waking and baking.

(with sheepish thanks to my friend Eden, from whose delightful blog post I ripped off this title)

We all have our morning rituals, the idiosyncratic routines without which we spend the rest of the day feeling slightly off.

Personally, although I have learned to live largely without caffeine these last couple of years, and my drinking alcohol in the morning is limited to the occasional mimosa, I find it very, very difficult to begin my day without some kind of baking, preferably still slightly warm from the oven.

During the recent heat wave in our city, it took me several days of being out of sorts and saying ferocious things to anyone I met who dared utter the words, “we have air conditioning, but we prefer not to use it unless we really need it,” before I realized that a large part of my attitude problem had to do with eating a cold breakfast every morning.

Necessity being the mother of invention (and greed being an incredibly powerful motivator), I decided to try to come up with a warm weather-friendly strategy: rather than giving up the waking and baking altogether, the trick was to make up a recipe so easy and fast that the kitchen barely had time to heat up before I was pulling some yummy thing out of the oven.

With the help of my willing family and what must be the hardest-working ceiling fan in the GTA, I came up with these muffins.

And I have to tell you that, even though the temperature is more moderate now than it was last week, I still can’t get enough of them.

Muffins for Hot Mornings

3 very ripe bananas
1/2c oil (I use coconut oil because I’m obsessed with it these days, but go ahead and use whatever you’ve got)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2c thawed apple juice concentrate
1 2/3c whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
3/4c chocolate chips

In a food processor, combine bananas, oil, eggs, vanilla and apple juice concentrate and process until smooth.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and espresso powder.
Add flour mixture to food processor and process until all ingredients are combined.
Scrape batter into a large mixing bowl and fold in chocolate chips.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
While oven is preheating, line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, and bake 17 – 18 minutes.
Remove from heat (and turn oven off immediately!) and cool 10 minutes or so in pan before transferring to a wire rack.
Serve immediately, or allow a little time to cool.
Makes a dozen.


crumbs.

These are not the photos I had intended for this post.


I had actually been hoping for something more like this, but without the glare – because in real life, this cake is a splendid looking creation:

Still, March so far has been such a month of highs and lows, cheers one moment and tears the next, that it seemed more reasonable to let everyone get their hands into the photo (and into the cake) than not.

I made it twice this week – yes, it’s that good! And it’s that easy! – and would have gone for a third, even if just for the photo op, but the rest of my life has been encroaching on my time in the kitchen lately.

I should have reason to make one more celebratory cake in the very near future, though, and when I do, this will be the one.

Easy Does It Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson

The ingredients in the original recipe for this are measured by weight, which I recognize is not easy for everyone, so I’ve included approximate traditional measurements as well for everything but the icing sugar, which I find easier to eyeball anyway. In an ideal world, all of the ingredients would be at room temperature before you started, but please don’t let that be the deal-breaker.

The Cake:
200g (1 1/2c) all purpose flour
200g (1c plus 2 tbsp) sugar
40g (1/2c) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
175g (3/4c) unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2/3c sour cream

The Icing:
75g (1/4c plus1-2 tbsp) unsalted butter
175g (6 oz.) best-quality dark chocolate
300g icing sugar
1 tbsp liquid honey
1/2c sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans and line their bottoms with parchment.

Place all of the cake ingredients in the food processor (seriously!) and process until a smooth, thick batter is formed. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake in the middle of the oven about 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool cakes 10 minutes in their pans and then invert onto a rack to cook completely.

When cakes have cooled, make the icing:

Combine butter and chocolate in a large bowl and set over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
Place the icing sugar (I usually eyeball, just over half of a 500g bag to start with the intention of adding more if needed) in the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to get rid of any lumps.
Add honey, sour cream, and vanilla to cooled chocolate mixture and beat with a spatula until smooth.
With processor running, add chocolate mixture to icing sugar. Icing should be glossy and spreadable, but thick enough that it will not drip off the cake. If you find you need more icing sugar, add it by tablespoonsful until desired consistency is reached.

Place one cooled cake on a cake plate, up (rounded) side down. Spread about a third of the icing onto the bottom cake, then top with second cake, this one right side up. Spread remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake.

Decorate however you see fit, or not at all.


hello, babycakes!


My family recently decided to dip a toe into the icy waters of gluten-free eating.

I know you don’t know me that well yet, but you may have already guessed at my level of enthusiasm for such an endeavor – I mean really, I’ve only just begun to welcome dairy back into my daily life, and now we’re giving up wheat? Need I remind you that wheat, not unlike butter, factors prominently in practically everything that is delicious in my diet?

Thankfully I am not the beer drinker in my family, so all is not lost.

Still, I do adore baking (as a noun as well as a verb) and I have not had very many experiences with gluten-free baked goods that I would describe as palatable, let alone tasty.

At least I hadn’t before yesterday.

