Stuff & Nonsense: baking


Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts

11 February 2019

From Delicious Bundt Cakes: Rosemary-Lemon Bundt Cake


Even though I already possess an incalculable wealth of cookbooks, I am always eager to add another one to my collection. I have a great weakness for the book section BJ's Wholesale Club and must browse it every time I pop in to pick "just a few" things up. The stores usually have a good selection of new books by America's Test Kitchen and I've added three or four to my collection over the year. When (not if) I find a cookbook I like, I'll check the price against Amazon and BJ's is usually a little cheaper, happily legitimizing my impulsive purchase. My most recent purchase was Delicious Bundt Cakes: More Than 100 New Recipes For Timeless Favorites by Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore.

I purchased this book mostly because of the "Tomato Soup Spice Bundt Cake" recipe which brought back a flood of memories of my mother's tomato soup cake. Mind you, the book's recipe is nothing like my mother's as it uses a spice cake mix and my mother's (excepting the soup) was completely from scratch. I also hated tomato soup as a child and would never eat her tomato soup cake. The idea of tomato soup -- so disgusting in itself -- going into a cake was just untenable. Now I know it doesn't taste at all of soup, but is much more like a rich and nutty spice cake.

There's also a chapter titled "A Year of Bundts" and doesn't that just sound delightful? Also, an easy way to make baking a more regular thing again as baking one thing usually leads me to baking more things. Bundt cakes -- the gateway bake. February's cake is "Chock-Full of Cherries Bundt Cake" made with dark cherries and pecans. I'll probably bake it around Washington's Birthday since it plays into the whole cherry tree myth.

While I've only just started baking from this book, I find it quite good. The recipes seem easy to follow and do not use any hard-to-find or costly ingredients. There isn't a photo for every cake, which is a bit of a downer, but the photos that are included make the cakes look very, very tempting. The recipes are a mixture of scratch and "cheater" baking with about half the recipes starting with a cake mix base. I can see it might annoy a purist, but I enjoy the opportunities made possible by the duality -- throw together mix-based bundt on a minute's notice or spend a lazy afternoon faffing around with a scratch cake recipe.


Today I baked the "Rosemary-Lemon Bundt Cake" for my coworker's as one of the part-timers will soon be heading off to work in a different town department and I just feel like we should have a little cake to celebrate her. She's been brilliant to work with and I wish we didn't have to lose her, but she needs a job with more regular hours and better pay and she'll find that in her new position.

The cake is very good, imho. Only mildly sweet with tender crumb, it is a good cake to pair with a cuppa. Flavor-wise, rosemary and lemon compliment each other well and, every time I lift the cake dome, I am caught up in what I can only describe as the scent of summer in a mythical Provence. All in all, it is a very appealing cake and I will be baking it again.

07 February 2019

Memories of Baking With Mom

I'm baking a pumpkin bundt using a mix of my baking things and Mom's and it's kind-of ... nice? As if, even though she's not here and will never be here again, she is still with me? When I was a small child, Mom and I baked together all the time. I had a little wooden footstool I would stand on to reach the counter properly and she would give me bowls to mix together or eggs to crack or nuts to chop in the hand chopper. I loved that hand chopper. It was a very simply device -- just a glass jar with a screw on plastic lid and a metal X-shaped blade on a rod. It looked very much like this Gemco-Ware one:


I'd lean forward on my little stool, push up my sleeves, and chop with all my might until those nuts were chopped. I'll admit there was more than one batch of nuts that ended up chopped a bit more than my mother needed. She usually asked me to chop the nuts coarsely or medium coarsely, but I would get a little hepped up and Hulk smash the chopper until the nuts were rather finely chopped. With a little instruction, I eventually mastered all the sizes and learned which were appropriate for what recipe. Really, Mom taught me a lot about cooking without me realizing it -- just having me in the kitchen withe her, observing and experiencing, helped me absorb her teachings in what I thought, as a wee kidlet, was just another form of play.

Unfortunately, as I grew older, I was much more resistant to helping my Mom in the kitchen. Part of that was the usual teenage contrariness, but I think some of it was a withholding of self. My mother had been in a terrible car accident when I was eight and spent many months in the hospital before she could come home and even when she came home it was a very long time before she was anything like the mother I'd known. Having been without her for so long and so suddenly cognizant of her mortality, I fear I withheld some of myself from her and we lost a lot of our old intimacy.

Later as I, an adult, slowly opened my self up to the prospect of romantic love, it was also easier to open up to my mother and return to something like our earlier relationship. We sewed together, swapped recipes, and had a few deeply intimate conversations about things I never thought I'd discuss with my mother. We were good. And then she died so abruptly and I find myself wanting to shout that we weren't done yet, we were really only beginning, and it's not fair.


So I am baking a pumpkin bundt cake using a mix of my baking things and Mom's, because even though she can't be here I can still remember all the baking we did do together and I can still bake the things we would have baked together.

My pumpkin bundt uses a modified version of Betty Crocker's "Pumpkin Bread" recipe. I used finely chopped toasted pecans, a medley of raisins (because they're pretty and more interesting), and mace instead of nutmeg. I also threw in a ½ teaspoon of ground ginger and used whole white wheat flour, because that's all I have on hand these days.

17 January 2019

Cookbook Club: Cake


I probably shouldn't have chosen cake as January's library cookbook club theme, considering "everyone" is "dieting" this time of year, but I tried veg*n cooking last January and no-one really liked that so I thought I'd swing for the opposite pole.

