Homemade KIND Cereal Bars

The game of life can be tough. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning till we drop to bed at night we’re constantly on the go. We run out of the door already late, because dear offspring couldn’t find his algebra notebook. Half asleep, we turn to Starbucks to get some shot in the arm, make appointment for a chipped tooth while waiting in the drive-through line, and then burn our tongue with hot pick me up while parking at the office. Breakfast is hasty spoonfuls of yogurt gulped down at a red light. Lunch? Cereal bar and a banana around three pm while answering emails. And pretty soon a dreaded stop-and-go commute from work back home, pondering how to get dinner on the table, take care of homework, laundry, and dishes, and still manage to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Only to do it all over again the next morning.

I don’t work well when I’m hungry. My men could tell you stories about this trait of mine – about the unnecessary arguments, yell fests, and even guilty tears related to those darn sugar drops. It usually happens when I’m too busy, and it starts innocently enough: I just might start to feel a little cranky at first, my answers become tiny bit snappier… but when I don’t recognize I’m overdue for a feed and don’t remedy the situation quickly enough, it all goes downhill pretty fast. I know I’m not the only one suffering from this; after all, there is even this new term “hangry”, labeling that miserable state when hunger and anger intersect… but I could definitely be a model for it.

That was at least partially why I tried my hand at these bars. I try to keep some snack food and water with me at all times to prevent hunger induced relational disasters, but cereal bars carried around in your purse dry out pretty quickly I found, not to mention they’re not exactly easy on the budget! It was my first experiment with homemade cereal bars ever, but it certainly won’t be the last. I like that I can control the amount of sugar, and vary the ingredients according to what I have on hand. They’re extremely easy and fast to make and don’t even require turning your oven on!

Please be kind to yourself and eat when you need to. No matter how busy you are, it’s still much easier to find time to eat, than have to apologize over and over for you’ve said and done when you were hungry 🙂

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Homemade KIND Cereal Bars

(adapted from http://www.eat-yourself-skinny.com)

Ingredients:
  • ½ cup unsalted roasted almonds, whole
  • ½ cup  unsalted roasted peanuts, whole
  • ½ cup roasted walnuts/pecans, chopped
  • 1/3 cup puffed rice cereal
  • 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
  • ¼ cup brown rice syrup (I used maple syrup instead)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup dark chocolate, roughly chopped

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Method:
  1. Line an 8-inch square springform pan with parchment paper; set aside.
  2. To make the bars, mix nuts, flaxseed, an puffed rice in a greased bowl; set aside.
  3. In a small saucepan, mix together brown rice syrup (maple syrup), honey, vanilla, and salt. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly.
  4. Pour the hot mixture over the ingredients in your bowl and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture into the pan and press evenly, making sure there are no gaps. (The recipe says there is enough for a 8-inch pan, but I didn’t find this to be true – I was able to only fill about 2/3 of the pan if I wanted the bars to be high enough).
  5. Place a sheet of parchment on top, and press the mixture firmly. Set the pan aside and let the mixture cool for about 20 minutes.
  6. Remove the rim of the pan, transfer the cereal block onto a cutting board, and cut it into uniform pieces with a sharp knife. (Serrated knife worked best for me.) Let the bars cool completely.
  7. For the chocolate drizzle, melt the chocolate over a water bath and drizzle over the bars. Keep the remaining bars in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them fresh.

 

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(Raw) Chocolate Orange Torte

Chances are you’ve heard about the Buy nothing project, by now a worldwide movement based on a gift economy. Local groups are sprouting up all over, connecting people living in the same area. The project was born out of the idea that one man’s clutter can be another man’s treasure, but it evolved into much more than that. Yes, you receive free stuff in the process (and declutter your home of the things you no longer want or need), but more importantly, it builds a sense of community, and closer relationships between neighbors who otherwise might not get to know each other past the occasional wave hello when they’re pulling out of their driveway rushing to the morning meeting. I love the philosophy behind the Buy nothing – reduce, reuse, rethink – and am grateful it put me in touch with like-minded folks I wouldn’t even know are out there. One of my most treasured buy nothing gems were sourdough bread starter and grains to make kefir from, both of which I have been trying to hunt down forever. As it turned out, a nice lady living just a couple of blocks from me had both, and was nice enough to share not just the products, but also her time in explaining how it all works and what to do and not do to keep the delicate cultures alive and thriving, which I appreciated even more!

