Gingerbread Bonbons

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If you’ve been doing the seasonal thing lately, this month has already brought an onslaught of cookies and holiday treats to be baked, eaten, and shared. Making cookies is my favorite December tradition but I definitely prefer making to eating them. This is because inevitably after eating cookies and all the other traditional baked goods, I feel bogged down, lethargic, and mentally all over the place. This is often true even despite my bent towards making goodies that are leaning towards healthier over traditional.

Late in the summer, I decided to buy myself a new cookbook for the year and I chose the one I had been eyeing for quite some time, Kate O’Donnell’s Everyday Ayurveda Cooking for a Calm, Clear Mind. The first 100 or so pages are actually about ayurveda and the energies in the body that contribute to wellbeing, as well as everyday practices for living a balanced, sattvic lifestyle. Even before getting to the recipes, this information is an approachable guide to how to truly promote one’s health. There are also a ton of recipes of course, but what I’ve made again and again, both following the recipe and deviating sharply, are the No Donut Holes. Despite making and eating them nearly weekly for months, this after dinner treat has never once left me in cookieland feeling less than thriving.

In annual tradition, The Recipe Redux challenge for December is a recipe remake from a cookbook, and so naturally I decided to put a festive spin on those no donut holes with a molasses and gingerbread infusion–flavors I love this time of year.

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When it comes to molasses, there are several different types. I grew up with Brer Rabbit Full-Flavored, which is the second boiling formed as a by-product when sugar is processed. Molasses from the first boiling is the lightest and sweetest, often called mild molasses. Beyond these two, the third boiling results in blackstrap molasses, which is the darkest, least sweet, and most mineral rich type. It is the type I favor now. Blackstrap is a great source of dietary iron and sometimes recommended as a food source iron supplement (1) since one tablespoon can contain as much as 20% of a woman’s daily needs. Additionally, it contains considerable amounts of manganese, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6, selenium, copper, and calcium. Even though it is still a sugar and should be treated as such, there is actually evidence that adding molasses to carbohydrate-rich meals results in a lower blood sugar rise compared to the meal without molasses (2).

When purchasing, look for unsulfured and pure full-flavored or blackstrap molasses. Sulfur dioxide is sometimes added as a preservative and can make the taste bitter, and some companies dilute their bottles down with corn syrup.

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Before I get to the recipe, Kate says on the no-donut page: Pastries are an instigator of tamas in the mind. [Tamas is heavy, slow, sleepy, stubborn, and unmotivated and can lead to sadness, pessimism, low self-esteem, hopelessness and fear.] The combination of white flour, white sugar, and butter or questionable oils makes a trifecta of heavy, indigestible qualities that gunk up the gut. For most, a daily habit of eating pastries is a ticket to slow, dull qualities.

Now, I have nothing against the occasional full blown refined-everything treat, especially this time of year. But I’m also simply glad to add these as an option to the holiday cookie tray.

Gingerbread Bonbons, makes about 12
Though I use blackstrap molasses, regular ‘full-flavor’ molasses works great too. Additionally, finely ground oatmeal or oat bran are great alternatives to the oat flour.
These can also be made as squares instead of bonbons. Simply press into a square container and chill for about an hour before cutting.

60 g / 1/4 cup cashew butter
40 g / 2 Tbs. molasses
40 g/ 2 Tbs. maple syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
55 g / 1/2 cup almond meal
140 g / 1 1/2 cups oat flour
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
dash of cloves

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the cashew butter, molasses, maple syrup, and vanilla. Add the almond meal, oat flour, and spices and mix until it all comes evenly together. Put the bowl in the freezer for about 5 minutes to firm up.
  • Roll heaping tablespoons of the dough into balls, and then place them on a plate or in a storage container.
  • Store in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for longer term. Allow them to come to room temperature before enjoying.

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References:
1) Jain, R. and Venkatasubramanian, P. (2017). Sugarcane Molasses – A potential dietary supplement in the management of iron deficiency anemia.
2) Ellis, T.P., Wright, A.G., Clifton, P.M., and Ilag, L.L. (2016). Postprandial insulin and glucose levels are reduced in healthy subjects when a standardised breakfast meal is supplemented with a filtered sugarcane molasses concentrate. 

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Peach + Pluot Tart with Lemon Coconut Cream

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Friday evening and William and I took each other to the county fair. He stood in line for a corndog, a really good one, he said, and then we headed away from all the noise to the barns, ambling through each aisle one by one, comparing the chickens to ours, wondering at whether the tagline saying aggressive! scrawled under the price for a $40 bunny was a comment about the price, the animal’s temperament, or some other reason I already forget. Then we went to the hog barn, the sheep, and then the cattle. I beelined us towards the champion animals, commenting about how when I was in high school a dozen or more years ago, the genetics were just leaning towards better in the sheep division, and now the champion lambs are packed, their muscles rippling with every move.

 

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After it all we headed a couple blocks over to Friendly’s, a neighborhood natural foods store. We bought small pots of expensive delicious ice cream, brought it back home, and sat in the near-dark on the couch, eating little spoonfuls slowly. When I scraped the last bit from my dish and nearly got up for more, William stopped me, saying no just wait a moment and you’ll realize you’re done. 

And I did.
And I did.

It was a fabulous and simple evening after a long week with more weekend work ahead. It was lovely to just set everything else down for a few hours and be present, enjoying summer, enjoying the magic, realizing the hunger we’re hungry for can be fed in small doses of treats and much larger heaps of time with a loved one and their caring hand and arm around the shoulders, their well-intended suggestions, and in taking the time to share snippets of a long-ago passion at the county fair.