Anyway, five cooks came with cakes and we all had a good time and that's all that matters. Several bakers complained their cakes were not up to scratch -- the walnut cake baker simply did not like the flavor or texture of her cake, while the butter cake baker was embarrassed her cake fell in the middle after it came out of the oven and was afraid there was something very wrong with it. As is often true, we can be our own worst critics, for everyone else liked their cakes very much.

To be fair, the cookbook club members are a compassionate, optimistic bunch who never have anything but nice things to say to each other. Even when a dish is awful, everyone is supernice about figuring out how it went wrong or could be fixed. If you're feeling down about the world and think that humanity is pretty awful, cookbook club will make you feel so much better.

Cakes:
  • "Basic Yellow Butter Cake" from Yvonne Ruperti's One Bowl Baking: Simple, from Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts
  • "Chocolate Zucchini Cake" from Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove cookbook
  • "Lemon-Fig Cake" from Martha Stewart's Cakes: Our First-Ever Book of Bundts, Loaves, Layers, Coffee Cakes, and More
  • "Lemon-Poppy Seed Pound Cake" from Better Homes & Gardens' Baking Step By Step: Everything You Need to Know to Start Baking Now!
  • "Spiced Walnut Cake" from Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough's All-Time Favorite Sheet Cakes & Slab Pies: Easy to Make, Easy to Serve
  • "Supermoist Applesauce Quick Bread" also from Yvonne Ruperti's One Bowl Baking: Simple, from Scratch Recipes for Delicious Desserts

11 January 2019

On Baking King Arthur Flour's Whole-Grain Banana Bread


I've been craving banana bread, but haven't feel quite up to making Mom's recipe. Mom was allergic to bananas, which always confused me, because she would still buy bananas and bake banana bread for my Dad. They only made her sick if she ingested them, so having them in the house wasn't going to make her sick, but why would you keep a fruit associated with vomiting and hives around if you didn't have to? Because my Dad liked bananas. And Mom liked Dad. And she was one of those people who was happiest making other people happy. So, bananas.

Mom would throw a banana in each of our lunchboxes and, invariably, at the end of the week there would be a browning banana or two who had traveled hither and yon without being eaten. Mom would throw the banana(s) in the freezer and, when there were enough, she would make banana bread.

Mom's banana bread was very dense and heavy. A real stick-to-your-ribs banana bread. A thick slice, slathered with sweet butter, made for a delicious breakfast and is something I've missed as an adult. The Husband does not eat banana bread and I can't/shouldn't eat an entire loaf on my own, so I just don't make it. My browned frozen bananas go into smoothies which, while quite good, are no banana bread.

Anyway, since Mom died, I'm been craving all sorts of childhood eats. Banana bread. Zucchini bread. Spritz cookies. Raspberry crumb bars. Tomato-y meatloaf. Salmon cakes. Hard salami sandwiches on toasted Pepperidge Farm white sandwich bread with provolone, iceberg lettuce, tomato, a smear of mayonnaise, and sprinkle of oregano.

Well, that got unexpectedly specific.

I'm going down to help Dad sort through more of Mom's things this weekend and so tonight seemed like the best time to give into my banana bread craving and just bake one. Dad loves banana bread even more than I do and wouldn't mind if I left him with half the loaf. I wasn't about to feed him Mom's loaf, though. Too soon for everyone, definitely. Instead, I made King Arthur Flour's "Whole-Grain Banana Bread."

This is a very morish bread and I could easily eat an entire loaf. As it is, my half is already greatly reduced in size and I don't doubt I'll help Dad eat some of his tomorrow. This cake is less dense and more tender than my mother's and seems more like a snacking cake than something I might have for breakfast (although I probably will, anyway). I used butterscotch chips as the nuts I'd planned on using had gone off and the chips gave the bread a nice caramelized note. While not Mom's bread, I still think she would have approved of my recipe choice as she was a great fan of King Arthur Flour.

08 March 2018

Baking With Coffee Flour

When last I ordered from Nuts.com, I threw a bag off coffee flour in my cart because ... I don't know ... it sounded interesting. I'd been doing a lot of baking with chocolate and wondered if adding coffee flour to a chocolate cake or whathaveyou recipe would enhance the chocolate flavor the way adding brewed coffee would. But then I stopped baking -- my culinary life is all fits and starts these days -- and the flour languished in the baking cupboard.

I know. You're wondering what the heck coffee flour is, right? What would you do with it? Why would you want it?

Coffee flour is a food with a mission. Every year, billions of pounds of coffee fruit are discarded as a byproduct of coffee production. Instead of leaving the fruit to rot as waste, coffee flour was created to convert the leftover fruit into a tasty, nutritious flour that can be used for baking, cooking and making beverages. High in fiber, protein, and antioxidants, coffee flour is a non-GMO food that is naturally gluten-free. Not only is our coffee flour a perfectly versatile ingredient, it also helps create jobs for farmers and protect the environment.

It's feel-good flour.

But, how do you bake with it? Nuts.com says you can use 30% coffee flour in place of all-purpose or gluten-free flours in your recipes, but other sources say 10, 15, or 25%. I would guess start with the smallest amount and increase if successful?

I have not yet been brave enough to try using it in any of my favorite chocolaty recipes (I just feel, since it's a coffee byproduct, it should be paired with chocolate even though I know it doesn't need to be), but I have tried a two recipes specifically formulated to use coffee flour and had good results.


The first recipe I tried was "Coffee-Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies" from the February 2017 issue of the print magazine Rodale's Organic Life. I made the recipe exactly as written, going with weighted measures where provided, and ended up with 41 extremely yumptious cookies. Neither The Husband nor I enjoy coffee or coffee-flavored things, but these cookies do not taste at all coffee-like!

