Avid Baker’s Challenge: Crackle Cookies

Crackle Cookies 2

This month’s Avid Baker’s Challenge was to make Crackle Cookies. I think that this is definitely a good recipe, although it’s quite a small recipe – I doubled it and still only ended up with a couple dozen cookies, which won’t make my coworkers very happy with me (or, at least, it won’t make very many of them very happy).

Crackle Cookies 3

I’m a bit reluctant to fiddle with it beyond doubling, as there’s a risk that something will get slightly out of the right balance – industrial recipes are by weight for this reason. So, I suppose a small batch will have to be made more frequently, if I’m to share this. I think, though, that the Fudgy Brownies are something I’m more likely to make again, as those were so much easier than these!


Fudgy Brownies

OK, folks, this is a recipe you’ll want to take note of, and use frequently. This first batch I made, I followed the recipe. Next time I think I’m going to go with an alternative sweetener (Swerve / erythritol) so that this can be lower-carb as well as gluten-free. I did add in about 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/8 tsp each of allspice and cloves. Maybe next time I’ll add in some cayenne pepper as well, just to take these to that next level of awesome-gooey-awesomeness. Really, people: I don’t like chocolate and I like these.

T. tells me I need to talk more about the baking, and about the chocolate (Guittard Akoma Extra Semisweet chocolate chips). Ordinary chocolate chips or chunks contain about half as much cocoa solids (16% to the Guittard’s 33%). The Guittard also has a much better temper, meaning the chips melt more slowly when baking (or when you pop one into your mouth – to test, of course). This is one case when the dish is all about the chocolate, and it pays to get the good stuff.

As always, there are others baking this same thing this month. You can find them over at Avid Bakers Challenge. The recipe can be found at Scientifically Sweet, or below.

Fudge Brownies 2

Fudgy No-Butter Brownies (gluten-free)
Makes 16 brownies

  • 2 cups (300 g) icing/confectioner’s sugar
  • 2/3 cup (56 g) unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 200 g (about 2 cups) ground almonds/almond meal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 5 oz (about 2/3 cup) best quality dark chocolate chips or chopped bittersweet chocolate, plus extra for topping
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch pan with parchment paper, letting it hang over the edges of pan.
  2. Sift icing sugar and cocoa into a large mixing bowl. Add almond meal and salt and stir to combine. Add whole eggs, egg white, water and vanilla extract and stir until smooth. The batter will be thick. Stir through bittersweet chocolate.
  3. Scrape batter into your prepared pan, smooth the top and scatter extra chocolate over top. Bake until a shiny crust forms and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few moist sticky bits, about 25-30 minutes.
  4. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool slightly. For neat slices, let cool completely before slicing.

One thing the recipe doesn’t point out is that this batter won’t smooth out on its own – if it goes into the oven with irregularities on top, that’s how it will come out of the oven. So, I’d say to use an oiled spatula or maybe some oiled non-stick wrap to smooth things out before baking.


Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)

Low-carb Biscotti 1

Okay, maybe not ANYTHING, but…

SOME baking can readily be reframed as either vegan or low-carb/gluten free. Not both, usually, but we do what we can, and anything wheat can do, almond can do… with a little help from its good friends Egg and Xantham gum.

February’s Avid Baker’s Challenge was a lovely orange-zested biscotti, and it was obvious that the crisp cookie would lend itself well to almond flour with no real fuss – no doubt tons of people have already tried it. Using the basic recipe that we used for ABC, we did a little tweaking and came up with something new:

Almond Flour Biscotti

3 Tbsp Butter, softened
2/3 cup granular sweetener
2 tsp Vanilla extract
2 large Eggs
2 cups Blanched Almond Flour
1 Tbsp Coconut Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 finely chopped almonds
1 Tbsp. orange zest
Low-carb Biscotti 3Preheat your oven to 350°F/180°C/ gas mark 4. Lightly grease an 18” x 13” baking sheet (or line with parchment).

Cream together butter and sweetener. Add vanilla and beat in the eggs. Next add flours, baking soda and salt, and stir in the nuts and orange zest. The original ABC recipe called for chopped dates; an optional add-in 1/3 c. chopped dried cranberries. This will be the STICKIEST biscotti dough you’ve ever encountered so wet your hands before forming it into the first bake loaf, mounded slightly higher in the center. Do make sure you mound it somewhat (more than you see in the picture there), because it will spread a bit – possibly more than you expect – and you want it to have that traditional biscotti appearance. Following Hanaâ’s lead, we scored the top of our loaves and baked for 30 minutes.

