Friday, July 11, 2014

Muffin Master Recipe

Muffins have defeated me for years. I can't for the life of me make a really good muffin. They're either too moist, too dry, too crumbly, too heavy - you name it, I've made it and badly.

So, not to be completely defeated, I've been searching the internet for a good master recipe. I found two that were fairly similar and adapted them into one recipe. I made dried apricot muffins with this recipe and they turned out beautifully! Light, just moist enough, good crumb, nice flavour. A winner!

They're not what I'd call healthy eating by any means, but since I make them for others, not for me, I'm not worried. Now that I have the perfect recipe, I'll play around and experiment with soaked wholemeal flour and rapadura or coconut sugar instead of raw sugar.

Recipe has been adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction website. The other site I used was the US Better Homes And Gardens Website.

Muffin Master Recipe
The Bush Gourmand

1 ½ cups plain flour
½ cup raw caster sugar 
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients together with any dried fruit, cheese, spices, choc chips etc.

2 eggs, beaten
½ cup soured milk or buttermilk
¼ cup oil (I use macadamia) or melted butter (I think these would be a little firmer when cool)
2 tsp vanilla

Blend together and mix into dry ingredients. Fill greased muffin cups to ¾ full. Preheat oven to 220C and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce to 190C and bake a further 20 - 25 minutes.


Streusel topping
3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp brown sugar
¼ tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp butter, chopped

Blend together in Thermomix until crumbly. Sprinkle over uncooked muffins prior to baking. Can add 2 Tbsp chopped pecans.

Apricot Muffins
Add ½ cup chopped dried apricots into flour mix.

Date and Orange Muffins
Add ½ cup chopped dried dates and rind of one orange. Make up milk to ½ cup including 2 Tbsp of orange juice.

Cheese Muffins
Reduce sugar to 2 Tbsp. Stir ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese and ¼ tsp cayenne pepper into flour mixture. You can also add corn and grated zucchini.

Berry Muffins
Fold ¾ cup frozen berries into flour mixture just before adding liquid mixture. 

Banana Muffins
Reduce milk to ¼ cup. Stir 2 small mashed banana and ½ cup chopped nuts into flour with the liquid ingredients.

Cranberry Muffins
Fold 1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries and 2 tablespoons additional sugar into flour mixture.

Oatmeal Muffins
Reduce flour to 1 cup and add ½ cup rolled oats to flour mixture. 

Lemon Muffins
Add zest of one lemon to flour mixture. Make up milk to ½ cup including 2 Tbsp lemon juice. 
Grind 2 Tbsp raw sugar with thinly peeled rind of one lemon in Thermomix until fine. Sprinkle over muffins just before baking.

Muffins are best eaten warm. I love to split them open and spread each side with lashings of butter. 


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sugar - Sweet Poison? Part II

I've previously written a bit about the chemistry of the simple carbohydrate, sugar in my blog post Sugar - Sweet Poison?  The discussion ranged around white sugar and it's empty nutrition and how other foods can provide sweetness while still being 'good for you'.  Now, in Part II, I'd like to expand on that topic in this post about the various types of sugar and how they are made.

In Australia the main sweetener in our processed foods on in our pantries is processed white sugar (in the US, it's high fructose corn syrup, but that's another story...).

White Sugar

White Sugar, as mentioned in my post on sugar, is a disaccharide, meaning it contains two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose. In Australia, white sugar comes from sugar cane. Many other countries use sugar beets to make white sugar. Caster sugar and icing sugar are simply white sugar that has been ground to make it finer.

Cane sugar is highly processed, first by crushing the sugar cane to extract the juice. The juice is then mixed with lime and phosphoric acid to adjust its pH to around 7.  The clarified juice is then heated under vacuum to make a syrup. Further heating is done under vacuum to concentrate and super saturate the syrup. It is then pressure filtered through cloth and deodorised using activated charcoal. (1)

The cleaned syrup is then seeded with sugar crystals and cooled. Upon cooling, the sugar syrup crystallises and is then put through a centrifuge to separate the sugar from it's remaining liquid, known as molasses. The remaining molasses can be further processed to extract more crystals, leaving blackstrap molasses. (2)

