Slashing Sweet. (No-Sugar Coconut Granola)

Do you dream of sweets?  Do you go through your days thinking about desserts, when you can make them and how often you should eat them?  Do you read entirely too much information on how sugar reacts to your body, your child's body, the bodies of laboratory animals?  Do you wonder if you are truly addicted to sugar and if you really could cut it out of your diet completely for 30, 60, 90 days, or maybe even a whole year?

That's me.  I don't want to think that I have a sugar problem, I don't want to think that I shouldn't maybe eat sugar each and every day but sometimes I wonder if all the sugar reduction hype holds some water.  The latest book I read on the subject, I Quit Sugar, tells me that as an adult woman, I should eat no more than 6 teaspoons a day - and that the sugar involved is not just refined sugar but the sugar present in fruit as well.  It was nothing I haven't read before, in many different places and formats, but the simplicity of the information did make me consciously want to reduce my sweet tooth again.  It's hard for someone who dreams of sweets.  I wish I were one of those people who don't have a sweet tooth.  I don't know about those people; I just can't understand them.

My natural approach to life, gifted to me no doubt by my beyond wonderful parents, is one of moderation.  Eat some cake, just eat one you made yourself and don't eat the whole cake.  And don't eat the whole cake you made yourself every day.  But even in my moderation sometimes I feel like I just can't get sugar out of my head, like it truly is an addiction.  During those times, I like to reduce even more than usual.  I like to see if I can go a whole day or two without any sweet stuff at all.  Maybe even longer.

That happened recently and I switched to green smoothies and cut out desserts completely.  If I felt deprived (and I did) I grabbed a soup spoon and set out for the jar of coconut manna.  Seriously.  It helps.  And I also made a variation of a granola recipe in the I Quit Sugar book, which is a surprisingly great granola all by itself, sugar reduction or not. 

no sugar granola

The story of the coconut granola actually goes back a month or so ago when my neighbor asked if I had tried Dang Coconut chips.  I hadn't.  I actually didn't want to tell her that it's not in my budget at all to buy prepared or packaged snacks.  But the same day we talked I did go out and buy a bag because she said they were awesome, and she also said that it was something we should be able to make.  She was right: they were awesome (though, truthfully I thought they were almost too sweet), and I did think that for sure it was something I could produce from my home kitchen.  I didn't put the thick cut coconut chips on my bulk grocery list until I read about this granola however - the flavor profile fittingly similar to Dang's being salty, sweet, crunchy.  I think it's a win.

Sarah Wilson makes this granola without the oats, but I'm not about to go grain free when cutting out sugar... and besides I have a hard time thinking about a granola without rolled oats.  It almost makes me sad.

Coconut Granola (adapted from Sarah Wilson)

makes about 7 cups

  • 3 c. thick cut coconut flakes
  • 2 c. cashews
  • 2 c. rolled oats
  • 2 T. chia seeds
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1 t. ground ginger
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 c. brown rice syrup

Preheat oven to 325.  Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to coat.  Spread evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet and place in the center of the oven.  Start checking at 20 minutes for doneness: you want the granola to be deep golden but not burnt.  Stir a few times as you see fit.  It will seem very wet and you'll wonder how it will ever be crispy but it will.  After it's golden brown, remove from the oven.  Use a spatula to scrape it into a mound and let it cool completely.  Then store it in glass jars in the freezer, where it will stay extra crisp until you eat it.

chia seed

There is should always be a voice of reason when reading diet related information.  We all know sugar isn't the best for us, but is it really that bad?  Do I really feel that much better when I'm not eating gobs of it?  I do, I'll admit.  I enjoyed the posts that Local Kitchen did on sugar last year, and it made me feel confident that a moderate approach to the topic is all that I really want for myself.  And maybe when I start  getting that sugar-junkie feeling creep up on me, then I dial back and choose non-sweet alternatives, crunchy, barely-sweet alternatives like this granola for a few weeks and then I feel much better.  And then I can go back to dreaming about desserts.


Daring Bakers August 2013: Indian Desserts.

Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen was our August 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to make some amazing regional Indian desserts. The Mawa Cake, the Bolinhas de Coco cookies and the Masala cookies – beautifully spiced and delicious!

