Healthier Graham Crackers

I found a way to make a good thing still good without the bad stuff. Hmm? Let me paraphrase: I made graham crackers without the heaps of sugar, oil, more sugar (but this time in liquid form), and other not-whole-food ingredients, and they turned out highly recommendable!!!

For some reason, store-bought graham crackers connote healthiness. Maybe in comparison to Oreo’s and Chips Ahoy they’re good for you, but wholesome and healthy? Not really. I realize that it’s very difficult, perhaps oxymoronic, to try and connote actual healthiness with a cookie, but if there is a way, and I think there is, these graham crackers cookies would be it. While store-bought graham crackers contain a little over 4 grams of refined sugar per cracker, these ones contain less than 2 (and a less refined, blood-spiking one at that). I also switched the standard ratio of white flour (more) to whole grain graham flour (less), resulting in a far more fiber-packed cracker. These graham crackers prove that healthier substitutes don’t have to be gut-wrenching to make, and that they can go a long way, quite literally, in providing you with more plentiful energy throughout the day. I had three of these crackers at 3 PM and didn’t find myself eager for dinner until 8 PM, which is very, very, unusual for me.

I remember Honey Maid’s graham crackers fondly; they were crucial in sealing together the best part of a summer spent on the Oregon coast: hot, gooey marshmallows and dribbling milk chocolate. At the traditional family camp fire by the beach, hot dogs and baked beans were passed around and devoured, but not indulged in, because everyone knew (well, the kids at least) that the best part was saved for last: s’mores to sing songs about and pray to God that you get the chance to eat again before you’re old and mature and reply ‘no thank you, I no longer eat sugary, processed fake food’ when someone offers you a free s’more. The notoriously American s’mores of my childhood definitely spoiled me. Every other s’more I’ve had since I was 10 or 11 hasn’t been the same. Even my healthier ones. Surprised? Probably not, and neither was I. Obviously, the above pictured s’mores aren’t quite as mind-blowing as the one’s I enjoyed as a kid on the beach. Maybe I’m recalling the childhood memories with a bit too much pleasant nostalgia, but I think it was probably the insane amount of sugar added to Honey Maid’s graham crackers, marshmallows, and Hershey’s chocolate, that made said s’mores as memorable as they are. With that mind, if you’re not looking to fill your body and mind with:

(the ingredients from Honey Maid’s graham crackers)
UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMINE MONONITRATE {VITAMIN B1}, RIBOFLAVIN {VITAMIN B2}, FOLIC ACID), GRAHAM FLOUR (WHOLE GRAIN WHEAT FLOUR), SUGAR, SOYBEAN OIL, HONEY, LEAVENING (BAKING SODA AND/OR CALCIUM PHOSPHATE), SALT, SOY LECITHIN, 

then good on you, but don’t seal the warm and fuzzy childhood memory of s’mores away forever; instead, color it in with a new shade, i.e. homemade graham crackers that are full of fiber, slow-releasing sugar, and fat sans the hydrogenated part. And maybe, if you’re lucky, a thick layer of dark chocolate and ooey gooey marshmallows will sketch themselves into the picture. Maybe.

Ingredients~
Makes eight 3-inch long crackers

3/4 cup graham flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (plus 2-4 tbsps for dusting)
2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
3 tbsps rice malt syrup (sub with maple syrup or honey)
1 tbsp applesauce or banana puree*
1 tsp molasses
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 heaped tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp table salt

Topping:
2-3 tsps fine raw sugar or brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon

* You can substitute the fruit puree with more oil if you’d like a slightly less puffy cracker that’s more in line with the store-bought kind.

Note: These crackers are sweet enough in my opinion (especially when made into a s’more sandwich), but definitely subtly sweet compared to standard graham crackers (hence the appropriate ‘healthier’ label), so, if you’re after a slightly sweeter cracker, simply add 1-2 tsps of sugar (fine raw or brown) along with the rest of the dry ingredients; doing so won’t greatly alter the batter, though you may have to adjust it by adding 1/2-1 tsp water.

Instructions~

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Homemade Fig Newtons

Ingredients~
Makes 6-7 large fig newtons

Dough:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tbsps coconut oil
2 tsps fine raw sugar (sub with light brown sugar or coconut sugar)
2 tsps rice malt syrup or honey
1 tsp orange zest
2 tsps fresh orange juice
1 egg yolk
1/2 scant tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt

Filling:
1 cup (149 g) dried figs (I used Turkish, but any kind will work)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Optional: 1-2 tsps liquid sweetener or applesauce (I omitted this and found the filling to be sufficiently sweet)

Instructions~

1. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolk before adding the rest of the wet ingredients (including the orange zest). Once combined, sift in the flour, along with the baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and salt. Gently fold the dry ingredients together before fully combining them with the wet. Dollop the dough onto the center of a sheet of parchment paper and fold it up, shaping/patting it along the edges to create a wheel (more or less). Allow the dough to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour or up to 4.
2. As the dough chills, begin making the filling by pouring hot (just boiled) water over the bowl of figs. Allow the figs to sit for 15 minutes until tender and easy to mash. Use a food processor/immersion blender if you own one or simply mash them with a fork (and a great deal of eagerness, as I did). Stir the cinnamon into the fig mash, along with 1-2 tsps of liquid sweetener/applesauce if you’d like a sweeter, less chunky filling. Set aside the filling as you roll out the dough.
3. Preheat the oven to 170 C/338 F. Once an hour is up, unwrap the wheel of dough and leave it in the center of the parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll it into a roughly 6 by 9 inch long rectangle. Feel free to roll the dough out a bit thinner if you’d like to get more newtons out of it, but don’t stretch it by more than 1-2 inches or the dough may not be able to hold the filling.
4. Once rolled, create a log down the center (2 inches wide) using the fig filling. Take the left side of exposed dough and fold it over the filling. Next, take the right side of dough and fold it over the center. There should be a bit of overlap so that you can lightly pinch the flaps of dough together, ensuring the filling is sealed in. Gently turn the log over so that the overlapped/sealed side is resting on the bottom. Use your hands to lightly pat down the sides of the log, giving it more of a dome shape (as fig newtons so famously have). Bake the newtons for 14-17 minutes or until the dough is light golden and not squishy or wet to the touch. Allow them to cool for a couple of minutes on a rack until warm but not too hot to hold, before transferring to a sealed container. You’ll obviously snag a couple as they cool, but allow the rest to sit in a closed container for a couple of hours or overnight to achieve a truly fig newtony exterior, i.e. soft and cakey, but still a cookie. Either way they will be delicious! 

