In Search of Poppy Seed Muffins.

Sometimes I get intense cravings for poppy seeds.  Maybe it's the Eastern European heritage, maybe it's the nutty, oily crunch only they can give a baked good.  Maybe it's because I enjoy them most as a vehicle for almond extract, since the poppy seed seems more than well suited to that bitter almond flavor.  In my flavor showdown between vanilla. lemon, and almond,  almond wins out every single time.

poppy seed bread.

It seems there are a shortage of good muffins in the world.  I think I surprised a muffin-loving friend recently when I admitted that I prefer loaf-pan quick breads to muffins.  Muffins just seem to stale quickly, and with a loaf of bread, I can slice off what I like.  Nevermind that it's tougher to transport a slice of quick bread than a muffin... 

Then there are the muffin tin liners: to use or not to use? 

But every so often, I really want a muffin.  And, I really want a poppy seed muffin.  And then I remember that I've never really found the perfect muffin to satisfy what in my mind a poppy seed muffin should be.  Poppy seed muffins seem to come in either lemon or almond flavors.  Lemon leaves me wanting as much as I like it, and almond muffins never seem to contain the bracing amount of almond extract that I so badly desire.  Most poppy seed muffins are dense and overly oily - probably because most are oil based and contain a LOT of it.  Most are crazy sweet too, containing as much sugar as flour in some instances.   A recent Internet perusal of poppy seed muffins/loaf breads met with the same results I've been accustomed to, but fortunately I was able to turn to a recent cookbook crush to meet my needs.

poppy seed bread.

I think I identify most with cookbook obsessed home cooks.  We are the lot that hears mention of a new book (or are even the ones that scan publisher websites for upcoming releases), get our hands on a copy, and then set to work making what marvels lurk inside.  I have so many titles that seem like living, breathing friends, the authors voices coaching me through the language of their worlds.  I have learned so much from so many titles, and been endlessly inspired. 

Those who are with me also fully understand the "cookbook crush", and I'll bet that a whole genre of my peers can site readily those tomes that grabbed them tenderly (or vigorously) and caused them to think of nothing other than what was on the page and on the plate for days on end.  I go through many of these each year, and increasingly there are just so many great books coming out that I never need to wonder what to make next at my house.

I began reading Cheryl Sternman Rule's Yogurt Culture a few weeks ago, excited from the first page after she opened her story in Eritrea.  Eritrea, a tiny country I couldn't have found on a world map before our in-depth geographical study of Africa last year.  It is a simple and well written book, a heavy thing that feels good in your hands, the pages thick and somewhat glossy (but not so glossy that they encourage fingerprints).  I made her recipe for 9 chocolate cupcakes right away to use up some chocolate frosting from a birthday cake commission.  I wasn't at all surprised that every family member loved them.  After the muffin discussion with my friend, I figured I needed to make poppy seed bread (or muffins) - so I looked to Cheryl's lemon almond version of a loaf cake that looked like it had good bones for poppy seed inclusion...

Lemon AND almond!  I have read poppy seed recipes for years and never have seen the two together.  And despite my almond addition, I did add the zest of 1 lemon and found it to balance everything well.  This was also a butter-based bread, with only 1 cup of sugar in pleasant proportion to the 2 cups of flour (and 1/2 c. almond meal).  I was sold.

poppy seed bread.

Billed as a loaf cake, I actually made it pretty much as written on the first go.  I baked it in small, disposable tins - disposable except I've been washing them out and reusing them since last Christmas when I wanted to give petite pound cakes as gifts.  (Sometimes, I think the best bakeware is the absolute cheapest.  The thin aluminum allows great browning on all sides.)  There was probably a bit too much batter for the 3 pans, and that's when I conceded that a muffin might be in my future.  I altered it a little bit more, decided upon using tin liners, and lined up a couple neighbors to share in the wealth of muffins.

