Almond Topped Chocolate Chip Muffins

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A few months ago I asked Calvin if he wanted something new for school day breakfasts. He eats lunch late, so it is always a challenge to find something that will hold him over all morning. He suggested chocolate chip muffins with almond extract. I figured a few chocolate chips were okay as long as I threw in a few whole grains. With those parameters I took the concept and ran with it.

I have been tinkering with this muffin recipe for several months. I have used various combinations of whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and almond flour. I put oats in the batter, and then I put more oats in the batter. I put chocolate chips inside and on top, then just inside. I made umpteen variations of the crumb topping. I played with the sweetness level. Some versions were a little too grainy, others were too sweet or not sweet enough. Some topping attempts fell off the muffins as I took them out of the pans, some sank into the batter and others melted and ran off in the oven.

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The final recipe (at least for now) is a tender, almond-scented muffin full of chocolate chips and topped with a buttery almond topping. The batter has both oats and whole wheat flour, along with a moderate level of sugar. I used oil in the muffins, but butter in the topping for flavor.

We still aren’t tired of these muffins, and we have been eating them for breakfast and snacks for at least two months now. If that isn’t an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Download or print the recipe here.

Almond Topped Chocolate Chip Muffins
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 muffins

Muffins:
1½ cups buttermilk
1 cup oats, quick or old-fashioned
¼ cup oil
1 egg
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips

Topping:
¼ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup rolled oats, quick or old-fashioned
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter

Mix the buttermilk and oats together in a large bowl and set aside while you gather your ingredients and make the topping.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease 12 standard muffin cups and set aside.

Make the topping:
Use a food processor, mini chopper or a pastry blender to mix together the almonds, oats and granulated sugar. When the mixture is fairly finely ground, with the almonds mostly broken up, add the butter and mix until everything starts to clump together slightly and looks like coarse wet sand. Refrigerate topping while you mix the muffins.

Add the oil, egg, sugar, almond extract and vanilla extract to the oat and buttermilk mixture. Mix well.

Mix the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder together in a small bowl. Add to oat mixture and stir gently. Do not beat or you will end up with tough muffins. When the flour is almost completely mixed in, add the chocolate chips and stir until there are no streaks or pockets of dry flour.

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Divide batter evenly among the greased muffin cups, which will be almost full. Use a measuring tablespoon to divide the topping between the muffins, using about 1 tablespoon per muffin. Keep most of the topping toward the middle of each muffin. If the topping is compacted into mounds, use your finger to break them up slightly.

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Bake the muffins for 13-15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and bounce back when touched lightly. A toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin will come out with just a few moist crumbs, if you can manage to miss the chocolate chips.

Let muffins cool in the pan for about 10 minutes to firm up a bit. Then remove them from the pan to finish cooling on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container for up to two days. After that the muffins will start to get dry. Freeze for longer storage. Thaw at room temperature for a few hours, or in the microwave for about 20 seconds per muffin.

 

Buttermilk Biscuits

When I say, “biscuits,” what do you think about? Maybe the kind the doughboy puts in the can? What if I told you that you could make biscuits from scratch in less than half an hour? You can absolutely do it, even if you don’t consider yourself a baker. Think how accomplished you will feel when you bring your own hot biscuits to the table. If homemade biscuits are old hat for you, take this as a reminder of how good they are and make some soon.

When I was probably eight or nine, Dad decided he was going to learn to make biscuits. He attempted time after time to make biscuits like he remembered his mother making. We always thought they were pretty good, though there was a learning curve – some flat biscuits, and some crunchy biscuits, but we always happily ate them. Somehow Dad’s biscuits became the menu for Sunday mornings. Every week Dad made biscuits, eggs and sometimes sausage or bacon. Later, as we all became more health conscious, we had fruit more often than breakfast meat, but the biscuits were ever present.

Dad usually uses shortening in his biscuits, and so did my grandma. I used to use shortening too, but lately I have started using butter in my biscuits. There is the trade-off between the saturated fat of butter, the trans fats of shortening, or the palm oil they use to make the new trans-fat free Crisco. I am currently trying to avoid palm oil since I read a few too many articles about the rain forests they are cutting down to plant palm oil plantations. Not that my efforts are going to save one scrap of rain forest, but you do what you can live with, right? The long and short of it – you can use butter or shortening in these and they will work just fine.

Dad always bakes his biscuits on two cast iron flat griddles. I have one that he gave me that was my grandma’s (of course there is a story). This recipe makes enough biscuits for two 10-inch griddles, so I use a cast iron skillet for the other half. Or I use my 14-inch cast iron pizza pan. You can always use a regular baking sheet, of course, but if you have a cast iron pan, use it. The cast iron makes the bottoms of the biscuits extra crispy. We coveted biscuit bottoms when I was a kid. I still eat the tops first and the bottoms second, to save the best for last.

