David Lebovitz

Apple Hazelnut Blueberry Muffins. And, organization.

2015 is off to a good start.  Late last year, I read Marie Kondo's bestselling book on organization after David Lebovitz mentioned it online.  It's the kind of book that repeats itself for emphasis, but I didn't mind it.  I took away a lot of good advice, and have taken to paring down tons of worldly possessions that aren't doing me any good and might do someone else better.

Harder than getting rid of paper and toy clutter is getting rid of clothes.  I HATE shopping for clothes, and really it's not a stretch to say I can't recall the last time I shopped for clothes (not counting the desperation trips to the super thrift right down the street), so I tend to packrat them even if I don't figure I'll ever wear them again.  Inspired, I did get rid of some clothes but, it's harder still for me to part with t-shirts.  Some upwards of 20 years old, t-shirts are my fashion life.  At least most of them are now filed in an orderly fashion in my drawers, folded just one more time in half than my previous t-shirt fold has saved me tons of space in my dresser - I have room in my dresser that I never knew existed.  Thank you David Lebovitz.  Your power of suggestion has saved my (organizational) life.

In addition to well organized sock and t-shirt drawers, I took another organized cue and started my new year with a solemn vow to make sure my kitchen  is completely tidied up before going to bed.  The kitchen is my domain; I spend almost my whole day in it, or the attached dining room where my son is doing his schooling work.  It's a pleasant, south-facing space that has good light and is generally fairly clean.  But I am of the ilk that does not dry her dishes but rather waits for them to dry.  I do other things when they dry, but I do not take out a towel and dry them.  I'm stubborn that way.  I realized that having to empty the dish rack in the morning and then tidy the rest of the kitchen/dining area was causing me stress before our school day even began.  

After a week of spotlessness before bed, I can attest that I feel better coming into my space in the morning.  It makes for more peaceful breakfasts, and helps the day get off to a good start.  It just makes me happy in general not to be thinking about how I should scrub out the sink as my kid is trying to do his math.  (I also let the breakfast dishes dry in the rack, but before starting on lunch, I start with a clean space again.  I find I'm doing less dishes this way too - just 3 times a day instead of what seemed like endlessly.)

Other things making me happy in general are muffins.  Muffins are not usually something I get overly excited about - they are utilitarian and something I usually make out of necessity (even though that never stops me from trying to find really good ones).  Ordinarily I'd rather make tea cakes or quick breads, anything in a loaf pan really and I'm not sure why.  Muffins have a good place in a kitchen with kids, that's for sure.  And having a supply of them for the inevitable snack request is just good thinking as a parent I guess.

I've been enjoying the recipes in Whole Grain Mornings (Megan Gordon) for weeks now.  It's a great book of breakfasty inspiration, which I kind of need in the box-cereal free environment that I've created for ourselves.  We eat plenty of oatmeal and other porridge, but I don't break out of my smoothie mold easily, and I've that one particular son that is so picky.  The book is arranged by season, and the winter season is where I began, making Morning Glory Oatmeal (steel cut oats, carrot, raisins, coconut, why didn't I think of that??) and Pear Hazelnut Oat Muffins.  Those muffins!  I first made them in my clean kitchen before bed, getting the ingredients measured (the whole book has metric weights!  YES!) for quick morning assembly.  I got 15 muffins instead of 12, and we ate them by the multiples.  When warm, like a portable bowl of comforting oatmeal and when cool like moist slices of cake.  Like any quick-bready recipe, I cut the sugar in half and didn't miss it at all.  And then I started playing around with the flavors.  I'm fairly certain anything you add to these muffins will be a good idea.

apple blueberry hazelnut muffins.

I actually only topped some of my muffins with nuts instead of baking them inside as Megan suggests.  The baby likes nuts and isn't allergic, but I'm not too fussy with chopping so I then have to pick through the whole muffin as he eats it.  My older boy doesn't care for hazelnuts (I know, right?  More for me.) so I put them only on the top of some of them as a solution for us all.  I like how they get all naturally toasted, and it's like staking a claim to as many muffins as I like.  Or as many muffin tops as I like.

Megan reduces the oven heat immediately after adding the muffins to the oven.  I didn't do this, and in several batches the muffins were all fine.  You may choose to lower to 375 after the muffins hit the oven if you want.

