Category Archives: Quick Breads

Wild Blueberry Cream Cheese Scones

split with butter 3 625 sqChances are, unless you live in the northeastern area of North America, it is unlikely you have ever experienced the wonder of a fresh from the bush wild blueberry. They differ wildly (pun intended!) from their sibling, the cultivated blueberry. They are smaller, sweeter and more flavourful. The majority of them are frozen and used by commercial bakers all over North America. But, if you are lucky to live in The Maritime provinces, Ontario, Quebec or Maine, you will understand why I squeal with joy when they finally arrive in late July each summer.

In our increasingly global economy, where you can get anything at any time of year, fresh wild blueberries remain one of the few holdouts! They are only available late July-September. And for that I am grateful. There is something to be said for delayed gratification. Sure, you can get cultivated blueberries all year long, from other parts of the world, but nothing compares to the sweetness and burst of blueberry flavour that explodes in your mouth when you eat the wild ones.

There are those who believe that it is a crime to bake with wild blueberries. They are purists and feel that the wild ones should be saved for eating raw and that coercing them into a baked good is heresy. They postulate that only cultivated blueberries should be used for baking. To that group of extremists I say, “Try the grey stuff, it’s delicious!” If you have ever created a muffin or cake with cultivated blueberries, you know of the baking fiasco I refer to. They burst during baking  turning the whole cake a disgusting shade of greyish blue. Wild blueberries are well behaved. They hold their shape perfectly during baking and do not explode.

While each summer I certainly I eat more than my body weight in raw wild blueberries, mixed with Greek yogurt and Double Coconut Granola, I defend the right to use them in baked goods  as well.

I recalled a blueberry cream cheese scone I used to make many years ago, but could not find the recipe, so I did a google search. The blueberry cream cheese scone from Honolulu restaurant Diamond Head Market & Grill kept popping up in my search. Studded with blueberries and chunks of cream cheese,everyone raved about it. Although the bakery refuses to share their secret recipe, Hawaii food blogger Bonnie has cracked the code. Thanks Bonnie! We loved these scones fresh from the oven, but they were even better, split and toasted the next day! mise en place 1The key to these scones is to mix in the blueberries very gently and then carefully push small chunks of cream cheese into the dough. I scooped the dough with a spring loaded ice cream scoop and lightly pressed them with my palm to flatten. A brushing of cream and a sprinkling of turbinado sugar, and they were ready for baking.

gently fold in berries 2piled up 2

Click here to print recipe for Wild Blueberry and Cream Cheese Scones.

cooling 2




Rhubarb Coconut Scones

with butter and jam 2f

on lace 625 sq 1Upon waking each morning, I peek through the drapes to see if any buds have appeared on the  bare limbs of the Norway maple tree outside my bedroom window. Seeing none, I am overcome with the urge to burrow right back into my hole (or under my covers). Mother nature has a perverse sense of humour this year. This long cruel “polar vortex” winter seems to have segued into a particularly nasty spring.

When I finally saw the first buds materialize, followed by a thatch of chives popping through through the earth, I knew that local rhubarb was not far behind. I’m not a rhubarb fanatic, but I do like to create with it at least once a year to celebrate the season. Last year it was this gorgeous tart. This year, I had had my heart set on rhubarb scones. I was inspired by Midge over at Food 52. When I told my husband about my plans, he frowned and grumbled, “What a way to ruin scones.” Clearly I am married to a Spring Grinch. Blueberry scones would make him purr, but those come in July. Get with the program honey.rhubarbMy favourite scone recipe is from the bible Baking Illustrated, created by the same geniuses over at Cook’s Illustrated. These scones use heavy cream which contributes to a rich and tender crumb that  buttermilk or whole milk would never achieve. They are not overly sweet, just 3 tablespoons of sugar are called for in the recipe. Knowing that rhubarb is super tart, I decided to add an additional few tablespoons of sugar to macerate with the sliced rhubarb, before adding it to the dough. adding sugarWhen I went to make them, I discovered that I didn’t have quite enough heavy cream. Feeling too lazy to run to the store, I topped up the measuring cup with a bit of coconut milk.  To ramp up the coconut flavour I added about 1/4 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut. butter in food processorin bowlkneadingThe dough gets pressed into an 8 inch cake pan to give you a perfectly round circle for dividing into triangular scones. A bench scraper or sharp knife work well for cutting the scones.pat into round pancuttingA final brush of heavy cream before they hit the oven gives the finished scones a lovely glossy surface. brushing with creamThey were the height of scone perfection. Moist and flaky with a lightly crisped exterior. Even the Spring Grinch enjoyed one with butter and jam.sliced 1

Click here to print recipe for Rhubarb Coconut Scones.with butter and jam 1


Strawberry, Banana, Coconut and Chia Bread

skiced 3 625 sqI am now an empty nester and over a week can go by without a word from my two oldest children. I have friends whose kids call them several times a day. When I ask them what their kids call about, they say it could be for help editing their essays, choosing a brand of canned tuna to buy or even just advice about laundry. Huh?