It’s advisable to cool the pan entirely after the first bake – at least twenty minutes – and lower your oven temp to 300°F/150³C/ gas mark 2. NB: Almond flour baked goods are really fragile unless cooled, so a word to the wise! Once cooled, THEN remove the cookie loaf from the pan, slice it, and lay your slices down for the second bake. Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on how golden-brown you’d like them. After another long cooling period, you can dip or drizzle them with chocolate, which matches really well with that bitter orange zest, or enjoy them as is, with a cuppa. They’re also good with only ONE bake, if left out, as almond flour cookies will continue to crisp if left to cool in open air.

The biscotti pictured below never made it *cough* to that second bake… ah, well.

Low-carb Biscotti 5

Hat tip to Pille, who reminded us we hadn’t yet posted the recipe on these!

Swirled Rye

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It is officially Spring next week, but weirdly high temps last weekend – and the inevitable long run of allergies – have had us already convinced that winter’s thrown up its hands and given up for weeks now. Once the time changed, and we recovered from that (and ask, along with a cranky nation, “HOW IS TIME CHANGE STILL A THING????”) we begin to notice the inevitable return of energy and interest in the outside world. The asparagus are fronding happily, the strawberries are blooming – in March, no less – and while the blueberry bush is sullenly not producing leaves or any sign it has noticed that it’s supposed to be alive, the wildflowers which escaped the confines of their boxes last autumn are creeping all over. Oh, and the roses are all red leaves and ambitiously fat buds.

The drought rolls on, unfortunately, though we’re still holding out for late Spring rains. The State is relegating us to two days of lawn-watering per week, and while we would happily let the lawn die or rip it out, we’re still renters, so… The plants in our tiny garden plot will have WaterSorb added to their soil as always, and we’re limiting ourselves to just a few things, and looking to see where we can reuse gray water to irrigate. Meanwhile, the chores which were safely put off over the winter – dealing with the streaky windows and wind-driven leaves in the garage – could be put off no more, and last Sunday was a day of chores, chore, and then, more chores. Fortunately, some of the chores were relaxing, like the usual every-other-Sunday baking to replenish the bread supply, but the baker, being Himself, must always Keep Things Interesting, and so he decided to make marbled rye bread.

Spiral Rye 2

Spiral Rye 3

BiRye, as certain people have coined it to annoy the baker, is something we usually see in fancy hotel restaurants, and we’ve always wondered at its …point. There’s not really much difference between the flavors, so apparently it’s just a two-colored thing because Pretty? We used King Arthur Pumpernickel, made from coarsely-ground whole rye berries and “regular” dark rye flour, which is a finer grade. Neither flours have much in terms of gluten, so the usual failsafes were put into place; a long, slow rise, specifically controlled liquid, and a little help. We used the King Arthur Rye Improver, which includes acetic and lactic acids, diastatic malt, vital wheat gluten and potato flour. Additionally, the traditional caraway seeds were added to the light side. While most of the time people turn up their noses at the strong flavorings in rye (and we didn’t really appreciate the added souring, as we prefer plain pumpernickel), we were making a real attempt to have a very different pairing of flavors melded into one bread. On the dark side, the traditional cocoa was used to darken and enrich the flour.

We used a narrow, tall pan – a refugee from the defunct Wonder Bread factory in Oakland, given new life in a non-commercial kitchen (thrifting and garage sales, man. Gotta love ’em.). Pans that are taller, narrower at base and deeper are great for low-gluten or gluten-free yeasted loaves, as the sides help to support the heaviness of the sticky dough and encourage a actual bread shape. We raised the bread in a warm oven for an hour and baked at around 350°F for 45 minutes and — wow. We could hardly wait to slice it. The patterns on the bread vary from slice to slice, and it is really, really pretty.

Spiral Rye 6 Spiral Rye 8

…better still, it’s delicious.

D. made three loaves – one full pumpernickel, one light rye, one marbled. Next time, he will just do one loaf in the big pan, and call it done, which will give the slices more height and heft. T. was pretty taken with the whole cocoa thing because …chocolate, okay? With a deep strawberry jam, the plain cocoa-pumpernickel would be amazing pain de chocolate toast. The light caraway-flecked side lends itself to pickles and mustard and mild, creamy cheeses. You mightn’t think that the two would come together, but… somehow, they do, to produce a balanced and tasty toast, and a really sandwich-worthy bread. It is not just decent – it is surprisingly good.

