Just Like Woodstock

Through trial and error, I came to the realization that if I take a pain-killer for my back pain in the morning, going to work is out of the question. (Rest-assured, there is no trip to the Bette Ford Clinic in my future; I think I have about 40 pills left from a prescription of 60 which was written to me at the end of December.) On days where a pill and nap were necessary, I would feel better by mid-afternoon, but not well enough to go into work.

When left to my own devices and if I’m in charge of my own time, my go-to plan is always a trip to Flour Bakery + Cafe. Stopping in is mandatory whenever we visit the Institute of Contemporary Art or anywhere else in the Fort Point Channel. But standing in a museum for few hours – let alone getting from Lower Allston all the way down to the harbor — is still difficult to manage.

Fortunately, Flour has recently opened up another location in Central Square in Cambridge. So one afternoon, still slightly addled from pain medicine, I checked the real-time bus schedule on my Android and wobbled down to the bus stop. Yes, I was a little high at the time, and clearly was not in the right state of mind to sign any legal documents, but have you ever had their sticky buns? Their dacquiose? Recently, my pastry of choice has been the granola bar. The journey was a success, although I decided to not mention it to Rich. (This is the first he’s hearing of it.)

This weekend Rich went to the Museum of Fine Arts to watch a film about drumming, and although I absolutely adore their collection, I didn’t think I was up for the trek and standing on the hard floors for two hours. Obviously, my first instinct was to head to Central Square for a granola bar, but the line is a good 30 people deep on weekends. So, why not make my own? I had been lucky enough to score one of the coveted copies of the Flour cookbook from Santa when it first came out, and so far I’ve made the cornmeal lime cookies, banana bread and cranberry pear crostata.

This recipe for me is a pantry recipe, but as you know, I have a somewhat unusual pantry. Most people have flour, walnuts, sugar, oats, dried fruit, and honey on hand, but I cannot guarantee you’ll have millet, flax seeds and sweetened coconut readily available. I must confess, I didn’t have an entire cup of dried cranberries, but had a surplus of dried raspberries in my collection. I was less worried about any seeds in the fruit given the multitude of seeds called for in the crumble topping. I also changed out flax seed for so-hot-right now chia seeds; they’re rich in Omega-3s and are a complete protein.

About half-way through the process I realized my first-edition cookbook was missing the crucial instruction of what to do with the toasted walnuts. Luckily, Joanne Chang is amazing at responding to Tweets; I’ve since discovered the cookbook corrections are in a sidebar on the Flour website.

joanne chang-myers @jbchang replied to you:

@CheapBeets they go in w oats. So sorry! Corrected in later printings (u have a 1st printing!)
In reply to…
@jbchang Having a granola bar freakout Where and when do I add the walnuts? Into the flour/oat mixture?Can’t find that step in the cookbook.

Well, the granola bars were a success, but, well, the baking project took an entire afternoon, and that’s not even counting the three hours the bars needed to rest after baking. Ms. Chang is a brilliant woman: I suspect her degree in applied mathematics and economics from Harvard College helped her realize that, even if she released a cookbook sharing all her store’s secrets, it would have very little impact to the bottom line. Yes, I am thrilled to have an entire pan of my favorite granola bars on my kitchen counter, but I can’t wait until I’ll be healed enough to ride my bike to the store. The ride will take about 10 minutes, so even if I have to wait in line for 20 minutes, it will still be a fraction of the time it took to bake these. But don’t let me frighten you away. These are superb baked goods.

Granola Bars from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

If you have a kitchen scale, I strongly suggest you utilize it for this recipe. To “speed up” this recipe, I did the first two steps of the granola jam, and, while it was cooling, made the crust in the food processor, cleaned the bowl and continued making the jam.

Chang notes that the bars stay moist for several days and actually get better with age. (She prefers them best after 2 or 3 days.)

