chocolate rye muffins

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Take a moment and read the ingredients. Really read them. You’ll notice that butter and sugar, the cornerstones of any great muffin, are noticeably missing. Notice that eggs can be replaced with chia seeds. Notice that you can probably get away with using a ripe banana to stand in for 1/3 of the 2/3 cup of maple syrup to deliver sweetness and consistency.

And you’re probably thinking (such as I thought) that this will be a mess of a muffin. A muffin massacre.

Believe me when I say that I’m often skeptical about vegan baking. Part of it has to do with education (and my lack of it, admittedly), and the other has to do with texture. I’ve tried the GOOP cakes and desserts, which were lacking and often gritty, and I always find myself comparing more virtuous muffins to the standard. To beaten butter and sugar — my crystalline fantasties. However, after baking these muffins knowing that they would likely be inferior, I tell you this:

As Biggie once sagely rhymed, I WAS DEAD WRONG. Holy Christ on a kitty, I was wrong. These muffins are spectacular. Not only were they light and moist (I know, I know), but they were intensely flavorful. I wasn’t ready for full-on dark chocolate, so there was a bit of sweetness, but more so, a sweetness that didn’t mask a symphony of ingredients. I’m starting to realize that we tend to add TOO MUCH SUGAR to baked goods instead of relying on flavors to stand on their own.

I invite you to journey out of your comfort zone and bake these yum muffins.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Green Kitchen Stories. Snaps to my friend Courtney for sending me the link to these marvelous muffins!
1 scant cup / 240 ml / 150 g whole grain rye flour {I used dark rye flour}
1 cup / 240 ml / 125 g fine spelt flour
6 tbsp cacao powder {I used cocoa powder, as I don’t tend to have cacao on hand}
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp coarse sea salt
3 eggs*
1 cup /240 ml full-fat coconut milk
2/3 cup / 160 ml maple syrup
2/3 cup / 160 ml cold-pressed olive oil
100 g 75% dark chocolate (of your choice), coarsely chopped {I used semi-sweet chips, instead}

*I came up short one egg, so for the third egg, in a small bowl, I mixed 1 tbsp of chia seeds with 3 tbsp of warm water. I let it rest for ten minutes, stirring intermittently, and that’s how I got my third egg.

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Sift together all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl, save half of the sea salt for topping. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the eggs (I added my two eggs + chia seed mixture) and beat for about a minute. Then add coconut milk, maple syrup and olive oil, mixing all on medium/low. Reduce the speed to low. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture. Chop the chocolate and add half of it to the batter. Use a spatula to carefully fold everything until combined. Divide the batter into the muffin tins and top with the rest of the chocolate. Bake for about 18 minutes. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve. Best enjoyed still warm from the oven.

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sir francis crumb cakes + geeking out on baking supplies

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There was a time when I was the sort of woman who forced herself to fall in love with shopping, when in fact there’s nothing I loathe more than standing in a crowded dressing room trying on clothes that will inevitably disappear into the bowels of my closet. For a time, I hoarded expensive finery — clothing, handbags and shoes — while I wore the same ten outfits in rotation. It wasn’t until the past two years that I realized that I don’t care much for fashion, but I can spend hours in a bookstore or lose myself amongst the metal and appliances in a restaurant supply shop. So I’m back to wearing the same comfortable uniform while I steadfastly (and strategically) acquire kitchen accoutrements.

Since I’ve a small space in which to work, I have to focus on buying only what I’ll need and use. My stand mixer, food processor, Vitamix, and coffee maker take up a considerable amount of counter space amongst the fat jars of grains and dried fruit and nuts, and I use these appliances, which have been acquired over the past decade, frequently. All my other kitchenware is densely packed into cabinets and cupboards, and I’m acutely aware of the fact that I will likely die from an avalanche of muffin tins and baking sheets. My cat will poke and prod through the metal rubble.

As a bakery is my preferred landscape, my collection of tools and equipment reflects this: various springform cans, 8- and 9-inch cake pans, loaf pans, cookie sheets (in various sizes), dome tins, pie dishes, tart pans (in varying sizes). We haven’t even gotten to the graters, molds, spatulas (offset and silicone), and piping bags (admittedly, I am horrible at pipping and tend to never use my bags and nozzles). I tend to buy the tools for the sweets you often find me making and sharing on this space: cookies, pies, breads, cakes, tarts, and a fancy pastry here and there. Rustic baking, the informal and messy kind, brings me a kind of joy you can’t imagine, and often I take stock of my tools, much like my collection of books, regarding both with equal and measured affection. While a pair of shoes doesn’t evoke a memory for me, a pie made in celebration of a friend’s new business or important sale, or a book read in front of the ocean, will create moments I continuously find myself returning to.