Important note: this recipe was loosely adapted from Bravetart’s homemade fig newtons!

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Healthy Cinnamon Pop-Tarts (gf/vegan)

Ingredients~
Makes 5-6 pop-tarts

Pastry:
1/3 cup & 1 tbsp white rice flour
1/3 cup & 1 tbsp buckwheat flour
3 tbsps & 1 tsp cornstarch or potato starch
3 1/2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1/4 tsp agar agar powder (you can probably sub with 1/4 tsp xanthan gum)
2 tsps fine raw sugar (or sub with 1 tsp white and 1 tsp brown)
Pinch of salt (about 1/8 tsp)
1-2 tbsps ice water

Filling:
5-6 medjool dates or about 1/3 cup date puree
1 1/2 tsps coconut oil, melted
1/2 heaped tsp cinnamon

Instructions~

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Rich & Fudgy Vegan Brownies with Dark Chocolate Ganache

Tried to make a lemon tart. Failed to make a lemon tart.

Tried to make a lemon meringue pie. Failed to make a lemon meringue pie (or rather, failed to make meringue out of chickpea brine).

Threw a self-pity party that lasted a few too many hours. Eventually got bored of feeling sorry for myself and decided that pity should leave the party to make room for a very special guest: chocolate. Chocolate ended up staying the night, laaate, late into the night, if you know what I mean (because chocolate contains cocoa and sugar, two energizing ingredients, duh.)

In all seriousness, chocolate can heal emotional wounds. It fills voids left behind by awful lemon tarts and is capable of mending broken hearts. That being said, pure chocolate is too often muddled with it’s antithesis, namely the highly refined and processed, sugar and vegetable fat. There are definitely more nasty common add-ins, but I’ll go easy on the chocolate of my childhood. It’s true that some commercial chocolate contains the magical stuff, cocoa and cocoa butter, but rarely do you find a grocery store chocolate bar that lists them first, side by side. Instead, sugar usually comes out on top, followed by milk solids, and, if you’re unlucky, some vague vegetable fat will be used to replace cocoa butter. My findings have taught me that not all chocolate has been created equal. And so, in an effort to bypass the too sweet or to eat dilemma (i.e. is this chocolate going to be too shockingly sweet and shitty to eat or has it passed the test and can I eat it?), I got down to the basics and purchased some cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

I’m a big chocolate person. Big as in the thickest swabs of chocolate ganache on, uhm, everything, please. And another handful or two of chocolate chips in that cookie batter, please. And, uhm, heaps more cocoa powder dumped into that brownie batter, okay? I mean please. Please and thank you. Unsurprisingly, my excitement for chocolate translated into me consuming a lot of it, which, in turn, translated into me thinking more about it while still eating a lot of it, until, thankfully, I started to think about what was actually in the chocolate I was eating; is this really as healthy of a snack as I’ve let myself believe it is? It may be 60% cocoa but that means it’s close to 40% sugar. Hmm.

Once upon a time, I was hooked on the 50% and lower milky stuff and, dare I say it, even enjoyed the occasional bar of fake stuff (also known as white chocolate). I somehow thought that so long as chocolate was brown, it was healthier than the other, devilish sweets that lined grocery store aisles and airport terminals and school cafeterias and hospitals. Sugar shows up everywhere and it’s a little weird. It also shows up, in big percentages, in chocolate. And so, with that disconcerting fact in mind, and with a strong inclination to deliver as much goodness to my body and mind as I could, I decided to make more of my bites of chocolate count.

Gone are the days of tooth shocking, nap inducing, sugar laden chocolate. Dark chocolate is the new black and it’s cool to care about what you’re feeding yourself. Cue these super fudgy brownies with dark chocolate ganache. Definitely don’t forget about the ganache. And definitely don’t skimp on the cocoa powder or cocoa butter. If you can’t get your hands on cocoa butter, coconut oil would be the next best thing, but know that the brownies won’t harden up as much as true fudge as they cool. These brownies are packed with wound healing and spirit lifting properties (in simple speak that means lots of beneficial antioxidants, as well as energy-inducing magnesium and electrolytes. And that’s just provided by the cocoa powder). If you’re like me, a lover of chocolate and all things baked with chocolate, then show yourself a little love by combining a handful of ingredients in a bowl and baking them until a rich, rich smell emanates from your oven.