Whether you like crispy biscuit bottoms, with butter and honey soaking through, or if you prefer the fluffier middles, make some biscuits soon. And be sure to post in the comments about your biscuit making adventures.

Buttermilk Biscuits
From the Cook’s Life
Makes 9-12, depending on size

1 cup white whole wheat flour*
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
4-6 tablespoons butter or shortening (the larger amount makes a richer biscuit)
¾ cup buttermilk
2-3 tablespoons buttermilk, regular milk or water (if the dough is dry)

*You can substitute all-purpose flour for the white whole wheat if you would rather. You probably won’t need the extra buttermilk/milk/water if you do this.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a baking sheet or one large or two medium cast iron skillets or flat griddles. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together white whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

Cut in butter or shortening until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk all at once. Mix well, but gently, until dough forms.

If there is still dry flour, add buttermilk, milk or water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together and there are no dry patches.

Lightly flour the counter or a large cutting board and turn dough out of the bowl. Sprinkle dough lightly with flour and knead it gently, about ten times – fold the dough in half, turn it one quarter turn and repeat the folding, pressing down gently each time. Add flour if the dough sticks to your hands.

Pat the dough into a rough square.

Use your floured hands, or a rolling pin, to pat or roll the dough about ½ inch thick. Use a round biscuit or cookie cutter to cut out biscuits. After you have cut as many biscuits as possible, remove them to the prepared pan.  Place them about a ½-inch apart if you want them to rise together and have soft sides, or farther apart for crispier sides.

Push the scraps together so the cut sides stick together. Gently press the dough together until you have one solid piece again. Press or roll dough out to ½ inch again. Cut out as many biscuits as possible and place on the pan.

Or you can cut the biscuits in squares or triangles and completely eliminate any scraps or the need to re-roll. I sometimes do circles for the first cutting and squares with the scraps, as I did here.

Bake the biscuits for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned and the bottoms are deeper brown. Serve immediately.

Download the recipe here.

Skip the Mix: Pancakes

You really can make a cake, pancakes or biscuits without a mix. Try making just one thing from scratch and see how you like the results. Once you have a few skills and ingredients, it doesn’t take much more time than using a mix and the results are worth it. When you bake from scratch you control exactly what you put in your mixing bowl and on your family’s plates. You can tailor a recipe to suit your family’s tastes and dietary needs. Make the recipe once as written, but then you can adapt is as you like. You can change recipes to include whole grain flours, to reduce the fat, salt or sugar or substitute for ingredients that you don’t like or can’t eat for whatever reason.

Most things like pancakes and cakes are not as hard as you would think. And they are so much better when you make them from scratch. One trip to the grocery store will get you the ingredients you need for so many recipes. And the time you spend with your family trying something new is worth a little extra time.

I am including our favorite recipe for pancakes, which can be adapted as I have noted. Try them just once and I think you will be surprised at your results. Please post comments and let me know how the recipe worked for you.

Buttermilk Pancakes
12 four-inch pancakes
1 cup all-purpose flour (see notes)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk (see notes)
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (not olive oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional, but really tasty)
Milk or water

Start heating a lightly greased griddle or skillet over medium heat. Stir together in a large bowl the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, buttermilk, oil and vanilla, if using. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients all at once and stir gently, but thoroughly. Don’t try to get all the lumps out, but make sure there aren’t any dry pockets of flour. If batter is too thick to pour, add milk or water, a tablespoon at a time until batter is thinner. Drop batter onto the hot, greased pan or griddle with a spoon, ladle or measuring cup. Or use a mixing bowl with a spout and pour them onto the griddle. Aim for pancakes that are about 4 inches across. Leave the pancakes alone until the edges look dry and there are bubbles over the whole surface. Flip over and cook about the same length of time, or a little less, on the other side. Serve as they are cooked or keep hot in a 250 degree oven or toaster oven. If you have any left over, they can be cooled on racks and then kept in an airtight container at room temperature for a day or two, or frozen for several months. Warm in a toaster oven or toaster just until hot, not crunchy.

Note: I make these whole wheat pancakes by substituting ¾-1 cup white whole wheat flour for the same amount of all-purpose flour. If you are starting out with whole wheat, use ¼ cup to start and increase it next time if you like the flavor. You can branch out to other flours like barley and rye, if you feel like being adventurous.

Buttermilk comes in 1-cup cartons at the grocery store, and really makes a wonderful pancake. It also keeps for weeks in the fridge. But, if you don’t want to buy buttermilk, you can use about ½ cup plain yogurt and ½ cup regular milk in place of the buttermilk. Or you can measure 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar into your measuring cup and fill it the rest of the way with milk. Stir and let sit for 10-15 minutes to let the milk sour.

Download the recipe here.