Big ol’ Loaf of Wholemeal Challah

This loaf of challah resembles an ogre. It really does. The first moment I caught a glimpse of it, the word ‘ogre’ swelled up in my mind, similarly to how the challah swelled and swelled and didn’t stop swelling, behind the curtain of a kitchen hand towel.

I’ll admit I was overly giddy when making this bread; tightly woven strands of dough and deep golden crust seemed like unattainable qualities on my plane of baking, and while I had made different forms of bread before, namely bagels and pretzels, I had never attempted something as intricate as challah. For some reason, I’m usually drawn to the recipes that are more likely to disappoint me than leave me patting myself on the back. At least this challah was humanistic enough to grant me a treasure of a crust. The crusty casing was everything I’d imagined it to be: thick but not cotton mouth inducing, crackly when chomped, and, most importantly, just barely burnt in color. As was already mentioned, the ogre-like appearance of the bread was a result of over rising, or at least I think so. Prior to the last rise, the challah had a sharp, braided look, and almost appeared too picturesque to be real. Sure enough, my unspoken sense of doubt took shape in the form of this drowsy looking challah.

It should be mentioned that this was my first time attempting challah, so it’s only fair that I go easy on myself for it’s less than pretty appearance. I mean, if the Shrek movies taught us anything it’s that looks aren’t everything. This challah loaf upholds that timeless teaching; it’s humble outer shell contains an unexpectedly soft, tender, and truly magnificent interior. So, what exactly went wrong? When did I make the wrong turn that cost this challah it’s beauty? After much thinking and tinkering, I’d say there is more than one short and sweet correction to be made. Here are some of my thoughts…

Too long of a rising period?

I always spend a great deal of time watching tutorial videos and reading first-person success/failure stories before I attempt any baked good. The idea is to learn from other people’s mistakes before making a slew of my own. However, despite the multiple hours spent researching challah bread, I still encountered the simple, but gargantuan mistake of over-puffed bread. My first thought was that I over added the yeast, but after much internet-surfing and deliberation, it turns out that 2 tsps of dry yeast per 4 – 4 1/4 cups of flour is all well and good. Scrap that possibility. What about temperature? It’s fall in Australia, meaning it’s still fairly warm most days, so perhaps it was too warm or humid and the yeast was over stimulated? This also isn’t likely. Yeast is supposed to thrive in the warmth, at least under one’s watchful gaze, ahh… watchful gaze. So that’s likely how I let the challah swell with error.

Reading handful after handful of recipes and how to’s is helpful, but it also has the possibility of messing with your senses, murkying the waters of your intuition, and making you reliant on the critical thinking and rational of other people. None of the recipes I came across explained the roles that climate and temperatures (hands, workspace, etc.) can play in shaping the outcome of a loaf of bread. Finally, in the pursuit of an explanation for my unusually chubby challah, I found an article that told me everything I wish I’d known prior to attempting this eggy, woven bread. When a recipe tells you to let dough rise for 2-3 hours so that it can ‘double in size’, don’t simply set an alarm for two hours and check on the dough then, definitely do not do that!!!!! Instead, note the words that sound like an afterthought, double in size, and periodically check on your dough every 30-45 minutes. Depending on how warm your climate is, your ball of dough could very well double in size within 50-60 minutes. So, there’s that! I wish I’d taken my feet off my table and ran off to check on my dough well before the ‘allotted’ time of two hours. Oh well, lesson learnt. If anything, this mistake has only revved up my engine more; I am eager to get back behind my metaphorical steering wheel and dictate the appropriate course of action for flour, yeast, eggs, and salt.

One big beautiful ball of dough.

Ingredients~
Makes one large loaf

2 – 2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white bread flour, such as Italian ’00’, (or simply use all-purpose)
2 tsps dry yeast
Scant tsp table salt
2 tbsps plus 1 1/2 tsps granulated sugar
2 tbsps rice malt syrup or honey
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup & 2 tbsps slightly warm water
3 eggs (reserve one for egg wash)

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Whole Wheat Pretzels (Savory & Cinnamon Sugar Varieties)

I’m in the process of moving errr, putting off preparing to move cities and then countries. My time in Melbourne is nearly up and soon I’ll be off to Brisbane, but just for two weeks before saying see ya later to Australia and flying to Taiwan, where I’ll be for nearly a week before excitedly boarding a plane to Tokyo! It’s hard to not get stuck in the future when you have such highly-anticipated plans. Sometimes I have to remind myself you still have time in Australia to utilize and enjoy, let the idea of Tokyo rest for now! Given all the wonderful, wacky things I’ve heard about Tokyo, I’m a little fearful I’ll grow attached to the city. Originally, Matt and I were going to visit for a month or less, as people typically do, but given that he has the freedom to work from pretty much wherever he wants, and I have a wide, gaping space of time before returning to more structured life, i.e. college, we decided to temporarily live in Tokyo for three months, hoping to explore it well beyond what a brief trip would allow (but definitely not enough to warrant never returning).

