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Carrot, Caraway and Honey Muffins

muffinsRecently I had the pleasure of going over to Peckham and having a food tour of the area courtesy of The Skint Foodie. Our first stop was Persepolis and I could have spent all day there, rummaging through the treasure chest of amazing items they stock and chatting to Sally about her cookbooks. I managed to only buy a few things (but eyed up several others for a return visit) and came away with a bag of caraway seeds.

As far as I know, these are actually the fruit of the caraway plant rather than a true seed, but whatever they are botanically, they are underrated ingredient these days. Popular in Britain for centuries, they work well in sweet and savoury dishes and for some reason they remind me of my childhood. I’m not sure I remember eating them in anything particular, but they take me back every time. I haven’t had them regularly since I used to frequent a sandwich shop in Waterloo that did a New York club sandwich on caraway bread.

So when I saw them in Persepolis, I immediately wanted to make something with them that was neither sweet nor savoury but but would show them to full effect. Much as I love the idea of seed cake, it seemed too definitive a decision. Caraway duets delightfully with carrot and I figured this was the way to go.

I love making muffins but am always put off by having to buy the bigger sized liners and paying through the nose for them. So when I got sent a stunning non stick muffin tin recently by George Wilkinson, they promised to dispense with the need to line the tin. It was time to find out!

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Apple and Amaranth Granola

At this time of year I struggle for breakfast ideas. It’s not cold enough for porridge and I find it hard to get the lovely plums and greengages the season offers so find my bowls of bircher muesli less alluring without a fruity topping. I need something to shake me up a bit and hopefully wake me up a bit as well. The bite of granola seemed to fit the bill.

Raw amaranth grains

I’d been wondering what to do with the amaranth I’d impulse purchased at Whole Foods a while back and decided that a granola might lift it from looking like birdseed to something more appetising. As terrified to get it wet as Zack should have been with his Mogwai in Gremlins after hearing it goes gluey, I popped it in a hot pan first, turning it from plain seed to toasty treat.

Popped amaranth seed

Amaranth is an ancient grain (from a grass I believe) and is similiar to quinoa in that it is gluten free* and high in protein and fibre. It makes interesting sounding porridges, but I think it most appetising dry cooked to keep it nutty and crunchy. Bearing in mind that the seed is so crunchy, I decided to make the rest of the granola a little bit softer by coating it with stewed apple instead of oil. Everything about this recipe was impulse based so it’s in cups, not weights.

Apple and Amaranth Granola:

  • 2 apples, stewed down to make one cup of apple puree
  • 2 cups jumbo oats
  • 1/2 cup amaranth
  • 1/4 cup wheatgerm (optional if your granola is wheat free)
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup pecans, halved
  • 1/2 brazil nuts, halved
  • 1/2 cup honey (or treacle)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

First, stew your apples. Back in Belfast where I made this, it’s dead easy to get proper Bramley apples for cooking, but I struggle to find them in London, so just use anything sharp and tangy. Peel, slice finely, add about a tablespoon of water and stew until soft and like a puree. They’ll collapse in on themselves if left at the lowest heat with a lid on for about 20 minutes.

Then using a hot dry pan, toast your sesame seeds and set aside. Have a lid handy and then into the same pan, put your amaranth and toast until about 40% of it looks like tiny white popcorn and the rest is golden brown. It won’t all pop, but what does will go everywhere so you’ll need that lid!

Place all your dry ingredients in a bowl. You can add more types of nuts if you like. Hazelnuts would be lovely. Some flaked coconut is fabulous. You could add in some linseeds or sunflower seeds. Play around to get your perfect mix. Heat the pureed apple and the honey together and then mix into the dry ingredients, mixing well to make sure they are all coated.

Cook on a shallow tray so the granola is well spread out in the oven at 200℃ for about 20 minutes. Turn it over at this point and give it another 10 minutes until golden and crispy looking but not burnt. Cool in the tray and put in an airtight container immediately as this granola is a bit softer than oil based ones and will wilt gently if left out for too long.

