Tag Archives: baking

The Best (Humble) Carrot Cake

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I turned 30 this last weekend. It was a birthday that both crept up and one I had been thinking about for a while. When I was a teenager, I imagined I’d have my career and life 100 percent sorted by now, already fabulous at or well on my way to being a professor/dean/mom/farm wife/NGO executive/etc.

Hah. The last decade has taught me life doesn’t work so linearly. I’m only just beginning to give myself the opportunity to reach for the career I think will fulfill me–the one that doesn’t have more emphasis on the glamorous or romantic title or idea of it but will actually make me feel full in the daily in and out. And I know now I may well pivot in process. I’m learning we change our minds as time goes on.

I’ve also learned that second, third, fourth, and more tries are often necessary to get something right. For instance, and definitely on the lighter side, I made myself birthday cake. I do almost every year as I love the opportunity to experiment with exactly the flavors of cake I want to enjoy, but I also don’t care for cake or sweets often. Last year I made myself a cardamom vanilla cake with cashew cream frosting. I know because the (failed) recipe was sitting among my draft blog posts for the whole year. This year, I was torn between re-experimenting with that flavor combination and making my absolute favorite, carrot cake. I chose the cardamom vanilla. I even nerded out completely and experimented with three different frostings ranging the full spectrum from all natural/nutritious ingredients to completely not. I generally don’t even like frosting.

Anyway.
The finished cake was gorgeous.
Even if one finger lick of the frosting gave me an immediate sugar rush. 
It was pretty, rustic, and exactly the effect I was going for.
See?

 

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Looks can be deceiving.
I’ve learned that multiples of times over the past decade as well.
The vanilla cardamom was no good. Too dry even on the second attempt and following ratios I know should have worked. The cardamom’s flavor was barely apparent.

 

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Now over any desire to eat cake but with a fridge full of two more (much less sweet) frostings, I found myself with the overwhelming desire to go bake that carrot cake. I adapted this old favorite recipe.

It looked humble.
It tasted delicious.
I found myself eating much more than I needed* and not caring.

A light lesson for sure, but somehow it was fitting that my grand plans for a 30th birthday cake that had more outward beauty than actual enjoyable substance failed completely while the humble, comforting old favorite won out the day.

The same could be said for the day itself as I had visions of a big party or grand adventure to bring in the new decade, and ultimately decided to do exactly what I wanted, i.e. went out to a quiet dinner with William at a very Eugene restaurant, chose a table in the back corner that was a bit like we were eating in a cozy closet/backstage, enjoyed a meal that was basically a tasty plate of spinach, and then wandered home to watch an also very Eugene movie. And then I woke up the next day, my actual birthday, stayed home, baked cake, read, made a nice dinner but nothing more special than normal, and generally just relaxed.

It was the best.
*Also, no one really needs cake.
But sometimes the process–of failing, of trying again, of eventually succeeding, and of getting to share the experience and result with loved ones, whether it’s baking and eating cake or something much more challenging and life changing–is simply good for the soul.
I’m learning that too.

 

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The Best Carrot Cake (gluten-free + vegan optional)
makes two 6-inch layers 
 
1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm water or black tea
1 cup whole-grain gluten free flour mix, below (or 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum (omit if not making gluten-free)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 plus 2 Tbs. canola oil
6 Tbs. aquafaba, 2 Tbs. ground flax + 6 Tbs. water, or 2 eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots (about 2 large)
cream cheese frosting:
4 oz. vegan (or regular) cream cheese
3 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract 
  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease, flour, and then line cake pans with parchment paper.
  • Soak the raisins in a small dish of warm water or black tea.
  • Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, xanthan gum, cinnamon, and cardamom together in a medium bowl.
  • Whisk the brown sugar and oil together in a large bowl. Then add the aquafaba, flax mixture, or eggs; every method works well so use whatever you prefer. Then stir in the applesauce, vanilla, and flour mixture.
  • Drain the raisins from their liquid, and then fold them and the carrots into the mixture until combined. Divide the batter amongst the two prepared cake pans, and then gently lift and drop each filled pan on the counter to remove air bubbles. This will allow for more even baking and a flatter cake top. Bake until the layers are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes.
  • Remove the cakes from the oven and cool about 10 minutes before removing from the pans. Then set them aside on a rack to cool completely.
  • For the frosting:  Blend the cream cheese and coconut oil together in a food processor. Then add in the vanilla and maple syrup. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to set up before icing the cake.
 
My Whole-Grain Gluten Free Flour Mix
2oo grams brown rice flour
200 grams millet flour
200 grams sorghum flour
100 grams buckwheat flour
150 grams tapioca starch
150 grams arrowroot starch
  • Sift all the flours together.  Use 1 cup for this recipe and save the remaining for other uses.

