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Just finished reading The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Cookies, Desserts, on December 19th, 2016.

new_cream_cheese_brownies

Did you know there’s a somewhat different way to make cream cheese brownies? Neither did I, but they’re really, really good. Yes, better than the old recipe.

I’ve long been a fan of cream cheese brownies. Not that I make them all that often – it’s been a couple of years. But I watched a show on America’s Test Kitchen awhile back and they talked about some of the inherent problems that existed with the old-style ones. What’s new about these: (1) unsweetened chocolate provides a more bold chocolate flavor; (2) sour cream added some tang to the cream cheese layer; (3) a more cakey batter doesn’t allow the brownies to get soggy or dense; (4) no more dry edges because the cream cheese layer is spread all over the chocolate batter, then a reserved portion of chocolate is dolloped on top before the whole pan is swirled and baked.

cc_brownies_slingThe chefs at ATK felt that the two batters didn’t complement one another, so they set out making a bunch of changes. And it works. No question about that. I’ll be making these again and again. They also recommend preparing heavy-duty foil slings (both directions) in and out of the 8×8 pan. See photo above.

You prepare a chocolate batter. You make a cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and flour (very little) mixture that comprises the cream cheese layer, so to speak. cc_brownies_choc_batterThere on the right you can see the chocolate batter which was poured into the pan first. About 1/2 cup was reserved and set aside to dollop on top later.

cc_brownies_ch_layerAt left, see how you gently spread the cream cheese layer on top of the chocolate batter. You spread it almost out to the edges. THEN, you use that reserved chocolate batter (that needs to be heated in the microwave for 10-20 seconds to heat it up and make it more liquid) and you either pour or scoop it all over and around the top. Then you use a regular knife to swirl it – they tell you to do about 10-12 strokes. I did a zigzag patterncc_brownies_baked_swirled, going one way, then the other. I ended up with the photo at right of the finished pan.

The brownies are baked at 325°F. for about 35-40 minutes. Mine took the full 40 minutes and you need to stick your cake tester or toothpick into the chocolate portion, not the cream cheese part (it’s still retains a bit of a soft texture).

Once baked, you leave the brownies in the pan (in the slings) for an hour before removing them. If you do it too soon they won’t remain flat and stable (solid) on the bottom and the whole pan full would bend with the sling. I removed them after an hour or so, laid the foil edges over the top and let it sit overnight. They were still warm when I went to bed, so I left them out. They recommend you keep these refrigerated (because of the sour cream), but I think I’d let them come to room temp before serving.

What’s GOOD: these cream cheese brownies are really wonderful. I loved the more intense chocolate flavor. The cream cheese layer was a bit more stable (with the added flour) so the brownies weren’t dense at all, more cakey altogether. Loved these. As I mentioned, this is going to replace my old recipe, and yes, I’ll be making them again.

What’s NOT: nothing really. The foil slings take a bit of fussing with, to get them right, but they’re not difficult.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

New Cream Cheese Brownies

Recipe By: America’s Test Kitchen, 2016
Serving Size: 16

4 ounces cream cheese — cut into 8 pieces
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
BROWNIE BATTER:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour — (3 1/3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate — chopped fine
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar — (8 3/4 ounces)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. FOR THE CREAM CHEESE FILLING: Microwave cream cheese until soft, 20 to 30 seconds. Add sour cream, sugar, and flour and whisk to combine. Set aside.
2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Make foil sling for 8-inch square baking pan by folding 2 long sheets of aluminum foil so each is 8 inches wide. Lay sheets of foil in pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges of pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing foil flush to pan. Grease foil.
3. FOR THE BROWNIE BATTER: Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in bowl and set aside. Microwave chocolate and butter in bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Whisk sugar, eggs, and vanilla together in medium bowl. Add melted chocolate mixture (do not clean bowl) and whisk until incorporated. Add flour mixture and fold to combine.
5. Transfer 1/2 cup batter to bowl used to melt chocolate. Spread remaining batter in prepared pan. Spread cream cheese filling evenly over batter.
6. Microwave bowl of reserved batter until warm and pourable, 10 to 20 seconds. Using spoon, dollop softened batter over cream cheese filling, 6 to 8 dollops. Using knife, swirl batter through cream cheese filling, making marbled pattern, 10 to 12 strokes, leaving 1/2-inch border around edges.
7. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with few moist crumbs attached, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 1 hour.
8. Using foil overhang, lift brownies out of pan. Return brownies to wire rack and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
Per Serving : 225 Calories; 14g Fat (54.3% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 53mg Cholesterol; 117mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on November 25th, 2016.

moms_cocoa_spice_cake

Not, perhaps, the spice cake you’re used to – one that’s light and speckled with spices. This one is much more a chocolate cake. And not a lot of frosting, certainly not enough to spread on the sides. But good, nonetheless. My cake pans are not angled, yet the cake looks like they are flared. Oh well.

