chocolate coconut crumb cake (vegan + gluten-free)

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It’s strange to fall out of love when you least expect it. When the object of your affection has lost its sheen, and you find yourself playing the part of a child again, sorting through your toys and falling madly in love with a shiny new doll to only abandon it when something new comes along. But you remember in those few halcyon moments how that doll consumed you, how you couldn’t imagine loving anything else with such ferocity, and you become surprised by just how quickly that love wanes, becomes dull around the edges, and one day you regard that doll with nostalgia. I once loved you, you might have said, and then you placed the doll on the shelf with the others, not even noticing the way its clothing fades. How the dust settles over its hair and face. Admittedly, you’ve become neglectful, careless, and one day the doll falls (you might have been running around, as you were prone to do) and its face shatters. For a moment your heart swells and breaks, but as quickly as that nostalgia comes it fades and what you remember is the bits of its face in the garbage bin.

Someone asked me about my love of food and how I write about it. I said that I loved how we have a propensity to be our truest selves when we settle down to a meal. I love the intimacy of eating, of sharing a primal need with someone else, and the kinds of stories that get told as a result of that connection. And while I love what the food is, I linger more on what the food can do, if that makes any sense. Food binds, creates, connects, and some of my most beloved memories have occurred while sharing a meal. I remembered sharing an early dinner with my friend Amber while we were in Bangkok. Evening fell, and we sat in the pool in the space between when parents and their children splashed their way around and when women in gossamer dresses and men in their cotton pants would order cocktails, light their smokes. Amber and I had two watermelon drinks and a meal off the pool menu, but I remembered feeling sick because we had laughed so hard. That we told each other private things about ourselves–the kind of stories you share when confined in a space for long periods of time. We left that trip better friends than when we arrived, and I can’t help but think that food was at the center of all that magic. As it continues to be.

So, this shiny doll of which I spoke–what of it? I never imagined that I wouldn’t love baking. That the alchemy of simple ingredients would cease to please me, but over the past few months this is precisely what’s happened. Perhaps it’s because I still haven’t truly accepted baking without gluten and dairy. Because while limitations have liberated me in terms of cooking, I feel shackled when I turn to baking. And while some recipes have surprised me by their taste and flavor profiles, I can’t help but think this:

Gluten- and dairy-free baking simply isn’t as good. I’m sorry, it just isn’t.

I’ve made extraordinary cookies and loaves with coconut oil (an oil I do love and used even before I was diagnosed with my food sensitivities); I’ve performed magic tricks with almond and coconut milk, but still. Not the same. Never the same. So I’ve been baking a little less, as you might have noticed. Cooking has been that new glinting object, and I only hope that when I can eat gluten and dairy again, I can return to the kitchen with a newfound affection, even more so because I’m forced to regulate how much gluten and dairy I eat for the rest of my life. So the pastry I make better be worth it because another one won’t come around for a couple of weeks. No more of the random cookie or the pumpkin loaf on the regular. The stakes are higher now, I suppose.

It’s true what they say that you crave what you consume. If you eat garbage, you crave garbage–it’s as simple as that. With very minor exceptions (read: accidents), my diet has been free of gluten and dairy since July, and I don’t crave pasta, bread, cheese or cookies the way I use to. I may pass a bakery and get a waft of fresh bread that will momentarily put my heart on pause, but as quickly as that need comes it dissipates. So it’s natural that when I broke down this week and savored a piece of crumb cake (the real stuff) the size of my thumb (literally) and dealt with the relentless four-hour itchfest as a result (true life), invariably I craved coffee cake.

So I made it and tried to dress it up in finery, and it was good, yes, but not the same. I felt mechanical in the kitchen, and when it was time to have my small piece of cake I had it and moved on. Perhaps it was because I didn’t savor it in the context of time spent with someone, but baking left me cold. And I’m not sure if this is something temporary or the definition of forever. I just know, right now, if given the choice, I’d rather be cooking.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Fork & Beans
For the cake
1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond (or coconut) milk
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 cups gluten-free flour (I recommend Cup4Cup so you don’t have to worry about xanthan gum)
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled

For the crumb topping
3 tbsp + 2 tsp gluten-free flour
1/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1 tbsp cane sugar
pinch of salt
2 tbsp. melted coconut oil
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the almond (or coconut) milk and vinegar and set aside to curdle. This should take seven minutes.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugars, baking powder and salt. Whisk the oil into the milk and vinegar mixture. Using a fork, add the combined wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing well. Warning: the mixture will be a bit thick and not as fluid as normal batter, it’s okay. Breathe it out. You’re just not in the fanciful world of gluten anywhere where every cake made sense. You’re in the world of vegan, a world of which I’m still trying to navigate.

