Saturday, December 26, 2009

Raisin Date Cupcakes: One last Saturday treat...

Two weeks ago, as Sami and I were rushing around frantically trying to clear the house out for the renters, my friend Michelle came by to help me clean out my fridge. Before she left with a giant Costco bag full of half-full jars of condiments and oils and other gourmet goodies, I offered her a cup of tea and a muffin. "Looks like someone's still procrastinating," she commented.


Bingo! But it was a Saturday, after all, and I have to bake on Saturdays! I haven't baked for two Saturdays in a row, and let me tell you, it's killing me!
So these are the muffins I baked. Maida calls them "Raisin Date Cupcakes." You can tell already that Alicia's going to love them. But sadly, I had no dates anywhere, and I was not about to do any more grocery shopping one day before I left the country for half a year. So I decided that I would do a bit of a freezer clear out. I needed 12.5 oz. of dried fruit, and this is what I put together: about 4 dried pears, a large handful of dried apricots, a bunch of prunes, some dried cherries, some golden raisins, and some currants. It made for a nice, festive mixture with a lot of flavor but no one fruit dominating. It was probably a lot less sweet than the original date version. And I felt good about making a dent in my dried fruit reserves.
This is a very wet muffin recipe (I have no idea why these are called cupcakes), like the gingerbread muffin recipe. Mine seemed fully baked when I took them out of the oven, but I found them a tad too moist--it's probabaly hard to judge doneness with all that dried fruit. But I enjoyed them, and so did Michelle, and I somehow got over my procrastinating and whipped the house in shape--more or less...


Here's the recipe; adjust it to the dried fruit you like and have on hand.
Raisin Date Cupcakes

10 oz. pitted dates (or other dried fruit)
2.5 oz. raisins (or other dried fruit)
2 cups minus 2 T. boiling water
1 t. baking soda
4 oz. (1 stick) butter
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
finely grated rind of one orange
1/3 c. (2.3 oz.) brown sugar (if you're using very tart dried fruit, you may want to slightly increase this amount)
2 large eggs
1-1/3 c. (5.2 oz.) flour (you bet I used up some of my whole wheat flour here)

Heat the oven to 350 and spray or line 12 muffin cups. Cut up the dried fruit with scissors and put in a medium sized bowl. Sprinkle the baking soda over and then pour the boiling water over that. Let it stand to cool.
Cream the butter with the salt, vanilla, and orange rind until soft and fluffy; add the sugar and beat it some more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is well incorporated. Then gradually add the flour on low speed until it is just incorporated. Mix in the water and dried fruit by hand. The mixture will be very wet and liquid. Pour/spoon it into the muffin cups and bake for about 30 minutes or until the tops spring back when pressed right in the middle. You might want to do a toothpick test as well. Enjoy with a cup of tea on a lazy (or not so lazy) Saturday morning.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Texas Truffles: Texas-sized treats

So there was one recipe in Maida's book that I was sure I should make before I left for France: Texas Truffles. Marshmallows, marshmallow fluff, sweetened condensed milk--not exactly French ingredients, though they can be found. Also pecans. Two pounds. This called for a trip to Sam's Club.


And I'm glad I made these before Christmas. They made great gifts. People LOVED them! They're big and sweet and nutty and have that whole rocky road thing going on. Everyone I gave them to dived into them and really seemed to enjoy the experience. I didn't actually eat one but enjoyed some of the fudge that got stuck to the edge of the bowl with some extra pecans.
Bonus: these are very, very easy to make. Maida says it takes 2 hours, and maybe it does if you hover around and reshape them until they're perfect, as she suggests. However, if you dip the marshmallow once and declare it good, this takes about 15-20 minutes. I had planned to make this a project to do with our French exchange student Marjorie. We got started, then Sami took her on a test drive of the car she's borrowing, and by the time she returned, Claire and I had finished. Oh, well...
So this is how the process works: you melt some chocolate with marshmallow fluff and sweetened condensed milk, in the microwave, of course.

Then you dip marshmallows in that fudgy goodness.

They get very thickly coated. Then they go in for a coating of nuts.


Look at that marshmallow swimming in a sea of pecans. Finally they chill out on some waxed paper before going into little candy cups (actually, big muffin cups).
Then they're done. And they keep really well at room temp.
Maybe it's too late to make these for Christmas, but keep this one in mind for next year! Easy and popular--how can you go wrong?

Texas Truffles

About 2 lbs. pecans, chopped (I had about a cup left over, which I used in cookies later in the week)
18 oz. milk chocolate (I used about 12 oz. milk chocolate and 6 oz. dark chocolate to cut the sweetness)
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 7-oz. jar marshmallow fluff
36-40 marshmallows

Melt the chocolate with the milk and fluff in a large microwave-safe bowl in the microwave--it'll take 1-1/2 to two minutes, in 30-second intervals. The mixture will be quite thick. In the meantime, put the chopped pecans in a pie plate. Also line a big baking sheet with waxed paper. Get out a big roasting fork and a rubber spatula. Do not spear the marshmallow--just use the fork to kind of cradle the marshmallow while you coat it in fudge. Then let it drip off before you drop it into the pecans and roll it around. Repeat until you're out of fudge, which will be the first thing to run out. Put in fancy muffin liners and give away. Feel generous and festive.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

David's over-the-top chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies seem to have become a science lately. Everyone seems to have a secret: the Cook's Illustrated recipe has you work with melted butter; other experts tell you to make sure to rest your cookie dough at least overnight for the best effect. Bridget at crumbly cookie has a nice comparison of different chocolate chip techniques. But my standby recipe is Dorie Greenspan's recipe, which I always make in advance: I scoop the dough into balls on a waxed-paper-lined baking sheet, freeze them, put the frozen dough balls in a Zip-loc, and bake as many as I want/need at a time. And somehow there are always fewer dough balls in the freezer as I think there should be, thanks to a couple of gremlins who enjoy frozen cookie dough...




But apparently even back in 1985, there was a chocolate chip cookie craze going on as well. And this recipe, for David's Cookies, stems from a trendy chocolate-chip-cookie store in New York.
I've just been comparing this recipe to my favorite one. There's no leavening in this recipe, only one egg, and less chocolate, if I'm doing my metric conversions right (no guarantee on that one!). There's also less sugar, which is just brown in this case. They have more of a crumbly than a chewy texture, but they are delicious in their own right. I gave them the overnight-in-the-freezer treatment, and they seemed to handle that well. All I know is that I took them to church and came home without any. I guess that speaks for the enduring fascination for chocolate chip cookies!


Here's the recipe--enjoy! (but try Dorie's recipe, too!)

David's cookies

8 oz. semisweet chocolate--try to go for the good stuff
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla
1 cup (7 oz.) brown sugar
1 large egg
2 c. (8 oz.) sifted flour (I believe I used some white whole wheat with no problems)
1 c. (4 oz.) chopped pecans/walnuts (those toasted Trader Joe's ones are perfect here)

Line a big sheet pan with waxed paper. Get out a cutting board and big knife and cut the chocolate into about 1/2-inch chunks. You'll end up with some huge and some tiny chunks and apparently that's the charm of breaking up chocolate rather than using chocolate chips. If you use thin bars like the Ghirardelli or Lindt it'll be easier than if you use the big-bruiser Pound Plus bar I had on hand...
Beat the butter with the salt until it's fluffy; then gradually add the vanilla and sugar and beat for a good 5 minutes. Add the egg and beat that until well incorporated. Then at low speed, gradually add the flour until it's just incorporated. (Hey, in the comments section--do you have any tips for adding flour without it spraying all over the counter? I've tried covering the mixer with a kitchen towel and pre-mixing with a rubber scraper before turning on the mixer, both with "mixed" success.) Then add the chocolate chunks and nuts, either with the mixer or by hand.
Scoop out teaspoon-sized balls of dough onto the waxed paper--they can go right next to each other. Freeze at least overnight--if they're going to stay in the freezer longer, transfer them into a zip-loc bag. Now heat the oven to 400 and line some cookie sheets with parchment or Silpats. Put the dough balls on the sheets, a dozen at a time, and bake about 8-10 minutes, or until the edges have started to brown. You'll see mine were a bit browner than that, but I didn't find them to be overbaked. Transfer to a rack as soon as possible. Enjoy one fresh from the oven, then quickly pack them away.
Julia wrote a recipe for chocolate chip cookies for her French class; this is her descriptive paragraph, roughly translated:
"These exquisitely delicious cookies have an aroma that will make you think of Paradise. The rich combination of cookie and chocolate will make your mouth water when you smell them. Savor the chocolate that melts in your mouth when you taste these delicacies." Amen.

Friday, December 18, 2009

100% Whole Wheat Gingersnaps

This recipe is the third, and I believe final, gingersnap recipe in this cookbook. Not that I'm complaining--I love ginger recipes, and they're especially appropriate at this time of year. I still think the chocolate gingersnaps are my favorite, but these are up there, too.


