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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Big ol’ Loaf of Wholemeal Challah

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

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

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

Too long of a rising period?

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

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

One big beautiful ball of dough.

Ingredients~
Makes one large loaf

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

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Whole Wheat Pretzels (Savory & Cinnamon Sugar Varieties)

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients~
Yields 4-5 pretzels

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

Instructions~

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Peach & Pear Breakfast Cake

What is cake good for?

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

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

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


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

Ingredients~

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

Instructions~

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

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Rich and Healthy Chocolate Pear Cake

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

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

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

 

Ingredients~

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

Instructions~

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

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Golden Cinnamon Raisin and Blueberry Bagels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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