blueberry bran muffins

January 6, 2011 § 7 Comments

After a full month of copious overeating, I’ve finally recovered enough to make it back into the kitchen. I never thought I would be tired of eating chocolate, but apparently that day has come. I arrived back home from holiday travels to an empty cupboard and went on a rampant grocery store trip, returning triumphantly with piles of brightly coloured vegetables and an assortment of whole grains. Which I bought in bulk. I feel very virtuous.

So my first steps back into baking were gentle: I made bran muffins. How unlike me! And they were delicious – moist, bran-ny, and didn’t leave me in a food coma. The original recipe says that they have no sugar, but since they have both honey and molasses in them I’m not quite prepared to make that claim. As baked goods go though, these are probably the healthiest things I’ve made (although that’s not a particularly high bar), and perfect for a winter breakfast.

I made my muffins fairly small so I ended up with leftover batter. Being way too impatient to wait for the first batch to bake, I dumped it in a loaf pan and made blueberry bran squares. These are not very sturdy, but just as tasty. I also made a few muffins without blueberries, so that I could compare the outcome – I’m such a scientist! My conclusion was that both were great, and this recipe is worth making. I know the bran ingredients might seem a bit obscure, but once you find them they’re incredibly cheap. I paid 54 cents! It’s a good way to start the new year. Especially if you eat two.

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Blueberry Bran Muffins – Adapted from Farmgirl Fare
I strongly recommend weighing your dry ingredients for this, because the brans can pack dramatically different amounts into cups, and my volumes didn’t match up very closely with the recipe.

Yield: 12 gigantic muffins, or 12 small ones and 8 bars.

    2 cups (3oz / 86g) wheat bran
    1 cup (5oz / 141g) oat bran
    1 cup (6oz / 170g) whole wheat flour
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    2 large eggs
    2/3 cup (5oz / 156g) milk
    2/3 cup (5½ oz / 156g) yogurt
    1/3 cup (2¼ oz / 65g) canola oil
    1/3 cup (3¾ oz / 108g) sweet molasses or cane syrup
    1/3 cup (3¾ oz / 108g) honey
    1 teaspoon (6g) vanilla extract (optional, I didn’t use this)
    1 1/2 cups blueberries (or substitute cranberries, or 1 cup raisins, or leave them out entirely)

Preheat oven to 375°. Grease a muffin tin or line with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine wheat bran, oat bran, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a medium bowl, combine eggs, milk, yogurt, canola oil, molasses, and honey (and optional vanilla) and mix well.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula just until combined. Fold in blueberries with as few strokes as possible.

Generously fill muffin cups with batter. I had a lot of batter left over, so rather than make giant muffins I put it in a greased loaf pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15 to 20 minutes for small muffins and thin loaf, or 20 to 25 minutes for large muffins. Cool muffins in pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then carefully remove from pan and serve warm, or let cool on a wire rack. Possible eating options: butter, honey, and peanut butter are all delicious. These are also reported to freeze well, though I haven’t tried it.

supernatural brownies

November 7, 2010 § 23 Comments

It seems like every baker has that one perfect recipe for chocolate chip cookies, that they’re so confident in that they need never try another. I’m not generally capable of doing that, since I have a neurotic need to test a bazillion recipes – what if the next one is better? The world could end without me tasting the best possible cookie! When it comes to brownies, however, I have my winner. I guess that someone as serious about chocolate as I am would have to have identified its most perfect vehicle.

This recipe hits all my brownie requirements: dense and fudgy, but not because the batter is underbaked and gooey. They’re intensely chocolatey, so although I don’t actually expect other people to throw away money on fancy chocolate, it should be at least decent quality. The recipe also insists that you let them sit overnight before cutting into them. This is indeed tasty, but honestly who has the willpower? I promise they’re still incredible the day you bake them and absolve you of any guilt over premature brownie-eating.

So here are my favourite brownies: not compared against all other possible recipes, because once I found them, I made them exactly again and again. I’m not saying I’ll never try another recipe, but I haven’t yet.

