A Chat With Rikki Heller And An Amazing Recipe for Vegan Gluten-Free Butterscotch Blondies

Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free by Ricki Heller

When people find out that both of my daughters have celiac disease and one of them also has a dairy intolerance, they give me such a sad look. And then they ask, “What CAN they EAT?!” I assure them that we eat just fine over here but I have to admit that baked goods and desserts can get a little bit tricky.

A few months ago, I saw that a new dessert cookbook would be coming out from Ricki Heller and every recipe would be gluten free, sugar free and vegan. What!? This could be life changing for so many families. I sent Ricki a note and told her I would love to test out some of her recipes and write about her new cookbook on my blog. I didn’t even have to twist her arm at all. She eagerly agreed.

Just to make things interesting, I also sent her a few interview questions to ponder.  I love connecting with other people who have spent years looking closely at their ingredients and thinking creatively about how to keep making amazing food – even without some of the historic kitchen standbys – sugar, wheat flour, eggs, milk… After talking with Rikki and making a couple of recipes from this cookbook, my perspective on allergy-free baking has surely changed!  

A few questions for Ricki …
–>What advice would you offer to someone new to sugar-free baking (like me!)? Any tips or tricks?

It does take a little adjustment when switching to sugar-free baking, but keep in mind that there are many natural sweeteners that are just as sweet as sugar and taste just as good! The biggest adjustment for me, honestly, was getting used to the fact that, since they are not refined, many of the natural sweeteners aren’t white. If you consider that sugar is only white because it’s filtered and bleached, then it doesn’t seem like such a hardship to give that up. I still make lovely vanilla cakes, for instance, but they’re just a little darker, more like a classic yellow cake. My Sugar-Free Sugar Cookies are pale blonde rather than pure white. 

–>What inspires you to develop new recipes?

Recipe development is something I enjoy doing, so it’s kind of like exercise; if I skip doing it for more than a few days, I miss it!
I find inspiration from a lot of sources, but primarily from foods I encounter online (bloggers are incredibly creative cooks!), in magazines and cookbooks, from my family history, and from foods I eat in restaurants. I’ll often see a photo of a dish in a magazine, but it might contain fish or chicken, so I veganize it.  Then there are the amazing meals I eat when my husband and I dine at our favorite restaurants, and I try to re-create those at home using ingredients within my dietary guidelines. I also love to recreate old family favorites, like “My Mother’s Cheesecake” from my new cookbook, Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free, which is my vegan, gluten-free and lower glycemic version of a cheesecake my mom used to bake for my dad as a special treat.

–>Do you have a favorite, quick, go-to dessert recipe from Naturally Sweet & Gluten-Free? 

It’s always hard for me to pick just one favorite, since I really do love all the recipes! But when I’m looking for something quick and really easy, I usually whip up the Easiest Almond Cookies, Coconut Macaroons, Sweet Potato Brownies or Seed Jumble Cookies, all of which come together quickly and are always well received.

–>I love how you describe cooking vegan as being a very inclusive way of cooking. Can you explain what you mean by that? 

Thanks! I think my meaning becomes clear if you consider the three most common types of diet as steps in a spectrum.  On one end of the spectrum is omnivore, which reflects the majority of eaters in our society. Omnivores consume meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and any other animal products along with everything else. Vegetarians, in the middle, cut out flesh of animals but do eat eggs, milk, cheese, and honey. On the other end are vegans, who eat only foods derived from plants: vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds. 
 If someone is an omnivore or a vegetarian, there’s no reason s/he can’t consume a vegan diet; in fact, vegan foods like cooked rice, salads, mashed potatoes, oatmeal, peanut butter, tomato soup, bread or Oreos may already be part of their diet. But if someone is vegan, there are lots of foods in the vegetarian or omnivore diet that s/he doesn’t eat. So the vegan diet is the only one that anyone can enjoy, because it’s already there as part of everyone’s diet.

Now for the recipe … Butterscotch Blondies With Chocolate Chips and Goji Berries
Ricki Heller, an amazing and thoughtful baker, recipe developer, and holistic chef, has created a truly beautiful collection of desserts using a wide array of ingredients that will absolutely wow your friends and family. As I first looked through the recipes, I was a little concerned that I might not have all the ingredients on hand but, as Ricki advised, test out a few new ingredients and decide what is going to work best for you.

I initially planned to make Coconut Macaroons but when my sous-chefs caught sight of the Butterscotch Blondies recipe, they declared they just had to make those. After reviewing the recipe, I knew I needed to pick up a few new ingredients at Whole Foods. I easily found almost everything I needed and headed home to try my hand at sugar free, casein free, gluten-free butterscotch blondies.

The littlest sous-chef. Clearly we have no regard for kitchen safety …

I made a few slight adjustments to the recipe (Ricki, don’t get mad!) – but I did not change anything substantial, I promise! I was missing an ingredient – lucuma powder – a sweetener, and I did not blend my oats finely enough so it changed the texture of the bars but WOW did final product come out amazing!!! Perhaps just not as pretty as Ricki’s amazing photo in her book … 



A few new ingredients for my pantry …

1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour mix 
3/4 cup oat flour
3 Tablespoons lucuma powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tsp xantham gum
1/3 cup coconut sugar
1 Tablespoon water
1/2 cup coconut nectar
1/2 teaspoon pure stevia powder or 1/4 teaspoon pure stevia liquid
1/3 cup sunflower oil (or other light tasting oil)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon rum, butterscotch or brandy flavoring (optional)
1/2 cup unsweetened carob chips or dark chocolate chips
1/3 cup goji berries or other dried fruit of your choice


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. (I accidentally cooked my bars at 350… oops!). Spray an 8×8 or 9×9 pan with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, lucuma powder (I skipped this ingredient), baking powder, baking soda, salt, and xantham gum.

3. In a large bowl, mix the coconut sugar and water until the sugar begins to dissolve. Ass the coconut nectar, stevia, oil, vanilla, and flavoring, if using, until well blended. Gently stir in the goji berries and chips.

4. Pour the dry mixture over the wet ingredients and stir to blend. You will have a thick and sticky batter. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through baking, until a tester comes out barely clean. Take care not to overbake, as these will dry out! The top may fall a little as it cools; this is fine. Allow to cool completely in pan before cutting into squares. May be frozen.

Amazing Vegan GF Butterscotch Blondies!

Final thoughts … As soon as you can, definitely pick up a copy of Ricki’s new cookbook, Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free. I can’t wait to try out more recipes from this beautiful book. I truly appreciate the opportunity to get a sneak peek at these beautiful recipes before the book was launched and I thank Sellers Publishing for sending me a new copy hot off the presses! If you, or someone in your life is in need of allergy-free or vegan desserts, this is the book for you. 

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Erin Brighton

I am a native New Englander now living in beautiful Charlotte, North Carolina and enjoying summers in sea-breezy Scituate, Massachusetts with my five small kids and two large dogs. I love to cook easy, local, and gluten-free for friends and family.

6 thoughts on “A Chat With Rikki Heller And An Amazing Recipe for Vegan Gluten-Free Butterscotch Blondies”

  1. Erin, thanks so much for this lovely review! And it was great fun being interviewed by you. One of the things I was hoping for with the recipes was flexibility (that's why I included that huge list of substitutions in the opening chapter), so I'm glad to know they worked for you with the minor changes, too! And you are so lucky to have such a sweet little sous-chef. 🙂

  2. Erin those blondies look delicious!! I love, love coconut sugar. I have been using it in all my baking lately! Great substitution for sugar. I used it in your banana bread recipe and it was so good!

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