Savoury Muffins

We’ve been having a little bit of an unintentional summer vacation from blogging – busy times but in a totally good way: we’ve been spending a lot of time in summer cottages and not that much time in the kitchen, and that’s about to continue for a while. Anyhow, this is a simple recipe that came together quite quickly when I wanted to make a salty evening snack. These were my first savoury muffins and they came out deliciously. I’m already thinking of a number of variations – with chopped nuts, seeds, and different spice combos. These would be quite perfect for a summer picnic I think!

savoury_muffins

I recently found a wonderful organic smoked rye flour. It’s called riihikuiva which means barn-dried in Finnish, and has an amazingly deep and rich smokey flavor. If there’s no smoked flour available, I bet a pinch of smoked paprika with regular rye flour would work just as well. We served these muffins plain, hot from the oven with our evening tea, and I bet muffin halves spread with some vegan cream cheese would be pretty tasty as well.

Dry Mix:

  • 2 dl white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 dl smoked rye flour (or another smoked flour, or medium rye flour)
  • 1/2 dl oat bran
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar (muscovado)
  • 1 teaspoon each: salt, dried basil, chilli flakes

Wet Mix:

  • 1 and 3/4 dl plain unsweetened soy yoghurt
  • 3/4 dl cold-pressed sunflower oil (or olive oil)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 dl water
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed

Add-ins:

  • 15 kalamata olives, chopped
  • 3 sundried tomatoes in oil, rinsed and chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 spring onion, sliced

I first preheated the oven to 200 degrees Celsius and sprayed 8 muffins cups with olive oil.

I stirred together the wet and dry mixes in separate bowls and then combined the two, being careful not to overmix. I had to add a tablespoon or so more water because the batter was too dry, but this always depends – it’s best to start with 1/2 dl water and add more as needed. I folded in the olives, sundried tomatoes and capers, and spooned the batter in the muffin cups. Then I sprinkled the muffins with some onion slices, and baked them for 17 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin came out clean.

Cashew Butter Dip with Carrots

Roasted cashew butter is sweet and toasty, a very nice ingredient in both sweet baking and savory cooking. This carrot dip I make has just a few ingredients in addition to the nut butter: soy sauce, brown rice vinegar, and water. Our cashew butter has no salt (actually it only has cashews and nothing else) so the soy sauce adds some of that, and goes so very well with the tangy rice vinegar. This dip has an intense flavor that is best served with carrot sticks, but other crudités like cucumber and cauliflower have been tried and approved.

cashew_dip

The recipe makes enough for three huge carrots cut into sticks – it might seem like there’s not enough dip, but there is. Since the flavor is pretty intense, I wouldn’t consider this a party food. I think this is best enjoyed as a snack, or maybe a light meal for the rare warm summer days when we don’t feel like staying in the kitchen for more than five minutes. I’ve also made this dip with natural peanut butter and that’s all good, but the cashew magic makes it super delicious.

The Dip:

  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons natural roasted cashew butter
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

I just stir everything together with a fork until smooth and serve with a pile of carrot sticks.

Cayenne Nut Squares

We really loved these spicy treats: they are simple to make and packed with flavor. Somehow the addition of chili in sweet things makes them more satisfying, and a smaller bite is needed to satisfy my sweet tooth – the advantage being that one batch lasts longer. And these treats actually even improved in the fridge!

cayenne_nutty_squares

There’s only enough batter there to keep things together, letting all the nutty goodness really shine. We munched on these from the fridge for more than a week and the flavors just kept on getting better. I used a cayenne-flavored dark chocolate for the topping, but regular would be fine – maybe sprinkled with a bit of extra cayenne for more spicy kick. I also used whole cane sugar and agave as sweeteners, but to simplify things I’m sure using just one or the other would work as well.

