Sunday, April 29, 2018

A superior chocolate babka

If you’ve ever paid attention to the right-hand column on my blog, you’ll know that the post titled Chocolate Babka has been one of the most (if not THE most) popular post in the past several years. I think you’ll therefore be happy to know that the chocolate babka recipe I am about to share is far superior! It’s from Smitte Kitchen, where Deb Perelman has posted beautiful photos of each step if you need more details than I give here. (I also learnt the word “abstemious” in that post, although it should be said that what she wrote was actually that this babka is NOT abstemious, despite the smaller quantities of butter and chocolate compared to other popular recipes!) She adapted the recipe from chocolate krantz cakes by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, which may be a more accurate name for it (or at least, maybe it was when the cake was made their way, with chopped nuts, more syrup, and rolled into a longer rectangle before being rolled up). It’s worth noting that the chocolaty brioche that we call babka these days isn’t really babka at all – I don’t care what you call it, though, because this is delicious!

This babka is pretty simple to make (you can do it all in a day if you want, or prep it the day before and bake it the morning of). The egg and butter dough is tender and flavorful without being too sweet, so the syrup glaze at the end is a welcome addition, plus it makes everything look so much better! I also loved the filling, which was more of a chocolate paste than chopped chocolate, and therefore offered, shall we say, more even coverage. This recipes makes two loaves – we ate one right away and froze the second for later consumption.

For the dough
4 ¼ cups (530 g.) white all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
½ cup (100 g.) granulated sugar
2 tsp. instant yeast
grated zest of 1 small lemon or half an orange (I used the latter)
3 large eggs
½ cup water (cold is fine) and up to 1 to 2 Tbsp. extra, if needed
¾ tsp. fine sea or table salt
2/3 cup lactose-free butter (150 g. or 5.3 oz.) at room temperature
safflower oil or other neutral oil, for greasing

For the filling

4 ½ oz. (130 g.) dark chocolate (or approximately ¾ cup chocolate chips)
½ cup (120 g.) lactose-free butter, cold is fine
scant ½ cup (50 g.) powdered sugar
1/3 cup (30 g.) cocoa powder
¼ tsp. cinnamon (optional; I didn’t use it)

For the syrup

1/3 cup water
6 Tbsp. (75 g.) granulated sugar

For the dough
Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Add eggs and ½ cup water, mixing with the dough hook until it comes together; this may take a few minutes. It’s okay if it’s on the dry side, but if it doesn’t come together at all, add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a mass. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a spoonful at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you’ll need to scrape the bowl down a few times. If the dough doesn’t pull away from the sides of the bowl yet after 10 minutes, you can add 1 tablespoon extra flour to help this along.

Coat a large bowl with oil (or scrape the dough out onto a counter and oil this one) and place dough inside, cover with plastic and refrigerate. Leave in fridge for at least half a day, preferably overnight. (The dough will grow, but it will not double in size. Note that if you want this to be a single-day process, you should leave it out at room temperature for 3 hours to grow, then refrigerate it for 30 minutes, because the dough will be much easier to work with when it’s cold.)

For the filling
Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar and cocoa; mixture should form a spreadable paste. Add cinnamon, if desired.

For assembly
Coat two 9-by-4-inch loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper. Take half of dough from fridge (leave the other half chilled). Roll out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 12 inches.

Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log. Place the log on a lightly floured baking sheet and put it in the freezer for 15 minutes, which will make the next step (cutting it in half) much, much easier. Repeat with second dough.

Trim last ½-inch off each end of log. Gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay the halves next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan. You can make an S shape with the dough and nestle the trimmed ends of the log in the gaps, but by the time the dough is done rising and baking, the gaps should be filled anyway, so don’t worry about that too much. Repeat the process with the second loaf. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1 to 1 ½ hours at room temperature.

For baking the babkas and making the syrup
Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes, but there’s no harm in checking for doneness at 25 minutes. A skewer inserted into an underbaked babka will feel stretchy/rubbery inside and may come back with dough on it. When fully baked, you’ll feel almost no resistance. If your babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time, then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil.

