Saturday, November 27, 2010

Persimmon Bread

Back home in Pennsylvania, each fall brought my family large bags of zucchini. In Japan, zucchini is expensive, but this time of year brings us somewhat lesser-sized bags of free persimmons. Even if our acquaintances here don't have trees of their own, relatives who live further afield send them boxes of the fruit and they can't possibly eat it all themselves so they share with us. This is always a very delightful experience for me since I love persimmons, but I often cannot eat them fast enough before they go bad.

The answer to the problem is persimmon bread, which I have made before but never in a sugar-free whole wheat version. Fortunately, persimmons can substitute very well for unsweetened applesauce so it was easy to formulate a recipe that worked on the first attempt. The result is a lightly sweet, surprisingly moist bread with a quite mild persimmon taste. In fact, I'd guess that even people who aren't fond of persimmons would enjoy this bread much as people who don't love zucchini can find eating a quick bread made with that vegetable enjoyable.

I found that one persimmon of relatively "average" size yielded about 3/4 cup of puree, though your results may vary if you have smaller or larger fruit. To prepare the puree, you just peel and de-seed the persimmon (if yours have seeds, mine did not) and run them in a food processor until liquefied. I will be freezing a lot of puree as my persimmons start to go soft. In fact, I may try subbing persimmons for applesauce in some recipes if I have the time to experiment and any ideas for complimentary flavors.

In this recipe, I used walnuts, but you can leave them out if you don't like nuts in your quick breads. It will also save you 50 calories per slice if you omit the walnuts. That being said, walnuts carry some good nutritional benefits and the small amount of calories is worth adding in the consumption of a bit of healthy fat.

Note that I did not eat this bread when fresh, but after it had sat overnight. It was incredibly moist and I think no one would know it was sugar-free or reduced fat from the texture, though the fact that it is whole wheat and a little heavier is pretty clear. You can make this into 6 or 8 servings, but I prefer 6 because this is a small loaf. One slice with margarine or butter makes a lovely breakfast with coffee or tea.

Persimmon bread (sugar-free, low-fat, whole wheat):
3/4 cup persimmon puree
1 medium egg
1/3 cup skim milk + 1/2 tbsp. rice vinegar (or any mild-flavored vinegar)
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup Splenda granular
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1.6 oz./45 grams walnuts (about 22 halves), roughly chopped
  1. Add the vinegar to the milk, stir, and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes.
  2. Whisk the persimmon puree, egg, milk with vinegar, oil, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and Splenda together until smooth.
  3. Sprinkle the flour over the liquid mixture and stir just to moisten. Allow the batter to rest for about 15 minutes.
  4. While the batter is resting, grease and flour (or use cooking spray on) a loaf pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees F./180 degrees C.
  5. Sprinkle the baking powder over the batter and add the chopped walnuts. Stir until the baking powder is well-blended but do not overmix or the bread will be tough.
  6. Spread the batter evenly into the loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes. The bread is done when a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. 
Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

With walnuts:

Without walnuts:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chocolate Oatmeal Cake Bars

I have found that working with chocolate without sugar and much fat really is quite a challenge because it is hard to get the flavor to be strong without those components. If you have ever wondered why coffee and cinnamon are in a lot of recipes with chocolate, it is because they enhance the intensity of the chocolate flavor without really coming across strongly as independent flavors. While you can skip the coffee in these recipes, it will make for a more anemic tasting result. Even if you hate coffee, it's good to use them in baking chocolate sweets in many cases.

I wanted to make a chocolate baked oatmeal, but I thought it might work better if it were more "cake-like" and less crumbly than my usual baked oatmeal. The result was a delicate, surprisingly light and soft cake bar which was (still) a bit crumbly, but generally held together well. I wouldn't recommend eating it when you're wearing a white shirt.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cake Bars (sugar-free, reduced fat, whole grain):
1 medium egg
1/2 cup skim milk
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 tbsp. espresso or very strong coffee
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup Splenda granular
1 1/2 cups rolled oats (regular, not quick cooking), divided into half
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F./175 degrees C.
  2. Spray a 11" x 7"  pan with cooking spray (I used metal non-stick).
  3. Whisk the egg, milk, oil, applesauce, coffee, and vanilla until smoothly blended. 
  4. Add the vanilla, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt, and Splenda and whisk well. 
  5. Put 3/4 cup of oatmeal into a small bowl food processor and process until ground as finely as possible. 
  6. Add the ground oats, remaining 3/4 cup of whole oatmeal, whole wheat flour, and baking powder to the mixture and stir until evenly mixed.
  7. Spread the mixture into the pan and bake for 20 minutes. Do not overbake! A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with moist crumbs, not clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature and cut into squares.
Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

16 servings:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Garbanzo "Salad"

Quite some time ago, I purchased a case of garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) and having to find a way to consume 24 cans by myself in a fairly reasonable period of time got me sampling a lot of recipes. One of the ones I came across was for something which is commonly called "chickpea of the sea". This recipe is used by vegetarians to simulate the nature of a tuna salad sandwich without having to include the tuna.