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Initially, I was put off by Sarabeth’s Sir Francis Crumb Cakes because they required a whole new set of tools I never conceived of buying — entremet rings, which is a fancy way of saying ring molds. I thought to myself that the recipe was a bit froufrou because I could simply use muffin tins or ramekins, but then it occurred to me that these rings opened up a whole new world of presentation. Domed muffins, biscuits, scones — within the confines of stainless steel, my goods would bake evenly and present themselves in their Sunday best. Rustic with a top hat, if you will.

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Instead of waiting a month to get the rings off Amazon, or spending a PILE of money at the fancy shops, I tend to buy my equipment from restaurant supply stores. My favorite is Manhattan Restaurant Supply, a fairly no-frills shop, but I can always find exactly what I need. At supply stores I get the good stuff, a knowledgeable staff, and prices that can’t be beat. These rings were $4.95 each, where everyone in town hocks them at $7 a pop.

So that was my Black Friday. Buying ring molds and making individual coffee cakes that had me waking in the middle of the night to scarf.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
For the crumb topping
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 + 1 tbsp superfine sugar (I used organic cane, and it was fine)
6 tbsp (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

For the cake
Softened unsalted butter for the pans
1 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup + 1 tbsp whole milk
10 tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, at room temperature
2/3 cup superfine sugar (I used organic cane, and it was fine)
2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Special equipment: eight 3×1 1/2 inch metal entremet rings, which gives the cakes their grandiose shape, but I imagine you can easily bake these in a muffin tin and reduce the cooking time.

DIRECTIONS
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper. Lightly butter the insides of eight 3×1 1/2 inch metal entremet rings, and place the rings on the pan.

To make the crumbs, stir together the flour, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a medium bowl until moistened. Compress the mixture in your hands, and then crumble it until it resembles the texture of coarse bread crumbs. Dip the buttered rings into the crumbs and lightly coat the insides, shaking off excess crumbs. Return the rings to the pan. Press the remaining crumb mixture with your hands until about half the crumbs are larger, about the size of peas. Set the mixture aside.

To make the cakes, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Mix the heavy cream and milk together in a glass measuring cup.

Beat the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed until smooth, about one minute. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light in color and texture, about three minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Gradually beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low. In thirds, starting with the flour and alternating with two equal additions of the cream mixture, add the flour mixture, mixing the batter after each addition until smooth, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Using a 2 1/2 inch diameter ice-cream scoop, transfer equal amounts of the batter into the rings. Place equal amounts of the crumb mixture over the batter in the rings. Using your fingers, tap the crumbs to help them adhere.

Bake until the crumbs are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 20-25 minutes (my cakes took 31 minutes, so I’d just be vigilant about checking). Cool the cakes in the rings in a pan for 10 minutes. Using a kitchen towel to protect your hands from the heat, remove the rings from the cakes. Serve warm or transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. They cakes can be stored at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to two days.

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pumpkin coffee cake donuts

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It’s not yet the holidays, but my life feels abundant with goodness. My consulting contract has been extended through the first quarter of 2014, which affords me the luxury of taking off the month of December to celebrate in the monsoon that will be Fiji (note to self: while booking flights through grief, check to see if you’re traveling through rain season), work on my novel, food magazine, and spend the rest of the month catching up with friends.

I’ll be in full regeneration mode before I take off for Fiji next week, which means that the oven is already fired up and I’m raring to share an onslaught of yummy eats. When I discovered these donuts, I knew I had to bake them this morning, and I’ve no regrets. Clearly you need to have these for Thanksgiving breakfast. CLEARLY.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Channeling Contessa, slightly modified
For the donuts
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 cup safflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the streusel:
2 tbsp cane sugar
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat oven to 325°F. Coat donut pan with non-stick cooking spray — I prefer coconut spray, or, alternatively, you can use a cloth and lightly oil the pan with safflower, vegetable or grapeseed oil. In a medium bowl, stir the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt until all the ingredients cohere and are combined. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the pumpkin, brown sugar, egg, oil and vanilla until smooth. Add wet mixture to flour mixture, and whisk until combined. Be careful not to overmix, but you want to ensure all the flour has been incorporated into the wet mixture. Briefly set aside.

On to the streusel! Mix together all dry ingredients for the streusel. Pour over the butter, which should be slightly cooled, and mix your hands to create clumps the size of fat walnuts.

Add the batter into a large Ziploc bag. Cut off the corner and squeeze batter into prepared donut pan about 2/3 full. Sprinkle the tops of the donuts generously with the streusel. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until donuts spring back when lightly pressed. Cool in pan on rack 5 minutes, then carefully turn out directly onto rack to cool.