These are Maida's whole wheat gingersnaps, and they have a LOT of grated fresh ginger as well as some cinnamon and clove. The sugar is brown and the flour is all whole wheat, so these have a hearty, "dark" taste. But there's enough butter to make them nice and sandy.
Another thing I like about this recipe is that it takes about 5 minutes to make the dough--you don't even need to remember to get the butter out of the fridge. Just get out the food processor and start whizzing away!
I didn't get a lot of reaction on these cookies--I think because I served them with the chocolate cheesecake brownies and some other more spectacularly rich cookies (recipes to come). Like the cranberry grunt, this is rather an ugly duckling recipe. But it's a homey, comforting one worth trying--I think.

Here's the recipe:
100 Percent Whole Wheat Gingersnaps

2-1/2 oz. (this is a bigger piece than you'd think) fresh ginger--no need to peel
4 oz. (1 stick) butter
1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. cloves
1 t. cinnamon
2 egg yolks
1 scant cup (6.5 oz.) brown sugar
2 cups (10 oz.) sifted whole wheat flour--I used whole wheat pastry flour, but this recipe was probably written for coarser flour.

Get out your food processor. Cut the ginger into thinnish slices and, with the processor running, drop the pieces a few at a time through the feed tube. When the ginger is finely minced, stop the machine. Cut the butter into about 12 pieces and do the same thing with it that you did with the ginger, processing until the butter is soft. Now add the vanilla, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and egg yolks, and process just until everything is blended. Add the sugar and half the flour and process again just until it's mixed. Add the rest of the flour and mix again. It may take a while until the mixture holds together. I ended up dumping out the crumbs on a big piece of waxed paper and squeezing it together. However you get the dough to come together, you'll want to wrap it up and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour.
When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 and line some cookie sheets with foil or parchment or whatever you have. Also get out a pastry cloth and rolling pin and flour them--you won't need to flour as heavily as you did for the tea cakes or My Mother's Gingersnaps. Roll the dough (probably about half of it at a time) out to 3/8-inch (like I measured--ha!) and then cut with a round cookie cutter of the size you like. Put the rounds on a baking sheet about 1 inch apart and bake for about 25 minutes or until just slightly darker. Cool on racks and store airtight. This makes more than the 24 cookies Maida said--I guess my cookie cutter is smaller than 2 inches. Enjoy, as Maida says, with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

The next few posts will be about the many cookies I made for an event at church. We have an "Alternative Gift Market" every year which gives congregants a chance to make gift donations to local and international charities. (Hey, Dad and Sharmyn, we made a donation to "our" Guatemalan coffee cooperative towards helping them buy roasting equipment. Merry Christmas!)
As a member of the organizing committee, I was asked to put my "special gifts" to work and bake cookies for the event. "Now's my chance!" I thought. "I can get a bunch of Maida recipes taken care of in one fell swoop!"


These brownies were the first on the list, and I believe they were also the first to disappear. After all, what's not to like? A nice fudgy brownie with lots of pecans and coconut (think German Chocolate Cake), topped off with a chocolate cheesecake layer and a sprinkling of cocoa.

Here are the finished brownies in my messy kitchen, ready to make their debut. Don't they look nice?

These are super rich and should be cut in small squares: even the smallish squares I made here were pretty generous. Sami compared them to truffles. They are also best served cold.

Here's the recipe, doubled for a 9x13 pan, which makes a ton of brownies. If you don't have a crowd to bake for, halve the recipe for a 9-inch square pan.

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter
1/8 t. salt
2 scant cups (12 oz.) sugar
1 t. vanilla
4 large eggs
2/3 c. (3.3 oz.) flour
8 oz. (2 cups) toasted pecan halves
4 oz. (1 cup) coconut

Heat the oven to 350. Get out a 9x13 pan and line it with aluminum foil; spray the foil. (Now is also a good time to get out the cream cheese for the topping, if you haven't already.) Put the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 2-3 30-second bursts, stirring in between. When all is melted and smooth, add the salt, sugar, and vanilla. Then add the eggs one at a time, stirring well after each and making sure they don't cook. Then add the flour and finally the nuts and coconut. Spread into the prepared pan and set aside while you make the cheesecake part.

16 oz. (2 bricks) cream cheese, room temperature (I used one regular and one low-fat)
1 scant cup (6.5 oz.) sugar
6 T. (1.1 oz.) unsweetened cocoa
1 t. vanilla
4 eggs
2 T. flour
More cocoa powder, for dusting

In your mixer, beat the cheese until it is soft, then add the remaining ingredients one at a time. (I bet you could also do this in the food processor.) Pour this on top of the brownie layer, then put all that in the oven and bake it for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature. Then use a small strainer to sift some cocoa on top. Now you need to unmold these babies. Run a knife around the edge of the pan to make sure nothing is sticking Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper and turn the brownie pan upside down on it. With luck, the brownies will come right out. Take off the aluminum foil and turn the brownies right side up again. Then put them in the fridge or freezer to chill until firm. When they're nice and firm, cut them into as many as 64 small squares. Enjoy the looks on people's faces when you serve them these!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Big Daddy's Cake

Ah, the holiday rush. Party after party after party...When you're supposed to be baking for a blog, this can be a good thing. Especially if you have a gigantic cake with a tunnel of fudge you're supposed to bake. Take it to the party and let other people eat it, I say! So that's what I did with this cake about 2 weeks ago.
On the day I baked this, I had a lot going on: the usual Saturday laundry/shopping routine, closets that were calling to be cleaned out, I think there was editing as well, and I had promised to bake cookies for a church function. And the cake had to be ready for a 3:00 party. Fortunately, this is one of those cakes that looks impressive but is actually fairly easy. You make pretty much a pound cake, then put together a coffee-flavored ganache; pour the ganache into a trench in the cake batter, sprinkle that with pecans, and bake.

Here's the cake getting ready to bake.


And here it is fresh from the oven. I didn't get a chance to photograph it frosted, and it didn't get cut until the party, so I don't have a "tunnel of fudge" picture. What I noticed is that the fudge and the frosting pretty much join in a giant layer of chocolate at the top of the cake. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I tasted a bit of the white cake, and it was very good--dense and just a bit fluffy. Sami tried the whole thing and pronounced it delicious. None of it came home, which is a very good sign--for the cake and for me!

Here's the recipe. Bake this when you have a lot of people to feed!
Big Daddy's Cake

7 oz. (2 cups) toasted pecan halves/large pieces (here you probably don't want the TJ's chopped pecans because they're too small)
6 oz. semisweet chocolate
3 T. strong coffee (2-3 t. instant espresso dissolved in 3 T. water, or leftover from the morning)
3 T. cream
12 oz. (3 sticks!!) butter, room temperature
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1-1/2 t. vanilla
1/4 t. almond extract
2 c. (14 oz.) sugar
6 large eggs
4 c. (16 oz.) sifted flour
1-1/4 c. milk

Heat the oven to 350; spray a Bundt pan well. Chop half of the pecans fine and coat the Bundt pan with them. Leave the pecans that don't stick to the sides of the pan on the bottom of the pan.
Melt the chocolate with the coffee in the microwave--it will probably take two 30-second sessions. Stir until smooth, then add the cream. Set this aside.
Cream the butter with the baking powder and salt until fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, vanilla, and almond extract, and beat for 5-7 minutes or until super fluffy and light in color. This is something I heard on the Splendid Table--you should really beat the butter and sugar a long time to form as many air bubbles as possible. You could probably melt your chocolate and stuff while the butter is mixing. Now add the eggs one at a time, beating until well incorporated after each. (I tried out my Beater Blade with this cake and was delighted to see that I didn't have to scrape down the bowl all the time.) On low speed add the flour in three additions alternating with the milk in two additions. When it's all mixed, pour it into the prepared Bundt pan. Make a trench in the batter and pour the chocolate mixture into the trench. I put it in in globs and then spread it around. Break the remaining cup of pecans into large pieces and sprinkle them on top of everything. Then put it all in the oven and bake for 50-55 minutes. Cover it with foil and give it another 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. The cake will have a giant crack in it. Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes, then carefully unmold it onto a plate. Let it cool completely, or until it's almost time to go to the party, whichever comes first.
Now it's time to make the glaze. This is a no-brainer:

6 oz. semisweet chocolate
2 T. butter

Melt this in the microwave in 2 30-second bursts; stir until smooth. Pour over the cake and let it drip down the sides. Regard your masterpiece and then hustle it out of the house. The recipe says 12 portions, but I would say it's at least 20.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cranberry Grunt

In the weeks since Thanksgiving, I've been baking up a storm, but haven't had the time to sit down and write about it. Now that I'm in France and have little to do, I'll have plenty of time to catch up--and then bake some more!
So the first dessert I want to write about is what I'd like to call a "gimme" dessert: it's one of two that Alicia and I ate, if not made, together. I made Cranberry Grunt, one because it seemed Thanksgiving-y and two because cranberries are so darned hard to find in France. Alicia's girls Natalie and Cassandra made the Chocolate Mousse Pie, which I hope they will blog about. Maybe Sharmyn can send the picture of them with their creation? I couldn't find my camera (I believe that's my excuse), so no pictures of the grunt. It was kind of pretty, though--spirals of dough on top of the cranberry-red sauce/filling.
So to the Cranberry Grunt. This turned out to be a rather forlorn dessert at Thanksgiving, which is a shame. It just couldn't keep up with pumpkin and apple and chocolate pie, but it is delicious in its own right--I think it would make a really good breakfast, actually. As Natalie put it, it's basically cranberry sauce with biscuits on top. What's not to like?
So maybe I'll make this sometime when I don't have a gigantic meal and five other desserts to compete with it, because it is a simple and tasty dessert.

