Archive for January, 2009

Baking In A New York City Apartment

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I’ve mentioned my New York City apartment a couple times on the blog – check this and this.  So I thought it would be fun to elaborate and share with you all the place where the baking magic happens!

Let me start by saying that I’m very happy to be living in NYC.  I had my heart set on moving here since age 14 and, after two and a half years, I’m still loving it.  The city is full of neighborhoods to explore, restaurants to discover and experiences to be had.  But I’ll be the first to admit that you make some sacrifices in your living situation to enjoy all that good stuff – unless you’ve got money to spend or have an MTV reality show paying your rent.  

I’ll explain…

SIZE

My apartment is tiny quaint.  Its small size makes for a cozy feel – which I LOVE – but doesn’t leave much space for baking and baking stuff.  I’ve accumulated lots of ingredients and supplies over the past few months and my kitchen cabinets just do not support me in this endeavor.  So when they started groaning under the weight of whole wheat pastry flour and saying things like we cannot fit any more of your unrefined sweeteners and grain sweetened chocolate chips!, I did the only thing I could.  I moved it to the bedroom.

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Indeed, that is Sucanat in front of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  And molasses over by my crossword puzzle book.  But my personal favorite…

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…would be the pair of cookie sheets sitting in my Basket of Random Stuff.  Right behind my fuzzy black monster slippers.  Their shape is utterly incompatible with my kitchen cabinets, so this was their next best home.  Obviously.  Don’t worry – I wash before using!

One more thing on space before we move on:

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See how much room there is between the oven and the wall – er, trash can?  Not a lot.  More than a couple of baking accidents have resulted from me trying to maneuver my goods in and out of the heat.  Or from reaching in to poke my pumpkin bread with a toothpick and test for doneness.  That door is HOT and snaps back like nobody’s business!  Yes, I have battle scars and I wear them proudly.

OVEN

Speaking of ovens…let’s talk about even temperature…and how my oven doesn’t believe in such a thing.  The back is WAY hotter than the front and is terribly mean to anything that encroaches on its territory.  You want to bake back here?  Silly muffins.  I’m going to burn you now. 

To deal with my oven’s attitude problem, I only place goodies-to-be in its frontal area.  So cookie sheets are always half full – six at a time, max – and anything on longer trays that has no choice but to cross the invisible boundary line gets rotated in the middle of baking. 

I cannot wait to have a nice oven one day.  Dare I wish for a convection oven?!  Ahh…it will be glorious.

FREEZER

I don’t have one of these.  But that’s crazy!  Everyone has a freezer!  That’s what I thought too.  Until I moved into my place and was introduced to Mr. Mini-Fridge.  He’s not just for dorm rooms anymore!

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That little ice cap at the top is supposed to be the “freezer” part of the refrigerator.  Except it doesn’t actually keep things frozen.  And it can’t fit anything more than a bag of peas between its frosted walls.  I don’t even eat peas.

The challenge with loving to bake and not having a freezer is that I have nothing to do with excess treats.  Unless I want to eat them all in a matter of days.  Which may or may not happen from time to time.  When I do get a freezer, it’s going to be brimming with baked leftovers.  I can already imagine the awesomeness.

So that’s my home!  It also has quite lovely characteristics that I didn’t bring up – like a strip of exposed brick and warm, colorful walls.  I like to think of it as charming and quirky.  Maybe a little like me?  Ahh, who am I kidding.  My apartment is way cooler than I am. 

What’s your home like?  Is it built for baking fun?

Peanut Butter Apple Muffins

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You know what I realized the other day?  I’ve only made muffins once for this blog.  Jigga what?!  Muffins are one of my favorite things to bake, so that’s just crazy.  They’re super easy.  They’re totally versatile.  And after you’ve made a batch, you get to eat a sweet treat for breakfast until they’re all gone!  Very awesome.

I decided it was time for the return of the muffin.  Obvi.  Then I went looking for muffinlicious inspiration.  I thought back to my Blueberry Coconut Oaties – modeled after my favorite breakfast.  And it hit me – let’s model these muffins after my favorite snack!  You know what I’m talking about.  What better snack is there than an apple with peanut butter?  None, my friends.  None at all.  And that’s how Peanut Butter Apple Muffins were born.

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I started with this recipe and it became this one:

2 cups chopped apples

1/2 cup natural peanut butter

1/2 cup Sucanat

2 egg whites

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup white whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 325*F.  Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray and set aside.  Place chopped apples in a bowl, coat with natural peanut butter and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix together Sucanat, egg whites, unsweetened applesauce and vanilla extract until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix white whole wheat flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just blended. Stir in peanut butter covered apples.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Makes 10 muffins.

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Chunky apples!  PB coat!

