baking

olive oil zucchini bread + ancient grains by Annie Jefferson

The notion of choice in flour as a central determinant in the flavor and texture of a dish is a relatively new one when it comes to everyday home baking. We talk often about white wheat versus all-purpose white flour, bleached versus unbleached, enriched, self-rising, sifted or not. We talk about the protein content of different types of flour - bread, pastry, cake - and how it affects the composition of a pound cake or a croissant or a country loaf. But that a particular flour has the potential to actually play the role of manipulator of flavor - such as a spice like cinnamon - and texture - like poppy seeds - isn't an idea that's played with as much outside of professional kitchens.

This week I've started working with feedfeed as the editor of their Ancient Grains feed. From the more commonly recognized barley, spelt and farro, to the lesser known Kamut, teff and sorghum, ancient grains are a grouping of grains and cereals that date back to prehistoric times and have managed to remain relatively whole and untouched by the modern food industry, especially in comparison to certain other wheat and corn varieties. Ancient grains have been making the rounds in recent years - showing up in supermarkets, recipe books and pantries - and for good reason. Not only are they less processed than their modern counterparts, they’re also naturally free of or low in gluten, which appeals to a rapidly expanding gluten-sensitive cohort. Even more enchanting are some of the stories that accompany these grains, like the idea that you can work Kamut, a grain found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb, into your next lunchtime salad.

This recipe takes advantage of the generous zucchini, which comes hot into the summer months, producing more of itself than we know what to do with. Recipes for zucchini quick breads tend to be similar - flour, sugar, egg, oil, and of course zucchini. This one uses extra-virgin olive oil in place of standard vegetable oil for its peppery fruitiness, ground ginger and nutmeg for their warm spiciness, lemon zest for brightness, walnuts for crunch, and finally einkorn and spelt flours because I promised ancient grains, and these are great and forgiving ones to start out with when it comes to baking.

While incorporating ancient grains into everyday cooking presents loads of new and exciting options for salads, soups, risottos (even popcorn!), the options multiply when you consider the possibilities of the grains in their milled state. In order to get the most out of it, flour needs to be understood in a much broader way than just one of the obligatory building blocks of baked goods or pasta or pizza. If we think of flour as its own special ingredient deserving as much thought and experimentation in a recipe as a spice, and each type of flour with its own unique and characterful personality, baking becomes much more interesting. Ancient grains have lots to offer in this department: wheat flour varieties include einkorn, Kamut, spelt and emmer. Teff, sorghum and amaranth are examples of non-wheat ancient grains - grasses or pseudocereals - which can be ground into flours and used in baking.

So far, I've discussed Einkorn here as it relates to gluten/modern flour intolerance, and I've used spelt flour in this millet and sea salt banana bread and this meyer lemon poppyseed cake. Both flours are great in place of white or wheat flour in baking - and can be substituted 1:1 in most cases - whereas other alternative flours, especially the non-wheat varieties, will require recipes specifically developed around their unique compositions. Spelt flour generally has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and is very light and tender as opposed to regular wheat flour. If all-purpose white flour is tasteless and lacking when it comes to flavor, Einkorn instead has a unique and robust richness, as well as a light nuttiness. As a result, this zucchini bread is light, tender and moist in texture, and rich, sweet and nutty in flavor. 

I will be incorporating ancient grains more and more in the coming months, so check back and please share your own experiences baking with alternative flours below! 

OLIVE OIL ZUCCHINI BREAD
Recipe adapted from A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories

makes two 6-by-3.5-inch or one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan

note: this recipe yields a quick bread that's slightly less sweet than you may be used to; feel free to up the sugar content by 1/3-2/3 if you prefer sweeter

INGREDIENTS
3 cups grated zucchini (from 1 pound zucchini)
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1 1/3 cups natural cane sugar, divided
1 cup (about 153 grams) einkorn flour
1 cup (about 153 grams) spelt flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Grated zest from 2 lemons
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour your pan(s).

In a mixing bowl, mix the grated zucchini with 1/3 cup of sugar. Pour the mixture into a fine-mesh strainer and place the strainer over a mixing bowl. Fill another smaller bowl halfway with water and carefully set the water bowl directly on top of the zucchini to help press the water out of the zucchini.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining cup of sugar, eggs, lemon zest, grated ginger and vanilla until well blended. Slowly beat in the olive oil in three stages, whisking after each to ensure it is thoroughly combined.

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no white clumps remain. Working in handfuls, squeeze the remaining water out of the zucchini. Add to the batter and stir gently until evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top of the loaves. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Cool the bread in the pan for about 20 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely.

the layer cake: milk bar edition by Annie Jefferson

I moved to New York City the same year the Momofuku Milk Bar did. It was 2008 and me and their soft serve were braving the chaos together. For my birthday that year my mom sent the Milk Bar's dulce de leche layer cake to my East Village apartment and my friends and I had never seen such a thing. The cake was short-lived because our 21-year old stomachs were able to take down multiple slices at a time, but I never forgot it. The Milk Bar cakes became more and more popular over the years to the point where it eventually became assumed, even expected, that one would be provided at every birthday dinner for every 20-something on the island. The cakes even started coming in plus size for weddings. And the bakery embraced its growing popularity, publishing recipes and offering classes to spread the word about their famous cakes.

When I moved from New York to London, there was no longer a Milk Bar to visit, and I'm not sure what the Brits would make of these mega cakes made of layers stacked upon naked layers of cake and frosting, sweetened milk and cake crumbs, gooey curds, sauces, candy and sprinkles. Moving from London to Los Angeles last year didn't solve the problem, seeing as there's no Milk Bar here either. So, I figured the time for a reunion was nigh when my best friend and 2008-birthday-cake-eating-partner visited LA from New York to turn 30 a few weeks back.  

The Momofuku Milk Bar was started by James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef award-winner, Christina Tosi. Like many of us, it took trying multiple paths - for her, electrical engineering, applied mathematics - before the Virginia-raised chef was able to realize that her hobby - baking - was actually her life's passion, and her lifelong preference for junk food and casually throwing together unlikely flavors - 'mayonnaise and brown sugar with Doritos' - was her ticket to novelty and success in the pastry world. As Tosi told the New York Times, “I was never raised to take myself so seriously when baking...certain parts of me aren’t fussy enough to make those plated desserts. It doesn’t speak to me, that delicate dreaminess. I just didn’t have it.”