Ingredients~
Makes one small batch or about 10-12 small pieces  

Brownies:
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 1/2 tbsps all-purpose flour
2 tbsps smooth peanut butter or nut butter of your choice
2 tbsps cocoa butter, melted (or sub with coconut oil)
3 tbsps rice malt syrup or maple syrup
1 chia egg*
Scant 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt (about 1/8 tsp)
Optional: 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Ganache:
2 tbsps cocoa butter
2 tbsps cocoa powder
1-2 tsps unsweetened soy/nut milk
Optional: 1-2 tsps powdered sugar (for a less bitter ganache)

*1 tbsp chia seeds combined with 3 tbsps water, left to congeal for a few minutes

Instructions~

Preheat the oven to 180 C/356 F
1. In a large bowl, combine the peanut butter, melted cocoa butter/coconut oil, syrup, and vanilla extract. Stir in the chia egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Dump the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet and stir well until a thick and goopy batter forms.
2. Line a pan with parchment paper and pour in the batter. Bake for 19-25 minutes or until a toothpick is mostly clean when removed from the brownies (the brownies should be very tender/fragile to touch and may seem a little undercooked and wobbly, but this is what we want for optimal fudginess).
3. As the brownies cool, make the ganache. In a saucepan (preferably nonstick), melt the cocoa butter. Once the butter is completely liquid, turn off the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder until no lumps remain. Whisk in powdered sugar if using before whisking in 1 tsp of milk to start. If the consistency isn’t quite thin and silky enough for your liking, add another 1/2-1 tsp milk. Once the brownies have thoroughly cooled and set, gently spread on the ganache and dig in!! Know that these brownies get extra fudgy when left in the fridge for a few hours or overnight, as the cocoa butter (if using) will very slightly harden, resulting in a brownie that’s WAY closer to rich chocolatey fudge than cake. Try it!!

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Flaky Buckwheat Croissants

Am I a little nutty for adding buckwheat flour to my croissants? Maybe a little. These croissants are a little nutty, too. The standout flavor is definitely butter, but unlike standard croissants, these ones take you to unchartered territory, where buckwheat and butter can be found living in harmony.

In all seriousness, these croissants are very tasty. As I made them my mind wavered from concernedly questioning the addition of buckwheat, to excitedly exclaiming how cool it would be if the grey sheet of dough in front of me actually resulted in flaky croissants. I wanted to believe that the buckwheat had the potential to puff and crisp up alongside it’s totally opposite pal, all-purpose flour, but I was afraid it might smell my eagerness and desperation, so I tried to remain level-headed, disinterested and cold. Of course, I was practically inflating my insides with giddiness, so much so that I think it started to run through my veins.

From the outside (i.e. as you view videos of professional pastry chefs making 10 kg’s worth of croissants on Youtube), making croissants yourself sounds unattainable. After enough video viewing and jaw dropping you will realize that it would be inaccurate to say you lack the capabilities/utensils/ingredients to make croissants (unless you really don’t have a rolling pin, flour, or butter in your home), but it would be 100% true to say that the flaky pastry requires way too much time. And not just plain ol’ waiting-for-the-brownies-to-bake kind of time, but actual fiddling and rolling and turning time. It’s kind of like you’re on babysitting duty for a few hours; you check to see if it’s risen, you check to see if it’s too cold, and you really hope that it isn’t sitting in a big yellow puddle when you check on it for the last time. If you’re schedule can’t allot you a handful of hours over a two day period, then homemade croissants may sadly be out of the question (although you can find same-day croissant recipes on the internet).

The first time I made croissants I was not nearly prepared enough. The weather in Melbourne was hot and slimy, but I didn’t think much of it, I’ll just work super quickly, I told myself, not realizing how difficult it is to super quickly roll out delicate layers of melting-by-the-millisecond butter and soft dough. My work did result in a batch of croissants, but they were a little lot on the wonky side. Buttery and tasty, yes, but lacking the visibly layered interior that makes croissants the stuff of reveries. This time around I was determined to at least inch a little bit closer to golden flaky galore. And I did. A lot more than a little bit.

It is summertime in Tokyo and the worst time of the year to make croissants. Some days it feels like the temperature won’t stop climbing; the sun is out to scorch and turn naively proofing croissants inside out. In an effort to bypass the unforgiving hot weather, I began my croissant-making in the early hours of the morning, waking at 6 AM to roll out and fold the dough twice before the clock even struck 9. I also turned the air con way up and chilled my rolling pin and cutting board in the freezer before working with the dough. I can now say with certainty that attention to detail truly pay offs (in the form of crispy, buttery pastries).

If you finish reading this thinking, yeah, I’m never going to attempt croissants, I’ve probably done a good job of over exaggerating how lengthy and intricate the process it. There are no handstands and juggling clowns involved, not even the metaphorical ones. There is, however, a little bit of dough handling (rolling, turning, folding, x2) and a fair bit of waiting. Here is a simple breakdown of events:

1. Make dough. Allow dough to rise for 45-60 minutes. Roll, fold, and set dough in fridge overnight or for at least 8 hours.
2. The next day, create the sheet of butter. Allow the butter to chill further if it is melting. Roll dough, sandwich butter in between, and roll again. Perform one book fold and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.
3. After dough has chilled, roll and perform one letter fold. Allow the dough to rest in the fridge for 15-20 minutes before performing one more letter fold. After the last fold, allow the dough to chill for 1 hour.
4. Roll the dough out one last time. Cut into two rectangles and then slice into four triangles. Trim off blunt edges. Roll each triangle into a croissant. Brush each croissant with egg wash. Cover and let proof at room temperature (22-25 C) for 30-45 minutes until puffier.
5. Preheat oven to 190 C as croissants proof. Bake croissants for 20-25 minutes. Enjoy croissants while they are warm.

See? It’s not that challenging of an endeavor. There may be a longer than ideal waiting period in between making the dough and baking it, but a little bit of waiting and a lot of bursting-at-the-seams excited anticipation is supposed to be healthy for the mind, body, AND soul. I know because I made these croissants, ate them, and feel just about as good as they look: glowing!!!! But with good vibes, not butter. Okay, maybe a little bit of butter.

