coconut pecan fudgy brownies (gluten/grain-free)

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You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I’ve been having a hard time eating sweets lately because they have so. much. sugar. Since my diet is relatively low in sugar (this is what happens when you’re eating vegetables ALL DAY LONG), baking holds less of an interest for me these days. When I first gave up gluten, dairy and yeast, I was devastated. I felt as if my identity as a baker of sweets was in jeopardy, until a good friend told me that being a baker–a creator of things–is not simply about butter, sugar and flour. I’ve been giving her words a considerable amount of thought over the past few months, and as you’ve likely noticed I’m baking less and cooking more. But I don’t mind it. I’ve been listening to my body; I bake when I have the urge for something sweet, which has been less and less these days. Sweet for me is a small bar of dark chocolate, fruit, rather than cinnamon rolls and pies.

But make no mistake. Come the holidays, I will WANT A PIE. I’ll just know that I’ll have to make it in order to maintain its nutritional integrity.

Yesterday, I was craving chocolate, specifically a brownie. I scanned the growing stack of vegan, paleo, and gluten-free cookbooks, and when I came upon this gluten + grain-free recipe, I was skeptical. I had APPLESAUCE SUBSTITUTION FLASHBACKS. Philosophically, I’ve been a believer that baked goods should been enjoyed in all their full-fat glory, and to mar that would be criminal. Yet, this recipe is certainly not devoid of fat (eh-hem butter/coconut oil) and has oceans of sweet flavor (maple syrup), so I gave it a go.

Know that I hesitated before I a sampled a brownie. I shoved the cooled bars in the fridge, considered dumping them altogether, but I HATE food waste, so I gave these a go, fully expecting burrito flavor in the guise of a brownie.

NOT SO! The brownies were fudgy, not too sweet, and delicious. They’re quite filling so you’ll likely stop at one, but color me shocked, surprised, that black beans can make a worthy grain substitute. WHO KNEW?!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Hemsley & Hemsley’s The Art of Eating Well, modified slightly
1 15oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
8oz Earth Balance vegan butter or coconut oil
4 large eggs
1 cup of unsweetened cacao powder
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
sea salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
2 tbsp vegan chocolate chips (dark chocolate is fine here, too)

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 325F. Grease a 9 1/2 x 8 baking dish with coconut oil, vegan butter or coconut oil spray (I like Spectrum Organic). Set it aside. Melt the butter/oil in a pan over low/medium heat. Set aside to cool slightly.

Place the beans, eggs, cacao, salt, maple syrup, and vanilla extract into the food processor. Pulse a few times and then blend until smooth. Slowly add the cooled butter down the shoot and mix until completely combined. Stir in 1/2 of the pecans, coconut flakes, and vegan chips, reserving the rest for the top of the brownies.

Pour the mixture into the prepared dish, making sure the batter is evenly distributed. Add the reserve pecans, flakes and chips, and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the brownie feels firm but springy and its surface is cracked.

Leave to cool completely, 30-45 minutes before slicing. I actually put this in the fridge after 30 minutes so it can be slightly. The brownies had such a fudgy texture as a result!

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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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buttermilk biscuits + defining {or not} what’s next

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I spent the day with one of my closest friends, architecting a plan for her to build a brand based on mindful movement. Sarah’s this great light, and she has the ability to imbue any situation with calm. Whether she’s teaching yoga, coaching authors, or writing sketches for UCB, everything she does comes from a quiet reflection inward to create tremendous movement on the surface. Her ask of me was this: how do I bring this all together? Her question put me to thinking to the definition of yoga — a union of body and breath, and while I found it so simple to distill something simple from the seemingly complicated, I for some reason can do this for myself.

Within me I feel a fissure, a very noticeable division. I am the whole of three parts: business, food, writing. After decades of drift, I’ve found that I constantly cleave to creativity whether it be helping a multi-million dollar company re-envision its infrastructure to re-imagining words on a page. I live the puzzle of it all. How I’m able to move pieces around a board to create a new shape.

How do you sell that? How do you package it neat and tidy, when I’ve never been a woman who took on the shape of those words. I know I can’t drift; I can’t get be in this purgatory of sorts, skirting the in-betweens. Today I told my friend that I’ve no idea what it is that I should be doing. All I can do is move toward opportunities that excite me, right? Take it from there, right?

I honestly don’t know. So there’s me, gathering dough. There’s me trying to find the union between art and business. There’s me trying to figure it all out.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Southern Living, via @Emptychampagne
4 cups all-purpose soft-wheat flour, such as White Lily {I used 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour, and it turned out fine}
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup {2 sticks, 8oz} cold butter, cubed
2 cups buttermilk
Melted butter

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 450°. Sift together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until mixture resembles small peas. Stir in buttermilk with a fork until dough forms a ball. You can also do this in a food processor, blitzing the dry ingredients, adding in the butter (and pulsing for 10-12 times) and pouring in the milk through the tube. Your dough will be quite sticky — don’t let that drive you mad as it will come blissfully together and be smooth once you turn it out onto wax paper.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured sheet of wax paper. Sprinkle dough with flour, and flatten into a disk. Cover, and chill 15 minutes.

