Best and Easiest Vegan Roll-and-Cut Gingerbread Cookies

You will love this no-fail, no-egg recipe that I have had since I was an adolescent growing up in a small town in south-central Mississippi.  There, Quinn’s, the local pharmacy, was virtually the only place to purchase cosmetics. Just beginning to experiment with make-up, one year, I was seduced around the holidays  by “gingerbread” flavored lip gloss which was sold complete with a gingerbread cookie recipe printed on an accompanying card.

I first made them for one of the attorneys with whom my mother worked.  He loved them and, thereafter they became known as “John’s Gingerbread Cookies.”  I made them frequently but I haven’t made them for a long time.  However, this holiday season I saw a mason jar filled with miniature gingerbread boy and girl cookies and tied with a bow.  I was smitten, yet I never had an opportunity to make them during the winter holiday season. But, with my partner Bob struggling with several weeks of pain from bulging disks in his neck, I decided he needed a treat so I made a half batch shaped as hearts.  He ate half of them in half a day.

The only ingredient that needed to be substituted to make the cookies vegan was butter. Thank goodness for Earth Balance.  The rest is a piece of cake, er, bite of cookie.  And your home will smell divine.

Best and Easiest Vegan Roll-and-Cut Gingerbread Cookies

1 cup softened vegan butter

1 cup sugar (I like to use demerara, available at Kroger)

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger or ground ginger (I like the pungency and brightness of the fresh, but I purchase it in a jar for ease and convenience)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (the original recipe called for 1 teaspoon, which I found too strong)

3 cups all-purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or, my favorite, Silpat (silicone baking mats).  In large bowl of electric mixer, cream together vegan butter and sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy.  Beat in maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves until completely combined.  Don’t worry if mixture looks slightly curdled.  Then, with mixer on low, beat in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, just until incorporated and dough comes together.  Add water, a teaspoon at a time, if dough seems too dry.  Avoid over-mixing or cookies will be tough. Working with one-fourth of dough at a time, roll it out on a lightly floured board to a thickness somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4″.  Cut into desired shapes, place close together on prepared baking sheet, and bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden brown.  Cool slightly and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat with remaining dough.

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Vegan Nutella and Puff Pastry Christmas Tree

I can’t see Santa’s Forest for these adorable trees.

Apparently they are all the rage this year, but I was evidently a little late to the pastry tree party.  Make yours with pizza dough or puff pastry and spread with the sweet or savory filling you most crave. Just be sure to include a creamy base to adhere the layers together.

My version is sweet–but not too–uses only three ingredients and, after the pastry thaws, is ready to devour in under 30 minutes.  I left a Middle Eastern dinner and this tree last night for our dog sitters (yes, we are those dog owners) while we joined friends for their Christmas Eve Eve tradition: a salad and sip of wine followed by a Christmas light-lit walk over to the Naro, an independent film house, to see “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The twins left some of the tabouli salad but not a crumb of the pastry. It was a huge hit with these 19 year olds.

My take on this new classic was inspired by its key ingredient: Rigoni di Asiago’s Nocciolata Oraganic Dairy-Free Hazelnut & Cocoa Spread, generously sent to me for product review purposes. With a deeply nutty and chocolatey flavor–its richness undiluted by dairy–and a thick and creamy–but spreadable–texture, this product is tops in my pantry (it needs no refrigeration).  It is also gluten- and palm oil-free.

Recipe

1 box Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry (2 sheets), thawed according to package directions

4.5 to 5 ounces vegan Hazelnut-Cocoa spread (1/2 jar Nocciolata)

1 to 2 tablespoons non-dairy milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On baking stone or parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet, stack the two pastry sheets.  With a sharp knife, cut into a triangular tree shape with a 1-inch or so wide trunk at the bottom. Remove top sheet, spread bottom sheet with hazelnut-cocoa spread, replace top sheet, lining up edges, and press down gently.

Cut 1 star from scraps and whatever other shapes you like fir nibbling or to serve as croutons on salads. Place pastry shapes on a separate stone or lined baking sheet.