Ingredients~
Makes 4 small croissants

1/2 cup & 2 tbsps (87.5 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup & 2 tbsps (46 g) buckwheat flour
2.5 g instant yeast
70 ml (70 g) milk, lukewarm (I used soy milk, but you can opt for dairy milk)
Scant 1/4 tsp fine salt
1/2 tsp rice malt syrup or other liquid sweetener
55 g unsalted butter (if using salted, don’t add the above salt)
1 egg (for brushing the croissants)

Instructions~
These instructions may appear long and daunting, but I’m only trying to be thorough. Not knowing exactly what to do when you’re in the middle of a recipe is NOT fun! 

1. Combine the flours, salt, and yeast. In a saucepan, mix together the milk and syrup and lightly heat the mixture up (alternatively, use the microwave). It should only take a handful of seconds to reach ‘baby bottle’ warm, so let the mixture cool down if it heats up too much. Pour the liquids into the bowl of dry ingredients, stirring until well combined and it becomes too tough to stir. Very lightly knead the dough (less than 1 minute) in order to form a ball. Allow the dough to sit in a moderately warm place (around 22-25 celsius) for up to an hour or noticeably doubled in volume. If you live in a warmer climate, the dough may very well double in 45-50 minutes!
2. After the dough has risen, gently roll it out into a roughly shaped rectangle and fold the right half on top of the left half, forming a book. Wrap in plastic wrap (any dough that’s exposed to the fridge air will dry out, so wrap well) and set in the fridge overnight or for at least 8 hours.
3. The next day, cut up the cold butter into a few thick slices and layer them beside each other in a small ziplock bag or in between two sheets of plastic wrap. Proceed to roll out the butter until you have a 3 by 4.5 long inch rectangle. If your environment is very warm and the butter is beginning to melt, pop it back into the fridge for a few minutes before continuing to flatten it. After rolling, put it back in the fridge to chill as you roll the dough. Know that you do in fact want the butter to be a little soft and malleable; hard butter will shatter when rolled into the dough.
2. Unwrap the dough and roll it out into about a 6 by 4.5 inch rectangle. You want the dough and butter to be of relatively equal softness before rolling them together. If you have to, very lightly dust your workspace, but don’t over do it or you’ll get extra bready croissants. Place the sheet of butter on one half of the dough and fold the other half of dough on top of the butter, creating a butter sandwich. You want to make sure that the butter pretty much reaches every inch of the dough; if there is a big gap between the butter and edge of the dough, separately roll out the butter a bit more. Roll the butter-dough sandwich into a rectangle, about 6.5 by 8 inches long. Now you’re going to complete one book fold. With the rectangle laid out horizontally in front of you, take the left quarter and fold it onto the second quarter of dough. Now take the far right quarter and fold it over the remaining exposed quarter. Lastly, fold the right half of dough over the left half, creating a book. Wrap the dough in plastic and set it in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.
4. After the dough has chilled, roll it out into a rectangle again and complete a letter fold. With the dough laying in front of you horizontally, take the left third and fold it over the center third of dough. Next, take the third of dough on the far right and fold it over the dough to the left. So far, you’ve completed one book fold and one letter fold, which results in 4×3 or 12 layers. Wrap up the dough again and set it in the fridge for another 15-20 minutes to rest before completing the former step (one letter fold) again. The resulting dough will have 4x3x3 or 36 layers. After the last fold, allow it to sit in the fridge for 1 hour.
5. Once the dough has chilled, roll it out into a 6.5 by 8 inches long rectangle. Trim off the uneven edges so that the remaining rectangle has straight edges and pointy corners (you can reserve the dough trimmings to make 1-2 tiny croissants or pan au chocolates). Cut the rectangle in half to make two smaller rectangles. Slice each of the smaller rectangles diagonally, creating two long triangles per rectangle. Each triangle will turn into a croissant. Take one triangle and, with the wider edge or crust facing towards you, use a rolling pin to very lightly roll each point out to create a wider edge. Doing this will result in a croissant that has more visible curls on either end. Now, lightly use your fingertips to roll the croissant toward the single tip, being careful not to squash down the down as you roll. Rolling should feel swift and light. Once shaped, lightly brush each croissant with the egg wash (you should have a lot left over), and loosely cover the croissants with plastic wrap or a thin kitchen towel. Allow them to sit at room temperature (22-25 C) for 35-45 minutes or until they take on a marshmallowy appearance (they won’t be quite doubled in size). Preheat the oven to 190 C/375 F as the croissants proof. When the croissants are puffier and you can notice the separate layers from sideview, they are ready to go into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until noticeably golden all over. Enjoy immediately with (my favorites) strawberry or apricot jam and maybe even an additional swab of butter (don’t say I told you to)!!!

Important note: this recipe was adapted from David Lebovitz’ whole wheat croissants!

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Rice Flour Matcha Loaf with Black Sesame Streusal

In elementary school I had a hand in making Oobleck’s green goo. It was the fourth or fifth grade and as a science experiment we created the famed substance from Dr. Seuss’ book, Bartholomew and the Oobleck. It was clearly a worthwhile venture, given that I remember it to this day. As I stirred together the green batter for this loaf this morning, the Oobleck pathways in my brain were activated, and I was suddenly overcome with a strange, but familiar, childish desire to dunk my hands in and feel the sliminess.

I didn’t end up creating the mess that usually accompanies the green goo, but I did direct my Oobleck-inspired excitement and energy into this loaf of rice flour matcha cake/bread.

