Hot Cross Buns {gluten + dairy-free, sourdough option}

As I opened my daily planner this morning, I was reminded that I had originally been slated to be teaching a lesson today about healthy breakfasts and how to tell when one is hungry and full to several kindergarten classes I work(ed) with.

Of all the nutrition and cooking lessons I teach in public schools, that particular one is my favorite. And because the funding source leaves me tied to teaching particular curricula that I often find wanting in terms of what we should actually be teaching our children about nutrition (i.e. developing a healthy relationship to food more than focusing so much on all the food groups), this particular lesson is one I really look forward to. Hunger presents itself in numerous ways beyond just a painful, rumbly tummy, and food and nutrition is far more than just calories in/calories out, macro and micronutrients, and following the ‘right’ plan until whatever prefabricated goal is reached. If I could fill out my entire kindergarten series with this topic of developing a healthy relationship to food alone, I think my students would be far closer to having the basis of a firm foundation in healthy lifelong eating than most of us have ever gotten.


One thing I’m noticing a lot in the last couple weeks as we all go into isolation and quarantine is a few different but similar conversations about food. Panic-buying and hoarding as lack of clear leadership, lack of control over life situations, and messages about what to do change nearly daily. Bingeing or overeating on a kitchen full of food, or stress not-eating as we stay home and navigate a completely different routine. Stress-baking to put at least our hands in motion, and choosing comfort foods when nothing else is comfortable. And then stacking guilt on top of our already stressed and anxious systems as we berate ourselves for not having some willpower or not taking care of ourselves adequately, etc.

One of the questions I like to ask, not to my kindergarteners, but in clinical practice, is ‘what’s that about?’ When our minds go into worry and circular thinking about whether there’s any flour, yeast, eggs (or TP) to be found at the store. When we find ourselves needing a comfort food or snack while working from home when we’re not actually hungry. When we skip a meal or two and are ‘not hungry’ when we’ve clearly not eaten much in the last day or days. When our hands at the grocery reach for ice cream, cookies, chips and crackers, or the ingredients to make something sweet / salty. When we panic at the thought of missing a workout or being sidelined from normal training due to this situation. When we’re anxious. When we wake every night at 3am.

In any or all of these instances, ask yourself, ‘What is that about?’ What’s the underlying feeling, belief, or reason I’m doing this thing? Ask yourself without judgement, and just be okay with whatever answer comes. And if there’s no immediate clear answer, that’s okay too.

As an adult, having an awareness and lack of judgement at the reason for our actions is incredibly helpful in navigating uncertainty and beginning to form trust in yourself that you are strong and able to deal. For even when we judge our actions and ourselves incessantly, there are always fairly wise reasons for them that we are somehow protecting ourselves against.

Today as I’m writing this, it is also the beginning of Holy Week, a special solemn few days in the Christian calendar before Easter, and given the state of the world right now, the solemn state of things appears to run parallel to it. Hot Cross Buns are also a traditional specialty this time of year, at least in parts of the US, and for sure in the UK and Ireland. It you’ve never enjoyed them, they are a spiced and fruit-filled yeast bread roll, often made quite a bit richer due to extra butter/oil, added sweetener and perhaps an egg. They were traditionally eaten on Good Friday, which is also a traditional day of religious fasting. If you like to delve into the history of food traditions like me, you can learn more about hot cross buns on Good Friday in this short article and its fascinating discussion/comments.

Otherwise, may you work on asking yourself this week, ‘What’s that about?’, and if you’ve the inclination, try baking hot cross buns.


