Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fresh-from-the-Oven Millet Blueberry Muffins

Despite the rising heat here in Seattle, my baking has also been on the upswing; with a few new cookbooks on my shelf – The New Laurel's Kitchen, Bob's Red Mill Baking Book – and some new ideas about my baking philosophy (don't laugh – like anything else, baking can have a philosophy. And I've been working on mine), I've found it impossible not to be in the kitchen, trying something new out. I'm also at the point where I would much rather share my food, and I'm hoping to find a more business-like way to do so soon. In the meantime, though, I see nothing wrong with a big ceramic bowl with a cloth towel liner, brimming with fresh-baked treats, like these Millet Blueberry Muffins: just what I plan on bringing with me to work today.

The millet gives them a fine and substantial crunch, and the honey leaves them tasting a bit cleaner, and not so sugary. And the blueberries, in my opinion, crown them perfectly. The great thing about these muffins is their versatility: almost anything can be stirred in, instead of blueberries: raisins, walnuts, blackberries or strawberries are the first few that come to mind.

Millet Blueberry Muffins

2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup millet
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ c. applesauce
¼ cup honey
1 cup blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease or line 16 muffin cups.
2. In a large bowl, mix the whole wheat flour, millet flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. 3. In a separate bowl, mix the buttermilk, egg, applesauce, and honey. Stir buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture just until evenly moist. Fold in the blueberries. Transfer batter to the prepared muffin cups.
4. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Fresh Raspberry Quick Bread

After the explosion of fresh, fragrant, utterly perfect strawberries last month, I had nearly (but not quite, of course) exhausted myself of eating them. But now that raspberries are the crop du jour, I find myself replacing the strawberries in my diet with these berries, and the result is just as lovely and yummy.

At the market, I'm able to buy raspberries by the half-flat, and I've been busy adding them to my salads and yogurt, freezing them, and naturally, nibbling upon them throughout the day. The next step is to bake with them, and although I've found lots of pies and parfaits that use raspberries, I wanted to try something a little different; a little like the strawberry muffins I made last month. So, not to divert too much, I put together this recipe for Raspberry Quick Bread. I had seen similar recipes that call for bananas as well, but I wanted only the sweet taste of raspberries. That's precisely what I got with this recipe. The honey complements the raspberries well, but if that seems too sweet still, then the honey can be reduced by a couple of tablespoons. Additionally, the bread is quite moist, which I like but others may not prefer. This can be altered by omitting the milk, and keeping a close eye on the bread through the end of its baking time. And the spelt and garbanzo bean flours can, of course, be replaced with whole wheat or other flours, but I find this combination to be perfect in making this a hearty and fiber-filled quick bread that left me satisfied for hours after eating.

Fresh Raspberry Quick Bread

1 c. spelt flour
¾ c. garbanzo bean flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ c. applesauce
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. honey
1/3 c. milk
2 c. raspberries

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix the applesauce with the eggs and honey.

3. Blend in the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients alternately with the milk. Fold in the raspberries.

4. Bake for 50-60 minutes, careful not to let it burn. Cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Chewy Honey Cookies

When I saw this recipe for Honey Cookies in my Complete Cookie cookbook, I knew I would want to try it. Under the description, it was stated that these cookies are ideal for making ice cream sandwiches, and although that is not what I personally did, after tasting these, I agree that these would make for one super swell ice cream sandwich. I could see these pairing well with a creamy French Vanilla or strawberry ice cream: a fun treat for a BBQ or pool party.
What I did do, though, was to experiment with the honey flavor. After all, there are an exorbitant amount of flavored honeys that one can try. There is the most well-known clover variety, then there is blackberry, raspberry, lavender, huckleberry, alfalfa, dandelion, fireweed, and many more. Part of the fun in this recipe is that the honey is such a strong player, that whatever type you choose will give your cookies a hint of that particular flavor. And the best thing about flavored honey is that there are no additives to twist the honey one way or another; it's all dependent upon where the bees buzz, and where they are collecting pollen.
The one thing that I would do differently next time, though, would be to lessen the amount of brown sugar. As is, they are very sweet, and I would want the taste of the honey to shine through a bit more. Even still, they are a absolutely delightful.

Chewy Honey Cookies

1 ½ cups garbanzo bean flour
1 ½ cups brown rice flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup honey
1 large egg yolk

1. Whisk together the flours, salt, cardamom, and cinnamon.
2. Cream the butter and the sugars together until light and fluffy. Add the honey and egg yolk and beat for 1 minute. Fold in the flour mixture, ½ cup at a time, to combine. Form the dough into a long log, roll in wax paper, and refrigerate for 4 hours.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment.
4. Cut the log in half and return half to the refrigerator until ready to use. Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut out into 3-inch circles and transfer to the prepared cookie sheets. Repeat with all the dough.
5. Bake for 5 minutes then rotate the cookie sheet and bake for about 5 minutes more, until the edges are golden brown. Let cool on wire racks.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dessert Night Oatmeal Cake

Whenever I'm given an invitation to a party, my mind quickly wanders to the possibilities of the type of food I can bring; if it is a dinner party, then what dessert can I make? If it is a brunch, then what dessert can I make? If I'm going to a child's birthday party, then what dessert can I make?

