Coundown to Valentine’s Day 2015: Day 1–Vegan Chocolate Truffles

Valentines-Truffle-02-BD1Beginning today and for four of the next five days, I am going to link to some favorites from Valentine’s past on The Blooming Platter.

About mid-week, I will post my new 2015 creation to give you time to shop for the few ingredients you may not have on-hand like dried apricots, hazelnuts, and espresso powder.

First up are my beautiful Vegan Chocolate Truffles.

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Vegan “Peeps” (Chocolate-Dipped Almond Paste-Stuffed Date “Birds” Complete with a Cashew Beak)–Perfect for Spring!

Peeps in Nest with Wooden EggsYield: 8 Peeps

These “Peeps” that I created–which I think look more like Toucans!–were inspired by “Ugly Ducklings” sold at a local Mediterranean restaurant called Azar’s.

I wanted to take the store-bought ones to an Easter dinner on Sunday, but the restaurant was closed and I could find no recipe, so I decided to “wing it,” so to speak.  Fortunately, the ingredients are few.

I’m so glad I did, as they are super simple and so unique!  I apologize for not having them ready to share with you in advance of Easter, but they are nice for spring in general, and certainly next year!

Resting in decorative cupcake liners and tucked, along with softly colored wooden eggs,  into their straw nest, they looked peepin’ adorable and were also a rave in the taste department!

They seem especially appropriate for spring, but the ingredients are pretty season-less, so enjoy all year when a festive presentation and a little decadent bite is in order.


Approximately 1/2 cup (or slightly less) almond paste (I purchase it in a can on the baking aisle of the grocery store)

16 pitted dates, opened out (be sure to use fairly moist ones)

1-9 or 10 ounce package vegan chocolate chips

8 whole roasted and lightly salted cashews


Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat.  Using your fingers, mold a scant tablespoon of almond paste into an egg shape.  Moisten your fingers if your paste seems dry.  Then press into one of the dates, pressing another date over the top to encase the almond paste inside, forming an egg or bird body shape.  Continue with all remaining dates and almond paste.  Cover and refrigerate them for about a half hour.  Melt chocolate in microwave in a narrow deep bowl for ease of dipping.  (For 9 to 10 ounces, I have found that 1 minute on full power, a slight stir, and then 20 to 30 seconds at full power, followed by a good whisking works in my microwave.)  Pierce each date-almond paste ball with a toothpick.  One at a time, dip them into the chocolate, covering completely, and place on prepared baking sheet.  Remove toothpicks and “patch” hole with a dab of melted chocolate if need be.  Then, one at a time, dip half of each cashew into the chocolate and attach it to the top of each “body,” slightly toward one end, with the cashew “beak” curving into the body and touching at each tip–chocolate toward the center–so that it is secure.  Refrigerate for a half hour or until chocolate is hardened.  Arrange as desired and serve.

Note: you will have some chocolate left over, but when it gets low, it is difficult to coat the date-almond paste balls.



Just-Dipped Peeps
Just-Dipped Peeps


Nest Ready for Peeps
Nest Ready for Peeps
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Vegan Fudge (with Optional Crushed Peppermint Topping for Christmas or Valentine’s Day)

Recipes for fudge abound.  But today’s cooks seem to opt for foolproof methods that either call for marshmallow cream or condensed milk (both non-vegan ingredients) to prevent that unappetizing and very disappointing sugar crystallization.

Though the area where I live has come a long way in terms of vegan grocery accessibility, we still don’t have vegan condensed milk that I know of.  I’m sure I could order it online, but when I get ready to make fudge, it isn’t with much advance warning.  No, it’s a response to an intense and irrepressible craving!

A couple of years ago, Jonesin’ for 7-layer Bars and racking my brain for a condensed milk substitute, it suddenly occurred to me that Cream of Coconut was about the same consistency and sweetness.  So, I substituted it, and it worked beautifully!  This year, craving some post-holiday holiday fudge–because I never got around to it before Christmas–I wondered if Cream of Coconut could be substituted for condensed milk in a simple fudge recipe.

Indeed it can!  And, though I love the taste of coconut, it is undetectable.  The fudge just tastes like deep, dense,-yet-silky chocolate with nuances of sea salt and vanilla.

