Healthy Vegan Banana Pudding: A Short Story

Sometimes I wish there were shortcuts to my dreamed about successes; perfectly flaky croissants ready in 2 hours, minimal handiwork required; no-rise fluffy cinnamon rolls; pie crust that pleats itself. Life would be pretty neat. My life really would be a lot less messy in the literal sense, with no flakes of dough to uncake from my nail beds and no mountains of dishes to wash because I had to make banana pudding three times rather than nailing it on my first go.

Nonetheless, there is a perverse pleasure in struggling when you know that it’s building you up and bettering you. Long distance runners haven’t found a way to NOT feel like there’s acid running through their veins, yet they continue to run, because, well, because of what lies ahead of them: a finish line, a personal best, a big meal, a better state of mind and body. I run and I also bake. The latter more often than the former, and that’s something that has got to change, but in the mean time, I can at least try to adopt my running state of mind when I’m in the kitchen. In other words, PERSIST despite the frustrations and letdowns, REPEAT in order to improve, and, most importantly, REMAIN LEVEL HEADED because it’s too easy (and stupid) to resort to cynicism and self doubt in a crisis.

I was on a banana pudding rollercoaster the past couple of days, uuuup and up before heading very, very far doooown, and then, because happy endings are nice, back on up again. I had a bunch of prime spotty bananas in the kitchen, but before mashing them for banana bread and calling it a day, I made myself take a little plunge off an unfamiliar cliff and make some banana pudding. I try to make my sweets as close to healthy as possible, so I decided to cut back on the cream, sugar, and eggs, and venture down the sinister road to creamy vegan pudding. Had I known how many times it was going to take to achieve my banana cream dream, I likely would have grabbed the ingredients for banana bread and fled. Long story short, I’m glad I didn’t. I stuck it out and now have a glorious vegan banana pudding to show off (and some not-so-pretty runner up pictures as well).

I began making my first batch of pudding thinking I had it in the bag. Pudding was a baby food in my mind; there isn’t much room for error when you’re asked to mash a banana or warm some milk. While I succeeded at the former two tasks, the pudding I found upon peeking into the fridge the next morning was not the one I was giddy for. It was greyish, the texture was foamy and lumpy, and it looked a lot more like actual baby mash than sophisticated adult pudding. So, what went wrong?

I forgot about my environment. And nature. And the laws of the world. Which, to be fair, is all very heavy stuff to remember when you’re trying not to scald precious pudding milk. Bananas turn grey and brown when unpeeled and sliced up and left to sit for hours!!!! This was only incredibly obvious to me AFTER the fact. I gave myself a little pep talk, I definitely won’t make this mistake the second time around. I am totally capable of manifesting my ideal banana pudding, and went on my jaded way to plan for pudding #2.

Pudding #1:
3/4 cup soy milk
1 small spotty banana (not black all over)
1 1/4 tbsps cornstarch
1 tbsp rice malt syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

It was day two of banana pudding making and I wasn’t any closer to my dreamed about parfait. I could see it, but I couldn’t quite envision how x, y, and z ingredients would mold together once whisked and left to chill. For pudding #2 I used 1/3 the amount of mashed banana as before and I included a little block of silken tofu, thinking it could mimic thickened cream.

Without a blender/food processor in tow, I had to press the tofu through a mesh sieve. The actual labor involved was akin to lifting a pinky, but regardless, the fancy new addition to the recipe didn’t bring me any closer to satisfaction. Banana pudding castle was hidden in the clouds and I was on Earth eating grey mash.

I can only wonder if a blender would have solved the silken tofu problem. Using the mesh left the tofu looking like curdled cream. At the time I had tried to ignore it; everything else was prepared and I wasn’t in the mood to take a step back after not succeeding with pudding #1, so I combined the curdled tofu with the rest of the ingredients and left it to chill in the fridge overnight.

