31 January 2014

Make it easy

I don't know about you, but I don't necessarily "plan" baking. Often it is a process sprung from impulse. Rarely am I the person who deliberately sets out butter an hour before I'd like to bake. And if I do manage to remember, I am nagged with the sneaking suspicion I'm going to botch this. As far as thinking about baking, that happens all the time, like during downward dog or while walking to the subway, falling asleep...chocolate, almonds, salted, oats, brown butter, peanut butter, toasted walnuts, toasted coconut, almond flour, cold butter, buckwheat...a chatter with a rhythm that doesn't stop. It is a delightfully-scented chatter, though. 

Spelt drop cookies flew into my head as helicopters for the Super Bowl sped across the sky on Friday afternoon. Ones that involved chocolate but just enough to use up the bar I had. Not shortbread, not with coconut oil, not too much chilling time, and I forgot to set out butter, so maybe with melted butter? And not using whole wheat flour for the Kim Boyce cookies, as I had none. Humph. But then I consulted London Bakes, who is always doing interesting things with flours, and found a thing to work with. She browned butter and smoke salted her chocolate-chunked spelt dough. Done. But my smoked salt is a little too meaty for cookieland, so I went with coarse salt, and meditatively put together a small batch of the spelt and ground almond dough. I kissed it with salted dark chocolate (with almond pieces) and swirled in browned butter and had no idea what to expect. But I love Kathryn's blog, so I trusted. And once I browned my butter into the nutty, heady scent, I was locked in. 

I contemplated using the mixer but Kathryn wrote it up to mix by hand. I threw the dough in the fridge for a little and when I took it out, gave a sniff. Well, it sure smelled good. Nutty and vanilla-y and...good. And what I took out of the oven, was a stupendously good all-spelt chocolate chip cookie that's firm/lightly crisp on the edge, soft in the middle with contrast from the fine ground almond and chocolate chards, and a little dose of saltedness. And so there it was, a spelt drop cookie for the rolodex. I hope you try it too. 

Salted Spelt, Almond and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Makes 8 
Adapted from London Bakes

70 grams spelt flour
20 grams toasted ground almonds*
1/4 tsp baking soda
scant 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
55 grams unsalted butter
85 grams sugar**
1/4 tsp vanilla bean paste
25 grams egg lightly beaten (1/2 a large)
50 grams dark chocolate (I used a salted almond dark Ghirardelli bar) chopped coarsely

Notes: *I took 20 grams toasted whole almonds with skin and ground them until coarse/fine but not too floury in a cleanish coffee grinder (if a little coffee got in, that was fine for flavor)
           **Kathryn used demerara. I used a combo of light brown, sugar in the raw and white cane.  


-Brown the butter in a small saucepan, whisking, on medium until foam subsides and flecks start to appear. Immediately remove, pour into a teacup, leave to cool. 
-While it cools, mis en place. 

-Grind up almonds to coarse-fine but not too mealy, in a cleanish coffee grinder or food processor
-Whisk to combine spelt, almonds, baking soda, salt.
-Mix vanilla into egg. Chop chocolate
-Set sugar into a large bowl. 
-When butter cools down, mix into sugar and beat with a spatula until combined well. Mix in vanilla/egg, and beat again until incorporated.

-Mix in 1/3 flour, folding gently, then a little chocolate, then 1/3 flour, folding again, then remaining flour, mixing just until combined and sprinkling in remaining chocolate. Dump mix onto a piece of plastic wrap and tuck in any chocolate, and fold plastic around to make a sausage.
-Chill about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 and using a medium scoop, evenly create dough balls. You can flash freeze some of the balls for half an hour, and freezer-bag to bake off later at this point. You can bake from frozen, adding a couple mins, later.

-Bake balls now a few inches apart on a parchment-lined sheet for 12 minutes until just setting, rotating the pan around in the oven just over halfway through. Sprinkle a few flecks of coarse salt if desired upon oven exit. 
-Cool 10 minutes on tray on rack, then completely on rack. 

28 January 2014

Blueberry Almond Spelt Muffins (Wheat-free)

This is quickly becoming a favorite flour combination for whole grain muffins around here: roughly half spelt flour, half blanched almond flour, with a little oat flour tucked in too. I'd say it's a 40-45-15 ratio, and it mixes up into a light and tender crumb that's durable but not dense and also wheat-free. It's the same batter from those pear spice muffins a few months back, deepened with some browned butter, yogurt tang, and a healthy dose of vanilla. 