Here's the recipe:
Cranberry Grunt

12 oz. cranberries
2 large apples (I used three small Pink Ladys), peeled and cut up into 1/2-inch dice
2/3 c. water
1/2 c. (3.5 oz.) sugar
1 oz. (2 T.) butter
scant 1/4 t. cloves
1/2 t. nutmeg
scant 1/4 t. allspice

Heat the oven to 425. Get out a baking dish that holds at least 8 cups (I used Dad's brown Pyrex 7x11 dish, I think) and butter/spray it. Wash and drain the cranberries, if you think about it, and put them in a saucepan with the apples, water, and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then cover, reduce the heat, and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and add the butter and spices. Your kitchen will smell like an aromatherapy salon. This would be a good thing to have on the stove if you're trying to sell your house.
Anyway, take a deep whiff and get going on your biscuit dough:

1-1/2 c. (6 oz.) sifted flour
1 T. baking powder--I used 1-1/2 t. as per Shirley Corriher, and these turned out fine
1/4 t. salt
2 T. sugar
2 oz. (4 T.) cold butter + 1 oz. (2 T.) melted butter
1/3 c. milk
1/4 c. strawberry jam "or other red preserves"--I used raspberry

You could do this in a food processor or with a pastry blender. I used a food processor--I had a turkey to think about. Put your dry ingredients in the bowl of the processor. Process a couple of seconds just to blend, then cut the cold butter into about 8 pieces and add to the processor. Process that a few times until you have coarse crumbs with some larger pieces of butter. Add the milk and process just until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead it just a couple of turns until the dough holds together nicely. Then roll it out into an 8x12 rectangle of sorts. Brush that with the melted butter (it will seem like an awful lot). Heat the jam in the microwave about 30 seconds and then spread that over the butter (which will have congealed in the meantime, making the spreading less messy. Then roll up jelly-roll style and cut into 1-inch slices. I find that unflavored dental floss works best for this. And it's fun.
Now put the cranberry mixture into the prepared pan and lay the biscuit slices on top. You can do it in neat rows like Maida, or just however they fit best. If you have any leftover melted butter (I did), you could brush the biscuits with that and maybe even sprinkle them with a bit of sugar. Then put that in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the biscuits are nice and brown. Serve warm--I think ice cream would be nice with this. Whipped cream was also good. Maida recommends Ricotta Cream, but we're not going there. Enjoy!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Shoofly pie--why?

"Hey, Maria, it's the Sunday after Thanksgiving. You've just had 3 straight days of cooking and eating. You're leaving for a 7-month stay in France in two weeks: you have closets to clean and piles of laundry waiting for you. What are you going to do today?"
"Why, bake pie, of course. What a silly question!"
Yes, this is how my mind works. In my defense, I packed a couple of boxes and got all the laundry done today, but I just couldn't let the day go by without baking. Fortunately for my waistline, the process was much better than the product.
Sometimes I have the feeling that Maida puts in recipes just as Americana: "Look, some people actually baked and ate this stuff! So here's a recipe for it so that you can see what some people used to eat!" To me, Shoofly Pie falls into that category. So do the chocolate vegetable cakes and, to a certain extent, the Indian Pudding. I suppose you need recipes like this in an American dessert book, but they're a chore to actually consume and all.

So here are the components of the pie: a lovely flakey pie shell, completely wasted because of the gooey molasses filling, topped off with a streusel-like crumb crust. Note all the dirty dishes involved.



Here's the pie before it baked. Doesn't that look yummy?

If you bake this, remember to put it on a baking sheet. I'm glad I did!
So, soggy crust, pudding-like molasses goo, crunchy streusel. Let me quote Sami on this: "If I got this at a restaurant, I'd send it back. It's got that generic flavorless taste and odd texture...but once you overcome the gag reflex, it's actually edible." He ate the whole piece. I'm not sure why. I ate my whole piece as well, trying to find something redeeming about the pie. Here it is: I got to spend some quality time in my kitchen puttering around, but I'm in no danger of actually eating any more of what I baked.
Redeeming quality for Alicia: no raisins. And since I hated it, she'll probably love it. We'll see...

Here's the recipe, if you're a glutton for punishment:

Shoofly Pie

1-1/3 c. (5.2 oz.) sifted flour
1/2 t. salt
1 T. sugar
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small dice and chilled
1 t. lemon juice or cider vinegar
3-4 T. ice water

Put the flour, salt, and sugar in a medium mixing bowl; mix and then cut in the butter with a pastry blender. Sprinkle on the lemon/vinegar, and then add 3 T. water. Mix with a fork until it holds together, adding additional water if necessary. Press into a ball and refrigerate for at least an hour. (Don't bother washing the bowl you just used; you can use it for the filling) When it's chilled enough, roll out to fit a deep 9-inch pie pan (Maida says 10-inch, but who has a 10-inch pie plate??). Freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Now make the filling:
1 c. (5 oz.) unsifted flour
2/3 c. (4 oz.) brown sugar
2 oz. (1/2 stick) butter
1 egg
1 c. (11.5 oz.) molasses or cane syrup
(optional but recommended: 1 t. vanilla and/or 2 T. rum or brandy)
3/4 c. very hot water
1 t. baking soda

Heat the oven to 450; get out a baking sheet and possibly line it with foil. You'll also need two mixing bowls (one of them could be your pie crust mixing bowl) and a 1-cup glass measuring cup. Put the flour and brown sugar (and maybe a pinch of salt) in the mixing bowl you used for the pie crust; mix that together and cut in the butter. This will be a powdery, crumbly mixture. Set that aside. Now, in another bowl, whisk the egg until blended and then add the molasses and beat for a bit. I recommend adding a bit of vanilla and a bit of bourbon or rum or something--I used some quite awful Uzbeck brandy that a friend gave us. In the glass measuring cup, pour in the hot water (you could microwave it in the cup) and add the baking soda, which will fizz most satisfyingly. Now add the hot water to the molasses mixture, and then add half of the crumb mixture. Pour that into your crust. Then top it with the rest of the crumb mixture. Put the pie on the baking sheet and put all that in the oven. Turn the oven down to 350 and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the filling is set and doesn't quiver when you give the baking sheet a shake. Mine took about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Maida suggests serving this at room temp with whipped cream. Good luck with that. I'm just glad that butter is $1.50 a pound at Wal-Mart...

My Mother's Gingersnaps: Cookies in the past and future tense

A couple of weeks ago, I was reviewing verb tenses with my beginning grammar class. I asked them to write several sentences about a hobby using the different verb tenses we had learned. I wrote several sentences about baking cookies as an example:
I bake cookies once a week.
I'm not baking cookies right now.
I have been baking cookies since I was about 8 years old.
I will bake cookies this weekend.

Not Tolstoy, but it gets the job done. So the students whispered among themselves until one of them finally asked, "What does it mean, 'bake cookies'?" So I did some explaining and body language (teaching ESL is often like playing charades) until they mostly said "Ah!" Then one brave student said, "Will you bake cookies for us?" Well, how could you say no to that?
So that weekend, as I promised in my sample sentence, I baked cookies--My Mother's Gingersnaps. There are at least 3 recipes for gingersnaps in this cookbook. If you look at Alicia's last post or one of my recent ones, you'll see the recipe for Chocolate Gingersnaps. That's a very gingery and very easy recipe. My Mother's Gingersnaps involve chilling and rolling, which I very much dislike, and they're not as gingery, but they're pretty decent nonetheless.
Claire and I made them together, and then on the Monday before Thanksgiving, when I had school and she didn't, she came to class with me and distributed cookies. She was a very popular person, believe me! My gingersnap-loving colleagues, Barbara and Emily, had tasted the Chocolate Gingersnaps, and agreed that they liked that recipe slightly more, even though these cookies were good. I'm with them. This is a good cookie, on the soft and buttery side, with a nice ginger bite from the candied ginger, but it doesn't have the powerful ginger impact of the Chocolate Gingersnaps. Karen, if you're reading this, this probably isn't the gingersnap for Lemon Cremes either. We'll see how the next recipe goes.

Here's my very Southern molasses substitute. Sometimes I find molasses a bit too bitter. This has just the right amount of edge. It's also a great substitute for dark corn syrup in pecan pie and such.


