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  • Orange, Hazelnut & Bourbon Biscotti // Lemon, Black Pepper & Walnut Biscotti

    **Update! August 2017: Turns out, lemon zest, walnuts and freshly ground black pepper make a delcious, floral and juuuust spicy enough combination to tickle your tongue...highly recommended for a lighter flavor-perfect for all seasons. See recipe notes below!**

    Alright. I don't exactly know how it is already December, BUT I do know that the holidays=cookie season. And hot beverage season. So naturally, biscotti rank high on my cookie list. Nothing is as satisfying as dunking a crunchy, nutty cookie into a hot cup of coffee (or whatever your hot beverage of choice is!). 

    I don't know about you, but, anytime during the day I can mentally and physically slow down enough to sit, make coffee or tea, and enjoy a treat is something I cherish. And even if you cannot manage to do this exact ritual, or don't need the sugar/caffeine rush, I think it is healthy to slow down during the day, take some deep breaths, and focus on the present. For December, I am making this practice one of my values for the month. Whether I will choose to do this before going to work amidst my morning routine, mid-day during work, or when I get home, I want to get back into expressing gratitude and being present each day (even if it is just for 5 minutes!). Because really, I think being a sane, grateful and kind person is a valuable gift we can give to the people in our lives, and our world at large, especially during the often stressful, emotional and hectic holiday season. Now, back to cookies! To be perfectly honest, this was my first ever batch of non-anise seed studded biscotti. Not going to lie, it felt a liiiittle like betrayal. My go-to recipe is from my Aunt (which she got from her mother-in-law, who is from Italian stock), and I have many fond memories of coming home after school, and being elated when seeing a small container of the golden crusted, anise seed studded cookies. Not too sweet, super crunchy, speckled with little bursts of black licorice from the anise seeds that would inevitably get stuck in your teeth, where they would hide as flavor bombs well after you were done munching. A perfect after school snack, I could easily munch down 3 or 4 of these treats while procrastinating on getting started with my homework (because eating biscotti > doing homework).

    But I realize that anise can be a polarizing flavor. When anise is invited to the holiday party, you know damn well that it will be staying for a while. Get out of the way, because anise likes to party-invading the dance floor, drinking all the holiday punch, and making a scene. And who drank the last of the egg nog? You bet your ass that it was anise. The presence of anise, strong and pronounced, is known immediately, and understandably, not everyone cares for this. Enter: a plays-well-with-others, even-tempered orange and hazelnut character, mellowed with vanilla and bourbon. I was extremely happy with the results after tweaking an Alice Medrich recipe to my liking (from "Chew Gooey Crispy Crunch Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies"): the crunch factor and texture were spot-on, the flavors were well balanced, and the test of dunking a biscotto into a hot foamy latte passed with flying colors (and don't worry, I verified this seveal times for research purposes). Beyond being delicious treats to savor alone, or with a mug of hot-something, biscotti of any variety are ideal for the holidays: they keep very well, growing crunchier as they sit (put them in a pretty container on your counter next to your coffee maker); they also ship with ease, and travel like champions, so are perfect for sending to people you love around the holidays (and I don't think any sane host/hostess would turn down a tin of biscotti as a thank-you gift!). Simply put: make a big batch, store them in the freezer or on the counter in an air-tight container or jar, then share and enjoy! Notes: while the hazelnut flavor is amazing, I realize finding good quality raw hazelnuts to toast at home is a challenge at times, so substituting your favorite raw nut of choice, and freshly toasting at home, would be perfectly acceptable. Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and even pecans, would work here (or heck, try a combination!). They key, as I mentionted, is to freshly toast raw nuts to ensure optiumum freshness and flavor. Using your discretion based on what type of nut you use, adapt which extracts and booze to use in the recipe, but please strive to use pure extracts, and booze that you would actually drink (i.e. no Fleishmann's here!). I favor a high quality vanilla extract, and am working through a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel. Rum, Drambuie, Frangelico, Brandy and Sambucca are all worthy contenders, based on your preferences for booze. In addition, seek out high quality extracts, reading ingredient labels to make sure no corn syrup or other nasty additives are present. And lastly, yes, the orange zest would be completely adaptable to another type of citrus zest (lemon! lime! bergamot!), but is also completely optional if you get right down to it. One could also sneak in some finely chopped dark chocolate as well to this recipe! But truly, the orange/hazelnut/bourbon combination is a winner for sure. 



