Welcome

IMG_2059 Hi and welcome to The Scoop, a creative blog focused on the science behind baking! Follow my journey as I learn about delicious ingredients, experiment with different foods, and share my tasty recipes.

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Why can’t you put aluminum foil in the microwave?

If you are like me, you often forget to set your ingredients out ahead of time to allow them to reach room temperature.  So when you realize that the recipe you are baking calls for softened butter, you reach into the fridge, pull out a stick of butter, and pop it into the microwave, wrapper and all.  I know, I know, it’s not the proper way to soften butter, but it gets the job done.  Admit it, we’ve all done it.

The other day, I was baking and realized that I had forgotten to take the cream cheese out of the refrigerator.  Not wanting to dirty yet another bowl, I left the cream cheese in its aluminum wrapper and put it in the microwave.  I punched in thirty seconds and pressed the on button, but immediately hit stop once I saw sparks coming from the microwave.  Not my best idea.

So this got me thinking.  How exactly do microwaves work and why can’t we microwave certain materials such as aluminum?

Microwave ovens use microwaves to heat food.  Microwaves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum – waves which are created by the vibration of electric charges and have both electric and magnetic components.  All electromagnetic waves transport energy through a vacuum at a speed of 3.00 x 108 m/s, known as the speed of light. When you turn on the microwave, the electrical energy from the power outlet is converted and emitted as microwaves.  When absorbed by the water, fats, and sugar in food, these microwaves convert into atomic motion – heat.  As a result, microwaves can heat food very quickly.

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However, sometimes when you heat food in the microwave, the outside is hot, yet the inside remains cold. This is because microwaves can only penetrate about an inch into food.  In comparison to other electromagnetic waves, microwaves are relatively low in energy. As a result, when microwaves enter the food, they rapidly lose their energy and cannot travel very far.

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Let’s talk a little bit more about the properties of waves. Wavelength is the distance between two peaks of a wave and is usually measured in meters (m). Frequency is the number of cycles of a wave to pass some point in a second. The units of frequency are thus cycles per second, or Hertz (Hz).  Multiply wavelength by frequency and you get the speed of the wave. Since all electromagnetic waves move at the constant speed of light, wavelength and frequency are inversely related – as one goes up the other goes down.

c = λυ  

where c = speed of light (3.00 × 10 8 m/s)

λ = wavelength (m)

υ = frequency (Hz)

Furthermore, the energy of a wave is directly related to its frequency.  Waves carry energy in small packets called photons.  The photon energy is the energy carried by a single photon with a certain electromagnetic wavelength and frequency. The higher the photon’s frequency, the higher its energy.  This explains why microwaves are relatively low in energy and cannot travel very far throughout food.

E = hυ

where E = energy (J)

h = Planck’s constant (6.63 × 10 -34 J·s)

Now back to the real question- why can’t you put aluminum foil in the microwave?

Firstly, it is important to note that the walls of microwaves are made of thick metal.  The metal acts almost like a shield or a mirror, reflecting the waves and preventing them from escaping from the microwave.  However, small, thin pieces of metal do not react the same way.  When microwaves hit the metal, a current of electrons flow through the metal.  Thick metal can tolerate the current, but thinner, jagged pieces cannot.  As a result, small pieces of metal heat up very quickly and can become dangerous.

Pointed metal objects, such as forks, crumpled aluminum foil, and metal wires, can create an electric arc or sparks when microwaved.  High concentrations of charge reside on the tips of metal objects, which can exceed the dielectric breakdown of air (3.00 x 106 V/m).  Even though air is an insulator (does not conduct electricity very well), if high voltage applied across it exceeds the breakdown voltage, the insulator can become electrically conductive. When this happens, the air forms a conductive plasma, which is visible as a spark. The plasma can jump across the pointed edges, forming a conductive loop and a longer lived spark.

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For this reason, its best to avoid putting any metal in the microwave.  Play it safe. . . even when you are feeling lazy like me.

Inspired by my cream cheese incident, I chose to make cheesecake brownies for Valentine’s Day.  Enjoy!

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The batter starts with loads of melted chocolate and butter.

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Swirl in the cheesecake mixture using a fork.

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Bake and. . . Voila! Cheesecake swirl!

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Allow to cool and then cut with a plastic knife to avoid any sticking.

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Plate and enjoy!  Perfect for Valentine’s Day. . . or any other day of the year.