Bolinhas de Coco
Bolinhas de Coco

Where I found the time to do the Daring Baker Challenge this month, I'm not sure.  It could be that when I decided to check out what it was last week, I saw a vaguely Portuguese name for a coconut cookie... and of course I was sold. The sweets we were challenged to make were actually Indian in nature, and in the interest of time (and a bit of sleep deprivation on my part) I'll leave you to read what our host had to say about the history of the Bolinhas de Coco cookie.

As for my notes on the matter:  these cookies were really just okay for me.  I like cardamom, which were the main flavor component (other than the coconut), but these felt a little lacking.  They were at their tastiest just out of the oven; storing them even one day caused them to lose their macaroon-like crispy exterior/soft interior.  I thought the method of making them was unique and might be worth exploring more... but to tell the truth, I'm probably not going to get to that for a while!

Bolinhas de Coco

Read more about the challenge this month, get the recipes, and check out the blogroll for other participating bakers.  Maybe next month, I'll have a bit more time to dedicate to the Daring Baker Challenge.

Bolinhas de Coco

(Magic) Bars. And Paleo Diet.

My state is known as the drunkest state.  It's a fact that I'm not so proud of, and certainly one that bears no bragging rights in my opinion.   My city is founded on capitalizing breweries and brewers, Eastern European immigrants taking advantage of our excellent water resources and creating an environment where it's pretty easy to find a good beer, if not a few too many good beers.

Perhaps working in tandem with the drunkest state moniker are the  numerous corner bars dotting the city.  They give us the feeling of a being larger city than we are, and if you are not participating in the binge culture, there is also a sense of civic pride in our hand-craftiness.  Good things are indeed made in Wisconsin.

Not the least of which are bars of another sort, the cookie type hastily pressed into pans to avoid the more time consuming labors of shoveling drop cookies into and out of the oven every 12-15 minutes.  I assume it's a trend passed down by the same ingenious Midwestern predecessors, that at every church potluck and every summer picnic someone brings a pan of bars.  I think I took this for granted (or maybe didn't even acknowledge it) until a dear out-of-town friend visited years ago with her boyfriend at the time.  He had never been to the Midwest, and it was he who first mentioned the connection about bars and the Midwest to me.  And, wouldn't you know, my mother-in-law came over that very afternoon with a delicious pan of "Hello Dollys", a classic bar cookie for me to serve to my company...  I remember he was thrilled.

Paleo magic bars.

In my own kitchen, where I can't really spend too much time, cookie baking usually rules outright.  But cookies also run the risk of being too easily snatched and hastily eaten by yours truly.  They also have a lot of sugar, usually both white and brown to tame the tenderness issues often plaguing them.  I'm still dutifully trying not to give in to sugary temptations, and this results in not baking so many cookies anymore.  And then there is the business of all that grain...

I am endlessly interested in health as it pertains to staying out of the mainstream medical system.  That is probably the most driving force in my personal sugar reduction:  I know that nothing good can come from sugar.  Lately I see an increasing interest in the Paleo diet, or other similar diets that preach the exclusion of glutenous grains, adopting a more primal way of eating.  In general, I'm never going to subscribe heart and soul to a diet that leaves me devoid of all carbohydrates, especially when I am a baker at heart.  But more and more I can really see the appeal and benefit of these diets to mainstream America.  It's good to spread the gospel of heavy helpings of fruits and vegetables, and it's good to demonize the processed food industry.

So many people are so much busier than I am, and have far less time to soak, sprout, and obsess over what kinds of grain should be eaten.  In these cases, perhaps it is better just to cut grain out altogether?  Most people can benefit from eating more vegetables, and even more quality (well raised and sourced) meats too.  After all, paleo diets really are just whole food diets that focus on raw materials and not packaged cheats - and that is what is most important.  I'll support that type of diet!

Aside from health issues, I find it a great challenge to bake healthy, low or no-sugar desserts that satisfy both my need to bake and my desire for sweets.  I'm finding that desserts labeled "Paleo" fit that bill nicely.  One of my best recent finds has been a Facebook link called Just Eat Real Food.  It is exactly what it purports to be, real food links from across the Internet where it seems I'm spending less and less time.  It's nice to have a resource of links like that, one where I found this recipe for Paleo Magic Bars the other day.  Last night after supper I mixed them up and baked them, and I could barely get the kiddo out the door to school fast enough this morning to finish them up.  Our stormy morning was good for cracking a few more of the in-the-shell pecans my neighbor gave me anyway.

