Sarah Kieffer's Maple-Cinnamon Granola

Sugar is bad. Too many carbs are bad. A diet of mostly vegetables is best. Blah, blah, blah. I know, to some extent, this is all true, and yet, and yet, baking something and sharing it with people just feels so right, don’t you think? In her lovely new book, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, Sarah Kieffer takes this idea even further: “There is something deeper, something soul-full that happens when we slice the cake, when we break the bread. There is taste and smell that draws out memories, binding us to those present, those past.” Yes. continue reading

No-So-Molten Chocolate Cakes

You’ve probably heard the lore before: Legendary chef Jeans-Georges Vongerichten pulls a tray of chocolate sponge cakes from the oven too early, considers it a happy accident, and molten chocolate cakes (aka lava cakes) go on to become THE dessert of the ’90s. Lucky Peach did a more thorough exploration of the cakes’ history, which includes the fact that chocolate cakes with liquid centers can be traced back further to the runner-up of the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off, who created the Tunnel of Fudge.

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Prune, Oat and Spelt Scones from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire PtakI’ll be the first to admit that the name of these scones might sound a bit dreary, conjuring visions of something you might eat in a nursing home or on a hippie commune. With plenty of sugar and eggs and two types of sugar, don’t worry, they are anything but.

This recipe comes from my new favorite baking book, The Violet Bakery Cookbook, based on recipes from the beloved London bakery opened by American-born food writer Claire Ptak. Claire bakes the types of things I want to eat: Everything feels cozy and familiar, with just enough of a twist to make you raise an eyebrow. It’s this book that finally convinced me to buy things like coconut sugar (for some buttery buckwheat cookies) and spelt flour, for these scones. She uses the ingredients not so much (or at least not only) for their wholesomeness but for the intriguing flavors they provide.

The spelt flour, for instance, lends a brown sugary graininess and downright satisfying flavor to the scones. Because it’s a sweeter and less coarse than traditional whole wheat flour, you often don’t need to combine spelt flour (except for maybe when you’re baking free-form yeasted breads) with all-purpose to create something palatable. It has less gluten than typical flour, so it’s great to use when you want a tender bite.

What really makes these scones so special are the prunes, which are turned from something you give your constipated child into something kind of exotic, thanks to a soak in Earl Grey tea. Scattered all over the scones before they bake, they create this kind of chewy, caramelly topping.

The recipe, which is copied almost verbatim from the book, makes a whopping 12 scones, which, at first, seems excessive. But you’ll find that this is actually a gift: Bake half (or even fewer) and freeze the rest for when you want a special breakfast but can’t bring yourself to dirty the kitchen.

prune, oat and spelt scones
 
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This recipe is very loosely adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak (from Ten Speed Press. She recommends making the dough for these scones the night before and chilling it in the fridge so yo can portion out the mixture and bake the scones fresh in the morning or freeze them for another day. I did this and it worked beautifully. One important note: I measured most of the ingredients in metric weight because that is what's listed first in the book. The volume order modafinil measurements are approximate. One less important note: These will look even more golden and appetizing if you brush these with an egg wash, a step I forgot in my pre-coffee haze!
Author:
Serves: 12 scones
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup Earl Grey tea
  • 300 grams (10½ ounces) pitted prunes
  • 200 grams (about 2 cups) rolled oats
  • 375 grams (about 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons) whole grain spelt flour
  • 80 grams (about ½ cup) light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 300 grams (about 2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 250g (1 cup) yogurt
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons milk, for egg wash
Instructions
  1. Line a 20-by-30-inch centimeter (8-by-12-inch) baking dish with parchment paper so it overlaps the sides. (You can also use a 9-by-13-inch dish and just form the scone dough so it's slightly smaller than the dish)
  2. In a small mixing bowl, cover the prunes with the tea.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the oats, spelt flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and whisk together. Use a pastry cutter or the back of a fork to cut the cubes of butter into the dry ingredients. You could also do this in a stand mixer. Mix together until it resembles a coarse meal.
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the yolks, eggs, maple syrup, and yogurt. Pour this into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking pan and spread it out. Tear the soaked prunes into bite-size pieces and dot on top. Push the prunes down into the mixture, then pour the remaining soaking liquid on top. Spread the liquid with a rubber spatula or brush. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 3 hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F. Line a baking sheet (or 2, if necessary) with parchment paper.
  6. Pop out the dough, if desired, and cut into 12 triangles: Do this by cutting the block in half lengthwise. Cut each half into three squares and each square into two triangles. (If you don't want to bake all the scones at this stage, just wrap them individually in plastic wrap and put whatever you don't want to bake in the freezer for future use. Bake them right out of the freezer.) Place the scones about 5 centimeters (2 inches) apart. Brush the tops with the egg wash, sprinkle with the remaining oats, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until golden. These are best eaten the day you bake them.

 

PearTarteTatin

Last Friday was my fifth wedding anniversary, a fact my husband and I both forgot until the morning of. We’re in a place in our lives in which we’re constantly looking forward—what’s next, what’s next—so we often forget to slow down and appreciate things we’ve done. The traditional gift for five years of marriage is wood. Champagne—one aged in old oak barrels—seemed fitting. Great. Anniversary celebration handled. Check!

But then I got to thinking about how I promised myself that, after we got married, I’d make more pie. Phil loves pie and I love the idea of pie, but in five years, I think I’ve made exactly four pies; three of them were recipes I was developing for work.

The New Sugar and Spice

Because I’ve decided to focus on baking this month, I flipped through one of the new books I recently received: Samantha Seneviratne’s gorgeous The New Sugar and Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking. A paragraph in the introduction resonated with me:

“Homemade desserts have a big job: they carry messages to important people. We bake them with the people we love. We share them with the people we love. We eat them with the people we love. But these days, we are told over and over again that one of the principal ingredients of dessert is deadly.”

I think this has become my problem with baking: If you offer someone a kale chip or something “healthy,” it feels overly virtuous, maybe even judgmental. A homemade cookie, however, seems nuturing, even if, as she writes, “Some doctors claim that sugar should be grouped with cigarettes and alcohol as a harmful, addictive substance.”

Sam’s solution is to keep desserts as a celebratory, indulgent part of life and to make them more memorable with the generous and intriguing use of spice. Sounds good to me!

Toward the back of the book, I spotted the Pear Tarte Tatin with Anise Seed Caramel. Tarte tatin is kind of like an upside down cake in pie form. Best of all, the tarte is made in a skillet, which somehow feels less stressful to this reluctant baker because I’m not really baking when I’m using a frying pan, right? It was a perfect non-pie pie to celebrate.

Following the recipe was a cinch: Sam writes clearly with lots of great coaching along the way. For example, when you’re first making the caramel, she writes, “Don’t worry if the caramel separates. Once you add the pears, it will smooth out again.” Phew!

I will admit that—through no fault of the recipe—I chickened out when finishing up the caramel. She says to wait until the caramel turns a deep amber, and I pulled it when it was closer to the color of honey, or somewhere between light and medium amber, if you want to be technical. I learned a lesson: Don’t be afraid to take the caramel to the brink, especially when sweet pears are involved!

The resulting tart was delicious, but that little bit of complex caramelly bitterness would have made it even better. No matter: With Champagne, it was perfect. (Because everything with Champagne is, isn’t it?) continue reading

 
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