My mom did enjoy baking. But, I don’t think she enjoyed it as much as I do. My mom was a relatively plain cook. Products of Midwest parents, my mom and dad both grew up on simple fare, with their mothers rarely using spices or herbs to enhance meats or vegetables. Hence, my mother didn’t either. Only in baking did spices pop up. As I was going through old recipes (and throwing out the 3×5 card this was on – it took me awhile to physically DO that – the throwing of it into the trash – I mean, what if I lost my entire MasterCook files? – what if, what if – I also hated throwing away the ones written in my mother’s handwriting – it seemed like a bad thing to toss out that little piece of her. Can you relate?). Yet, I have my recipes backed up in 2 places (one on my computer and also on Carbonite) so I should feel assured my precious recipes won’t get lost.

What I remember of a spice cake my mom made wasn’t this one (now that I’ve made it) because the one I remember was moist and paler without any chocolate in it. Maybe it was a banana spice cake. I’ll have to go hunting further into my mother’s recipe box – I still have all those recipes – they’re ones I didn’t think I’d ever make – I took out the ones I thought I would, of which this was one. But this cake was good. Maybe not sensational. But if you like spice cakes (this one with cinnamon and nutmeg) this will satisfy for sure. For me, the chocolate was all I tasted, so my mother’s notes about increasing the amount of cocoa perhaps should be a cautionary tale.

cocoa_spice_cake_sliceI don’t buy Crisco anymore, but the newer trans-fat free type. It’s available at most markets these days. You can use Crisco if you want – I just prefer to not eat trans-fats anymore if I can help it. I also didn’t have lemon extract, so that ingredient was left out entirely. I suppose I could have used some lemon zest – didn’t think of it. I also didn’t use the egg yolk (raw) in the frosting. Why? I didn’t think an egg yolk would really enhance the frosting all that much, much less the possible dangers of eating raw egg. I never seem to mind nibbling on raw cookie dough, though, so why should I care. When I can avoid it, though, I do.

The recipe calls for all-purpose flour, or cake flour. I didn’t quite have enough cake flour, but I used what I had and added in more AP to equal the 2 cups (slight). I think the cake flour is the right way to go.

The frosting contains both cocoa and coffee. On the recipe it’s called a “coffee” frosting. I made espresso so I’d be sure to taste the coffee (yes, you could). It makes only enough to frost the center and the top – if you like a bit drizzled down the sides, or you really want it frosted all over, you’ll need to make more (double it for drizzles, triple to frost all over). The only cocoa_spice_cake_sidecomplaint I have is that the sides of the cake that were exposed got dried out during the 3-4 hours it sat on my kitchen counter. That’s not good. If you have a cake cover, use it! Otherwise, eat it right away. I have the left overs covered in plastic so hopefully it will be okay.

I served the cake with a drizzle of heavy cream (above photo) but I wanted you to see the better side view (see sliced almonds in the cake – which didn’t sink to the bottom).

What’s GOOD: the cake was FULL of flavor, mostly chocolate. I liked the almonds – next time I’ll use walnuts if I do make it again. My favorite part was the frosting – it wasn’t so profuse that I didn’t enjoy a bit with many of the bites. This isn’t a super-soft cake like a cake mix cake, but it was moist. However, the cake did soak up the cream on the plate. It was very tasty. My friend Bud slicked it up in no time, and I sent him home with enough for 2 meals, I think. Cherrie isn’t a fan of chocolate, particularly, but she might eat this. We’ll see.

What’s NOT: For me there wasn’t quite enough frosting, so it was barely sufficient. I liked the coffee accent (which was only in the frosting) so it was a very nice flavor. I don’t think this cake would keep long without getting stale. I’m giving all but one tiny sliver to my neighbors. It’s not because I don’t like it, just so I won’t eat it all myself!