Here’s what I used:

  • 2 and 1/2 dl assorted nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and almonds)
  • 1 dl raw coconut flakes
  • 1/2 dl chick pea flour (gram or besan)
  • 1/2 dl whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 dl coconut oil in room temperature
  • 1/2 dl whole cane sugar
  • 2 and 1/2 tablespoons agave syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy yoghurt
  • 60 grams (cayenne-flavored) dark chocolate, chopped

First, I preheated the oven to 175 degrees Celsius, covered my baking dish with parchment paper, and sprayed it with a bit of olive oil. I also chopped the nuts and the chocolate – the nuts quite coarsely, dividing them only in 2-3 pieces each.

To make the batter, I mixed the dry ingredients except nuts and coconut flakes (chickpea flour through cayenne) in one bowl, and the wet ingredients (coconut oil through soy yogurt) in another. Now I poured the dry into wet and stirred with a fork just enough to mix. Then I poured nuts and coconut flakes in the batter bowl and stirred until they were evenly coated with the batter. There should be just enough batter to coat.

Now I spread the mixture in the baking dish and baked the squares for 15 minutes, until nicely browned. I turned down the heat in the oven, sprinkled the chocolate evenly over the nutty layer, and then placed the baking dish back in the oven for 1 minute to melt the chocolate. I removed the dish from the oven and spread the chocolate evenly with a butter knife, then let the whole thing come to room temperature, and refrigerated for a few hours before cutting into small squares with a sharp, unserrated knife.

Finnish Rye Bread

Finnish rye bread is dense and dark and sour, and as biased as I am, I must say it’s easily my favorite bread in the whole world. I always used to think that it’s hard to make, but as it turns out the process isn’t complicated at all – you just need to know what you’re aiming at. Finnish rye bread shouldn’t involve much more than three ingrdients: rye flour, salt, and water, and apart from those all it takes is a sourdough starter and a bit of time and patience. Some say the starter should only have rye flour and water as ingredients, but I used a few slices of stale rye bread to speed up the process and that worked beautifully. Of course, the best bread to be used in a starter is Finnish rye bread that only has those three ingredients: rye flour, salt, and water – I used a very sour organic rye bread from the Samsara bakery that we like a lot.

finnish_rye_bread

There’s great regional variation in Finnish rye breads, and big emotions are involved when people start to explain why the baking should be done in a certain way. No one in my family used to bake rye bread, so this recipe is a combination of many I found online and in cookbooks – mainly one great little book called Suomen maakuntaleivät (Finnish Regional Breads) by a Finnish celebrity cook from the eighties, Jaakko Kolmonen. I checked it out form the library, but he also now has his own website, where you can buy copies of all his cookbooks that are still in print. The banner picture with him smiling and hugging a cute little piglet does creep me out a little bit, but his bread book is quite amazing – it’s filled with a variety of regional recipes, and the author has travelled around the country, interviewing and observing bakers in their own homes.

The Rye Sourdough Starter:

  • 3 slices of good Finnish rye bread
  • 10 dl luke warm water
  • about 500 grams or 8 dl rye flour (medium)

I cut the crust off the bread, and crumbled the insides into the water. Then I let them dilute, added the flour, and stirred it in. I covered the bowl with some plastic wrap and poked a few air vents in the plastic.

Now I let the starter sit in a warm place, in room temperature, for about 22 hours. I whisked it briskly every now and then, maybe about five times all and all, and covered again after each time. It was all bubbly and foamy when it was ready, and smelled a bit sour and sweet.

The starter can be developed further for up to another 24 hours, which would most likely make it even more sour. The traditional way is to leave some dough on the sides of the wooden mixing bowl, let it dry, and just add the water and flour in the bowl to wake up the starter when needed. Some food scientists say only freshly milled flour works in a sourdough starter, but I just used what we had in the cupboard and it worked fine. Now if Finnish rye bread isn’t available, I don’t see why any kind of sourdough starter wouldn’t do just as well.