Still grey as ever. In fact, MORE grey than attempt #1!!!! I wasn’t going to add ANY mashed banana to the next pudding and I was definitely going to drop the tofu. Rotten Banana Curdled Milk Pudding. Yum. In all fairness, it didn’t taste all that bad. But cake batter and cake are two very different things. Sure, we like to steal a few licks of batter, but the cake is why we bother baking in the first place. Same goes for banana pudding, it may taste well and good, but if the texture is off the delivery is off and the whole damn thing is OFF. I needed to find a thought through and viable solution to the consistency problem. Simply dumping together ingredients in the hopes that they’ll conjure up creamy pudding was obviously not working.

Pudding #2:
3/4 cup soy milk
1/3 small spotty banana
1 1/4 tbsps cornstarch
1 very small block silken tofu
1 tbsp rice malt syrup
Scant tsp vanilla extract

Aha! Agar agar, you are my sunshine on a grey and underwhelming day. I had been doing some research about baking with gluten free flours and more specifically, what can be substituted for xanthan gum, when I came across the words agar agar and tiny things in my brain clicked and buzzed and gurgled and I suddenly recalled seeing it at the local grocery store. It turns out agar agar is a popular vegan replacement for gelatin. It’s derived from algae and can be bought in three forms: 1. strands (which must be pounded into granules) 2. flakes and 3. powder. The powder is the easiest to deal with as it requires the least amount of stove time and the least amount of teaspoons. The ratio of flakes to powder is about 3:1 and after heaps of internet lurking I learned that about 1 tsp of agar powder is enough to turn 1 cup of milk into firm jello. Colorful ideas for vegan jello and panna cotta and gummy bears had to be put on hold. Now was the time for CREAMY banana pudding.

It worked! Creamy banana pudding was mine. And it was still vegan and low in sugar. The agar powder really saved my butt. Without it I’m not so sure I would’ve found another viable vegan alternative. Creaming tofu was not possible and coconut cream is way out of my food budget here in Tokyo. Maybe I’ll find a way to fit a can of it into one of next month’s grocery lists. I’m definitely going to need a couple of weeks to detox from all of this banana pudding. If it wasn’t for Matt’s helping hand (pictured above) and sizable appetite I wouldn’t have kept the ball rolling on this banana pudding project. It is possible to have a little too much of a good thing. Or rather, why make pudding if you’re not even going to want to eat it?

Pudding #3: The Finale
3/4 cup soy milk
1/3 tsp agar agar powder
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp rice malt syrup
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients~
Makes a little more pudding than pictured or enough for 2 small serving glasses

3/4 cup soy milk or other dairy free milk
1/3 tsp agar agar powder
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp rice malt syrup or other liquid sweetener (add more for a sweeter pudding and reduce liquid accordingly or slightly increase agar)
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
Toppings:
1 small ripe banana, sliced
4-8 vegan vanilla cookies or store bought vanilla wafers
1/2 cup vanilla whipped cream (coconut/soy if vegan)

Instructions~

1. Pour the soy milk into a non-stick saucepan and sprinkle the agar powder on top. Allow to sit for a few minutes before adding the syrup, turning up the heat to low-medium, and whisking until the ingredients are visibly combined. Add the cornstarch, whisking to avoid clumps. Continue to whisk/stir every handful of seconds to prevent the cornstarch/agar from sticking to the bottom. It will take up to 4-6 minutes for the mixture to visibly thicken, at which point you should continue to stir for about 30 more seconds before turning off the heat.
2. Moving quickly, arrange your cookies/sliced banana/whipped cream* in serving glasses and divide the mixture accordingly. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to set at room temperature for 1 1/2-2 hours before transferring to the fridge for another 1-2 hours to further set and chill. This pudding is best enjoyed cold and with a big dollop of whipped cream on top!

*The whipped cream won’t retain it’s airy form 100% if it’s layered between the warm pudding, but it does add a yummy variation and blends well with the other layers.

