Petite sweets for Tu Bishvat

Valentine’s Day comes just a few days after Tu Bishvat, and these desserts would be just fine for that holiday, too

Gluten-free coco-chocolate chip cookies (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Gluten-free coco-chocolate chip cookies
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
For the holiday of Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, we are going to make desserts with fruits and nuts that we learned to prepare recently at a dessert potluck party for food bloggers at Melissa’s Produce. We were free to bring any homemade desserts we liked as long as they were bite-sized.
Somehow all of us were inspired to make desserts that included fruits, nuts or both. Most of the desserts turned out to be perfect treats for Tu Bishvat, when serving dried fruits and nuts as well as sweets made of them is the custom.
A few desserts at the party were elaborate, like a luscious Latin-style trifle that was composed of layers of homemade lemon sponge-cake pieces drizzled with reduced blood-orange juice and rum, then topped with pineapple mango compote, chocolate ganache, vanilla custard, cinnamon, sweetened whipped cream and toasted coconut. One blogger even brought her blow-torch to the party so that she could caramelize the top of her cranberry amaretto crème brûlées just before serving.
Each dessert had an inventive twist and most were easy to make. One was chocolate bark made by adding dried cherries and spiced roasted nuts to melted dark chocolate; after the mixture set, it was cut into pieces – simple and so tasty! An orange cupcake recipe was turned into elegant orange tea cakes enhanced with almonds, dried cranberries and candied ginger. (See recipe.)
Without anyone having planned it, there was something for everyone, including guests who ate only vegan or gluten-free food. There were creamy desserts, chewy cookies and tender cakes. Vegan pumpkin cookies studded with pine nuts gained pizzazz from a variety of spices, including ground coriander and cayenne. Gluten-free coconut chocolate-chip cookies were made of coconut flour and moistened with coconut milk. (See recipes.)
We brought American brownies topped with French ganache. In the 1980s, when I first came up with this combination, it was considered innovative. To update my recipe for the party, I added candied ginger, dried apricots and pistachios instead of using walnuts alone. The new brownies were even more delicious than my original ones. (See recipe.)
Valentine’s Day comes just a few days after Tu Bishvat, and these desserts would be just fine for that holiday, too. And when you plan your Purim treats, consider including some of the following sweets in your Purim gift box alongside the hamentashen.
The writer is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Sensations and Chocolate Sensations.
Orange cranberry almond tea cakes
These tasty tea cakes were made by Sara de Leeuw, whose blog is “My Imperfect Kitchen.” To give them an intense orange flavor, Sara utilizes an entire orange – peel and all – minus the seeds. You can bake the cakes in minior regular-size muffin tins. You can keep them up to a week in an airtight container.
Makes about 36 tea cakes
■ 4 large oranges, preferably organic, scrubbed well
■ Additional freshly squeezed orange juice (if needed)
■ 1 large egg
■ 110 gr. (4 oz. or ½ cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
■ 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
■ 1 cup sugar
■ ½ tsp. kosher (coarse) salt
■ 1 tsp. baking powder
■ 1 tsp. baking soda
■ 1 cup dried cranberries
■ ¼ cup finely chopped almonds
■ 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed orange juice
■ ½ cup powdered sugar
■ 2 Tbsp. finely diced candied ginger
Preheat oven to 205ºC (400ºF). Spray two 24-count mini-muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray.
(For regular-size muffins, see note below).
Juice and zest three of the oranges. Add additional orange juice (if needed) to reach ½ cup, and put mixture in food processor. Squeeze 1 additional tablespoon of orange juice and set aside for the drizzle.
Cut fourth orange into six segments, discarding all the seeds but keeping the peel intact. Add orange segments (including the peel) to bowl of food processor. Blend until pureed.
Add egg and melted butter to orange puree in food processor and blend until light yellow and fully combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Fold in cranberries and chopped almonds. Stir to coat cranberries with flour mixture.
Pour orange puree over flour mixture. Stir with a spatula until just incorporated. Don’t over-mix. Your batter will be thick, not at all pourable.
Scoop batter into prepared mini-muffin tins, filling each well only ½ of the way up. Batter will fill about 36 cups; leave remaining cups empty.
Bake in preheated oven for eight to 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into cakes comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cakes sit in the tins for at least five minutes before removing them to a cooling rack to cool completely
While cakes are cooling, make the drizzle: In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar and reserved 1 tablespoon orange juice. Stir until well combined and it reaches your desired consistency. (Increase powdered sugar if you want a thicker glaze, or add more juice if you like drizzle a little thinner.)
Lightly drizzle completely cooled tea cakes with orange drizzle and top each with a pinch of candied ginger.
Note: If using regular-size muffin cups, bake about 20 minutes. Makes 12 regular-size muffins.
Vegan pumpkin pine-nut cookies
To give these vegan cookies a bold flavor, Zel Allen, author of “The Nut Gourmet” and of the “Vegetarians in Paradise” websites, uses spices that aren’t often found in cookies – coriander seeds, black pepper and cayenne. Allen likes pine nuts with the pumpkin, but says you can use any nuts you like. You can store the cookies wrapped in plastic for up to five days, or freeze them up to three months. The mixture of flaxseed meal and water is a vegan substitute for eggs.
