Whole Wheat Blueberry Oat Muffins.

After the holidays I lost my desire to bake. This was most likely the result of all the sugar-laden sweets and chocolate I ate that left me in a near diabetic state. Sorry body. So in order to treat my body a little bit better, I decided to bake something healthier. I looked in the fridge and lo-and-behold I had a pint of blueberries. I have always loved a good blueberry muffin so making muffins was an easy decision. After much time searching for a recipe that I deemed “healthy’, I came across this one. I followed the recipe almost exactly as shown, with the exception of cutting back on the brown sugar which I reduced by 1/4 cup. As I was mixing my wet and dry ingredients together, I noticed that my batter was a little more runny than as seen in the pictures, but in the end my muffins still turned out great. Only thing is, I wish I had kept the oats whole instead of processing them as I personally like the oat-y texture.

IMG_2150These are my muffins. They didn’t turn out exactly how Bri’s turned out, but they were still quite tasty. They were Not overly sweet. They didn’t put me into a diabetic coma nor did I feel gross or guilty after eating them. The tang and juiciness from the blueberries were a perfect balance to the mild sweetness. The crumb was perfectly aerated and the muffins were moist, no sign of toughness at all which is often a problem when using whole wheat flour. I would definitely make these again and throw them in my freezer for an easy breakfast.

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Ooey Gooey Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies.

So last week, I attempted to bake some healthy banana muffins/cupcakes… whatever they were I still don’t know… and they turned out a hot mess. After getting over my initial sadness… this weekend I decided to bake cookies using tried and true ingredients — butter and sugar. I followed the Crispy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe by Smitten Kitchen and as promised, didn’t over bake my cookies. They turned out great! The perfect balance of crisp and chewy. I used chocolate chunks, so they were extra gooey and chocolate-y just the way I like my cookies.

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I only ended up baking 8 cookies which is good because I’ll probably end up eating most of them myself… I’ve already had two. I rolled the rest of the dough into a log and placed it in the refrigerator which I will probably transfer to the freezer for baking at a later time.

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Sugar…more than just a sweetener.

As an aspiring product developer who wants to one day contribute to the creation of healthier processed foods, the aim of a lot of my baking experiments is to create low-to-no added sugar baked goods that are still magically delicious. Generally, there are two types of sugars — those that are naturally occurring such as the fructose in fruit and the lactose in milk versus those that are added to foods during processing or preparation such as white and brown sugar, and liquid sugars such as honey and maple syrup.

The white sugar commonly found in most pantries is sucrose, a disaccharide made up of two monosaccharides — glucose and fructose. Sugar is a carbohydrate and contributes to 4 calories per gram. Added sugars generally have no added nutrients and are thus considered empty calories. Consequently, it is suggested that their intake be limited. It is common knowledge that the consumption of excess calories will lead to weight gain which in turn is a risk factor for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. More recently, a study published by JAMA Internal Medicine found that increased sugar consumption led to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality. Without getting into too many details of the study, the overall take home message shouldn’t be to eliminate all sugar from your diet, but to be more conscious of the types of sugar you’re putting into your body and as with everything else, consume sugar in moderate amounts relative to a well-balanced, healthy diet.

Aside from sugar’s non-nutritive value, from a chemistry perspective, sugar is great. Sugar contributes to several functions in baked goods. Aside from the obvious taste, some of sugar’s functional properties in baked goods include its ability to tenderize a product, aid in preservation, and contribute to desirable browning.

Sugar as a tenderizer

Sugar is highly hygroscopic and is thus attracted to water. Sugar binds water by hydrogen bonds. Its affinity to water contributes to its tenderizing properties as it prevents the water from being used by other substances such as starch and protein. When making a product that desires a soft, delicate crumb, you want to minimize the production of gluten (protein) and reduce gelatinization (starch).

Protein

The proteins present in flour include gliadin (contributes to stickiness) and glutenin (contributes to elasticity). When flour is mixed with water, these two proteins will form gluten. Too much gluten formation will contribute to a rigid and tough dough/batter. The addition of sugar competes with proteins for water thus limiting the amount of gluten formation. However, in the right proportions, enough gluten is able to be formed in order to trap the gases produced by leavening agents and mixing which allows the batter to expand and rise during baking to produce the desired crumb texture.

Starch

Another component in flour is starch. Starch in the presence of water and heat will begin to swell (gelatinize) which results in the thickening of batters. If allowed to set, this thickened batter will form a gel with semi-solid characteristics. However, the addition of sugar will reduce gelatinization as sugar and starch will compete for water. Consequently, the point at which a cake will set (turn from a liquid state to a solid state) will be delayed allowing for leavening agents to work their magic and create gases that allow the batter to expand and produce a product with a soft, crumb texture.

