Ice Storm Baking

Here in Oregon’s central Willamette Valley, we are under winter storm conditions with yesterday’s 3-inch layer of snow. Today, early morning ice storm warnings advise all to stay off the roads due to dangerous conditions.

cranberry-orange-mini-coffeecakeHunkering down, my thoughts naturally drift to tinkering with food. I envision something easy and comforting—on the order of a warm, cheery Sunday morning coffeecake.

Of course, my recent fascination with the microwave was enough to inspire these personal portions of cranberry orange coffee cake. They were table ready within 15 minutes, including minimal cleanup.

Since everything cooks quickly in the microwave, it’s best to thoroughly pre-prep everything. I had fresh frozen cranberries handy in the freezer. To move things along I microwaved them with a dab citrusy orange marmalade until they began to pop, then set it aside to cool. Same with dry ingredients; a quick sift alleviates weird pockets of flavor.

Baking in the microwave is quite different from the traditional oven since powerful heat can create moisture accumulation. I abandoned the usual covering of food prior to cooking; it tends to adhere to the surface and make more of a mess. Also, to maintain an even rise, I turned the baking dishes every 30 seconds after the initial first minute.

indiv-cranberry-orange-coffeecakeIn total, these 3 lovelies took a little over 2 minutes total cooking time. Since the centers tend to cook first, the edges still appear undercooked, but that is fine. Carry over heat from the container plus the food’s internal heat will continue to cook after removal from the microwave.

Enjoy these warm in their baking containers.  For additional flourish, sprinkle with turbinado sugar prior to baking, or afterward cool slightly and dust tops with confectioner’s sugar or give a drizzle with xxx sugar thinned with liquid.

Cranberry Orange Mini Coffeecakes, Two Minute

Ingredients
1/3 cup fresh frozen cranberries
1 tablespoon marmalade
1/2 cup all purpose flour, or any flour combination (like 1/2 whole wheat)
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Dash salt
1 egg
2 tablespoon milk
Turbinado sugar, optional topping

Directions

  1. Spray 3 – 8 oz microwave safe baking dishes with non-stick spray, place on ovenproof dish.
  2. In small microwave safe container, heat cranberries and marmalade about 1 minute to soften and breakdown.  Set aside to cool.
  3. Sift dry ingredients into small mixing bowl and blend thoroughly.
  4. Separately, beat egg and milk to thoroughly combine.
  5. Combine the egg mixture with the dry ingredients and quickly swirl in the cranberry mixture.
  6. Divide batter evenly between three baking dishes, sprinkle lightly with turbinado sugar if desired.
  7. Bake on high for 1 minute.  Give each dish a slight turn and bake another 30 seconds and turn again.  Continue to bake and turn in 30 second increments for 2 minutes or more; edges will be moist, but continue to cook out of the oven.  Don’t overbake.  Yield: 3 servings.

Beware of the Easter Bunny: Carrots for Breakfast!!

I’ve always been partial to carrots.  They are a happy vegetable, they like getting along with others.

Carrots’ inherent sweetness means we can cut down on sugar if using them in a sweet setting. Since they have plenty of fiber and bulk, they can assist in thickening, as with many soups. They are an ideal addition in curries and dishes with complex sweet/savory components.

Carrot cake is a favorite of many, but it’s notoriously high fat content can be a major deterrent. We know carrots are rich in fiber, beta carotene, Vitamins A, K and C, as well as potassium, iron and other minerals. So why ruin a good thing?

Carrot Chai Muffins

Carrot Chai Muffins

Here’s a solution with built-in advantages.  To emphasize their healthy attributes, our miniature carrot cakes cut back considerably on the oil factor when we substitute yogurt instead. Friendly chai spices of cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon jump in and extend an undercurrent of warm richness.

Although these muffins require nothing more, in the spirit of carrot cake, we have replaced the traditional cream cheese-butter based frosting with a lighter version.  Instead, Neufchatel cheese stands in—the tasty low-fat cream cheese alternative—whipped until light with zingy marmalade, since orange is another natural carrot companion.

Enjoy these sweet cakes anytime of the day:  warm from the oven, slathered with Marmalade Cream, or cooled and finished with a decorative swirl on top. Good luck keeping these from the Easter bunny!