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Cheesecake Brownies

Brownies

1 1/4 cups butter

16 oz semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup brown sugar

5 eggs

1 Tbsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

2 1/4 cups flour

1/4 cup heavy cream or milk

Cheesecake

8 ounce cream cheese

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

Splash of heavy cream or milk

Preheat the oven to 350º.  In a large bowl, melt together the butter and chocolate and stir until smooth.  Mix in the sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt.  Slowly add the flour and then the heavy cream.  Set aside.

In another bowl, mix together all the cheesecake ingredients.  Pour the brownie mix in a greased baking pan and spoon the cheesecake mixture on top.  Swirl together using a fork.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool and then cut into squares.

Makes 24 brownies.

Explain That Stuff

Nasa Science

Wikipedia

How Stuff Works

Wikipedia

Wikipedia

 

What is the Difference between Parchment Paper and Wax Paper?

The main difference between parchment paper and wax paper lies in their special coatings.  Parchment paper is lined with silicon, while wax paper is coated with wax such as soybean or paraffin.  Since wax melts when exposed to high temperatures, wax paper cannot be used in the oven.  On the other hand, most parchment papers can withstand temperatures up to 420 degrees Fahrenheit.  As a result, parchment paper is perfect for lining cookie sheets and cake pans.  Similarly, non-stick baking mats, such as Silpat, are made of fiberglass and silicon.  They can be used in the oven just like parchment paper, and can be washed and reused over and over again.

In reality, parchment paper was originally used for writing, not cooking and baking.  Invented around 150 BC, Egyptians created parchment paper to replace their expensive papyrus paper.

Parchment paper was made from animal skins such as sheep and cows.  First, hair and fat were scraped off of the skin.  Then, the skin was soaked in water with chalk or flour and salt.  This gave the skin a smooth surface perfect for writing.  Lastly, the skin was soaked in tannin made from oak-gall, which preserved the paper.  After stretching, drying, and cutting, the paper was ready for use.

parchment

Ironically, parchment paper was more expensive to make then papyrus paper, so it wasn’t used much by the Egyptians.  By 105 AD, the Chinese had invented paper, which was much cheaper than both papyrus and parchment.  Although it took over 1000 years for it to reach Europe, Chinese paper eventually became the most popular resource for writing and bookmaking.

Even though parchment was costly, it was widely used in the Islamic Empire and Medieval Europe.  Overall, parchment was more valuable than paper due to its durability.  Paper was easily torn, while parchment was strong and stiff.  This was very important when making religious paintings and books.  As a result, many Islamic and early Christian documents were written on parchment paper.  Muslim scribes created beautiful copies of the Holy Qur’an while Christian scribes produced equally intricate illuminated manuscripts.  The production of both books required immense dedication and concentration, and the results are absolutely breathtaking.

 

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7th century Qur’an at the University of Birmingham

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Opening from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, 1440

To celebrate Christmas, I baked sugar cookies and decorated them with royal icing.

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The recipe is very simple and easy to follow.  I added extra vanilla and cinnamon for more flavor.

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Easy, tender, delicious cookies.  Enjoy!

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cups butter

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 Tbsp vanilla

6 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add in the eggs and vanilla. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients.  Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 400º F.  Roll out the dough on parchment paper.  Use cookie cutters to create various shapes.  Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges are golden.  Let cool on a wire rack.

Once the cookies have cooled, decorate with royal icing.

Makes 40 cookies.

 

Thanks to these websites for the information on parchment paper.

Martha Stewart

Chow Hound

Silpat

Candels

Quatr.us

Parsomen

America Aljazeera

 

 

Why Are Peanuts Such a Common Allergen?

Peanuts are one of the most common, most dangerous food allergens. Additionally, the condition often last a lifetime, as only 20% of children outgrow their peanut allergy.

Generally, people who suffer from food allergies have extra sensitive immune systems that respond to harmless substances called allergens. For example, when a person with a peanut allergy consumes a peanut, the body reacts by producing antibodies to the specific allergen. The body attacks the allergen, causing an immune reaction. The effects range from itching skin and watering eyes to serious, fatal reactions.

Scientists have discovered that certain peanut proteins are responsible for these reactions: Ara h 1, Ara h 2, Ara h 3, Ara h 8, and Ara h 9. These proteins are specific to peanuts, and are uncommon in other foods. Their structure stimulates a strong immune response. Additionally, when peanuts are roasted, the protein changes shape, which worsens the reaction. However, boiling peanuts decreases the risk of allergies, as the protein shape remains constant, and some protein escapes from the peanuts into the water.

