Nutty (for) Granola?

September 13, 2011

The girl who cried “I don’t like granola!” is making granola… again. I made granola a few months ago, for the first time ever, and remember not feeling anything strong either way. The kicker is that, after thinking about it for an embarrassingly long time, I have what seems like a vague and distant memory of being sad when I had eaten it all. Time-wise, it didn’t make any sense. Why was my initial dislike so bright and vivid, and then my learned appreciation so small and distant?

The answer is pretty simple: I’m so stubborn that it affects how I remember things. That’s pretty ridiculous. Excuse me while I stomp my feet on the ground like a two year old and throw a frustration-induced tantrum. Phew. Okay. Time to put on my big girl pants. I decided to try another granola recipe today, for Breakfast Tuesday, just to see what would happen. Would I try it and be dissatisfied, only to gobble it up within a week? Would I like it upon initial taste-testing? Would I not like it all? I was pretty excited to find out.

I mixed all my ingredients. Preheated the oven. Melted the butter and honey. Tossed everything together. Spread it out on baking sheets. Put them in the oven. Crossed my fingers. I watched it like a hawk and stirred it every three minutes instead of five, but to no avail. The granola starting burning in the oven about eight minutes before it was supposed to come out. So I took it out of the oven early and let it cool. I tried it and I liked it! Despite the small, burnt walnut pieces and the fact that it was, indeed, granola, I liked it! I’m glad to see that my stubbornness, while getting in the way of lots of things, will not get in the way of enjoying my breakfast on this beautiful Tuesday morning.

Nutty Granola

(Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse at Foodnetwork.com)

Yields 7 cups granola

Ingredients:

3 cups old-fashioned oats (rolled)

½ cup slivered or coarsely chopped almonds

½ cup flaked coconut, unsweetened

½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

½ cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup honey

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup raisins

½ cup dried cranberries

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. In a large bowl, stir together oats, almond, coconut, walnuts, hazelnuts, cinnamon, and sea salt.

3. In a small bowl or saucepan, melt together butter and honey. Stir until smooth, and then pour over oat mixture. Stir until butter mixture evenly coats oat mixture.

4. On two non-stick baking sheets, spread oat mixture in a thin, even layer.

5. Bake granola for 15-20 minutes, stirring and switching trays every 5 minutes.

6. Let granola cool to room temperature and then stir in dried fruit.

Store in an airtight container or jar at room temperature for up to a week.

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Boston is a great city for many, many reasons, one of them being that there is an enormous amount of students who flock here from all over the world (myself included). While living in Boston I’ve met, befriended, and loved so many different kinds of people with so many amazing (and sometimes surprising) talents, and the majority of them eager to learn and explore the world around them. The other side, though, is that most of these extraordinary people need to leave Boston because they just don’t fit. This college town ain’t big enough for the crazy awesomeness, and, in fact, the world is barely big enough.

I’ve decided to stay here, for now, and it’s bittersweet to see the people I know and love leave. The biggest consolation I have is thinking about how lucky I am to have met the people I’ve met, and how lucky I am to have all the good memories and experiences that I have with them. Maybe that’s why this muffin recipe attracted me, the “traveler’s” chocolate muffin. Something sweet and small to carry with you and to give you a little bit of energy on the journey, or at least a spring in your step, whenever you may need it.

Regarding the recipe itself, I liked the serious chocolate flavor, and the fact that I’m basically eating chocolate cake for breakfast, but the muffins were a little dry. Although they didn’t taste bad, and maybe the dryness is part of this particular chocolate cake product, I’d probably find a way to add some sour cream or yogurt the next time I make these. And, finally, my room mate and I both thought the muffins tasted like some sort of chocolate cereal, which made us giggle. Chocolate cereal muffin!

“Traveler’s” Chocolate Muffins

(Recipe adapted from Baking and Books)

Yields 12 regular-size muffins

 

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat flours)

½ unsweetened cocoa powder

1 to 1 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed, depending on your sugar preference

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cup milk

1 egg

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chocolate, chopped or chips

½ cup walnuts, chopped and toasted

Optional: 2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar for sprinkling

 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease muffin tins with baking spray or butter.

2. In a large bowl, stir flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to combine.

3. In a medium-size bowl, stir milk, brown sugar, egg, olive oil, and vanilla to combine.

4. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir just to combine. Add chocolate and walnuts, stirring, again, just until all ingredients are combined.

5. Fill muffin cups ¾ of the way full (I use a ¼ cup ice cream scoop to get even-size muffins) and sprinkle with granulated sugar, if desired.