This is, of course, nothing like the fancy-looking but ultimately bland-tasting store-bought marble-swirl loaves (which use caramel color, rather than cocoa, and way more wheat flour than we do). Our recipe goes something like this:

  1. Combine 4 cups cool, filtered water, 4 cups whole wheat flour, and 1 tsp yeast.
  2. Let the mixture sit, covered, on the counter, for 24 hours (stir it a couple of times).
  3. Mix this with an additional 2 tsp yeast, 1 Tbsp salt, and enough pumpernickel flour to make a very sticky dough.
  4. Shape into loaves and let rise until more than doubled in size.
  5. Bake in a 350°F oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the temperature as taken with a probe thermometer exceeds 190°F.
  6. Let the bread cool, covered with a tea towel, until it’s completely cool.
  7. Slice and refrigerate.

Now, obviously, D. divided the dough and added cocoa and molasses to one half and dough improver and caraway seeds to the other half. Feel free to do so, or go your own way with it. We think you’d enjoy the swirled loaf, though, if only because it’s wonderful to be able to say that you made it yourself!

-D & T

March Avid Baker’s Challenge

Lemoniest Little Lemon Loaf 2

For this month’s Avid Baker’s Challenge, we’re doing a Lemoniest Little Lemon Loaf recipe. This recipe was quite easy to follow, and came together very easily. I would say that I think the writer went a wee bit overboard with cautious instructions, and that things could probably have been treated a bit more roughly than it sounds, as the batter is very thick and seems quite forgiving.

For ours, because the recipe was for a “little” cake, I tripled the recipe (which left me with leftover egg whites, which got turned into wee almond cookies, but that’s a recipe for another day). I probably should have quadrupled the recipe, given that I put it into a 16″ x 16″ pan … but, it turned out nicely, and there should be enough for some of the ravening horde of my coworkers to get some.

I also deviated from the recipe by increasing the amount of lemon zest (because lemon zest, you know?), and icing the thoroughly cooled cake with a lemon juice / powdered sugar glaze. You’ll thank me for suggesting it, as there’s nothing worse than a lemon-ish cake, n’est-ce pas? Besides, the cake itself seems a bit dry, so perhaps I overbaked – not sure.

We’ll have to wait ’til tomorrow for photos of the cut cake, as I want to allow the glaze to set overnight.

Lemoniest Little Lemon Loaf 3

EDITED TO ADD: It seems that the edges were the driest; the pieces of glazed cake in the middle turned out to be quite moist, so the texture may have had something to do with the way our oven bakes (unevenly). Everyone at work was very enthusiastic, and the whole cake vanished well before half-past eleven (mid-week, people must not eat breakfast before work!).

Also the question of the dryness of our cornmeal came up – when we lived in Scotland, kiln-dried flour vs. warm air dried flour meant that we needed to add more moisture to basic wheat bread. Our cornmeal wasn’t organic or polenta-related – it was a box of plain yellow cornmeal, finely ground and stored in a box above the stove… heat rising may have dried it further. It’s almost impossible to account for everything which could have caused a texture variation – the baker can only do the best that they can!

There are likely other, more successful takes on this cake. Do swing by and check out the other participants in this month’s Avid Baker’s Challenge.


February Avid Baker’s Challenge

A few years back (OK, more like, way back in 2008) D. had been participating in this thing called the Daring Bakers. They’d put out a recipe each month, and everybody would make that recipe, share how it went, etc. Well, the PhD intruded, plus we really couldn’t find anybody who was willing to eat so many baked goods, and we let things lapse.

Fast forward 7 years and D. has decided to start baking again, but not with the Daring Bakers (who have grown into an immense horde of folk, none of whom we know any longer). Nope – there’s a wee group called the Avid Baker’s Challenge who seem like a good bunch, so D. will be baking along with them.

This month’s baking was to bake orange, date, and almond biscotti. This recipe is super easy, came together with no trouble whatsoever, and was quite tasty even before the second bake (hey – there were ends, which … wouldn’t have baked right). I think I’d want to add some cardamon next time, just to give things a bit more spice. I also think I’d bake at a lower temperature, as the bottoms of the biscotti came out a tiny bit dark. All in all, though, I’m certain that my coworkers will enjoy these.

