Apple Cider Loaf

Back when I was in university, over 4 years ago, before I had any notions of starting a blog, let alone going into the pastry industry, I followed one blog. I didn't know about any others and to be honest, I can't remember how exactly I stumbled across this one blog. That blog was A Cozy Kitchen.

I checked that blog every. single. day. And she posts every few days, which is just ridiculous. I went through the recipe archives and read every post there was to read. I would be taking notes on my laptop in my classical archaeology classes and in any spare minute that the professor wasn't talking, I simply typed in the letter "a" and it was autofilled to my favourite blog. I was obsessed.

Adrianna has such a distinct writing style that is casual and friendly and silly and it just feels like she's your best friend sitting next to you on the couch, enthusiastically telling you about mundane everyday things but making them sound exciting and hilarious. Her recipes were approachable, easy, and just, well, cozy. At that point in my life, my baking repertoire was limited to cookies and scones, but little by little, her recipes and photos and writing made me edge out and expand my baking horizons. 

My favourite recipe of hers is her apple cider muffins. They're simple, delicious, and subtly spiced, but the reason that I love that recipe is because I have a wonderful memory attached to those muffins.

I had just begun dating my boyfriend, four and a bit years ago now, and I was head over heels for this guy, but was trying to not let him know how much I liked him after such a short time. One day while in class, I read a post on A Cozy Kitchen about going apple picking with her friends and how she made the apple cider muffins. I searched up local apple orchards as a possible date with my boyfriend but found they were all at least two hours drive away. I thought that instead we could make the muffins together. He wasn't into baking but loved eating anything sweet, and I was getting into baking, so I thought it would be a great way to spend an afternoon. 

On the weekend, I woke up early and began measuring out all the ingredients and putting them in containers and plastic baggies. I measured out everything separately so that my boyfriend and I could mix it all together. I brought along my muffin tin and liners, but assumed that my boyfriend had things like a bowl, a whisk, and a box grater.

I went over to his place and brought out all the pre-measured ingredients out of my backpack.

"Okay, so we need a few mixing bowls to start with!" I said, excitedly, ready to get started.

He didn't have any. At all. 

I was a bit crestfallen and thought that our cozy baking afternoon was not going to happen after all. But, being the sweet guy that he is, he said that he would go buy one right then and there. So, he put on his jacket and ran to the dollar store a few blocks away to get a mixing bowl. When he came back, all proud of his quick fix, I said, "Awesome! Okay, can you get the whisk out for me?". His face fell.

No whisk.

Aaaaand for the second time in fifteen minutes, he ran to the dollar store to buy a whisk. I bet the shopkeeper had a little laugh at him. 

Thankfully, he had everything else that was needed. The muffins were mixed, baked, and were enjoyed with a warm mug of tea. It was a wonderful afternoon that I remember with a big smile on my face.

About a year after that, I started to think about getting more into baking. A staff member on a wildlife reserve that I volunteered at for a couple months in South Africa suggested that I pursue that instead of university, because I was just going to university because I didn't know what else to do with my life. With that idea planted in my head, I thought about starting my own baking blog. Maybe that would help my figure out if baking was something I really liked enough to make it a job.

Except…how does one start a blog? I had a basic DSLR camera that I'd had for a few years, I researched different blog hosting websites, and I tried to figure out a name for the blog. But I didn't really know how to get the ball rolling. I emailed Adrianna one day, asking a few questions about copyright infringement on recipes (was I going to get sued if I made someone else's recipe??) and just blogging in general. I half expected her to never reply because, you know, she was a big food blogger and I'm just this newb asking dumb questions. 

But she replied a couple hours later. And she was so friendly and kind and supportive! I was so blown away by her willingness to help and her thoughtful suggestions. It was the first time that I felt confident about starting a blog. She recommended I buy a book on basic recipe ratios called Ratio, so I did. I read that book in one night. 

So, I started my blog and put up a few posts. I would look forward to my weekend baking all week long. I asked for baking books for my birthday, I discovered new food blogs, and I thought more about pastry school. I went for a tour of one school and was equal parts pee-my-pants excited and poop-my-pants nervous. But it made it seem more real to me. I could do this. My parents were more onboard with my idea to go to pastry school because they could see that I was interested in baking through my blog.

I ended up enrolling in a pastry school a few months later, didn't enrol for another semester of university, and started pastry school a few months after that. 

So, you see, the only reason I started my blog was because of Adrianna and A Cozy Kitchen, which led to pastry school, which led to where I am now - top graduate in my class in pastry school, working in a high-end patisserie, and my blog has more readers than just my mom and dad. I believe that I owe my career in part to Adrianna. I 100% owe my blog to her, that's for sure. 

I don't think she knows the impact that she has had on my life because first of all, I'm terrible when it comes to telling people serious and meaningful stuff 'cause I always end up making it into a joke (a terrible joke, most of the time) and secondly, I'm worried that I'll sound like a crazy fangirl that's gonna appear beside her bed in the middle of the night, breathing heavily and hoping to snip off a lock of her hair to keep in a jar forever (I'm not, I promise). 

