Wednesday, August 08, 2007

vegan muffins

with coconut, mango, & olallieberries

We felt very lucky when Didi Emmons, former chef at Pho Republique, Delux Cafe, and Veggie Planet, came on board at Haley House Bakery Cafe.

Soon after she joined, Didi invited me over for dinner to discuss some of the marketing and business planning work I had been doing for Haley House. I looked forward to the experience of eating in the home of a real chef, and when the day came, I arrived with a carefully chosen 7-Grain pullman from Iggy's Bread of the World.*

Didi introduced me to Henry her cat (for which one of her Veggie Planet pizzas is named). We stepped over her yoga mat and made our way to her kitchen, which was older, more cramped, and much more inviting than I would have expected for the work space of a chef. She returned to pulverizing walnuts with fresh arugula and parsley..."Pesto," she said, in between blasts of the processor.

"I always think pine nuts and basil when I think pesto," I said, trying to keep in step with a professional foodie.

"Walnuts are pretty fun to play around with." Didi shrugged and tasted the pesto. She paused in thought, then drizzled in some olive oil from a little green bottle.


Didi's spunky and creative approach towards cooking is one that has had great influence on me over the years. Didi cooks with an open mind, without judgment, driven by personal intuition, curiosity, and hunger.

Didi and I once had a conversation about muffin making. A baking instructor had taught me about the grave repercussions of over-mixing (over-developed gluten toughens your product and creates those unsightly air tunnels). We were encouraged to implement delicate muffin batter-folding techniques.

As I watched Didi make muffins one day, I inquired about her carefree mixing, and its implications for her gluten structure. She looked at me inquisitively, "I stop mixing when everything comes together." Then she poured the batter into pans and baked them into perfect little strawberry muffins, moist with a soft and crumbly texture.


So, back to California. Recently, twenty lovely friends joined me on an olallieberry picking expedition to Swanton Berry Farm in Pescadero, CA.

When we returned late in the afternoon with juice-stained hands, 30 pounds richer in ollalieberries, Johanna made cake, and Juliann made pies. Cowboy made pancakes. And I took out Didi's cookbook, flipped to "The World's Best Vegan Coffeecake", and, in the spirit of Didi, played around with the recipe until it suited my whimsy.

Vegan Muffins with Coconut, Mango, and Olallieberries
adapted from Didi Emmons' Entertaining for a Veggie Planet

1 cup almonds
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup dried coconut flakes
1 cup vanilla soy milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1 small mango, cut into small chunks
2 cups olallieberries (raspberries, blackberries, or boysenberries will also do fine)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line 12 standard muffin cups.
2. In a food processor, finely grind almonds. Transfer to a large bowl and add flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt and mix well. Mix in coconut.
3. Make a well in the center and add soy milk and canola oil. Stir until the mixture comes together.
4. Gently fold in mango and berries.
5. Divide the batter among muffin cups and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool in pan about 10 minutes.

I don't believe a non-vegan version could be any better. And I have to say, there is something extremely satisfying about eating food you picked from a bush.

*Note: The 7-Grain loaf has been a favorite of mine ever since my summer selling Iggy's bread at the Boston City Hall Farmers' Market. For those who don't know, Iggy's is to Boston as Acme Bread is to San Francisco.


wendy said...

Those look good. But the non-vegan me think that maybe they might possibly be tastier with butter. Slabs and slabs of butter.

Robert said...

Yes, Slabs of butter would be awesome. You should put the video of this creation under mealtoday group on viddler. They are giving out mad prizes:

Genevieve said...

OK! Clarification for Didi:
While Didi herself may have a sixth sense for when a batter has perfectly combined, when teaching at Haley House, she has to be particularly careful about cautioning trainees not to overmix. "Mixing JUST until it comes together and NO MORE is my mantra at HH."

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