Here's Claire patting out the very sticky dough. It had been in the freezer at least 4 hours. That probably wasn't long enough. I still have some dough in the freezer, which is why these cookies are still future tense...



Fortunately, Claire has the patience to cut out dough into various shapes (though I ended up doing the rolling because that dough was way too frustratingly sticky). Aren't they pretty? Note how much they spread, though.

Claire enjoying her handiwork--a big gingerbread snowman.

Here's the recipe. It should make at least 3 dozen cookies, depending on how big you cut them and how frustrated you get with the dough.

My Mother's Gingersnaps

3.5 oz. (1/2 c.) candied ginger
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1-1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
3/4 t. finely ground black pepper (yes, that's right. I think maybe you should use preground so that you don't have big chunks from the grinder. )
1-1/2 t. ginger
1 scant cup (6.5 oz.) sugar
3/4 c. (8.6 oz.) molasses or cane syrup
1 egg
1-1/4 t. cider vinegar
2 c. (10 oz.) unsifted flour
1 c. (5.5 oz.) whole wheat flour

If your candied ginger comes in tiny pieces, you're probably fine. The Trader Joe's ginger I had was in pretty large chunks, so I snipped it into tiny pieces (1/4 inch or less) with scissors.
Cream the butter with the baking soda, salt, pepper, and ginger until it's soft and fluffy. Then gradually add the sugar and beat for at least 2-3 minutes, until it's all light and fluffy. Then beat in the molasses, egg, and vinegar (Maida gives the very sensible advice to pour some vinegar in a small cup and then spoon it out.), and then add the candied ginger. Finally add the flours, carefully and at low speed.
Divide the dough into three parts and wrap each in waxed paper. Put the packages in the fridge overnight or the freezer at least an hour but preferably also overnight.
When you're ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 and line some cookie sheets with aluminum foil. Make sure you have PLENTY of flour at hand to flour your pastry cloth and rolling pin. Roll out the dough QUICKLY to about 1/4 inch, and cut it with round cookie cutters or whatever you feel like. Place the cookies on the foil-lined sheets, giving them plenty of room to spread. If you're not speedy quick and/or your kitchen is somewhat warm, you'll probably have to chill (freeze) the dough scraps before rerolling them. I alternated between two packages of dough, and that worked out pretty well. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until brown and flat. Cool on foil on a rack, and get ready to share. Otherwise you might have to write a sentence like, "I was doing well on my diet before I baked these cookies."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Desserts while on a diet

I'm leaving for a trip to Belize in five weeks. Five weeks to be in bikini shape. I figured this out about 11 weeks ago, but didn't do anything about it then (well, I became more rigorous about exercise, but that's it.) When the fact set in that the trip was 6 weeks away, I decided to get serious. I dusted off some old "diet" programs prepared by my friend Tamara years ago, and got SERIOUS about my diet. When I say serious, I mean it. Half an apple, 6 almonds, and a slice of sprouted grain toast for breakfast -- I count the almonds. One week down -- and down 6 pounds (yeah, yeah,yeah -- I know it's all water weight.)
The beauty of Tamara's diet programs is that you have to be super strict during the week, but on the weekends you can let loose -- with a few guidelines. So I didn't make any desserts at all last week. On the weekend, I made two! But I didn't eat much of either of them.
On Saturday, I made the Peanut Banana Bread referenced in Maria's post "Eating an Elephant." This is just a regular banana bread with the inclusion of chopped peanuts and raisins. Maria noted in her post that the raisins were really good in the bread and that I wouldn't mind them at all. Apparently she doesn't understand how little I like raisins.
As usual on the weekend, I had way too much to do and not much time to bake. I got the banana bread baked sometime during the afternoon on Saturday, let it cool, then wrapped it up and refrigerated it, per Maida's instructions. I knew that there would be a Girl Scout hike on Sunday morning, so decided to bring this along.
Sunday morning came, I sliced up about half of the loaf, wrapped it up and brought it in my backpack. At the trailhead, Jessica and Maddy both announced that they were hungry cause they hadn't eaten breakfast. I whipped out the banana bread and offered it up. Jessica said she had never eaten banana bread before but would try it. Lisa said she would help Jessica eat her piece if she didn't like it -- but then Lisa spied the raisins and decided she would not want to eat any. She despises raisins just as much as I do apparently. Possibly even more. "It is the texture," she said. Yes, I would agree with that. And the flavor. And everything else there is to hate about taking a perfectly good grape and drying it. Jessica ate a small bite, declared she also didn't like the raisins, and began throwing the raisins in the scrub. Maddy ate her whole piece.
A couple miles into the hike, Maddy announced that her blood sugar was getting low -- she got another piece of banana bread, which she ate.
When we got to our destination (a small picnic table in the middle of nowhere), I whipped out the remaining banana bread. No takers. Until a mountain biker came by and I offered it to him. He liked it. Apparently he likes raisins.
On the way back down the hill, Maddy announced that she felt sick and it was probably the peanuts in the banana bread, because peanuts "don't agree with her."
And I have to say that this bread does not agree with me at all. The inclusion of the raisins and the peanuts make a perfectly good banana bread into a horrible, disastrous tasting thing. I choked down one piece. I will probably throw the rest away unless I can get somebody at work to take it.

Following Sunday's hike, while Maddy and Natalie were showering, I threw together the Chocolate Gingersnaps. The hardest part of this whole recipe was grating the fresh ginger and dicing the candied ginger. The rest was super simple. I have no idea who Maida got 50 cookies out of her recipe though, because I thought my cookies were pretty small and I only got 34 cookies.

I literally made this recipe, from start to finish, in an hour. Which was good, because Maddy had to get to a birthday party. So I threw the warm cookies into a shoe box with wax paper dividers, and had Maddy bring them to the party. Natalie grabbed some out of the box before they were all gone, and I haven't seen them since. But I did sample one. I didn't taste any chocolate, but the ginger flavor was quite pronounced and yummy. The one I tasted wasn't crisp, but it hadn't been out of the oven more than about 15 minutes, so maybe they got crispy as they cooled further. Hopefully the girls at the birthday party liked the cookies. I would make these again.

So now it's Monday, and I'm back on my diet. Spinach, 1 egg, and 1/3 avocado for breakfast. Yum. No more desserts -- UNTIL THURSDAY! Guess that during Thanksgiving week, the "weekend" will be Thursday and Friday!

Doughnut victory!

Doughnuts (donut is also an acceptable variant, according to Merriam-Webster) and I have a love-hate relationship. I love a really good doughnut and hate a bad one. Also I hate what the good ones do to my waistline, but fortunately there aren't that many good ones around. Krispy Kreme? Please. One bite and I'm ready to go into a sugar coma. No, the best doughnuts I've ever had were in Flagstaff, Arizona, probably about 10 years ago. There was a little donut shop near the depot there, and their doughnuts were out of this world. They were substantial and yeasty enough for you to know that there was real dough involved, yet they had all the crispness and lightness and sweetness a doughnut deserves. The Hampton Inn in Bozeman, Montana, also serves up a mighty fine doughnut. So fortunately for me, I'd have to travel far through time and space to get the perfect doughnut. Until now.



I've actually made doughnuts several times before, from various recipes, and they were...OK. The dough tasted good, and they were all nice and crispy, and you could tell I'd made an effort and all, but they lacked the lightness of a good doughnut. The girls turned up their noses at them because they "weren't like Krispy Kreme." Of course, my plan was to be better than Krispy Kreme. And now I am! Even Claire's friend Abby, who has probably eaten quite a few doughnuts in her day, told me so.
When I was making the dough I had a good feeling about it. I remember thinking the same about the dough for the Cream Cheese Coffee Cake a couple of months ago. It has just the right consistency--just firm enough to work with, very smooth, very elastic, very alive. I believe the secret ingredient is the potato and the potato cooking water. It must be perfect yeast food!
Let me just point out how fool-proof this recipe must be, because I fooled with it quite a bit. First of all, not having read the recipe carefully (surprise!), I microwaved the potato. Oh, I thought I was so smart. But then I wasn't, because I realized that the potato water was crucial. So I broke the potatoes into pieces and poured boiling water over them. The potato had kind of dried out in the microwave, so it bore the indignity well. When that had cooled, I had my potato water. Genius. Well, not really. I also changed the order of mixing around to accomodate for a big old Kitchenaid mixer and instant yeast. And I took the possibly fatal step of using some white wheat flour. Finally, I fear the transfat, so I fried these in a combination of peanut and canola oil. And still these doughnuts were fabulous. So I'm sure when Alicia makes them according to all the rules, they'll be twice as good. But she probably doesn't like doughnuts anymore (hey, remember riding our bikes to Winchell's after swim team? That was when we could really put away the doughnuts...sigh).


Here they are, in all their greasy glory. Somehow we neglected to get a shot of a glazed one.
After I'd eaten one and started on the donut holes, I realized we were in danger, so I sent Claire and her friend off to give the rest to the neighbors. I'm not sure how many actually made it there...
Here's the recipe. Make it sometime soon.

