Apple Streusel Muffins

When I was a kid, apple picking was one of my favourite school field trips. I remember jumping off the yellow school bus, wearing an ill-fitting, bright-coloured pinny so everyone knew which group we were with, and running into the orchard, trees laden with bright red apples. You were allowed to fill up your bag and eat as many apples as you liked while you were there. McIntosh were my favourite, until I overdid it one year. Nothing tastes better than a sweet, crisp, just-picked apple — until you eat 6 or 7 in a row. It was not a pleasant bus ride back.

I got a crash course in apples a few years back, when I was working as a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corportaion (CBC). It was a slow news day and my producer, Nathalie, sent me to a nearby apple orchard to do live reports for Homerun, the CBC Radio afternoon show in Montreal (88.5FM — a shameless plug for my CBC friends, who are awesome!) While there, I learned that McIntosh apples are not the best apples to bake with because they tend to break down pretty quickly when cooked — which makes them perfect for applesauce. Cortland apples, on the other hand, are a great apple to bake with because they do not brown when they’re cut and hold their shape really well. The Lobo variety is also great for cooking and baking. I almost always use Cortland and Lobo apples when I bake because they are a little tart and really hold up well in recipes.

This apple muffin is moist and flavoured with all the traditional autumn spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. But, the best part of this muffin is the streusel topping. Don’t skip it — it’s crunchy and delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 6 apples, peeled and grated  (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sour cream or plain Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cloves

For the topping:

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cups oats
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp flax seeds (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F and line a muffin tin with paper baking cups.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter, sour cream, vanilla and brown sugar. Stir in the grated apples. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.
  5. Spoon the batter into the paper-lined muffin tin.
  6. For the topping: In a small bowl, stir together all the topping ingredients. Sprinkle the topping over the muffins.
  7. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

*Yield: 12 large muffins

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Salted Caramel & Dark Chocolate Cookies

I think salt is one of the most under-appreciated ingredients in baking. It serves several purposes in recipes — but its most magical function is its ability to enhance the depth and flavour of the other ingredients in your mixing bowl. Salt is especially important in sugar-heavy recipes, such as frostings, because it really helps to balance the sweetness; I almost exclusively use salted butter when making icing for my cupcakes. I also like to sprinkle a little sea salt on my chocolate chip cookies. It’s amazing how the sea salt flakes make all the other flavours pop. These Salted Caramel & Dark Chocolate cookies use salted butter and are sprinkled with a finishing touch of sea salt flakes. Don’t worry about ending up with a too salty cookie; the sea salt flakes are quite delicate and really enhance the sweetness of the caramel and smoky dark chocolate.

 Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 cup caramel bits
  • Maldon or sea salt flakes, for sprinkling

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a cookie sheet with non-stick spray.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until well combined.
  3. Add the egg, maple syrup, and vanilla and mix until smooth.
  4. Add the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir together until almost fully combined. Add the chocolate chips and caramel bits and stir until blended.
  5. Shape spoonfuls of dough into balls and place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. You can press a few chocolate chips and caramel bits into the top of each cookie — it just makes them look prettier. Sprinkle a little sea salt over the cookie dough balls.
  6. Bake for 12 minutes. Don’t overbake if you want them to be soft and chewy!

*Yield: Approximately 20-22 cookies

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Nonna Maria’s Apple Cake

People often ask me who my biggest baking influences are. Of course, Julia Child and Martha Stewart figure pretty prominently on the list. But I think the person who inspired my love of baking the most was my nonna Maria. I grew up hearing stories from my mother, aunts and cousins about what a fabulous cook and baker my grandmother was.  How she would make pizza every Sunday and homemade cavatelli or gnocchi. I never really got to taste any of my nonna’s food; my grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was relatively young, so by the time I came along she was too sick to cook. I wish I could have asked her the secret to her perfect pizza dough, or to share her many simple Italian recipes with me.  I think it is her absence that has inspired me to write down my recipes so that they may be shared.

This apple cake is my nonna Maria’s recipe. She would often make it as a dessert following Sunday lunch. My mom tells me that during apple picking season, my grandmother would buy big crates of apples and store them in the cantina. The apples were cheap and would last for months in the cold room. One day, she decided to toss some leftover apples into a simple cake recipe she had on hand. Like many women of that generation, my nonna never wrote down her recipes.  But, thankfully, my grandmother’s sister, Zia Lucia, did write this one down. The handwritten, yellowed recipe card she gave me consisted of a list of ingredients, few measurements and no method. Armed with that, and the memories I have of my mother making this cake for us growing up, I have recreated a cake that, I hope, comes close to the one my nonna Maria would make on Sunday afternoons.