For my fudge redux, I modified a recipe that I found online in a number of ways.  In addition to the Cream of Coconut substitution, I also used vegan butter and vegan chocolate: a no-brainer.  But then I also added 1/3 cup of cocoa for greater depth and density, a pinch of coarse sea salt because I love the way sugar and salt play together, and, though most fudge recipes don’t call for it, I added a spot of vanilla extract for a little bit of complexity.  And  I wouldn’t change a thing!

Because vegan chocolate is rather “dear,” I opted for 9 ounces (the size bag that I can purchase here)  instead of a pound of chocolate chips/chunks as the original recipe called for.  But, certainly, if you don’t mind spending about 10 bucks on the chocolate alone, use a pound or 18 ounces (2-9 ounce bags of chips) and the full can of Cream of Coconut, doubling the other ingredients as well.

Recipes calling for a pound of chocolate are typically made in an 8-inch square pan for a nice thick slab.  But, even though I only made about half of a typical recipe, I still used an 8-inch square pan and felt that, especially with a generous coating of crushed peppermint, the slab was plenty thick.  This candy is very rich!  But if depth is important to you for appearance, just use a 4 x 8″ or 5 x 9″ loaf pan.

Regardless, I think the results are fabulous and hope you agree!

9 ounces vegan semi-sweet chocolate chips/chunks

1/4 cup vegan butter

7 ounces Cream of Coconut (not coconut cream, milk, etc.; Coco Lopez is a common brand)

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/8th teaspoon coarse sea salt

Optional: 3 to 5 ounces soft peppermint sticks, crushed

Oil an 8-inch square pan with non-stick spray or vegan butter and set aside.  In the microwave or in a double boiler, melt together vegan chocolate chips/chunks and vegan butter.  Remove the bowl or pan from the heat and whisk in Cream of Coconut, followed by cocoa powder, vanilla extract and coarse sea salt.  Pour fudge mixture into the prepared pan, lightly smoothing the top.  Let cool to room temperature and then either cover and refrigerate until cold and very firm, several hours or over night or, first, sprinkle the top with optional crushed peppermint, pressing lightly with your palm to adhere it to the surface, and then chill.  Slice into squares and serve immediately, refrigerating any leftovers.

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Trio of Vegan Valentine’s Treats: 1 Savory and 2 Sweets

Since Valentine’s Day is tomorrow(!), I wanted to direct you to three oldies-but-goodies that I created in years past to celebrate the national day of love.  Just click on the title to be taken right to the post with that recipe.  Happy Valentine’s Day from the Blooming Platter!

Savory Vegan Sausage and Red Bell Pepper Heart Tarts









Vegan Chocolate Truffles










Vegan Peppermint and Chocolate Patties


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Heart Healthy Valentine’s Treats: Vegan Chocolate-Dipped Dried Apricots with Crunchy Coating and an Uncle Sam Cereal Product Review

Well, if our dog, Huff’s, national Superbowl celebrity hadn’t overshadowed almost all else, I would have made these for our Superbowl party last Sunday and posted the recipe as part of my “Crash the SuperBowl Snack Recipe” countdown during the week leading up to the big event.

But alas, I didn’t make them until Monday night to take to my AP art students’ critique on Tuesday. We call them Critique Treats.  However, I also had Valentine’s Day in mind.

These confections are as nutritious and delicious as they are beautiful.  And though each one looks like a precious gem, they are super-simple to make.  Another of  their best features is their texture contrasts: plump chewy dried apricots, silken dark chocolate and crunchy wheat berry flake and flaxseed cereal coating.

This recipe–which is more of a procedure than a true recipe–was inspired by a gift of Uncle Sam Toasted “Original” Whole Wheat Berry Flakes and Flaxseed Cereal from Alisa Fleming, founder of GoDairyFree, who also does some online marketing for Attune Foods.  When she asked if I’d be interested in reviewing a couple of cereals, and invited me to choose which ones I wanted, she happened to mention that my choices were good “recipe cereals.”  So that got me thinking in terms of what I could do with the cereal besides eat it.

Though eat it I did.  I put a little in my mouth and closed my eyes to try to get in “tune” with its distinctive flavor.  I thought I detected the pleasantly subtle taste of barley malt, checked the box and, sure enough, there it was in the very short list of wholesome ingredients.  Otherwise, Uncle Sam is deeply nutty in flavor.  It just tastes wholesome, with pleasant texture contrasts.