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

My Mother’s Cocoa Spice Cake

Recipe By: My mother, Fay Orr’s, recipe – don’t know origin
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
3/4 cup shortening — buy trans-fat free type, not Crisco
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups cake flour — or 1 3/4 cups AP flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa — original recipe was 1 T, my mother’s notes suggested 1/2 cup (what I used – too much)
3/4 cup buttermilk — or sour milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon extract — optional (or some lemon zest)
1/2 cup nuts — chopped (walnuts, pecans or almonds)
COFFEE FROSTING:
6 tablespoons butter
1 large egg yolk — optional
2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons hot coffee — [I used espresso] and may need more for the right consistency

NOTE: My mother’s recipe showed adding 1 T. cocoa to the cake batter, but her hand-written notes said to increase to 1/2 CUP. Having made this, I think less would be better, so I’ve suggested 1/4 cup. Use your own judgment. I’d also add about a T. more buttermilk if you use 1/4 cup cocoa as the cocoa is just like adding more flour to the batter.
1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch layer cake pans. Set aside.
2. Cream together the shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Sift flour once before measuring, then sift the flour with baking powder, salt, soda, cocoa and spices. Add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk. Beat the batter well so there are no streaks of dry ingredients. Add vanilla, lemon extract and nuts. Pour into the two prepared pans.
3. Bake cake about 35-40 minutes, testing it by inserting a toothpick in the center which should come out clean. Cool cake in pans and cool completely before frosting.
4. FROSTING: Cream butter and blend with egg yolk (if using). Add cocoa and mix well. Sift sugar and cinnamon together, then add to creamed mixture, alternately with the hot coffee. Beat until smooth, adding more coffee or powdered sugar to make it spreadable. Use a bit less than half to frost between the layers and use the larger portion on top. If you want to have nice frosting drips down the sides, increase quantities of powdered sugar and coffee. There is just enough to frost the middle and top (barely). The cake sides will begin to stale if not covered (use toothpicks in cake and cover with plastic wrap).
5. SERVING: Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for sure! Or a drizzle of heavy cream as I did. Just know the cake will soak most of it up before you can eat the cake!
Per Serving: 483 Calories; 24g Fat (44.3% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 63g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 87mg Cholesterol; 257mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on September 21st, 2016.

rhubarb_cake_square_springform

Oh, gosh. I’m getting so stuck in a rut – I love these kinds of cakes or cobblers, or crisps. This one’s actually just a “cake” but it has some of the rhubarb stalks embedded in the top and the cake fluffs up around them a bit. Absolutely delicious.

Not everyone is a fan of rhubarb. I am. My mother used to make stewed rhubarb frequently (she grew it in the backyard of the home where I grew up) as my mom and dad were big fans of rhubarb. Sometimes my mom would make a rhubarb pie (no strawberries, just the straight fruit), which was also really good. I have several rhubarb recipes here on my blog: Rhubarb Crisp, Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler, a Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake, and Fern’s Rhubarb Cake. All stellar recipes, and this one is now added to the list. It’s a good one. A really good one. It might be my favorite to date.

raw_rhubarbWhat intrigued me about the recipe (from Bon Appetit, in 2015) was the ribs of rhubarb that decorate the top of the cake. How different, I thought. And, yes, it IS different in that aspect. Some of the stalks become the decoration and all the rest of the rhubarb (more than half of it) gets chopped up to mix into the cake batter. But there’s also a couple of other different things about this recipe – there’s ground almonds mixed into the batter (and I’m embarrassed to say that I forgot that step but it seemed to make no-never-mind to the result!) – and you dust the greased springform pan with sugar, which gives the outside edges a lovely, sweet crust/crunch. I just loved that part of this.

rhubarb_cake_ready2bakeNot having weighed the rhubarb, I just guessed I had a little over a pound, so I was generous with the sugar I sprinkled on the top, just before it popped into the oven. The cake batter is relatively standard, though it has some yogurt in it, and you do need to whip the butter and sugar mixture for a looooooong time (thank goodness for stand mixers). The chopped up rhubarb is stirred into the batter just before pouring it into the greased and sugared baking pan. DO grease the pan – even a nonstick – because you want the sugar to stick to the sides. The long stalks are then placed on top (don’t push them in – not necessary – as the cake will rise around them a little bit, the sugar sprinkled on top and into the oven it goes. The recipe indicates 70-80 minutes. rhubarb_cake_cutMine took 80, and I took it out when the interior reached 205°F on an instant read thermometer.

Because of my error in forgetting the ground almonds, I whipped cream and added almond extract to it. In any case, the cake was nicely cooked through (though moist). My friends Sue and Lynn were visiting from Colorado and I served it after dinner one night (3 servings) and took the remaining to a dinner party another night with ample to serve 5 people. With some left over. The 2nd time I served it with vanilla ice cream. Sue’s the author of the Fern’s Rhubarb Cake already on my blog.