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maple syrup muffins + coming out as an ambivert

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Today I’m working on a project from home and I couldn’t be more deliriously happy. Over the weekend, my sweet friend Amber and I had a long conversation about our predilection for time spent in complete and utter silence. We spoke of the necessity of being alone, about how crowds give us vertigo, and after a long day of talking, all we want to do is be mute. Friends often laugh when we tell them about our introverted side, because Amber and I are the sort of people who are high-octane. We perform. People tell us we have a presence, so the idea that we crave, we absolutely need, quiet is laughable to most.

But trust me, it’s true. I’m an ambivert, which means that while I love collaborating with co-workers and being part of a team, I often need to be alone. This quiet allows me to recharge, rest, and think about the events of my day and what’s next. Perhaps it’s partly due to the fact that I’m an only child, but I take solace in my alone time; I’m rarely lonely. I prefer to travel alone. I prefer my company over others, and this clear delineation between these two states affords me to appreciate when great people are in my life.

Right now I’m privileged to be working on a project in an agency where everyone is really nice. They’re kind and collaborative, and I find myself getting excited and worked up and wanting to consistently build processes and structure (I’ve been brought on as a management consultant to restructure and build the blueprint for a division). At the end of the day, I’m exhilarated, but exhausted. So believe me when I say that today’s alone time was needed.

Not only did I wake at 5 and get a start to my day, I managed to make these muffins in the early morning hours. And nothing compares, NOTHING, to being alone with your kitty and a piping hot mini-cake. NOTHING.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
Makes 12 muffins
Softened unsalted butter, for the pan
2¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
1½ cups pure maple syrup, preferably Grade B
12 tbsp (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup whole milk (I used almond milk)
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

DIRECTIONS
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°. Brush the insides of 12 muffin cups with softened butter, then brush the top of the pan. (This ensures the muffins don’t stick when they rise.)

Whisk the unbleached flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Whisk the maple syrup, melted butter, and milk together in another bowl, then whisk in the egg and yolk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until smooth. Stir in the walnuts. Let the batter stand so the dry ingredients can absorb the liquids, about 5 minutes.

Using a 2½-inch-diameter ice cream scoop, portion the batter, rounded side up, into the prepared muffin cups. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375° and bake until the tops of the muffins are golden brown and a wire cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 15 minutes more. (My note: Make this 10 minutes if you’re using a cupcake pan)

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool completely.

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rosemary focaccia + felicia in the kitchen? {hmm…}

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Today I spent the day with two markedly different women who are creators and builders. Both are strong, outspoken, passionate, and live a life of their own design. These are women who’ve walked away from the confines of a cubicle and the overhead glare of lights in search of something extraordinary. Strange hours and weekend work are the norm, but this doesn’t faze them because they design their days. They are the people who walk the park during the day and write their way into the gloaming. I admire them this, their propensity for the hustle and their desire for a career with purpose.

I talk a lot about what I’ve left behind but little of where I’m going. Today, I prattled on about indecision. I’ve never been in a place where this is so much choice, but at the same time there has never been a less clear and definitive path. And while there is a real and pragmatic need to be met (rent, student loans, credit cards, cat, etc), there is also something seemingly innocuous. A figure just beyond the periphery, and I’m trying to be the sort of person who rolls with it, who crosses all applicable body parts in the hope that this path will reveal itself. So I went on about this, spoke mostly about the industry of food and my passion for it, specifically pastry, and my friend shook her head, smiled, and said, From an outsider your path is clear. You’re on to something big. I can see it, and I’m not even an outsider. So when I talk about all these different things, these choices, maybe the path is within these things I’m pursuing, it’s just a matter of organization.

I can’t help but think of this quote by Doris Lessing, which came to me at precisely the moment it needed to:

“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”

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I’ve never wanted to own a pastry shop. I never wanted to be a recipe developer. I never wanted to pipe or create insane feats of gastronomy. After reading Provence, 1970, I felt an odd kinship with the great M.F.K. Fisher. Not that I would even dare compare myself to this great light, but the idea that my food writing could be deeply informed by education of technique gives me pause. I have so many ideas in my head right now — my burgeoning magazine, books, all that sort of thing — but I’ve always wanted to have an innate understand of pastry. Deeper than the practiced home baker, but a grasp of the basic alchemy.

I think I want to apprentice in a pastry shop or a bakery. I don’t know how I’ll get this to happen. I don’t have a plan just yet, but I know that this is something I want to try on for size.