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Vanilla Buckwheat Cookies

This was my first time baking with buckwheat flour so I acted like a child; easily excitable, uninhibited, happy. As soon as I woke up this morning my mind was blaring BUCKWHEAT BUCKWHEAT BUCKWHEAT. I tried my best to be amicable and understanding of Matt’s presence, but it was tough to see the point in making oatmeal for breakfast and then patiently chewing said oatmeal while a bag of pristine buckwheat flour sat a few meters away. I did help make oatmeal and I did enjoy my time with Matt, eating and chatting and eating. Then I proceeded to ignore the dirty dishes and combine a handful of things to create these cookies!! It was a fun start to the day.

This golden cookie is entirely vegan and yummy and not entirely void of healthy things.

I made these cookies because: A) I was in dire need of vanilla cookies for my vegan banana pudding and B) I received a bag of buckwheat flour in the mail a couple of days ago. Score????

Ingredients~
Makes 8 small cookies

1/3 cup & 3 tbsps buckwheat flour
1 1/2 tbsps coconut oil, soft/melted
1 tbsp banana puree/applesauce (or sub with more coconut oil)
1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract
2 tbsps rice malt syrup or other liquid sweetener
1/4 tsp baking powder
Pinch of baking soda (about 1/8 tsp)
Pinch of salt

Instructions~

1. Stir together the coconut oil, banana puree/applesauce if using, vanilla extract, and syrup until well combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, and dash of salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until a thick, goopy batter forms. The dough will be too sticky to mold into balls, so cover the bowl and set it in the fridge for at least 20-30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 180 C/356 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Working quickly, form balls of cookie dough and lightly flatten the top of each one (very lightly flouring your hands if necessary) Bake for 9-13 minutes (depending on size) or until visibly crisped up and golden. Allow them to cool for a little bit before enjoying!

Important note: this recipe was inspired by Dish by Dish’s Gluten Free Buckwheat Cookies.

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Attempt #1 at Healthy Vegan Banana Pudding

When a recipe fails and falls flat on it’s cakey face, it’s okay to feel a little bit shitty inside.

Sometimes cookies don’t spread out like they’re supposed to and cakes cave in and the wafer cookies accompanying your highly anticipated banana pudding taste like squishy nothing.

I bought a bunch of bananas on sale the other day; they were covered in spots and perfect for baking, but instead of hopping down the banana bread hole I thought I’d do something different with them. Maybe I’d make banana muffins or cake or… a simple, healthy banana pudding. Ah yes, something uber easy to whip together, please!! It was almost 10 pm, but I was able to dump a few ingredients in a saucepan, whisk, whisk, whisk, and pour them into serving glasses to set in the fridge overnight.

Going into this, I wanted the banana pudding to be as close to the consistency of the usual stuff as possible, while also being entirely plant based and healthier. That didn’t seem like too much to ask at the time, but I was one overly giddy whisk-wielder, so I jumped right in without much second guessing or research.

Much to my dismay, the banana pudding turned out to be a distant cousin of the heavy cream, egg, and sugar laden dessert. It was airy, almost foamy, rather than creamy. Perhaps if I had replaced the soy milk with coconut cream or even tried silken tofu, I would have achieved a thicker consistency. It is vegan after all, lacking the tried and tested ingredients that usually give this pudding weight, so maybe I was in a little over my head?

In an effort to continue keeping things healthier, I made my own banana wafer cookies. This is when science decided to remind me that it plays a big role in baking and because I’m not baking in a vacuum, I ought to pay attention to it’s rules. Uhhh, science.

My cookies turned out cakey and gooey, the antichrist to the crisp and crumbly wafers usually accompanying banana pudding. I’m pretty certain that my obsession with making every dish a little bit healthier got the best of me, because I cut way back on the fats, thinking the mashed banana would save the day and make the cookies moist and chewy. Instead, the banana mash paired up with the all purpose flour and made a gross mess. Cookies are supposed to be layered into the pudding and left to sit for a while, allowing them to slightly soften and marry the flavors in the pudding. Since my cookies weren’t able to do their job, I ended up having to ditch them and enjoy the pudding by itself. Some freshly whipped cream would have been a lovely addition, but in Tokyo it’s not very budget friendly.

