Chocolate Pepitoria Cake

Choc Pumpkin Cake - Slice

I dedicate this post to Ellen, my celiac-stricken friend.

I saw this recipe on Whole Life Nutrition and had to make it right away. It contains an ingredient that has quickly become a favorite since moving to Guatemala, and I find any excuse to add to my meals, salads, and now desserts! This ingredient I speak of is pepita, or pumpkin seeds. It was used in a way I had never seen it before…as a replacement for wheat flour. First of all, I have rarely seen the seeds used in the U.S., especially not in their powdered form (known as pepitoria in Guatemala, and used to season fruits, to make stews, and even prepared as a juice); and I certainly had never heard of it being used for baking in place of flour. Can you imagine my excitement?!

Choc Pumpkin Cake - PepitasChoc Pumpkin Cake - Flour

I love the nutty flavor of pepita, but besides that, they are very nutritious — packed with omega-3 fatty acids and protein. And although it is good for you it has a substantial amount of fat and calories, much more than your average flour. So as a flour replacement it is quite heavy. However, I decided to give this recipe a try because it contains pretty much all good stuff: pumpkin seeds, coconut milk in place of much of the oil, and honey in place of much of the sugar.

Because the recipe doesn’t have flour, arrowroot is added to allow the same binding process to occur. At least that is how I understood it. I could not find arrowroot anywhere in Guatemala, even after asking my agricultural engineer suegro who knows everything there is to know about things that come from the earth. I researched some replacements and found that cornstarch, which is much less nutritious, might work as an alternative. So I used that. I also skimped a little on the oil, but I’m not sure that was a good idea.

So how did it turn out? To be honest, something went wrong with this batch. IMG_3158I’m not sure if it was because I did not use arrowroot, or because I skimped on the oil, both, or perhaps I’m just not a knowledgeable baker. It could be any of those things. The first cake I baked overflowed…oops (When making a full batch of something I have to make two small cakes because I use a toaster oven). I just filled the pan a little too full. And it was also deflated looking. I attributed the deflation in the first batch to the spilling over, but I’m not sure that was correct, because the second batch deflated as well. Sad…

But, despite its appearance, it tastes great! I love the nutty-chocolate flavor, and the cake was very moist. After tasting a piece from the first over-flowed batch, I decided to add a bit more sugar. It was delicious, but not all that sweet for what I was anticipating.  The recipe below contains that adjustment, however keep total sugar/honey to 2/3 a cup if you want to try the original recipe. Finally, the coconut milk was a genius addition. You can feel it in flavor and in the moist texture.

If this combination of ingredients intrigues you, I suggest give it a try. I really would recommend using arrowroot if you can find it. Try natural food stores, or whole foods, or even traditional grocers are getting fancy these days to compete.

Chocolate Pepitoria Cake

2 cups ground toasted pumpkin seeds
3/4 cup coco powder
1/4 cup arrowroot powder (I used cornstarch)
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
.25 teaspoons salt
1 cup coconut milk
3 eggs
2/3 cup honey
3 tablespoon natural cane sugar or brown sugar
1/4 cup butter or coconut oil

1. If you don’t have pumpkin seed flour, you can make your own. For two cups flour, toast 8 oz pumpkin seeds until they pop, about 3-4 minutes. Let them cool, and grind them in a coffee grinder.
2. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl, set aside.
3. Whisk together the wet ingredients, and then pour them into the dry ingredients whisking vigorously or use a hand mixer/blender.
4. Bake in deep dish cake pan, at least 9×9, at 350ºF for about 35-40 minutes, checking occationally. You don’t want it to spill over, now do you?


Cinnamon Babka

Cinnamon Babka - Baked

We don’t have a T.V. But trust me, it’s better that way. Can you imagine coming home at 4pm after 9 hours of working with screaming 7-year-olds who barely speak English? What do you think you would most likely do? Go for a run? Start on dinner? Sweep and mop? No. You go to the couch and either fall asleep or turn on the T.V. Lucky for me I can’t take naps, so I had no other option but be productive in some way. But I promise you all that if I had a T.V. I would turn to the most mindless show there was and zone out until dinner time…and because I hadn’t been preparing anything it would have been Pollo Campero and I would be wearing sweat pants within a month. I mean…can you imagine a Latino version of General Hospital and the men dressed in mariachi costumes? Its got to be addicting. Or better yet, Jerry Spring in Spanish. Just kidding…