    Orange & Hazelnut Biscotti // Lemon, Walnut & Black Pepper Biscotti**// makes 15-18 larger 4" to 6" long cookies, or 24 smaller 2" to 3"  long cookies //

    • 1 heaping cup whole hazelnuts, or nut of choice, freshly toasted
    • 1 cup (4.5 oz) unbleached all purpose flour*
    • 1 cup  (4.5 oz) spelt flour*
    • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1 cup (7 oz) sugar
    • zest of 1 orange, or citrus of choice, organic if possible
    • 4 TB melted butter, or 4 TB extra virgin olive oil
    • 3 large eggs
    • 2 TB bourbon, or booze of choice
    • 2 tsp vanilla extract, or extract of choice

    *feel free to use either 100% all purpose flour OR 100% spelt flour, or a combination as noted

    **to make the lemon, walnut & black pepper variation, replace orange zest with lemon zest, walnuts with hazelnuts (no need to peel the walnuts!), and add 1 heaping teaspoon of *freshly* ground black pepper, with more finely ground working the best (or else you'll sift most of it out). As for extracts and booze, you can omit them entirely and let the flavors of the lemon and black pepper shine, or do as you wish, and add the bourbon and vanilla!**

    1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spread nuts on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Toast nuts until fragrant, about 7-10 minutes. If using hazelnuts, after toasting, transfer slightly cooled nuts to a kitchen towel, wrap, and begin to rub the skins off by massaging the hazelnuts in the towel. Shake partially skinned hazelnuts into a colander, rub together with hands to get remaining skins off. 

    2. Transfer skinned nuts into bowl of food processor, and process into a coarse meal. Alternatively, coarsely chop nuts with a sharp knife. 

    3. In a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, sea salt and nutmeg. Add chopped nuts and stir to combine. 

    4. In another large bowl, combine the sugar and the orange zest. Rub together to work the oils out of the orange zest until the sugar is moist and fragrant with the orange oil. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the melted butter or olive oil, and then finally whisk in the booze and extracts. 

    5. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture with the chopped nuts. Stir until a moist, thick and sticky batter is formed. Using lightly oiled or moistened hands, turn the batter out onto a an oiled parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Form the batter into a long rectangle of even thickness that is 12"-14" long and 4"-5" wide, using the larger measurements for smaller, shorter cookies. 

    6. Bake the rectangle for 45-50 minutes, until firm to the touch and dry in appearance. Allow the log to cool for 15-30 minutes, until cool to touch, and then slice using a serratd knife into 1/2" to 1" thick slices. If desired, cut on a bias or a diagonal. Place sliced biscotto back onto the baking sheet, and return to the oven for the second bake for 40-55 minutes, flipping the cookies halfway through baking, until golden brown. Allow to cool, and then store in airtight containers at room temperature or in the freezer.



  • Pumpkin Pie: Two Classic Recipes

    As I mentioned earlier in the week, my grandma was a liar. Your grandmother probably is too. Juuust kidding. That was to get your attention!

    Now that I have it, let's talk about pumpkin pie. Traditional pumpkin pie is made with custard: a creamy, dense base of eggs and milk. The proteins from the eggs lend stand-up properties, while the fat and flavors from the milk make the custard sweet and rich. The lecithin (an emulsifier) present in the egg yolks make the filling satin-smooth, save any gritty bits or fibers present from the pumpkin/squash puree. Side note: some people like that sort of texture in their pumpkin pies!So, how do we replicate a custard, plant-based style? We rely on another type of suspension (truly a colloid) or gel: a starch-based gel. Now, this could get complicated...but it is pie, so I won't make it so. Essentially, I am telling you one thing: you will get close to the classic custard texture, but you will not mimic it 100% and fool your grandma. A starch-based gel has very different properties than a protein-based gel.