Almond Lemon Poppy Seed Bread (or Muffins) (adapted from Cheryl Sternman Rule)

makes 15-16 standard size muffins, 1 9x5 sized loaf, or 3 3 1/2x6 mini loaves

  • 10 T. room temperature butter (that's 5 oz.)
  • 2 c. AP flour
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. blanched almond meal
  • 3 T. poppy seeds, preferably fresh Dutch Blue ones
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 room temperature eggs.
  • 2 1/2 - 3 t. almond extract, depending on your level of almond love
  • 1 c. plain yogurt (not a thick Greek style)

Preheat the oven to 350, and butter your loaf pan(s) or line muffin tins with liners.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, almond meal, poppy seeds, and lemon zest together until well blended.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (or another bowl with a hand mixer), cream the butter and sugar until lightened and "fluffy", about 5 minutes.  Mix in the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the almond extract.  On low speed, mix in half of the dry ingredients until just blended.  Add the yogurt, also blended until just incorporated, then add the final half of the dry ingredients.  Mix well, but don't overmix - and use a spatula for the final few strokes to be sure there are no dry pockets.  The batter will be somewhat stiff.

Portion into the prepared muffin tins (or loaf pans), filling about 3/4 of the way full.  Bake for 20-25 minutes for muffins, slightly longer for mini-loaves, and 45-55 minutes for a large loaf.  A tester should come out cleanly from the center and the tops should be slightly browned.

Leftovers store well at room temperature for 2 or 3 days if covered tightly with glass.

poppy seed muffin

I'll admit that these taste best after just coming to room temperature; the tops have a slight crust that disappears by the next day.  But the airy yet stable structure of these muffins are just what I have been looking for, and I was able to enough almond extract to satisfy myself and 3 tablespoons of poppy seed are enough to give them a good crunch in every bite.  You could decide to glaze these with confectioner's sugar thinned with lemon juice, or more almond extract (and milk or cream instead of the lemon juice) - but they are just fine as is.  Next time I have the craving for a poppy seed muffin, I'll know just where to turn.

poppy seed muffin

Daring Baker Challenge January 2013: Speculaas Gevulde

Francijn of Koken in de Brouwerij was our January 2013 Daring Bakers’ Hostess and she challenged us to make the traditional Dutch pastry, Gevulde Speculaas from scratch! That includes making our own spice mix, almond paste and dough! 


This month, the Daring Baker challenge was another thing I've never eaten, speculaas.  Indeed, I've never really heard much about it my neck of the woods.  The closest I ever came to any experimentation was when I read this piece by David Leibovitz over 2 years ago.  I imagined what the flavor of that speculoos spread tasted like, and wondered if I'd ever see a jar of it here, or better if I could make some myself.  Then I promptly forgot about it until this month when it rang a bell once again.

Speculaas Gevulde is Dutch, comprised of an almond paste center and a top and bottom layer of spiced shortbread.  There apparently are famous cookies, bearing the traditional shapes of their Dutch (or Belgian) counterparts.  This piqued my interest.  Some of the only non-homemade cookies I remember at my Gram's house were perpetual boxes of "Windmill Cookies".  They were almondy and brittle thin, slightly spiced and excellent when dunked in milk.  In fact, many cookies in my possession went submerged too long and turned into that miraculous cookie sludge in the bottom of my glass, that I happily drank after no doubt negotiating more cookies to replace them.  Perhaps that wasn't far off from the speculoos spread that Leibovitz heralded...

It appears that "speculoos" and "speculaas" refer to the same thing, names bound by a common Latin moniker I'd imagine, and used by citizenry of different countries.  What little online research I did prying into the past of speculaas didn't confirm much in the way of how a brittle spice cookie turned into a semi-soft, layered confection.  The term "gevulde speculaas" is Dutch for filled speculass, which is what this cookie-cake is called.  It really makes no difference to me how it came to evolve, because this little cake was actually very easy to make and incredibly delicious!