There will definitely be a round two of this banana pudding; the lack of vanilla wafer goodness has left vast room for improvement. I’d like to experiment with the new buckwheat and rice flour I received in the mail, so perhaps I’ll find a way to incorporate one or both into a vanilla cookie. Also, the pudding needs some touching up; it was yummy but lacked creamy oompf. I’ll report back when I have an all around tastier banana pudding in my belly!!



 

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Low Fat Vegan Pie Crust

I don’t want to slow down my current baking pace, but I don’t want to consume inordinate amounts of fat and sugar either. Thus, in an effort to satisfy both of the voices in my head, what I want: PIE and what I should have: HEALTHY PIE OR ELSE LESS PIE, I have been experimenting with lower fat and sugar pie/tart crusts. This pie crust has been tried, tasted, and tasted some more, because it turned out so delightfully scrumptious.

All you’ll need is flour, coconut oil, and banana puree. I opted for all purpose flour this time because I just received a 3 kg bag of it in the mail. Hehe. Buying in bulk saves money and trips to the grocery store (or in my case TOMIZ, the online shop haven for bakers in Japan). I’m sure swapping out the white flour for whole wheat would work almost as well, almost because it would likely be a bit denser and chewier. I’ll have to give it a try and report back.

The banana puree may stand out for the wrong reasons, but trust me, you can’t even taste it! The crust is more banana infused than banana flavored. Plus, my pumpkin pie filling was veeery low in sugar, allowing the flavor of the crust to stand out a lot more than it would have in a standard, white and brown sugar, sweet pie. It is important that you use a moderately spotted banana and not the ones suited for banana bread, as the banana-y flavor will be too strong. If you’re still spooked, you could replace the banana with more oil, but that defeats the purpose of a lower fat/calorie crust, doesn’t it? Apple sauce should be a suitable banana replacement, but I have yet to try it. I was skeptical at first as well, hence why I decided to make a small batch of dough and test it in the tart tins. Wasted food really annoys me, but I can say that none of this coconut oil banana crust was wasted. Crumbs were plucked from empty tart tins and every excess piece of dough was pressed back into the crust!!

Ingredients~

Makes enough dough for about five mini tarts (my pans are 2 inches wide)

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsps solid coconut oil (refrigerate until firm)
1 tbsp banana puree

Instructions~

1. Cut the solid coconut oil up into the flour with a fork until a crumbly mixture forms. Next, stir in the banana puree until a wetter dough begins to form (quite like play dough). Quickly form the dough into a ball, cover it, and set it in the fridge for about 20 minutes to chill.
2. Preheat the oven to 190 C/375 F. Once chilled, roll the dough out onto lightly dusted parchment paper, about 1/8 inch thick. Using an upside down tart tin, shape and cut circles out of the sheet of dough. Lightly oil the tart tins if necessary and place a circle of dough on each one, lightly patting it down around the edges to fit the mold. Cut off any excess, hanging dough, and press some of it back into the dough if you’d like. Scoop your pie filling into the center of the tarts. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the crust is noticeably golden and the center of your pie doesn’t jiggle much (if it had a wet filling).

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Unbelievably Delicious Chocolate Bark

I come bearing good news, the bursting-at-the-seams ridiculously good kind. An hour ago I thought I’d make some homemade chocolate because, well, I had a free Monday afternoon ahead of me and I was craving chocolate. Lawsons, a popular Japanese convenient store, is less than a minute walk from my place, so it was either the homemade route or the costly, likely less healthy, store-bought route. My chocolate tooth is very, very massive, mammoth sized massive, so it’s worth mentioning that I enjoyed this chocolate bark more than I’ve enjoyed 90% of store-bought chocolates I’ve ever tried (I know, I was surprised too). Grocery/convenient stores don’t often have an array of options for lower-sugar chocolate lovers, and when they do, it’s usually hit or miss. This bark, on the other hand, was a one-shot success; it resides in it’s own palace of deliciousness, far, far above the clouds that most chocolate calls home. Maybe rather than making comparisons I ought to simply explain in words (though I’d much rather hand you a piece) why this chocolate bark now has a page in my recipe bible.