Makes about 30 cookies
■ ¼ cup water
■ 2 Tbsp. flaxseed meal
■ 1½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
■ 1½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
■ 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar, packed
■ 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
■ 1½ tsp. baking powder
■ 1¼ tsp. whole coriander seeds, crushed in mortar and pestle
■ 1 tsp. nutmeg
■ ¾ tsp. ground black pepper
■ ½ tsp. baking soda
■ ¼ tsp. salt
■ ¼ tsp. cayenne
■ ½ cup pine nuts
■ 1¼ cups cooked pumpkin
■ ½ cup organic canola oil or other vegetable oil
■ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 175ºC (350ºF) and line two large rimmed baking pans with parchment paper.
Combine the water and flaxseed meal in a small bowl and set aside to thicken.
Combine the pastry flour, rolled oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, crushed coriander, nutmeg, black pepper, baking soda, salt and cayenne in a large mixing bowl and mix well to distribute the ingredients evenly. Be sure to break up any clumps of brown sugar. Stir in the pine nuts and set aside.
Combine pumpkin, vegetable oil and vanilla in a medium bowl and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix well to form a thick batter.
Stir the thickened flaxseed mixture into the batter, mixing thoroughly to distribute it evenly.
Drop 1 heaping tablespoon of batter for each cookie onto prepared baking pans, pressing lightly with the back of the spoon to form 4-cm. (1½-inch) diameter cookies. Place them about 4 cm. (1½ inches) apart.
Bake for 15 minutes. Switch the baking pan positions, moving the bottom pan to the top rack and vice versa, and bake 13 minutes longer for soft cookies, and up to 17 minutes longer for crisp cookies. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack or platter to cool.
Gluten-free coco-chocolate chip cookies
Chelsea Madren, whose blog is “OC Food Diva,” flavors her coconut cookies with peanuts and cinnamon.
Makes 16 cookies
■ 1 cup coconut flour
■ 1 cup peanuts, crushed into a powder
■ 1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil or other neutral vegetable oil
■ ½ cup sugar
■ 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
■ ½ tsp. baking soda
■ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
■ 2 eggs, lightly beaten
■ ½ cup coconut milk
■ ½ tsp. cinnamon
■ ¼ tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 165°C (325°F). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together coconut flour, sugar, powdered peanuts, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
Add oil, eggs, vanilla and coconut milk and mix with your hands to a dough. Mix in chocolate chips.
Shape dough into 2.5-cm. (1-inch) balls, pat each one down to form a patty shape, and place on the lined cookie sheet.
Bake on middle rack of oven for 15 minutes until golden brown. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet and serve.
Ganache-frosted brownies with pistachios, walnuts and candied ginger
To make these brownies, I used the ganache- frosted brownies from my book, Chocolate Sensations, as the base. In addition to the nuts and ginger, I added dried apricots; their tangy flavor complemented the sweet brownie. You can keep the brownies up to five days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
■ 170 gr. (6 oz.) bittersweet chocolate (70 to 75% cacao), chopped
■ 140 gr. (5 oz. or ½ cup plus 2 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, cut in pieces
■ ¾ cup all-purpose flour
■ ½ tsp. baking powder
■ ¼ tsp. salt
■ 3 large eggs
■ 1 cup sugar
■ 1 tsp. vanilla extract
■ ¼ cup chopped dried apricots
■ ¼ cup chopped raw pistachios
■ ¼ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
■ ¼ cup chopped candied (crystallized) ginger (see Note 1 below)
Ganache and garnish:
■ 185 gr. (6½ oz.) bitter sweet chocolate (70 to 75% cacao), very finely chopped
■ ½ cup whipping cream
■ About ¼ cup finely chopped raw pistachios (for garnish)
Brownies: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350ºF (175ºC). Line base and sides of a 23- to 24-cm. (9- to 9½-inch) square baking pan with a single piece of waxed paper or foil; butter paper or foil.
Combine chocolate and butter in a double boiler or heatproof medium bowl over hot, not simmering, water over low heat. Leave until melted, stirring occasionally. Stir until smooth. Remove from water; cool five minutes.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a small bowl.
Beat eggs lightly. Add sugar; whip at high speed about five minutes or until thick and light. Beat in vanilla. Add chocolate mixture in three batches, beating at low speed until blended after each addition.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture, then apricots, nuts and ginger.
Transfer batter to prepared pan; carefully spread to corners of pan in an even layer. Bake about 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted 1.25 cm (½ inch) from center of mixture comes out nearly clean.
Cool in pan on a rack to room temperature. Turn out onto a tray; remove paper or foil. Turn back over onto another tray.
Ganache: Put chocolate in a small heatproof bowl. Bring cream to a full boil in a small heavy saucepan. Pour over chocolate all at once. Stir with a whisk until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth.
On a hot day, refrigerate about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally with whisk, until cold and thick enough to spread but not set. If weather is cold, cool at room temperature. (See Note 2).
Spread ganache over top of brownies. Refrigerate an hour or until set.
Carefully cut in 16 to 20 squares, using a sharp knife. Serve cold, cool or at room temperature.
Note 1: To chop the candied ginger more easily, sprinkle it with two teaspoons of the sugar; this helps prevent the ginger from sticking to the knife.
Note 2: For extra-shiny glaze, cool ganache at room temperature and let glazed brownies set at cool room temperature about two hours.