Tuesday, 26 February 2008

orange pecan bread

Two weeks ago my dear friend Galit (pictured left) had a lovely Shabbat celebration at her house. For those who are not familiar with Shabbat, it is the day of rest in Judaism, observed every Friday at sundown. Candles are light, challah is eaten and prayers are said. This was quite a relaxed Shabbat though, so don't go reading about it on Wikipedia and think you know it all, because that's what I did and I was way off. This party was a reinvented celebration of sorts incorporating a Middle Eastern potluck, PBR in a can (red wine too, of course), the gathering of -likeminded, 'why were we not friends before this party?'- people, and was accompanied mostly by Devendra Bernhardt. Galit knew all the lovely prayers to say before and during the lighting of the candles and then we passed beautiful bread around and each said some wonderful words of enlightenment and thankfulness and then ate mounds of falafel, couscous tabuoli and stuffed grape leaves.

When Galit invited me she mentioned that it was a potluck and said if I wanted to bring something to eat, loosely based on a Middle Eastern theme, I could but that it was not necessary. I took this to mean that I needed to check out all the Jewish baking books from the library, scour the internet and magazine databases to find the most traditional Shabbat recipe that I could find; speaking strictly of sweets, of course. Then I would take lovely pictures, blog all about it and be all the smarter for it. But what I found out upon my recent reference adventure was that Jewish bakery books are mainly composed of wonderful recipes, most of which are pretty normal though. Hence the orange pecan bread you see here. A lot of recipes were written with parve directions, meaning it did not contain 'dairy', however, the Jewish rules state that both eggs and honey (neither of which are vegan) can be used. So of course I had to modify, but I had a lot of excellent nerdy baking moments looking through the recipes trying to decide what to bake. I decided upon this recipe for many reasons. It was fast, I had most of the ingredients already, and it was super low maintenance but sounded kind of fancy. Two hours later, including a trip to the grocery, my house was filled with the sweet smells of orange and spice and everything nice. Although I used a bundt pan to make my bread that is not what the recipe suggested; it asked for 2 loaf pans. Either will work fine.

The book I liked the most was "Secrets of a Jewish Baker: 125 Breads from Around the World", by George Greenstein. There is a nice combination of sweet, yeast, quick and easy recipes, all of which are fabulous. His introductions are straightforward as are his recipes and descriptions for executing them properly. He even made the seemingly frightening challa bread easy to make. There were not enough pictures, but that's not saying much coming from me because there are never enough pictures for me in cookbooks....ever. But I read it and enjoyed it all the same and should you, my friend, ever be invited to a Shabbat party, I highly recommend this book for all your baking needs.

The bread went over wonderfully, in case you were wondering. With all the fuss of making falafels, chatting, consuming tasty feta, drinking lots of wine and beer, and all of the above mentioned festivities, by the time we got around to dessert it was a little late. Some people were pulling out their coats and there was a definate end of party feel going on. Determined to serve my bread (I think at that point I was calling it cake...), I asked that everyone please humour me and eat a piece. My most favorite response was from the girl who reluctanly took a piece explaining how she did not really like cake but would try it...she didn't have much choice as I was shoving a piece in her hand then immediately regretting it because I was in no mood for rejection. I sliced a couple more pieces for everyone then turned to see how my reluctant cake eater was doing...well, half the cake was gone and she was genuinly giving compliments to the chef. By the time she was out the door her cake/bread was gone and everyone left was sitting around eating it and finishing their last sips of wine. The bread seemed to please everyone without being over-the-top extravagnat. And the cashew pecan butter that I made on the spot seemed to give it that extra special somthing; lucky for me it took all of 2 mintues to make. And speaking personally, it made an excellent breakfast the next morning.

The recipe as follows is exactly how it appears in the book except for the substitutions, but I have quoted the original beside it just in case you are not in it for the vegan aspects, or were considering making snide remarks about plagiarism. I have also included the recipe for homemade pecan cashew butter that tastes excellent when smeared across a warm slice of this delicious orange pecan goodness. Shabbat Shalom!

you will need these:
large mixing bowl (or mixer)
wooden spoon

Orange Pecan Bread

2 T neutral tasting vegetable oil (or 2 T unsalted butter or margarine, softened)
1/2 C agave nectar or maple syrup (or brown sugar)
1/2 turbinado sugar (or regular works fine too)
juice and grated zest of 1 orange plus enough water to make 3/4 C
2 T apple cider vinegar (1 egg beaten)
1 1/2 C unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour, preferable stone ground
11/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 C coarsly chopped pecans
6 pecan halves, for topping (optional)

pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

in a large bowl cream together the oil (butter) and sugars/sweetners

beat the juice mixture and vinegar (egg) until smooth

add the flours, baking powder, soda and salt and mix throughly

fold in the pecans

grease 2 8 or 9 inch leaf pans (or bundt pan) and line them with parchment or waxed paper

grease the bottoms again and dust them with four

turn the batter into the prepared pans

place pecan halves decoratively on top

bake until browned and the center feels firm when gently pressed with your fingertips- 50-60 minutes

let cool for 5-10 minutes in the pans, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely

Homemade Pecan Cashew butter: (amounts can vary here....it will be tasty no matter what)

1/2 C raw cashews
1/3 C raw pecans
seeds of 1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp alcohol-free vanilla
1 T maple syrup
pinch of sea salt

*could even add some orange zest if you were feeling saucy...

pulse this together in a food processor until it forms a nice creamy butter-like consistency. spread across anything and everything or simply eat it straight from the bowl with a spoon.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Flapjacks from a small island....

How honoured I am to be making a guest entry into this treasure trove of vegan baking delights! I can only hope the following recipe lives up to Alexandra's high standards. Before I tell you about the food perhaps I should explain how my love affair with Alexandra began?

It's really quite simple.

Wherever I go, I seem to get into conversations with people. Those who know me would confirm that I don't always invite it, but I can never rebuff the advances of a chat. This means in every aspect of my life I am a collector of people. I guess some might say I am friendly? And this is what often gets me into trouble. This 'friendliness' can often be mistaken for 'friendship' and quite often I can tie myself in knots trying to 'dispose' of unwanted individuals I have managed to become entwined with. None of those worries with Alexandra. Oh no. From the beginning I knew she was a keeper. We have so much in common. Pretty much the same name; big brown eyes; love to dance and LOVE to bake. Not just the occasional cookie or muffin from a Betty Crocker mix. And not just on special occasions. But you know this. You read this blog. We are baking nerds.

So we meet at dance class start chatting (surprise!) and both shyly admit that we believe that Nigella Lawson is actually a best friend although we've only read her books (also big brown eyes and love of baking mmmm?...Go ahead, call us narcissists we don't care!) After a while I feel safe sharing the fact that I am planning an enormous Christmas baking session and gently ask Alexandra if she would consider joining me in my mixing days preparing fresh mince meat (see recipe on this very blog) and mince pies and Christmas Cake (not at all vegan I'm afraid). Rather than laughing in my face and suggesting rudely that I am stuck in some bygone era when women spent their free-time in the kitchen, Alexandra's eye's lit up and she agreed to join me for an afternoon of baking delight....imagine my joy when I realised I had a real-life baking buddy?! So one chilly afternoon in early November 2006 we bonded over the mixing bowl - or was it the Kitchen Aid? Truly bonded. We realised that this was no infatuation. This was true love running deep in the blood (or that could have been the cider pulsing through our veins?!) Anyway. It began in a shared love of cake in my friend's idyllic little kitchen. In the months that followed, she taught me how to replace refined sugar with agave nectar and what to use in place of eggs and saturated fats. Not that they don't have a place in sweet treats. Just not every day and certainly not on this blog. And here, nearly 18 months later, is my first vegan recipe for you to share and indulge in. I hope you enjoy....and just thank Alexandra when you're done.


This is a recipe for flapjacks. I think this is an English dish. Like an enormous oatmeal cookie baked in the bottom of an ovenproof dish or tray, left to cool then cut into individual pieces to nibble on. I made them for Damian as he has started cycling to work and needs something healthy to feed the constant hunger brought on by the extra exercise.

You'll need 45 minutes and a blindfold (it's really so simple that anyone can make these delicious morsels without looking).

About 14oz oats
3 1/2 oz chopped hazlenuts
3 1/2 oz cranberries
3 1/2 oz raisins
3 1/2 oz honey
3 1/2 oz agave nectar
3 1/2 fl oz canola oil
2 oz dessicated coconut
2 oz sunflower seeds
1 x chopped apple
1 x chopped banana

Gently heat the oil and honey in a pan over the stove. Once its warm and very very liquidy add the apple and banana. Cook gently till the fruit is soft. Add the oats. The liquid should cover the oats to make a nice paste-y kind of mixture. If it's looking a bit dry add a drop of oil and drop more honey until it can be stirred nice and easily. Add the remaining ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Don't be shy about adding more liquid if you need it. Keep the heat low. You don't want those oats sticking to the bottom of the pan, they're a pig to scrub off.

When you're done set aside the pan, pre-heat the oven to 350 deg and lightly oil a normal sized baking tray or oven proof dish. The one I used was around 12' x 8'. Tip out the gooey mixture and - making sure you have lovely clean hands - press it out into the bottom of the pan. You want it to be between 1/2 and 1 inch thick - though really there are no rules here - as fat or thin as your dish/mixture ratio allows you.