Ok, I’m not gonna lie.  These weren’t the best muffins I’ve ever baked.  They were good, but they weren’t the muffins dreams are made of!   I needed more peanut butter flavor.  And maybe a little more sweetness.  But I’m excited about the idea and I’m not giving up.  I think next time I’ll use honey as the sweetener.  And maybe swirl the peanut butter into the batter once it’s already in the tins.  I tried to keep it separate til the very end instead of stirring it right into the mixture, but I think it got lost anyway.  And peanut butter is not a taste that should ever be lost.  Am I right?

What do you guys think?  Any suggestions to help these muffins be all that they can be?

UPDATE: I reattempted these muffins and the results were great!  Check out the new and improved recipe!

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Sucanat

sucanat-1I’m pretty excited about this post.  And since a bunch of you have asked about the ingredient at hand, I hope you’re just as pumped!  Without further ado, let’s get talking about…

SUCANAT!

Sucanat is a type of evaporated cane juice.  The history of evaporated cane juice is interesting to me.  It was only recently that sugar cane processing technology was developed to create the white, refined sugar with which we’re all familiar.  This doesn’t mean people haven’t been enjoying sugar cane.  They have – for centuries!  So back in the day, when white, refined sugar didn’t exist, our fancily named evaporated cane juice was actually the sweetener of choice by any culture that used sugar cane.  Now that unprocessed, all-natural foods are gaining in popularity, evaporated cane juice is back in action.  We’ve come full circle.

Sucanat stands for “Sugar Cane Natural.”  It’s an unrefined sweetener made from the WHOLE sugar cane – every last bit.  It’s sugar in its most natural form.  Like all evaporated cane juices, Sucanat is produced by extracting juice from the sugar cane and boiling it in a large vat to remove the water.  But unlike other evaporated cane juices, such as turbinado sugar, the sweet syrup left over is not spun and crystallized in that vat.  Instead, it’s hand-paddled to cool it and dry it.  This process creates the dry, brown granules that are Sucanat and keeps ALL the sugar cane molasses in those granules.  Turbinado sugar, to compare, holds on to SOME of the sugar cane molasses.

Because Sucanat retains 100% of the sugar cane, and all that molasses, it ranks highest in nutritional value of all the sweeteners that come from the sugar cane.  It also means it has the most distinct and natural flavor.

When I made my Blueberry Coconut Oaties – first time using Sucanat! – I substituted Sucanat one-for-one for refined sugar.  And I plan on doing the same in the future.  Check out Wholesome Sweeteners if you’re looking for a brand of Sucanat to try!

Have you ever baked with Sucanat?  What do you think of it?

Blueberry Coconut Oaties

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I’m a HUGE fan of oats.

I eat them for breakfast nearly every morning.  To me, a big bowl of oats is a blank palate, a warm and fluffy vehicle for yummy mix-ins.  Cinnamon’s always there.  Mashed banana and peanut butter are definitely favorites.  Berries, pumpkin, walnuts – all super tasty.  Mmm…what’s not to love about oats?

And what’s not to love about oatmeal cookies?!  The good ol’ standard version is chock full of raisins.  But I look at oatmeal cookies the same way I look at my big bowl of oats.  Just waiting to live up to their true potential.  The kind of potential that can only be fulfilled by those scrumptious additions.

These Blueberry Coconut Oaties were inspired by my daily oats.  Dried blueberries and coconut were the mix-ins of choice this time around, but feel free to put your own little twist on them.  You can do whatever you like!

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Here’s my recipe, adapted from this recipe:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup Sucanat

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups oats

3/4 cup dried blueberries*

3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

* I used dried blueberries sweetened with fruit juice.

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  In a large bowl, mix together canola oil, Sucanat, egg and vanilla extract until well blended.  In a separate bowl, mix together whole wheat pastry flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and oats.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until blended. Stir in blueberries and coconut. Note: Dough will be sticky, so it may be easier to work with if you refrigerate it for 30 minutes or so. Roll heaping tablespoons into balls, flatten to about 1/3 of an inch and place on cookie sheet.  Bake for 6-8 minutes.  Makes 18 cookies.

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Blueberry wrinkles!

These cookies were deliciously oaty!  There’s chewiness from the oats.  There’s juiciness from the blueberries.  And when coconut joins the party, it definitely ups the fun factor.  Throw in some spicy cinnamon and nutmeg and you’ve got yourself a wonderfully wholesome treat.

What’s your favorite oatmeal cookie mix-in?

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Delicious By Nature

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Sweet + Natural was built for baking.  Creating sweet treats from whole foods is a passion of mine that I love sharing with my family, friends and all of you.  But lest you think my home is overflowing with ONLY cookies and muffins and brownies – oh my! – I should probably let you know that I do eat regular food too.  A girl can’t live on sweets alone!  Though that would be a fun experiment.

Not only do I eat regular food, but I cook it as well.  My cooking philosophy is just like my baking philosophy – all about real food.  Whole, unprocessed, healthy.  So I was obviously excited to come across another food and recipe blog that shares this philosophy – this one’s for all you cooks of the blog world!