    But fortunately, our starch-based gel is still delicious. Creamy, smooth, thick, and flavorful. All without dairy or eggs. Topped with your favorite whipped cream, either one of these is sure to satisfy a hankerin' for pumpkin pie. I really hope you try either version...I did a lot of baking, and WE did a a lot of pie eating for you! 

    Our plant-based "custard" secret weapons:

    • Arrowroot Starch: provides the primary gel structure; it forms a semi-ridgid gel, thickens the filling upon heating (starch gelatinization), and provides stand-up properties.
    • Coconut Cream: Provivdes air and lift. Eggs, when mixed into traditional filling, help increase viscosity of the custard, and while mixed, help trap air for slightly lighter filling.
    • Soaked Raw Cashews: lends fat and a nutty "cooked" flavor that cooked/baked milk takes on. Helps shorten the firm starch gel structure, leaving you a beautifully creamy and tender filling. 

    So if I haven't sold you on this "starch based gel pumpkin pie", I really urge you to try it for yourself. As I mentioned, I have tested TWO recipes several times, and have had two (unofficial) taste testers for each. The verdict:

    • Version 1: very tasty, but a firmer, ridgid texture. However, not as firm as traditional pumpkin pie. Spices are strong, to which I suspect is the lower fat content since fat helps dampen the impact of flavors and spices. Great cold and room temperature, but room temperature is softer if you like that texture better.
    • Version 2: again, very tasty; texture is less ridgid, and more "voluptuous" thanks to the addition of both cashews and coconut cream, and slightly less arrowroot. The added fat from the cashews and coconut helps replace some of the stand-up properties of the starch in the finished filling, leaving you with a firmer but more tender "custard". The flavors and spices are warm, not overpowering. The color is more opaque, more like the traditional pumpkin pie. The texutre is still soft and pudding-like at room temperature, but firms once chilled. 

    In sum: both get darn close, with version 2 coming in slightly closer. If you do not like or cannot eat cashews, then version 1 is still an incredibly tasty contender. If you cannot consume coconut, feel free to substitue the 1/4 cup with 1/2 cup of your favorite unsweetened plant-based milk, leaning more towards a  organic soy-based one as it has more fat and protein for a firmer filling. But, almond milk works well, too.

    And now, for the crusts:

    • Traditional Style: cut-in-solid fat type, using virgin coconut oil, was what it always is: tender, flakey, but substantial enough to stay firm, even without a blind-bake. Best when you plan on serving the pie sooner, rather than later, as it gets soggy after a day or so. In addition, it requires a chilling period, as all traditional pastry for crusts do. However, can be made a few days ahead of time and stored in the fridge until you are ready to roll. I love using the crust in fruit-based  pies (exhibit A and B). 
    • Melted Fat & Plant-Based Milk Style: overall a more "rustic" texture, much more crispy, and held up to the moisture in the filling for 2 whole days, making it ideal for serving the next day. In contrast to the traditional style, you can roll out this one immediately, no chilling required or recommended, although it is a bit fragile to handle. 

    So, you pick your ideal filling and crust. MY FAVORITE??? I'd have to go with the traditional crust and filling option #2!!

    Don't forget the whipped cream, coconut or otherwise! Happy Pumpkin Pie'ing! If you do make any of these combinations, I would love to know how it went!! 



