Category Archives: Baked Goods

Tales From the Other Side of the Baking Aisle: Gluten-Free Coconut & Banana Muffins

Haven’t you heard? Gluten-free is so hot right now. No, I am not gluten-free. I’m just not hip enough to align myself with Victoria Beckham, Zooey Deschanel, Rachel Weisz, and a whole host of Hollywood glitterati. Rather, I got a whole lotta love for coconut and alternative flours of all-stars and stripes (thank you, Kim Boyce!) My coconut lovin’ kicked into overdrive after a family vacation to sunny Puerto Rico, where coconut is practically the national emblem. Street vendors sell endless varieties of shockingly sweet coconut candies while coconut water, the health craze du jour of the moment, is readily available on most street corners where it is epically served to you by a man with a machete, who lobs off the top of a coconut for you, jams a straw through its spongy flesh, and hands you what must be a gallon of coconut water for a mere dollar or so.
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Quickie Barley Skillet Bread

With a surplus of barley flour haunting the shadowy recesses of my freezer (Kim Boyce’s fabulous Strawberry Barley Scones from Good to the Grain, prompted me to order a whole box of it) I figured it was about time to clear house, what with spring allegedly right around the corner. I was making a divine Smoky Carrot Hummus for dinner and, seeking out a vessel for the aromatic spread, was decidedly uninspired by the “homemade whole wheat bread” at the grocery store that listed upwards of 10 ingredients. Lacking both the time and willpower to bake a traditional loaf of rise/knead/repeat bread, that’s when the idea for a quickie skillet bread bubbled up from the depths of my food subconscious. Done in 40 minutes or less. YES.
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How to Have Your Cookies and Eat Them, Too: Teff Peanut Butter Cookies

“New year, new you” blah blah blah. Amongst my circle, cutting down on white sugar is by far the most unanimous resolution. However, if you’re like me, there is no way in hell that you’re cutting out sweets. Not only do I advise against cutting out sweets for countless emotional and psychological reasons, but also for physical ones. They say withdrawal is a terrible thing… so WHY go cold turkey when you can whip up a batch of these delightful little bundles of joy? Made with teff flour, a veritable nutritional powerhouse from Ethiopia full of fiber, protein and iron and sweetened with maple syrup, these cookies are rather righteous. Oh, and they’re vegan to boot.
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Zen and the Art of Breakfast: Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins

For those that love the reassuring ritual of a muffin in the morning, but are feeling rather virtuous. Loaded with oats, whole wheat, and berries, but still sufficiently sweet.
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“Samoa” Tart

Samoa. Yes, SAMOA, everyone’s favorite Girl Scout cookie. The box that disappeared waaaay before the thin mints were even opened. To counteract the naughtiness, the crust is whole wheat pastry flour (a bit o’ fiber here, a bit o’ fiber there.) Chocolate, caramel, and coconut – oh yes!

It can be eaten soon after cooling, or may even be better after being refrigerated overnight, as the goopiness sets to create a more cohesive tart experience.

“Samoa” Tart

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 generous tablespoon natural cane sugar

heaping 1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼” cubes

1-4 tablespoons ice water

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup natural cane sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, lightly toasted in the oven

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup cacao nibs

one 4 oz. bar good-quality dark chocolate, finely chopped

1.) To make the crust, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bow. Add the cubed butter and use a pastry cutter, fork, or even your fingers to break up the butter into small pieces the size of peas. Add the vanilla and water, as needed, until the dough just barely comes together. It will be very dry. Press into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill thoroughly; at least an hour. Remove and allow the dough to come back to room temperature.

2.) Grease bottom of a 9-10 inch tart pan and then line the bottom with parchment paper. Unwrap dough and, using the palms of your hands and whole lot of elbow grease, press and press and PRESS that dough out as thinly as your can, around the bottom of the pan, and up its hilly sides with your fingers. If you press a hole into the dough, not to worry, just patch it up with a bit of the overhang. Place in the freezer and chill thoroughly; at least an hour.

3.) Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove crust from freezer and bake for 20-30 minutes; until lightly browned. While crust is baking, make the filling.

4.) Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a heavy sauce pan over medium-high heat until it begins to boil. When it begins to foam and rise up, remove from heat, and stir in the coconut and vanilla. Scrape filling into the prepared crust.

5.) Bake for 10 minutes, then use a heat-proof spatula or the like to lightly tap all around the surface to break up any caramelization/setting that is occurring. This helps the tart to bake evenly and prevents it from wrinkling up. Bake for another 10 minutes, tap again, and then bake for a final 10 minutes or so for a total baking time of about 30 minutes.

6.) Remove from the oven, place on a cooling rack, and immediately sprinkle those lovely little nibs all around the tart’s surface. Wait a minute or so, and then sprinkle the chopped up chocolate bar across the tart. When completely cooled, remove the tart ring gently. Don’t even think about whipped cream.