I waver between two alternative thoughts regarding how well I did raising my own children. Either:

1. I failed miserably in creating the bond or attachment that these other mothers have done so astonishingly well with. OR:

2. I have been wildly successful in raising my children to be independent thinkers and problem solvers.

Of course the truth, as always. lies somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum.

When my first born moved out, we only heard from him when he needed money. Now he keeps in touch with us by Spot Connect, a GPS device that sends us a message showing us where he is and that he is ok. Sort of like “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.” To be fair, he is an outdoor educator and is often in remote spots without cell service. It gives us great peace of mind. And lately he has been calling just to say hi and catch up on the latest news.

When my second born moved out I would only hear from her if she was sick, needed money or some other horrible disaster had befallen her. However, in the past year she now calls me with cooking questions and texts me with links to great blogs, and photos of something delicious she has cooked or baked. It makes me so happy.

When the third born moved out, I moved in with him for the first week! But that’s a story for another time.

Last week my daughter called for advice on baking times. She had a recipe for a loaf that she was making as muffins instead. She needed to know how much to reduce the cooking time by. She excitedly burbled about this amazing recipe for Strawberry Banana Coconut Bread  created by the charming Monique of When she was done she texted this picture.J's muffinsWe texted back and forth about the muffins. She said they had chia seeds in them and wanted to know if I had ever heard about them. Have I heard about them?? Can you say “Ch-ch-ch-chia?” They were my very first pet!  I grew up growing my own chia seeds! If you are of a certain vintage, you will fondly remember this commercial:

Apparently, chia seeds are this year’s new “superfood”.  According to The Huffington Post there are 11 reasons to include Chia seeds in your diet. High in fibre, omega-3, calcium, manganese, phosphorous, iron and calcium, these little seeds help fight diabetes, belly fat and heart disease and are excellent at regulating your appetite.

Truthfully the strawberry banana combo didn’t really appeal to me. It is a duo found commonly in smoothies and I am not a huge smoothie fan. I would rather eat the fruit than drink it.  But her muffins and Monique’s loaf looked so pretty and I was curious to revisit Chia seeds!

chia seeds

strawberriesThe raw loaf just looks so pretty before it goes into the oven. I slightly adapted the original recipe. I substituted about 1/3 whole wheat flour for some of the all purpose flour. I also boosted the fat from 1 tablespoon coconut oil to 3 tablespoons coconut oil, as I found the first loaf I made a bit dry.ready for ovenIt bakes up high and golden brown.cooling

Click here to print the recipe for Strawberry Banana Coconut and Chia Bread.

sliced 2 625 sq




Messing with the classics – A Modern Banana Bread

sliced on white plate 1I had a friend in seventh grade whose long straight shiny hair I envied. It reached down to her lower back and was a beautiful shade of butterscotch. I had short, wiry, curly black hair and would have given anything for hair like hers. She seemed so exotic to me. As I spent more time at her house I came to appreciate how different our families were. She only had one sibling and her mom was quite involved in all aspects of her life. I had 5 siblings and my mom was busy just trying to keep all our names straight.

One of the strangest things about my friend’s mom was that every week she would buy a huge bunch of bananas and leave them in a pretty bowl on the kitchen table. By the end of the week, they would be ripe and almost black and she would throw the bunch away and buy a fresh one to replace it. No one in their family liked the taste of bananas, yet her mom just loved how they looked, so she continued to buy them.speckled bananasAt the time it never occurred to me that you could make banana bread with ripe bananas. In our house, banana cake came from Sara Lee. Oh how I loved the icing on those frozen cakes!sara Lee banana CakeI only came to discover the joy of homemade banana bread many years later, during my University years, when I worked part-time as a Cuisinart demonstrator. I was given Noreen Gilletz’s book “The Pleasures of your Food Processor” as a gift. And there on page 208 was a banana bread recipe so perfect that it became my gold standard by which I judged all other banana breads for the next 30 years.

My mom was a student of the “more is more” school, and she revised Noreen’s recipe by using 5 or 6 bananas, instead of the 3 called for in the recipe. We dubbed her version, “Banana Brick.” It was wet and heavy.

Little did my mom know that with her addition of more bananas, she was onto something big here. She wanted to intensify the banana flavour but she just lacked the correct technique to do it without ending up with a sodden heavy mess.