Our challenge was actually to make the almond paste middle as well, and since I had stashed some homemade almond paste in the freezer from last September (when I made this wonderful gluten-free upside down cake from the Bojon Gourmet), the cake came together even more quickly.  I used 12 oz. of stored almond paste that I made according to this recipe (except I added extra almond extract - I can never get enough almond!).  I let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and it was a perfect consistency to roll for the center of this dessert.  (I used my strange-sized tart tin, which measures 7 inches across the bottom and 8 across the top.)

Maybe 2 days before actually baking the speculaas, I mixed up the spice mixture and then the dough.  Using my food processor, which seemed to be the easiest and least messy way of cutting a good amount of butter into a floury spice mix, I had speculaas dough in short order.  I think the time in the fridge was good for marrying the spicy flavors as well.

speculaas spices.

One of the most interesting things about this challenge was the combination of spices.  Having never tasted the real thing, I relied on the formula our host provided.  In additions to mandatory inclusions like cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, optional spices like nutmeg (mace, nutmeg's weblike exterior coating, interestingly was also a mandatory spice), coriander, and white pepper.  Francijn suggested the parts of spice, but it was basically individual taste that dictated the final flavor.  I added extra ginger powder, but next time I'd like to increase the "spicy-hot" factor by adding more white pepper, and perhaps by using cassia cinnamon which has a hotter profile than Ceylon cinnamon.

Speculaas Spice Mix
(enough for several batches of gevulde speculaas dough)
  • 2 t. cloves
  • 1 t. mace
  • 1 1/2 t. ginger powder
  • 1 t. cardamom
  • 1/2 t. coriander powder
  • 1/2 t. anise seed, crushed to a powder
  • 1 t. nutmeg
  • 1/2 t. white pepper
After weighing the base spices (about 12 g.), I added the cinnamon.  I started with 8 g., which was a little light.  10 g. bumped it up to perfect.  To see Francijn's suggested measuring system for speculaas spices, click here.


The original recipe did not call for specifically for milk, but only to add some if the dough felt dry.  I poured it through the top of the processor as it was pulsing and stopped as soon as the dough pinched together like a pastry dough should. 

Speculaas Gevulde Dough (Francjin, via The Daring Kitchen)
  • 250 g. (1 3/4 c.) AP flour
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 150 g. (3/4 c. packed) brown sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 T. speculaas spices, see above
  • 175 g. (3/4 c. or 6 oz.) butter, cut into pieces
  • enough whole milk to hold it together, about 2-3 T.
Combine all ingredients except butter and milk in a food processor and pulse several times to combine.  Add the butter, and pulse several times until the mixture resembles "coarse meal".  Add milk as described above if the dough doesn't come together.

Transfer the dough to a plastic bag, form into a disc, and refrigerate at least two hours, and up to several days.  The dough can also be frozen for several months.

Assembling the final Speculaas Gevulde:

When it comes time to assemble your gevulde speculaas, roll out the speculaas dough in two equal pieces exactly the size of your chosen pan.  Use two pieces of cling wrap and roll between them. (It helps to work with the dough cold, as it gets sticky as it warms.) Roll out the almond paste to the same size as well.  Beat an egg for an egg wash, and have some blanched almonds ready for decoration.  (You can easily blanch the almonds and remove the skins yourself:  Bring a small pot of water to a boil.  Add almonds, cover and remove from heat.  Let stand for 1 minute, then drain and the skins will pop right off between your fingers.)

Butter your baking dish (glass pan, tart pan, etc.) well, then fit a layer of speculaas dough into the bottom.  Brush liberally with egg wash, then fit the almond layer over the top.  Brush again liberally with egg wash.  Top with the second piece of speculaas dough.  Brush a final time with egg wash, then decorate with the blanched almonds.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.  The top will be nicely browned, and the cake will feel set and dense.  Cool completely in the pan before removing and slicing.


I had just a small amount of speculaas dough left over and an even smaller amount of almond paste.  This came from trimming to fit a circular tart tin.  I made 9 small balls of the speculaas dough, and 9 tiny almond past balls, fit the two together, then pressed with a glass to an even thickness.  I refrigerated them until the gevulde speculaas was done baking, then popped them into the oven at 350 until they were browned and crisp, about 20 minutes.  They were much crunchier than the layered speculaas, and I liked them a lot!  I probably like the layered cake better, so I wouldn't make the dough especially into cookies, but it's a great use for the leftover trimmings.


