Chocolate chip banana nut muffins

We’ve had a lot of snow over the past week here in Boston so like many others I’ve been doing a lot of cooking (and eating! too much eating!).

One of the best things I’ve made during the past week is these muffins (or cupcakes). I modified a cake recipe from The Gluten Free Almond Flour Cookbook by Elana Amsterdam to create these muffin/cupcakes.

I say they’re muffin/cupcakes because they feel more like a treat than muffins, but I choose not to make any frosting, so that makes their status as “cupcakes” questionable. For me, the chocolate chips make frosting unnecessary.

Like most things I bake these straddle the line between “treat” and “sustenance.” They’re made of high-protein almond flour, so they’re filling in a way your standard muffin isn’t.

I have been experimenting with using coconut oil in place of other oils and have discovered something interesting. Unrefined coconut oil is not supposed to be heated above 280 degrees (or something like that), so it shouldn’t be good for baking muffins cooked at 350 degrees. Except that it is! I’ve made this recipe with both unrefined and refined coconut oil (expeller pressed only please) and I find the unrefined coconut oil makes a richer more luscious muffin. The refined coconut oil is really good too, but it has a slightly less luscious result.

I recommend using the best quality dark chocolate chips you can find. Using good chocolate here really elevates this simple treat into something special. I try to get chips that are at least 70% dark chocolate when I can. You can also chop up a couple of nice chocolate bars to mix in with whatever chips you use–even a small amount of high-quality chocolate makes a difference here.

Chocolate Chip Banana Nut Muffins

3 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cp coconut oil, melted (or any other light oil or melted butter)
1/4 cp maple syrup (or any liquid sweetener)
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cp mashed ripe bananas (2-3)
1 cup dark chocolate chips (or chopped up chocolate bars)
1/2 cp chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a muffin pan with paper baking cups.

In large bowl combine almond flour, salt and baking soda.

In a separate bowl combine the oil, liquid sweetener, eggs and vanilla. Stir into the almond flour mixture. Add mashed bananas, chocolate chips and pecans and stir to thoroughly combine.

Scoop into prepared muffin pan, bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out dry.

Chocolate Truffle Marzipan Cream cake

Cake has always been my favorite treat. There’s something about the layers of cake and icing that just makes me happy. Cupcakes will do in a pinch but they’re just no substitute for a layer cake.

Chocolate truffle marzipan cream cake

I know I usually write about making healthy foods on this blog, but certain times of year call for celebrations and a gentle relaxation of food rules. In my house this usually means that I’m using “real” sugar instead of maple syrup or palm/coconut sugar.

I almost always bake with almond flour, no matter what sweetener I choose. Since almonds are high in protein they are a good balance to “real” sugar.

I have been making versions of this cake for years with hazelnut flour but this cake is made with almond flour instead. I also increased the number of eggs from past iterations and ended up with a cake that is both light and moist. This cake is gluten free but it is not one of those “good for a gluten free” type of cakes–it’s just plain good, and you’ll never miss the gluten.

My husband loves chocolate covered marzipan, and with his first taste of this cake he exclaimed “this tastes just like those chocolate covered marzipan bars!”

There are 3 components to this cake–the cake layers, the chocolate truffle filling and the whipped cream icing. I recommend making the layers at least 1 day before you’d like to serve the cake–it will make it easier to ice and spreads the workload out so it doesn’t feel like too much to do it all together.

The cake uses whipped egg whites to create lightness. The technique is to stir in about 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the batter to “loosen” it and make it more fluid. Then you carefully fold in the remaining egg whites, taking care not to break up the bubbles too much. This procedure is delicate but don’t be afraid–it’s not hard, it just requires some care and attention.

Chocolate truffle marzipan cream cake

For the cake:

12 oz Almond flour
2 tsp baking powder
7 egg whites
7 egg yolks
1 whole egg
170g sugar (approx. 5/8 cup)
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour 2-9″ round cake pans (o.k. to use almond flour here)

Combine almond flour and baking powder and set aside.