So this is me, inching closer to the impossible. Trying to figure it all out.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
2 cups cold water
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
3 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, as needed
1 3/4 tsp fine sea salt
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus additional for the bowl

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DIRECTIONS
Sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup warm water (105-115F) in a small bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve. Pour into a mixer bowl. Add 1 3/4 cups cold water and the rosemary and whisk to combine.

Attached the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add half of the flour, then the salt. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Knead on medium-low speed just until the dough is smooth and it cleans the bowl, about 3 minutes. Do not over-knead. Gather up the dough and shape into a ball.

Coat the inside of a medium bowl generously with olive oil. Place the ball of dough in the bow, and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a half-sheet pan, and spread evenly with your fingers. Punch down the dough and transfer to the oiled pan. Using your hands, coax and stretch the dough to fill the pan. If the dough is too elastic, cover the dough in the pan with plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes, then try again.

Choose a warm place in the kitchen for proofing. Slip the pan into a tall “kitchen-sized” plastic bag and place two tall glasses of very hot water in the bag at opposite ends of the pan to keep the plastic from touching the dough. Tightly close the bag, trapping air in the bag to partially inflate it. Let stand in a warm place until the dough looks puffy, about 45 minutes.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Fill a spray bottle with water. Remove the glasses from the bag, then the pan. Using your fingers, gently dimple the top of the dough. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over the top of the dough. Using the palms of your hands, taking special care not to deflate the dough, very lightly spread the oil over the focaccia.

Place the focaccia in the oven. Aiming for the walls of the oven (and not the top of the focaccia), spray water into the oven. The water will create steam to help crisp the focaccia. Bake until the focaccia is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before serving. Cut into rectangles and serve warm or at room temperature.

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chocolate cloud cookies + rolling with it

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Yesterday I decided to go for a walk because being swathed in blankets, wrapping up your face in tissue like some sarcophagus, and turning your home into a bakery because you’re exhausted and coming down with the sniffles, has an expiration date. After a fit of sneezing that had me bordering on apoplexy, my cat scurried away to the next room and peered out from behind the door. Had his mother turned into a typhoon?

The moment when you start constructing narratives your cat would employ is the moment you leave the house.

Dusk fell and the sky was milky and still, and I found myself surrounded by trees. My friend and business partner phoned, and we discussed our mutual sneezing, our frenetic schedules, and lamented that it’s been too long since we’ve seen one another. I start to tell her about this new project I’ve got going, and she laughs and says, It’s like you’re a management consultant. The line was small, insignificant, a throwaway piece of conversation, but I paused mid-step, and said, I don’t know about that. To myself I thought, I don’t know what I am.

I’ve deliberately put writing + editing of my novel on hold until I get to Fiji next month (note to self: don’t book expensive vacations while drunk and mourning the loss of your cat, because you’ll pay for it, literally, later). I’ve got projects to keep me busy. I’m baking all these sweets you see here. But what does it all mean? All signs point to…

BLANK.

Part of me wants to roll with it, play the hand out, see how the cards fall. While another part wants to make a decision. Should I formally train in pastry making? Should I commit to this partnership I’ve got with my friend to take this consultancy off the ground? Should I map out a series of books? Should I start this magazine I’ve been talking about?

Suddenly there is stasis. There is this great chasm (or perhaps one that I’ve architected) between me and the thing that I ought to be pursuing. I’m in ether, floating, indecisive, and I’ve never quite been like this. There’s always be a plan, an objective, something very clear to which I’ve to work toward. Now, there’s this. There’s the joy of baking chocolate chip cookies and finding something new in so simple a recipe. There’s the relief from being an office but not having to adopt it and a company’s culture. There’s the thrill of finally being able to write, to finally have found my voice.

As you can see, I’m meandering. My mentor once told me that people who give long responses to short questions do it because they don’t know the answer. It’s like filling your test blue books with words in hopes that the answer might emerge from the rubble. You’ll talk and write your way there.

Part of wonders if I want is right in front of me but I can’t see it yet…

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
1 1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
16 tbsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch cubes
¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature, beaten
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp fine sea salt
2 cups (8 ounces) toasted sliced almonds
2 cups (12 ounces) chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS
Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 3 half-sheet pans with parchment paper. Rub the superfine sugar and brown sugar together through a coarse-mesh wire sieve into a medium bowl; set aside. Beat the butter in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar mixture, then the vanilla. Beat, occasionally scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl, until the mixture is pale yellow and light-textured, about 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the eggs.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt together into a medium bowl. With the mixer speed on low, add the dry ingredients in three additions, mixing just until each addition is incorporated. Add the almonds and chocolate chips and mix just until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Empty the dough onto the work counter, and use your hands to thoroughly distribute the almonds and chocolate chips in the dough.