They are dark cookies, yes, with a hint of dates and a slight bitterness that put me more in mind of black tea tannins than coffee. That dark, slight bitterness worked well, though, balancing the general sweetness of the cookie and the insipidness of the milk chocolate morsels I used (forgot I was out of semisweet).

They have crisp-but-yielding exteriors with soft, almost cake-like interiors, and melt in the mouth. Definitely a cookie I'd make again. (I brought a third of the batch to work and everyone liked the cookies so much that I brought in another third the next day ... and The Husband was very unhappy about that so, yeah, it's a good cookie).


For my second attempt at baking with coffee flour, I used Nuts.com gluten-free "Chocolate Coffee Flour Muffins Recipe" recipe one snowy afternoon as I had all the ingredients on hand already. While this was my first time baking gluten-free, the Nuts.com recipe was simple with straight-forward instructions and I had no trouble preparing it. The only change I made to the recipe was to use Hersheys Special Dark chocolate cocoa, because that's all I had on hand.

The muffins baked up beautifully -- light and fluffy with a delicate crumb (perhaps more cupcake than muffin?). Perhaps a little dry, but I've certainly had much worse. The Husband enjoyed his muffins with a cup of tea and, frankly, that's always a good pairing. Flavor-wise, the muffins are a very dark chocolate with that slight, bitter coffee flour edge.


When I portioned the batter out into the muffin cups, I thought the batter smelled a lot like a Bounty/Mounds bar and, if I made this recipe again, I would top the muffins with shredded coconut instead of hazelnuts and, maybe, also add a little coconut extract to the batter.

I'll probably bake the CoffeeFlour® "Coffee Cherry Flour Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars" next, because everyone likes chocolate chip cookie bars. I really want to bake the "Coffee Cherry Flour Chocolate Zucchini Bread," but zucchini season is months away and it seems wrong to buy out-of-season zucchini!

02 November 2017

Halloween-y Marbled Cupcakes


I’d meant to make HHalloween spritz cookies again, but ... ehhh ... life. So I knocked together these Halloween-y marbled cupcakes using a box mix, canned icing, and liberal amounts of gel food color.

First, I prepared a Betty Crocker™ Super Moist™ Favorites White Cake Mix following the instructions on the back of the box. Then, I split the batter between two bowls and tinted each with liberal amounts of gel food color. (I chose to use black and purple, but in hindsight it’s clear orange or green would have made a sharper contrast against the black). I then spooned the batter into cupcake liners -- alternating colors as I went and then giving each cup a gentle swirl with a skewer -- and baked them according to the box.

When the cupcakes were cooled, I beat green food gel into a can of Betty Crocker™ Creamy White Rich & Creamy Frosting until I’d reached a Frankenstein-ish green. I iced the cupcakes with frosting, sprinkled them with green sugar for extra sparkle, and ... that was it, really.

I admit they’re pretty and I have been happy enough to nom a couple with a mug of tea, but they’re not as good as scratch-made. The Husband is not that keen on the canned frosting and keeps scraping it off before devouring the cake beneath!

Tl;dr: next time, when feeling lazy, simply buy cute Halloween cupcakes from the cupcakery.

12 October 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Sugar & Spice

October's Improv Cooking Challenge is all about sugar and spice (and everything nice). Since the local farmers markets and orchards are brimming with apples, I thought I would combine the three to make a spiced apple cake perfect for celebrating the autumn season. And then I thought I'd bake it in a bundt pan, because a bundt makes an effortlessly pretty cake and I am all about least effort.


I grated the apple using the largest holes on my box grater as the smaller holes just turned the apple into applesauce. As far as what kind of apples to use, I would say any cooking apple you enjoy would be fine in this cake.

While I used slivered almonds in this cake, I think finely chopped walnuts or pecans would give the cake a better texture. The slivered almonds were a little large and hard and kind-of dominated the mouthfeel of the cake.

But, almonds aside, this cake is good. Moist, sweet, and fragrant with spices ... it's something I'll be making often with my CSA share apples. It is equally tasty as a snack or as breakfast.

Apple Spice Bundt

Yield: 1 10-inch round

Ingredients

  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp allspice
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cored grated apple, peeled if desired
  • 1 cup slivered almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter and flour a 6-cup bundt pan.
  3. Mix the flour, baking soda, and spiced together in a bowl. Set aside.
  4. Cream the shortening and sugars together. Add the eggs and beat well.
  5. Add flour mixture and buttermilk, alternating. Add apples and nuts.
  6. Pour into bundt pan and bake for 1 hour at 350°F or or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  7. Remove from oven. Let stand 20 minutes; remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Glaze, if desired, or eat. Will keep in a well-sealed cake tin for 4-5 days.

I chose to glaze my bundt with a simple spice glaze of 1 cup confectionary sugar, 2 Tbsp milk, and 1 tsp Penzeys pie spice blend. Because I knew it would take another hour or so for the glaze to set, I helped myself to a good chunk of cake before glazing so I wouldn't have to wait! Turns out the cake is equally good with or without the glaze!


For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





08 June 2017

Improv Cooking Challenge: Jalapeños & Cheese

After much indecisiveness, I decided to experiment with jalapeño and cheese corn muffins for June's Improv Cooking Challenge. Unfortunately, the first batch was nearly indelible -- astonishingly hot, much too dry, and a little tough. However, I tried again -- adding more liquid, reducing the amount of dried jalapeños, and stirring less -- and eventually arrived at a moderately zippy, tender muffin.


