A few weeks ago, I posted a link to a cake recipe on our Localgrain Facebook page, and one of the comments asked why I’d posted it, since surely it would have to be made with white flour. It was a really good reminder for me that the 70s stigma of whole-grain brick bread and gross pastries lives on, and that many cooks hesitate to use whole grain flours because they don’t want a “healthy” but inedible creation.
I’ve baked many, many cakes, cookies, scones, muffins, breads, etc with 100% whole grains and freshly milled whole meal flours both in my home kitchen and in a commercial bakery. I can assure you they did not suck. In fact, many people who try a muffin or bread made with 100% whole meal flour light up and start asking lots of questions about what’s in it and why it tastes so good. The answer is pretty simple – all of the goodness is still there, and your body and taste buds can tell.
What’s whole meal? “Whole wheat” or “whole grain” flours sold in the store are, in fact, not whole. They have been partly sifted, to take out the germ (which would go rancid sitting on the shelf) and to remove some of the bran. Whole meal flour is what you get when you mill a grain and don’t sift it at all. Some of the nutrients in grains are also sensitive to oxygen, so if you mill grains and don’t use them quickly, you lose some of the nutrients simply by exposure to air. For folks who are concerned about phytates and grains binding up nutrients in your digestive system, soaking grains or using sourdough in your batter can neutralize those. Freshly milled flour also has significantly lower amounts of phytates present, and is more digestible (which just makes plain sense, too).
Baking bread with fresh whole meal flour deserves its own discussion, so today I’m just focusing on pastries. Whole meal flours are ideal for pastries, because the tiny flecks of bran “shorten” the gluten strands, making your pastry tender. You don’t need to worry so much about “overworking” your dough and developing gluten. White flour has tons of gluten, which can make it rise higher but also taste tougher (And as you can see from the photos, my cake is far from flat – I estimate you only lose 15-20% of volume when you use all whole meal, and if you want you can always mix white and whole meal flours, of course.) Freshly milled flours are usually moister, so you may need to hold back a bit of your liquid, but I don’t usually find this to be an issue with pastries. So, no fancy tricks are required here – just substitute freshly milled flour for the flour called for in your recipe, and enjoy!
Enough of the nitty gritty and more of the yummies. Last week, we celebrated our daughter’s seventh birthday. She asked for a Boston Creme Pie, which I made with 100% freshly ground local wheat – I’m going to share the recipe and photos so you can see how lovely whole meal baking can be (and I can tell you that cake disappeared so fast I only got to eat half a tiny piece!). At the last minute, we had a bunch of wheat-free guests show up, so I’ll tell you how I magically made dessert for them appear a la minute, as well.
Boston Creme Pie
As always with my baking recipes, please please for the love of the gods, please use a scale and weigh your ingredients.
3/4 cup half & half
1/4 cup (50 g) natural cane sugar (or substitute maple syrup if you prefer)
1/4 cup (50 g) natural cane sugar (or substitute maple syrup if you prefer)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
(plus 1/2 cup heavy cream for whipping, for gluten free bonus if desired)
2 1/2 cups (250 g) freshly milled flour (wheat, spelt, barley, emmer, or a mixture would all be delicious here)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs, room temperature (warm in a bowl of water if need be -temp is important!)
1 cup (8 oz) milk, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 g) natural cane sugar (or substitute maple syrup if you prefer)
6 oz good quality dark chocolate (I prefer Callebaut), in chunks
3 oz (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter
(make double if you want the gluten-free bonus)
I recommend making your custard first, and while it’s cooling in your fridge, making your cake and glaze.
Custard: Pour the half and half into a saucepan, add first 1/4 cup of sugar, and stir. In a bowl, whisk the egg and remaining sugar together.
Heat the half & half over med-high heat until small bubbles appear around the edges but don’t boil. Remove from heat, and slowly whisk half of the hot liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking to combine. Pour the yolk mixture back into the pan (this is called tempering the eggs), and bring it to a simmer, stirring gently but constantly.
When it is smooth and thick (5-10 minutes), removee it from the heat, pour into a glass bowl and put into the fridge to cool. Good job!
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Grease two 8 inch spring-form cake pans with butter.
Sift together into a large bowl your flour, baking powder, and salt. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk together just to combine the yolks and whites. Add the vanilla to the milk.
Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a bowl and hand held mixer). Beat the butter until it gets satiny and clings to the sides of the bowl (about 30 secs).
With the mixer on, add the sugar in a steady stream. When it’s all added, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue to cream for 4-5 minutes, until light and fluffy.