It is silky and creamy, despite having no cocoa butter in it. I had been playing coy with myself recently, browsing Amazon Prime for cocoa butter that I know I don’t need in the kitchen; but you do need it…it would open up a world of possibilities for chocolate-making, something you’ve always wanted to have a hand at! Well, the sensibility in me won this buttery battle, and I’m glad it did. While cocoa butter would be a lovely addition to my on-hand ingredients, it is a bit out of my price range and not as necessary as flours or oil. So, no cocoa butter, no problem!! You will, however, need coconut oil or another fairly neutral oil that will harden at cold temperatures.

I didn’t have to douse this bark in sugar. Most ‘dark’ chocolate bars I find at convenient stores are wolves in sheep clothing; ‘Bitter Chocolate’ a bar promised me, when it was in fact only 55% cocoa. That doesn’t mean bitter in my chocolate dictionary; bitter means it is closer to 80% cocoa. Perhaps I’m being finicky, but my point is: if you are like me and prefer chocolate sans the knee-jerking sweetness, AND you are also unwilling/unable to fit pricy, organic, fair-trade, dark chocolate into your budget, you should start making your own bark at home (I’m not hating on fair-trade, it’s obviously more expensive for a reason! Maybe we should be willing to pay the extra few dimes when the quality of someone’s life is in question. I am, however, certain that purchasing fair-trade cocoa powder and making your own bark at home works out far, far cheaper in the long term!! And a chocolate love affair is a long term kinda thing…)

There was no bending over backwards while dicing with one pinky and sifting/stirring/whisking with the other pinky and thumbs. If you are a busy person this chocolate will probably have more of an awe-inducing affect on you than it did me. I’m working at the beat of my own drum at the moment, so I could have spent 3 hours making this bark if I really wanted to, but I didn’t, and I didn’t have to, because it only takes five minutes of handy work. FIVE. Maybe less if you are really swift and nimble.

Despite being on a coffee/heavy caffeine detox, I let myself be a little bad and sprinkle some matcha powder on the bark. Let me just say that cocoa + matcha = one happy healthy high.

Ingredients~
Makes one small sheet of bark for 2-3 people

2 1/2 generous tbsps cocoa powder
2 tbsps coconut oil
1/2-1 tbsp maple syrup or other liquid sweetener (add more or less for desired sweetness)
1/4 cup chopped almonds or nut of your choice
1/2 tsp matcha powder

Instructions~

1. Heat up the coconut oil in a saucepan over low heat, removing it from the heat before it really begins to bubble and simmer. Whisk in the cocoa powder and syrup until combined and smooth. Carefully pour the chocolate mixture onto the center of a sheet of parchment paper, spreading it out to achieve desired thickness (I opted for about 1/4 inch). Scatter the nuts on top and sift on the matcha. Let the bark harden up in the fridge for around 30 minutes. Note that it can get messy if left out, especially in a warm climate, so enjoy right away.

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Pumpkin & Caramelized Onion Galette with a Whole Wheat Crust

I’ve been an avid coffee drinker for years and years. Reading that sentence, it sounds as though I think I’m an expert at life; ‘oh yes, deary, I was drinking coffee decades before you were born’. In reality, I am 22, and while I do have some life experience under my belt, there is still a lot of room to fill up with successes and failures and hopefully not too many embarrassing tales of wetting myself. I believe I started drinking coffee on an almost daily basis when I was a freshman in high school, although, in middle school I would go to Starbucks with friends before and after school some days, so my introduction to caffeine happened way back when; roughly speaking, I’ve been dependent on coffee/caffeine for 5-6 years. Only in the last couple of months have I noticed the frequency with which I think about drinking coffee when I don’t have a cup of it in my hand. I started to think about the tightness in my chest and it’s possible connection to my daily, usually 2-3 times a day, coffee habit. My anxiety had been relatively in check but it still played up everyday in subtle ways; perhaps cutting back on coffee would help tone down my worry and stress?