Since I'm not a vegetarian, I'm not really concerned with emulating tuna, but I did like the basic idea of using garbanzo beans as a sandwich spread. I played with the original recipe and abandoned the more expensive and esoteric elements and came up with something which personally suited my tastes better. This is now one of my favorite sandwich fillings and inspired me to buy yet another case of garbanzo beans just so that I'd always have some on hand for making this and hummus.

One of the great things about this recipe is that there is a good chance that you can make it with food you tend to have on hand. It isn't likely to require a trip to the store for special ingredients. You can make this with white or green onions. The white onions will lend a milder flavor to the salad.

This works well both as a dip and served on bland crackers or as a sandwich filling. I especially like it on whole wheat bread with thinly-sliced tomatoes, but find it also goes well with Triscuits and other whole grain crackers. This makes 3 generous servings or 4 small ones.

Garbanzo "Salad" (low-fat, vegetarian):
1 can (cooked) garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp. reduced fat mayonnaise
2 tbsp. yogurt cheese (plain yogurt that has been drained)
1/2 cup chopped green onion (or 1/3 cup chopped white onion)
1/2 tsp. whole grain mustard
1 tsp. rice or other white/yellow vinegar
salt, pepper, garlic powder (to taste, about 1/4 tsp. each)
red pepper flakes (to taste, optional)
  1. Place the drained and rinsed garbanzo beans in a small bowl food processor and pulse until they are coarsely chopped. 
  2. Add the onions to the top of the beans, then the mayo and yogurt followed by the remaining ingredients. 
  3. Pulse the food processor until blended, but still coarse. Stir with a spatula between pulses for even processing.
Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator:

4 servings:

3 servings:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Kitchen Materials

Previously, I wrote about how the type of whole wheat flour that you use can have a profound effect on the resulting baked item. The types of materials that you use can have a similarly strong impact on how your baked items turn out. In order to provide some insight into how I get my favorable results, I thought I'd share information on the materials I use and adjustments you may need to make if you use different materials.

A double batch of raspberry muffins. My oven has uneven heat distribution so I put the thicker walled muffin cups in the back where the oven is hotter.

Muffin tins:

I use stainless steel muffin cups. One set of 6 is thicker and better-made and the other is thinner and cheaper. I get good results with both sets, but am mindful of the baking time differences or positions when using the thicker ones. The thicker ones are slower to heat and therefore may require a few more minutes of baking times.

I also have a silicon muffin "pan" with 6-joined slots. I have tried making muffins in these and have gotten a poor result. It could be the properties of my particular silicon cups, but I have found that my whole wheat, sugar-free versions of recipes don't rise well enough in silicon cups. Even if the sides are ungreased, the sides don't "grip" and shorter, denser muffins are the result. Therefore, I wouldn't recommend silicon for my recipes. However, your results may vary.

Since I use individual baking cups, I can often space 6 cups on a baking tray with a lot of space between them. When I'm using a batter that uses frozen fruit, this may shorten the baking time because the very cold batter isn't resting in proximity to more cold batter in an attached cup. If you use a tin with joined cups, you may need to add a few more minutes to your baking time.

The same muffins baked and ready to cool. 

Pie pans:

I have two types of pie pans. One is a standard-size metal one with non-stick coating and the other is smaller tin with no coating that is about half the size of a standard pie pan. I have used both pie pans for making tarts and pies and have had good results with each. If you use a glass pie pan, there is a good chance you'll need a longer baking time because it takes longer for glass to heat up than metal, especially if it is relatively thick glass.

 My oven. Yes, it looks like a microwave, but it also bakes.

Cookie sheets:

My oven is a small combination microwave/convection oven. It is not a standard American or European-style "real" oven. Therefore, it has no built-in racks and can only accommodate specifically fitted ceramic cookie sheets which came with the oven when I bought it. They're square and rather thick. When I bake, I have to place whatever I am cooking on these sheets and heat does not flow evenly around them. The bottom is much slower to heat than the top because of this relatively thick ceramic sheet that I'm forced to use.

 An early experiment with baking in my oven just after I first bought it. Notice all of the unevenness (and the much cleaner cookie sheet). It has gotten better since then in terms of even baking.

If you are using a conventional oven with a wire wrack, you may find the baking times too long for you. If the bottom of your baked goods are getting too dark or if they are baking too long and drying out, you may want to place a cookie sheet under your pan. If you already use a cookie sheet and have a dry or too dark-bottomed result, you may want to stack two sheets or reduce the baking time.

On the rack. Note that using a butter knife to go around the edges of the tins causes me sometimes slice off the edge of the muffin when I'm being careless. You can see a slice that has fallen from a muffin in the back row.

Cake pans:

I rarely make cakes but favor muffins or cupcakes because they are easier to control portion sizes with, and I only have two very cheap, quite small cake pans which are heart-shaped. I picked them up at a 100 yen (like a dollar) store for a change of pace. I've only used these pans once, and had no trouble with them, but the same baking time issues apply when using a thin, metal pan as was mentioned with the muffin tins. If your cake pan is thicker or made of glass, you may need to adjust the baking time.

I occasionally make cakes (or brownies, but not sugar-free ones) in a square glass dish. This always requires a longer baking time because the glass is heavy and thick.