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Supernatural Brownies – adapted from Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers

    2 sticks (16 tablespoons) butter, plus more for buttering pan
    8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use around 65-70%)
    4 eggs
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 cup dark brown sugar, such as muscovado
    1 cup granulated sugar
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1 cup flour

Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan and line with buttered parchment paper or foil. Preheat oven to 350°F.

Gently melt butter and chocolate together in microwave, or on top of double boiler. Cool slightly. In a large bowl or mixer, whisk eggs. Whisk in salt, sugars and vanilla.

Whisk in melted chocolate mixture. Fold in flour just until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until shiny and beginning to crack on top. Cool in pan on rack. If you can stand the wait, cover the cooled brownies tightly with foil and store at room temperature overnight before cutting.

quick cranberry cake

November 1, 2010 § 37 Comments

I went on a bit of a baking bender last weekend. Possibly making up for a dry spell, I churned out cookies, brownies, bread, and a cranberry cake. It all sounds very impressive until I admit that I haven’t actually cooked dinner in almost two weeks. It’s surprising how far sandwiches and eating out will take you, but at this point I’m pretty much relying on the cranberry cake to count as my ‘fruits and vegetables’ serving. Cranberries are practically a vegetable, right?

If you’re too busy to cook though, this cake is both quick and totally more worth the effort than real food (although I do recommend occasionally eating vegetables). I made it because I saw cranberries at the store for the first time this year and fell over myself in excitement to get them, narrowly avoiding taking out the nearby shoppers in my haste.

I love baked goods with cranberries, and this cake is a perfect example of why: it’s moist and dense and sweet, but the tartness of the cranberries in every bite balances it all out. It’s also seriously easy: one bowl, 10 minutes of mixing, then pop it in the oven. Out comes a cake that, despite its simplicity, and the fact that there are several other desserts sharing its spotlight, disappears surprisingly quickly.

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Cranberry Cake – adapted from Vanilla Garlic

    3 eggs
    2 cups sugar
    3/4 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks
    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
    1 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons whole milk
    2 cups flour
    2 1/2 cups cranberries (12 ounce bag)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×13 pan or a 10-inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar for 5-7 minutes, until eggs have increased in volume and stream into ribbons when you lift the beaters. Add butter and vanilla and beat until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Beat in milk and salt.

Stir in flour, then fold in cranberries. Scrape batter into prepared pan.

Bake for approximately an hour, until a tester comes out clean (but there might be cranberry juices on it). Cool on a wire rack. If using springform, run a knife around the cake and then unmold.

oatmeal maple scones

October 16, 2010 § 5 Comments

I like to get my work done in coffeeshops. I find the quiet buzz very soothing – maybe it’s comforting to know that even though I’m glued to my laptop, other people are chatting and sipping coffee and leading happy, civilized lives. The consequence, though, is that I’ve now tried most of the baked goods on offer in my neighbourhood. Some are fine, some are great, but when I tried the homemade oreos at Flour I immediately went online and bought their new cookbook. I wanted to replicate them exactly and then eat a bazillion.

Well, yesterday the cookbook finally arrived, and distractible as I am I never actually made it to the cookies. I stopped at the very first recipe: maple oatmeal scones. They sounded perfect for fall and they definitely are: buttery and nutty and not too sweet. They’re very different from my other favourite scones: more texture from the oats, and with lovely crunchy bits from the nuts and craggy tops. By the time my roommates all woke up, they’d filled the house with the smell of maple, and I felt very productive for having baked before anyone else was up. It was made slightly easier by the fact that that was around 2 pm, but it still counts.

So here is the ideal October breakfast: they have all the right flavours, and having the oven on helps counter the new chill in the air – I’ll probably start baking every day just in an attempt to keep my toes warm. Tomorrow I’ll try to make it to the homemade oreos, but I can’t guarantee that I won’t get distracted by the second recipe, or the third… maybe in a few months?

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Oatmeal Maple Scones – adapted from Flour

The original instructions are for a stand mixer, and although I covet one I only have a handheld and adapted the instructions accordingly. If you do have one, you can use it for all the steps rather than only switching to it in the last part.

