The simple joy of hand mixing healthy muffins to fuel your day.

While on Instagram the other day I was reading a post for a lemon tart. Beautiful shot. The text is what caught my eye, though. No, not a typo! The fact that the baker spent 3 hours making the tart, letting it cool enough to be able to slice it and then another 4 hours getting the perfect photo to edit before posting. Yikes! Baking, food styling and photography are all trendy hobbies if you want to develop a social media following. But sometimes you just want to make healthy food to fuel your day or nourish your loved ones. It is not glamorous and often not photo worthy however it is honest. Clean eating. Good quality ingredients baked into a snack. Do not let yourself be intimidated by foodie shots online. Baking is not about perfectionism. Get your favorite mixing bowl out and feel the pride of making something by hand. These Glorious Morning Muffins are a staple in our household and it is a recipe I cut off a bag of @GoldMedalFlour. The recipe is very stable allowing for you to make variations. I use soy milk instead of regular milk, add pumpkin seeds and flax, plus change up the nuts to suit my cravings. Get back to basics and enjoy the taste of a fresh baked muffin for your snacks on the go.


The sour cream secret.

img_3700Blueberry muffins: with a tender, white cake crumb.

These muffins are beautiful and taste amazing. I originally baked these muffins a couple of weeks ago on a whim. Delicious! The only downside, I did not use paper liners as recommended in the recipe. I used a knife to loosen each muffin but even with further prodding they were hard to remove. By the time I flipped them onto the cooling rack they began to sag. Too many big fresh blueberries and the integrity of the crust had been damaged so they did not hold their shape. This time I used parchment wrappers. What a difference. To be honest, I was also less exuberant with the berries. The fresh, late season berries I used this time were smaller but I still used restraint.

What makes these muffins special is their lovely white color AND the scrumptious cake surrounding the plump berries.

The fat and lactic acid from sour cream contribute to the tenderness of the muffin.

Sour cream contains fat and is made from culturing cream. It is always the fat, isn’t it? The cultures act as emulsifiers (the molecular structure holding the fat and water together). Lactic acid (gives sour cream its tang) causes the proteins in the sour cream to coagulate to a gelled consistency. Buttermilk comes from milk (surprise!) and has a higher pH than sour cream. So for many baked goods they are not interchangeable without changing the outcome.

Baked goods that contain cultured dairy products, such as sour cream, also usually contain baking soda. Acid from the sour cream reacts with baking soda and carbon dioxide gas is produced. This can be a significant source of leavening for these baked goods. If there is excess acid from the sour cream then the pH of the batter will lower resulting in increased tenderness and in some instances a whitening of the baked product. Aha!

The addition of sour cream certainly enhances the flavor of these muffins but the sour cream also plays an important role in the baking chemistry.

The recipe for these Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins can be found in Ina Garten’s book Barefoot Contessa Family Style (2002, published by Clarkson Potter), page 174. and @inagarten
Other sources of information for this post came from How Baking Works, Paula Figoni (2011, John Wiley & Sons ) and a blog post from Cake Central Feb 17, 2013 @cakecentral and CakeBlog Sep 25, 2014 @thecakeblog.

Don’t forget the eggs. Emergency egg substitutions.

Sometimes there is nothing better than a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie when you are craving something sweet. I have likely repeated those words on more than one occassion. Last night I thought I would make a quick batch of cookies for my daughters. A surprise for them when they came home later in the evening. The first obstacle encountered was the lack of eggs. Silly me to think the carton in the fridge would actually have eggs in it. Should have looked first, I know. The butter was already creaming with the brown and white sugar so I felt I had to keep going. I checked the internet for substitutions. My goodness what a long list. Tofu, banana (with a note saying it might change the flavor – do you think?), and applesauce which I did briefly consider. There had to be some simple suggestion for using egg whites and extra oil or butter. I had a carton of egg whites so I felt that I needed to stick to basics by utilizing them. I ended up following the instructions on the egg white carton. 1/3 cup of egg whites equals 2 large eggs. When I poured the 1/3 cup in it did seem like I was adding too much liquid.

The second obstacle was that it was too close to my bedtime when I started these cookies. The dough needed to chill for 30 minutes and I thought I should leave it longer as the butter had been very soft. I sat outside with a cup of tea waiting for the dough to chill and that was the end of baking for me. The dough definitely had enough time to chill.

This afternoon I pulled what was left of the dough out of the fridge. Cookie dough in the fridge is always risky with teenagers around. The cookies turned out lovely. I think they are the perfect summer version of a chocolate chip cookie. Just a bit lighter and crispier than the regular version. Not a problem at all. Note to self: it is always better to go with a common sense substitution. I am sure that if I would have used banana in place of eggs the flavor definitely would have been different.


7 helpful hints for baking a pie.

