cherry chocolate granola


cherry and chocolate granola
Summer is the one time of the year that I get super excited and obsessed with every fresh and colorful ingredient that I can get my hands on. It goes without saying that cherries are never spared, they get devoured in this house and sometimes they don't make it home from the market. 


sweet red cherries

Granola is one of those things, I refuse to waste money on. For one, it is really easy to make and the ingredients are cheap, and secondly, I find the pre-made versions to be a bit too sweet and/or expensive. This granola recipe has a fresh cherry puree that's cooked into the oats with a heaving dosing of chocolate flavors. This granola is just like a black forest cake but with a tasty dose of toasted sliced almonds. There's a whole lotta crunch with every chocolatey bite you take combined with a hint of sweet and tart cherry flavor. Maybe I should have called this the "black forest granola" ?


cherry baked granola

I used a fresh cherry puree to flavor the granola versus actual cherry fruit bits because I wanted the cherry flavors to be absorbed by the oatmeal and coat every bit. I've used ghee here but you can also substitute coconut oil in the same amount. I've made it both ways and it works great, ghee gives it a much more aromatic and nutty flavor.




fresh chocolate cherry granola
cherry chocolate granola

cherry + chocolate granola

yields: about 3 cups

ingredients

2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons ghee (or coconut oil)  + 1 tablespoon to grease the baking pan
1 cup (2 3/4 ounces) raw sliced almonds
1/4 cup (1 1/8 ounces) cacao nibs
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) semi sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt
1 cup pureed sweet red cherries, fresh (simply puree 2 cups of sweet red cherries and use as needed)

1. Place a wire rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 250F. In the mean time, toast the oats in medium saucepan with a thick bottom on a medium-high flame. Cook with constant stirring until the oats begin to brown. This will take about 4-5 minutes.  Reduce the flame  to low and stir in the 3 tablespoons of coconut oil, cook for 1 minute. Remove the saucepan from the stove.
2. Add the almonds, cacao nibs, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, sea salt and cherry puree to the toasted oats. 
3. Pour the oat mixture onto a baking pan that's been lightly greased with the remaining tablespoon of coconut oil. Spread the mixture in a flat layer with a silicone spatula and bake for about 45-50 minutes. Check occasionally during baking to make sure the granola does not burn. Once the granola is cooked, remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container (I store mine in the refrigerator, it stays fresh for a longer time). 

cherry ginger pie with spelt crust

cherry ginger pie with spelt crust

I hope each and everyone of you had a great weekend and those of you celebrating July 4th had a great one as well. We had a lovely weekend that was spent with friends who visited us from D.C., it was really, really nice to see familiar faces. I'm not missing the hustle and bustle of D.C. but I do miss my friends a little. We visited a few vineyards in Sonoma valley which was a fun trip. 

Cherry season is one of my favorite things to look to every summer but sadly it is also one of the shortest. So this week, I'm going to share two easy recipes back to back, that use cherries and I hope you like them. We've been getting tons sweet cherries here at the farmer's markets in California, so of course, yours truly has been partaking in eating copious amounts of these sweet little red bubbles of joy. 

cherry ginger pie filling

The first recipe this week is this delightful cherry pie that has a little kick of ginger in it. When I started out to develop this recipe, I wanted a pie with relatively little added sugar or sweeteners of any kind, this way I wouldn't feel too guilty when I ate the pie and you could taste the tart and sweet flavors of the cherries in the pie. Different people have different salt and sugar taste sensitivities, so what I will recommend that if you like this pie on the sweeter side, taste the pie filling while making it and then add a teaspoon or two of sugar. I love the texture of crystallized bits of ginger in baked goods, so I've bumped up the notch here by adding a little. You can leave the ginger bits out too, the gingers bits are crystallized in sugar so they do sweeten the cherry filling a little. 

pie tin and pie beads

I used my previous spelt crust recipe for this pie. This pie crust is very forgiving if it cracks during assembly, all you need to do is pressed the cracked ends together. Also, if you don't want to use my pie crust recipe you can use your own or your favorite pre-made pie crust. Feel free to style the pie pastry as creatively as you want, just make sure you create enough holes or slits to allow the pie to ventilate. Cherries are very juicy and will release a lot of moisture and steam during baking.

pie pastry

Pies are such a delightful treat to bake, they are rustic and remind me of busy kitchens with wooden stoves on old farms. I think a pie should be as messy as can be, dripping with all the delicious flavors that it holds that entice you. So go ahead enjoy cherry season and make some pie!

cherry ginger pie

cherry ginger pie with spelt crust

yields: one 9 inch pie

ingredients

Click here for the spelt pie crust ingredients

cherry pie filling

2 lbs sweet cherries, ripe
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
1/4 cup crystallized ginger bits (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar (*optional) I didn't add any sugar because these cherries were very sweet
1 teaspoon lime/lemon juice, freshly squeezed 
1/2 teaspoon madagascar bourbon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cornstarch powder
1 tablespoon water