    Pumpkin Filling Option 1 // plant-based, vegan, soy-free option, nut-free option // makes 1 9" or 10" pie //

    • 2 1/2 cups pumpkin or squash puree, homemade or canned
    • 1/4 cup coconut cream or 1/2 cup plant-based milk of choice (using a soy-free milk if desired)
    • 1/2 cup organic sugar of choice, like white, brown, coconut or sucanant
    • 3 TB arrowroot starch 
    • 2 tsp molasses 
    • 2 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp dried ginger, or 1/2" hunk grated fresh
    • small pinch cloves
    • 1/4 tsp sea salt
    • 2 tsp vanilla 
    • 1 TB bourbon (optional, but very tasty)

    Traditional Cut-In-Solid Fat Crust // plant-based, vegan, soy-free option, nut-free // makes enough pastry for TWO 9" or 10" pies //

    • 2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry, unbleached all-purpose or spelt flour, or any combination thereof
    • 1 tsp sea salt
    • 1 TB sugar 
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
    • 1/2 cup virgin coconut oil OR a 50:50 ratio of virgin coconut oil:Earth Balance (use soy-free Earth Balance if desired)
    • 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar or other vinegar
    • 5-7 TB ice water, or very cold water

    1. Make the pie crust (can be made up to 3 days in advance, or frozen for up to 1 month): Sift the flour, salt, sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. In small spoofuls, drop the coconut oil over the dry ingredients. Place in the fridge for 10 minutes to firm the fat up again. While waiting, prepare ice water and get vinegar. Once fat has firmed up, cut the fat into the flour using a pastry cutter or fork. You want medium-small pieces, think pea size. Add the water, starting with 5 TB, and all of the vinegar. Cut the water into the dough, adding more by the TB until you can squeeze the pastry togeter into a mass that sticks together but is not sticky/wet. In the bowl, form pastry into a disk, cover with a tea towel and let sit in the fride while you prep the filling. Or, you can wrap the pastry tightly in plastic wrap and place in a storage bag, and chill it for a few days, or even freeze it for up to 1 month.

    3. When you're ready to make the pie, preheat oven to 450F. Make the pie filling: mix the sugar and the arrowroot together with a whisk in a large bowl. This helps prevent the arrowroot from clumping together. Add the remaining ingredients, whisk until smooth, and taste for spices. Adjust as needed. Alternatively, add everything into a blender, and blend until smooth. If you like more texture to your filling, and still want to blend it, simply reserve 1 cup of the pumpkin puree to mix in after you have blended the filling (that is my favorite method)

    4. To roll out the pie pastry, be sure that it is not too firm from chilling in the fridge. If it is, allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes until you can easily roll it out (alternatively, thaw frozen pastry overnight in the fridge, and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes at room temperature once thawed). Cut the dough disc in half (freeze the other half or use for another pie). Use plenty of flour to help prevent sticking. Pick up and rotate the pastry as you roll it out every few passes of the rolling pie to re-flour if it is sticking. Roll about into a ~12" diameter circle (or large enough to have a 1" overhang on a 9" to 10" pie dish). Fold the pasty into quarters or roll-up on the rolling pin, and place into pie dish, gently coaxing it into place. If a tear happens, simply patch it up or press together again when the pastry is in place. Trim, or patch pastry in place if necessary, around the edges for a 1" overhang. Turn the 1" overhang under, and crimp as desired.

    5. Fill the pie crust with the pumpkin filling. Gently tap the pie on the counter to get rid of any air pockets. Smooth out top with a spatula or spoon. Bake for 15 minutes at 450F, then for 35-40 additional minutes at 350F. If the crust is browning too much, simply shield it with tin foil or parhment. The filling will be firm, but may wiggle just a bit when moved. Cool the pie completely on a cooling rack for a few hours, and then in the fridge for up to overnight, at a minimum for 4 hours. This allows the filling to set completely. Slice and serve with your favorite whipped cream. Pie will last for 4 days, covered in the fridge, but crust will get a bit moist over time. 


    Fat + Flour = Crust Power!The pastry, with just enough water to hold it together.Roll, fit and crimp. I really like using a scissors to trim excess pastry.Now, mix the filling. Taste it, too. No one likes an under-spiced pumpkin pie.Pour into crust, no pre-baking required. Bake, admire how awesome your kitchen smells, and contemplate whipped cream toppings.

    Pie for breakfast = breakfast of champions. With extra whipped coconut cream, please!!


