Cranberry Almond Granola

Cranberry Almond Granola

In the winter, when the snow is high and spirits are low, we head to the mountains to heal. We leave our lives behindour responsibilities, our technology, our connection to the rest of the worldin search of a lungful of fresh, pine-scented air. The long, curved mountain roads guide us towards the peaks, leading us to our home for the weekend.

When the sun stretches toward the heavens, we strap skis to our feet and fly across the landscape until our legs grow unsteady; when the sun falls below the sky, we rest near the fireplace, laughing, holding this feeling of family close. Our fears, our worries, our stubborn doubts fade and we remember, once again, how to become whole.

Cranberry Almond Granola

Cranberry Almond Granola

Cranberry Almond Granola

Packed along with the winter gear, I brought a batch of granola to share among ourselves. The hearty grains were the start we needed in the dawn of the morning hours. During our stay, clouds hung heavy over the sky, releasing large, white flakes by the hour, enclosing the mountain with an opaque fog. The light, however, had a quality of warmth and wildness unknown to me in the Midwest. I could not resist the moment and pulled out my camera to capture the breakfast, the rough wood floor, and the trees blanketed in white.

The mountains teach lessons that cannot be learned from books; the mountains teach lessons that are learned directly through thin, crisp air, tired legs, and eyes full of wonder.

Cranberry Almond Granola

Big Sky, Montana

In other (exciting!) news, I am so honored to announce that Pastry Affair has been nominated for Saveur Magazine's 2015 food blog awards in the Best Baking & Desserts Category! It is your endless support that has brought me here, and I want to take a moment to say thank you. It means everything. I feel privileged to be listed among such talented company. 

To vote, head over to Saveur's website, take a moment to register, and select your favorites

Big Sky, Montana

Big Sky, Montana

Big Sky, Montana

Cranberry Almond Granola is textured and hearty, made for early mornings and days that are demanding. Almond butter is sweetened with honey and spices to give the base a full, natural flavor. Coarsely chopped almonds and dried cranberries are thrown in to add character. Serve with a thick yogurt or drown in a swirl of your favorite milk. 

Two Years Ago: Pita Bread, Homemade Pita Chipsand Almond Joy Candy Bars
Three Years Ago: Coconut Pineapple Banana Bread, Sundried Tomato Basil & Brie Spread, Strawberry Balsamic Jam, and Strawberry Honey Oatmeal Bars
Four Years Ago: Cereal & Milk Bars, Vanilla Almond Cupcakes, Banana Pudding, and Devil's Food Cake

Honey Almond Quinoa Granola

Yields 5-6 cups

3 cups (270 grams) old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup (85 grams) quinoa, uncooked
1 cup (140 grams) whole almonds, chopped coarsely
1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup (78 ml) coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup (80 grams) almond butter
1/2 cup (170 grams) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg white (optional)*
3/4 cup (120 grams) dried cranberries 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (170 degrees C).

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oats, quinoa, chopped almonds, chia seeds, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, almond butter, honey, vanilla, salt, and egg white until uniform. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry and stir until evenly coated.

Spread out evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. If the egg white was omitted, stir halfway through baking; if it was added, do not stir the granola and leave it to set while baking. Cool completely before storing. Stir in dried cranberries.

*The egg white binds the granola together for a chunkier texture, allowing you to break it apart into small or large pieces of your choosing. If you prefer a looser granola, omit this ingredient.

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

There are a dozen or so recipes that are regarded as family recipes in my home, passed down from earlier generations. Among those held most dear are our honey cookies, which grace the dessert table when the holidays arrive, and my Grandmother Irene's orange rolls, which are made when the snow melts and stand for the hallmark beginning of spring. As I've grown older, I've quietly added a few of my mother's recipes to this coveted list, the recipes that I remember most from childhood. 

And that is what brings me to this banana cake.

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

My mother originally found her recipe in an old church cookbook. Written by a friend of my grandmother, the cake had just six ingredients—sugar, sour cream, eggs, flour, baking soda, and bananas. My mother played around with the basic recipe, adding an unavoidable chocolate glaze (or chocolate chips in a pinch). Eventually shortening was added to give the cake a source of fat, which produced less of a bread-like texture and more like the feel of a cake. 

After I took hold of the recipe, I couldn't help myself from giving it my own twist and took it through a few more iterations before reaching this point. The spirit of the original, however, is just the same. 

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

The cake is made with shortening, which may be an unusual choice in the age of "butter is best," but I can assure you that it is the right choice. Shortening gives the cake a bit of heft, the feel of a peanut butter sandwich against the roof of your mouth, without weighing the cake down. Butter is just not capable of this texture in the same situation. The addition of sour cream and buttermilk ensure the cake has a tender crumb. It is the banana cake I remember, in its purest form.

As you know by now, I can never leave anything alone for long. I filled the cupcakes with homemade chocolate hazelnut spread (though the brand name alternative would also suit). For the pièce de résistance, the cupcake is topped with a banana buttercream. A fresh banana is beat into the frosting with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. The subsequent flavor is so true and vibrant I wondered why I haven't been doing this from the beginning.

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes

Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes is one of the evolutions of my mother's banana cake. The cake itself is rich in crumb and flavor, but the sweetness does not overwhelm. Filled with chocolate hazelnut spread, the chocolate complements, but does not overpower the subtle flavor of the banana. Topped with a banana buttercream, the banana flavor is confirmed once more, providing a light texture contrast against the cake. 