And last week I was generously gifted another thing that made me happy – a Blender girl gluten-free vegan cookbook. I am a longtime green smoothie addict and have some kind of green drink for breakfast pretty much every day, but despite its name the cookbook isn’t limited to blended drinkable concoctions. There are soups, spreads, drinks, and even desserts in there. The pictures look amazing – I’d eat anything and everything from that book, and plan to try quite a few recipes from there.

And we started with this chocolate orange torte. Raw desserts seem to be all the rave lately, and for a very good reason: They’re mighty tasty, free from artificial sugars, flour, and butter, and they’re also pretty easy and fast to make. This wonderful torte was no exception: All I had to do was pretty much just to blend, grind, mix, and pour, and after giving the cake the appropriate time to firm up in the freezer I was rewarded with a rich, chocolatey finger-licking awesome goodness. It’s not a treat for the calorie-conscious, that’s for sure, but hey, coconut oil is good for you, and all those nuts supply omega fats… and protein… all the things your body needs. Shall we say dessert with benefits? 🙂 How rawsome is that?!

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Raw Chocolate Orange Torte

(adapted from the Tess Masters’ Blender Girl Cookbook)

 Crust:
  • 1 cup (160 g) whole raw almonds
  • ½ cup (80 g) firmly packed chopped pitted dates
  • ¼ cup (18 g) cacao powder, see Note
Filling:
  • 1 cup (240 ml) liquid coconut oil
  • 1 cup (240 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) raw agave nectar, see Note
  • ½ cup (35 g) raw cacao powder
  • 3 cups (420 g) raw unsalted cashews, soaked for 2 hours and drained
  • ¼ teaspoon orange extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • pinch sea salt

+ shaved chocolate and orange – for decoration (optional)

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Method:
  1. To make the crust, grease a 7-inch (18 cm) springform pan with coconut oil. Process almonds, dates, and cacao powder in a food processor. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add some more dates. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and refrigerate.
  2. To make the filling, put all the ingredients into your blender in the order listed and blend until smooth. You’ll have to stop the blender from time to time and scrape down the sides. Pour the filling into the crust, cover the pan, and freeze the torte for 8 hours.
  3. To serve, transfer the tote from the freezer to the fridge at least 1 1/2 hours before serving. Let the torte defrost in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, remove the sides of the pan and cut the torte into slices with a sharp knife. Keeping the slices together, return the cake into the refrigerator and continue defrosting for at least an hour before serving. (The remaining cake needs to be stored in the refrigerator due to the high amount of coconut oil. Take out of the fridge when ready to serve.)
Note:

Even though the cake won’t be technically raw anymore, you can sub raw cacao powder for unsweetened cocoa powder, and agave nectar for maple syrup. I also didn’t have orange extract, and used Grand Marnier in its place. As far as I can tell, it didn’t hurt anything 🙂

Almond Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Apricots

Summer: Flowing dresses, colorful toenails in flip-flops, road trips to see the unseen, wind in the hair, splashing water, warm breezy evenings with friends and wine. I adore summertime more than anything else in the world, and I’d gladly give up any other season to have more of it. That’s probably why I love apricots so much – to me they’re a perfect symbol of leisurely summer days, each and every one like a tiny, round, orange sun. I do my best to fill up on them while they’re in season, and also try to preserve the sunshine they embody in any way I can – whether it’s jam, frozen pulp to add to my morning smoothies, or just quartered fruit to throw in my cakes later. Then when we’re in the depth of (rainy and gloomy) winter, I can just open the freezer or pop a jar, and have a dose of apricot sunshine therapy.

I like them best when they’re freckled, mushy, and overripe with sweetness, but of course for baking it’s better to find fruit that’s a little more firm and holds its shape.  Whether to peel it or not, that’s up to you, but I rarely bother. Apricots are a wonderful accompaniment for any of your summer baking endeavors: muffins, quick breads, yeast goods, you name it – everything will taste amazing with apricots in it!

This weekend I’ve decided to make a tart: I filled an almond short crust pastry with vanilla pastry cream, and sat slices of poached apricots on top. The mild tartness of apricots complements the sweet taste of pastry cream very well, but I love the tart’s looks the most: Deep orange, with almond sprinkled all over… Sunshine in every bite.