Loaf pans:

My loaf pans are heavy Pyrex dishes and require a longer baking time. They also do not brown the bottom of dishes very well. My baked oatmeal recipes are made in these particular pans and the tops always brown more effectively than the bottoms. If you use metal pans, you may find you require a shorter baking time than my recipes recommend.

The tins after the muffins are removed. I allow them to soak for about an hour and they come clean easily (I wash dishes by hand) despite having no non-stick coating and only the bottoms of the cups being greased.

Ramekins and casserole dishes:

I use ramekins and small casserole dishes that I have bought at the 100 yen shops. I doubt that there is much variation between such types of dishes, but more expensive ones might conduct heat more evenly and efficiently than my cheap ones. Overall, this should mean your dishes would bake more evenly than mine, but have little effect on the overall baking time (aside from the fact that I place my dishes on a ceramic sheet in my oven and therefore the bottom of these dishes take longer to heat up).

Cooking Spray/Oil applicator (spritzer)/pan greasing:

I used to buy cooking spray ("Pam") for my pans but it's very expensive in Japan and creates more waste. I bought a stainless steel oil spritzer and have been using that instead with Canola oil. This is the sort that you have to pump about a dozen times to force air into and then it emits a highly pressurized fine stream of oil. This works very well with my metal pans, particularly for the bottoms of my muffin tins. It seems to work less well with glass and I'd recommend spreading a solid fat (shortening, butter, margarine, etc.) onto glass baking dishes if you don't have conventional cooking spray. While I have used the oil spritzer on glass loaf dishes for baked oatmeal, I have to carefully sprinkle flour into it or the center of the baked oatmeal comes out too moist and a little gooey.

Mixing implements:

I use metal mixing bowls, a metal whisk and wooden spoons. Usually, liquid ingredients are whisked together then the dry ones are stirred in with a wooden spoon. I use the whisk for those ingredients which are unlikely to be affected by overmixing and the wooden spoon for the flour and baking powder.

I also have an immersion blender set for which I use the whisk attachment when dealing with eggs for souffles or meringue. This electric whisk puts more air in the eggs more effectively than a hand mixer and spares my wrist compared to using a manual whisk. However, you can use whatever works for you personally with no ill effects as long as you get the eggs to the proper peak stage.

This same immersion blender is what I use for pureeing soups and as a small bowl food processor. I don't have much room in my small Tokyo kitchen and the set with its mixer, blender, whisk, ice crusher, and food processor attachments allows me to work with one appliance that occupies the smallest space. The benefit of the small food processor is that it works well for creating things like oat flour (ground oats) in small amounts. The down side is that it doesn't have the best ability to grind or process dry foods to a fine sate. I have also used the food processor to make homemade unsweetened applesauce (stewed apples that are pureed), and it works well for this.

My little photo pals:

The little fellows who I use to spice up my pictures are also 100-yen shop finds. They're actually erasers that I can buy in 3-packs for 100 yen. They have no effect on baking times or evenness of cooking, but they do make me smile. :-)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pumpkin Souffle

I've been trying multiple incarnations on the lemon yogurt souffle recipe that I posted in August. The recipe is rather tricky in some ways, but fairly flexible in others. The souffle part seems to hold up quite well with different ingredients, but the flavor hasn''t come through well in several of my experiments. The first was chocolate, and, while not bad, it wasn't strong enough. The second was pumpkin, and the first version didn't have yogurt cheese as an ingredient and it seemed too dry.

This version seemed to come out quite well. For me, the moistness of the souffle is a very important part of what makes it enjoyable. Making it both light and moist is tricky, but this version "had it all" including sufficiently present flavor elements. Clearly, the yogurt cheese is pretty integral to keeping these sugar-free souffles moist.

If you're looking for a substitute for heavy pumpkin pie desserts this Thanksgiving or Christmas, you might want to give this a try. It's delicious warm or cold, but I preferred mine warm and fresh.

Pumpkin Souffle (sugar-free, low-fat):
1/3 cup yogurt cheese (strained non-fat yogurt)
3 eggs, separated into whites and yolks in two separate bowls
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
1 1/2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
5 1/2 tbsp. granular Splenda
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
pinch salt
  1. Lightly spray 5 small ramekins (3.5 in./9 cm. diameter) with cooking spray or use a larger souffle dish if desired. 
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F./190 degrees C.
  3. Whisk the yogurt cheese, egg yolks, flour, 4 tbsp. Splenda (reserve 1 1/2 tbsp.), vanilla, pumpkin puree, spices, and salt in a large bowl until smooth.
  4. Beat the egg whites at low speed until bubbles form. 
  5. Add the cream of tartar and 1 1/2 tbsp. Splenda to the egg whites and beat at high speed until stiff peaks form.
  6. Gently fold the egg whites into the yogurt mixture.
  7. Spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared ramekins or souffle dish.
  8. Bake for 14-16 minutes until the tops are lightly browned, the edges are set and the center is still a bit wobbly. If you overbake the center, it will be too dry.
Nutrition information courtesy of the SparkRecipes calculator: