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.

 

Cookies for Breakfast

I can’t believe I am advocating cookies for breakfast, but these really are healthy enough that I have been letting Calvin eat them for breakfast. They are certainly healthier than a commercial granola bar or cereal bar. If you aren’t ready to sanction cookies for breakfast, they also make a great snack, and just one leaves you more satisfied than a handful of pretzels, with a whole lot more nutrition.

I first saw the recipe on Emmy Cooks, which is worth a look, if you have time to check it out. Emmy got the recipe from another blog, Blue Kale Road, which she links to in her post. Another good read. Emmy made a couple of changes to the recipe and I made a few of my own.

The original recipe called for filling these with jam or preserves, as in a traditional thumbprint cookie. That sounded good to me, but I knew Calvin wouldn’t be crazy about them, so I filled some with raspberry jam, some with peanut butter and some with dark chocolate chips. Calvin prefers the chocolate and peanut butter ones, Rich the raspberry. I like them all.

These go together in minutes, and you only need a bowl and a wooden spoon. If you don’t keep whole wheat flour or oats on hand, these cookies are worth a trip to the store.

Play with these and see what you like the best, or what adaptations you want to make. Maybe more spices, no spices, almond extract instead of vanilla or no extract. Make changes, or make them as is, but make them. These are too good and too easy to go in the “someday” file. Post back and let me know how you like them when you try them.

Breakfast Thumbprint Cookies
Makes 24-30 cookies

I have used both imitation and real maple syrup in these. Use what you have on hand.

1 ½ cups rolled oats, old fashioned preferred
¾ cup oat flour*
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup oil, olive or canola or a combo of the two
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling suggestions:
Jam
Peanut butter mixed with honey or maple syrup
Chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheets, or line them with parchment. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the rolled oats, oat flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add maple syrup, oil and vanilla and mix well, until there are no dry pockets of flour or oats. You might not think it will come together, but keep mixing and you will get a stiff dough.

Use a small cookie scoop (mine holds a scant 2 tablespoons) or your damp hands to make  balls of dough. Flatten each ball slightly and use your thumb and fingers to make a well in the middle, building up the edges to hold the filling. If the cookies crumble, just press the edges back together with your fingers. Keep your hands damp and the dough won’t stick to them.

Now it is decision time: If you are using jam, fill each depression with about a teaspoon of jam at this point.

If you want to use peanut butter or chocolate, you will fill the cookies about halfway through the baking time. Bake them empty for the first 5 minutes and then fill. While they are beginning to bake, mix the peanut butter with a little honey or more maple syrup to loosen it just a bit. I used about 3 parts peanut butter to one part honey. Fill the cookies with about a teaspoon of your peanut butter mixture. Spread the filling out with a damp finger – it won’t change shape in the oven.

Or use about 5 chocolate chips per cookie. The chips will melt during the second half of the baking time. After the cookies come out of the oven, use the tip of a spoon or knife to gently smooth the chocolate.

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are just starting to brown. If you are using peanut butter or chocolate, fill the cookies after 5 minutes in the oven.

Carefully remove cookies from baking sheets and allow to cool completely on racks. These keep well at room temperature, or you can freeze them for longer storage. The chocolate ones are good warmed in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the chocolate.

*If you don’t keep oat flour on hand (and I don’t) you can make it by grinding oats finely in a food processor, blender or coffee grinder. I find that ¾ cup of oats makes slightly more than ¾ cup of oat flour. Grind the oats, then measure the oat flour. Use any leftovers in pancakes, muffins or cookies.

Download the recipe here.

The Bread that Ate My Kitchen

I almost forgot that I promised a post on the bread that I made for my recent family reunion. I made Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread, which is great for sandwiches or toast. It is full of whole grains without that “sticks and twigs” texture. This is the bread that rose so well that it popped the top off its rising container and almost overflowed onto the counter.

