. granulated sugar

½ c. packed, light brown sugar

¼ c. soy or rice milk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 ½ c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl with an electric mixer, cream butter or margarine and sugars until very light and fluffy, scraping beaters every few minutes.  Beat in milk and vanilla.  Add flour mixture and mix until just combined.  Fold in chips.

Drop by spoonfuls, 2-inches apart, onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake 12-14 minutes, or until edges are golden and centers are just set.  Let cool a few minutes on the pan, then remove to wire racks.

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