Millet tastes like it sounds, in a millet muffin: rolly and crunchy and new- and old-fashioned, all at the same time. Like the kind of old woman that can simultaneously wear orange Diesel sneakers and reminisce about living through the (other) Depression.
Before January, I’d never had a millet muffin. Frankly, a few little yellow grains don’t seem like enough to make a muffin something worth eating. But a couple weeks ago, my friend Rachel piqued my interest:
My favorite (okay, the only) bakery in Williamstown used to sell millet muffins that I loved. Apparently there weren’t enough of us, because the bakery went out of business after I graduated. I have unsuccessfully tried to track down the owner to ask for her recipe. I searched online, but I only managed to find ones that used millet flour rather than whole millet. Finally, I found one with 1/3 cup millet in the ingredient list. I printed it out, mixed the wet ingredients, etc., and then realized in the instructions section that it said “mix millet flour, whole wheat flour…”. Dang! I decided just to use whole millet and see what happened. It worked pretty well and I haven’t changed it since.
We all have these recipes—they’re the ones that work, the ones we’re used to. The ones we don’t have the energy to change.
Every once in a while, though, we wake up and realize they’re not really what we want. (Here’s the lesson, right up front: It’s okay to break up with your recipes, or ask them to change for you. Trust me, sometimes it’s for the best.)
That’s what Rachel did. One day, the fact that these healthy, whole-wheat muffins fueled her mornings wasn’t enough. She loved that they relied on vegetable oil for fat and honey as a sweetener, and that the millet’s crunch wasn’t outdone by other, fancier things. But her breakfast was tough around the edges, and her recipe called for buttermilk, which she didn’t usually keep around. And when she really thought about it, they just weren’t as good as the muffins from the bakery. Transportable, but tough. Less sexy. She needed a new muffin.
I’m looking for some combination of tasty, healthy, and holdtogetherness. (I can compromise some, but I want breakfast, not dessert.) Let me know if you can help!
Oh, how I do love a challenge. There’s nothing more pitiful than a healthy muffin gone wrong. I’ve been meaning to experiment with honey as a baking sweetener forever, and oh, didn’t I just buy a big bag of millet? Indeed. The millet experiment began.
I was a little aggressive, I’ll admit. In one fell swoop, I decreased the salt, substituted plain yogurt for the buttermilk (which is almost always an option), and increased the one egg to two (to add moisture and lift). I also changed the whole wheat flour to whole wheat pastry flour, in an attempt to lighten things up a little, and added a bit of joy, in the form of lemon juice, which is a natural tenderizer, too.
Now, before we get any farther, let me just say that I know I was acting out of turn. Most good recipe testers would agree that you only change one thing at a time, as an absolute rule. So especially without testing the original recipe, I had no business being so careless. But sometimes it feels good to live without rules. (I have a friend who once made lasagna with no clothes on, and that certainly sounds more exciting than regular lasagna, doesn’t it?)
Anyway. I kept my apron snugly tied around me (although it hardly fits anymore). And just a few minutes after pulling the honey-scented batch out of oven, I tucked into a millet muffin, smeared with cinnamon honey. It was durable, but not dense. Sweet, but not sugary. Crunchy and just a smidge lemony, but through and through a millet muffin, before anything else. And definitely breakfast, not dessert.
I loved it. I wrote Rachel with the recipe.
Here’s where it gets sad.
She tried them. It was a disaster.
Her muffins poofed up and out of control, sticking to the pan and each other. She had to pry the tops off, and use a chopstick to scrape the bottoms out. She said she liked the texture better, but the lemon just wasn’t her bag and oh, goodness, who wants to make muffins that don’t just come right out of the pan?
Giving someone a recipe that doesn’t work feels like lying. I make a point to avoid doing it, but when it happens, as these things do, I don’t like it.
I assumed it was me. I punished myself for changing too many things at once. Maybe I used the wrong measuring spoon for my leaveners, I thought, or maybe I used more flour than I thought. I baked them again, this time exchanging the lemon for two teaspoons of cinnamon, which Rachel loves. The acid in the lemon juice might have contributed to the rise of her plus-sized muffins, and I wanted to make something she’d like (and avoid the same explosion issues myself). And I only changed one thing.
That cinnamon version, though, it came out just as well. I tested it in both aluminum and nonstick pans, and by golly, those muffins had just the same height as the first batch – no higher – with the same moisture, and the same great crunch. I personally preferred the lemon version, but the cinnamon-tinged ones were just fine. I noticed that the muffins baked in the aluminum pan didn’t rise quite as well, and didn’t brown quite as nicely, but something was working for me that wasn’t working for Rachel.