Hot Cross Buns {gluten-free and vegan, sourdough method}, makes 5
This recipe appropriately fits the needs for those avoiding all (or some) of the most common food sensitivities and allergies, and because my nutrition-brain is always on when developing recipes for this space, these are a delicious, slightly enriched and sweetened whole-grain bread option that doesn’t get too far into the super decadent category.
As you’ll note, I’ve created two options to make these, with a sourdough starter, and without. I’ve made and enjoy them both ways, and because I don’t do away with the yeast in the sourdough option or dramatically change the method, they both turn out fairly similar. Instead, I tend to use my sourdough discard for the recipe and reduce the other flours and liquid.
If you’re finding gluten-free flours difficult to source right now, substitutes work well. Sorghum flour subs in well for either brown rice or millet, oat flour made from ground up oatmeal will likely work well in part, and any of the starches (arrowroot, tapioca, potato, or corn) can be used in place of the arrowroot and tapioca combination. As always when baking and especially when using substitutions, it’s always best to measure by weight.
There are a few ways to make the cross on top, either with a bit of icing after baking, by cutting a cross in the dough before baking, or by making a flour and water paste and drizzling it on top before baking. I meant to cut my dough before baking but then forgot, and decided to use a quick couple spoonfuls of cashew, vanilla and honey ‘frosting.’ I haven’t added that in here because I think it’s too fussy and these don’t need a sweet finish. They taste great on their own!

Wet Ingredients:
6 Tbs. non-dairy milk
2 1/2 Tbs. water
1 1/8 tsp. dry active yeast
¼ cup mixed dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins / sultanas, orange peel)
2 Tbs. orange juice or tart cherry juice or water
1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds 
1 Tbsp. psyllium husk (or use ground chia seeds OR flaxseed meal)
2 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
½ Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. honey or maple syrup

Dry ingredients:
130 grams / ~1 cup gluten-free all purpose flour
(or 13 g buckwheat flour, 19 g tapioca flour, 20 g arrowroot flour, 26 g each sorghum, brown rice, and millet flours)
100 grams / ~ 1 cup gluten-free sourdough starter (equal parts flour and water)
1.5 tsp mixed spice  (1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. allspice, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. cloves, 1/8 ginger, 1/8 tsp. coriander, 1/8 tsp. cardamom)
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt

  1. Warm up the non-dairy milk and water together until lukewarm or at about 100 degrees F / 38 degrees C. Whisk in the yeast and allow to froth up for about 10 minutes.
  2. While waiting combine the dried fruit and juice or water. Warm for a few seconds in the microwave and set aside to let the liquid soak in and soften up the fruit. I use about 1 Tbs. finely diced orange peel in this mix to make these extra festive and more traditional.
  3. Add the ground flax, psyllium, oil, vinegar, and honey to the frothy yeast liquid. Whisk together and set aside so it can thicken a little.
  4. In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Dump the wet ingredients and fruit into the middle of the flour mix and stir. Your dough will begin to look scrappy. Keep stirring with your spoon or hands until the ball of dough becomes somewhat smooth.
  5. Put a cloth over your bowl and let rest / rise for one hour.
  6. Next stir the dough well again, and then divide into 5 equal balls. Lay parchment in a small baking pan and then roll or shape each of the dough balls into rolls. Place them on the dish, cover with cloth again, and rise again for 1 hour in a warm, non-drafty space in your kitchen. These should rise enough to be touching each other in the pan, but will not double in size.
  7. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F / 190 C. Bake for 2025 minutes or until the edges have firmed up. Place the pan on a wire rack to briefly cool down.

EXTRA NOTES

1. Tastes best when eaten warm and straight out of the oven.
2. Store in an airtight container and keep for about 3 days.
3. The dough can be made ahead of time. Simply place in the fridge during the second rise time and allow to sit overnight. Baking time might need to be longer.

Hot Cross Buns {gluten-free and vegan, regular non-sourdough method}, makes 5

Wet Ingredients:
6 Tbs. non-dairy milk
6 Tbs. water
1 1/8 tsp. dry active yeast
¼ cup mixed dried fruit (raisins, golden raisins/sultanas, orange peel, etc.)
2 Tbs. orange juice or tart cherry juice or water
1 Tbs. ground flax seeds 
1 Tbs. psyllium husk (or use ground chia seeds OR flaxseed meal)
28 grams / 2 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
½ Tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. honey or maple syrup