I used Cabot's Jalapeno Jack, a creamy cheese generously studded with fiery jalapeño pieces. It's a flavorful cheese, with plenty of spice, but doesn't set fire to the back of my throat. Really, though, any spicy semi-soft cheese you like will work in this recipe. Just as you should only cook with wine you like to drink, you shouldn't cook with cheese you don't want to surreptitiously nibble.

If you can't find plain kefir at your market, buttermilk or soured milk will work in a pinch. I used kefir simply because I almost always have a container of kefir in my fridge and running to the shop to purchase a container of buttermilk that would end up going off before I could use it up was just ... nope.



Jalapeño Cheddar Corn Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • 3 oz canola, plus extra for greasing the muffin tin
  • 5 oz white whole wheat flour
  • 5 oz cornmeal
  • ⅛ tsp mustard powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 oz pepper jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tbsp dried crushed jalapeños
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 9 oz plain low-fat kefir
  • 4 oz whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 12 pickled jalapeño slices

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 425°F. Brush a 12-hole muffin tin with neutral cooking oil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, mustard powder, baking powder, cheese, crushed jalapeños, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the kefir, milk, oil, and eggs together.
  4. Fold the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, working swiftly yet gently to avoid tough muffins.
  5. Divide the mix between the 12 oiled muffin wells (they will be quite full) and top each with a jalapeño slice. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean when tested.
  6. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Serve warm with whipped butter.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the second Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





25 May 2017

Lazy Blackberry Almond Bars

I came home from work Monday night in the mood to bake something Right Then That Minute. Since I had a bag of sugar cookie mix and a punnet of fresh blackberries on hand, I decided to whip up a batch of my tried-and-true generally-husband-pleasing blackberry bars. These bars are based on Betty Crocker's "Raspberry Streusel Bars" recipe, but I've steadily tweaked it over the years until it has become what you see below.


You don't absolutely have to warm the preserves, but it spreads much more easily on the hot sugar cookie base if you do. Otherwise, I find bits of the base get pulled up and mixed into the preserves as I try to spread it around.


Lazy Blackberry Almond Bars

Yield: 25 bars

Ingredients

  • 1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
  • ⅓ cup butter, softened
  • 2 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground mace
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup seedless black raspberry preserves, warmed until slightly runny
  • ¼ blackberries
  • ¼ flaked almonds

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 8-inch square baking pan with foil and brush with canola oil or spritz with cooking spray.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine cookie mix, butter, flour, almond extract, cinnamon, mace, and egg until a soft dough forms. Press half of the dough into the bottom of pan and bake 15 minutes.
  3. Spread warm preserves over cookie base. Sprinkle with blackberries.
  4. Mash remaining dough and almonds together with a pastry blender until crumbs form. Scatter over preserves and berries.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes or until bars are golden brown.
  6. Cool completely then cut into bars and store in a tightly sealed container until needed. Baked bars will slowly soften, so eat within a day or two of baking.

16 February 2017

Improv Challenge: Chocolate & Chillies

It'sImprov Challenge Cooking reveal day for February, and this month's theme let us all get really creative with chocolate and chillies (aka chilies or chiles). Yum! I immediately knew I wanted to make some kind of cookie so it was merely a matter of thinking and experimenting until I found the recipe that seemed perfect for the challenge.

These cookies are loosely based on the memories of a bite-size chocolate and chili shortbread cookie I ate last year, but I went big with soft palm-sized drop cookies. I want rich, almost fudge-y, dark chocolate goodness, with just a touch of heat and spice. Something that would pair perfectly with an ice cold glass of milk and leave you feeling like maybe you'd been a little bit naughty. I wanted to flirt with decadence without crossing the line into chocolate overload. I think I mostly succeeded with this.

Chopping chocolate is a recommended stress reliever

Dark Chocolate & Chili Cookies

Yield:About 4 dozen

Ingredients

  • 1¼ cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour [King Arthur Flour]
  • ¾ cup baking cocoa [King Arthur Flour Triple Chocolate Blend]
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3.5 oz bar dark chili chocolate, chopped [Lindt Chili Excellence Bar]
  • 3.5 oz bar dark chocolate, chopped [Lindt 85% Cocoa Excellence Bar]
  • Cinnamon sugar, if desired [Lindt Chili Excellence Bar]

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, cayenne, baking soda, and salt. Gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in chopped chocolate.
  2. Drop cookie dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 8-10 minutes, depending on how gooey you like your cookies. Immediately sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if using.
  3. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Let cool completely before eating ... if you have the patience! (The warmer the cookie, the more fragile it will be so handle with care).
  4. Cooled cookies will keep in an airtight container

Don't be surprised if these are gone in a day

The Husband thought these tasted a bit like "Mexican" hot chocolate, because they're very dark with just a hint of heat and spice, and was happy to scarf them down with mugs of tea. However, if you would like a properly spicy cookie, feel free to double the amount of cayenne. Also, these are fairly soft and crumbly cookies. Brilliant to nosh on (very morish -- so if you have a weakness for cookies, be forewarned) but not suitable for dunking in a cup of tea.

For anyone new to my blog, the Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.





20 January 2017

The Quick-Bread of Comfort & Distraction

I've been all snarled up in a nasty tangle of worry and doubt and grief these last few months. The future, I feel, has become untenable and I don't know what to do with myself. I feel restive and unsure, unwilling to make more than the most basic short-term decisions, and increasingly fatalistic. In short, I'm in a funk.

So, I bake (and donate and make plans to march). There's a comfort in baking, you know. To combine disparate ingredients into a delicious, cohesive whole. To know that wet ingredients go together this way and dry ingredients go together that way and science happens and we have something delicious.