Paleo magic bars

For the date or date/fig paste called for in this recipe, I used leftover from the raw/vegan fig bars I made recently.  To make it, soak dates (and/or figs) in boiling hot water for about a half hour, then run them through a food mill or food pro with a bit of the soaking water until they have a jammy consistency.  I would think a half cup of dried fruit would give you more than enough paste for this recipe.  Also, make sure that your honey is "runny" and not crystallized and you will have an easier time of things.

Paleo Magic Bars (barely adapted from the Healthy Foodie)
makes 1 9x9 inch pan

bottom layer:
  • 1/3 cup date (or date/fig) paste(see note above)
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 T. raw honey
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 2 T. coconut flour
  • heaping 1/4 c. cocoa powder
  • 1/4 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 t. cream of tartar
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • handful (50 g. as the Healthy Foodie suggested) sprouted almonds, medium chopped
top layer:
  • 1 1/2 c. unsweetened, shredded coconut
  • 2 T. melted coconut oil
  • 2 T. softened coconut "manna" or butter (like this, or make your own)
  • 1 T. raw honey
  •  2 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks in a medium sized bowl
chocolate drizzle:
  • 1 T. melted coconut oil
  • 1 heaping T. cocoa powder
  • 1 T. raw honey
  • handful of toasted and chopped pecans for garnish
Preheat the oven to 365.  Brush a 9x9 glass pan with coconut oil, and line with crisscrossing sheets of parchment paper.  (This aids in removing from the pan later.)

In a food pro, combine the date paste, avocado, 3 eggs, honey, and vanilla.  Process until very well blended, about 30-60 seconds.  In a small bowl, mix coconut flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt with a fork until well blended.  Add to the contents of the food pro, and pulse just until combined, about 5 good pulses.  Spread the bottom layer into the prepared pan, taking care to smooth into the corners.

Rinse the food pro container out well, and add the coconut, coconut oil, coconut manna, and honey and process until well blended, about 1 minute.  Add this mixture to the soft peaked egg whites, and fold in gently until well combined.  Spread this mixture carefully in an even layer over the chocolate layer.

Bake in the preheated oven for 22-25 minutes until lightly browned across the top.  Cool on a rack for an hour (until room temperature) then refrigerate overnight or until well chilled (about 6 hours).

When chilled, make the chocolate drizzle by combining the coconut oil, cocoa powder and honey in a small bowl.  Add a little extra coconut oil if it seems too thick, you are looking for a thin drizzle consistency.  Drizzle across the top of the bars, and sprinkle with the pecans.  Store in the fridge, in part so you don't eat them all right away.

Paleo magic bars

These bars are much less sweet than traditional sweetened condensed milk versions of magic bars... but they still really satisfy.  I won't claim that they satisfy as much as a giant wedge of traditional magic bar, but they do not leave you feeling guilty and with a "why-did-I-just-eat-that-whole-thing" kind of feeling.  And, they are made entirely with real, whole foods.  I especially like that my picky kid liked them, and that they sneak in avocado, which is tremendously underused in chocolate bakery...

Paleo magic bars.

So what about you?  Are you also seeing a shift to more healthful, whole foods with less refined carbohydrate emphasis?  I think the Paleo trend is here to stay for awhile, and I am kind of glad.  I'm not about restriction and arguing over the color of my potato (though for the record, I do prefer sweet potatoes), but there are a lot of valid ideas surrounding this more natural way of eating and viewing food.

Feast or Famine.

Have you noticed my absence?  Maybe not.  I have never felt like the popular girl, never the one that everyone would notice is suspiciously missing from the school picture.  I'm more like the girl buried in the back of the yearbook, my photo included with the rest of the yearbook staff photos.  True story. (Except that I was also included in those high school picture days.  If our school had given perfect attendance pins I'm quite certain I would have received one.)

The truth is, I feel like this space online immediately reflects my home life, the things made, decorated and eaten.  And I've been so busy lately that I feel like I have to make myself pause to catch my breath.  I'm still making and eating, but it's last minute and inspired and not worthy of recording.  Gone are the days (at least for now) of watching over sprouting wheat berries and growing microgreens in the dining room.  Fall bread baking has picked up, a few loaves make their way onto Facebook or flickr, but most are only enjoyed privately, a few make their way out the door to others that I've baked for.