Biscotti 3

Do visit Avid Baker’s Challenge to see the other participants’ biscotti.


Ambling into Autumn

Skyway Drive 256

Unsettled weather, cooler nights, random thunderstorms and finally coaxing a few flowers out of the bedraggled looking nasturtiums in the backyard: this is how we know it’s autumn. Oh, and the calendar says so. Otherwise, it’s still bright, warm and sunny as ever. The leaves are coloring up and falling, and we see this as a hopeful sign.

Oh, and the turkeys are still wandering … this isn’t really a sign of autumn so much as a sign of them finding ripe olives, seed pods, and other things they can dig up, scratch out, leap up for, and otherwise desecrate everyone’s yards over. It’s a hard job, but someone has to be the high-pitched barking, early morning wandering, “threatening” car-chasing, feather-ruffling and intimidating neighborhood watch.

We’ve been quiet these last few weeks, but things are rolling along. D’s been THRILLED TO BITS to have secured a contract for Thing 1 at his company. This is a classic example of how we get our friends in Scotland to visit us: we get them contract work here so that they can fly out to their “overseas office” from time to time. (Regardless of the paintings the Cube Dwellers leave on their cubicle walls, they don’t program video games at D’s office. They’re just kind of …addicted to Mario. And Pokémon, apparently. And doodlings with Dry Erase markers when they should be working. This may have been the morning after they got the new espresso machine…) D will be glad with the legal paperwork is all figured out (grrr) and Thing 1 is looking forward to popping in when the weather is at its worst in Glasgow. We’re hoping to have some rain to offer him in California, but …well, it’ll be warmer rain, whatever the case.

Vacaville 86

As you know T has been trying to beat a deadline all summer (she lost – the baby came early, so her editor went on maternity leave unexpectedly). She’s also been attempting to organize a conference on diversity in children’s literature, and has spent the last month twitching under increasingly rising levels of anxiety. She walks around muttering comments like “how do I get roped into these things?” and “I will NEVER do this again.” She harasses sub-committees and micro-manages, she has accumulated boxes upon boxes of swag from publishers in the entryway, she worries over gift baskets, keynote speakers and generally makes a pest of herself to all involved, but everyone WILL have a good conference, or someone will bleed. Fortunately, for all, the angst ends the second week of October, as T’s desk is metaphorically cleared again. For however long that lasts. (Until the January deadline for the next novel. Eek.)

Vacaville 87

D., meanwhile, is a third of the way through teaching his class this semester, and he’s fortunately remarkably calm this time around (not team-teaching will do that for you). He coaxed T. out to paint some pottery in the relaxing quiet (once the hen party finished up) of a Benicia art center, and we’re now enjoying our little coffee pot and ginormous mug. Many more will come to join that one – there’s nothing like a full liter of tea all at once! He’s enjoying all the cookbooks and kitchen paraphernalia received for his birthday (and the lovely herb planter full of growing things), and the cooling temperatures are at last tempting us back into the kitchen.

Which leads to one of our most recent purchases (aside from the necessary purchase of The Fridge of Fabulousness which replaces the 1990’s second-hand fridge we had that gave up the ghost in a puddle of sticky oil and water last month): a doughnut pan.

(Point of interest: To us, doughnuts are the proper spelling, and donuts are …some self-stable, powdered sugar abomination on a grocery shelf. No one else says so, and it’s ridiculous, but why else are there two spellings except to allow us to mock one? That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.) The doughnut pan purchase is, like so many things, our friend Jac’s fault. She got a couple of pans last year, and we watched with interest as she tried vegan and non-vegan recipes in them, with varying success. And then, she went mad and pointed out a TON of recipes all over the web. And T. kept saying, “We do NOT need a doughnut pan. If we had one, then we’d eat doughnuts.

This observation seems to have some merit.

Baked Cinnamon Doughnuts

    Skyway Drive 251

  • 1¼ cups almond flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a doughnut pan (6 regular sized donuts) with cooking spray. In a food processor, pulse together almond flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, eggs, ¼ cup of melted butter, honey, and vanilla extract. You want all ingredients to be smoothly blended together – and prepare for them to be super, SUPER sticky. Divide batter into prepared doughnut pan (and smooth them out with wet fingers). Bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and let doughnuts cool in pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges and then remove gently from pan.

