Back making more soups and stews with cooler weather, I baked my favorite cornbread recently and was reminded how much I appreciate it.
In my opinion, cornbread tends to be either dry and crumbly or overly sweet. Well, maybe that doesn’t matter so much if it’s just an add-on for chili and such… Thank you, I’ll just have a bite and move on. But then, why bother at all?
Most cornbreads are designed as quick breads where dry and liquid are all mixed together and then immediately popped into the oven with ease in mind. What makes this cornbread unique is that it begins more like a traditional cake batter. The butter and sugar are first creamed together, then the liquid is stirred in followed by the dry ingredients.
It makes a difference. Yes, this cornbread has a moderate amount of sugar in it, but it aids in the structure of the loaf and enhances its corn flavor. I usually make this in an 8×8” or double it for a 9×13” pan. Baking it as a loaf was a switch, it rose evenly and baked beautifully. Even better I was delighted with how thinly it would slice.
This loaf truly is pure gold; it does not need to be relegated to a chili side. It stands on its own. It goes with just about anything, but is particularly good with eggs, salads, stews and soup—anyplace a well-constructed bread is wanted.
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 cup milk or water
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 375° F. Spray a 5×8″ loaf pan with bakers spray.
Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt and set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter to soften and slowly beat in the sugar until creamy. Add the egg and beat well. Beat in the yogurt and milk, then the cornmeal.
Add the dry ingredients to the cornmeal mixture and stir until just blended. Transfer batter to pan.
Bake until golden brown and tester comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Cool on rack.
Serve warm or room temperature. Can be prepared a day ahead. Cool complete. Cover with foil and store at room temperature. Makes one loaf.
When it comes to tasty baking combinations, these days it’s hard to beat buckwheat groats, tahini, and honey. And here we have a cookie with all three—plus a surprise crunch factor thrown in for entertainment value!
This idea comes from a gluten-free cookie re-engineered from Gluten Free Girl – an excellent site for all things gluten-free. These soft, moist, fiber rich cookies are the perfect purveyor for any of your favorite additions: perhaps a handful of trail mix or a combo of dried fruit, seeds & nuts, and/or white or dark chocolate.
In this case, the star is roasted buckwheat groats, well known for its characteristically earthy, nutty taste. I’m partial to its toasty/tobacco flavor that’s reminiscent of cooler seasons. Buckwheat’s hard outer hull must be removed for it to become fully edible. Since it has no gluten, buckwheat flour is often used as a substitute for wheat flour.
Although it is frequently associated with grains, buckwheat is a seed related to sorrel and rhubarb. That’s welcome news since seeds are literally jam-packed with minerals and antioxidants. Once toasted the buckwheat groats are called kasha. If the roasted variety is too strong, try the milder, unroasted buckwheat as a delicious rice substitute.
Even though these cookies are effortless to whip up, they do require a little advance planning. Allow a 30-minute soak for the groats to achieve their iconic texture, and one-hour chill time to firm-up the dough before baking.
So fond am I of these cookies, I have taken to making two different sizes. In a 10”x10” pan I portion out nine large 3-tablespoon/scoops—large enough for on-the-run happy meals. In an 11” round pan, I layout approximately ten rounded tablespoon-sized cookies—ideal for a mid-morning or afternoon snack. Or, for a slightly more logical solution you could make about 20 cookies, but that’s just how I roll…
All-Occasion Buckwheat Cookies
Greatly reworked from a gluten free concept, 3:30PM Cookies at Gluten-free Girl.
¾ cup buckwheat groats
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg or ½ tsp ground ginger
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
¼ cup tahini
½ cup honey
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup spelt or whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup favorite fruit/nut mix (or ¼ cup each nuts/seeds, dried cranberries, white chocolate)
To soak the buckwheat groats: melt the coconut oil in microwave for 30-40 seconds. Stir in the tahini to combine, then add the honey. In a small mixing bowl, measure ¾ cup groats along with the cinnamon and nutmeg or ginger. Pour the warm coconut oil mixture over the groats. Stir well and let soak for at least 30 minutes.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Pour the soaked buckwheat mixture over it. Add the egg and stir with a spatula to combine. Add the trail mix and blend.
Cover and chill at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
Using 3 Tbsp scoop, place 9 on baking sheet. Shape into flat cylinders. Bake 17-18 minutes until golden brown and set on edges.
Cool for 10 minutes on baking sheet, then move to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat making 1 pan of smaller rounded tablespoon cookies. Yield: @ 20 2-1/2 to 3” cookies.