    Pumpkin Pie Filling Option 2 // plant-based; vegan; soy-free // makes 1 9" or 10" pie //

    • 2 ½ cups pumpkin puree
    • ½ cup raw cashews, soaked, drained and rinsed
    • ¼ cup coconut cream
    • ½ cup organic sugar of choice, like white, brown, coconut or sucanant
    • 2 tsp molasses
    • 1 TB agave, maple syrup or honey
    • 2 TB arrowroot powder 
    • 2 tsp cinnamon
    • ½ tsp ground ginger or ½” piece fresh, grated
    • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • pinch cloves
    • ¼ tsp sea salt
    • 2 tsp vanilla
    • 1 TB bourbon (optional)

    Quick Crispy Spelt Crust // plant-based; vegan; soy-free; nut-free // makes one 9" or 10" pie crust //

    • ¾ cup spelt flour (I use Bob's Red Mill)
    • ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour OR other flour of choice
    • 1 TB ground flax seeds
    • 6 TB virgin coconut oil OR a 50:50 ratio of virgin coconut oil:Earth Balance (use soy-free Earth Balance if desired)
    • 6 TB plant-based milk (use a non-soy milk if desired)
    • ½ tsp sea salt
    • ½ tsp apple cider or coconut vinegar
    • 1 TB white sugar, brown sugar or sucanant
    1. To make the pie crust, sift flours, sea salt, flax seeds, sugar together. Melt the milk and coconut oil together, and then add to the flour mixture. Stir briefly, but make sure everything is mixed well.
    2. Allow pastry to sit for 5 minutes. Then, roll out as any pie crust, following the directions for the traditional pie crust above. The pastry for this crust will be more delicate, and can stick to the rolling surface so be sure to use plenty of flour to help roll the pastry out.
    3. Although I do not recommend chilling the pie dough in a disc as the traditional crust as it gets too firm, you CAN chill in the fridge once in pie plate, up to 1 day ahead of time, covered tightly with plastic wrap to prevent drying.
    4. When you are ready to make the pie, preheat oven to 450F. Make the filling by adding everything into a blender, and pureeing until the cashews are completely smooth. If you want more texture to the filling, simply reserve 1 cup of the pumpkin puree ad stir it in after pureeing the filling. That is my favorite method to use! Taste the filling, adjusting spices if necessary.
    5. Pour the filling into the prepared crust, tap on the counter one or two times to get rid of air bubbles, and smooth the top out with a spoon or spatula. Bake for 15 minutes at 450F, and then for another 35-40 minutes at 350F. If your crust is getting too brown, simply shield it with tin foil or parchment. The filing will be soft, and may wiggle a bit. Cool the pie completely on a cooling rack for a few hours, and then in the fridge for up to overnight, at a minimum for 4 hours. This allows the filling to set completely. Slice and serve with your favorite whipped cream. Pie will last up to 4 days covered in the fridge, with the crust getting only slightly less crispy.

     Crust time: simply sift, mix and roll. No chilling required for this one. Mix it all up...being gentle, don't over mix or else you will have a tough crust.Crust purists would prbably sneer at you now, but eh...whatever.This crust is a bit more delicate than others, so just be gentle, use enough flour to prevent sticking, and when in doubt, just patch up any holes or tears that happen. Gingerly put into your pie pan, trim the edges, fold under and crimp.Ok, now onto the filling! Our secret weapons: soaked cashews and coconut cream!I put 1 cup of pumpkin puree in a bowl, and then everything else in a blender to puree. I did this to keep some texture to the filling.Puree until smooth...this took me about 2 minutes in a Vitamix, but let your blender run as long as you need to. Your neighbors may hate you, buuuut pie!Mixed with the other 1 cup of pumpkin puree.Pour into prepared pie shell, tap on the counter to rid any air bubbles, smooth out and bake!You're well on your way to pie...it should smell like autumn-spice heaven, and give any stupid pumpkin spice latte a run for it's money.After you've let the pie cool and set, you can slice and enjoy! Pie for breakfast, as I already stated, is pretty much the best thing on a chilly fall moring. With hot coffee, of course.Enjoy!