What’s GOOD: loved the flavor, texture, the crunchy sugar on the outside edges (if you have one of those crazy, weird cake pans that gives you outside edges on two sides, this would be perfect for that pan). Since I love rhubarb, it was a no-brainer that I’d likely enjoy this. I thought it was a LOVELY cake, and ever so pretty besides. I’d definitely make this again.

What’s NOT: nothing, really. Only thing I could mention is that when you serve it, do bring knives to the table because you can’t cut through the top rhubarb stalk very easily with a fork. If you try and don’t succeed cutting it, your bite will include the entire stalk of rhubarb on your bite.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

Rhubarb-Almond Cake

Recipe By: Bon Appetit, April, 2015
Serving Size: 9-10

1 cup unsalted butter — room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
3/4 cup sugar — plus more for pan
1 pound rhubarb — trimmed
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup blanched almonds
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, full-fat — or sour cream
3 tablespoons sugar — for sprinkling on top
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving

NOTE: It might feel like you’re beating the batter for a long time, but that’s what gives this cake an airy lift. Stay with it! One 11×8″ tart pan or a 9″-diameter springform pan is needed. [I used a 9″ square springform pan and you’ll have at least 9-12 servings.]
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter pan and sprinkle with sugar, tapping out excess. Slice about 8-10 stalks to fit inside your preferred pan shape. Don’t use extra-large stalks for the decorative top, but do use the redder ones as they’re especially attractive on the finished cake. Chop remaining rhubarb into 1/2″ pieces. Pulse flour, almonds, baking powder, and salt in a food processor until almonds are finely ground (texture should be sandy).
2. Place butter and sugar in bowl of a stand mixer, preferably. Add vanilla extract. Beat on high speed, until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to blend first egg before adding second. Beat until mixture is pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. (So a total of 8+ minutes.)
3. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients, followed by yogurt. Beat, scraping down the sides of bowl as needed, just to combine (batter will be thick). Fold in chopped rhubarb and scrape batter into prepared pan. Smooth batter and arrange reserved rhubarb over top; sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons sugar.
4. Place pan on a large rimmed baking sheet (to catch any rogue juices) and bake, rotating once, until cake is golden brown and rhubarb on top is soft and beginning to brown, 70–80 minutes. Test the internal temp in the center of the pan, toward the end of the baking time and remove when it reaches 205°F. Transfer to a wire rack and let cake cool before removing from pan.
5. Do ahead: Cake can be baked 3 days ahead. Keep tightly wrapped at room temperature. Serve with whipped cream (possibly flavored with almond extract) or vanilla ice cream. Serve with knives to cut through the top rhubarb stalks.
Per Serving: 429 Calories; 29g Fat (58.8% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 39g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 236mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on September 17th, 2016.

aunt_dollys_lemon_boxmix_cake_whole

Surely there are countless other recipes – similar to this one – that abound on the ‘net – or have been passed from one person to another. Likely this one is much like the others, but it’s gosh-darned good!

It’s been awhile back and my friend Gloria gave me this recipe, from her beloved Aunt Dolly. Sometimes Gloria and I exchange recipes – this time she had jotted down a recipe on a 3×5 card and handed it to me. I remember she said, “oh, this is my Aunt Dolly’s recipe, so I left her name on it.”

aunt_dollys_lemon_boxmix_cake_cut

Anyway, this is one of those box mix cakes that uses lemon Jell-O. Did I have any? Nope! Had to make a trip to the store for that. But I had lemons (my favorite Meyer tree is still producing, and has another 10-12 on its branches), which are a necessity here. The cake mix and dry Jell-o are mixed up with eggs, water and canola oil. Into a greased bundt cake pan it goes and bakes for about 40-45 minutes.

kailey_making_lemoncakeMy grandson’s girlfriend Mary’s daughter Kailey made the cake with me. She’d never made one before, but she was swimming in the pool when it was time to take it out of the oven, so I did that part. During the last 2-3 minutes the cake was in the oven, I mixed up the drizzle (powdered sugar lemon zest and juice) and it’s slathered onto the HOT fork-poked cake. Perhaps that’s a bit different? Not sure, but the drizzle soaks right down into the cake. Once cool it’s unmolded and it’s ready to serve. We had vanilla ice cream with it. Thank you, Kailey, for helping me with the cake!