So I did what I always do when I’m having recipe trouble: I called my mother. She loves her whole wheat baked goods, that one. And talented as she is in the kitchen (and outside), this woman is completely incapable of following a recipe to the letter. I figured asking her to test the muffins would introduce one more variable. Just enough to see if I was crazy, thinking the recipe really worked.
She didn’t let me down. Mom mixed the muffins in a stand mixer (which can make them tough, if you don’t stop mixing right when the dry ingredients have been incorporated), and changed the yogurt – she used Greek. And you know what? They came out just fine, too. She even sent me photos. And I didn’t hear from my dad the next morning with tales of eating the entire batch, like I do when Mom bakes something sweet, which meant the muffins passed the good-for-you test that was important to Rachel. (Dads make great barometers.)
Still. I couldn’t get past having given Rachel a recipe that didn’t work for her.
I dropped the last of my whole wheat pastry flour and a little sack of millet off at Sarah’s house. She’s a recipe follower—at least I thought she was—but she used a combination of key lime and strawberry yogurts. The muffins turned out well for her, too. She liked the crunch so much she dumped some millet into her cornbread last weekend.
So I emailed Rachel. I have no answer for you, I said. I hate that these didn’t work for you. They worked for me, and two other people. We went around and around about what might have gone wrong, to no avail.
So I failed Rachel. (For now, at least, because she hasn’t tried them again. I probably wouldn’t, in her place.)
I might never know why her batch didn’t work, which drives me bonkers.
But I do have a really good, healthy, easy, milletty muffin recipe that works.
For me, at least.
Whole Wheat Millet Muffins (PDF)
Made with honey, vegetable oil, plain yogurt, and a healthy dose of crunchy millet, these lemon-scented muffins are meant for breakfast, not dessert. Serve them warm or reheated, plain or with a smear of butter or extra honey.
Look for millet in the bulk foods section of a natural grocery store.
TIME: 15 minutes active time
MAKES: 1 dozen muffins
Vegetable oil spray
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup (raw) millet
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
Zest and juice (about 2 tablespoons) of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray (including the flat parts), and set aside.
Whisk the flour, millet, powder, soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In another big bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and stir until the flour is just incorporated. Divide the batter between the muffin cups, spooning a heaping 1/4 cup batter into each one. (The muffins will not rise much.)
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until browned and only barely beginning to crack. Let cool 5 minutes in pans, then cool completely on a wire rack.
How Jewish tastes
Making matzo at home brings with it an unusual challenge: because the goal of eating matzo is to remember the sacrifices our forebears made, it’s not really supposed to be enjoyable. Store-bought matzo, if made appropriately, should leave one with the approximate sensation of having eaten crisp cardboard made out of dust. It’s shattery. It’s white. And it’s very, very plain.
The problem is, I usually avoid boxed matzo. I don’t steer clear because of the taste. I skip it because it’s just the type of white-flour product—plain, slightly sweet, and likely quite processed—that makes me feel crummy. Gluten-free matzo are commercially available, but they’re heinously expensive. And unlike regular boxed matzo, which often come in various flavors, gluten-free matzo are (in stores near me) always naked.
I lined up my matzo musts: First, I wanted my crackers to taste like an everything bagel, with a smattering of seeds. Second, I wanted to avoid grains, lest someone question my devotion to Ashkenazi Judaism (to which I am not even slightly devoted), practitioners of which typically avoid all grains during the holiday. Third, the matzo had to be disappointing in some way. There’s no point in making a cracker that doesn’t taste like suffering if you’re going to eat it for a week straight while pretending to suffer. I couldn’t call it matzo if it didn’t leave me needing a glass of wine, or at the very least, water.
“This can’t be called matzo,” said J, a high school friend who’s recently moved to Seattle. “It tastes too good.” She was munching on a cracker I’d made from a mixture of almond, coconut, and garbanzo bean flours—a mixture sprinkled with poppy, sesame, and caraway seed, crunchy sea salt, and dried onion flakes, then baked until the edges curled up. We dipped the crackers in hummus, pondered, and ate more.
“I’m no expert, but there is no way these are matzo,” she repeated. She was right. I wasn’t feeling even the least bit guilty about having a nice life, or peaceful surroundings, or leavened bread–not to mention making a cracker that took longer than the “official” limit of 18 minutes to make. I was feeling guilty about planning to not eat the same terrible cardboard everyone else planned on eating.
“They’re a cross between socca and a graham cracker,” declared Jim. And he was right. We actually enjoyed them.
