Last week, when I needed a little inspiration, I ran into a friend from my housing co-operative. She told me to stop by her house on my way home from walking the dog, because she had a little present for me. It turned out to be the apron you can see at the top of the post, featuring one of my favourite Julia Child quotations. I like to bring baked goods to meetings, both because it gives me an excuse to bake more often and because I believe sharing food helps build community. (I also believe sharing sugar helps get us through our agendas faster, but that part may not be supported by science.)
The third week of each month is meeting-heavy for me, and the meetings tend to be busy ones. I brought the rest of the Breton galettes to one meeting, pulling out the second log of dough a little late in the day and having to bring the cookies freshly filled and still cooling on the pan. But, at least they made it there.
Later that week, I baked Dorie’s salted chocolate-caramel bars, intending to bring them to another meeting. Though the shortbread baked up beautifully and the caramel topping came together exactly as described, the topping didn’t set by the time I had to leave for my meeting. I was afraid to bring them, as I didn’t want strings of caramel spread across our board table. So, I cut them into squares, still in the pan, and left them on the counter to finish setting.
When I returned, the topping was still quite soft, so I put the whole pan in the refrigerator and hoped for the best. By morning, the bars were easy to pull apart and the topping was set (if still a little soft). For the purposes of scientific research, I tried them straight out of the refrigerator and then again when they’d come to room temperature. They’re excellent either way, but I recommend exercising a little patience. When they’re at room temperature, the caramel becomes ooey-gooey in that way that every child delights in and every adult of good character should, too.
The best part is that they keep well in the fridge, so I was able to share these over several days, making sure to partake in a respectable number myself. I’ll definitely be making these again, but a day ahead if I plan to share them. I can’t think of a better way to turn a meeting into a party.
Lately, I’ve been returning to the kind of cooking I did when I was a kid, the sorts of recipes that my mother taught me to get started for her when I got home from school, or the baking projects that I learned from the cookbooks that lived on the shelf above the telephone table in the kitchen.
Today, I improvised a clean-out-the fridge beef stew and it was reminiscent of the seventies-style stews of my childhood, rather than the French bistro classic style I adopted as an adult.
For dessert, I pulled out a very old recipe for applesauce cookies and was pleased to discover that it didn’t need any adjustment at all. It was rich with old school apple spices, with a party trick half cup of cold coffee thrown in for a little depth. Raisins and walnuts made for a nice textural contrast to the softness of the cookie. There’s something to be said for dipping back into one’s culinary past.
My favourite throwback recipe of the last little while was the soup I threw together last week. Homemade chicken stock, chopped leftover chicken, green split peas, smoked paprika, a rind from some smoked Parmesan, and a bunch of veggies and herbs – I may write it out as a real recipe at some point or just accept it as one of an infinite number of variations, rarely repeated. This iteration was so well balanced, I might have to try to recreate it, after all.
There are more sophisticated dishes that I can whip up without reference to a recipe, but humble, homely, ancient ones like these have a special satisfaction. It’s returning to the source so that, refreshed, we can regain our appetite for exploration and experimentation.
Today, Dorie’s Cookies made it into the semi-final round, courtesy of a beautifully written, well-considered judgement by New York Times literary critic, Dwight Garner. I allow myself to get quite worked up about the reviews in the competition, all in good fun. My favourite ones don’t necessarily jibe with my choices for the winners of each round. For me, it’s the quality of the writer’s voice, the wholeheartedness of their explorations of each book, and the clarity of their reasoning that win me over. In this case, the winner was exactly the one I would have chosen myself.
I especially like Garner’s description of his wife and daughter’s devotion to Dorie. They sound like wise and discerning women. I read the review early this morning and thought about it again while I was making the dough for these galettes. Dorie’s books are all full of careful guidance and clever techniques. This dough comes together exactly as she describes, needs to be frozen only for an hour, and shapes itself perfectly using Dorie’s muffin tin trick.
I baked one log’s worth of cookies, leaving the other in the freezer for future cookie emergencies. I used jam that my mother’s friend Marianna made and I’m going to deliver some of the cookies to her mother, returning the kindness. Some will most certainly be eaten as I read through the rest of this week’s Piglet judgements, which inevitably make me hungry.
Who do you think will take this year’s Piglet trophy? I’m rooting for Dorie, but this competition is notoriously difficult to predict.