Doughnuts
(makes about 11)

6 oz. potatoes (I used Yukon Gold, but it probably doesn't matter much which kind)
1 cup water
About 3-1/4 c. (about 16 oz.) unsifted flour (I used about 5 oz. white whole wheat and the rest bread flour.)
6 T. (2.6 oz.) sugar
heaping 1 t. bread machine yeast
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg
1/2 t vanilla
2 oz. (1/2 stick) butter, in small pieces at room temperature
A lot of cooking oil--I probably used at least a quart

Start making this the night before you want them, and be ready to get up about 2 hours before you want to eat them. You'll need a small saucepan, a heavy-duty mixer with a bread hook, and a food processor or stick blender. Get your butter out of the fridge, if you haven't already. Peel the potato, cut it into quarters, and cover it with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender. Let the potato cool in the water. When it is lukewarm, puree the potato with the water with the stick blender or in a food processor. Now, in your mixing bowl measure 3 cups of flour (15 oz) and add the sugar, salt, yeast, and nutmeg. Whisk that together and make a well in the center. To that add the potato mixture, the egg, and the vanilla. Put in the bread hook and turn the machine on. When the mixture is holding together nicely, start adding the butter, a few pieces at a time. If the mixture seems too soft at any time, add a bit of flour, but be careful to keep it a soft dough. I made the mistake of adding too much flour, but the dough forgave me after I added a bit more lukewarm water. When the butter is all added in, keep kneading for a few minutes on medium speed until it's nice and smooth. Maida says you should knead until "the dough is smooth, rubbery, and feels alive." I liked that so much that I kneaded by hand for a while until I felt the dough was perfect. Put that back in the mixing bowl and let it rise until double, about an hour or so. I put mine on the dishwasher while it was running, and it seemed to like that.
Now punch down the dough, cover it with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge overnight.
When you awaken, get the dough out of the fridge. It should have risen considerably. You'll also want a pastry cloth or board, a rolling pin, and a doughnut cutter--I used a large (about 2.5 inch) and a small (about 1/2 inch) round cutter. Roll out the dough on the floured pastry board and cut out the doughnuts. When you gather the dough between cutting, you may need to let it rest a bit before you roll it out. Put them on greased aluminum foil to rise, and cover them with a tea towel. Maybe you want to go on a nice hourlong walk while you wait. Or you could drink tea and while your time away on Facebook. Whatever. Anyway, after about an hour, get out a big pot and fill it about 2-3 inches up with oil. (Here once again I'm parting company with Maida. She wants you to do it in less oil in a skillet. I feel much safer with a deep pot. I'm just saying.) Put your thermometer(s) in and wait (a LONG time--about 30 minutes) for the oil to heat up to 365.
While the oil is heating, you should make the glaze:

1-1/2 cup (8 oz.) powdered sugar
1/2 t. vanilla
1/8 t. almond extract
4-6 T. milk

Put the powdered sugar, vanilla, and almond extract in a bowl. Add about 4 T. milk first and beat with an electric mixer. I found that 4 T milk was enough to make a "thick but pourable" glaze, but add more if you need it. Let that sit.
Get out a couple of forks, or a spider, to turn and remove your doughnuts. You will also want a metal spatula. Also get out some brown paper bags and a rack, and make room on your countertops. It also helps to have a trusty assistant for glazing (and tasting) purposes.
OK, when the fat is FINALLY hot enough, proceed. Maida recommends starting with just two doughnuts, so that's what I did. And I followed her (messy) procedure: Put the spatula in the fat for a minute. Then put the spatula under a doughnut and transfer it into the fat, waiting for the doughnut to float off. Repeat. Let the doughnuts cook for 2 minutes on one side, then turn them over with your forks (try not to poke them, though) and give them another 2 minutes. Fish them out and let them drain on the brown paper bags. Continue with all the doughnuts (I did 3 at a time from then on), and then do the doughnut holes (I did them in two batches, probably 1 minute per side. Sometimes they flip over on their own).
You need a trusty assistant because the doughnuts need to be glazed while they're hot--Maida says no more than 1 minute after they leave the fat. So have your trusty assistant put the doughnuts (careful! They're hot!) on the rack and use a pastry brush to brush both sides liberally with glaze. The assistant should also run through the house yelling, "Hot now!" and then ask for samples.
Enjoy these hot and try to control yourself.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Going over the top: Little Havana Coconut Ice Cream and Star-Spangled Banana Cake

If you know me, you know that I love having people over for dinner. "Dinner parties" would be saying too much, as that implies having centerpieces and set tables and a clean house and all. No, having people over for dinner is much more straightforward. I plot and plan and cook as much food as humanly possible, and Sami does the entertaining part. Fortunately we have the big open kitchen so that I can also chat with friends while I cook. I also make sure we have lots of munchies available because I've always overplanned and underprepared.

Thus Friday night. We had planned to have our friends Frank and Randolyn over. We've been trying to have them over since August, but what with our going to France all the time and their having kids and grandkids coming to visit and then Friday, a little thing called H1N1, it still hasn't happened.We keep hoping. Otherwise they'll have to come have dinner with us in France.
So when Randolyn, who had probably been hoping she'd get better so that we could finally do this thing, let me know that she was on strict bed rest, I kind of panicked. Of course I felt (and feel) terrible that she feels terrible, but also I had all kinds of party food and party plans going. Claire had even gotten the ice cream base started in the morning. So Sami, understanding husband that he is, found some wonderful pinch hitters.

So here it was, 4:00 in the afternoon, and all I had to do was 2 appetizers, a meat and 2 sides and 2 desserts. No problem. The problem was that I still had 20 pages of editing to do on a project due on Friday evening. D'ohhhh! So, priorities first, I got the cake in the oven. As Alicia points out, it is truly a "piece of cake" to make. No worries there. Then while it baked and Sami cleaned house all around me, I buckled down and worked on the editing, taking a few breaks now and then to take the cake out of the oven, slice and bake some cheese crackers, and do a few other chores. So I was still at the computer when our first guest came. It was Barry. Barry brings his laundry when he comes. We've renamed our guest room Barry's room. So that was no problem. I told him he could peel a few pounds of carrots while he was at it.

Long story short: Our other guests were fortunately quite late, and there was just a half hour of drinking and nibbling while I got stuff ready. The cake was baked, the ice cream mix was in the freezer doing a speed chill (not recommended, by the way), and dinner was just about ready. Whew!
What cracked me up was the frosting. We had eaten a delicious dinner, worked our way through a few bottles of wine, and now I still had to make 7-minute frosting, which I've never made before. Turns out, since I in fact used real egg whites left over from the OBSCENE amount of egg yolks in the ice cream, it was piece of cake. And this kind of frosting is so magical--from a little puddle of egg whites at the bottom of the mixture to the bowl filling up with this marshmallow fluffy stuff. Really cool.

You'll see from the pictures that it's probably not the greatest idea to fill and frost a cake when you've had a couple of glasses of wine.
But I tried to at least put on a show. Note the large amount of dirty dishes.
Ah, coconut. Love me some coconut. OK, my cake is not as beautiful as Alicia's.
But look at Maida's:

See that, with the ribbon? That's what it's *supposed* to look like. In my dreams, at least. You can also see many more desserts that mine will not look like. Oh, well.

Verdict on these two desserts? The banana cake is awesome. It was too sweet and fluffy for Claire (who I believe is turning into Pete), but the rest of us loved it. That sweet fluffy frosting is not my favorite, but it was pretty good here. As for the ice cream--well, it is over the top in and of itself. I made half a recipe, which means half and half and cream infused with coconut (and thus coconut oil) and then enriched with 6 egg yolks (which I cut down from 8). The US government could have fed this to Fidel Castro every day if they wanted to overthrow the regime quickly. It's delicious, and went with the banana cake really well, but Lord have mercy!
Let's just say that our guests waddled home feeling content. And I have a freezer full of lethal ice cream...

OK, here are the recipes. If you decide to go all out and make them both, start with the ice cream. Preferably the day before.

Little Havana Coconut Ice Cream

1-1/4 c. whipping cream
2 c. half and half (Maida wants you to use coffee cream, which is heavier--ha!)
6 oz. shredded sweetened coconut
1-inch piece of vanilla bean, if you feel like it
6 egg yolks (save the whites for your 7-minute frosting)
1/2 c sugar
1 T. Cream of Coconut (waste of the century--threw the rest away. Boy, is that nasty-looking stuff)

Heat 3/4 c. cream and the half and half in a medium saucepan. Add the coconut (and vanilla bean) and bring to a low boil over medium heat. Let it simmer for 5 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it sit for 30 minutes (I now realize there is no way Claire did this and still caught the bus for school). While it's sitting, get out a strainer, a mixing bowl, and a thin towel or old pillowcase; put the strainer over the mixing bowl and line it with the towel. Pour the coconut mixture into the strainer. Let it drain for a while, then twist and squeeze the towel so that all the coconut goodness can escape. Throw away the coconut. Now rinse out the saucepan or not, depending on how you feel about a few stray flakes of coconut in your ice cream, and put in the egg yolks, sugar, and Cream of Coconut. Whisk that together until it's thick and a bit lighter in color, then begin adding the warm cream mixture to it, whisking constantly. Keep your bowl and sieve handy. Put the custard over medium heat and cook and stir until the mixture starts steaming (or when it's thick enough to coat a spoon or when it reaches 178). Pour the mixture back through the sieve into the mixing bowl, and then add the remaining 1/2 cup cream. Let the custard cool at room temperature, then chill overnight. Or you could be lame like me and put it in the freezer to speed cool. Then just pour the stuff into your ice cream freezer and let it do its stuff. Be prepared to serve this in *tiny* portions. It would be dynamite with some roasted pineapple, I bet. This served 6 with lots left over.