Pour the mixture into a well-greased 8inch cake pan (I use coconut oil), and, using a spatula (or fork), smooth it out until the batter covers the pan and is even. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the flour, sugars and salt. Add in the melted oil and mix until you form clumps. Add the mixture (you won’t think there’s enough, and it’s okay, really), chocolate chips and toasted coconut flakes to the cake.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until knife is clean when inserted in the middle. Rest on a rack until it is cooled completely, approximately 1 hour. Use a knife around the edges and turn the cake out onto a dish. Serve at room temperature.

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almond coconut chocolate chip cookies (gluten/dairy/grain-free)

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Here’s the thing–I’ve always approached vegan desserts with reticence because most recipes prattle on about how this cookie, muffin, cake, tastes just like the sweets from your childhood, when, in fact, that vegan muffin doesn’t come close to what you’ve had before. I grew up devouring saccharine sweet Little Debbie cakes, whose ingredients were questionable at best, and I eased into adulthood baking flaky French pastries, two-tier birthday cakes, and cookies that forced you to close your eyes and weep.

You don’t understand the rage I felt when someone would suggest I substitute applesauce for butter. And please don’t even suggest it now unless you’re making an apple cake. Regardless of my gluten, dairy, yeast, and the 500 other things I can’t eat, I’m still an ardent evangelist of full-fat baking. The phrase low-fat doesn’t exist in my vocabulary, as it’s just another way of saying, let’s fill the recipe with a pile of sugar, which inevitably will convert to garbage in your liver. I still believe in baking beautifully but consuming mindfully.

Funny thing, I’ve noticed. I don’t hoover like I used to. Since my diet is heavily plant-based, I’m surprisingly satisfied with just one cookie, 2 heaping tablespoons of dairy-free pistachio ice-cream (and trust me, the coconut and cashew milk are fat enough). I enjoy a small indulgence as much as I can, and then I wrap up the goods and save them for another day, or friend.

I fell in love with the magic that mixing a few ingredients can bring, and when I was forced to shift my diet, baking initially fell out of favor. The stove, rather than the oven, became my new best friend, and I neglected the new flours and ingredients in my pantry. However, lately, I’m finding that I’ve struck a nice balance between discovering new ways of cooking cauliflower (and there are SO. MANY. WAYS.) and finding new flavors in old favorites.

Take the chocolate chip cookie. I’ve baked A MILLION COOKIES a million different ways, and I initially regarded this recipe with disdain. However, when they came out of the oven and I took my first bite, I wasn’t comparing this cookie to a buttery, semi-sweet chocolate chip one, rather, I felt as if I’d encountered something altogether new. I can’t explain it just yet, but it was a different cookie, a richer, smokier, heartier one, and if given the choice I might choose this version over what I’ve had previously because it’s not a pale-down version of the original or a variation on a single theme, rather it’s a new song, a blank page ready for this first word.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m less interested in re-creating than creating. I don’t need a slew of bad ingredients to take me closer to where I was because all it does is reminded me of what I can’t have. This cookie pushes me forward, makes me think of all new flavors I CAN have.

BANANAS, right?

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Oh She Glows Cookbook
1/4 cup of melted coconut oil
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp of almond butter
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups of almond meal
1/4 cup of dark or vegan chocolate chips
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes

DIRECTIONS
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, blend coconut oil and nut butter until combined. Add both sugars and beat for 1 minute more. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract until combined.

One by one, beat in the baking soda, baking powder, and almond meal. The dough should be slightly sticky. If your dough is dry, you can add a tablespoon of almond milk to thin it out. Fold in the chocolate chips and coconut flakes.

Using cookie scoop or spoon, scoop 1-inch balls onto prepared sheet. Leave 2-3 inches between each cookie as they spread. There is no need to flatten the dough before baking.

Bake for 12-14 minutes until golden brown on the bottom. The cookies will be soft coming out of the oven, but become chewy and crisp when they cool.

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cinnamon coffee cake muffins (vegan)

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Something strange happened today–I’ve become ambivalent about baking. I spent the greater part of yesterday inspecting and cleaning out my cabinets, shopping for gluten-free pantry items, and reading a ton of books on gastrointestinal health (shockingly, the books weren’t boring and the passages didn’t leave me in a catatonic state)–all in preparation for my new life as a vegan baker.