Of course, we’re very, very lucky that the elements usually hindering people from traveling, namely finances, timing, and freedom, happen to work out in our favor this time around. If I had barely been earning a livable wage in Australia or had a young child or needed to save my money to pay off a debt, I would not be able to pick up and travel to Tokyo for so long, let alone have come to Australia in the first place. With this said, I am also not in possession of a trust fund or cushioned by tens of thousands of dollars in savings. Instead, I actively avoided spending any unnecessary money over the last 6 months. Living frugally meant I had a grocery budget, and if I overspent one week I would deduct the extra money spent from the following week’s budget. Yep, it meant I had to be strict with myself when no one else was going to be. I also rarely ever ate out. Eating at restaurants is an obvious no-no, but I also had to strip myself of the freedom to buy menially costing things, i.e. coffees, bags of chips, alcohol, packaged treats, etc., as they really, truly, do add up. I bought clothes when I needed clothes (aka when my only pair of long pants that aren’t made of leather were stolen from the laundry balcony) and I scanned the shelves at grocery stores for very uncool lengths of time to deduce which brands were cheaper and which were cheaper but also sound in the health and ethics department (100% recycled paper toilet paper is cheaper than the soft white stuff AND it’s not new paper that has to be sent to a landfill or ocean).

Another fact worth mentioning is that I’m traveling with a partner, so I’ll be splitting the cost of a small apartment (aka 1 small room, tiny kitchen, and bathroom) with him. We just so happened to stumble upon a traditional (aka cheaper) style apartment in a nice neighborhood in West Tokyo; it’s a 15-20 minute subway ride into central parts of the city, which isn’t too far away to be a hassle but isn’t too close to empty our pockets, and because we are staying for three months we received a sizable discount. Home owners on Airbnb have the option of offering a discount for one or several month stays, and while some don’t make use of it for obvious reasons ($$), we were able to shave over a thousand dollars off our rent budget by finding a listing that allocated a 30% monthly discount for long-term stays. With a more decent weekly rent in mind, it was easier to get the ball rolling on the idea of actually traveling to Tokyo. Transportation, food, and air fare are all necessities you can’t get around, but you can crunch the numbers and make it possible, while still comfortable, on a budget. Also, remaining in Tokyo for so long rather than traveling all around the country means we don’t have to spend massive amounts of money on the high speed rail ($150 dollars one way from Tokyo to Osaka) or domestic flights, and it also means we have the option to cook in our own kitchen rather than spend hundreds of dollars a week on food.

Soon I’ll be writing and posting pictures from a kitchen the size of my current shower, stuffing my face with taro-filled mochi, and trying to convey in words how impossibly delicious fresh, Japanese handcrafted mochi is. Until then, I’ve got some pretzels to tide us over.

One pretzel, two pretzel, three pretzel, four. And no more than that, folks! I only made four pretzels this time around because I have a croissant recipe in the works and one can only consume so much butter and white flour before their body catches up (which you may not mind at all, but I do). The classic buttery and salty pretzels left me in awe of my own baking abilities (or rather, butter-lathering and salting abilities) and the cinnamon sugar one confirmed my suspicion that sugary toppings only make you want more sugary toppings (luckily I only made one of these).

Ingredients~
Yields 4-5 pretzels

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp dry yeast
1/2 cup & 1 tbsp slightly warm water
1 tsp rice malt syrup
1 tsp granulated sugar
3/4 tsp table salt
1 tbsp melted butter
Scant 1/4 cup baking soda (for boiling)
5 cups water (for boiling)
For topping:
1 egg yolk
About 1 inch-by-inch cube of solid butter
Ground rock/sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon combined with 1 tbsp granulated sugar

Instructions~

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Peach & Pear Breakfast Cake

What is cake good for?