I use roughly the same ratios from Sara's brown butter espresso chip muffins I love so much, only here I litter the batter with plump berries, lemon zest and improvise an informal streusal of crushed almonds and brown sugar. Ed has been requesting blueberries in all baked items, even in January, so I tossed some from my freezer stash in there (sigh-the stash is not, unfortunately left over from the summer farms; we got through even those that I'd frozen, well before fall went underway...)

But hey, I've learned something this week: a blueberry muffin is a blueberry muffin and is welcome in all seasons. These muffs are scrumptious, they hit the spot on a Sunday afternoon and, double-wrapped, are beautifully freezer-stashable for the coming week. Also, I have been trying a tip I picked up from the web: filling unfilled muffin wells with a little water just before placing the pan in the oven. I think it helps with even moisture and steam. And yes, that is a Connect Four game in the process shot. We won it in a grab bag and I tried to find a place on our object bookshelf as a hipster game item but somehow it keeps making its way to the kitchen table during cold mornings...sort of like an active errr...crossword puzzle. Anyway, the muffins. I hope you try them! Split open, cooled but still a hint warm, all they need is a tiny dollop of butter and some coffee on the side. 

I think I have to go make some more right now... xoxo

Blueberry Almond Spelt Muffins 

makes 5 standard

48 grams/  1/4 c + 2 Tbsp spelt flour
55 grams/ 1/2 c almond flour (I use Honeyville)
15 grams / 2.5 Tbsp oat flour (grind up oats in clean coffee grinder)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/3 c light brown sugar

1 egg
40 ml plain whole milk yogurt ( 2 1/2 Tbsp)
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
zest of scant half a lemon

heaped 1/4 c blueberries, fresh or frozen (I used frozen)

handful of toasted almonds, crushed (I pulsed in the coffee grinder)
1-2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp butter, cold
teeny pinch salt

Oven to 350. Butter about 5 muffin wells, filling every other hole.

First, brown the butter. In a small saucepan, melt butter on medium and let if foam, let it go for a few mins, swirling constantly, but watch close and as soon as you see the color become light amber, and little brown flecks at the bottom, remove from heat and pour into a heat-safe cup. Leave to cool while you:

Whisk flours, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. Whisk well, breaking up any clumps of sugar or almond flour, in a large bowl.

In a smaller bowl beat the egg, add vanilla, yogurt, zest.

Topping: Grind the almonds so they are lightly crushed but not flour territory, and place into a bowl. Toss with the sugar and salt, and rub butter in evenly with your fingers. Press down to flatten, place in fridge. 

Add cooled brown butter to egg/yogurt mix and mix well. 

Toss half the blueberries into the flour mix, then make a well in the center, add the wet and fold just to combine, don't overmix, add the rest of the berries, and fill each greased tin 3/4 full, mounding tops. 

Take out your struesal, break off little chunks and crumble it over the tops evenly. 

Optionally, fill each unused muffin well with a little water, maybe halfway. Place in oven, bake 20-25 minutes until a tester comes out just clean and the center is just cooked through. Leave to cool in tin 5 mins on a rack, then remove carefully to cool completely on the rack. 

24 January 2014

(Frosty) gluten-free chocolate buckwheat cookies

You know you can make a good cookie, with a good recipe, with good ingredients and white flour or even half white flour, and have it turn out scrumptiously. It can be a rather foolproof experience. 

When it comes to gluten-free though, I prefer not to bother with xantham gum, and flour mixes, but just use naturally gluten free flours even in tandem with the gluten-ful.

Buckwheat, a naturally gluten-free flour, is a favorite choice for such ventures. These scones remain a favorite in the spectrum and I also played with adding some buckwheat to my regular scone recipe a few weeks ago...something I think I'll refine and post up here soon. Sometimes, buckwheat can be used totally by itself. I think I told you about these muffins a few months ago.

I had planned to make the popular Alice Medrich buckwheat cacao sable this week, but haven't been seeing cacao nibs nearby. Meanwhile was intrigued with The Little Loaf's brown butter buckwheat milk chocolate chunk cookies on Pinterest. Perturbed at first that she used only buckwheat flour, with no all purpose to gluten things up, I wondered if we were talking about different buckwheat breeds. While indeed, she uses a lighter colored UK buckwheat flour, that shouldn't affect things, right...? 

I'd just have to not mind that my cookies would be, with no white flour, gray as the mid-evening sky. And very buckwheaty. But I like buck, so I was game. I suggest knowing you like buckwheat before making these.

These cookies, before I go on--are indeed delicious. 

I was at first confused by them though. 

They were like the mysterious girl I saw (I'm a man in this scenario) on the train, felt captivated by, wondered if were real, pursued while thinking I was doing everything wrong, yet had high hopes for, but a somewhat awkward first date with, then completely "got" the next day. 

