Flirting with Flavour


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Pickin’ up pawpaws, put ’em in your pocket…

A couple of weeks ago, while at the annual Anniversary Weekend of the mosque where I went to pre-school, I tried pawpaw fruit for the first time.  The mosque has a farm where they grow a number of different fruits and vegetables.  And as I wandering around, I stopped to admire (hungrily, I might add) the apples that had been brought in from the farm.  In a small wicker basket on the edge of the table with the apples, were a fruit that I thought might be some kind of mango or papaya.  Unsure, I asked what they were.  “Pawpaws”, came the reply.

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Pickin up pawpaws, put ‘em in your pocket… A familiar, yet unfamiliar, tune made its way into my head.  Please tell me you also remember this nursery rhyme from your childhood?!

Upon asking a few more questions (and a couple google searches), I found out that pawpaw trees are native to the north east of the United States and are absolutely not related to papaya, which occasionally are given the nickname pawpaw.  They do, however, taste very tropical, a bit like a banana crossed with a mango and a hint of something that would make it the perfect accompaniment to a Piña Colada, and have the texture of papaya.  Their seeds are shaped like the stretched out pennies you can get as a souvenir at the zoo and there are lots of them, which make them a bit messy to eat.

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I had my first few bites of pawpaw and we threw ideas back and forth about what could be done with them, aside from eating them fresh – smoothies, curry, chilli, tea loaf, muffins, cookies, custard, were a few of the ones we came up with.  I did really like them fresh, but always one to leap at the chance to try new ingredients and recipes, I accepted the challenge to take 6 medium sized pawpaws and make something, anything, with them.  With my roadtrip to Maine coming up, I opted to make muffins, figuring they’d make a good snack for during the long ride.  The recipe I came up with, which is included below, is inspired by the pawpaw’s similarities to banana and the fall weather.  In order to get the puree, I washed, peeled, and de-seeded the pawpaws and then put the meat through a food processor for just 1-2 minutes, until I had a mashed-banana-like consistency.  The resulting muffin is really the perfect representation of autumnal spices.  For that reason, it would be a good accompaniment to a Thanksgiving brunch.  I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, but then again, until a few weeks ago neither had I ever tasted fresh pawpaw!  And, of course, these could be made using banana, mashed sweet potato, squash, or pumpkin, or anything you feel goes well with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger!

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Pawpaw Muffins
Yield: 22 muffins

Ingredients
Dry

2 ¾ cup flour (I used a mixture of spelt & white rye)
1 7/8 tsp cream of tartar
¾ tsp salt
1 1/8 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon (I use a Vietnamese cinnamon that I got through the King Arthur Flour website – I have never had such a fragrant cinnamon, even when I grate it myself)
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp each of allspice and ground ginger
Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut
1/3 cup mixed chocolate & cinnamon chips

Walnuts, roughly chopped (to sprinkle on top)

Wet

¼ cup vegetable oil
6 medium ripe pawpaws, pureed
5/8 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
Juice from ½ lemon
3 eggs

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375F (190C or 350F convection).  Line muffin cups.
  2. In a medium bowl mix together flour, cream of tartar, salt, baking soda, spices, and lemon zest
  3. In the bowl of a mixer (or use a hand mixer), whisk oil, pawpaw puree, and sugar on medium speed until well mixed and fluffy. Add lemon juice and the eggs one at a time. Combine.
  4. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix until just combined, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Remove bowl form mixer and fold in coconut and chocolate/cinnamon chips.
  5. Divide batter evenly into muffin cups. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes. (Mine cooked in 23 minutes in a convection oven at 350F.)


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London’s Best (mostly gluten free) Cupcakes

In honour of a certain person’s upcoming visit, I have decided to share my list of the top cupcakes in London with you all.  For those of you who, like me, have to stay away from either wheat or gluten, I hope this helps you take full advantage of all London’s many bakeries have to offer.  Only a couple years ago it was next to impossible to find gluten free cupcakes in this city.   I am happy to report that not only have they become more prevalent, they are also steadily increasing in quality, so you can actually find absolutely delicious (and regret-free) cupcakes, as well as many other baked goods!  Trust me, I know that feeling of jubilation that comes when you notice that single option among 20 in a coffee shop that you can eat.  Even if you’re not hungry, or it’s not the flavour you were craving, you’ll probably buy it (proof – I bought Caffe Nero‘s new rye carrot cake last weekend. It was actually pretty good… but that could be the joy of being able to buy a cafe treat speaking).  The cupcakes below warrant more than the surprise-buy, they deserve cupcake-specific trips, I promise!  And if a state of euphoria ensues, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you… 🙂

By the way – these are in no particular order.  Because most bakeries only do 1 gluten free option, where you go and which you choose will depend on your mood!

Primrose Bakery

Their Primrose Hill location is the original (and source of their name), but they now also have a small storefront in Covent Garden that is the perfect location for that sweet treat after (or before!) a long day of studying.  A deliciously dense flourless chocolate cake is available everyday and most days they also have a chocolate almond cake (sold by the slice) or cupcakes.  On some special occasions they switch it up and make some of their signature flavours with a gluten free base, such as rose!  I know I said these aren’t in any particular order, but Primrose is probably my favourite bakery in London.  For my birthday, B “surprised” me with a custom decorated chocolate almond cake.  It really is everything you could want in a chocolate cake.  Dark, dense, moist, and CHOCOLATY.  The almond gives the crumb a really nice texture and complements the dark chocolate beautifully.  I have snuck bites of their non-gluten free selections and would readily recommend them as well.  The violet cupcake was particularly special, with violet permeating the cake and the frosting.  I have really never had anything quite like it.

birthday cake from primrose bakery!

birthday cake from primrose bakery!

chocolate almond cupcake from primrose bakery

chocolate almond cupcake from primrose bakery

primrose bakery storefront in primrose hill

primrose bakery storefront in primrose hill

Hummingbird Bakery

Red velvet has been my favourite cupcake, since discovering Red Velvet Cupcakery with my aunt back in early 2009 (they remain, btw, my favourite cupcake shop).  I had yet to find one, though, that was gluten free, until last fall, that is, when P surprised me with a box of four of Hummingbird‘s gluten free red velvet cupcakes.  When I first saw the box I must admit I started running through all the various excuses I could make to not try one in front of him, fearing  they were probably regular cupcakes and while they looked gorgeous, I did not want to risk eating the wheat.  When P informed me that they were gluten free, a lot of jumping, screaming, and hugging ensued.  Yes, all for the cupcakes.  The frosting is a tad too sweet for me – they could do with making it more “cream-cheesy”, but they are delicious and certainly satisfy my craving for a good gluten free red velvet cupcake, when I don’t feel like baking them!  Hummingbird also sells vanilla cupcakes with either vanilla or chocolate frosting as part of their “made without” range.  And if you give them enough advance notice they’ll bake you pretty much anything special order.  Primrose (above) and Bea’s (below) do the same.

cakes in the window at hummingbird bakery in south kensington

cakes in the window at hummingbird bakery in south kensington

outside hummingbird bakery's south kensington shop

outside hummingbird bakery’s south kensington shop

Bea’s of Bloomsbury

One cloudy afternoon last September, after a long day of stressful and exhausting flat hunting, I convinced B & P to peak into the Bea’s on Theobald’s Rd.  I’d read about it, I said, but hadn’t had the opportunity to try anything from them yet.  We obviously ended up sitting down (a much needed break!) and I ordered their gluten free chocolate cupcake.  I have since had it numerous times as part of their full afternoon tea, which by the way, is definitely one of the best (and most fun) afternoon tea options in London.  One word – ganache.  The frosting on their chocolate cupcake is not just any old frosting, it is a deep, dark chocolate ganache.

afternoon tea at bea's of bloomsbury (st paul's)

afternoon tea at bea’s of bloomsbury (st paul’s)

The Freefrom Bakehouse

Considering my frequent visits to Borough Market and self-professed love for red velvet cupcakes, it is surprising that I did not try the Freefrom Bakehouse‘s red velvet cupcake sooner.  Boy am I glad I tried it now, though, instead of waiting until I was about to leave London.  Hummingbird’s is great (and available from their various locations every day), but theirs is the best I have had aside from Red Velvet Cupcakery’s in DC.  The frosting actually tastes like cream cheese (thank you!) and the cake, well it’s moist and the perfect median between dense and light crumb.  Best of all?  It does not taste like it’s gluten free!  All too often gluten free baked goods end up tasting grainy and like something is missing.  Well, it is.  Flour.  But none of the cakes, cookies, and other treats from Freefrom taste like that.  They all stand up on their own, indistinguishable from their flour-full counterparts.  It is well worth tracking down these guys at either Borough or any of the other markets and festivals they set up at.  And don’t wait as long as I did!  Go now!

Violet

I read about Violet (Claire Ptak, founder of Violet, worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley before moving to London) and stumbled upon it at the Broadway Market two years ago.  In that instance I took home a variety of their cupcakes/babycakes – salted caramel cupcake, chocolate cupcake, flourless chocolate babycake, almond and polenta rhubarb babycake – and was blown away.  I was subsequently inspired to make my own version of the almond polenta cake (it’s naturally gluten free!), though I still need to perfect that recipe.  It has taken me two years to get back to visit their stall at Broadway and this time I came away with their spelt and vegan chocolate cupcake with violet frosting.  Warning, this one is not gluten free (in fact, spelt has a higher gluten content than wheat flour does).  The spelt flour gives it a gentle nuttiness that compliments the dark chocolate cake, which is delightfully moist.  And the violet frosting, well, it’s perfectly sweet and somehow manages to stay way from the risk of seeming like you’re eating potpourri.  Then again, I would expect nothing less from a Chez Panisse alumna.  They are at Broadway Market every Saturday and their storefront on Wilton Way is open Tues-Sun.

selection of violet cakes

selection of violet cakes

violet cakes

violet cakes

almond + polenta rhubarb babycake

almond + polenta rhubarb babycake


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Avocado + Tomato Quinoa Salad

Flavours have a remarkable ability to evoke memories of people, places, events, feelings from times gone by, as well as hope for times to come.  We all have our comfort foods.  Have you ever stopped to think about why you find that macaroni & cheese so comforting?  Or that broccoli flatbread?  Or that special bar of Fazer chocolate?  Next time, think about it.  Chances are it subconsciously brings you back to some happy memory.  And sometimes it’s not such a subconscious choice – like my liberal use of tahini in the past few weeks, to bring my tastebuds back to sun-kissed Tel Aviv.

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bread fresh from the oven at lehamim bakery

Travelling with me usually turns into a food tour of whichever country, city, town I happen to be in.  However, since my last trip to Israel was for research, I made a conscious decision to not allow food to distract me.  I was there to work!  Now that does not mean that I suddenly practiced food tourism abstinence.  Can you imagine?  I certainly can’t.  Talk about food bringing you to happier places – in my opinion, a certain amount of food discovery is necessary for life!  That said, it doesn’t have to mean spending all day traipsing north, south, east, west, through various neighbourhoods and markets, sampling the best halva here, the best hummus there, and seeking out the best spices and fresh dates over there.  It can also happen through one of the simplest of foods – the sandwich.

What?  You say, the sandwich?  What could possibly be so novel about a sandwich that it satisfies my thirst for new flavours at every turn?  Well, delicious rye bread from Lehamim Bakery, a Tel Aviv stalwart, certainly helps.  Everything they turn out from their various locations across the city is delicious.  My favourite, though, is their flagship shop cum café on Rechov Ha’hashmona’im.  The atmosphere is electric with fresh baked goods produced 24 hours a day.  That’s right 24 hours a day, all week, except for Saturday.  A morning spent there chatting with friends and family over a coffee and almond croissant is hard to beat.  And best of all, they make a spelt challah and quite a few products that are 100% rye! 

lehamim almond croissant

lehamim’s almond croissant (with Y’s sneaking fingers!)

lehamim rugelach

oh and their rugelach are seriously to die for. just looking at them is making my mouth water!

So, yes, the first ingredient to a truly special sandwich is obviously the bread.  But what really transports the eater is the flavour combination, because it is something unique to each culture.  The particular combination that has been haunting me ever since Y first made me this sandwich is tomato, avocado, and tahini.  Tomato and avocado are delicious no matter what (although I didn’t always think so, as muchomonisia could tell you), but it is the tahini that transports it to the next level.  Tahini.  All it is is sesame paste and yet it has the power to take ordinary ingredients and make them exceptional.  Without tahini, for example, there would be no hummus or baba ghanoush!  And – there would be no sandwich!

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avocado + tomato quinoa salad w/ tahini

When I had to decide what to bring to a potluck dinner on Friday the answer was immediately obvious to me.  No, not the sandwich (which I have been eating practically every day since being back from Israel), but I would utilise the same flavour combination to make a delicious quinoa salad.  The result satisfied all my cravings and disappeared rather quickly from the dinner table, so I’d say it was a success! 

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avocado + tomato quinoa salad w/ tahini

Below is the recipe, so you can try it yourself.  Or, just top a slice of your favourite bread with some avocado and tomato and a drizzle of tahini to spice up your usual lunchtime sandwich.

 

Avocado + Tomato Quinoa Salad

Serves 4 as main or 6-8 as side

1½ cups quinoa
3 cups water
1 cube of low-sodium veg. stock
1½ avocados
2 tomatoes
¼ toasted almonds (optional)
2-3 TBSP tahini (start with less and add more to taste)
juice from ¼-½ of a lemon (start with less and add more to taste)

Method

Combine quinoa, water, and vegetable stock cube in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer until the quinoa has unfurled and the water is soaked up, about 15 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the bottom.

Remove the cooked quinoa to a bowl and allow to cool.  If you don’t have time to allow it to cool, it’s okay to skip this.

While the quinoa is cooling, cube the avocados and tomatoes.

Drizzle the tahini and lemon juice over the quinoa and mix well.  Taste to make sure the flavour is to your liking.  Add the avocado and tomato and almonds and mix again.