Sometimes baking can get a little dreary. There isn’t much variation on the color spectrum, as flour can only offer white, brown, or somewhere-in-between shades. Synthetic food dyes could insert themselves into the discussion here, but I’m not interested in them because of what they usually contain. It’s true that freeze dried fruit can be blended into a highly concentrated fine powder which can then be used to dye batter, but that tends to get a little expensive and would require an online purchase here in Tokyo. So what do you do when it’s 6 AM and you want some color on your breakfast plate? A tangy green apple won’t cut it. Enter matcha.

Matcha is my go-to baking ingredient when I’m bored of the same ol’ white and brown. I try to preserve it’s novelty by using it scarcely, but here in Tokyo just about every sweet thing has been turned green; ice cream, mochi, every pastry to ever exist, they all have a little Oobleck in them. Sometimes I give in to the temptation emanating from a vibrant green bread bun or donut, but usually, the store-bought bready products that meets my taste buds are shockingly sweet and difficult to enjoy. In an effort to eliminate the former cloud of too sweet or to eat, I whipped together this little green loaf fit for a tea party.

This loaf is a much healthier version of the green treats I come here in Tokyo; I decided to sweeten it with two ripe bananas and a little dash of rice malt syrup, and my prevailing love for mochi inspired me to incorporate rice flour into the batter and an awe-inducing black sesame streusel on top (the streusel really is that good). Given that Japan is the birthplace of matcha and gooey glutinous rice sweets, I think it’s was only appropriate that I married these ingredients together and made this loaf. They are truly meant to be.


Ingredients~
Makes one small loaf or about 7 inch thick slices

Loaf:
1 cup white rice flour
1 1/2 medium bananas or about 3/4 cup mashed banana (very spotty and ripe)
2 tbsps coconut oil, soft/melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsps matcha powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
Scant 1/4 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt (about 1/8 tsp)

Black Sesame Streusal:
2-3 tbsps ground black sesame
2 tbsps white rice flour
1 tbsp vegan butter or coconut oil, melted
1 tbsp rice malt/maple syrup

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Batch #3: Healthier Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

If I told you that these rustic little things were made of half wholemeal flour and zero refined sugar, you might not expect much from them. I wasn’t sure what to expect either, until a divine smell wafted through my little apartment and I scurried to find it’s source: my oven. Or more specifically, the healthy, plant-based cinnamon rolls baking in my oven.

I’ve been on a heavily cinnamon infused adventure the past few days, making a new (albeit small) batch of cinnamon rolls as soon as I discover that the one I’ve just baked and tasted are not quite good enough. While all of my rolls have been significantly healthier than the average one you’ll find in a bakery (don’t even get me started on Cinnabon…), I was still consuming a fair bit more all-purpose flour, coconut oil, and syrup than I did on a typical day before cinnamon rolls took over the reigns to my life. Cue whole wheat, banana-sweetened, still-uber-tasty cinnamon rolls.

I stuffed these rolls with cinnamon banana puree and a little dash of rice malt syrup. I also tossed in some chopped walnuts and raisins at the last minute, both of which added a significant amount of flavor to the finished roll. The walnuts offered a crunchy variation from the gooeyness and provided such a wild, walnuty (?) flavor despite being being so scarce in the filling. Next time I’ll probably toss in another small handful. While I wish I had allowed the raisins to soak overnight in water or liquor to plump up to their juicy potential, they still added a little something. Mine had an almost tangy, tart flavor, which married well with the sweeter filling. The fruity filling may deter you, but one look at these oozing rolls should put you in the right direction. Like I said earlier, I was specifically out to create a healthy cinnamon roll that truly belonged at the breakfast table. If you aren’t after that sorta thing, no problemo. I’m the kind of person that will make decadent (relatively speaking, of course) cinnamon rolls three days in a row, only to insist, ‘healthy cinnamon rolls or NO rolls,’ by the fourth day. One can only eat so much of a good thing before never wanting to taste it again.

Think of these healthy buns as an ode to the O.G., white flour and all, cinnamon bun. Without the chance to stop and refuel with truly heart and tummy healthy ingredients, I may have had to cut the cinnamon bun project short all together. I’ll get back on track with my slightly less healthy roll making in a few days. But first, fruit and fiber, please. And a little bit of golden fat.

Ingredients~
Makes 6-8 smaller rolls or 4 large rolls

Dough:
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (sub with regular ww, but know that the rolls may turn out a bit more dense)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
1/3 cup & 2 tsps unsweetened soy milk or other dairy free milk
1 1/2 tbsps vegan butter/margarine
1/2 tsp rice malt syrup or maple syrup
Large pinch of cinnamon (optional)
Small pinches of nutmeg and ground ginger (optional)

Filling:
1/2 large ripe banana (or about 1 small), mashed into a puree
1 tbsp rice malt/maple syrup (add up to 1 tbsp more for a sweeter filling)
1 tbsp vegan butter
1/2 heaped tsp cinnamon
2-3 tbsps raisins
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Vanilla Yogurt Drizzle:
1/3 cup smooth yogurt (unsweetened coconut or soy)
2-4 tsps rice malt/maple syrup (add to taste)
Scant 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Drop or two of fresh lemon juice (optional)

Instructions~

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Sticky Vegan Cinnamon Buns: Round Two

I will not stand for next to ordinary cinnamon rolls if I don’t have to, so, after tolerating (okay, enjoying) the first batch of trial and error rolls yesterday with Matt, I took it upon myself to scout out ALL of the information I could about cinnamon rolls; what NOT to do when making cinnamon rolls; how to make the biggest, fattest, fluffiest cinnamon roll; instant dry yeast vs. active dry yeast; lean vs. rich dough in sweet buns; how the hell to cut cinnamon roll dough without making a squishy mess.