 I really enjoyed this cake as it aged.  I stored it in my new obsession: these reusable, beeswax coated, hemp and cotton flats that can be made into envelopes around food.  I can't thank Deena enough for sending me a package of them - I had never heard of them, and I really love them!  The wrapping kept it moist and dense, and I feel like the flavors deepened as the days passed.

I'm so pleased with the way this challenge went.  An elegant, petite spice cake, spiked with almond and nearly endlessly adaptable to your liking?  How could I feel anything but pure love for this dessert?  Thank you to Francjin for a wonderful challenge selection!  Be sure to check out the original recipe, and a short history of the spice trade and the Netherlands role in this confection!

Improvising: Pear Almond Galette

I have a newer friend who doesn't really know how to cook, or bake.  She tries, and when she tells me about her trials I can't help but note to myself that cooking and baking are definitely arts - and the arts come easily to some and not so much so to others.  Not that you can't become a better cook or baker by simply working at it:  this is the point where I think personally I have arrived.  After you do something enough times, you stop worrying if you are doing it right, and you just do.

pear almond galette

When considering that I wanted to have a nice dinner for my family yesterday evening, I didn't really know where to begin.  I didn't even know what I had a taste for.  I had soaked and cooked a half pound of pinto beans and had them ready in the fridge for several days, just waiting for a application, and that seemed like a good place to begin.

I'm not always one to rely on printed recipes anymore, but I do frequently use them as inspiration - and I even will admit that I truly love the Epicurious iPhone app for just this reason.   (Though this isn't really a technology-related post, I'll even go further to say that I would probably be a perfect candidate for the iPad or other tablet device solely for kitchen use.  I do not have one to date.)  Epicurious has made their entire library of recipes available, decades of Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazine pages right there for me to filter.  I typed in "pinto beans" and found what turned out to be the most delicious version of pot beans I've made in a while - Dominican Beans.  It wasn't long until I ran an errand to pick up some fish for tacos and just like that, dinner was served.

Because every nicer dinner at home should also have a dessert, I also searched the app for a suitable starting point that could make use of the bowl of ripe pears I had on the table and the leftover empanada dough I had in the fridge.  I was just a few taps away from one of the best fruit desserts I've made in some time.

pear galette

pear galette

Like my kitchen-challenged friend, there was a time when I would have been uncertain where to start in altering a printed recipe to use what I had on hand.  I believe that the world of food blogs has opened a brave new world of opportunity for home cooks; we now have the empowerment to be creative and alter for alteration's sake - improvising to suit ourselves and to share not only with friends and family, but a growing "audience" of new acquaintances who can hopefully also learn and alter along with us. 

This improvised pear almond galette actually started long ago.  Back before I had ever made a single tart, I had picked up a tart pan at a discount store.  It is an odd size, 7 inches across the bottom and 8 when measured across the top.  Now I thought most tart tins had straight sides, but that could be why I found the pan in the first place, neglected in part because of a non-conformist nature.  My Daring Baker Challenge emplanada dough last week left a lot of scraps to be re-rolled... and I did re-roll it and then store it in a plastic bag on a plate so it would remain round and flat.  Days passed.  Pears ripened.  Lemons were gone and oranges and limes were all that remained in the crisper drawer.  And finally my galette was formed with the help of all of these happenstance things. 

My Husband loved it, which is also definitely something to record!

Galettes are technically free-form pies, some of which are nearly covered completely in flaky crust.  I used my tart tin to keep everything initially contained, and then removed the form halfway through the baking time so that it would brown uniformly.  The original recipe link has a pastry crust recipe that include a little extra dose of almond extract, if you use your favorite pastry, do as I did and increase the almond extract in the cream layer.