Using a 2-inch diameter ice cream scoop, portion the batter onto the prepared pans. Using the heel of your palm, slightly flatten each ball of dough. Bake two of the pans with the cookies, switching the position of the pans from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking, until the cookies are evenly golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. During the last 3 minutes, rap each pan on the rack. The cookies will deflate and their signature cracks will appear on the tops. Repeat with the third pan. Cool on the pans.

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blueberry streusel muffins

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It’s interesting that it never is what you intended to be. And by “it” I mean everything. Last year when I made the decision to leave my very comfortable (only in the financial sense of the word) job in pursuit of something other, out of a need to get my life back, I never envisioned that I’d be something like a COO. I thought I’d be generating big ideas, helping craft social media campaigns and consumer marketing strategies, and while I do that for some, for the most part companies of all sizes have invited me to come in and gut renovate. I build the floor, ceilings and windows for a house; I create the foundation. This role includes creating staff plans against various P+Ls (as well as role definition, job requirements and mentoring plans), creating process and infrasture so teams are set up for success and efficiency, defining a blueprint for the creation and deployment of strategic plans, identifying revenue streams (organic or inorganic) based on the business the company may be in, and setting up models for growth.

All of this is pretty antithetical to what I do outside the office, and I have to say, I REALLY LIKE IT. I’m using different parts of my brain in varying capacities, and my creative balance is in-tact, informing the non-creative work that I do.

This week I kicked off an assignment at a rather large and prominent agency that is part of a holding company, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to work with genuinely kind and smart people. The agency is larger than the one from which I recently left — larger portfolios, expansive departments, etc — so I was thrilled that the assignment would be a challenging one. And it is in all the best ways.

What I’m trying to suss out is a balanced schedule. The assignment requires me to work in an office three days a week and off-site (at home) for one day. This week I spent a great deal of time auditing the teams, processes and work products, so I came home last night pretty spent from the week. So instead of rushing to the gym this morning I decided to wake and make muffins.

I’m glad I did. Sometimes I crave silence and need it.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE these muffins. I was also surprised to learn that the best muffins are made with chilled (WHAT??!) butter, whipped pretty intensely to cream in the stand mixer. While this recipe uses oil as the fattening agent, I definitely will try the others and report back.

In the meantime, have a muffin! xo

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
For the muffins
1 large seedless orange
⅔ cup canola oil
½ cup plus 1 tbsp whole milk
2 eggs, at room temperature
2¼ cups bread flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

For the streusel topping
6 tbsp unbleached white flour
1 tbsp cane sugar
1 tbsp brown sugar
⅛ tsp ground cinnamon
2½ tbsp butter, melted
¼ tsp vanilla

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DIRECTIONS
Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400*. Line the muffin tin with muffin liners or brush the insides of the cups with butter.

Grate the zest of the orange and set it aside. Slice the orange in half and juice both sides. You should have about ⅓ cup of juice.

Whisk the oil, milk, orange juice, orange zest, and eggs together in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt together in another bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the liquids and stir with a spoon, just until combined. Carefully fold in the blueberries.

Portion the batter out into the muffin cups, filling almost to the top.

To make the streusel topping, mix the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and vanilla in a small bowl, using your fingers, until well combined and crumbly.

Sprinkle the muffin tops with the streusel.

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven to 375F* and continue to bake until the tops of the muffins are golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean, about 15 minutes more. (If you are using frozen berries, allow for a few extra minutes.)

Cool the muffins in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove the muffins to a baking rack and cool completely.

Store in an airtight container.
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baking maple syrup pies + getting inspired

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Today I spent the day with my friend Summer. A remarkable artist and a devoted mother, I’ve known Summer for nearly a decade, and the way in which she sees life and inhabits it, so completely, so beautifully, always inspires me. Summer is a light that refuses to dim, and whether she’s drawing, crafting comics, painting or writing, she’s an artist who is surgical in the way in which she can evoke a mood or a detail simply through a brushstroke, a line deliberately drawn, or a careful meditation on color.

Hers is a world in which you want to dive in, headfirst, and succumb; feel the undertow, drift wonderfully in and under. I stood in her studio space and eyed the vibrant book cover illustrations, a mess of photographs that she holds close to her art, which is an extension of her heart, and a sweet arrangement of vintage foodstuffs, cookbooks, and labels, and I felt a sort of calm. The kind of calm where you needn’t see your friend every week, but something about who they are and what they do makes sense to you, ebbs and flows with your creative rhythm, and as Summer and I settled into talk I felt as if it were yesterday that we were two women — one strumming a guitar, the other publishing a literary magazine — trying to find our voice, our way.