Today, peanut allergy is on the rise. In 1997, a survey reported that 0.4% of children suffered from peanut allergies. In 2008, this number reached 1.4% and is now nearing 2%. Scientists are unsure exactly what caused the increase in peanut allergies, but, with the help of experiments and research, have offered various theories.

Originally, scientists believed that early and heavy exposure to peanut products might cause children’s immune systems to misidentify them as dangerous. However, some studies show that avoiding peanuts during pregnancy increases the risk of a child developing a peanut allergy.

This led to the belief that early allergen exposure increases the likelihood of tolerance and actually decreases the risk of childhood food allergy. A recent study monitored the effects of peanuts on children from birth to age 5. One group was exposed to peanuts, while the other was not. At the end of the experiment, 14% of those who had no peanut exposure were allergic compared to only 2% of those who had early exposure — an 86 percent reduction in risk.

But what about children who already have peanut allergies? Research supports oral immunotherapy as a possible cure. This process uses peanut protein to increase tolerance to peanuts. A 2009 study examined peanut allergic children as they consumed small daily doses of peanut flour, which contains a high concentration of peanut protein.  After several weeks, all of the allergic children were ‘desensitized’ to the peanut allergen, including one that was highly allergic.

Last but not least, scientists propose the hygiene hypothesis. This theory suggests that extremely clean, westernized environments have caused the immune systems of children to weaken significantly. In other words, children have become more sensitive to harmless substances due to a lack of exposure to infections, parasites, and microorganisms.

Currently, active research continues, as scientists are determined to find the cause and cure for the peanut allergy and its alarming outbreak.

Today, I decided to bake with my all-time favorite food- peanut butter! This cookie recipe showcases two classic combinations- peanut butter and jelly and peanut butter and chocolate.

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Crumbly peanut butter cookies topped with a touch of sweetness.

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I’m having a hard time deciding which flavor combination I like the best.

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I guess I’ll just have to keep eating them until I come to a conclusion.

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Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

3/4 cup peanut butter

1 egg

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups flour

1/3 cup jelly

1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Combine the butter, sugar, and peanut butter.   Mix in the rest of the ingredients, slowly adding the flour last.  Form into balls and place on a greased baking sheet.  Press the center with your thumb to create a well.

Fill half of the cookies with jelly and bake for 16 to 18 minutes.  Bake the other half with the wells empty.  Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 20 second intervals.  Spoon into the empty cookies.  Let cool and serve.

Makes 30 cookies.

Thanks to these sites for the information on peanuts.

New York Times

Pop Sci

Live Science

Peanut Institute

Common Health

Why Are Peaches Fuzzy?

Peaches, or prunus persica, are a tasty summertime fruit, popular for their delicious sweet juices and vibrant red orange color. Soft fuzz lines their fine skin, which just barely preserves the sugary insides. Since peach skin is so thin, insects and bacteria can easily penetrate it, and the fruit quickly bruises and rots.

However, peach fuzz is a defense mechanism that protects the fruit from insects, bacteria, and rainwater. The fuzz wards off bugs attracted to the sweet fruit. Due to the strange texture of the fuzz, insects are less likely to land on the peaches and eat the fruit. Additionally, the tiny hairs support rain droplets and prevent them from siting directly on the delicate skin. During light showers or morning dew, the skin stays dry and the peaches are less prone to bacteria and rotting. Nevertheless, heavy rains wet the peaches, and, of course, the fruit eventually goes bad.

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On the other hand, nectarines are fuzz-less peaches. They belong to the same species as peaches, but posses a recessive trait responsible for hair-less skin. Their super smooth skin allows raindrops to slide right off. This advantage helps to feed the roots and keep nectarine trees hydrated. Due to natural selection, nectarine skin has become smoother with every generation. Trees that grow nectarines with the slickest skin are in return the healthiest and most likely to survive and reproduce. As a result, more nectarine trees yield fruit with smooth, slippery skin, even though the fuzz-less trait is not a dominant one. Unfortunately, without fuzz, insects and water cause the nectarines to brown and rot more easily than peaches.

For a sweet summer treat, combine peaches, nectarines, and plums.  This fruit crisp is a simple way to showcase ripe, delicious fruit.

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Begin by slicing the fruit and arrange the pieces however you like.

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Then add a crumble topping, bake, and serve!