This approach worked for David Chang, the man behind the Momofuku empire, who saw Tosi's talent when she was showing up each day to her desk job - writing Momofuku's food safety plan - with a different chocolate chip cookie sandwich or brownie topped with crushed potato chips that she'd made in her free time. Chang was intrigued, and after putting her in charge of just one dessert to be served at his Ssam Bar, it quickly became clear that the empire would need to make room for a full pastry division. It was confusing for everyone when an ice cream and pastry shop opened up in a tiny alcove on 13th Street attached to Ssam Bar, an Asian restaurant, but the ice cream made with cereal infused milk was good enough for people not to question it. 

Since then, Milk Bar has expanded, opening locations all across New York City, and in Washington, D.C., Toronto and soon in Vegas. Tosi has published two books and won multiple James Beard awards, all the while standing firmly behind her quirky, messy, whatever the opposite of 'delicate dreaminess' is, approach to baking. And we and this recipe thank her for it.

I say that this blog is a direct reflection of the way that I eat, so while most days - and most posts - are conscious of using whole and natural ingredients, as with life there are times for experimentation and special occasion. This cake is one of them. It's rich in flavor and impressive in appearance, yet it's playful and doesn't take itself too seriously, kind of like Christina Tosi. 

I changed the traditional dulce de leche recipe slightly to incorporate coconut at several stages and cream cheese frosting to balance out the otherwise unrelenting sugar. I also doubled the recipe for the milk crumbs because they're easily the best part! I can't wait to play around with these little crumbles and use them in other recipes. You will end up with extra by using the doubled recipe below, but you can just zip-lock baggy and send them with your friend for a plane-ride-back-to-New-York-snack, as I did. 

The cake appears impossible to make at home, but with a few tools and special ingredients it's really pretty simple. There are multiple elements to a Milk Bar cake: cake, soak, filling, crumbs, filling, repeat. This behind the scenes gallery from Serious Eats has lots of helpful photos and descriptions of each step. As you work through the recipe below, especially the assembly portion, I would suggest using the visuals in the gallery as a guide. Once you've made the cake one time, take a page from Tosi's book and come up with your own flavor. I'm thinking dark chocolate cake with halva filling and sea salt crumbs for the next DIY Milk Cake!

COCONUT DULCE DE LECHE MILK BAR CAKE
Adapted from the Momofuku Milk Bar recipe

Makes 1 (6-inch) layer cake, 5 to 6 inches tall, serves 8-12

EQUIPMENT
1 quarter (9in x 13in) sheet pan
1 (6-inch) cake ring
2 strips acetate, each 3 inches wide and 20 inches long (I got mine from Blick art supply store)

INGREDIENTS
1 recipe coconut dulce de leche cake (below)
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (65 grams) canned coconut milk
1 cup (275 grams) dulce de leche (you can use any brand, or opt for homemade, even vegan)
1 recipe dulce de leche cream cheese frosting (below)
1 recipe milk crumb (below)


COCONUT DULCE DE LECHE CAKE

INGREDIENTS
8 tablespoons (115 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup (275 grams) dulce de leche
3 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup (110 grams) coconut milk
1/2 cup (75 grams) grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon (4 grams) vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (185 grams) cake flour (here is an easy cake flour substitute using cornstarch from The Kitchn if you don't have cake flour in your pantry)
1 teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon (4 grams) kosher salt

METHOD
Heat oven to 350° F. Grease and line with parchment a quarter sheet pan, and set it aside.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the dulce de leche, and cream on high for another 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl again. Add the eggs and yolk, one at a time, beating on medium-high for 1 minute after each addition. After you add the last egg, beat on high for 4 more minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.

On medium-high speed, pour in the coconut milk, oil and vanilla very slowly. It should take 3-4 minutes to add these liquids. Don’t rush this process - you’re basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn’t want to make room for that liquid. There should be no streaks of fat or liquid and the mixture should look smooth and not curdled. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together and any remnants of dry ingredients have been incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. If you see any lumps of cake flour in there while you’re scraping, mix for another 30-45 seconds.

Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain buttery and dense. At 30 minutes, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger. The cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3 to 5 minutes if it doesn’t pass these tests.

Allow to cool completely. The cake can be made several days ahead of time. I stored mine in tightly wrapped plastic wrap for 2 days in the refrigerator. 


DULCE DE LECHE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

INGREDIENTS
1 stick (226 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (226 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons (35 grams) dulce de leche
1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) vanilla extract
2 cups (375 grams) confectioners’ sugar

METHOD
Using a standing or handheld mixer, cream together the butter, cream cheese and dulce de leche. Gently stir in vanilla extract. Then slowly add confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as you go. Continue to mix until fluffy.

Set frosting aside in a sealed container in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the cake. Just be sure frosting is room temperature at the time of assembly.


MILK CRUMB

INGREDIENTS
1 cup (80 grams) milk powder + 1/2 cup (40 grams) 
1/4 cup (80 grams) all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (24 grams) cornstarch
2 tablespoons (50 grams sugar)
1 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
8 tablespoons (110 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 bars (180 grams) coconut white chocolate, melted (I used Lindt brand)
1 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened

METHOD
Heat the oven to 250°F. Combine the 1 cup milk powder, flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Toss with your hands to mix. Add the melted butter and toss with a spatula, until the mixture starts to come together and form small clusters.

Spread the clusters on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes. The crumbs should be sandy at that point, and your kitchen should smell like buttery heaven. Cool the crumbs completely.

Crumble any milk crumb clusters that are larger than ½ inch in diameter and put the crumbs in a medium bowl. Add the remaining 1/2 cup milk powder and toss together until it is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

Pour the coconut white chocolate over the crumbs and toss until your clusters are enrobed. Stir in shredded coconut. Then continue tossing them every 5 minutes until the chocolate hardens and the clusters are no longer sticky. The crumbs will keep in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.


CAKE ASSEMBLY
Put a piece of parchment paper onto a flat surface. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the existing parchment from the bottom of the cake. Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. These are your top 2 cake layers. the remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer. Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring

Layer 1: put the cake scraps together inside the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer. Dunk a pastry brush in the coconut milk and give the cake a good, healthy bath of half the milk. Use the back of a spoon to spread one-half of the dulce de leche in an even layer over the cake. Sprinkle one third of the milk crumbs evenly over the dulce de leche. Use the palm of your hand to anchor them in place. Next use the back of a spoon to spread a third of the frosting as evenly as possible over the crumbs.