The sweeter milk chocolate (I used Green & Black which isn't too milky) adds a different dimension that lifts the earthy buckwheat flavor into artsy black-tie territory, sort of funking it out in a good way and the part-brown butter lends a depth. After tasting them plain the first day, I regret that I slighted them a little, not sure if they made the cut. I had baked them until the center was just setting, like all drop cookies, and the chewy center was delightful, the chocolate plentiful but the distinct crumb of a white-flour cookie...I had forgotten that wouldn't be there. 

Give me a break, last week's cookie around here was the best PB cookies.

But then, the next day, after I'd tossed the rest of the doughballs in the freezer, I decided to bake a few off for just a minute longer, let them really cool, like an hour, and top them with a mascarpone and buckwheat honey "frosting." A good decision. I rather liked the tad more crisp edges you get that way, you can taste the flavors more at full room temperature and the creamy white dollop of frosting perfectly tames that dark, earthy sweet chew beneath it. Yum. Yes. Done. In fact, I'm eating another one right now! 

While I still plan to do some crispier buckwheat sables with half AP flour on here soon, I am team-these buckwheat cookies. If you need to be totes gluten free, they are totally worth making. And even if you don't need to be. And totally worth the mascarpone-honey frosting. Trust that. xxoo 

Brown Butter Buckwheat Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Adapted from The Little Loaf

Notes: Don't skip the rest of the dough. This is a halved recipe and I got exactly 15. Bake time will depend slightly on preference for center chew, and if you've frozen dough to bake off, add another 2-3 mins. I'd say I'm banking on 13 mins for these from frozen, 11 from just chilled. 

92g unsalted butter, softened
112g buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
60g caster sugar
42g soft light brown sugar
37g dark brown sugar
1 large free range egg yolk + 1/2 the white
100g milk chocolate, chopped into chunks

To Frost: Equal parts honey (I used buckwheat honey) and mascarpone
Melt 42g of butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Continue cooking, swirling, until butter starts to foam and crackle and the milk solids separate out begin to brown. Once the butter is golden with a nutty aroma, remove the pan from the heat, transfer butter to heat proof bowl and allow to cool slightly. Be careful not to overcook it as you don’t want black butter!
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the remaining 50g butter with all three sugars. Add the egg white and egg yolk and cooled brown butter and continue to whisk until just combined and smooth, about 30 seconds.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture until smooth. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until combined. Cover the dough with cling film, pop in the fridge and chill for 24 hours.
(Note I formed into a log and wrapped in plastic and foil) 
Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Line a tray with baking parchment.
Take out rested dough and roll into balls about the size of a ping pong ball. (note I used a medium oxo scoop). You can make these larger or smaller depending on how you like your cookies, but do make sure to adjust the baking times. Space the balls a good few inches apart.
Bake for approx. 10-11 minutes, remove from the oven and cool. Look for setting edges. Note: If freezing, flash freeze dough balls for 30 mins then transfer to a bag. Bake off balls at a time--adding 2-3 mins.

Mix together honey + mascarpone well. Spread atop cookie just before serving. 

18 January 2014


Helloo. Got a few things to say today, and a few links to share. Firstly, if you are into food blogging, perhaps you know about Deb of Smitten Kitchen's Ask Me Anthything on Facebook this past week. If you didn't ask a question, you can read the transcript. But let me warn you, that the transcript is a bit like Pinterest or Facebook in that there is a lot there, like 500 comments... that sort of deal, and it keeps multiplying and you will realize you are spending a lot of time on this when you read it. And yet, you can't stop. 

Kudos to Deb for doing it! Some interesting Qs and As there. For me, I was curious as to what would be asked because I know her following is quite national. The journalist in me wanted to identify the trends. And there was one, I think. About 75% of what I read there seemed to fall under a similar theme: how do you have time for this? Do you get sick of it...have failures and want to throw in the towel, do you ever just order takeout, (Her answer: ALL THE TIME)...what about if you eat at different times than your spouse, how do you deal with washing dishes, cook with a toddler tugging your pants, what can I make and freeze ahead since I am so busy...in other words how do you do this thing that allows people to survive every day, multiple times a day: cook food. 