Don’t let this scare you off making it – just make sure you have a big enough container for rising. The original recipe makes four loaves of bread, which is a huge amount of dough. And I didn’t have a big enough container. I am posting a reduced recipe that will only make two loaves and will be much more manageable. Even if you have never made bread before, you can do this.

Unfortunately I forgot to take many pictures of the process. I will do a post sometime soon on bread making, with exhaustive pictures, to help you gain confidence if you are thinking of taking the leap into yeast baking.

Feel free to post in the comments if you have any questions at all about baking with yeast. I made my first yeast bread when I was in college, from an illustrated Time Life yeast baking book. I have learned a lot by trial and error, and I am happy to share my tips and hints. If you are in the St. Louis area, I do also offer cooking and baking classes. Contact me and we will talk!

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread
Adapted by the Cook’s Life
From “Country Baking” by Ken Haedrich
Makes 2 large loaves

The original recipe was called “Grainy Bread for the Whole Week” but I thought it needed a better name. And it made four huge loaves of bread, so I cut the recipe in half. Feel free to double the recipe if you are an experienced baker, but be aware it makes a lot of dough.

3 cups warm milk or water*
¾ cup rolled oats, old-fashioned or quick
1 package dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup honey
5 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
1 ½ to 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, approximately

*Milk will make a softer bread than water. I prefer using milk.

Pour the water or milk into a large mixing bowl or mixer bowl. Add the oats, yeast and honey. Stir in 4 cups of the white whole wheat flour. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

After the rest, add the salt, oil and the remaining 1½ cups white whole wheat flour. Mix well. Cover the dough and let rest for 10 minutes.

After the rest, add about 1 cup of the all-purpose flour. When dough gets hard to stir, turn out onto a floured surface to knead, or leave in the mixer and use the dough hook to knead. Knead the dough until it is fairly stiff, smooth and elastic. Add flour if the dough sticks to your hands or the sides of the bowl.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl or container that has enough room for the dough to double in size. Cover with plastic wrap or the lid and let rise in a warm place for 45-60 minutes, or until doubled.

Grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment, if you are making freeform loaves. Or grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans.

Turn risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly, for about 30 seconds. Divide dough into 2 pieces and form each into an oblong, football-shaped ball. Place loaves on prepared baking sheet, leaving room between them, or in loaf pans. If using loaf pans, press dough firmly into corners. Cover loosely with parchment or waxed paper and allow to rise until doubled. This should take 20-30 minutes, or about half the time the dough took to double the first time.

About 15 minutes before the bread is risen, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bake the loaves 30-45 minutes, or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Freeform loaves on a baking sheet will take slightly less time to bake than those in loaf pans.

Remove bread from the pans and let cool on wire racks. When completely cool, store leftovers in an airtight container or plastic bag. Freeze if not eating within a few days. Homemade bread dries out faster than commercial bread, but if you slice it before freezing, you can remove slices as you need them. They thaw in a few minutes, or you can toast them.

 Download the recipe here.

Second Try Chewy Granola Bars

I am always on a quest for healthier snacks. I know, I know, fruit would be the healthiest, but it doesn’t always cut it for a snack. You can’t exactly grab a peach to eat in the car on your way to run errands. Granola bars are the perfect grab-and-go snack, but the commercial variety isn’t really all that healthy. And sometimes they taste a lot like the box, with a chocolate coating. So my answer is, as always, to make my own. I have been trying to make a chewy granola bar for years, but only trying periodically and then getting distracted by some other project after a few tries.

I found a recipe for chewy granola bars on the King Arthur Flour site. I made it pretty much as written for the first try; though I didn’t have the sticky bun sugar they called for, so I used their suggested substitute. The results were fabulous, though they were sticky, gooey granola bars instead of chewy. And the bars were tooth-achingly sweet and not even remotely health food given the amount of sugar, syrups and butter. I liked them so much I had to send them to Rich’s office to get them out of the house. He came home with an empty container the same day.

I tried again, after studying the recipe and doing an online search for chewy granola bar recipes, though none of them sounded as good as the King Arthur recipe I had already tried. Smitten Kitchen tinkered with the same recipe and I took note of her changes, along with variations some of her followers tried.