1. Wash and drain the cherries in a colander. Pit the cherries and discard the pits. Place half of the cherries in a thick bottomed saucepan with the ginger, crystallized ginger bits, *sugar (optional) and lime juice. Heat the contents on a medium-high flame and bring to a boil. Reduce the flame to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and stir occasionally. Cook for 5-6 minutes until the cherries have become soft and mushy. Remove the contents of the saucepan and puree in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth. Return the puree back to the saucepan.
2. Add the vanilla and salt to the puree and bring the contents of the saucepan back to a boil on a medium-high flame. Whisk the cornstarch and the water in a small bowl and quickly mix into the puree. Stir until the puree thickens, this should take about a minute. Remove the saucepan from the stove and carefully fold the rest of the cherries into the puree. Cover the saucepan with a lid and allow it to sit for 30 minutes. Keep aside until ready to use. 
Note: This pie filling can be prepared the day ahead and then refrigerated until ready to use.

Assembling & cooking the pastry and pie

1. Perform step1 to prepare the dough. Divide the dough into two equal parts, wrap with cling film and chill until ready to use.
2. Place a wire rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F.  
3. Roll out one disc of dough and line a 9 inch pie pan with it. Pour the cherry pie filling prepared earlier into the prepared pie pan lined with the pastry dough. 
4. Roll out the second disc of pastry and cut out circles using the wider end of icing tip or a circular biscuit cutter (you can even use a small cookie cutter to make the holes extra special such as stars). Place the second sheet of pastry over the prepared pie and press the edges together and seal. Whisk the egg yolk with the water in a small bowl. Brush the surface of the pie with the egg yolk mixture.
5. Bake the pie in the oven for about 25-30 minutes until the crust turns golden brown. Reduce oven temperature to 350F and bake for another 35-40 minutes until the juices begin to bubble and the crust becomes a deep golden brown. Remove the pie from the oven and allow to cool for at least 2 hours on a wire rack before serving. 

sriracha buckwheat molten lava cakes

sriracha buckwheat molten lava cakes

This is probably the craziest yet happiest batch of little things I've baked in a while. My not-so-secret obsession with all things chocolate and Sriracha hit it's peak this week when I decided to travel down the path of mixing them together. Maybe they might get married someday and make a happy couple, one could only hope! 

chocolate and whisk

Until now, I had never baked a lava cake, so I scrounged around for several recipes in my stack of baking cookbooks (that are unpacked yet literally piled against the wall of the living room like the entrance to a some ancient monument.....I'll eventually deal with this soon, hopefully), unfortunately I didn't have a recipe in any of my books (could also be an excuse to get more cookbooks)! I went online and found one that looked pretty easy to prepare and decided to take the plunge down the hole that looked dark and messy yet held a promise of sweet peppery goodness.  

lava cake prep

Buckwheat is by far one of my favorite whole grain flours to work with because it has such a lovely color and flavor. Indian cooking uses a lot of whole grain flours but buckwheat is a flour that I came across after I moved to the US and I love, love it! I've adapted the original lava cake recipe from one of my trusted cooking magazines, 

Saveur

 and substituted the flour with buckwheat among a few other ingredients. 

sriracha buckwheat molten lava cake
sriracha molten lava cakes

Here are a few notes that I made during baking and I wanted to share with you; 

  • I had no heavy cream at home but I did have full fat coconut milk and that worked just fine in preparing the truffles.You can make the truffles ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator, just stick them into the cake batter they day you are ready to bake the cakes. 
  • The cakes will rise during baking and you should remove them while they are still hot after the initial 2 minute cooling process. I removed them from the ramekins even though we didn't eat all of them the same day. The cakes might sink slightly once they are too cool which is why I really like serving them as soon as they are baked straight out of the oven.
  • To store, I ended up wrapping the rest of the cakes (after removing them from the ramekins) with cling film and freezing them for long term storage in an an airtight ziploc bag. Before eating the cakes, instead of thawing, I unwrapped the cling film and microwaved them covered with a microwave-safe lid. It worked great and now I have Sriracha lava cakes on demand. 

Also, if you don't like Sriracha you can leave it out from the cakes and make yourself a whole grain buckwheat lava cake. 

buckwheat sriracha molten lava cakes

sriracha buckwheat molten lava cakes

(

adapted from Saveur

)

yields:

6 cakes

ingredients

2 oz semisweet chocolate chips

3 tablespoons full fat coconut milk or heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon sriracha sauce 

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped + additional butter for greasing

1 1/4 ounces buckwheat flour + additional for dusting

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate

1/2 cup (2 ounces) raw brown sugar

1 teaspoon madgascar bourbon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt

3 large eggs

confectioners sugar for dusting (optional, I did not do this)

1. Heat the coconut milk (or heavy cream) in a medium sized saucepan over medium high heat until it just begins to simmer. Remove from the stove and pour it into a heat proof bowl containing the chocolate chips. Whisk until the chocolate melts into a smooth paste. If the chocolate doesn't melt completely, microwave carefully for 10 seconds, just be careful not to burn the chocolate.  Once the chocolate forms a smooth silky sauce, whisk in the sriracha. Over the bowl with cling film and allow it to chill completely for at least 30 minutes. 

2. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator once the chocolate is chilled. Divide into 6 equal parts and mold into small truffles/balls. Place each truffle onto a sheet of parchment paper and refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Place a wire rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450F. Take 6, six ounce ramekin bowls and grease them with butter and then dust them generously with flour. Place the bowls on a baking sheet/tray and refrigerate until ready to use.

4. Melt the butter and chocolate in a medium sized saucepan, stir until combined. The mixture will resemble a smooth silky sauce. Remove from stove, once completely combined and then cool for about 10 minutes. While the chocolate is cooling, whisk the sugar, vanilla, salt and eggs in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until the batter turns pale yellow and fluffy. This will take about 4-5 minutes. Finally, beat in the melted chocolate mixture followed by the flour. Divide half of the batter between the ramekin bowls, then place a truffle in each bowl and cover each bowl with the rest of the remainder batter. Even out the surfaces of each bowl with an offset spatula and bake them for 15 minutes until the cakes are just set (they will rise a little). Remove from oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes.

5. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekin bowl and immediately invert onto an individual serving plate. Tap gently to release the cake. Dust with confectioner's sugar. Repeat with the rest of the cakes. Serve immediately.

dark chocolate chip hazelnut cookies

hazelnut dark chocolate chip cookies

I have a not-so-secret love for the delicious fragrance of hazelnuts. My obsession with hazelnuts starts early in the morning when I need to have a cup of freshly ground hazelnut scented coffee beans brewing away, otherwise my coffee just doesn't taste or smell as good. I once tried searching for hazelnut wood furniture in the hope that purchasing such furniture would make my house smell perfect, needless to say that didn't work out. So clearly, why wouldn't I make a hazelnut cookie to go with my hazelnut flavored coffee, it just made perfect sense (in my world).

dry ingredients

Everything about these cookies says dark, dark, dark! I used a very dark cocoa (if you want to go lighter in color then use the same amount of a regular unsweetened cocoa) with dark chocolate chips and a hint of browned butter all come together with the hazelnut flour to form a delicious crispy cookie. These cookies are also gluten-free so those of you with related allergies will enjoy them. I added a little hint of browned butter to bring out the nutty flavors of the hazelnuts, it gives them that extra little edge of flavor. 

cookie prep

Baking with nut flours is very different from using recipes that use grain flours as nuts are rich in fats, so you need to adjust the amounts of fats depending on the type of cookie you want. Since, I wanted a crispy cookie, I refrigerated the dough overnight. Here's another tip, when it comes to storing nut flours and keep it fresh, keep them in an airtight bag refrigerated or frozen, bring it to room temperature before use so it won't be clumpy. 

The wonderful folks at

Bob's Red Mill

were extremely kind to send me some of their hazelnut meal to use in this recipe and they are also sponsoring a giveaway. I'm a huge fan of their products and use a lot of their grain and nut flours in my baking, their quality is fantastic and this hazelnut flour is no exception to their product line. You can smell the delicious fragrance of hazelnuts as soon as you open the bag, needless to say,  I fell in love with it immediately! Now you can try it out too, 

Bob's Red Mill

is giving away a bag of their delicious Hazelnut Meal and a $20 gift card to their store. To enter the contest, all you need to do is follow the instructions on the widget at the end of this post. This contest will run from March 5th through March 12, 2014. Good luck! 

Disclaimer:

I did not receive any financial compensation from Bob's Red Mill for this post and all opinions are my own unless stated otherwise.

dark chocolate chip hazelnut cookies

dark chocolate chip hazelnut cookies

yields:

12 cookies

ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups (4 3/4 ounces) hazelnut meal(Bob's Red Mill), at room temperature

1 cup (7 5/8 ounces) brown sugar 

1/4 cup (3 ounces) unsweetened dark cocoa (I used the extra dark cocoa from Hershey's)

1/2 teaspoon dark roast instant coffee (optional)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon madagascar vanilla bourbon extract

1/2 cup (3 ounces) semisweet dark chocolate chips

1. Place the unsalted butter in a small saucepan and heat on a medium-high flame for about 2-3 minutes or until the milk solids begin to turn reddish brown. Remove from stove and keep aside.

2. Whisk the hazelnut flour, sugar, cocoa, coffee, baking soda, baking powder and sea salt together in a large mixing bowl and keep aside.

3. In a small bowl, whisk the egg, vanilla extract and browned butter. Make a well in the center of the  dry ingredients in the large mixing bowl and stir the whisked liquid into the whisked dry ingredients with a silicone spatula. Bring the ingredients together to form a ball of dough, wrap with cling film and refrigerate overnight. 