Layer 2: using your index finger gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼ inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall-high enough to support the height of the finished cake. set the less perfect of the remaining 2 cake rounds on top of the frosting, and repeat the process for layer 1.

Layer 3: nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. Cover the top of the cake with the remaining frosting and garnish the frosting with the remaining milk crumbs. Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate, and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. Let it defrost in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours (wrapped well in plastic, the cake can be refrigerated for up to 5 days).

the perfect snacking cake + einkorn flour by Annie Jefferson

This is the perfect snacking cake. Not too sweet, not too rich, and on the cakey rather than dense end of the spectrum with cornmeal for crunching and a sturdy brown crust. It picks up, transports, and slices beautifully. It's extremely versatile, flexing to accommodate rhubarb in the spring, cranberries in the winter, and sliced peaches or berries of any kind in the summer. It would welcome on top a drizzling of vanilla glaze, a sprinkling of chopped pistachios, or the zest of an orange. It serves well for breakfast, brunch, dessert or simply to have around for midday (or late-day or early-day) snacking. 

The perfect snaking cake is inspired by the Blueberry Cornmeal Cake from Huckleberry Bakery & Cafe in Santa Monica. Have you been? I went for the first time a few weeks ago and spent the whole brunch flipping through the cafe copy of the Huckleberry cookbook. I looked up just enough to notice that the line was out the door from start to finish and that every single thing arriving at the tables looked good. I knew about their Blueberry Cornmeal Cake long before that day and ordering and eating it was the first thing I did when we got there, even before brunch came. 

The Huckleberry recipe - found both here and here - includes, in addition to a load of sugar and butter, one and a half cups of all-purpose white flour. It's really delicious. I'd recommend coming to LA to try it. But for our purposes, for a snacking cake to be a snacking cake, it has to feel okay to go in for a second or third slice without feeling sick or regret.

Although - as with everything - there are exceptions and special occasions, it's increasingly clear that all-purpose white flour is not a solution for everyday cooking. There's a lot of confusion and misinformation these days about wheat and gluten and what, if any of this, is making us unwell. The current thinking is that gluten itself is actually only harmful to the very small percentage of population with celiac disease. For the rest of us who are suffering, we're likely experiencing the inflammatory and digestive issues associated with sensitivity to the modern, mass market brand of wheat.

For thousands of years before us, wheat was a - if not the - nutritional staple, the opposite of making people sick. It was fresh and organic, made from whole kernels and stone ground in small quantities to nourish communities. Modern wheat, however, through a process of 'refining' the berries by stripping them of their nutritious bran and germ and then 'enriching' the flour by adding back the smallest amount of nutrients, is a far cry from from the wheat our grandmothers and certainly their grandmothers were baking with. What we consume today is a dramatically altered - some say 'mutant' - form of wheat that has evolved over the last several generations with the advent of industrial milling, genetic modification and so-called 'high-input' farming to maximize yield and minimize costs. "It ain't wheat" in the words of Wheat Belly author, William Davis, and it's no wonder we are sick. 

Back to the cake. I'd been reading about einkorn flour for some time, but I hadn't tried baking with it until now, and I'm sure it would have taken me much longer to do so had my boyfriend's mom not showed up with a bag of the stuff, sensing that my first attempt at recreating this cake using almond and spelt flours fell flat. Einkorn is the world's most ancient wheat, sometimes called 'man's first wheat', and it's one of the only strains that hasn't been hybridized, meaning it's never undergone the artificial process of selection based on desirable characteristics, such as with high gluten content in modern wheat. As a result, einkorn is as wild as it gets when it comes to wheat, and people seem to be reporting much more positive digestive responses than with regular flour. This makes sense since the low gluten content is easier on digestion, and easy digestion allows for greater absorption of nutrients, with which einkorn is packed.

This cake adapted well to einkorn flour and I was pleased to see what a perfect 1:1 replacement it was. We opt for natural cane sugar in place of white sugar and replace the butter with solid coconut oil to maximize snackability. The greek yogurt adds a density and a volume that really helps both sturdy and fluff up the cake. But really, this cake is about celebrating the magic of the einkorn flour - if you've worked with einkorn recently, let me know about your experience below!

BLACKBERRY CORNMEAL SNACKING CAKE

INGREDIENTS
3/4 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut oil, solid
3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups einkhorn all-purpose flour*
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups full fat greek yogurt
1 cup blackberries, or other fruit
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar for sprinkling

METHOD
Position a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat to 350°F. Line and grease a 10-inch round cake pan.

Using a standing or handheld mixer, beat together the coconut oil, maple syrup and salt until thoroughly incorporated. Add the eggs and egg white, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl well. Stir in vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. Stir into liquid ingredients until only just incorporated (batters with einkorn flour can get gummy). Fold in greek yogurt.

Scoop the batter into the pan, pour over the blackberries (or your choice of fruit), and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool for about 15-30 minutes in the pan.

Remove the cake: place a flat plate on top of the cake and pan. Carefully invert the cake onto the plate by flipping both upside down. Then lift the pan off the cake. Gently pull the parchment from every nook and cranny of the cake, being careful not to break the cake. Rest your serving plate on the bottom of the cake and turn the cake right-side up onto the plate.

*If you are trying to stick to a gluten-free diet, a combination of gluten-free flour and/or almond flours should work here. 

tahini thumbprint jammies by Annie Jefferson

This recipe applies the classic peanut butter and jelly pairing to the cookie form, reimagined with the subtle roasted sesame flavor of tahini and fresh fruit jam. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is one of the most loved dishes in modern American culinary history. It’s one of the first food combinations that you encounter as a kid and likely one of the first that you yourself create, thanks to the fact that no cooking is involved and the ease of pre-sliced, bagged bread. Everyone has a favorite version that sits close to their heart. I like mine on buttered sourdough with a sprinkling of sea salt, browned and pressed on a skillet like grilled cheese.

The PB&J has experienced such longevity for good reason – fat plus sugar is hugely appealing to the human palate. Peanuts contain lipids – fats – which are responsible for the legume's rich and salty profile, and jam is sweet from the high sugar content required to successfully preserve fruit. When sugar and fat show up together like this, our tastebuds register it as instantly satisfying.