Eat clusters of it with your bare hands while doing so or wait until you can get it into a bowl where it is fabulous with fresh berries and yoghurt. Healthy and filling, this doesn’t taste wholesome or lacking in flavour. The amaranth is nutty and packed with flavour and the chunky nuts make this feel very luxurious indeed. Considering it takes so little time to make, I’ll definitely be doing this again instead of spending serious money on boxed mueslis or granolas. Their packaging migh look nice on the table, but you don’t get to pop your own ancient grains with those….

*this whole granola can be gluten free if you choose oats that guarantee themselves GF in processing. See the Coeliac Society for more info from people in the know.

A Gold Medal for these Grahams…

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bit of an Americanophile with a particular penchant for all American foods, so imagine my glee when I discovered an online recipe for graham crackers. Forget Oreos, these are the archetypal American biscuit. Golden and honeyed, they are light and crunchy and nothing in the British biscuit family, even the digestive, quite cuts it for me.

Graham crackers are hard to describe if you haven’t had one. Their unique texture comes from the the type of flour usually used to make them. Graham flour is the brainchild of one Reverand Sylvester Graham who believed processed white flour was a devilish abombination and that bran would cure all ills. He created a type of flour that had the wheat germ and endosperm ground separately from the flour and then added back in to create a coarser flour that none the less makes exceedingly light crackers.

This flour is difficult to come by outside the USA and so I was resigned to the fact that I would only be able to indulge my graham cracker love while on holiday or when friends brought me boxes back in their suitcases. But this recipe uses regular plain flour! Time to go crackers methinks and risk the fact the use of processed flour might inflame my carnal desires…

I was originally planning to use these crackers to make a base for a pumpkin pie. They would have been crushed and mixed with butter to make a crumb based crust somewhat like one can do with a digestive or two when making cheesecake. However on first reading the recipe seemed too complicated to start baking something just to destroy it again and I decided to go with a traditional pastry pie shell instead.

I was also pleased that upon thorough reading to see that the recipe for the crackers is actually incredibly easy. I was just thrown by the talk of different mixers with a large selection of attachments making it lot trickier than it is. I don’t have a mixer so I assembled my ingredients (all easily found in the store cupboard, nothing fancy) and decided to give it a go by hand. Apart from it taking twice as long to crumble the butter because it was frozen rather than chilled, this is was so easy I cannot understand why anyone would bother making washing up by using a mixer.

About five minutes after I started mixing it all, I had a gorgeous golden dough flecked with sugar and stiff enough to wrap easily in clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight. The recipe mentioned it would be rather sticky, but I didn’t find that at all. I wonder if this was because I used golden caster sugar rather than a muscavado or because plain flour is slightly different to all purpose flour? Either way the dough was a dream to handle and I ddin’t need all the flour I put on the clingfilm or the work surface.

Next morning I had a well chilled dough that was still easy to handle. Deb mentions in her recipe using a pastry wheel to cut the crackers into traditional rectangles, but since no graham cracker has ever lasted long enough in front of me to notice the shape, I decided to go off piste and cut them in star shapes instead. The dough cut easily and the scraps came back together well too. I used half the dough, rolled out to about an 1/8 of an inch and got around 40 biscuits from it.

I placed them on lined trays and sprinkled the sugar cinnamon topping over them before popping the trays in the fridge for around half an hour. Cooking the dough from chilled should make the crackers even lighter and crispier so it’s not worth skipping this stage. They then went in the preheated oven at 180˚C for about 12 minutes before they were perfectly cooked. I cooled them on a rack and lasted about 3 minutes before I snaffled one of them.

And they were fantastic. Buttery but light, beautifully crisp and infused with honey, they crunched gorgeously when I bit into them. The scattering of sugar on top made them even crunchier and the hint of cinnamon was perfect with the flavour of honey. It took such willpower not to stuff my face with one after another until they were all gone (and then admit that to my now biscuitless friends what I had done). I managed to get some on a plate and serve them up.

It probably says a lot about how delicious and moreish these graham crackers are that there was only one solitary biscuit remaining at the end of an afternoon so filled with baked goods we didn’t even manage to get round to one of the cheesecakes…they might be my favourite thing to have baked this year and I strongly urge you to try them immediately. I have no idea if they keep well, but I don’t think you’ll have any left to store!