Healthier banana muffins, experiment # 1

I went back to the drawing to work on the treasured banana muffins.  I opted to cut the Splenda by 50%, eliminate salt, use red palm oil in lieu of butter, use egg whites, and spelt flour again.

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Unlike blueberry trial # 4 which had a very thick batter with spelt flour, this batter was quite runny.  They took an extra 2 minutes to cook through, and they do feel very moist, with a chewy consistency.  These muffins did not rise very high.

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Boyfriend Unit noted that this time, he can’t detect the Splenda aftertaste that was present in the 2nd blueberry trial. Perfect!  These muffins clock in at:

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I am quite pleased with these muffins, but not ready to post a recipe.  I’m still looking into cutting the sodium so stay tuned.

Success! Healthy muffins experiment # 4

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Very pleased to report the 4th experiment was a huge success!  I came up with a healthier alternative to a traditional blueberry muffin, and it tastes like a blueberry muffin.  It’s really good!  At this point I don’t even notice the odd colour.  I see one and think “delicious muffin get in my mouth”.

Thanks to Calorie Count I have the nutritional data again, and I notice the sodium is still fairly high, based purely on using baking soda.  No other ingredient has salt.  I want research further into leavening agents to see if anything can be done about that.

Just how healthy awesome is this muffin?

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The flavour not was sacrificed in the name of nutrition, to make this just required opening my mind to some new ingredients and getting more creative.  I compared my muffin to what you can buy at two popular fast food chains:

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McDonald’s blueberry muffin

That is a lot of calories!  The salt in the next one is even more insane!

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Tim Horton’s blueberry muffin

After reading those charts, I’m even more excited about my muffins!  I learned a lot by experimenting to make a healthier muffin.  If you try this recipe, I suggest adding a little more water, my batter was very thick.

The spelt flour came from the Bulk Barn, and they have two types of spelt, the stone-ground spelt has way more calories (ha ha, get it?) than the sprouted spelt.  I used sprouted spelt.  I’m going to check what other brands are available locally though since there seems to be a big difference in the numbers of the flour.

Time required: 30 min

Yields: 12

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $45 ish

Cost per muffin: 52 cents

Ingredients:

  • 230 g frozen blueberries
  • 188 g organic sprouted spelt flour
  • 63 g egg whites
  • 60 g organic, unrefined red palm oil
  • 50 g Splenda granulated sucralose
  • 5 g baking soda
  • 4 oz water
  • 4 g pure vanilla extract, Lorann Madagascar Bourbon

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Instructions:

1.Grease the muffin tin.  (Grease it really well because mine stuck badly.)

2.Combine all of the wet ingredients (except the berries) with the Splenda.

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Something really awesome about baking by weight is that I used way less dishes!  All I needed to do was sit the mixing bowl on my scale, and add each ingredient one at a time until the desired weight. So easy!

3.Measure out the dry ingredients and add them to wet, gradually.

4.Stir in fruit and spoon into tray. They are an… alarming colour I’ve begun to refer to as “blinding chartreuse”.

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The batter was very thick.

5.Bake 20 min.

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6.Remove from tray immediately.

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So happy!

Verdict:

They tasted great!  We tried them with breakfast when they were fresh from the oven, and they were amazing.  However the real test of a muffin is once it’s cooled down.  I’ve yet to eat a baked good straight out of the oven that tasted bad.  These muffins were still very tasty once they cooled completely.

Boyfriend Unit says, “They’re delicious. Better eaten warm.  But still delicious.”

Once the muffins cooled the texture got crumbly. I believe this is caused by the spelt flour.  Future baking plans include looking into correcting the crumbliness, lowering the sodium content in the leavener, and find a flour with less calories.

Playlist: Walk the Moon – Shut up and dance

Healthier muffins experiment # 3

Well this looks… appetizing.  But looks can be deceiving.