Raw Sugar

At this stage, the product is Raw Sugar (a terrible misnomer) which is a light golden colour. So raw sugar is still a highly processed product. The raw sugar is then bleached, sometimes by bubbling sulphur dioxide through the crystals. (1) I'm unable to find out exactly how Australian sugar is bleached. None of the companies explain this process, other than saying that the raw sugar is then 'further refined'. I'm awaiting a reply from CSR. The fact that it must be 'bleached' sounds ominous, though.
Raw caster and golden icing sugar are made from raw sugar. White processed sugar is pretty much 99% sucrose and has a GI of around 65. (3) GI isn't a perfect method for judging a product's health benefits, though. Adding fructose to a product will reduce it's GI, but read more about the problem with fructose below.

Brown Sugar

Brown Sugar is simply white refined sugar with the molasses added back in. Now, there's no information to say whether this is the first extraction of molasses with all its health giving goodness, or the less nutritious blackstrap molasses. My guess is that it is the cheaper one. So, the sugar is refined, bleached and deodorised and then the stuff they took out is put back in! If you want to make it yourself, simply add molasses to white sugar until it's fully saturated.

LoGiCane Sugar

LoGiCane is a brand name from the CSR company promoted as low GI. The CSR company explains on their website that LoGiCane sugar is refined white sugar sprayed with molasses. The molasses slows down the digestion of the sucrose, making it less likely to spike blood sugar. If this is the case, then brown sugar and 'raw' sugar will do the same. 
In fact, if you delve further into it, the molasses is actually treated to remove the nutrients such as minerals, polyphenols and other phytochemicals. (4) So, once again a highly processed product that is more expensive than simply buying 'raw' sugar. This appears to be a marketing ploy, in my opinion.

Demerara and Turbinado are still processed raw sugars, albeit with more molasses left in the final product.
Rapadura Sugar

Rapadura and Panela are two different names for the same product, pure unrefined cane juice. The sugar cane is simply crushed and the juice is dehydrated. The nutrient rich molasses with all its minerals and phytochemicals is retained in the final product, making it a far healthier alternative to white, processed sugar or even 'raw' sugar. Rapadura is quite expensive, but can now be found in supermarkets. I purchase it in bulk from

Here's a chart showing the comparison of nutrients for each of the sugars. The 'evaporated cane juice' in the chart is that which is processed using heat. 

Coconut Sugar

Coconut Sugar, also known as coconut palm sugaris made from the blossom of the coconut tree, that ubiquitous plant that provides so much for so little. It has a low GI, only 35. It also contains a great many nutrients, mainly potassium, iron, zinc, calcium plus polyphenols, inositol (part of a vitamin B complex) and other phytonutrients. (5) (6)  It's a natural product, with very little processing other than collection and dehydration. It's fairly expensive.

Many people are becoming wary of Fructose and with good reason. Fructose is natural fruit sugar, but is also found in sugar.  Sugar, or sucrose, is 50% Glucose and 50% Fructose. Fructose is the monosaccharide which is only broken down in the liver.  The liver will transform fructose into glucose derivatives, storing it as glycogen. The liver can only store so much glycogen. If it's not being used through providing energy, it will be stored as triglycerides (i.e. fat) which is then deposited around the organs in the body. (7)

This concept is being espoused by Sarah Wilson of the "I Quit Sugar' movement. Sarah has an enormous group of followers on her Facebook page and blog. She has published two books on the subject, containing excellent information and recipes. Her concept is a little extreme, though and I don't believe we should deny ourselves certain treats. Life can be hard enough as it is without being unable to eat dessert at a restaurant.

There are many references showing that fructose is indeed a baddy in our diets. Mainly because sugar is consumed in large amounts in processed foods such as mayonnaise, sauces, soft drinks, biscuits and cakes. A study in 2010 showed that fructose consumed as soft drinks and sweetened fruit juices, taken in large quantities did cause weight gain. (8)