With the mixer on, pour in the eggs, very slowly at first like you’re making mayonnaise. Continue to cream until the mixture is white, fluffy, and increased in volume. Remove from the mixer – stir in the flour by hand.
Add 1/4 of the flour mixture, stir it in, then add 1/3 of the vanilla milk and stir to combine. Continue until you’ve used all ingredients (ending with the flour). Mix until smooth after each addition.
Spoon half of the batter into each pan, and smooth with spatula. To get a flat cake round, make a slight indent in the center of the cake and push extra batter towards the edges.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until springy and it measures 190 on a digital thermometer. Cool in pans for 5-10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and release from pans. Cool before assembling.
Place the butter, then the chocolate into a double boiler, or right into a saucepan if you’re staying nearby and being careful. Put over very low heat and stir occasionally, until mixture is smooth, shiny, and liquid.
Once you have all your pieces prepared, it’s time to assemble! Place down one cake half, spread custard evenly all over it. Gently place second cake round on top, and spoon on the glaze, gently pushing it towards the edges with a spatula or butter knife. Bon Appetit!
Gluten Free Bonus: As I mentioned, I made this cake for my daughter’s birthday and suddenly a lot of wheat-free guests showed up. First, I panicked, then I did this: I remembered that the recipe I was following had recommended folding whipped cream into the custard. I hadn’t assembled the cake yet, so I quickly whipped a bunch of cream, folded it into the custard (thereby doubling it), and made another batch of chocolate glaze. I used half the custard in the cake, and served the rest with the extra chocolate glaze (and bowls were licked clean, I can tell you). You can do the same, and then you’ll have a delicious cake, and a delicious gluten-free option.
Here’s what seems to happen every year – in late winter I’m knitting like a madwoman, in spring I have no interest in it whatsoever and start to wonder why I own all these skeins and needles, and right around the summer solstice I start knitting away. Funny how that goes.
I cast on a new sweater for Ella – picked out the pattern with her and got a shockingly pink yarn. If she doesn’t like it, maybe I’ll sell it on Etsy
My getting ready for winter urges extend to food, of course. I’m starting to get the serious itch to preserve, dry, and ferment. I’m mostly reading Wild Edible guides, like Backyard Foraging.
I have a guest post today at the lovely blog Gypsy Forest, talking about rhythm and time in summer. So hop on over
If you’ve never tasted it, let me be the first to tell you – elderflower champagne tastes like the nectar of the gods. It’s very mildly alcoholic and very fragrantly floral. Elderflowers are blooming right now here in western MA, so go pick a few (but remember to leave plenty to mature into fruits!) and make some for yourself. (I used this recipe as my guide.)
Here’s how it is at our house right now: I took a break from CSA work to make this nectar. Ben was outside at the pond, Ella was in the bathroom mixing up “fairy dust”, and Gabriel threw a nutty and then lay down on the hallway floor and fell dead asleep. Which is a pretty good view of our days.
Blessings on yours.
In our house, attitude correction tool #1 is doing chores.
I don’t know why I seem to need to learn many life lessons over and over (and over . . .) again before I really start to get the lesson. In this case, I have realized the magical powers of children’s chores, but slowly the realization slipped out of my mind. This time, I’m writing it down, in an effort to remember (and to share).
So here’s the heart of the matter: doing chores is awesome on so many levels. It’s good for me, as the main keeper of the home, because it helps ease me feeling overloaded. It’s good for all of us, because we get to live in a tidier space. It’s good for the kids long-term, because when they grow up they’ll be able to clean up after themselves. And perhaps most important to me right now, and the ones I keep foregetting: it’s good for all of us right now because doing a good amount of daily chores (about 30 minutes for my 7 year old) is a healing, positive, balancing act for the soul of the child.
Getting your children to do chores every day takes a fair amount of willpower and a lot of follow-through energy on the part of the parent, which is why I think it’s so easy (and frequent) to let things slip. Oh, they’re playing so nicely, I’ll just do it myself. Or, They’ll just complain and whine, I’ll just do it. Etc, etc.
What I find in our home, is that when my children aren’t actively participating in keeping our home clean, I hear a lot more whining, complaining, backtalk, and general bad attitudes. Yes, they complain, dawdle, get distracted, and generally try to disappear when I make them do chores. But. After just one or two days of enforced chore time, the bad attitudes get significantly reduced. Mercifully, beautifully reduced. It’s like the act of caring for the home takes them out of a hyper-ego state, and plants them a little more firmly here in this family, where we are connected together.