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Research into a healthier muffin continues, and now only one more ingredient needs to be replaced.  These muffins were made without butter.  The fat is provided by unrefined red palm oil, sold by Nutiva.  Before you rush out and buy some, something to consider.

PSA:

Not all red palm oil is created equal.  The production of red palm oil is responsible for rain forest destruction and destroying the habitats of orangutans in Southeast Asia.

Nutiva’s oil is grown and produced in Ecuador on small family farms.  They partner with Natural Habitats to ensure the growth and production of their product does not contribute to deforestation or habitat destruction.  Before you buy please look into where and how the oil is produced.

I searched around to find the substitution ratio, and found two different options:

  • 1:1, for 100 grams of butter use 100 grams of oil
  • use an 80% and 20% split to mimic the water content of dairy butter

I went with the 80/20 split, and it turned out great.

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The baking time was the same.  The texture was light, and soft.  There was no weird flavour.  They were an unpleasant shade of greenish-yellow, but check out that nutrition content!

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Boyfriend Unit also enjoyed these!  I asked him if this tastes like a weird health food, he said no, it’s a bit different from the muffins I’m used to, but it’s really good.

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This is starting to get fun.  I like figuring out how low can I get those numbers while still making it taste good.

Healthier muffins experiment # 2

This weekend marked the beginning of my blog’s transformation into a healthier way to enjoy desserts.  Yes!  Let us eat more desserts, and more often!  I tried those elusive muffins again and got much better results.  Am still making some modifications and excited for batch # 3.

I intentionally overstir batter for the colour bleed.  Blue muffins for days!

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My motivation to make this change towards healthier desserts is three-fold.

  1. I refuse to entertain the notion of a sad, soulless existence of healthy eating without dessert.  What good is eating better food if you cannot enjoy the extra deliciousness of a good dessert?
  2. I’ve baked with traditional ingredients solely because that is what I’m used to.  I grew up in a family that stocked granulated sugar, table salt, all-purpose white flour, et cet.  Now that I am a responsible adult and no longer shackled by somebody else’s grocery decisions, it is time to make the switch!  Belatedly.
  3. Theoretically… if one can reduce the nutritional impact of a dessert by 50%, one can then enjoy that dessert twice as much without remorse!

Alright. Fine.

It’s more about recognizing that desserts are okay in moderation, and desserts become even more okay (transcendence!) if you reduce the nutritional impact they have on your health.   If I can make reductions to the Nefarious Hexad™ (calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbs, and sugar) that I eat on a daily basis, I will.

Yesterday I wrote about substitutions and the benefits of baking with sucralose and half salt instead of sugar and table salt.  Before doing anymore baking, I spent a few hours converting some recipes into grams and fluid ounces.  In the past month I’ve gotten into the habit of weighing food for meals and cooking, so carrying it over to baking was easy.

Then it was time for round 2 of muffins.  Along with using sucralose and half salt again, I used two egg whites instead of a whole egg.  Used the amazing ingredient analyser on Calorie Count, I confirmed that the nutrition content improved significantly, except for one thing:

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Sodium went up.  Cholesterol did not change.  And everything else went down.  The change in salt caught me by surprise, I didn’t realize egg whites have so much salt.  Hmm.  What to do.

I’m thinking one or two small changes before I’m finished.  Then it’s recipe posting time.

Boyfriend Unit tested a muffin from each batch, the 2nd batch is pictured below:

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He said 1st batch is good, but agreed it was overdone.  He said the 2nd batch seemed exactly like normal muffins to him, they taste better than 1st batch, but he detected a faint aftertaste of something.

I found the muffins slightly too sweet but as I chewed, I began to second guess myself.  Is it really too sweet, or do I just think it’s too sweet because I’ve always thought artificial sweeteners were extra sweet tasting?

And then the strangest thing happened.  Within a minute of finishing the muffin, I noticed the aftertaste too.  It was just like what happens when you stir a package of Crystal Light into water, when suddenly you can taste the powder from inhaling as you stir.