Know that I wept a little when I typed the words vegan baker.

But before we get to the muffins, let’s talk about my barren cabinets. I wish I would have shot the “before” photo, because I packed three large boxes with gluten items. Five-pound bags of whole wheat, rye, spelt and white flour, tossed. Soy sauces, udon, noodles, couscous, barley, rye, tossed. It didn’t occur to me that I outfitted 80% of my kitchen with gluten, and this realization–bearing witness to barren cabinets–was a rude awakening.

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Have I been eating this much gluten? Damn straight. (cruel reality, cold water splashes on face, etc)

After I unloaded my boxes on the sidewalk, I made lists relating to my new gluten-free, faux vegan existence (because if you’re taking pasta and cheese away from me, you know I’m keeping my BACON). Arrowroot and xanthan gum–both of which are binding agents in baking, a photocopy of the stickiness that gluten imbues in recipes–became staples. Tapioca, coconut (coconut, I’m learning, is slowly becoming my BFF), buckwheat (contrary to its name, it’s actually not a wheat product), gluten-free cornmeal, kasha, rice (in a thousand different varieties, because carbs) and oceans of dairy-free substitutes that I could stomach.

And no, I will not be eating vegan cheese, however, I have succumbed to purchasing Earth Balance vegan butter, which isn’t half bad.

This morning, after I fixed myself some brown rice pancakes (such is my life), I went all in for baking these coffee cake muffins and I was…ambivalent. I found myself going through the motions, and instead of thinking about the puffs of sugary delights in the oven, I wondered how I was going to cook those beans lodged in the fridge.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve spent the past month chopping, sauteing, cooking, that I get excited about cooking > baking. I actually wanted to post a soup recipe I made with buckwheat groats, because I was JUBILANT to have found a healthy couscous replacement in the GROAT. Cruel name, groat, but what can you do?

I’m going to need a moment with this, kids. And I’m saving the groat awakening for this week. Until then, enjoy these tasty coffee cake muffins.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Decadent Gluten-Free Vegan Baking: Delicious, Gluten, Egg, and Dairy-Free Treats and Sweets, modified slightly
Dry
1 3/4 c/330 g gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup so I don’t have to use xanthan gum. I also dialed down the flour because the batter ended up being a tad dry)
½ c/72.5 g unpacked brown sugar (On the next go, I’d use coconut palm sugar, which is an excellent brown sugar replacement with low GI)
¼ c/50 g cane sugar
2 tsp/7.5 g baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp/7 g flaxseed meal (I nixed this as I didn’t have it on hand)
1 tsp xanthan gum (I nixed this since I used Cup4Cup flour)
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg

Wet
¾ c/180 ml nondairy milk (I used almond milk, however, you can use coconut or rice milk)
⅓ c/80 ml oil (I used safflower oil)
1 tbsp/15 ml apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice)

For the streusel topping
1 c/165 g gluten-free flour (I use Cup4Cup so I don’t have to use xanthan gum)
⅓ c/73 g brown sugar, lightly packed
2 tsp/5 g cinnamon
3 tbsp/42 g vegan butter, cold. (I use Earth Balance)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Lightly grease or line a muffin pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour the milk mixture in. Stir with a wooden spoon. Pour the batter into the muffin pan. The consistency of my muffins wasn’t pourable (I’ve rarely work with muffin batter that you had to pour, so I question this word, but I digress), so I used an ice cream scoop. Combine the ingredients for the streusel topping with your hands and sprinkle it evenly on the batter.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean when inserted. Allow to cool slightly before removing from the muffin tins. Cool on a wire rack.

CARA’S TIP: If you have spots in your muffin tin that are not filled before going into the oven, place some water halfway inside the individual spots. By doing this, you ensure that all of your muffins will be baked evenly.

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vanilla-cream filled doughnuts

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My writing was like a grown up child suddenly taking up residence in all sorts of strange places and sending back photos.Leslie Jamison

I’m sorry, I’m distracted. Correction, I’ve been distracted, occupied by the sort of paralysis that happens when you sent your book out into the world. Right now, my novel is in the hands of four different people around the country and they’re reading it, not reading it, picking it up or placing the manuscript gently down. Honestly, this is the part about writing I hate–taking the small, private thing you’ve harvested and setting it free. I imagine this is what a mother would feel when she nudges her child on to a school bus for the first time and watches the doors close behind her child. The thing that I once held so close has been temporarily taken from me and I worry (worry!) that people won’t be able to see what I’m trying to do, or simply, they won’t like it.