So, partly because of my dislike for unnecessary (and costly!!!) dependencies, and partly because of my curiosity, I have now reached day 14 without caffeinated coffee. Matt and I decided going the cold turkey route was not for us (a few days of migraine-ridden zombie life? No thanks), so we replaced coffee with matcha. Matcha is sorta like a Japanese variation of green tea; it’s a bit more caffeinated and very different in flavor than your average cup of brewed green tea, as the green tea leaves used for matcha, besides undergoing a unique growing process, are actually ground into a powder which is then whisked directly into water. Am I now matcha dependent? Maybe a little. We’ve cut back from two grams or two cups of matcha a day to one gram and, now, to half a gram. I have to mentally pinch myself sometimes; half a measly gram of matcha!!!? That’s so little caffeine compared to what I was used to! And yet, at this moment in time, it sounds like a trove of treasure.

I’m pretty amazed by how quickly the body can adapt to the circumstances you put/FORCE it in. I’m not really sure what the end goal with this little experiment is… rekindling my coffee dependency is out of the question, but maybe I’ll enjoy it once every couple of months or so when I find myself at a cafe with friends or family, maybe… or maybe I’ll find that it makes me feel sweaty and angsty and awful all over again and I’ll quit for good. I’m not really sure at this point. What I am sure of is that the term ‘addiction’ shouldn’t be reserved for the most extreme of drug addicts. We all have addictive tendencies, whether we are aware of them or not; and that, our possible lack of awareness about our own addictions/dependencies/negative habits/what have you, is what I find most unsettling. I used to drink coffee everyday or else feel bogged down by fatigue, listlessness, and annoyance. There are no doubt other blind spots in my life that I have yet to notice and work on clearing up, but little by little, right?

I had been day-dreaming about making a pie for weeks but upon receiving my baking utensils in the mail, it turned out that the pie tin I ordered online was actually a mini tart tin! If only there was a photo of my face upon unwrapping the tiny, two-inch wide tart tin. Mini tarts were for another day, today I wanted to eat a hearty, savory pie-like thing. I had been browsing a recently discovered food blog, Daisy and the Fox, when I came across a recipe for a galette. Having no idea what a galette was I clicked on the link and was unexpectedly surprised to find the pie-like thing I’d been dreaming of. No pie tin? No problem!! You can simply bake this galette on parchment paper! It’s as tasty as pie, sans the dirty dishes and dainty finger work.

Above^ is a ball of hardened coconut oil. I was in awe of it for a handful of seconds before realizing Tokyo’s notorious summer heat was emanating through the kitchen window directly above it. This may have been my first time making a galette/pie crust from scratch by myself (well, besides the unconventional oat & nut one I made for a vegan pumpkin pie), but I knew that too much diddle daddling + cascades of hot air + warm, palmy hands = melted, mess of a crust, so I stopped oggling the coconut ball and started cutting it up into the flour.

 

Ingredients~
Makes one small galette, roughly 6 inches in diameter 

Filling:
1/2 cup chopped pumpkin, tightly packed
1-2 tbsps plain yogurt (soy/coconut if dairy free)
1 medium onion
1 tsp neutral oil
Scant 1/4 tsp table salt
Ground black pepper to taste
Dash of cinnamon (optional)

Crust:
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
Scant 1/4 cup coconut oil, hardened/scoopable
1-3 tbsps ice cold water
1 egg yolk for wash (optional, gives the crust a shinier appearance)

Instructions~

For the crust:
1. Add flour to a large bowl. If your coconut oil is scoopable, toss it into the flour and begin cutting it up (I use a fork) into the flour. If your oil is solid and straight from the fridge like mine was, transfer it to a cutting board and chop it up into chunks with a knife, then add it to the flour. The resulting mixture should resemble grainy sand. Cover the mixture and set it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.
2. Once the flour-oil combo has chilled, stir in a tbsp of icy cold water. Add up to 3 tbsps if needed, but don’t over add. Using your hands, quickly shape the mixture into a ball, it should just barely hold together. Transfer it to a sheet of lightly flour-dusted parchment paper and begin rolling it out, sprinkling flour on the surface if the rollin pin is sticking. Roll, rotate the paper, roll, rotate the paper, to achieve a relatively circular shape. If you are going to add your filling and bake the galette right away, begin doing so, but if not, wrap it in plastic wrap and set it in the fridge until baking time. It can also be stored in the freezer, to be defrosted an hour or so before use. Also, if the dough is clearly oozing oil and too wet to handle, set it in the fridge to chill before continuing to roll!

