No Bake Homemade Cranberry Chocolate Oat Clif Bars

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I’m a big fan of Clif chocolate brownie bars. They’re only a dollar at Trader Joe’s, taste like a brownie, and unlike Luna Bars, don’t have rice crispies in them. I might have discovered the holy grail to making no-bake, gluten-free sweets that taste very similar to Clif bars – Medjool dates. By themselves, they are sweet, chewy, and have a rich caramelly flavor that makes me think of chocolate. However, I do find them a tad bit dense, and they are fairly caloric (about 60-70 calories per date; for context, an average apple is about 90 calories). However, their sticky nature means they act as an effective binder when blended in with oats and other nuts.

I browsed around for some recipes, and it is really great how flexible this recipe is. Some combination of dates and oats along with almond flour and other berries would work well. I think this would be a pretty good hiking mix since it’s so compact and easy to eat, but note that there isn’t a ton of protein in it compared to the Clif bars. I made my version with cranberries and cocoa powder, but I imagine you can switch up the flavors as you like, using dates (to bind) and almond flour (for protein) as a base. I imagine raisins, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, maple syrup, and honey would work well here too. I also used a Vitamix to blend the ingredients since I don’t have a food processor, but that seemed to work out fine.

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No Bake Homemade Cranberry Chocolate Oat Clif Bars
Makes 6-8 snack-sized bars

120g Medjool dates, pitted (10-12 dates)
3/4 almond flour (or 1 cup raw almonds)
1/2 cup cranberries
1 cup oats
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup water

Put everything in a food processor and blend till it is reasonably mixed up. You still want some chunks, so no need to puree it up. Mold it with your hands into balls or bars, and either eat right away if you’re hungry, or refrigerate so it hardens up.

Key Lime Pie with Ginger Almond Crust

IMG_3965I inherited some limes from my workplace's Frozen Drink Friday happy hour, and made a key lime pie. This is probably my first deliberate endeavor into slightly more gluten-free baking. I had some almond flour left over from my macaron-making adventures (which turned out to be quite dissatisfactory, and is the reason why no mention of it has been made) and decided to incorporate it into the key lime pie, which traditionally has a graham cracker crust. I also happened to have some ginger at home, which is probably one of my favorite spices which unfortunately gets little use in my kitchen. I grated some into the crust mixture, and voila – spicy, nutty, tart flavor explosion.

What you see here though, was actually my second attempt at a key lime pie using this recipe. For my first attempt, I tried to avoid using condensed milk and used rehydrated powdered milk instead but that didn't end up so well.

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The pie filling was crumbly and powdery, and nothing like the silky texture I was hoping for. But I knew I found a winner with the ginger almond crust and I simply had to try again, even if it meant going to the store and buying a can of condensed milk for the express purpose of this pie. (And you know I’m not terribly fond of purchasing recipe-specific ingredients since it leads to wastage.)

Fortunately my second attempt turned out much better. The pie filling, with its simplicity of ingredients, really is fail-proof. It’s smooth and tart, and contrasts well with the nutty crust. I like that the crust is not just a base for holding the pie filling, but actually contains a unique flavor of its own. Its texture is a little chewy, somewhat resembling a granola bar. It is modifiable to be entirely gluten-free if you so desire, but not in an overt way that might put off food purists.

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Key Lime Pie with Ginger Almond Crust
Makes one 9-inch pie

Crust
1/2 cup almond flour/meal
1/2 cup all purpose flour (Feel free to use all almond flour or change around the proportions a little bit as long as you use 1 cup of flour eventually)
2 tbsp butter, softened.
1.5 tbsp fresh grated ginger root
2 tbsps honey
30g brown sugar

Heat oven to 350 F. Line an 9-inch round pan with parchment paper, or use a pie dish if you have one. Mix all the ingredients together into a clumpy mix. Use your hands to mix it more evenly, if necessary. Press into the base of round pan. Bake for 10 minutes until edges of the crust is very lightly browned. Leave to cool.