 

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The Recipe Redux asked for stone fruit this month. Even though I’ve been eating the various fruits daily, working apricots or plums into morning oatmeal, having a handful of cherries with afternoon snack, or gliding thin slices into whatever savory is up for dinner, this time of year calls for a treat, with stone fruits at their best.

This raw, barely sweet lemon and coconut cream tart is a real favorite, but one I often forget about. It’s one to make for a dinner party or a sunday feast. Or maybe, just because it’s summer and our weary selves need a little wholesome decadent goodness.

 

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Peach + Pluot Tart with Lemon Coconut Cream, adapted from my blackberry version
There are a few options here. The fruit can of course be changed up depending on preference, but the choice of nuts and sweetener can too. I used a mix of hazel and walnuts, the almond meal, and then used lucuma powder to sweeten. Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit that has a slightly mapley caramel flavor and the powder can be used as a natural sweetener. I had a nearly expired packet in the back of the pantry and put it to good use here, but the alternative of using about half the amount of regular or powdered sugar works well too and honestly isn’t added in enough quantity to do much harm.

5 medjool dates / 45 g, pitted and briefly soaked
1/2 cup / 50 g nuts of choice, toasted
1/2 cup / 50 g almond meal
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 15 oz. / 400 mL can full-fat coconut milk, chilled
2-4 Tbs. lucuma or sugar
zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 peaches and pluots
lemon juice

  • In a food processor, combine dates, nuts, cinnamon, and salt.  Puree until finely chopped and the mixture sticks together when pinched with your fingers.  Turn out into a 7-8 in tart pan.
  • Open the chilled coconut milk and without stirring, spoon out the cream layer into a medium bowl. Reserve the watery milk in the bottom of the can for another use.
  • Whip the coconut cream along with the lucuma, lemon zest, and vanilla.  Spoon and smooth atop the nut layer.
  • Thinly slice the peaches and pluots and layer around the top of the coconut filling, in circles, as desired. To preserve the color, brush a little lemon juice across the fruit layer, and then lightly cover and set the tart in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours.

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cardamom + vanilla birthday cake

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I’ve noticed the last few months have brought little breakthroughs in my baking experiments, perhaps because I have not been practicing. I finally made a truly good gluten-free soda bread on my first attempt of the season. I wowed friends with this chocolate hazelnut cake. I made animal crackers that tasted better than any we’ve had before on the first try. Holiday pie crust and sourdough pizza, and likely more that I’m forgetting.

And without too much thought, after years of attempting and tossing out countless recipes and versions of gluten-free, dairy-free vanilla cake, I opted back to my very own chocolate recipe, transitioned it to vanilla and somehow topped it off with a truly amazing caramel-esque non-dairy “cream cheese” frosting to boot.

I’m not bragging by mentioning this so much as reflecting on this last year, my 30th, and reflecting on what it is I put my effort, intention, and attachment into. For sure it has not been baking, or recipe creation in general.

But I wonder sometimes what I have to show for that which I have put my focus towards? To hint, it’s been a lot of nutrition grad school, delving deeply into mindfulness and the often invisible soulwork, and running, always running. I wrote down three big goals for the year in early January and I’ve stuck them in a place where I see them regularly. Each time I’m reminded of the process, how it’s slowly unfolding, how I fail routinely and try again. My goals are process goals, not dependent on the outcome I’d like. But I’m coming to value the day in and day out of quietly working in the trenches, unknowing whether there’ll be a big payout.

In meditation lately, I’ve been envisioning myself sitting, floating on nothing, nothing above or below, nothing to grasp on to. This experience of complete lack, control over nothing, is absolutely uncomfortable even in a visualization exercise. And as I seamlessly transitioned into 31 the other day without much fanfare and devoid of celebrations minus a lovely cake in the flavors I craved that finally and unexpectedly worked out, I think I’ve come to understand a little more: the intentions I set, the high intentions, stories in my head and visions of “glory,” the culmination of work and work and work, on whatever it is I’m working on, very rarely pan out the way I envisioned. And that’s okay.

Because the real magic, I think, is in learning to become more comfortable in the floating, in the space between, in the process, in the unknowing.

Welcome to another rebirth-year. For sure, there’s at least really good cake.

 

Cardamom and Vanilla Birthday Cake, makes a 6-inch two-layer cake
Cardamom is a strong spice, one I love as an adult but was turned off by when younger. Add the amount you desire, starting with less, tasting, and adding more as needed. The frosting amount is intended to just slightly enhance the cake. Double or triple the amount for a fully frosted version.

120 grams / 3/4 cup brown rice flour
30 grams / 1/4 cup almond meal
14 grams / 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 – 1 teaspoon. ground cardamom
150 grams / 3/4 cup sugar (I used the slightly less processed organic cane sugar)
56 grams / 1/4 cup coconut oil, soft, but not melted
2 tablespoons ground flax with 6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
110 ml / 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F and line the bottoms of each cake pan with parchment paper.  Then rub a little coconut oil up the sides of the pans and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the ground flax and warm water to form a slurry.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and spices and then set aside.  In another large bowl, combine the sugar and coconut oil and whisk until it’s light and fluffy. Add the flax slurry and then the vanilla and milk; mix again until it is combined. Next, a bit at a time, stir in the dry ingredients and combine.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. Check after out 20 minutes so as not to over bake.
  • Transfer the layers to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes; then remove layers and rest them until completely cool.

 

Cream Cheese Frosting
115 g / 4 oz. / 1/2 cup of non-dairy cream cheese (I used a 1/2 batch of this recipe)
3 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs. brown rice syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • While the cake is baking, make the frosting. If you want to make your own cashew cream cheese, you’ll want to start ahead to allow time to “culture.”
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy smooth.
  • Transfer to a bowl and place in the fridge for at least an hour to allow it to set up before frosting the cake.