With cooler weather and a more structured pace, baking can be an enjoyable task after summer’s lazy, hazy days. To maximize your baking activities, consider the following hints:

Bake two or three items at the same time. This helps cut down on oven heat and on dishes to be cleaned. (Set aside a large bowl for dry ingredients; another for liquids.)

Stock up on favorite baking items and flavors for baking day. Quick- cooking rolled oats, peanut butter, chocolate chips, bananas and raisins are always good to have on hand for many recipes.

White and whole-wheat flours, bran and wheat germ are nutritious, long- keeping dry ingredients. Consider buttermilk, sour cream and sour milk for extra flavor from liquid ingredients.

Loretto’s Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

My sister-in-law Loretto Lester, a talented baker, makes these moist muffins for her two children and numerous nieces and nephews.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsps. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup margarine or butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large, ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In small bowl, blend melted margarine or butter with milk and eggs. Add liquid ingredients to flour mixture, blending just until moistened. Blend in mashed bananas quickly and the chocolate chips.

Spoon muffin batter into 18 paper- lined (or greased) muffin tins, filling three-quarters full. Bake in preheated oven about 25 minutes.

Makes 18 medium muffins.

Peanut Butter-Sesame Fruit Squares

Even a child can prepare these tasty, crisp squares. Peanut butter adds protein and niacin (the B vitamin), while sesame seeds and dried fruit add nutritious flavor.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup margarine or butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried mixed fruitor raisins
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease an eight-by-eight by two-inch baking pan.

In small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In large bowl, using a wooden spoon, spatula or electric mixer, blend together margarine, peanut butter, sugar and egg until smooth.

Stir in flour mixture, sesame seeds and dried fruit. (If desired, use 1/4 cup chopped, dried fruit or raisins plus 1/4 cup chocolate chips.)

Spread into prepared pan, patting evenly to all sides. Bake in preheated oven 15 to 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean and top is lightly browned.

Makes about 16 two-inch squares.

Oatmeal Banana Muffins

Buttermilk and bananas help moisten these golden muffins, delicious with a wedge of Canadian cheddar cheese.

  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup corn oil 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In medium bowl, blend oats and buttermilk. Set aside.

In large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.

Add oil, beaten egg and mashed bananas to oat/buttermilk mixture, blending well. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients, mixing just enough to moisten.

Spoon into greased muffin tins, three-quarters full. Bake in preheated oven 15 to 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.

Makes 12 medium muffins.

Cocoa Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These crispy cookies have less sugar than traditional batters.

  • 1 cup margarine, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 2 tsps. baking powder
  • 2 tbsps. unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups quick oats
  • 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In large bowl, cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and almond extract.

In separate bowl, combine flours, baking powder, cocoa, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Blend into creamed mixture. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.

Roll dough into balls about – inch in diameter. Place on lightly greased cookie sheets, about two inches apart. Flatten top of each cookie with flat utensil to about 1/4- inch thickness.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown.

Makes about 60 medium cookies. (Cookies freeze well.)