Although, like anyone else, I love a nourishing, filling, and delicious meal, I generally am more concerned with what will follow the main course and appetizers. So this past weekend, when I was invited to a “dinner for dessert” party, I was overcome with two emotions: the first was of excitement. Finally, an event that that celebrated the very thing I take the most pleasure in! But as my eyes widened and I unconsciously began salivating, I also began to worry; what could I bring that would stand out, that would not get lost in the delectable crowd of other desserts? My first instinct was to make a rustic berry cobbler or crisp; after all, it's what's in season. But then I backpedaled, thinking that everyone would naturally be taking advantage of the spectacular berries the Pacific Northwest has been savoring. Then, I considered chocolate: anything at all that was chocolate. But again, I had my reservations: I had just recently made a very chocolatey, very rich dessert, and I had hoped for a bit more variety in my baking practice.

So after a bit of consultation and research, I found the perfect dessert: a hearty oatmeal cake with a brown sugar glaze. And it did turn out to be along just the right track; though the only cobbler to be found at the table was a mango cobbler, chocolate was the key ingredient of the night. While I took part in tasting a bit of everything there, I also enjoyed a piece of my cake, which offered a great balance to the other desserts.

The brown sugar along with the honey (or agave nectar) make for a sweet cake, but the whole wheat flour and the oats give it a substance that a purely sugary treat would not possess. The coconut in the glaze added a pleasant texture, and the glaze is best poured on the cake while both are still warm, so that the cake can soak up the moisture of the mixture – without becoming soggy itself. My friends were just as happy with the oatmeal cake as I was; it's just right for grabbing a piece and eating with your fingers, if your plate happens to already by weighed down by a selection of other desserts.

Oatmeal Cake


1 ½ cups boiling water
1 cup oats
1 cup Raisins
½ cup applesauce
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup honey or agave nectar
2 large eggs, well beaten
1 ½ cups sifted whole wheat flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 stick butter
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 ½ tbsp. canned evaporated milk
½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup chopped pecan halves


Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan, set aside.
Directions:In a mixing bowl combine boiling water, quick rolled oats and raisins, set aside to cool.In a separate mixing bowl cream together the applesauce, brown sugar, honey and eggs.In another mixing bowl sift together whole wheat flour, cinnamon, baking soda and sea salt, add to sugar mixture, add oatmeal-raisin mixture, blend well.Bake at 350° for 40-50 minutes or until done. Spread with topping while cake is hot.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sage Biscuits with Ancient Grain

I've become quite a fan of Amaranth flour. Amaranth is an ancient Aztec grain that comes from an annual related to spinach and swiss chard, high starch content, and rich in protein, iron, and calcium. It works best when combined with other flours, as it can have an overly grainy texture on its own; I discovered this while experimenting with Amaranth pancakes.

I thought that this would be the perfect type of flour to use for a savory, satisfying breakfast pastry. Although I'm not much for the overly buttery and flaky variety of biscuits, I wanted to see if I could create something a tad more wholesome. I did some research, and I found two biscuit recipes that were intriguing, but not precisely what I was hoping for. So, I picked and chose a few key pieces from each and put them together into this variation. And these sage biscuits, while certainly not the buttermilk biscuits of the South, are soft, aromatic, and absolutely perfect served warm. I brought a dozen of them to a brunch, where they accompanied fresh fruit and yogurt, and I couldn't have been more pleased with how well they went with a lighter spread of food; they did not overwhelm, but also left no one wanting for a more filling alternative.

Sage Biscuits

1 cup rice flour
1 cup Amaranth flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 tbsp. finely chopped sage
8 tbsp. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
¾ cup buttermilk

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and set oven rack to middle position.
2. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, and sage.
3. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut the butter into the mixture until it becomes a course meal.
4. Stir in the buttermilk until the mixture forms a sticky ball.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Divide the dough into quarters, then cut the quarters into thirds. Shape each piece into a rough ball and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
5. Bake 10-12 minutes, until tops of the biscuits are browned.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Alternative Baking with Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp

I don't think I would have necessarily sought out a variety of gluten-free recipes on my own; after all, my body and my diet are both very gluten-friendly. But when I was given a gift of flours for my birthday, I realized what a wide world of baking there is beyond the “unbleached white” or even “whole-wheat pastry flour.” Using alternative grains is an absolute art in baking, and a very nourishing one, too. Many alternative grains, such as Kamut or Teff flour, are filled with protein and a host of vitamins.

Generally, gluten-free or alternative grain desserts are not necessarily “healthy,” due to the butter or sugar. But, this can be remedied with alternative sweeteners and butter replacements. From my experience with alternative and healthful baked goods I've bought, and the ones I've made myself, I much prefer the wholesome ones to the full-fat kind (yes, even my birthday cake was a bit too much butter and sugar for me to handle).