And yes, it’s so easy to say that I shouldn’t care what others think, however, this is precisely why an artist creates. The only way I can make sense of the world is through writing about it, and as a result of that process there’s a hope that others will feel something, anything, as a result of it. The hope is that they can hear the way my heart beat when I wrote about hurt, and they would somehow understand why I had to linger in that hurt. Set up shop, played house in it. I worry that the structure of my novel will turn hurt into a maze, forcing readers to work to find my beating heart in an age where people don’t want to put in the work when it comes to art. Some want art to explain and tell rather than probe and ask.

I guess I’m also worried because this book represents some of the most confessional writing I’ve ever committed to paper–more so than my first book. It’s easy to use fiction as a curtain, and as a result I was able to imbue a great deal of myself across a few of my characters; I was able to be vulnerable on the page when I have a hard time being vulnerable off it. A great deal of me is in this story–perhaps in ways you might not so easily identify–but not all of it. Perhaps the worry is the very frightening question the book poses, really, will you follow me into the dark? Are you brave enough to go there? Will you take the time to linger there? And I brave enough to have you occupy this space with me? From this solitary act comes an invitation, of which the author prays the reader accepts.

I know this all sounds a bit looney, but this is what it’s like for me right now. For four years in my head and one year in front of a computer or stray pieces of manuscript, this book was MINE. ONLY MINE. Now, in its rawest state, it’s less mine, and I just have to breathe and deal with that.

THANK GOD FOR VANILLA CREAM DOUGHNUTS, especially on those Friday nights when the novel is the ONLY thing I can think about. Will they get it? Will they like it? Will they understand how and why I built this world? Will the world and words linger? Will they hold up over the passage of time? Was me being this vulnerable in fiction truly worth the risk at all {emphatic yes}?

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour
For the doughnuts
1 package (2 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast or 2/3 ounce (18 grams) fresh cake yeast
2/3 cup (160 grams) milk, at room temperature
3 1/2 cups (490 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups (270 grams) sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
3 eggs
7 tbsp (3/4 stick/100 grams) butter, at room temperature, cut into 6 to 8 pieces
Canola oil, for frying

For the vanilla cream filling
6 tablespoons (90 grams) heavy cream
Pastry Cream, chilled

DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast and milk. Stir together briefly, then let sit for about 1 minute to dissolve the yeast. Add the flour, 1/3 cup (70 grams) of the sugar, the salt, and the eggs and mix on low speed for about 1 minute, or until the dough comes together. Then, still on low speed, mix for another 2 to 3 minutes to develop the dough further. Now, begin to add the butter, a few pieces at a time, and continue to mix for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the butter is fully incorporated and the dough is soft and cohesive.

Remove the dough from the bowl, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 15 hours.

Lightly flour a baking sheet. On a well-floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch square about 1/2 inch thick. Using a 3 1/2- to 4-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out 9 doughnuts. Arrange them on the prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a warm spot to proof for 2 to 3 hours, or until they are about doubled in height and feel poufy and pillowy.

When ready to fry, line a tray or baking sheet large enough to hold the doughnuts with paper towels. Pour oil to a depth of about 3 inches into a large, heavy saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until hot. To test the oil, throw in a pinch of flour. If it sizzles on contact, the oil is ready. (It should be 350 degrees if you are using a thermometer.) Working in batches, place the doughnuts in the hot oil, being careful not to crowd them. Fry on the first side for 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown. Then gently flip them and fry for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until brown on the second side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to the prepared tray and let cool for a few minutes, or until cool enough to handle.

Place the remaining 1 cup (200 grams) sugar in a small bowl. One at a time, toss the warm doughnuts in the sugar to coat evenly. As each doughnut is coated, return it to the tray to cool completely. This will take 30 to 40 minutes.

To make the vanilla cream filling: While the doughnuts are cooking, whip the heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold it into the pastry cream . You should have about 3 cups.

When doughnuts are completely cooled, poke a hole in the side of each doughnut, spacing it equidistant between the top and bottom. Fit a pastry bag with a small round tip and fill the bag with the filling. Squirt about 1/3 cup filling into each doughnut. Serve immediately.

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cinnamon buns + a novel update {so close!}

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Things have been quiet around here simply for the fact that except for workouts and the sole writing date, I’ve spent the past four days holed up in my apartment working on my novel. I’d been stuck on Part III, unsure of how to find closure with my characters and this story, which ended up being exactly what I never thought it would be. Suddenly, the story came like a torrent. So much so that I stayed up until two in the morning last night, writing.