Improvised Pear Almond Galette (adapted from Self)
  • pastry crust, to fill a 7-8 inch tart tin
  • 2 pears, 3 if you have a larger pan
  • zest of half an orange
  • cinnamon sugar to liberally dust the top
  • a few cold pea-sized bits of salted butter
For the "cream" layer:
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 T. powdered sugar
  • 3 T. ground almonds (I ground them in my coffee grinder)
  • 2 t. melted butter
  • heaping 1/2 t. almond extract
  • pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 400.  Line the tart tin with pastry crust that is rolled to about 1/8 inch thick.

Make the cream layer by whipping the egg white with the powdered sugar until good and frothy (and slightly thickened).  Add the ground almonds, melted butter, almond extract and salt and continue to beat until well combined.  Place in the fridge when you slice the pears.  (I did use a hand mixer for this.)

Peel, core, and slice the pears into 16ths (cut each quarter pear into 4 slices).  Place carefully in a large bowl, and grate the orange zest over.  Mix carefully with your hands so the slices remain whole.  

Take the cream out of the fridge and pour it into the center of the pastry.  (I shook a layer of cinnamon-sugar over the pastry crust first, since my crust was not sweetened at all.)  Beginning in the center, arrange the pears in a concentric way.  Two pears fit my pan exactly, with two slices leftover for me to eat.  Shake cinnamon-sugar heavily over the top, and carefully fold the edges of the dough down gently over the edges of the pears.  

Place the tart pan on a sheet pan and bake for about 20 minutes - until the center is somewhat set and the pastry edges have some color.  Remove the sheet pan from the oven, and carefully remove the tart pan side from the galette.  (I had both hands in  oven mitts, and balanced the bottom of the tart pan on one hand when removing.)  Return the panless galette to the oven, and bake until the center isn't wobbly at all, and everything is nice and brown, about 10-15 minutes longer.  (Your times may differ with your choice of pastry crust.  Just keep an eye on it.)

Turn off the oven, but turn on the broiler to high.  Dot the top of the galette with a few bits of butter and another shake of cinnamon-sugar for good measure.  Place under the broiler for a minute or two until the top is bubbly and deeply caramel colored.  Cool the galette on a wire rack completely before slicing.


I stored the leftovers in the refrigerator due to the eggy bottom layer, and it was as good cold the next day as it was the day of at room temperature.  The pears keep their firm "pear-ness", and orange and almond are always happy company.  Even though I may have liked my crust with a bit of sweetness, I really liked the crunchy, plain pastry flavor of the one I used - and I had the bonus pleasure of using up something already on hand.

pear almond galette

It is possible that all recipes are merely suggestions.  When I read through Michael Ruhlman's Twenty earlier this Summer, I recall him stressing heavily that to cook well, first think.  Whether using a recipe or an idea of a recipe, thinking through your process before beginning is a probably the best way to start.  Surprise and stress is greatly reduce when your brain is the first thing you consult in the kitchen... and no matter how experienced you are in those arts, it is always a good reminder.

I used to think that anyone can cook.  I still do actually think this, but I've also come to realize that it is just as important to recognize that there are people who just love to eat and who simply really appreciate eating great food.  I am never happier than when I find new friends of this nature, those with whom the pleasures of sitting around nibbling on somethings are the greatest joys.  Being at home in the kitchen or not is no longer the issue, but the acknowledgment of good taste is.

Christmas Baking

Every year, I feel as if the last parts of December hurtle by at the speed of light. Each month brings it's own enjoyments, but December is a tricky one. He enters quietly, on the heels of the Thanksgiving feast, and the days quietly tick by until Christmas Eve.

Benevolent Christmas Day enters, that singular day when it seems the whole of the world is silent and reverent. Stores are closed, streets are empty. Families gather and some lonely souls feel lonelier than any other day of the year. Then, all too soon, collective breaths are released as the 26th dawns and the same harried consumers who wait all year for Black Friday are at it again: on line at countless stores stocking up on merchandise hideously discounted. The world returns to it's day-to-day life and I wish the time would slow down, that my Christmas present could somehow miraculously meet all of my Christmas pasts and that my memory was as clear as I will it to be.