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My world is small, deliberately so. I don’t have patience for telenovela-level drama. Working a room, and accumulating a litany of high-wattage names, exhaust me. So I tell people that if I leave a meal and don’t feel inspired to create, if I leave drained and spent, if I feel as if I’ve encountered a barnacle in human form, I excise. This may be cruel and cold but it’s efficient for it allows me to spend time with people who ignite something, and that mutual reciprocity builds things, hatches plans, makes us run in separate directions to set the world ablaze.

So maybe it was the sugar high from a simple pie that is rich and smooth and sweet, or perhaps it was the ride up the Hudson, or possibly time spent with brilliant, wonderful people, but Summer and I parted, invigorated.

We parted wanting to wreck things. To deconstruct. Build anew.

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INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Ruth Reichl’s The Gourmet Cookbook
Pastry dough
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup pure maple syrup (preferably dark amber)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
Accompaniment:crème fraîche or unsweetened whipped cream
preparation

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll out dough into an 11-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin and fit into an 8-inch (3-cup) glass pie plate. Trim excess dough and crimp edges decoratively.

Whisk together brown sugar and eggs until creamy. Add cream, syrup, and butter, then whisk until smooth. Pour filling into pie shell.

Bake pie in lower third of oven until pastry is golden and filling is puffed and looks dry but still trembles, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool on a rack to room temperature (filling will set as pie cools).

Notes in the margins: If you don’t have an 8-inch pie plate, substitute a 9-inch tart pan and prebake crust before baking with filling.

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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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maple oatmeal scones + a journey back

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This summer was among the worst I’ve ever known, a photograph worth shredding. When I returned from Europe, I had the whole of my life cartographed, mapped to a suffocating precision. I had plans. I scheduled meetings. In the morning, I listened to a single song on repeat as that’s the sort thing I need to do to get in the headspace of writing. I’d started a story about a woman and her architected vengeance, a story that revealed itself in degrees, until all that’s left was a tableaux of flames, a hotel room, and a woman writhing in a bed while another watched on, smiling. The story was something, not yet, not yet, the novel was other. I had plans. I scheduled meetings.

Then Sophie got sick, really sick. The kind of sick that makes you retreat, the sort of sick that makes you practice denial like it’s your industry. It should be said that I don’t manage loss well.

While Sophie rejected the battery of medications I had to force in her, twice daily with a syringe; while she defecated on my carpet, in the shower, and on my bed, ashamed; while she writhed much like the woman in the story I was writing; but this was real, real, I started to drink. Nearly seven years off the sauce, I was a binge drinker not an alcoholic, and I thought that this gave me trespass to return to a dark country in which I thought I could navigate. It’s not the same, I told everyone, always. I’ve got my compass and my maps and my tools from a decade in a chair talking it all out to the point of collapse. This isn’t about my mother anymore, I said. I’m passed all that, I said. A raised eyebrow, a tap of a finger, a slow nod — my close friends, those who knew me longest and best, decided to play the hand out. See where I’d go. Yet all of them had that look, it flashed on their faces briefly, but it was that look, that look that said, not again.

Everything was fine in the beginning, it always is. At first it was all smooth sailing and one glass of wine at lunch. My wines were white, practically translucent, non-existent, and I functioned. Signed contracts and did the work I was asked to do; I always excelled, even when the ground that lay beneath threatened to give way. And then the tumble, the fall, and Sophie died.

I started to notice that this country had changed, was unfamiliar, because I was never the sort who drank alone during the day. Closed all the blinds and receded into the dark. My drinking was loud, public, infrequent, bombastic, not solitary, constant, and quiet. When Sophie died, I felt her everywhere. I couldn’t wash the towel she lay on in those final moments. I fell asleep on the carpet where the smell of her was rich, pungent and deep. One glass a day morphed into a bottle a day, and I knew this was a problem.

IMG_3258IMG123 This country was different because this time I asked for help. I called a friend, early, and said that things had gotten bad, really bad, and I’d been lying to her for weeks. Could you come get me? She drove to my apartment, helped me throw all the bottles in the trash, put me in her car, and drove us around Brooklyn all day.

I think you need to get another cat, she said. You need to go back to a routine, she said. At first I shook my head no, not yet, not yet, but the certainty in her voice comforted me. We went to a shelter in Williamsburg, and when I cried into the fur of one particular black cat, whose resemblance to Sophie was uncanny, my friend shook her head and nudged me on. I had to find the non-Sophie. No black cats. Those are the rules.

Then there was Felix. Sweet Felix who cuddled and demurred and wanted to play all day. On the car ride home, I wondered if I could do this again. If this was too soon, too much, but as the days progressed, I got better.