For this particular Bread of Comfort and Distraction, I used King Arthur Flour's recipe for "Easy Whole Wheat Apple-Raisin Bread" which made a delicious quick-bread dense with fruit and nuts and fragrant with the scents of autumn (yes, I know we're in the grim heart of winter). All the ingredients were already in my pantry, so I can claim it was an economical bread. And, as it's made with white whole wheat flour, nuts, and fruit, I can also claim it's a nutritious one.


As I was sticking to ingredients I already had on hand, I used a medley of raisins, because why settle for golden raisins when you can have also have crimson and flame? I also used sliced toasted almonds instead of walnuts or pecans, because someone had eaten them. And, on impulse, I added three tablespoons minced crystallized ginger to the batter just before I poured it into the baking tin, because more ginger is better. And it was good, although it might have been more like spice bread than apple bread in the end. And I sprinkled the bread with both coarse white sparkling sugar and cinnamon-sugar, because I had both in my spice cupboard and thought "why not?"

All in all, it was a rather lovely loaf and my scavenging coworkers ate it down to the last micro-morsel. A few even asked for the recipe, so this is clearly a quick bread that bears repeating. And I suspect, in the coming months, I'm going to be doing a lot of comfort-and-distraction baking. Also marching. And donating.

27 September 2016

A Hankering for Cake; Or, a Cake Emergency Is Averted & there is rejoicing

I was experiencing a powerful hankering for cake, but didn't have the energy to commit to baking a full-size scratch cake, and then remembered the Duncan Hines Perfect Size Red Velvet Crush Heart-Shaped Cake mix kit I'd picked up on clearance just after Valentine's Day last year and put away for a "cake emergency." (What? You don't have cake emergencies? Get on with you!)

These Perfect Size cake mix kits are really quite a clever gimmick. In each kit, there's a bag of glaze or frosting mix, a bag of cake mix, and a twee little baking pan. You just add a bit of egg, butter, water, and milk and *ta-da* you're off to the races. Each cake serves 2-4 people, depending on appetite, and we did manage 4 servings from this heart-shaped one.

Threw on some red confetti sprinkles to make it look less homely. Did not succeed.

What did this red velvet cake taste like? Like a light, mildly chocolate sponge. The glaze was also only mildly chocolate-y, but quite sweet. Happily, the unsweetened whipped cream I served with this cake helped to balance out the sweetness of the glaze and we scarfed it down with big cups of tea. A quarter of the cake per person (or one ventricle, as The Husband called it) was the perfect sized serving -- cravings were assuaged without leaving anyone feeling uncomfy around the waistband.

Would I buy this cake mix kit again? Not the red velvet (the heart-shaped kit was a limited edition, but there's an all-season round version available), no, but I wouldn't mind trying the Perfect Size Strawberries and Crème cake mix kit (garnished with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, obviously).

21 July 2016

Improv Challenge: Peaches & Cream


I didn't plan on participating in July's Improv Challenge. Housebound, easily tired, and increasingly irritated by the tether that is my wound vac ... cooking just hasn't been my thing. But I'm getting bored with myself, you see. Boredboredbored. And so I thought "What the heck! I have dried peaches in the pantry, sour cream in the fridge, and nothing else that needs doing. Why not, at least, try? At worst, I exhaust myself, have a little cry, and need a lie down. At best, I am one step closer to convincing myself I am a Well Person now."

Briefly, I considered tarting up a basic scone recipes with peaches, crystallized ginger, and honey cream. But then I came to my senses and remembered I don't particularly like scones. I know, I know. Scones are something all bookish tea drinking Anglophiles should love. And I do love the idea of them. But I've eaten so many bad scones -- dry, bland, chewy, UGH -- that I've learned to avoid them at bakeries and cafes. And, more importantly, I've not had much luck baking them. So.


Muffins! Glorious, peachy muffins! I've adapted "Naomi's Apricot Nut Muffins" recipe from ApricotKing Orchards to use spelt flour, peaches, ginger, and almonds. I also soaked my peaches in a cup of freshly brewed Salada Green Tea "Immunity" (a blend of green tea, nectarine and peach flavors, spices, and herbs) instead of water, in an attempt to boost the muffins' peachiness. (Feel free to use any peach-flavored tea or just plain ol' hot water).

Peachy Spelt Muffins

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup diced dried peaches
  • 1 cup freshly brewed Salada Green Tea Immunity
  • 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups spelt flour [King Arthur Flour]
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp grated orange zest
  • ¼ cup crystallized ginger
  • Sparkling (large grain) sugar, if desired
  • Sliced almonds, if desired

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the lower middle. Line a 12-count muffin pan with baking cups or grease the bottoms and halfway up the sides of the wells.
  2. Place peaches in a bowl, add hot tea, and let sit for 10 minutes. Drain.
  3. Cream together butter, sugar, and sour cream in your stand mixer
  4. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and orange peel in a large bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients to wet, mixing until just until combined. (Careful you don’t over mix as that can result in a tougher muffin). Gently stir in apricots and ginger.
  5. Fill muffin tin or paper cupcake cups. Sprinkle with sugar and almonds.
  6. Bake 18-20 minutes in the 400°F oven (if the almonds get too brown, tent with foil). Muffins are done when the tops are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle-most muffin comes out clean.
  7. Let the muffins cool in the muffin pan for 5 minutes, then immediately remove them from the pan. Let cool on a rack for another 15 minutes before eating.


