Judging by the tire tracks on my get-up-and-go and the fact that 66% of my children are back to school, I think the holidays are over.
That was some ride.
Eight years ago, I took that ride enormously pregnant, and at the end of the holidaze, had a large baby boy to show for it. So a birthday party features prominently among our holiday festivities now, but given the realities of the season does not always find me at my fresh and lovely best. When he was little, we could celebrate with a little party, just family and a friend or two, but now he is big and we can't. Sometimes we have a little family do on the day proper, and defer the big classmates party until the holiday dust has settled a little. The advantage is a week or two of planning, made possible by the clearing of the holiday decks. The other side of the delaying coin is that we turn the occasion into a weeks-long festival of birthday on top of the month that features Chanukah, Christmas, New Year's and other reasons for sugar and tape.
This year, I decided that the only way I could face the prospect of hosting a party was to sneak up on myself and provide myself hardly any notice that it was on the horizon. Notice breeds resistance, was my thinking. I was urged along in this strategy by the progeny's desire for a sledding party, and the copious (but not necessarily long-lived) amount of snow presently on the ground. Plus, a sledding party means you can have the whole thing outside. Uh-huh, that's right. NO HOUSE-CLEANING.
So let me take this as an opportunity to climb up on my soapbox and opine about baking for a mixed crowd. In general, I think trying to bake for a group of people who have very strict and not necessarily overlapping dietary restrictions is a boo-boo no-no of the highest order. Let's call it the Tofutti Principle. Did you ever try that stuff? Appalling. Don't approximate, is my rule; re-direct. It's a big mistake to try to create a cheesecake for vegans, or an croissant for the gluten-free, and heaven help you and your spatula if you must satisfy them both. Poach a pear, and serve it with sorbet, and the raw-foods dude can have his pear raw, and you don't end up with the tail-ends of several bags of weird flours in your cupboards, rudely flashing their price-tags and sell-by dates at you every time you see them.
But go ahead and try to look the sweet-cheeked second-graders in the eye and say, instead of the sparkly cupcakes the other children are enjoying, here is a nice poached pear I made for you. Alternatively, attempt to craft a persuasive argument for the birthday child that there will be just poached pears this year, because Matilda and Guinevere can't have cake. Not a simple matter. He does like a poached pear, but sometimes, one must bake.
I have trod miserably through the Quagmire of Expectation and Dismay that you yourself may access via any number of blogs for the ingredient-averse. This is the area of the map that leads directly to the Region Of Crippling Capital Outlay For Flours of Limited Relevance, and dumps you out on the Cape of No Hope. For birthdays and holidays and dinner parties in the murky past, I have produced numerous cakes of astonishing density and repulsiveness (dense! and yet runny!), and cookies that dissolved upon contact with the heat required to bake them. Do not even get me started on the topic of the $29 loaf of gluten-free overnight bread I was once persuaded to make, the worst-smelling and -tasting food I have ever been involved in producing. Hint: if all the comments say "this sounds great! can't wait to make it!" then move on. You want some "I made this and it was edible"-type action before you commit. A little "way too much gravlax in this for my taste! And I had to double the pickles!" tells you that test-driving has taken place.
So any recommendation I give you is backed with the guarantee that I can usually recognize a foul waste of oven time at thirty paces. Against your future need to entertain the GF, the SCD, the cavemen, the nut-free and the vegan, here are a cupcake (that works beautifully as a muffin) and a cookie that can pass.
Or there are always pears.
adapted from The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen
1 1/2 cups teff flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour or arrowroot powder
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons finely-grated fresh ginger (or increase the dry ginger by another teaspoon)
1 cup prunes
1 cup very hot water
2 tablespoons ground chia seeds, or 1.5 tablespoons whole
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola or coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease (or line with paper liners) a 12-cup muffin pan. Put the prunes, hot water, and ground chia into a blender and let soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Whisk the dry ingredients together and set aside.
Add the applesauce, oil, maple syrup, molasses, and vanilla to the blender and purée until very smooth. Pour into dry ingredients and whisk together until combined.
Spoon batter into muffin pan. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the tops are set and spring back when pressed.
Roll 'em Out Cookies
adapted from Amy Layne
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 t baking soda
pinch of salt
Heat oven to 350, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until a ball of dough forms on the blade. Plop the dough ball between two sheets of wax paper, flatten, and chill until quite firm.
Roll the dough out and cut with a cookie cutter. Bake on the prepared sheet until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Using a large, thin spatula, gently transfer cookies to a cooling rack and let cool.
As for decorating, the Cookie Fairy sent us a giant box of these awesome sprinkles for Christmas. We glued them to the cupcake/muffins with a frosting made from Earth Balance, Spectrum shortening, maple cream and cinnamon; and to the cookies with a few T of sifted powdered sugar mixed with enough lemon juice (and a drop of vanilla) to make a spreadable paste.