Two months later, I’m starting my bloom.

I debated whether or not I should talk about this summer on this space, as I’m fiercely protective of my offline life, but I thought it important to admit that there isn’t shame in fouling up. There isn’t shame in grief and the illogical things we do, and the strange stories we tell ourselves to make our way through our grief. Grief is grief. It’s darker than the ocean, but what matters is how you swim back to shore. What matters is that you get back. Safely. In one piece. Knowing that this isn’t six and a half years ruined.

Confirming that my life is bright and rich and raw and beautiful when I don’t drink. In the span of two months, I’ve secured consulting projects, finished a partial submission of a new novel, penned cookbook reviews I didn’t think I could, repaired friendships, and fell in love with a new kitty. When I baked these scones today, a sweet parting gift for my client, I felt the burden of the summer diminish.

What matters is the journey back, not the fall. What matters most is that I’m here.

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INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
For the scones
1 1/4 cups (210 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups (125 g) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup (50 g) pecan halves, toasted then chopped
1/2 cup (80 g) golden raisins
1/2 cup (1 stick 114 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8-10 pieces
1/2 cup (80 g) cold heavy cream
1/2 cup (160 g) maple syrup
1 cold egg

For the glaze
1 cup (140 g) confectioner’s sugar
3 tbsp maple syrup
1-2 tbsp water

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

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (or handheld mixer), mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pecans, and raisins on low speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until combined. Scatter the butter over the top and beat on low speed for about 30 seconds, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-size pieces are still visible.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, maple syrup, and egg. On low speed pour the cream mixture into the flour mixture and beat for 10-30 seconds, or just until the dough comes together. It will be fairly wet.

Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure that all of the dry ingredients are mixed into the dough. Using a 1/3-cup dry-measuring cup, drop mounded scoops of the dough onto a baking sheet, forming 8 scones and spacing them 2 to 3 inches apart.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown on top. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes.

To make the glaze, mix the ingredients together, using enough of the water to make a smooth, pourable glaze. Pour over the cooled scones and serve.

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spicy kale + tofu stir fry

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And away we go! My first day without refined sugar + pasta was harder than quitting blow. The sugar wasn’t the issue insomuch as I craved pasta. Before, during and after yoga, and for a moment I secretly thought of chucking it all because the last thing I wanted to do was chop. I had flights of fancy that involved orecchiette drenched in a butternut squash cheese sauce. I spied a cauliflower cream sauce recipe that I knew would pair perfectly with homemade tagliatelle. On the subway, I wondered if soba noodles were considered pasta because they had a higher protein content.

IS SOBA CONSIDERED PASTA? I NEED TO KNOW, AND I’M AFRAID TO GOOGLE.

But I pressed on. Today was pretty fantastic. I’ve closed on over one hundred tight pages of my novel-in-progress, and while I wanted to shove a muffin in my gourd, I opted for a…wait for it…a peanut butter power bar. {wail}

I made this stir fry last year to much fanfare and confetti, and I’ve made some tweaks, and found it to be filling and flavorful. While it’s not pasta, I don’t have to get all tortured and emo about it.

Spicy Stir-Fried Tofu With Kale and Red Pepper, courtesy of The New York Times, with modifications
INGREDIENTS
1 bunch flat leaf kale (about 10 ounces), stemmed and washed in a salad spinner. I love lacinato or Tuscan kale for this recipe
1 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar or dry sherry
1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
1 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp Kosher salt (more to taste)
1/2 tsp ground pepper, preferably white pepper
1/4 tsp cane sugar
1 tbsp safflower (or canola) oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 red bell pepper, cut in 2-inch julienne
1 1/2 cups edamame pods, unshelled
2 tsp sesame oil

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DIRECTIONS
Bring a medium saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil, add the edamame. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the pods float to the surface of the water. Drain, remove the pods and set aside in a small bowl.

Cut the tofu into dominos and place them on paper towels. Place another paper towel on top and prepare the remaining ingredients. I was lucky, and my market had tofu cut into cubes, so I simply drained the tofu and let it rest in a strainer.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the soy sauce, rice wine or sherry, stock and cornstarch. Combine the salt, pepper and sugar in another small bowl. Have all the ingredients within arm’s length of your wok.

Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch steel skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two when added to the pan. Swirl in the safflower oil by adding it to the sides of the pan and swirling the pan, then add the tofu. Stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes in a wok and 3-5 minutes on the pan, until it begins to color. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for no more than 30 seconds.

