Holiday Happenings: Holiday Dried Fruit Cake

“I just don’t understand why….”

Recently I picked up a Cooking Light magazine which had slow cooker recipes. (If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know how much I love my crock pots!) To my disappointment, the recipes only proved how crazy this world is when it comes to healthy eating.

Cooking Light is a magazine which focuses on healthier eating, so can someone explain to me why their recipe for apple cider, which has a lot of natural sugars from the apples, tells you to add brown sugar?! Or why a recipe for green beans calls for sugar in the balsamic glaze when balsamic vinegar is usually used by chefs precisely for its sweetness?! Or why a pork chop recipe uses a can of Coke?! Coke!!

This is a perfect example of how the world falls into the trap of compartmentalizing. Cooking Light‘s idea of healthier eating is focusing on reducing fat and introducing more whole grains, which does add to healthier eating but it’s not the whole story. Similarly, folks who buy store bought products will find reduce fat food with higher levels of sugar or sugar free foods with higher levels of fat.

Healthy eating is about moderation in all respects. That doesn’t mean giving up all foods which might not be the best for you. It just means doing what you can to make those foods healthier for you when you do eat them.

Several weeks ago, someone asked me about fruit cake. She wanted to know if it was possible to make one without all the sugar usually in fruit cake and whether it could be made “vegan” and gluten free. Since she asked, I decided to try, and the result was actually such that a person at a recent workshop I came up to me at the end and said, “You shouldn’t call it fruit cake.”

“Why,” I asked, “it is fruit cake.”

“Yes, but I wasn’t going to try it because it said, ‘fruit cake,’ but I did and it’s so good.”

And it is good. For folks who like fruit cake or for folks who would like to try a vegan, gluten free, reduced sugar fruit cake, the recipe follows below. This version has no added white refined sugar because the fruit and peel mix has more than enough! It does use natural sugars from bananas and other dried fruit to give it a sweetness which is just enough but not overpowering. In addition, I chose some higher fiber and protein flour to add to its nutritional heft to help counter some of those natural sugars, and I reduced the fat to just 1/2 cup and used a healthier plant based oil at that.

Holiday Dried Fruit Cake

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups ripe, mashed bananas

1/2 cup avocado oil

3 tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 6 tbsp of water

16 oz pkg of Paradise Old English Fruit and Peel mix

1/2 cup currants

3/4 cup dried chopped dates

2 cups boiling water

2 cups gluten free flour blend (I used King Arthur’s whole grain version)

1 cup gluten free oat flour

2 tbsp Hershey’s Special Dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line eight 4 x 6 pans with parchment paper so you have wings on all four sides to pull the breads out at the end.
  2. In a large bowl mix the mashed bananas and oil.
  3. In a small bowl mix the ground flax seed and water.
  4. In a medium bowl mix the Old English mix, currants, dates, and boiling water.
  5. In another medium bowl, mix the gluten free flour, oat flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and baking soda.
  6. To the large bowl with the bananas and oil, add the flax seed mix, the dried fruit mix and the dry ingredients, along with the vinegar, and blend really well until everything is moist and incorporated.
  7. Divide the batter evenly among the eight pans and put them onto a cookie sheet large enough to hold all eight pans.
  8. Slide the cookie sheet into the oven and bake the breads for 20 minutes. Then turn them around and bake for another 20 minutes. When the breads are done they’ll be slightly puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.
  9. Remove the breads to a cooling rack by pulling them out of the pans by the wings you created.
  10. Let the breads cool for about 15 minutes before removing the parchment paper and allowing them to cool completely on the wire racks.
  11. The breads can be stored by wrapping them well in plastic wrap and putting them in the fridge. They also freeze well if you then wrap them again in aluminum foil and put them into the freezer.

Autumn Appetites: Fruit Butter Muffins

“But it doesn’t look like butter….”

When my oldest was in preschool, I asked if she wanted to try apple butter on her toast, and when I placed it on the table, I could tell by her face that she was confused. “But it doesn’t look like butter,” she said.

