Category Archives: Misfit Baking 101

Toasted Almonds

Getting Nutty

“No man in the world has more courage than the man who can stop after eating one peanut.”

-Channing Pollock

 

 

Nuts are an easy and tasty way to add a little oomph to recipes. A handful of walnuts can elevate an otherwise plain cookie from “ho-hum” to “YUM!”. Also, for those who can tolerate nuts, they are an invaluable ingredient when adapting a recipe to be dairy-free. Sometimes much of the flavour can be lost with the butter fat; adding a little nut flour or nut butter often compensates deliciously with it’s own richness.

Toasting nuts brings a whole new dimension to them, imparting a warm flavour and bringing out their natural sweetness… Never toasted nuts before? It’s easy…

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Spread your nuts out in a single layer onto an ungreased baking sheet. Baking times can range from 5 – 20 minutes (the almonds pictured, took 8). I find it’s best to stir them after the first 5 minutes and then every 2 or 3 minutes following until they are finished (watch them closely, as they can burn quickly). The nuts are done when you can smell them and they have turned a light golden colour. Allow to cool before using… An alternate method, which I use for small nuts (like pine nuts) and seeds, is to toast them in a pan on the stove top over a medium-high heat. Agitating them frequently, and never taking an eye off them (they can go from golden to burnt in seconds).

 

Things to know…

Shelled nuts have a short shelf life. Store them in the freezer in an air tight container to preserve them.

If you need chopped nuts, do so after toasting them. It’s easier to do when they’re warm.

 
 

Spices

Keeping Things Spicy

“Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.”

~William Cowper

 

Have you ever baked a fantastically spicy and flavorful cake or cookie, only to have the same recipe turn out “Ho-Hum” the next time you baked it? Chances are, it was your spices that let you down.

Spices do have a shelf life. The difference between your  cucumber and your cardamon, is that the cucumber will give you visual cues that it’s time has come. Spices are more subtle, simply losing potency over time. This might not sound so bad, but when you’re counting on a tried, tested, and/or beloved recipe, old spices can yield disappointing results.

So how much time does your cinnamon have? Some foodies advise you to pitch spices after 6 months. More recently, I’ve read that spice companies claim ground spices have 2-3 years of life… My experience has been that ground spice lasts about 1 year, and I replace them accordingly.

If you can’t remember how long those spices have been sitting in your cupboard, then perhaps it’s time to do a little spring cleaning. Your taste buds may just be surprised at how amazing your next batch of gingerbread is.

 

Things to know…

To keep your spices tasting their best, store them away from ovens, stoves, and dishwashers. Ideally, they should be kept somewhere cool and dark, but not the freezer.

 

 

Agave Nectar

Agave Nectar (not like Mom used to sweeten)

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.

– George Carlin

 

 

I’ve been a misfit baker for long enough that I tend forget, a few of the ingredients I use are still a mystery to some people. This became evident with the recent popularity of my Lemon Coconut Muffins. People who (I’m guessing) have not been exposed to alternative baking, were questioning, “What’s agave nectar?”. Not wanting people to feel intimidated or turned off of a recipe because of an unknown ingredient, I decided it was time for a new installment of Misfit Baking 101.

First of all, you may be wondering what is with the tequila reference. Tequila and agave nectar originate from the same plant (Blue Agave), they are just processed differently… My understanding is that the processing of agave nectar is similar to that of maple syrup. Sap is extracted from the plant, filtered, then heated/boiled, breaking the carbohydrates down into sugar.

Once found mostly in health food stores, agave nectar is now being stocked in supermarkets alongside granulated sugar. Some stores have a dedicated “natural/health” section and it can be found there (if in doubt, ask). When selecting agave nectar, the bottle should state if it’s light, amber, or dark (the intensity of the flavour increases with the darker colours)… There is also raw agave nectar, which is the only one I use as it’s been processed at a lower temperature and retains more of it’s nutrients.

While some people use agave nectar for the health benefits, other’s debate whether there are any benefits at all. I view it as any other sweetener, fine in moderation (sugar, in any form, is still sugar)… When I do chose to use it, I’ve done so because of it’s flavour and/or texture. It has a similar flavour and consistency to liquid honey, and can be swapped in recipes measure for measure. For this reason, vegans commonly use agave nectar in place of honey. I may also choose it as my sweetener if I’m baking for a diabetic, because of it’s low glycemic index.

 

Things to know…

Agave is pronounced “ah-GAH-vay”… You should have seen the confused look on the shopkeeper’s face, when I boldly asked for “ah-GAVE” nectar :-)

When modifying a recipe, it is usually possible to replace granulated sugar with a liquid sweetener (such as agave nectar). The process does, however, require the reduction of other liquids from the recipe. Therefore time and patience is needed for trial and error… Also keep in mind that results will vary.

 
 

Flaxseeds

Adding Flaxseeds

“Your greatest health benefit is from ground flaxseeds.”

– David W. Grotto, RD, LDN  (101 Foods That Could Save Your Life!)

Ground flaxseeds are a wonderful addition to breads, muffins, pancakes, cookies, and even some cakes. As well as being a great binder, it’s a nutritional powerhouse, and adds a pleasant earthy flavour. For these reasons, it is my favorite egg replacer.

People seem to have different ideas on how to construct a flax-egg. Here’s mine.

Combine 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed and 3 tablespoons of hot tap water, let stand for about 5 minutes, then beat until the mixture is thick and gelatinous. Makes the equivalent to 1 egg… Those old fashioned egg beaters are really good for this, and can be found for cheap in thrift stores.

 Things to know…

When choosing ground flaxseeds, remember that they will bring a “healthy” taste and texture, so you may want to be selective with your recipes. For example, as marvelous as it is in banana bread, oatmeal cookies, or a blueberry bundt. I would leave it out of a lemon loaf, sugar cookies, or a white birthday cake. You get the idea.

Banana

Going Bananas for Bananas

“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

-Groucho Marx


 

Lately, I’ve been loving bananas. For that reason, I decided to make them the subject of my first “Misfit Baking 101″ installment.

And what’s not to love about this versatile fruit? Sliced over cereal, blended into smoothies, or just peeled and eaten as is. Not to mention banana bread! It’s all good… But could there be more? There is.

Banana’s are an amazing egg replacer. Virtually fat free, and completely free of cholesterol, bananas do all the binding you need. 1/4 cup mashed banana = 1 egg. I puree mine, so there are no chunks.

Banana’s can also be used to replace up to 1/2 (or with some experimentation, all) the fat in a recipe. 1/4 cup mashed banana = 1/4 cup butter or oil.

 

Things to know…

Unless you like cookies that are soft and cakey, don’t exceed 1/4 cup banana.

There will be a banana flavour, so be sure that it compliments your recipe.

The riper the better. I throw them in the fridge and use them when they are completely black. So long as there are no signs of mold, they are ok to use.