spelt crackers

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I’ve had one of those weekends that make people say goofy things about how they need another weekend to recover from their weekend. I’m blaming the holidays, although not all of my extra projects are holiday-related. In particular, the dinner party I’m co-hosting on Thursday is dominating a lot of my kitchen time this week, since it’s on a weekday so everything I’m in charge of needs to be done in advance.

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But I still managed to squeeze in time to make these crackers – twice. Not only do they only have three ingredients – water, salt, and fancy flour – those ingredients don’t require any complicated steps. There’s no kneading and no resting, just a quick stir before the dough is ready to be rolled out.

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Twenty minutes in the oven and just like that, you have crackers. Crackers so good that Dave said, “These are homemade? But they’re just like real crackers!” Fresh crisp crackers, baked brie topped with roasted red peppers and garlic, and a glass of wine make the perfect break from weekend chores.

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One year ago: Comparison of 3 Bolognese Sauce recipes
Two years ago: Bourbon Pound Cake

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Spelt Crackers (barely adapted from The New York Times Magazine via Smitten Kitchen)

4-6 servings

The original recipe calls for white spelt flour, but I don’t know what I used. In fact, I bought my spelt flour in the bulk section at the same time I bought barley flour, and I mixed them up and don’t know which I used. The crackers turned out great regardless.

I didn’t flour the pan generously enough the first time and had some issues with the dough and then the baked crackers sticking. I tried spraying the pan with oil the second time instead of flouring, which made rolling a lot easier, but the crackers weren’t as crisp. From now on, I’ll stick with flour but be sure to use plenty of it.

¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup water
1½ cups spelt flour, plus more for flouring surface
Coarse sea salt, dried onion bits, poppy seeds and sesame seeds, or a seed combination of your choice

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Dissolve the salt in the water. Stir in the spelt flour until a ball forms.

3. Generously flour an overturned 12-by-17-inch cookie sheet and roll out the dough on top of it, using as much flour as needed to prevent sticking, until the dough covers the sheet from edge to edge. Using a spray bottle filled with water, spray the dough to give it a glossy finish. Prick the dough all over with a fork. If you choose, sprinkle with sea salt or seeds. For neat crackers, score the dough into grids.

4. Bake until the dough is crisp and golden, 15 to 25 minutes. Break into pieces and serve.

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cheddar puffs with green onions

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Are you afraid of yeast? Or at least resistant to adding complicated rising schedules to your already-stressful Thanksgiving to-do list? Try these puffs instead of yeast bread. They take about 10 minutes to put together, and you can shape the dough and freeze it until the big day. Then you just pop them in the oven while the turkey rests.

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I admit that they don’t make the best gravy mop, but they have such great flavor on their own that you don’t really want to bury it anyway – even with this gravy. They resemble cream puffs, except instead of a sweet creamy filling, they’re full of onions bits and shredded cheese. They taste perfect with the turkey, and they fit perfectly into the turkey roasting schedule.

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Two years ago: Croissants (Martha Stewart)
Three years ago: Asian Peanut Dip

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Cheddar Puffs with Green Onions (adapted from Bon Appétit via epicurious)

Makes 24 puffs

½ cup water
2 tablespoon butter, cut into 4 pieces
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup + 1 tablespoon (2.7 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
3 ounces grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup minced green onions

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Bring the water, butter, and salt to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Remove from the heat; mix in the flour. Stir over medium heat until the mixture becomes slightly shiny and pulls away from sides of the pan, about 3 minutes; transfer to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition to form a sticky dough. Mix in the cheese and green onions.

3. Divide the dough into 24 equal portions; drop onto the baking sheet one inch apart. (Can be made ahead. Wrap in plastic, then foil. Refrigerate up to 2 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.)

3. Bake the cheese puffs until golden, about 30 minutes if at room temperature and 35 minutes if chilled or frozen. Serve immediately.

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apple cider doughnuts

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It’s going to be 95 degrees here today, but I’m trying to force it to feel like fall anyway. It isn’t just the temperature; there are no trees here to change colors, the air is always dry and crisp, and the only place to buy pumpkins and apples is the grocery store. I often prefer living in the desert, even with months of over 100-degree days in the summer, but every fall, I miss upstate New York.

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I especially miss the cider mill I lived near when I was there, which was almost a fall festival of its own, every day. I loved stopping there and choosing one each of six different apple types, which made the best apple pies I’d ever eaten. In the weeks before Halloween, they’d cover most of the lot with pumpkins, not to mention the barrels of squash of every variety. Inside, you could watch them pulp the apples into cider on one side of the building, and on the other, they were frying doughnuts. Brushing fallen sugar off of our shirts after biting into fresh donuts became a yearly tradition.