As you can see, none of my muffins domed and a few have sunken centers. They're not under-baked -- the inside of the muffin in soft, fluffy, and moist-but-not-wet -- and my baking soda was new. While I was careful mixing the batter, it is still possible I over-mixed it. Also, in hindsight, I wonder if there wasn't enough leavening used? Perhaps I should have used used a 1:1 baking soda to flour ratio, even thought the original recipe used 1:2?

Anyway, while they're not as pretty as I would have liked, these muffins are still quite yummy. Nutty, just the right amount of sweet, and peachy. Even The Husband has been eating them! I thought for certain spelt would bet a big ol' NOPE from him, but I have been proven wrong. It happens.



06 June 2016

Fabulous Chipotle & Cinnamon Brownies

Just too much on my mind lately and sometimes, rather than tossing and turning in bed all night, it's easier to just get up with the birds and bake something.

And that something needs to be uncomplicated. Because while I am too wired for sleep, I am still not together enough to be trusted with knives or box graters. And something quiet. Because the last thing I want to do is wake The Husband and have him worrying about what I'm doing up and about in the wee small hours.

So brownies. Brownies are pretty much perfect.


To make these fabulous chipotle and cinnamon brownies, I started with a mix and then threw flavors at it until it seemed "right." My coworker had just hosted a taco bar party, so "Mexican" flavors were already on my mind. While I like the mild, mellow burn these brownies leave on the back of my throat, you might want to increase the heat by adding a little cayenne. I'm also kind-of curious to see how sriracha would work out, too, so if anyone wants to try that and get back to me ...

Even baked for 40 minutes, these are very dense, soft, almost-but-not-quite-gooey brownies. I think the bittersweet chocolate gives the commercial mix more complexity and depth, making for a more grown-up brownie. Warm, they're dynamite with a dollop of cinnamon ice cream, they're also pretty darn fine all by themselves at room temperature.

To make these chipotle and cinnamon brownies, prepare a brownie mix (I used a Betty Crocker Fudge Brownie mix) as directed on the box and then add:
  • ½ tsp ground chipotle
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Mexican vanilla (from the Penzeys bottle I've been hoarding since I realized they no longer sell it)
  • 2 oz coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (a bit of Divine 70% bittersweet chocolate leftover from Choctoberfest)
Bake and cool according to box.

Because The Husband hates cinnamon and I knew the very idea of spicy brownies would appall him, I made The Husband his very own pan of brownies by doctoring another mix with the zest of a large orange, 1 tsp orange extract, and 2 oz coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate. I was striving for a Terry's Chocolate Orange-esque brownie and my results weren't too far off. Of course, after I'd baked The Husband's brownies, I realized I could have just chopped up a dark chocolate orange and thrown that in instead of the bittersweet chocolate!

13 April 2016

Yumptious Tea Brack

Finally got around to baking King Arthur Flour's "Tea Brack" on Sunday. As I understand it, tea brack is the baking-powder-and-tea version of barmbrack, a yeasty bread usually served in Ireland at Halloween with different fortune-telling objects (a coin, a thimble, etc) baked into it. I'm still leery of yeast doughs, so this yeast-free version sounded perfect.


I used Barry's Gold Blend tea and Jack Daniel's Single Barrel (not Irish whiskey, but all I had on hand) to soak the fruit as I thought a little whiskey never went amiss with tea. The tea-and-whiskey soaked fruits were plump and yumptious. I used soft, vacuum-sealed fruits from Nuts.com because I find their products consistently good and quite reasonably priced for the quality I'm getting. I freely admit nearly as many dried plums (prunes) went into my belly as went into the cake! (I love dried plums, even back when they were still marketed as prunes and most often associated with grandmas and "regularity").

This cake is a little time-consuming, yes, but in a distinctly non-fiddly "do this and go away for an hour" way. I threw all my fruits together in a big bowl with the tea and whiskey, covered them with a tea towel, and then went off to tidy the living room. Then I assembled the dry ingredients in another bowl, got the egg out, and tidied the kitchen a bit. By the time the fruits were ready to go, I'd done enough that I felt truly accomplished for a Sunday morning.


As I lacked a 8" baking tin that was at least 2" deep, I used my 9" springform pan and wrapped the base in foil, just in case there were leaks. The cake rose up quite beautifully as it baked, but the walls of the pan were high enough to prevent spillovers. Baking tins I've seen in my English mother-in-law's kitchen seem to run much deeper than the ones I'm used to in America. I don't know why this is so -- perhaps because English cakes tend to be denser, fruit-based ones? But how does that explain the sponge cake?

But how does it taste? Heavenly. Moist, dense, fruity. Of course, I'm partial to fruitcake. And tea. And whiskey. People who do not like those things will probably not enjoy this cake. While a plain slice is perfectly delightful on its own, toasting it in a pan and then smearing it with good butter just brings it to a whole new level. Obviously, consume with tea (or whiskey!). Appropriate for breakfast, tea, or whenever you're feeling snacky. Remember, it's got fruit in it (And whole grains! And flavonoids!) so it must be good for you.

I'm tempted to make this tea brack at Christmas using a "Christmas" tea blend, cover the top with royal icing and pass it off as an easy Christmas cake. Seriously, I love the fruitcake recipes I use, but they each make cakes meant to be consumed by waaay more people than I know who like fruitcake. And there's no point telling me to freeze it, because even I (!) don't want fruitcake in July.

06 April 2016

Cookies for Orderly Cupboards

The addition of two bags of flour has caused my usually orderly baking cupboard to descend into chaos. Every time I open its doors to get out the walnuts or refill the sugar pot now, a partially used bag of dried fruit or chocolate morsels throws itself at me. "It's too crowded it here," they cry. "We don't know where we're supposed to fit! DO SOMETHING!"