While babkas are baking, make the syrup. Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush the syrup all over each. It will seem like too much, but will taste just right — glossy and moist. Let cool about halfway in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating, if you can wait that long.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Fresh Strawberry Muffins

I keep trying new things for breakfast, bless my heart. Despite how healthful they sounded, chickpea, date and coconut triangles were not my thing, being too soft and a bit bland (I’m not sure whether adding chocolate chips would have saved them; as it was, I think the Fox was the only one who liked them).

I also made cranberry, orange, and white chocolate scones, which were in fact delicious (pieces of white chocolate ended up basically caramelizing in the oven and were the best part), but somehow I don’t have really good pictures.

So enter these fresh strawberry muffins. Because they contain fresh fruit, they don’t keep very well, so I preemptively froze most of them – and I can attest that those are delicious after 30 seconds or so in the microwave. These muffins are topped with cinnamon sugar, but I think you could swap the cinnamon for nutmeg or cardamom or omit it altogether. And you could probably use other berries, depending on what you have on hand. It’s a simple, versatile recipe!

2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup lactose-free butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. vanilla
½ cup lactose-free milk
1 ½ cups chopped strawberries
3 tsp. sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 °F. Grease a muffin pan or line the wells with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix well.

Add flour mixture and milk alternately to butter mixture. Gently stir in strawberries.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin pans.

Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over muffins.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Miyoko's vegan cheese

I’m not sure when I first heard of Miyoko’s, maybe a few years ago, but I’d had my eye open for a while in the vegan section at the grocery store. (Although, to be honest, I might have gotten sidetracked by Green Valley Organics’ lactose-free dairy offerings!) Miyoko’s make cultured nut cheeses, sometimes fermented, and that’s what gives their cheese the tang that is often missing from vegan offerings.

I first saw the vegan cheese wheels, which are essentially spreadable cheese. My Whole Foods doesn’t have all the flavors, but I tried Classic Double Cream Chive and Garlic Herb. I originally liked the latter the best, because the taste is strongest, but the Little Prince tasted them both and, while he doesn’t like the garlic one at all, he has declared the double cream chive to be his favorite cheese EVER and kept asking for more, so I bought another one. I found the cheese wheels to be a bit stiff (as is some spreadable dairy cheese, to be fair), but it was still possible to spread it on crackers, and I’m sure it would have been good on bagels, too. They are both made from a base of cashews, water, and coconut oil, with a little funk from rice miso and a lot of umami from nutritional yeast, but the double cream chive was definitely milder (I’m sure the other one left me with garlic breath, but as I was mostly eating it for lunch, I think only the Fox would have complained, and he can’t talk yet). It’s not quite the texture or flavor profile of the spreadable Boursin of my youth, which I still miss (the Boursin, not the… although… never mind), but it’s delicious.

Then I tried the Fresh Vegan Mozzarella, made mostly from water, coconut oil, cashews, and tapioca (see here for another review). I basically mixed these two recipes to make margherita pizza. This is by far the best vegan cheese I’ve had on a pizza! It’s super creamy, it melts, it browns… It’s a bit too soft to slices as cleanly as dairy mozzarella, but that could work in its favor because I think I would also use it instead of ricotta by mashing it up a little.

The products are obviously not nut-free, but all the regular product lines are gluten-free, only one product contains soy, and the company hopes to be certified kosher this year. And since it’s a vegan company, it’s lactose-free, too. It’s possible to buy their in Canada, according to their FAQ page (scroll down), though you might have to order them online. I’ll sure be buying them again!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

This is a recipe for my mother’s pineapple upside-down cake. The original version was from a recipe book, but it doesn’t even matter which one, because she changed the recipe by adding an egg and completely changing the steps. I mean, as written, the directions have you mix the milk and egg into melted butter, and then mix that into a flour-sugar mixture; my mother makes it the more traditional way of creaming butter and sugar, adding eggs, then alternating the dry ingredients and milk to mix everything together. To be fair, I actually tried it once as written, because sometimes a really great cake comes from an unconventional method (see the definitive yellow layer cake), but this time it was a disaster. So as if often the case, mom was right all along. When I tried the cake her way, it was perfect. So here it is, pineapple upside-down cake.

12 Tbsp. lactose-free butter, at room temperature, divided
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup pineapple juice (just use what is in the can of pineapple rings)
5-6 whole pineapple rings (see note below)
1 ½ cups (215 g.) all-purpose white flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
½ cup lactose-free milk

Preheat oven to 400 °F.