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Peach, Nectarine, and Plum Crisp

4 cups peach, nectarine, and plum, sliced

2 tsp cornstarch

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup flour

1 cup oats

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter, cold

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Combine the fruit, lemon juice and cornstarch in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, add the flour, oats, sugar, cinnamon, and salt.  Cut in the butter with a fork.

Arrange the fruit in a greased dish and top with the crumble.  Or, combine the fruit and crumble and then transfer to the dish.  Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until crumble is golden and crisp.

The Spring Fruit Farm

Frog Hollow

The Naked Scientists

Why Do Some Ice Creams Melt Faster Than Others?

If you leave a carton of ice cream out in the hot sun, you may be surprised at how long it lasts before turning into a sugary soup. Some ice cream brands just refuse to melt. Most ice creams start simply with milk of a high percentage, but not all ice creams are made equally.

How quickly the ice cream melts is directly related to its overrun. Overrun is the percentage of volume increase of ice cream greater than the volume of mix used. For example, if 1 liter of mix becomes 2 liters of ice cream, the product has an overrun of 100%. Most low quality brands have overruns of 100% to 120%. This allows companies to stretch their resources and easily produce a large supply. As a result, production does not cost much, and consumers can buy ice cream for a lower price.

Higher quality brands have an overrun of 25% to 90%. Standard and premium products contain a higher fat content than economy brands, and incorporate less air into the ice cream. Unfortunately, this means that production is more expensive.

Due to the wide range in overrun, 1 pint of ice creams costs anywhere from $1 to $8. Even though you are paying for quality, we all know that Haagen-Dazs didn’t spend anything near $6.99 to manufacture that tiny little carton.

The rate at which ice cream melts also depends on the amount of emulsifiers and stabilizers in the ice cream. An emulsion is a mixture where two liquids mix, but do not combine into one uniform, homogeneous substance. Ice cream is simply an emulsion of milk fat dissolved in water. However, the mixture is unstable, and at room temperature separates into fat and water. This results in unappetizing lumps of fat and watery ice cream. In order to prevent this, companies use emulsifiers or stabilizers to improve the texture of their products.

Milk fat immersed in water

Milk fat immersed in water

Stabilizers reduce the iciness of ice cream and prolong shelf life. Each time ice cream leaves the freezer, it melts, and when it returns, it refreezes. To make smooth ice cream, ice crystals must be very small, so the freezing process must happen rather quickly. At factories, machines rapidly cool and churn ice cream to promote creaminess. However, home freezers solidify ice cream at a much slower rate than factory machines, which results in larger ice crystals. This produces a rough, icy texture.

Stabilizers add fat to ice cream. Added fat slows the melting of ice cream, so ice cream softens rather than completely melts. This prevents ice cream from becoming watery and mushy every time it sits on the counter. As a result, the ice cream won’t refreeze into large crystals and its texture will remain smooth even after it leaves and reenters the freezer.

Ice cream companies use stabilizers such as guar gum, locust bean gum, carrageenan, xanthan gum, polysorbate 80, monoglycerides, and diglycerides. Most are white powders that help thicken the mixture.  Moreover, egg yolks are also very popular for homemade recipes and work in the same manner. However many companies use plant-based emulsifiers, which add less fat and cost to production. This also avoids any obstacles that may arise when using egg yolks, such as salmonella. No worries though. As long as eggs are clean and tempered correctly, yolks work perfectly for at home recipes.

However, not all companies use plant-based or artificial emulsifiers. Haagen-Dazs is among the most popular of the all natural brands. Instead of powders, they use eggs to thicken and stabilize their products.  Additionally, the wealthy company controls its own distribution channels and uses specialized refrigerated delivery trucks, which ensure that the ice cream does not melt during transportation.

A few years ago, the Haagen-Dazs also released a new line called “Five”. These specific ice creams only contain five all natural ingredients. Ingredients for the “Five” vanilla bean ice cream include: milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and vanilla bean. Sounds fantastic, except these are the exact same ingredients used in their classic vanilla ice cream.  The ingredients for “Five” chocolate also mirror the classic chocolate recipe (just replace the vanilla with cocoa powder). The same is true for both types of coffee ice cream.

Haagen-Dazs has been using the exact same recipes for years. The only difference is that nowadays, consumers are more concerned with artificial ingredients and often purchase all natural products. Haagen-Dazs cleverly took advantage of this fad, marketing the same ice cream with a new label to attract health conscious buyers. Not a bad idea.

Just like Haagen-Dazs, my vanilla ice cream is made with simple, natural ingredients including egg yolks as an emulsifier.

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The ice cream begins with egg yolks and milk.

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Heat the milk over a medium flame and carefully temper the eggs.

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Then return the custard to the stovetop and heat until it coats the back of a spoon.

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After chilling the custard, put your ice cream machine to work.

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Voila!

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Delicious, natural ice cream!

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Vanilla Ice Cream

2 cups whole milk

2 cups half and half

8 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

2 tbsp vanilla extract

Pour the milks into a sauce pan and place over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Whisk the egg yolks and then slowly add the sugar and salt.  The mixture should be  light in color and thick.

Once the milk is hot, but not boiling, remove it from the heat.  Next, temper the eggs.  Using a ladle, gradually spoon the hot milk into the egg mixture, stirring constantly.  Do so until about 1/3 of the milk is left.  Then pour in the rest of the milk.

Pour the custard back into the sauce pan and heat on a medium flame.  Stir often.  Check for doneness by coating the back of the spoon.  Do not boil.

Immediately place the custard in a bowl and allow to cool.  Add the vanilla extract.  Once cooled, transfer the custard into a sealed container and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours.

Follow the directions on your ice cream maker to freeze.  Serve immediately, or store ice cream in a container and freeze for later.

Thank you to these websites for all of the information!

Prevent Disease

Ice Cream Science

Ice Cream Geek

Serious Eats

Homemade Hints

Time

Haagen-Dazs

Delish

Food Network

How Does Nonstick Cookware Work?

Invented in 1938, nonstick cookware allows chefs and bakers to cook with less fat and easily clean pots and pans after preparing a meal. Though it seems smooth, the surface of a metal pan contains tiny ridges and holes. When the metal heats, it expands and these small pores open. During cooking, food slips into the holes, hardens, and sticks to the pan. Coating the pan with oil or butter before cooking fills these pores with fat, preventing food from adhering to the metal. Nonstick cookware is coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which works in the same manner as oil or butter. The fluoropolymer coats the pan, shielding the pores from food. PTFE is a special polymer (a large molecule composed of repeating monomers) that contains carbon and fluorine. Fluorine is a very electronegative element, which means that it has a strong attraction for electrons. When it bonds to the carbon, the two atoms share electrons, and both obtain full valance shells. This satisfies and stabilizes the atoms and the entire molecule. Even though the fluorine and carbon atoms are only connected by a single bond, the bond is strong due to fluorine’s high electronegativity. This durable bond prevents molecules from binding to the PTFE, and thus reduces the amount of food that sticks to the pan. graphics11 Additionally, PTFE has a low coefficient of friction. As a result, objects easily slide across the PTFE. Without a great amount of friction, one can easily wipe away food remains from the nonstick cookware. In order for the PTFE to adhere to the pan, manufactures must first roughen the surface of the pan. They then spray on the PTFE and bake the pan, which locks the polymer to the metal.

Although nonstick cookware prevents most food residue, it never hurts to use a little nonstick cooking spray or oil. After all that hard work, it would be a shame if a delicious dessert stuck to the pan. Moreover, cupcakes liners work wonderfully for mini cakes and muffins.

Today, I baked chocolate plum muffins to celebrate my best friend’s birthday.

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When creating the recipe, I knew that I wanted to make these muffins as healthy as possible without sacrificing taste.  My friend loves chocolate, but also values eating healthy and staying in shape.

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Oil does not contribute much taste, but definitely keeps muffins moist and tender.  Shockingly, one cup of oil packs almost 2,000 calories!  My original recipe called for 3/4 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of oil.  It was still healthier than most cupcake or muffin recipes, but I wanted to take it to the next level.

After looking online, I saw many replacements for oil: yogurt, apple sauce, and prune puree.  Each healthy alternative reduces the amount of calories in the muffins and also adds an extra layer of flavor.  I decided prune paired well with chocolate, but feared that those who ate the muffins would have to run to the bathroom!  After contemplating all my options, I compromised between apple sauce and prune puree and used plum sauce.

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To make the sauce, I simply peeled and finely grated two plums.  This yielded 1/2 cup of  sauce, the same amount of oil needed in my original recipe.  Amazingly, this simple switch cut 900 calories out of the entire recipe – that’s 50 calories per muffin!