Yes, donut holes with all of the taste, none of the frying, and cute enough to warrant packing one away in each cheek. The real secret to these light, cakelike bites is the coating of cinnamon-sugar that’s held firmly in place by a whisper of butter thinly brushed onto their exteriors while still warm.
Muffins are one of the easiest quick breads to bake, and actually benefit from the least amount of handling. Dust off a mini-muffin pan or two and bake up a batch in absolutely no time. As with any cake donut, we want the contrast of crispy exteriors and light interiors. Here are a few tips to get you there.
For even distribution and rising, sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Over stirring makes tough cone-topped donuts. Combine the liquid ingredients separately and add all at once to the dry ingredients in as few strokes as possible. A few lumps are fine. For consistent cup filling, use a small ½-ounce scoop; a tablespoon will also work.
Muffins are done when they are well-rounded with a light golden color and the centers spring back when pressed. For maximum crispiness do not cool in pan. Run a knife around edges to loosen and turn out onto cooling rack.
While warm lightly brush each donut hole all over with butter and roll in cinnamon-sugar. Let rest 15 minutes to allow sugar coating to crystalize, and have at it!
Donut Hole Muffins
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
⅓ cup vegetable oil
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup milk Topping
¼ cup butter, melted
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375° and thoroughly coat mini muffin cups with cooking spray.
Sift flour, cornstarch, and baking powder into a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the salt and nutmeg and mix well.
In a small bowl whisk together the egg, oil, sugar, and milk. Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients just to combine.
Using ½-ounce scoop or a tablespoon, fill the cups with batter and bake for 20 minutes, until they begin to turn golden brown and the tops spring back when pressed. Turn muffins out onto cooling rack.
Meanwhile, combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small wide bowl. One at a time, lightly brush each muffin all over with melted butter and then roll in the cinnamon sugar. Place on baking rack and repeat. Allow to set up about 15 minutes and serve. Yield: 24-30 donut holes.
Perhaps I didn’t fully elaborate on yesterday’s amazingly addictive Oatmeal Crisps. I woke in the middle of the night thinking of my extended rant which failed to mention much of anything about their real virtues.
Did I mention the lacy cookies that clock in at under two minutes baking time per batch are not only ethereal, crisp, and crunchy, but their rich and nutty flavor belies the fact that they have less than 20 calories each? I didn’t think so.
Did I tell you that they have the added benefit of oatmeal’s nutritional value, fiber, and flavor? That for the small number and volume of ingredients you receive so much? I think not.
Did I mention that although these are prepared in the microwave, and there still seems to be some concern about its usage, the convenience and advantages of the microwave in cases such as this, are well worth considering?
Did I mention that their charm lends not only to copious snacking but also that they make a style statement when perched alongside or atop ice cream, sorbet, parfaits, mousse, or nearly anything else you can think of? Not so much.
Did I mention that even though they take so little time to produce, they make an excellent and thoughtful gift when you would rather not show up empty handed on someone’s doorstep?
Apple season is underway in the Willamette Valley, which makes it an apple lover’s paradise. For those bent on exploring new horizons, the movement toward recovering long forgotten heritage varieties is reintroducing a new realm of excellent choices. Like grape selection in wine making, apples have their own profiles and attributes. Depending on your inclination, it seems there is a specific apple out there for every need.
After sampling a range of local apples recently, I came away with a far deeper appreciation for the nuances that make each variety unique. Some are great for baking while others are delicious raw or out of hand. Tart, crisp, juicy, doesn’t even begin to define their best qualities.
With all this activity, I’m caught up eating my share of different apples. But when it came to considering a choice for a baked apple project recently, I went with the granddaddy of them all, the McIntosh. It has been a long time since I’ve played with them, and with my new perspective, I’ve gained an even deeper appreciation.
The McIntosh is referred to as a cultivar, which means that it has been used to create newer varieties like Golden and Red Delicious, the Jonathan, Cortland, and Empire. All of these have been a favorite of mine at one time or another. No wonder the McIntosh is considered the gold standard.
When it comes to the gold standard, Apple Inc. liked the name so much for their personal computer line they misspelled it to Macintosh to not complete with another trademark at the time using the McIntosh name.
Just like Steve Jobs’ aesthetics for his Apple, visually the McIntosh is sexy. Round and voluptuous, its color is often a deep vibrant red layered on bright, near chartreuse-green. A bite into a McIntosh gives you plenty of crunch and juiciness, and there’s a well balanced sweet to tart ratio with no huge acid hit in the mouth, plus a delightful spiciness that I found intriguing. The flesh is creamy white―it’s a sexy piece of beauty. Some would say the skin is thicker than most; but I certainly wouldn’t toss it. There’s plenty of apple flavor (and nutrition) in the skin, plus it offers a lovely contrast to the flesh for an overall pleasant mouth feel.