Put 4 Tbsp. butter in an 8” round pan and pop it into the oven for a minute or so, just until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the oven and mix in the brown sugar until dissolved, then add the pineapple juice. Arrange the pineapple rings in one layer in the pan; set aside. (All 5 rings fit on the perimeter of the pan, but if I had really tried, I might have been able to squeeze in a 6th ring in the center. Note that you could also do it the retro way and put maraschino cherries in the center of each ring.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the remaining 8 Tbsp. butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one. Mix half of the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture, followed by the milk, then the rest of the dry ingredients, mixing just until evenly combined. Carefully spoon the batter over the pineapples in the prepared pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool in the pan 10 minutes, then invert onto a plate, fruit side up, and let cool completely.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


The title of this post works on more than one level, as you’ll see below, though I didn’t mean it as a pun when I wrote it…

- On a whim, I decided to take a free online course at the University of Alberta titled Indigenous Canada, after reading about it here. It’s supposed to be a 12-week course requiring 3 to 5 hours a week, and I honestly don’t know where I’m going to find the time, but technically I’ve got 180 days to complete it and I really wanted to learn more about Canada’s First Nations, so there we are.

- I’ve had my genetic profile done on Most of it confirms what I already know, though I had more British/Irish DNA than I thought. I also have some Iberian DNA I did not know about (a chromosome 12, basically). What I particularly enjoy are the comparisons between my DNA relatives and the average 23andMe customer. For example, I am 67% less likely to drink instant coffee and 49% less likely to drink espresso drinks (I don’t drink coffee at all), but 23% more likely to think that cilantro tastes like soap (not true, I actually love cilantro). I am 50% less likely to be a vegetarian – technically true, though this doesn’t say anything about flexitarianism. I am 22% more likely to own a dog (I did have one and will probably have another eventually), and 21% more likely to have hair that becomes frizzy in humid weather (so true).

Another cool thing about 23andMe is that it can put you in touch with distant relatives. I found one who, after some digging, I identified as my third cousin twice removed (which means that he and my grandmother share a set of great-great-grandparents).

- Another thing that I really wanted was a digital way to create my family tree and preserve it online. I had pieces of paper with various branches of my family tree, but I wanted it all in one place, organized in a uniform manner, and viewable online. My friend Jen, who’s a bit of an expert at these things (see Jenealogy), recommended FamilySearch.Org, and I LOVE it! It’s a free service, which is important to those of us who are just dabbling in genealogy to begin with. There’s an option to add photos of ancestors if you have them, and you can write life sketches, add important dates and alternate names and job titles, etc. The really awesome thing, though, is that if one of your deceased ancestors is already in the database, you can just add him/her to your tree and then all their data, including *their* ancestors, gets added automatically! I was able to go back to the 1100s on one branch and the 1300s on another, and if that’s not amazing I don’t know what is. Granted, I have an advantage in that the Catholic Church in Quebec was very good about keeping records (birth, marriage, death), and Canada has enough census data to fill in some gaps. Plus, my ancestors were mostly from France and Great Britain/Ireland, whose records are usually searchable.

- I’ve been on a decluttering kick lately. The Engineer and I finally whittled down our CD collection so that we could get rid of his CD tower and put all of our CDs in my bookcase (a short three-shelf Billy bookcase from Ikea with their CD inserts, which are now discontinued), thereby saving a bit of space. It made me think of people who are so minimalist that they own only 100 things. I had linked to this article several years ago (it explores the correlation between minimalism and happiness), though I think the process as it is mainstreamed today (the 100 things challenge) was popularized by David Bruno. Let me tell you right now: I don’t believe this is achievable for me. Maybe millennials have an easier time if they haven’t come of age at a time when people bought physical copies of media items like music, movies and books, if they only ever had digitals copies of those to begin with. Maybe if the Engineer and I were childless and lived in a small studio apartment in New York City where we never entertain, we could do 100 things each, but even then it would be a struggle. Add the fact that we live in a suburban house with a yard and two-car garage, that we have kids, that I’m sentimental about (too) many things… It’s just not realistic. What *would* be realistic, though, would be GETTING RID of 100 things. I figured I could get rid of 100 things in the first 100 days of the year.

