A PANFORTE TO DAZZLE CHOCOLATE LOVERS!

Chocolate Panforte

Panforte

CHOCOLATE PANFORTE

For those unfamiliar with this very special holiday treat, panforte is a divinely rich confection packed with dried fruits, nuts, and spices, baked in a 7-or 8-inch slab, and coated with confectioner’s sugar. The traditional Italian recipe contains glazed fruits, but I much prefer the sweet, tangy flavor dried fruits contribute to the recipe. When chocolate and lots of spice is added to the mixture, each bite becomes pure nirvana, delivering a delicious melt-in-the-mouth medley of fruit, nut, spice, and chocolate flavors all at once. In other words, all those heavenly flavors and textures you could possibly desire in a holiday candy.

This recipe is ideal for plan-ahead kitchen wizards who love to make their cookies and confections well-ahead of the holiday and freeze or refrigerate them. Then, when they need them, they can easily reach into the fridge or freezer and the muss and fuss is well behind.

Chocolate PanforteDuring the autumn season, I make several batches of panforte, wrap them in double layers of plastic wrap, and tuck them into the fridge. Knowing I’ll be entertaining and going to several parties during the holiday season, my early prep serves me quite well.

A homemade panforte also makes an fabulous gift that can be safely shipped to friends and family across the country without spoilage. Once they taste, the lucky recipients will send you messages filled with OMGs!

Panforte

Entertaining at home during the holidays, I like to serve the panforte as an extra treat. Several hours before dessert time, I remove the panforte from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature for best flavor. Then, I unwrap a slab and put it on a colorful plate garnished with real or plastic holly. If the panforte is the only dessert, I’ll cut it into thin wedges like a pie. When serving it along with other desserts, I cut it into bite-size pieces, about 1-inch square. Because it’s quite rich, a little goes a long way.

Panforte makes an impressive homemade gift. Before gifting, tie a holiday ribbon over the plastic wrap, make a large bow, and present the panforte with a happy holiday wish. I like to add a touch of holly to the wrapping–it does such a great job of conveying the holiday message and makes an attractive addition to the presentation.

Here’s the process: Line the pie pans with parchment. Roast the nuts. Cut the fruits, Combine the fruits. Add spices and nuts. Make syrup and add to mixture. Spoon and press into parchment-lined pans. Bake. Cool. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Ready to wrap.

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

 

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

Chocolate PanforteChocolate Panforte

Chocolate PanforteCHOCOLATE PANFORTE

Yield: four 8-inch round slabs

Panforte

2 cups pecansChocolate Panforte

1 3/4 cups walnuts

1 1/4 cups almonds

1 cup dried dried apricots, diced (i used Melissa’s)

1 cup flour (oat, all purpose, or whole wheat pastry flour)

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries (I used Melissa’s from melissas.com)

Zest of 1 lemon or orange

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmegChocolate Panforte

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Chocolate Syrup

1 cup organic sugar

1 cup agave nectar

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into several pieces

1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and have ready 2 large rimmed baking sheets and four 8-inch pie pans or cake pans lined with enough parchment to drape generously over the sides. Place 2 pans on each baking sheet. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE PANFORTE, spread the pecans, walnuts, and almonds on one of the baking sheets and toast them in the oven for 9 minutes. Immediately transfer the nuts to a large platter to cool and turn off the oven.

In an extra large bowl, combine the apricots, flour, sugar, raisins, dates, cranberries, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, and pepper.

When the nuts are cool, add them to the bowl and mix well to distribute the ingredients evenly. Set aside.

TO MAKE THE SYRUP, combine the sugar and agave nectar in a 2 to 3-quart saucepan and mix well. Put the chocolate in a bowl and place it near the stove-top. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan and place the pan over medium-high heat. Boil until the temperature reaches 225 degrees F., approximately 5 minutes. This can happen very quickly. Do not stir during the boiling.

Turn off the heat as soon as the mixture reaches 225 degrees F. and stir in the chocolate. Continue stirring until the chocolate is completely melted.

Pour the chocolate syrup into the fruit-nut mixture and use a heavy-duty wooden spoon to stir and coat the ingredients completely. The mixture quickly becomes quite stiff and you’ll need to apply muscle power to combine the syrup and fruit-nut mixture.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Use a metal spoon to distribute the mixture equally among the prepared pans, a heaping spoonful at a time, packing it down before adding another. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool completely for several hours before removing the panforte slabs from the pans.

