Monday, April 25, 2016

Armenian Lavash

A few weeks ago, we were watching The Amazing Race when teams had a chance to make lavash the traditional way during a stop in Armenia. I couldn't get it out of my head but didn't have bread flour, so my baking project had to wait until I bought some. This is a simple recipe with endless variations, but I waited until I had an afternoon where I could have back to back 30 minute periods to rest the dough and bake the lavash in batches. I used poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and z'atar.

I poked around for traditional recipes and found a video made by an Armenian woman, translated into English. The comments are interesting because most of them are people from other countries, angry that she has "claimed" lavash for Armenia. Surely there are similar flatbreads in many cultures. And even I have made lavash, back in 2008 for a Daring Bakers challenge. I made more of a cracker version, slightly thicker than typical lavash. Of course I didn't have a traditional clay oven deep in the ground like the women in Armenia do, but I heated the pan in the oven at a very high heat.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Berry Coconut Muffins

These are adapted from "Blueberries-and-Cream Mall Muffins" from A Passion for Baking by Marcy Goldman, one of my go-to cookbooks I keep on the shelf in my kitchen. I'm not sure what malls are like where Marcy grew up, but I don't actually know what a mall muffin is. I used marionberries and coconut flakes, but thinking back, if I had used coconut milk in place of buttermilk and coconut oil in place of butter, these would have tasted more strongly of coconut. As they are, they are tender and sweet. This recipe makes a lot; for us I think 1/4 recipe is best. The recipe times are also intended for the jumbo muffin size; if you make regular muffins they won't need to bake as long. I went with 10 minutes at 425 and the remainder at 350.

Berry Coconut Muffins

2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter, melted
4 large eggs
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp each pure lemon and orange extract, optional
5 cups, approximately, all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups semi-frozen berries
1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut or unsweetened dried coconut flakes

Preheat oven to 425 F. Arrange oven rack to middle position.

Generously spray 12-cup large or standard muffin pan or a 24-cup small muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray and then line with paper muffin liners. Place pan on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

In a mixer bowl, blend sugar with oil and butter. Briskly add eggs, vanilla, and other extracts. Fold in 4 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Blend somewhat before next blending in buttermilk and sour cream. Batter should be quite thick; if not, add a touch more flour. Gently fold in berries with a spatula, trying not to break them apart.

Using a large ice-cream scoop, scoop a very large amount of batter into prepared muffin cups, loading them as full as you can. Dust tops of muffins with a little sugar.

Bake 15 minutes at 425 F; then reduce oven temperature to 350 F and bake until muffins are golden brown and spring back when gently pressed with fingertips, about 12-16 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before removing from pan.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Pancakes at the End of the Lane

I recently reread one of the shorter books by Neil Gaiman - The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The unnamed main character has returned to his childhood home after a death in the family (we are led to assume), and tells the story about the family living at the end of the lane. He ended up in their home several times during scary and confusing moments, and part of the "magic" of the three women included delicious, comforting food. I remember an apple custard type dessert being mentioned, and I remember these pancakes:
"Lettie cooked us pancakes on a big metal griddle, on the kitchen stove. They were paper-thin, and as each pancake was done Lettie would squeeze lemon onto it, and plop a blob of plum jam into the center, and roll it tightly, like a cigar."
I had always listened to the audio previously, so this was the first time I had seen the ephemeral material at the end. A short Q&A between Joe Hill and the author asked a very important question - do the pancakes described exist and what is the recipe? They do exist, and Neil shared the recipe. So of course I had to make them! While a bit squidgier than crepes I've made previously, and although I had to use blueberry jam after not finding plum, these made a delicious and comforting breakfast.

Pancakes at the End of the Lane

  • 1 cup of ordinary white flour
  • 2 eggs
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 cups of milk and water (a cup and a half of milk and a cup of water mixed)
  • 1 tablespoon of either vegetable oil or melted butter
Directions (slightly modified)
Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Crack the eggs in and whisk/fork the egg into the flour.

Slowly add the milk/water mixture, stirring as you go, until there are no lumps and you have a liquid the consistency of a not too thick cream. (I'm guessing you add the butter to the batter and use additional butter to grease the pan but it doesn't include this step.)

Put the mixture in the fridge overnight.