Learning from other people allows you to bypass a LOT of possible mistakes before even getting started (that’s more or less a piece of advice I came across ages ago on a baking forum and it couldn’t have rung louder in my ears today). I spent well over an hour on The Fresh Loaf, a website for “Amateur Bakers and Artisan Baker Enthusiasts,” scouring the forums for yeast-related questions and feedback. It turns out there are many smart people on the internet who like to make and eat bread. I don’t get a chance to interact with many bakers in daily, walking life, so it was extra enthralling reading first-hand troubleshooting stories. It’s also super helpful when I come across a line or two of wise words,

Looking for a “right” or “wrong” outcome when considering different varieties of yeast kind of misses the central point: they all ferment your dough and cause it to rise… Rather than asking “Am I using the right yeast?”, ask “What do I want to achieve with this bread?”‘

‘Pmccool’ asking the important questions that I should have posed way before I began dumping ingredients into a bowl. Doing the research takes lots of time and sometimes it makes me feel like I’m being swallowed, me and my whole head and heart. But I don’t. And later, when writing about those moments in the belly of the beast, I recall them with heavily rose-tinted glasses.

Since getting serious and down to business about making top notch cinnamon rolls, I’ve felt a wave of confidence cascade over me. I’ve definitely been humbled by yesterday and now, today’s cinnamon roll experiences, re-re-re-learning the simple fact that good/glorious things take time but that that’s no excuse not to educate yourself and be prepared before starting the clock. As a disclaimer, I thought I should state that despite all of the words I may string together about yeast, working with it is very straightforward. If you’re following a recipe to the T, you’re probably going to get twice-puffed dough and picture-perfect rolls on the first go (although there is no harm in knowing why you are doing what you’re doing!) However, because I decided, yet again, to alter and add ingredients to fit my preferences, things got messier and more complicated and a lot more tiny-number-math was involved.

I went into round 2 of cinnamon bun making with a lot more knowledge to fall back on; I had combed the internet for hours and already tested one specific way of going about it, so I knew a good deal of what NOT to do. Now was the tricky part of feeling my way around for what to do. The dough I began with was immensely better than yesterday’s; it was soft and pliable, without completely coating my fingers. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel like it should have been stickier. Maybe the internet is doing me a bit of bad in addition to all of the good, providing me with an endless slideshow of cinnamon roll pictures and techniques to compare to mine. It’s something to keep in mind. Anyway, I was pleased with the dough and carried on kneading, only this time I kneaded for 4 minutes rather than 9. Again, the dough appeared to be in a much softer state than dough #1.

I cut back on the duration of the first rise from 1 hour and 5 minutes to 50 minutes as the dough definitely appeared doubled in volume. Most all recipes using instant or active dry yeast call for a first rise of 1-1 1/2 hours OR until the dough has doubled in size, but the Serious Eats recipe I chose to piggy back off of last time mentioned 1 1/2-2 hours despite using active dry yeast. More research has led me to believe that the wonky appearance of my first rolls was due to over rising. The yeast in dough feeds on sugar, releasing carbon dioxide and alcohol in the process. This explains the little air bubble that I mentioned seeing in my dough as I kneaded it last time. I may have still been over kneading, but bubbles are not NOT normal. What’s not right is when the dough is given too long to sit; the yeast will continue to do it’s job, bubbling and bubbling, ultimately creating more bubbles than the structure of the dough can properly hold, so the gluten will fail and you’ll end up with melted cinnamon rolls. With that in mind, I managed to gather up enough tenacity to listen to my gut, and reduced the second rise from 50 minutes to closer to 35 minutes.

Because I started making the dough too late in the day, I decided I ought to let it have a fridge hibernation before the quicker second rise in the morning. However, I learned online that long rises in the fridge are only recommended for dough with dry yeast. Instant and active yeast work at expanding dough far more rapidly, and thus, would deteriorate the structure of the dough rather than enhance it’s flavor. Before settling on that reality, I came across a number of forums where people mentioned that, as a disclaimer, it wasn’t ideal to replace dry yeast with instant/active, but you could technically reduce the amount of called-for regular yeast by 20% so that the quicker yeast doesn’t work as fast as usual. I jumped on the opportunity to try something different and set the covered cinnamon rolls in the fridge after shaping and cutting them.

It’s not recommended that the rolls stay in the fridge for more than 8-12 hours, so I was up at 4:00 AM the next morning to give them a warmer, second rise. I allowed them to sit in a partially pre-heated and switched off oven for close to 30 minutes. Like an overly anxious mother, I checked on the rolls at ten minute intervals to see how they were doing. It turns out instant yeast really should stay away from the fridge. I’m sure other people have been successful at it, but my rolls were even less enlarged than the ones yesterday. They held their shape MUCH better, which is a plus worth noting, but they still fell short. The dough was more cakey and dense than airy and fluffy, but in all fairness, the rolls still tasted very, very, nice.

The sweet potato filling from batch #1 didn’t wow me enough, so I gathered together my pretty new jars of nutmeg and ground ginger and went to pumpkin spice town. Pureed pumpkin and pumpkin spice make for the easiest top-notch filling. I’ve used the combo for everything from pie to scones to pancakes, so it was only about time I stuffed it into sweet rolls. As always, I opted for rice malt syrup rather than white or brown sugar to sweeten the filling. If I had maple syrup on hand I likely would’ve used that instead. I also decided to drop the walnuts and gooey sauce on top of the rolls as they baked rather on the bottom, as some of the sauce decided to burn and glue to the pan last time. These rolls may have hit the spot flavor-wise, but they didn’t quite fill up my fat and fluffy cinnamon roll void any more than the first batch did. In other words, I still have a lot of work to do!!!