For the filling: 
1. Begin by caramelizing the onion; slice a medium onion and add it to a saucepan with 1 tsp oil. Cook on low-medium heat for at least 30 minutes to an hour, stirring every 5-10 minutes, until gooey and sweet in flavor. Stir in a tbsp of water if the onions begin to stick and burn. Set aside for later.
2. Preheat oven to 180 C/356 F. Chop and boil pumpkin. Once cooked, mash/puree it until smooth. Add 1-2 tbsps of yogurt to achieve a creamier texture. Stir in the salt, pepper, and cinnamon if using.
3. Spread the pumpkin filling in the center of the sheet of dough, leaving at least 1 inch of untouched dough around the border. Top with the onions and gently fold the crust over the filling, pleating it as you go along to evenly fit the crust. Lightly brush the crust with egg yolk and bake for 35-45 minutes (mine baked for 42 minutes) or until the crust is golden. Enjoy fresh out of the oven or cold from the fridge- it works quite like a quiche!

Important note: this post was inspired by Daisy and the Fox’s Apple & Blueberry Galette and the crust is based off of YayYay’s Kitchen’s Flaky Whole Wheat Crust!

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White Chocolate Chunk Matcha Cookies

Ingredients~
Makes about 6 cookies

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat
1/4 cup traditional rolled oats
1/2 medium spotty banana (not too ripe/black)
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsps soft coconut oil
1/3 tsp lemon juice (alternatively, use vanilla extract)
1/2-3/4 tsp good quality matcha powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
Tiny pinch of salt
A small handful or about 30 grams of white chocolate chunks/chips (dairy free if vegan)

Instructions~

1. In a large bowl, mash the banana until creamy and stir in the maple syrup, coconut oil, and lemon juice. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, oats, matcha, baking powder and soda, and salt. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and stir until well combined (and a deep shade of green!!).
2. Chop chocolate chunks if you haven’t already done so and stir them into the batter. Cover the batter and let it rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes to harden up. In this time, preheat the oven to 176 C/350 F.
3. Dollop the dough onto a pan lined with parchment paper and lightly flatten the cookies, leaving at least half an inch in between them. Bake for anywhere between 9-11 minutes; mine took 10 minutes but the size of your cookies and your oven’s strength will affect how they bake. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before enjoying!!

Important note: this recipe was inspired by Oh She Glow’s maple syrup sweetened Jumbo Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

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Whole Wheat Vegan Banana Bread

This morning I woke up with a tension headache, it’s claws buried deep into my neck and shoulders. I had been eagerly anticipating today, it was the day my haul of baking equipment was due to arrive, so I did my best not to let the headache sour my giddiness. Long story short: it’s almost impossible and very expensive if possible, to find baking supplies in Tokyo (by ‘supplies’ I mean: flour other than highly refined white and pancake mix, a good brand of instant yeast, vanilla extract, bread/cake/muffin tins, and so on…). Baking isn’t as popularized of a pastime as it is in Australia or America; however, despite this, and as is the case in Taiwan, bakeries are everywhere! In fact, I would have to say I unintentionally come across more bakeries in Taipei and Tokyo than I did in Melbourne or NYC. I’m not sure what lies at the heart of this fascinating situation, but I’d like to find out. Perhaps the more recent introduction of bread and pastries to Asia means people don’t have recipes and techniques passed down from generation to generation? Perhaps Japanese people are less likely to bake a loaf of bread at home than, say, an American, due to the simple lack of conventionally western ovens in most homes. The oven in my Tokyo apartment is actually a multipurpose microwave; it has an oven feature that can reach 250 C and a grill feature as well, pretty neat, huh!?