For folks who haven’t enjoyed the taste of a fruit or vegetable butter, it’s basically a spread like jam or jelly, only with a softer, more paste-like consistency, and it is extremely easy to make your own, especially if you own a crock pot. You simply slowly cook the fruit for a long time so that it breaks down completely. And homemade fruit or vegetable butters are very allergy friendly because you control what goes into the recipe.

Folks who have been reading my posts for a while know that I like recipes which require little work, and making fruit or vegetable butter in the crock pot fits the bill perfectly. And this time of year, when I’m looking for a myriad of ways to use apples and pumpkin, making them into “butters” is ideal, though fruit and vegetable butters can be made with just about any fruit or vegetable… apples, plums, pumpkins, squash, peaches, mangoes, strawberries, turnips, cherries….

You simply chop the fruit or vegetable into pieces which you place into your crockpot. For fruit like apples, pears, plums, etc… I don’t even peel the fruit. I simply core and slice, because the nutrients are in the skins, and you’re cooking the fruit for so long that the skins break down. Vegetables with hard rinds like pumpkin and squash, though, you’ll want to peel.

Once the fruit or vegetables are in the crock pot, you can decide if you want to make the butter plain or spice it up. Adding spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, cloves, etc…, or flavors like lemon or vanilla or orange peel, etc… adds dimension to the flavor. For folks who want a sweeter butter, you can add some agave or truvia or coconut sugar (or sugar if you use it). Unless my fruit is very tart, however, I don’t add any sweetener.

Then you just turn your crock pot to low and let the fruit break down over a long period of time. How long will depend on the amount you’re making and the thickness of your fruit or vegetable, anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. You want to cook the fruit or vegetables long enough that the consistency is very thick, way past applesauce consistency. Some folks recommend propping the top of your crock pot lid to help with evaporation. I’ve never done that and haven’t had any problems with the fruit being too watery, but you can choose which way you’d like to try.

Once your fruit or vegetables are completely cooked down, you can cool them and have a chunky butter or you can puree the fruit or vegetables with a food process or blender into a smoother butter. Your choice. The butters will keep well in the fridge for a couple of weeks, or you can freeze them for several months. If you want to extend the life of the fruit butter in the fridge, you can add sugar and lemon juice which help to preserve the fruit and keep mold from growing. And of course, you can always can the butters if you are one the type to can, which I am not. *grin*

Fruit butters can be used in place of butter and jams on toasts, muffins and scones. It can be used in place of applesauce in recipes. It can be used to thicken sauces. It can be added to cookies and pies for a richer flavor. The list is endless. For myself, I like to make muffins with the butters, and below I’ve pasted in recipe that is one of my favorite creations. I have used apple butter, pumpkin butter, winter squash butter, and strawberry butter so far, and I can’t wait to try some others!

Fruit Butter Muffins 

Ingredients:

8 ounces of chopped dried fruit, your choice

1 cup gluten free instant oats

1 1/2 cup boiling water

2 tbsp ground golden flaxseed

6 tbsp water

3 cups gluten free flour blend (I like to use a garbanzo bean, sorghum, and oat flour blend)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp ginger

3/4 cup plant base oil (extra light olive, safflower, avocado, etc…)

1/2 cup fruit or vegetable butter

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 24 muffin cups with cupcake liners or grease them so the muffins won’t stick to your pan.

2. Mix the chopped dried fruit with the oats in a bowl, and pour the boiling water over them, pushing the dates and oats down into the water so they are covered. Let sit.

3. Whisk together the ground flax seed with the water, and set aside.

4. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Set aside.

5. Mix the oil with the fruit butter, oatmeal mixture, and the flax meal mixture.

6. Make a hole in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients along with the apple cider vinegar. Mix up quickly just until the dry ingredients are moist.