4. Preheat the oven to 350F and place a wire rack in the center of the oven.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts and roll each of them into balls. Flatten each ball with the palms of your hands into approximately 2 inch discs. Space 6 cookies on each sheet about 1-2 inches apart from each other. Place the baking sheets in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. Bake one sheet at a time in the oven for about 8-10 minutes until the edges of the cookies start to get crisp, the center will be slightly soft to touch. Rotate the cookie sheet halfway through baking. Do not over bake the cookies as the chocolate will burn. Repeat with second sheet of cookies. Allow the baked cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve the cookies warm. 

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homemade orange extract

homemade orange extract

I can never find natural extracts (except for vanilla) in my area of the world, so one fine day I finally gave up and went all geeky to make my own! It's also way cheap and also a great way to use up orange peels that might otherwise get tossed out. So there I was opening up my old box of school stuff, rummaging through my old food biochemistry notes from grad school and boy was I hit with a moment of nostalgia! I remembered the times when we learned how to extract pectin from apples and oranges, corn starch from corn, essential oils from plants by distillation. Those were some fun times, especially for me since I love food and the science behind cooking.

homemade orange extract for baking

This is my simplified version of preparing an orange extract for flavoring purposes. I recommend using a good quality unflavored 40% vodka while preparing this, there are two reasons for this, you need both water and alcohol to extract the flavors in the peels but using water also helps to extract aromatic compounds from the orange that will remain behind in the baked goods. If you use pure 100% alcohol, most of the stuff extracted will evaporate during the high heat temperatures. 

homemade orange extract prep

I prefer doing a warm extraction of the peels, I find the flavors to be much more complex and stronger. To be safe, I recommend warming the vodka in a water bath that is not on a stove or near any fire source. As soon as the warmed vodka hits the peels the extraction process will begin. I leave the peels in the jar for a prettier effect and store the extract in the refrigerator. Also, the fresher the oranges the better the flavors extracted so I prefer to extract my oranges the day I buy them. You could also divide the extract into tinier vials for storage and or as gifts.

Amber colored glass bottles are the best way to store most extracts, if you can't find them just cover your regular glass bottle/vial with aluminum foil to reduce the exposure to light. Light tends to breakdown the compounds in the extract, so limited exposure to light increases the quality and shelf life.
homemade orange extract baking

homemade orange extract

yields: approximately 150 ml

ingredients

2 large navel oranges or 3 ounces fresh orange peel
a bowl or saucepan halfway filled with boiling water
150ml 40% unflavored organic vodka (you might need a little more depending on the shape and size of your jar) + a little extra vodka to rinse the canning jar

1. Sterilize a clean 7.5 fluid ounces (~200ml) canning jar and lid with boiling water. Remove and keep covered with a clean cloth or paper towel until ready to fill the jar.
2. Place the 150ml vodka in heatproof jar and seal the lid with cling film. Then place the jar in the bowl containing the boiling water. Allow the vodka to warm for about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. 
2. Rinse the oranges under cold running water. Gently, pat them dry with a clean paper towel. Peel the oranges and using a sharp knife julienne the peels into thin 2 inch sections.
3. Rinse the canning jar with the little extra vodka and discard the liquid. Stuff the jar with the cut orange peels. Fill the jar with prewarmed 150ml vodka or until the peels are completely covered with the vodka.
4. Seal the jar with the lid and tighten. Shake the contents of the jar vigorously for a few seconds. Place the jar in the refrigerator for 1 week and shake once every day. The extract is ready to use after one week. You can store the extract in the same jar or divide and transfer the liquid into smaller airtight jars or vials. The extract can be stored in the refrigerator or in a cool dark place.

mini mulled wine apple spelt pies

mini spelt pies with mulled wine

Christmas involves a lot of baking at our home and I find myself trying out old and new techniques each year and developing new flavors that will make my holiday menu extra special. This year however, I am not hosting a dinner since we are traveling and the cooking requirements are significantly reduced. A week from now, we will be celebrating the holidays in California, it's a welcome change that we both need and a nice break from the cold and gloomy days here in D.C.  Plus, I get to meet up with my family and friends and eating a whole lot of food on this trip!

apples

However, what would Christmas be without baking a few holiday desserts and cookies! Apple pies are something I make every holiday season but this year, I've been working on a special type of crust, one that is wholegrain yet flaky and delicious but without the shortening. You will love this spelt crust, it is easy to prepare and work with and when it comes out of the oven you will want to grab a hot pie straight off the baking sheet. There's something comforting in eating a soft flaky pie crust, especially in cold weather. 
I've used coconut oil as a substitute for the shortening which works wonderfully in the dough. I used one of the tricks from Cook's Illustrated America's Test Kitchen to inhibit gluten formation in the dough by using a splash of vodka. 

ready to bake spelt apple pies

This apple pie filling represents some of my favorite holiday flavors that are absolutely wonderful! It has a mix of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples that are cooked with red wine and sweet ginger bits. And best of all you can add whatever mix of mulling spices that you love to flavor the wine. You probably won't end up using all the liquid to fill the pies so do what I did, save it as a sauce to pour over your breakfast pancakes or serve it as a sauce with some fresh fruit like pears for desserts! 