Birthdays
Baby showers
Every other celebration you can think of (in the U.S.A. at least)
Winning someone’s heart
Exchanging for dollar bills
Telling yourself ‘I love you’
Breakfast

With two cans of peaches in the cupboard and breakfast fast approaching, I decided cake was a good idea. Initially I was going to make a peach cobbler, but CAKE hastily flashed across my mind in bright, bold letters and I couldn’t turn it off. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy fruit cobbler, but it’s not compact and neat; cobbler is like the stew or casserole of desserts, it’s yummy, yeah yeah, but it’s quite literally a big dump of a dessert. You don’t see peach cobbler sitting behind the glass display shelves at trendy cafes in Melbourne. Nope, what you do see is proud little slices of breakfast cake. And ginormous caramel slices. And cream-filled whoopie pies. But let’s not venture down such a dangerous tangent this early in the morning.

I ended up making this cake twice. The first time I topped it with peaches and it came out a little dry (not a fault of the lone peaches). The second time I added a couple tbsps of soy milk, reduced the ground oats, and nestled some sliced pears in between the peaches. After mixing ingredients for less than 10 minutes and waiting patiently for less than 30, a slice of hearty, healthy ‘I love you’ was in my bowl and on it’s way to my appetite.


Don’t stop baking cakes for birthdays or full-moon parties, but do start baking cakes for me-time mornings; for mornings spent at home, free from the grapples of regular working days. On these mornings you lazily re-fill your coffee mug more than you can remember and don’t panic when you’ve eaten cake for breakfast and lunch, albeit oat and nut dense cake topped with fruits. You remind yourself that there’s a cake-inclusive celebration happening somewhere and you ought to have a slice to that.

Ingredients~

1-2 cups sliced peaches and/or pears in fruit puree or syrup
2/3 cup all purpose flour (or half whole wheat and half all purpose)
1/3 cup ground almonds (or almond meall)
1/3 cup ground oats
2 tbsps rice malt syrup
1 1/2 tbsps granulated sugar (add 1/2-1 tbsp more if you want it sweeter)
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tbsps soy milk or milk of your choice
Scant 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg (optional)
1/4 tsp ground ginger (optional)
Pinch of salt

Instructions~

Preheat oven to 176 C/350 F
1. Drain canned peaches/pears and reserve a few spoonfuls of syrup for later. Slice fresh fruit if using. Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium-large bowl until well incorporated.
2. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and add the melted butter, milk, and syrup. Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry and mix until combined and goopy/sticky. The batter should be pourable but still fairly thick like pancake batter.
3. Line a cake tin with parchment paper and lightly grease or butter the sides before pouring in the batter. Use a spatula to evenly spread it out, ensuring an equal width all the way around. Add the sliced fruit and drizzle syrup and/or sugar over the slices. Bake for 18-25 minutes or until set and the edges are lightly browned, turning 180 degrees at the halfway point to ensure an evenly baked cake. This cake pairs well with vanilla ice cream (for dessert) or plain yogurt (for breakfast)!

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Rich and Healthy Chocolate Pear Cake

This morning I woke up earlier than usual, much to my body’s dismay, ate a toasted blueberry bagel with cream cheese, downed a warm coffee, and proceeded to scan my ever-growing list titled Cakes To Makes ASAP.

I ended up having to mediate a clash between this chocolate pear cake and a date and prune chocolate cake (oh and somewhere in the mess was a lost pear pie/tart… not a cake, but still deserving of a place on an important list). The chocolate pear cake initially won but my fickleness got the best of me and I had to morph the two cakes together. This post should really be titled Chocolate Pear AND Date Cake. Suffice to say the initially unwelcome dates did their job. Not only is this one chocolatey mass of a cake, it’s also decadent without throwing you under the bus health-wise.

Some people use the word decadent to describe lifestyles or wardrobes, but I think it’s most appropriate in conjunction with the word CAKE. Using dates rather than processed sugar allows for a richer, but not overly bittersweet, chocolate flavor. Also, dates are a whole food. Despite what people say about them (dates are no more than sugar bombs, they’re practically a candy), the fructose-dense guys are also dense with good stuff like fiber, magnesium, minerals, and… read more here if you’re intrigued. While I’m not about to chow down on a cup full of dates everyday, the facts say that they provide a fair bit more helpful nutrients to the body than plain old cane sugar. Opting for dates doesn’t mean I enjoy indulging in bland cake that tastes like earth. Nope. Eating dirt is for worms. Instead, it means I opt for slightly less tooth-achingly sweet treats. Think dark chocolate. And a little bit of sugar. And maybe some ground almonds and peanut butter because… cake making time is the time to go nuts. This cake certainly isn’t for the ALL THINGS SUGAR 7 year old in us, but it is for the more matured dark cocoa lover who strives to eat healthy (so long as healthy includes cake).