With clean whisks beat the 7 egg whites until stiff peaks form.

In a large bowl beat 7 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, sugar, almond and vanilla extracts. Beat until well combined. Add almond flour mixture and stir to combine well. This batter will be quite thick.

With a rubber/silicone spatula stir in 1/3 of the egg whites into the almond flour mixture to “loosen” this stiff batter. Once incorporated, very gently fold in the remaining egg whites until just mixed. Do not overmix!

Divide cake batter into the two prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Refrigerate or freeze overnight before assembling the cake.

For the chocolate truffle filling:

8 oz dark chocolate (chips or chopped up chocolate bars)
1/2 cp heavy cream
seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract

Gently warm cream in the top of a double boiler. Stir in chocolate chips and continue stirring until all are melted. Stir in vanilla extract.

You should have a smooth, shiny mixture.

Let the truffle mixture cool a bit, then spread on top of the bottom layer of your cake. Let it continue to cool a bit on top of the cake, then add the second cake layer on top.

Return the cake to the fridge to let truffles set up.

While this is happening make the whipped cream frosting

Vanilla bean whipped cream

*Before preparing whipped cream put the bowl and the beaters or whisk into the freezer to chill–this will make it easier to whip the cream and create a more structurally sound product to ice your cake in.

1/2 pint whipping cream
3-4 tbsp powdered sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in pre-chilled bowl and beat until stiff peaks form.

Spread on tops and sides of cake.

Nantucket bay scallops with almonds and lemon

I have been exploring the seafood of New England, which is so different from that of my native Louisiana, and have recently discovered Nantucket Bay scallops.

scallop

I’m certainly not an expert on these scallops, but what I do know is that they are small, sweet, rare and more expensive than regular scallops. They have a small window of availability, and I lucked out in getting some today at the last Central Square farmer’s market of the year.

I found this great recipe for Nantucket Bay scallops with almonds and orange at Yankee Magazine, but I lacked orange juice and chicken stock. What to do?

I modified the recipe to use about 1/2 cup of sherry, a few tablespoons of lemon juice and honey (plus a little water) to create a different version of the recipe from Yankee Magazine. It came out delicious, and was as easy as any scallop recipe I’ve made.

Nantucket Bay scallops with almonds and sherry

1 lb. of scallops
1/2 cp. almond meal
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small chopped onion or large shallot
1/2 cp parsley
1/2 cp sliced almonds
1/2 cp sherry or white wine
1/3 cp water
3 tbsp lemon juice
1.5-2 tsp honey

1. Wash, dry and salt scallops. Dredge in almond meal.

2. Heat large frying pan and add butter and olive oil. Add scallops to hot oil and spread out in a single layer. Cook for roughly 2-2.5 minutes, trying to turn them once if possible to create a nice seared crust.

3. Remove scallops to a bowl or plate and set aside. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil to the frying pan along with onions,d

4. Add sherry/white wine, water, lemon juice and honey. This will allow you to deglaze the pan. Make sure to scrape up anything that is stuck to the pan–that’s where the flavor is! Cook until liquid is reduced by at least 1/2.

5. Turn off the fire and return scallops to the pan. Toss to coat with the sauce.

Bon Appetit!

Photo from: “Argopecten irradian” from Bermuda at the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano

Apple frangipane tart with almond and hazelnut crust (with bonus shortbread cookies)

I’ve always loved treats with an almond flavor or filling. Now that I’m doing almost all of my baking with almond flour, it’s easier to make healthy treats that satisfy my almond-loving palate.

I’ve been experimenting with my gluten-free pie crust recipe, and recently tried it out in an Apple Frangipane tart. Frangipane is a filling made of ground almonds, butter, sugar and eggs. Not all Frangipane recipes call for almond extract, but I like to include it to enhance the natural almond flavor. You can bake Frangipane in a variety of pie and tart pastries, often with fruit on top, or perhaps a layer of jam below.