The pairing also appeals for reasons far more primal than its perfectly complemented flavors. Taken together, peanut butter and jelly cover all three of the macronutrients that we require for optimal survival: fat, protein and carbohydrates. In his book The Laws of Cooking: And How to Break Them, self-taught chef Justin Warner argues that all dishes can be deconstructed into a few foolproof laws, with fat and sugar – ‘The Law of Peanut Butter and Jelly – being one of the most fundamental. Why? ‘Fats and sugars contain the most caloric bang for the buck,’ writes Warner, ‘and our taste buds have evolved to help us find them…consider also that wild nuts and berries were probably what we ate before we developed tools to kill animals’. We're intrinsically drawn to a pairing like peanut butter and jelly because in its simplest form it represents a quick path to caloric nourishment. 

If the combination makes so much sense for us from both a nutrition and flavor perspective, then why as adults do we seem to massively decrease our peanut butter and jelly sandwich intake? PB&J feels very much like a kid’s food. An easy solution designed for the relentlessly picky eater. Theories suggest that we are fussy eaters as children perhaps not because our palates are immature, but rather that such discerning behavior evolved over time as a survival mechanism. Bitter and sour flavors and odors tend to be more indicative of toxins and poison, to which children are more vulnerable, whereas sweet foods instead signal high caloric energy, which is required for development and survival. Kids, then, are pretty smart to keep demanding the familiar sandwich.

However, as we get older we become more open and adventurous in our eating, and less averse to different ranges of flavors. Perhaps peanut butter and jelly feels bland or unsophisticated in comparison to the exotic spices and leafy greens and dark chocolate we come to love as adults. We learn to require a degree of complexity in order to feel satiated. At the same time, food becomes increasingly intellectual and tied up with associations based on years of food experiences. Beyond childhood, ‘taste becomes more a matter of our minds and memories than our physical reaction to sweetness or bitterness.’ As adults, our cravings and responses to foods are far more nuanced. Bagged bread, Jiffy peanut butter and sugary jelly isn't necessarily going to cut it anymore.  

Enter this cookie: adult taste bud tested and approved. It has the familiar PB&J duo of sugar and fat – bringing you right back to summer camp picnic table lunches and after-school snacks at the kitchen counter – but as the kind of anti-sweet of all nut and seed butters, the subtle bitterness of the tahini introduces a welcome complexity. That said, this recipe would do just fine with peanut butter thrown in instead of tahini. With subdued levels of sweetness, the cookie feels more like a snack than an indulgent dessert, but packs enough of a sugar hit to appease taste buds, young and old.

TAHINI THUMBPRINT JAMMIES
Makes 16-20 cookies

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup (70 grams) raw, unsalted almonds
1/2 cup (50 grams) rolled oats
1 cup (125 grams) whole wheat flour
1/3 cup (100 grams) natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 grams) fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut oil (50 grams), melted
1/4 cup (75 grams) honey
3/4 cup (215 grams) raw tahini paste, well-stirred
1 tablespoon (14 grams) toasted sesame oil
5 tablespoons jam
sesame seeds for sprinkling
powdered sugar for sprinkling

METHOD
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine almonds, oats, flour, sugar, sea salt and baking powder in food processor. Pulse until you have an incorporated, smooth grain. In a separate bowl, combine vanilla, coconut oil, honey and tahini. Stir to incorporate. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients as you continue to pulse the food processor until the mixture begins to form a dough.

Pour dough onto a surface and knead several times to smoothen it out. If the dough is dry, use wet hands to knead, if too moist, use floured hands.

Form dough into small balls (about 2 tablespoons each). Press your thumb into the center of each and place on the baking sheet. Scoop a small teaspoon of jam into the well of each cookie. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake for 15-20 minutes. They should be golden brown but still soft to the touch when you remove them. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes (the jam is very hot!) Sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve.

bursted tomato popovers by Annie Jefferson

Before moving to Los Angeles last year, I had been living in London for 4 years. Lazy Saturdays wandering the markets and too many rainy hours passed in the pub for Sunday roasts gave me time to wrap my head around the nuances of British cuisine. Many British classics are centered around meat, whether wrapped around a scotched egg or baked into a shepherd's pie or tucked inside a Cornish pasty. And often the meats are of the gamiest variety - hare, pheasant, partridge - that many Americans faced with the option would choose a cheeseburger. I learned about the vegetable side of things - aubergine, courgette, marrow, rocket - and the sweeter side of things - pudding, treacle, biscuits. I learned some non-meat recipes, like cream scones with clotted cream and nut roasts and the perfect vegetable curry. Here now in Southern California, drinking cold pressed juice and eating $14 avocado toast, these delicacies feel far away.

I wanted to make a traditional British dish, lightened up both for the season and the California palate. The most rudimentary of British comfort foods is the toad-in-the-hole, a homely and hearty meat 'n batter dish meant for keeping warm and padded in the colder climes. Traditionally a toad-in-the-hole is made with whole sausages baked into a deep dish of Yorkshire pudding and topped with gravy. It's a cheap and easy way to make any cut of meat - good or bad - stretch further by adding a filling batter and fatty gravy to it. Toad-in-the-holes have been made for centuries across England with anything from pigeon meat to rump steak, as well as any kind of banger - sausage - you can dream up. One thing I've learned is that the composition and cooking technique of the Yorkshire pudding batter is something Brits are very specific and polarized about, kind of like the American divide over cornbread

The inspiration for this dish comes from photographer and cook Marte Marie Forsberg, whose hazy photo collection documents the dreamlike beauty of slow life in the English countryside. My life in England was not nearly as slow or dreamy, but I miss it every day and find myself strangely relieved whenever it rains in Los Angeles.

This recipe takes the toad-in-the-hole and freshens it up using spring produce in place of sausage and a batter version that doesn't require a cup of pan drippings - Yorkshire pudding is traditionally served alongside a roast, and baked using drippings from the meat. We also opt for buttermilk over regular milk for its tangy depth. Forsberg makes a full pan-size version and sautés her vegetables with onions to get the flavor of the onion gravy in there. Here we add a teaspoon of caramelized onions to each cup, and rather than one large dish, we bake these puddings into individual muffin size making them perfect for an appetizer or side dish. In this form, they're similar to a popover, which is the American version of Yorkshire pudding.