Her answers were of course appropriately as witty and truthful as she. And, actually, the day after reading that, I had a bit of my own slacker funk develop in the kitchen! I mean, it was Friday, but had absolutely no desire to stock the fridge and preferred to let it stay extremely slim. We would get dinner around the corner at a restaurant, (and I don't even want to think about breakfast). I had a very lazy day and just went with it. I do chalk it up to one thing, though: be careful what you read! But also, listen to yourself. Deb smartly advised, one of the reasons she likes going out or getting takeout is that if it isn't that great, all the more reason to get back into the kitchen fresh and make lots of stuff you like. Oh, and if it is great, then you deserve it, and you get inspiration out of it.

One of the things though, that consistently works for me when I feel a little out of juice, is revisiting rather than tackling the new.  It reminds you of why you cook.  This morning, out of both yogurt and cream, essential for either wheat scones and muffins, I refused to go get either and went back to the old all-almond flour scone. They tasted even better today than I had remembered since I made them several times in fall/summer. Adding chocolate and toasted pecans and slathering them with some pear butter, I remembered the value of repetition and suddenly felt ready to tackle something new. And with that, the funk sort of dissipated. Recipe: paleo scones with chocolate

Speaking of almond flour, the lead photo up top is a shot I managed to get of some grain free almond banana crumb muffins (actually I think of them more as mini banana crumb coffee cakes) I made last week. They are absolutely amazing, and the recipe can be found here at Delicious as it Looks. If you have a banana sitting around and use almond flour, try that recipe out.  That's all for today. Be back soon with a new recipe. 

14 January 2014

Clumped granola

I had never intentionally bought "quick oats" before realizing my favorite granola bar recipe actually called for them and I'd glossed over that the times I'd made them prior to a few months ago. And for good reason-still delicious if you used regular, but the bars were much more cohesive and properly chewy with the quick oats. Quick oats are simply rolled oats that have been mangled a bit and broken down. They aren't as thick as old fashioned, and therefore cook more quickly. This, I have learned, is great for some kinds of recipes, like those bars, and also for making oat flour. Quick oats are easier to grind, and a coffee grinder does the best work if you need just a small amount. But still, I figured quick oats wouldn't make for great granola-granola. Small in stature, wouldn't they just vanish if spread out on a sheet and baked?

Well it turns out that even though I said olive oil granola is the only essential granola recipe someone needs, I found myself a new granola recipe, one that sneakily reminds me exactly of one I used to buy in a box. One that was super clumpy, but didn't seem to involve the egg white trick. Since it came from a box, I had chalked the clumping to machinery. But it was probably the type of oats used! Mixed up almost like certain cookie doughs would be-- with oat flour, nuts, spices and quick oats being moistened by a bit of melted butter and brown sugar (no liquid sweetener here like typical granola), the mixture sits for a few minutes to absorb itself and then is heaped onto a baking sheet in little clumps. What happens in the oven is quite interesting, the oats seem to really bind to themselves, and you get those nice light clusters. Not to be confused with 'Clusters' cereal...I promise you this is much more up your alley. It will certainly take a place in my cereal arsenal. 

Clumped Granola Recipe

A few notes: Adapted from The Traveler's Lunchbox, this recipe was originally much larger but I scaled it down by 4. It made enough for 2 little mason jars. Also, add-ins are up to you but I didn't bother with dried fruit or coocnut and I'm glad. The little bite of cinnamon and nutmeg really warm the whole mix enough and I find nuts/seeds are sufficient add-ins. But feel free to experiment. 

Clumped Granola

4 oz/113 g/ quick oats (approx a heaped cup)
3/4 c mixed raw nuts and seeds (I used pecans and pumpkin seeds)
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
15 ml/1 Tbsp water
1 oz/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup lightish brown sugar (good to mix light and dark or even a bit of regular sugar with dark brown)
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

Oven at 300. 

Grind HALF of the oats into a fine flour. In a large bowl mix nuts, nutmeg, cinnamon, oats and oat flour.

In a small saucepan place butter, water, and sugar and heat on low until butter just melts. Stir in vanilla and salt. 

Pour wet over dry and combine until the whole mix is moistened. Leave to sit for about 8 minutes. 

Spread a piece parchment on a sheet pan and dump the mix onto it. Spread it into an even layer with your hands, whilst clumping little chunks together. 

Bake 22 minutes, then give it an initial stir. Bake 12 more minutes. Stir again. Bake for another 12, but watch it. The mix will be drying out but don't be afraid to give it a tad more browning. At this point you can also do another 10-12 if you'd like but watch to get the perfect tan at this stage, mine cooked for a total of just under 50 mins. Set out to cool completely before storing in a jar or two. 