Carrot Chai Muffins

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1-½ teaspoon chai spice, or ½ teaspoon each cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup plain yogurt, regular or low-fat
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup finely shredded carrots
Marmalade Cream
1 cup cream cheese, or low-fat Neuchatel cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons marmalade

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Line 12 cup muffin pan with liners.
  2. In a large bowl, thoroughly combine flour through salt and whisk to remove any lumps. Add the raisins and toss to coat with flour.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg briefly, then incorporate the oil. Whisk in the yogurt and vanilla; when combined, stir in the finely grated carrots.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gently blend in the egg-carrot mixture. Don’t overmix.
  5. Fill muffin cups about 2/3 full.  Bake 18-20 minutes, until a pick inserted comes out clean. Cool on rack 5-10 minutes and remove from pan.
  6. For the Marmalade Cream: With a fork, beat the cream cheese to lighten.  Stir in the marmalade to taste. Cover and chill until needed. Swirl a dollop on top of cooled muffins or serve it separately.  Yield: 12 muffins

For Goodness Sake, Bread Pudding Muffins

I can’t help myself.  Regardless of a return to 80 and 90 degree weather the calendar still reads October— my culinary roots have instinctively shifted to thoughts of autumn, the harvest, and stockpiling heartier foods for approaching winter.

Like a squirrel salting away nuts for a rainy day, I’m busy brining and roasting more turkey wings than I’ll ever eat, and simmering pots of soup and batches of crystallized ginger.  In this same spirit, I have been mulling over an old favorite recipe for bread pudding muffins and decided to give it an update.

Back in the height of the low fat craze, I made a lot of these muffins.  They used only egg whites (sans yolks, the presumed enemy), plenty of cinnamon, and only a sparse amount of butter, so it was easy to splurge when predictable cravings set in.  It was a smart alternative to the real deal.

Let’s face it:  bread pudding is pretty much bread soaked in flavored custard and baked.  Omit the yolks, the heart of the custard, and this richly satisfying, unctuous pudding becomes a soggy, sweet, one-dimensional impostor.  Of course, my renewed respect for the humble egg has caused a major shift in my approach to cooking and eating. Now, those earlier muffins seem like bleak compromise:  low fat watered down imitations, an uneven swap, in lieu of robust flavor and quality.bread pudding glazed
So, the results are in from my challenge to create a moist flavorful muffin with all the attributes of bread pudding, yet remain ever vigilant to realistic alternatives.  In this case, one that is not ridiculously rich, can be picked up as a portable breakfast treat/snack, and  can also be served warmed for a personal sized dessert.

bread pudding few

Yum, yum, yum!

Bread Pudding Muffins with Coconut Drizzle

Good anytime muffin of cubed bread soaked in vanilla custard, enriched with warm spices, raisins, and dried cranberries, then topped off with a light coconut glaze.  For substitutions, try crystallized ginger, dried currants, apricots or blueberries.

Ingredients
4 cups bread cubes, cut into 1/2″ pieces, crusts trimmed (Sally Lund bread or challah are great)
1/3 cup raisins, 1/3 cup dried cranberries (combine with 1 Tbsp orange or other juice and microwave until bubbly, about 1 minute and let stand to soften)
Custard Base:
2 large eggs
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or rum extract
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup milk, warmed
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch salt

Coconut Glaze (see below) or confectioners’ sugar

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Use silicone cups or fill 6 muffin cups with liners.

  1. Before preparing the custard, trim bread of excessively heavy crust, cut into ½” cubes, and place in a large mixing bowl. Separately, soak the dried fruit; melt the butter; and warm the milk.
  2. Prepare the custard:  In a medium bowl using a hand mixer, beat the eggs until frothy and slowly beat in the sugar; continue beating at medium high until thick.  Mix in the vanilla or rum; stir in the melted butter; then add the warm milk and combine well.
  3. Pour the custard over the bread cubes and stir with a large spoon to moisten evenly. Allow the bread to soak about 10 minutes.
  4. In a small bowl combine the cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. With a tablespoon, remove one spoonful of warm liquid from the soaking bread and add this to the the cornstarch mixture, stirring to create a smooth slurry.
  5. Stir the spice slurry evenly into the bread and custard and add the macerated fruit.
  6. Mound the bread mixture into muffin cups and bake about 30 minutes, until set and lightly browned. Let cool on rack and drizzle with Coconut Glaze, or sift lightly with confectioners’ sugar.  Yield:  6 servings.

Coconut Glaze:  Combine ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 tsp coconut oil or ½ tsp coconut extract, and slowly beat in 1 – 2 Tbsp hot water, enough to form a cohesive, thin paste.  Drizzle with a fork over the tops of the muffins.

Recipe can be doubled.