My take on the consumption of sugar in the diet is this.
  1. Consume whole foods as much as possible. Eat whole fruits, peel as well if possible (obviously not banana peel). If you're making a cake with oranges, use the whole orange - flesh, juice and zest. 
  2. Include good fats (coconut, palm, lard, tallow, poultry fat, butter) in your diet to allow for satiety, so you're not hanging out for a chocolate after tea.
  3. Limit sugar in all your cooking and use unprocessed sugar wherever possible. Some other options for sweetening include rice malt syrup, maple syrup and honey. Fresh dates can be used instead of sugar in some recipes - e.g. protein balls.
  4. Don't consider that every meal must be followed by dessert. Make desserts a special treat. 
  5. Make your own fruit roll ups with whole fruit, raw chocolate with cacao and so on. 
  6. Finally, don't stress about it too much! Do your best and allow yourself some treats without feeling guilty. 
There's a wealth of great wholefood recipes out there and some great books and blogs, too. Here's a list of recommended reading:

Wholefood Cooking - Jude Blereau
Nourishing Traditions - Sally Fallon
I Quit Sugar and I Quit Sugar for Life - Sarah Wilson 


(1) SKIL - How sugar is made:
(3) Sugar and sweetener guide:
(4) Product review: low GI cane cugar - Catherine Saxelby's Food Watch:
(6) Coconut sap sugar:
(7) Precision Nutrition. All about fructose:
(7) Metabolic effects of fructose and the worldwide increase in obesity:

That's all for now, bravo if you've actually read the whole post!!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Eggs Poached in the Shell

I guess an egg poached in it's shell is a boiled egg. But, it's not eaten that way. This method of poaching eggs was first written about by Julia Child, that doyenne of French Cooking. It is indeed a French method and is the best and easiest way to poach eggs, especially if you're feeding three or four people.

If the eggs are very fresh, it's not as effective as they'll be a little more difficult to peel. However, I've not had a lot of trouble peeling our own eggs that are about 2 weeks old.

What you'll need: A timer (I use my iPhone), a pin, a bowl of ice-cold water.

Pop a saucepan of salted water on to boil. Prick the rounder, fatter end of each egg with a pin, being careful not to go too deep and break the membrane.

When water is boiling, add eggs and set timer for 6 minutes (for large eggs, 5 ½ for smaller ones).
Pop your toast down part way through.
When time is up, remove eggs with a slotted spoon to the bowl of iced water. (If you have asbestos hands, don't worry about this step.) Leave for a second or so to cool down and then gently roll and tap egg on the bench to break the shell all over.

Remove the top part of the shell, insert a teaspoon and slide it all the way around to remove remaining shell.

This photo was a bit blurry as our cat was up on the bench trying to check out what I was doing! I was pushing him away with my head as both hands were full!!

Work quickly to ensure remaining eggs don't get too cool if you're doing a few eggs at a time.

Perfect poached eggs! I forgot to heat up the Hollandaise that I had made yesterday, so I just plopped it on top. No time for asparagus, either!

The cat enjoyed licking the plate.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Caramel Magic Bean Cake

I've had such great success with the Chocolate Magic Bean Cake that I decided to convert the recipe to make a caramel flavoured cake.

I like to use whole sugar in my cooking, so I tend to make caramel and chocolate flavours because rapadura still contains all the molasses and will make batters darker. Coconut sugar is the same as it's quite dark in colour.

This cake is delicious and is gluten free to boot.

The Bush Gourmand

420g can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp plain yoghurt or buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g butter, softened
120g rapadura or coconut sugar
4 eggs
60g coconut flour
1 tsp bi-carb soda
1 ½ tsp GF baking powder

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease a small ring tin.
Place beans, yoghurt, 2 of the eggs and vanilla into TMX bowl.
Blend for 2 minutes on speed 8.
Remove but don't bother rinsing bowl.
Place butter and sugar into TMX bowl and blend on speed 3 - 4 for 30 seconds. Scrape down and blend again.
Add eggs, one at a time, blending in between. 
Add sifted flour and raising agents and mix on speed 3 until blended together. Mixture will appear curdled.
Pour into tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until cake bounces back from a gentle touch.

Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Caramel Sauce
¾ cup rapadura or coconut sugar
65g butter
80g coconut cream

Place sugar and butter into a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Boil while stirring for about 2 minutes. Add coconut cream and bring back to boil, again stirring constantly. Boil, stirring for about a minute.
Serve cake warm as a dessert with Caramel Sauce and cream or ice cream

Caramel Icing
For an afternoon tea cake, add 1 cup golden icing sugar to the caramel sauce. Beat together until a smooth spreading consistency and ice cake.