The magic of the Yorkshire pudding - slash popover - is the impressive puff and rise produced by the egg-milk-flour batter. They blow up like balloons in the oven. The trick is maintaining high heat exposure throughout the cooking process. The little puffs get their height by heating the oil-filled muffin pan at a high temperature before adding the batter, then quickly putting the pan back in the oven before it's able to cool down too much. To achieve maximum pop-over, you can invest in a popover pan, made of separate metal cups held together by bars, which increases the amount of surface area exposed to the heat. Long ago the pans were made of cast iron, which is the best material for holding heat, and I've read oven-glass cups also do the trick. I settled on a lower rise in favor of my jumbo muffin pan...and jumbo popovers.

Once you master the art of the popover, you can add anything to the center - like chocolate or cheese! - or nothing at all and enjoy them on their own in all their puffed up glory.

BURSTED TOMATO POPOVERS
I used a 6-round jumbo muffin tin here. The quantities below would also be enough for one large 9-inch square pan pudding or a 6-round popover pan. For a 12-round regular size muffin tin, double the recipe below (you may have batter leftover). 

INGREDIENTS
2 large eggs
6 tablespoons buttermilk
6 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus 1 teaspoon per muffin tin
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (light spelt flour will also work)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
olive oil for drizzling
salt and pepper to taste

METHOD
Heat oven to 400°F.

Start by making the batter. Whisk together eggs, buttermilk, water and oil in a medium bowl. Combine salt and flour, and slowly whisk dry ingredients into wet. Let the batter stand for 30 minutes.

Melt butter in a medium cast iron over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Add garlic and a pinch of salt, stir, and turn the heat down to medium. Continue to stir until onions are caramelized - sticky in consistency and deep brown in color.

Meanwhile, toss your halved tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread in a baking pan. Roast tomatoes for 15-20 minutes in the oven, or until soft, wrinkled, and the pan is pooled with syrupy juice and seeds. Remove from oven and let rest.

Once oven has come to temperature, pour 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil into each muffin round and heat the muffin pan for 10 minutes in the oven. After 10 minutes, remove pan and add batter to each muffin round so that the well is 1/3 full. Quickly add a spoonful of caramelized onion to the center of each round, and a spoonful of tomatoes on top of the onions. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and raised over the lid of the muffin round (the time will vary depending on your pan, so watch carefully around the 20 minute mark). Top with a teaspoon of pest (recipe below) and serve warm.

PESTO

INGREDIENTS
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely minced and mashed with the back of a knife
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan

METHOD
Bring a saucepan of water to boil and fill a medium bowl with ice water. Once boiling, add basil to water and count to 5, using a spoon to make sure all leaves are submerged. Remove the basil from the hot water with a slotted spoon and immediately transfer to the ice water. Drain the basil and push down on it to remove any excess water.

Pulse walnuts in a food processor and until ground into small pebble-size pieces. Add basil and salt and process until finely chopped. With your machine still running, slowly pour in the olive oil and continue to process until the mixture is puréed. Transfer to a bowl and stir in mashed garlic and parmesan until thoroughly incorporated.

mixed berry tart with lemon coconut curd by Annie Jefferson

Spring is here and this tart wants to make sure you don’t forget it and accidentally make another apple pie. It’s bright and nutty and subtly sweet (and vegan and gluten-free) and really lovely to look at, with that particular brand of crust that’s flaked with the textures and shades of brown that you only get when you force seeds, nuts and grains to behave like flour and butter.

The shell is made of oats, flax seed and almonds, the lemon curd of coconut milk and maple syrup, the berries are berries and there are four beautiful varieties of them. They feel extra precious at the beginning of these warmer spring months.

It’s hard to ignore, however, that berries aren’t cheap. And when you’re making a tart like this, you need a lot of berries and they need to look fresh and lively (a.k.a. not frozen). Learning what’s behind a carton of berries made me much more accepting of their price tag and, along the way, much more respecting of these delicate little flavor bombs.

The life of a berry is touch and go from seed to mouth. Berries are one of the most perishable crops, largely due to their comparatively high water content (between 85% and 92%), paired with their very delicate, relatively unprotective skin. Berries, like many fruits and vegetables (for example, avocados and bananas), will continue to ripen even after harvesting through the production of a naturally formed chemical called ethylene – a ‘fruit ripening gas’ – which is responsible for them going from ripe to spoiled within hours. Ethylene is also known as the ‘aging hormone’ in plants. Produced by a plant when it is sick or injured, it’s the same chemical that causes them to die.

Let’s back up even further. What’s taken place in the life of a berry before the moment you hand over your cash at the market to bring it home where it will continue it’s ripening stroke rotting process on your kitchen counter?

Great care and attention is required in the cultivation of berries. Their growing requirements are extremely sensitive and their behavior unpredictable. Mild rain or extreme heat will destroy them, especially when ripe and even when covered by protective tents. As harvest approaches, growers will keep close watch on the weather and if skies suggest rain, they will pick the berries immediately to save the crop. Too delicate to be harvested by a machine, each berry must be picked by hand. Growers wear heavy gear in hot summer temperatures to protect themselves from stings from bees and raspberries alike.

Once picked, berries can survive for about one day at room temperature, so must be transported quickly, yet often across far distances. National Geographic followed the journey of a strawberry 3,200 miles from the west to the east coast, with fuel bills in the several thousands of dollars and truckers paid by the mile, all racing against the biological berry clock while the little guys sat carefully tucked inside the refrigerated trailer of a truck, suffocating from their own aging gas. This all brings us back to you handing over your cash where we started above

Some foods, it seems, are naturally resistant to the artificial rhythms of industrialized agriculture. Berries, brightly colored compared to the leafy background against which they grow, are meant to stand out and be visible in their natural environments – a pretty intelligent evolutionary mechanism for getting animals to eat and spread their seeds (in biological terms, this is called ‘dispersal’). Given their rapid deterioration once removed from their place of growth, it’s fair to conclude they are intended to be eaten at the source, probably somewhat immediately rather than trucked across the country.

As with everything, your local farmer’s market will have the freshest, least-traveled and least-aged berries. If you sense your berries have started to go off, the berry experts out there suggest a hot water or diluted vinegar rinse to revive them.

As much as the berries take the tart here, the crust is also a treasure for any baking repertoire that seeks healthy alternatives. The recipe is extremely versatile and lends itself to experimentation. I’ve had success with ground pecans and rice flour, also with butter in place of oil for a non-vegan crowd. It presses beautifully into whatever form and crisps up quickly in the oven.