 

Ingredients~

1/2 cup flour (I used half whole wheat and half all purpose, but all of one kind is fine)
1/4 cup almonds, ground
1/2 cup dates, soaked and blended into a paste
2-3 ripe (but not mushy) pears, thinly sliced
4 tbsps cocoa powder
1/4 cup & 1 tbsp rice malt syrup
1 egg
2 tbsps unsalted butter
2 tbsps peanut butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tbsps unsweetened soy milk
Pinch of salt

Instructions~

Preheat oven to 176 C/350 F
1. Melt butter and peanut butter in a saucepan on low heat. Stir through the rice malt syrup, date paste, and vanilla until well combined and immediately take off the heat. Beat the egg and soy milk together separately and then add them to the wet mixture.
2. Whisk all of the dry ingredients together in a medium-large bowl and gradually pour in the wet mixture, blending with a handheld mixer as you go along. The resulting mixture will be stickier than brownie batter but still pourable.
3. Line a cake pan with baking paper and lightly oil the sides. Pour the batter into the center and use a spatula to evenly spread it out, ensuring an equal width all the way around. Add sliced pears to the top, making sure not to push them too much into the batter. Bake for 15-22 minutes, or until the cake no longer wobbles in the center and batter does not stick to an inserted chopstick/toothpick. Enjoy warm with vanilla ice cream or a cup of hot coffee!!

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Golden Cinnamon Raisin and Blueberry Bagels

My drive to make bagels has increased tenfold since yesterday. Although my first batch turned out decent (okay, I was very happy with my first-timer result), I know there is bountiful room for improvement. I decided to up the oompf with my second round of bagels by adding cinnamon and mixed dried berries to half and blueberries to the other half. I also increased the kneading time, left them in the fridge overnight to further ferment and increase in flavor, and allowed them to boil longer in baking soda water. So, just how much better were these guys?

Other than the added cinnamon and berries, I don’t think the fridge hibernation changed the flavor or consistency of the dough. However, to my joyful surprise, the blueberry bagels puffed up a fair bit more than the plain bagels did yesterday. The cinnamon bagels, on the other hand, were pretty stubborn. My only hypothesis is that the juice in the blueberries somehow contributed to further feeding the yeast? I know yeast thrives in a moist environment, so this is likely what happened, no? I don’t really know. The cinnamon raisin bagels weren’t unpleasantly dry or flat, but they would’ve looked prettier and tasted more airy/less dense had they truly doubled in size.

In an effort to better understand the complexities of bagel making (aka why aren’t my bagels perfect?) I discovered that, according to a couple of sources, for every 50-60 grams of whole wheat flour used you should add a tbsp of water. I suppose this is meant to help balance out the denser, earthier texture whole wheat creates. There’s no denying that classic bagel flour, white pastry, is optimal for achieving the chewy, pillowy bagels we all know and love (and hate to love so goddamn much). However, despite realizing the slight subpar nature of whole wheat bagels, I’ve decided to continue on my trek to bettering them, in texture and taste. Also, I’m currently in possession of a lengthy list titled “Cakes To Make ASAP”, so I’d rather reserve the white flour for said cakes and ingest more fiber-full stuff in the form of bagels.

Ingredients~
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp dry yeast
1 heaping tsp rice malt syrup
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
3/4 tsp table salt
3/4 cup & 1 tbsp warm water
1/3 cup blueberries
1/3 cup dried mixed raisins, cranberries, currents, cherries, etc.
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsps baking soda

Instructions~
Same as the bagel post below but with these additional notes:

1. If making both kinds of bagels, separate the dough into two equal balls after kneading for allotted time.
2. For the blueberry bagels~ lightly coat the blueberries with 1 tbsp of white flour before folding them into the dough in few batches. For instance, add 1/3 of the berries, fold/gently knead, and repeat. The blueberries will likely wet the dough so continue to sprinkle on large pinches of flour as you combine. I wanted the noticeable blue-purple streaks in my bagels so I didn’t hold back from lightly squashing the blueberries and adding extra flour as I went along. Place the ball of dough in it’s own light greased and cover tightly with plastic wrap before setting it in a warm place to double in size (usually 1 hour minimum).
3. For the cinnamon raisin bagels~ soak the dried fruit in hot water for 5 minutes before draining, patting with a dry cloth/paper towel, and combining with 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon. Use your hands to mix the fruit and spice together, ensuring an even coating of cinnamon. Add the fruit to the dough in a few batches, folding the dough together/gentling kneading in between each addition. Once combined and the cinnamon has nicely peppered the dough, set it in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place to rise.
4. After following the instructions for shaping the bagels, place the tray in a warm place to rise for about 20-30 minutes before setting them in the fridge overnight (if opting for this route. I honestly didn’t find much difference taste wise or texturally, but it would be convenient for fresh bagels in the morning).

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Easy, Chewy Whole Wheat Bagels

It’s a whole new world, folks. The flood gates have been thrust open and I am now welcoming bagels of all shapes and sizes and flavors into my home.

I was able to overcome my vague, senseless fear of yeast long enough today to make bagels. Now all I can think about is how much of my life was wasted not making and eating homemade bagels. While it was wildly foolish of me to ever have avoided yeast, I can sympathize with my former self. The less you know about yeast, the more daunting it sounds… the more you know about yeast, the weirder it sounds. Yeah, so, like… yeast is alive and related to fungus (yum) and your job is to make sure it has plenty of sugar to eat and a warm enough place to hang out. Pretty wacky, huh? I’m enthralled by the aliveness of it. Sure, flour comes from a plant that was once alive and eggs from a chicken that is alive, but yeast is alive. In fact, it’s alive enough to be branded high-maintenance. I was so hesitant about working with yeast because I’d heard tales about how sensitive it is to temperature and how crucial it is that you mix it with the correct ratio of fats and sugars. While the former is all true, I’ve come to realize that the most important element about success with yeast is patience.

I’m certainly not a walking, talking, patience-brewing machine, but, like any virtue, I think patience can be specially cultivated (…for bagel making days, of course! I clearly payed attention in Sunday school). So, with a little help from patience and A LOT of help from vivid imagery (insert imaginary projection of freshly buttered bagel here), I was able to get through the kneading, kitchen pacing, and life pondering that comes with ballooning dough. Yes, these bagels will require a little chunk of your time. And yes, you could be chowing down on store-bought, perfectly delicious bagels in said time. But in all honesty, yeast doesn’t really ask for much. Just give it a warm bath in sugary water, bury it in flour, and let it fall asleep in a warm place; it will do the magic for you.

Ingredients~
Makes 4-6 bagels 

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp dry yeast
1 1/2 tsps granulated sugar
Scant 1 tsp table salt
3/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsps baking soda
Sesame seeds for topping

Instructions~

1. Heat up the water and let it cool if necessary until comfortably warm (test: you should be able to easily stick your finger in without retracting it). Stir through the sugar until mostly dissolved and then pour in the yeast, leaving it to sit for about 7-10 minutes. As the yeast does it’s thing, whisk together the flours and salt and in a large bowl, leaving a well in the center. Once the yeasty water appears fuzzy and bubbly on the surface, pour it into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until it no longer appears to be taking shape/sticking together. Gradually add another 1-2 tbsps of water until the dough begins to hold together in one large mass but isn’t too sticky to handle.
2. Plop the ball of dough onto a surface lightly dusted with flour and begin to knead, continuing for at least 10 minutes (drift off to your happy place and think of the soon-to-be wonderfully chewy bagels). You will likely have to pinch flour onto the dough as you knead or dust your hands with it.
3. Once finished kneading, place the dough in the bottom of a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place (I preheat the oven to 70 C before switching it off and leaving the door ajar) to double in size, roughly 1-1 1/2 hours tops.
4. Once the dough has ballooned, transfer it to a clean, lightly floured surface to separate into 4-6 pieces (depending on desired size). I find that it helps to weigh each piece before forming them, so as to ensure an evenly cooked batch. In order to avoid dry bagels, return all but one chunk of dough to a covered bowl as you begin shaping. Using the palms of your hands, lightly roll each piece until it resembles thick rope. Join the two end pieces together, ensuring that they overlap by about 1/2 inch, before lightly pinching the ring closed. Repeat for each bagel, setting them on a tray lined with baking paper and covered with plastic wrap as you continue shaping. Ensure the plastic wrap is tightly sealed before returning the bagels to a warm place to rise for 20-30 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 220 C. Bring a large saucepan of water (about 4 inches deep) to boil and slightly reduce heat once rapidly boiling. Add the baking soda to the water and drop bagels in, adding 2-3 at a time; note that the bagels should immediately float to the surface. Cook for 30 seconds minimum (I opted for a chewier exterior and let them sit for almost a minute on each side), before flipping and repeating on the other side. Transfer the bagels to a plate or tray to rest as you finish boiling the others. Once done, place the tray (lined with parchment paper) of bagels on a lower rack in the oven and cook for 15-17 minutes or noticeably golden in color. It’s best to rotate the pan 180 degrees halfway through cooking so as to ensure even browning. Enjoy fresh or store in the freezer and toast/thaw before eating!