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NB: OBVIOUSLY, we diverted from this plan at the last minute because who would we be without totally skiving off and deciding to do our own thing? First, we used Truvia sweetener – and somehow T. only used a couple of tablespoons, thinking that it might be too sweet. It…wasn’t. Also, the recipe calls for honey for a reason. Two sugars help to keep a pastry moist and chewy because science. Next time, perhaps some of us might follow the recipe here. (*cough*)

Next deviation: we sliced a peeled apple into rings, filled each of the doughnut spaces halfway, pressed in an apple ring, and then filled in the rest of the batter. If you’re going to have cinnamon, you may as well have apples, no? Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji, and Pink Lady bake up nicely.

For the topping, pour melted butter butter into a flat bottomed bowl. Combine sugar and cinnamon in another flat-bottomed bowl. Dip your warm donuts in butter then in cinnamon/sugar mixture.

As you can see, we didn’t bother with the cinnamon-sugaring, either. Because we feared the thick batter would make a crumbly, dry doughnut, we whipped up a quick creamed-cheese-cinnamon frosting. The apple actually came to the rescue — adding sweetness, moisture, and overall tastiness to an experimental treat. A lot of baked doughnuts rely on the frosting – and neither T. nor D. are huge frosting people – so this was a gamble that paid off well with a mildly sweet, you-could-eat-it-for-breakfast doughnut. Further Fiddling (veganizing as well) with the basic recipe to follow!

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Happy October.

“…well, it tastes like peanut butter. But, it isn’t sweet.”

Portland 057

Happy Summer – we ARE still alive, despite the two month lapse that somehow happened. Our roses have bloomed now three times since the season turned – and while this rose is safely in the Portland Rose Garden, we’re getting lovely-smelling ones that look nothing like it (ours are more peach shading to pink edges than white). We’d like to point out that this one is too beautiful to look real anyway.

It’s been now a year and three months since we changed the way we eat. Not a diet, not a “movement” or a “challenge;” not “clean eating” or “Paleo” or anything else with a title and achievable goals except, “maybe we shouldn’t eat ourselves into an early grave, you think?” These things are easier to leap onto when you’re feeling like sick, and easier to become zealous and self-righteous about when you look like runway models. (Looking at you, annoying celebrities writing cookbooks when you clearly don’t eat.) The funny thing is that, now that visible results are achieved — you really can’t lose three or four stone and a few sizes without someone noticing — people are eager to eat with us. We’re receiving a lot of invitations… because apparently, we look good enough to where eating in public is now safe?

Portland 038

Unfortunately, most of what we’re offered, we don’t eat. Not never-ever, because we do enjoy moderate amounts of everything – but generally T., at least, since she’s most apt to keel over genetically, plays it super-super-SUPER safe and says “no, thank you.”

Pub grub? Is mostly out. Pancakes? Not even a stack of super-granola-crunchy-whole-wheat. Mac and cheese cupcakes, even the Gouda ones – definitely out (and let’s take a moment to shake our heads at … mac and cheese cupcakes. Because EVERYTHING can be made into cupcakes and NEEDS TO BE. Not). Balanced atop the stunning pile of things which we don’t, as vegetarians, eat anyway, with our food …weirdness, we’ve become the Unfun People again. Which is fine. T., at least, is generally not fun anyway, she’s cranky, and she likes it like that. But how funny that for a moment, at least, we must have looked more fun than usual. Or else, maybe the invitations correspond with it being summer? Yeah… that sounds reasonable and less paranoid. Summer. *cough* Not suspicious of anyone’s judgment here at all.

Happily, some of the people who don’t live in our heads have become helpful in us achieving our goals in eating differently. COSTCO – generally supremely indifferent to anything but providing massive boxes of Halloween candy months before the stupid holiday and muffins the size of your head – now sells our almond flour. Smaller bags than we used to order from the company in the Midwest (who helpfully opened a California store, too), but still! Even more convenience! And, if you haven’t noticed, Smuckers has jams that are both Low Sugar – 50% less – AND sweetened with Truvia AND sweetened with Splenda. T. is confident that the raspberry one is just copying the flavor of red Kool Aid for fun (how is it that everything raspberry tastes artificial? Even freeze-dried raspberries tastes suspiciously like Kool Aid… which leaves you to wonder more about Kool Aid, really, than raspberries), but wow — suddenly, other people seem to be sharing our delusion that bleached everything/high fructose corn syrup/sugar not be super awesome all the time. Imagine.