Ingredients:

  • 1 apple, sliced
  • 5 large apples, chopped
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • juice and rind from one lemon
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and grease a nine inch tube pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Sprinkle the brown sugar on the bottom of the prepared pan and arrange the apple slices on top of the sugar.
  3. In a bowl, combine the chopped apples with the lemon juice and cinnamon.  Stir until the apples are completely coated. Set aside.
  4. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the eggs, sugar and oil until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the vanilla and grated lemon rind.
  6. Reduce mixer speed to low and add in the flour, baking powder and salt.
  7. Using a wooden spoon, fold in the chopped apple mixture. Stir until combined.
  8. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.
  9. Cool completely before removing from pan. Dust cooled cake with powdered sugar, if desired.
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Nonna Maria making cavatelli on Sunday morning, c.1970.


Banana Muffins

I don’t know about you guys, but the struggle for me to get my kids to eat anything but toast with Nutella or sugary cereals for breakfast is very real. I’ve tried to be that perfect mom who makes stacks of pancakes and scrambled eggs, but the challenge to figure out what to put in their lunch boxes five days a week usually trumps breakfast. These banana muffins are a cross between a moist banana bread and coffee cake. They’re loaded with ripe bananas and chocolate chips and sprinkled with a delicious, crunchy streusel topping. My kids never complain when banana muffins are for breakfast! Plus, these muffins freeze extremely well and will keep for up to three months in the freezer.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 6 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup Greek yoghurt or sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose or whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

For the topping:

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cups oats
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F and line a muffin tin with paper baking cups.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, bananas, butter, yoghurt and vanilla. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.
  5. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  6. Spoon the batter into the paper-lined muffin tin.
  7. For the topping: In a small bowl, stir together all the topping ingredients. Sprinkle the topping over the muffins.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

*Yield: 18 large muffins.


Fig, Walnut & Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

This is a classed-up version of my  Big and Chewy Oatmeal Cookies. The chopped up figs practically melt into these cookies as they bake, creating a sticky sweetness that pairs beautifully with the smoky molasses. The addition of dark chocolate adds even more sophistication to an otherwise humble cookie, while the walnuts add texture and crunch.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 1/2 cups oats
  • 1 cup dried figs, chopped
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chunks or chips

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and spray baking sheets with non-stick spray.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, corn starch and salt.
  3. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar.
  4. Add the eggs, vanilla and molasses. Mix until combined.
  5. Turn the mixer to low and slowly add the flour mixture. Beat until fully incorporated.
  6. Add the oats, figs, walnuts and chocolate.
  7. Roll generous 1/4 cup measures of dough into balls (you can use a medium- sized ice cream scoop for this.) Place two inches apart on prepared baking sheets. You can press a few chocolate chunks into the tops of the cookies before baking — it makes them look prettier.
  8. Bake for 18-20 minutes.

*Yield: Approximately 18 large cookies

 


Triple Berry Coffee Cake

I always wondered why coffee cake was called coffee cake when there isn’t any actual coffee in it. After some research (i.e. I googled it), I learned that it’s because coffee cake is meant to be eaten with coffee. Makes sense. This coffee cake is made with a luscious berry filling and topped with a cinnamon-almond streusel. Perfect with your afternoon coffee…or you can eat it without coffee.  Then it would just be a really delicious cake.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream or plain Greek yoghurt

Berry filling:

  • 2 cups mixed berries (I used strawberries, raspberries and wild blueberries)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Streusel topping:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds

Glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2-4 tbsp milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a 9 inch tube pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Make the filling: in a bowl, stir together the berries, sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.
  4. Make the streusel: In a small bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and almonds.  Using a pastry cutter — or your fingertips — cut in the butter into the mix until it resembles large, coarse crumbs.  Set aside.
  5. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated.
  7. Next, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the sour cream.  Mix until just combined.
  8. Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan.
  9. Spoon the berry mixture evenly on top of the batter.
  10. Spoon the remaining batter on top of the berries in an even layer, making sure the berries are entirely covered.
  11. Sprinkle the streusel over the top of the batter.
  12. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean. Cool cake completely.
  13. To make glaze, in a small bowl whisk together the powdered sugar and milk.  Drizzle over cooled cake.

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Tomato, Basil & Goat Cheese Strata

It’s tomato season, and when you’ve had your fill of tomato salad, this recipe is a great way to use cherry tomatoes. I love casseroles like this one because they can be made in advance, they’re easy to prepare and they can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. This is a summer version of my Spinach and Ham Strata. I like to use goat cheese in this recipe, but it’s also very tasty with feta cheese or mozzarella.

Ingredients:

  • 9 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
  • 8 -10 slices of your favourite crusty bread, cubed (about 8 cups)

Method:

  1. Generously grease an 8×11 inch baking dish with olive oil.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and romano cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Spread 1/3 of the cubed bread into the prepared pan. Layer 1/3 of the tomatoes over the bread. Sprinkle 1/3 of the goat cheese and basil over the tomatoes. Repeat layers two more times.
  4. Pour the egg mixture over the layered ingredients.
  5. Cover the casserole and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.
  6. Remove casserole from fridge a half hour before baking. Preheat oven to 350F. Bake  casserole, uncovered, for 45-55 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving.