Author Archives: Moriah VanVleet

Rhubarb rum sandwich cakes: A taste of springtime

Rhubarb Rum Whoopie Pies (87)
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Rhubarb season seems to slip by quickly each spring, and by the time I think of transforming it into a new treat, it’s gone from the market. I’m left with the disappointment of missing something so bright, so refreshing, and so quintessentially springtime. But not this year.

Craving a casual dessert, I decided on a whoopie pie style cookie: soft but sturdy handheld cakes with a creamy filling. After cooking my rhubarb on the stovetop, I incorporated it into both the batter and the filling of these cakey cookies, then paired it with lightly sweetened cream cheese to mirror its tangy flavor. Some vanilla bean and splash of dark rum would offer a complementary, mellow warmth. … Continue reading »

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Mulberry oat cookies: Distinctive and delicious

Mulberry Cookies (13)
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After a recent dinner out, my dad and I popped into a tiny grocery store and picked up a random sampling of items: Mexican cactus fruit, unusually flavored popsicles (think salted chili cucumber), and a bag of dried white mulberries from Turkey.

That’s one of the things I love about my dad, and something I think I inherited: food curiosity. He’s known to order the most unusual dish on the menu, while I can’t stop experimenting with new ingredients.

Tonight we’d both expected the popsicles to serve as dessert, but we instead ended up polishing off the mulberries before we knew it. They were simply addictive: sweet, tender and almost crispy, with warm notes of vanilla and a buttery essence. … Continue reading »

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Sesame halvah cookies: A sweet Hanukkah treat

Halvah cookies (9)
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Dense with sesame sweetness, the taste of halvah always brings me back to the kitchen of my grandmother’s house, where a wedge of the nutty candy was one of her favorite after-dinner indulgences.

Made and spelled in various ways, halvah has ties to numerous regions. For me, halvah came through grandma’s bygone Jewish upbringing, and was always the sesame kind, preferably vanilla marbled with chocolate.

I can’t help thinking of my grandma when Hanukkah comes each year. As a way to both commemorate her and celebrate the holidays, I created a new treat for the season. After encircling a chunk of sweet halvah in buttery dough, I baked them into hearty cookie perfection and topped them with chocolate and sesame seeds. … Continue reading »

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Leftover cranberry sauce? Make these clove cookies

Cranberry clove cookies
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After each visit to see family for the holidays, my husband and I are ever grateful to head home with full bellies and a car packed with leftovers, from stuffing and gravy to containers of cranberry sauce.

My soon-after-Thanksgiving tradition has become not one of shopping, nor of eating turkey sandwiches, but of transforming the leftovers into a holiday treat: orange spice thumbprint cookies made with cranberry sauce.

Pushing centers in

Photo: Moriah VanVleet

Cranberry Clove Cookies (makes about 48)

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • Scant 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • finely grated zest of one orange
  • 1/2 cup cranberry sauce
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice (optional) … Continue reading »
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Spiced pear sandwich cakes: Luscious and laid back

Spiced pear sandwich cakes (11)
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There’s an air of looming formality in autumn. Sandals and shorts disappear into the backs of our closets. Clinking glasses and winter rituals are close on the horizon. Playing in a pile of colored leaves feels invigorating but elusive. So as a small act of rebellion against the buttoned-up-ness that winter will soon bring, I decided to join together two of fall’s most scrumptious ingredients — pears and cloves — in a deliciously relaxed form. … Continue reading »

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Earthy, scrumptious rosehip graham crackers

Rosehip graham crackers (139)
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Other than their occasional presence in tea and jam, rosehips haven’t surfaced much in my life. I suppose they’ve been overshadowed by the ubiquitous flowers of the same plant: roses (which have an entirely different scent and flavor than the fruit we call their hips).

I admit I still haven’t had a chance to taste a fresh rosehip, but I’ve now tried dried rosehips in both whole and powdered form. Earthy and subtly tangy, their flavor brought to mind the wholemeal taste of graham crackers or digestive biscuits — both of which I’ve long found addicting and wondrously versatile. But for some reason I’d never endeavored to make my own at home. Until now. … Continue reading »

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Brown sugar soy sauce cake: Gooey, citrusy, delish

Brown Sugar Soy Sauce Cake (165)
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Perusing the aisles at Rockridge Market Hall, one of my favorite local markets, I recently came across a beautiful little bottle of soy sauce: a product to which I don’t usually give much attention. But this decorated label magnetized me with phrases like “small batch”, “non-GMO”, “limestone filtered spring water”, and “brewed and aged in bourbon barrels”.  And the description of the taste captivated me the most: “hints of oak and a mild sweetness reminiscent of fine Kentucky bourbon.” With those words, I decided this soy sauce was destined to be part of my next dessert recipe.

Like most soy sauce, my new bottle was pleasantly rich, salty, and a bit malty at once. With its special robust flavor, I couldn’t think of a better match than molasses-rich dark brown sugar, and a moist skillet cake would offer a perfect format. For complementary complexity, I embellished and enhanced the cake with tangy, bright oranges and plenty of vanilla. To top it all off, the interplay of brown sugar, butter and salt would spontaneously create a sort of succulent butterscotch, present in every rich bite. Here is the recipe. … Continue reading »

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For the love of absinthe: Sazerac cookies

Sazerac cookies (16)
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The label on my bottle of locally made absinthe boasts that its “complexity comes from the use of fine brandy, star anise, wormwood, lemon balm, hyssop, meadowsweet, basil, fennel, tarragon and stinging nettles.”

A tiny whiff of it, and I feel like I can smell every complementary component. A tiny taste, and the unique herbs join hands and dance around a ceremonial fire on my tongue. With a vision like this, maybe it’s not too surprising that the spirit was outlawed in the U.S. for almost a century. (But of course there were other rumored reasons. See 3:10 and 6:14 of this great video.)

I couldn’t help thinking of new dessert recipes when I first tasted absinthe, but when I learned about its most historical and quintessential cocktail — the sazerac — I was even more inspired. … Continue reading »

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Got leftover matzah? Try these sweet sesame bars

Matzah bars (1)
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The seders might be over, but maybe you still have a box of matzah around? Its blank-canvas quality and its distinctive browned edges make it a perfect candidate for a flavorful sweet — and this one is easy to make, with most of the process taking place quickly on your stovetop. Together with a heap of toasted sesame seeds, matzah melds deliciously with sweet almond paste, bits of citrus zest and a splash of vanilla. The result is a delicious and decadent treat, reminiscent of baklava with its lightweight crunch, sweet honey, and citrus: a tasty new spring tradition. … Continue reading »

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Lemony fennel cupcakes: Citrus meets fragrant herb

Lemony Fennel Cupcakes (7)
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When I was recently served a salad speckled with slices of fresh fennel, I was reminded of how much I love it. The crunchy white herb was aromatic and mildly sweet, with a whisper of licorice flavor.  Before I knew it, I was recalling all the ways I’ve seen fennel: its bulbs thinly sliced on gourmet pizza, its stalks served like celery on a veggie tray, its seeds served to cleanse the palate after dinner at an Indian restaurant.

But there was a gaping hole in the dessert department, and I couldn’t understand why. Delicately herbal and pleasantly mild, fennel’s fresh form was an excellent candidate for something sweet.  Soon I paired it with lots of lemon and made some of the most tender, airy cupcakes I’ve ever eaten. With its bulb in the batter and its wispy leaves in the icing, fresh fennel had found its sweet spot in my kitchen. … Continue reading »

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Pea and peppermint cake: Delightfully different

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For the new year, maybe you decided to eat more vegetables, or you’re craving green foods after a season of richer meals. Or, perhaps you didn’t resolve to do anything new, but you appreciate a little adventure in the kitchen. Allow me to introduce a delicious dessert whose ingredients include a heap of unlikely vegetables: green peas.

Frozen peas are my back-up for fresh veggies, and the kind I buy come in a bag that boasts, “Naturally sweet!” Despite those truthful italic words, I usually mask the peas’ sweetness with a bit of sea salt or parmesan cheese, serving them as a savory side. But then again, I’ve done the same thing with carrots, zucchini and pumpkin — and if these can make much-adored sweets, why not give peas a chance?

So I finally paired my sweet peas with sugar, flour and vanilla — along with plenty of fresh peppermint leaves and a bit of tangy lemon zest. The result was a delicious and refreshing cake, bursting with minty citrus and sweet herbal undertones. Here is the recipe: … Continue reading »

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Egg nog cream pie for a scrumptious season

Egg Nog Pie (9)
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I’m ever smitten by the festive flavor and creamy decadence of egg nog.  I wait all year for it to come back to me in the form of frozen yogurt, steaming lattes, and even cake.  I love the way it pairs perfectly with my favorite spice — magical nutmeg — and how it reminds me of the cool, sweet milkshakes I sometimes sipped in my younger days.

But when the holidays come, I rarely indulge in egg nog. Efforts at self-discipline notwithstanding, I tend to guzzle my drinks instead of sipping them, and after a drop too many of egg nog, I feel stuffed and sorry. But if the nog comes in the form of dessert — one that can’t disappear with the tilt of a glass — I tend to slow down, to savor it. And with all its sweet richness, egg nog simply seems at home in a format that can be sliced, bitten and washed down with hot coffee.

For my latest creation, I transformed egg nog into a pudding-y custard, slathered it with spiced whipped cream, and paired it with an almond-flecked gingersnap crust. Here’s the recipe: … Continue reading »

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Sunroot spice cake: Celebrating the unusual

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Autumn invites the making of spice cakes: this one uses sunchokes for something different but delicious. Continue reading »

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