In troubled times, nothing seems as healing as sharing food and company. I need to keep that in mind, the next time busy-ness and bitterness keep me away from my keyboard. Besides, in a city where the average rents are skyrocketing, we’re going to have to learn to rely on one another for sustenance and support. So, connecting through writing and food may become tools for survival as much as pleasurable pastimes.
That’s why Dorie Greenspan’s #cookiesandkindness initiative is such a timely project. Homemade cookies bring cheer while nourishing us in a deeply satisfying way – they may not be dinner, but psychologically and primally speaking, they will help assuage what ails you.
Valentine’s Day Share-a-Heart Cookies
Cookies certainly helped soothe my fellow committee members when we met on the evening of Valentine’s Day. I didn’t make one of the giant break-apart hearts that the recipe calls for, since it wouldn’t have fit on the table (or on the agenda, for that matter). Instead, passing these chocolate wafers around the table brought a necessary bit of cheer to the evening.
They remind me of Dorie’s Hot Chocolate Panna Cotta from Baking Chez Moi, with the same cocoa-forward flavour. The salt I used was a bit assertive, so I’ll probably reduce the quantity by 1/4 teaspoon next time I make these, but they were otherwise perfect. One of the delights of this book has been discovering how many delicious variations there can be for what seems like one of the most straightforward of cookies.
Rose-Hibiscus Shortbread Fans
Shortbread is another cookie with simple roots and infinite variations. This version is made for showing off and sharing. Subtle notes of rose complement the brightness of hibiscus. My tea also included lemongrass, which added another layer of flavour. Rice flour increases the sandy texture of the cookies, which is welcome in shortbread. It’s perfect for an afternoon tea of dreaming and planning for a better future.
The story of Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies is quite famous in home-baking circles. It may be hard to believe that a little cookie could bring the world together, but eating one makes anything seem plausible. Come to think of it, whenever I’ve brought World Peace Cookies to a meeting, decision-making has been relatively peaceful, too. There may be something to this theory.
Roll and bake sablé cookies create a lot of peace in the kitchen, too. I try and keep a few logs of various kinds in the freezer, so that I can bake on a moment’s notice. To keep your own peace of mind, make sure you treat this dough with patience, leaving it in the mixer until it really comes together, then working it into logs that hold together and are solid throughout. Your efforts will be well-rewarded.
Bonus Bake: Christmas Spice Cookies
These Christmas Spice Cookies were scheduled for December, and I made them in time for Christmas, but I didn’t have much time for posting to the blog last month. So, I’m presenting them now.
They’re one of four variations Dorie provides for her Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough and they live up to their holiday-inspired name. These cookies are delicately spiced, allowing the vanilla dough to shine, and they’re the perfect foil for the deeper flavours of gingerbread and chocolate on the cookie tray. They’re also a great alternative to sugar cookies, with a more complex flavour than the usual cut-out Christmas favourites.
I’m a big fan of both of Dorie’s Do-Almost-Anything Doughs. They’re easy to work with, full of flavour, and batched big enough to make several variations or an office party’s worth of one kind of cookie.
This week’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here, along with posts about the other Tuesdays with Dorie selected recipe for December, Breakfast Biscotti.
January is a tough month for bakers, professional or amateur. So many people have sworn off…well, food…that it can be hard to find takers for anything sweet or rich. This month’s Tuesdays with Dorie picks from Baking Chez Moi will gently lure almost anyone back onto the dessert wagon. Neither of them are too sweet and they’re both perfect comfort foods, for me at least.
With the relentlessly icy winter we’ve been having, a cup of tea and a comforting treat are exactly what’s needed to chase away the chill.
This cake reminds me of the “snacking cakes” we used to have in our lunchboxes in elementary school. Invariably baked in a 9″ x 13″ pan, they existed at the corner of cake and cookie. I don’t remember any that incorporated granola, but it’s a brilliant addition. I used muesli in mine, which was perhaps a little less sweet than granola would have been, but I found the cake just right – not too soft to eat out of hand, without being too dry; sweet enough to eat by itself, but not so sweet you’d pass up a little compote or ice cream on the side. I cut the cake into small squares, saving a few for myself this week and freezing the rest to share later this month.
I’ve made this recipe a few times now and it has even made a guest appearance on the blog once before.
