Monday, March 31, 2014

Vegan Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars

I miss London a lot. I love Park Slope and all, but our life in London was - except for the lack of family - pretty perfect. Gage and I had tons of mommy and baby friends in our area of Belsize Park, all other ex-pats. We had two regular play groups per week, at least one baby dinner, and many impromptu playdates with tea and cake. Our flat was as sunny as a London flat can possibly be, with a big kitchen where I loved to cook and bake, and Gage liked to help. We had a reliable, friendly cleaner who also babysat for us. We had an amazing weekly farmers market just out our front door, where I bought fresh vegetables and bread and fish every week. We were walking distance from the amazing London Zoo, where we had a membership and went at least once every other week. We were walking distance from two amazing parks, and toddler-walking-distance from a playground. We were also just 2 minutes from the Jubilee line - the clean, efficient, runs-every-2-minutes Tube would take us to central London in just 15 minutes, if we so wished to immerse ourselves in ancient culture, high tea or high fashion. (Well, Topshop is about as "high" as I would go but you get the idea.)

In our area we had a few nice pubs. There is just no adequate social/cultural American equivalent to the pub, and I won't even attempt to describe it's importance to English society here, but Sunday afternoons at the pub became a welcomed ritual in our expat life. Belsize Park is a beautiful, leafy, bit of suburbia just 20 minutes outside of bustling central London. Oh and did I mention that they have the best online grocery delivery imaginable? 1 hour delivery slots, free delivery with delivery pass, every imaginable gourmet and otherwise product available, including wine and beer and household goods! Ocado, how I do miss you. Oh, and like Park Slope, babies everywhere.

When I think of all that I get so very sad. I miss it so much, particularly my friends. On the other hand, we were so blessed to have been able to live there at all, and to have had the opportunity to befriend so many wonderful people. One of those people is Cory, who gave us some Pumpkin bars the day before we left for good, so that we could have something to eat on the plane. Gage and I gobbled up every last bite while Chris was napping on the plane, and it made me feel temporarily better (although I felt at the time like I was leaving home, and not returning.) Thanks again for those bittersweet bars Cory, and here's my updated version of them. I know they are a bit autumnal for the summery weather you're having over there, but here on the east coast it snowed again this morning. Who knew I would end up missing London weather too??

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars

adapted from Monique of Ambitious Kitchen

To make these truly vegan use vegan chocolate chips, and for true gluten-free use gluten-free oat flour.

Oat flour is available at most specialty markets (I used Arrowhead Mills brand) but you can also make your own by putting 3 cups of oats into your food processor and processing until it looks like flour.

2 cups oat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons chia seeds, or flax seeds (optional - good source of omega-3)
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place oat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a large bowl and whisk together until well combined.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients (except for the chocolate chips) together until well blended. Make a well in the dry ingredient mixture and dump in the blended pumpkin mixture. Stir until just combined, then fold in the chocolate chips.

Grease a 9' x 9' pan generously with coconut oil. Pour in the batter and spread evenly. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out with moist crumbs. As always, do not overbake!!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Baking Seashells (aka Madelines)

This is a winter that doesn't seem to want to end. Normally, that is my definition of a PERFECT winter. But, the collective city whine of "won't it ever end" seems to have gotten to me. Or to be more frank with myself, it's the omg can it just get warm enough to go to the playground because if I have to play one more minute of thomas the tank engine I'm going to pull out my blooming hair! that's gotten to me, and I, too, am wishing for winter's end.

Spring would be so lovely right now. Warm breeze, light jackets, no mittens and little daffodil buds: I eagerly await your arrival.

But for now, I will imitate summer and bake some seashells. These seashells are best on cold afternoons, dipped in milky sweet tea, and savored as only something that is more-butter-than-anything-else can be. Summer is far away friends, and buttery treats await.

These are relatively time-consuming. They require special equipment. And, please, don't even THINK about using salted butter, inferior-quality butter, or old butter. Fresh, fragrant, top-notch, room-temperature, UNsalted butter only please. You'll be doing yourself and your madelines a grand injustice if not. Also, use cake flour, please. Not all-purpose. Now, given all those restrictions, should you still bother to make these? Absolutely. You'll want winter to never leave, just so you can make these every day.

Madelines *

Adapted from The Joy Of Cooking

makes about 20 little cakes

1 1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small pieces, plus more for buttering the molds
3 large eggs, at room temperature**
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

special equipment needed: madeline pan, and sifter

*I almost rechristened the recipe Seashell Cakes, but then they would have lost the association with Proust, and that just won't do
**bring eggs to room temperature quickly by placing them unbroken in a bowl of very warm water

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together over a small bowl placed on a plate. Put sifter on plate and pour flour mixture back into the sifter. Place aside.

Mash and beat the butter in a medium bowl with a wooden mixing spoon (or spatula) until it is the consistency of mayonnaise. If necessary, place the bowl in a larger bowl of hot water to warm the bowl and hasten the softening of the butter. (This is especially necessary if your house is colder than 70 degrees.)

In a large bowl with a hand mixer (or in a standing mixer) beat the eggs, the yolk, the sugar and the vanilla on high until thick and pale yellow in color (about 2 - 5 minutes.) Then sift the flour mixture over the egg mixture bit by bit, folding in and fully incorporating as you go, until all the flour is sifted in. Take your time sifting it in.

Next, fold a dollop of the egg/flour mixture into the butter, combine it, then scrape all the butter mixture into the egg/flour mixture. Fold together until well combined (but don't over stir.) Let rest at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours, before baking.

Before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Using melted butter, brush the madeline molds. Then dollop on the batter into each mold, so it looks about 3/4 full. (This isn't pourable batter so a little guesswork is necessary.) Bake until the cakes are golden on the top and golden brown around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately loosen each cake and unmold on rack to cool. If necessary, wipe the molds clean and let cool, rebutter them, and bake with remaining batter.

If you have any leftovers, make sure you store them in tupperware and eat them within two days.