Treats and Tricks: Spiced Oat and Chocolate Chip Blondies

plated3Halloween is all about sweet treats and for me, that means blondies.

I don’t prepare homemade goodies for the ghosts and goblins coming to our door because we live in the city and it’s just not done for safety reasons. But these bars, individually wrapped and hand delivered to neighbors, would make an excellent Halloween treat! They would also be a welcome addition to any Halloween party and great to have on hand as sustenance for those who service trick or treaters, too!

plated 1What makes these blondies so special is the addition of warm cinnamon spice, vanilla and oats. For a while now, I’ve wanted to translate an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie into a bar and these bars are the tasty result.

This is an easy recipe which comes together in a jiffy. And while I’m not going to say that these are healthy…they do have butter, sugar and chocolate after all…they are healthier than most blondies. In the vicinity of 100 calories per bar, they’re a reasonable indulgence for those of us that need to watch such things! (Me.) Most of all, they are absolutely delicious!

To make these bars my own, I omitted some of the sugar from the traditional blondie recipes I’ve seen (holy cow, is there a lot of sugar in those recipes!), as well as some of the butter, and I used only light brown sugar. Then I added rolled organic oats and chocolate chips to the batter, along with a touch of cinnamon for warmth and a really good dose of bourbon vanilla extract to enhance the overall sweetness. The resulting deliciousness was exactly what I wanted. A tiny bit chewy from the oats, toasty caramel flavor from the sugar and butter, decadent chocolate with a hint of spice and a vanilla hit to amp up the whole bar. Perfect.

plated4These blondies certainly aren’t just for Halloween. In combination with some hot tea or a glass of milk on a cool Fall afternoon, these are delightful. Need something sweet for a summer picnic? These treats will do the trick. They freeze incredibly well, too. In fact, I plan to make more and freeze them to use for the upcoming holidays. Just take what you need out of the freezer, thaw to room temperature and plate, and you’ve got instant holiday or hostess gift, party food…or cookies for Santa.

Below are a few simple “tricks” to ensure making perfectly browned and moist blondies:

Trick number 1: Properly prepare your pan. Click on any image above for instructions.

Trick number 2: Melt your butter only until it is ALMOST melted, then take it off the heat or out of the microwave and stir it until it finishes melting. This will keep it from “cooking” the sugar when you combine it to make batter. Do NOT add hot melted butter to your batter. If you do, you may end up with hard as brick edges to your bars and an uncooked middle!

Trick number 3: Removal from the pan. Click on any image above for instructions.

chili1

On another note, I always make a batch of my Spooktacular chili for Halloween and this year will be no exception. You can see that recipe by clicking here and it’s a great idea for Halloween parties, too. Make a chili bar and let your ghosts and goblins decorate their own chili with the fixings. Boo!

Happy Halloween!

punkitties2

Spiced Oat and Chocolate Chip Blondies
Makes 36 small bars

Ingredients:
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted* (see “trick” number 2 above)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten to combine
2 teaspoons Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1 cup rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1/4 teaspoon good quality ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

waxed paper and scissors
2 – Wire cooling racks that will fit 13″ long

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with butter. Measure and tear off a piece of waxed paper slightly larger than the 13″ length of the pan. Turn the pan over and cut the waxed paper to fit the bottom of the pan. Turn the pan right side up and fit the cut waxed paper into the bottom of the pan and butter it. (See trick number 1.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla until just blended. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder and salt until well mixed. Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and stir just until well mixed. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Turn out the batter into the prepared baking pan. The batter will be thick. Spread it so that it evenly covers the bottom of the pan. It will be a thin layer, but will rise during baking. Bake in the oven for 18 minutes and check for doneness. The bars will be done when the edges are golden brown, the blonde top is just starting to brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Run a table knife gently around the outside of the bars. Place one of the wire cooling racks on top of the pan, then using oven mitts, invert the pan so that the blondies will fall onto the wire rack. You may need to give the bottom of the pan a rap. When the blondies have released, remove the pan. Gently peel the waxed paper off the bottom of the blondies. Place the second wire rack over the bottom of the blondies and invert again so that the top side of the blondies is up. Allow the blondies to cool to room temperature. Slide the blondies off onto a cutting board and cut into 36 even bars. EAT! These blondies may be frozen in small freezer bags for up to two months. Thaw before serving.

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Apple and Oat Cake with Vanilla Yogurt Cream

finishedcake1With October upon us tomorrow (my birthday!), I’m definitely in the mood for Fall ingredients like butternut squash, leafy kale and fresh apples. Lately I’m trying to cook healthier dishes for a number of reasons and that means lighter cooking without sacrificing flavor or texture. Thanks to the latest edition of Cooking Light magazine, I found some inspiration. Their Whole-Grain Apple Cake with Yogurt Cream sounded so delicious and very easy to make…I just had to give it a try.