Make 3/4-inch wide horizontal cuts from outer edges of triangle toward the center, stopping even with outer edges of trunk leaving a 1-inch or so wide trunk up the center. Twist each long cut strip twice and the shorter ones once, pressing tips firmly against baking stone or sheet.  Brush very lightly with non-dairy milk, press star onto top point, and brush star with a tiny bit more non-dairy milk.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown, but remove shapes cut from scraps after 10 or 15 minutes or they will burn. Remove baking sheet with pastry tree from oven, cool slightly, and slide tree onto serving platter. Serve warm or room temperature.

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Vegan Roasted Za’atar Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

If, like me, you find yourself in need of quick, no-fuss holiday gifts from your kitchen, you and your recipients will love my twist on a classic. The Middle Eastern flavor of za’atar curls up next to a hint of smoked paprika, garlic, and tamarind syrup for an intoxicating savory and slightly sweet flavor combination that is tantalizingly exotic, but not odd.

Za’atar is an aromatic Middle Eastern herb blend of earthy-lemony sumac, oregano, thyme, savory, and sesame seeds.

Package these seeds in pretty canisters or jars…or enjoy them warm right off the baking sheet.

Note: adjust spices if necessary to suit your palate.

4 cups raw pumpkin seeds (I purchased sprouted seeds at Whole Foods)

Non-stick spray

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons za’tar

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons tamarind syrup (sold at Middle Eastern markets)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray (so that less oil is needed).  Spread seeds out in an even layer. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with remaining ingredients except tamarind syrup, and roast for 10 minutes or until lightly golden brown, stirring half-way through. Remove from oven, drizzle with tamarind syrup, stir well to distribute evenly, cool on wire rack, and package in airtight containers.

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Vegan Mini-Chutney & Cocowhip “Pies”
Ready in a (Ginger)Snap

These pretty little mini-pies make holiday pie “baking” a snap. A gingersnap.

I am so happy to share this cheater “recipe” with you, the brain child of my good friend, Mary Beth Watson. It is really just a 3-ingredient lickity-split process.

After one bite, no one will care how little time you spent laboring in your kitchen.

Ingredients:

Anna’s or your favorite brand crispy scalloped (preferably) vegan gingersnaps

Chutney (apple-pecan or, for Christmas, cranberry-orange-walnut “sauce” works nicely)

So Delicious brand Cocowhip or your favorite vegan whipped cream

To make each mini-pie, top one gingersnap with a spoonful of chutney followed by a dollop of Cocowhip. That’s it! Make as many or as few as you need just before serving time.

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Best Vegan Salted Maple Brandy (or Bourbon) Pecan Pie
(Custardy Texture)

I got inspired AFTER Thanksgiving to experiment with pecan pie. The one at our repast was not vegan, so I couldn’t partake.

On a recent trip to Duck, NC, Bob had a scrumptious pecan tart with bourbon ice cream and salted caramel sauce which I had to taste for research purposes. I felt the caramel sauce was overkill. And I knew I wasn’t going to make ice cream just due to time, so I added the booze to the pie and served the slices with purchased vegan vanilla ice cream. Yes, please.

The question for vegan pecan pie bakers is silken tofu or no?  I say yes, as I was never a fan of syrupy pecan pie. So, I like the slightly more custardy texture of this one, which slices beautifully.  I hope you do too.

As I mentioned, this pie is addicting served with softened vegan vanilla ice cream. And while I deemed the caramel sauce too much of a good thing, everyone will look the other way if you drizzle a hint more brandy or bourbon over the top.

  • 1 prepared vegan crust
  • 3 cups whole pecans
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons vegan butter
  • 1 cup demerrera sugar
  • ¾ cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon dark molasses
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons brandy or bourbon
  • Juice of half a medium-large lemon (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup soft silken tofu
  • Optional: a few vegan chocolate chips
  • Flaky or coarse sea salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. If pie crust is frozen, remove from freezer.  Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray, spread pecans in a single layer on sheet, sprinkle very lightly with sea salt, and roast in oven for 3 minutes.  Set aside, but leave oven on.