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Almond Tart with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Apricots

Almond tart:
  • 125 g (4.5 oz.) all – purpose flour (for gluten – free alternative, please see Note)
  • 70 g (2.5 oz.) ground dry toasted almonds
  • pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 114 g (4 oz., ½ cup) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
  • 2 egg whites, divided
Vanilla Pastry Cream:
  • 2 cups (500 ml, 16 oz.) half-and-half or whipping cream
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 140 g (5 oz.) granulated white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract (I used Frangelico liqueur instead)
  • 2 teaspoons powdered gelatin, bloomed in 2 tablespoons water
Poached Apricots:
  • 500 g (1 lb.) fresh apricots, halved and pitted
  • 1 l (32 oz.) water (+ extra iced water for cooling the apricots
  • 230 g (8 oz.) granulated white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

+ 140 g (5 oz.) granulated white sugar – for sprinkling the poached fruit
½ cup sliced almonds, divided
40 g (1.5 oz.) apricot preserves, mixed with 15 ml (0.5 oz.) water – to brush the apricots

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Method:
  1. First, prepare the tart shell: Place all the dry ingredients in a bowl of your food processor; pulse couple of times until combined.
  2. Add chilled/cubed butter, and pulse until the butter resembles peas. Add the egg white and mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Roll the dough between two sheets of parchment paper into a rectangle that fits into a 13 x 4 inch (33 x 10 cm) tart pan with removable bottom. The dough should be about 1/8 (3 – 4 mm) thick. Chill the rolled out rectangle for about 20 minutes so it’s easier to transfer into the pan. When it’s chilled, peel off the top parchment paper and invert it into your pan. Chill again for 20 – 30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C).
  4. Place a sheet of parchment paper onto the dough in the pan and fill it with pie weights or dry beans. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until set. Remove the parchment with weights/beans, brush the tart with a beaten egg white and continue to bake for 10 – 15 minutes more until golden brown. Let cool completely in the pan.
  5. Make the pastry cream: Combine powdered gelatin with water and set aside to bloom.
  6. In a saucepan, heat the half-and-half/cream with sugar, almond extract and vanilla extract. Mix the egg yolks with cornstarch, temper the mixture with a little of warm cream/yolk mixture and pour it into the rest of the cream/yolk mixture in the pan, whisking constantly. Cook for about 2 – 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the pudding thickens and remove it from the heat.
  7. Let the vanilla cream cool a little, and then liquefy the gelatin over a pot of hot water and mix it into the hot vanilla pastry cream. Set aside for now.
  8. Make the poached apricots: Bring the water, sugar, and vanilla to a boil. Add the halved fruit and cook over a medium heat for 2 – 4 minutes, until the apricots are soft when pierced with a fork, but not mushy. Immediately place them into a bowl of iced water.
  9. Pour the lukewarm vanilla pastry cream into the tart shell and sprinkle it with half of the sliced almonds. Chill in the refrigerator.
  10. Drain the apricots and cut them into neat slices (3 – 4 slices per half) and sprinkle them with sugar. Let stand for couple of minutes.
  11. Arrange the apricots on the pastry cream. Warm up the apricot jelly with water, brush the fruit and sprinkle it with the rest of the sliced almonds.
  12. Return to the refrigerator and chill until serving.

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Note:

To make the tart gluten – free, replace the all – purpose flour with your favorite flour mix (don’t forget to add 1 teaspoon guar/xanthan gum if your mix doesn’t contain it already). I usually mix my own flour mixes, but for this recipe I used Bob’s Red Mill Pie flour mix, and it worked beautifully. Please check that your vanilla and almond extracts are gluten – free as well; gluten often hides in the most unexpected places!

Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake with Bi-Colored Chocolate Mousse

When you first learn you need to eliminate gluten from your diet, it can be a shock. (What? No bread and cookies? For the rest of my life?!) You’ll most likely go through mourning and an adjustment period. Your pantry and kitchen will need a makeover, but I found that was actually the easy part. The bigger problem was the need to change my thinking. At first I thought I’d just have to swap the old white wheat flour for a gluten-free one, and that’s it – the process of baking as well as the results would be the same. Except… they weren’t. The breads and cakes were anything but the goods I remembered from our pre-gluten-free days. It took me a long time to understand that I shouldn’t expect gluten-free goods to mirror their gluten-filled counterparts, that I needed to embrace the change and see the gluten free baking as a completely new world and give it a fair chance to show me what it has to offer. And from that point things began to change and my success rate started slowly climbing up.

Authors of gluten-free cookbooks will tell you that their flour blend is the best in the world, and when you make bread according to their recipe you won’t be able to tell the difference and it will taste just like the wheat bread you remember. I’m no cookbook author (yet :-), but after five years of baking gluten-free for Mr. Photographer, I have to say I haven’t found such bread recipe yet. The gluten-free bread is simply different – usually it will be more dense, and it definitely doesn’t have the open crumb structure of an artisanal wheat bread.