Dry ingredients:
180 grams / 1 ½ cups gluten-free all-purpose flour
(or 18 g buckwheat flour, 27 g tapioca flour, 27 g arrowroot flour, 36 g each sorghum, brown rice, and millet flours)
1 1/2 tsp. mixed spice
(1/2 tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp. allspice, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 1/8 tsp. cloves, 1/8 ginger, 1/8 tsp. coriander, 1/8 tsp. cardamom)
¾ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. sea salt

  1. Warm up the non-dairy milk and water together until lukewarm or at about 100 degrees F / 38 degrees C. Whisk in the yeast and allow to froth up for about 10 minutes.
  2. While waiting combine the dried fruit and juice or water. Warm for a few seconds in the microwave and set aside to let the liquid soak in and soften up the fruit. I use about 1 Tbs. finely diced orange peel in this mix to make these extra festive and more traditional.
  3. Add the ground flax, psyllium, oil, vinegar, and honey to the frothy yeast liquid. Whisk together and set aside so it can thicken a little.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Dump the wet ingredients into the middle of the flour mix and stir. Your dough will begin to look scrappy. Keep stirring with your spoon or hands until the ball of dough becomes somewhat smooth.
  5. Put a cloth over your bowl and let rest / rise for one hour.
  6. Next stir the dough well again, and then divide into 5 equal balls. Lay parchment in a small baking pan and then roll or shape each of the dough balls into rolls. Place them on the dish equally apart, cover with cloth again, and rise again for 1 hour in a warm, non-drafty space in your kitchen. These should rise enough to be touching each other in the pan, but will not double in size.
  7. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F / 190 C. Bake for 2025 minutes or until the edges have firmed up. Place the pan on a wire rack to briefly cool down.

EXTRA NOTES

1. Tastes best when eaten warm and straight out of the oven.
2. Store in an airtight container and keep for about 3 days.
3. The dough can be made ahead of time. Simply place in the fridge during the second rise time and allow to sit overnight. Baking time might need to be longer.

If you enjoyed this, I’ve been sharing a few practical resources and video posts over on my E+O Facebook page about how to navigate these times with resiliency and less anxiety / fear. For new nutrition clients, I’m currently offering a package of three consults for half off. Be well.

Berry Bran Muffins and what to cook right now

A somewhat humorous discussion amongst some of the current and past students of my nutrition program last week was “What is Eleonora cooking right now?” Eleonora is my former cooking lab instructor, since we were required to take a few cooking courses during the program to really cement our ‘food as medicine’ approach to clinical nutrition practice.

While I consider myself an experienced cook, I never expected to learn a ton from these courses, but a day before that conversation emerged about Eleonora, a conversation with my childhood best friend brought realization that those simple courses cemented several cooking foundations that were otherwise learned haphazardly over time, or not at all.  

In that conversation with my friend, which not surprisingly went on as she was cooking dinner and subsequently asking for advice on the right temperature and amount of oil for roasting vegetables, she asked if I’d heard of a popular cookbook, Salt Fat Acid Heat. I explained that I was indeed familiar, but haven’t actually picked up the book. We learned those concepts in cooking lab, I explained.

What I got most from that conversation, however, wasn’t that I’ve picked up some culinary school concepts over time, or that I should give myself a pat on the shoulder, but that the conversation was so normal. Having not had a real conversation in months and going long stretches with much less since my friend’s life work is in ministry and she’s been abroad for most of the last decade, the ebbs and flows and even pauses to wait for another discussion on the other end of the line to begin and end were exactly as they would be between us—at any point in the last twenty and more years we’ve been close friends.

That maybe is a benefit to slowing down a little. We both all of a sudden were available for a conversation that as the years go, grows greater distance between each one.

The other thing, one of the students actually knew the answer to What is Eleonora Cooking?, since they were doing raw food lab last week. Eleonora is making and eating lots of sprouts. You know, just about the healthiest, most nutritious food on the planet.