I love desserts like this, homey enough for a weeknight meal, but also just as nice for a special meal – it’s all in the presentation. This mousse is as simple to make as panna cotta, but there’s a little extra prep time needed for straining the yogurt.
I’ve made it with flavoured yogurts and plain, served it with whipped crème fraîche, macerated berries, or all on its own. I do think Dorie’s suggestion to serve it with a crunchy cookie sounds brilliant, but I’ve yet to try that.
I think if more people knew how easy it is to produce a simple dessert like this or panna cotta, scratch pudding, or even pots de crème, sales of boxed puddings and gelatin desserts would plummet, don’t you?
Here’s to a year full of ordinary delights (punctuated with splashier ones for special occasions), on the table and across the rest of our lives.
You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this month’s recipes here.
Happy New Year! I hope 2017 brings plenty of good things, though it’s sure to be a challenging year, as well. My December was hectic and celebratory and my blog schedule suffered as a result. I don’t regret it at all, but I did miss keeping up with my friends at Cook the Book Fridays. So, I’m catching up on most of the dishes I missed in December, along with posting about our very first selection of 2017.
Fresh Herb Omelette
After all the complicated dishes, rich holiday favourites and baking, baking, baking, a simple omelette was a wonderful way to usher in a new year of cooking together. I’ve often skimped on butter when making omelettes, but faithfully using the quantity specified in this recipe gave this omelette the kind of crust and soft, fluffy interior I’m only used to at restaurants. No more skimping on butter for me.
I first made Pissaladière when I was cooking through Around My French Table with French Fridays with Dorie, way back in 2011. It’s a dish I don’t revisit often enough, so I was glad to have a reminder of how much I like this onion, anchovy, and olive tart. I’m not sure I can choose between the two versions. I like them both, though it is convenient that David’s dough doesn’t require an egg – with the number of eggs I ran through during holiday baking, that was probably more important than it would be in the summertime.
This is something I like to make for company, but I was on my own for it this time around. I didn’t “minify” it, though. Instead, I made the full recipe, pulling it out when it was fully baked, but not as browned as I like it. I cut it into squares, put one back in the oven to brown, and put the rest into the fridge in a covered container, once they’d cooled. That gave me several days’ worth of this delicious treat, each slice of which was just as good as the first, once it got its second round in the oven.
This is another dish that was also tackled by the French Fridays crew when I was cooking through Around My French Table, but this version skips the raisins and nuts, focusing on carrot, herbs, and a lemon-mustard dressing. I’m all in favour of that. Simple salads that go with almost anything else you’re serving aren’t just the stuff of January resolutions – they’re year-round necessities that make meals shine.
I’m looking forward to catching up on everyone else’s posts from December and I’m also looking forward to what’s in store on the blog in the next few weeks. There will be a chocolate tasting to tell you about and a risotto recipe or two to share. I’ll be updating you on the progress of my spider plant and making good on my intention to share more about community this year. In these times, I think it’s good to celebrate the ways in which we come together, don’t you?
You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David Lebovitz‘ My Paris Kitchen.
I discovered Irvin Lin’s blog, Eat the Love, way back in 2010, when he participated in a round up of gluten-free Thanksgiving dishes hosted by Shauna Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl. I was struck by the creativity of his recipes, his openness to experimentation, and the visual impact of his blog. I loved the voice in his posts, combining stories and recipes in a smart and engaging way, while also genuinely connecting with his readers. His gorgeous creations should have been intimidating, but the way he wrote his descriptions and instructions had the opposite effect – making the reader feel that his projects were doable and that they’d be rewarded with flavour, even if they didn’t achieve picture-perfect results.
Over the years Lin’s blog has only gotten better, so it’s not surprising that he’s come out with a cookbook. It’s one that showcases what’s best about his approach to baking – inventive, playful, rooted in classics, but unafraid to explore new directions. When I first paged through Marbled, Swirled, and Layered, it was the flavour combinations that I noticed first – throughout his primary recipes and variations, he makes choices that show the title of his book doesn’t just refer to his dishes’ structure – he layers, swirls, and marbles flavour, too.
Lin does so with an attention to detail that I suspect comes from his background in design. His recipe titles reflect this – like his Lemon and Fresh Mint Shaker Tart with Masa Harina Crust or Seville Orange Bars with Salted Shortbread and Gin Meringue – but you can follow this precision right into the ingredients list. He uses alternative flours, browns butter, adds fruit or herbs or extracts, all in service of bringing flavours and textures together in inventive and delightful combinations.