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Raspberry Vanilla Cake Made with White Beans

I’m going to be baking a lot more cakes from now on. Last night I suddenly became energized by the idea of cake. Sure, cake is usually full of sugar, hence the energy, right? No. I was simply enthralled by the visual I had created in my mind; a slideshow of cakes being imagined and created and frosted and polished. I eventually moved on to imagining cupcakes (still cake, I know), muffins, cookies, bars, brownies, and the rest of cake’s brothers and sisters and cousins and second cousins.

I don’t know why baking and confectionary make me wanna dance while savory dishes bore me. There is no doubt an element of devilishness weaved into the narrative of baking. When a batch of brownies are in the oven it’s suddenly only a matter of minutes until they will self-actualize and begin to tempt you. Sometimes it requires a lot of unpleasant self-control to stop from devouring half a batch, let along an entire batch, in one sitting. I’ve had this problem countless times. And yet, the annoying dilemma, to eat or not to eat, doesn’t stop the baker from baking. And sometimes, baking and baking and baking, until said baker is forced to share their delicacies with coworkers they don’t even like or neighbors they’ve never so much as said hello to. It’s a bit of a silly conundrum, having too many baked treats on your hands. The baker possesses an abundance of what people either want but are too tired or lazy to make, or want but try really, really hard to avoid being within sniffing distance of. The baker is not too tired or lazy to bake a three tiered cake, being within nose-hair-brushing distance of it all the while, and yet, the baker doesn’t feel any itch of frenzy over how much to eat or not eat. The baker makes the cake because that’s what they want to do. 

And so, back to me. Am I a self-proclaimed baker? Maybe. I’m not sure. The word ‘baker’ is usually reserved for individuals that support themselves financially through baking and that is something I do not do. I bake because it’s what I want to do. I’ve had not formal training. Sometimes a decent tasting cake will create itself in my kitchen as I fiddle around, but that’s it. Or rather, that was the case up until recently. I still fiddle around, but I fiddle around a lot more, so much so that the other day I began to feel a little uneasy with my extreme desire to bake cakes. Great, thanks self, what am I supposed to do with this urge? Not only is there the financial cost of buying ingredients and making ‘unnecessary’ edible things with them, but there is also the question of health and fitness, waters that start to become murky with the presence of so much fluffy dough around.

Despite the former considerations, I don’t want to limit myself to baking a cake once a week. Heck, even twice a week won’t cut it. I can’t remember the last time I was so effortlessly transfixed by a pursuit/task/idea. As for the practical side of things, I think my mind and body would only take a toll (from all the cake) if I dropped my care for exercising and eating platefuls of vegetables in between cake tasting. And moving right along onto the sour question of money, well, cake really doesn’t ask for much. Whole wheat and white flours are cheap, as are dates and eggs and butter (unless it’s all organic of course), so within sane, healthier limits, I should be able to jump full fledged into this new interest obsession. While you definitely won’t be seeing any fancy cakes that call for macadamia nuts or almond meal or coconut flour, you will find cakes that are saturated in genuine, unadulterated love and enthusiasm. And there will also be lots of dancing involved.

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Fudgy Vegan Beetroot Bars

Most of my recipes fall on the healthier end of the baked goods spectrum, but these beetroot bad boys are way, waaay farther down the healthy side than I usually dare wander. 