Now the cake recipe:
Star-Spangled Banana Cake
(If you want Alicia's 4-layer extravaganza, just double the recipe)

6 T (3 oz.) butter, room temperature
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla
1/8 t. almond extract
1 c. (6.5 oz.) sugar
1-1/2 eggs (I used one egg and an egg white because of the ice cream situation)
10 oz. bananas (about 2-1/2), mashed with a fork
1/2 t. baking soda
3 oz. chopped toasted pecans (the Trader Joe's ones are excellent here, too)
1-1/2 c. (6 oz.) sifted flour (yes, I threw in about half whole wheat)
1/4 c. buttermilk

Heat the oven to 350; spray 2 9-inch cake pans. Cream the butter with the baking powder and the salt. Then add the extracts and gradually add the sugar. Beat for 2-3 minutes while you mash the bananas and get out the nuts and measure the flour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well until the mixture is light and fluffy. Now mix the baking soda into the bananas and add that, along with the nuts. It seems so odd to add the nuts before the flour, but there it is. Mix that well. Then at low speed, add half the flour, then all the buttermilk, then the remaining flour. Mix until just barely incorporated, scraping in between as needed. Divide the batter between the pans. The layers will be pretty thin. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until top springs back when pressed and a toothpick comes out clean. Turn out the layers onto a rack and let cool.

Now it's time for the fun frosting:
Southern Fluffy White Icing

1-1/2 c. (10.5 oz.) sugar
2-1/2 T. (1.9 oz.) corn syrup
6 T. boiling water
3 egg whites
Pinch salt
1/2 t. vanilla
1/8 t. almond extract

3.5 oz. shredded coconut

Put the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a saucepan over moderate heat. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved. When the mixture comes to a full boil, remove it from the heat and set it aside for a minute. Now get out the whisk attachment of your big old mixer and whip the egg whites and salt until the whites are stiff--they "stand up straight when the beaters are raised." Pour the syrup into a glass measuring cup--mine fit into a 1-cup measure, though the 2-cup one probably would have been more comfortable. Then, while the egg whites are beaten at high speed, add the syrup in a slow, thin stream. Maida warns about overflowing icing; I didn't have that problem with the half recipe I present here. After all the syrup has been beaten in, add the extracts and continue to beat for about 15 minutes, until the icing is very stiff. I found that took more like 6-7 minutes. Now excuse me while I abdicate my responsibility of telling you how to frost a cake. I believe Deb over at smitten kitchen has a nice tutorial.
OK, I'm back now. Just sprinkle that baby with lots of coconut, close your eyes and pretend you put a ribbon around it, then dig in. This should feed at least 12 people.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Star-Spangled Banana Cake


This is a very delicious, but incredibly large, cake. I'm not sure this picture does it justice. It is four layers of awesome banana cake layered with a fluffy marshmallow-like frosting and covered with coconut. Natalie declared this cake "the best dessert you've ever made."
For how enormous this cake is, it was actually pretty simple -- with the exception of the giant ingredient-wasting hiccup I encountered while trying to cut corners.
I made the cake layers in the morning before leaving to take Maddy to Zoo Corps. It was a very simple banana cake recipe. Mashing the bananas was probably the hardest part of the preparation. While mashing bananas, I came up with a scenario where we are too poor to have mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving and so we are having mashed bananas instead. I will just mash them with salt and pepper and butter. Since I detest bananas unless they are baked into cake or banana bread, I almost vomited just thinking about that preparation.
My mashed bananas got stirred into the butter, sugar, egg batter along with some pecans. Much better fate for bananas. Add a few dry ingredients and some buttermilk and your batter is done! Divide into four pans and bake. Super simple.
Later in the day, after golf and picking Maddy up from Zoo Corps, I made the frosting. Here was my shortcut disaster. This is a 15 minute 7 minute icing. You make a hot sugar syrup consisting of THREE CUPS of sugar, 3/4 cup boiling water and 1/3 cup Karo syrup. And then you pour the hot syrup into 3/4 cups of egg whites beatern stiff -- then beat for 15 minutes.
I was feeling lazy and thought I could just use the pasturized egg whites that come in the carton. WRONG! They did beat up into peaks. But when I added the syrup, they deflated and I ended up with a giant bowl of sweet liquid. So gross. And what a waste of THREE CUPS of sugar.
Second try, with real eggs, worked much better. The frosting whipped up marshmallow-y and frothy and light like it was supposed to. Only problem is that now I have 6 egg yolks. Anybody up for 6 cups of mayonnaise????
It was a giant amount of frosting. It was easy to frost and assemble the cake because there was never any reason to think that you might run out of frosting. I estimate that there is a one inch layer of frosting all over this cake. If you don't like 7-minute frosting, this cake will be WAAAAY too sweet for you. If you do like 7-minute frosting (and I do -- I LOOOOOOVE 7 minute frosting), it is a perfect cake. Natalie described it as banana bread with marshmallow fluff, which I think is a pretty accurate description.
I would make this again for a special occasion where you need 20 pieces of cake. It was fun to make (except for the frosting mishap), looks spectacular, and tastes DE-licious.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Chocolate and cherries

I'm not so sure that my waistline is going to thank me for feverishly trying to catch up to Maria -- something I will probably never do. But I've been working on it. So hard that I have actually already made two desserts this week!
On Monday afternoon, after picking up the kids, we ran home and I made the Cherry Cobbler -- instead of dinner. Everybody had to fend for themselves for dinner (except Pete and Cassandra, who shared a piece of salmon that I literally threw into the George Foreman grill). Oh yeah, and the green beans which I made in a completely ridiculous attempt to make something healthy to counteract all the desserts.
The Cherry Cobbler is a super-simple dessert to make. Open your 15-ounce cans of cherries so you end up having 4 ounces fewer cherries than you are supposed to -- and about 1/2 cup less liquid than the recipe calls for. Make one of those nice glazes with cherry juice, cornstarch, and sugar and throw the cherries into it. Then make biscuits, place them all over the top, glaze the biscuits with egg wash, sprinkle sugar all over the top and bake.
I actually rolled out and cut the biscuits so my cobbler was a little more "showy" than Maria's -- can't you see that from my lovely photo? You can't? Hmmm. I did take photos. I just need to upload them. Maybe I'll have a post that is just photos. Rather than roll out your remaining dough, Maida said to just put the scraps on top of your cobbler. So there are some nice even circles and then some weird looking triangle pieces.
The cobbler came out of the oven all bubbly and delicious smelling and we couldn't wait to dig in. Pete took a piece of sourdough bread and just dipped it into the hot cherry juice. That was all he got to eat because the rest of us were little hogs. Well actually, Maddy and I were little hogs. We had Cherry Cobbler for dessert (actually -- I had it for dinner), and then for breakfast the next day. It was fabulous -- but much better hot than cold. We definitely enjoyed this dessert.

Since I had Veteran's Day off - right smack dab in the middle of the week -- I decided that it was destiny and that I needed to make the chocolate pudding. So after working out (probably should have spent more than an hour at the gym this week!), seeing Christmas Carol 3-D (a movie I would recommend everybody skip), eating a delicious but filling lunch at Gordon Biersch, and getting a pedicure, we headed home to make the pudding.
Maria is right -- this pudding does create and extraordinary number of dishes. I always try to dirty the absolute minimum number of dishes, and I found myself left with: 1 saucepan, 2 bowls, 1 whisk, the measuring spoon set, one ladle/spoon, cutting board and knife, and a rubber scraper. Heeding Maria's warning, I chopped my chocolate a little finer than I might normally do, and my little flecks of chocolate melted right at the very last second before the milk started to boil.
And Maria was right about us loving this pudding. We couldn't even get a lot of it into the Madonna Inn wine goblets I selected, because we kept "tasting" the hot pudding. I almost think this was better hot than cold.
Maria showed her favorite chocolate pudding. I won't show mine, but my favorite is Trader Joe's Belgian Chocolate Pudding. I can eat exactly four spoonfuls of that pudding -- and it is creamy and delicious and rich and chocolatey. If I eat more than four spoonfuls, I feel sick. This pudding is very reminiscent of TJ's Belgian. I ate four spoonfuls and it was creamy and delicious and rich and chocolatey. I didn't eat more than four.
Maddy, Natalie and Cassandra did. Especially Maddy. Maddy really liked this pudding. But then, she can eat a whole lot more than 4 spoonfuls of the Belgian Chocolate Pudding.
We elected not to make the whipped cream. I really don't think whipped cream adds anything to chocolate pudding -- but that's me. Maddy used the Readi-Whip with the Feb '09 expiration date which she refuses to allow us to throw away because "it's fine." She also poured a small spoonful of dark rum over her pudding (because I didn't put it into the finished product in deference to the wishes of Cassandra and Natalie). The rest of us (not Pete because "he doesn't like desserts") ate it plain. Yum.
The one thing about this recipe that baffles me is the number of servings. It says 4. She does say they are 4 large servings, but really? Four? I can't even imagine eating one of those servings. As I said, we polished off a very large amount of hot pudding before even pouring it into the bowls, and I came up with 5 servings -- servings larger than I could ever eat in one sitting.
So we will be polishing off the chocolate pudding. All that's left is Cassandra's leftover, my leftover (which will last me 2 more days probably), and one more serving that I'm almost certain Maddy will eat. Unless Natalie gets to it first.
I'm 4 recipes behind -- that I know of. But I'm making the entire four layers of the banana cake, and happen to know for a fact that Maria is cheating and halving the recipe. And if I make much more dessert, I will have to step up the gym workouts. . . .