Know that I normally go to bed at 10 and wake up at 5. Let’s just say that getting up this morning was ROUGH.

But I’m close, so close I can see the end in sight, and it’s terrifying and exciting. Last year, when I left my old life behind in pursuit of something other, I took a trip to Europe to get some quiet. And the week before I was schedule to fly home, I started writing. I hadn’t written anything in four years, and it came and I didn’t question it, think about or analyze it–I just wrote in front of the ocean. In sleepy Biarritz, I started writing a story about a woman who set another woman’s hair on fire. A year later and nearly 240 pages, I’ve fallen in love with these people–some of whom I’ve known since the story collection I was writing during my Columbia days–and I’m a little sad to see this story come to a close.

Yesterday, I took a much needed break and baked up these cinnamon rolls. I love baking yeast breads because it requires you to linger, to be conscious of time, and so I scheduled writing bursts between the multiple proofs, and come nightfall I savored a bun with some coffee, typing into the night.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of The Food Network.
For the dough:
1/2 cup whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1/4-ounce package)
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the bowl
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

For the filling:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, very soft, plus more for coating the pan
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

For the glaze:
2/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
For the dough: Combine the milk and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan and warm over low heat until it is about 100 degrees F (but no more than 110 degrees). Remove from the heat and sprinkle the yeast over the surface over the liquid. Sprinkle a pinch of the granulated sugar over the top and set aside without stirring, until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Whisk the butter, vanilla and egg yolk into the yeast mixture.

Whisk the flour, remaining granulated sugar, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and stir in the yeast mixture with a wooden spoon to make a thick and slightly sticky dough. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until soft and elastic, about 6 minutes. Shape into a ball.

Brush the inside of a large bowl with butter. Put the dough in the buttered bowl, turning to coat lightly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, trace a circle the size of the dough on the plastic and note the time. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead briefly to release excess air; reform into a ball and return to the bowl. Lightly butter a large piece of plastic wrap and lay it on the dough. Cover the entire bowl tightly with the plastic and proof in the refrigerator for 4 hours or overnight.

To fill and form the rolls: Butter a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Whisk the granulated sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Turn the prepared dough onto a floured work surface and press flat. Then roll into a 10- by 18-inch rectangle, with a long edge facing you. Spread the softened butter evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving about an inch border on the side opposite you. Evenly scatter the cinnamon-sugar over the butter. Starting from the long side facing you, roll the dough up into a tight cylinder. Lightly brush the clean edge of the dough with water. Press the open long edge to the dough to seal the cylinder.

Slip a long taut piece of string or unflavored dental floss under the roll, about 1 1/2 inches from the end. Lift and cross the string ends over the roll, and then pull the ends tightly in opposite directions to cut a single roll. Repeat, cutting every 1 1/2 inches, to make 12 rolls. Place the rolls cut-side-down in the prepared pan, leaving 1 inch of space between them. Cover the rolls loosely with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until rolls double in size, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Bake the buns until golden brown and the tops of the buns spring back when pressed lightly, about 30 minutes. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

For the glaze: Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the condensed milk, butter and lemon juice to make a smooth, slightly loose icing. Add the vanilla and cinnamon. Drizzle the icing over the warm buns. Serve.

Note: These buns are best eaten on the day they’re baked, but they’ll keep, covered, for 1 day. For a make-ahead option, refrigerate or freeze the buns after forming. If refrigerated, allow the buns to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes, then let rise fully until doubled in size before baking, about 2 hours. If frozen, allow the buns to come to room temperature, about 1 hour, and let rise fully until doubled in size before baking, about 2 hours.

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summer nectarine berry crisp

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Once a year I stumble upon a cookbook that seizes me, the kind of book I casually thumb through only to realize, hours later, I’m still curling the corners of pages. The kind of book that demands I have a pad nearby because I’ll need to scrawl down lists of ingredients. Even though I’m ensconced in the middle of my living room lamenting the loss of my penmanship {how is that my handwriting has devolved into CHICKEN SCRATCH?}, I’m already making mental notes to send emails inviting friends over for a crumble and a fritter.

