Tag Archives: dessert

Low sugar baking #2: End of summer plum cake

I’ve been spurred out of my posting lethargy by the realization that this recipe will soon be out of season (may be on its way out right now, even). Last Saturday morning I went out with a friend along a nearby run/bike/hike trail and it was starting to feel decidedly fall-like–gray sky and a tinge of moisture in the air. But enough of the weather. Plums.

This recipe evolved from a wonderful pear cake recipe that I first discovered several years ago. I started off by tweaking the batter (wheat germ! less sugar! maybe some other things…), but stuck with the original fruit of pears. This year, when plums started showing up at the market, it occurred to me that they might be a perfect substitute for pears. When I went back to look up the original pear cake recipe while writing this post, I saw that it has started life as a plum cake, so…there you go. Plums are indeed, substitutable for pears, in some instances. I changed up the spices I had been using a little too, adding a little of the mixed spice (aka Christmas pudding spice) that M. loves. Most of the sweetness in this cake comes from the plum juice seeping into the batter as it bakes, and the batter itself has just a few spoonfuls of sugar. While I normally shy away from the idea of labeling sweet baked goods as “healthy enough for breakfast”, I think this recipe comes pretty darned close.

After I made this plum cake for the first time last month, I realized it was M.’s total first exposure, as he’d somehow missed all the previous pear versions. He sometimes objects to the use of whole wheat flour, so I thought he might dismiss this cake as a little too healthy. Fortunately, my fears turned out to be baseless–maybe the mixed spice?

Lower Sugar Plum Cake
makes one shallow 10″ cake

Ingredients
1/2 c. unsalted butter, plus a little for greasing the pan
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp milk
2 eggs
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. wheat germ
1/2 tsp mixed spice* (see note below)
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
12 plums or Italian prunes, halved and pits removed

*Mixed spice is fairly similar to pumpkin pie spice, so you could substitute in a pinch. To make your own, combine a 3:3:2:1:1:1:1 ratio of allspice, nutmeg, mace, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander.

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350F, lightly grease and flour a 10″ tart pan.

2. Cream together the butter, sugar, and milk. Gently beat the eggs into the mixture.

3. Combine the flour, wheat germ, mixed spice, baking powder, and salt.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in 3-4 batches. The batter should be fairly thick and even semi-solid.

5. Pour batter into tart pan and press fruit into the top of the batter. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until cake is browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving.

Sugar-free chocolate banana pie

Anyone who’s seen me cook from a recipe can attest that I am always making substitutions. Especially when I get it into my head that I want to make something now. So it was with this chocolate banana pie. I had just gotten a copy of the Paleo Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook and was flipping through it. A picture of chocolate hazelnut mini-tarts caught my eye and I just had to make them. Except that I was out of hazelnuts, I wasn’t quite sure where to find coconut butter locally, and (perhaps most crucially), there was no chocolate in the studio. Cocoa powder only. And a bowl of bananas. Not to be denied my desire for a chocolate dessert, I started experimenting.

In the end, the crust in this pie is a fairly close copy of the one used in the inspiration recipe, a mix of walnuts and coconut flour. I used a fresh apple instead of applesauce, and added a little orange zest to brighten things up. This crust is a little finer and lighter than the coarse ground almond crust I have used for tarts in the past (such as last summer’s recurring peach and blackberry), it tastes less obviously “alternative”, which may or may not matter to you. I was initially a little concerned about using walnuts in the crust–I thought there might be a bit of an aftertaste. However, multiple rounds of baking have laid my fears to rest.

The filling for this pie is incredibly easy: just dump everything in the food processor and go. The result is creamy, dark, and chocolatey. It sets up very quickly also, making this a great semi-last minute dessert (assuming, of course, that you have all the ingredients to hand!).

Chocolate Banana Pie
Makes 1 10″ tart, enough for 6-8

Crust
1 c. walnuts
1/2 c. coconut flour
1 apple, cored and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp coconut oil
grated zest of 1 orange

Filling
4 bananas, peeled and cut into 1-2″ pieces
3/4 c. cocoa powder
1 1/4 c. almond milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. In a food processor, combine the walnuts and coconut flour. Process to a fine meal. Add the apple, coconut oil, and orange zest, and process until the mixture has reached a uniform consistency. The result should be a slightly moist dough.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. Press crust into a 10″ tart pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool while you make the banana filling.

