walnut cinnamon maple granola hand lettering with bounce

Walnut Cinnamon Maple Granola

ink drawing of walnut cinnamon maple homemade granola

I improvised a batch of granola using walnuts, cinnamon, and maple syrup. It tastes perfect, and it’s my favorite combo so far. Unfortunately I didn’t take detailed notes of the recipe! I learned a lesson there, and once I realized how much I like this flavor I jotted down the formula the best I could remember:

Formula

  • 3 c raw, whole rolled oats
  • ½ c raw walnut pieces
  • 4 tbsp flax seeds
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 large pinch fine sea salt
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homemade gingersnap granola in jars

Gingersnap granola

homemade gingersnap granola in jars

Recipe

Adapted from Gingersnap Granola from budgetbytes.com

Process notes

  • omitted oat bran, almonds, and raisins
  • baked at 350° for 30 min, stirring once

Results

This granola has a deep, sweet flavor. There’s something about adding milk to it that kicks it up to the next level. Next time I’d shorten the baking time a few minutes so it’s not so hard and crunchy.

bowl of apple pie walnut granola

Apple Walnut Granola

apple pie walnut granola

I don’t normally have store-bought cereal in the pantry, but one day I found a great deal on a granola cereal. Every once in while I sprinkle it on some homemade yogurt and it’s OK, but it’s about half puffed rice so it’s pretty weak. Then the other day I just had a bowl of it with milk like a bowl of cereal. Man oh man, it was so sweet. Too sweet. It hit me that granola is just one more thing that’s so much better made from scratch than bought in the box.

I came up with this recipe based on a few specific ingredients I had in the house: coconut oil, walnuts, and boiled cider syrup. It’s not too sweet, and has a tangy hint of apple. And I liked using the coconut oil, which didn’t flavor the granola like coconut at all.

Apple Walnut Granola

Ingredients

  • 4 c old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 c roughly chopped raw walnuts
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp apple pie spice
  • 6 tbsp melted coconut oil
  • 4 tbsp boiled cider syrup
  • 3 tbsp honey, warmed in microwave to make it easier to stir in
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a baking sheet with non-stick spray.
  2. Stir to combine the oats, walnuts, salt, and apple pie spice.
  3. Pour in the coconut oil, boiled cider, honey, and vanilla. Stir well until thoroughly combined.
  4. Pour onto baking sheet and bake for 10 min. Then turn the granola with a spatula, press into pan, and bake another 5-10 min.
  5. Let cool in pan. I stored mine in large mason jars, and the granola broke into fairly small pieces.

buttermilk layer cake with chocolate frosting

Classic birthday cake

I’d love to have a yellow layer cake recipe in my list of go-to recipes — those recipes that I know work, taste great, and don’t demand great feats (or fancy ingredients) to make. I’ve made a couple of attempts at this classic (once as a small layer cake and cupcakes, and as mini vanilla cupcakes). And those were made with freshly milled soft white wheat flour.

For my husband’s birthday, I splurged on cake flour that I had leftover in the pantry rather than whole wheat. So I was able to follow a recipe for buttermilk cake as written. Well, almost. Instead of buttermilk, I used whey from my latest batch of yogurt. It was so hard to pick from the zillions of yellow cake recipes (so many declared “the best”!), but the recipe I settled on was the right blend of flour type, liquid ingredients, and eggs. It also appeared to have the crumb I was after: tender, and looser crumb rather than dense and spongy.

I investigated lots of different frostings for this yellow cake. I don’t love typical American buttercream because I can never get the powdered sugar completely smooth — it’s always a little gritty, and it’s a very sweet buttercream. French buttercream is super smooth, but I didn’t want something so buttery this time. I’m intrigued by Ermine icing (also called boiled milk frosting or flour buttercream). I’d love to try it at some point, but I got the sense it’s better paired with a more flavorful cake like chocolate or red velvet.

