Date Nut Bread a la The Ranch House

date nut breadI have wanted to bake the Date-Nut Bread from the Ranch House Restaurant in Ojai, CA ever since I first tasted it. At the time I didn’t even like dates, but this quick bread was pretty decadent. Sweet, moist, and great slathered in butter. The cookbook from that restaurant has been collecting dust on my shelf for many years, so it was finally time to conquer it.

The original recipe is neither vegan nor high-altitude and has a few quirky directions. It took me several tries to come up with a bread that not only tasted (and smelled) fantastic but also had the right texture. I did a few basic veganisms – oil for butter and tofu for egg. I added in some whole wheat flour to make it more healthy, while adapting for altitude by using regular baking powder instead of double-acting.

There is one step I didn’t change. It says to line the bread pan with brown paper. Just do it. I was using a non-stick pan so I thought I only needed a light oiling of the pan – it was a bad idea. The bread cooked perfectly except around the outside where it remained gooey and refused to release from the pan. I got smart on the third attempt and used lightly greased parchment paper. Some directions were written to be followed exactly.

Date Nut Bread adapted from Vegetarian Gourmet Cookery by Alan Hooker
5 ounces chopped pitted dates
3/4 cup boiling water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 tsps baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup blended silken tofu
1 1/4 cups vegan sugar
2 1/2 TBS vegetable oil
1/4 cup almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat the oven to 350F. Prepare a mini loaf pan by cutting parchment paper to fit three of the four sections. Lightly brush the pieces of paper with shortening and insert the paper into each of the three sections. The fourth section will not be used.
Put dates in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let sit for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sift together the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Combine the tofu and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the dates with their water, oil, milk and vanilla and beat again. Blend in the flour mixture in two batches. Add in the walnuts and mix well.
Divide the batter between the three prepared sections of the loaf pan. Bake for 33-35 minutes, or until the tops rise up and crack a little. Remove loaves from pan and place on a rack to cool.

Until next time, happy baking!

Custom Granola Bars

granola barsI know granola bars aren’t a decadent baked treat, but now that I have made them I can say I won’t be buying them in the store. They are like rice krispy treats – you melt some stuff, add some stuff to it, and put it in a pan. You do have to actually bake granola bars, but the oven really does that work. And once you’ve made rice treats you would (probably) never buy them. You know yours are better. Same with granola bars.

Admittedly, my first attempt was more granola than granola bar, but it tasted great over yogurt. Then I realized that I needed more of a ‘spackle’ so I tweaked a few things and got a bar that held together. There are no tips for baking at altitude because it wasn’t a factor; the only consideration was the lack of humidity requiring spackle because the mix was a bit dry. But the best part – I used ingredients I had on hand. I chose the nuts and fruit I like, with added chocolate, and I didn’t include yucky things like high fructose corn syrup. Here comes breakfast.

Custom Granola Bars based on a recipe by Dale Pinnock in The Medicinal Chef
2 TBS agave syrup
4 TBS coconut oil
3 TBS almond butter
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 TBS flax seeds, ground
2 cups rolled oats
1 TBS pumpkin seeds
2 TBS chopped dried cherries
2 TBS chopped dates
2 TBS chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly grease an 8×8″ pan. Melt agave syrup, coconut oil, almond butter and cinnamon together over gentle heat in a pan. Remove from heat and add flax seeds. Combine oats, pumpkin seeds, cherries, dates and chocolate chips in a bowl. Pour almond butter mixture over the dry ingredients and stir to form a sticky mixture. Press mixture firmly into the prepared pan.
Bake in the oven for 15-17 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into bars. Will keep for up to a week when stored in an airtight container.

Until next time, happy baking!

Brunch for a Month


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I collect cookbooks and recipes. It’s a bit of an obsession. Lately, as I pour through my recipe collection, I’ve been drawn to morning treats. My latest post was already a muffin recipe, so I thought I would devote the rest of the month of August to baking for brunch. If you’re being less fancy, feel free to enjoy these baked goods at breakfast – with or without the mimosas.

The brunch recipes will include items I’ve thought about baking for awhile. One is Granola Bars because I am not only too cheap to buy them but I don’t always like the ingredients found in them. Next is the Date Nut Bread from The Ranch House Restaurant in Ojai Valley, CA – one bite of this delectable bread and I was hooked. And, to appease my chocolate cravings, I will try my hand at Baked Chocolate Donuts.