Except, as I said, I had already started decluttering my music collection, and I had a bunch of CDs in my “maybe” pile (as in, “maybe I’ll be able to let it go once I make a digital copy of it” or “maybe if I listen to it again I’ll realize I don’t like it that much anymore” – only a handful of those made it back into my collection). I hadn’t counted how many items were in that pile, but I knew that given those, it wouldn’t be a big challenge getting rid of 100 things (I ended up getting rid of an even 60 CDs and cassette tapes). So I’m now trying to get rid of 365 things this year. It’s more of a goal than a resolution, and I’m hoping not to make myself crazy with the exact number when it comes down to it. (Some people do recommend doing the challenge without counting.)

I’ve decided that I am not counting food items, toiletries, anything meant to be single-use/disposable, digital files, or monthly magazines from subscriptions. I am also not counting things that I am replacing. (So, for example, if I get rid of a sweater because I’m decluttering, then I’ll count it, but if I buy a new sweater and end up getting rid of an old sweater to make room for it, I won’t count it. Fair?) There are some things I’m not sure how I’ll count – like if I get rid of a bunch of papers I’d been holding on to for years, is each sheet of paper one item? Or is a collection of papers a single item, regardless of how much I whittle it down? I’ll figure it out when I get there, I guess. I am counting sets as single items, though. I’m also not sure how to count baby clothes. In theory, those are baby items, not mine, but I’m sure you’ll agree that my baby doesn’t yet feel any sense of ownership over onesies he’s outgrown! Those are really my responsibility, so it seems like they should count. But a single onesie being one item makes it too easy – I might make sets to sell or donate and count each set as a single item.

So anyway, without counting any of the baby clothes, on this 100th day of the year, I have gotten rid of 124 items (though some are on eBay, Nextdoor, or Vinted and haven’t sold yet, or are in a bag that I have yet to take to my chosen donation center). This fall I’ll tackle my books (because the Engineer wants me to make room for more of his in the bookcase, as more than half of the titles there are mine – he says it isn’t fair, I say he knew what he was getting into when he married me, but I can compromise because that’s what partners do). I’ll also do another big clean out of my closet, because by then I’ll be out of the maternity clothes for good, and I have to say I’m really looking forward to getting my “real” clothes back. I’ll report back on my progress later in the year.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Maple Bacon Scones

I know I just said that I like eating muffins for breakfast, but perhaps what draws me to them isn’t so much their muffiness as it is the fast that they are portable breakfast pastries, ideally with some heft to them (whole grains or otherwise); plus, I can make them ahead of time. That is probably why I also like scones, and maple-bacon is always a winning combination! These were originally more savory scones, but I went easy on the onion powder and pepper and, in hindsight and in the recipe below, I’m reducing the amount of salt. I used coconut milk instead of the cream. I loved the result, and the Engineer called them “frickin’ good.” I’ll be making these again!

2 cups (260 g.) all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. black pepper (or a bit less)
½ tsp. onion powder (or a bit less)
½ cup lactose-free butter, cold and cubed
1 cup cooked, finely chopped crispy bacon
¼ cup maple syrup
¾ cup lactose-free cream or coconut milk, plus additional for brushing

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, pepper, and onion powder (I always do this and the next step in a food processor, as it’s so much faster). Use a pastry cutter or the back of two forks to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until pea-sized clumps are throughout. Stir in the bacon. Combine the maple syrup and the cream in a separate bowl and then stir into the dry ingredients, just until evenly incorporated. If a lot of dry ingredients remain in the bottom of the bowl you can add an additional tablespoon of cream, but be sure to not add too much liquid.

Pat the dough out in a ¾” thick circle and place the dough round on a parchment lined baking pan in the freezer to chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 °F.

Once the dough is chilled, cut the dough into 8 wedges but leave the circle of pieces together. Use a pastry brush to brush a thin layer of whipping cream over the scones. Bake in the oven until golden brown around the edges of each scone, about 35 minutes.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Pink Velvet Cupcakes

I made two kinds of cupcakes recently. One was very pretty: chocolate cupcakes with blood orange glaze. But they weren’t that different from what I usually make, so I’ve decided it doesn’t warrant its own post.

The other recipe, Paleo pink velvet cupcakes from Civilized Caveman Cooking, made less than photogenic cupcakes in my case. There was originally a maple vanilla frosting, but when I made it, it was a complete disaster and was nothing like the pictures in the original post, so I’m not sharing that recipe (and pardon the unappetizing photo). The cupcakes themselves, however, were surprisingly good! I’d definitely make that recipe again, just with another frosting.