Since I’m going for classic birthday cake here, I finally settled on an American style buttercream, flavored with chocolate.

buttermilk layer cake with chocolate frosting

Recipe

Buttermilk Layer Cake from nytimes.com (adapted from The Joy of Cooking), and Chocolate Frosting from urbanbakes.com (adapted from Betty Crocker Big Book of Cakes)

Process notes

Cake

  • lined the bottom of the pans with parchment after greasing, then greased the tops of the parchment rounds
  • used whey leftover from homemade Greek style yogurt instead of buttermilk
  • mixed in stand mixer using scraper blade
  • baked in middle of oven, side by side, for 30 total minutes, rotated pans after 20 minutes

Frosting

  • converted measurement of 4 1/2 cups of powdered sugar to 563 gm
  • mixed in about 2 tbsp of additional milk after adding powdered sugar
  • mixed for a total of about 5 minutes
  • added a pinch of sea salt at end of mixing

Results

Using parchment rounds was a good move. I didn’t have any sticking like with my last cake. I forgot to use my cake strips, but didn’t run into any problems with the tops — they were even enough that they didn’t require trimming.

My frosting was much denser than the frosting in the original recipe post, even though I added extra milk. I just didn’t want to keep adding so much that it became too runny, so I backed off adding more.

I’m torn on the chocolate frosting…the texture is gritty, which I don’t like. And it’s too sweet for me. The chocolate flavor is fantastic though! I’m looking forward to trying an Ermine frosting in the future to compare.

The cake is extremely light and airy, and is practically impossible to taste under the frosting. I’m not sure if it was the whey I used in place of buttermilk, or I mixed it wrong, or what, but it was just way too light and delicate in texture. It’s like eating fudge with some cake crumbs underneath. The pancakes with my whey/runny yogurt combo worked better as far as using yogurt whey goes. On the bright side, the flavor of the cake reminded me of the Easy Bake Oven cake from my childhood — which is a good thing, not a criticism :)

So here’s what I learned: this cake recipe, adapted the way I did, was not a good fit for me. Also, a 9-inch layer cake is MUCH too much cake for two people. It made 12 pieces, and 7 went into the freezer (individually wrapped for the occasional treat).

That being said, cake is always delightful to have around, and it’s never bad in my book. But when it gets made only occasionally, I like to strive for making it the best fit it can be for me.

Disappearing breadsticks

For Christmas this year we decided to make pizzas using those bags of grocery store pizza dough. There was an extra bag, with garlic and herbs mixed into the dough, that we used for cheesy breadsticks.

For the recipe, I followed Easy Cheesy Breadsticks from food.com with some small adjustments, and holy cow, were they delicious. They came out of the oven just before the pizzas went in, and all but 3 were devoured before we had a chance to sit down for dinner.

My version

  • 1 bag of garlic herb pizza dough (plain white dough would also be great)
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 c shredded cheese, pizza blend
  • light sprinkle of dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt

The dough came out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before it went into the oven, during which time I shaped it into a rough rectangle. After topping, I got around 16 sticks from this dough.

These are on my must-make-again list. We dipped them into the pizza sauce I made for our pizzas, and it was a fantastic combo.

 

Maple Spiced Nut Granola with Pecans, Flax Seeds, and Sunflower Seeds

Maple Spiced Nut Granola with Pecans, Flax, and Sunflower Seeds

It’s very rare that we host overnight guests at our place, but this weekend we’ll have company for a few days. Of course this got me thinking about what the heck other people like to eat at home. This granola sounded like a crowd pleaser and a perfect item for the pantry.

Even though it’s summer, and this tastes like Fall in a bowl, that’s OK because it’s so good.

Maple Spiced Nut Granola with Pecans, Flax Seeds, and Sunflower Seeds

Maple Spiced Nut Granola with Pecans, Flax, and Sunflower Seeds

Adapted from Easy Healthy Homemade Granola Recipe

Makes about 4 cups of granola

Ingredients

  • 3 c oats
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans
  • 4 tbsp flax seeds
  • 4 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 4 tbsp maple syrup
  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cloves

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Measure the ingredients into a large bowl and mix together.
  3. Pour onto the prepared baking sheet and pat into a single layer. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden.
  4. Cool and place in a container.