Last year a friend invited me to contribute recipe reviews for a new section she’d been curating for Medium. At first I resisted because I typically find recipe reviews a bit dull and formulaic–a staid vivisection of the table of contents with a few photos and adjectives thrown in for good measure. Recipe reviews read cold to me, and I absolved to do something different: merge recipe and story. If you think about, recipes inspire stories. An author becomes somewhat of a surgeon in the way he/she compiles and assembles their food narrative–conjuring memories of love, loss, heartbreak, friendship, success and failure–and in that work we are inspired to forge stories of our own. I never viewed recipes simply as a list of ingredients and a methodology for production, rather I saw a stranger handing a piece of their heart to someone else in hopes that that person will deliver their heart to someone else, and so on and so on. Maybe that sounds trite, but I can’t think of a single great memory that didn’t involve food. For Medium, I only wanted to review that which inspired me to weave a new narrative of my own, or take an existing story in a different direction. Otherwise, the task of making food felt medicinal.

As a result of some of the reviews I’d written for the greater part of last year {I’m really proud of these in particular, as I worked harder on some of those reviews than I have in the short stories I’ve published}, I’ve gotten on a few publisher mailing lists and imagine my glee when I received Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food, I was jubilant. Not only did the hues {the book lives up to the title’s promise} draw me in, I found the simplicity of the dishes inviting. The book focuses on a celebration of seasons, and many of the recipes have already made their way into my repertoire, including this summer crisp, of which I plan to selfishly devour alone. I’m packing the leftovers in jars to give as gifts to a few friends I’m seeing this week. I’m already excited by the kinds of stories, moments and memories I plan to create as a result of falling in love with Hasselbrink’s book {if there’s one cookbook I’d encourage you to buy this year, THIS. IS. IT.}. Much like how I fell deliriously in love with Joanne Chang last year, this year will be the year lived in vibrant, bold color!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe via Kimberley Hasselbrink’s Vibrant Food {modified version of the recipe can be found here, although I used the cookbook version, as written below}, modified slightly based on what I had on hand.
For the filling
2 ripe nectarines, diced
3/4 cup blackberries
1 cup blueberries
1 cup strawberries, hulled + quartered
1/4 cup raspberries
1/3 cup cane sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp dried ginger

For the crisp
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup mixed pecans + almonds, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup dark rye flour
1/3 cup cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold butter, cubed

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DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the fruit. Gently fold in the lemon juice, sugar, flour, and ginger. Pour the fruit mixture into a large baking dish + set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl together the rolled oats, coconut, nuts, flour, sugar, ginger, salt, and cinnamon. Using your hands, work the dry mixture together with the cubes of butter–softly squelching the butter so it adheres to the oat mixture–until a loose topping comes together. Sprinkle the crisp topping evenly over the fruit.

Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes, until crust is browned and edges are bubbling. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. I actually really prefer my crisps cold, so I put this in the fridge for an hour, and then I paired it with salted caramel chunk ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery, and it was EVERYTHING.COM, .EDU. .JP.

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sometimes you just need a symphony of sweet

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After a tough morning, I decided to return to my beloveds: flour, sugar and butter. I scrolled through a few years of baked goods to rediscover the sweets that made me smile when I unearth them from the oven. Here are a few of my favorites.

From L-R: Sir Francis Crumb Cakes {how stalwart + regal!} | Blueberry Muffins {the moment when I didn’t screw them up.} | Chocolate Ganache Birthday Cake {probably the best cake I’ve ever baked} | Chocolate Babka {this was a three-day Odyssey} | Kouign-Amann {the notion that I’d baked something resembling a croissant was a personal triumph} | Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake {this cake made me a bundt believer} | Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting {my favorite cake in miniature!} | Chocolate Chunk Cookies {best ever} | Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread {you’ll wake at 3AM craving this}

coffee cake crumb muffins

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You know the weekend is off to a roaring start when you spill coffee all over your shirt and couch. This short week has been a bit crazy with having to deal with tax stuff {oh the joys of being a freelancer}, paperwork for my new major consulting project that kicks off next week, and a slew of lunches, meetings and calls, which have invariably left me lying on the couch, spilling coffee on myself. Good times, friends. GOOD TIMES.

This weekend I’m laying low, futzing in the kitchen, closing out a project and gearing up for a new one. Too bad I no longer have these delicious coffee cake donuts, which I immediately turned into muffins. Because, muffin.

it’s always cookie time: chocolate hazelnut cookies

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This weekend, I had a few friends over and said, without hesitation, that my apartment feels like a home. After 38 years of living in New York, only two places felt like they weren’t merely a four-wall cage to which my mail had been forwarded: my dad’s farm in Mill Neck and my current serene Brooklyn abode. As an introvert {would you believe I only discovered I was an introvert THIS YEAR? The insanity} I crave a place of quiet, a refuge from long days spent with people. Mind you, I love everyone in my life, but sometimes I need to retreat and refuel so I can be that amazing friend while still preserving some of my time for me.

