September 30, 2009

Oatmeal Buttermilk Bread

I don't know if I've discussed this before but I've baked bread a fair amount of times and while they usually turn out pretty well, I can never seem to achieve that bread bakery quality. You know, the crusty on the outside, spongy and springy on the inside quality. Well, this bread is the closest I've come so far.

No, it's not perfect but the texture on the inside is pretty spot-on. The outside was crusty and hard when it emerged from the oven, but after sitting on the counter overnight it became more like the crust of a traditional supermarket loaf, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The crust actually had a nice oven baked flavor; it tastes like it looks, browned and oaty- definitely not a bad thing.

I used mostly white whole wheat flour for this bread (it's my first time trying it out so I used a bit of all-purpose as well) and like one of my new favorites, whole wheat pastry flour, I was very pleased with it. It's lighter in color and flavor than regular whole wheat flour but is almost equal in nutritional value (I believe white whole wheat has 1 gram less fiber than whole wheat per serving) so it's a great alternative to refined flour with a less noticeable change in flavor (than using traditional whole wheat). Plus, it was on sale at the grocery store! What more could you ask for?

Oatmeal Buttermilk Bread

makes 2 medium boules (see Peabody's site if you would rather bake 1 loaf in a bread pan, instead of 2 boules on a pizza stone as I have done. Alternatively, Foodie Bride made her two boules in a dutch oven.)
Adapted from Foodie Bride's take on Peabody's recipe

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup warm water
2 teaspoons dried yeast
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons molasses
1/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour [I added an extra 1/2 cup to the batter white kneading due to stickiness]

2 teaspoons honey mixed with 1 tablespoon hot water

Set aside 1/4 cup rolled oats. Place the remaining oats into a medium bowl. Cover with boiling water. Mix with spoon to moisten all oats. Let bowl sit, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Place 1/4 cup of warm water in the bowl of your stand mixer and sprinkle yeast on top. Let rest for 5 minutes. Add soaked oats, buttermilk, oil, brown sugar, both flours, and salt. With hook attachment, mix on low speed to combine, then increase speed to medium and mix for about 10 minutes [I did this by hand and need to develop better skills]. Dough will be wet and cling to hook, but have a satiny finish.

Place dough in an oiled bowl and over with plastic wrap. Proof in a warm area for about an hour, the dough will almost double in size [Mine took longer than this to proof, maybe around 2 hours, since it wasn't too hot in my apartment].

Place dough onto a floured surface and flatten it with your hands, releasing excess air bubbles. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Knead a few times to form each half into a ball and rest seam-side down on two sheets of parchment paper cut larger than the dough ball. Cover with lightly-oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes.

While loaf is proofing, place your pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 400 F.

Remove plastic wrap and use a very sharp knife or razor to make 1/2″ deep cuts on the breads in a pattern of your choice. Use a brush to apply the honey and water mixture to the top of each loaf [you could also bake them separately if your stone is not large enough for both; in this case, wait until the first loaf has come out before prepping the second for the oven]. Sprinkle each with half of the remaining oats. Carefully transfer the parchment paper with the dough to the pizza stone [I slide the dough on parchment from a cookie sheet directly onto the pizza stone]. Bake for 40- 45 minutes, or until the top and sides of the loaf are a deep brown.

Remove the breads from the oven by grabbing onto the parchment and sliding the loaf on parchment onto your cookie sheet. Cool on a wire rack.

September 27, 2009

Earl Grey Tea Cupcakes with White Chocolate Frosting

If a cupcake were ever sophisticated, this would be it.

I bet this seems weird to some people- sure, you're familiar with tea and cake but tea in cake? But let's start at the beginning, shall we...

I got the idea for this ingenious mix of flavors at least a year ago from eat me delicious but my recipe inspiration came from another source. Right when I read the heading, "Earl Grey White Chocolate," I knew these were going to be something special (don't ask me why it took me so long to actually make them).

As usual I made a number of my own changes, the biggest of which was upping the amount of tea used. I read many different recipes and almost all of them said something along the lines of "the earl grey flavor was very subtle, next time I might try adding more tea." Being the lover of earl grey tea (and bergamot along with its debatable benefits) that I am, I didn't want these cupcakes to be subtle; I wanted them to be unmistakeably earl grey, and I think they were thanks to extra tea leaves in the batter coupled with tea infused milk.