6. Bake muffins in preheated oven for 20-22 minutes, or until a tester inserted in center comes out clean.

7. Allow muffins to cool in tin for five minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely. To remove, run a butter knife along the sides to loosen muffins, and then pop out of tin.

These muffins are best eaten as soon as possible after coming out of the oven. Keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a day.

It all (and by “it all” I mean “this post”) started in the used book basement at the local bookstore, where I spend most of my free time and/or that weird in-between time born of serious procrastination before/after/during errands. This used book basement not only has used fiction and poetry and everything nice, but also has used cookbooks. Do I peruse their selection at least once a week?  Without a doubt.

Sometimes the selection of used cookbooks is not as exciting as you think it’d be, and sometimes it’s downright boring, so I try to go in with my only expectation being to have fun looking at pictures, or just touching spines of used books. I was browsing, not ambitiously, when something shiny caught my eye. It doesn’t take much. Much to my delight, the book was a Ghirardelli chocolate book. There was potential and I got excited, opening the book as soon as I plucked it off the shelf. I’ve been disappointed by shiny cookbooks in the past, but the first recipe I saw in this particular shiny slice o’ heaven was for mashed potato chocolate cake. Boom. Consider the purchase done and the cake made.

It’s Variety Flour Thursday, but since this is my very own part of the vast and crazy interwebs things will slide this week. Consider it a Variety Ingredient Thursday? Mashed potatoes are kind of like flour, right? Starch? Now I’m just stretching it. The cake itself is not as dense as you’d think it would be because of the whipped egg whites, and the crumb is light. Definitely not at all like some fudgy chocolate cakes you encounter. The cinnamon is a really interesting touch because you don’t taste it as such in the finished product but I really believe the chocolate flavor would be less complex if you forgo the spice.

Chocolate Potato Cake

(Recipe adapted from the Ghirardelli Original Chocolate Cookbook)

Yields one 9 by 13 inch or one bundt cake (if you half the recipe, you can use an 8-inch square pan)

 

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs, separated

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup mashed potatoes*, room temperature

½ cup chopped walnuts

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup milk

*I had to make some mashed potatoes specifically for the recipe, so mine were just plain potatoes mashed with a potato masher. The recipe simply calls for “leftover mashed potatoes”, leading me to believe you could use any sort of mashed potatoes you have lying around.

 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter a 9 by 13 inch baking pan or bundt pan.

2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, sift or whisk together flour, baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt, and cinnamon.

3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, by hand or with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer.

4. Beat in egg yolks one at a time, beating well and scraping the bowl after each addition.

5. Add cocoa powder and mashed potatoes and mix until smooth. Stir in walnuts

6. Starting and ending with flour mixture, add flour mixture to batter in three parts and alternating with 2 additions of milk. Stirring until just incorporated between each addition, making sure to scrap bottom of bowl.

7. Whip egg whites to stiff peaks and carefully fold whites into batter until incorporated.

8. Pour batter evenly into pan and bake in preheated oven 50 to 60 minutes. If halving the recipe and baking cake in an 8 inch square pan, only bake 35 to 40 minutes.

9. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Store cake in an airtight container up to three days or freeze up to a month.

The truth is I never understood how people could eat cakey brownies. I never saw the appeal; why wouldn’t you just eat chocolate cake? Brownies should be gooey, fudgy, and rich to the core by definition. Because of my strong belief in the fudgy brownie, my brownies all turn out relatively the same regardless of recipe. This was fine for me until I had one of those moments when I remembered I’m not only person in the world (I know, crazy) and maybe, just maybe, my strong opinions are only strong because I don’t venture outside of them often enough. My little epiphany led to my choosing a brownie recipe representing a balance of cakey and fudgy goodness instead of a recipe that is, well, just like every one I’ve used.

At first I was intimidated by this recipe for classic brownies because the good people at America’s Test Kitchen warn you to carefully test for doneness otherwise it would completely compromise your batch of brownies. If you over bake them, they will be dry. If you under bake them, they will be gummy. Ah! The paranoia! Totally unnecessary, though! Surprisingly, or not, the brownies turned out just fine after one test after minimum baking time and a two or three minutes after. And surprisingly or not at all, I loved them! The fact that they weren’t super rich made them easy to eat and enjoy without feeling overwhelmed. It’s really important, like with most brownies, that you let them sit for the entire two hours after baking before you cut them, and the brownies are awesome the next day.