Remove wax paper, and turn dough out onto a well-floured surface; sprinkle with flour. Pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with a 3-inch cutter, reshaping scraps once. Place biscuits 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake at 450° for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Brush immediately with melted butter.
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homemade buttery brioche bread loaves

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This weekend is proving to be pretty spectacular. I spent Saturday surrounded by brilliant friends {old and new}, all of whom are hatching plans for greatness. One of my dearest friends is launching a chocolate business, but more on that tomorrow. As always, I feel privileged to know so many great, strong women who are making things HAPPEN.

Today, I plan to travel to Long Island to see my pop for a day of horses, driving, and The Cheesecake Factory {his favorite}. I also plan to bring him a fresh loaf of this brioche, which is honestly the gift that keeps on giving.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
makes 2 loaves
2 1/4 cups (315 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups (340 grams) bread flour
1 1/2 packages (3 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast, or 1 ounce (28 grams) fresh cake yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp (82 grams) sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 cup (120 grams) cold water
6 eggs
1 cup plus 6 tbsp (2 3/4 sticks/310 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 10 to 12 pieces

Note: Do not halve this recipe. There won’t be enough dough to engage the dough hook of your mixer, and the dough won’t get the workout it needs to become a light, fluffy bread. Don’t worry about having too much: Both the dough and the baked loaves freeze well, and having a freezer filled with brioche is never a bad thing.

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DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and 5 of the eggs. Beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all of the ingredients have come together. Stop the mixer as needed to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the flour is incorporated into the wet ingredients. Once the dough has come together, beat on low speed for another 3 to 4 minutes. The dough will be very stiff and seem quite dry.

On low speed, add the butter one piece at a time, mixing after each addition until it disappears into the dough. Then, continue mixing on low speed for about 10 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. It is important for all of the butter to be mixed thoroughly into the dough. If necessary, stop the mixer occasionally and break up the dough with your hands to help mix in the butter.

Once the butter is completely incorporated, turn up the speed to medium and beat for another 15 minutes, or until the dough becomes sticky, soft, and somewhat shiny. It will take some time to come together. It will look shaggy and questionable at the start and then eventually will turn smooth and silky. Then, turn the speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute. You should hear the dough make a slap-slap-slap sound as it hits the sides of the bowl. Test the dough by pulling at it: it should stretch a bit and have a little give. If it seems wet and loose and more like a batter than a dough, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix until it comes together. If it breaks off into pieces when you pull at it, continue to mix on medium speed for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until it develops more strength and stretches when you grab it. It is ready when you can gather it all together and pick it up in one piece.

Place the dough in a large bowl or plastic container and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the dough. Let the dough proof in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to overnight. At this point, you can freeze the dough in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

To make two brioche loaves, line the bottom and sides of two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans with parchment, or butter the pans liberally. Divide the dough in half and press each piece into about a 9-inch square. The dough will feel like cold, clammy Play-Doh. Facing the square, fold down the top one-third toward yo, and then fold up the bottom one-third, as if folding a letter. Press to join these layers. Turn the folded dough over and place it, seam-side down in one of the prepared pans. Repeat with the second piece of dough, placing it in the second prepared pan.

Cover the loaves lightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to proof for about 4 to 5 hours, or until the loaves have nearly doubled in size. They should have risen to the rim of the pan and be rounded on top. When you poke at the dough, it should feel soft, pillowy and light, as if it’s filled with air – because it is! At this point, the texture of the loaves always reminds me a bit of touching a water balloon.

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg until blended. Gently brush the tops of the loaves with the beaten egg.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the tops and sides of the loaves are completely golden brown. Let cool in the pans on wire racks for 30 minutes, then turn the loaves out of the pans and continue to cool on the racks.

The bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days (if it is older than 3 days, try toasting int) or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

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flaky, buttery feta + chive biscuits

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Why does one begin to write? Because she feels misunderstood, I guess. Because it never comes out clearly enough when she tries to speak. Because she wants to rephrase the world, to take it in and give it back again differently, so that everything is used and nothing is lost. Because it’s something to do to pass the time until she is old enough to experience the things she writes about. ― Nicole Krauss

Can I tell you that my oven missed me? I could feel it. I live in a home where I need a blowtorch and a prayer to get my oven to ignite, so on this particularly warm morning, a day when you know spring is just itching to own it, my oven blazed hot and made a sauna of my apartment. Jubilant because it’s a fair day and I’ve got buttery biscuits rising in the oven, a small token for friends throwing an Oscar-themed soiree, come nightfall.