Maple Walnut Granola with Cinnamon, Raisins, and Flax Seeds

Maple Walnut Granola with Cinnamon, Raisins, and Flax Seeds

It didn’t take long to devour the Honey Almond Granola with Sunflower Seeds and Flax that I made the other day. Which means it’s time for a new flavor combo!

This batch turned out much too chewy for me because the raisins got even more dehydrated in the oven. Without a moist cake or muffin batter around them for protection, they turned into really tough little guys. Next time I’d definitely leave the raisins out and simply sprinkle them on top when I’m ready to eat.

I reduced the sweetener to 2 tablespoons with this batch, but that made it slightly less sweet than I’d like.

Maple Walnut Granola with Cinnamon, Raisins, and Flax Seeds

Maple Walnut Granola with Cinnamon, Raisins, and Flax Seeds

Adapted from Easy Healthy Homemade Granola Recipe

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 c raw, whole rolled oats
  • ½ c walnuts
  • 3 tbsp flax seeds
  • ½ c raisins (leave these out of the mix if tough, chewy things bum you out like they do me)
  • 2-3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 large pinch fine sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Measure the ingredients into a large bowl (leaving the raisins out if desired) and mix together. I used my hands to feel that everything was thoroughly combined.
  3. Pour onto the prepared baking sheet and pat into a single layer. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden.
  4. Cool and place in a container.

honey almond granola with sunflower seeds and flax

Honey Almond Granola with Sunflower Seeds and Flax

Lately I’ve been having a craving for cereal, but store bought cereal is on my list of things to avoid because of its processed nature. My husband was struck by a similar craving and suggested granola.

Duh.

Homemade granola was the answer.

honey almond granola with sunflower seeds and flax
The baked granola, cooling in the pan

I found a super easy and healthy recipe for a basic granola formula and customized it for us. It went together very quickly and baked in just 14 minutes. Basically the hardest part is getting to the store to buy the mix-ins. Or maybe choosing which combination of mix-ins to make first.

Another plus with this formula is that it makes a small batch, so we’ll get to try different flavor combos more often.

The bulk bins at Winco are a gold mine for homemade granola, except for the dried fruit. The blueberries, cherries, and cranberries all had added sugar, so I’ll be sticking with raisins as my dried fruit mix-in for future flavors. But fresh or frozen fruits with no added sugars are an option.

This granola is GOOD. In addition to being delicious (not too sweet but definitely not bland and tasteless), the texture is wonderful. I have trouble with hard, tough, chewy textures, and store bought granola is typically one or all of these things. But this version is light and much easier to chew.

Honey Almond Granola with Sunflower Seeds and Flax

Adapted from Easy Healthy Homemade Granola Recipe

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 c old-fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ c sliced almonds
  • ¼ c raw sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp flax seeds
  • 3 tbsp honey (could reduce to 2 tbsp)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • 1 large pinch fine sea salt
  • Fresh or frozen blueberries to top (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Measure the ingredients into a large bowl (except for the blueberries) and mix together. I used my hands to feel that everything was thoroughly combined.
  3. Pour onto the prepared baking sheet and pat into a single layer. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden.
  4. Cool and place in a container.

homemade orangettes

Chocolate-dipped Candied Orange Peel (Orangettes)

Awhile back, I made candied orange peel for the first time, with the intention of putting it in Stollen. Happily, there was enough for the Stollen as well as some Orangettes. I’m not bit on chocolate and fruit (chocolate-covered strawberries being the exception) and orange + chocolate has never sounded appetizing to me, so I didn’t know if I would like these. Which was fine, because they’re a gift for my mom and I thought it would be the sort of little confection she’d appreciate.

But after tasting one, I was converted. At least when it comes to homemade chocolate-dipped candied orange peel.

