My friend Sarah brought a pear frangipane tart to my house for dinner one day and I initially was not wowed by the look of it. Until I tried it. And then I became obsessed with recreating it at home because it was one of the most delicious desserts I had ever tasted (and you know how much I love chocolate!) I successfully came up with a recipe that was just as tasty, almondy, not too sweet, and a hit with everyone who tasted it!Continue reading
You know what makes me laugh about Passover? When I was growing up (in a very Italian-Catholic home,) my mother was always quite excited when Passover was imminent because matzoh would hit the shelves in the supermarket. And my grandmother was even more excited. I remember Grandma visiting once during Passover and gifting us 3 boxes of Streit’s matzoh that she received with a coupon at Shop Rite. We didn’t need any matzoh, of course, because my mom had already used a similar coupon at Pathmark and stocked up. But we were happy to have it, because once Passover was over, matzoh would be nowhere to be found.
What’s the point of this story? We actually bought matzoh because we liked it! Who likes matzoh? We did and we ate it with a schmear of Breakstone’s whipped butter, cream cheese or sometimes peanut butter. Now, many years later, I am married to a nice Jewish guy and we observe Passover. We don’t eat any grains or legumes or anything that can leaven for those 8 days. And I buy matzoh because it’s traditional and we use it like we would bread, spreading it with almond butter and jelly or using it to sandwich roasted veggies and goat cheese (that’s for me) or turkey and avocado. I make a veggie “lasagne” with matzoh and a very delicious matzoh brie too (you should check out my recipe for Tex-Mex matzoh brie.)
But let me tell you, I don’t love it. None of us in this house does. But pickings were always slim during Passover, unless one resorted to boxes of cake mix made out of sugar, preservatives and matzoh meal. Fast forward to 2014 when blanched almond flour has become as common as quinoa (which is ok to eat during Passover believe it or not.) So I have been able to enjoy delicious, “normal” baked goods which just happen to be grain-free. Just by using almond flour. Game changer!
A few years ago I posted a recipe for some delicious almond flour muffins with banana, chocolate and chia seeds. I will for sure make a batch or two of those next week, but I will also be making these amazing banana-carrot-coconut muffins. I found this recipe in Andrew Weil’s True Food cookbook and made a few adjustments to make them even more healthful. These muffins are a great cross between carrot cake and banana bread and have a nice, subtle sweetness. I actually make one batch as a 2-layer cake for the seders and spread my vegan frosting in between. I’ll make another batch and freeze them for breakfasts and lunchboxes, since I think these can serve as a meal-in-a-muffin.
Ironically, my mother still buys matzoh, although the options are far more interesting than they used to be including spelt, onion and even gluten-free. For me, I’ll enjoy Passover much more with these muffins!
- 2 cups blanched almond flour (not almond meal) I use Honeyville.
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 3 very ripe bananas*, mashed
- 2 Tablespoons raw honey
- ¼ cup (4 Tablespoons) unrefined coconut oil or unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
- 1 cup dates, pitted and chopped (or raisins or dried cherries)
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded
- ¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.
- In a large bowl, mix together the almond flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and coconut. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, bananas, melted coconut oil, honey, vanilla and vinegar together, making sure that the oil is well incorporated into the other ingredients.
- Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones. Fold in the dates, carrots, and walnuts. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. You will fill the cups to the top since these muffins don’t rise very much.
- Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown or a skewer inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. (Since there is no actual flour, the muffins will not rise significantly.) Cool in the pan or on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out the muffins onto the rack and let cool to warm or room temperature.
This recipe calls for blanched almond flour, which is much finer and lighter than almond meal. Bob's Red Mill "almond flour/meal" is not fine enough. You can use almond meal in this recipe, but the results will be heavier and coarser.
Even though Thanksgiving is passed, I am not letting go of cranberries just yet. I’m not letting go of winter squashes, pears or apples either for that matter. And I might just make some pumpkin pancakes tomorrow morning if I feel like it. I am not yet tired of all those fall flavors, nevermind that winter is knocking at the door.