Sugar as a preservative

Because of sugar’s hygroscopic nature, its ability to attract water lowers the water activity of food. Water activity is a measure of the amount of water available for microbial activity. Consequently, the presence of sugar binds water so it is no longer available for microbial activity, thus helping to preserve foods from microbial spoilage.

Sugar and browning

The brown surfaces on baked goods is a result of sugar undergoing Maillard browning. During the Maillard reaction, reducing sugars and amino acids in the present of heat go through a series of reactions to cause browning. The browning produced from this reaction contributes to the pleasant aromas and browned surfaces of many baked goods.

These are just some of the functional properties of sugar. Although, sugar may not be very nutritive, it plays a major functional purpose in baked goods. My aim, as I bake, is to limit the use of added sugars and to focus more on using naturally occurring sugar found in nature’s candy.. I mean fruit. In the worst case scenario, when it is just not possible, I’ll just have to remember to consume those baked goods in moderation.

 

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Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes.

Whenever I get the chance to do some baking, I try my best to make something healthy. By healthy, I mean with the leas amount of sugar and fat as possible. Often times this can be quite challenging as fats and sugar contribute much to the mouthfeel, texture, and taste of bake goods. Currently, as a new baker, I’m not yet comfortable making ingredient substitutions or creating my own recipes quite yet, but I hope to one day get there. So each new recipe I attempt comes after a much extensive Google search.

Processed with RookieYesterday, I attempted to make these wonderful Chocolate Avocado Cupcakes. Yes, avocados are high in fat, but they are good fats (mono- and polyunsaturated) and highly nutrient dense. These cupcakes smelled so good while baking and they fluffed right up. I didn’t make the glaze in the recipe, I really wanted to do a Greek Yogurt Peanut Butter icing, but I didn’t have the ingredients on hand. IMG_1998

The first cupcake I unwrapped, partially fell apart and I was a bit disappointed. However, after waiting a while longer, I unwrapped 2 more and they held together beautifully. I think I was too excited and didn’t give the cupcakes enough time to cool. These turned out to be super moist  and chocolately with the perfect crumb, with just a hint of sweetness.

I would definitely make these again, but next time with an icing to get the real cupcake feel. However, they are perfectly scrumptious without.

 

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Cheesecake.

It’s the Thanksgiving long weekend. Although, I do not celebrate Thanksgiving, I was in a baking mood so I decided to test out this Peaches & Cream Greek Yogurt Cheesecake recipe I stumbled upon during a handy Google search for Greek yogurt cheesecake recipes. Since peach season is just about ending and I had some ripe peaches in my fridge, I decided to give it a try. And boy am I glad I did.

Processed with RookieAt first I was a bit nervous because I wasn’t sure how this would turn out given that the recipe solely uses Greek yogurt. Second,  I was nervous because I have never even attempted to make a cheesecake with cream cheese before. Overall, I think it turned out pretty well. Although, the top was not as smooth as I wanted it… partially because I didn’t have a blender to pulse the peaches.. my chopping skills are just not up to par and frankly, I just didn’t have the patience. From what I’ve read online, I think I also over mixed the batter because while baking air bubbles formed on the surface which resulted in little holes.

I did not bake this in a water bath as per the recipe because I didn’t have a pan big enough… (as a new baker, I am very limited in my supplies, slowly stocking up…). However, I am glad it did not crack despite not using a water bath.

I made it kind of late yesterday so I had to cool it overnight in the fridge. It was such an agony waiting until the next day to try it out. But right after breakfast this morning, I had a slice. Besides, its just yogurt, peaches, and almonds anyways, right?

I would without a doubt make this cheesecake again.

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Fried Chicken and Waffles.

Just over a week ago, I was on a “mini vacation” from work where I finally got the chance to catch up with some friends over good food. Initially the plan was to go get waffles, however, little did we know, the waffle place we planned on going to was closed at 6 pm. Disappointing. However, we chose the next best option. Chicken and waffles.

Processed with MoldivTo the left, lo and behold, the holy grail of chicken and waffles brought to you by Harlem Restaurant. They have two locations, the one we went to was on 745 Queen St. West and the other one is located at 67 Richmond St. East. The ambience on Queen West was great, with very attentive and patient servers. But above all, the food was amazing. The dish came with three sauces: maple syrup for the waffles, a gravy and a scotch-bonnet-coriander-lime syrup which was a bit too spicy for my liking.

There were a bunch of other things like the jerk chicken and the jambalaya that I was considering trying… however, I was already dead set on getting the chicken and waffles so I couldn’t not get them.

I would love to make another visit to Harlem in the near future to try out the other dishes, which I am sure would not disappoint!

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Mmmmmuffins.

muffinsI came across this recipe upon a Google search for a healthy muffin recipe. Without any added sugar, oil/fat, I decided to give it a try. They turned out pretty well for my first time making muffins. The taste was mild, not too sweet, and they were really moist. I would make these again. Can’t go wrong with bananas, unsweetened applesauce, and zucchinis!

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