Monday, November 9, 2009

Freaky sheet cake: Red Beet Cake

Hey, does anyone remember the original book Freaky Friday? Before Jodi Foster and Lindsay Lohan? I don't remember much about the book except that the neighbor, Boris, seems to have a crush on the mom and offers to bring her "beet loaf." Except that he has a cold and his name is Morris. But the beet loaf is not, in fact, meat loaf. That always killed me.
Well, my name is Baria, and I'm baking you a beet cake. Aren't you glad it's not meat cake?
There was a lot of freaky stuff about this cake. First of all was, in fact, the beets. As Claire asked me, "What's the point of putting beets in a cake?" Indeed--what's the point? It's not like it's any healthier, what with the 1 cup of salad oil and all. I guess you could call it sneaking in vegetables, but after the buttery frosting and all, that's not exactly healthy living. I'm guessing that this recipe, like the sauerkraut one, was a response to the Beet Advisory Council's call for Creative Use of Beets. Personally, I'll eat mine roasted with blue cheese and walnuts and maybe a little mâche. Now that is a good use of beets.
On the plus side, this recipe was super easy to make. Since I had already puréed the beets in the food processor and noted that there was no incorporation of air called for, I decided to mix the whole shebang in the food processor. So in went the sugar, the eggs, the vanilla, the melted chocolate/melted butter, the oil...and so on. Quick and painless. As you'd notice if you'd read the recipe, it doesn't call for butter, but I subbed half of the oil for butter.

So here's the lovely batter in the pan. Claire took the time to smooth it out and make it look all nice and perfect.
I have to say, it rose evenly and high, thanks to baking soda and Claire's careful swirling.
The frosting was the next freaky thing. What's up with cooked flour and milk in a buttercream frosting? And I beat the butter and sugar for a long time, but the sugar never dissolved, so it was kind of grainy. C+ for the frosting for sure. But didn't Claire do a nice job with her swirls?

Here's a blurry piece of cake. Note the thick layer of grainy, buttery frosting. The texture and taste of this reminded me of Wacky Cake--you know, the kind with the vinegar where you make a well in the flour and dump in all your ingredients? Kind of one-dimensional, but very moist. When Sami first tried it, he was sure that Claire had made it from a mix because it has "a texture only chemicals can create." Chemicals and beets!
So the verdict? If you want to eat beets, eat beets. If you want to eat chocolate cake, try this one or this one. This is strictly a novelty recipe in my book. But I sure hope those students I palmed this off on enjoyed it!!

OK, much later, here's the recipe. Bake it for your next Beet Council event.

Red Beet Cake

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
8-10 oz. cooked beets (canned or fresh; you decide)
1-1/2 c. (10 oz.) sugar
1 c. (8 oz.) salad oil
1 t. vanilla
3 large eggs
1-3/4 c. (7 oz.) flour
1-1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt

Heat the oven to 350. Butter and flour (or coat with bread crumbs) a 9 by 13-inch pan. Melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a saucepan over low heat.
In a food processor, purée the beets. Add the sugar, oil, and vanilla, and process for about 20 seconds. Add the eggs and give it another 30 seconds. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and pulse that until it's just incorporated. Pour into the prepared pan and swirl it smooth, if you like.
Bake for 35 minutes or until the top springs back when pressed. You can let it cool in the pan to serve it like a sheet cake, or you can unmold it after 20 minutes. Either way, it's time to make the frosting:

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
3/4 c. (6 oz.) butter, room temperature
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar
1 t. vanilla
Pinch salt
1/4 c. (1 oz.) flour
1 c. (8 oz.) milk

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a small saucepan over low heat. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until soft. Gradually add the sugar and beat on high speed for 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla and salt.
Meanwhile (assuming you have a stand mixer), whisk the flour and about 1/4 c. of the milk in a small saucepan until smooth. Gradually whisk in the remaining milk. Put over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with the whisk or a rubber spatula, until the mixture comes to a low boil. Reduce the heat and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring and scraping the mixture constantly. Remove from the heat, place the bottom of the pan in a bowl of ice and water you just happen to have handy, and continue to stir and scrape until the mixture has cooled.
Add the chocolate to the butter and sugar mixture, and then gradually beat in the flour/milk mixture. Beat just enough to incorporate.
Pour the icing over the cake and spread it over the top. You can swirl it or make it smooth.
Refrigerate the cake to set the icing--this cake can and perhaps should be served cold. And remember you're getting a serving of vegetables.

A simple, delicious dessert-- American Beauty baked apples

I got tired just reading Alicia's post! She is an amazing Halloween costume maker. We still have a hand-me-down snow leopard costume, and it is truly a thing of beauty. Me, I go to Target on Halloween and grab something that's marked down 50%. Or the kids make their own.
Those of you who read this blog will see an important difference in how Alicia and I approach it: she does all the baking and writing in spite of all the stuff she has to do; I do it instead of the stuff I have to do. I just made a three-page list of all the things we have to do to get the house ready before we leave for France in five weeks. I haven't done a single thing on that list, but I've knocked two more recipes off the baking blog list. We'll just see how long that works out for me...

As I was preparing to make the recipe below, I thought about how ingredients and recipes have changed since 1985...This recipe calls for 2 12-oz. packages of raspberries in syrup. I remember those little boxes, but from the three stores I checked out, none had raspberries in syrup (although they did have strawberries in syrup). In fact, none had any frozen raspberries at all! Is there a shortage? I bought some fresh raspberries at the Death Star (aka Sam's Club)and then bought some frozen mixed berries and picked the raspberries out of them. Would you like to know how many ounces of raspberries are in a 12-oz. bag of frozen mixed berries? One!! Grrrr...
Fortunately, I made a half recipe. I have also noticed that canned goods have shrunk. The one-pound cans of cherries I needed last week were just 15 oz. The one-pound can of beets I needed this week (see future post) was just 14.5 oz. So you have to be kind of careful when following recipes from back when a pound was a pound...

But anyway, this recipe was a cinch to make. I let the fresh and frozen berries sit with some sugar on them to bring out the juices, then pureed them and strained the puree to a coulis. Added some crème de cassis and honey to that, and then got busy with the apples.

Here they are. I don't have an apple corer, and these apples aren't stuffed or anything, so I halved and sometimes quartered them so that they would fit in the dish. Then I peeled them halfway down, as Maida recommends. I'm not sure why that is. These are Jonagold apples--I couldn't find the Rome Beauty apples that Maida recommends. I have a feeling they're not trendy anymore either. I bet Honeycrisp or Pink Lady would also be yummy here.


So then I poured the Day-Glo pink sauce on top of the apples, and it went in the oven. I was supposed to baste them every ten minutes, but I fell rather short.

But who cares--this is how they looked when I took them out of the oven. I kept basting them from time to time, as Maida recommends, and then Claire and I tried some at room temperature. They are very good that way, and I had one this morning for breakfast cold from the fridge, and it was good that way, too. This is a really refreshing dessert, and I don't feel the need for cream or anything on the side. It's just a nice palate cleanser, and it looks pretty as well. Easy, pretty, healthy, yummy. How could you go wrong? Maybe this will give me the energy to tackle my list!

