Thursday, February 21, 2008

I Say Love...It is a Flour

Cake and Life:
If you love someone enough, any kind of cake they bake for you will be wonderful, as it is.
If you love God, the Universe, enough, the life you are given starts to look better, as it is.

--Laura Teresa Marquez
Source: Early Morning Conversation

Lately I’ve given a lot of thought to cake.
Well, not just cake, I’ve thought about cookies and cupcakes and donuts and danish. Partly because we crave what we can’t have.
So, in my current state of white-food deprivation, it’s pretty much all I can think about. I’m also half-finished with a fascinating book by
Dr. Christiane Northrup called The Wisdom of Menopause which is forcing me to take a mental journey back to my carefree youth.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds for a forty year old who admittedly suffers from CRS (don’t make me explain). There is irony in the fact that I’m reading this book in an effort to be well-prepared for the moment when menopause actually rears its ugly hot-head, because by that time, I will likely forget everything I read, since I can’t remember sh…, stuff.
As it turns out, I am capable of recalling the flavorful events of my past more easily than the factual ones. And apparently, cake was a more significant part of my young life than I had expected.

And while we're on the subject of cake...
In my recent efforts to recreate some of my son’s favorite
store-bought cakes and cookies with healthier ingredients, I have been admonished by a select few who tell me that changing the ingredients and not the actual face of junk food will only complicate the issue. They offer practical solutions for weaning and replacing his current cache of confections. It has been suggested that until I remove all junk food from my home and convince my family that carrots are a viable snack food, I will never solve our nutritional dilemma.
The left side of my brain is in complete agreement with this philosophy. However, the fact that I am right-brain dominant
creates a bit of a mess in my head and my kitchen.

As I force my challenged memory to recall the happiest moments of my youth, it does not surprise me that many of these involve baked goods.
At forty, I’ve seen my share of birthday cakes. Amazingly, most of my celebratory confections were made from scratch by a mother who was busy raising a brood of five. It wasn’t until I discovered Entenmann’s Banana Cake that I begged her to replace her baked variety with a boxed one (what was I thinking?). For my sixteenth birthday she created the largest chocolate chip cookie I had ever laid eyes on and somehow managed to divide it into equal wedges to feed an unruly backyard crowd. I have fond memories of sharing krullers over coffee with my grandmother, and in that same kitchen corner I learned to make Struffoli (Italian Honey Balls) which would later serve their purpose as sling-shot ammo for backyard warfare.
In my own home, my love for the baking process has turned
my own kitchen into a laboratory of sorts, where no experiment
goes un-eaten.
So, is it no wonder that I’m such a glutton for gluten?

These days, I do a lot of experimenting with flour. In an effort to incorporate whole grains into our meals and snacks, I’ve substituted whole grain flours for our standard all purpose variety (AP flour). For each success, I’ve had more than a few failures. In this whole tedious process however, I’ve fallen in love. My current affair is with whole grain pastry flour. In my experience, most whole grain flours, when used as a substiture for a portion of AP flour, will result in a dense, dry baked good. Whole grain pastry flour however, is a flour that affords the benefits of whole grain goodness while still allowing for a moist, tender crumb.
I have yet to discover a formula that is one-size fits all for baked goods but for most of my recipes, I’ve fared well substituting one third to one half whole grain pastry flour for the AP flour (so, if the recipe calls for one cup of AP flour, I will instead measure one half cup of whole grain pastry flour and one half cup of AP flour).
My biggest complaint about whole grain pastry flour is that it isn’t readily available at local supermarkets. Most stores that carry whole foods or health foods carry it, and I have had great success with online resources like Bob’s Red Mill and Hodgson Mills. Believe me, it’s worth the effort to buy in bulk and store a few bags in the freezer. I have used the flour straight from the freezer with good results.
On the few occasions that I’ve found myself without whole grain pastry flour, I have substituted white whole wheat flour instead. Because it is lighter in color than traditional whole wheat flour, it remains undetectable to the white-food loyalists in my house. It slightly compromises the texture of some baked goods but the health benefits certainly outweigh the difference.
I’ve also become quite good at sneaking oats into almost all of my baked goods. While my son is not a fan of anything lumpy, he can hardly detect the ground oats I have added to his cookies. Ground oats don’t offer the rise-ability that flours do, so I have to be careful when adding oats to cakes and cupcakes. To grind the oats I simply place them in my mini food processor and pulse until they resemble coarse flour. I reduce the amount of flour called for in a cookie recipe by the amount of ground oats that I am adding (usually no more than one third of the total flour measurement).