The cakes, cookies, and quick breads on the other hand are not only comparable, but can be even better than the wheat varieties, precisely because they don’t contain gluten. Remember what your recipes almost always tell you? Mix the dry ingredients into the wet; stir just until combined, do not over mix. Over mixing activates the gluten, which in turn can make your baking creations tough. But with gluten-free flour you can mix all you want, because there is no gluten to activate, and your cakes will stay light and airy.

A big part of baking experience is sharing, though, and many gluten-ingesting folks won’t believe you when you tell them what I just said. In their mind, gluten-free is a synonym for “dry, crumbly, and tasteless”. When you’ll try this cake, you’ll see for yourself just how wrong they are. All the three men at my house were fighting over the last piece, regardless of their gluten-eating or gluten-avoiding status. The cake uses a combination of chocolate and almond flour, is somewhat dense, and the  bi-colored light mousse provides a nice contrast. I wouldn’t think twice about serving it to a company, and I love that I wouldn’t even need to use the disclaimer “gluten-free”. I can just say I made a chocolate almond cake and then watch my guests devour it. I can guarantee they won’t have a clue they might have just eaten their first gluten-free dessert. Good baking doesn’t need disclaimers. Gluten-free or gluten-full, if it’s tasty, it just is.

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Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake with Bi-Colored Chocolate Mousse

Cake:
(recipe from onceuponachef.com)
  • 1 ½ cups slivered almonds
  • 170 g (6 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • ¾ cup sugar, divided
  • 1½ sticks (170 g, 6 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Dark Chocolate Mousse:
  • 150 g (5 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 8 tablespoons water, divided
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 – 4 g powdered gelatin (1 envelope Knox gelatin equals about ¼ oz./7 g)
  • 375 ml (12 oz., 1½ cups) heavy whipping cream
White Chocolate Mousse:
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) white chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 5 – 6 g powdered gelatin
  • 375 ml (12 oz.., 1½ cups) heavy whipping cream

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Method:
  1. For the cake, preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Butter and flour 9-inch (22 cm) round springform pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. (If baking gluten-free, be sure to use gluten-free flour or breadcrumbs for the pan.)
  2. Melt the chocolate by placing it in a pan over a pan with boiling water and stirring it constantly. Let cool to room temperature.
  3. Process the almonds with ¼ cup sugar until ground (Do not over mix, or you will end up with almond butter.) Set aside.
  4. Cream the butter with ¼ cup sugar until fluffy. Add the egg yolks, one by one, beating well after each addition. Beat in the chocolate and almonds and mix until combined.
  5. Beat the egg whites with salt and lemon juice. When soft peaks form, gradually add remaining sugar and continue beating until stiff.
  6. Fold about 3 tablespoons of egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, and then very gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Do not over mix.
  7. Transfer the batter into your baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the temp down to 325 °F (165 °C) and continue baking for additional 50 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes and then remove the sides of the pan and let cool completely. (The cake will probably crack during baking – that’s ok. It will also sink in quite a bit while it cools; just level it off when cooled completely.)
  8. Carefully invert the cake and remove the bottom part with the parchment paper. Wash and reassemble the cake pan, place the cooled cake in and set aside.
  9. To make the dark chocolate mousse, melt the chocolate over a water bath. Combine the cocoa with 6 tablespoons water until smooth and add the mixture to the melted chocolate. Let cool.
  10. Bloom the gelatin in 2 tablespoons water for about 15 minutes. Liquefy it over a pot of hot water; do not cook, or the gelatin won’t set. Combine the gelatin with the warm chocolate mixture, stir until smooth.
  11. Whip the cream with sugar until firm. Add couple of tablespoons to the cooled chocolate – gelatin mixture, fold it in gently, and then add the remaining whipped cream to create a light mousse. Spread the mousse onto the cake a and place the cake in the fridge so that the mousse will have a chance to firm up a bit while you make the white chocolate mousse.
  12. For the white chocolate mousse, melt the white chocolate over a water bath. Bloom the gelatin in 3 tablespoons water and liquefy it over a pot of hot water. Do not cook. Combine the gelatin with the warm white chocolate; stir until smooth.
  13. Whip the cream with sugar until stiff peaks form. Add couple of tablespoons of whipped cream to the white chocolate mixture to lighten it a bit, and then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream.
  14. Spread the white mousse over the dark chocolate mousse, which should be at least somewhat firm at this point. Place the cake in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
  15. Decorate with cocoa powder or chocolate shavings if desired.