My morning meal can be quite routine, so I look forward to switching it up. I hope you will enjoy exploring the brunch menu as much as I will.

Blueberry Bran Muffins

blueberry bran muffins Truth be told, I haven’t made blueberry muffins in a long time. And those were from a box. But it was breakfast and couldn’t decide between blueberry muffins or bran muffins. Yes, this is a departure from my decadent, chocolate ways, but I was feeling healthy. Besides, fresh blueberries were calling my name every time I passed them in the market. So I decided on Blueberry Bran Muffins.

For my recipe, I found one that was vegan. I swapped out oat bran for wheat bran because that was what I had. The high altitude fixes were the usual – more milk and flour, less baking soda. Also, I had read that dusting blueberries with flour keeps them from turning your muffins purple. Not that I have anything against purple, but I didn’t think that would make an appetizing picture.

They were good still warm from the oven, but the bran seemed a bit pronounced. After they had cooled a few hours the texture smoothed out, but they were still quite healthy. I think they should be eaten with a glass of chocolate milk.

Blueberry Bran Muffins adapted from Sweet and Natural Baking by Mani Niall
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tsp flour for dusting the blueberries
1 1/4 cup + 1 TBS whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
scant 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 cup + 1 TBS almond milk
1/3 cup liquid fruit juice concentrate (I used Waxed Orchards brand)
3 TBS canola oil
Preheat oven to 350F and line a 12-muffin tin with paper liners. Wash blueberries and pat dry. Lightly dust them with a teaspoon of flour.
In a medium bowl, whisk flour, wheat bran, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to combine and make a well in the center. In another medium bowl, whisk milk, fruit juice concentrate, and oil until the surface is bubbly. Pour into the well and stir with a wooden spoon just until smooth. Stir in blueberries.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack. Serve muffins warm or at room temperature.

Until next time, happy baking!

What Color is Your Baking Pan?

round cake tin stack

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When baking, you may find that your results seem quite different than those of the recipe developer. They describe a light, evenly-colored cookie but yours is light on top and dark on the bottom. Or your cake may look the right color but it is undercooked on the inside. Don’t despair. One possible fix is the type of pan you use. The color and material of the pan may not seem important, but they can have an impact on your baked goods.

In the Sweet Kitchen explains that “some materials conduct heat, others reflect it – each of the properties will affect your product differently. In general, shiny or pale materials reflect heat and will produce … lighter-colored pastries… (Using dark or non-stick pans) means your products will bake faster on the bottom and sides, perhaps burning until the middle is done.”

Non-stick cookie sheets are nice for clean-up but can be unreliable for the actual baking. Unless you have a pan with a light-colored non-stick coating, they aren’t the best choice because they bake unevenly. But King Arthur Flour’s website says you don’t need to get rid of your non-stick cookie sheets. “If you already have a dark-colored, non-stick cookie sheet, and it tends to burn the bottoms of your cookies, reduce the oven temperature by 25°F.”

I have used the Williams-Sonoma Nonstick Goldtouch Pans as recommended by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. The surface is light-colored and, unlike most non-stick bakeware, fairly scratch resistant. Regan Daley of In the Sweet Kitchen says that, “lighter-coloured non-stick pans are much more durable, as the finish is part of the material of the pan, not simply a coating.” They are nice to bake with when you need a cake to release easily for a picture-perfect treat.

Because dark pans retain heat, they can help a pie baker. “Dark-colored metal pie pans … transfer heat better … (and) brown crust more quickly … However, most pie pans will brown a crust thoroughly, given enough time; (just) cover the pie’s exposed edges with a crust shield to prevent burning.” Good advice from King Arthur Flour.

You don’t have to rush out and buy all new pans, but reread this article next time you are looking to purchase a bake pan.

Cream-Filled Chocolate Mini Cakes

cream-filled mini cakesIt’s good to be back in the kitchen. I recently moved house, but the kitchen is unpacked and I am ready to bake. To start things off with a bang, I am making cream-filled cakes. Besides, I have a specialty pan whose design is for such cakes and it needs breaking in.

In online searches I found several recipes for homemade ‘Ding Dongs.’ I borrowed ideas from different ones and put together my decadent beauties. I chose a vegan recipe that included Black cocoa powder. It gives Ding Dongs and Oreos their signature flavor – you’ll know when you smell it. Altering for high altitude was basic – more flour, less baking powder. On a hunch I used less maple syrup so that I would get light cakes that wouldn’t get weighted down by the filling and altitude, and the hunch paid off.