So I turned a bunch of them into cookies! (Possibly not what they had in mind). I started with a Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix leftover from Christmas and just tarted it up with random baking add-ins. Because I used a lot of add-ins (too many?), I ended up with more cookies than cookie sheets. I just let the first pan cool on the porch after the cookies had been removed from it to the cooling racks and then re-used it, parchment and all, for the last batch.

These cookies came out pretty deliciously. I mean, they would have to be at least "okay" as the mix makes them mostly foolproof. The flavors and textures were quite good, although I think I would have preferred almonds to macadamias and a bit of orange zest wouldn't have gone amiss. Still, my coworkers kept telling me how delicious the cookies were, so what do I know?

Cookies for Orderly Cupboards

Yield: about 32 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 17.5 oz pouch Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup crystallized ginger chips
  • ⅓ cup dried apricots, chopped small
  • ½ cup unsweetened dried flaked coconut, crumbled between your fingers
  • 1 cup 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup unsalted raw macadamia nut pieces

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Line 2 half sheet pans (13"x18") with baking parchment.
  2. Place cookie mix, butter, and egg in your stand mixer's bowl. Attach bowl and flat beater to the mixer. Turn to Speed 6 and beat until a soft dough forms. Add in remaining ingredients and continue to beat until combined.
  3. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart.
  4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool cookies on pan for 2 minutes then transfer to cooling racks and allow to cool completely.
  5. Store cookies in a tightly covered container until needed.

23 March 2016

Can't Have Too Much Flour!

Last week, King Arthur Flour offered $3.14 shipping on all orders over $31.41 in honor of Pi Day and I, of course, seized the opportunity to stock up on flours! Oganic all-purpose and white whole wheat are my regular buys, but the Irish-style and spelt flours are new to me. I'm definitely looking forward to experimenting with them!

All the flours for me, for me ...

As far as I know, I'd never eaten anything made with spelt until I bought a beautiful loaf of spelt sourdough bread from Bantam Bread Company earlier this month. Ohhhh, that bread. Properly sour (and yet a little nutty) with a beautiful body that not only toasted up like a dream but, untoasted, still held up against even the juiciest, drippiest sandwich fillings. I've been day dreaming about that bread since I finished the loaf. Alas, I currently have no good reason to visit Litchfield!

Look at that beautiful bread! Omnomnom.

But that bread's the entire reason I now own a bag of spelt flour. No intention of trying to copy Bantam's sour dough -- that's well beyond my ken -- but I am looking forward to attempting to other things:

  • "Spelt muffins" (w/ the optional almonds & dates, because who doesn't love dates?)
  • "Cinnamon coffee cake"(seems more like a quick bread than a "traditional" coffee cake, but I won't know until I bake it!)
  • "Brown sugar walnut pennies" (never browned butter before ... irrationally excited by the opportunity)

I also picked up a bag of Irish-style flour which I think is the closest I'm going to get to the wholemeal flour called for in my British cookbooks without spending silly money at an British import store. King Arthur has a lovely-sounding recipe for tea brack I'd like to try out rightnowthisminute except I haven't any prunes. Nor currants. Nor ... raisins! How did I run out of raisins? What a sad matter of things.

15 March 2016

Best Beloved's Unbirthday Cupcakes

Imperial Sugar's recipe for "Caramel Easter Egg Filled Chocolate Cupcakes" showed up in my feed about a month ago and I was immediately smitten. The Husband's birthday was coming up -- forty on the first day of Spring, yo -- and they seemed like just the thing to celebrate with. I know a big honkin' multi-tiered cake is probably more appropriate for a fortieth birthday, but there's only two of us and there's a limit to how much cake I want hanging around ... even if it is for my best beloved. Also, cupcakes keep well and are perfectly tidy foods requiring neither plates nor forks to consume. Cupcakes are best, is all I'm saying.


But ... then I realized I'd over-planned his birthday (presuming it doesn't rain) and there was no way I'd manage to bake cupcakes (or anything else) and keep to The Secret Birthday Weekend Plan, so the lucky duck enjoyed them on his unbirthday weekend!

Alas, I couldn't find "caramel mini Easter egg candies" -- only the bite-sized Mini Cadbury Creme Eggs -- so that's what I used. And I didn't have unsweetened chocolate, so melted chopped up bits of 70% bittersweet baking bar and reduced the sugar by two tablespoons. And I didn't have quite enough canola oil, so made up the rest with melted butter. And ran out of all-purpose flour, so used about a half cup of white whole wheat. Really, I should have checked my baking supplies before I started cooking, but I always have all-purpose flour and canola oil on hand. Why would I run out?

Because I keep baking things, obviously. And my baking cupboard, while deep and generously stocked, is not a limitless Horn of Plenty. Although, thanks to #Choctoberfest and Imperial Sugar, I'm still pretty well stocked with sugar! And chocolate. But, mostly, sugar.


I over-filled some of the baking cups with batter and they, of course, overflowed the edges of the cup when baking, creating a very messy cupcake. To make them a bit tidier, I flipped the cooled cupcakes upside down and then used a round biscuit cutter to trim the excess cake away. They still weren't professional bakery quality, but looked (imho) quite cute when frosted.

My cupcakes are frosted with store-bought whipped vanilla frosting I tinted with a little yellow gel paste food color. At first, I thought it was too pale, but have decided I rather like the effect of the bold green and blue against the softer yellow.