In a medium saucepan, combine the vegan butter, sugar, corn syrup, molasses, corn starch, flour, and sea salt.  Stir and cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring, for another minute. Remove from heat and stir in brandy or bourbon, vanilla, and almond extract.
In a food processor, process the silken tofu until smooth. Add the maple syrup mixture and pulse again well combined. Reserve 28 of the pecan halves, add half of the remaining pecan halves, and break up the temaining ones as you add. Use a spatula to gently swirl them into the filling. Transfer filling to pie shell. Arrange the reserved pecans on top of the pie in two concentric circles. Dot with chocolate chips if desired.
Place pie on a baking sheet on the middle rack of your oven and bake for about one hour, until the crust is nicely browned and the edges of the pie are set. The center might still be a very slightly jiggly. Remove from oven, sprinkle with just a hint of flaky sea salt like Maldon or just a nice coarse variety and allow to cool completely before serving.
Serve with softened vegan vanilla ice cream (I like So Delicious No Sugar Added) or vegan whipped cream.
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Why Whole Foods Vegan Cornbread Should NEVER
Be Used to Make Stuffing

Image result for whole foods vegan cornbreadIt looks harmless enough, doesn’t it?  But don’t be fooled…

Happily tasked with contributing several items to this year’s Thanksgiving repast, I thought I might reduce my cooking time–though I love to cook almost as much as anyone–by purchasing prepared cornbread for the stuffing. I applaud virtually everything about Whole Foods, so I thought I couldn’t go wrong.  But, I was wrong.  Bad wrong.

As Bob opened each cellophane wrapped hunk, I thought the moist crusts looked very similar to poundcake.  I tasted it and, as best I could tell, it was poundcake–and a very moist one at that–made with cornmeal.  Who would want a bread that sweet with their chili, lentil soup, or any of the rest of the WF family of soups next to which this alleged “cornbread” is sold?  I don’t even care for cake that sweet.

But, I like savory and sweet combos as much as the next gal, so I soldiered on.  Still, this cornbread was so sweet that I was dubious about how compatible the celery, onion, and sage was going to be with these cakey crumbs.  Yet, I didn’t have time to stop and make cornbread from scratch, so Bob persisted, crumbling the cornbread and one baguette into a huge bowl.  And I proceeded with my recipe, adding the aforementioned plus lots of beautifully toasted pecan halves.

As I poured the vegetable stock over the mound of ingredients, I watched in horror as it dissolved into what can only be described as a cookie-dough like consistency.  Desperate, I added the half cup or so of Panko bread crumbs that I had on hand, but it was of no use.  I decided to go ahead and bake it, hoping that science and physics might work some kind of magic in the oven.  But, alas, I pulled it out, tasted it, and my response can only be described as disgust at what was a dense, heavy, pasty, unpleasant-tasting mass.

In a last-ditch effort, I sprinkled some sliced green onion over the top and slid it back in the oven for about 10 more minutes.  There was no appreciable change to the unappetizing mass. I briefly considered melting vegan butter over the top for some salty goodness, but then came to my senses:

I marched straight out the front door, across the little Japanese bridge over our dry river bed, and into the woods where I unceremoniously dumped the whole lot of it into the deep carpet of leaves.  We live on Buchanan Creek which feeds the Chesapeake Bay and I  know from my freelance writing about eco-issues that residents are not supposed to dump fatty ingredients down the sink or onto the ground.  However, I wanted that glob out of our house–I didn’t even want it in a sealed bag in the garage–and fast.

There would be no stuffing this year, but there was more than enough delicious food.  And I didn’t tarnish my reputation as one of the family’s inspired cooks.

I hope your Thanksgiving was earmarked by culinary successes or, at the very least, culinary lessons learned well.  Happy Holidays!