So, next I poured a little unsweetened soymilk over it and tasted it before doctoring it up in any way.  I decided that–and this admittedly sounds odd–it would be tasty with a sprinkling of both nutritional yeast and natural sugar to create the same sort of savory-sweet appeal of Kettle Corn.  I loved it.   Be advised, though, that, even without the nutritional yeast and sugar, Uncle Sam’s is calorie dense. I recommend measuring out the cereal so as not too meat too much.  Because it is so healthy and tasty–10 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein with less than 1 gram of sugar per serving–it would be very easy to go overboard.

Not being much of a cereal eater–I get a little carried away with it in the house and don’t know when to stop eating–I opted for making the treats mentioned above.  Still thinking in terms of dried apricots and nuts from my morning hiking in Back Bay Wildlife Refuge/False Cape described in a previous post, and with a bag of vegan chocolate morsels in the pantry, I decided to dip the apricots halfway into the melted chocolate and then roll them in the cereal.  The resulting color contrast of shimmering translucent orange and dark ebony brown chocolate studded with lighter brown flecks was just beautiful.

I can scarcely think of a more appealing nor unique box of Valentine’s treats than these combined with my Peanut Butter Brown Rice Cereal Treats with a Dried Apricot-Almond Surprise.

Vegan Chocolate -Dipped Dried Apricots with Crunchy Coating

Yield: 24 confections

24 plump dried apricots

12 ounces vegan dark chocolate (you won’t need this much, but I like the melted chocolate to be deep so that dipping is easy)

approximately 1/2 cup Uncle Sam’s cereal

Line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper and set aside.  in a small microwave safe mixing bowl or a 1 quart saucepan set over a double boiler, gently melt chocolate.  While chocolate is melting, pour cereal into a small bowl.  Holding each apricot between your thumb and forefinger, dip halfway up in the melted chocolate, gently roll in the cereal, and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Store in the refrigerator between layers of waxed or parchment paper in an airtight container, but allow to come to room temperature before serving.

For 150+ more recipes for holidays and every day, please check out The Blooming Platter Cookbook: A Harvest of Seasonal Vegan Recipes.

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Crash the SuperBowl Snack Recipe #7: Vegan Peanut Butter and Rice Cereal Balls with a Dried Apricot-Almond Surprise and Erewhon Product Review

Yield: 12 “stuffed” balls or 24 unstuffed (easily doubles)

In this recipe, a childhood favorite grows up…just a little.  And, because these treats are portable and can sit out indefinitely, they lend themselves to Superbowl noshing, as well as brown bag lunches, backpack snacks, and travel.

As a kid, my mom, sister and I used to make Peanut Butter and Rice Krispie Treats.  So when Alisa Fleming of Go Dairy Free, who also does some online marketing, offered to send me a couple of varieties of cereal from Attune Foods to review and mentioned that Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal was a good “recipe cereal,” I knew what I would make as soon as the package arrived on my doorstep

But, being one who likes to play with her food–that is, adapt original recipes–I started brainstorming about what I could do to make them extra-special.  I’m not a big cereal eater, as most are so carb- and calorie-dense and fail to make me fill satisfied, but I do like the idea of cereals with fruit and nuts.   And my good pal, Katherine Jackson and I had recently gone on a 7+ mile hike in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park with dried apricots and almonds in tow.  So, it occurred to me that I could form the mixture into balls around a piece of dried apricot and tuck a roasted almond into the top.  Delicious, nutritious, and cute to boot. (Note: Katherine authored the book, Walking Virginia Beach.)

Eureka!  These are so good that the only danger is eating too many.  Though reasonably healthy albeit pretty heavy in the sweetener department, they are far from low-calorie.  So, make them for your Superbowl or any other gathering–or to give as gifts (they pack and travel well)–and limit yourself to just one…or two.  Wouldn’t they be cute as Valentine’s “candy”?