This is a bragging post.  My fifteen year old daughter baked the pie in this photo.  Her first pie ever!  The crust is an all-butter recipe and the fruit filling is inspired by the classic bumbleberry combination.  The rhubarb in our garden is not quite ready but we managed to cut two stalks.  She sliced them fairly thin, about 1/3″, so the rhubarb would retain its shape but there would be enough so that most bites would have some rhubarb.  We used store bought strawberries and a pint of blackberries in addition to a couple of apples.  The filling had a lovely sauce and delicious flavor.  Pie crusts can be intimidating to even the most experienced baker but she managed well.  Here are some hints to improve your luck with pie pastry dough.  This is not a complete how-to but rather my tips…

Keep the fat pieces large when cutting into the flour.

Pastry made with chunks of solid fat (doesn’t butter sound so much more appetizing than fat!) will be flakier. When the fat melts then gaps are created in layers.  Plus butter has some water in it that evaporates during baking creating a leavening effect. If you cut in the fat until it resembles a coarse meal then you will have a tender crust but it may not be flaky.

Rest the dough after mixing.

You may be able to see from the photo above that there was some shrinkage.  This is called dough relaxation.  Pie pastry should be chilled after making it so that the dough can rest and relax. Most recipes suggest a minimum of two hours but it can easily be left in the fridge over night. Not only will this make it easier to shape and roll but it also allows the fat used to solidify creating a flakier crust.  An added benefit to resting the dough is the water used to bind the ingredients can distribute itself evenly through the pastry.  Without even distribution you can have crumbly spots where there isn’t enough water and other places that are soggy because of too much water.  Pie pastry dough in particular benefits because they are lightly mixed and contain only a small amount of water. That is why you can put a crumbly pile of dough, barely held together in a ball, into the refrigerator and two hours later pull out a much more uniform piece of dough. If I am making a pie with a time consuming filling, I put the pie dish in the fridge or freezer to ensure it stays chilled.  Again, this minimizes pie shrinkage.

Use minimal flour on the counter when rolling the dough.

Do not over work the dough. Just handle it enough to get the dough into a ball, begin wrapping with plastic wrap and then flatten into a disc shape.  I do this while I am wrapping it as it keeps the dough tidy plus less sticks to my hands.  Also do not dust the counters with too much flour when rolling.  To maximize tenderness you want to not add anymore flour than necessary.  I believe this has to do with the protein content in the flour. I keep flour on the rolling pin and lightly dust the counter.

Roll, quarter turn, repeat.

The secret to rolling out pie crust is to relax.  Don’t fret about a piece breaking off or that it is not a perfect circle.  Roll it out to about 1/8″ thick.  Make sure the outer edges are the same thickness as the centre of your circle.  There are lots of videos online that show how to roll out a pie crust so I will not detail it here.  I roll it one direction, usually away from me, then turn the dough disc a quarter turn, roll it again, repeat.  I use a flat spatula to work the flour under the dough after every couple of turns.  This way I keep pushing flour back under the disc and keep the dough from sticking to the counter.

Wrap the dough over the rolling pin to lift into the pie plate.

Put the rolling pin near an edge and gently lift the dough wrapping it around the pin.  Set it on top of the pie plate, and carefully unroll.  The dough should fall into place.

Fold the top layer in.

If your pie has a top crust, I find that it is best to tuck the top layer in under the edge of the bottom layer.  Then pinch it together.  I find this helps seal in the juices and minimizes the boiling over of the wonderful sugary filling on to the bottom of your clean oven.

Be patient and practice.

I was not a patient baker when I started out.  Truth be told, I have had many temper tantrums in the kitchen while baking.  If the dough did not roll out perfectly, I failed. If I had to patch up a couple spots, it was a disaster.  I know realize that a fresh baked pie is always delicious and the more I bake, the better looking they become.  Funny how that works.  So keep practicing and enjoy many wonderful pies in your future.


Dulce coffee brownies. Morning treat for teachers’ staff meeting.

Baking inspiration is everywhere at this time of the year.  I was in the baking aisle (surprise!) of the grocery store when I spotted Chipits coffee flavored chocolate chips. The recipe for these brownies were attached to the shelf.  The recipe called for another new product – Eagle Brand dulce de luche flavored condensed milk. Normally I would not dip my finger in a can of condensed milk but this time I was tempted.  Wow! I have to say I was very impressed with the taste.  I will definitely look for ways to incorporate this new flavor into my baking.  Overall the brownie recipe worked very well.  The toppings give it a flavor similar to a caramel frappaccino.  Certainly a simple switch up on a bar that is similar to a Nanaimo bar but has the base of a brownie.

So many great ideas for holiday baking. Where do I start?