The Quest for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Part II: Kim Boyce’s Whole Wheat Chocolate Chippers

“Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies?” you may ask, and surely gasp in chocolate-chip-cookie-purist horror, “Surely not!” But it’s true! I’ve tested these on numerous unsuspecting friends, family, and coworkers and no one made a peep about the wheaty, hippie-mamma nature of these cookies. Upon disclosure of the secret I received blank stares, looks that soon caused them to slow their rabid chewing look, look at the ceiling, squint their eyes in intense focus, and then – “Nope, can’t taste anything wheaty. That’s so weird!”

Given my recent proclivity towards natural cooking and baking, some weren’t at all surprised at the test-subject nature of the prank. I highly recommend baking these and not divulging the secret until you’ve received lustful words of thanks. These cookies are as delicious as nectar is to a BEE. The whole wheat simply gives the cookies a firmer, more substantial crumb (i.e. these are not wimpy, Chips-Ahoy cookies) and the massive chunks of bittersweet chocolate, as my sister said, “take them to a whole other level!”

I know I’ve become a bit repetitive with my endless adoration of Good to the Grain (yeah, I know, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon) but isn’t that an indication that it is, indeed, time to add it to your cookbook library if you haven’t already?

Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

8 oz (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ chunks
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 oz high-quality bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped to the size of your liking!

1.) Place one rack in the upper third of the oven and the other in the bottom third. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two heavy baking sheets with parchment paper.

2.) In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars with an electric mixer until blended; 2 minutes or so. Add eggs one at a time and beat after each addition. Use your spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl throughout. Mix in vanilla.

3.) Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt directly into the bowl with the wet ingredients. Blend until just combined. Add chocolate and use your hands to evenly disperse.

4.) Using an ice cream scoop spoon little mountains of dough, approximately 3 tablespoons in size, onto the baking sheets. Leave a few inches between each mountain. Bake for 15-20 minutes, swapping the top tray with the bottom tray halfway through. The cookies are done when they are lightly browned and the edges are beginning to set. The cookies will still be very, very soft and gooey when they’re done, and you will have to be careful when moving to a cooling rack. It is essential to not overbake these – resist the temptation to bake them longer than 20 minutes.

This recipe was very slightly adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. Published by Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, New York; 2010.

Strawberry Barley Scones

Barley’s natural affinity for fruit lends itself swimmingly to these strawberry jam scones. I used a jar of strawberry preserves from Seedling over at Chicago’s Green City Market. I imagine that any fruit jam or preserves would be equally as delectable in this recipe.

Strawberry Barley Scones
Makes 8

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons barley flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup low fat buttermilk
1 egg

1/2 cup strawberry jam
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar or turbinado sugar

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift flours, baking powder, and baking soda together into a large bowl. Whisk in sugars and salt. In a separate small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and egg.

2.) Place flour mixture in the bed of a food processor. Cut 1/2″ chunks of the butter into the flour mixture. Pulse until the size of peas. Dump flour and butter mixture into a large bowl. Using a spatula, mix in buttermilk and egg until just barely combined.

3.) Transfer dough to a well-floured surface with floured hands. Divide dough into two equal pieces. Pat each piece into a disk about 3/4″ thick.

4.) Generously spread jam over the entire surface of one disk. Take the other disk and press it down on top of the jam. Cut eight triangles out of the circle.

5.) Place on prepared baking sheet. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 22-27 minutes; until golden on top and the jam has begun to caramelize. Quickly transfer to a cooling rack.

This recipe was very slightly adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. Published by Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, New York; 2010.

Wholesome Blueberry Muffins

This recipe came about after I became a bit tired of baking the same old muffins for cowboy. The white whole wheat flour makes these muffins more substantial and significantly more complex in flavor, while the olive oil makes for an incredibly moist muffin. Evidence that the smallest changes in ingredients can easily up the nutritional profile of a recipe.

Wholesome Blueberry Muffins
Makes 9 muffins

1 egg
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup mild-flavored olive oil
1/4 cup safflower oil
1 1/2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup organic sugar
1 tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
oil or butter, for greasing muffins trays
organic turbinado sugar, for muffin tops

1.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease muffin tin. Beat egg, then stir in milk, oils, and blueberries. Stir in remaining ingredients until just mixed.

2.) Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if desired. Bake for 20 minutes; until golden. Remove from tin immediately to cool.

Whole Wheat Bread of Millet & Flax Seed

There’s something unequivocally comforting about spending your entire day tending to the well-being of a couple of loaves of bread. I love the initial excitement of seeing that your yeasted batter has, indeed, risen as it should. I love punching the dough down after it’s risen a few times over. I love kneading the dough until my arms ache and my fingers are so entwined in the dough that it takes a good few minutes to untangle myself. Most of all, I love the smell of baking bread creeping throughout the apartment as the cowboy plays his guitar. The ultimate reward that comes from this fragrant loaf is sitting down to a hearty chunk of it slathered with strawberry-raspberry preserves from my favorite Chicago grocer – The Green Grocer. On bread-baking days I feel a sense of accomplishment that only comes from honest, wholesome productivity.