mulled wine apple pies with spelt

mini mulled wine apple spelt pies

mulled wine apple pie filling  

yields: about 2 - 21/2 cups 

ingredients

1 1/2 cups red wine (I used a Burgundy)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark honey
2 tablespoons mulling spice mix (of your choice)
1 lb yellow delicious apples, peeled and diced
1 lb granny smith apples, peeled and diced
1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) crystallized ginger bits

1. Pour the wine into a thick bottomed saucepan. Place the mulling spices into a muslin cloth bag or a piece of cheese cloth and tie it at the open end with a piece of kitchen string. Add the bag to the wine and bring the wine to a boil on a medium high flame, reduce to a gentle simmer and allow the wine to cook for 20 minutes or until it has reduced to 1/2 of its original volume.
2. Add the sugar, honey, apples, and ginger bits to the wine. Cook for another 30 minutes on a medium low flame until the apples are tender. The apples will release their liquid. Remove the muslin bag with the spices and discard. 
3. Remove the mulled wine apple pie filling and allow it to cool to room temperature before using it to fill the pies.

spelt pie pastry crust

yields: 8 X 4" pies

ingredients

1 1/4 cups (6 ounces) spelt flour
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) all purpose flour + a little extra flour to roll out the pastry
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chopped and chilled
8 tablespoons coconut oil, chilled and cut into bits
1/4 cup vodka, chilled
3 tablespoons water, chilled
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons water

1. Pulse the flours, sugar and salt in a food processor for a few seconds to mix the dry ingredients. Randomly distribute the chopped butter and coconut oil over the dry ingredients. Pulse the ingredients twice for 30 seconds to mix the fat. Continue to pulse the ingredients and slowly drizzle the vodka and water into the food processor. Continue to pulse until the ingredients come together to form the pie dough. Remove the dough from the food processor, roll it out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 4 flat discs. Cover each with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour before use.
2. Remove and unwrap one disc. Place the disc on a lightly floured surface and using a rolling pin flatten the disc out to a rough 12 inch circle. Cut 4 inch circles and place the circles on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough. Any extra bits of unused dough can be combined, chilled and reused. You should get a total of 16 circles of pie pastry.
3. Using a small star-shaped cookie cutter (you can use any shape of cookie cutter here) cut out a star in the center of 8 of the 16 circles of pie pastry cut out earlier. Reserve the stars and keep aside these discs aside.
4. Place 1 generous tablespoon of the apple filling in the center of an uncut pie circle. Place and center one of the cut circles over the filling and seal the edges of the two discs by pressing lightly with the prongs of a fork. Repeat and prepare the rest of the pies. You can decorate the pies with the reserved cutout stars as you like. Chill the pies on baking sheets lined with parchment paper for 30 minutes before baking.
5. Preheat the oven to 350F and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Lightly whisk the egg yolk and water in a small bowl. Brush the surface of each pie with the yolk wash. Bake the pies for 25-30 minutes until the crusts are golden brown. Allow the pies to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes and serve warm.

chocolate almond and buckwheat tart

Chocolate almond buckwheat tart

If there is one ingredient you'd love to bake with, what would it be? I have several but I think if given a choice, it would be chocolate and cocoa. In my books, I don't think anything can beat that warm sweet scent in the kitchen that I find so addictively comforting. Granted, I invariably end up making a mess every time I work with cocoa or chocolate, my white kitchen table ends up looking like a war zone with dark brown splattered streaks and spots all over the place. I mentally prepare myself going in armed with the knowledge that I will end up making a huge mess. In the end it never really matters. Because of that final moment, when nothing else matters and my eyes eagerly wait for that hot dark brown dessert to pop out of the oven. I'll admit I've burned my mouth a few times when I've been impatient enough to try and taste it hot. This is not recommended one bit, speaking from personal experience!

Baking with eggs

Last weekend, I spent my time baking. I missed using my tart pan, I haven't used it in a long time and I felt it beckon me from the corner where it has stayed hidden for the past few months. A few minutes later, I had the pan in one hand and the other was busy shuffling through the pantry shelf, which is what we also refer to as my "Museum Collection and Assortment of Flours" (it's a whole shelf with several types of flours) which for some reason lacked any regular all-purpose flour. Thankfully, I still had a bit of buckwheat flour left to make my crust. I love buckwheat a lot for its characteristic nutty taste and gorgeous gray color. I made a very simple crust, buckwheat and ground almond meal with a little bit of butter to hold everything together. The resultant pastry reminded me of a graham cracker crust with a buttery and delicious nutty flavor. 

Sugar measuring

When it comes to preparing tarts and pies, I love my faithful trustworthy porcelain pie beads. But if you don't own any and can't find a store that sells them near you, use dried beans. I've had my beads for a few years now and they making blind baking a cinch. Adding the parchment sheet on top of the pastry surface helps to easily lift the beads off as soon as the tart comes out of the oven and there's a less chance of getting burned! 