Treasure Island 31

So, Summer’s been dancing along delightfully, for the most part – we’re really grateful to live in a fogbank much of the time, and are surprised to waken mornings when we can actually see the street below our house. Despite the moderate heat, T. has killed several pots of greens and poppies so far, which means it was too exposed on the deck when she started, and the idea of winter gardening is looking more and more attractive (although the news continues to warn of the approaching El Niño cycle… ::sigh:: SOME OF US cannot win.) One superior success for this summer so far has been our little worm farm. The disturbingly large, red and burly worms in our little bin have been eating egg shells, tea bags and every vegetable matter but onions and citrus peels (too acidic) and have provided us with a horrible smelling but really nutritious “worm tea.” Our plants (that T. hasn’t yet killed, anyway) are very happy, and we’re really hopeful to continue to enrich this HIDEOUS soil in this area.

Every summer (winter, autumn, spring) day needs treats – little things that you can eat with one hand, while with the other you pull weeds around your blueberry bush which isn’t going to produce this year (unlikely) or water confused and shock transplanted strawberries (and beg the green ones to redden up) or wave away ginormous flying insects and wonder why outdoors is so…full of… things on which to inhale and choke (DAILY). T. has been cheerfully churning out kitchen faves, perfecting her pastries, and altogether enjoying herself because D. is too busy hating the stacks of papers he’s grading to interrupt her in the kitchen/save her from the kitchen. T’s actually a tiny bit reluctant in her baking, because D. has always been the kitchen king, and his love of things with noisy engines and buttons and blades sort of overshadows T’s hesitant forays into the culinary world. But, now that D.’s even been too busy to feed the ravening hordes at his office, he recently swiped a few of her cookies to hand around. She was… okay, more than a little worried.

T: “No, you can’t take those. The recipe is still In Tweak. (An official state, wherein notes are scribbled in the margins of spattered pieces of paper then shoved into random kitchen drawers and utterly lost.)”

D: “It’s just a couple for These Guys From This Trailer And Those Guys There, and one of them is even gluten intolerant. He’s allergic to everything. He’ll be fine.”


Low-Carb Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies 3

T. moped about for days, when one of the guys said of her cookies just tasted like… peanut butter.

You may have noticed that we mentioned “pastries” a few lines back. Amusingly, we eat more pies, shortcakes, cookies, pastries, fats, nuts, and eggs and all than we EVER did before – happily. It’s not that we don’t eat treats, but we eat treats WE make, and we really scrutinize ingredients, and there’s a lot of Tweak. Well, over time… our tastes have changed. Without noticing, because we eat so much less sugar, we don’t need things as sweet. Which means that occasionally? Our cookies are … apparently not really sweet to people.

Which T. found bewildering.

T: “But, there’s more than peanut butter in there. There’s sweetener. There’s jam in those. Regular jam, with regular sugar. You gave him the regular ones, not the Truvia ones, right? Just jam. You can’t make blackberries not sweet.”

D: “Well, he only said — “

T: “I mean, it’s fruit. Fruit is automatically sweet. What does he mean, it’s not sweet. They’re COOKIES. Did you tell him they were vegan? Is that it? People are always so hostile to vegans.”

D: “Oh, were these vegan? Huh. Well, anyway, he said — “

T: “It’s YOUR fault. I told you those cookies weren’t ready! Now nobody likes my food.”

Fortunately, D. knew better than to pursue conversation with the irrational. Finding lemon scones on the counter some days later, he ganked a half dozen for the ravening hordes which were cherished and passed around and hoarded and everyone said very sweet things about a professional baking career, and “best scones EVER IN THE WORLD,” so some of our egos are finally somewhat mollified. *cough* Until next time.

Low-Carb Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies 1

Have a cookie. No, HAVE ONE. What, you think I can’t tell you hate it? What? Oh, you’re allergic to peanut butter? …oh. No. I’m not trying to kill you. No, really, it’s fine. We can just sit here and watch the grass grow and have water. Oh, look, a squirrel…”

Raspberry chocolate chips

Raspberry Chocolate Bar 1

…well, they were supposed to be raspberry chocolate chips. Somehow, they never got to the “chipped” stage. They were nibbled and tasted and outright hoarded, and then, they disappeared into rich, chocolate cookies – there was no “chip” about them. But, they started out life as a ginormous hunk of baking chocolate.