Pie Filling
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp grated lime zest
1/2 cup lime juice (I used the juice of two large limes)
1 (14 oz) can of condensed milk

Mix egg yolks, lime zest, and lime juice. When mixture is homogenous, stir in condensed milk. Pour mixture into crust and bake at 350 F for 15 minutes. The pie filling should still be glossy and wet. Let it cool out of the oven, and then refrigerate at least a couple of hours so the pie filling sets.

Red Velvet Snowball Cookies

IMG_3610Now that I’ve completed my last stretch of college, I’ve been unwinding by baking up quite a storm. Baking is such a relaxing activity to me. The methodical weighing, stirring, baking, and even washing up the avalanche of dishes that I aim to pack as much of as possible on the drying rack – it’s all very comforting to me. Humans find meaning in creating, and a part of me might be quite content to be home all day, baking Christmas cookies. (And folding origami while I wait for the cookies to bake. I was attempting this origami spring and despite two attempts, it was a veritable failure.

IMG_3602Luckily, these red velvet snowball cookies are the prettiest little mounds, aren’t they? I really love red velvet anything for its visually arresting color contrast. The pictures have a wintery blue cast over them, and I didn’t edit it out because I rather liked the blue’s effect against the red. The texture of these are really like regular shortbread cookies – buttery, a little sandy texture that melts in your mouth. They aren’t very sweet by themselves as well, and absolutely need the dusting of confectioner’s sugar to taste good.

IMG_3603I halved the original recipe because I didn’t want to deal with 4 dozen of the same thing, and since there weren’t any eggs, halving was easy. That’s why I think a digital weighing scale is essential for any home baker – your baking gets so much more precise, and it’s also much easier to scale down recipes for a smaller home. I weighed my mounds out to 17 g each, and ended up with 25 mounds.

It’s only a few more days before Christmas. Keep baking while you can!

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Red Velvet Snowball Cookies
Makes 2 dozen
Adapted from Baking Bites

3/4 cups butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cocoa powder
approx. 1/2 tsp red food coloring
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup almond flour/meal
extra confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, vanilla and salt until smooth and creamy. Beat in cocoa powder and red food coloring until the mixture is bright red. Add additional coloring if needed.
Gradually incorporate the flour and ground almonds, mixing until no streaks of dry ingredients remain.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are very lightly browned.
Allow cookies to cool for 3-4 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. When cooled, roll cookies in confectioners’ sugar until well-coated in white “snow.”
Store in an airtight bag.
Cool completely on a wire rack before storing.

Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Almond Crescent Cookies)

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Vanillekipferl originated from Vienna, Austria, and are popular in Central European countries. Shortbread-like in texture, they are buttery and crumbly but with an additional almond nuttiness. These are often consumed in association with Christmas, and have similar variations around the world: Mexican wedding cookies, pecan sandies, Chinese almond cookies, Greek kourabiedes, polvorones… It’s interesting that in almost all of these cases, almond crescent cookies are associated with celebratory events. I wonder what it is about almonds that make them such a popular choice for fêtes.

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These cookies were super simple to make. Mixing it up didn’t require any special techniques, and the key thing is probably refrigerating the dough. Refrigerating the dough before shaping them is essential for easy maneuverability. I personally found the shaping process very comforting. I tend towards drop cookies, so shaped cookies are quite a change of pace for me. I also used vanilla essence instead of vanilla beans because that stuff is expensive, yo. I weighed each dollop of dough in order to achieve consistency, and that might be a good idea if you want your cookies to bake evenly. I would also recommend sprinkling the sugar when the cookies are still warm: this will ensure that the sugar adheres to the cookie as it cools down.

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Vanillekipferl
Adapted from Allrecipes
Makes 30 cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
2 cups confectioners’ sugar for rolling

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Add vanilla essence. Mix in the flour and ground almonds. Divide the dough into two pieces, wrap and refrigerate until firm.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Break off tablespoonful sized pieces of dough and roll them into little ropes about 2 inches long. Bend the ropes into a half circle and place them 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until lightly browned. Carefully roll warm cookies in the sugar.