Ingredients~

Dough:
118 g all purpose flour & 6.25 g bread flour
2.4 g dry instant yeast (about 1/2 very heaped tsp)
1/4 cup & 2 tbsps soy milk (room temperature)
1 1/2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1/4 tsp rice malt syrup
Pinch of salt

Filling:
1/3 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tbsps rice malt syrup
1/2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 heaped tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Topping:
1 1/2-2 tbsps rice malt syrup
1/2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 tsp cornstarch
Large pinch of cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

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Vegan Cinnamon Rolls Turned Sticky Buns

I decided to make cinnamon rolls yesterday, not knowing what I was getting myself into. Following a recipe to a T is one thing; you know the ingredients and steps are pretty much foolproof and the people raving in the comments about how successful they were will make it sound all the more promising. For some reason, I don’t enjoy baking according to a recipe. If I can’t stop thinking about a recipe I’ve come across (i.e. it’s drool-inducing accompanying photos), I’ll follow the instructions and make it, but the former happens more often with savory dishes. Over the past 6-9 months of fairly frequent baking, I’ve found that I have the most fun when my creativity and curiosity are directing me. I know, I know, you can shake your head and wag your finger all you want. More often than not, my kitchen shuffling culminates in something sweet smelling and tasty. The Internet offers me an immense library of information about every niche and idiosyncrasy I could ever come across in baking, so it’s no wonder I can learn to do crazy things like make bagels. And when my so-called self-choreographed kitchen moves don’t come together according to plan? Well, I usually don’t plaster the photographs on the internet. This time around, however, I thought I ought to.

I’ve encountered more problems than usual on this baking expedition. Cinnamon rolls can be very finicky things; they contain yeast, a highly sensitive little fella, and require rolling, cutting, and shaping, three actions that increase in difficulty the softer, and ultimately better (depending on preference, of course), one’s dough is. My attempt to make cinnamon rolls that were entirely plant based and truly suitable for breakfast resulted in rolls quite unlike the normal thing. Something tells me I will have to make a few stops on the way to truly glorious vegan cinnamon rolls, so this will probably be the first batch of at least four or five. In fact, it’s probably bad luck to estimate that low a number of trial and error batches. In a day or two I hope to have something a little more desirable looking in front of the camera, but for now, look on for photos of some messed up looking naked cinnamon rolls and a big collection of words about the whole shabang (in an effort to save face, I turned these rolls into sticky buns right before popping them into the oven).

Most cinnamon roll recipes on the internet call for a little over 4 cups of flour, making about 12 medium-large cinnamon rolls. I decided to divide the former standard by four and aim to make 2-3 large rolls. I referred to a Serious Eats (SE for short) classic cinnamon roll recipe when deciding where to begin with my ratio of dry to wet ingredients and most frightening of all, what fraction of a tsp of yeast to use. For the 4 1/4 cups all purpose flour used, SE called for 1 packet or 2 1/4 tsps or 8.75 grams of active dry yeast.

I used exactly 1 cup & 1 tbsp or 147.94 grams of flour (flour for dough + flour from Tang Zhong method, what the heck?!, I know, I know, I’ll get to that later) and 1/2 tsp or 1.75 g of instant dry yeast. Exactly one fourth the amount of yeast from the SE recipe would have been 2.18 g, so I accidentally under added the yeast by .43 g. I am being very precise with the numbers and there’s always going to be a little room for error when using a cheap kitchen scale to measure such tiny amounts, but .43 grams of yeast could have very well made a heck of a lot of difference. How much of a difference it made I may never know, as tens and tens of google searches didn’t uncover a specific answer. Nonetheless, my instinct is that it contributed to the sub-par finished roll. Given that I’m only supposed to work with 2 g of yeast per batch of rolls, .4, which is nearly ONE QUARTER of all that was required, would have been a game changer. Had I accidentally forgotten to add 1/4th the amount of flour or milk to the dough, the entire outcome would have been off big time. So, lesson learnt: dry yeast granules may be tiny, but they are very, very mighty.

The dough rose for an hour and five minutes the first rise and nearly 50 minutes the second rise, yet I had a nagging suspicion that I should have left it to rise longer the first time. I knew the importance of letting dough puff up to it’s potential during the first rise, as it won’t inflate nearly as much the second time around, but I was wavering for too long between to wait and not to wait and eventually got flustered, threw my hands in the air, and said what the hell with it, I’m rolling it out.

From the pictures, the second ball does in fact look twice the size (if not larger??). Turns out my nagging suspicions can be wrong and empirical evidence (which I gathered yet didn’t properly examine at the time?) cannot. You’d think the former photos would eliminate under-risen-dough as the culprit, but after going through the SE recipe again, I’m not so sure. Their recipe, like mine, calls for instant/active dry yeast (the 2 kinds can be used interchangeably, the only catch is that instant can be mixed directly into flour while active has to be ‘activated’ in slightly warmed-lukewarm water) and yet, they instruct a 2-2 1/2 hour first rise and a 1-1 1/2 hour second rise! I thought the very point in using instant/active dry yeast rather than plain ol’ dry yeast was to minimize the rising periods and have rolls in the oven in less than half a day? Perhaps I made an error in judgement by not letting the dough rise longer the first time, but I’m not so convinced that’s where the fault lies. Every other same-day cinnamon roll recipe I came across called for a much shorter rising period. Only if someone was using dry yeast did they extend the first rise to 2 hours and the second rise to 1 1/2 hours. I can only ponder this for now, but hopefully more probing research will give me a better sense of what to do next time.