As is often the case for me of late, once the time rolled around that I could make the cake—a rainy day last weekend—I started prepping in the kitchen and realized that I did not have what I needed. Time to improvise.

While I didn’t change the recipe a huge amount, what I did change resulted in a pretty magnificent, not-too-sweet and technically gluten-free cake. It was very dense, apple forward and delicious, but with fewer calories than most apple cakes. The vanilla yogurt cream adds just the right touch of creamy decadence that one wants in a topping.

My simple substitutions included making my own “buttermilk” from 1% milk and lemon juice and adding a little extra lemon for some kick, because apples love lemon. I also used oat flour instead of whole wheat, rolled oats instead of quick, candied ginger instead of powdered and a little more cinnamon, please. I loved the resulting texture, which was less airy than the original appeared to be since I didn’t change the leavening to compensate for the denser oat flour. Additionally I made my yogurt cream the way I always do…with 2% Greek Fage yogurt, a little brown sugar and some Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, and left out the whipping cream called for in the recipe. Very, very yummy and a great sub for whipped cream on most sweets that aren’t opposed to some tang.

slice

It’s that night time shot time of year again.

One of the things I’ve learned on my own about substitutions in baked goods is that one must be extremely careful to not upset the balance of leavening or the liquid to dry ratio in a recipe. If you respect that, you can learn a lot about baking by experimenting…which is basically what I do in my kitchen.

Having said that, the idea of this cake and the method that Cooking Light used to reduce the fat and calorie content in a favorite recipe was very enlightening. One of the most brilliant ideas was that of freezing your butter so that you can then grate a small amount of it into the topping. This allows for excellent distribution of a very small amount of fat, while providing great flavor and crispness in the streusel topping. That’s a trick I’ll keep handy for the future…and my stick of butter is now residing in the freezer just waiting to go.

My only wish for this cake would be to find a good substitution for canola oil. I did use it in the recipe below, but may try a different type of oil next time, even olive oil. I am becoming less and less of a fan of canola oil because it isn’t very pure and doesn’t seem to be as healthy as some other oils on the market. If you have other ideas for substitutions that are healthy and work well in baking, please let me know!

Apple and Oat Cake with Vanilla Yogurt Cream
(Slightly adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves 10

Note: Oat flour is more caloric and has slightly more fat content than whole wheat flour, but is a healthy flour. Technically this recipe is now gluten-free, but if you’re sensitive to gluten you should review the ingredients carefully. Hopefully by not using whipping cream in the yogurt cream, some of the low caloric balance is restored.

Cake:
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice added to 1% milk in order to make 2/3 cup total of lemon juice and milk “buttermilk” (let mixture to sit for 10 minutes and thicken before using)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 2/3 cup oat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped candied ginger
2 cups grated apple such as Honeycrisp or Gala (if not using organic apples, peel the apples before grating)
Baking spray for the pan

Streusel:
3 tablespoons rolled oats
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon brown sugar packed
1 1/2 tablespoons frozen unsalted butter, grated
dash of kosher salt

Vanilla Yogurt Cream:
3/4 cup plain 2% Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. For the cake, place the first 5 ingredients (thorough eggs) in a large mixing bowl and beat together with a hand mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds until well combined. In a medium bowl combine the flour and the next 5 ingredients (through the ginger) and stir well with a whisk. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and beat at low speed until just combined. Stir in the apple by hand. Pour the batter evenly into a 9-inch non-stick cake pan that has been coated with baking spray.

To prepare the streusel topping, combine the rolled oats and the next 4 ingredients (through kosher salt) in a small bowl and toss to combine. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the batter. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-45 minutes until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife gently around the edges of the cake pan, place a plate on top of the pan and invert the cake onto the plate, then place the rack onto the bottom of the cake and invert back onto the rack to finish cooling, streusel side up. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To prepare the vanilla yogurt cream, place all ingredients into a small bowl and whisk until combined. Slice the cake into 10 pieces and serve each piece with about 1 tablespoon of the cream.

*****

finished cake top view

A is for Apples: A Savory Bread Pudding and an Apple Oat Walnut Bar

Fall isn’t Fall without apple bars, breads, cakes, cookies, crisps, bread puddings, salads and soups!