My way of saying thanks, albeit a very inadequate way, was to buy her new book, The Year of Cozy. I'm not one to buy a lot of blogger cookbooks, mostly because I already have 20-something professional baking books and I'm hesitant to put any more weight on my desk or else it'll collapse, but I couldn't resist hers. It's not just wonderfully cozy recipes for any season, it's also crafts and diy's and little ways to make your life more than just the everyday drudgery of work-eat-sleep. And, like her blog, her writing is the same we've-known-each-other-for-years way. 

While this recipe isn't from her new book, I couldn't think of a better recipe to show how much one little blog has changed my life and put me on the path that led to where I am now. I am so crazy grateful for her and her blog because I honestly don't know where I'd be without them.

Apple Cider Loaf
Recipe adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

175 g brown sugar
100 g granulated sugar
125 g neutral tasting oil
150 g eggs
300 g all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder
250 g apple cider
170 g sour cream
2 apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, grated, and juices reserved as part of the apple cider measurement

Coarse sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray two loaf tins (or one large one) with non stick spray or butter.

Combine the sugars, oil, and eggs together in a large bowl and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. In a third bowl, mix together the apple cider and sour cream. 

Alternately add one third of the flour mixture and cider mixture to the eggs, folding to incorporate each addition before adding the next.

Gently fold in the grated apple. Pour into the prepared loaf tins and sprinkle generously with coarse sugar. 

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the loaf springs back to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes before inverting onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Coffee Cakes with Almond Streusel

Is it spring yet? Sure doesn't feel like it. I mean, yeah, everything on Pinterest is "Grow your own garden!" and "Spring cleaning tips!" and "Strawberries and rhubarb and asparagus and peas!". And I'm just sitting here in rainy Vancouver with no rhubarb or strawberries or asparagus or peas. And it's cold.

I can't really complain that much because, really, Vancouver always has mild winters (as I've mentioned before). It doesn't get that cold. When I say it's cold, I mean it's about 4 or 5 degrees out. And then I think about my mom in Calgary where it was -12 last week. Why people live in places that are that cold in March, I do not know.

Despite what the calendar and pinterest says, it still kinda feels like winter and I'm okay with that. 'Cause that means a big ole hearty wintery beefy stew at my dad's place tomorrow night and I get to make pie and ice cream. With blueberries and rhubarb that I froze last summer. Not too shabby.

Coffee Cakes with Almond Streusel

Almond Streusel
60 g all-purpose flour
60 g almond meal
60 g granulated sugar
0.3 g (1/8 teaspoon) salt
60 g unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/4-inch dice

Coffee Cake
203 g all-purpose flour
5.5 g (1 1/8 teaspoon) baking powder
1.7 g (3/8 teaspoon) baking soda
1.7 g (1/2 teaspoon) salt
75 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
210 g granulated sugar
75 g eggs
20 g vanilla paste
225 g creme fraiche or sour cream

Middle Layer
15 g unsweetened alkalized cocoa powder
15 g light brown sugar

For the streusel, combine the flour, almond meal, salt, and sugar in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the cold butter and toss to coat the pieces. Work the mixture with your fingertips, breaking the butter into pieces no larger than 1/8 inch and combining it with the flour mixture. Do not overwork the mixture or allow the butter to become soft; if it does, place the bowl in the refrigerator to harder the butter before continuing. 

Transfer the streusel to a covered container or resealable bag. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days, or freeze up to 1 months.

For the coffee cakes, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn to medium-low speed and cream the butter until it has the consistency of mayonnaise and holds a peak when the paddle is lifted. Add the sugar and mix on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until the mixture is fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the eggs and the vanilla paste and mix for 15 to 30 seconds on low speed, until just combined. 

Add the flour mixture and the creme fraiche or sour cream alternatively in the following amounts, beating on low speed for about 15 seconds after each addition: one-third of the flour mixture, one-third of the creme fraiche, one-third of the flour mixture,the remaining flour, and the remaining creme fraiche. Cover the batter and refrigerate for 20 minutes, until firm.

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Ideally, you would need 4 1/2 inch round paper baking molds or 4 1/2 inch springform pans, but not everyone has that. I baked mine in regular muffin tins and they worked fine.

Whisk together the brown sugar and cocoa powder to break up any lumps. 

Transfer the coffee cake batter to a pastry bag and pipe a 1/4 inch deep spiral (60 g) in the bottom of each mold. Dust the top with 5 g/ 2 teaspoons of the cocoa mixture. Pipe a second spiral of batter over the cocoa, stopping at least 1/4 inch from the top of the hold. Sprinkle the tops with streusel: 30 g/3 tablespoons each. The cakes can be refrigerated at this point for up to 3 days.

