To be clear, although she is my favourite Spice Girl, this post is not about Geri Halliwell. My devotion to her would require much more than a mere post to summarize, or even justify. No, this post is all about that spice that seems to act as the harbinger of cozy sweaters, fuzzy slippers and evenings spent nestled in pink Snuggies sipping hot spiced cocoa. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, all I know is that once the cooler weather hit, all I wanted to do was break out the ginger and spices.
Tell me what you want, what you really really want— sorry, now I’m done.
It started with the macaron. One night, the first one where I had to turn the heat on in months, I was lying in bed thinking about baking. Sadly, yes, this is me most nights. But it’s often where I come up with some of my best ideas, so I’ve learned not to question and just go with it. On that particular night I wanted to make macarons, but this time with a decidedly autumnal flavour. That’s when it hit me – gingerbread macarons. Rather than troll through FoodGawker again – another bedtime ritual – I decided to make up my own recipe for it. The next morning found me pouring over my trusty Women’s Institute cookbooks n search of that perfect combination of spices to add in to my basic macaron batter. The winners were ginger, clove and mixed spice – one teaspoon of the former plus a half teaspoon each of the other two. I also replaced half of the granulated sugar with brown sugar in the macaron batter – I wanted to replace all of it, but because macarons can be so fussy I was reluctant to risk it. Brown sugar has a higher moisture content than granulated white, and in my admittedly limited experience moisture tends to mean death to a well-risen macaron shell.
The result was a lovely beige-hued macaron, nicely balanced in both flavour and rise (avec pied). As you can imagine, I was well pleased.
Then came the task of deciding what to use as filling. To further expand on the gingerbread theme, I went with another of my favourite fall flavours and made a molasses buttercream. Truthfully, I could’ve just eaten it straight from the bowl – and don’t judge, but maybe I did a little bit – it was so good. But this is coming from one who used to get in trouble as a child for trying to spoon molasses straight from the carton into my mouth whilst my mother was attempting to use it for baking. She kept saying it was for baking not eating, that I would make myself sick . But I never did. No idea why, but I just loved the stuff. And evidently, I still do, because it took everything in my power not to take a swig of the carton contents.
But I did lick the spoon. Willpower has its limits.
Another ubiquitous fall flavour I experimented with was pumpkin. Ginger is a major flavour component here, but where the experimenting came into play was with a relatively new concept for me. It’s something called ‘healthy baking’. Now, as one who advocates the use of butter, whipping cream and double cream, and lard where necessary, this is entirely foreign territory for me. Cutting fat and sugar? You may as well cut off your tongue since your taste buds won’t really notice either way…is how I used to look at things. But sadly, as one ages, one’s system can no longer handle the steady onslaught of fat and empty carbs that my favourite recipes tend to carry. And to be clear, when I say system, what I really mean is waistline. Someone has gained a little weight what with their non-stop baking the past few months.
My first attempt came after much research into alternative flours. Spelt flour, apparently, closely resembles regular flour but contains much lower levels of gluten. I thought that would be a good place to start because gluten is largely responsible for the texture of baked goods, and also I know a couple of people who have intolerances to it. And truthfully, I’m beginning to suspect that I may have an issue with the substance myself. But then again, it could also be the lack of willpower that is more of a problem than gluten.
Anyway, so I found a recipe for muffins using spelt flour. I then also baked the same recipe again using regular all purpose flour, because I was initially disappointed with the outcome and I wanted to see if it was just my imagination. For a second I thought that my standards were too high, or my memories of muffins unrealistic.
Here is the picture that will give you an idea as to why I might have been a little disappointed. And also why that feeling was justified, at least in my mind.
The muffin on the right is the re-bake. Take notice of its height and fluffy texture. Then take a look at the one on the left, how flat and dense it seems. Guess which one was baked with spelt flour? If you said the flatty on the left, you would be correct. It tasted fine, but the texture left much to be desired. And it was a good thing that the recipe yield was small at only a dozen muffins, because the next day you could almost use them as a weapon – they were hard as a rock.
But, that was only a first attempt. And I’m happy to report that I have used spelt flour since to far greater success, to the point were it’s becoming almost a staple of my baking repertoire. But that’s another post for another time, one that I will hopefully get to sooner rather than later.
What about you – any good healthy baking stories to share? How about epic failures? And what of fall baking? Can you believe it’s October 12th already? How many more questions can I ask here?
I’m off to grab some fuzzy slippers, slip into a cozy sweater and make myself some more coffee. Cocoa comes later, after noon. It’s all about willpower.