First I really thought about what I had done the first time, and realized that using the old-fashioned oats I had on hand instead of the quick oats called for probably contributed to the stickiness, since they were bigger pieces and couldn’t soak up the liquids as quickly. On the second try I ground them in the food processor until most of them were broken up a bit.

I reduced the sugar (and changed from granulated to brown) by a lot, though I kept the syrupy ingredients about the same so they would still be chewy bars. I reduced the butter a little and replaced it with applesauce. I wasn’t sure about doing this after having way too many weird results when trying to reduce the fat in recipes in the fat-free craze of the 90s. This time it worked.

The recipe gives you the option of a few cups of add-ins of your choice. I made these hoping Calvin would eat them, so that meant no raisins, dried cranberries or other fruit. Not a texture he enjoys. I used wheat germ, sunflower seeds, pecans and almonds. I know the large amount of nuts adds to the fat and calorie counts, but nuts are healthy fats, right? I ground all but the wheat germ in the food processor to make the nuts less likely to pose a texture issue with the picky eater. I sprinkled bittersweet chocolate chips on top during the last few minutes of baking. After they came out of the oven I spread the melted chips into a chocolate coating. When I made the first batch, I mixed the chips in, but they melted into the mix and weren’t prominent enough for me.

Resounding success! Not sure how healthy they are, but with the oats, wheat germ and nuts they can’t be all bad, right? They are certainly tasty, with less butter and sugar than a cookie and they pass the picky-eater test, so I am happy. Let me know what you think.

Chocolate Topped Chewy Granola Bars
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
By The Cook’s Life
Makes 24 bars

The ingredient list looks long, but you can pick up everything in one trip to the store. Trust me, it’s worth it when you compare the taste to commercial granola bars.

1 2/3 quick or old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup oat flour or an additional 1/3 cup oats (directions follow for making oat flour)
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
2-3 cups add-ins like nuts, dried fruit, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, coconut, etc.*
¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted or ¼ cup oil (I used butter)
¼ cup maple syrup or honey (I used maple syrup)
3 tablespoons corn syrup (This is to help make the bars chewy. You can substitute honey or maple syrup, but they will contribute more flavor than corn syrup.)
2 tablespoons applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup bittersweet or dark chocolate chips

* I used 1 cup almonds, ½ cup pecans, ¼ cup sunflower seeds and ½ cup wheat germ. I ground the nuts and sunflower seeds in the food processor until finely chopped, but you could leave them whole or coarsely chopped for more texture.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 by 13 inch pan with parchment paper or lightly grease it.

If you are using old-fashioned oats, grind them briefly in a food processor or blender, until most of the flakes are broken up a little. Pour them into a large bowl. If you don’t have oat flour (I didn’t), grind the 1/3 cup oats in the food processor or blender until finely ground and add to the bowl. Add brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and your choice of mix-ins and stir well. Make sure the brown sugar is well mixed and there aren’t any clumps. Melt the butter and add the maple syrup or honey, corn syrup, applesauce and vanilla. Stir well and add to the oat mixture. Mix well, until all of the dry ingredients are wet. It won’t look like enough moisture at first, but keep mixing and it will come together.

Press firmly into your prepared pan. Use a piece of plastic wrap over the top, or grease your hand first and really press hard to get everything to stick together. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until firm when you press in the middle.

Sprinkle the top evenly with chocolate chips and return to the oven for 2-3 minutes, or until chips are glossy and soft.

Remove from oven and spread chips into a thin layer, or leave them as is. They will re-solidify, but they will be softer, and stick to the bars better than if they had not been melted.

Cool in pan on rack until completely cool. You might have to refrigerate the bars for 15 minutes or so to firm up the chocolate before cutting.

Cut into 24 bars. Store in an airtight container, with parchment or waxed paper between the layers to keep them from sticking to each other. These freeze well.

Download the recipe here.