Cinnamon Babka - Dough and SugarCinnamon Babka - Rolled up and oozing

But we do get our fill of T.V. shows. First it was Scrubs. We own all the seasons (all the seasons worth watching anyway…we don’t believe in Scrubs without J.D). We went through those in about 3 months. Then it was the Office Sporadically. I brought it from the U.S. last Christmas. We just had one season, and when it ended we searched in every Blockbuster in the city, and even checked with the street vendors who sell pirate copies. It was not to be found. I guess the average Guatemalan faces enough pain in their daily working lives that they don’t need to relive it at home. Then there were random episodes of Sledge Hammer (shout out to anyone who has actually heard of it!) and Coupling for a while. Then, after our last visit home, we became the proud owners of all 9 seasons os Seinfeld. It has been holding us over quite nicely, but, as we approach the end of season 6, I’m starting to get a little nervous about what we’ll do at the end. We can’t afford any more shows.

Cinnamon Babka - Twisted in panCinnamon Babka - Baked Close Up

We were watching Season 6, Eppisode 77 of Seinfeld, when “The Dinner Party” topic came up. Everyone is familiar with the commonly accepted social convention of bringing a bottle of wine or dessert if you have been invited for dinner to someones home. Elaine is explaining this to a begrudgingly stingy, and unemployed George, however he looses out and goes for the wine while Elaine and Jerry go for the dessert. As they walk to the local bakery, they decide on the Chocolate Babka – the ultimate of ultimate desserts. Upon entering the bakery they dart for the case to admire the pastry which will make them heroes of the party, but caught up in their fantasy they forget to take a number. As they kindly explain to a couple the clearly saw come in after them that it should be their number (logically…right? Because in New York people are that nice). Among negotiations they discover they are attending the very same dinner party. Unfortunately the couple doesn’t concede, proceed to order the last Chocolate Babka, and Elaine and Jerry arrive an hour late to the dinner party with the inferior Cinnamon Babka- with a hair on it nonetheless.

Cinnamon Babka - Sliced

This made me curious about the Babka. I’d never in my life heard of Babka, let alone had I tasted it, so the next day I Googled it. What I encountered was a decadent dessert with amounts of butter, chocolate, and sugar that I would never have the courage to bring into my home. However I really admired the technique of preparing the swirly loaf, and decided I could apply it to my favorite cinnamon rolls using my icebox roll dough recipe. So, in all reality this isn’t a Babka, chocolate or cinnamon. Perhpas it is inferior, as Elaine and her dinner party might judge. But the dough does not differ all that much. I doubled the butter and put 50% more sugar in the dough than my original recipe, to add slightly more richness. However this will remain a lighter dessert than any authentic Babka you will ever try. But thats how we like them here. A little sweet bread with our coffee after a filling meal. Feel free to search a traditional Babka recipe, be it chocolate or cinnamon. But if you want something slightly lighter, I encourage you to try this!

Cinnamon Babka (Makes 1 loaf)

1/2 a recipe icebox dough, prepared (or another prepared dough you like)
1 stick of unsalted butter, softened
1.5 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Grease a bread pan generously with butter and line with parchment if you have it. I never have it so I never use it. Just makes it easier to get out at the end. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

2. Mix together the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

3. Cut the dough in half. Set one half aside, and roll the other out into a large rectangle, as thin as you can without tearing the dough. Try to get it 1/8th an inch thick. Spread half of the butter on top the rolled out dough, leaving a 1/4 of an inch board on all sides. Sprinkle the 1 cup of the cinnamon sugar mixture on top, keeping the boarder.

4. Tightly roll up the dough, squeezing gently. Pinch the end of the roll together, and use some water if need be to keep it sealed.

5. This is the fun part! Twist the roll like you are wringing it out (but gently!) about 8 times around if you can. Press it gently to the workspace to secure it.

6. Now, at this point, notice the last picture I posted of the slice of babka. Notice that the center is rather bare? You don’t want it to have that empty-bready space in there, do you? You want it full of sugar and spice. I didn’t understand this step, so I skipped it, but if you want a really pretty and tasty slice, I recommend you do the following: on top of the left half of the twisted roll, spread some more butter, and sprinkle some more sugar. Fold the right half over it, press gently, then twist a few times around (you’ll probably just get two or three). Place in greased bread pan.

7. Bake at 350ºF for 50 or 60 minutes. If the top browns too quickly, cover with foil for the last 20 minutes or so.

Ginger-Spiked Yogurt Tart with Coconut-Sesamee Seed Crust

Ginger Tart - Baked with Toppings

I love ginger. It has been sitting at the top of my favorite things list for quite some time. My favorite tea which I drink nearly every night before bed, is ginger. And I love when I find recipes that allow me to use ginger in a new way. Growing up I have had ginger cake, ginger snaps, and ginger bread men – all utilizing dried and ground ginger. But the flavor of fresh ginger, and the extra zing it delivers, I find more satisfying than the dried spice. This light, delicate, yet simple tart really features the fresh flavor of the ginger root. Of course you can leave out the ginger and use berries or orange zest, but when you can get the health benefits of ginger in dessert that tastes like this, why would you?

Ginger Tart - Ginger WholeGinger Tart - Pressing Ginger

Ginger Tart - CrustGinger Tart - Baked Crust

And this tart is really simple. As simple as making chocolate chip cookies – and perhaps even simpler beacuase you only need to make one batch (or you can do a few tiny tartletts if you have the cute little scalloped-rim dishes. That would be adorable). Its as simple as smushing together the crust, whisking together the filling, and baking for a half hour or so. And you’ll know its done because the filling won’t jiggle. It’s as simple as that. I believe the mystery to those fancy desserts has been solved: they’re not really that tricky after all. At least not this one.

The filling is sweet, tangy, and spicy all at the same time, accompanied by a crisp and buttery coconut-sesame crust: I have to say the combination is divine. This recipe is easy to cut in half, so if you wanna do a trial run before you commit yourself to a giant pie, go for it.

Ginger Tart

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup toasted rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut, toasted
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
2 tablespoons honey
1 stick butter, chilled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
pinch of salt

Grease tart pan or pie pan. Pre-heat oven to 350ºF. Toast oats, sesame seeds, and coconut until golden, just about 3 minutes on high heat. Combine first all the dry ingredients. Combine the honey using a fork, and then add the butter, mashing with a fork until evenly combined. Press evenly into tart pan, making a 3/4 inch-high edge. Poke shallow holes into crust bottom. Bake for 5 minutes, and remove.

1 cup natural plain yogurt, strained through cheese cloth so thick
2 large eggs
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon lemon/lime/orange/grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon zest of lime or orange
1/4 cup ginger juice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (optional, for stronger taste)

To make ginger juice, simply peed a piece of fresh ginger. Grate it on your box grated on the small side. Place the grated ginger in a lime juicer to squeeze as much of the juice out as possible.

Whisk together all the ingredients until smooth. Fill into partially baked pie crust. Bake for about 35-40 minutes at 350ºF, or until center is set.

Blueberry Syrup – All Natural

Blueberry Syrup - Syrup

This is a no-brainer, and it takes almost no time, but its so beautiful and goes with so many things I couldn’t pass up posting it. On pancakes and waffles in place of the traditional maple syrup. On oatmeal or cereal. On Ice cream, or in smoothies. On yogurt (as pictured below) is unbelievable wonderful! Its so much more enjoyable to eat your own homemade yogurt with homemade blueberry sauce than to peel the foil off a Yoplait cup and toss out the packaging afterward. I’m making a tart tomorrow, and I plan to blend the blueberry syrup in the custard mixture in place of honey.

Blueberry Syrup - Yogurt

Blueberry Syrup

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1/4 cup water
1-2 tablespoons honey
Juice of 1/2 a lime


Blend with handmixer, blender, or food processor, the blueberries, water, and honey. Pour into pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occationally. Remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Keep in fridge up to a week, or in the freezer for a month.

Some people add arrowroot or cornstarch to their syrup to help it thicken, but I prefer the consistency a bit runnier, and it feels more natural to me. Feel free to stir in a tablespoon of either one of those thickening agents, but be careful not to let it clump. Remember that if you use cornstarch you cannot freeze this sauce.

“Red Velvet Cake”

Red Velvet Cake - Pouring batter

So, I’ll come clean from the start. The title is misleading. While it may appear to be a red velvet cake, with the red-tinted cake and the white frosting, it isn’t. It’s a beet cake. Yeah. I know. I but figured that no one would stop and read this if I titled it beet cake. At least not many of my family or friends. Perhaps I underestimate you. But anyway, I can do that, right? That’s not exactly false advertising…I’m not making any money here. (By the way, if anyone is interested in supporting a young passionate social worker living in Latin American about to accept a job that pays nothing and has no health benefits, you can contact me…just kidding!)

The thing is we had lots of beets we bought about a week ago. We like to support our local beet-farmer and personal friend, Dwight. But we got too many I guess. The other day I threw out a entire bunch of un-touched radish because it took a turn for the worse, and because I ruined the freezer when I was chiseling out the ice, our refrigerator functions more like a giant freezer and I lost all my lettuce as well. I didn’t want these babies to go to waste too. But last week…every.single. day… I ate one version or another of my beet and carrot salad. As much as I love beets, I didn’t want to choke another one down. This was a great (maybe…) solution. Plus think about it: beets were once used to make sugar in Europe before they learned to more efficiently exploit the cane, and the people, of Latin America. And its always nice to pack extra nutrients into our favorite dishes. So if you’re trying to sneak veggies into your child’s (or spouse’s) diet, perhaps this is one way.

Red Velvet Cake - ChocolateRed Velvet Cake - BeetsRed Velvet Cake - SliceRed Velvet Cake - Cream Cheese Frosting

I loosely based my recipe from one I found online, but I made many adjustments.

1. I cut the recipe in half because (a) I didn’t want too much cake sitting around, (b) I don’t have a pan that can hold more than 4 cups of batter, and (c) I had very low confidence in this recipe. I mean…a beet cake.

2. I used all the beets I had (three large) which made about 1 cup of puree — 1/4 of a cup more than called for.

3. I don’t like using too much butter or oil in my baked goods, so instead of the hefty half cup it asked for, I used a scant 1/4 cup and put in a 1/4 of a banana we had in the fridge. I didn’t want it to taste like banana, but it’s a good substitute for fats.

4. I almost trippled the amount of chocolate they used. Initially I mixed up a batch with twice the amount called for because the measly 1 oz looked like nothing compared to the amount of beets I was using, and when I tasted the batter it was way way way too beety for me. I’m a batter-taster, and I demand that the batter taste just as good as the cake. So I put in the rest of the chocolate I had, which was about 3 oz in total. I tasted it and it was much better. I did in fact lick the bowl clean, as I would normally do with anything I’m baking.

Red Velvet Cake - Enjoying a biteAnd the verdict? I couldn’t believe it. I had very little faith in this recipe to be honest. But it was honestly delicious. Every so often I found a bite that was slightly reminiscent of beets, however for the most part I could not tell at all. The color was mysteriously chocolaty. That batter was purple, I mean purple. But after baking it was hardly noticeable…however when I frosted it and let it sit for a while, the white turned fuchsia. So if you are trying to trick someone, maybe use a chocolate frosting.

The problem with this recipe is… why would you make it? It’s not much healthier (although I did cut the oil in half). You certainly could use apple sauce instead of any oil but it would sacrifice significantly in the flavor department. Its got loads of sugar (for my taste). I guess just if you have lots of extra beets lying around like me perhaps you’d give it a shot, or if you just wanna try something different. It was really really yummy, but to be honest if I want to make a chocolate cake for someone I think I would use a traditional recipe because its just as healthy as this one I suppose. Anyway, I’m glad I did it. It was new and a joyous surprise!

Mock Red Velvet Cake

3 large beets, cooked and pureed (about 1 cup puree, but you may use as little as 1/2 cup if you like)
3 oz bittersweet chocolate (melted and cooled. I actually used a bar of 71% cacao, cuz thats all I had. I bet anything semi-sweet to bitter would work).
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup butter, or coconut oil, or canola oil
1/4 – 1/2 of a banana (optional..instead you can use an additional 1/4 cup butter or oil)
1 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine chocolate, eggs, and beets, and banana with a hand blender or in your food processor until smooth. Mix in butter and vanilla. Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda, then mix into the chocolate-beet mixture. I had to use a loaf pan, so my cooking time was much longer. I suggest using an 8×8 baking dish, and baking at 350ºF for 30 minutes, but check at 20 and 25 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn. We are probably at different altitudes.

Whip together one 8oz contain of cream cheese with 2 or 3 tablespoons honey, until creamy, about 1 minute.