Tahini Chocolate Chip Nut Bars

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A few things I want to say after the past few weeks. Just as a side note, I’ve actually been meaning to put this up for quite a while but as usual, a lot of things regarding work and travel got in the way, and I also did not want to put something of a sensitive topic up too soon.

  • Constantly reposting images and Instagram stories makes good for collective awareness but is not as important as action and effort.
  • In the past I never had the courage to challenge racism if and where I identify it, and I’d like to think I am getting better at it. This will probably involve more difficult conversations with loved ones and friends. Not necessarily in a defensive way, but rather constructive. I usually struggle with challenging friends more so than just family (with whom we usually have no filter) in this manner sometimes, but it’s about trying.
  • Racism is like a defence mechanism against insecurity and anxiety. If someone is secure in his or her own identity then there’s no need to put others down, but the truth is that the person experiencing this suffers chronically and deeply, and may have to feel like he or she always has to prove oneself, or that he’s never good enough to do anything, acting like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs place physiological needs (food, water, shelter) as the most basic needs we must have established before the needs of, in this order specifically: safety, feeling loved, having good self-esteem, and finally that of self-actualisation, which would propel us towards our highest goals and help us achieve them. Without the basic need of love and support fulfilled, and with many black people already suffering a lack of the most basic needs on a global basis, I think it’s fair to say that it is insensitive and ignorant if we dismiss their plight.
  • And finally, on a slightly unrelated but also very important note, although this oil is everywhere, any small step to try and reduce its usage would benefit our planet and its inhabitants many years into the future.

I was actually thinking about these points while baking the bars (don’t worry there’s a recipe at the end of all this), and now that I’m reflecting upon them I’m once again reminded of how good of a meditation baking is. I’d love to know if anyone else experiences this sort of calm and peace while kneading dough or simply mixing things together in a bowl.

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I haven’t been baking all that much lately because of stress and bouts of anxiety that crop up every now and then, which tend to prevent me from being at my productive best, but these tahini chocolate chip nut bars were some sort of magic the last weekend. I noticed my boyfriend’s pantry had a bounty of unused nuts so I thought it would be fun to play around with my usual tahini chocolate combination but this time with a sprinkling of various nuts. Now that I’m living in a house with him and many more people, it feels more justified to bake and share the goods and of course get feedback!

The sesame in tahini itself already screams wonderful earthy, nutty tones so I thought pairing it couldn’t turn out all that bad. After the first test I knew I hit a jackpot. The combination of everything together made for this chewy bar with a classically fudgy, chocolatey middle. The best part was receiving the positive reviews from three flatmates, which were thankfully in line with my own expectations. It’s been a while since I could bake and share what I made with people– I still get nervous letting my own family try my experiments let alone folk I only just met! So that of all things really warmed my heart. I had to try again the second time, and second time was the charm. Not the prettiest of desserts but simple and easy to eat. Nothing could be better.

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One last note: you can opt to swap the milk chocolate for dark if you want, I just personally prefer a sweeter chocolate for a more delicate opposition to all the earthiness and nuttiness going on.

Tahini chocolate chip nut bars

Ingredients

170g flour (gf sub: use 160g of gluten-free flour mix, or more ground almonds)

½ tsp baking powder

50g ground almonds

3 tbsp chopped pine nuts

150g milk chocolate (vegan sub: vegan milk or dark chocolate)

80g butter, melted (vegan sub: vegan butter or margarine)

½ tsp salt

100g white sugar

75g brown sugar

1 egg (vegan sub: use a flax egg- mix 1 heaped tbsp of ground flaxseed with 2 tbsp water in a small bowl and let that gel to thicken up for a couple of minutes before using)

85g tahini

1 tbsp course salt (e.g. Maldon) for sprinkling

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a square 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminium foil. Alternatively, you can also use a loaf tin and bake just half the batter first if you want to test a smaller batch.