For anyone who has been baking for a decade or three, these innovations are fun to try and the finished products are gratifying to serve. For anyone who is just starting out as a baker, his clear instructions will help you create complex and lovely baked goods that will make people think you’re an old hand.
The first recipe I tried, Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Butterscotch Layered Cookies, is simple enough to make with kids, but its flavours are complex. The bottom layer combines browned butter and brown sugar to make a soft and chewy base that could pass for a peanut butter cookie. But that flavour is hidden in the top chocolate layer, cleverly signaled by a crosshatch.
I made this cookie as a donation to a bake sale table and they disappeared so quickly, I had to go home and make another batch.
My next holiday event was a cookie swap, so I stayed in the Cookies chapter and tried my hand at the Chocolate-Vanilla Checkerboard Cookies. These are old-fashioned butter cookies that are updated with vanilla bean and chocolate extract. They look complicated to construct, but Lin’s instructions walked me through the process quickly and perfectly (though I could use a little more symmetry in my execution).
I baked them all, filling my six-bag quota and bringing the rest to the swap for snacking. I had none to take back home with me.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The scraps from squaring off the checkerboard cookies are layered and twisted into a log, then sliced and baked. I left this log in the fridge, bringing it out to bake for my parents. They didn’t last long, either.
Then, I skipped from the front of the book to the back for Blueberry-Lemon Muffins with Cinnamon-Cardamom Swirl. Whenever I visit my parents, I try to leave them some treats in the freezer to last them until my next visit. These muffins almost didn’t make it there. The spiced swirl through the classic combination of blueberry and lemon makes these muffins pretty irresistible. And the instructions are clear and detailed enough to guide even a beginning baker to muffin success, especially with the helpful end note that explains the muffin method.
The last recipe I tested is also the one I’ve kindly been given permission to share with you – Carrot and Parsnip Layer Cake with Honey-Cream Cheese Frosting.
It’s a showstopper of a cake, but it’s rooted in the kind of cake that many of us grew up eating at picnics and potlucks. I really appreciate the way that Lin takes these old-fashioned favourites and brings them forward into the 21st Century.
The parsnip is an underloved vegetable that can be terrific in savoury or sweet dishes, but is usually relegated to a mash, soup base, or mixed roasted veg. Here it’s paired with its more popular cousin and allowed to shine in its own right.
Lin layers and contrasts flavours in this cake, while choosing ingredients that increase the complexity of texture and taste. It’s a long way from the potluck carrot cakes I remember, but it’s nearly as simple to create.
I actually made this cake twice. The first time was on Thursday morning (when this post was supposed to go up). I’d decided to make it for my parents, so that they could share it with our family and their friends. But, while the layers were cooling, the weather reports got increasingly hysterical and I ended up leaving before I could make the icing and assemble the cake. The promised Vancouver ‘snowpocalypse’ never really happened, but I didn’t have time to bake again until yesterday.
My pans were a little smaller than called for, but quite deep, so I have a taller cake than the original. It makes it a tiny bit unwieldy, but it is also quite spectacular. The contrast in colour between the outer and inner layers is striking and the spices used in each contrast just as beautifully. Almond flour gives the cake a soft texture and subtle nuttiness, while pineapple complicates the sweetness and makes the cake incredibly moist. The honey in the icing deepens its sweetness and compliments the flavours of the cake. And the coconut flakes that garnish the sides add a welcome crunch and another subtle flavour pairing with the pineapple inside.
I’ve been delivering wedges of this cake to co-op neighbours and friends. I’ll be sharing the rest at a committee meeting tomorrow. As with everything I’ve baked so far from this cookbook, there won’t be any leftovers for long.
CARROT AND PARSNIP LAYER CAKE WITH HONEY-CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
I’m a creature of habit, so when my friend Annelies invited me to dinner in a neighborhood here in San Francisco that I rarely frequent, I jumped at the chance. Not only did I get to dine at a new restaurant, but I got to hang out with a friend too. After our meal, we agreed to split a dessert and were particularly smitten with the idea of the parsnip cake on the menu. Like carrot, parsnip has a subtle earthy and nutty sweetness when cooked. I’ve taken it even further, though, layering parsnip cake with carrot cake to really up the game. The deeper, almost creamy parsnip makes the common carrot brighter and more vibrant. With honey-sweetened cream cheese frosting and a sprinkling of toasted coconut, this dense winter vegetable cake is now one of my favorites.