The coconut lemon curd is also a really simple go-to. At first I was inclined to use honey for sweetness, but the maple syrup mellows out the tartness of the mixture, along with the creamy coconut milk. You can put this in/on everything: spread it onto a layer cake, bake it into a loaffry it into doughnuts, fold it into greek yogurt or just eat it on its own with some whipped cream (and berries) on top.

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TART SHELL

INGREDIENTS
1 cup raw almonds
2 1/3 cups gluten-free oat flour
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil, softened
3 tbsp maple syrup, plus 1 tablespoon
1-2 tbsp water, as needed
1 tablespoon almond milk (or soy)

METHOD
Preheat oven to 375° F. Oil a 10-inch tart pan with a removable base (8-inch will work fine, but you may have leftover dough from this recipe) and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

Grind almonds in a food processor until crumbed into coarse, small pieces. Then add oat flour, cinnamon, flax and salt, and continue to pulse until incorporated. Add coconut oil, maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of water, and continue to pulse. You should have a crumbly mess of damp pieces of dough, which should stick together when pressed between your fingers. If it doesn’t, add 1 more tablespoon of water and continue to mix thoroughly.

Pour the dough evenly over the base of the pan and begin pressing down with your fingers from the center of the pan towards the edges and up the sides, ensuring as much as possible that you are forming an even layer of dough. With the pad of your pointer finger, lightly press the lip of the crust into each flute of the tart pan so that your dough mimics the shape of the pan. Using a fork, poke the base of the tart several times to allow air to escape during baking.

Whisk together the almond milk and remaining maple syrup in a bowl. Carefully brush the mixture over the top edges of the crust (this will help the exposed crust get golden and shiny).

Bake for 12-14 minutes until dried out and slightly darker in color. Don’t worry if it feels soft to the touch, it will continue to firm up as it cools.

COCONUT LEMON CREAM FILLING

INGREDIENTS
1 cup canned coconut milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

METHOD
Whisk coconut milk, maple syrup and lemon juice and zest in a large saucepan. Turn heat to medium-high and once warmed throughout, stir in sugar. Then add cornstarch and still constantly for 4-6 minutes while the mixture thickens. If you don’t continue to stir, you will end up with clumps of cornstarch. Once the mixture has thickened to a creamy, thick yogurt consistency, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before applying to tart shell. The mixture can be made several days ahead and stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It will firm up once cooled, so when you’re ready to use it, let it fully come to room temperature and then whisk it until it returns to a creamy consistency.

ASSEMBLY

INGREDIENTS
4 cups fresh mixed berries, rinsed and drained (1 carton of each will do)
1 tablespoon honey
water
1 teaspoon lemon juice

METHOD
Place your tart shell on a serving platter. Spoon the lemon curd into the center and using the back of a spoon spread it out in even circles to the edge of the tart. Continue to smooth until you have a flat surface.

Arrange berries on top of the filling, either randomly as shown above or patterned. I like to fill in any blank spaces so the tart feels full to the brim with fruit.

Whisk together honey, lemon and water in a bowl. Using a pastry brush, paint the mixture onto the top of the berries, covering all surfaces until shiny.

lara's birdfeeder granola by Annie Jefferson

In college we used to make fun of my friend Lara because she’s from Colorado and she’s really laid back and wears loose jeans, loves hiking and also granola, which somewhere along the way became the ultimate hippie truism. Turns out, joke’s on us because granola is great. And while we’re sitting around nursing our wounds from our 20’s, Lara’s still out there hiking and eating granola. So, this one’s for Lara.

This is my absolute favorite granola recipe. It produces slightly sweet and slightly salty, crunchy yet mouth-melting knots of grains and seeds, many of which are the building blocks of the delicacy known as birdseed. It’s the unexpected variety of grains and seeds that elevate this granola, not just with their impressive nutritional profiles, but also the great range of both flavor and texture they bring to each cluster.

Granola is a combination of grains, nuts and seeds, dried fruit if you please, sweetener and some kind of liquid binding agent. During the baking process - without which in its raw form it would simply be a muesli - the whole mixture bonds together to create crunchy clusters of varying size and consistency, depending on your method and ingredients (tips on how to get that large chunk below).

You don’t need a recipe or even a special trip to the store to make granola. Just stay close to the ratio below and add whatever you want within the categories. Here are some ideas:

Grains3 cups
oats, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, rye, barley, rice, millet

Sweetener1/2 – 3/4 cup
honey, agave, maple syrup, coconut sugar, brown sugar, date sugar, blackstrap molasses

Nuts: 1/2 – 1 cup
walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, cashews, pistachio, marcona almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts

Seeds: 1/2 – 1 cup
sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, flax, poppy, hemp, chia

Liquid1/4 – 1/2 cup
vegetable oil, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, applesauce, egg white

Dried fruit1/2 – 1 cup
cranberries, golden raisins, cherries, apricots, figs, mangoes, apples

Spices, etcto taste
ginger, cardamom, clove, vanilla extract, chile powder, cacao nibs, chai, rosemary

The key to this particular recipe is the special blend that forms the base, made from a combination of buckwheat groats, quinoa, and millet, and flax, sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Together these nuts and seeds round all the bases when it comes to nutrients and vitamins – the perfect proteins will keep you full for hours. I always keep a reserve of this mixture in a jar – I’ll often soak it overnight and cook it as oatmeal the next morning.

I like my granola with a lot of textured grains and seeds, but I prefer to eat it with fresh fruit rather than directly mixing in dried fruit, so you won’t find any of that here. And I like my granola a 3 out of 10 when it comes to sweetness (with store-bought granola being a 10 on the sugar scale…you may as well buy a candy bar). If you're vegan, the egg white can be omitted (just increase your other liquids by 1-2 tablespoons), however it’s one half of the secret to getting those large chunks to stick together. The other half is resisting at all costs the temptation to touch or stir the firm sheet that’s forming as it bakes in the oven and rests afterwards. Hands off!

If you succeed in hands off, you'll be impressed by the large sheet of granola that forms, how satisfyingly it breaks into bite-size chunks, and the clusters that feel like they dissolve in your mouth. Give it a go, top it with greek yogurt and fresh fruit and your favorite nut milk, and be sure to thank that hippie granola girl Lara in Colorado as you crunch along.