I would never look down upon any baked good, regardless of its nutritional content; however, if I'm going to be baking as often as I do, for all of the people I care so deeply about, why not make something that is actually good and satisfying for the body, as well as the soul?

This Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp definitely qualifies for these condition: sweet and tangy, and with a topping that does not overwhelm the natural flavors of the blueberry and rhubarb. And of course, if you do not want to make it with the alternative grains, then it's just fine to use whatever you have in your kitchen.

Blueberry Rhubarb Crisp
From Bob's Red Mill Baking Book


¼ cup Amaranth flour
¼ cup Teff, soy or barley flour
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and diced

¼ cup honey
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons Teff flour
2 cups (about 3/4 pound) rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups blueberries


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease a 2-quart shallow baking dish.
2. For the topping, combine the flours, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Add the butter and work it into the flour mixture with your fingers until crumbly. Refrigerate while making the filling.
3. In a small bowl, stir together the honey, cinnamon, and flour. Add the rhubarb and blueberries, tossing well. Spread the mixture in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle topping over the fruit and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the topping is brown and the fruit is bubbling. Serve warm.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

More Muffins: Carrot Raisin

I recently mentioned how my muffin baking is sparse and slightly erratic, but after my fantastic strawberry muffin success, I'm falling more in love with muffins. What I especially like about homemade muffins is the amount of control I have over the ingredients, and therefore, the taste and health quotient. I'm not a fan of the jumbo bakery muffins, loaded with butter or oil, and I've never understood the allure of chocolate muffins (just make cupcakes if you want to use cocoa powder!). But the muffin recipes I have my sight set on call for alternative sweeteners, like the honey used here, and hearty flours, and flavorful add-ins. These carrot raisin muffins are adapted by me from a basic rice muffin recipe I found; at first, regular sugar was called for, but I found that honey works better with sweetening, without being overbearing and heavy. The cinnamon and nutmeg work well with the raisins, and the carrots add a freshness that could be acquired with zucchini, or shredded apple perhaps. No matter what is stirred into this muffin base, I'm certain that they will turn out as light and tasty as these ones did.

Carrot Raisin Muffins

Yield: 1 dozen

2 tbsp. canola oil
2 eggs
½ cup milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup honey
1 ½ cup rice flour
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. fresh nutmeg
½ cup raisins
1 cup shredded carrots

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line or grease muffin tins.
2. Mix butter and honey. Beat in eggs.
3. Mix together flour, salt, baking powder, cream of tartar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add flour mixture to egg mixture alternately with milk. Add vanilla. Stir in raisins and carrots. Pour into muffin tins and bake for 18-20 minutes

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Chocolate Cake-with-Vanilla-Buttercream-and-Strawberries Birthday to Me!

This past Sunday was my birthday, and I celebrated in one of the most joyful ways I know how: I baked, and then shared my dessert with good friends.

Most people want to enjoy their favorite cake on their birthday, whether it be a basic vanilla with vanilla icing, a complex Italian specialty, a festive ice cream cake, and any other cake one can imagine. No matter what kind of bakery you frequent, you can find a birthday cake, or similar stand-in (for example: birthday tortes, birthday muffins, birthday pies). I also know a good number of individuals who prefer to bake their own favorite creation, whether it be a birthday dessert or a very special main meal, for their birthdays; I obviously find this to be the better option for me. In fact, cookbooks featuring only recipes for birthday cakes have been written (to be honest, my roommate owns one, and it sits proudly on our cookbook shelf), and while I did not pull my birthday cake recipe from this volume, it is filled with imaginative concoctions, all of which are incomplete without candles on top. The recipe, from Epicurious, is not terribly complex, but like any layer cake, it is time consuming, and special attention is required if it is to turn out well.

My dream birthday cake was chocolate with vanilla buttercream, and to my joy, it has became a delicious reality. I made it over the course of two days, making the cake a day before the birthday celebration, and letting it cool, then wrapping it in plastic wrap. The frosting, I made the morning of, and then I assembled the entire thing a few hours before we cut it. The cake was everything I wanted it to be: lusciously chocolatey, achingly sugary, and blissfully tasty: the perfect treat to look forward to once a year.

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting


1 cup boiling-hot water
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
Rounded 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
4 cups vanilla buttercream

The Cake:
1. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 2 (9- by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottom of each with a round of wax paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess. Whisk together hot water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in milk and vanilla.
2. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.
3. Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add flour and cocoa mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
4. Divide batter between cake pans, smoothing tops. Bake until a wooden pick or skewer comes out clean and edges of cake begin to pull away from sides of pans, 30 to 35 minutes total. Cool layers in pans on racks 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, removing wax paper, and cool completely.

Vanilla Buttercream

3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons whipping cream

With a hand mixer or stand, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

To assemble cake:
Put 1 cake layer, rounded side up, on a cake stand or platter and, using offset spatula, spread top with about 1 cup buttercream. Top with remaining cake layer, rounded side down, and frost side and top of cake with 2 cups buttercream.