And so for those who accuse me of deceit, I suppose I am guilty as charged. By changing the formula for less-than-healthy snacks to accommodate the likes of whole grains, and by not omitting these snacks completely from our diet, I may be doing a disservice to my family.
But I would argue that love often takes the shape of a cookie or a cake. And for the sake of love, I can handle a bit of criticism.

Not long ago, I was fortunate to join a portion of my sizeable,
cake-loving family for a restaurant dinner in honor of my mother’s seventieth birthday. After a delightful meal at a local steakhouse, my Massachusetts sister and two lovely nieces presented my mother with a home-baked, devilishly chocolate cake for all of us to share. Perched atop the cake-dome was a smaller, more humble layer cake made lovingly by the birthday girl herself, for my nephew who suffers from a seemingly unfair allergy to gluten.
As holidays often present meal challenges for my nephew
(while the rest of us struggle with feelings of guilt and helplessness), my mother works tirelessly to perfect recipes using wheat-free and dairy-free substitutes. For baked goods she depends almost exclusively on the use of sweet rice flour. For those of you who are familiar with the sweet variety of rice flour, you know it can be difficult to find and even more challenging to bake with.
Mother remains undaunted by the possibility of failure however, because as she raised her own brood of five to appreciate all that is homemade, so too will she offer the fruits of her labor to her beloved grandchildren.

And again, I would offer that sometimes love takes the shape of a cookie, or sometimes a cake. And in this particular case,
I say love, it is a flour.

Happy Birthday Mom.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


And Just Remember
With a Mixer
Far Beneath the Batter Bowl
Lies the Wheat (or rice flour)
That with a Mom's Love
In the Oven
Becomes the Loaf
(or the cookie, or the cake, or the cupcake...)

Sorry, I just couldn't resist.

I'm happy to share with you a recipe for a cookie that happened by accident.
In an effort to modify a recipe for Bev's Chocolate Chip Cookies from Eating Well Magazine, I discovered that I was out of chocolate chips. So, I improvised with a bag of dried blueberries (from Target) and the rest is happy history.
Make this recipe your own by adding or substituting your favorite dried fruits, nuts or chips.

Michelle's Oatmeal Blueberry Almond Cookies

3/4 Cup rolled oats ***See note below about oats
3/4 Cup finely ground almonds (I used slivered almonds)
2 Cups white whole wheat flour (or a combination of whole grain and AP flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 scant tsp. salt
1/2 Cup (1 stick) Butter, softened
1/2 Cup Canola oil
3/4 Cup granulated sugar
1 Cup Light Brown Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1 tsp. Pure vanilla extract
1 Cup Dried Blueberries

***The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 Cups rolled oats (when original recipe is doubled). Because I wanted to incorporate ground almonds and because I wanted a less-lumpy cookie, I decided to combine three items. So, to reach a total of 1 1/2 Cups, I used a generous 1/2 cup of ground almonds (place slivered almonds in food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal), 1/2 cup of whole, organic oats (I used Bob's Red Mill brand) and 1/2 Cup of ground oats (I put the whole oats in the food processor and pulsed until finely ground--almost powdery). Hence, my total measurement which included all three ingredients is 1 1/2 cups.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grind oats and almonds in food processor seperately.
In medium bowl, place oats, ground oats, ground almonds, whole wheat flour, baking soda and salt.
In another bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add oil, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy. Add sugar mixture to flour mixture and blend until combined. Add dried blueberries and mix by hand.
On parchment lined baking sheets, drop dough by heaping teaspoon full at least one inch apart (I used a small cookie scoop). Bake for about 14 minutes until lightly golden on edges. Transfer pan to wire rack. Allow cookies to cool on pan for chewy cookies. For a crisper cookie, remove cookies to wire rack and cool completely. Store in airtight container for up to three days.

**My Notes:
This cookie is deliciously sweet. Feel free to reduce the amount of sugar to suit your taste. I was surprised at how much we liked the addition of dried blueberries. Perhaps next time I will add more for a stronger flavor component.


1 comment:

CurePdd said...

I enjoy reading your blogs, and I am always left with the ammunition and belief that I can recreate what you have left on the page...I bring myself upstairs feeling like I can rule the world, only to find 45 minutes later my tail is stuck between my legs, and my garbage is enjoying a hefty heap of what ever I have burned...I do believe sometimes there is a genetic predisposition to operating an oven, and while I have combated my mother's microwave up bringing, I still struggle to bake anything resembling a circle. Mom's gluten free cake was miraculous, if I tell you how many times I have been left frosting chunks of cake...The blueberries have inspired me, I will try to make a GFCF cookie with fruit, and perhaps I can get some more ever needed vitamins in to the children! :)