dessert

coconut 'mac-ao' ice pops + superfoods by Annie Jefferson

'Superfood' is a term used for foods that contain relatively high quantities of nutrients or minerals...to take it one step further, foods that, in theory, have health benefits with the potential to help protect from or heal disease. 

Scientifically, there's zero certainty around superfoods when it comes to their ability to visibly boost health or protect from disease. Dictionary definitions of the word include noncommittal language like 'may help' or 'considered to be'. Nutritionists and medical practitioners are wary of the word, and in the EU it's actually illegal to market products as 'superfoods' unless a scientific research-backed medical claim is provided. Blueberries, one of the original 'superfoods' - praised for its high antioxidant content - were actually disproven as such because of how the body processes the antioxidant properties, which are rendered inactive after digestion. 

None of this sounds very good, so what's the fuss about? There's inarguably a great seduction in the concept of superfoods - that there's a list out there of food items, many sourced from exotic places across the globe (where anything must be possible), and that you can buy at your local Whole Foods with the promise not only of glowing skin and increased energy, but longevity and disease prevention too. At a time when more than ever before we feel disconnected from our bodies - with the answers to our health held only by the few in white lab coats - buying into superfoods is an appealing opportunity to take control of our bodies back. Especially when the solution doesn't come in the form of a pill in a bottle, but a product straight from the earth (!).

The concept becomes less appealing when you look for the supportive evidence, and some express concern that the inclusion of 'super' encourages the over-consumption of one food, when we know that the key to health is variety and balance. For sure, classifying foods this way and then tossing the word around is, although perhaps not dangerous, certainly an example of oversimplification. 

I argue that whatever the controversy, the concept of superfoods can be helpful to us simply by urging the connection between sustenance and body, food and medicine.

To the popsicles. No they won't solve all your problems, but they're a great step toward awareness of how food can be used as medicine, and to cooling down if where you are is nearly as hot as it's been in LA!

MACA ROOT

Maca powder comes from the maca root plant. The plant originated in the Andes and has been used for centuries as a source of nutrition and enhanced fertility in humans and animals. Maca is rich in sterols, which are similar to steroids in their promotion of muscle tissue regeneration and stress alleviation, as well as adaptogens, which helps your body achieve hormonal balance. Consistent consumption of Maca therefore has the potential to manage tension and stress, support hormonal health and fertility, and encourage overall energy, vitality and positive mood. Maca has also been reported to increase libido, though supporting studies are hard to come by.

Maca's taste is malty, earthy and nutty, with hints of caramel and butterscotch. It's important to either buy Maca whole and cook it, or buy the gelatinized powder version, which has gone through a heating process that removes any anti-nutrients found in raw cruciferous vegetables. 

RAW CACAO

Cacao in its purest form is made from raw (not heated over 115 degrees) cocoa beans, which have not been processed or refined. In this natural state, cacao's nutrients are more easily absorbed by the body. Cacao is known for its high levels of antioxidants - which protect cells against disease -, theobromine - a stimulant that encourages positive mood and energy -, and as one of the highest food sources of magnesium - a mineral in which many adults are deficient, and which plays an important role in healthy sleep and overall calming of the nervous system.

Raw cacao has a bitter, chocolatey flavor, and when paired with nutty Maca, the two synergize together perfectly. In popsicle form, this essentially achieves a healthier, subtler fudgsicle. 

For variety and aesthetic factor, I added a top layer of coconut milk and chia seed. These too are lauded as one of the life-saving superfood. Aside from looking like perfect miniature beach stones, these teensy chia seeds are a big source of Omega-3, fiber, protein and antioxidants. They are a go-to for those of us looking to add protein to a plant-based diet.

In the end, these foods are absolutely super! But so are spinach and lemons and black beans and apples, and plenty of other ordinary foods that fail to make it onto top 10 lists. Leave the labels aside, but take with us the reminder to connect our foods to our bodies, and look to food as a source of medicine (and also disease). I hope at the very least you find these popsicles are a cool summer treat that makes you feel healthy and connected to your body, and of course that you all experience better energy, fertility, libido, sleep quality and cure of ailments from head to toe!

COCONUT 'MAC-AO' ICE POPS
Makes 8 popsicles

INGREDIENTS
20.4oz or 1 1/2 cans coconut milk
1 1/2 tablespoons chia seed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons raw honey
2 teaspoons raw cacao powder
1 tablespoon gelatinized maca root powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon himalayan pink sea salt, divided
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 medjool dates

Optional: 2 tablespoons each hemp seeds and sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey

METHOD
First make the top layer. Measure out 1/2 can or 6.8oz coconut milk. If your coconut milk has separated, you may need to warm it over low heat to help it come together. Stir in the chia seed, vanilla extract and raw honey until incorporated. Allow to sit in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to allow the chia seed to expand.

Meanwhile, make the maca and cacao layer. Warm the remaining 13.6oz/1 can of coconut milk in a saucepan over low heat. Add the maca powder, raw cacao, cinnamon, cloves, sea salt and coconut sugar. Stir until dissolved. Transfer mixture to blender and add medjool dates. Blend on high until no more date pieces remain.

Pour the chia seed coconut mixture into the bottom third of each popsicle mold. Place tray in the freezer. Wait 1 hour, or until completely hardened. Remove from freezer and pour the maca and cacao mixture into the remaining two thirds of each mold. Place popsicle sticks into each and return to freezer to harden. 

At this point, you can either let your pops continue to freeze for several hours or over night, or you can remove them from the freezer 2 hours into the hardening time and add the hemp and sesame seed mixture to the bottom of the pops (if you do this, be sure to leave half an inch or so of space at the top of each mold). Mix together hemp and sesame seeds, and maple syrup and using a small spoon, evenly place the seed mixture at the top of each mold. Press down firmly to make sure it is packed together. Return to freezer. 

*The chia seed layer adds variety and texture to the pop, but to make things even easier, if you prefer, you can always skip the chia seed layer, and go all maca and cacao! Just increase the ingredients by about one third each.

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.

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.

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).