The stars come out for Mani's low-fat, low-cal bakery treats

March 31, 1993|By Meredith Brody | Meredith Brody,Eating Well Magazine

Mani Niall did not start out to be a baker. In fact, he did not even start out as Mani, but as George. The Sanskrit name-change from the '70s is but a minor note in the career of a man who once worked at a restaurant called the Golden Temple of Conscious Cookery, once made ice cream for Michael Jackson in a hotel bathroom, and, when opportunity knocked, parlayed a request from Danny DeVito into a boffo baking biz. Mani's is an L.A. story right out of "L.A. Story," sweetly strange and currently having a successful run at three locations.

To Mani's Bakery come Michelle Pfeiffer, Jamie Lee Curtis and other Hollywood stars, seeking his sticky buns, his doughnuts, his blueberry muffins, his apple-raspberry torte. Why Mani? After all, the contents of his pastry cases look like those found in ZTC pastry cases in any other good bakery. But there is artfulness at work here -- the sticky on the sticky buns is caramelized fruit juice; the doughnuts are baked, not fried; the muffins contain no eggs and, sometimes, no fat; and the torte is fat-free. In a town where body consciousness is both religion and investment.

Cranberry-walnut scones

Makes 16 scones.

2 cups unbleached white flour

1/4 cup maple sugar plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling over top

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup fresh or dried cranberries

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup skim-milk buttermilk

1 tablespoon skim milk

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray or line it with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, 1/4 cup maple sugar, baking powder and salt. With a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cranberries and walnuts. Make a well in the center and gradually stir in buttermilk to form a ball. Knead lightly. Do not overwork; the dough should be sticky and difficult to work with. Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, pat or roll each portion into an 8-inch round, about 1/2 -inch thick. Cut each round into 8 triangles. Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet. Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon maple sugar. Bake for 14 to 18 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm.

If you have any scones left over, toast them to recrisp the outer crust. Granulated maple sugar can be ordered from: Dakin Farm, Route 7, Ferrisburg, Vt. 05456; (802) 425-3971.

Oatmeal cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

1/2 cup tightly packed pitted prunes

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups fruit-juice concentrate

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

3 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry flour

1 cup rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 baking sheets with non-stick cooking spray or line with parchment paper. In a food processor, combine prunes with 1/4 cup warm water; process until smooth. Transfer pureed prunes to a large bowl; whisk in butter and oil until smooth. Gradually whisk in fruit-juice concentrate and vanilla.

In a small bowl, stir together flour, rolled oats, baking soda and salt. Add the flour mixture to the prune mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until blended. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Transfer cookies to racks and let cool.

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