Hmm.  I can live with an aftertaste for the sake of a healthier muffin.  The aftertaste wasn’t gross, but it was strange, and I’d like it gone.  Why does sucralose leave an aftertaste?  More research is needed.  For Science.

Hit me up with ingredient substitutions you use in baking.

Certainly NOT Mary’s muffins

So that muffin recipe I was so excited to score the other week from my friend who makes delicious muffins?  These are nothing like her muffins.  Hers are baked to perfection and not overdone like mine.

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I’m working on a project to improve the nutritional content of my baked goods.  I will make this at least one more time to test my results.

In lieu of bananas, I used one cup of fresh blackberries and one cup of frozen blueberries.  This reduced the natural fruit sugar from 60 grams to 20 grams.

I really do love bananas.  (I used to think brown sugar was a food group so this is unsurprising.  There’s a story I could tell you about my brother in-law catching me with a bowl of brown sugar, and only brown sugar, for breakfast.)  I’m not giving up bananas or anything crazy like that.  Just enjoying them in moderation now.

Instead of using white sugar and table salt, I substituted granulated Splenda, an artificial sweetener made from sucralose and maltodextrin, and Half Salt, which is made of iodized salt and potassium chloride.

Splenda does not contain calories, fat, or carbs.  As this was my maiden voyage consuming Splenda, first I read Health Canada’s position on sucralose before trying it.  The Canadian Diabetes Association recognizes Splenda as a sweetener that diabetics can enjoy in moderation.  At least it’s not going to poison me out of the gate.  Onwards!

Half Salt contains 50% less sodium than table salt and I’ve been using it for a year without noticing any difference in flavour.

So how did the muffins taste?  Well hold on.  Let’s see the nutrition benefit first.

Using the Calorie Count recipe analyzer, take a look:

calorie info

 

As for the taste, the only thing about these muffins that went wrong was I cooked them too long.  They had the texture and consistency of a regular muffin.

A feature of baking with both Splenda and Half Salt I really appreciate is that the substitution ratio is 1:1.  If the recipe calls for one cup of sugar, you use one cup of Splenda instead.  No need to figure out how to bulk up the recipe to compensate for lost volume. (EDIT: July 23, 2016, after 5 months of baking with Splenda I can state with confidence despite what the package says, I will never use the 1:1 substitution ratio. The less Splenda used the better, too much leaves a weird after taste.)

The granulated Splenda package has a note that baking time may need to be reduced, which I forgot, and that Splenda can withstand baking temperatures upto 232° C or 450° F.

I am satisfied with this experiment and excited to try it again.

While researching the pros and cons of alternate ingredients, I saw various mention of bad taste or weird side effects.

Have you noticed anything strange about cooking with non-traditional ingredients?

 

Raspberry…danish-like thing

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Huh.  In my head this looked different.  I was bored and curious what would happen if I shoved a fruit and cream cheese filling into phyllo pastry and didn’t even pretend to arrange it nicely?  Would it collapse?  Would it leak everywhere?  For science.

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Made a filling of cream cheese, greek yogurt, sugar, fresh lemon, and egg yolk.  Threw on some frozen berries I’ve been trying to get rid of for ever.  Gave absolutely no fucks as I “folded” the pastry.

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Bake!

As it turns out, phyllo will stay slightly upright!  The centre was wobbly like a jellyfish.  I let it sit for 10 min and drizzled icing over it.  It didn’t taste horrible, but definitely not great. Way too much filling.  Looked like a hot mess haha!

It did turned out more edible than I predicted, but I definitely would not do this again.  For something thrown together in 10 minutes on a whim I’m satisfied.  I suppose one has to bother with all the little knife cuts and the elegant folds.  Eheu.

Banana muffins (from Cat Can Cook)

I tried this banana muffin recipe from Cat Can Cook because I had some seriously ripe bananas and I could not get ahold of my friend to get her muffin recipe.