7. Evenly scoop the muffin batter among the 24 muffin cups and bake for 15 minutes or until the cupcakes are golden and puffed and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

8. Remove the muffins to a wire rack and cool completely. These keep well in a tightly covered tupperware container.

Holiday Traditions: Allergy Friendly “Fruitcake”

“How many fruitcakes does it take to hammer in a nail?”

You’ve probably heard all the fruitcake jokes which tend to make their round this time of year…. I personally think we should be applauding the folks who invented fruitcake, because it’s a rather ingenious cake. In a time when there is no refrigeration, people figured out how to use dried and candied fruits and nuts and alcohol to create a longer-lasting festive dessert.

While there does seem to be a lot of folks who won’t even try fruitcake, a substantial number of people do actually enjoy and make fruitcakes as part of their holiday tradition. An older gentleman emailed me a couple of weeks ago because he’s now gluten sensitive, and his wife told him he couldn’t have fruitcake anymore. He wanted to know if I could help….

Fortunately for him, I like fruitcake. I even like the versions with the traditional candied lemon and orange peels, cherries and citron. Fruitcake, however, doesn’t have to include these. I often make a fruitcake with just dried fruit like apricots, prunes, dates, and currants. What’s lovely about fruitcake is that you can do just about anything you want.

Some things to keep in mind:

The Batter:

Traditional fruitcake is basically a butter cake recipe. You can choose between a light cake recipe or a dark cake. Light means you’re using “light” sweeteners like white sugar, honey and/or corn syrup and usually lighter dried fruits and nuts (macadamia nuts, apricots, etc…); dark usually uses sweeteners like brown sugar and molasses and darker dried fruit and nuts (walnuts, pecans, currants, etc…).

Since I try to avoid refined sugars a much as possible, I tend to use a combination of coconut sugar, Agave, and date molasses because I can use much less than the sugar amounts normally called for in fruitcake. This means my fruitcake tends to be a “darker” recipe. I also cut the quantity of butter because traditional butter cake recipes use a lot of butter. And of course, because of my dairy allergies I’m really using a vegan “butter” instead of cow’s milk butter.

Fruitcake recipes also call for a lot of eggs. One, because fruitcake is really a lot of fruit and nuts with just enough batter to hold it together, so eggs are very necessary to the binding and baking process. Two, fruitcake is normally made in large quantities which requires a lot of eggs. To minimize the cholesterol, I use half egg whites and half whole eggs. You can use all egg whites but it will make for a drier fruitcake.

Whatever you decide to do for a batter, make it to your liking. Since I like spice cakes, I make my fruitcakes with spices like cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. If you like more of a yellow cake, use vanilla. If you like fruit, use orange or lemon peel.

The Dried Fruit and Nuts:

Traditional fruitcake has candied peels, cherries, and citron with nuts like walnuts and pecans. If you don’t like those, you don’t have to use them. You can use any type of dried fruit you prefer and any type of nuts you prefer. I omit nuts because I’m allergic to them. For the fruits I use a combination of the traditional and the non-traditional. Dates, dried plums, apricots, and currants are my favorite dried fruits to mix with the candied peels, cherries and citron.

A tip: I have found that what most people don’t like about fruitcake is that the fruit and nuts are too large. I use a food processor to chop everything into tiny pieces so they’re evenly distributed throughout the cake to give flavor without the chunkiness. Paradise also makes an Old English Fruit and Peel mix which has everything already chopped into tiny pieces.

The Alcohol:

Alcohol was traditionally used in fruitcake to keep the cake from getting moldy and stale in addition to adding flavor and moistness. The most common alcohol for fruitcake is either rum or brandy. Recipes vary as to how the alcohol is used. Some will tell you to soak the dried fruits and nuts in alcohol. Most, however, soak the cake in alcohol after it’s been baked. Many recipes do a combination of the two. Others simply put alcohol in the cake batter.

The main difference between which versions you choose is exactly how much of the “boozy” taste you want. Alcohol cooked into the batter will not be as strong as if you soak the fruits and nuts and/or the entire cake in alcohol. Another difference is time. Soaking fruits and nuts usually takes some hours before you can make up the fruitcake. Soaking the entire cake usually requires days.