Amy at Delicious By Nature dishes out wonderful recipes featuring whole and natural ingredients.  She’s like the cook counterpart to my baker.  And today I had the privilege of having my posts on natural sweeteners featured on her blog.  Head on over to hear what she has to say about them!  FYI – You can also find links to those posts on my Ingredients page. While Amy claims not to be a baker, I have definitely spotted some tasty looking goodies while exploring her site.  Check out her Chocolate Macadamia Nut Eclairs, Blueberry Coffeecake and Heart-Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I think she’s being too modest about those baking skills!

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

447031_12793172You’ve probably noticed by now that the main flours I use in baking up my goods are whole wheat pastry flour and white whole wheat flour.  I promise I’ll branch out to other flours one day.  There just happen to be rather large bags of said grains currently occupying space in my kitchen cabinet.  And since that kitchen cabinet is already spilling baking products onto my bedroom shelves – have I mentioned my tiny apartment?! – I think it’s best to use up what I have before purchasing more.  But I do have every intention of getting out of my comfort zone that is the world of wheat – there’s spelt, brown rice, quinoa to explore!

I wrote about white whole wheat flour a while back, so it’s time to give whole wheat pastry flour the stage.

Sidebar: Let’s just call them WWWF – remember that one? – and WWPF from here out.  Way easier. 

So what’s the diff?  Well, they’re both made from whole wheat – obviously – yay whole grains!  Actually, they’re both made from whole white wheat.  But WWPF is produced from a “soft” variety whereas WWWF is made from a “hard” variety.  And WWPF is milled to a very fine texture while WWWF is more coursely ground.  WWPF is also lower in protein and gluten.  Add all these things together and you get a flour that’ll give you baked goods more light and tender than regular whole wheat flour, or even WWWF, ever could.

I tend to turn to WWPF for delicate treats – like cakes – and WWWF for things that can handle a heartier texture – like muffins or quick breads.  But sometimes I just go with whatever I’m feeling.  Like I’m kind of liking WWPF better right now.  Shhh…don’t tell WWWF.  When substituting it for white, all-purpose flour in recipes, I replace it cup for cup.

Have you used whole wheat pastry flour?  What do you think?

Chocolate Carrot Cake + Cream Cheese Frosting

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So I’m back in NYC after two gloriously relaxing weeks visiting the fam in St. Louis – hooray for holiday break and vacation days to use up!  I could have stayed even longer – ahh, the life of no responsibility – but I do have to say, it feels good to get back to my usual routine.  Not gonna lie though, I’d be happy to go without the return of work tomorrow!  Oh well, c’est la vie, right?

Before I left STL and between holiday festivities, I made sure to squeeze in some more baking time.  You didn’t really think that Yogurt Glazed Carrot Cake was the only thing I whipped up while I was there, did you?!  That treat was for the sister.  This one’s for the dad.  And it comes with a back-story…

My dad e-mailed me a few weeks ago with a baking proposition.  One day last month, he was finishing up a working lunch with some colleagues when the dessert tray appeared at their table.  A richly dark, moist-looking cake immediately caught his eye.  Upon his asking, the waitress proclaimed it to be a “chocolate carrot cake.”  Now this was something Dad had never heard of before!  Intrigued and delighted, he ordered it on the spot and greatly looked forward to that first taste.

Much to his disappointment, said waitress later returned to inform him that his forthcoming dessert was actually a spice cake, not the carrot cake of his dreams. Well, poor Dad couldn’t get the thought of a chocolate carrot cake out of his mind, so he asked me (repeatedly) to bake one up when I came home.  And bake one up I did.  This version has cream cheese frosting, because that’s the way Dad likes it.

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My recipe for Chocolate Carrot Cake + Cream Cheese Frosting:

Cake:

3 cups grated carrots

3/4 cup agave nectar

2 eggs

2 egg whites

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup grain sweetened chocolate chips

Frosting:

12 ounces Neufchatel cheese

3 cups unrefined powdered sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix together carrots, agave nectar, eggs, egg whites, applesauce and vanilla extract.  In a separate bowl, mix together whole wheat pastry flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and stir until blended.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Pour batter into prepared cake pans.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Let cool in pans.

While cakes are cooling, prepare frosting by blending together Neufchatel cheese, unrefined powdered sugar and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until smooth.  Once cakes cool, spread about a third of the frosting over cake #1.  Place cake #2 on top of cake #1.  Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.

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Melty chocolate and carrot specks!

This cake was a huge hit around my house! The chocolate chips gave it some extra special chocolate sweetness and the cream cheese frosting was addicting!  I snuck a lot of licks from the bowl before it got to the cake.  You know, for testing purposes.  And though I made it for Dad, I think Mom may have liked it even more.  After a couple bites and some long, contemplative looks, she declared it the “best thing you’ve made yet.”  Don’t worry, I enjoyed some slices myself before she could polish it all off (j/k Mom, j/k).

What have you seen combined with chocolate that was somewhat surprising?

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Contact

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