Pop it in the oven for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Let the tray cool completely and tip it out on a wire rack until it's cold. Corners can be nipped off and smuggled into one's mouth at this point. It's allowed. And irresistible!

Once it's cool chop it into squares and scoff away to your heart's content!

Sunday, 3 February 2008

chocolate date truffles

This recipe spawned from an intense craving for chocolate cake. However, I'm afraid that holiday eating has extended into the New Year for me and the last thing I need is a chocolate cake all to myself. So the wheels in my little head started turning as to how to have my cake and eat it too.

I was first reminded of the chocolate cake that I ate at Pure Food and Wine in New York earlier this year. This place is the pinnacle of raw food cuisine offering the most extravagantly delicious food. Everything I ordered was exceptional and when my chocolate craving hit just the other day, I was reminded of this little cake I had eaten for dessert. It was a dense little cake with dates (I think) as the base. It was served with orange sauce and caramel-orange ice cream, with little miniature orange segments as garnish. I would certainly not be creating this dish, not even close, but I wanted to experiment with dates and chocolate turning into a cake-like creation. I pulled out my food processor and got to work and after just a few minutes of blitzing together the ingredients I thought would go good together, I was left with an intense something-or-other batter that I was content to just eat with a spoon straight from the bowl. After a few minutes I realized I was going to have to do something with this, but I was not willing to change anything about it. Now it just needed a shape. Try as I might this batter will not turn into anything cake-like. My attempt at this was to press the batter into a muffin tin and stick it in the freezer. However, this proved to be useless as it is so sticky and dense that it will not un-mold in a uniform shape. My only option was to roll them up, dredge them in more tastiness and call it a day. But the main question is, was my chocolate cake craving taken care of? Yes. And is it healthier than all the crap I've been consuming lately? Yes. Check and check. This makes me a happy little baker...and I didn't even have to turn on my oven!

Of course I thought it was tasty, but sometimes I am skeptical of my taste buds because I find things like juiced cilantro and grapefruit good. This is nice when I'm trying new foods or trying to be healthy. But since I'm making sweets, I sometimes value a second and third opinion. This is where my research and development team come into play. Also known as Carrie and Kyle, my friends and co-workers who are willing to try my food, but don't necessarily like juiced cilantro and grapefruit.

Scenario: Sunday afternoon in the workroom before starting our shifts.

Me: "Hey research and development team, I've got something for you to try"

Carrie: -eyes light up- "Awesome!"

Kyle: "Cool, what is it?"

Me: "Well, they are chocolate date truffles, see what you think"

Kyle: "Mmmmm. OK let me tell you what I like about them"

Me: "OK"

Kyle: "I like that it's like I'm eating raw cookie dough."

Carrie: "Yeah and it's not too sweet, like the aftertaste is not overpowering."

Kyle: "If you had a shop you could totally sell these. Wait, dates, you said? Is this going to make me go to the bathroom....a lot?"

Carrie: laugh....

Me: "Well, I think dates have a lot of fiber in them...but it's not like you ate a ton of them or anything"

Carrie: "I don't even like dates really, but I like these a lot."

Kyle: "Yeah, me neither, but these are great."

Well, there you go. Straight from the meat eaters mouths. And for the record, dates do have a lot of fiber. Around 7 grams per 1/2 C, along with many other wonderful nutrients but not a lot of fats. The truffles do contain fat from the coconut oil, but those are mostly good fats and when eaten in moderation actually benefit your health. And make sure to rub the excess coconut butter into your hands as it makes a wonderful moisturizer. As for the type of date used, I found medjool dates but any variety would be fine; just make sure to pit them if they haven't been already. And feel free to dredge them in anything you like. I used coconut flakes, pulverized almond and cacao nib and cocoa powder. But something like chopped nuts or dried fruits would be good too. I guess you could wrap these up and give them to your valentine...but you could also do something nice for yourself and keep them in the fridge; hidden. Because it's always nice to do something sweet for yourself- no matter the season.

you will need these:
food processor (maybe a high powered blender would work...but this dough is super sticky and dense- probably best to stick with the big guns here)
rubber spatula
wax paper


10 oz or approximately 2 C pitted dates
1/4 C coconut butter
1/4 C agave nectar
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 C cocoa powder
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ginger powder
pinch of salt

Just put everything into the processor and let it blitz for a couple of minutes until the batter is very smooth and thick.

Place in the refrigerator until the dough is cold throughout. Approximately 30 minutes or overnight.

Using a spoon, take out about a tablespoon of dough and roll it between your palms until it's nice and round. Dredge it in toppings or just put it on wax paper to set. Once rolled, store in the refrigerator or freezer.

Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on how much dough you eat beforehand. Or don't even worry about the truffles and keep the dough in the bowl with a spoon in it ready to go at all times. This stuff is definitely worth keeping around. I hope you enjoy!

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