These cupcakes came out perfectly, really, I have no complaints (is this a first?). The flavor was as strong as I wanted it to be, however, since earl grey is by nature a delicate flavor, it was by no means overpowering. The cake itself was light, tender, and subtly sweet, which provided a nice compliment to the more decadent frosting.

All I have left to say is that these are my kind of cupcake, and if you haven't already gotten the message: make them!

Earl Grey Tea Cupcakes

I halved the recipe to make 12 cupcakes (below is the halved version, hence the awkward 1 3/8 cup flour)
Adapted from Vanilla Garlic

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup 2% milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 bags double bergamot early grey tea [I used the Stash Tea brand]

Beat the butter until soft for 30 seconds. Add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat for 30 seconds between each.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Then add 2 bags of the tea (bags ripped open and contents emptied) into bowl and whisk until combined.

Measure out milk and heat in the microwave until just boiling (1- 2 minutes on high). Place the remaining 2 tea bags into the piping hot milk and let steep for at least 5 minutes. when finished make sure to squeeze the tea bags to release any remaining milk. Next add the vanilla extract to the milk tea and stir.

Mix in the flour mixture and the milk mixture into the egg/butter/ sugar mixture, alternating between the two and ending with the flour. Scoop the batter into cupcake papers about 3/4 full.

Bake for 18- 22 minutes* at 350F until a toothpick comes out clean.

the original recipe had a bake time of 22- 25 minutes but mine were ready (just golden on top) around the 19 minute mark.

White Chocolate Frosting
Although this frosting was good, I wish I could have tasted the white chocolate a bit more. Next time I might try skipping the milk altogether and lessening the sugar to 1 1/4 cups; this will also help if you like a thicker frosting. Also, the higher quality the white chocolate you use, the better the frosting will taste. I've found Lindt to be a good option for both affordability and quality.
From Diana's Desserts

4 1/2 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup 2% milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick/3 oz./85g) unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt

Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler. Stir until smooth. Let cool to room temperature.

Sift the confectioners' sugar into a medium bowl. Stir in the milk and vanilla. Add the butter and salt and beat until smooth. Stir in the cooled white chocolate. Refrigerate until firm enough to frost the cupcakes, about 30 minutes.

September 20, 2009

Trail Mix Granola Bars

I've made granola bars a handful of times before but none quite like these. The first time I used a recipe I found under the lid of some Quaker oats and they turned out poorly, too cakey. The next few times I tried my hand at no-bake granola bars using brown rice syrup, oats, crisp rice cereal and whatever mix-ins I was feeling at the time; those turned out pretty well but I couldn't seem to perfect the ratios of ingredients and I used puffed rice cereal instead of crisp rice cereal but didn't realize my mistake until after I'd made a couple batches... oops. Needless to say (though I guess I already have), there were some problems, one of the biggest being that out of the fridge the bars totally softened up, and while I like a chewy granola bar, I don't want them to fall apart on me.

So here is some of my criteria for a good granola bar: a good granola bar needs to be filling, it needs to be wholesome, it needs to be able to hold up in the bottom of a handbag or backpack, and, perhaps most importantly, it needs to taste good.

I got my inspiration for these from my new favorite bars, Pure Bars. I can't find them at many places around here; actually, I can only find them at Trader Joe's and they only carry two of the six flavors (Cherry Cashew and Chocolate Brownie, if you were curious). Anyway, I've really wanted to try the ChocChip Trail Mix flavor but as I said, I can't find it anywhere so I decided to make it. I changed up the ingredients a little and came out with a bar that I'm sure is just as good (if not better than) the original (even though I've never had it).

These bars meet all my criteria for a good granola bar. The only thing I might do differently next time is decrease the amount of nuts so the bars aren't quite as caloric. What I did this time once I realized is cut them into smaller pieces. If you make 10 squares instead of six rectangles, each one will be about 200 calories with around 75 from fat, which is pretty much just how I like my granola bars- with a calorie count low enough to be a snack and a decent amount of healthy fats to keep you satisfied.

