Cold Weather Comforts
Late last night the snow began falling, first soft and feathery, then finer and faster. This morning there’s a good four inches of fluffy stuff on every flat surface and the tree branches are bowed down with their snowy burden. All morning I’ve been getting nixle reports about downed trees, closed roads, and local power outages but so far we’ve still got heat and lights. (Nixle is a form of text communication from local governments about things like power outages, road closures, and transportation issues as well as emergency notifications. To see if it’s available to you, message to 888-777 and you should get an invitation to join. Don’t put in 4 7s, just the three.)
As I age, I admit to finding stormy days far more entertaining when all the comforts of home are intact. I’m more acutely aware of this as I’m emptying my home of accumulated extras. I’ve suffered most of my life from Flat Surface Syndrome, a condition in which every possible place mysteriously and persistently acquires stacks of books, paperwork, knitting projects, and various found objects. In the advanced form, Cupboarditis, any storage space with a door is similarly affected.
As cabinets and cupboards and closets are emptied, the house feels oddly cold and naked without its usual garb of clutter. The kitchen, too, is undergoing a major edit. I’m making note about what I actually use often and what hasn’t been touched in months or even years. This lovely snowy day will be a busy one, as several friends are coming to carry off various bit of excess furniture. Thus, I indulged in a flurry of morning baking, taking advantage of the still-functioning power to make treats that will taste just as delightful by candlelight if need be. This was a helpful exercise; I now know for sure that I still need two muffin tins, a sturdy cake pan, and a tart pan with a removable bottom. I washed my favorite mixing spoons several times each already today so both of them will make the cut, along with one set of nesting glass mixing bowls.
The house smells heavenly and no wonder; the cooling racks (I’m keeping both) are covered with Pumpkin Chocolate Bit Muffins, Jam Sandwich Nut Cake, and a glossy little Lemon Tart. The cake and the muffins freeze well, but they usually disappear too fast to bother. The Lemon Tart is best eaten in a day or two but again, that’s never been a problem so far. See what you think! As noted, any or all of these can be made gluten free by using one of the many baking flour blends now widely available. I’ve found both the Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur gluten free baking flour mixtures to be very consistent and easy to use.
Marvelous Gluten Free (Or Not) Muffins
My kids and their pals have loved these flavorful muffins for years. Buttermilk gives them a tender crumb and an especially delicate texture. If you don’t have any, add 1 teaspoon lemon juice to regular milk and let it clabber for 10 minutes before using. You can also use ordinary chocolate chips but the quality of slab chocolate is much higher than that of most commercial chips, so I usually make my own. In any version, these muffins taste even better the second day (if any are left).
Pumpkin Chocolate Bit Muffins
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup brown or coconut sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup avocado or safflower oil
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
OR 1-1/2 cups gluten free flour mix
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon coriander or ginger (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate
Preheat oven to bake 350 degrees F and line a muffin tin with paper muffin cups. In a bowl, stir together the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, buttermilk and oil, set aside. Sift dry ingredients together and stir quickly into the pumpkin mixture. Stir in chocolate bits and spoon into muffin cups. Bake until set and lightly browned (about 20-25 minutes). Makes 12 muffins.
A Lovely Layer Cake
Not too sweet, moist and sturdy, this cake is a family favorite for tea time or a special breakfast. If you prefer, you can use walnuts or hazelnuts instead of the almonds, or even hulled pumpkin seeds. Though simple and quick to make, it dresses up nicely for birthdays, topped with swirls of whipped cream and fresh berries. I usually fill it with homemade raspberry jam but blueberry or red currant jams are also very good.
Jam Sandwich Nut Cake
1 teaspoon butter
2/3 cup coarsely ground almonds
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour OR gluten free flour mix
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup sugar
1 organic orange or lemon, rind grated
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt (plain is best)
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup avocado or safflower oil
1 cup raspberry or any jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and butter a 9-inch round cake pan. In a bowl, combine the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. In a mixing bowl, rub the sugar with the citrus zest until well blended. Stir in the yogurt and eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla and oil to make a thick batter. Spoon it into the cake pan and bake until puffed and golden (35-40 minutes). Cool on a rack for 10 minutes then place a smaller cooling rack or plate on top and carefully flip the cake over and out of the pan. Gently flip again back onto the original cooling rack and let cool completely. Slice in half to make two layers and fill with jam. Serve with fresh fruit. Serves at least one.
An Elegant Tart
As you will see, I prefer a very tart lemon curd, but this one can easily be modified by adding more sugar to taste. It’s easiest to serve if you make it in a tart pan with a removable bottom but you can always use a regular pie dish if need be.
Nut Crusted (Gluten Free) Lemon Tart
For the crust
2 cups walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts
2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a food processor, grind nuts to a fairly fine meal (but not to butter). Add butter or coconut oil and salt and process for a few seconds to blend. Pat mixture firmly into a tart pan with your hands and bake until pale golden (15-20 minutes). Cool before filling.
For the Lemon Curd
1/3 cup sugar
2 organic lemons, juiced, rind grated
3 large eggs
4-6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Rub sugar and lemon zest together until well blended, set aside. In a saucepan, whisk eggs until light and frothy, then whisk in sugar and 1/2 or up to 2/3 cup lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, whisking steadily as mixture gets thicker. Add butter a tablespoon at a time and whisk until incorporated (this is where you can add more butter, sugar, or lemon juice to taste). Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes, then add vanilla. Refrigerate in a covered glass container for up to a week or spoon into crust and chill for an hour before serving. Serves 8-10.