Ingredients

Granola Jam

1 cup (80 grams) dried apples

1 cup (160 grams) dried cranberries

1 cup (160 grams) dried apricots

½ cup (70 grams) granulated sugar

2 cups (480 grams) water

Crust and Crumble

1 cup (100 grams) walnut halves

1 ¾ cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups (150 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick cooking)

2/3 cup (150 grams) packed light brown sugar

2/3 cup (80 grams) sweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 to 10 pieces

6 Tablespoons (128 grams) honey

3 Tablespoons flaxseeds (or Chia seeds)

3 Tablespoons sunflower seeds

3 Tablespoons millet

Directions

To make the jam: In a medium saucepan, combine the apples, cranberries, apricots, granulated sugar, and water and bring to boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let sit for about 1 hour. Transfer to a food processor and pulse 8 to 10 times, or until a chunky jam forms. (The jam can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted and fragrant. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Leave the oven set at 350 degrees F. Line a 9-by-13 inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In the food processor, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, coconut, walnuts, salt, cinnamon, and butter and pulse about 15 times, or until the mixture is evenly combined. Dump the mixture into a medium bowl and drizzle the honey on top. Work in the honey with your hands until the mixture comes together.

Press about two-thirds of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Place the remaining one-third of the mixture in the refrigerator.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until light golden brown throughout. Remove the pan from the oven, spoon the granola jam on top, and spread in an even layer with the spoon or rubber spatula, covering the surface. Remove the reserved granola mixture from the refrigerator, and break it up with your fingers into a small bowl. Add the flaxseeds (or chia seeds), sunflower seeds and millet and stir to combine. Sprinkle the mixture, like a crumb topping, evenly over the jam.

Return the pan to the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 2 to 3 hours, or until cool enough to hold its shape when cut. Cut into 12 bars.

The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Ba-na-na-na

Last week, I bought bananas. As a general rule, I don’t buy the yellow fruit. I used to buy them for Rich so he could enjoy them with his bowl of cereal in the morning, but at some point last year he let me know that he actually doesn’t care much for them. I like them well enough, but it really does bother me to eat a piece of food that’s traveled such a long distance to get to me. You know how I am about even the delicious mango. And then there’s the socio-economic issues: low wages and heavy chemical use in the industry, to say nothing of the history monopolies, colonialism and union busting. (If you’re interested in learning more about it, Peter Chapman wrote a very good book about the history of the United Fruit Company, the largest banana supplier in the world.) And don’t even get me started on the waning Cavendish.

But last week was my mom’s birthday, and this past summer I discovered a banana bread she absolutely adores. She, like me and my sister, doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth; we’re much happier eating baba ghanoush on challah for breakfast than challah French toast. So when I took my parents to Flour bakery for a little snack after a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum over the summer, Mom ordered the banana bread, noting it was one of her favorite baked goods — sweet but not too sweet, moist and soft but still sturdy. And she loved it, proclaiming it the best banana bread she’d ever had. A perfect afternoon snack, — or, in my mom’s case, a perfect birthday cake.

So on Sunday, I bought yellow bananas. I set them on the counter until they ripened to mottled, baked-good-worthy status by Wednesday night, just in time to make the bread and mail it for Mom’s birthday on Monday.

This recipe calls for a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. I had two slightly smaller sized loaf pans, so I filled one pan about ¾ high, and baked the leftover ¼ in the other loaf pan for us to munch on. Side by side, they reminded me of the movie Twins; mom got the Arnold loaf and we kept Danny DeVito to munch on.

Although the recipe calls for two tablespoons of sour cream or crème fraîche, I used Greek yogurt instead. I toasted the nuts for about 8 minutes in my toaster oven set at 350 degrees. Keep an eye on the nuts as they go from perfectly toasted to burnt in a matter of 30 seconds.

Special note: My friend Tania tipped me off to these equal exchange bananas so I don’t have to fret about my bananas when I do buy them.

Flour’s Famous Banana Bread from Joanne Chang’sflour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

Makes one 9-inch loaf

Ingredients

1 ½ cups (210 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (230 grams) sugar

2 eggs

½ cup (100 grams) canola oil

3 ½ very ripe, medium bananas, peeled and mashed (1 1/3 cups mashed/about 340 grams)

2 Tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream (I used Greek yogurt and had no ill-effects)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup (75 grams) walnut halves, toasted and chopped

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. (If you use a handheld mixer, this same step will take about 8 minutes.)

On a low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Don’t pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn’t deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding it should take about 1 minute. Add the bananas, crème fraîche, and vanilla and continue to mix on low speed just until combined.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and the nuts just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible, and the nuts should be evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 1 to 1 ¼ hours, or until golden brown on top and the center springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, it needs to bake a little longer. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, and then pop it out of the pan to finish cooling.

The banana bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. Or, it can be well wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 2 weeks; thaw overnight at room temperature for serving.