I made these cranberry-orange muffins on a whim the other day and just had to share. Even though my family and I are not technically gluten-intolerant, gluten is something I mindful about limiting because it is quite pro-inflammatory and hard to digest and something that can be overeaten very easily. So every now and again when I want to bake something, I play around with gluten-free flours based on grains like rice or millet (if you haven’t tried these Millet Blondies, you must!), or to go grain-free I love using almond flour and coconut flour. There’s not one flour that mimics wheat perfectly, but there are ways to achieve a similar result. One of my kids’ favorite muffins is this recipe for Chocolate-Banana-Almond Muffins with Chia Seeds. That recipe uses all almond flour and has a very nice light, moist interior and such a yummy flavor. I otherwise don’t love using all almond flour in baking since things can get a little heavy. And you have to be sure to use almond flour and not almond meal. Almond flour is very fine and almost powdery. Almond meal is a little coarser which isn’t as desirable when you’re baking a muffin.
One of my new favorite combinations is using almond flour with a little coconut flour mixed in. The result is just a little lighter and chewier than with all almond flour. It’s still not exactly like wheat or spelt flour, but it’s close enough and my kids love muffins I make this way, including these cranberry-orange beauties. These muffins are just sweet enough, in my opinion, with a hint of orange. My family doesn’t love an overwhelming orange flavor, so the zest of 1 orange was perfect for us. But my favorite part is biting into a tart cranberry. I love contrasts in textures and flavors, so the tart and sweet always gets me! I remember making cranberry-orange quick bread when I was little girl. One of the reasons I’ll never forget it is because I completely screwed up the recipe the first time by mistaking baking powder for baking soda and things didn’t rise the way they were supposed to. Live and learn. Even though it was as dense as a brick, the flavors were still so good and we ate the whole thing anyway!
You can still find fresh cranberries in the markets and they also freeze beautifully if you would like to stock up and make cranberry-based recipes in the future. I think these are great for lunch boxes or for a chilly afternoon with a cup of tea, but I also would love them on Christmas morning, which is two and a half weeks away!! Loved being with you today, but it’s time for me to make like an elf and get back to business. Until next time!
- 2 cups blanched almond flour (I use Honeyville)
- ¼ cup coconut flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- grated zest of 1 orange
- 6 large eggs (or 4 eggs and 2 “flax eggs”*)
- ½ cup honey
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
- a heaping cup of fresh cranberries
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter or unrefined coconut oil, melted
- 2 Tablespoons sliced almonds (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard muffin tin with 9 unbleached parchment liners.
- Place the 2 cups of almond flour in a large mixing bowl. Remove 2 Tablespoons and transfer it to a small bowl and set aside. Add the coconut flour, baking soda, salt and orange zest to the large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.
- In a blender, add the eggs, honey, vanilla and vinegar. Blend until well combined.
- Pour the egg mixture into the large bowl and combine well. Fold in the cranberries.
- Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup to the top. I use an ice cream scooper to do this. Lightly brush the tops of each muffin with butter and sprinkle with the reserved almond flour and (optional) sliced almonds.
- Bake until lightly golden and when a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
You don't have to do the almond flour and sliced almonds on top, but it makes a pretty finish!
There’s a new (but not really new) diet in town which everyone is talking about called the Paleolithic Diet or Paleo, for short. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Caveman or Hunter-Gatherer Diet and it focuses on the foods humans ate pre-industrial agriculture. The idea is that our bodies recognize certain foods and haven’t evolved to recognize other newer foods so we should stick to what was eaten during the Paleolithic time to be healthy and fit. The diet allows lean grass-fed and pastured meats, eggs, nuts and seeds, fruits and vegetables, coconut, avocado and healthy fats. Easy, right? But the diet does not allow anything processed or refined (like sugar, flour, packaged food), or any grains (wheat, rice, barley, etc.), legumes (beans, lentils), dairy, potatoes or processed oils. I am not encouraging or discouraging this diet, which I think has its pros and cons, but merely giving a quick explanation since I’ve received a few questions about it recently.
As I have noticed more and more people limiting gluten and grains, I have also noticed the increased popularity and use of almond flour, which is finely milled blanched almonds. Almonds, like all nuts and seeds, are gluten-free, low in carbohydrates and high in protein. Whereas nuts and seeds, generally speaking, can be slightly acid-forming, almonds are alkalizing.