First, before the recipe, the cereal “review”:  I loved Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal.  It is almost identical to Rice Krispies, but it is made with the whole grains of organic brown rice.  And I found Erewhon’s particular crunch to be pleasantly dense, not as light and airy as the Kellogg version.  Erewhon is vegan, of course, gluten free, all organic, kosher, low fat, very lightly sweetened with brown rice syrup, and contains no artificial anything.  You can buy it at

Vegan Peanut Butter and Rice Cereal Balls with Dried Apricot-Almond Surprise
1/2 cup agave nectar (I used the light colored variety as a substitute for corn syrup–works beautifully)
1/2 cup natural sugar
1/2 cup organic, unsweetened, creamy peanut butter
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Approximately 2 3/4 cups crispy rice cereal (like Rice Krispies, but I used Erewhon)
3 plump dried apricots, cut into quarters
12 whole roasted almonds
Line a carton or tin with waxed paper or mini muffin/candy liners.  In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, bring agave nectar and sugar to a simmer, stirring frequently.  Book gently, stirring, for one minute.  Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the peanut butter until melted.  Then stir in the vanilla extract, followed by the cereal, combining well.  When the mixture is cool enough to handle and easily hold its shape, divide it into 12 portions.  Form each into a ball around one-quarter of an apricot and insert a whole almond into the top.  Place the balls as you shape them into a prepared container.  Store tightly covered at room temperature.  Note: if you choose not to stuff them, you can make them half the size and end up with 24 or twice as many.
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Happy Vegan Valentine’s Day–Vegan Chocolate Truffles

Vegan Chocolate Truffle

Many recipes call for making a cashew cream of equal parts cashews and water which I find WAY too thin. These recipes also often call for melted chocolate which is luscious, but fairly high-fat. So, I make mine with cocoa powder and powdered sugar. Try them–you’ll LOVE them.

And, by the way, I hope this post isn’t too late to do you any good for Valentine’s Day tomorrow. This is the earliest I could get it done, so I apologize if you’ve no time left to make a batch. They are ultra quick to prepare and shape, though the mixture does need to chill for about 2-3 hours.

On the other hand, don’t feel you can only indulge on special occasions!

2 cups cashews halves or pieces (raw or roasted and lightly salted; if the latter, the truffles will have that “roasted” flavor and you will be able to taste the salt, but I love salt and sugar together)

1/2 cup cocoa powder

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup water plus up to 1 tablespoon more

optional: 1/2 teaspoon flavoring of choice, e.g. vanilla, rum, hazelnut, etc.

Coating: cocoa powder, colored sugar, very finely chopped nuts, etc. (I used red sugar for the one in the photograph)

24 mini-paper liners in Valentine’s colors/patterns (I purchased mine at a craft store) Line a baking sheet with waxed paper.

Place all ingredients except paper liners, of course, in the bowl of a food processor. Process for a few seconds and then scrape the sides of the bowl. Process the mixture for several minutes or until very smooth, scraping the sides as necessary. Add the additional 1 tablespoon of water, 1 teaspoon at a time, if needed to prevent stressing the motor of your food processor, as this is a very thick mixture. Scrape it into an airtight container and chill for 2 to 3 hours or until it is firm enough to handle very easily. (Believe it or not, the motor of your food processor working will have caused the mixture to warm slightly.) Scoop the mixture into 1-inch balls (I use a small scoop for this task), rolling each one between your palms quickly to shape, and placing it on the prepared baking sheet. Return the sheet to the refrigerator if necessary before coating the candies. Pour the desired coating into a small bowl, quickly roll each truffle in it to cover completely, and place it in a mini-paper liner. Store the truffles in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Package as desired.

Yield: 2 dozen 1-inch truffles

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Vegan Peppermint and Chocolate Patties (A Valentine’s Day Must-Have)

Yield: 30 candies

I was a fan of York Peppermint Patties in my vegetarian days. Recently, I’ve been coveting the pretty heart-shaped pink variety that Helen Cox, our beloved IB Coordinator, keeps in her candy dish. So, I decided to make her a well-deserved box of vegan ones for an early Valentine’s gift…and, of course, sample a few in the process.

I’m sold! I found a very fine recipe at The only changes I made were to 1) dry them longer than instructed and flip them during the process; 2) add a little vanilla in addition to the peppermint extract for a more nuanced flavor; and 3) spread chocolate on the top of each patty, rather than dipping them, as dipping can be hit-or-miss for me in the make-a-mess department. I also think they’d look snazzy drizzled with the chocolate Jackson Pollock-style.

Oh-so-pretty in pink, these can also be tinted green for Christmas or even St. Patty’s Day. To give as gifts, layer them between pieces of waxed paper in a colored tissue paper-lined box, tied with a ribbon.