In between waiting for the dough to rise and then rise again (like a Phoenix!), we spent the good chunk of Saturday gathering our food for the week. A trip to the wondrous Chicago French Market made both of our days. Of particular enjoyment was chatting with the local butcher, Dick McCracken of Fumare Meats, from whom we bought some delicious prosciutto from for Saveur’s “Piselli Al Prosciutto” (Sweet Peas and Prosciutto) from their latest issue – “Classic Roman Food.” The most fascinating piece of take-away knowledge from this indelible resource – did you know that the changing colors of the leaves in the fall in the United States is a result of the acidity of our soil? Sure is pretty… Or that everything from lettuce to turnips tastes ever-so-slightly different from country to country as a result of this? Or that the only place to get a chicken that actually tastes like chicken used to (read The Omnivore’s Dilemna, anyone?) is a place down on Fulton Market that steadfastly refuses to sell to the public?

This bread is SO GOOD… and so good for you! The millet is the star here as it contributes a surprisingly sweet flavor and pleasantly crunchy texture… but lets not forget the flax seed and its nutty aroma! The combination of white, whole wheat, and white whole wheat flours makes for a miraculously light, tender loaf. Can we call this “super bread?!”

Whole Wheat Bread of Millet & Flax Seed

1 3/4 cups millet
1/4 cup flax seeds
1 cup hot water from your tap, for soaking millet
3 packages dry active yeast
2 cups warm water, for dissolving yeast
2 tablespoons raw honey (from your farmer’s market!)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
4 to 5 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons safflower oil
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
oil, for coating a bowl and baking tins
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk (whichever kind suits you)

1.) Begin by soaking your millet in the cup of hot water. Set aside, and dissolve yeast in a large bowl with the warm water. Add honey, white flour, and whole wheat flour. Stir with a spatula until smooth. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size; 40-50 minutes. I’ve found that the interior of my oven with the light on is a reliable source of warmth.

2.) Stir in the oil, salt, millet (and any remaining water), and flaxseed until everything is evenly dispersed. Then, gently stir in the white whole wheat flour gradually (about 1/2-1/3 cup at a time) with your spatula until the dough won’t take anymore flour.

3.) Turn dough out onto a well-floured flat surface, coat your hands in a bit of flour to help prevent “concrete hands,” and knead dough for 5-10 minutes; until smooth and supple.

4.) Oil a large, clean bowl, place dough in bowl, and turn over a few times to coat with oil. Cover tightly, place in a warm place, and let rise until doubled in size; 40-55 minutes. Punch that dough down with your fists, cover, place in a warm place, and let rise until doubled in size; 30-40 minutes.

5.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil two standard-size baking tins. Break apart the dough in the bowl into two loaves. Place in tins, put in a warm place (without a cover this time), and let rise one last time until doubled in size; 20-25 minutes. While the dough is rising, make a glaze by beating the egg and the milk together. When dough is doubled in size, slash the top a bit with a knife, brush with glaze, and bake until beautifully golden and crisp on the outside; 50-60 minutes.

End of Season: Jeweled Pumpkin Muffins

Spring is almost here. And I have several cans of leftover (and much loved) pumpkin puree in my cabinets. Pumpkin puree has been my standby this past winter – a guarantee of a pleasant evening. No need to worry about chopping your finger off wrangling a pumpkin into submission on the cutting board. Pumpkin Bread and Turkey Pumpkin Chili in the depths of a Chicago winter were truly life-saving.

My newest cookbook addition, Good to the Grain, listed an intriguing recipe for Sweet Potato Muffins made with whole-wheat flower and dates. This is my pantry-clearing adaptation.

Jeweled Pumpkin Muffins

one 14 oz can pumpkin puree
butter, for muffin tin
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon Saigon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup organic granulated sugar
1 egg
1 cup low fat buttermilk
1/2 plain low fat yogurt
1/2 cup cranberries

1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 10 spaces of a muffin tin with butter. Whisk buttermilk and yogurt together in a small bowl. In a large bowl, sift together the flours, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

2.) In another large bowl with a handheld electric mixer, or in the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the butter and sugars until light and creamy. Add egg and half of the pumpkin, and continue to beat until thoroughly combined.

3.) Add flour mixture and beat until partially combined, then add buttermilk mixture, and mix until combined. Add cranberries and the rest of the pumpkin, and mix until just combined.

4.) Spoon batter into greased muffin tin and bake for 35-40 minutes; until golden.

This recipe was adapted from Good to the Grainby Kim Boyce. Published by Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, New York; 2010.