3. Combine all filling ingredients in a food processor, and process until smooth. Depending on the size of your bananas, you may wish to add up to 1/4 c. additional almond milk.

4. Pour the filling into the crust and spread evenly. Place in refrigerator and leave for at least 15 minutes to allow filling to firm up.

Chocolate hazelnut truffles (vegan)

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This past weekend I felt like a big “Christmas is coming!” light finally went on. Sure, the retail sector has been pushing Christmas for the past month, but I’ve managed to remain fairly oblivious. On Sunday, things conspired to remind me: it was the beginning of Advent, Trader Joe’s positioned a huge display of peppermint hot chocolate prominently by their front door, and both of my parents demanded that I provide them with flight information for our planned visit back East later this month.

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Anyway. One thing I love to do each December is to make a few edible treats to gift to friends or just bring to parties as needed. For a long time, I stuck with my mother’s trusted ginger cutout recipe (which I think I’ll be trotting out again this year for a cookie exchange). There was also the year of the church window candy (cute, but a little ho-hum), the year my German teacher assigned me the task of making pfeffernusse and I turned our hand mixer into a hot smoky mess (never again), and the year of the custom hot cocoa mixes (which was a major hit).

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This year, one of my projects is these little vegan “truffles”. Technically they aren’t really truffles, since they’re vegan and don’t involve a cream-based ganache, but they are rich and intensely chocolatey, which to me are two of the essential qualities of any chocolate truffle. Loaded with cocoa powder, spiked with hazelnut liquer, and of course, finished off with a chocolate shell coating. These are absolutely a treat to be savored. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call them a health food, they’re fairly low in sugar compared to a lot of traditional holiday treats.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles
makes 24 small truffles

Ingredients
1 1/4 c. hazelnuts
1 tsp hazelnut extract or liqueur, such as Frangelico
1/2 tsp coffee extract, or strong espresso
2 dates, pitted and roughly chopped
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

For the chocolate coating
2 oz dark chocolate
2 tsp coconut oil

Method

1. Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Place the hazelnuts in the pan and toast, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes, until the skins have turned a very dark brown. Remove nuts from heat and transfer them to a clean cloth. Fold the cloth up to make a bag around the nuts and shake vigorously. This step should remove most of the skins from the hazelnuts. Set 12 hazelnuts aside (these will be used for decorating, so try to pick nice looking ones).

2. In a metal food processor fitted with the s-blade, grind the remaining hazelnuts into a rough butter. This step will likely take ~10 minutes.

3. Add the extracts, dates, and cocoa powder to the nut butter. Process until smooth, pausing once or twice to scrap down the sides of the processor.

4. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a large baking sheet. Roll the truffle mix into 24 balls. Each ball should be slightly over 1 tsp of the truffle mixture. Place in the fridge to cool for 20 minutes.

5. While the truffles are cooling, cut each of the 12 reserved hazelnuts in half. Then make the chocolate coating: place chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave at 50% power for 1 minute. Stir and continue melting in 30 second increments if needed. When chocolate is melted, stir in the coconut oil.

6. Dip the truffles in chocolate. I used a small wooden skewer to spear each truffle and dip it, then let the chocolate coating drip off for a few seconds. Place each dipped truffle back on the parchment paper and top with a hazelnut half. When all truffles are dipped, return to the refrigerator and cool until chocolate has hardened.

Store in a cool location.

Sweet potato tartlets with gingerbread crust (vegan, gluten/grain free)

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Here’s a confession for you: I’ve not done much of anything to prepare for Thanksgiving this year. Instead of preparing a traditional holiday spread, M. and I will be heading off with a group of friends to do some camping up north(ish). Thanksgiving camping has become something of a tradition for us, though this is the first time we’re making it a group outing. We will for sure be having some good food, but there’s no way I’m lugging a turkey or even a few pies several miles through the “wilderness” to get to our campsite. So, no traditional Thanksgiving dinner for us this year!