To make them, I melted 1/3 cup of semisweet chocolate chips, stirred in about 1/2 tsp vegetable oil, and then dipped the end of each peel. I set them on waxed paper in the refrigerator to harden.

vanilla and gingerbread buttercreams

Vanilla and Gingerbread Swiss Buttercreams

Today I pulled some of the Whole Wheat Vanilla Mini Cupcakes out of the freezer to top with buttercream. Since it’s that gingerbread-filled season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I knew that some of them would be getting a gingerbread buttercream. After mixing up the recipe for buttercream, it felt a little criminal to do anything to change the smooth, vanilla perfection of the buttercream. But I was too curious to skip the spices.

This was my first time making the Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting from Cooks Illustrated. I guess it’s similar to a Swiss buttercream — it uses whole eggs (as opposed to just whites), granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and butter. And it is amazing. It’s unbelievable how smooth it gets, especially when compared to an American-style buttercream with confectioners’ sugar.

After mixing it up, I scooped out a bit (enough to frost 6 mini cupcakes) and added the following:

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • approx. 1 tsp molasses

It was grainy at first, but after sitting on the frosted cupcakes for awhile it got a little less so. It’s not as smooth as the plain buttercream, but acceptable. Actually, more than acceptable…quite addictive. I’m trying to figure out what else I can spread this stuff on. Perhaps some sourdough pancakes!

Whole wheat sourdough pita with hummus, spicy carrots, and fried eggplant

Middle Eastern Mini Feast

After finishing Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, I was craving Middle Eastern food. Specifically, I was craving the Middle Eastern food from my favorite restaurant for that sort of thing. They make this fried eggplant dish that is like candy, and these spicy cooked carrots that burn the tastebuds but are soooo tasty. But instead of running over there for takeout, I wanted to try cooking my typical order at home.

Recipes

Whole Wheat Sourdough Pita adapted from Skillet Baked Whole Wheat Pita (Using Sourdough)

Hummus adapted from Lebanese Hummus Recipe From Scratch – Hummus b Tahini

Fried Eggplant adapted from Fried Eggplant with Garlic and Parsley Dressing

Spicy Carrots adapted from Spicy Carrots for Clear Skin

Process notes

Whole Wheat Sourdough Pita

  • 4 oz sourdough starter (fed)
  • 4 1/2 oz hard white wheat flour (unsifted)
  • 3-4 oz water (filtered)
  • 1 tbls honey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbls vegetable oil

1:50 p.m.: Mix starter, flour, water, and honey together for a couple of min. (added quite a bit of extra water at this stage), then let sit for 15 min. Then add salt and vegetable oil. Mix for 2 min. on med-low. Do 4 stretch & folds with 5-min. intervals.

2:25 p.m.: Rest dough, covered.

4:00 p.m.: Dough isn’t rising enough, so move to slightly warmed oven until time to make pitas.

5:30 p.m.: Divide dough into 4 pieces and flatten out, using flour. Rest for about 15 min. then cook in hot, unoiled cast iron skillet for a few minutes on each side.

Hummus

  • 1/2 lb dried chickpeas*
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tbls tahini paste
  • 1/3 c fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 to 1 c warm water

Process chickpeas with 1/2 cup warm water for 3 to 5 min. Add garlic, salt, and paprika, and slowly add tahini while processor is running. Slowly add lemon juice while processor is running, then mix for 2 min. Adjust seasoning and add more water if needed.

Serve at room temperature with olive oil drizzled over top.

*I put 1 lb of dried chickpeas in the pressure cooker with some salt and cooked for 40 min., using natural pressure release when done. It yielded 2 1/4 lb (940 gm) cooked chickpeas.

Fried Eggplant

  • 2 Philippine eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 tsp salt
  • Oil for frying

Sprinkle eggplant slices with salt and set in colander for 30 min. Then rinse under cold water and wring out water using a thin towel.