    1 1/4 cups (210 g) flour
    1 1/2 cups (125 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup (50 g) pecans, toasted and chopped
    1/2 cup (80 g) golden raisins
    1 stick cold butter, cut into 10 pieces
    1/3 cup cold heavy cream
    1/2 cup maple syrup
    1 cold egg

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pecans, and raisins. Scatter the butter pieces on top. Cut in butter with two knives until it’s somewhat broken down and grape-size pieces are still visible.

In a small bowl, whisk together cream, maple syrup, and egg. Add to flour mixture, and use hand mixer on low speed until dough just comes together, about 20 seconds.

Using a 1/3 cup measure, drop mounded scoops of the dough onto a baking sheet, forming 8 scones and leaving a couple of inches between each. Bake until scones are golden brown on top, 30-40 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool.

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Maple glaze
I found this to be incredibly sweet so just used a drizzle: next time I’d make a half or even third recipe. If you don’t like things to be too sweet, I’d recommend you go easy on the glaze.

    1 cup icing sugar
    3 tablespoons maple syrup
    1 to 2 tablespoons water

While scones are cooling, whisk together sugar, maple syrup, and enough water to make a pourable glaze. When scones have cooled 30 minutes, brush or drizzle glaze over.

korova cookies

September 27, 2010 § 10 Comments

I think these cookies may have been one of the early reasons I started baking. I didn’t start because I loved the process of cooking – I had barely been in our kitchen and was pretty oblivious to what goes into making food. I did, however, love eating. And these cookies were startlingly good: dark chocolate and fleur de sel, leading to a long-lasting love affair with salty-sweet desserts (see how seriously I take food?). My stepfather gave me the recipe and, it being near Christmas, a few weeks later I dug through my Christmas stocking to find a jar of fleur de sel. I was thrilled. I guess I was a weird kid.

Anyhow, I thought this was my secret ultra-amazing cookie recipe until I discovered food blogs and realized that pretty much everyone has made these cookies. But if you haven’t yet, now’s your chance! They’re a bit crumbly but somehow still so buttery that they melt in your mouth, and have a strong dark chocolate flavour with just a hint of salt. I would hate to have to choose a favourite, but these might be it, and given the quantities of cookies I have eaten that’s pretty high praise.

A little part of me wants to hate this recipe, because the dough is insufferably difficult to work with and the unbaked cookies fall apart all over the place. But the instructions are full of encouraging remarks about how one shouldn’t worry over these things, and more importantly, the cookies are so very worth it. You just stick the crumbled bits back on, and everything comes together in the end. Could this be a metaphor for life? Um, probably somehow, I am not feeling particularly poetic today but I’m just going to go with it.

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Korova Cookies – from Paris Sweets

Yield: Supposedly 36 cookies, but I somehow only ever get 24…

    1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
    1/3 cup (30 grams) Dutch-Process cocoa (such as Van Houten or Valrhona)
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1 stick plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 stick equals ¼ pound of
    butter, or 113 grams)
    2/3 cup (120 grams) packed light brown sugar (dark is okay if that’s what you have)
    1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
    1/2 teaspoon Fleur de Sel salt or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    5 ounces (150 grams) good-quality bittersweet chocolate (65%-70%), chopped into small bits (I use Lindt 70% )

Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together. Stir to combine and set aside.

Beat butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add brown sugar, white sugar, fleur de sel (or salt), and vanilla. Beat for another 2-3 minutes, until fluffy and light.

With a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula, mix in the dry ingredients until just combined. The dough will look crumbly, and for the best texture you should work it as little as possible. Add the chocolate pieces and mix only until incorporated.

Turn out the dough onto a smooth work surface and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, press the dough together and roll into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Lots of little bits will fall off, just press them back on and roll it all together. Try to make sure to press firmly or flatten the log in order to make sure there aren’t any air channels left. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour. (Wrapped airtight, the logs can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month.)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Working with a sharp thin-bladed knife, slice rounds that are 1/2-inch thick. Some of them will break, but don’t worry, they will still be delicious! Just stick the broken bits back on. Place the cookies on the prepared sheets leaving about 1 inch of space between each cookie.

Bake only one sheet of cookies at a time and bake each sheet for only 12 minutes. The cookies will not look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Let the cookies cool on the sheet until they’re only just warm, then transfer to a wire rack. The cookies will keep at room temperature, packed airtight, for up to 3 days.