That having been said, I cooked two feasts for two different friends, but kept these cookies just for me. These cookies were my stolen treat–perfecting pairing for a movie night spent in central air, curled up with my cat.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Joanne Chang’s Flour
1 1/2 sticks butter, plus 1 tbsp
2/3 cup cane sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups blanched whole hazelnuts, toasted (peel off the skin and toast nuts in the oven at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp kosher salt
12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

DIRECTIONS
Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars on medium/high speed for approximately 5 minutes (10 minutes if using a hand mixer), or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Pause a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl so all of the ingredients are evenly mixed.

Beat in the eggs and vanilla on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl again to make sure the eggs are thoroughly incorporated.

In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts until ground to a fine powder (stop grinding once they are powdery; if you continue, they will become a paste). Roughly chop the remaining 1 cup hazelnuts.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ground and chopped hazelnuts, the flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate. On low speed, slowly blend the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and then mix just until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed. You can finish this off with a wooden spoon to ensure all the flour bits at the bottom of the mixing bowl are incorporated.

For the best results, scrape the dough into an airtight container and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight (or at least for 3-4 hours) before baking. When you are ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Drop the dough in 1/4-cup balls onto a baking sheet (I use an ice-cream scoop), spacing them approximately 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand.

Bake for 20-22 minutes (I prefer my cookies chewy, slightly undercooked, so start checking at 15 minutes), or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and pale and slightly soft in the center. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 5-10 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the rack to cool completely.

Note: Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. The unbaked dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

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blueberry coconut crumble

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It feels good to be home. To lay down my head on a familiar bed and feel my Felix snake my ankles. It feels good to buy bunches of lilacs because the blooms put me thinking of T.S. Eliot and college, and me shoving my face into a lilac bush and breathing everything, everything, in. It’s been an exhausting time since I’ve been back, with having to adjust to my life in New York while still processing all that happened in India. There are fitness classes to book and take, friends with whom lunches should be planned, contracts to negotiate and small projects to complete. Yet there are vials of fragrant oils from India, and I try on luxury for size and dot jasmine on my new sheets.

There are lilacs in my house. I’m here but I’m not and you know how it is.

I haven’t baked in a few weeks and I woke this morning {at 3:30AM, mind you} craving blueberries. So here it is, something simple, sweet and vivid to usher me into the evening. I’m keeping my cards close as there is so much to process, so much to think about…

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INGREDIENTS
For the filling
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
5-6 cups fresh wild or regular blueberries (32 ounces) or 32 ounces frozen wild or regular blueberries (do not thaw) or 2 pints from your local market
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

For the crumble
3/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup dark rye flour
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 tsp cinnamon
big pinch of salt
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup plain Greek yoghurt

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

For the filling: Whisk 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar and cornstarch in heavy large saucepan to blend. Stir in blueberries and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until mixture bubbles and thickens, frequently stirring gently, about 13 minutes. Chill filling until cool, about 1 hour (I shoved this in the fridge and it cooled nicely in 1/2 hr).

For the crumble: Combine the oats, coconut flakes, flour, and sugar together in a medium bowl. Stir in the butter, and then the yogurt and mix until everything comes together in a dough-like texture. Add the blueberries to a 9-inch pie dish. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the blueberry mixture.

Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake until crust and topping are golden and filling bubbles thickly, about 20-25 minutes. Personally, I loved this chilled, in the morning, with coffee.

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british-style scones with dried cherries

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On the plane ride back from Dublin, my father and I agreed that we were ruined. Our drama was rooted in the fact that we had the best scones, butter and chicken we’d ever had. Believe me when I say that our lamentations were real {with the exception of the hour we endured rolicking turbulence and I grabbed my pop’s hand, to which he replied, Your hands are so clammy!}, and for the first weeks we returned both of us refused scones and chicken. Because how could we dare taint our palates?

I remember our trip to Cobb, and how the owner of a small cafe told me that she whipped soft butter in order get that cake-like, aerated texture over which I had been fawning. Confused, I went back to the States and consulted my cookbooks — all of which read that scones MUST be made with chilled butter.