06 January 2014

spiced gingerbread loaves for shoprite blog

Happy January, all. I hope everything has gotten off to a good start for you. I wanted to chime in today with a really good gingerbread recipe I contributed to Shoprite's January baking Potluck blog. I originally was inspired by a recipe at Chow.com and played with a few things regarding spice, throwing in both fresh and ground ginger, and size, I have tried in small loaves and a big loaf. Certainly more rustic-looking than pretty, they bake up into moist, tender loaves with a slightly sticky top crust. If you can get over the looks of them, particularly if you bake in a single large loaf pan, (gingerbread often notoriously doesn't dome much like a banana bread) you'll be rewarded with something really special. 

Check it out here!

Note: if you opt for a large loaf bake time will most likely be an hour or so, use a cake tester. Try not to open the oven before the 45 min check time though to ensure for a little doming! Little loaves will be more like 40-45.


01 January 2014

Eating it all


You can eat it all but not all at once. Sounds like simple advice for life, right?

I'm sorry, have you had enough of the 'having it all' headline for the year and especially roll your eyes when hearing such a phrase on New Year's Day? : ) Regardless of your personal level of celebration on the first day of 2014, though, whether you make lists, go to yoga class, go running, reflect or screw it all and have a few glasses of wine (or all of the above), I'm sure you must be thinking somewhat about things you want. 

Eating it all but not all at once. The phrase made its way into my head last night as I got into bed. I'd realized that a few years ago, I judged myself for eating animal products way more. I considered it a huge deviation from how I had made myself eat for years and it was becoming more of an identity/supposed-to thing than a what do I want-to-eat-thing. Fast forward through a few life events, unexpected trials and triumphs, and while I abhor factory farming and want better lives for animals, I am not going to turn down a little meat on pizza for flavor, good poultry for solid protein and listening to the body. Restraint can be good, but only if used wisely. 

A meal that perhaps exemplifies the having it all or having a little of a few things at once, is of course, brunch. A meal where you'll find sweet and savory, two or more kinds of beverages and permission to linger. I've made these scones two days in a row for that late morning meal. The first day I added less blackberries and let the tops get just light golden, and the second I added more blackberries and kissed them under the broiler for a minute after they baked and gave them that gold top crust. They are delightful either way but hitting the tops a bit more helped dry up some of the extra blackberry juice that forms if you add a biggish handful. 

These scones are more American, aka cake-like. For even more softness, I threw in a pinch almond flour. They are a cinch to throw together, too, it's not about perfection. The dough comes together lightly, is formed into a circle, sliced in fourths, barely separated on the baking sheet and baked in a round. My trick is to, when I check on them towards the tail end of the bake time, wedge them apart a little more so the sides get cooked enough, especially since the berries here add a bit of moisture.

Then, if you're feeling adventurous, you can do the broiler thing for a few seconds for a little more top color. A little more color and less perfection, now that's how I want to begin the new year. Have a great one! xo

Lemon Blackberry Scones

Makes 4

note: you can use all all-purpose (125 g/1 c) if you don't have almond flour but it adds a nice hint.

120 grams all purpose flour (scant 1 c) plus more for dusting
6 grams blanched almond flour (1 Tbs) 
zest of half a lemon
2 slightly heaped Tbsp natural cane sugar
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda

50 grams (scant 4 Tbsp) cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1/2 large egg (lightly beaten, measured to 26 grams)
1/4 c/ 60 ml half and half
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract

heaped 1/4 c (small handful fresh blackberries, cut in half if large)
Turbinado to sprinkle

Oven to 425, rack in center.
Cut butter into pieces, and blackberries in half. Set both on flat surfaces in the freezer
Set sheet pan aside with a little parchment on it, and dust with a sprinkle flour. 
Whisk to combine flour, salt, baking powder, soda, zest in large bowl. 
Whisk to combine measured egg with half and half and vanilla in small bowl. Set in fridge.
With fingers (my choice here) or pastry blender, rub butter into dry mix to form coarse meal with pieces no larger than a pea. Work quickly to keep butter solid. Stir in blackberries gently. Make a well and pour in half and half mix, stirring from outside to moisten and stirring gently only to combine. When mix starts to hold together, flour your hands and form dough into ball. With floured hands transfer to dusted tray. Pat dough into mound a heaped inch, and with a lightly floured knife, slice in half, then in half again. Wedge the pieces apart just slightly, Sprinkle with a little turbinado. I always put the pan in the freezer for a minute while I clean a little. Bake about 20 minutes, checking towards the last 5, and wedge the scones apart on the sheet. The sides should seem soft but not raw. Run under broiler for just a second if desired/needed. Let cool on the sheet pan on a rack for at least 5-10 minutes, then for another 5-10 off the pan on a rack. Spread with a little mascarpone and fruit butter or jam!