 

If you’ve read this far, you’re in for a treat. Birthday playlist below!

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Apple Cinnamon Doughnuts

 

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I made it to the end of a whole year of nutrition grad school and on the last day of finals I made doughnuts to celebrate bake off the mad I experienced when the server went down and locked me out of my four-hour final.

If this sounds overly dramatic, it is. I had really been looking forward to resting my mind from amines, amides, carboxyls, thiols, esters, etc., and waking up on a Saturday morning to finish it all off was last on my favorite list when all I really wanted was to go visit farmers at the market and finally get in the holiday spirit. In any case, I eventually got to take my final and do all of that because I finally regained access at 8:00 pm Friday evening and I decided to forge on and finish the class rather than waiting another day. Perhaps it was the extra study time, that I was better prepared than I thought, or that some of my fellow students are even more dramatic than me, but the final only took a little over three hours, wasn’t nearly as painful as I was envisioning, and I landed a solid score off the whole ordeal.

 

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Or maybe it was the doughnuts.

These apple cinnamon doughnuts are brought to you by my forced change of plans and at 2:30 pm on a Friday before the big final, they 1. tasted absolutely delicious 2. did not cause a sugar rush/crash that would have made a fun* experience even better and 3. may or may not taste exactly like a bakery doughnut because I haven’t had one since early high school.

You have been warned.

 

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As I mentioned in my last post with pie, and also back when I made cookies, I’ve really been torn when it comes to sugary, indulgent treats around the holidays–but also generally. I tend to eat a “treat” every single day after dinner, but often it is fruit and cereal or a bit of dark chocolate. When I do indulge in the more decadent desserts, I’m often shocked at how sweet they are and I retreat back to fruit pretty quickly. This wasn’t always the case.

Also, I get the urge to experiment for this space every few weeks or William requests some sort of dessert or friends bring over treats–so my life is not entirely devoid of sweets.

I learned about carbohydrate and sugar metabolism this last term and also did a bunch of research on which alternative sugars to recommend. The important thing is that all types of sugar are hard on our systems in too high amounts and we as a society eat way too much of them. Second, I favor alternative sugars because they contain just enough other nutrients to not tax our systems quite as much and most are a little less sweet. Fructose in its refined state, (think high fructose corn syrup and/or white table sugar) heavily taxes the liver and according to some research, leads to decreased leptin, our satiety hormone, and increased grehlin, which is our hunger hormone. So we crave more and more and are never really satisfied. Unlike refined fructose, the sugar in whole fruits doesn’t have the same effect and there is evidence that this is the case because some of the phyto (plant) nutrients like quercetin in whole fruits block or slow down sugar absorption.

One of the less processed sugars that I hadn’t tried until recently was coconut sugar. I had avoided mostly because I’ve slowly been reducing all sugar over the years but also because the coconut craze has had me questioning the sustainability of coconut water, oil, sugar, flour, etc., with it all being so popular. I was handed a big bag of coconut sugar recently, however, and after trying it out here, I liked the results. It didn’t make me jittery or crave more like regular white sugar and the doughnuts were quite sweet enough, but not too much so. Coconut sugar does have a lower glycemic index and more nutrients than regular sugar, and can be used cup for cup in recipes. If you’re baking this season, it might be a nice ingredient to experiment with.

 

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Apple Cinnamon Doughnuts, makes 4-5
1 Tbs. ground flax
3 Tbs. warm water
1/4 cup millet flour
1/4 cup brown rice flour
2 Tbs. coconut sugar
2 Tbs. almond meal
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup almond milk
2 Tbs. applesauce
1 Tbs. coconut oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 an apple, peeled + medium-diced
2 Tbs. coconut sugar + heaping 1/4 tsp cinnamon for the topping
1-2 tsp. coconut oil, melted

  • Oil and flour the doughnut pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. If you’ve no doughnut pan, these can be made in a standard muffin pan; they won’t be doughnut shaped but they’ll taste just the same.
  • Whisk the ground flax together with the water in a small bowl and set aside for a few minutes.
  • Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well and then go back to the flax mixture and add the remaining liquids to it. Stir it all together to combine.
  • Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and stir briefly until the whole thing is just combined. Gently fold in the apples.
  • Spoon the batter into the doughnut pan, making sure not to overfill. Bake for 15-18 minutes until they are lightly golden brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and pan, and cool.
  • For the topping, switch the oven over to broil and then place a bowl of melted coconut oil and a plate of cinnamon sugar in an assembly line next to the doughnuts.
  • Dip the top of each doughnut into the oil mixture briefly and then dip and roll it in the cinnamon sugar. Set on a baking sheet or sturdy foil and repeat with the others. Then transfer them all to the oven, just under the broiler, and allow the sugars to caramelize briefly. This should take no more than 2-3 minutes and may take less. Be careful not to scorch their tops!
  • Remove from the oven and serve warm, if possible.