The filling is a cashew cream that has a step done in advance, so start there. The recipe may seem like a lot of work but the cakes are worth it. I inhaled my first one. I am now savoring my second.

Cream-Filled Mini Cakes adapted from The Post Punk Kitchen and Chocolate Covered Katie
For the Cashew Cream Filling:
1 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup water
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3 TBS organic powdered sugar
dash salt
For the Cupcakes:
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
1 cup + 2 TBS all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 TBS black cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
3 TBS pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegan sugar
For the Chocolate Coating:
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 tsp coconut oil
Prepare the filling:
In a bowl, cover cashews with water and let sit for 4-8 hours. Drain completely, then combine drained cashews with 1/3 cup fresh water and blend in a high-speed blender until very smooth. Add vanilla, powdered sugar and salt and blend again. Chill in fridge. You will have leftovers you can add to smoothies or atop other baked goods.
Prepare the cupcakes:
Whisk vinegar into milk and set aside for 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 325F with rack in middle of oven. Lightly coat Fat Daddio’s Choco Creme Snack Cake Pan with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powders, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, combine all wet ingredients, including milk mixture and sugar, and beat on medium with an electric mixer. Add dry ingredients to wet in two batches, mixing as you go. Beat for a minute more. Use a scoop to fill the pan cavities 2/3 full. Bake for 17-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cakes cool in the pan.
Prepare the coating:
In a double boiler, melt the chocolate. When melted, stir in coconut oil.
Assemble the cupcakes:
You will need a cake decorating bag fitted with a large circle shaped tip. Fill bag with chilled filling. Poke a hole in the center of each cake with the tip making sure you don’t go all the way to the bottom. Squeeze bag to fill the center, slowly lifting bag until icing fills to the top. Wipe excess icing off the top of the cake. Place cakes on a rack with waxed paper underneath. Pour coating over each cake using a spoon to either remove excess chocolate or fill in uncoated gaps on the sides. As an alternate, you can dip just the top of each cake into the coating. Put cakes in the fridge to set the coating, about 10 minutes.

Until next time, happy baking!

Different Types of Chocolate Powder

Cocoa Powder

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Chocolate is good for you. Lucky for us bakers! Where baking recipes are involved, chocolate can be added in the form of chips, bars, nibs or powder. Generally it’s easy to figure out which form to use, but on a trip down the baking aisle you can find the powdered version as cocoa and cacao. What’s the difference?

Julie Morris, Navitas Naturals Executive Chef, explains on their blog. “Cacao is the raw form of chocolate. It comes directly from the cacao tree, which fruits colorful pods that are filled with large cacao seeds, called cacao beans. When these beans are ground up finely, cacao powder is the result…Cacao powder is unadulterated pure chocolate (while) cocoa refers to processed cacao… (Both) taste similar: like unsweetened chocolate.”

Because the taste is similar, I choose cacao for its health benefits. Cacao is minimally processed so it retains its beneficial antioxidants. Also, it “may be packed with brain-boosting compounds” called flavonols. So, eating that second piece of cake will make me smarter.

After eating more chocolate, my brain was spurred to gain other knowledge. You’ll see some recipes calling for cocoa powder that specify “Dutch-process.” Is this the same as “natural” cocoa powder? Food52 explained: “Natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder is pure roasted cocoa beans — with most of the fat removed — ground to a fine powder. With all of the flavor but a fraction of the fat, cocoa powder is … bitter and strong. Dutch-process or alkalized cocoa is chemically processed to reduce the acidity and harshness of natural cocoa (which then) alters the flavor of the cocoa and darkens the color.”

Research on Wikipedia revealed that taste isn’t the only difference between the cocoa powders. Dutch process cocoa is not acidic like natural cocoa so “it cannot be used in recipes that use baking soda as the leavening agent, which relies on the acidity of the cocoa to activate it. Rather, Dutch process cocoa can be used in recipes that use baking powder (instead of baking soda) for leavening.” I also learned that the Dutch processing was, indeed, invented by a Dutchman. In case you were wondering.

All this talk of chocolate is making me hungry. I’m going to go snack on a few squares of healthy dark chocolate. I’ll worry about baking later.