The Husband was super-annoyed I'd double cupped these and thought I'd booby-trapped them because, seeing the striped baking cup, he thought I'd unwrapped the first cupcake for him and proceeded to bite right through the inner cup. Eep. Oh, I how laughed. Oh, how he glowered. And then very carefully unwrapped the rest of the cupcake.

The cake part of these cupcakes are very good -- light, fluffy, chocolaty-but-not-too-sweet, and with excellent crumb -- but I was less enamored with the creme eggs as they settled to the bottom of the cupcake whilst baking and glued themselves to the bottom of the baking cups. The Husband ate them all quite happily, but as the baker it bothered me. How to keep them from settling to the bottom?

24 February 2016

Whisky-Glazed Chai Shortbread

Before I decided a chai-spiced honey cake would be just the thing for February's Improv Challenge, I briefly flirted with a tea-flavored shortbread. I tried an Earl Grey-infused shortbread first and it was fine, but not quite what I was looking for, so I tried it again with a chai tea blend and it was better -- richer and more aromatic than the subtle Earl Grey version. Either version is easy enough to make -- essentially you're just taking a basic shortbread recipe and adding tea.


These are good cookies ... crumbly and buttery, as shortbread is wont to be, with the distinct aromatic flavors of chai spices and the gentler, more subtle taste of whisky. If you wanted to, you could easily make these "Irish" for next month's Saint Patrick's Day shenanigans by using a good Irish strong tea, like Barry's Classic, and Irish whisky.

Whisky-Glazed Chai Shortbread

Yield: 16 squares

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp chai tea (contents of about 5 tea bags) [Tazo]
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup white granulated sugar [Imperial Sugar]
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 Tbsp honey whisky [Wild Turkey]

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Spritz a 9-inch square baking pan with a little baking spray.
  3. Pulse the tea and flour in your food processor until the tea is in small pieces evenly distributed throughout the flour. Then add the sugar and butter and process until a crumbly dough begins to form.
  4. Pour dough out into the prepared baking pan and smoosh dough down with your fingers (or the bottom of a small glass) until it is spread evenly across the bottom of the pan. Using a serrated knife, score dough deeply to make sixteen squares.
  5. Bake the shortbread at 375° for 20 minutes, or until it's firm and golden brown. Remove pan from the oven, and after 5 minutes, turn the shortbread out of the pan onto a clean cutting board. Cut all the way through the score marks. Place shortbread pieces on a rack to cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk together the powdered sugar and honey whisky. Brush glaze over cooled cookies and allow to dry completely on racks. Will keep in a tightly covered container for a week or so.

18 February 2016

Improv Challenge: Tea & Honey

This month for Improv Challenge, our ingredients were tea and honey. Part of me wanted to find a savory recipe, because baking with honey scared me a little ... but this is a challenge, after all, and so I knew I should push myself to cook outside my comfort zone.


The original recipe for this cake, called "English Honey Cake," came from The Best Ever Encyclopedia of British Cooking (Lorenz Books, 2011). I've added tea to it, obviously, and tweaked the amounts a little because, honestly, the amounts of honey and sugar going into the original seemed a touch inordinate. While I wanted a sweet, moist cake I didn't want to create something that would taste overwhelmingly SWEET -- the kind of hummingbird-crack cake where you take a bite and you're done.


I used linden (basswood) honey in this recipe, but clover or orange blossom honey should also yield good results. Linden, which I find rather herbal-tasting when compared to clover or orange blossom, is just what I happened to have on hand. The Polish grocery I shop at stocks an astonishing variety of honey and I am slowly working my way through them (with some help from Google Translate).


Honestly, I wasn't sure how much tea to use in this cake. I knew I wanted a strong tea flavor so I ... basically just dumped in tea until the butter mixture looked "right." Turned out that was five teabags or about two tablespoons. The flavor was good -- think chai gingerbread.


You could probably use any spicy tea blend with this cake. For this particular bake I used Tazo's Chai Organic which is a yummy blend of black tea, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, and other spices and it worked out really well -- richly aromatic and flavorful. However, a blend like Tazo's Pumpkin Spice -- black tea, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, & pumpkin -- or Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice tea blend -- "an assertive blend of black teas, three types of cinnamon, orange peel, and sweet cloves" -- might also be quite fun to try.

Chai-Spiced Honey Cake

Yield: 16 pieces

Ingredients

  • ¾ unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp runny honey
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp chai tea blend (about 5 teabags worth)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 8 oz self-rising flour

Instructions

  1. Grease and line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  3. Heat butter, ½ cup honey, sugar, and 2 Tbsp tea in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring regular, until butter is melted and everything is well mixed. Remove from heat and let rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Beat the eggs and milk into the cooled mixture. Sift the flour over the top and then beat in until smooth.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in the 350°F oven for 30 minutes or until cake is risen, golden brown, and firm to the touch.
  6. Leave cake to cool in pan on a cookie rack for 20 min. Firmly grasp the parchment and use it to gently lift the cake out onto the rack. Allow to cool completely in the parchment.
  7. Put remaining 2 Tbsp honey in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat until honey is very liquidy. Brush over cake and allow to sit until needed.
  8. Remove parchment and cut into 16 squares.


Overall, I'm quite pleased with how this cake turned out. It's a light, spicy cake with a beautiful, rich, honey-brown color speckled with lots of attractive flecks from the tea -- almost looks like a seed cake -- and it smells wonderful. Pairs well with a big mug of unsweetened black tea and reminds me quite strongly of something The Husband's Grandmother Winnie would have kept on hand for "just in case." Definitely worth baking again. Thanks, Camilla, for suggesting February's Improv Challenge theme!