Blind baking

Now for the fun part, the chocolate filling! Since it is autumn, I snuck in a little of bit cinnamon, not too much, just a little dab for a little bit of added warmth to the chocolate flavors. When this tart came out, it was every bit delicious, a thin fine crust outside with a moist gooey chocolatey inside. That against the buckwheat and almond crust made it simply enjoyable. And yes, I did my burn my mouth again while trying to taste this way too soon!

Chocolate tart slice

chocolate buckwheat almond tart

yields: 6-8 servings

buckwheat almond tart crust

ingredients

yields: enough to cover one 9 inch ruffled tart pan

1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup ground almond meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 325F. Line the bottom of a 9 inch ruffled tart pan with parchment paper and spray the sides lightly with a neutral oil.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients to mix uniformly. Add the melted butter and mix with your hands to form a dough. If the mixture is too sticky allow it too cool a little, this will help it firm. Transfer the dough to the pan and with your fingers/ or using the bottom flat surface of a measuring cup press the dough up the bottom and sides of the pan to form a layer of even thickness. Cover the crust with clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 mins. 
3. Remove the cling film and prick the surface of the crust a few times with the prongs of a fork. Cover the top surface of the pastry with parchment paper and place some pie beads or dried beans. This will prevent uneven rising during the baking process. Bake the pastry for 20 minutes in the center rack of the oven (this is also called blind baking). The edges will be slightly golden brown at this point. Carefully remove the pie beads along with the parchment sheet paper on the top surface.
4. Pour the warm chocolate tart filling (recipe below) into the tart shell, even the surface with a flat offset spatula or a flat butter knife and bake the tart for another 15-20 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean from the center of the tart filling. Transfer the tart from the oven and allow to cool for 15-20 minutes in the pan on a wire rack before removing and transferring it to a clean serving plate. The tart will have a delicate crust on top but a moist gooey texture inside. Slice the tart with a sharp serrated bread knife and serve warm or cold.

chocolate tart filling

yields: enough for filling for one 9 inch tart

ingredients

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips 
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 tablespoon madagascar bourbon vanilla extract

1. Melt the chocolate, cream, and butter together in a thick bottomed saucepan over a boiling water bath. This should take about 2-3 minutes. Mix constantly till smooth to get a shiny silky smooth sauce. Keep warm. 
2. In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, whisk the eggs, sugar, and vanilla at high speed for 5 minutes until you get a pale yellow lemony color and a ribbon can be formed with the eggs, the eggs will have tripled in volume. 
3. Fold the chocolate mix into the whisked eggs carefully with a circular motion. There will be some deflation but avoid losing too much of the trapped air.  
4. Please refer to step 4 above, listed under the tart crust instructions to finish off the tart.  

oat bran and yogurt teacakes

Oat bran yogurt teacakes


I've had an amazing time in Charleston, it was everything I expected and so much more. The people are friendly, the city is historic and beautiful, and the food delicious. The beaches are clean and the water warm enough to swim in, I could not have been happier. This trip turned out to be a perfect summer holiday, there are several great places to eat at, some new and some old with each offering a distinct and fun menu. Some of my favorite places on the trip were Butcher and Bee, Saffron and Sermet's. Downtown.
Even as an adult, I still love fireworks and the spectacular show at Charleston did not disappoint. From the city's aquarium, we had an amazing view of the colorful display of lights that filled up the dark skies. Here are some of the photographs of the dazzling fireworks that for some reason always remind me of supernovas and comets.

Fireworks 2
Fireworks
Fireworks and teacake

I have an obsession with all things concerning yogurt, I eat yogurt daily and use it often in cooking. I drink it after my daily workouts in shakes and smoothies as my protein source. A few months ago, I posted a recipe on using Siggi's filmjólk to prepare a saffron and almond drink, over time I got adventurous and started to incorporate this Icelandic drink into several different recipes at home. One reason why I consume and use Siggi's dairy products is because of their company's commitment to using sustainable and eco-friendly practices and the taste is wonderfully tangy. The versatility of their dairy products makes it a useful ingredient to have on hand and just as it did in these oat bran teacakes. These teacakes are delightful and beyond tea or dessert are also great to eat at breakfast. Besides the Icelandic yogurt, there's healthy and delicious oat bran, ground almond meal (with the husk/skin), and some whole-wheat pastry flour. To make it a little more adult (which is completely optional), I added in some reduced red wine for color and created a few swirls. If you do skip the red wine, then skip step#2 and the swirling portion in step#5. 

Lemon Zesting

I can't believe how time flies, this month marks the second year of my blog. When I first began A Brown Table, I wondered if I could keep up with a weekly schedule and the demands of maintaining an active blog. That part is still hard and finding a balance between life and blogging can sometimes be challenging. So much has changed too with this blog, I learned a little bit of CSS, HTML and photography over time and incorporated new ideas and styles with every post. I've made mistakes on this journey and learned from them but every upcoming post makes me excited to share my food, photographs and stories with you. I do hope that you have enjoyed them along the way.