Do you have seasonal favorite dishes that you like to make? As each year rolls around, I look forward with great anticipation to tasting some favorite dishes once more, and it seems like periodically they are due for a wee makeover. Not that there was anything wrong with them the first time around, but just because I think…’Wow, wouldn’t this be good with this or that added to it?’ Or, ‘What if I tried making that into something else?’ Here are two new dishes, not quite the same as the old dishes—and both involve one of my favorite seasonal ingredients, apples! Continue reading

Breaking the Fast: Raspberry Almond Coffee Cake

A slice of this cake is just the right way to start off your day!

A slice of this cake is just the right way to start off your day!

It’s very hard for me to believe that it’s now October. Summer came and went. Fall swept in before we knew it, and now my birthday has come and gone and the leaves are turning and falling.

I’ve always thought that life was like—and indeed I’ve experienced it as—a series of waves. There are the crests, when you are flying so high and all of your neurons are firing…you’re so excited to get up each day and see what life brings. And then there are the troughs, when you’re riding so low you can’t see the horizon anymore.

These crests and troughs can take many forms, and there’s much that can be learned from both of these life phases. Without the one, you can’t fully appreciate the other. It’s important to remember this. It’s what will get you through the tough times.

From the moment that the lightning exploded on the morning of June 26th until now, our lives have been a roller coaster of emotions, health issues, disruptions, delays, frustration and expense. A trough cycle. But at the same time, we were so incredibly blessed that no life was lost, no item couldn’t be replaced. The house and our day to day lives and health could be restored. And, much was learned. Hopefully it’s information I won’t have to utilize again in the future! As far as the house is concerned, we still have carpet to be installed this week, furniture and books to move back into place, our repaired and restored paintings to hang, cleaned rugs to put down and HVAC cleaning at the end of the month. But at long last, we see that light at the end of the tunnel approaching, and if feels good. Very good indeed.

So I think the best way to break this little fast from posting is to start with the dawn of a new day. A happy little cake that’s just the ticket for a morning breakfast treat, a brunch addition, or to have with your tea in the afternoon. This Raspberry Almond Coffee Cake with Streusel Topping is rich with flavor and texture. The fresh raspberries make a tart, colorful and lively foil for the underlying almond flavored cake and the sweet crunch of the streusel topping. A little hint of lemon zest brightens the flavors and adds some zing, binding the whole together into one delicious bite!

We’ve enjoyed this as a pick me up this week for breakfast, and even for dessert. It will sit for a day at room temperature, and refrigerates well for up to 3 more days. I think you will like it a lot, too.

Thank you all for staying with me during this summer of rather erratic posting and seemingly endless references to our calamity in June. I hope your Fall season has started off well, and may you all be on the “crest” of life right now.

Cheers to happy days, good health and good eating ahead!

Raspberry Almond Coffee Cake with Streusel Topping
Makes 24 slices

Topping:
1/2 cup rolled oats, pulsed in a food processor until they are roughly ground
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the cake:
2 scant cups granulated cane sugar
12 Tablespoons (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup buttermilk
4 eggs
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
12 ounces fresh raspberries, washed and very gently patted dry

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and butter an 8 1/2 x 13 inch cake pan.

In a small bowl, combine the pulsed oats, brown sugar cinnamon. Cut the 3 tablespoons of cold butter into the dry mixture, then combine with your hands until it makes a crumbly texture. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the granulated sugar and softened butter, beating it with a hand or stand mixer on medium low speed until it is smooth and creamy. Add the buttermilk, eggs, lemon zest and almond extract and beat on low speed until well blended and smooth, then add the flour and salt and mix on low until just blended and all the dry ingredients are well moistened and the mixture is just smooth. Don’t over mix. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and smooth it with a knife or spatula to even it out. Sprinkle the fresh raspberries evenly across the top, then sprinkle the streusel mixture evenly over that.

Bake in the 350 degree F. oven for 28-30 minutes until the cake is done, slightly golden on top, and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Place the cake on a wire rack to cool for an hour, then cut into 24 slices.

A Very Short Little Peach Cake

Peaches! We have them…the first of the season from south Georgia, and boy are they a welcome sight. It seems like forever since peaches were in season, and now at last they’ve arrived, even a bit early, like everything this year.

After the first week of eating them in a few juicy bites, or with some Greek yogurt and granola, I began to calm down once I realized that these were early peaches and we should have peaches for a while to come. And that’s when I started thinking about baking. Now, I don’t bake a lot…mainly because there are just two of us and, well, if I make it, we will eat it…rapidly and until no crumbs remain. But peaches do inspire me to start trying some new ideas.

My first thought was something cake-y. More so than a crisp or a cobbler, but maybe more versatile than a muffin. I love shortcakes…why not combine the idea of fruit and shortcake into one…besides the fact that I’ve never seen it done? And hence the result: a very short little peach cake! Continue reading