3 3⁄4 cups (525 g) all-purpose flour
3⁄4 cup (90 g) almond flour or meal
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups (600 g) granulated sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 large egg white
1 cup (6 ounces or 170 g) finely chopped fresh pineapple (or drained canned crushed pineapple)
1 pound (455 g) carrots, finely grated
1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1⁄2 pound (225 g) parsnips, finely grated
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
HONEY–CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
16 ounces (455 g or 2 bricks) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup (225 g or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1⁄2 cup (140 g) honey
1 cup (115 g) powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (170 g) unsweetened coconut flakes
MAKE THE CAKE BATTER
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat three 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottom of each with a round of parchment paper.
Place the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and stir vigorously with a balloon whisk until the ingredients are evenly distributed and uniform in color. Place the sugar, oil, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat together for about 30 seconds on medium speed to incorporate. Add the eggs, one at time, beating until each is
incorporated before adding the next, then add the egg white. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and then add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until incorporated. Add the pineapple and mix until incorporated.
Scoop about one-third of the batter into a separate bowl. To the remaining larger amount of batter in the mixer bowl, add the carrots, cinnamon, turmeric, and cardamom, and fold to combine. To the second bowl of batter, add the parsnips, ginger, and nutmeg, and fold to combine. Pour the parsnip cake batter into one cake pan and divide the carrot batter between the other two cake pans.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then run a thin butter knife around the pan and invert the cakes onto wire racks to cool completely.
MAKE THE HONEY– CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
Combine the cream cheese, butter, honey, powdered sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until the frosting is pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Refrigerate the frosting for at least 30 minutes to firm up.
ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
Toast the coconut in a large dry skillet over medium-high heat, stirring gently, until golden brown (some of the coconut will brown faster than the rest; that’s fine). Immediately pour the coconut into a bowl to cool. Take the frosting out of the fridge and beat on medium speed for about 15 seconds to loosen it up. Place one carrot cake layer on a cake platter or stand, flat side up, and spread some frosting over the top of that layer. Place the parsnip layer over the frosting and repeat. Place the final carrot cake layer over the parsnip layer and frost the top and sides of the cake. Using your hands, pat the toasted coconut all over the sides of the cake. Brush any stray coconut off the platter before serving.
* Unsweetened coconut flakes can be difficult to find. Some upscale grocery stores carry it, and often you can find it in the bulk section, where you can buy just enough for your recipe. At regular grocery stores, if it isn’t stocked in the baking section next to the sweetened shredded coconut, look for it near the dried fruit like raisins, dried ginger, and dried papaya. If you can’t find it, though, the sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut in the baking section will work. Just toast it over medium-low heat and pay extra attention if you use the sweetened shredded coconut. The sugar in the sweetened coconut will caramelize and burn faster than unsweetened shredded coconut.
I feel as though I’ve just scratched the surface of this cookbook. There are tarts, bars, and cobblers I can’t wait to try; deceptively humble quick breads alongside project bakes that are beautifully simplified. There are even a few savoury baked goods along the way.
Lin’s regard for his audience and enthusiasm for his art come through in his recipes, his headnotes, and in the helpful guides he provides throughout. He even includes recipes for his favourite gluten-free flour blends, making his baking as accessible as possible. Paired with his terrific instruction and delicious flavours, it’s no wonder this book is making all the year-end ‘best of’ lists.
Gift Giver’s Guide: For the modern baker, the discerning dessert-maker, the best guest, and the playful patissier.
Come back on Saturday for a review of a book that will solve all your holiday postprandial dilemmas.
*This giveaway is open to residents of Canada. You must have a Canadian mailing address. The winner will be required to answer the following skill testing question: 16 X 37 =_____ This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. We hereby release Facebook of any liability. Winner(s) will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. Entrants must provide a valid email address where they can be reached. Each of the winners must respond to the email announcing their win within 48 hours, or another winner will be chosen. No purchase of any product is required. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send us an email!
You can find links to the rest of my Holiday Cookbook Review Series giveaways here. They’re all open until December 22nd.