INGREDIENTS
1/3 cup millet
1/3 cup red quinoa
1/3 cup buckwheat
2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup raw walnuts, halved
1/2 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup unsweetened coconut shavings
1 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2/3 cup raw honey
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white

METHOD
Measure and mix all dry ingredients (grains, oats, seeds, nuts, spices) in a large mixing bowl. Heat the coconut oil in a saucepan over low heat. Once melted, stir in the honey and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well. Then stir in the egg white until everything is combined.

Pour mixture onto baking sheet. Spread it out to form a compact rectangle. Press down firmly on the mixture with the back of your hand or a spatula.

Bake the granola at 300°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour without stirring. With 20 minutes time remaining, remove tray and press coconut shavings down firmly onto the top. Continue baking for remaining time

You will know when it’s done when your kitchen smells like cookies and the top is golden brown. Remove from oven and let rest without breaking for an additional 20 minutes. It will continue to firm up as it cools, so don’t worry if it feels a little soft when it first comes out.

Once cool, break the granola sheet apart with your hands or use a spatula to assist. Store in an air tight container in a cool, dark place.

kumquat day by Annie Jefferson

When life gives you 4 pounds of kumquats, make cake, curd and marmalade all in one day. Kumquat day.

My boyfriend’s parents cook on a farm near Santa Barbara and sometimes deliver us truckloads of beautiful, organic surplus produce. Today it was gigantic dirt-covered red beets, bright green shishito peppers, perfectly polished mouth popping baby tomatoes, and more fresh green herbs than I could possibly figure out what to do with before they begin to wilt.

Among the loot was also a massive bag of kumquats. Kumquats are a small citrus variety that taste like a lemon, an orange and a lime all at once. They’re the only citrus whose skin is tender and sweet enough to eat, and you must eat the skin! Unlike other citrus, the rind of the kumquat is the sweet part and the inside the tart part.

A single kumquat tree, depending on its size, can produce hundreds, often thousands of the little fruits every year. And so you have people like me, whose lives have suddenly, without warning, been thrown into kumquat production overdrive.

I started with a curd. I once had to make a vegan version of lemon curd for a cake recipe and I actually prefer it and have stuck with it ever since. The coconut milk makes it as creamy as you'd want a curd to be and the mixture thickens up flawlessly with a few spoonfuls of cornstarch. Curd made with kumquats is slightly more puckering than with lemon, and the flavor is really discernibly unique. You can strain out the rinds halfway through the recipe for a more uniform curd, but I love the little flecks of orange and the added texture.

I ended up swirling some of the curd into a loaf cake and jarring up the rest to give away to some curd-deprived vegans (with this recipe you’ll end up with a little extra).

The flavors here aren’t all soft and sweet like you’d expect from a typical loaf cake. You get hit with the unexpected tangy bite from the kumquats immediately. It’s evened out by the sweetness and nuttiness of the cake, but it’s there and it’s interesting. Mixing curd into the center ensures the whole thing is full of moisture – it’s like a built in spread.

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I’d never made marmalade with kumquats before, but with over 3 pounds to go, it seemed like the right thing to do. The great thing about marmalade is that because citrus peel naturally contains high levels of pectin and marmalade by definition includes the peel, you don’t need store-bought pectin to help it bind together. The little bits of kumquat get softened into a perfectly tender, almost Sour Patch Kids-like chewy consistency. I added the seeds from a whole vanilla bean for a smoother layer to the flavoring – I often find marmalade too one-dimensionally tart – and for the little black flakes that get set into the gel. I love this recipe, I doubled it this time and I’ll make it again and again.

Were I to make a FOURTH kumquat dish, I would have reduced the marmalade into a glaze and made a kumquat drizzle cake, but – I’m happy to say – kumquat day is over.

 

KUMQUAT CURD CAKE

KUMQUAT COCONUT CURD

INGREDIENTS
1 cup coconut milk
juice of 1/2 a lemon
30 kumquats, seeded and halved
1/2 cup coconut sugar (regular sugar will work too)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

METHOD
Heat coconut milk, lemon juice and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once warmed but not boiling, add kumquats. Stir and simmer, allowing to infuse for 10 minutes.

Transfer kumquats and liquid to a food processor and pulse until kumquats have been chopped to small flecks of orange. Return mixture to saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add cornstarch one tablespoon at a time, constantly stirring for 6-8 minutes until the mixture thickens to a creamy consistency. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Allow to cool as you make the cake batter.

LOAF CAKE

INGREDIENTS
1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup (120 grams) spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3/4 cup (170 grams) canola oil
1/2 cup (120 grams) greek yogurt
1/4 cup (85 grams) honey
2/3 cup (135 grams) natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 4 kumquats
2 eggs
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar for sprinkling

METHOD
Preheat your oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Combine flours, baking powder and sea salt in a bowl. In a second bowl, whisk together oil, greek yogurt, honey, kumquat zest, vanilla extract, and sugar. Whisk in one egg at a time until fully incorporated. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until combined.

Pour half of the cake batter into the bottom of the pan. Spread two thirds of the curd over the top of the batter, taking care not to let the curd touch the edges of the pan. Pour the remaining batter over the top of the curd and smooth out the top. Pour the remaining curd over the top of the batter. Using a butter knife, neatly swirl the curd back and forth across the pan, again being careful not to let it touch the pan. Sprinkle sugar in the raw over the top of the loaf.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to fully cool before cutting into the loaf, as the curd will pour out of the middle unless given time to firm up.

 

KUMQUAT + VANILLA BEAN MARMALADE

INGREDIENTS
1.5 pounds kumquats, rinsed, seeded and cut into quarters
3 cups water
1 pound granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half and seeds scraped out

METHOD
Rinse, seed and cut kumquats into quarters. It helps to use a sharp knife to both cut the kumquats and poke out their seeds.

Combine kumquats, water, sugar, scraped seeds and shell of the vanilla bean in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 5 minutes without reducing heat. Continue to boil until the mixture reads 220° F on a cooking thermometer. As a note, I’ve made marmalade without a thermometer and it’s turned out fine…just be sure you get the mixture boiling long enough before turning down the heat.

Return mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly, and cook until it has transformed into a thick gel like consistency. Allow to cool before storing in clean jars. Marmalade will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator (or longer if you use a preserving technique).

not-so-chiquita banana bread by Annie Jefferson

Last week I listened to an episode from one of my favorite radio shows about the troubled state of the banana and its surprisingly dark history. The sadness of the story stayed with me - I found myself wanting to stay a little longer in the world of the banana rather than just moving on to the next.  The next morning I made my version of the classic banana loaf using three overripe bananas that had been neglected in my fruit bowl for I'm not sure how long. As it baked in the oven, here's what I learned about the fruit we love so much, but know so little, and how its bread friend became such a lasting hit.

Our old friend Miss Chiquita, in all her cheery tropical intrigue, hides behind her colorful skirts a dark history when it comes to the yellow rinded fruit berry that's become so commonplace on the American kitchen counter. As with much of the food we consume here, the supply chain is hazy and there is a great chasm between the grower over there and the eater over here.

Together with Dole, Del Monte and Bonita, Chiquita Banana makes up 80% of banana sales in the US, and these sales are huge - bananas are the most profitable supermarket item, more so than apples and oranges combined. And when a big bunch of ripe bananas is waiting for you week after week on the shelf of your local grocery store for 58 cents a pound, any understanding of the great complexities of such a species or where it comes from is easily glossed over.

In the Southern half of the world – where bananas are grown – the banana as we know it is in grave danger. The variety of banana we eat today is called the Cavendish. There are thousands of other banana varieties, but because of its relatively superior transportability and longer shelf life, the Cavendish is the only one that’s mass produced and exported. This is an example of a monocrop, whereby acres and acres of land are artificially groomed to produce the same exact crop year after year in order to maximize efficiency and profitability.

Bananas are by no means the only example of this kind of singularly focused mass production. Monocultures are the underpinning of the modern industrial food system: wheat, corn, oats, oranges, even livestock all follow this model. Many argue that agriculture was never meant to function in such a narrowly focused state, and the result has been a system that spawns sickness, abuse and destruction.

The banana story is no different. One of the results of this lack of diversification is soil that becomes stale and resistant over time, leading to greater vulnerability to weeds, pests and pathogens. Enter the Panama Disease, a fungus that wiped out the once ubiquitous Gros Michel banana variety – which was slimmer, creamier and more flavorful than today’s banana – and which now threatens, in spite of the widespread use of pesticides, to extinguish the Cavendish we love so dearly. It was a similar monoculture disaster that caused the great Irish Potato Famine of the mid-1800s.

The banana was handed this same fate when in the mid-20th century, the United Fruit Company saw the lucrative potential in its large-scale export. But the banana story takes an even grimmer turn when you learn about the far-reaching impact of United Fruit on the fragile economic and political development of certain Latin American countries, as well as the on the lives of banana growers around the world. Oh, and United Fruit is now called – you guessed it – Chiquita Banana.

If Miss Chiquita is the offender in the great banana crime, then banana bread is the accessory. The first banana bread recipes date back to the 1930s when handy kitchen cabinet leavening agents – baking soda and powder – were popularized in the US. Banana bread grew in popularity in the coming years, aided by what Michael Pollan calls the post-war white flour industrial complex, where, after dwindling demand during the war years, big flour companies met the postwar market with heavy marketing pushes to get America baking again.

Pillsbury initiated the great Pillsbury Bake-Off competition, Betty Crocker invented the ‘just add water and two of your own eggs’ cake mix, and Chiquita Banana, seeing an opportunity for the banana to ride the flour wake, published its first recipe book in 1949, featuring the banana bread front and center (along with some other questionable things, like the Ham Banana Roll).

And so, bananas across America were ripened to a brown rind, flour sifted to a soft grain, ovens set to 350 degrees and kitchens were flooded with steaming loaves of fresh baked banana bread, each promising to be more ‘moist’ than the next

That banana bread took hold as it did isn’t such a long shot when you think about it. Banana bread is so lovable – the homiest of comfort foods, both familiar and accessible. It’s easy to make. It’s hard to make the stuff taste bad. And bananas themselves are loved for good reason. These little packages are filled with a firm, velvety meat that’s lightly sweet with hints of pineapple and brown sugar, and a lingering vegetal flavor, almost like green bell pepper. They’re versatile for their stable structure and moisture content, used in anything from baking to smoothies to sandwiches. They even have a specific use for when they've suddenly become overripe.

But can we still eat bananas (and their bread) in good conscience? In the long term, banana companies need to promote greater genetic diversity among banana varieties. In the meantime you can look for Equal Exchange bananas at the supermarket, which ensure not only that farmers are fairly treated and compensated (fair trade), pesticides and fertilizers are controlled (organic), but also that growing practices follow the principles of “agro-forestry“, which intersperse banana crops with cacao and citrus trees, for example, (a.k.a. polyculture) to protect the natural ecosystems of the farms, thereby controlling disease and preserving the species.

In appreciation of its struggle, this recipe is here to celebrate the great banana, its journey to our hands and the growers that protect and nourish it.

Sometimes straightforward, no frills recipes are the best kind. This one has a few upgrades that lighten up the traditional blueprint. Opting for greek yogurt for extra moisture and a bit of zing, honey and brown sugar for more natural layers of sweetness, and spelt flour for it’s high-protein, low-gluten nuttiness, this recipe won’t have you feeling like you’re cooking from the Chiquita Banana Recipe Book. The quarter cup of millet brings a satisfying crunch to an otherwise homogenous texture, the flaked sea salt an unexpected hit of savoriness, and the open-faced, halved banana up top gives the old loaf a bit of a face lift that will either impress or appall anyone alive in the 1950s.

NOT-SO-CHIQUITA BANANA BREAD

INGREDIENTS
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup raw honey
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup full fat greek yogurt
3 medium, very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup millet
1 extra banana
flaked sea salt for sprinkling

METHOD
Preheat oven to 325° F and grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Layer a piece of parchment paper at the bottom of the pan.

Using a whisk, beat together coconut oil, honey and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs one at a time, stirring as you go until well incorporated. Stir in mashed bananas and greek yogurt, whisking until well incorporated. Stir in vanilla extract.

Mix dry ingredients, including millet, in a separate bowl. Lastly, switch to a big spoon and stir in the flour, just until combined. Stir in millet.

Pour the batter into your greased loaf pan. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Slice the remaining banana in half length-wise and gently place both sides open-faced on top of the loaf.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on top and passes the toothpick test. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and on a wire cooling rack for another 20 before serving.

SOURCES
The Splendid Table, NPR
USLeap: Bananas, International Labor Rights Forum
Cooked, Michael Pollan
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, Dan Koeppel