We’ve always tried to eat seasonally, which for us means not splurging and buying strawberries or tomatoes or whatnot in the middle of winter. When a season is over, it’s over — there’s not much sense buying something which is three times as expensive as usual and tastes horrible anyway. There’s always frozen and canned stuff to fall back on, especially with things like berries. T stocked up on frozen, but decided to see if she could do something with freeze dried. Honeyville claims that their freeze dried fruit, hydrated, tastes fresh. Not to do a commercial, but it’s surprisingly close, and these were on sale. T. decided to experiment. (As usual.)

Raspberry Chocolate Bar 2Raspberry Chocolate Bar 4

We used our lovely 1940’s double-boiler – and this thing heats up FAST. As soon as the water boils in the lower pot, be wary. These aluminum double boilers have to be taken off of the heat almost IMMEDIATELY, or your chocolate will seize. Word to the wise there!

After adding a third cup of sweetener and some very hasty stirring, our chocolate forgave us for being too warm, and got glossy and pretty – so we dumped in a load of very dry and crunchy, freeze dried fruit. And it confused the chocolate entirely. T. stirred and stirred the mixture, and then we dumped it out to set.

And, it wouldn’t set.

And, it wouldn’t set.

And, even an hour later, it wasn’t even remotely firming up, and T. threw up her hands and said, “So, you think I could just stir this into cookie dough, and it’d be all right?”

Raspberry Chocolate Bar 5Raspberry Chocolate Bar 9

And, then, she wandered off to bed, and forgot she’d set it on the dining room table, until the following morning after breakfast… when she went in to put it away…

And it was solid. Lumpy, and not really as well-tempered and shiny and good-looking as store-bought chocolate, but it was done. The flavor was semi-sweet, and the raspberries added a sharp, tart-sweet and tasty note.

They never ended up being used for their original purpose, but it was a good reminder of how easy it is to make one’s own chocolate bars… you can control everything going in – how sweet it is, if it has peppercorns, nuts, or coconut flakes, if it’s got coconut milk, dairy cream, or no milk at all… sometimes, it’s just a lot easier to do it yourself. Meanwhile, we’ll be looking for what other trouble we can get into…

[in just]/spring

Skyway Drive 137

With apologies to e.e., around here, the world is not mud-luscious. It is buzzing, and if you go out the front door, the greedy, tiny, flying pigs will not whistle far and wee, but will divebomb your innocent head and make rude and aggressive “move along” noises at you.

Ah, well. Mud-lusciousness will revisit briefly at the end of the month, according to the long term forecast, as March is almost required to come in like a lion, and then calm the heck down. We’ll see. The last week of the month always throws us a weather curve ball this time of year (and, since Virginia got snow on St. Patrick’s Day, East Coast, we are feeling your pain. Metaphorically, at least.) Meanwhile, while we contemplate perfect sunshine, floods, or thunderstorms, we picked up some super-early strawberries because that chia is still calling us. (And thanks to all the people who have emailed to say they’re trying and liking this mix. It is really good, super quick, and opens itself up to many interpretations.) Imagining making a quick-set jam with it — all those lovely nutrients giving you an additional excuse to spoon it… a jam to which you don’t need to add extra sugar to make it gel… But first, T went off on another experimental tangent.

Our friend L., known to two very short, tiny, opinionated ladies now simply as “Poppy,” has tons of good stories about “back in the day.” We tend to enjoy those “back in the day” tales about food – our Uncle P., may his memory be a blessing, was full of those, and it led to many a happy Sunday recreating recipes from the 1940’s. Last weekend’s “back in the day” tale had to do with teacakes.

Teacakes (variation, “tea cakes”) are A Southern Thang, that is, one of those things which a.) originally didn’t have a recipe (no matter how Ms. P. Deen wants to tell it), and b.) was invented out of necessity – either scarcity, or some useful cause that has been lost to time. T’s father, once upon a time, used to make teacakes, and they were, unlike the sugar cookie varieties that one sees all over the web under the same name, rolled yellow cake, sometimes fragrant with vanilla, leavened with baking soda, and about the size and thickness of a halved English muffin. They were sweet, with a slightly soda-tang, and the tops would sometimes slightly brown and dimple.