Then, carefully, remove the parchment from each slab and dust each heavily with the powdered sugar on both sides, using your hands to coat them completely.

TO SERVE THE PANFORTE, use a sharp, heavy-duty knife to cut the panforte into very thin wedges or into 1-inch pieces. If not serving right away, double-wrap each panforte in plastic wrap. The panforte will keep for a month or two at room temperature or for 1 year in the refrigerator.

Panforte

CHOCOLATE? YES! BRING IT ON FOR BREAKFAST!!!!

Chocolate Chocolate Chip MuffinsCHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

Chocolate for breakfast is my favorite! And it’s actually a better way for me to indulge than eating it at night. That naughty little chocolate has the power to keep me up at night. As tempting as it is to reach for the chocolate as an after-dinner treat, I resist. It takes a heck of a lot of will power, but I really prefer a good night’s sleep and to wake up feeling great.

Chocolate doesn’t affect everyone like that, but those of us who are sensitive to the caffeine-like substance  in chocolate called theobromine, actually get a high from eating it. 

These muffins offer some SERIOUS CHOCOLATE–inside and out. So I offer them at a time of day when more than half the world turns to coffee for that morning boost.

I’ve enhanced the muffins with chocolate chips and enriched them with plenty of pure cocoa powder, so these outrageous little babies offer heaven in every bite for those of us with a passion for chocolate.

Once you bite into these muffins, you might feel like you’re eating dessert, but consider the wheat bran and bananas a healthy dose of dietary fiber that justifies their presence at the morning meal. I like to include this recipe as part of the muffin party for its uniqueness. Served with seasonal fruit, either as a fruit salad, attractively sliced, or presented whole with knives and a cutting board, the muffin breakfast or brunch makes a festive gathering pure fun.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip MuffinsCHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS

Yield: 1 baker’s dozen–yep, that’s 13 unless you overfill the muffin pan like I did.

1 1/4 cups plain or vanilla soymilk

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, or distilled vinegar

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flourChocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 1/4 cups wheat bran

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

2/3 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

1/3 cup organic sugar

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa or raw cacao powder

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup mashed bananas

2 tablespoons organic canola oil

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon caramel extract

Topping

1/3 cup dairy-free chocolate chips

1/3 cup toasted sliced or slivered almonds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line 2 six-section muffin tins with paper baking cups. Alternatively, use an ungreased silicone 12-section muffin pan. Put the muffin pans on a large rimmed baking sheet.
  2. Combine the soymilk and vinegar in a medium bowl, stir well, and set aside to thicken.
  3. In a large bowl combine the whole-wheat pastry flour, wheat bran, brown sugar, chocolate chips, organic sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Mix well to distribute all the dry ingredients evenly and set aside.
  4. Add the bananas to the bowl with the soured soymilk, along with the canola oil, and vanilla and caramel extracts. Mix well and add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring briefly just until the batter well moistened. .
  5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans, over-filling each section to use all the batter. For the baker’s dozen, reserve some of the batter to fill an oven-proof custard cup or ramekin.
  6. For the topping, sprinkle the chocolate chips into the center of each muffin, and the sliced almonds over the remaining exposed surface. Bake for 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of several muffins comes out clean. Cool 15 to 20 minutes before serving to allow easy release from the baking pans.

Chocolate Chocolate Chip MuffinsVariation:

Espresso Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins

Grind 2 tablespoons of espresso coffee beans into a very fine powder in a mini blender. After spooning the muffin batter into the muffin pans, sprinkle the tops lightly with the espresso powder. Then, add the chocolate chips and toasted sliced almonds.

Suggestions:

Turn your one-dozen muffins into four dozen of the cutest little mini muffins you’ve ever seen by baking them in mini muffin pans. For ease in moving the muffins in and out of the oven, have 2 large rimmed baking sheets ready with two mini muffin pans on each of the baking sheets. Spoon the batter into the mini muffin pans and bake for 20 to 24 minutes. Allow the minis to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pans.

To prepare well ahead of the holidays, put the baked mini muffins on metal or plastic dishes or trays and put them, uncovered, in the freezer. When completely frozen, transfer the muffins to a heavy-duty zipper-lock bag and seal tightly. Defrost the muffins before packaging them for gift giving.