Heat oil in skillet and fry for several minutes on each side until golden. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Spicy Carrots

  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced 1/8″ thick
  • 1 tbls olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp chili paste
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Dash of caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/4 lemon, juiced

Saute carrots in hot oil in nonstick skillet for 5 min. Cover and cook for 3 to 5 min., stirring occasionally. Add cumin, paprika, turmeric, and salt. Saute until fragrant and pasty. Stirn in chili paste, garlic, caraway, honey, and lemon juice. Cook briefly, then serve. This is good at room temperature.

Results

Overall, I’m happy with how things turned out. I’m most excited about the hummus recipe. I had come to the conclusion that I didn’t really like tahini in my hummus, but it turns out that my last container of tahini paste was just really stale. The new one I picked up for this recipe was smooth and has a wonderful flavor. This hummus recipe is the best I’ve ever made and I’ll definitely make it again.

I had some problems with the pita dough sticking to my hands when I placed it in the pan to cook, so some of the pitas are wildly misshapen. They taste good though. Next time I’d try an overnight proofing to help strengthen the gluten (or more kneading), and less water.

The spicy carrots turned out really well. Next time I could up the chili paste a tad bit.

And the fried eggplant was OK, but rather bland — definitely not the magical eggplant I have at the restaurant. I wonder how they do it there…

Baked croissants

Croissants

Croissants have been on my list of things to make for quite some time. My goal is to come as close to the French style as possible — crispy on the outside, with tender, buttery layers on the inside.

But for a variety of reasons this project kept getting pushed to the back of the line. For one thing, I wanted to make my first batch of them following the traditional instructions that call for all purpose flour, in order to get the feel of what the experience would be like under normal conditions before using home-milled whole wheat flour. And since they’re such an involved process, it seems the odds of success are slimmer than normal and it would be so crushing to have my first batch flop.

Shaped croissant dough
Shaped croissants, ready for their final rise before baking

These croissants are my first experience making viennoiserie. To prepare, I watched the Baking with Julia episode “Croissants with Esther McManus” and Esther gave a helpful and encouraging tutorial on the process.

I started the dough yesterday afternoon so it could rest in the refrigerator along with the prepared butter overnight. At around 9 a.m. today, I started the process of rolling, folding, chilling, shaping, rising, and baking the croissants, and they came out of the oven at 6:30 this evening. This is by far my most time- and energy-intensive baking project!

Baked filled croissants
Baked filled croissants

I mostly made regular croissant shapes, but I also wanted to try my hand at filled versions. So in a couple of rectangular-shaped pieces, I placed some dark chocolate chips (I didn’t have any of the chocolate bars I’ve been seeing bakers use for this), and in a few others there’s a combination of sugar, cinnamon, plumped raisins, and walnut pieces. I’m freezing most of the shaped dough to bake later.

After working with this dough, my hands will smell like butter for days…

Process notes

  • followed the instructions, ingredients, and measurements as closely to the video as possible, except for adding the flour to the butter because…
  • I used Organic Valley Cultured European Style butter instead of American style butter
  • used 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • filled a few rectangular shapes with chocolate chips, and a few with a mixture of sugar, cinnamon, plumped raisins, and chopped walnuts
  • shaped 4 regular croissants and 4 filled to be baked immediately
  • froze 22 for later baking

Results

These puppies are definitely a labor of love. But oh man, did they turn out fantastic. I’m glad I did some filled versions. The chocolate chips got a little clumpy but tasted good, and the walnut-raising flavor was perfectly subtle.

Getting the ball of butter to spread evenly and to the edges inside the folded dough didn’t work for me, and in the future I’d like to try making the flat, rectangular slab of butter that I’ve seen with other recipes. I think a 10×7 slab would work pretty well folded inside the dough. Also, my dinky rolling pin was no match for this dough. A French pin or straight dowel style pin would be much better.

Despite these rolling challenges, I’m thrilled with how the croissants came out. I look forward to making this dough again, except with some combination of hard and soft white wheats, freshly milled and whole grain.