When I was in her classes, I both loved and feared Eleonora. She has a brusque way about her, a heavy accent, and though you wouldn’t guess it, she was also a former Olympian. I suspect in some sort of track and field or gymnastics discipline, though I never did get that answer.

So in the midst of a global pandemic, my former Olympian-now nutritionist and cooking instructor is teaching the newest round of students about the benefits and how-tos of growing and eating sprouts. And my long-time friend and minister is not doing her work in visiting and being with people, but sewing masks and cooking roasted vegetables. And though many of us are attempting to keep some semblance of normalcy, we’re definitely not in normal times.

Instead of following in Eleonora’s food-steps and providing a guide on sprouts, or the best pot of beans, or the finer details on making gluten-free sourdough, today I offer you Berry Bran Muffins (but yes, I’m otherwise making and eating all three of those nutritious, gut-health and therefore immune boosting foods.)

Muffins are basically my go-to semi-nutritious baked good to make and experiment with, and though I know it’s common practice to eat them at breakfast, I much prefer them as dessert.

Because we all need as much cheer as possible right now, whether it’s in making something warm and delicious in the kitchen, finding funny videos, books, or movies to be entertained by, or in another creative project. I am lucky and grateful enough to still have a semi-normal routine –as much as one can in self-imposed isolation or quarantine or whatever you may call it when the wisest thing to do is to avoid everywhere except the open road or trail or neighborhood walkabout.

And I understand if where you’re located doesn’t quite have all the ingredients for these stocked on the shelf—or you’re not going back to the store for a while. That’s the thing about cooking, baking, and muffins in particular. The adventurous, creative part is in improvising when the way forward is not exactly as the recipe goes.

And yes, that’s a metaphor for life. I encourage you to have faith in yourself and the process.

Other things that held me up and gave me faith this week:
– A reminder of the Proverb of the Chinese Farmer
– The ever wise insight from Julie Piatt on taking care in the time of Coronavirus
The two words that will guide you (mine are faith and nature – which maybe explains a lot of what I share here and how I work)
This book I’m reading during the season of Lent along with daily reflections by Matthew Kelly
– Rebecca Altman’s Surrender + Magic mini-course (of meditations and finding peace)
– running, my normal routine and as if my scheduled April race is still happening as planned

Berry Bran Muffins, makes 6 standard size muffins
If using a store bought gluten-free flour mix, the one I’ve found most similar to mine is the Krusteaz Gluten-Free Flour. If using that or others, it is best to measure by weight, and omit xanthan gum from the recipe if your flour mix contains it. As much as possible, I avoid adding xanthan gum unless I believe a recipe really needs it–and after much testing, this one does because the batter is heavy on flavorful, but juicy berries.

1/2 cup / 50 g oat bran
1/2 cup / 120 mL non-dairy milk
2 Tbs. molasses
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 cup / 120 g gluten-free flour mix
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
2 Tbs. / 28 g coconut oil
1/4 cup / 50 g sugar
3 Tbs. aquafaba (liquid from cooked or canned garbanzo beans) or 1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 cup fresh or frozen berries (choose your berry of choice or use a mix)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F / 180 degrees C., and prepare a standard six-cup muffin pan by wiping with oil and dusting with flour or using paper muffin liners.
  2. Stir the oat bran, milk, molasses, and vanilla together in a small bowl until combined. Then allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a smaller bowl, combine the dry ingredients including the flour, soda and baking powder, and spices. Set this bowl aside also.
  4. In a medium mixing bowl, stir and mix together the coconut oil and sugar until it is light and fluffy. This may take 3 to 5 minutes. Then add in the aquafaba or as an alternative, the egg. Mix well.
  5. Now add the flours, bran and milk mixture, and vinegar to the creamed sugar. Mix this just until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  6. Gently fold in the berries. If using frozen, you don’t need to pre-thaw them. Using a large scoop or spoon, divide the batter between the muffin cups. Bake until they become golden and a toothpick in the center comes out with just a few crumbs attached, about 25-30 minutes.
  7. Cool the muffins in the pan for about 5 minutes, then flip onto a wire rack and cool for at least 10 minutes before eating.