Melt the butter in a microwave-safe bowl in a microwave on a high power for 30 seconds, and set that aside to cool for a few minutes before using. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, chopped pine nuts and milk chocolate. In a separate and slightly larger bowl, mix together the melted butter, ½ tsp salt, sugars, egg and tahini. Add the dry mix to the wet one and mix until everything comes together- the mix should look pretty thick and rather doughy. Scrape the mix into the prepared tin, use your hands to press the batter into an even layer in the tin, and bake in the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes. When 12 minutes is up, use a wooden skewer to poke the middle of the pan. If it comes out with moist crumbs, take it out and leave to cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes or so. If it comes out clearly wet with batter, leave it in the oven to bake a little longer for a couple of minutes. Once the bars are done baking, leave to cool completely on a wire rack or heatproof surface, sprinkle with coarse salt and cut into bars however big you want after at least 10 minutes of cooling. Enjoy with ice cream or simply on their own.

Peanut Butter Olive Oil Cookies

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A new year, another classic with a twist. I thought this post would come online much earlier to be honest, but with everything that’s been happening here, and with the past year’s late festivities and jolly holiday obligations, it well and truly has slipped my mind. I actually thought I already uploaded this one, really. Clearly I need help. But HERE’S to a symmetrical-sounding 2020.

I’m all for resolutions and change, but only if there’s a feasible plan involved. Some of mine include:

  • to stretch daily. I used to do this religiously everyday for 10-15 minutes, but lately I’ve gotten more into the habit of just cracking my back (and ew, my neck).
  • to do one thing at a time. It does feel good to multitask (read: supertask), but being at work and at home has made me realise how much more deep, focussed and creative work and creative thinking can be accomplished when doing one thing at a time. Slowly but properly.
  • to do a weekly review on Sundays. Sundays still remain days of reflection for me. Starting off with pancakes, proceeding to movies, then reflecting on what good and bad has happened throughout the week. It’s good to generally not take everything too seriously, so I won’t bash myself for foregoing all the apples I bought for my chocolate brownies, but it’s better at least to be aware of certain bad habits that may be unhealthy.
  • work on my personal/passion project at least twice a week.
  • eat out a maximum of twice a week!! And indulge in a drink once a week (been pretty bad health-wise recently so these will hopefully bring me to my senses again).

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If you read my previous post, perhaps you can tell I’m on a cookie roll at the moment. The end of 2019 saw me making the cream-cheese filled cookies too many a time and the start of this year has heralded a new star– the one and only peanut butter olive oil cookie and the token chocolate studs for all-round appeal. I was skeptical about giving this one a go because I was worried the olive oil would be too strong against everything else happening, but the oil is not too pungent here and actually adds a moist and fragrant depth. Together with the liberal sea salt sprinkle and melting chocolate in the middle, this is quite a gluey, peanut buttery dream.

Peanut Butter Olive Oil Cookies (makes around 7 cookies)

Ingredients

120ml (0.5 cup) olive oil

120g (0.5 cup) chunky peanut butter

300g (1.5 cup) light brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs (vegan sub: use 3 flax eggs by mixing 3 tbsp of ground flaxseed with 7 tbsp water in a small bowl and let that gel for a couple minutes before using)

1 tsp baking powder

260g (2.25 cup) all-purpose flour

150g (a full bar) chopped chocolate

2 tsp salt

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line two baking trays with baking parchment. In a bowl, whisk together the oil, sugar, egg, peanut butter (preferably chunky) and vanilla extract. Then briefly mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, chopped chocolate and salt in a separate bowl, then tip that into the wet mix and stir well until everything is just combined. Put golfball-sized pieces of batter onto your prepared baking trays, flatten them slightly with your hands and sprinkle on some Maldon salt (or regular salt) on top. Put them, one tray at a time, into the oven and bake for 15-17 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the middle of one cookie should come out with wet crumbs but the edges should be golden-brown and firm. Best enjoyed warm but can be kept for a few days in an airtight container, or freeze and reheat whenever you want (topped with vanilla ice cream!)

Banana bread cream cheese blondies with salted brown butter frosting

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Today is a Wednesday, but I am trying to frame today as a new start to the week, considering the mess of yesterday. Tuesday started off on an incredibly tired note, as I hauled myself to places where I had to be at but where my heart wasn’t. A revival was needed, I thought, when I collapsed on the couch yesterday afternoon. It tends to be during moments of stress and tiredness that I am weak of mind, giving in too much to the simplest pleasures without thinking (processed, sugary food), which leaves me feeling even more tired and disgusting, and I simply am totally unproductive and useless to talk to for the rest of the day. I wish a break in routine did not have to be so tiresome or intrusive, but that’s the reality of it.