Pumpkin Pie + Holiday Thoughts

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The Recipe Redux theme for November is healthy holiday baking. If you’re new to this space, The Recipe Redux is a monthly recipe challenge, founded by three registered dietitians, which I participate in. The challenges are always focused on taking delicious dishes, keeping them delicious, but making them better for us.

 

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In light of this season, I’ve been doing a bit of reflection on where I stand in the interchange between decadent holiday foods and how I eat from day to day. Should I splurge and not worry about some of those really not healthy ingredients because it is the holidays, or should I try to capture the essence of health in enjoyable foods because it is the holidays –and we all tend to overeat and regret it later?

Additionally, as a result of all that I’ve been learning of health and nutrition and where I stand right now in aiming to maintain a healthy relationship with food, I’ve been returning to passages from Annemarie Colbin’s Food and Healing: 

With all the recent emphasis on “healthy” eating, it is important to remember one thing: Food does not make us healthy. The right kind of food will allow us to reach our maximum health potential, to become as healthy as our genes and constitution may permit. It will support what we are at our best. It will not interfere with our development, but it will also not make us more than what we can be. In short, good food is effective because it is passive. The wrong kind of food will act like a block or a dam, deflecting our growth and thwarting our unfolding. In other words, it will actively create trouble, and make us unhealthy…Good food will nourish us without causing stress, and thus allow our immune system to spend its energy in healing. Thus many different diets will have healing effects. Often it is not just what we eat, but also what we don’t eat that helps us become healthy again. 

So my theory right now? Stressing about eating the right kinds of food is not healthful. But neither is eating foods that overtax and/or stress our bodies, foods like highly refined sugars, refined flours/grains, and rancid oils, to name a few. Sure, they’re fine in small quantities infrequently. For the most part however, they’re best avoided, even (and maybe especially) during the holidays. Aren’t we all a little too stressed in this season? Don’t we deserve to feed ourselves and our loved ones foods that have healing qualities?

 

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My advice is to do what you can with what you have. But maybe as you venture into this holiday season, do so a little more mindfully, thinking to yourself, How do I want my body to feel after eating? What foods will nourish me best? 

 

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Pumpkin Pie, makes one 9-inch pie
Truthfully, I never liked pumpkin pie until I stopped eating dairy and enjoyed a vegan version of the classic. The creamy custard base always turned me off. Now I love pumpkin pie and count it as one of my favorite flavors. While there are innumerable versions swirling about this time of year, this is the one I make and enjoy. It is adapted from Gena Hamshaw’s pie in
Food52 Vegan and while I enjoy her version, I’ve changed it a bit so dates are the primary sweetener and, in my years-long quest to find a good gluten-free and vegan pie crust with no coconut oil (which I cannot stand in fat-heavy pastry doughs), I’ve finally come to a closer-to-whole-foods crust that tastes like what I think a pie crust should. It gets extra points for not needing to be rolled, chilled, or being difficult to work with. Enjoy!

filling:
2 1/2 cups baked + pureed pumpkin or winter squash, or canned puree
1 cup cashews, soaked for at least 4 hours
1 cup medjool dates (about 10)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbs. tapioca starch
2 Tbs. blackstrap molasses
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
a couple good pinches of cloves

crust:
1 cup rolled oats
1/4  cup + 2 Tbs. almond meal/flour
3/4 cup millet flour
pinch of sea salt
4 1/2 Tbs. good quality canola oil
3 Tbs. maple syrup
3/4 tsp. vanilla

  • Begin by baking the pumpkin or squash, if using, and soaking the cashews in water a few hours ahead of time.
  • Then, soak the dates in warm water for about an hour to soften up. Once the dates have soaked, keep 1/2 cup of their soaking liquid and put in a food processor along with the pitted dates, vanilla, and salt. Puree until completely smooth.
  • Into the food processor with the date puree, add the soaked and drained cashews, starch, molasses, and spices. Puree again, until completely smooth. Then add the pumpkin and puree once again until completely mixed. Then set aside to make the crust.
  • At this point, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Finely grind the oats into a flour using either a food processor or coffee grinder.
  • Then, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the oats, almond and millet flours and salt.
  • In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the oil, maple syrup and vanilla. Then pour the liquids over the dry ingredients and mix together with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened.
  • Dump the entire mixture into a 9-inch pie pan, and with your fingers, spread the dough across the bottom and up the sides. A flat-bottomed measuring cup, glass, or mini rolling pin helps smooth the bottom.
  • Crimp the edges, and then fill the crust with the pumpkin mixture.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the filling is a golden brown.
  • Remove from the oven and let cool completely before serving.


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