A few years ago I found Elana Amsterdam’s great gluten-free website, www.elanaspantry.com, which I think started the almond flour revolution. Elana has since turned paleo, and all her newer recipes follow those guidelines. It’s really because of her website that I was inspired to experiment with almond flour and although I have had mixed results, overall I think it’s awesome once I figured out how to work with it. I think it’s great to add some variety to our diet and I love getting some extra protein into Mr. Picky. Almond flour also comes in handy around Passover, 8 days of no grains or legumes, except Matzoh which can start to get a tad boring after a few days.
I had a really delicious Chocolate Banana Chia Seed muffin at Le Pain Quotidian last year or the year before and I was intent on duplicating it. The muffin was moist with the perfect amount of sweetness and I loved the crunch from the chia seeds. They were kind enough to tell me the ingredients (although not the exact recipe) and I made a tasty version at home with whole wheat pastry flour and maple syrup. The kids thought they were great! When I tried using almond flour in place of the wheat flour, we all went crazy for them. The almond flour version of the muffin was the best — super moist, chocolaty and a little denser, but in a good way. Now when I make these muffins, I always use almond flour!
Before you start substituting almond flour one-for-one for wheat flour, stop right there. It isn’t a perfect substitution. Almond flour has no gluten, but does contain way more fat than wheat flour so there are a few adjustments to be made. I would stop by Elana’s Pantry for a quick lesson on how almond flour works. I also have found that specifically labeled “almond flour” is better than “almond meal” (like Bob’s Red Mill.) Per Elana, I started buying almond flour from Honeyville Grain, which has a very good, fresh product and a very reasonable shipping fee ($4.50 flat rate.
These muffins are not technically Paleo due to the yogurt, although if you can find an unsweetened almond milk yogurt, that would work here. Or you can try making these without the yogurt and just add 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, although I have never done it and can’t guarantee the results. I’m really posting these as a great gluten-free, Happy Passover muffin, although I make these all year. In fact I made these recently and Daughter #2 had a few friends over and they inhaled half the batch in 2 minutes. (I’m telling you, if you want the kids to hang out at your house, you need FOOD.) To make this more of a dessert, you can certainly substitute chocolate chips for the diced dates. The chia seeds are fun and obviously nutritious, but there’s less than 1 teaspoon per muffin so it’s not a dealbreaker if you want to omit them.
As always, I love hearing about your experiments in the kitchen and would especially be interested to know about your experience with almond flour or your favorite Passover treats. Once again, I’m on dessert duty for Passover and I’m getting busy right now. This weekend I will be making loads of Macaroons, both plain and dipped in chocolate, the Lemon Ice Torte which I have been making since 1991, and a raw cashew “cheesecake” which I will have to share another time. There is also a recipe on my site for a (vegan) Coconut Tart with Strawberries which is perfect for Passover and Easter. Lots of delicious options!
- 1 ¾ cups blanched almond flour (not almond meal – I use Honeyville)
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 2 Tablespoons of chia seeds + 1 Tablespoon for muffin tops
- ½ cup diced pitted dates, about 7 dates (easier to dice when they’re cold) (optional, or ½ cup chocolate chips)
- 4 Tablespoons melted unrefined coconut oil
- 4 Tablespoons whole unsweetened yogurt
- ⅓ cup 100% pure maple syrup or honey
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3 medium very ripe bananas, mashed
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with unbleached parchment liners.
- In a large bowl, whisk together almond flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and 2 Tablespoons chia seeds. Add dates and break up pieces so they don’t stick together.
- In a blender, combine coconut oil, yogurt, maple syrup, eggs, and vanilla.
- Pour wet mixture into bowl with dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Fold in mashed bananas.
- Divide the batter into the prepared pan. (An ice cream scoop makes this job easy.) Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.