Trail Mix Granola Bars
Feel free to play around with these ingredients however you'd like. The original bar uses raw cacao nibs instead of chocolate chips, but I wasn't ready to make that splurge just yet. Also, you can use your favorite nuts and mix-ins instead of following mine to a T. I really enjoyed the sweet and salty combo that resulted from using some raw nuts and some salted ones. You could also double the recipe and press it into an 8x8 brownie pan if you want more bars.

1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup dry roasted and salted pistachios
10 medjool dates, pitted [I always buy un-pitted and pit them myself to prevent them from drying out]
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon ground flax
1 tablespoon peanut butter
3 tablespoons oat bran

Pulse chocolate chips in a food processor until broken up into smaller pieces (don't worry if they aren't uniform, and don't over process). Remove the chips and set aside. Add all nuts to the food processor (no need to clean) and pulse until broken into small pieces, remove and set aside. Pulse the dates, peanut butter and half the raisins in the food processor until a paste forms.

In a large bowl, combine the chocolate chips, nuts, sunflower seeds, ground flax and oat bran and stir together. Transfer the date paste to the bowl and mix until well combined- this will take some time and seem difficult at first, but it happens.

Press the mixture into a parchment lines bread pan and even out (you can coat your hands with a small amount of oil, use the bottom of a cup, or press down with the exposed parchment). Freeze or refrigerate until hard (I used the freezer and waited a little under an hour) and then cut into as many pieces as you'd like.

Wrap in wax paper and store in the refrigerator.

September 13, 2009

Sunflower Chip Cookies

I had the bright idea of adding chocolate covered sunflower seeds to these cookies when I was at Whole Foods picking up some spelt flour. You see, Borders is right next to Whole Foods and they sell chocolate covered sunflower seeds (street names: little drops of heaven, crack, sunflower chips). These things are so good but aren't too easy to come by around these here parts. Still, I don't know why I haven't thought of adding them to baked goods before. They really made these cookies.

As usual, I adapted this recipe. For some reason I have this problem. I cant just make a recipe as is; for better or for worse, I have to fiddle with it. And so fiddle I did. I changed up the flours, substituted agave (my first time baking with it!), nixed the molasses etc. etc.

Though I tried to make my ratios of wet to dry ingredients as similar as possible to the original recipe, for some reason my cookie batter was definitely on the wet side. I added a touch more flour and then thought about adding some more, but the mixing was causing the color of the sunflower chips to run. Reluctantly I stopped mixing and decided to proceed with the wet, sticky excuse for cookie batter I'd created.

It was a bit hard to shape them into rounds but being the perfectionist that I sometimes am, I pressed on. While they were in the oven, I crossed my fingers that I didn't waste those precious little sunflower chips on what might turn out to be the worst cookies I'd ever made. But soon enough they were done and my fears were assuaged. Impatient, as I usually am, I had to eat one soon after it came out of the oven.

So here's the verdict: The flavor of these cookies is great (I'm going to give most of the credit for that to the sunflower chips- gold star!) and the texture was like a perfect soft baked cookie. The only "problem" was that they were super thin. I think this could be easily remedied by making smaller cookies (I, only having one cookie sheet, made them quite large). I tried to fix the thickness problem by making them a second time with regular chocolate chips (boo) and more flour, and while this certainly helped the thickness, the cookies were more cake-y and less sweet.

So here's my solution to super thin soft baked cookies (if you even want a solution): fold in half and enjoy. I ended up doing this with most of the sunflower chip cookies and it gave me twice the thickness, twice the softness and no need for recipe alterations. So what if it turned my near perfect circles into semi-circular confections, even my sometime perfectionist can live with that.

Sunflower Chip Cookies

Adapted from Vive le Vegan!

3/4 cup spelt flour (not the white kind)
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup brown sugar (not packed)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup light agave nectar
1 tablespoon grade B maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
scant 2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
heaping 1/4 cup chocolate covered sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar and salt, until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the maple syrup with the agave and vanilla, then stir in the oil until well combined. Add the wet mixture to the dry, along with the sunflower chips, and stir through until just well combined (do not overmix).