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You can’t buy jugs of fresh cider here or the donuts made with it, but I can make my own doughnuts using pulpy storebought apple juice. By reducing the apple cider/juice until it’s syrupy, you can increase the apple flavor of the doughnuts without increasing the stickiness of the dough. Concentrating apple juice and frying apply donuts smells like fall, and, in a pinch, that will have to epitomize the season in the desert.

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One year ago: Burritos
Two years ago: Green Chile Rellenos
Three years ago: Stuffed Mushrooms with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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Apple Cider Doughnuts (slightly adapted from The Hearth Restaurant via Smitten Kitchen)

Makes 18 doughnuts and 18 doughnut holes

Despite generally being anti-shortening, I tried it for frying this time. However, I wasn’t happy with it; it started smoking well before it reached proper frying temperature. The doughnuts also seemed to absorb more fat than usual.

1 cup apple cider
3½ cups (16.8 ounces) flour, plus additional for the work surface
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk
Vegetable oil or shortening for frying
Topping (optional): ½ cup granulated sugar + 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the apple cider to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to ¼ cup, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg.

2. Using an electric mixer on medium speed (with the paddle attachment, if using a standing mixer), beat the butter and granulated sugar until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time; continue to beat until the eggs are completely incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add half of the reduced apple cider and buttermilk, then all of the dry ingredients, then the remaining liquid ingredients, mixing just until combined.

3. Flour two sheets of parchment or wax paper; turn the dough out onto one floured sheet and cover with the second sheet. Roll the dough out to a thickness of ½-inch. Transfer the dough to the freezer until it is slightly hardened, about 20 minutes.

4. Using a floured 3-inch or 3½-inch doughnut cutter (or a round cutter plus a 1-inch round cutter or backside of a piping tip), cut out rings of dough. Place the cut doughnuts and doughnut holes onto one sheet of floured wax paper. Re-roll the scraps of dough, incorporating as little flour as possible. Refrigerate the doughnuts for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Add oil or shortening to a deep-sided pan to measure a depth of about 3 inches. Heat over medium heat until the oil reaches 350°F. Place a wire rack over a baking sheet.

6. Carefully add three doughnuts and three holes to the oil; fry until golden brown, about 60 seconds. Flip the doughnuts and fry until the other side is golden, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain on the rack for one minute. Dip the top of the warm doughnuts into the cinnamon sugar mixture (if using) and serve immediately.

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basic biscuits

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I just got back from two weeks in Italy, which I spent eating: croissants for breakfast, baskets of bread for lunch and dinner (and not a whole grain in sight), wine with lunch and dinner, gelato at least once a day, and so on and so on and so on. And guess what? I came home exactly the same size I was when I left.

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I wish I could use this as justification to throw all of my healthy eating ideals to the wind (I accidentally typed “wine” at first – I’m still in vacation mode) and just eat what I want to eat. And maybe I could, if I spent hours upon hours walking in my normal life, walking until my feet ached and then ached more, and then they kept aching hours after I’d stopped walking. Instead, I spend hours upon hours of my normal life sitting at a computer, both at work and at home, and that, my friends, is the difference.

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Biscuits, and their buttery bready cousins croissants and scones, become a weekend treat. Usually I make biscuits to sandwich with eggs and ham for breakfast, but occasionally I serve them alongside crab cakes for dinner. But just occasionally. If only my normal life burned as many calories as my vacation life, I could – and would! – eat biscuits almost every day.

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Jennifer chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I…made no changes? Maybe? I don’t know, I made these a while ago. It seems likely that I followed the recipe exactly, except I definitely used the cake flour option, because I love how light biscuits are when they’re made with cake flour.

One year ago: Fold-over Pear Torte
Two years ago: Split-Level Pudding
Three years ago: Lenox Almond Biscotti

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cornmeal and bacon loaf

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It’s impossible to get burned out on food fads in smalltown southeastern New Mexico. There are no cupcake shops (heck, there isn’t any kind of bakery), no restaurants topping their food with foam, and bacon stays where it belongs – next to eggs, not in desserts.

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Not that adding bacon to cornbread is particularly trendy, but I naively fell for the naming trickery of this bread and didn’t realize until I was eating it that “cornmeal loaf” is cornbread. In this case, cornbread with bacon and without any fruit, as I didn’t want to confuse the issue of whether this was a dessert or breakfast. With a poached egg on top and savory bits of bacon mixed in, this is classic breakfast all the way.