Until I found this Cook’s Illustrated recipe, and the world was set to rights. If you geek out on baked goods, you’ll appreciate the story and chemistry behind the British scone and its U.S. distant cousin. So often I’ve been instructed to not overwork the dough for fear of the HOCKEY PUCK, however, in the British scone version since all the flour is sealed with fat {butter}, gluten doesn’t form so readily, and A WOMAN CAN KNEAD TO HER HEART’S CONTENT.

The result was a marked departure from the scones of which I’ve been accustomed, but it was Ireland all over again. I smoothed some butter + preservatives on my still-warm scones and nearly cried my eyes out. Please. Make. These. Now.

On a separate note, I’ve been thinking about the comments on one of my recent posts. One in particular stuck out — the forced nature of some of my food posts — because it’s something I’ve been noticing myself. Sometimes I get so caught up in a thought or idea that I start writing and I dig where I’m going until I realize that I’ve posted a picture of a salad. Going forward, I’m going to be a bit more thoughtful here, which is not to say stories won’t be paired with food, but the pairing won’t be arbitrary, rather it’ll be deliberate and organic. So THANK YOU for your feedback — super helpful.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cane sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
8 tbsp {1 stick} of softened butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3/4 cups dried currants {I used cherries as that’s what I had on hand}
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs

DIRECTIONS
Pre heat oven to 500F and place rack on the upper-middle position.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Measure out all ingredients. In your food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and pulse into combined {5-7 pulses). Add butter to dry ingredients and pulse about 20 times, until butter is incorporated and there are no longer any large clumps. The mixture should resemble sand. Add the flour and butter mixture to a large bowl, and using a spatula mix in your currants {or cherries} until your dried fruit is coated in the mixture. Set aside.

In small bowl, whisk milk and eggs. Set aside 2 tbsp of the milk/egg mixture into a small bowl. Pour the milk egg mixture into the dry ingredient/butter mixture, folding together with rubber spatula or wooden spoon until just incorporated. The dough will be wet and sticky — don’t freak out.

Heavily flour the counter where you will roll out the dough. I’m talking like 1/2 cup of flour heavy. Flour your hands as well. Gather dough into a ball on the floured counter top. Knead dough 25-30 times, until the dough forms a smooth ball. Using a floured wooden rolling pin, roll the dough out into a circle until it’s an inch thick. Cut out scones with a floured 2 1/2 inch round cutter. You’ll get 8 scones out of the first round. Gather dough scraps, form into ball, and roll out again same as before to get the remaining 4. Brush tops of scones with egg milk mixture that you set aside.

Reduce oven temperature to 425 deg F and bake scones for 10-15 minutes, rotating halfway, until scones are golden brown. Transfer to a wire cooling rack for at least 10 minutes before eating. Add your preserves + butter and chow away. Keep the scones in a airtight container and re-heat them at 350 degrees for 5 minutes before eating.

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cherry + blueberry coconut rye bars

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I’ll confess — when you have a cat this charming, it’s hard to keep your lens on the food. However, after an exhausting week that had me racing about the city preparing for next week’s sojourn to India {can we not talk about all the shots in my arms and pills in my carryon and say we did? I’m pretty much vaccinated against any plague known to man}, tying up contracts and hosting a day-long strategy workshop with a client, cranking the oven became an exhausting proposition. Me being the introvert that I am, I spent the day flying solo and now I’m home with my Felix {whom I’ll miss terribly while I’m away, even though my housesitter assures me he will send pics daily} munching on these rye bars.

A note about the bars — I will say that they are best eaten chilled. Since there’s not a ton of gluten in the recipe, the chill allowed for the bars to bind a bit more. If you don’t have cherry or lemon extract on hand, you can use vanilla extract and a tsp of lemon zest. The original recipe called for oat flour, but I’m honestly smitten with dark rye — it’s earthier, heartier and gives a smoky flavor which perfectly complements the cherry preserves.

These bars were the BUSINESS, friends.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Camille Styles
1 cup gluten-free oats
1 cup dark rye flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp lemon extract
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled
2 tsp cherry extract
2/3-3/4 cup cherry + blueberry preserves
1/2 cup raw pecans, finely chopped

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together RYE flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder and sea salt. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together cooled coconut oil, lemon + cherry extracts. Add wet ingredients to the flour/oat mixture. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix together, ensuring that all ingredients are incorporated.

Pack half of the oat mixture into a greased 8×8 baking pan. Top with preserves using a silicon spatula covering the oat mixture evenly. Sprinkle the top with the rest of the oat mixture. Top with chopped pecans. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until topping is browned. Set on a rack to cool and chill before serving. Makes approximately 9-11 bars.

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