What would a blog birthday be without free gifts and the folks at Siggi's were extremely kind to sponsor a giveaway to celebrate the wonderful two years. The rules for this contest are simple, all you need to do is leave a comment below this post on how you would use Siggi's and visit the Facebook pages and click the like buttons for both A Brown Table and Siggi's. I will randomly select five winners who will receive a free bottle of filmjólk and 4 cups of skyr, via the Rafflecopter widget below (so please sign up through the widget). This contest is only open to residents in the United States (due to shipping reasons, sorry). This contest will run through July 17th and the five winners will have 48 hours to respond, otherwise I will have to select someone else. So hurry up and enter to win and try some delicious Icelandic filmjólk and skyrr from the  folks at Siggi's! Please share this with your friends on Twitter and/or Pinterest!

oat bran and yogurt teacakes

yields: 6 mini bundt cakes

ingredients

2 cups red wine (optional)
1 stick butter, chopped at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup oat bran
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unflavored plain non-fat Siggis' filmjólk
neutral cooking oil spray

1. Preheat the oven to 350F and set a wire rack at mid level height.
2. Reduce the wine to 1/4 cup in a thick bottom saucepan on a medium flame. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Remove and keep aside to cool.
3. Fix the paddle attachment to a stand mixer and cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the lemon extract and lemon zest to the batter and beat for another minute. 
4. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk the oat bran, flour, almond meal, baking powder, and baking soda. Add half of the flour mix to the batter and mix for a minute until combined. Pour the filmjólk into the batter with the rest of the flour mix and beat until completely combined.
5. Spray and grease six mini bundt pans with the cooking oil spray. Divide the batter equally among the pans. Add a teaspoon of the reduced wine on top of the batter and each pan and with a clean skewer stir the wine a little in the batter to create random swirl patterns. Place the bundt pans on a baking tray about an inch from each other. Bake the cakes in the preheated oven on the wire rack for 30 minutes until a skewer or knife comes out clean from the center.  Remove the pans and flip the onto a clean plate and allow the cakes to cool inside the bundt pans. After 10 minutes, tap the individual pans carefully to release the cakes. Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool to room temperature completely before serving.

Disclaimer: I did not receive any financial compensation for this product, all opinions stated here are my own.

THIS CONTEST HAS OFFICIALLY ENDED
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avocado dark-chocolate madeleines

Avocado dark-chocolate madeleines

A couple of weekends ago we did something crazy, we went out and bought a power boat. After an endless wait of two weeks (which isn't that long but we are both terribly impatient), the boat was finally delivered to D.C. late last week and of course, we spent every day of the entire weekend taking it out on the Potomac. As a kid, I'd been on the ocean on a few ships and a fishing boat once but this was much different. Fresh waters are so different from the sea and it smells less too which is nice, though I would not mind the ocean one bit! Snoopy is still adjusting and we hope that eventually (more like sooner) we can stop carrying him on and off the boat as he is too scared to make the jump himself and believe me carrying 45lbs on and off a boat after a few days is tiresome! On day one he whined a bit which I assumed to be his getting acclimated to an unfamiliar rocking motion on the boat (while we were docked), however by day two, he barked to say hi to every person that passed by. He enjoys the speed of the boat once it picks up and likes to stretch his head out to sniff the air and catch the wind. Snoopy is still struggling with the existence of some of the wildlife such as the flying herons and the swimming ducks and I think he will soon come to terms with it. He likes to do things at his own pace. Our dog runs our life, house, and now the boat!

boat

I'm curious to learn fishing but for now one license at a time is good, first I need to get my boating license so I can learn to drive. It is interesting to see how the waters get so busy here but I enjoy the people watching part while they boat and kayak their way through. More than anything, I am really looking forward to docking in Old Town Alexandria and eating out at some of the waterfront restaurants. 

Snoopy on the boat

I've been trying to do better this year by consuming a few avocados a week to gain some healthy fat in my diet. Consequently, avocados were bound to make their way into my food and they did just that by occupying a spot in these delicious dark chocolate madeleines. This was my first time baking madeleines as well as using avocados as a butter substitute. Everything turned out delicious and I was excited to use my madeleine baking pan that I found at an antique store in North Carolina a few months back. To stick with theme of using less fat, I sprayed the pan's molds with a light neutral cooking spray oil which worked out perfectly, instead of greasing it the traditional way with butter. Make sure you use a soft and ripe avocado and puree it to complete smoothness to avoid any fibrous textures or clumps of avocado meat. Since the traditional technique to prepare madeleines involves the use of melted butter, I warmed up the avocado puree in a water-bath to help solubilize some of the fat. Another tip while working with the batter, spoon it in and spread it a little to fill the mold, it will rise during baking and puff up well. 

butter-free madelines1

Overall the entire weekend was a set of first firsts for me and each one of these experiences from boating to my baking experiments. I've realized that I am always happy when I bake!

