Coconut Cupcakes (+ Xylitol!)

Thank you all so much for your congratulations and excitement on the last post! I told Tim, getting engaged feels like this giant burst of love from everyone who’s known you—and even some that haven’t. Thanks for sharing in our joy, every one of you. You are the best part of blogging.

And speaking of the best parts of food blogging, let me tell you about another one: namely, getting exposed to new and interesting ingredients—like Xyla (Xylitol), for example, the alternative sweetener I used in today’s coconut-packed cupcakes.

xylitol

Before an email from Xylitol USA found its way into my inbox a few weeks ago, I had heard a little bit about this “un-sugar.” I knew it was popular in chewing gums, but, actually, it turns out it’s been used in the dental field for more than sixty years, praised for its plaque- and cavity- fighting abilities, as well as power to fight demineralization of tooth enamel and mouth infections.

Even beyond dental benefits, Xyla has a long list of selling points, according to its sellers: way lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar (it’s like a 3 compared to 100) so it hits your body differently in terms of insulin, anti-aging properties, helps prevent ear infections, fights bacteria, increases absorption of B vitamins, aids in weight loss, inhibits harmful yeast. What’s more, Xylitol is said to be all-natural, derived from certain fibrous vegetables and fruit—or, like what Xylitol USA sells, from birch trees.

On the other hand, some research suggests there are dangers associated with this sweetener: an article in Natural News pointed out that not all Xylitol is created equal, as “one commonly used source is corn imported from China”—which then needs to be highly processed before consumption, making it a far cry from all natural. It’s really pretty interesting to read about Xyla; it’s been getting more and more buzz, with all kinds of mixed opinions floating around.

one cup of xylitol

Since Xylitol USA’s product comes directly from birch trees (a change made as recently as last year), I feel a little more comfortable using it in baking, where it’s supposed to be a one-to-one swap for sugar, behaving, looking, and tasting almost exactly like it.

So when, last week, I was in the mood for a cupcake loaded with coconut (we’re talking coconut milk, coconut oil, shredded coconut; coconut in the cake, coconut in the frosting), I pulled out the Xylitol to give it a shot as the sweetener to make it happen.

three eggs

Just to make sure I was giving you a fair assessment, I had at least seven people taste these cupcakes, quizzing them on level of sweetness, weird after-tastes, anything that stood out to them. The verdict? Xyla is a definite win.

One person thought the cupcakes had a very slight metal taste; a few of us thought they were powerfully sweet (but then, not eating regular sugar can affect your sensitivity to these things); but overall, these cupcakes were deemed delicious desserts. I will also add that since I used whole-grain spelt flour, they had a dense quality that’s hard to get away from with alternative flours.

coconut cupcakes

So would I use Xylitol again? Maybe. It’s hard to find in stores, so the Internet would be the only way to get it (XylitolUSA.com is actually offering a discount code for Food Loves Writing readers: 10% off with code FIRST).

cupcakes in container

I liked the way it tasted and I liked the fact that it’s a natural substitute for sugar—especially one that is so much lower on the glycemic index. Nonetheless, I’d like to do some more research before feeling confident.

So what about you: Have you ever used Xylitol? Know anything about it? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions, as well as any interesting research you find!

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Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have been waiting a long time to tell you about these cookies.

buckwheat chocolate chip cookies

They first came to me last spring, in one of the earliest emails exchanged between here and Nashville.

Then came summer, fall, winter and a move to Tennessee.

Before long, here we were in the heart of spring again, evidenced all around us by green grass and blooming flowers, powerful thunderstorms and days of rain (and I mean that whether I’m at home in the South or at home visiting Chicago—which I’ve already done twice this month, and, I know, I know, but for good reasons, I promise).

Anyway, every year I remember again how much I love this time of year and the way buds poke out of branches, the way life comes out of the ground again. It’s the kind of thing that makes me want to pull out my camera, except for a small problem I’ve also been meaning to tell you about: somewhere in the midst of the move, I lost my camera’s battery charger, and when I ordered a replacement, it practically caught on fire when I plugged it in. So while I wait for a replacement replacement, now seems a perfect time to pull these buckwheat chocolate chip cookies out of hibernation.

Not only are they nutritious, but they’re something special in terms of taste and texture: cake-like and soft, but with a little crispness around the edges, riddled with bits of dark chocolate and that unmistakable bite of buckwheat.

holding buckwheat chocolate chip cookies

Plus, at least for me and my memories, they’re decidedly spring—a welcome attribute these days, while I watch the world come to life without a camera to share it with you, but with instead with just these cookies—something almost better.

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Orange Crostatas

orange crostatas

I can’t believe it was almost a month ago already that I clicked through my Google Reader, the way I do most afternoons, and saw these gorgeous blood orange crostatas. We made them the following weekend, for our weekly Sunday dinner with friends, and had just enough so every person got one crostata, alongside homemade vanilla ice cream. But then what happened?

I say I can’t believe it was almost a month ago already because, honestly, I don’t know where the days have gone between then and now. I mean, I know—into work, into buying furniture, into daytrips to Chattanooga and long weekends like this last one that I spent back home in Chicago for a wedding and to see my family again. But it’s just that the time is getting away from me! I’m blogging less, I’m taking fewer pictures (sad fact: I lost my camera charger; good news: a new one is in the mail), I’m looking at the calendar and going, I’ve lived here for two months? What?

palm sugar

So before another month disappears, I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you about a new ingredient I’ve introduced into my pantry, especially because it’s an ingredient I’m really excited about in terms of a sugar substitute: palm sugar.

chopping up palm sugar

Rich in nutrients like potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6, palm sugar looks and behaves almost exactly like regular sugar, but it’s lower on the glycemic index (so it absorbs into the blood stream slower) and is totally natural and unrefined. Like the name suggests, it comes from palm trees—several different types of palm trees, meaning there are different types of palm sugar.

I’ve found blonde coconut palm sugar at Whole Foods, all broken up and packaged in neat bags. But it’s also available at international or Asian food marts, which is where I first bought some. At these stores, you’ll find it in a large, hard sphere that is tough to crack but significantly lower in price. With a big knife and some muscle (note who’s doing the hard work in the photo above), you can turn it into the granules we’re more used to seeing as sugar.

oranges for crostatas

oranges for crostatas

In the days since those crostatas, I’ve had two kinds of cookies with palm sugar, including another batch of the ones we like in ice cream sandwiches. In each case, this sweetener behaves beautifully, giving you the right texture and strong sweetness that is hard to find in sugar substitutes. What’s more, unlike Sucanat with its distinct molasses flavor, the flavor of palm sugar is virtually indistinguishable in recipes.

making crostata dough

But back to the crostatas: for the most part, we stuck close to The Kitchn’s original recipe, just substituting the flour and sugar for nutritional reasons and then the mascarpone and almond extract for convenience. The dough was probably my favorite part: kind of like good strudel dough, it was very easy to work with, soft and pliable, great for stretching into rustic shapes and folding over fruit and cheese. Next time, I’d definitely try a different fruit, maybe berries, because while the oranges tasted great here when cold, they were kind of bitter fresh out of the oven.

And honestly, if you’re going to make a crostata, don’t you want to eat it a la mode? I thought so.

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