The week between Christmas and New Years seems like a spare month, unrelated in all ways to December. In the past, when I held conventional jobs, I always took Christmas week off. The seven days separating holiest day of the year from the last day of the year hovers weightless and without expectation. There is not really much that needs to be done. The house is a mess, I enjoy the last week of my lighted Christmas tree, I inventory how many cookies are still left to be consumed.

Vowing a platform of homemade or consumable gifts for this year, I have 13 or 14 varieties of sweets as of the 22nd of December, 2010. With each batch that left the oven, I thought of the people that would most like each varietal. A single batch never seems like that much work, or that many cookies and then suddenly, I view the stores in the basement hiding spots and it's overwhelming how much sugar I have pack-ratted away.

mint chocolate crackles.

I never follow the good advice of making the same tried and true cookies that I've made for years. There are a few that are old friends of course, but my Christmas season of baking is generally made up of new recruits, cookies that have piqued my interest from other blogs, my kitchen library, or from rented cookbooks.

One such rented cookbook was Crazy About Cookies by Krystina Castella . I had actually bookmarked three varietals to try out this year, but only got to two of them. The first was a delicious cross between date bars and fig "newton" type bars. I have had these on the brain since Julia posted a picture of Linda Ziedrich's version! Krystina uses both dates and figs, reduced in pineapple juice. Being a proud VitaMix owner, I made fresh pineapple juice with ice and whole pineapple - core and all. I think it made the the filling pleasantly tropical. I have to make these again using some whole wheat flour.

Krystina's book also had a recipe for marzipan, which I have never made at home. I used almond meal that was not made from blanched almonds, so it was more "rustic" in appearance than I was prepared for. There is also a raw egg in the dough, so with these two "undesirables", I quickly searched for a way to make a baked marzipan cookie. Fortunately, I came upon this recipe from Chef Jeena. I was excited to try these little cloaked cookies, and I was not disappointed. They were surprisingly light, perfect with coffee or tea, and intriguing due to their shape. They will go on the save list.

Because I used two sources, you may have a little more marzipan than cookie batter. Marzipan freezes well, and can be added to all kinds of baked goods. I want to try dropping some in to the center of a muffin...

Marzipan Cookies (adapted from Krystina Castella and Chef Jeena)

For the marzipan:
  • 2 1/4 c. almond meal (finely ground almonds) - use blanched almonds for the whitest result
  • 1 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 c. superfine sugar
  • 1 t. lemon juice (pretty sure I used a tablespoon by accident...)
  • 1/2 t. or more almond extract (I can never have too much almond extract)
  • 1 egg, beaten
Combine almond meal and powdered and superfine sugars together in a bowl and mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix until a dough forms. Taste to see if you added enough almond extract. Using about a tablespoon of dough, roll dough into balls.

For the Cookie Batter Topping:
  • 1/2 c. butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 2 T. milk
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 c. ap flour
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 t. "mixed sweet spice", I used combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves
Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add milk, vanilla, and whole egg and blend until well combined.

Sift flour together with baking soda, baking powder, salt and sweet spice. Add to butter mixture and mix briefly to combine.

Beat egg whites until frothy, but not forming peaks. Add into batter, mixing until well combined. (Try and be gentle, and not over beat.) Add a little additional milk if batter seems too dry. It will be sticky and rather thick.

To make the cookies, top a marzipan ball with a little "hat" of batter. It may take a few tries to get your method down, but I smashed the balls down slightly so there was a flat base that wouldn't topple over the weight of the "hats" (see photos). Leave plenty of space for expansion between cookies. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the tops are lightly browned.

Chef Jeena recommended topping with powdered sugar or a drizzle of icing, but I liked them as is.

I also finally made some peanut butter cups. I have wanted to make these forever and never have. When I saw the pictures from Chicho's Kitchen this fall, I made it a point to bring an end to the procrastination. I didn't officially temper the chocolate, which may have been a mistake, but they are still tasty. I did temper the chocolate to dip some candied orange peel (leftover from my secret Daring Baker's Challenge, but more on that after Christmas...), and what a difference it made. I followed the instructions from the King Arthur's catalog that just happened to print it in their latest issue.