Whenever I start to get that rare feeling that I don't know what to do with myself, work comes in by the wheelbarrow load, and that is exactly what has happened to me lately.  I do my civic duty as a poll worker, which for the upcoming presidential election includes early election voting shifts at our city hall.  I bake treats for church parties.  I help out with some catering and shifts at a cafe a friend owns.  And make time for a visit from my Mom, some trick-or-treating, attending birthday parties, and just today a walk up to the Kiddo's school to share lunch.

I have also started revealing to people that I have been "hired" to write a small cookbook on canning and preserving!  It's my first real writing and photography gig, and I have a short deadline.  Any free moments are spent reading tech-heavy books on digital photography to improve my photos for this project.  I'm thankful to know just enough people in just the right areas of expertise to be able to shed welcome glimmers over my overwhelming naivety in all aspects of such an endeavor.  This is indeed the best schooling I've yet to receive.

mango & toasted coconut tart (GF)

But I confess that I'm not used to being so busy, not used to having to schedule in my laundry-doing and bathtub-scrubbing.  Take for instance this gluten-free shortbread that I was trying to master.  It began 2 weeks ago, when I had ripe mangoes to use up and wanted to concoct a fruit dessert to share with a neighbor.  Using a base recipe, I replaced the tart crust's flour with a GF version of homemade flour I lifted from a recent read:  Artisan Gluten Free Cookbook.  I really enjoyed reading this book, and intended to make all kinds of things from it for a full report.  That will have to wait I guess.  All I was able to manage was the all-purpose flour blend, which upon first trials seems to be very nice. 

My tart crust went unaltered from the original Gourmet recipe except the GF flour addition.  I froze the crust for a couple of hours, and popped it into the oven - docking it with a fork about 20 minutes after it began baking... when I remembered that such things need to be docked.  I glanced in at it and it was puffing up and actually, that was a happy accident, since I then took a stainless measuring cup and pushed the tart back into shape, creating a much neater finished appearance.  

What I didn't enjoy so much was the mango filling, which I set with 2 teaspoons of gelatin and premium non-homogenized heavy cream.  It was a bit vegetal; I couldn't help be feel that it would have been better served alongside some basmati rice.  I tried to help it with more lime zest, and additional whipped cream, but it remains one of the things I'll revisit another day when time abounds.

The crust, however, was genius.  A melt-in-your-mouth toasted coconut shortbread.  I googled "shortbread".  Wiki told me that shortbread is 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, and 3 parts flour. I never knew that!  And sure enough when I made the time to weigh out my next trial, it was exactly the 1-2-3 ratio.  I needed to add 1/2 teaspoon of water to help my gluten-free version come together.  Unfortunately in my haste I made the cardinal mistake of shortbread: I forgot to get it nice and cold before baking.

Instead of something well defined to cut into wedges, I got a really good tasting, giant cookie with butter-crumbled edges.  Delicious, but messy and I still haven't had the time (or the stomach space) for another trial.  (The "failure" was undeniably great on top of some maple syrup sweetened ice cream I nabbed from The Green Market Baking Book.)

For the record, I used 44g. sugar, 88 g. butter (which was just about 7 tablespoons), and 130 g. GF flour (of which the GF flour weight was added to the 1/2 c. toasted coconut weight).

toasted coconut
toasted coconut shortbread3
toasted coconut shortbread2

I had hoped the shortbread would be sturdy enough to stand up to some preserves.  I cracked up the first jar of blueberry citrus preserves since jarring it up this Summer, and had to settle for it on some bare naked sourdough.  I'm not complaining.  I do feel like I have to rein in my sweet teeth; it seems all this talking about jam somehow ends up with me eating sweets again with gusto. 

blueberry preserves

So please forgive me if I seem absent.  I've even been behind on reading my favorite blogs. (But after hitting publish, I am making time to read about this savory fig and goat cheese danish that I noticed this morning...)  I won't give up on the gluten-free toasted coconut shortbread either.  I just need to catch up a little, and enjoy the business of working hard for the next while.  I know all too soon I'll feel the deep Winter chill of famine.  Fortunately for me, I'm equally happy with both.