The next day in the car, I started preparing Graham for what will probably be the first Passover dinner he will actually understand. I talked about how Jewish people take the holiday as a moment to slow down and appreciate what they have. About how we eat certain foods to celebrate the season, and how we always leave the door open, in part to welcome in anyone who might stop by with a hungry stomach.
“Mom, what does ‘Jewish’ mean?” he asked.
Right. I’d forgotten the basics. I’m a secular Jew: I’m Jewish by tradition and by generational duty, but not by proactive practice. We don’t talk very much about religion in our house.
“Jewish means something different to everyone,” I said carefully. I went on to give a very brief, very bad explanation of how religions differ, and how everyone needs to find out for themselves what practice works best for them, if any. Our conversation fizzled, and I cursed myself for being so unprepared.
Then, when we got home, I got an idea.
“Here,” I said. I handed him a matzo. “This is what Jewish tastes like to me.”
He refused to taste it. And in that moment—feeling guilty for giving the matzo too much flavor, and for failing to teach my son about my family’s past practices, and for realizing he had zero concept of what was going to happen later in the week at Passover dinner—I realized I could call it matzo. I’d suffered enough.
Eat it smeared with additional guilt.
Gluten-Free Everything Matzo Crackers (PDF)
Gluten-Free Everything Matzo Crackers
Made with a combination of garbanzo, almond, and coconut flours, these crackers have a texture slightly crisper than graham crackers, with a much more savory flavor. Topped with a smattering of the seeds you might find on an everything bagel—plus caraway, a favorite of mine—they make a good substitute for any cracker you’d use for hummus, cheese, or tuna salad. Put them on the Passover plate, if you feel like it—but be warned that they’re more flavorful than traditional matzo!
Look for minced dried onion in the spice section of your local grocery store.
Time: 35 minutes active time
Makes about 6 servings
2 teaspoons poppy seed
2 teaspoons white sesame seed
2 teaspoons dried caraway seed, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons minced dried onion
1 1/2 teaspoons crunchy sea salt, crushed til fine if large
1 cup (100 grams) potato starch
1/2 cup (60 grams) coconut flour
1/2 cup (50 grams) almond flour
1/2 cup (50 grams) garbanzo bean flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/4 cup warm water
2 large eggs, blended
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, and space two racks evenly in the oven. Cut two pieces of parchment paper to fit the flat parts of two large (such as 12-by-17-inch) baking sheets. (You’ll roll the cracker dough out between the two pieces of parchment, so they need to be the same size. If you don’t have two baking sheets of the same size, just pick one, cut out two pieces of parchment to fit it, and bake the crackers in two batches.)
In a small bowl, blend the poppy, sesame, and caraway seed with the onion and sea salt with a spoon until well mixed. Set aside.
In the work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the potato starch, coconut flour, almond flour, garbanzo bean flour, baking soda, baking powder, and kosher salt just to blend. With the machine on low speed, add the oil, water, and egg. Increase speed to medium and blend for one minute, until crumbly. The mixture should clump together when you press a handful between your palm and fingers.
Pat the dough into a ball, then split it roughly in half. Place one of the parchment sheets on a clean work surface, then add half the dough. Top with the other sheet of parchment and roll the dough as thin as possible without breaking it; it should almost reach the edges of the parchment. (The goal is to make one giant cracker about the size of a baking sheet with each half of the dough.)
Brush one baking sheet with olive oil. Peel the top sheet of parchment off the rolled-out dough, then carefully invert the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, paper side up. Peel off the remaining piece of paper, and brush the dough with more olive oil.
Repeat the process with the remaining dough, using the same parchment paper. Scatter the spice mixture over both pieces of oiled dough, then pat the spices in with your hands so they stick. (If you’d like a more matzo-like look, use a fork or a rolling docking tool to poke small holes all over the dough.)
Bake the matzo for 5 minutes. Rotate the pans front to back and top to bottom, and bake another 5 to 7 minutes, or until the matzo is well browned on all edges and begins to curl up and off the pan. Transfer the crackers immediately to cooling racks and let cool for at least 30 minutes before breaking into pieces and serving.
Store any unused crackers in an airtight container, up to 3 days.
If you’ve followed the Uncle Josh Haggadah Project over the last five years, never fear, there is a 2015 edition. This year, it focuses on Montana, and was written in conjunction with our sister. Click here for the PDF of the 2015 Haggadah.
Filed under bread, commentary, Lunch, snack
Tagged as everything matzo, gluten-free matzo, homemade matzo, making your own matzo, passover, Uncle Josh Haggadah Project