As far as enforcing goes, I keep it calm but extremely firm. Short, and to the point. Go get the broom. Now sweep the kitchen. No, we’re not petting the cat right now, finish sweeping. Good work. Now go get the dust pan. (And so on.) While they are cleaning, I am beside them doing chores that they can’t do yet, like cleaning sharp knives or high cabinets. After directing them in a chore or two, I will often give them a choice – you can wash dishes, or you can hang up the wet clothes. Like I said, there’s often grumbling at first, but it quickly dies down. I try to remember to sing, or at least hum while we’re working. (I don’t usually play music on the stereo, because it’s too distracting and loud – I forget to check in on them closely enough and then we’re lost!) Tonight, while washing dishes, my formerly grumpy daughter announced, “I love cleaning.” And I do, too.
Blessings on your weekend, friends, and happy Summer Solstice!
It’s nearly the summer solstice, and as usual I’m grumpy and underslept. It’s just the way it usually is for me this time of year . . . yes, the flowers are beautiful, the peas fresh from the garden are delicious, and our pond is nearly finished. It’s amazing, but this is usually a hard time of year for me. I don’t seem to be built for any sort of heat, and my brain doesn’t work terribly well above 70 degrees. I forget things – words, appointments, bills. Which is really annoying. And with all the bright light, the children seem to think bedtime is a joke, except it’s no joke to the grown ups who need time to ourselves that doesn’t start at midnight. (Yes, I have dark blinds in their bedroom which helps a bit.)
(Oh yes, I finished Ella’s Rapunzel hat – a lovely knit, and she’s completely uninterested, just like the sweater I made her. I’m about to give up entirely on knitting for her. Grrr.)
Well, that’s my grumpy post of the summer. And a big thanks to my Jojo, who reminds me to keep it real.
We (mostly) finished the pond in time for Ella’s birthday party last weekend – hooray! She wanted to start her day with birthday waffles, which is frankly a great idea. A lot of friends and family joined us to celebrate, and we had lovely weather. It was awesome, and exhausting. I think it’s been too long since we’ve thrown a party – we’re totally out of the habit.
We still have finishing touches to add to the pond – plants, the pump and skimmer, the water-heating setup for the hot tub (yeah!). But the major, back-breaking work is done, and we’ve gone swimming almost every day. Feeling very very lucky.
I’m starting to wake up to the fact that we’re in the aftershock stage of closing down our cafe. At the very start, once we’d made that difficult decision, we were pretty euphoric. At last, we thought, we’ll be able to do all the things we’ve been putting off! And some of them we got to right away, including working fiendishly on new projects, renovating the house, etc.
But I guess one of those things that I should’ve put on my “to-do list” was resting. Recovering. Recuperating.
After our trip to Charleston, the children spent a week or two with some serious aftershocks from the travelling – Ella had terrible fears of fire suddenly (no, there weren’t any fire-related incidents on our trip), especially at night. She was so scared she was physically ill, it was really intense, and so we all had a week or two of less sleep and no grown-up time. Thankfully, she seems to have recovered and settled back in to our house (phew!).
Ben has almost finished our natural swimming pool/pond. It’s amazing. I’ve been told that I can’t post any photos of it yet, because he wants it to be a surprise for some guests at Ella’s birthday party this weekend (she’ll be 7!). I think this has been his main recovery tool – doing something just because he wants to, something he’s created with his hands for the sheer pleasure and joy it will bring to our whole family for years to come.
For myself, I’ve been steadily plugging away tying up loose ends for the cafe, and working on the grain CSA, like putting in new milling stations around the Pioneer Valley. But I’ve been going at a much slower pace than usual. I’ve been reading a lot of books, not keeping an especially tidy house, letting Ben cook dinner, and generally being a lot lazier than usual. I’m still excited to work on all our new big plans (and so is Ben, I know) . . . just not yet. Right now, I think we’re all taking a big deep breath in, and enjoying the beauty of these first summery days. Sometimes the Valley is so beautiful it hurts.
Blessings on your week, friends.
Didn’t I do a post once about allowing ourselves to love what we love, to accept the ups and downs of our own energy and passions? I should really listen to myself more often.
I feel like I’m entering another level of this idea these days. It’s funny how sometimes we are so good at tricking ourselves, into thinking we don’t like something (or we do). It’s funny how every time I don’t have the energy/inspiration for housework, or cooking, or whatever, I start to immediately panic and try to buckle down, like Oh no, I’ll never want to do laundry again so I’d better just force myself to slog through it. And then a few days later, I’m happily loading the washer, humming.
If only I had let myself take a few days off from what I “had to do”, and saved a lot of struggle and frustration. As usual, I’m finding myself most out of sorts these days when I’m asking myself to do more than I can in a given situation, and then really overwhelmed by how much I’m asking myself to do. Perhaps I can start to ease up on myself.