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Additionally, the natural sugar from the plum allowed me to decrease the amount of sugar I added to the mix.  Instead of 3/4 cup, 1 only used 1/2 cup.  Another 190 calories gone – 10 calories per muffin!

Even without oil these chocolate muffins are extremely moist, fudgey, and packed with chocolatey goodness.  At just 100 calories per muffin, these are a great healthy treat for all chocolate lovers.

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Unfortunately, when I removed the oil, I forgot one important thing: taking the muffins out of the pan.  I used liners because I thought it would make it easier to remove the muffins.  Wrong!  Without any oil, the muffins completely stuck to the liners!  No worries though, I used a knife and carefully peeled off the wrappers.  Then, I popped the muffins in some colorful liners.  Nevertheless, the muffins tasted delicious!  Next time, I would definitely bake these directly in the pan and use cooking spray, even if the pan is nonstick!

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Chocolate Plum Muffins

2 cups flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup plum, finely grated

1 1/2 cups milk

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350º.

Using a fork, combine the sugar, eggs, plum, baking powder, salt and vanilla.  Add the cocoa powder.  Pour in the milk and then slowly mix in the flour.  Stir until the batter comes together. Add the chocolate chips.

Spoon batter into a greased muffin tin.  Top with extra sugar and chocolate chips if desired.  Bake for 25 minutes.

Let cool and enjoy!

Makes 18 muffins.

Thanks to these websites for the info on nonstick cookware!

How Stuff Works

Fine Cooking

Explain That Stuff

Why Is Blue Fruit so Rare?

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Fruit comes in every color from red to purple; yet blue fruit is very rare. Even blueberries are not truly blue as they have a slight purple tint.

In edible plants, two chemicals produce color: carotenoids and anthocyanins. Carotenoids produce red, orange, and yellow, while anthocyanins generates red, purple, and blue. Since both chemicals share the color red, it is the most probable hue. As a result, most fruit is red.

Additionally, leaves are green- the compliment of red. On the color wheel, red and green lay directly across from each other. This contrast makes it easy for birds and other animals to spot fruit. Animals eat the fruit and, more importantly, spread the plant’s seeds, which aids reproduction. Therefore, plants with most contrast are the most likely to survive. Moreover, certain plants may produce darker or lighter leaves. The color of fruit adjusts to the leaves to maximize contrast. For example, a plant with very dark leaves often yields brighter colored fruit, usually with a yellow tint.

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Additionally, the acidity of soil affects the color of fruit. In highly acidic environments anthocyanins generate red hues. Meanwhile, less acidity yield bluer hues.   However, red is still a prominent color, so even fruit with a strong blue tint, like blueberries, may appear slightly purple.

Acidity is measured on the pH scale from 0 to 14. 7 is neutral, anything below is acidic, and anything above is basic. Strawberries have a pH of 3.00-3.90, while blueberries have the pH of 3.85-4.50. Although both types of fruit are acidic, blueberries have a higher pH than strawberries. This means they are less acidic and, as a result, have a blue tint.

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Amazingly, blue quandong, a berry popular in Australia, has a vibrant, deep teal color. This color drastically contrasts the plant’s red leaves.

quandong

Additional fruits and vegetables that contain anthocyanins include:

Blackberries                Blueberries

Cherries                        Cranberries

Eggplant                       Plums

Raisins                          Red apples

Red beans                    Red beets

Red cabbage               Red or purple grapes

Red onions                  Red pears

Strawberries

Fruit tarts are a refreshing, (somewhat) healthy treat for summer.  Blue and red fruit topping adds patriotic flare!

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Perfect for Independence Day!

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The tarts begin with a shortbread dough pressed into a muffin pan.

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While the crusts bake, cut the fruit into thin slices.

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Then, prepare the cream cheese and yogurt filling.  Confectioners sugar instead of granulated keeps the texture smooth and creamy.

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Generously fill each crust with the cream.

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Finally, top with fruit.

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Happy Fourth of July!

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Fruit Tarts

Crust

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1/2 tsp salt

Filling

8 ounces cream cheese

1/2 cup plain yogurt

3/4 cup confectioners sugar

1 tsp vanilla

Topping

Strawberries

Blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light. Add flour and salt. Spoon into muffin tin and press up the sides.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Let cool.

For the filling, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth.  Add in yogurt and vanilla.

Spoon filling into each crust.  Top with slices strawberries and blueberries.  Serve at room temperature or cold.

Makes 6 tarts.

Straight Dope

Garden Betty

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