A ‘revival’ to different people can mean different things, and most are valid- entertainment, learning, education, a walk, reading, something good. For me, it’s long walks and nourishing food, or playing around with new ingredients to create something. I recently discovered a beautiful block of salted butter in my local gourmet grocer (which you can find here), somehow so soft and creamy even right out of the fridge, when I pressed it. I came home and cooked some vegetables in a generous pat of the stuff, discovering the beauty of salt crystals from the North of France– truly a work of wonder. How have I not had the pleasure of biting into a salt crystal in a piece of butter spread on sourdough toast (or anything) before? I had to make some good use of it. With ripe banana, a new beautiful block of butter and leftover cream cheese, these delightful squares, an extravagant combination of tang and luxury, were born. Banana bread and cream cheese sounds very, um, American, since anything involving cream cheese is very typically USA, no? Anyways, I could talk for days about this recipe, but best to keep it brief.

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The use of salted butter in general here is paramount to the success in making this good salted browned butter frosting. It was magical to watch the salt crystals separating while melting the salted butter. The frosting is optional but really something special, and I literally squealed upon my first bite, which was chewy, fudgy, brimming with a natural banana flavour without being too sweet, even with the frosting on top. The cream cheese is almost a necessary component to enjoy all dimensions of this dessert, as its mild sourness offering a creamy cut-through the layers of different degrees of sweetness, from simple banana bread to rich salted frosting. It was all a simple matter of mixing a few things in different bowls and assembling the components before and after baking the blondies.

I definitely felt better about making these, by the end of the day. Still tired, but better. Creating and playing, these are the free blessings we all have.

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Banana bread cream cheese blondies with salted brown butter frosting

Ingredients (makes one 8×8 or 9×9-inch pan, or 16 medium-sized blondies)

KEY:

For the blondies:

120g (1/2 cup+ 2 tbsp) salted butter, melted

¼ cup tahini (can also use yoghurt or apple sauce)

1+1/2 bananas

200g (1 cup) brown sugar

80g (3/4 cup) almond flour (ground almonds)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

70g (1/2 cup) plain flour

1 egg

220g cream cheese (or 1 standard 8oz tub) cream cheese

90g (1/3 cup) icing sugar

For the frosting:

60g (1/4 cup) salted butter

60g (1/4 cup) brown sugar

100g (slightly less than 1 cup) icing sugar

3 tbsp heavy cream

 

General notes:

  • Use all plain flour instead of half flour and half almond flour if you wish. Would be equally delicious, just a little less kind on the gut.
  • I baked mine for 22 minutes for a fudgy centre, but bake for longer if you like a more cake-like consistency.
  • If you don’t have salted butter, add a teaspoon of salt to the dry ingredients.

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F), then grease and line your 8×8-inch or 9×9-inch pan. In a medium bowl, mash your banana and then whisk in the melted butter and brown sugar. Then whisk in the egg If you just melted the butter before mixing the sugar, make sure to wait a minute after mixing in the egg so that you don’t unintentionally scramble the egg, unless that’s your kind of thing. Then add the flour, cinnamon, and a teaspoon of salt if you did not use salted butter in the beginning. Mix everything together. The batter should appear quite sticky and not too thick, easily dropped off a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl, make the cream cheese middle by mixing the cream cheese with icing sugar.

Pour half of the blondie batter into your greased and lined pan, then add the cream cheese frosting and spread it in a thin even layer on top of the batter. I find that it helps to put 9 equal dollops of the filling on the batter and then using a knife or your finger to spread it out to fill the gaps. Then pour over the rest of the blondie batter and smooth it out into an even layer. Place your pan into the preheated oven and bake for 22-23 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with moist crumbs (not dry!).

For the frosting, melt the salted butter in a pan on medium heat, until it goes an amber colour and you can see the milk solids separate from a darker, browned liquid. This will be clear to see after 4-5 minutes of heating on the oven Skim off some of white bits so most of the darker liquid is left. Once the butter is browned and there’s a waft of something toffee-like and nutty in your kitchen, add the brown sugar and heavy cream bring the liquid to a boil. Once bubbling, set aside to cool down for 5 minutes, before adding the powdered sugar. The frosting may not look like a lot but is pretty rich, enough for all 16 blondies.

Once the blondies are baked, take the pan out and leave to cool on a heatproof surface for at least 10-15 minutes. Spread on the frosting and cut into squares. These are best eaten on the same day but will keep for the next 3 days.