Apple Frangipane tart is a classic French pastry. A sweet tart crust is filled with frangipane, topped with apples and baked. This recipe uses a gluten-free crust, but you could use whatever sweet crust you prefer. This recipe is a work-in-progress, and I think that pre-baking the crust for about 5 minutes would be a good thing, but I have not tested this theory yet (we can only eat so many sweets!), so I have listed the recipe just as I made it.

Bonus Shortbread Cookies: This crust recipe makes more than you’ll need for a standard tart pan (7-9″ diameter), so roll the leftovers into a log and refrigerate until firm, slice into cookies, and bake at 350 for 7-12 minutes for a delicious gluten-free shortbread cookie.

I used granular palm sugar/coconut sugar in my frangipane. Palm/coconut sugar has a low glycemic index (35), tastes delicious and behaves almost exactly like sugar. As a bonus, it contains some B vitamins and a generous amount of minerals like potassium and iron. It does not taste as sweet as refined sugar, but it brings a richer flavor to the finished product. You can find palm/coconut sugar in asian markets, packaged as a solid, hard-to-use lump (which is often combined with refined white sugar). I’ve also seen round shaker-type container of coconut sugar at my local Whole Foods Market, but it was outrageously expensive. I’ve been buying a nice, reasonably-priced granular palm sugar from Nutsonline.com, which is also where I buy my almond flour and many other wonderful things. Their palm sugar isn’t cheap, but it is cheaper than what you might find at your market. Since it feels so much better in my body than refined sugar, I see it as a worthwhile investment in my health.

Apple frangipane tart with almond and hazelnut crust

Almond and hazelnut crust

1.5 cps almond meal/flour
1 cp hazelnut meal
1 tbsp ground chia seeds (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cp melted coconut oil or fat of your choosing
5 tbsp liquid sweetener (honey, maple, agave, brown rice syrup, etc.)
1 tsp almond extract
1 egg

Combine almond flour, hazelnut meal, chia seeds, salt and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. Stir with a big wire whisk (or any spoon, really) until well combined.

In a separate bowl, combine coconut oil, liquid sweetener, almond extract and egg. Beat with a fork or whisk until thoroughly combined.

Stir wet ingredients into dry, scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is blended.

Put crust mixture into refrigerator to firm up a bit while you prepare the rest.

Fragipane

1/2 cp almond meal
1 tbsp flour (buckwheat is good, but any will do)
1/4 cp palm sugar (or regular sugar)
3 tbsp butter
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
1/8 tsp salt

Combine almond meal, flour and palm sugar in a food processer, pulsing a couple of times to blend. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until a smooth paste is formed, pausing to scrape down the sides to make sure everything is evenly incorporated.

Putting it all together

2-3 apples, peeled and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 375. Thoroughly grease your tart pan, making sure to get to each nook and cranny.

Press about 2/3-3/4 of the pie crust mixture into the tart pan, making sure it is even on the bottom and sides. This is easier if it is a bit stiff and cold. Take extra care with the bottom edge, making sure that it is not too thick.

Pour frangipane into the crust and spread it evenly. Arrange apple slices on top, arranging them in a pretty pattern.

Bake at 375 for 40-60 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Store in refrigerator.

Elana’s Pantry Biscuits

Biscuits have always been one of my favorite breakfast foods. I prefer them with just a pat of butter–no jam, nothing fancy.

I haven’t made biscuits in a while–they are a little time-consuming–but I’m excited to try this recipe from Elana’s Pantry.

They’re made of almond flour, so they are much higher protein than your standard white-flour biscuits. I suspect the texture will be quite different, but they do sound tasty

I can’t wait to try them.

You can see Elana’s original post here. I’ve pasted in her recipe below.

