Saturday, September 26, 2009

End of the Sweet Beat era

I cannot fully remember the first time I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies, or the first mixing bowl I ever used in the kitchen, but I do know that I've been baking for at least half of my life. I've felt that every step of the way has been a learning experience, which was the impetus for creating this record of recipes and stories, and over the two years, I've made massive leaps as a baker. After exploring countless cookbooks, patronizing a dizzyingly delicious array of bakeries, and roaming the baking aisles of grocery and specialty stores, I feel that I've found a tradition of baking with which I thoroughly identify and which I support with every beat of batter.

I've found that I can no longer handle mass quantities of butter, shortening, refined sugar, and corn syrup, and I say this without the sometimes-present air of the Pacific Northwest's “only organic, local, fair trade” foodie snobbery, but as a basic fact. The baking that I enjoy to do and to share now revolves around nourishment as well as enjoyment. Therefore, I've decided to re-direct myself and my blog and focus on the baking that matters most to me, hoping that others will be, at the very least, interested in the alternatively sweetened, alternatively grained, alternatively created concoctions I plan on making.

Of course, like any healthy eater, my diet would be incomplete without the occasional foray into more classically or commercially baked goods, and so there will be recipes from time to time that follow the Paula Dean school of cooking. I may love my veggie burgers on whole wheat buns, but every now and then, I like a juicy beef burger with a pile of melty cheese on top. The same goes for dessert; I may normally enjoy my applesauce chocolate chip cookies, but that doesn't mean I will never eat a slice of restaurant chocolate blackout cake again. Dessert is all about celebration, fun, and warmth, and my passion for it continues onward.

The Sweet Beat, as it is in its present form, will be going on a break and possibly ending altogether with this posting. The next months are slightly hectic for me, as next week I'm relocating (yes, again!) to the beautiful and peaceful San Juan Island, not too far from the city of Seattle. I also want to spend time working through my ideas on baking, and the blog which will most likely have a new name and, of course, a new direction (but will hopefully still include Sweet Beat archives).

Thank you for reading The Sweet Beat, and I ask that you join me as I explore this new niche of the baking world. Wholesome baking excites me, it brings me joy, and it leaves me feeling harmonious and well. As you all know, my desire in baking is to share those feelings, along with some scrumptious food, with you all.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

We all eat Gluten-Free Mint Chocolate Cookies

A friend of mine is gluten-sensitive, and although she has been able to eat certain forms of gluten with minimal side effects, on a trial-and-error basis, she explains that she feels her best when she goes off gluten altogether. Though to do so requires a larger amount of diligence on her part, and despite the fact that some wheat-based foods don't sit too badly with her system, she explains that it's a worthwhile endeavor. And I agree! If there's a way to make your body run more smoothly, and make you feel a bit healthier, why not go for it? My lactose-intolerant friends tend to use the same thought process, but occasionally indulge in a bowl of superb ice cream, though they know their stomach will be upset later.

When we discuss our various food intricacies, I've found myself grateful that I need not be on the lookout for entire food categories from which to abstain, for fear of running myself through the wringer. Of course, as my diet has changed over the past year, if I now choose to eat a rich, buttery slice of cake with thick butter cream icing, I know that my system will not be able to handle it as well and my body will not be happy after consuming it. And that's just because I've so drastically reduced the amount of butter and shortening I eat that when I do have some, it turns into an epic event for my digestive system. In that way, I don't feel all that different from my lactose-intolerant or gluten-sensitive.

We create our diets and fall (for better or for worse) into habits that our bodies adapt to, and when something unfamiliar comes along, problems can occur. That reminds me of the “Simpsons” episode when Lisa prepares a green, leafy, vegetarian feast for her normally bacon-and-sausage based family, and everyone but Lisa is sick for days afterwards.

I wanted to make something special for my gluten-sensitive friend, and I found a gluten-free recipe for mint chocolate cookies, which contain a favorite of mine: Teff flour. These substantial cookies are chewy and a bit on the heavier side, and the mint-chocolate combination are delightfully reminiscent of the Girl Scouts' Thin Mints.

Gluten-Free Mint Chocolate Cookies

½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup honey
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. mint extract
1 cup Teff flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
Pinch salt
Turbinado (raw) sugar

1. Cream together butter and honey. Add vanilla and mint extract. 2. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Blend in butter mixture. Place in plastic bag, and shape into a log about 1-1/2" in diameter. Refrigerate for 1 hour or more. Preheat oven to 350°F. 3. Slice refrigerated dough into 18 cookies. Place on buttered baking sheet and top with a sprinkling of Turbinado sugar. Bake for 14-17 minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Autumn's Apple and Raisin Crisp

I know that I will miss the warm summer days and the sweet fruits that were in such abundance over the course of the past few months, but autumn has begun here in the Pacific Northwest, and I could not be happier. This Labor Day weekend was chilly, blustery, overcast, and slightly damp, but I, along with many others I asked, could not be happier with the change of season. The days here have been more dramatic than anything I've seen, with shifts in the clouds and the wind and pockets of sunshine and blue sky. It's an astounding weather pattern to witness, and it makes me feel cozy and humbled. It also brings out my cravings for hot cinnamon cider, warm apple pie, and most basically, apples from the orchard.

It's been ages since I've been to an orchard for apple picking, but I've been delighted to find that I'm close to several apple trees where the apples are simply falling off the branches, and the owners have implored people to come take the fruit and enjoy their deliciousness. And that's precisely what I did. With the help of a fancy apple corer, I made a double batch of Apple and Raisin Crisp for a crowd. They were pleased with the crumbly and cinnamon-scented topping, I was pleased with the combination of raisins (both golden and brown) and apples (I used Granny Smith), and we were all overwhelmed by the homey taste of warm apple crisp on a cool September day.

Apple and Raisin Crisp
Adapted from

1 ¼ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
¾ cup whole wheat flour flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3 pounds apples, peeled, cored, sliced
1 ½ cups golden or brown raisins
¼ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 9 x 13 1/2-inch glass baking dish.
For Topping:Mix old-fashioned oats, brown sugar, all purpose flour, ground cinnamon and salt in large bowl. Add unsalted butter and blend mixture until coarse crumbs form.
For Filling:Combine sliced apples, raisins, sugar, fresh lemon juice, flour and ground cinnamon in large bowl. Mix well to blend. Transfer apple-raisin filling to prepared dish. Spread topping over. Bake until topping is golden brown, about 55 minutes.