Cook’s Illustrated Magazine figured out a way to ramp up the banana flavour without introducing too much additional moisture. They started with five very ripe bananas (versus the usual three in most typical recipes) and proceeded to microwave them to release their juices. The next step was to drain all the juices that had accumulated during microwaving and simmer that liquid in a saucepan until it reduced.

peeling bananaspoking hole in saran

after microwavingstrainingmashing bananas reducing liquid 2This reduced liquid is then added to the batter, a sort of intensified banana essence.adding liquidcracking egg

adding a touch of whole wheat flourmixing batterCooks Illustrated decided to further boost the banana flavour by adding a sixth banana, sliced thin and caramelized on top of the loaf gave this banana bread an enticingly crisp, crunchy top.sprinkling with sugar

top view

I tasted the bread warm from the oven and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I liked it better than my classic recipe from Noreen. But I went back for a second taste after it had cooled for about 6 hours and I was astounded at how different it tasted. All the buttery goodness was now front and center. It was moist, but not wet. The slices, heavy for their size, had the perfect density.

There were several layers of sweetness to this banana bread. It tasted of bananas but the sweetness was not overpowering. The addition of brown sugar to this version added a molasses undertone that helped balance the sweetness.  Cook’s Illustrated called for walnuts in their recipe and not being a walnut lover, I hesitated over this addition. In the end, I added them and their slight bitterness provided just the right contrast with the sweet bananas.

The sliced bananas and granulated sugar on top of the bread caramelized and they added a crunch to the top that was such a nice surprise and contrast to the moist interior. This banana bread continued to improve over the next 3 days, much like a fruitcake. Sometimes it does pay to mess with the classics! I think even Noreen Gilletz would approve.

Click here to print recipe for Ultimate Banana Bread.sliced on wire rack

Sour Cherry Scones

I have a bit of a thing for online shopping.  I think it harkens back to my childhood when my grandmother would send us cookies in the mail, packaged in a shoe box.  There is something so exciting about a package arriving in the mail for you (even if you did send it to yourself, but then I never spring for the express shipping, so by the time it comes, I have forgotten all about it).

A few weeks ago I was ordering a book on Amazon (Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-your-mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich.).  I was about to check out when those lovely folks over at Amazon wanted me to know that customers who bought” Chewy Gooey”, also bought Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, Baked, New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis and The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco.  Of course I had to look at all these books too.  I could have easily clicked “add to cart” for all three of their recommendations but I exercised some restraint and just added The Craft of Baking.

I had never heard of Karen DeMasco, but when I read the little blurb, I discovered that she used to work as the pastry chef at Tom Colicchio’s Craft, Craftbar and ‘wichcraft restaurants.  I still dream about the lemon tart and pistachio and coconut sorbet I ate at Craft over 3 years ago. That, and their roasted carrots still make me weak at the knees.  Plus I am a huge Top Chef and Tom Colicchio fan.

I loved the premise of this cookbook.  It is designed to let the reader be creative.  After many of the recipes, Karen gives you ideas and tips on “varying your craft.”  Great suggestions on how to make the recipe your own.  Baking as a craft, not just a science.  Plus, If I added this book to my order, then I would qualify for free shipping, so really I was saving money, not spending more money.

When I began reading the book I wanted to bake everything from it.  The photography is gorgeous and her instructions are so detailed.  I decided to start with the Sour Cherry scones.  It has been a long time since I have baked scones but I love tea time. Karen had me at “sour cherry”.   I order American Spoon Sour Cherry Preserves by the caseful.  When I went to the supermarket to find frozen sour cherries I discovered they were sold in a 4.5 kilogram tub.  I lugged the tub home and opened it up to discover that they were not individually quick frozen like blueberries.  I had a solid mass of sour cherries.  I used a screwdriver and hammer to chisel out a half a cup.  It barely made a dent.  I rinsed off the cherries to separate them, then dried them and put them on a plate and stuck them back in the freezer so they would not defrost.  (Karen says if you are using frozen, don’t defrost).  I hauled the tub down to my basement freezer.

After measuring out the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter, she instructs you to pop the whole mixing bowl into the freezer for 5 minutes.  Then mix on low-speed to break up the butter into pebble sized pieces.

Hot out of the oven we tore into them.  The top was all crunchy from the Demerara sugar and silvered almonds we sprinkled on top. However, inside they were kind of wet, not underdone but just too moist from the sour cherries.  Plus, I was a little disappointed with the sour cherry flavour.  They were kind of bland.

To “vary my craft”, I decided to do a second batch, using frozen wild blueberries and buttermilk instead of cream as the liquid.  I also added about a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon to the dry ingredients.  Do not adjust the colour on your monitor.  The blueberry dough will turn purple.  It’s kind of pretty.  I have to say, I prefered the tang of the buttermilk over the cream on the cherry scones.  I also found that the blueberry ones were not as wet inside, which I liked better.  I am excited to try my hand at some savory scones with cheddar and jalapeno.

To print the recipe for Sour Cherry Almond Scones, click here.

To print the recipe for Blueberry scones, click here.