I call these my ‘beetroot bad boys’ because they are anything but that. My sense of humor can’t be rationalized. Let’s move on. Despite their striking appearance, these guys are very tamed, consisting of coconut oil, rice malt syrup, boiled beets, rolled oats, chia seeds, and shredded coconut. No eggs, no butter, no other truly-bad-boy sugars. You’re either loving the sound of this, nodding your head in agreement (no bad-boy-sugars, oh yeah!!!) or you’re feeling a little uneasy (so… do these just taste like dirt?). The honest answer is kinda. They kinda have an earthy taste because that’s just how beets taste, is it not? I didn’t add beets to these bars just for their color alone. And while I could’ve masquerade their flavor with a cup full of sugar of butter, I decided to stick with what I had in mind for this recipe, not create what I thought some people somewhere (I don’t even know these people) might prefer to eat.

The truth is, I love a good, void-of-nutrients cake. Bring on the processed white flour and butter and all. However, do I want to eat such cakes everyday? No. Okay, yes, I do, but my point is that I choose not to, because eating copious amounts of white cake everyday would catch up with me mentally and physically. So, on my cake-off days, when cake has gone to the movies or left town for a little while, I bake things with vegetables in them.

If you’re after a baked good that is healthy enough to constitute having for breakfast, first snack, lunch, and second snack, then these bars are for you. I understand you might be afraid of the beet flavor shining too strongly in this one, so add another tbsp of cocoa powder or syrup until you’re satisfied. But in all honesty, the only unsettling thing about these bars is how tasty and fudgy in texture they are, dirty vegetables and all.
 

Ingredients~

Bars:
1 1/3 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup beetroot, chopped and boiled
1/4 cup rice malt syrup
3 tbsps chia seeds, ground
2 tbsps cocoa powder
1 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tbsps melted/soft coconut oil
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of ground rock salt
1-2 tbsps beetroot water (reserved from boiled beetroot, but replace with water if you’ve roasted your beets)
1/3 cup chopped chocolate or chips (optional, I omitted this)

Sauce:
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp rice malt syrup
Nut/dairy milk, add for desired consistency

Instructions~

1. Peel, chop, and boil beets until you can easily stick a fork into them. Once slightly cooled, add the beets and 1 tbsp beet water to the food processor and blend until beets are reduced to a fine pulp.
2. Preheat oven to 185 C/374 F. Add syrup, coconut oil, vanilla extract, and ground chia to beet mixture. Blend until well combined and transfer to a large bowl.
4. Combine remaining dry ingredients in food processor and blend until oats and coconut more closely resemble flour (oat flakes here and there are totally okay). Add dry ingredients to bowl of wet and whisk well. Stir through the chocolate chunks/chips if using. The batter will be noticeably clumpy (gelatinous even) with the beet pulp, chia seeds, and coconut/oats stirred through it, but that’s how it should be. Unlike brownie/cake batters, this won’t be very pourable, but also know that it shouldn’t appear dry! It should be very gooey and wet to the touch.
5. Line a square pan with parchment paper and lightly oil sides before adding the mixture. You will have to use your spatula to evenly spread it around. Set in oven and cook for about 15-20 minutes. My bars were done, aka not wobbly in the middle, after 18 minutes. Allow the bars to cool a bit before pouring chocolate sauce on top and refrigerating or quick-freezing (20-30 minutes) until the chocolate hardens up a bit.
6. For the chocolate sauce, simply combine all of the ingredients, beginning with 3 tbsps of milk, in a saucepan on low heat. Stir until cocoa powder has completely dissolved and add more milk by the tbsp to achieved your desired consistency. Let cool off the stove as the bars bake.

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Curried Chickpea and Spinach Fritters

Today I made gold nuggets. Gold in color, yes, but also gold in worth. Am I serious? Maybe a little, but I’m really just trying to convey how goddamn tasty these fritters are.

Deep fried to golden perfection (yes, I said golden perfection), these fritters have a savory, curry flavored center and a lightly crunchy outer layer. As if you need any more incentive to hop to it, here’s an unbelievably simply breakdown of what you’ll need:

A big bowl
Some chickpea flour
A few pinches of spices you likely already have on hand (cumin, chili, turmeric…)
Onion and spinach (optional, I ain’t your mom)
Water
Oil
Enthusiasm for deep-friend, crispy curry things

Did I mention these fritters are full of chickpeas and vegetables? Those things are apparently really good for you…

Ingredients~

1 1/3 cups chickpea flour
1 pellette frozen spinach, pureed
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chili powder or paprika
1/4-1/2 tsp ground rock salt
1/3 cup water
Canola/sunflower oil for frying