Note that this recipes makes 10 cupcakes, not the typical 12.

¾ cup tapioca flour
½ cup coconut flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. beet powder
1 pinch of salt
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup maple syrup
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Prepare a muffin pan by lining 10 of the wells with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together tapioca flour, coconut flour, baking powder, beet powder and salt. Set aside.

In a stand mixer or large bowl, mix together coconut oil, maple syrup, eggs and vanilla extract. Slowly mix the dry mixture into the wet mixture, ¼ cup at a time, until well mixed. (I think that since there’s no gluten in this, you can’t really overmix.)

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each well 2/3 of the way. Place in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until cooked through (a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean). Let cool to room temperature.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Chocolate Beet Cake with Blood Orange Frosting

I made two different desserts that called for mixing (or hiding, depending on your point of view) beets in chocolate. Real Simple’s dark chocolate beet cookies were okay (once I added enough buckwheat flour to change the runny batter into a dough suitable for cookies, that is!); the recipe made 2 dozen cookies that were good as a snack, not too sweet, but they were best eaten within a day or two.

The other recipe was this chocolate beet cake with blood orange frosting. The cake was crisp on the outside and moist on the inside; I really enjoyed it, though I’m reducing the amount of salt below. I baked my beets for two and a half hours before giving up, because they still weren’t quite as tender as I would have liked them, but the cake turned out fine. The frosting also came out too liquid, despite my using 2 cups of powdered sugar where I should have needed only ¼ cup – it was more of a glaze than a frosting. It still came out very pretty, but I’m wondering whether I’ve completely lost my hand at making frosting with real butter, after using the only lactose-free option I had for so long. Next time I make this, I might use beet powder to color the frosting instead of beet and blood orange juice, and just omit the citrus from the recipe altogether. I’ll write down the instructions for the frosting as they appeared in the original recipe, but keep that in mind.

For the cake
3 - 4 medium beets
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. fine sea salt
3 eggs
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the frosting
4 oz. lactose-free cream cheese, at room temperature
8 Tbsp. lactose-free butter, at room temperature
¼ cup powdered sugar, sifted (see note above)
1 pinch fine sea salt
1 Tbsp. beet juice squeezed from reserved grated beets (see note above)
1 tsp. blood orange zest plus 1 Tbsp. juice plus several blood orange wedges for garnish (see note above)
beet powder (see note above)

Preheat oven to 400 °F. Remove beet greens and scrub beets. Arrange beets in a small baking dish, add ½-inch cold water and cover tightly with foil. Bake until beets are fork tender, 50 - 60 minutes, depending on size (see note above). Use caution when lifting foil as the steam plume will be very hot. Drain hot water and set beets aside to cool. Under cold running water, rub peel off with fingers or use a peeler. Trim beets. Beets can be prepped ahead to this point and refrigerated until needed.

When ready to make the cake, preheat oven to 350 °F. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan and dust with cocoa powder or use a baking spray.

Grate enough of the cooked beets to make 1 ¼ cups. Reserve ¼ cup grated beets to color frosting.

In a small bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda, and sea salt.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugar on low speed for 4 minutes. Add grated beets and vanilla and mix until incorporated. With mixer still on low, fold in half the flour mixture, all of the olive oil, and then the remaining flour. Mix just until everything is well combined.

Spoon into prepared pan and slide into oven. Bake 65 - 75 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached.

Cool cake on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then carefully unmold and set on wire rack to cool completely.

To make frosting, beat cream cheese on low speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the paddle attachment or a large mixing bowl for 3 minutes. Add the butter and beat 3 minutes more, scraping down sides as needed. Sift in powdered sugar, add sea salt, and beat 4 minutes longer, scraping down sides as needed. Add blood orange juice and zest, and beat until well incorporated. Add beet juice a little at a time, until the desired color is achieved. (As I said, consider using only beet powder instead of any juice, to achieve the desired color and keep the frosting more solid.)

Frost cooled cake and garnish with blood orange segments. Cake and frosting can both be made ahead (frosting should be refrigerated); set cold frosting on counter to warm slightly before frosting cake.