Candidly, it’s been a while since I’ve held dough in hands, felt the alchemy of ingredients coming together like symphony. As you can imagine I’ve been busy trying to catch up on my life. Cleaning my apartment, tossing all the things I’ve amassed over the years but don’t need, seeing old friends and making room for new ones — I haven’t been this efficient or this social in years. And while it’s at turns exhausting, it’s also exhilarating and gratifying because everything feels right. My life feels as it should: whole, because I’ve cultivated a patchwork of brilliant, beautiful people that weave in and out of my world, inspiring me beyond measure. No matter what happens after my final day at work, I know I’ll live a great, sweeping life. I know this because I dared to risk. I dared myself to leap out of my comfort zone, to be frightened of the world and everything in it, to incant all the things that could potentially go wrong {you’ll be homeless, a voice whispers and a fist shakes} and erase the tape. I’m spending time with those who open my eyes with a crowbar to let all the light in.

Let all the light in. Do it, do it now, because there is not one person whose body can house regret; our inevitable heartbreak from what might have been could drown oceans if it wanted to. We come like swallows, painting the sky black. And then we find ourselves in the dark again — boxed in, no way out — with one hand to our heart and the other on an open grave and we hear the silence of the one lone clock that stopped beating.

Here’s me, winding the clock. Here’s me, placing it gently on a blanket. Here’s me whispering, beat, beat.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Joy the Baker
makes about 12 small scones
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp cane sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
3/4 (1 1/2 sticks) cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp cold water
3/4 cup sour cream, cold
1/3 cup chopped chives
3/4 cup big crumbles of feta cheese
1 egg beaten for egg wash
coarse sea salt, cracked black pepper, and smoky paprika for topping

DIRECTIONS
Place rack in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and black pepper. Cut in butter (I use a pastry cutter because I’d rather keep my warm hands away from cold dough) until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. The dough should have fat, buttery peas throughout. In another bowl, beat the egg, sour cream, and water until combined. Add the egg and sour cream mixture to the flour mixture all at once, stirring enough to make a soft and shaggy dough. Recently I learned about the “under/over” method, where I use my fork to scrape from the bottom to the top of the dough to ensure that I don’t have a pile of flour that isn’t damp or part of the butter mixture. Add the chives and feta and dump mixture on a clean counter to knead the dough together. You will think this will never come together as I did, but trust me, it does. The mixture will come together in about 10 to 15 kneads.

Roll or pat out into a 1-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch rounds using a biscuit cutter or cut into 2×2-inch squares. Reshape and roll dough to create more biscuits with excess scraps. Place on prepared baking sheet, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sea salt, black pepper, and smoky paprika. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Serve warm. These biscuits are best eaten the day they’re made, but will last up to 2 days.

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get ready to weep: herb-gruyère biscuits

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Every holiday I make the Odyssean trek to Connecticut to spend time in a warm home surrounded by a vast forest. The drive from New Haven is a long one, and the road ahead is wrapped in a ticker-tape of trees that were once deciduous but are now covered in bone-white snow. This year my friend’s husband collected me from the train station, and as we passed the time in catch-up conversation, I slid further down in my seat. Taking comfort in watching my oldest and dearest friend’s husband drive.

I should tell you that I don’t like cars — they feel like metal coffins, and I’m always skittish when on the road. There’s not only you with your hands on the wheel and the road in front of you, but there’s all sorts of people, strangers really, to consider. So while my friend’s husband expertly navigated our way home, I found myself closing my eyes. Trying to forget the cars around me.

During the ride I did what I’m wont to do, which is ask after the food. We spoke of grilled fillets and chipotle sweet potatoes, and when he mentioned the biscuits, THE BISCUITS, I went weak in the knees. It should be noted that my friend Elizabeth makes the BEST. BISCUITS. EVER.

I mean, the BEST.

And after I managed to consume four in one sitting, I begged my friend for the recipe and she was kind enough to slip it into a package she sent a week later. So it’s with love and light that I honor Elizabeth and her kind husband by re-creating my true love. THE BISCUIT.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Food + Wine.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped sage leaves
1 cup shredded Gruyère
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter—10 tablespoons cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled, 2 tablespoons melted
1 cup buttermilk, chilled
Flaky salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 425° and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. In a large shallow bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and fine salt. Add the chilled butter and use a pastry blender or 2 knives to cut the butter into the flour until it is the size of peas. Add the chopped thyme and sage, and the Gruyère. Stir in the buttermilk just until the dough is moistened. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it comes together. Pat the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick disk.

Using a floured 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, stamp out biscuit rounds as closely together as possible. Gather the scraps and knead them together 2 or 3 times, then flatten the dough and stamp out more biscuit rounds. Pat the remaining scraps together and gently press them into a biscuit.

Transfer the biscuits to a large baking sheet and brush the tops with the melted butter. Lightly sprinkle the biscuits with a few grains of flaky salt and chill until firm, about 10 minutes.

Bake the biscuits for 20 minutes, or until golden. Let the biscuits cool slightly on the baking sheet before serving.

MAKE AHEAD The unbaked biscuits can be frozen: Freeze biscuits in a single layer and transfer to a resealable plastic bag for up to one month. Bake straight from the freezer, adding a few minutes to the cooking time.

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