Why this recipe on Variety Flour Thursday? The secret ingredient is cake flour, which lends a fine crumb and light crust to the finished brownies.

Why yes, the upper right corner is missing. Who ate that?!

Classic Brownies

(Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook 2000-2010)

Yields one 13 by 9 inch pan of brownies, about 24 squares

 

Ingredients:

1 ¼ cup cake flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

6 oz, or 1 cup, unsweetened chocolate, chopped

12 tablespoons, or 1 ½ cups, unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pats

2 ¼ cup granulated sugar

4 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Optional: 1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

 

Method:

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 13 by 9 inch pan with two pieces of foil and spray with vegetable oil, or coat generously with butter.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

3. In a double boiler (or makeshift double boiler, a heatproof bowl over simmering water), melt chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat. If heatproof bowl or top of double boiler isn’t big enough to contain all ingredients for batter, pour melted chocolate-butter mixture in a bowl large enough to fit everything.

4. Gradually whisk in sugar until thoroughly combined.

5. Whisk in eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in vanilla.

6. In three parts, add flour mixture, folding gently with a rubber spatula until batter is completely smooth.

7. Transfer batter evenly to prepared pan and smooth top with rubber spatula. If using, sprinkle chopped nuts over batter.

8. Bake in preheated oven 30 to 35 minutes, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. America’s Test Kitchen warns you to take testing seriously with these brownies; under baked and the brownies are gummy, over baked and the brownies are entirely too dry.

9. Cool brownies in pan, on a wire rack, for at least 2 hours at room temperature. Loosen edges with a paring knife before attempting to remove brownies from pan. If using foil, lift brownies out by foil overhang. If you forgo the foil, cut brownies in pan and remove them one by one.

Store brownies in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days, or freeze up to a month.

These cookies were so good that I’m not even sure where to begin. Whiskey (or bourbon, or scotch, whatever happens to be in my liquor cabinet at the moment) is one of my favorite ingredients. I love baking with booze, just love it. The flavor of your final product is much more complex, but in a way that’s hard to identify. You simply know something is different. One of the reasons I’m completely enamored with this recipe, with these cookies. They certainly aren’t your normal chocolate chip cookies, though they look the part. When you bake with whiskey the alcohol bakes off and you are left with the sweet, almost-but-not almondy flavor. My powers of description are a mess; I just keep thinking “coooookie”.

Chocolate chip cookies are one of those desserts for which I’ll never stop researching recipes. Just when you think you have a favorite go-to chocolate chip recipe, you find another one that is irresistible and interesting. I’m admitting here, in writing, that these are my new favorite chocolate chip cookies. There’s no doubt that I’ll bake and eat from other recipes, but this is one that has officially made my “must bake again, then forever and ever” list.

You should note that these cookies are best slightly under baked, perfect when taken out of the oven just as the edges start to brown, that way the center stays dense and moist, but the edges are nice and crispy.

Boozy Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Recipe adapted from Une Gamine dans la Cuisine)

Yields around 2 dozen rounded tablespoon size cookies

Ingredients:

2 ¼ cup all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup, or two sticks, unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

2 eggs, room temperature

5 tablespoons bourbon, scotch, whiskey (or combination thereof)

1 ½ cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped*

1 ½ cup chocolate chips, or chopped bittersweet/semi-sweet/dark chocolate**

*To toast walnuts or pecans (either before or after they are chopped), preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread nuts on an ungreased baking sheet, and bake them in preheated oven for 8 to10 minutes. Let nuts cool before stirring into batter.

** My normal chocolate chip strategy is to use a blend of chopped chocolate, but chips work just as well.

Method:

1. In a large bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or separate large bowl, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

3. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl and beating well after each addition. Beat in alcohol of choice, making sure all ingredients are evenly incorporated before adding flour.

4. With stand mixer on lowest speed or by hand, stir in flour mixture until just combined, or when white streaks have disappeared.

5. With a large wooden spoon stir in walnuts/pecans and chocolate.

6. Cover bowl with plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, otherwise dough will not be manageable.

7. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment paper.

8. Drop cookies by the rounded tablespoonful onto prepared baking sheets about 1 ½ inches apart. Bake each sheet for 8 to 11 minutes (for some reason my cookies took about 12 minutes and still didn’t brown, but these cookies are best when under baked!) or until edges start to brown.

9. Let cookies cool on sheet for a minute before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store cookies in an airtight container (like a cookie jar!!) for up to 5 days at room temperature.