HELLO, SUGAR PLUM FAIRY. THANK YOU FOR THE SWEET GIFT!

SUGAR PLUM SPICED NUTS

Dish w:white cupAn ideal gift for special friends at holiday time or simply an extra-special treat to serve on a dessert table, these nutty delights can be made well in advance of the holiday rush. They’re good keepers if you store them in airtight containers.

Wrap it for Christmas, tie it in blue and white Hanukkah colors, decorate it in red, green, and black for Kwanzaa–any which way you play with decorating the finished nuts, you’ll have a very special homemade treat for sharing or giving. Holiday cheers!!!!

Walnuts

The success of this recipe depends on two factors:

  •  Measuring all ingredients in advance of assembly
  •  Applying patience and stirring until the liquid is completely absorbed

Closeup on dish

The recipe actually comes together quickly once you have everything ready.

 

SUGAR PLUM SPICED NUTS

 Yield: 31/2 cupsChristmas jar

 1/2 cup powdered sugar or more if needed

Spice Mixture

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground allspice

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepperwhite cup

1/4 teaspoon salt

COATING

1 tablespoon organic canola oil

1/3 cup organic sugar

3/4 cup apple juice

3 cups coarsely chopped raw walnuts

  1. Place the powdered sugar in a medium bowl and set it aside.To make the spice mixture, combine the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, cayenne, and salt in a small bowl or cup. Stir the mixture well and set aside near the stove.
  2. To make the coating, pour the canola oil into a large nonstick skillet. Place the Hanukkah jarorganic sugar, apple juice, and walnuts in separate cups or bowls and set them aside near the skillet. Now you’re ready to begin.
  3. Heat the canola oil over high heat for about 1 minute. Add the organic sugar and stir another minute until hot and bubbly.
  4. Pour in the apple juice and stir constantly for about 1 minute, until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  5. Quickly stir in the walnuts and continue stirring over high heat until all the liquid evaporates and the mixture becomes sticky and shiny. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer, or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  6. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture and toss to coat the walnuts, stirring for 1 minute. Turn off the heat and add the remaining spice mixture, tossing continuously.
  7. Pour the spiced walnuts into the bowl with the powdered sugar and toss to give them a white dusting. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a large dish or baking sheet to cool completely. Stored in an airtight container at room temperature, Sugarplum Spiced Walnuts will keep for up to 1 month.

Note: This recipe is not limited to just walnuts. It works quite well with all nuts.

white cup w:ribbonGift wrapped jar

HELP SANTA DELIVER HOMEMADE GIFTS!

 Scrub bestGRAPEFRUIT AND POPPY SEED SUGAR SCRUB

For the friend or family member who really adores body care products, this homemade, Bow w:pineconecreamy white and almond-scented body scrub makes such a welcome holiday gift. Also unique is that a body scrub makes a delightful departure from the calorie-laden baked goodies that are so popular for holiday gifting. And it takes practically no time to whip it up in your home kitchen.

Recipe by Poppy of Bunny Kitchen

Poppy portrait w:kittiesI have always had a deep connection with animals as far back as I can remember. It probably comes as no surprise, therefore, that I became a strict vegetarian at the age of 6 and am now a devout vegan in my twenties. I work in a wildlife hospital, treating and rehabilitating all kinds of wild animals for the hopeful eventual release back to the wild.

I am also studying in my final year forBow Hanukkah a degree in Animal Management, carrying out research into a disease affecting pigeons and other birds which causes great suffering, yet is much unstudied.

I share vegan recipes, DIY tips, inspirational animal stories and general health resources on Scrub side viewmy blog which has evolved somewhat over the years from an amateur baking blog to a fully vegan blog.

My spare time is usually centred around food, I love getting creative in the kitchen along with spending time with my 24 rescued pets!

GRAPEFRUIT AND POPPY SEED SUGAR SCRUB

Bow red & greenThis super exfoliating and pretty polka dot sugar scrub can be mixed up in minutes.

Per cup of scrub, mix together:

60ml/1/4 cup almond oilScrub top view

200g/1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

A few drops of vitamin e oil (optional)

 Then stir in:

8 drops of grapefruit essential oil.