madeline pan and avocado1

avocado dark-chocolate madeleines

yields: 16-18 large madeleines

ingredients

3/4 cup unbleached cake flour
1/4 cup dark cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ripe avocado
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
a little confectioner's sugar for dusting

1. Place a wire rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350F. 
2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt and keep aside. 
3. Mash and puree the avocado to get a smooth paste (you can use a food processor for this). Seal the puree with cling film in a glass bowl and place the bowl with the puree in a warm-water bath at 70C till use (this helps to melt out some of the fat and make it smoother).
4. Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, whisk the eggs for 5 minutes on medium speed until light and foamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and whisk for an additional 5 minutes on medium-high speed until thick and creamy. Remove the mixer bowl from the stand mixer. 
5. Sift the flour-cocoa mixture into the whisked eggs and carefully fold the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula using a circular motion. Fold the pre-warmed avocado puree into the batter. 
6. Generously coat a madeleine baking pan with a neutral cooking oil spray. Spoon and spread out the cake batter into the molds. Bake for 12 minutes in the preheated oven. The madeleines are baked and ready to be removed when the center is firm and springs back when pressed with the fingers. Remove the madeleines from the tray and allow them to cool on a wire rack. You can store them in an airtight container.
7. Before serving, dust the madeleines with a little confectioner's sugar using a sieve. 

chocolate butter cookies

Chocolate Butter Cookies

This is that special time of the year when I carb load for a few days, no not for a race or marathon or any other sort of event that requires athletic prowess it's a simple way for me to celebrate my birthday. Each year, I make myself a different sweet treat/s, something that I've wanted to try/make all year round but avoided as a preventative measure to protect my waistline (The relationship between aging and waistline length is a direct proportion, at least for me). Ageing is an unwanted artifact of birthdays, as you cross a certain threshold (at least in my case), you have to learn some self-control. Taste and eat a little and occasionally indulge your tastebuds. Come birthday week and I will indulge every wicked dessert fantasy that has crossed my mind and make up for all those times I have been good. 

cooling cookies and forget me nots_1

One would assume that I might want a cake on my birthday, while I won't say no, this year I have a different opinion. Heck, I've made myself birthday cakes in the past but once in a while, I will crave for something other than a cake such as a pudding or a caramel flan. It all really depends on what my obsession was centered around. Images of freshly baked butter cookies have been circulating around my brain cells for a long time, just like those delicious Danish ones with that perfect nutty butter fragrance that melts in your mouth.

Strawberry flower and a lonely cookie

This recipe is based on the version I found in The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook. Browning a little bit of the butter, followed by a brief cooling period gives these cookies that extra heightened buttery nutty flavor that I absolutely love! To work with the dough, the refrigerator is your buddy. The dough is easy to work with when chilled and rolling it out between sheets of wax paper makes it even easier.

You can use any type of cookie cutter to shape your cookies, I used one of my Linzer cookie cutters. As my friend John says, they look like chocolate sprockets. Of course, depending on the size of the cookie you end up cutting, you will end up with either more or less cookies than I did. My cookie cutter measures around 2 inches and I got around 50-58 cookies. 

eating a cookie


chocolate butter cookies 
(adapted from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook)

yields: approximately 52-58, 2 inch cookies

ingredients

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon Madagascar bourbon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1. Melt 4 tablespoon of the butter in a medium saucepan over high heat. Stir continuously until the milk solids turn orange brown. Remove the browned butter from the flame and stir in the cocoa to form a smooth silky paste. Keep aside to cool for 20 minutes.
2. Attach the paddle to a stand mixer, add the remaining butter, sugar, salt, and the cocoa-butter mixture. Mix completely on high speed, the mixture should appear light and fluffy. Add the yolks and vanilla and mix for about 40 seconds. Scrape the bowl down with a silicone spatula. 
3. Adjust the speed of the mixer to the low setting and add half of the flour mixture. Blend until completely incorporated. Scrape the bowl down with the spatula. Add the rest of the flour to the batter and repeat. Once the dough is formed into a ball, divide it into three flat discs. Transfer and wrap, each disc on to a large sheet of wax paper and refrigerate for 1 hour. Cut two large sheets of wax paper and sandwich a disc of the refrigerated dough between the sheets at the center. Roll out the disc into a rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick. Refrigerate the flattened dough for another 15-20 minutes. 
4. Preheat the oven to 375F and place the wire rack in the center. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, peel the top sheet of wax paper and cut out desired cookie shapes. Place the cut cookies onto a baking sheet or tray lined with parchment paper. Bake the cookies on the centered wire rack in the oven for 10 minutes (if the edges start to get dark, remove them immediately as the cookies are burning), rotating the baking sheet halfway during baking. Bake only one batch of cookies at a time. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container for up to a week. Any extra bits of dough can be pressed together and re-rolled and cut to make more cookies. Repeat with the rest of the refrigerated discs to make the rest of the cookies or refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days.