Apple Hazelnut Blueberry Muffins (adapted from Megan Gordon)
makes about 15 muffins
  • 75 g. (3/4 c.) rolled oats
  • 120 g. (1 c.) AP flour (I used wheatier Lonesome Stone AP, which is like a white whole wheat)
  • 60 g. (1/2 c.) whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 t. baking soda
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. cardamom
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 t. kosher salt
  • 215 g. (1 c.) peeled and shredded apple - 1-2 apples (do the shredding just before assembling to prevent browning)
  • 62 g. (1/3 c.) granulated sugar
  • 85 g. (6 T.) unsalted butter
  • 240 ml. (1 c.) yogurt/milk mixture (she calls for buttermilk, I make the milk about the thickness of buttermilk)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. blueberries fresh or frozen (add frozen still frozen and not defrosted)
  • hazelnuts enough to top muffins, about 2 T. chopped nuts per muffin
 Preheat the oven to 425, line muffin tin with liners or butter them well if you prefer.

In a small bowl, combine oats, flours, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.  Mix well to combine. 

Melt the butter over low heat, and shred the apple.  Put the sugar in a large bowl that will become your mixing bowl.  Add the butter, and stir well to combine and start to dissolve the sugar.  Then, whisk in the yogurt/milk (or buttermilk), eggs, vanilla, and shredded apple.  Add the dry ingredients and fold/stir it in gently.  Finally fold in the blueberries.

Fill the muffin tins almost to the top.  Top with coarsely chopped nuts if desired, and bake 22-25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool the muffins in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.  The texture of the muffin changes as it cools - it sets up more as it gets cooler.  I've had good luck keeping them in an airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days.


In a way, this recipe reminds me of Dorie Greenspan's Breakfast Bread, which includes applesauce and oats (and I also make it with half the sugar, and just a nut topping).  She calls the bread "almost puddinglike" inside and these muffins, at least while warm, would remind you of that description.  I would expect you could use fruit sauces instead of the shredded fruit, especially if baking by weight.  I'll probably try using applesauce or pearsauce or maybe even pureed mango or something.  I do know for certain that I'm not done with these muffins.

Can a muffin make you more organized?  I like to think so.  Having that little, generally nutritious something to pop in a hungry mouth on a whim is pretty nice.  I might make a point of more muffins, and maybe even stashing some in the freezer.  I got away from muffin freezing because I tended not to grab them and then months would pass and I'd discard my labors.  But with muffins this good, there's no need to freeze.  For breakfast, snack, or even as a dessert, they have helped my year get off the ground in a very nice way.  A nicely, organized way!

My Love-Hate Relationship with Technology (and Low-Tech Ricotta Cheesecake).

I spent nearly all of the past week technology free. Since my little Boy-O was on Spring break, we left early Saturday morning for the Farm with a car packed with cultures, various foodstuffs, my Husband, and my electronic scale. I love every occasion I can spend with my Parents, especially in the country at the place that is most deeply home to me.

I was born in the Great Northwoods of Wisconsin, and I daresay it took a long time for me to feel like I could be from somewhere else. Moving to southwestern Wisconsin when I was in 5th grade was probably the reason that I felt such devotion to the place of piney wilderness, a ruralness of sandy loam and lots of lakes. Living that nearby to the mighty Mississippi was of no real appeal to me until years later a friend of mine decided to build a raft from 50 gallon drums and drift southbound. In 6th grade when we settled out of the city, the bucolic hills surrounding my Parents 10 acre farm didn't really begin to sink in until I became a horse owner around age 15, those hills of the driftless region becoming part of my blood as I ran my quarter horse, King, scaring my liver half out of my body. The farm-lined hills slowly, patiently, wormed their way into my heart, never caring that it took decades for me to fully appreciate them. Now when I drive the back roads they feel good, I don't know their proper names, but I remember them and they remember me.

Now when I think of home, the pine trees and fern lined forts of my birthplace are a thing of distant memory and the rolling hills of the Farm are firmly embedded in my body. My first breaths outside of the car instantly calm my city-worn nerves... and I wonder if my city born and bred Husband could ever change that much for me - that I might be able to live there once again...

It's no secret that I can't travel lightly. My car travels with not only human life, but with sourdough and yogurt culture that can't be left unattended for a week (or maybe it could, but I just choose to Mother it a bit more than I should). Filling up the extra back seat spaces were a gallon of cranberry flavored kombucha for my Mom and a from scratch Italian-style ricotta cheesecake I knew my Dad would love, that cheesecake proving to me after Easter Sunday dinner that it could very well be my new favorite dessert.

It seems every time I read a new cookbook, the desire to see what the author is all about overwhelms me. David Lebovitz's book Ready for Dessert was a recent read, and it seems that I am infinitely inspired by it. Like Dorie's Baking Book (probably still my favorite comprehensive baking book), everything I've made so far seems to turn out no matter what tweaking I do - the marks of very good recipes in my opinion. I scaled down a ricotta cheesecake that David pared with a truly lovely rhubarb sauce: a sauce that was light as Spring and as softly sweet, a hint of Cointreau's alcoholic orange that I added last second. I'm making more sauce this week with some frozen rhubarb I should use up before the new season brings a bumper crop. It was also great on yogurt, and the pearly pink liquid that I drained from it so it could be thicker was perfect for swigging as is.