 Jar and label and give as a thoughtful gift.

The finishing touch is a puffy, colorful bow taped to the top or one that’s wrapped around the jar.

Bow horiz

HOMEMADE WITH LOVE!

WINTER FRUIT BUTTER & SPICED PLUM BUTTERS

Nothing is quite as special as a homemade gift that’s irresistibly delicious, versatile, Plum Butt gifthealthful, and, best of all, made with that extra pinch of love! Here are two easy-as-pie fruit butter recipes that come together quickly and don’t require the fuss and extra time that canning involves. Refrigerated, the fruit butters keep for up to three months without losing their great flavors.

 

Plum Butt Gift 2In winter, dried fruits lend such versatility. Imagine turning a clump of dried fruits into naturally sweet fruit butters you can spoon into little decorated jars and give as thoughtful gifts during the holidays. And how wonderful it is to be the lucky recipient of such a special gift.

Those who celebrate Kwanzaa place Kwanzaa Plum Buttstrong emphasis on giving homemade gifts. Wrapped in Kwanzaa colors–red, green, and black, either of these recipes make an ideal gift during the week of the Kwanzaa celebration from December 26 to January 1. Wrap the jars in blue fabric and ribbon for Hanukkah gifting.

Fruit butters also make delicious spreads on morning toast, pita crisps, or crackers. But Winter Fruit Butterthat’s not all–use the spreads in place of jelly to make the best P B & J you ever ate!

Here’s another easy and quick idea that can perk up a humdrum breakfast:

Put a few dollops of fruit butter on top of your morning oatmeal or hot cereal, sprinkle some nuts on top, and enjoy that little touch of something different for breakfast.

When I make oatmeal for breakfast, I usually make a fruit salad with whatever fruits are in season to put on top. Then I sprinkle raisins and nuts over the fruit. One day I decided to present something a little different and brought a bowl of fruit butter to the table. That small idea became a great idea, and received an instant thumbs up.

W Frut Butt w:toastThis is the recipe that began my fruit butter adventures:

WINTER FRUIT BUTTER

 Yield: about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups dried apple slices

18 pitted dates

12 pitted prunes

1 1/2 cups water, divided

  1. Combine the apples, dates, and prunes and 1 cup of the water in a 2-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and steam for 10 minutes.
  2. Transfer fruits to a food processor and add the remaining 1/2 cup water. Process until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a bowl and use immediately or chill and use later.
  3. When ready for gifting, spoon the fruit butter into two 8- to 10-ounce jars, cover, and tie them with bright holiday ribbons.

Notes:

If you want sweeter fruit butter, add 2 or more dates to the processor.

If you prefer a softer fruit butter, add 1 or more tablespoons of water until the mixture reaches the desired consistency. The fruit butter will thicken as it chills.

************************************

As I experimented with enhancements to the basic fruit butter recipe, I became aware that it really didn’t take more that just a few spices to heighten the flavor.

Spiced Plum ButterThis thick, fruity butter with a subtle hint of exotic spices takes off where apple butter is left behind. With more depth of flavor and more robust volume than apple butter, this treat makes a thoughtful holiday gift prepared with loving hands and given from the heart. Spoon the fruit butter into attractive jars, tie them with bright ribbons, and they’re ready to make someone special very happy.

SPICED PLUM BUTTER

Yield: about 2 1/2 cups

20 pitted prunes (about 7 1/2 ounces)

20 pitted dates (about 6 ounces)

15 dried apricots or Turkish apricots (about 3 1/2 ounces)

1 1/4 cups water

2 sticks cinnamon

2 star anise or 3 whole black peppercorns

2 whole allspice berries

2 whole cloves

  1. Combine the prunes, dates, apricots, water, and cinnamon sticks in a 2-quart saucepan. Wrap the star anise, allspice berries, and cloves in a small piece of cheesecloth, tie it securely with string, and bury it in the bottom of the saucepan.
  2. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and steam for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove the spices and cinnamon sticks and transfer the fruits and any remaining liquid to the food processor. Process until smooth and creamy. Spoon the fruit butter into two 8- to 10-ounce jars and set aside to cool at room temperature. Cover the jars, label them, and chill. Refrigerated the plum butter will keep for up to 3 months.
  4. When the plum butter is ready for gifting, create a colorful wrapping with cloth or paper and tie with bright ribbons.