Add the red pepper and edamame and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the kale, salt, pepper and sugar and toss together. Add the soy sauce mixture and the sesame oil. Stir-fry for another 30 seconds to a minute. Remove from the heat and serve hot.

Yield: 4 servings.

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the flawed apple crisp from the kinfolk cookbook

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It’s rare that a cookbook would evoke such vitriol, but after I received the Kinfolk Cookbook: Gatherings You’ll Likely Never to be Invited to, I paged through the book and found myself livid. While I’m saving my rage rampage for a review on Medium (as I’ve still a few more recipes to test), I will say this: their representation of Brooklyn — the place where I was born and raised, and fell in love with the vibrancy and passion with which we made our food, even if we bought our dishes with food stamps and waitressing tips — is austere, whitewashed and affluent, devoid of flavor, color and texture. And after thumbing through 300 some-odd pages, it occurred to me that the cookbook is a variation on a singular theme: the creation of a life lived in an Anthropologie catalog. It’s the reason why we get lost in blogs. We want our linens and bowls and kitchens with reclaimed wood — Kinfolk is a very specific America, rife with denizens who are preened to disheveled perfection.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 4.36.06 PMThey drive miles for mussels and set a formidable table in their outdoor barns. Theirs is a life of cultivated beauty that carries its own disquiet, giving the illusion of simplicity when it’s nothing more than understated affluence and luxury. The kind of gatherings where meals are photographed with a thousand-dollar camera, everyone has clean skin, shiny hair, and ebullient optimism. The portraits tell you everything and nothing at once, and there is no real visceral connection between image and type, rather it’s the story of people who project the lives you wish you could live, and the recipes are merely an antecedent to that lovely fiction, down to the stalks of grass in their hands and wisteria in their hair. If we’re to believe, as the founders of Kinfolk tell us, that this book is the celebration of gatherings, where is that passion in the crafting of the recipes and how the instructions are delivered? Because they’re cold, formulaic, sometimes off — hardly connecting the meal to the person to the story to the gathering celebrating it all. What is it then we’re celebrating? A life lived in organic sepia? A life through the lens of those who photograph it?

I’ve seen more passion in 2chainz’s cookbook than in this pristine whitewash of an affair.

And while you could argue that perhaps I’m not the audience for Kinfolk, I’m the audience for food, and after testing three recipes, the book has some demonstrable flaws.

I made this crisp {twice!}, to the letter, and both times the crisp failed. Please know that I’ve been making pies and crisps and crumbles for the better part of a decade, and the recipe is flawed in the sense of flavor balance, texture and technique. The juice of two lemons + tart apples + 1/4 cup of sugar yielded a nearly astringent lemon flavor that overpowered the apples + the cinnamon. The topping was entirely too sweet, sickeningly so, for the amount of flour in the recipe, so on the third go, I’ve made some significant alterations to the final recipe. Additionally, covering the crisp with parchment and wax only added to the cooking time and didn’t do anything in terms of the final product. I could have easily gone without (as I’ve done for 16 years) and have enjoyed a simple crisp. However, since the crisp was tented, I had to increase the cooking time to achieve a brown crust, which inevitably yielded apples the consistency of applesauce.

In short, there is absolutely no reason why I needed to tent my crisp. There is no justice in following the original printed recipe to the letter.

All of this begs the question: were the recipes in this cookbook tested in a real kitchen so we, as consumers, can be certain that the chemistry is on point? Was the cookbook proofed, for I found a lot of errors in the recipes, and I’m only three dishes in. Insert image of a side-eye.

Trust me, more to come on Medium.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Kinfolk: Recipes for Small Gatherings, with
significant
alterations

For the topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp quick cooking oats (you can also use rolled oats)
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp of unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For the pie
4 tbsp of unsalted butter, cold and diced
2 1/2 lbs of mixed apples (tart + sweet. I love empire, granny smith and golden delicious), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch slices
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup cane sugar
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS
For the topping: Combine the flour, sugars, oats and allspice in a medium bowl and mix until combined. Add the butter and mix with your hands until your have the consistency of fat peas. Set aside.

For the pie: Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Grease an 8-inch baking dish with 2 tbsp of butter. In a large bowl, toss the apples with the lemon juice + zest to prevent oxidation (or the apples turning brown). Combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon and 1/2 tsp salt in a small bowl, then add this to the apples until they’re evenly coated. Transfer the apples to the prepared dish, and distribute the crumbly topping evenly. Add the remaining 2 tbsp of butter to the top of the crumble.

Add the pie on a large baking sheet covered in parchment paper, and bake the crisp for 50-60 minutes, until the topping is brown, and the juices bubble up.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes on a rack, and serve!

Image credit: Kinfolk Magazine {second image}

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