 

Strawberry Streusel Cake

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This is, briefly and simply put, absolutely sublime. When I shared this loaf with my godparents, my mother and godsister, they all exclaimed it was incredible, especially doused in some heavy cream, after a lighthearted meal over denser conversation. And I do agree.

I’ll say it first before you get to the ingredients: This is a gluten-free cake. Yes, it is gluten-free, but. A but. I’ve recently become more aware of the effects of gluten not just in myself, but in others. I love my bread and might never stop eating it, however one too many a slice and I will feel it. The bloat, you get it. The carbohydrate may be the most demonised item in this current era of food-demonising, and it’s hard to determine what we could or should eat, if we end up eating anything at all. But this article puts things into nice perspective. That being said, the effects of refined flour cannot be denied and I too have to force myself to take it slow with the not-so-great stuff. There will always be room for dessert, just not every day of the week.

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Therefore, the side effects of a Saturday morning’s adventurous spirit include stepping outside of my little box of refined flour and sugar and trying things like almond flour. And how simple, plain and easy, it was. How joyous, to mix something as nondescript as almond flour with eggs and then boom, a perfectly intact cake is born.

The cake is moist without being gluey, with that perfect golden-brown all over after the single hour in the oven. I used strawberries here but feel free to use any berries you have on hand, and the same goes for the streusel topping which has mixed nuts, in which case you can use whatever nuts you like.

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Strawberry Streusel Cake (makes one 9×5-inch loaf)

Ingredients 

For the filling:

2 cups strawberries (fresh or frozen), stems cut off and diced

100g (0.5 cup) sugar

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

0.5 tsp cornstarch

 

For the streusel topping:

45g (0.5 cup) almond flour

handful of chopped nuts (I used a mix of almonds, cashews, brazil nuts and walnuts)

90g (little less than 0.5 cup) sugar

35g (0.15 cup) salted butter, melted

 

For the cake:

3 eggs

50g (0.25 cup) light brown sugar

60g (0.25 cup) caster sugar

150g (around 1.5 cups+ 2 tbsp) almond flour

0.5 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla extract

*Substitution notes:

VEGAN: Make 4 flax or chia ‘eggs’ in replacement of the 3 eggs, made by mixing 4 tbsp ground flaxseed or chia seeds with 8 tbsp water, and setting that aside to gel up for a bit. Substitute the butter with vegan butter.

KETO: Substitute the half cup of sugar with half cup xylitol or two-thirds cup erythritol

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F). We start with the juicy berry filling: In a saucepan heated on medium heat, add the strawberries, cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice and cook until the mixture turns glistening and sticky.

Now for the cake. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugars, vanilla extract, baking powder and baking soda. Then add the almond flour and whisk. The mixture should look pretty wet, but don’t worry since this will set nicely in the oven once it is finished baking.

Make the streusel topping by whisking all the streusel ingredients together with a fork in a separate bowl. Grease a 9.5-inch loaf pan, then add half of the cake mixture. Add the mixed berry mixture evenly on top, and then add the rest of the cake mixture, and then finally the streusel topping. Bake in the oven for 1 hour exactly. Remove and let the cake cool in the pan before serving (with powdered sugar and doused in heavy cream, preferably).

Berry Cheesecake Muffins

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Diary excerpts:

17/5: vegan magnums are terrific// the gravity of writing my thesis has not fully weighed down on me yet

18/5: so glad to have found a fitness routine that doesn’t require a gym (more walking, running)

23/5: honestly rather sad that I’ve become addicted to the temporary pleasure of something crunchy, something sweet.

2/6: Brown adipose tissue has uncoupling proteins that allow protons to travel form the outside to inside, effectively creating its own energy? A study in mice found that during periods of overeating, the TRIP gene is activated and causes massive inflammation, triggering fat storage.

3/6: fliesen= tiles

4/6: ventouse= suction device applied to baby’s head in childbirth, to assist birth. Wow.

When efforts to bake are stymied, say due to travel or the fear of people who are at your house smelling something even mildly burnt, the itch later on comes on hard. Hard. I’ll try and write an essay or put something into Excel and then I have to physically get up and go to the kitchen to play. This muffin experiment, one extrapolated from a previous one, was borne out of one of those impulsive childish outbursts, and possesses that exact childlike quality. Such a relentless need to do something with my hands is almost childish, and perhaps it would be wise to use my hands for something else, yet this is all I want to do with them, with my time.

