Berry Coffee Cake with Almond Topping

The weather outside is trouble. Hail and flooding rains attacking the garden, the same little plants that witnessed the heavy, steady, and unwelcome snow last week. Just a few days ago we enjoyed 70 degree radiant afternoons, tilling the ground and watching the pea plants grow and the lettuce beds populate. 

I’ve had enough. Winter, you had your chance, it’s spring! It’s May, and even the grass is tired of you. 

I’m ready for color explosions from poppies, columbines, calendula and chamomile flowers. I’m itching to plant tomatoes, peppers, beans and sunflowers; and for long evenings sitting on the patio with a chilled glass of anything, preferably a rosé but at this point i’ll take anything over a hot tea. 

To undermine the rude and constant interruption of spring, I made one of my favorite coffee cakes, fresh berries with almond topping. 


I first made this recipe a decade ago when I was working at the museum, it worked great for afternoon tea and coffee gatherings that didn’t require highly stylized desserts, but called for delicious and comforting baked goods. 

I found this recipe in the book from a once iconic bakeshop and cafe in New York City, Once Upon Tart. The shop still exist, but more as a staple of the SoHo neighborhood rather than the groundbreaking shop I, once, longed to visit. A clear representation of how quickly food businesses can go out of style and replaced by trendy, hipster new spots. 

This book remains one of my favorite cookbooks, even after a decade of paging through it and splattering vanilla extract and buttermilk on it. It’s full of tips and ideas on everything from simple salads and soups, to cozy baked goods, plus I like to read the headnotes that tell the story of each item. I like context when I read and cook a recipe, especially as I dive deeper into food as a cultural glue of people.  

The head note for this recipe says, “This is not your average coffee cake,” and I agree. I’m not a fan of coffee cakes because they tend to be too sweet, just cake with little fruit. This one is packed with berries on each bite, and it is the only coffee cake I ever make. I follow their advise in the fall and make it with apples, which are delicious with the almond topping and an added dash of cinnamon. 


I’m following the original recipe as spring calls for berries, well not in Colorado. Berries are available from California this time of the year, where crazy snow and hail are reserved for mountain tops. Here in Colorado, we don’t see strawberries until mid June, if the weather doesn’t destroy crops, but until then California fruit will have to do. 

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Whole Grain Banana-Chocolate Bundt cakes

Once in a while the grocery store where I shop has ‘brownish’ bananas on sale, as it happened a couple of weeks ago, so I buy enough to make a few loaves of banana bread.

The desperate look of the in-need-of-a-home bananas brakes me every time and I end up sheltering more than enough to make the usual banana bread, plus some other quick bread variation that I could serve for afternoon tea or even dinner; banana-chocolate bread baked in mini bundt pans fools anyone into thinking is dessert.


The whole wheat and rye flours hide behind the dark {extra-brut} cocoa powder and the chunks of 68% chocolate giving it a sense of indulgence, plus lowering the sugar allows the chocolate flavor to shine and support the bananas as the first act.


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Upside-Down Applesauce Bread with Honey-Ginger Pear Topping

The warm weather has prompted me to work on the garden beds and prepare them for the season ahead. I’m still kicking myself for not had at least tried to overwinter some carrots, sunchokes or something from the onion family, at least for some green tones on the overly brown landscape.

Our yard is big and clumsy. A couple trees and a lot of dried grass, and on a corner, close to the house, the garden I started last year.

This year I’m resolved to expand, to grow more vegetables, to plant a fruit tree, maybe plum since we receive boxes of peaches and apples from a CSA with Ela Family Farm,  and get a few egg-laying chickens.

I have so many questions like, what does one do with them during the winter? How do I keep them safe from the coyotes? Mr. Miles is happy to help, but at his age he spends more time sleeping than guarding the yard. Also, what to do when we go on holiday? That was actually my husband’s biggest worry, and I wonder how many people may need chicken daycare these days {now, that’s the business (!)}.

Another friend told us that she’s never had problems finding friends to care for the chicks, “People love to take care of my chickens, they know they’ll get the best eggs as reward,” she said. That was the last push the boy needed to say yes to the idea of rummaging birds in the backyard.


While the season in Colorado gets on its way, I scavenge the grocery store for produce somewhat closer to us. If I take my experience as a traveler, I can attest that after traveling for days I’m tired, grumpy and most likely not all that tasty. So, I prefer a pear that comes from say, Oregon, than a plum that comes from Chile. Nothing against Chileans, I have many Chilean friends and love them all, but I’ll stick with the pear.

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Poached Apple Muffins with Oat-Sunflower Seed Topping

The cold of winter inspires me to bring warmth into the kitchen, and what a better way than by poaching fruit. Apples’ delicate floral essence surfaces when poached, specially when paired with spices like cinnamon and vanilla, and a few strips of orange peel, creating the fragrant melody of a garden in bloom.

Back in my pastry days I used to poach apples and pears for tarts, to fill wedding cakes, or to serve alongside ice cream and a buttery cookie. At the restaurant, the first few tries were agonizing since we used a pot big enough for me to bathe in and the apples that stayed on the bottom for too long became mushy and unmanageable for slicing.

My boss used to say, whenever we (the pastry cooks) made big no-no’s, “Next time just put the money directly on the trash!” I had to find ways to use the apples to escape the wrath of the budget chat, and to avoid convincing myself that I was better at math than pastry.
The apples smelled and tasted just as good as the non-mushy ones so I pureed them and made a sweet and velvety applesauce perfect for breads and muffins, and to fill cakes – Ahhh! the little victories.

This week I poached a dozen apples, some to use in a cream tart and mini tartlets for a dinner party, and some to puree and make this muffin recipe.poached apple muffins with sunflower seeds

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Applesauce-Quinoa Bread

“No, I don’t eat fish unless I, or someone I know, caught it, I also don’t eat quinoa” Tammi said at dinner.

I had made applesauce-quinoa bread that day, had taken the photographs and was planning to write a post on the wonders of quinoa in your baked goods until Tammi planted the little quinoa seed and its problematic existence in my brain.

We were celebrating the first evening of Slow Meat in Denver with people from around the globe. Tammi is an American living in Australia raising pigs sustainably and humanly. She looked at me and said, “Hell, we are eating all the quinoa and the natives who depend on it are having a hard time affording it.

Why? Why did you have to say that?

I was happy when it didn’t occured to me that my healthy bread was a problem for a person thousands of miles away in the Andes Mountains, or is it?

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Banana-Oat and Rye Bread

I’m not a huge fan of banana bread, I often find it too sweet, dense and ‘bananay” {is that a word?} My husband loves banana bread, and even more when chocolate chips mysteriously make their way in it.

Lately, I have been playing around with flours I bought from a small mill called Carolina Ground, after reading an article about the difference between mass-produced, bleached, nutrition-less flours and those made from small batches of organic grains, stone-ground, cold milled and fully extracted.

I bought whole wheat bread and pastry flours, and whole rye flour. The article and the websites of the artisans who work with theses types of flours explained that this way of crushing the entire grain between stones at a temperature lower than 100 degrees, allows the oils and nutrients from the germ and the husk to rub against the endosperm resulting in a cream-colored flour. 
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Apple Dropped Scones + thoughts on living in the present

This weekend we had friends staying over for a night before they flew out to their new life in a land faraway. I’m terrible with goodbyes, ask you’ll see I’m not lying. Maybe I have learned over the years of loosing friends to ‘enchanting’ places like England, Jamaica, El Paso or Los Angeles, that friends are never lost, simply refiled. Yes, refiled. From ‘you lived next door to now you live across thousands of droplets of water, or millions of sand cubes.’

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