The above is a photo of my first ever attempt at gluten-free baking, and it was nothing short of spectacular. Honestly. Not heavy and crumbly, not dry, not a tiny little sorry excuse for a loaf, but a lovely, treaty, moist, tasty banana bread. I am paying the highest possible compliment when I say that it didn’t taste healthy at all.

The recipe came from the BabyCakes cookbook. The book’s author, Erin McKenna, is a little militant in her insistence that you follow her directions to the letter, which was a bit of a challenge for me as I have a pathological need to fiddle with recipes. So I did fiddle with this one, but barely at all.

And I’m lucky I got that photo when I did, because minutes later the plate was empty.

I wouldn’t call our foray into the world of the gluten-free a full-on conversion just yet, but if we ever do turn our backs on wheat entirely, baking like this will definitely ease the withdrawl pangs.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
adapted from BabyCakes

Where we live, it is cool enough that my coconut oil was solid in its container, so I warmed it in a saucepan set over low heat before using. Also, Erin McKenna insists that ALL ingredients must be measured using dry ingredient measuring cups (not the glass ones with the spouts), so that’s what I did.

2 c Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt (optional – I didn’t use any)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 c coconut oil, plus more for the pan
2/3 c agave nectar
2/3 c milk (Babycakes calls for rice milk, but I used regular old skim milk, because that’s what I had)
1 tsp vanilla
3 mashed organic bananas (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Using coconut oil, lightly grease a loaf pan – mine is an old Pyrex one, measuring 8.5″ X 5.5″ X 2.5″.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, xantham gum, salt (if using) and cinnamon.

In a large glass measuring cup or jug, whisk together coconut oil, agave nectar, milk, and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and stir until batter is smooth. Gently fold in bananas and chocolate chips until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in the centre of the oven for 55-60 minutes, turning pan 180 degrees halfway through cooking time. If the top of the loaf begins to darken before the middle is cooked (as happened to me), cover loosely with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.

Bread is cooked when a tester inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean.

Cool 20 minutes in pan, then run a knife around the edge of the bread and gently invert onto a cutting board. Lift the pan away, and then re-invert the bread onto another board. Cool completely before storing, or cut and serve warm.


balance.


I’m all about attempting balance in my life these days. If that statement has the whiff of the broad-swath, take-no-prisoners, tomorrow-I-start-a-new-life New Year’s resolution about it, you’ve caught me out: January 1st, 2010, four and a half months after the birth of my second child, slightly nauseous from the lack of sleep and the things I was constantly putting in my mouth to compensate, I decided it might be time to take things in hand a little, or at least attempt it.

Order from chaos might be asking a bit much of my life these days, but a little balance? That seemed like a pretty reasonable goal for the new decade.

Six weeks in I’m nowhere close to achieving it, of course, but I’m taking refuge in the little things: I balance the fact that I am only drinking wine on the weekends with eating chocolate nearly every day. In deference to the fact that I’m breastfeeding, I’ve managed to resign myself to drinking decaf coffee and avoiding all things dairy – and that includes butter, yowch! – but I can handle that, because there is always goat cheese.

And if all else fails, I have engaged a running coach, ostensibly to help me shed some post-baby flab, but mostly because I feel that any amount of overindulgence can in theory be balanced out by lots and lots of cardio.

Recently, my friend Alysa came by on a Tuesday night, and we shared a bottle of wine after all of our kids went to bed. Alysa is the kind of person who really knows how to make things happen, whereas I tend to fantasize about things happening while flipping through cookbooks.

Alysa cooks food that her husband sometimes calls “too healthy to be tasty;” I cook food that causes my husband to murmur wonderingly that we’ve managed to exceed our daily recommended fat intake in a single serving.

About two thirds of the way through our bottle, we both confessed to a secret desire to start a blog.

Our divergent approaches notwithstanding, both of us love food and believe that there is no better place for friends and family to gather than in the kitchen, or around the table; and so, by the time we had finished our wine, Alysa and I had decided we’d start a blog together.

As in elsewhere in our lives, despite our differences, the hope is that some kind of balance will prevail – and if not, a little chaos in the kitchen never hurt anyone, did it?

Welcome!

Chocolate Cookies for Balance
My daughter and I made these together the other day to calm a craving – so yes, they’ve got chocolate in them, but also whole wheat flour (healthy!), brown sugar (unrefined!) and dried cranberries (antioxidant!) so fit the balance requirement nicely – or at least that what I’m telling myself…

1 stick (1/2 c) soft unsalted butter
1 c lightly packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 c + 2 tbsp whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 c chocolate chips
3/4 c dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a couple of baking sheets with parchment.

Cream together butter and sugar (I use my Kitchenaid fitted with the paddle attachment) until fluffy. Beat in vanilla and egg.

Combine flour, cocoa, and baking powder in a separate bowl and stir into butter mixture in three additions until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and cranberries.

Drop batter by tablespoonsful onto prepared pans – I got a dozen cookies per pan.

Bake 12-14 minutes, until cookies are slightly dry around the edges. Cool 5 minutes or so on pan before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 24 cookies, depending on the generosity of your spoonfuls.