Still, I’m not totally out of the Thanksgiving loop, and I would have to be living under a rock to have missed all the recipes floating around the internet, not to mention the pumpkin pie spice smells being pumped into the grocery store. While I love a slice of pumpkin pie as much as anyone, lately I’ve been feeling more drawn to its neglected Southern cousin, the sweet potato (or really, yam) pie. And thus, these sweet potato tarts came into being. The gingerbread crust is something I’ve been fascinated with every since I was introduced to the concept five or so years back. This version is both vegan and gluten/grain free, relying on soaked almonds to form the base material. Molasses and a hefty dose of ginger, plus a few notes of cinnamon and cloves finish things off. The filling is also relatively low on sugar: sweet potato and two dates is all you need!

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Sweet potato tartlets with gingerbread crust

makes 12 tartlets (I used a 1.75″ diameter, like this tin)

Ingredients
For the crust
1 c. almonds, soaked overnight and drained
1 T molasses
1 T ginger
1 T coconut oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves

For the filling
1 c mashed sweet potato
1 T ground flax seed
1 T almond milk
2 tsp coconut oil
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 Deglet Noor dates (I use the Hadley brand, they seem to be pretty solid–nice and moist!)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Method
1. In a food processor fitted with the metal S-blade, combine all crust ingredients. Process into a thick dough/paste. A slightly “grainy” consistency from the nuts is fine, but there should not be large nut chunks.

2. Grease a mini muffin pan and start oven preheating to 350F. Press dough into muffin cups. Bake for 12 minutes.

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3. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. Using the same food processor (you should scrape out any large amounts of leftover crust, but a few smears clinging to the side are no big deal), blend together the filling ingredients.

4. Fill the muffin cups. I find this step works best if you fill an icing bag with the filling and pipe it in.

5. Bake for another 12-14 minutes, until filling is just barely beginning to brown on top. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

To remove from pan, gently slide a knife around the top edge of each tartlet. They should then be ready to pop right out.

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Un-recipe: Chocolate almond milk, with optional banana

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A not uncommon evening exchange in our household:

M: What’s for dessert?
Me: (blank look) uhhhhh…

It’s not that I’m somehow a healthier or more “virtuous” eater (whatever that even means these days), but I tend to overlook the dessert component when putting together the evening meal. There’s always fruit around, and most of the time, that’s plenty. There’s usually a bar of dark chocolate stashed in the kitchen too. But on the evening when neither of those are quite enough, and I haven’t got anything fancier laid in from a weekend baking session, this little concoction is our no-fuss ace in the hole.

We just refer to it as “chocolate almond milk”, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the same as anything coming out of a carton of chocolate-flavored almond milk you buy at the store. It’s thicker, creamier, more chocolatey, and generally a little more luxurious on the tongue. If you want it to be, it’s also much lower in sugar. I feel a little silly calling something this simple a recipe (so I’m not), but still, there is some technique involved. The next time you’re craving a chocolate dessert and can’t be bothered with anything involving heat, measurements, mixers, or bowls, try this.

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Ingredients
-Almond milk (we use the unsweetened refrigerated vanilla variety from Trader Joe’s)
-Unsweetened cocoa powder (plan on 2-3 heaping spoonfuls per glass):

Optional ingredients:
-1/2 ripe banana (optional)
-sweetener of your choice to taste (M is hardcore and eschews all sugar in his, regardless of whether or not a banana is involved. I like either banana or a little pinch of sugar, though I’m starting to come around to the totally unsweetened version).
-a few walnut halves, broken into pieces

Method
Spoon cocoa powder into a large glass or mug. Pour in a small amount of almond milk (probably <1/4 c.). Begin stirring, pressing the cocoa into the sides of the glass (or mug) using the back of the spoon. Eventually the cocoa will mix with the milk, keep stirring until a thick paste is formed. Add a little more milk, keep stirring until the mixture is thick and smooth. A few lumps won't kill you, but the fewer the better–your final milk will be more creamy. Fill the glass about halfway with almond milk and stir again. At this point, you can either add more almond milk to make a full glass, or start slicing in that banana. If you are skipping the banana, give the mixture a taste and add sweetener as desired. If you are using the banana, start slicing it in. Stir around every few slices to make sure you're getting in as much banana as possible. When the banana is all sliced up or the glass is full (whichever comes first), stop adding banana (if you have leftover banana, save it and dunk into the glass once the fill level descends to something safe). If you are adding nuts, now's the time for those to go in as well.