Here's the recipe I made:

American Beauty Baked Apples

9 oz. fresh or frozen raspberries
3 oz. sugar
1-1/2 T. honey
1 T. crème de cassis (I imagine any sweet and fruity liqueur you have in your cabinet would work here)
3 large baking apples (see above for suggested varieties), halved, cored, and peeled halfway down

Mix the raspberries and sugar and let them sit 15 minutes to an hour. Heat the oven to 350; get out a 2-quart baking dish and spray it. Maida says you don't need to butter it, but she's not washing my dishes. In a food processor or blender, puree the raspberry/sugar mixture, then strain it through a sieve. This can take some time and patience. Once you've gotten most everything through the strainer, add to the coulis the honey and the crème de cassis. Get your apples ready. (I think, by the way, you could also leave the apples unpeeled or peel them entirely. Whatever floats your boat.) Put them in the baking dish, cut side down. If you have extra room and extra apples, fit in some apple quarters. Pour the raspberry sauce on top of and around the apples. Bake for about 45 minutes, basting every 10 minutes or so with a spoon or a bulb baster. The apples should be tender but not mushy. After you take the apples out of the oven, continue to baste them with the sauce whenever you think about it. Maida says the sauce will eventually be absorbed, but mine wasn't. Either way, it's yummy. Serve room temperature or cold, by itself or with vanilla yogurt or whipped cream or ice cream. This would probably serve 4-6.

Barron's Brownies. Yummmmmm!

I've been wanting to make the Barron's Brownies for weeks because I figured that Brownies would be a pretty simple thing to do. Maria made them in France, after all. But I discovered that I have misplaced, given away, thrown away, or otherwise lost my Brownie pan -- the pan that has held far more than 100 recipes of All American Brownies, which is my favorite brownie recipe in the world.
Until now. I bought a cheap brownie pan at Target and made the Barrons Brownies while the ADT guy was here installing our home alarm system. These brownies are just as easy as All-American Brownies - simply melt chocolate and butter together, then throw salt, vanilla, sugar, eggs, flour and walnuts into the pan you melted the butter in. No muss, no fuss. The only difference between the two recipes is that in Barrons Brownies, you use a mixture of unsweetened chocolate and semisweet chocolate.
I followed the recipe exactly, including letting the Brownies cool on the counter (which was next to impossible because I wanted to cut into the steaming hot pan of Brownies and eat one after about 10 minutes), freezing the Brownies for an hour, then using a ruler and toothpicks to cut the Brownies into 16 perfect squares. And then I wrapped those 16 perfect squares and put them into the refrigerator because Maida says to serve these cold.
It has now been 24 hours since I cut and wrapped those Brownies, and there are only 12 perfect squares left in the refrigerator. Pete ate one. I must confess that I have now eaten three, and if I did not have total self-control, would have eaten far more than that. I don't feel guilty, because we went on a long hike this morning. But man, these Brownies are good. I'm not sure these are meant for sharing.
I would HIGHLY recommend this recipe! I can understand why the host of the party Maria went to took a plate of them for herself. I would have done the same.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I don't even remember where I left off

I wish I had more time to bake -- or to blog about what I have baked. I have been very annoyed at my inability to get anything made. And even more annoyed at the fact that when I do get something made, I don't get time to write about it until I've forgotten every detail.

Since I last found a spare moment to write about what I've baked, I'm pretty sure I've made the following items: Bulls-Eye Cheesecake, Truffles, and Sour Cream Apple Tart. I think I even took pictures of the cheesecake, which are somewhere. I'm sure there are no photos of the truffles or tart.

I made the cheesecake weeks ago. So many weeks ago that I don't even remember when it was -- but it was sometime after we went camping at Agua Caliente. I clearly recall that when I bought Maida's book so many years ago, it was relatively easy to find a one-piece commercial cheesecake pan -- the kind she wants you to use for this recipe. I'm not sure what has changed since the 1980's, but it is IMPOSSIBLE to find a one-piece commercial cheesecake pan now. I searched for hours on-line for one and went to two different cookware stores. No luck. But I was able to find an 8-inch x 3-inch regular cake pan, and figured that was essentially the same thing.
The cheesecake was really fun to make, but I don't think I got the batter smooth enough. And I left out a very critical step of making the chocolate batter, which is to actually sift or strain the cocoa. I figured that with the small amount of cocoa I was using, I could just dump it in and mix it around and everything would be fine. That was an incorrect assumption. The cocoa just sat in little lumps in the cheesecake batter, taunting me for my laziness. I used a whisk to try to beat them in. I used a spoon to try to smash them into submission. And I'm pretty sure they were still lumped up in the batter.
I was disappointed by the lack of drama in the chocolate batter. I'm wondering if it was because of my unsifted cocoa, but the chocolate batter just wasn't as significantly different in color from the almond flavor batter to make it really stand out in a bulls-eye type manner. Despite the lack of strong contrast between the batters, I had so much fun pouring the batter out into rings that I ended up making 6 stripes of each rather than 4. It really is cool to watch the batters spread out into perfect circles.
I do remember that I was able to take the cat to the vet for a checkup and vaccinations and still get back before the timer went off for the cheesecake. When the timer did go off, the cheesecake was all high and dramatic looking -- and I'm pretty sure Cassandra took a picture of it at that moment. It was really very spectacular looking -- but not as a Bull's Eye Cheesecake. The contrast was even weaker after the cake was baked. After sitting for a little bit, the cake sunk back down into a far less dramatic pose. It just looked ordinary.
We didn't cut into the cheesecake until the following morning, because it needed to cool and refrigerate and such. And it is a good cheesecake. But not a great cheesecake. It had a very nice texture -- similar to a New York Cheesecake but not quite as heavy. But I thought the almond taste was a little strong in the white portion, and the chocolate taste a little weak in the dark-ish portion. Pete liked it though. Which is important, because he "doesn't like desserts." Except cheesecake. We ended up eating about half. Considering that the only members of the family who will even touch cheesecake are Pete, Maddy and I, I guess half is pretty good.

And with the best intentions of whipping out the easy truffles, brownies and apple tart so I could at least sort of catch up with Maria, Halloween reared its ugly head. I already have a busy schedule. I'm pretty sure I already posted how long my days are between work, working out, and extra-curricular driving. But beginning on October 1, a new dimension is added to my days -- the development and construction of Halloween costumes. I made the huge error, starting when Maddy was only a month old, of planning and constructing elaborate Halloween costumes. You want to be a Princess for Halloween -- I will buy 17 yards of satin and lace and ribbon and make a three-piece princess dress with cloak and petticoat. And even though these girls are 11, 15, and 17, they still want great Halloween costumes. That's fine because I love it when they look awesome on Halloween. It just adds to my stress.

Natalie's costume was the easiest -- she wanted to be Rex from Napolean Dynamite. This costume just required a bit of creative on-line shopping to procure the various components of the costume. Maddy's costume was also fairly easy after we figured out the concept -- she wanted to be a raven or a crow. Once the development process was completed, her costume also required the acquisition of a few items from various on-line and commercial retailers, as well as a little hot-glue here and there. But Cassandra wanted to be corn on the cob. There are no corn on the cob costumes. There aren't even good ideas for making corn on the cob costumes. This costume consumed my waking hours. How the heck was I going to pull this one off?

The corn-on-the-cob made it impossible for me to do ANY baking. Especially with everything else being thrown in front of my path. I got the costume done -- and I think it looked pretty amazing. And so Halloween day found me making the truffles.

My thought was that I could give them out to special trick-or-treaters. But the only special kids in the neighborhood decided not to trick-or treat this year. So I have a freezer full of truffles. These really are very tasty truffles -- smooth and creamy and rich and chocolatey with just a hint of rum. And they are super easy to make. I made them while on the telephone booking an appointment for our home security system to be installed. Maybe I can give some to the installer when he comes out. Otherwise, Maida said that they last forever in the freezer. That's nice. Anytime we just want something sweet -- there are truffles in the freezer.

Since I was on a roll, the day after Halloween I made the Sour Cream Apple Tart. As Maria said -- this is quite a production. Nothing is really difficult, but it is a lot of pieces to put together. I didn't seem to have any of the problems she noted on her post about the tart. The crust fit nicely into my 13-inch tart pan (2 inches bigger than called for in the recipe, but it's what I had). My Granny Smith apples, which I sliced, then peeled and cored (which is my favored way of getting all the peel off of apples), held up nicely during the sauteeing in butter and sugar. My pan was another story. I probably spent 20 minutes cleaning that stupid pan. The caramel came out like perfect caramel ice-cream sauce, and drizzled nicely over the apples. And maybe it's because I used a 13-inch pan, but my sour cream layer didn't even completely cover the apples.

Pete's opinion of this tart -- it's tart. He first said sour, then bitter, but decided on tart. Maddy agreed with him. Natalie and Cassandra are sour-cream despisers, so wouldn't even look at the tart. I guess I would agree with Pete and Maddy. It is a pretty tart tart. The crust is not very good. It holds up well to the filling, but it is relatively tasteless and cardboardy in texture. The caramel was not enough to sweeten the Granny Smith apples. And while the sour cream layer on my tart was not particularly thick, it just added to the tartness of the tart. Given how long it takes to construct this tart, the payoff was not worth it.

I'm not even going to look at how many recipes ahead Maria is because I know it's a lot. I was hoping to make Brownies for our Murder Mystery party last night -- but that didn't happen. Maybe this weekend. Maybe not. Time will tell.