Anyone who has perused bakeries in America and European countries will be able to notice the glaring differences between the baked goods on sale; the discrepancies between English and French bread and pastry are innumerable!! Bread is bread is bread, but Parisian French bread is not Taiwanese bakery french bread and Japanese croissants are undoubtedly a distant, twice removed cousin of French croissants.

Having had the privilege of being to Paris and now, Tokyo, I can say that both types of croissant surpass tolerable, but the Parisian one exists on a far more unique plane than the Japanese one, at least in my mind. Maybe it’s because a French croissant is the most perfectly flaky, buttery pastry to exist? One cannot simply whip up a batch of croissants, it takes days and lots of rolling and turning and rolling and turning, and having enough knowledge and luck to keep microscopic layers of butter (and there are many, many layers!!) from even slightly melting into layers of dough (the former mishap is what kept my first ever batch of croissants from achieving flaky galore). The croissants I’ve had in Tokyo, so far at least, are noticeably more bready and sweet; and while that’s not to say they aren’t pleasant to taste, it is the case that they share more genes with sweet bread than the O.G. croissant.

With my new whole wheat flour and bread tin in hand I was ready as ever to put something with a sweet-smelling finale into the oven. As you may have already guessed, I opted for my all time favorite homemade good: a hearty banana bread loaf. This recipe only calls for body and brain nourishing ingredients, but if you decide to swap out the maple syrup for honey or rice syrup, or use a chicken egg rather than a chia egg, that won’t negatively affect the final product. Also, I decided to give my new cocoa powder a try and ended up loading up this banana loaf with a thick layer of chocolate, so if that’s not for you, half or third the chocolate sauce ingredients and swirl it into the batter for a pretty marble effect, or simply omit it. And now for the goodies~~

While the dark chocolate topping paired well with the sweeter banana bread, it fell a little short in the looks department. From another, more imaginative perspective (i.e. the other voice in my head), it does kinda resemble volcanic rock, which is pretty cool and not something you see everyday on your cake plate. On the other hand, it is a little not-so-pretty. Ah well, I’ve come away from this baking experience with a knew item to add to my ‘To Master’ list: chocolate sauce/drizzle. I’m guessing I ought to be more specific than that, as chocolate sauce that’s swirled into a bread should be different from the chocolate sauce that’s drizzled over profiteroles or a freshly iced cake, no? Perhaps there is no difference, if one is after the most basic, stripped to the essentials, dark cocoa drizzle, as I usually am. I suppose I should do some research.


Ingredients~
Makes one small loaf or 9-10 half inch thick pieces

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour
1/2 cup traditional rolled oats
1 1/2 medium bananas, very spotty and ripe
1 chia egg (1 tbsp chia seeds mixed with 2 tbsps water)
3 tbsps maple syrup
1/2 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/3 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp baking soda
Scant 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Chocolate sauce:
2 tbsps cocoa powder
1 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsps soy/nut milk

Instructions~

Preheat oven to 176 C/350 F
1. If making the chocolate sauce, simply combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until the clumps of cocoa powder dissolve and the consistency is smooth. Set aside to cool.
2. Next, mash the bananas in a large bowl until creamy and only tiny chunks of banana remain. Add the coconut oil, maple syrup, lemon juice, chia egg, and milk, stirring until well combined.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and salt. Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients, whisking until a slightly lumpy batter forms. Stir in chopped nuts, dried fruit, or, better yet, dark chocolate covered fruit (I opted for cranberries!)
4. Line a bread tin with parchment paper and pour in the batter, smoothing out the top to make an even loaf. Dollop the chocolate sauce on top and use a chopstick or knife to spread it out or swirl it into the batter (if you want a marble design start by adding one spoonful of chocolate; adding all of it will result in a thick layer like mine). Bake for 40-50 minutes, covering the top with aluminum foil about 1/3 of the way through to ensure the chocolate doesn’t burn (depending on how thick your layer is). Enjoy with a generous spread of plant based butter or nut butter!!

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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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