Which makes the McIntosh perfect for baked apples.
About this time, I discovered Tall Clover Farm, a delightfully written blog/website by Tom Conway, who is also cultivating unique apple varieties on Vashon Island, off-shore Seattle. He offers an idea for baked apples, along similar lines as I was mulling over.
Rather than a sugar-and-spice filling, he uses a dialed-down mixture of toasted nuts, dried fruit, all bound together with a bit marmalade or other jam. A light dusting of cinnamon-sugar is sprinkled over the top to enhance the apple’s spiciness, along with a dab of butter and a quick drizzle of syrup for added moisture. A pastry round finishes it all, adding a jaunty touch of crunch and charm. Brilliant, just enough to enhance the apple and not detract from its essential beauty.
For my little toppers, I made a small amount of pastry (half batch), using a standard method and added a bit of egg yolk and a dash of sugar for richness. The rest of the yolk was combined with milk and brushed on top of the pastry before baking. Later, in my excitement I realized I forgot to vent the toppers to release unnecessary moisture ―as you would with a top pie crust. Certainly not critical, but a nice touch.
Baked Apple with Pie Crust Topper
Inspired by Apple Dumplings with Pie Crust Caps, @ Tall Clover Farm by Tom Conway
4 McIntosh apples, core removed, skin peeled about half way down
Half recipe standard pie crust Filling:
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp marmalade or jam of choice Cinnamon-Sugar:
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter, divided
¼ cup honey, agave, maple syrup, divided
Prepare the pastry, divide in 4 small disks and let it chill.
For filling, combine ingredients and set aside. In a small bowl combine the cinnamon-sugar.
For apple prep: cut off the top of each evenly, core each apple, retaining the bottom of each. Peel half way down; for clean edge, score the apple and remove ragged excess to that point.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush pie plate with butter and set aside.
Distribute filling evenly in the centers of the 4 apples. Dot the filling lightly with butter and drizzle apples with honey or agave and sprinkle tops with half of the cinnamon-sugar.
On floured work surface, roll out the pastry into 4 rounds and cut with fluted biscuit cutter. Make a decorative cut-out or cut slits in each for venting. Place one on top of each apple.
Brush each with egg wash of a bit of egg yolk and milk or water. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar (optional). Place apples in baking dish, add about ½ cup water along with the remainder of the butter and honey.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, remove and baste apple flesh with baking liquid. Return to oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 25-30 minutes longer, basting 2 or 3 times more. Bake until crusts are golden brown and apples are tender when pierced. Serve warm with ice cream or custard sauce Yield: 4.
We have a real glut of apples happening at my local market―a most certain nod that the winds of fall are fast approaching. Meanwhile, leaves begin to display golden shades and shadows stretch longer in the afternoon sun, it’s as if nature is taking one long breath. I have mixed feelings about this change of seasons: I’m both sad that summer is all but gone, yet excited for the approaching harvest.
Living closer to the land again, I’m regaining my awareness and connection with the natural life cycle. Peaches and nectarines replace summer berries now, while apple varieties like Jonathon, honey crisp, gala, and Fuji steadily gain prominence. Absolutely nothing compares to eating produce at its peak. Freshly picked for consumption means it hasn’t been sitting in a cooler for months making its way to my grocery store.
I recently bought a few early Fuji apples to make a nice dessert for friends, and my favorite French Apple Torte came to mind. I have been making it for so long that I have lost the original documentation. There’s nothing terribly unique about it―your normal baking staples and a few sweet, crisp apples wrapped in a moist custard-like batter. Just know that it is all about the apples.
The batter only requires a few stirs with a whisk or large spoon. The apples are added and it is unceremoniously dumped into a baking dish. While in the oven, a simple topping is quickly put together and poured over the semi-baked torte. It continues to bake until fully set and the edges of the apples caramelize.
This little beauty hits all the right notes. It’s bursting with bright nuances from fresh sweet apples and further enhanced by the rich egginess of the crazy-custard-like batter that binds it all together. The caramel topping’s buttery sweetness and texture becomes the perfect counterpoint to the clean apple flavors.
Elegant in taste and appearance, it is a dessert suitable for just about any occasion. Consider it as the finish to a special dinner, an impromptu treat for drop-in company, or perhaps the best reason of all, to celebrate the apple harvest. Do enjoy it warm from the oven with ice cream or a custard sauce.
French Apple Torte
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup milk
4 baking apples such Braeburn, Rome, Fuji, etc, peel, core, thick slices (about 2 pounds) Topping
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten Method
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9″ springform pan or ovenproof quiche dish and set aside.