Glossy, gorgeous, tempered chocolate!

I now have one last batch of cookies to bake, the Kringle Cookies that won the Journal Sentinel's cookie contest. The sour cream and butter dough is resting now in the refrigerator, and later, I'll cut them and fill them with jam prior to baking. I'm thinking to use some of the last of my tart cherry jam and maybe some strawberry that is ample on the basement shelves.

As I approach the end of my baking, I realize that Christmas still holds every fascination for me that it did growing up. Every year, making cookies, I think of my Mom making hundreds of sugar cookies to give away. After they were baked and cooled, the whole family would stand around in the kitchen decorating them. Mom would spread the icing, and the rest of us would decorate with sanding sugars and red hots, silver dragees that would nearly break your teeth (you aren't actually supposed to eat them!). My brother's favorite cookies were church windows, made with colorful mini-marshmallows and coated in chocolate and coconut. Though none of us have made them in years, I can still taste them when I think about it - and that is all part of the magic of Christmas. The good and the not so good of all the years past come flooding in at Christmastime, and remind me in particular of the most important things given to me in life.

Giving cookies seems appropriate to me because of that. Something sweet and given with no strings attached: I hope my recipients gain just a touch of the joy that I've had making, baking and giving. It seems such a small gesture compared to what I've been given.

Merry Christmas!!!

Vegan Monday: Almond Almond Granola

This Monday's post isn't flashy and sophisticated, but I accomplished my goal: to use up the almond pulp that is leftover from making almond milk. I have been making and drinking more almond milk since I discovered how easy it is, and it is a versatile and tasty milk alternative, that I find addicting. The only thing bothering me is the leftover almonds, finely ground, which just seem too viable to me to toss away.

I have been thinking that my homemade by-product would work well in granola, and have been waiting until I needed to actually make more to give it a try. In the name of experimentation, this is sometimes hard for me to do, and then I find myself with too much to eat up. It seems like it's been a while, but I finally ran out, and am happy to announce that I found a good and serviceable way to use up almond pulp (you could substitute almond meal, or ground almonds, if you wish), and a way to maybe somewhat satiate my complete addiction to almond extract flavoring.

This recipe could easily be transformed to Raw Vegan Muesli. Instead of baking the ingredients, just combine the ingredients raw (without the oil and maple syrup) and soak them overnight in almond milk before eating. Then I guess it would have to be called Almond Almond Almond Muesli, because of the triple almond punch of extract, milk and pulp. I would probably recommend storing it in the fridge if you make the muesli out of almond pulp, since it has a higher moisture content. Either way you try it, if you are an almond fiend, this is a nice almondy way to get your fix!

Vegan Almond Almond Granola
  • 3 c. rolled oats
  • 1/2 c. dried, unsweetened coconut
  • 3/4 c. almond pulp (or almond meal)
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • 1 t. (or more) almond extract
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Lightly beat oil, maple syrup and almond extract in the measuring cup to combine, then add to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Spread onto a parchment lined baking sheet, and bake at 300 degrees for 40-50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until it is as brown as you like it. I think mine took longer than usual, since I used the leftover almond pulp, and it isn't as dry as an almond meal would be.

Feel free to add additional nuts or seeds prior to baking, or chopped dried fruit(s) after to change the flavors up a bit. It isn't the most complicated granola, and is better served as a cereal instead of eating out of hand, but I love it's soft and gentle flavor. So many granolas I experiment with are full of fruits and crunchy nuts, which I love, but this one is kind of the polar opposite. I like something a little basic for breakfast once in a while, and this is the perfect, basic, nutritious breakfast in my book, since it has no refined sweetener, a good amount of protein, and is full of my favorite almond flavor.

Happy Vegan Monday to you, and hopefully you will find this an easy granola (or muesli) to slip into your breakfasting!