Beet + Seed Loaf Cake

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I had an instance last weekend that after some consideration, seemed like a metaphor for life right now. I had been planning a creative cake project for William’s birthday and in retrospect I planned the more creative aspects of it, but not so much the logistics of size and weight, how many layers can actually stack before it’s too much. That sort of thing.

After a few hours of baking, as assembly got underway, the cake began breaking apart before me, each layer collapsing in to the next as their weight was too much. In panic, I *tossed* the whole thing in the freezer, hoping it would chill quickly enough to stop the destruction.

 

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And then like the cake, I completely melted down. William who really didn’t care whether he had cake or not, tried to reassure me, but the damn cake falling apart was in that moment an abject failure on my part after toiling away for hours and planning and looking forward to it for weeks.

So I took a break, made some tea and ate a snack because sometimes a blood sugar boost and tea actually is the best remedy before going on.

A little more resolve in my system, and I found a way to salvage two of the four layers, effectively putting the cake back in adequate proportion territory, and still plenty enough for a birthday.

 

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For the artistic frosting finale, I realized the downsizing really put a hamper on how the color scheme / paint-like effect of the frosting was going to end up and at the end, William laughed at the looks of my finished result, although ‘it doesn’t look bad, really‘ were the words that came from him, and ‘just different than what you were going for.’

 

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Different than what I was going for are probably words that describe most things for me. There’s that river again, which I cannot push. Trust and go with the flow. Again.

And maybe believe in yourself and know that you / I / we can make good come from every challenge.

 

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Back to the birthday cake and it turned out tasting, if not looking, perfect. Almond poppy seed layers from this base recipe, cream cheese frosting, and a few splashes of color from mostly natural food dyes, which was part of the project.

What all that has to do with today’s recipe, I’m not entirely sure. Other than we like poppy seeds in this house. And raisins. And cake, in various forms. Occasionally.

Fittingly though, I first made this beet + seed loaf cake, a major spin-off from Nigel Slater’s popular original, for a Mad Hatter Tea Party at work last spring. The party was for our volunteers and since most of them are retired master gardeners who also love earthy flavors and garden-inspired things, the cake was quickly gobbled up with approval. The tweaks I gave the original involve substantially less sugar and some more wholesome flours and it’s safe to say this is more of a breakfast or snack loaf, rather than a sugar rush in a slice.

 

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Beet + Seed Loaf Cake, makes 1 9×5 or 8×4-inch loaf
The flours can be changed here, depending on what’s on hand. Instead of chickpea, sorghum or millet are great substitutes. I used ground flax seeds here instead of eggs, but an earlier version of this made with 2 eggs instead also resulted well. 

2 Tbs. ground flax seeds
6 Tbs. water

100 grams / 1 cup chickpea flour
70 grams  / a scant 1/2 cup brown rice flour
25 grams / ¼ cup arrowroot flour
½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract

¼ cup coconut oil
½ cup applesauce
70 grams / 3 Tbs. brown rice syrup
150-170g / 5-6 oz. raw beet, shredded coarsely
juice of half a lemon
½ cup raisins
½ cup mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)
4 tsp. poppy seeds, divided

  • Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Line a loaf pan with baking parchment. A 9×5 will yield a larger, more compact loaf, and a slightly smaller pan will yield slices that are taller.
  • In a small bowl, combine the flax and water and then set aside for a few minutes.
  • Stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, mix the vanilla, coconut oil, applesauce, and brown rice syrup. Stir in the flax meal.
  • Grate the beetroot coarsely and fold into the mixture, then add the lemon juice, raisins, mixed seeds, and 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds. Then stir in the flour mixture.
  • Pour the mixture into the cake pan, smooth the top, and then sprinkle over the remaining 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds. Bake for 50-55 minutes and test with a toothpick to see if done. The cake should be moist inside but not sticky.
  • Leave the loaf to cool for a good 20 minutes before turning out of its pan on to a  cooling rack.