This time of year there is baking inspiration everywhere you look.  Oh, that looks good! Oh, I want to try those little tartlets!  The bounty of ideas is endless.  Before I know it my “goodies to do list” is ridiculously long.  There are certain goodies that I only make at Christmas time and my family expects their favorites to be on the goodie tray.  I absolutely have to stick to those but I will also bake some new goodies.  I found this cute little “Frosty Bite” at Sur La Table in Scottsdale, AZ this past weekend.  What a cutie!  And quite delicious considering he was likely baked months ago in order to be shipped out to the stores.  Regardless, he is my inspiration for this year! I am regularly to manage my baking – taking mini-bites out of my list – plus I am going to try miniaturizing these trusty family standbys.  As always I will share my efforts with you and provide shortcuts and techniques that you can incorporate into your own “baking to do list” for your holiday season.

Let’s talk baking strips.

I am still on holidays but even when I am out doing errands with my family, I still find something of baking interest. Baking strips. These strips are a must have if you are baking a cake and you want to have the cake bake evenly. The desired result is a flatter top to your cake. Without the strips the cake often has a dome which you need to trim when preparing to frost the cake. These strips work particularily well with round cake pans. Now that I think of it I have not tried them on a square or rectangular pan.

To use the strips, run each strip under the tap to lightly soak them. Then I place the strip, beginning at one end, between my index finger and thumb, by pulling the strip through my fingers I can squeeze out the excess water. Then you wrap the strip around the pan keeping the light colored fabric against the outside wall of the pan. Using the pin that comes with the strip, secure the overlapping end to the strip. That is it. When the cake is out of the oven and the strips have cooled, I roll each one up and secure it with the pin. Ready for next time. I have had my baking strips for more than 10 years and they are still as good as new. When I bought mine there were only 2 per package but the package I saw today had 4 strips for $20. Using this technique you should enjoy a more evenly flat top to your cake.

Baking trends for 2013

The current issue of Bon Appetit January 2013 is focused on The Top 25 Food Trends of the New Year but there is an article “How to Cook Right Now”. The leading trend relating to baking and desserts continues to be salted sweets. This specific article includes a description of what salts should be used when baking. According to the article, kosher salt dissolves quickly in cookie doughs, pastry dough and caramels. Flaky sea salt such as Maldon, is best for finishing touches. Coarse sea salt is crunchy and described as being more assertive. The other bit of useful information in this issue was in the Prep School section which highlights “A New School Caramel”. Alison Roman, Assistant Food Editor of the magazine, suggests “there’s an easier way: adding cream of tartar to the sugar. Its acidity prevents crystals from forming for a smooth, anxiety-free caramel, every time.” I have not tried this procedure yet but the idea of not having to continually brush the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush is appealing. I wanted to include a link to the article but I was unable to find a link to the complete text. I guess you will have to buy your own issue or check it out at the local library. The recipe with the caramel is on Epicurious – Almond Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce. When I make it, I will be sure to let you know how it turns out.

Starting the new year with a classic. Chocolate chip cookies.

Happy New Year! I started the day by strolling the baking aisle of an unfamiliar grocery store, AJ’s Fine Foods. I knew I was in the right place when I found a section of neon colored maraschino cherries. As much as I love to eat healthy clean food, I still love maraschino cherries. There were so many other great baking items plus some unusual things – condensed mincemeat. What is that?

I did buy chocolate chips that my oldest daughter used for chocolate chip cookies from Baked, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. Loved how the cookies were thicker than most versions.



A pound of baking advice. Lemon Poundcake

Today’s post started out to be focused on pointers to ensure a delicious, melt in your mouth, pound cake experience.  Not.  The recipe I tried today was from John Barricelli’s SONO Cookbook.  Unfortunately I made a rookie mistake.  Distracted by all the things I was going to tell my readers about how to make a pound cake, I missed a critical step – letting the eggs come to room temperature.  For many recipes you can get away with this but a pound cake’s tender crumb depends on all the steps being done perfectly.  I took my time creaming the butter and sugar to ensure it was light.  The color of the mixture becomes quite light, almost whitish, when it has been mixing for 5-6 minutes.  Then you mix in the eggs, one at a time.  That is when I realized my mistake.  Although I have not tasted the cake yet – tastes better the next day – I was worried it was going to overflow, but in the end I got the golden crack along the top which signals a successful pound cake.  This recipe called for the cake to be brushed with melted apricot jam and then a glaze.  This ensures the cake is moist.  A pound cake has very little liquid so these extra steps help ensure the cake is not dry.  I also added lemon extract to the glaze in addition to lemon juice.  I find that adds an extra zing to the sweetness of the glaze.  Tomorrow morning I will try a slice with a cup of tea and let you know how it turns out.  And don’t forget the morale of the story, always prepare “mise en place” so you do not overlook an ingredient or like I did, its proper preparation in advance of beginning the baking method.  Lesson learned, I hope.