Good news: the Cat Can Cook recipe also yields delicious muffins.

Even better news: I got the recipe from my friend today for next time. 😀

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Time required: under 1 hour

Yields: 12

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $24

Cost per muffin: $0.31  (you may notice the cost per item has dropped lately, more on that next time)

Ingredients:

  • 4 over ripe bananas
  • ½ C white sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • ⅓ C melted butter
  • 1½ C flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • splash of pure vanilla (I added this)

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 176°C / 350°F.  Grease muffin tin.

2. Mash bananas, add sugar and egg and melted butter, beat until combined.

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3. Combine all dry ingredients in seperate bowl, then add to wet, half the bowl at a time.

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4. Pour into muffin tin and bake 24 minutes (original recipe says 20 but that didn’t work for my oven)

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5. Let them cool at least 10 minutes before enjoying.

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Verdict: These are fantastic, I’ve made them twice now.  Shamefully the first batch didn’t even survive the night in a household of 2 people.  They are that good.  Today I only broke one.  They are really easy to make, and taste great.

Paradise redux at Tony’s Bistro & Pâtisserie

This summer past I ended up back home again for a little while, and you know what is just 30 minutes from back home?  Tony’s Bistro & Pâtisserie

For the uninitiated this gem is located at 137 McLaughlin Drive, Moncton, NB, E1A 4P4.

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A lot of people say you can’t recapture the past and trying to recreate a treasured memory will only serve to tarnish its glow.  In my personal experience however, that is not always true.  Some things remain spectacular.  Such is food at Tony’s.

It was precisely one year after my first visit to Tony’s that I got to make my second visit to Tony’s.  July 2015 will live forever as the summer I ate at Tony’s four times in one week.

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That may seem excessive, but I was determined to try the breakfast and lunch items, not just the desserts.  Do not fear, plenty of desserts were tried too.

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I’m pleased to report lunch was just as good as breakfast.

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For readers who enjoy factual reviews, I recommend Tony’s because:

  • delicious food with nice presentation
  • glorious desserts
  • nice ambiance
  • very reasonable pricing
  • pleasant and efficient staff
  • well-stocked, fresh pastry cabinet

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Everything I have tried so far (and I have tried a lot of the desserts so far!) has tasted as wonderful as it looks.  You don’t always find that in a pâtisserie.

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This summer I had the lemon flan, the chocolate royale, and the paradis.  Ah; the paradis. It is chocolate mousse, white chocolate mousse, and crème brûlée, and such an interesting presentation. Baking is my hobby, but it’s always been chocolatiering and fancy desserts that make my heart sing.

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It was the first time I have ever sat looking at a dessert for a few minutes, not wanting to ruin it with my spoon.  Then curiosity got the better of me.

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What I like so much about Tony’s is the variety and the artistry of each dessert.  The paradis was incredibly good.  Every layer was so complimentary to the whole, and it was just so delicious.

Leave a shout-out to your favourite restaurant in the comments. I’d like to hear who you recommend and why.

 

Blueberry muf… blueberry parts

It’s a well-documented fact that any and all attempts of mine to make banana bread end poorly.  I had given up on making banana bread completely, until New Years day.

My friend had made banana muffins for breakfast, and they blew my mind. They were so delicious, just like banana bread. But not a loaf.  Last night I made them, and they turned out great.

“That’s it!”, I said to Boyfriend. “I am never making banana bread again. From now on it’s muffins.”

He was okay with this proclamation since he would still get to eat them.

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This morning I wanted to make blueberry muffins as I have company later for tea.  I called up my mom to clarify a measurement in the recipe, and got to work. They looked so good.

Until I tried to remove them from the pan and realized I had forgotten just one thing.

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Greasing the pan. Is apparently really important. Sigh.

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École Chocolat review

I’de been wanting to up my chocolatiering skills in preparation for Christmas 2015. I can usually learn a fair amount from reading and online tutorials, but lately it felt like I had hit a plateau.  When I heard about École chocolat I was immediately intrigued, but hesitant.