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Caitlin, who evidently can’t resist the combination of fruit and cornmeal, chose this for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the full recipe posted. I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for half of the whole wheat flour, left out the fruit, reduced the sugar to ⅓ cup, and added 6 strips of cooked chopped bacon, as recommended by Dorie in her savory variation.

One year ago: Espresso Chocolate Shortbread
Two years ago: Lime Meringue Pie
Three years ago: Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

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carrot spice muffins

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I am against vegetables in cake, but I am pro vegetables in muffins. I am against raisins in cake, but I am pro raisins in muffins. The same goes with nuts. Basically, carrot cake is an abomination, or at best just a vehicle for cream cheese frosting, but carrot muffins are awesome.

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Awesome to eat, that is; they’re a bit of a pain to make, what with the carrot shredding and nut toasting and spice measuring. But they’re worth it in the end, hearty and moist and studded with sweet raisins and bitter pecans. I have to confess to wondering if they would be even better topped with cream cheese frosting though.

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Nancy chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie, and she has the recipe posted. I reduced the oil to ½ cup, replaced 1 cup of all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour, doubled the salt, and increased the carrot slightly.

One year ago: Chocolate Ganache Ice Cream
Two years ago: Banana Bundt Cake
Three years ago: Blueberry Sour Cream Ice Cream

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peanut butter and jelly muffins

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I used to make a recipe similar to this – but without the peanut butter – and I loved it. Something about a dollop of jam baked inside of a muffin tastes so much better than a spoonful of jam spread over it once it’s baked. My old recipe also had a warm overtone of nutmeg I enjoyed.

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The only thing that wasn’t perfect about it was that it seemed too cakey, too dessert-like. These days, I like a heartier muffin. I also like to squeeze protein in wherever I can, and besides, everyone knows that peanut butter is a perfect partner for jelly.

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These peanut butter muffins are mixed a little differently than a standard muffin, in that the peanut butter is cut into the dry ingredients before the remaining liquids are added. Maybe this contributed to how light and soft the muffins were once baked, or maybe it was just the fat content of the peanut butter. Either way, with a good proportion of whole wheat flour and a layer of fruity jam in the middle, these are even better than my old favorite.

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One year ago: Lemon Curd Tart
Two years ago: Puff Pastry Dough
Three years ago: Pain a l’Ancienne

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Peanut Butter Jelly Muffins (adapted from Real Simple and Jeanne Lemlin’s Vegetarian Classics)

I used half whole wheat pastry flour.

1 cup whole milk
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch nutmeg
⅓ cup (3 ounces) peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
About ¼ cup jam

1. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray the bottoms of a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick spray or line with paper liners. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, egg, butter, and vanilla.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand mixer), combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add the peanut butter; mix until evenly combined. Turn the mixer off, add all of the milk mixture at once, and mix on low speed just until combined (small lumps are fine).

3. Place one heaping tablespoon of batter into each muffin cup. Spoon about a teaspoon of jam over the batter in the cups. Divide the remaining batter evenly between the cups.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean, 15-20 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool slightly, about 5 minutes, then use a thin-bladed knife to remove the muffins from the pan.

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coconut scones

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The first half of this year was downright lazy for me. Of course I went to work, exercised, did laundry, cooked, and kept my house from turning into a cesspool, but I managed to do all that while spending the majority of the weekend, every weekend, outside in the backyard reading books and drinking margaritas. I love reading books and drinking margaritas, but I admit that I was starting to get the slightest bit bored.

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And just in time, because the pace is picking up. The second half of the year is packed with vacations, from a weekend in Colorado over 4th of July, a week on the beach later in the summer, Italy in the fall, Thanksgiving with Dave’s family, and then finally Christmas. It’s getting busy, and I’m still adjusting.

That’s my excuse for not being on top of things and making these scones for breakfast a few weekends ago, since we spent this weekend in Albuquerque. On the other hand, I knew I wouldn’t be able to find chestnut flour in my little town, but I was pretty convinced I could get it at Whole Foods in the “big” city. I was wrong; they didn’t have it.

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So no chestnut flour and no breakfast opportunities. Then I remembered that scones are really dessert disguised as breakfast, so there was no reason not to eat them after dinner. And while grinding almonds would have been a better substitute for chestnut flour than coconut flour was, I chose the easier option: coconut flour is already ground. I doubt coconut flour and chestnut flour result in a similar scone, but I can assure you that coconut flour, at least, makes a light scone with a texture somewhat reminiscent of a sable. One little scone made a nice dessert.