When I decided to make the cheesecake, I figured why not go all out and make the ricotta, too. I haven't made it in a very long time, and never have made it with my favorite cream-line whole milk from Crystal Ball Farms. A gallon of milk yielded me a scant pound and a half of gorgeous curds, that set up surprisingly overnight in the fridge. The next day, I mixed my cake David Lebovitz style, barely sweetened and luxuriously nestled, into a vintage 8 inch springform pan that my Mother-in-Law gave me.

To make the ricotta, I followed the instructions in Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll. Simply mix a gallon of whole milk with 1 teaspoon of citric acid in a large, non-reactive pot, and heat milk until 185-195 degrees (Fahrenheit), stirring often to prevent scorching. When the curds and whey begin to separate, turn off the heat, and allow to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. Drain the curds in a piece of fine cheesecloth, butter muslin, or like me in unbleached muslin from the fabric store. (Reserve that whey for bread making and other mischief.) Drain for 20-30 minutes, until desired consistency. Transfer the cheese to a storage vessel and into the fridge, where it will keep for 1-2 weeks.

Forgive me the way that I post this recipe in both metric and conventional measure. Since I used roughly 3/4 of the original recipe, it was easier to figure the sugar and cream in metrics. I like this site for conversions, if you need to approximate.

Italian-Style Ricotta Cheesecake (adapted for size from David Lebovitz)
  • 1 recipe whole milk ricotta, about 1 1/2 pounds (see paragraph above)
  • 97 g. sugar
  • 80 ml. heavy cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 t. vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt if desired, and you know it is desirable
  • 2-3 t. grated orange peel
  • 3/4 T. flour
Preheat oven to 350.

Butter an 8 inch springform pan well, and sprinkle with cookie crumbs or graham cracker crumbs, or just leave it plain. I used a couple of crushed Maria cookies.

In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, blend the ricotta with the sugar until creamy. Add the heavy cream, the eggs one at a time (beating a minute after each addition), the vanilla, the salt and finally the orange peel and bit of flour.

Spread the batter evenly into the springform pan, and bake for about an hour, slightly less, until the center barely jiggles when tapped. I baked mine slightly too long, but it was still delicious.

Cool completely before unmolding, and run a thin knife around the edge of the springform pan before trying to release.

Baked just a little too long, it rose and fell. You'd never know from the texture, however...

I baked this specimen on Friday late afternoon, and it was just fine when served on Sunday afternoon. It remained fine for leftover dessert cravings later in the week. My Mom thought it could use a bit more sweetener, but she confesses to having the Mendez sweet tooth. My Dad and I thought it was perfect. We served it with my rhubarb sauce and some sliced and sugared frozen strawberries from my Mom's freezer.

When I was in about the 10th grade, my Parents decided to disconnect the television antenna. Rurally, that meant that I could no longer get my weekly fix of Northern Exposure and my nightly fix of David Letterman. I didn't realize at the time what an amazing service they did me: causing me to use my imagination and to flex my reading muscles instead of depending on television's hollow appeal. It was actually years after I lived on my own until I started re-introducing t.v. back into my life, and even still I don't watch a whole lot. That's why I make ricotta cheese around 9 o'clock on a Thursday night I suppose. If you ask me, it's far better use of my time. The farm still has no antenna and no computer or Internet, my cell phone operates on the "E" instead of 3G, making any web-browsing painfully slow and patience testing. After the last week spent with very little technology, I realize again that it has no mastery over me - I like it fine, but I can very easily live without it.

I had a great week, technology-free. I chatted for hours with my best friend, my Mom. I met up with my old boss the Goddess of Pie, and was inspired by seeing so many great handmade pieces of art. (Especially when I was reacquainted with Susan Johnson. I actually told her that I wanted to be her when I was younger, and that I still do. I'm pretty sure she thought I was crazy. She is an amazing weaver, yes, we have weavers where I am from...) I talked so much in an afternoon I felt like I'd lost my voice. I went to bed early, and got up at the crack of dawn. We flew kites as a family on the windy Saturday afternoon in the field, and I freaked out when two hours later I found a deer tick crawling on my arm. I took tons of iPhone pictures that I didn't even bother uploading yet to see how they looked on the "big" screen of my netbook. Best of all, I spent Easter thinking about what Easter truly means, while sitting around the afternoon table with my family. All of it, proof that I haven't lost all of the country in me, that in a moment, I could leave all the technology behind and survive quite well.