I can’t seem to stop baking lately, with cookbook reviews, craft fairs, cookie swaps, and family get-togethers whisking me through November at a faster pace than I care for. The compensation is that the holidays are just around the corner and all that baking will go to good use.
Well, except that some of it was donated and almost all the rest was shared and shared again, until I realized that I’d only managed to stash away some biscotti in the freezer. Everything else was gone.
Which sounds like a sad story, but honestly, I’m happy to have a reason to bake more. It’s my favourite way to gear up for the holidays.
These Pfefferneusse (or pepper nuts) were a great way to start. They’re full of spices and pecans, Christmas staples, and they can be dipped in chocoate or dusted with icing sugar, making them pretty and even tastier.
I’ll be sharing these Christmas week, so I left all but a few plain and popped them into the freezer.
However, I’m considering making another batch, so I can share them a little sooner. They’re this month’s Cookies and Kindness selection. Dorie has shared the recipe and you can make some to make someone’s day.
This week’s Dorie’s Cookies goodness can be found here, along with posts about the other Tuesdays with Dorie selected recipe for December, Christmas Spice Cookies.
I’ve often thought that most people approach healthy baking the wrong way ’round. We’re encouraged to focus on superfoods and buzzy ingredients, replacing what we know isn’t so good for us with something that may not live up to the original’s standards. So, as much as I enjoy the flavours of coconut and date, together or separately, lately it’s felt like the same dessert is packaged in different shapes and asked to stand in for Nanaimo bars, truffles, chocolate cake, or almost any other treat you can think of.
For Genevieve Ko, on the other hand, flavour comes first. In fact, this book has its genesis in an effort to substitute for ingredients she’d run out of, rather than ones she was trying to avoid. Ko realized that she could improve on traditional recipes using more interesting (and healthier) ingredients and satisfy eaters’ cravings for treats and nutrition all at once. Her experiments have produced a book that’s full of recipes that cut back on refined ingredients without sacrificing flavour or texture. And with the range of ingredients she’s included in these recipes, there’s no danger of falling into the trap of producing the same flavours over and over again.
In some of the recipes, the effects can be subtle. Her Olive Oil-Brown Sugar Pumpkin Bundt Cake doesn’t declare itself as a healthier version of a traditional autumn cake. Ko substitutes some of the all-purpose flour with white whole wheat flour, while replacing some of the fat and sugar with applesauce. The result is an incredibly moist cake with a delicate crumb, benefitting from the nuttiness of whole wheat without any of its heaviness. I used homemade pumpkin purée and applesauce, which made me feel extra-virtuous, but store-bought would have worked, too.
The ingredients for this cake were all pantry staples, or ones easily obtained at the grocery store. That’s true for many of the recipes in Better Baking, but Ko also makes use of ingredients that may be unfamiliar to some bakers, or at least underused. Spelt and rice flours, chia seeds and millet, matcha tea and mochi flour – and dates and coconut, too – these are only a few of the ingredients that you might be adding to your pantry after reading through this cookbook.
A good place to start would be to add some buckwheat to your pantry. It’s something that many of us associate only with pancakes, but Ko makes the most of it, putting it through its paces in both flour and groat form in granolas, quick breads, and cakes. Her Buckwheat-Cocoa Banana Bread Bars, which you can see at the top of this post, are also gluten-free.
Like her approach to making baked goods healthier, Ko presents recipes that are gluten-free, vegan, or free of various allergens in a straightforward way. Each of her recipes notes if it’s suitable for any of these diets near the top of the page and she includes a secondary index for special diets, for quick reference. None of these recipes come across as trying to compensate for the ingredients they lack. They’re collected here because they’re terrific in themselves. They also happen to be suitable for a particular diet.
These buckwheat bars were the first recipe I made when I received the book. I kept a few for myself, but packed the rest up and sent them home with my mother. She brought them to her women’s league meeting the next day and all the ladies were clamouring for the recipe. One woman was particularly pleased. She must follow a gluten-free diet and rarely gets to sample any of the treats that are brought to their meetings.
I found the combination of buckwheat and banana to be an irresistible pairing, so it’s probably good I sent most of the batch away. Gluten-free quick breads are also more forgiving than ones made from traditional flour, as it’s overworking the gluten that can make them tough. This is a great back pocket recipe for whenever there are very ripe bananas on hand.