Another iffy thing I may have done was include too large a ratio of liquid to dry ingredients. After stirring the combined ingredients into a roughly shaped ball, I thought the dough felt too dry and far from the annoyingly sticky, silky dough that is usually pictured in cinnamon roll recipes. I added 1-2 more tbsps of buttermilk by kneading it into the dough; I used the folding method and sprinkled the buttermilk on top, squished it in, folded, and repeated, kneading for almost 9 fat minutes. After a few folds I began to notice little tears/bubbles in the dough, but I wasn’t sure what could be done about it and continued to knead. Perhaps I was too tough on it while kneading and messed with the strands of gluten? A google search brought up varied answers to the question how long should I knead my cinnamon roll dough? A few recipes I came across only called for 1-3 minutes of kneading, while a handful called for 6-7 minutes and yet another (the SE included), recommended 9-10. Does the duration of kneading have anything to do with what ingredients one chooses to add or omit? Maybe the richer the dough, the longer the kneading time, hence why mine (vegan and thus lacking eggs and full fat milk) would have faired better with less handling. I’ll have to dedicate more time to unraveling this long-winded topic. Also, how can you tell when your dough has been kneaded enough? That’s a frightfully simple question that I don’t even know the answer to.

In an effort to achieve the ultimate fluffy AND soft cinnamon rolls, I incorporated both the Tang Zhong method (TZ for short) and buttermilk into the dough. For starters, TZ is a water roux (flour & water or milk thickened sauce) used to make extremely light and soft bread. It started in either Japan or China (my research couldn’t narrow it down), and if you scroll through a Japanese bakery in Tokyo you will not have trouble spotting the ever so tender loafs and rolls of milky bread. I found many people online that had successfully made cinnamon rolls with TZ and had pictures to prove it, so I was convinced it would deliver. The roux is 1 part flour and 5 parts milk or water, and it’s generally recommended that you use between 5-10% of your recipes flour, hence why my ingredients call for 1 tbsp bread flour or 5% of the required all purpose flour. More research about TZ also taught me that using bread flour further aids in softening the dough, as it contains more gluten, thus retaining more liquid and making the bread softer. For some reason, I didn’t stop there in my quest for the softest cinnamon rolls, and found myself incorporating buttermilk into the recipe. According to Joy The Baker,

Buttermilk is an important part of baking. The acidic milk combined with baking soda in a recipe is a baker’s dream. It’s helps add a lightness and tenderness to baked treats. When baking soda is combined with the lactic acids of buttermilk, the acid neutralizes the metallic taste of sodium carbonate.

So…. buttermilk is awesome when paired with baking soda, but what about when it’s incorporated into a recipe sans the soda, i.e. cinnamon rolls? This was not a question I asked before adding it to my dough. I had actually used buttermilk a few days prior for a buckwheat banana bread, so when I saw it in the SE cinnamon roll recipe I though, ‘aha, I know how to make vegan buttermilk!’ and the rest happened as it did. I was also more than willing to close my eyes and jump into cinnamon roll making knowing I was adapting from a tried and tested SE recipe. They used buttermilk, which means buttermilk must be a very necessary ingredient, which means I must use buttermilk. Only after going through the motions of making and baking the rolls did the former mistake appear so glaringly obvious. The SE article called for butter, eggs, and buttermilk using cow’s milk, ingredients that are very rich and high in fat. My dough, on other hand, was stripped of all the classic rich ingredients, and replaced the butter with coconut oil, the eggs with… frankly, nothing, and the dairy buttermilk with vegan soy buttermilk. Was the combination of Tang Zhou and buttermilk too much for the dough to handle? Did my negligence of detail lead to these underwhelming cinnamon rolls? Yes, that is the one certain take away. Perhaps all of my meandering in this post has finally dug me a hole deep enough to bury this cinnamon roll recipe in for good.


Ingredients:

Dough:
1 cup all purpose flour & 1 tbsp bread flour
1/2 heaped tsp instant dry yeast
3-4 tbsps vegan buttermilk
3 tbsps soy milk
1 1/2 tbsps coconut oil, melted
1/2 tsp rice malt syrup
Pinch of salt

Filling:
1/3 cup sweet potato puree
1 heaped tbsp rice malt syrup
1 1/4 tsps cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg

Sauce bath:
2 tbsps dairy free milk
1 1/2 tbsps rice malt syrup
1/2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1 scant tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Important note: this recipe was loosely adapted from Serious Eats’ Sunday brunch cinnamon rolls and Minimalist Baker’s easy cinnamon rolls. I also referred to this youtube video when making the Tang Zhou.

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Buckwheat Banana Bread

Ingredients~
Makes one small loaf or about 7 inch thick slices 

3/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup vegan buttermilk*
2 small very ripe bananas, mashed
2 tbsps rice malt syrup (add up to 2 tbsps more for a sweeter bread, but reduce the milk accordingly)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Scant 1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of baking soda (about 1/8 tsp)
Dash of salt
1/3 tsp cinnamon (optional)
1/3 cup raisins, chocolate chips, chopped nuts, etc.

Instructions~

Preheat oven to 180 C/356 F
1. Mash bananas and add them to a large bowl with the buttermilk. Stir in the rice malt syrup and vanilla extract until a slightly lumpy mixture forms. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, and cinnamon if using. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, stirring until well combined and the batter has a fairly gooey/slimy consistency (it won’t be gross for long). Finish by stirring in the dried fruit, chocolate, and/or nuts. Bake for 45-55 minutes, covering the top with foil after about 30 minutes or when the bread has browned enough. Allow to cool and firm up before slicing and serving.

*To make vegan buttermilk simply add 1 1/2 tsps fresh lemon juice to a measuring cup and pour in soy/nut milk until it reaches the 1/4 cup line. Wait for 5-10 minutes as it curdles and thickens up. This hack was discovered here.

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