Instructions~

1. Combine chickpea flour, spices, and salt in a large bowl. Add onion, spinach, and 1/3 cup of water. Stir until goopy batter forms. The consistency should be able to hold together on a spoon, not quite as solid as cookie dough, but not as pourable as pancake batter. Add more flour by the tbsp if it is too runny and more water by the tbsp if too dry. Note that the batter will definitely be too sticky to touch- that is how it should be!
2. Heat vegetable oil in a saucepan until very hot and beginning to bubble. Drop a bit of batter into the oil to test if it is hot enough; the batter should begin to sizzle immediately. Drop large spoonfuls of batter in, only adding 2-3 to the saucepan at a time to prevent over crowding. It should take no more than a minute for the first side of each fritter to cook and deepen in color. Flip each fritter and continue to cook in the oil for a minute or until it turns golden. Make sure to keep a watchful eye as they brown very easily.
3. Set the hot fritters on a sheet of paper towel to cool. Serve fresh with mint yogurt or mix through a curry!

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Vegan Raspberry Swirl Rolls (Refined Sugar Free!)

Ingredients~

Dough:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsps yeast
1/3 cup & 1-3 tbsps soy milk
2 tbsps melted Earth Balance/butter
1 tbsp rice malt syrup
1/4 tsp salt

Filling:
2/3 cup dates
1 cup frozen raspberries
1 tbsp melted Earth Balance/butter

Glaze:
1 cup soaked raw cashews (I quick soak mine for 2 hours in warm water)
1/3 cup & 2-4 tbsps soy milk
2 tbsps rice malt syrup

Instructions~

1. Heat up 1/3 cup milk in a saucepan on low heat. Once slightly hot (be careful not to scald!!), transfer it to a large bowl to cool until you can easily stick your finger in without retracting. If the milk is too hot it will kill the yeast! Stir the yeast through the warm milk and let sit for 5-8 minutes or until very foamy and thickened. If your mixture doesn’t change it means the yeast is likely a dud, so try again with more.
2. Once yeast is activated, stir in the melted (but not burning!) butter and syrup. Add the flour and salt, stirring in a circular motion until the mixture begins to come together. If it’s too dry, add more milk by the tbsp. I gradually added two more tbsps. If it’s too wet, sprinkle flour on top and continue to combine. Once the dough more or less forms a large blob, transfer it to a clean, lightly floured counter and knead with your hands for 5-8 minutes. It should be easy to handle, aka not too sticky, and bounce back when you press your finger into it. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the ball of dough at the bottom, tightly covering it with plastic wrap and setting it in a warm space for 1 1/2-2 hours or doubled in size. I preheat my oven to 80 celsius and turn it off before putting my dough in to kick off the rising process (leave the door ajar initially if it’s way too hot).
3. While the dough rises, soften the dates (unless using medjool) by pouring just-boiled water over them until they are submerged. After about 5 minutes, transfer them to a food processor and blend until sticky, thick paste forms. Set aside.
4. Once dough is done rising, plop it on a lightly floured surface and roll it out (about 1/4-1/2 inch thickness). Lather the dough with a tbsp of melted butter, making sure to leave cm or so of space around the edges to make rolling it up easier. Spread on the date paste before adding a layer of frozen raspberries. Use your fingertips to gently roll up the dough, starting with the closest lip; be sure to tightly curl it in. Pinch the last lip of dough together and voila, you should have a great big log on your hands. Use dental floss or a sharp, serrated knife to slice off the rolls.* Give each piece about an inch of thickness and place them in a pan lined with parchment paper. Allow to rise a second time for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours or doubled.
4. As the dough rises, make the cashew sauce. Simply blend soaked cashews in a food processor with 1/3 cup milk and 2 tbsps syrup. Continue to blend until cashew fully break up and only tiny flecks are visible. Add more tbsps of milk (I added two!) and continue to blend to achieve your desired consistency!
4. Preheat oven to 176 C/350 F and once heated, bake the rolls for 15-22 minutes or until the filling appears thickened and slightly darker and the dough is kissed with a toasty golden color. Drizzle on cashew cream and enjoy warm!

* If the dough feels ridiculously warm and gooey, you may want to refrigerate it for 10 minutes or more until cooler/firmer. You don’t want the rolls to squish and flatten upon cutting!

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