École chocolat is an online school based out of Vancouver, BC, founded in 2003 by Pam Williams, a master chocolatier who also founded the truffle business Au Chocolat in 1981.  Pam has authored two books on chocolate, Oh Truffles by Au Chocolat and Raising the Bar: the Future of Fine Chocolate.

Still, I couldn’t find any reviews or first hand accounts of École chocolat, and I was leary of spending a lot of money on an e-school that isn’t accredited. I hemmed and hawed for awhile, and decided to go for it. I’m glad I did.

École chocolat offers several courses:

  • Professional Chocolatier
  • Business Planning
  • Professional Chocolatier + Business Planning (cheaper than doing the two courses individually)
  • Chocolate Making from bean to bar
  • Quality Assurance for Chocolatiers
  • Master Chocolatier programs all over the globe
  • Chocolate Connoisseur courses

I took the Professional Chocolatier + Business Planning program. It’s a 4 month course, which you mostly do at your own pace but assignments have deadlines.  If you pass your assignments you receive your diploma.

How much did it cost?

  • Summer-fall 2015 tuition was $830 CAD + 13% HST = $937.90
  • School supplies cost $403.41 which includes taxes and shipping

Depending on what’s available to you locally you may be able to get the supplies for less.  I think the list was too much stuff, some of the items I still haven’t used, such as the chocolate chipper, acetate, and pastry brushes.

I’ve only used the cocoa butter and marble slab one time so far.  On the other hand, I probably would never have tried working with cocoa butter if they hadn’t said I needed it, and it’s a pretty cool product!  So I don’t regret buying any of the supplies, but they were were expensive and I am someone who already owned a lot of chocolatier supplies.

The school has a relationship with Chef Rubber who offers a starter kit for EC students containing some of the harder to source items. I was interested, but their shipping costs from US to Canada were over $100.  No thanks!

What was the course like?

Challenging.  Fun.  Interesting.  I learned so much.  The Master Chocolatier course has one instructor, the Business Plan portion has another.  Both instructors are fairly prompt at answering questions, and there is an active forum, one for students and one for grads.

I would recommend this course to anyone who has worked with chocolate and is interested in learning more techniques with some guidance. As long as you’re motivated to get work done, on time, you will be fine.

Recipe creation was a blast.  I had some home runs, like this blueberry crème brùlée milk chocolate, which my was introduction to using transfer sheets.  This is possibly one of the tastiest things I have ever thought of.

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And uh… I had some dismal failures.  Like nougat.  But it doesn’t matter if your attempt doesn’t work out, as long as you go through the process, take notes and learn, that’s all they’re looking for on most of them.  Some of my recipe creations were total disasters.

What did I learn?

Too much to quantify!  The course has a huge amount of downloadable reference material, and I’m still going through some of it. I think they really do cover pretty much everything.  Some highlights were the history of chocolate, production practices, flavours, design, decoration, business case studies, and how to contact wholesalers and find distributors in my area, which turned out to be a wonderful opportunity.  And they teach lots more.

The assignments were straightforward, and some of them really push you into experimenting with ideas you’d never try on your own.

The Business Plan part of the course wasn’t exactly what I expected.  It was good, don’t get me wrong.  I just had different expectations about what I would learn.  I still came away with knowledge I didn’t have before going in and that’s what counts.

I plan to sign up for EC’s Quality Assurance program in the future.  As a Professional program grad I get a discount on future courses. ^^

Was it worth it?

Yes. I graduated with honours, learned new skills and have a higher sense of accomplishment in my chocolate work.  My diploma hangs on the wall and makes me smile every time I see it.

It was expensive for an uncredited program.  I understand why it’s not accredited, because the students are all over the world, but as a Canadian I would have loved if it was accredited in Canada.

My Christmas chocolates this year were the best yet and I am much more confident after becoming an EC grad.