One Year Ago:  Coconut Macaroons and Honey Almond Quinoa Granola
Two Years Ago: Coconut Whipped Cream, Chocolate Candied Ginger Biscotti Banana Cinnamon Pancakes, and Raspberry Cream Cheese Lemon Cupcakes
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Toffee Scones, Rosemary Sea Salt Crackers, Grapefruit Cake, and Chocolate Caramel Crispy Bars
Four Years Ago: Coconut Cream Cupcakes, Yeasted Waffles, Italian Breadstick Popcorn, and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Banana Cupcakes with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling and Banana Frosting

Yields 2 dozen cupcakes

Banana Cupcakes with Chocolate Hazelnut Filling
1/2 cup (100 grams) shortening, room temperature 
1/2 cup (100 grams) white sugar 
3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar 
2 large eggs 
3 medium to large overripe bananas, mashed 
1/2 cup (115 grams) sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 1/2 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk
1 cup (280 grams) chocolate hazelnut spread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line cupcake pan with liners.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the shortening and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the mashed bananas, sour cream, and vanilla extract. 

Alternatively add and beat in the flour mixture and buttermilk in 3 additions, starting and ending with the flour. Fill baking liners 3/4 full with batter. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before filling and frosting.

To fill, use a sharp knife (or cupcake corer) to cut out a small cavity in the center of the cupcake. I run the knife in a circular motion, while always pointing the knife towards the center of the cupcake. Aim for the cavity to be cone shaped. Using a pastry bag filled with chocolate hazelnut spread, fill the cupcake with the spread until nearly to the top. Cut the top off the cupcake piece you removed and press it back on the cupcake to seal the filling.

Banana Frosting
1 large ripe banana, mashed (about 1/2 cup)*
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup (113 grams) butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 to 4 cups (400-500 grams) powdered sugar
Banana chips (for garnish)

In a small bowl, mash the banana with the lemon juice until very smooth. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter until smooth. Add the mashed banana, vanilla, and salt and continue beating until uniform. Gradually add the powdered sugar, stopping once a spreadable texture has been reached. Fill a pastry bag and pipe or spread frosting on the cupcakes. Garnish with a banana chip and crushed banana chip pieces.

* The banana should be ripe enough to eat, but contain no brown spots (it will stain the buttercream). If you do encounter a brown spot, cut it fully out of the banana before mashing.

Blackberry Coconut Scones

Blackberry Coconut Scones

In my early days of baking, there was a steep learning curve to overcome. A combination of inexperience and failure to read the directions caused many items to go straight from the oven and into the trash. It was the scones, however, that left me dumbfounded. Pan after pan came out dry or bitter or flavorless; they were inedible, in every possible way. It was almost absurd that I was not able to recreate this simple pastry in my own kitchen. I say almost because nothing is laughable about throwing that much butter in the bin.

It wasn't until I got a job in a bakeryand was tasked with baking dozens of scones on a daily basisthat I found my knack for this particular pastry.

Blackberry Coconut Scones

Blackberry Coconut Scones

In truth, scones are no more difficult to create than a biscuit. Fat is cut into flour, liquid is added to bring it together, and the servings are cut from the dough. Perhaps it was a lack of confidence that held me back long ago, but now I feel I could create a scone with my eyes closed, even years after working behind the pastry case. 

Blackberries are often discounted at my local market. Emerging from my winter cocoon, these berries feel like a bite of spring; I fill my basket each time I spot the red sale sign. With an excess of berries last Sunday, I added them to a basic coconut oil scone recipe to create a complement to brunch. Coconut oil has quickly become my favorite fat for scones because it results in a tender, delicate crumb. These (vegan!) scones may be simple, but the taste is lovely.

Blackberry Coconut Scones

Blackberry Coconut Scones

Blackberry Coconut Scones combine the fresh berry with coconut in three of its formscoconut milk, coconut oil, and coconut flakes. The result is a tender, flaky scone that foils the tart berry against the sweetness of the pastry. A light coconut glaze is drizzled over the top for an extra touch. While it could be omitted, I find it worth the extra effort.

One Year Ago:  Peanut Butter Chocolate Frosted Cake and Orange Coconut Pull-Apart Bread
Two Years Ago: Lemon Pudding Cake, Grapefruit Margaritas Chocolate Oatmeal Flaxseed Muffins, and Chocolate Chip Raisin Oatmeal Cookies
Three Years Ago: Cinnamon Sugar Muffins, Basic Caramel Sauce, Rum Raisin Ice Cream, and Butternut Squash & Spinach Tart
Four Years Ago: Yeasted Chocolate Coffee Cake, Meyer Lemon Curd, Lemon Chocolate Tart, and Peanut Butter Swirled Brownies

Coconut Scones with Coconut Glaze

Yields 6-8 scones

Coconut Scones 
1  1/2 cups ( grams) all-purpose flour 
1/4 cup (56 grams) granulated sugar 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/3 cup coconut oil (solid state) 
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes 
6 ounces (170 grams) fresh blackberries
3/4 cup (175 ml) coconut milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the solid coconut oil with a pastry blender (or your fingers) until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Gently fold in the coconut flakes, fresh blackberries, and coconut milk until the mixture comes together.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a disk roughly 1-inch thick. Cut the dough into 6-8 pie shaped wedges and move to a baking sheet. For extra sweetness, sprinkle granulated sugar over the top of the scones. Bake for 16-18 minutes, or until the edges take on a light color. Allow scones to cool completely before glazing.

Coconut Glaze 
1/2 cup (62 grams) powdered sugar 
1 tablespoon coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small bowl, stir together all ingredients. Using a spoon, drizzle glaze over cooled scones. Allow at least 15 minutes for the glaze to set before serving.