Notes:

If you plan on making a double batch, you don’t need to double the spices. They will hold up well and still deliver great flavor.

If you have a spice bag, use it in place of the cheesecloth. Alternatively, put the spices into a tea ball and place it at the bottom of the saucepan.

 

 

Taste the Irrestibles — Resistance is Futile!

irresistible on platterIRRESISTIBLES

My goal was to come up with a special cookie for the holiday cookie tray–and to make a cookie with a long shelf life so the recipe could be prepared in advance for giving as gifts.

I just love it when a first-time experiment comes together on the first try. That was my reward when I decided to do something unique with a fruit and nut mixture that often serves as the base of many commercial raw fruit bars.

I loaded the fruity mixture with tons of nuts and wanted to see what would happen if I formed it into cookies and baked them. But for how long? And how big should I make them?

I took a stab at making them 2 inches in diameter and baking them 15 for minutes. OMG! Irresistible On baking panThey were absolutely IRRESISTIBLE! Yet, with their unusual texture they really weren’t like the familiar crispy cookies most people know, nor were they confections–but, interestingly, somewhere in-between.

It was not only the irresistible flavor these offer, but also the exceptional crunchy-on-the-outside chewy-on-the-inside texture that was so appealing. Here’s another thing I noticed: They kept amazingly well sitting on my kitchen counter in a heavy-duty plastic bag I had left open for several days. When I sealed the plastic bag, the cookies would lose their crunch. The following week I packed them in my suitcase and took them to Massachusetts when visiting my daughter, and they still tasted irresistibly delicious.

I had a few of these little goodies left at home sitting on the counter in an open plastic bag and was delighted that time (about 3 weeks) had not diminished their exceptional flavor or texture.

They’re great travelers! Take them on a plane trip, pack them on a road trip (the kids will love ’em), wrap them in a gift box and ship them to far-away friends and family. All they need is a good home equipped with a pack of cookie monsters.

I knew I had something special and that they would make welcome little homemade gifts during the holidays. If I wrapped them in blue ribbon, I might bring them to a Hanukkah party. I could tie them up with a red and green bow and they would be perfect nibbles for my friend’s Grandma for Christmas.  And by putting the Irresistibles in a gift box wrapped with red, green, and black, they would make the perfect homemade Kwanzaa gift for someone special.

Here are a few handy notes that will help bring the recipe together with ease. You’ll need:

  • A hammer for coarsely chopping the almonds
  • A hand-crank nut mill for coarsely grinding the walnuts
  • A large food processor, at least 11 cup capacity
  • Kitchen scissors for snipping the dates and dried apricots

When the Irresistibles are baked and cooled, treat yourself to one, or two, or—-maybe just one more!

IRRESISTIBLES

Yield: about 50 cookies

 

2 1/2 cups almonds, dividedIrresistible Single

1 1/2 cups walnuts, divided

 

1 1/2 cups pitted dates, snipped in half

3/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup Turkish apricots, snipped in half

1/2 cup rolled oats

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder or raw cacao powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

 

2 tablespoons raw cacao nibs

30 whole almonds

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line 4 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Put 1 cup of the almonds in a heavy-duty plastic bag, seal it, and coarsely chop the nuts with a hammer. Transfer the nuts to a large mixing bowl. Put 1/2 cup of the walnuts in a hand-crank nut mill and coarsely grind them. Add them to the bowl with the the almonds and set aside.
  3. Put the remaining 1 1/2 cups of almonds into the food processor and process to form a coarse meal. Add the remaining 1 cup walnuts, the dates, maple syrup, apricots, rolled oats, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg and pulse and process to form a slightly chunky mixture. You may have to stop the machine several times to redistribute the ingredients, but patience pays off. The mixture will be very solid.
  4. When the ingredients are evenly distributed and none of the apricots and nuts are larger than 1/8 inch in size, transfer the mixture to the bowl with the chopped nuts and add  the raw cacao nibs.
  5. Roll up your sleeves and use your hands to work the nuts and nibs into the mixture, incorporating them thoroughly into the firm “dough.”
  6. Lightly oil your hands and roll the mixture into balls about 1 to 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Space them about 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Use the heel of your hand to press down on the balls, forming cookies about 2 inches in diameter.
  7. Press an almond into the center of each cookie and bake for 15 minutes. Cool the cookies completely before removing them from the pan.
  8. To store the Irresistibles, put them in a heavy-duty plastic bag, but do not seal it. They keep well at room temperature for up to 1 week. For longer storage, put the Irresistibles in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Fruity Oat Bulldogs–the Cutest Little Muffins!