4 tablespoons vegan butter, softened (I use Earth Balance)
1/3 cup light corn syrup
two drops of red or green food coloring
4 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/4-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
9 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet vegan chocolate

Line baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper or Silpat. Cream together first three ingredients. Beat in powdered sugar, 1/2-1 cup at a time, then beat in extracts until mixture is uniform in color, very smooth and quite stiff, but not in danger of cracking. Using a very small scoop, make 30 balls a couple of inches apart on lined baking sheet. With the oiled bottom of a glass, press balls into a disk about 2-inches in diameter. (Using two fingers, hold down the baking sheet liner as you lift the glass away to help prevent sticking.) Let patties dry, uncovered, in a cool place for 2 or more hours. When fairly firm, flip patties to help dry the other side. Melt chocolate at 30 second intervals in a small bowl in the microwave or over simmering water on the stove top. Whisk between intervals until very smooth. Allow to cool somewhat, but remain spreadable. Spread tops of each patty with 1/2 teaspoon or so of chocolate, or drizzle decoratively across surface, Jackson Pollock style. Allow to dry/harden a couple more hours in a cool place and then refrigerate for a few more before packaging. Note: you may add sprinkles or other decorations while chocolate is still soft. I like the minimalist approach, but I think it looks nice to choose a few to embellish, sort of like Harry and David includes one gold foil-wrapped pear in each of their gift boxes.

Source: Slightly adapted from

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Mom’s Vegan English Butter Toffee–A Winter Holiday Tradition

Though, regrettably, this is too late for the winter holiday season just past, I still wanted to share my mom’s annual Christmas confection. (I had to wait until after it was made to photograph it. So, be sure to bookmark it for next year…but, come to think of it, it’s good any time of year.)

For as long as I can remember, Mama has stayed up late making candy the night before I leave my family’s home to return to my own after Christmas. She always tucks a canister of it into my carry on luggage for me to eat and share on the plane–there are frequently passengers I know–or when I arrive at my destination.

In 2004, after she had been making it for many, many years, it mysteriously flopped. (In those days, I was vegetarian, but not vegan, so she was using all of the ingredients she had always used and the same recipe.) I think she made it at least twice–maybe three times–and each time the sugar crystallized. We were both baffled. She ended up scrapping it all, but several days later, I received a “kit” in the mail that included a sheet of toffee that had worked reasonably well, though it was still grainy, some chocolate to melt and some nuts for sprinkling. Not perfect, it was still fun to assemble and eat.

The next year, thinking the failed attempts were a fluke, I was writing a feature about Mama’s toffee for our newspaper’s food section and the same thing happened to me. With a pan of it in thrown into the woods beside our house and a photo shoot the next day, I turned to the most scientific foodie I know of: Alton Brown. In an online recipe, he recommended combining two types of sugar–regular granulated sugar and a little corn syrup–to prevent crystallization. It worked beautifully and that’s how we’ve been making it ever since.

Now we also substitute Earth Balance for real butter. The only difference is that, as the candy hardens, some of the oil seems to separate, so we just blot it up with a paper towel before layering on the chocolate and nuts.

I hope you enjoy this holiday tradition as much as we do. Happy New Year everyone and thanks, Mama!

1 pound vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)
6 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 cups granulated sugar
8 ounces vegan semi-sweet or vegan bittersweet chocolate
1 cup sliced almonds (or substitute coarsely chopped slivered almonds, pecans, macadamias or hazelnuts)

Butter a baking sheet and an offset spatula. Set pans on wire racks. Clip candy thermometer to a heavy 3 quart saucepan, preventing it from touching the bottom of the pan. In saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Meanwhile, mix together warm water and corn syrup. Stir sugar into melted butter, raise heat to medium or medium-high (about a 7 or 8 on a dial) and bring to a gentle boil. Stir in water-corn syrup mixture and cook, stirring constantly until thermometer reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit (the “hard crack” stage) or until golden brown, approximately 10-12 minutes. Note: temperature may reach as high as 350 degrees before candy reaches the desired caramel color, but it scorches easily, so be careful. Pour mixture onto baking sheet and, if necessary, use the offset spatula to coax candy to edges of the pan. Cool. Heat chocolate in microwave on 50 percent power or in the top of a double boiler until completely melted, stirring occasionally. Spread over slightly cooled toffee and sprinkle with almonds. Cool completely and refrigerate. Break into irregular pieces. Layer between waxed paper in an airtight container and store in a cool dry place.

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