Gingerbread “Truffles”

Gingerbread "truffles" with lemon icing and candied orange peels

Gingerbread “truffles” with lemon icing and candied orange peels

Even though I have yet to buy a single Christmas gift (eek!), I have already immersed myself in holiday baking projects. With the rate the holiday season is approaching, I had to start early or it’d be January before I knew it!

These little guys were one of the easiest creations I’ve made this season and I pretty much love them. The recipe is very easy to follow and you don’t even have to turn on your oven!

Basically they are bite-sized “truffles” made from oats, pecans, dates, flax seed, molasses and spices. Somehow something so relatively healthy (when compared to the decadence of other holiday treats) still manages to taste like a sweetly chewy gingersnap cookie.

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Whole Orange Cake: Eating peel and pith

Whole Orange Cake

Similar to how nose to tail eating utilizes all the parts of an animal, this luscious citrusy cake uses the whole orange, rind and all. Okay, okay, the seeds aren’t used but everything else is. And when the peel and pith come together with enough butter and sugar, magic is made. I promise.

I stumbled upon the recipe for this cake in an old issue of Sunset magazine that my mom gave me (apparently hoarding magazines runs in the family). I was lured in because it sounded easy to put together on a work night — puree, blend, bake — and because it was described as being “not too sweet.”

Despite my weakness for hard candy, I tend to prefer tart and tangy desserts over super sweet ones. And since I was craving something bright and summery in flavor, this recipe wasn’t in my hands for longer than a week before I baked it up.

I followed the directions, even managing not to make a single substitution, and it turned out like a ring of sunshine…

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Brown butter makes everything better…

Brown Butter and Berry Tart

Brown Butter and Berry Tart

The past two weeks were absolutely beautiful here in the Pacific Northwest. While I was on vacation, temperatures soared to 80 degrees and the sun managed to stick around until yesterday. It was a wonderful mini-summer to tide us over until July, when things really heat up in Portland.

Sunshine immediately makes me crave berries which is how this Brown Butter Berry Tart became the finale for my family’s Mother’s Day dinner. The original recipe, courtesy of Bon Appetit, called for raspberries, but when I went shopping there was only one lonely container of fresh blackberries left on the shelf. Clearly everyone else in Tacoma had the same idea! (Happily my combination of blackberries and frozen blueberries worked just fine.)

Since I hadn’t seen my family in a month, I wanted to spend my spare time playing rummy with my mom and grandma, not slaving away in the kitchen. Luckily, besides being tasty, this tart is also amazingly simple to put together — though considering how ruthlessly my grandma beat us, perhaps I should have chosen a high-maintenance dessert instead. Then I could still have my dignity. *sigh*

Anyways, on to the sweet stuff —

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Homemade English Muffins: Rising to the Challenge

Homemade English Muffins

Homemade English Muffins

I have always had a lingering fear of working with yeast. I can’t recall a specific failure that could have caused this reaction, it’s more of a preemptive thing. And so I rarely bother to attempt any baking that calls for kneading or letting things rise. But last weekend, I had a serious craving for English muffins and a few spare hours to kill so I convinced myself to face my phobia.

I got words of encouragement via Facebook from my blogging buddy Liz who told me once I tasted homemade English muffins, I would never go back to buying them again. And so with my lofty dreams and high hopes defeating my fear of disaster, I gave it a shot. I found a few recipes I wanted to try but settled on this one from Brown-Eyed Baker, which is taken from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. The only adaption I made was switching out some whole wheat flour for part of the regular flour.

It was an easy task from start to finish, but it was a long process — mainly because you have to let the dough rise twice which took about three hours in total. But it was the perfect project for a lazy Saturday evening, as I spent the “rising” time watching Twin Peaks on Netflix. I don’t know how I’ve missed seeing the cult hit until now, but I’m happily making up for lost time — it’s seriously addictive and super bizarre.

Actually speaking of Twin Peaks, I have an embarrassing confession for you: I have seen drinks called “The Laura Palmer” on bar menus for years and always assumed it had something to do with Arnold Palmer (as in, his wife perhaps?). Yeah. So that was eye-opening.

Anyways, on to the muffins!

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Happy Dance Muffins: The Browner the Banana the Better it Bakes

A muffin among friends

A muffin among friends

I buy a lot of bananas — way more than I could ever hope to eat. Sometimes it happens on accident (I buy some the same day my husband does) and other times it’s intentionally on a whim (damn you, Costco), but the outcome is still the same — a corner of my counter is constantly piled high with bananas in various stages of ripeness. The good news is that I am always happy when I have a few extra bunches hanging out.

One reason is because they are a healthy snack — nutritious, full of potassium and excellent in both my morning oatmeal and my after-work smoothie.

Another reason is because I love to make this cake:

Slice of heaven

Slice of Heaven — Upside Down Caramel Walnut Banana Cake

Clearly, these two reasons are at odds with each other.

And the first week of the new year, after I have finally polished off the last of the Christmas cookies, seemed like a terrible (albeit still tempting) time to make this cake. After all, while I was sitting at the bar on New Year’s Eve, waiting for my husband to get off work, he made this for me to snack on:

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Why I’ll Always Love Biscotti

DSC_0062Somehow biscotti manages to avoid many of the problems that plague regular cookies. When you go to a coffee shop first thing in the morning and pick out a huge chocolate chip cookie for breakfast, you may get a side-eye from the cashier. But a biscotti with your cup of morning joe just seems to make sense. They often have nuts in them (a healthy fat) or contain some sort of dried fruits (a good source of fiber). Why, at that rate, a biscotti is just one step away from a granola bar, which is totally acceptable to eat for the “most important” meal of the day.

But it’s not just in the morning that biscotti dodges the stigma of its sugary brethren. It’s also at the end of a meal when you are so stuffed that you can’t even contemplate looking at a dessert menu. You order a shot of espresso or a small glass of Vin Santo instead but when it comes accompanied by an innocent looking biscotti, you eat it without a second thought. It’s not really a cookie, it’s merely an enhancement for your beverage.

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