Grease or butter or oil a non-stick frying pan. Heat it until it’s really hot. (I used medium temp on my stove.)

Stir the mixture you just took from the fridge thoroughly because the flour will all be at the bottom. Get an even consistency.

Ladle some mixture into the pan, thinly covering the whole of the base of the pan. When the base is golden, flip it (or, if you are brave, toss it). Cook another 30 seconds on the other side.
Squeeze lemon juice lightly over the surface, sprinkle with granulated sugar, and plop a blob of jam in there before rolling up like a cigar.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Carrot Cake Attempt #2 (low-sugar, gluten-free, grain-free)

A few years ago, I had just started learning how to bake in a lower-carb, lower-sugar fashion. I made a carrot cake from The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking that looked beautiful but neither of us could eat. The reason? There are copious amounts of artificial sweetener in both the cake and icing, and while these don't seem to bother most people, neither of us could force it down. I still have the book on my shelves and after a few years of experimenting with this kind of baking, I thought I could try it again, making a few substitutions, like using coconut sugar instead of Splenda, etc.

Verdict? Sigh, well, still not great. It LOOKS good. But the taste was still not there. I underutilized the coconut sugar so the cake part itself wasn't sweet enough, and I used brown sugar Splenda in the icing, something which works fine in our cinnamon toast but somehow was too obvious here.

I'm posting it anyway. I want people to know how bloggers do more work than you ever see because we make mistakes or ideas don't work the way we expect. This is one where I'm still not at the place I want to be with this one. I'll include the original recipe below from Peter Reinhardt and Denene Wallace, and mark the changes I made. The texture of the cake itself is fine, not too moist, not too dry, cakelike enough for those of us used to sugar-free baking. It's the taste that just isn't there. And it might be that carrots aren't a great idea for low-sugar baking to start with, as they are pretty high in sugar!

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup (4 oz) coconut flour
1 cup (4 oz) pecan flour*
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded dried coconut, lightly toasted**
2 cups Splenda or Stevia Extract in the Raw, or 1 cup New Roots Stevia Sugar***
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
8 egg whites or 6 eggs
1 1/4 cup unsweetened soy milk or other milk
1/2 cup salted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp liquid stevia****
2 1/2 cups packed finely shredded carrots

Cream cheese frosting
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup Splenda or Stevia Extract in the Raw, or 1/2 cup New Roots Stevia Sugar*****
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp unsweetened soy milk or other milk
1/8 tsp liquid stevia****

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line the bottom of two 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, then mist the inside walls of the pans along with the parchment with spray oil.

In a medium bowl, combine the coconut flour, pecan flour, shredded coconut, Splenda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon and whisk until well mixed. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites, milk, butter, vanilla, and liquid stevia together until thoroughly blended. Stir in the carrots. Add the flour mixture and stir with a large spoon for 1-2 minutes to make a thick, sticky batter. If the batter is too thick to pour, add a little more milk.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Use a spatula to evenly spread the batter, or jiggle the pan to evenly distribute the batter in the pan. Bake for 35 minutes, then switch racks and bake for about 30 more minutes, until the cakes are lightly golden and springy when pressed in the center and a toothpick inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In a bowl of an electric mixture or a large bowl, combine all the frosting ingredients and mix with the paddle attachment on medium speed or stir vigorously with a large spoon until thoroughly blended. If using an electric mixer, switch to the whisk attachment and mix at medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until the mixture is fluffy and very creamy; if mixing by hand switch to a sturdy whisk and beat vigorously.

As the cakes cool, they should shrink from the pan walls; if not, run an icing spatula or a thin knife around the edges. Invert the cakes onto two plates. They can be eaten as they are or be frosted, either singly or as a new two-layer cake. For a two-layer cake, spread some frosting over the top of the lower layer, spreading it to an even thickness of about 1/4 inch. Position the second layer on top and then spread the remaining frosting over the entire cake. Sprinkle the pecans, coconut, or both over the top and/or side of the cake if you like. Keep refrigerated.

*- I used almond flour because I had it on hand and pecans are expensive!
** - I left this out because I had the wrong coconut and was worried it might dry out the cake.
*** - I used a scant 1 cup of coconut sugar, which ended up not being quite sweet enough.
**** - Omitted from both cake and frosting.
***** - Used 1/3 cup of Brown sugar Splenda.