I don’t use alcohol in my fruitcake recipes. One, I don’t particularly care for rum or brandy. Two, I don’t have the patience to wait for anything to soak. Three, we have refrigeration which keeps my fruitcake from getting moldy and stale. Instead I like to use unsweetened orange use or apple cider. Makes for tasty cakes without the alcohol.

The Baking:

Fruitcake needs to cook at a lower temperature to prevent the cake from becoming too dry, so usually it requires several hours to bake. I cut the time by baking my fruitcake in smaller mini-loaf pans or only filling regular size pans half full. Then instead of a couple of hours, the cakes cook in about one hour which fits with my schedule much better.

Cooking in the mini pans also means they’re a good size for gifting. I make a lovely chocolate fruitcake which I have given to neighbors for the holidays for years and which they actually really enjoy and look forward to each year. What’s nice about fruitcakes is that they store well if you wrap them well in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil.

Many recipes will tell you to cook the fruitcake at 250 or 275 degrees. I find that 300 degrees work just as well, allowing the cook time to be slightly less. If, however, you do choose to make a large fruitcake in a bundt or tube pan, you should opt for the lower temperatures to ensure even cooking throughout.

A Recipe:

My favorite fruitcake recipe is the chocolate fruitcake I mentioned above. I use a combination of two gluten free flour blends – one which is a lighter brown rice flour blend like King Arthur’s; the other a more high fiber/high protein blend like Bob Red Mill’s garbanzo bean blend. I use unsweetened cocoa powder and add allergy friendly chocolate chips to the dried fruit blend. If I use the candied peels and citron, I usually just add dried dates and plums. If I opt to use only dried fruit, I like to combine dried dates, plums, apricots, currants, and unsweetened coconut. Both versions make for tasty fruitcakes.

Allergy Friendly Chocolate Fruit Cake

(This recipe makes 12 mini 4 x 8 loaves)

Ingredients:

7 cups favorite dried fruits, nuts, and/or candied peels, cherries and/or citron, chopped into tiny pieces

1 cup Enjoy Life miniature chocolate chips

1 1/2 cup vegan olive oil “butter”, melted

2 cups coconut sugar

1/4 cup date molasses

3/4 cup Agave

1 cup unsweetened orange juice

1 cup liquid egg whites

4 eggs

2 cups high protein/high fiber gluten free flour blend (like Bob Red Mill’s garbanzo bean flour)

2 cups brown rice flour blend (like King Arthur)

1 cup gluten free oat flour

1 tsp cardamom

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Arrange your oven racks so they are evenly spaced so you can cook on both racks at teh same time. Line 12 mini loaf pans with parchment paper so the paper hangs over the side like wings. This will make it easier to pull the cake out of the pans. Arrange the pans on two cookie sheets so they have some space around each pan for air to circulate.
  2. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, and/or candied peels and fruit with the chocolate chips. Set aside
  3. Mix the melted butter with the coconut sugar, date molasses, agave, orange juice, egg whites, and eggs. Set aside.
  4. Combine the two gluten free flour blends with the oat flour, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Stir the wet ingredients well before adding the dried fruit mixture to it. Carefully add the dry ingredients, along with the apple cider vinegar.
  6. Mix the batter well until all the dry ingredients are thoroughly moistened.
  7. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 loaf pans. The pans will be only 2/3 full. (If you’d like to make these in larger 9 x 5 pans, fill the loaf pans only half full.)
  8. Bake the loaves for about 30 minutes and then switch the cookie sheets between the two racks for even cooking of both trays of mini-loaves. Bake for another 20-30 minutes until the fruitcakes are puffed, pulling from the sides, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and put the mini loaf pans onto a wire cooling rack. Cool for 10 minutes, and then carefully remove the cakes by lifting the parchment paper wings. Cool the cakes completely on the wire racks.
  10. To store the cakes, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and then in foil. They store in the fridge for about a week or you can double wrap them with foil and freeze them for a couple of months.