Biscuits

2 ½ cups blanched almond flour, plus about 1 cup for dusting the dough
½ teaspoon celtic sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup earth balance natural buttery spread (soy free)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon agave nectar

1. In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, salt and baking soda.

2. In a large bowl, blend together buttery spread, eggs and agave.

3. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet until a nice dough forms. Roll out dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper to 1 ½ inches thick. Dust dough with extra almond flour if it is sticky and/or misbehaving.

4. Cut the dough into biscuits using a mason jar with a 3-inch wide mouth. Using a spatula, transfer biscuits to a parchment lined baking sheet.

5. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, until biscuits are browned on the bottom edges.

Yield: 10 biscuits

Almond flour banana blueberry muffins

I recently found Comfy Belly, a blog of healthy recipies for people with different food intolerances. I tried Erica’s Banana Blueberry muffin recipe as was really excited with the results. I did modify her recipe a bit to suit my preferences, but you can see her original post here. This beautiful picture is hers as well.

banana-blueberry-muffins

Here’s my variation:

Banana Blueberry Muffins

1/4 cup of Agave Nectar or Honey
3 tablespoons of coconut oil, olive oil, Earth Balance or butter, melted
2 eggs
2 very ripe bananas
3/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 1/2 cups of almond flour
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
3 tbsp. chopped candied ginger
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup of blueberries (or more)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare muffin pan either with paper cups or by thoroughly greasing each muffin cup (make sure to get the corners). My batch made 12 muffins.

Mix all the wet ingredients (except for the blueberries) together in a bowl until well blended.

Combine baking soda, salt, almond flour, cinnamon and allspice (a whisk gets the job done quickly and thoroughly).

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well again. Add candied ginger and chopped nuts.

Gently fold blueberries in.

Spoon batter into each cup, filling them to just below the tops of the muffin cups.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from a muffin.

Cool and enjoy!

It’s best to store these in the freezer and defrost as you go as they do not hold up well at room temperature. Of course, if your house is like mine, they won’t last long!

Blueberry pie with almond crust

Every summer my husband and I seem to need to have at least 1 home-made blueberry pies or we feel like we missed something. The problem is that it’s too hot to want to turn on the oven! I’m also still experimenting with gluten-free crusts, which sometimes feels like a lot of work.

So, because of the heat and the gluten-free challenge, we haven’t had a blueberry pie in 2 years!

I’m taking the week (mostly) off of work to have a mini-vacation while I take the morning intensives in the South Boston Yoga teacher training program. I’m having a great time!

Monday I finally got over the heat/challenge thing and made this superb blueberry pie with almond crust. I found a recipe at Elana’s Pantry for this nice almond-flour crust. Since Elana’s instructions said to pat the crust into the pan rather than roll it out, I knew it would have a crumbly consistency. I decided to double the recipe and use 1/2 of it as a crumble topping, which I added in the last 15 minutes or so of baking.

Make sure you have vanilla ice cream on hand–the first bite makes it clear that you must have it a la mode! I love either Purely Decadent or Cocobliss‘s vanilla coconut milk ice cream for this.

The crust is not as cohesive as a wheat-based crust, but it crumbles charmingly and tastes delicious.

Blueberry pie with almond crust

For the crust and crumble (see Elana’s original posting here):

3 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cp light-flavored healthy oil of your choice (Elana recommends grapeseed)
4 tbsp agave/brown rice syrup/maple syrup/honey
2 tsp vanilla

For the filling:

2 pints fresh blueberries
2 tbsp tapioca flour
1/3-1/2 cp sugar (I used Succanat)
1 tsp cinnamon
butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To make crust and crumble:

Combined almond flour, salt and baking soda in large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl combine oil, agave and vanilla.

Stir oil mixture into almond flour mixture, mixing well to combine. Consistency should be fairly crumbly.

Press 1/2 of the almond mixture into a pie plate, reserve rest for topping.

To make filling:

Combine tapioca flour, sugar and cinnamon. Gently fold into blueberries, making sure everything is evenly distributed. If you’re using butter, put small pieces here and there on top of the blueberries.

Put blueberries into prepared pie crust and cover tightly with foil with a few small holes punched to let some steam out.

Bake covered for about 40 minutes. Uncover and distribute reserved crumble topping over pie (don’t touch! It’s hot and sticky).

Return pie to oven, uncovered, and bake for 15-20 minutes longer, until crumble topping is nicely browned.

Best brownies ever

I’ve been playing with this gluten-free brownie recipe that I found at Gluten Free Goddess, and it really is one of the best brownie recipes I’ve ever made. It uses almond flour and some rice flour, and it’s completely delicious. I’ve made it using a combo of almond flour and a gluten-free flour mixture (which includes brown rice flour, quinoa flour, coconut flour and potato and tapioca starch). Even though they are gluten-free, I would confidently serve them to gluten eaters, and not feel like I was giving them a second-class pastry.

The Goddess includes directions to make your own almond meal, but it’s available in my local Whole Foods. I use Bob’s Red Mill brand. They also make a hazelnut flour which would probably be equally lovely in this recipe.

I’ve been playing with the chocolate, and have gotten good results by using 1 tablespoon of Ghirardelli’s cocoa powder plus 3 tablespoons of coconut oil to replace 1 ounce of chocolate. Any oil will do–I like coconut oil because it’s a healthy fat, and adds only the slightest hint of coconut flavor (which I really like). I also like to use this chocolate substitute because I can make it dairy-free. You could also use melted butter or margarine, olive oil, safflower oil, or really any oil with a mild flavor.

In the last batch I made, I used 2 ounces of Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chips and 3 tablespoons of Ghirardelli’s cocoa powder plus 9 tablespoons of coconut oil. The flavor of these brownies is screaming for some sort of alcohol flavoring, so I’m working on a way to include brandy or maybe some Kahula to give them an extra depth of flavor.

Good quality chocolate or cocoa powder makes a difference here, so don’t skimp!

Here is the recipe, as it appears on Gluten Free Goddess. You can read the Goddess’s original post here.

Dark Chocolate Brownies.

5 ounces Belgian dark chocolate (I used Trader Joe’s)
1/2 cup butter or vegan margarine such as Smart Balance (or Spectrum Organic Shortening)
2 organic free-range eggs
1 cup packed organic light brown sugar
1/2 rounded cup almonds, processed into a fine meal
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 teaspoon vanilla plus 2 teaspoons peppermint extract)

Optional:

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, if desired
1/2 cup extra semi-sweet chocolate chips for the top, if desired

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with foil and lightly oil the bottom.

Using the microwave, melt the dark chocolate and butter in a large (microwave safe) measuring cup. Stir together to combine. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs on medium high till frothy. Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is smooth.

Add the melted chocolate mixture into the egg-sugar mixture a little at a time – incorporate it slowly- and beat well for a good minute. The chocolate will look smooth and glossy.

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients: almond meal, rice flour, fine sea salt and baking soda; whisk together. Add the dry flour mix into the chocolate mixture and beat well for a minute. Add the vanilla, beat another half a minute or so.

You now have your brownie batter.

If you are adding nuts, stir in the nuts by hand and spread the batter into the prepared baking pan [this brownie batter is much thinner than any brownie mix batter I’ve tried- don’t worry, it’s going to be wonderful]. Shake the pan a little bit to even out the batter.

Layer the semi-sweet chips all over the top of the batter and press them in slightly, if adding.

Bake in the center of a preheated 350 degree F oven for 33 to 35 minutes, or until the brownies are set. Don’t overcook. (Err on the side of gooey, if you must- that’s what I do; I find gluten-free brownies taste better slightly undercooked and soft in the middle than over-cooked and crumbly.)

Cool on a wire rack; and remove the brownies from the pan by gripping the foil edges. Chill before cutting. We saved out two squares, and wrapped the rest for freezing.

These brownies were outstanding slightly chilled. Intense, chocolaty and tender. This is a fabulous recipe. And I have to Clare to thank for it.

Makes 9-12 servings. We got nine squares out of it.