The last recipe I made for this review had an ingredient that can sometimes be overused as a substitute in vegan baking. Chia seeds are often used as an egg substitute or as a pudding. Sometimes this works beautifully and sometimes it can result in desserts that evoke a 1970s health food store.
In Better Baking, chia seeds are used as a crunchy element in biscotti, almost popping with flavour with each bite. I made the Cranberry Pistachio version of the biscotti and I’ve been giving permission to share the recipe with you. These cookies have some whole wheat flour, which enhances the flavour and makes them less brittle than most biscotti. Apple and orange juice help to sweeten the cookies and add even more dimension to their flavour. I’ll be making these again for Christmas and if anyone hesitates over going back for seconds, I’ll make sure to point out all their healthful elements.
Cranberry Chia Biscotti
Chia seeds have a pippy little crunch that is perfect for biscotti. Together with the whole wheat flour, the seeds give this shortbread-like dough more body, with a full flavor and hearty texture. For the holidays, I bake the pistachio variation that follows to get a pretty burst of green with the red berries.
Makes about 4 dozen
1/4 cup (55g) unsweetened pomegranate or apple juice
1 cup (160 g) dried cranberries
1 cup (142 g) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
3/4 cup (113 g) whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (104 g) sugar
1 small orange
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons (84 g) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper.
Pour the juice over the cranberries in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between intervals, until the juice is absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool completely.
Whisk both flours, the chia seeds, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Put the sugar in a large bowl and zest the orange into it. Squeeze 1/4 cup juice from the orange and reserve.
Add the vanilla to sugar and beat on low speed with a electric mixer until the sugar is evenly moistened. Add the butter and, gradually raising the speed to medium-high, beat until pale and fluffy. Scrape the bowl. Turn the speed to medium, add the egg, and beat until well combined. Scrape the bowl. Turn the speed to low and gradually add half the flour mixture, beating until all traces of flour have disappeared. Add the orange juice and beat until incorporated, then add the remaining flour and the cranberries and beat just until no dry bits remain and the dough forms large clumps. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Dampen your hands, divide the dough in half, and form into two 12-by-1-by-1-inch logs, spacing them 5 inches apart.
Bake until the logs are golden brown and firm, about 35 minutes. Cool on the pan for 10 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 350°F.
Slide a still-warm log off the parchment onto a large cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut it into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Arrange 1/4 inch apart on an unlined half sheet pan, cut sides up. Bake until toasted and light golden brown, 11 to 13 minutes. Cool completely on the pan on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, cut the second log into slices. Remove the parchment from the sheet pan and arrange the sliced biscotti on it. Bake after the first pan comes out.
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Add 1 cup (128 g) shelled roasted unsalted pistachios to the batter along with the cranberries.
The biscotti will keep at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Better Baking takes its user from breakfast through dessert, with a few surprises along the way. There are a handful of savoury recipes and some stovetop puddings that I’m very happy Ko included. There are solidly American desserts, while others are European-inspired or Asian-influenced. Even her simplest recipes are elegant, but there are also stunning showpieces like her Green Tea Leaves.
There are many things I appreciate about this cookbook and the healthfulness of the recipes isn’t even at the top of my list. Ko’s recipes don’t feel like a repetition of ones I’ve already got in my collection. They feel like fresh takes on even the most traditional recipes, like her Flourless Blueberry Muffins. I’m looking forward to trying her recipes that explore underused ingredients or take well-known ones in different directions. I love the tips that she shares for each category of baked goods and her guides to ingredients and substitutions. She incorporates accommodating special diets seamlessly, reflecting the way people today negotiate each other’s dietary needs. Most of all, I love how well the recipes I’ve tried so far work and how delicious they’ve been.
Gift Giver’s Guide: For the modern baker, the discerning dessert-maker, the sensible snacker, and the pantry explorer.
Come back next week for a review of a book that is full of inventive flavour mash ups.
*This giveaway is open to residents of Canada. You must have a Canadian mailing address. The winner will be required to answer the following skill testing question: 8 X 54 =_____ This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. We hereby release Facebook of any liability. Winner(s) will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. Entrants must provide a valid email address where they can be reached. Each of the winners must respond to the email announcing their win within 48 hours, or another winner will be chosen. No purchase of any product is required. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send us an email!
You can find links to the rest of my Holiday Cookbook Review Series giveaways here. They’re all open until December 22nd.