It has nothing of the mature notes of dark chocolate somethings, but all of the decadence. It’s much welcome in light of the past week, when a few disappointments came through, but of which were also softened by a recent trip to Vienna, Austria.

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And it’s simply beautiful there. I stayed in the suburbs with a beloved family, away from the bustle of the more touristy centre. There, a different light hits the streets, a soft one which seems to imbue all its residents with the same attitude towards life. It enables a brisk but more serene walk, or perhaps a cycle, to take in the details between cement tiles or patches of grass. It enables you to observe, feel and be. Very unlike what it feels like here, where it seems rather uncommon for people to walk not for the sake of enjoying it, and mealtimes are for sustenance, never pleasure. That light, that feel, has made me want to drown in the impossible (‘unmöglich’ in their language) beauty of everyday life. From our sun-drenched brunches pregnant with pretzels (bretzeln), to cuddling near a thermal bath, to reading (The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf) and swallowing it up easily because my phone notifications are now, permanently, off.

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A soft and gossamer muffin studded with tangy berries and sweet cream cheese.

These berries are like a dense piquant forest, pleasantly tart and just slightly biting, uprooted and plunged into new beige territory. To sleep. To rest without dying, their inborn qualities of tart and fresh and zing there, always there. A cream cheese river cutting through the forest, right in the middle, breaking up the forest and letting it lie nonchalantly on either side.

Quote of the day: “Feelings are important. But they’re important not for the reasons we think they are. We think they’re important because they say something about us, about the world, and about our relationship with it. But they say none of these things. There’s no meaning attached to feelings. Sometimes you hurt for good feelings. Sometimes for a bad reason. And sometimes no reason at all. The hurt itself is neutral. The reason is separate.”

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Berry Cheesecake Muffins (makes 12 medium muffins)

*=vegan substitution

Ingredients

For the muffins:

250g (2 cups) plain flour

2 eggs (*3 vegan eggs, made by mixing 3 tbsp ground flaxseed with 6 tbsp water in a bowl and letting set aside for the timebeing)

210g (slightly less than a cup) sugar

113g (0.5 cup) melted butter (*vegan butter or margarine)

1 tsp baking powder

0.5 tsp baking soda

240ml (1 cup) yoghurt or sour cream (*any plant-based yoghurt)

1 tsp vanilla extract

0.5 tsp salt (leave out if you used salted butter)

around 1 cup of fresh or frozen berries (I used frozen since I always have frozen berries stuffed in my freezer)

 

For the cream cheese filling:

110g cream cheese (*vegan cream cheese)

2.5 tbsp sugar (you can also use icing sugar)

 

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C. Spray your 12-muffin pan with cooking spray or grease it with some butter, going all over the insides of the pan, including the whole surface on top. This is because the batter will rise and then fall to create the signature muffin top look, so greasing the surface will help you easily get the muffins out. Line your pan with paper liners.

First, in a bowl, make the cream cheese filling by mixing together the cream cheese and sugar. Put this in the fridge while you make the muffin batter. Using a whisk or electrical mixer, whisk the butter and sugar together. Then add the eggs, vanilla, and salt and mix until everything is frothy and well combined. In a separate bowl, briefly mix together the flour, baking powder and baking soda, then tip this into your egg mixture. Lastly, fold in your berries. Make sure your berries are not too big– cut large raspberries or blackberries in half before mixing them in.

Fill each muffin cup halfway with the batter. Then take your cream cheese filling out from the fridge and put teaspoons of this filling into the centre of the muffin tins. Repeat until you’re done with all 12. Finally, fill the muffin cups until the top (or three-quarters full) with the rest of the batter. As a final touch, sprinkle the tops of your muffins with Maldon salt and granulated sugar. Don’t be too liberal though, since the muffins themselves are already rather sweet by themselves.

Bake for 20-22 minutes in your preheated oven. Check with a wooden skewer or knife after 20 minutes– if there are moist crumbs clinging to it, take it out. If the skewer/knife is still obviously wet, leave the muffins in there for another 3-5 minutes. These are best enjoyed warm with some vanilla ice cream or yoghurt, or plain, but can be kept in an airtight container for 3-5 days.