When I was a little girl, I loved any holiday where candy was involved. I was crazy about sugar and my mother didn’t allow many sweet treats in the house, so I really looked forward to those “special occasions.” Lucky for me, my auntie was all too happy to satisfy my sweet tooth whenever possible. She was and still is an unbelievable baker as well as a top customer at her local chocolate shop. You name the holiday, she had the matching sweets, especially on Easter, which was like sugar-on-steroids. There were small little foil-wrapped bunnies for our baskets, large chocolate boxed bunnies, jelly beans in every color of the rainbow, chocolate eggs and the best one of all — a ginormous chocolate-covered coconut egg. Imagine a moist, dense, sliceable orb of sweetened coconut covered in milk chocolate — I was obsessed with this confection! Believe me, I’m not trying to tempt you here. It was so sickenly sweet, I am sure if I had a bite of it today, I would be nauseous. Definitely not worth it!
I’m no longer obsessed with that coconut egg (or candy, for that matter.) But since then, I’ve always associated Easter with coconut, which is funny because it’s really a season-less food. And in the last decade since I’ve been on the health food path, coconut has found it’s way to me in many forms, none of which is sweetened with sugar nor coated with chocolate-flavored sugar. Today I rely on unrefined coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut water and unsweetened shredded coconut and my body is much happier with me. So when I was coming up with a new Easter dessert a few years ago, coconut immediately came to mind. But since I also celebrate Passover with my husband’s family, I wanted something I could serve on that holiday, too, so no grains or flours allowed. Lastly, I wanted a delicious dessert that wouldn’t make me feel sick after I ate a slice. And this is what it really boils down to for me. I rarely eat sweets and when I do, I’m not looking for dessert to take care of my nutritional needs. So whereas it’s nice in theory to know I may be getting a few extra minerals from unrefined sweeteners and unprocessed ingredients, I just want a tasty treat that doesn’t make me feel like hell afterwards. Like this coconut tart!
This tart is so delicious and light, but it also happens to be gluten-free, vegan (if you use coconut oil), Passover-friendly, and adaptable to the fruits of the season. I love making this tart with strawberries now since they are absolutely everywhere and super luscious. But I’m sure you can picture this like a traditional fruit tart with raspberries, blueberries, kiwis, ripe peaches and/or apricots. If you don’t like coconut (seriously?), you probably won’t love this, but you can always swap your favorite (hopefully not too toxic) crust for this one. The coconut custard is very subtle and not overly sweet, so do give it a chance. For those of you looking to get a jump-start on your holiday baking (I love the way you think), you can definitely make both the crust and the pastry cream 2-3 days in advance and keep both covered in the refrigerator. You can even wash, dry, and slice your strawberries the day before and keep them covered in the fridge, if it makes your life easier. It’s best to wait until the day you serve it to spread the cream on top of the crust to avoid it becoming soggy. Leftovers (what leftovers?) should be kept refrigerated otherwise you’ll run into the same soggy crust issue. For my other two favorite go-to Easter and Passover desserts, check out my Lemon Ice Torte, which I’ve been making since 1991 (gasp!) and Coconut Macaroons. With desserts like these, you won’t be tempted by your kids’ Easter baskets!
- ¼ cup melted coconut oil or unsalted butter plus additional for greasing pan
- ¼ cup 100% pure maple syrup, preferably Grade A
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup almond meal or almond flour
- 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- ½ cup coconut milk (not light)
- 1 ½ Tablespoons 100% pure maple syrup, preferably Grade A
- pinch fine sea salt
- 2 ½ Tablespoons non-GMO cornstarch, such as Bob’s Red Mill or Rapunzel
- ⅓ cup cold water
- 1 dry pint strawberries, sliced
- Make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat a 9 ½ -inch tart pan with removable bottom with butter or coconut oil. Whisk together coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla until well blended. In a mixing bowl, combine almond meal, coconut and salt. Add wet mixture to the mixing bowl and stir to combine. It will be quite sticky. Press into bottom and up sides of pan. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Make the filling: Scrape vanilla seeds into a small saucepan, and add pod. Stir in the almond milk, coconut milk, maple syrup and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard vanilla pod.
- In a small bowl, combine the cold water and cornstarch and whisk until smooth. Pour into the coconut milk mixture and simmer, whisking constantly, until mixture is thickened like pastry cream. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Transfer cream to the refrigerator and chill.
- Just before serving, pour custard into crust and spread evenly. Arrange berries decoratively on top and serve immediately. Best kept refrigerated.