When I began writing this post, I was still in bed. I’m congested as hell. My lips are chapped. Couldn’t get a good night’s sleep. Ugh. I am NyQuil commercial and a mouth breather. Sigh. Being sick, if only just a cold is the pits. The pits I say. But before I came down with a case of the black death, I made all kinds of treats!
There was a cranberry spread in a recent issue of Vegetarian Times. Being a cranberry lover, I was all kinds of excited to see fresh cranberries popping up and figure out what kinds of delicious could be made with them besides cranberry sauce or relish for Thanksgiving. There were a couple of recipes in Vegetarian Times that piqued my interest; Spiced Cranberry Cider, Cranberry Sauce w/ Hard Cider & Mustard and Cranberry Bars. The cider and sauce recipes are both vegan and the cider is really delicious and sweet.
The cranberry bars on the other hand, are a different story. The two main ingredients in the bars were condensed milk and eggs. They just looked and sounded so good that I knew I wanted to try and veganize them. I mean, veganizing is one of my favorite things to do. The first batch were not to my liking. The filling set, but not completely and they were so, soooo tart. On my first attempt I had subbed out silken tofu for the eggs, but figured I didn’t use enough. I also tried to make a vegan condensed milk by adding some sugar to soymilk and reducing it. I ended up throwing them in the trash. I really hate when that happens, as I’m sure all cooks and chefs do. We all have failures and it sucks. Since I’m crazy, I wanted to immediately try again. It was late so I knew I would have to wait until the following day. As I was falling asleep, I decided on the changes I would make. I would add the full box of tofu, use canned coconut milk to make a condensed milk substitute and lastly, I wanted to add a bit of agar-agar powder. Agar is this gelatinous stuff taken from the cell walls of a red algae. It’s what they use to line the bottom of petri dishes. It also acts as a vegetarian substitute for gelatin, thickener, clarifier in brewing and tons of other uses. It’s about 80% fiber, so can be used to aid in digestion as well. Anyhow, I love this stuff. It can be really expensive, but luckily I found an amazing Thai market close by where I scored a bunch of packets of the powder for really cheap.
The second set of bars were great. They came out just the way I wanted them and I think they make a great substitute for the non-vegan version found in Vegetarian Times.
Adapted & Veganized from Vegetarian Times
3/4 c unbleached all purpose flour
1/3 c graham flour–Bob’s Redmill makes this, found at Whole Foods
1/4 c unbleached cane sugar
6 tbsp Earth Balance, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 c unbleached cane sugar
2 tsp agar-agar powder
1 lb fresh cranberries
1/2 c water
1/4 c honey, agave or brown rice syrup
1 box firm silken tofo (Mori-Nu Brand)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp arrowroot powder
2 tbsp powdered sugar
First, make the crust. Preheat oven to 350°F. Very lightly grease an 8×8 pan–a light coating of cooking spray should be fine. Mix all of the dry ingredients together and make sure they are thoroughly combined. Then add the vanilla extract and melted Earthy B. Dump this mixture into the 8×8 and begin pressing it down with your fingers. I had enough so I could press mine partially up the sides of the pan, but if you don’t want side crust, just keep pushing the mixture down onto the bottom. Make sure to press it firmly. Bake the crust in its own for 25 minutes. Use this time to make the filling.
For the filling, shake up your can of coconut milk and add it to a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add the 1 c of cane sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer the coconut milk until the sugar dissolves completely and the coconut milk reduces a bit. Stir in your agar powder and whisk it in there good to make sure it is fully dissolved. Cook this mixture a couple of more minutes and then turn the heat down as low as it can go. Now you just want to keep this mixture warm so the agar doesn’t begin to set just yet.
Take another medium saucepan (sorry to have you dirty two pans!) and add the 1/2 c water, the cranberries and the 1/4 c sweetener of choice. Bring cranberries to a simmer and cook around 10 minutes until most of the cranberries have burst. Take the cranberries to your Vitamix, blender or food processor and dump them in. Remove coconut milk mixture from heat and measure a scant cup. You’re looking for about 7 oz. Add the scant cup coconut milk to the cranberries. Now add the box of tofu, lemon juice, cinnamon, arrowroot and powdered sugar. CAUTION: If your mixture (cranberries or coconut milk) are still hot, remove the small plastic portion of your Vitamix or blender. Not the lid, but the small plastic plug fitted inside the the lid and blend with a dish towel or some paper towels covering the hole. If you blend something when it’s too hot, you’re risking a really messy explosion, so be careful. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Scrape down the sides of your Vitamix if needed. Your crust should be done by this point, or just about done. Remove your crust from the oven and pour the cranberry mixture into the hot crust. Reduce oven temp to 300°F and bake 23 to 28 minutes. Remove the bars from the oven and allow them to cool a bit. Then, put them in the fridge and let them set up for a few hours or until cold.