 

 

Holiday Traditions: Allergy Friendly “Stollen”

Yay! It’s Advent….

My son has been counting down to Advent since mid-October. Because we have a tradition of taking time as a family every evening of Advent to read one of the many books we’ve collected over the years, sing a song, and pray, Advent is one of his most favorite times of the year. And with our oldest at college these past two Christmas seasons, it’s meant he gets more turns in the rotation to pick books and songs….

As with my son, the traditions people have are one of the many reasons they look forward to the holidays, and it can be disappointing if a tradition can no longer be held.

I received an email this week from someone whose family always makes stollen for Christmas. Stollen is a traditional German fruit bread. Original stollen is a dry, not sweet yeast bread. Versions one finds in the stores these days tend to be much sweeter, drenched in butter and sugar.

This particular woman has developed sensitivities to wheat and yeast and was wondering if there was a way to make something similar to the stollen of her family traditions. The challenge was to keep the dry texture without being a yeast bread and to make something with no sweetener other than the dried fruit. In the end I created something which had a similar texture to stollen though not the shape.

For the flours, I blended garbanzo bean, sorghum, coconut, and arrowroot. This created the drier, crumbly texture we wanted. For the dried fruit, I opted for dates and raisins because they are always easy to find in the stores. To keep the cake from becoming too dense because of the lack of sugar, I made a “buttermilk” using soy milk and lemon juice and used eggs. Then I added spices – cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves – for flavor. I decided not to top the cake with butter and powdered sugar in favor of making a healthier, no sugar topping, but others can feel free to shake powdered sugar on top instead.

When I served the new creation to tasters, the folks who have had traditional stollen declared it to be similar in taste and texture, so I’m going to call it a success.

For folks who may not eat stollen regularly, this is definitely a dry, not sweet cake. So, don’t make it if you want something dense, moist and sweet. It does go very well with coffee if you drink yours with cream and sugar. I like eating it just as it is.

“Stollen”

Ingredients:

8 oz pitted whole dates

1 cup raisins

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup boiling water

3 cups of the gluten free flour blend (see below)

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup  soy milk with 1/2 tbsp lemon juice (can substitute any type of “milk”)

2 eggs

3 tbsp safflower oil

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup soy milk

2 5-6 inch bananas

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp garbanzo bean flour

2 tbsp coconut flour

 

Flour Blend:

1 1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour

1 1/2 cup sorghum flour

1 cup arrowroot starch

1/2 cup coconut flour

 

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9 inch round cake pans with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the dates and raisins with the baking soda. Chop them up in a food processor to make small pieces which will evenly disperse throughout the stollen.
  3. Pour the boiling water over the dried fruit, and set it aside.
  4. Mix the garbanzo bean flour, sorghum flour, arrowroot starch, coconut flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and baking powder.  Set aside.
  5. Blend the milk with lemon juice with the eggs, safflower oil, and vanilla.
  6. Combine the dried fruit, dry ingredients, and wet ingredients until everything is moistened and well blended together.
  7. Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans, and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cakes are puffed, golden, pulling away from the sides of the pan, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Depending on your stove, you may want to set the timer for 20 minutes and keep checking.)
  8. When the cakes are done, cool for about five minutes in the pans, and then removed them to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
  9. In a food processor or blender, puree the bananas with the milk. Stir in the cinnamon, garbanzo bean flour and coconut flour. (The 4 tbsp of flour makes for a thick, spreadable topping. If you want a thinner, runnier “sauce”, reduce each of the flours by half.)
  10. Over a double boiler (I use a make-shift one by fitting one pan into a second one) heat the milk mixture, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken. Spread over the cakes and enjoy. (If you don’t want the topping, just shift powdered sugar over the tops of the cakes while they are still warm. This will make for sweet version of the stollen.)