The Bread:

  • about 1 kg or 16 dl rye flour (medium)
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 dl warm water
  • the rye sourdough starter

When the starter was ready I mixed it with the salt and the warm water, and then kneaded in the flour a little by little. I kneaded until the dough was still soft but seemed workable. Rye flour isn’t very glutinous and the dough is bound to remain sticky, but that’s how it should be – the coarser the flour, the softer the dough, as Onerva Niilola explained in Kolmonen’s book. I reserved a piece of the dough about the size of my fist and froze it to be used as a starter the next time I bake rye bread.

Now I let the dough rise in a warm place for 4 hours, in two separate bowls that were covered with clean kitchen towels, until it had just about doubled in size. Then I divided the dough in three equal portions and lightly kneaded them a few times with floured hands until slightly firmer to the touch. I shaped the pieces into three round loaves with well floured hands on a well floured working surface and let them rise, covered with kitchen towels, for about 2 hours more until the surface started to crack. These round loaves are called limppu in Finnish.

Before baking the breads I made a few slits on the surface of the bread, but this isn’t traditional – the breads are usually just poked with the spikes of a fork here and there. I just think the slits are pretty, and I like how they offer a peek inside the bread.

I baked one bread at a time, in 200 degrees Celsius for 50 to 60 minutes, until the crust had browned and the bread sounded hollow when tapped on the bottom. Then I wrapped them tightly in kitchen towels and let the crusts soften overnight. The bread should be moist but well baked in the center, and it’s at its best a few days after baking. We store our rye bread in paper bags – with time it dries a bit and is easier to slice thinly.

Wild Vegetables

Two weeks ago we spent a four-day holiday at the cottage. How nice it is to be in the countryside in May, when the Finnish nature slowly wakes up! There were a lot of edible plants in the vicinity of the cottage that I picked every day to be used in salads and eaten as side dishes. I really like the taste of wild veggies: they have this rough edge in their aroma which none of the garden vegetables have, and I think they taste like spring. Here are some photos of the plants we used, and some brief comments on how we used them.

dandelion

Dandelion, pictured above, is a wild veggie classic, but sadly not held in very high esteem in Finland. I think it tastes a lot like arugula. We ate the leaves almost every day in salads with a vinaigrette sauce.

piharatamo

Greater plantain is widely know in Finland to be a plant with medicinal properties. I remember my parents making a plantain poultice to treat a cut I got at the cottage when I was a child. The leaves are also a great, milder tasting addition to salads.

maitohorsma

Fireweed is a delicious wild vegetable that can be used like asparagus or water spinach. It’s best used when the stalks are between 10 and 20 centimeters. We ate it on two separate occasions. The first time we steamed them and ate with olive oil and salt, and the second time I fried them in a pan and added garlic and soy sauce.

poimulehti

Lady’s mantle is a family of plants of which all the species are edible. The umbrella-like leaves were quite mild tasting, and we used them in salads with a vinaigrette sauce. Supposedly they go well in soups too.

peltokanankaali

Winter cress (Barbarea vulgaris) is an excellent but little known wild veggie. It’s name probably comes from the fact that its rosette stays green all through the winter. Its buds and uppermost leaves are used like broccoli. We fried them in oil together with some fireweed. This is what the buds looked like when I picked them:

peltokanankaalin_nuppu

Most of the wild veggies are best eaten in early spring, because their taste gets more bitter into the summer. It’s a short, very special season, which makes me think about the time before greenhouses and imported vegetables. Last spring we made a nettle casserole and a goutweed soup, this spring it was mostly salads. Also, check out the pesto Goddess of Cake made from goutweed.

Before gathering wild veggies, you’ll need a guide or a guidebook. For use in the Nordic countries, I recommend the book by Pelle Holmberg, Marie-Louise Eklöf and Anders Pedersen called Mauste- ja terveyskasvit luonnossa (2009), or Vanliga vilda växter till mat, krydda, hälso- och kroppsvård (2007) in Swedish. It has great photos of the plants, making it easy to identify them, and also  information about their medicinal properties.