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Andrea had some chestnut flour in her kitchen that she bought a while ago, so she chose this recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie. I simply substituted coconut flour for the chestnut flour in the original recipe. I also doubled the salt, added ¼ cup of unsweetened flaked coconut, and topped the scones with shredded sweetened coconut right before baking.

One year ago: Lots of Ways Banana Cake
Two years ago: Blancmanger
Three years ago: Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler

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chocolate chocolate chunk muffins

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How is a muffin different from a cupcake? Let me count the ways.

1) Frosting: A cupcake without frosting is just wrong. Muffins, while sometimes glazed, are never served with a tall swirl of sugary icing. But cupcakes with a coating of soft glaze are beautiful as well.

2) Add-ins: Many muffins have some textural contrast, whether it’s chunks of fruit or bran or poppy seeds. Most cupcakes are smooth-textured; fruit is pureed, chocolate is melted. But what about pumpkin muffins? Or carrot cake?

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3) Mixing method and texture: The classic cake mixing method starts with sugar beaten into softened butter, which is smoothed with egg, then thickened with flour and leaveners. It results in an even-textured, fluffy cake. Muffins, by contrast, are usually made by whisking together the dry ingredients, separately whisking together the wet ingredients, and then folding the two together. The resultant texture is coarse with large air pockets. But not all cakes are mixed with the cake method, and not all muffins are mixed with the muffin method.

4) Course: Cupcakes are dessert. Muffins are breakfast.

So while, by this set of guidelines, these chocolate chocolate chunk muffins do seem to be muffins, they could certainly pass for dessert. Or, if you can’t get enough of their sweet, tender, moist crumb and rich bites of solid chocolate, enjoy them for both breakfast and dessert. I know I did.

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One year ago: Tarte Noire
Two years ago: Tribute to Katherine Hepburn Brownies
Three years ago: Blueberry Pie

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Chocolate-Chocolate Chunk Muffins (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours, for Tuesdays with Dorie)

Makes 12 muffins

Two ounces of chocolate chunks mixed into the dough is a restrained amount that reflects the breakfast intentions of these muffins. For more richness, feel free to increase that up to as much as 6 ounces. I mixed in some white chocolate as well.

6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
⅔ cup (4.67 ounces) sugar
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
1 large egg
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Alternatively, use a silicone muffin pan, which needs neither greasing nor paper cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Melt the butter and half the chopped chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water; or do this in a microwave. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract together until well combined. Pour the liquid ingredients and the melted butter and chocolate over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough — a few lumps are better than overmixing the batter. Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin molds.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

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whole wheat almond bread

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I’m not always as practical as I should be. Once I get an idea in my  head, I stubbornly cling to it regardless of whether it makes good sense. For example, yesterday I gathered up my laptop, its mouse, a glass of water, and a bowl of farro and lentils and carried it about twenty feet. The mouse kept falling, the water was sloshing over the rim of the glass, and the bowl was sliding around, precariously balanced on top of the laptop. Why didn’t I just make two trips, which probably would have taken less time in the end?  It is a mystery.

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Why didn’t I bake at least one of the loaves of almond bread in a regular bread pan that I’m familiar with? Why did I insist on baking both loaves in closed pans even though I have no experience baking in covered pans and didn’t know how it would affect the baking time or how I would test for doneness?

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My mom found these pans during a mass cleaning of my grandmother’s kitchen, and although they were in their original packaging, there were no baking instructions with them. And the toothpick test doesn’t work when the center of your bread is five inches from the edge of the pan. The outside few inches of each loaf were perfectly baked, slightly sweet, and intensely nutty. The middle portions were doughy, slightly sweet, and intensely nutty. And that was the case for both loaves, because I just had to take a chance with the whole batch instead of taking the safe route with at least one of them. Typical.

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One year ago: Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Two years ago: Aligot (French Mashed Potatoes)
Three years ago: Poached Eggs with Arugula and Polenta Fingers

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Whole Wheat Almond Bread (adapted from Joy the Baker)

Makes 2 small loaves

This is the baking time for a regular, uncovered bread pan. In a covered pan like I used, increase the baking time to 50-60 minutes and use a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the loaf to test for doneness.

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups (9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sliced, toasted almonds, divided
4 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup honey
2 large eggs
1½ cups almond milk
¼ teaspoon almond extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two 8.5 by 4.5-inch bread pans with non-stick cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and almonds. In a medium bowl, whisk together honey, eggs, milk and melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Fold until the batter is evenly mixed; small lumps of flour are okay.

3. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a loaf comes out dry. Set the pans on a wire rack and cool 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of the pans; invert onto the wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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