Place large spoonfuls of the batter on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 11 minutes, until just golden (if you bake for much longer, they will dry out*). Let cool on the sheet for no more than 1 minute (again, to prevent drying*), then transfer to a cooling rack. Makes 8-10 large cookies.

* I did not have this problem with drying at all, alternatively, my cookies were very, very moist- likely because of the changes I made to the recipe.

September 2, 2009

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

For some reason I really enjoy baking muffins. If I'm bored on a day off from work I'll think, "well, why don't I just make some muffins?" And then I will. I think it's because muffins are fairly easy to make, and I feel comfortable with them so I'm not afraid to experiment a little bit; and experimenting is what I love to do. Furthermore the muffins I make are a fairly modest treat, unlike the un-frosted cupcakes masquerading as muffins at most bakeries, so I don't feel bad or overly tempted having them around the house (but I must say, they don't last very long).

Usually, when I decide to make muffins I'll use whatever ingredients I have on hand at the time. After deciding on the star ingredient (in this case, blueberries) I'll browse recipes online to see what ingredients other people are pairing with blueberries and what ratios of flour, eggs, oil etc. they're using. Finally, after making some mental notes and likely having a few recipes up on my screen for reference, I'll start baking.

I almost always modify the recipes I work from and this is no exception. I looked at this recipe for general reference but made a ton of changes such as adding yogurt, taking out the buttermilk, lowering the oil content, using maple syrup as the sole sweetener (minus the sugar on top), among other things. If you take the time to try out this recipe (and really, you should), I have to suggest pairing it with a crossword puzzle, a sunlit room, and a hot cup of tea, because I don't know much else that makes a better morning.

Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins

very loosely adapted from Keeping Food True
makes about 9 muffins

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 egg
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
heaping 1/3 cup non-fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup water
1 3/4 cups fresh blueberries*
brown sugar or raw sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a muffin pan with canola oil or butter.

In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients and in a small bowl combine all the wet. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until well combined. Next, lightly stir in the blueberries until just incorporated. Using an ice cream scoop, transfer the batter to the muffin cups (each one should be about 3/4 full). Sprinkle the tops with brown sugar or raw sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

*this is A LOT of blueberries. If you don't want your muffins to be over-flowing with blueberries the way I like mine, I would suggest using decreasing the amount to 1 1/4 cups.

September 1, 2009

Non-Traditional Carrot Salad

A lot of times I feel like I don't eat enough vegetables. Sure, I eat plenty of fruit and probably more than my share of carbs, nuts and fiber but I'm often a slacker in the vegetable department. In an attempt to remedy this, I bought a whole bag of carrots from the grocery store and was determined to make them into something slightly more inventive than carrot sticks.

I didn't even know there was a traditional carrot salad until I did a bit of internet research. It turns out that the classic carrot salad is a mix of shredded carrots, raisins, chopped apples and... mayonnaise. However, since I wasn't in the mood for anything drenched in mayonnaise (I never am), I took a queue from the Peanut Sesame Noodle Salad I made about a month ago and the delicious sample of Asian carrot and cabbage slaw I had at Trader Joe's a few days ago.

I decided to make this salad with the traditional ingredients and a non-traditional Thai inspired dressing. The picture above doesn't do this dish any justice but it's the only one I have for now. Just trust me that this salad is much better than my picture and the dressing would be great on just about anything (well, maybe not anything, but you get the idea).

Non-Traditional Carrot Salad


For the salad
1 1lb bag of carrots, shredded (no need to peel)
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped [I actually didn't add these because I didn't have any, but I'm positive the crunch and extra peanut flavor would really add to this salad]
1 fuji apple, diced (optional)

For the dressing
3 tablespoons natural peanut butter
2 dates, pitted
2 teaspoons Bragg's Liquids Aminos (or about 10 squirts)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon red chili paste [I used Thai Kitchen]
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 small clove garlic
juice of one lime
1/4 cup water
sriracha to taste

Place all dressing ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth, scraping the sides when necessary. Pour the dressing into a medium bowl and put the shredding attachment into your food processor (no need to clean the food processor because the carrots will be mixing with the dressing eventually). Shred carrots in the food processor and pour them into the bowl with the dressing. Add raisins and apple and mix until everything is coated. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts over the top.