In large bowl combine flour through salt and blend well.
In small bowl combine vanilla through milk and blend well. Add liquid to dry and stir until well blended. Add the apples and stir to thoroughly coat with batter. Spoon into pan and bake until firm and golden, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare topping by combining butter, sugar and egg in small bowl. Stir to blend, and set aside.
Remove torte from oven and pour the topping mixture over it. Return to the oven and bake until top is deep golden brown and quite firm when pressed, about 10 minutes.
Remove to rack and cool from 10 minutes. Run knife around edge and remove sides or serve from dish at room temperature or warmed served with vanilla ice cream or custard sauce. Serves 6 to 8.
I don’t know about you, but I seem to constantly struggle with too many over-ripe bananas. After all these years, you’d think I would have figured out how to realistically manage the inflow and outflow of bananas. Maybe a life-cycle chart would help. Or perhaps there’s an app that can tell me when to buy more bananas.
Try as I might, I can’t quite get the purchase and consumption of bananas to come out even. There are times at the market when I will hover over them, remind self of the likely outcome, then staunchly throw my head back and move on―empty handed.
Just as often though, I will linger over the bananas a tad too long. I’ll pick up a bunch and feel the surge of tension―I have more at home but I’m buying them anyway. I refuse to accept that there will be dark bananas days ahead.
I tell myself past-their-prime bananas are good. I should be grateful.
They are sweeter and more nutritious than their younger, firmer predecessors, especially in smoothies and other juice drinks. We know they are richer in potassium, which helps with high blood pressure, osteoporosis and stroke; they have increased vitamin B-6 which lessens rheumatoid arthritis, depression and heart disease; and they contain plenty of soluble and insoluble fibers, helpful in preventing obesity and hypertension.
Nevertheless, those same youthful bananas continue to sit, gain spots, and grow black. Likely as not, they will be relegated to the freezer, deferred for another day. Recently, I was back in that same predicament: what to do with more sagging bananas. Here’s my latest solution for 2 (just) small very ripe bananas. Good news: it continues to keep on giving for several days, long enough to stop buying bananas for a while.
This Banana Swirl Bread is inspired by Banana Cinnamon Bread at Goodeats.com. It’s as close as you can get to easy banana-scented cinnamon rolls – but instead of the usual heavy dose of butter there’s only a dash of olive oil.
Like most yeast breads, there is the rising time to consider. The dough is so well constructed I didn’t even bother to pull out my mixer and opted to stir it up by hand.
Once it has risen the dough rolls out in a flash; it’s sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar and shaped into a loaf for another quick rise.
While the bread bakes, the air is filled with scents of tropical bananas and cinnamon―an unbeatable combination. The hardest part is waiting for the bread to cool before cutting. It slices beautifully revealing a gorgeous, pale yellow loaf etched throughout with a cinnamon-brown sugar spiral.
It is delicious sliced and eaten straight up, but there are those who will want to toast it and further glorify it with butter. I suspect it would make amazing French toast, too. Stay tuned for Episode Two.
½ cup lukewarm water
1 packet quick rise yeast
½ cup mashed very ripe bananas (2 small)
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup plain yogurt, Greek-style preferably
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3/4 cup bread flour or all purpose flour; divided
1 Tbsp olive oil Cinnamon-sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
In large mixing bowl, combine the warm water, the yeast, and a pinch of the sugar; let stand about 10 minutes to activate yeast and become bubbly.
Meanwhile, mash the bananas and add to them the remaining sugar, yogurt, salt, vanilla and a heaping cup of the flour. Combine and add to the yeast mixture, stirring to incorporate. Add another heaping cup of flour (reserving the rest for the kneading process) along with the olive oil and continue mixing until it forms a smooth mass. If using a bread hook, continue to beat and incorporate most of the flour until it is smooth and elastic.
If finishing by hand, turn dough out onto floured board, kneading briefly to incorporate remainder of the flour and the dough is silky and elastic.
Place the dough in clean, well oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover, and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile spray a 9×5” or similar pan with oil. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
When dough is light, flour the board, turn it out, punch it down and knead it briefly to release air. Roll the dough out to 9”x15” rectangle. Spread the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the dough, leaving a 3” unsugared edge on the far 9” end.
Roll the dough up, jelly roll fashion, to form a 9” long log. Pinch the unsugared end and seal. Tuck the ends under if necessary and place seam-side down in prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown, rotating to brown evenly if necessary. Remove loaf from pan and cool completely on rack before cutting. Yield: 1 loaf.