Bake for 35 t0 40 minutes, or until the tops are golden browl and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Set the sheet pans on a cooling rack and cool completely.

Just before serving, lightly dust the tops with icing sugar, then with cocoa powder and cinnamon.

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Maple Blueberry Muffins

After I made this blueberry sauce, I realized that I still had a whole bunch of blueberries left. I was pretty tempted to just eat them all raw, but I decided not to in the end. 

I was a bit hesitant to make blueberry muffins to be honest. When I think of blueberry muffins, I think of the ones you find in supermarkets. You know, the giant ones that are too sweet, cakey, and kind of....sticky. Those muffins give blueberry muffins a bad name.

A few things give these muffins a one-up on those supermarket ones. First of all, maple syrup. It adds a tasty little hint of sweetness without being super overpowering and crossing over into the realm of "too sweet".

Second, the cinnamon topping. It is entirely optional, but I highly recommend using it. The little bit of crunchy-cinnamony-sweetness makes these muffins more interesting and a whole lot more flavourful. It's like cinnamon toast, but on top of a blueberry muffin.

The batter comes together quicker than it does for the muffins to bake and I bet you have all the ingredients somewhere in your kitchen. Frozen blueberries hanging out in the back of the freezer! Use them! You have eggs and flour and everyone has milk for their coffee or tea. What are you waiting for? Get going!

Maple Blueberry Muffins
Recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma Baking Book

Cinnamon Topping
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons (28 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

7 tablespoons (105 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 free range organic eggs
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries or frozen unsweetened blueberries, unthawed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a standard 12 cup muffin tin with butter.

To make the topping, combine the flour, both sugars, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut the butter into the flour mixture using your hands or a pastry blender until coarse crumbs form. You can also do this in a food processor.

For the muffins, in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until completely blended. Add the maple syrup and beat until combined.

In a measuring cup or jar, combine the milk and vanilla.

In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until almost incorporated, then add half the milk mixture. Repeat. The batter will be a bit lumpy at this point, so don't worry. Gently fold in the blueberries, being careful not to overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling them until the batter is level with the rim. Sprinkle some of the cinnamon topping over each muffin. 

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the muffins cool for 5 minutes. Unmold the muffins and serve warm or room temperature.


Toasted Hazelnut Granola

I'm not a breakfast person. I never have been. I don't know if I ever will be. It's like being a morning person; you are or you are not. Maybe the two tie in together because I am certainly not a morning person. 

My breakfast is usually a big mug of tea. That's it. When I wake up, I never feel like eating. I might be hungry when I wake up, but for the first hour of being awake, I don't enjoy eating, no matter what it is. Crazy, right? After about an hour, I get ravenous. I mean, wolf down anything I can get my hands on. 

But even then, I still don't want breakfast food. I just don't enjoy most breakfast foods. I don't dislike them, but I will almost always go for a lunch or dinner food. A sandwich will always win out over scrambled eggs. Leftover pasta trumps cereal, any day. It's just how it is for me.

This is not very useful when I have to go places in the mornings. Seeing as I'm not a morning person, I'm not going to wake up an hour earlier just so I can wait to be hungry. I give myself the shortest amount of time possible to make myself presentable and get out the door. My breakfast will usually be a bowl of bland cereal or maybe porridge with a few heaping teaspoons of sugar. And while that normally gets me through the morning, after a while, it gets boring.

And that's what granola comes in! It's got a whole bunch of things going on at once. Nuts, seeds, oats, fruit! It adds crunchiness to yogurt or makes a nice little snack. It's good stuff.

When toasting the hazelnuts, don't toast them as much as you normally would because they go back in the oven with everything else and you don't want burnt hazelnuts. 

The great thing about granola is that you can toss in or take out just about anything. The original recipe called for sesame seeds, dried apricots, and dried cherries. I took those out and put in sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, and dried cranberries. You can pick and choose your favorite seeds, nuts, and fruit to make your own special granola. 

Recipe adapted from Dahlia Bakery Cookbook

Vegetable spray for greasing the baking pans
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup steel-cut oats
1/2 shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil or other neutral tasting oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 4 minutes or so. You don't want to toast them completely because they will be going back in the oven. Leave the hazelnuts to cool completely, then skin them and chop them coarsely.

Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and spray two baking sheets with vegetable spray.

Combine the rolled oats, steel-cut oats, coconut, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds in a large bowl. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the honey, brown sugar, granulated sugar, maple syrup, canola oil, orange juice, cinnamon, and vanilla. Whisk until combined.

Pour the honey mixture over the oat mixture and toss with a rubber spatula until everything is evenly coated. 

Divide the granola between the two baking sheets, creating a thin, even layer. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until everything is a dark golden brown. Every 15 minutes or so, stir the granola to make sure it browns evenly. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let them cool completely.

Transfer the granola to a large bowl and stir in the raisins and dried cranberries. Store in airtight containers. If you wish to freeze it, transfer the granola to large resealable plastic bags and freeze.