Vallejo 179

T’s father usually made these beauties annually on the 12th of Never, so T. can only recall having them once or twice in her childhood, despite begging … and now, after years of nudges and suggestions for her father to recreate the dish, he can’t remember the recipe. Oh, the wailing! (T. feels it important to point out that she believes his coyness to produce the Super Seekret recipe all those years has returned karmically to bite him in the backside.) Fortunately, there are other less coy members of his generation who do remember.

Though T’s father grew up in the panhandle of Florida, and Poppy was at least a part-time resident of Oklahoma, their variation on tea cakes are close to the same. Poppy’s grandmother’s teacakes were really test cakes for her oven, which was wood-fired and probably didn’t really heat evenly until it got going. She took cake batter – yellow cake batter – and made small, palm-sized test cakes, which an adoring grandbaby was only too happy to test for her.

As others have said, variations abound in the teacake country, not to mention the world. Originally, teacakes were measured with tea cups – actual, bone-china tea cups. Many old recipes use those measurements, which is where our plain old “cup” measure originated. T opted against using her antique (mismatched and beloved) china for this! Of course, any teacake coming from The T&D Test Kitchen will be not “authentic” Southern at all, despite D. having been born and living for ten minutes Murfreesboro as a teeny-tiny infant (apparently “Southern” doesn’t count if you can’t focus or speak). To add further to the “inauthenticity,” we introduced the abomination of chocolate chips!! But the teacakes themselves were tender and tasty and, piled with strawberries, a harbinger of things to come.

Chocolate Chip Teacakes

Preheat oven 350°F/170°F

  • 2/3 C. almond flour
  • 1/3 C vital wheat gluten
  • 1/2 C of shortening, butter, or margarine
  • Chocolate Chip Teacakes 1

  • 1/4 C sweetener – “Fake” or sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp. vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp. chocolate extract
  • 1/4 C chocolate chips, optional*
  • 2 Tbsp. almond or coconut milk, (opt)

As always, begin by greasing your pan, and turning on the oven. You’ll need a sturdy spatula to blend your ingredients. This dough comes together like a shortbread and/or pie crust – the liquid is only there if you really, really need it – we didn’t, but it’s an option. It’s important to combine your dry ingredients – flours, gluten, salt, sweetener, cornstarch – before you add shortening, or it may combine unevenly. T. started with a spatula, but gave up in the end, and just used her hands.

Chocolate Chip Teacakes 3

Add your chocolate chips LAST. We used Barry Callebaut’s Sugar Free 52% semisweet from King Arthur Flour, but it’s really easy to make your own sugar free chocolate morsels, and you SHOULD. These bad boys are expensive. Our only excuse at this point was a lack of time. You’ll also note we used chocolate extract. An extract of chocolate is made the same way vanilla extract is made – alcohol infused through cocoa beans. It’s got a fairly strong alcohol note, and it can be as overwhelming as too much vanilla – moreso, really. BE CAREFUL and MEASURE. Like liquid smoke, too much extract is not one of those things you can take back.

One of the great things about this is if you’re a chocolate chip cookie dough eater – there’s nothing in here you can’t eat raw. Don’t, though, because that’s gross. You can opt out of rolling this cake and bodge the whole thing in a cast iron skillet. Bake it for forty-five minutes, check its progress, and tack on another fifteen minutes, with checks at five minute intervals. You’ll want it a lovely golden brown, but don’t let it go too far! Note that D. wedged it into servings before baking. This really helps in the quest to get it out of the pan!

Chocolate Chip Teacakes 4

In case someone wants to argue with us and call these shortbread… Mmmm, okay. Chocolate chip shortbread, whatever. Traditional Scottish shortbread doesn’t contain baking powder, but you can call them what you want. The “cornflour” or cornstarch will help give the nut flour a velvety mouth feel and a richness typical for shortbread, but you can leave it out, if you choose, or substitute the same amount of rice flour, which is what commercial shortbread bakeries use.

Chocolate Chip Teacakes 5

The important thing is to imagine how you’ll eat them.

Happy Spring,


P.S. – We tried that soy whipped cream, which we found at our Raley’s, on a whim – it’s vegan and though it contains sugar, it hadn’t got much. It’s not half bad at all.