 FRUITY OAT BULLDOGS

Fruilty Oat BulldodgsNot really a typical muffin—not at all a cupcake—neither a scone nor a brownie. In my effort to create a delicious, honestly healthy, and easy-to-make gluten-free breakfast or brunch treat, this little creation sprung from the oven and found its way onto my dish. It was yummy and because of its stubby, compact nature, it reminded me of a little bulldog. Though it’s a strange name for a muffin-like goody, bulldog it is! Aside from the awesome flavor and delightfully dense texture, these treats are a snap to assemble–a bowl and a processor does the job and cleanup is almost instant!

Loaded with spices, made without flour, and sweetened only with dates, these unique muffin-like cakes have many additional guilt-free features: no added fats like margarine or oil, plenty of soluble fiber from old-fashioned rolled oats, and crunchy, chopped hazelnuts or almonds to help lower cholesterol. One recipe will make two lucky people on your gift list the recipients of a half-dozen Bulldogs each. To spread the joy even further, follow the suggestion below to create four dozen adorable little mini muffins and package them in small gift boxes tied with holiday ribbons.

Fruity Bulldogs parchmentIf you decide to make the bulldogs ahead of the holidays and want to freeze them for your own family, put them into heavy-duty ziplock bags and tuck them into the freezer for up to three months. To warm them for breakfast or brunch, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Take the bulldogs right from the freezer, put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and warm for 17 to 20 minutes.

Releasing the Perfect Muffin

I’ve made many a muffin that either sticks to the metal muffin tins or doesn’t come out clean from the parchment baking cups. But I’ve found perfection in silicone baking pans–and they don’t even need to be oiled. They come in several shapes for other baking needs like loaf pans and cake pans. The secret is adjusting the baking times to the silicone pans and allowing the muffins to cool completely before removing them from the pan.

FRUITY OAT BULLDOGS

Yield: 1 dozen

2 3/4 cups old fashioned rolled oatsBuldog Muffin

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

 

3/4 cup almonds or hazelnuts

 

1 1/2 cups pitted dates, snipped in half

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water

 

1 cup mashed bananas

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mild vinegar (rice, cider, or distilled vinegar)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon caramel extract

1 1/4 cups vanilla or regular soymilk

 

Garnish

12 whole almonds

12 dates, cut in half

Fruity Bullldogs for BreakfastPreheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line 2 six-section muffin tins with baking cups. Alternatively, use an ungreased, 12-section silicone muffin pan. Place the muffin pans on a large rimmed baking sheet for easy handling.

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rolled oats, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, cloves, and salt and mix well.
  2. Put the almonds in a heavy-duty plastic bag and use a hammer or a 1-pound can to chop them coarsely. Add the chopped almonds to the bowl.
  3. Create a coarse date puree by putting the dates into the food processor. With the machine running, drizzle in the water. Pulse and process until the dates are coarsely pureed.
  4. Add the mashed bananas, vinegar, vanilla extract, and caramel extract to the date puree. With the machine running, slowly pour in the soymilk and process briefly, just until the ingredients are well incorporated.
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Fill the muffin pans using the entire batter. They will be slightly overfull.
  6. To garnish, poke 1 almond into the center of each muffin and push 2 date halves into each muffin next to the almond. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before removing from the pans.

Notes:

The date puree measures 1 cup.

For a touch more spice, add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice.

Suggestion:

Turn your one-dozen muffins into four dozen of the cutest little mini muffins you’ve ever seen by baking them in mini muffin pans. Baked in metal mini pans, the muffins will be done in about 12 to 16 minutes. The silicone mini muffin pans make slightly larger minis and will bake in about 15 to 18 minutes.

To prepare well ahead of the holidays, put the baked mini muffins on metal or plastic dishes or trays and put them, uncovered, into the freezer. When completely frozen, transfer the muffins to a heavy-duty plastic bag and seal tightly. Defrost the muffins before packaging them for gift giving.