 

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Vegan Red Velvet Shortbread Cookies
One of My Better Homes & Gardens
Test Kitchen Winning Recipes

Yield: 5 dozen cookies

Well, I blew it in terms of posting these not-too-sweet rubry red cookies for Christmas.  But, they would be just as lovely for Valentine’s Day. So, Happy Whatever!

Back in the day, when Better Homes & Gardens Magazine ran monthly reader recipe contests, these cookies won an award.  I brought them back tthis year for our Christmas Cheer Open House with a drizzle, instead of a dip, of white chocolate.  I think they are magically beautiful…add silver or gold nonpareils if you desire some sparkle.

 

1 cup vegan butter, softened

3/4 cup powdered sugar

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1-1 ounce bottle red food coloring (choose an organic, vegan version)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)

8 ounces melted vegan white chocolate (I order white chocolate chips online)

Optional: silver or gold nonpareils

Cream together in an electric mixer butter, powdered sugar, and cocoa powder.  Turn off mixer and add food coloring, extracts, and 1/2 cup flour, and incorporate into butter mixture on lowest speed so as not to splatter.  Gradually add remaining flour on low speed, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Divide dough into fourths, roll into logs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, wrap in waxed paper, and chill for 20 minutes or until firm.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice each log into 1/4-inch diagonal slices and place slices 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, preferably lined with Silpat or parchment paper.  Remove the cookie sheets to a wire rack and cool completely.  Drizzle cookies with melted white chocolate (I use a pastry bag fitted with a small round tube for this task.)  Decorate with nonpareils if desired.

 

 

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Best Vegan Nicely Spicy Holiday Nuts

Nicely Spicy Holiday NutsYield: approximately 2 pounds of nuts

These addicting nuts are perfect for New Year’s Day football watching or any time a protein-packed and exquisite snack is in order.

For years Ina Garten’s recipe for Rosemary Cashews was my go-to for snacking and gift-giving.  But I found myself craving something with a little more complex flavor and a little less sweet.  So I began experimenting and this was my favorite delicious result. You may substitute pecan halves if you like, but they will likely require less cooking time.

This recipe easily doubles or triples.  I triple it and use a large roasting pan.

For gift-giving, I like to package the nuts inside a resealable plastic sandwich bag inside a tin to prevent the tin’s interior from becoming messy.

 

28 to 32 ounces roasted and lightly salted or salted cashews (the cans I purchase at Bed, Bath, and Beyond come as 28 ounces)

1/3 cup vegan butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon adobo (from a can of chiles in adobo)

Zest of 1 lime

1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon nutritional yeast (optional but delish)

1/2 teaspoon natural sugar

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together all ingredients in a 9 x 13″ baking pan, and taste and adjust seasoning if desired.  Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring frequently until fragrant and lightly golden brown.  Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in airtight containers.

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My Mother’s (vegan) English Butter Toffee–THE BEST!

English Butter Toffee--Sallie'sMy adored late mother (sadly, she passed away on October 2), Sallie Gough, and I made this candy every Christmas, but it is indescribably buttery, silky, and crunchy any time of year…say, for a New Year’s Day party.

I made it this year for my annual Christmas, Channukah, Curry & Confections party–where it was a big hit (any leftover crumbles are divine over vegan ice cream)–and made a batch to leave with my father and sister before I left their home in Mississippi and returned to Virginia after Christmas.

1 pound butter/vegan butter
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
8 to 12 ounces vegan dark or semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup or so sliced, slivered or finely chopped almonds

Butter a cookie sheet with shallow sides and set aside. In a saucepan with a heavy bottom over medium heat, bring butter and sugar to a simmer, stirring frequently. Whisk together water and corn syrup in a small cup and stir into butter and sugar mixture.

Attach candy thermometer to side of saucepan without letting the tip touch the bottom, and continue to cook mixture until it turns a golden amber color and registers about 300 degrees on the thermometer. You may have to cook it to 350 degrees to achieve the desired color.

Pour immediately onto cookie sheet and spread evenly. Allow to cool completely. Melt chocolate and spread over toffee. Sprinkle with nuts and store in refrigerator until cold. Break into pieces and return to refrigerator, covered.

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