The best way to eat this dessert is with a spoon, fishing out pieces of chocolate coated banana, or just slurping up mouthfuls of thick chocolate milk. Be sure to scrape out all that extra-thick chocolate sludge at the bottom too, it's the best part:

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Nut-stuffed Baked Apples (vegan-izable, gluten free)

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Last weekend, I went to the market and bought a bag full of Granny Smith apples to make today’s recipe. Then I went to the library and finally jumped on the Nigel Slater bandwagon, checking out a copy of Ripe. I’ve been seeing references to Slater around the blogosphere (Lottie+Doof seems to be particularly, and charmingly, in love with him), and when I noticed that he authored a good many of the recipes I was bookmarking over on BBC food, well…it just seemed like a sign.

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Despite what that last paragraph may have you thinking, this post is actually not about something I baked from Ripe. Nope, on Saturday afternoon I first got busy in the kitchen. Then I sat down to peruse my new literary/culinary find while the heavenly smells of apples baking slowly filled the air around me. For those of you unfamiliar, Ripe is a cookbook devoted to fruit (plus a nut or two). Each chapter is devoted to a different fruit, and the chapters proceed alphabetically. Meaning that I was reading about apples and smelling them at the same time. When the apples came out of the oven, I paused reading long enough to snap a few photos, then switched over to reading about apples while eating one. And the very first recipe I turned to when I sat back down at the table with my baked apple? Why, one for baked apples, of course. As food experiences go, it was bordering on the profound.

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My version of baked apples was conceived as an attempt to make a “healthy” alternative to the apple pie my father bakes on special occasions, something suitable for more regular consumption. I skip the pastry crust and leave the apples whole, coring them and stuffing with a spiced blend of almonds and walnuts. For those of you used to seeing apples spiced with cinnamon, the choice of cloves may seem a little odd. It’s taken straight from the recipe Dad uses, out of his classic 1970’s era copy of Cookery the Australian Way, and should be tried at least once. If you aren’t sold, you can go back to cinnamon. But I bet you won’t want to go back.

P.S. Ripe so far looks absolutely amazing and I am just itching to try some of the recipes. Perhaps this weekend I’ll buy another bagful of apples to experiment with.

Nut stuffed baked apples
makes 8 apples

Ingredients
8 Granny Smith or other tart cooking apples
3 tbsp coconut oil (for a vegan version) or butter
1/2 c. raw almonds
1/4 c. walnuts
1/4 tsp. cloves

Method

1. Using a small paring knife, cut a cone out of the top of each apple, then cut out the core and seeds, leaving a small hole all the way through:

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2. Start oven pre-heating to 400F. Place 1/4 c. almonds in a food processor fitted with the S-blade. Process to a fine meal, then add the remaining 1/4 c. almonds and 1/4 c. walnuts. Pulse 4-5 times, coarsely chopping the just added nuts.

3. In a small, microwave safe bowl, microwave the coconut oil/butter for 20-40 seconds, until melted. Stir in the cloves. Add the nuts to the oil/butter and clove mixture, and stir until evenly incorporated.

4. Arrange the apples in a baking dish. You can also place each apple in a muffin tin, or get fancy and use individual little ramekins. Spoon the nut mixture into the hollowed out cores of the apples.

5. Bake for 20-40 minutes, depending on the size of the apples and the desired level of softness. We generally like them super soft and will bake for around 35 minutes, but I’ve had large apples need a little longer. Remove apples from oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

What we ate: out in the woods

This past weekend, we packed up our backpacks and made a break for the Sierras, where we spent the weekend in a rustic old cabin next to this little lake:

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The weekend was full of good times, with lots of hiking, card games, lounging around reading, and of course, eating some good food. Continue reading What we ate: out in the woods