What’s GOOD: this cake is SO tender. I know that’s what I loved about it when I had it before. Plus, I love lemon juice in most anything. You can’t tell from the photo, but the drizzle soaks into the cake about 1/3 of the way, and maybe a little bit on the outside too, so those bites with the drizzle are particularly lemony. It took no time at all to mix it up.

What’s NOT: really nothing unless you’re averse to cake mixes. With a big meal to put on the table for my family, I needed to do something really easy for one part of the meal. This cake was it.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Aunt Dolly’s Lemon Cake Mix Cake

Serving Size: 12

1 package yellow cake mix — (not with pudding in it)
3 ounces Jell-O gelatin — lemon flavored
4 large eggs
3/4 cup cold water
3/4 cup canola oil
DRIZZLE:
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Zest and juice of 2 lemons

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a large bundt cake pan.
2. Combine cake ingredients in a mixing bowl and using an electric mixer, mix well for at least 5 minutes.
3. Pour batter into prepared pan and place cake in the middle of the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until you can see the cake pull away from the sides and/or a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
4. Meanwhile, during the last 5 minutes or so of baking, prepare the DRIZZLE: in a small bowl combine the powdered sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice until you have a thick, yet fluid mixture. Use a fork to poke holes (carefully) all over the cake (still in the pan). The cake will absorb it all. Allow to cool, then unmold the cake onto a platter.
5. Cut slices and serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Per Serving: 415 Calories; 20g Fat (43.4% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 55g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 72mg Cholesterol; 333mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on September 1st, 2016.

choc_buttermilk_cinn_cake

Oh my goodness, this was so delicious. The tenderest cake you can imagine, with a simple boiled frosting that’s spread on the hot cake, right out of the oven.

Having been invited to a fairly large backyard barbecue get-together, my friend Cherrie asked me to bring dessert. Knowing they were expecting close to 40 people, I knew I needed to make something to serve a lot of people (although, others brought dessert too). I’d wavered between making a lemon bundt cake, or a butterscotch poke cake, or a rum cake, but finally settled on this one. A recipe I’d never made before, but it had gotten raves (according to my notes) on some website. I have no idea where it came from.

What I will tell you, though, is that you need to have a pan that’s not all that common in most kitchens – it’s a 10×15 pan, rimmed. I think mine is 1 1/2” high on the sides. If  you do a Google search for 10×15 jelly roll pan, you’ll find numerous sources for that size. It’s bigger than a quarter sheet pan, and it’s larger than a 9×13 also. I do have a number of recipes for this particular pan (not  jelly roll cakes!) and am glad I have it. Most of these pans don’t have very high sides, but this cake does need at least a 1” side or it would overflow.

choc_buttermilk_cinn_cake_inpanAnyway, It’s a very regular cake – this one made with cocoa (I used Hershey’s dark, a favorite), oil, eggs, butter, buttermilk (which gives it that oh-so tender crumb) and a fairly healthy dose of ground cinnamon. While the cake is baking – toward the end of the 20-minute cooking time I mixed up the frosting (on the stovetop) – it also uses cocoa, a little bit of whipping cream, butter, powdered sugar and nuts. It’s very easy to make – there isn’t anything fussy about it. It’s not a liquid, but it’s not really stiff, either. There is JUST enough of the frosting to delicately spread (use an offset spatula if you have one) the frosting over the top of the hot cake. I suggest putting a bunch of little dollops of the frosting all over the cake so it’s easier to spread it out. Getting out to the corners is the hardest, if you can call it “hard.” You can add the nuts to the frosting (I did, so they’d definitely stay put) or you can sprinkle the nuts on top after spreading the frosting and just press them into the frosting a bit). I used walnuts, but pecans are an optional nut.

Having made this, I THINK this is a riff on a Texas sheet cake. I’ve never made one of those, but I suspect that’s what this is, but with the buttermilk it makes it so tender.

Well, rather than go on and on about it – just move to the next paragraph and read the results!

What’s GOOD: The cake got raves. Absolutely raves. Me included. Some friends from San Diego who were invited to the party came to stay with me – they had to sample the cake before we even left my house! SO, I did too. It’s a fabulous cake – very chocolaty, very tender, but cut into lots of small bar-shapes, each piece was about 2-3 bites at most. I’m sorry there weren’t leftovers to bring home. I’d love-me one of those right now! The cinnamon is very THERE – if you don’t like cinnamon, just leave it out, or reduce it significantly in both cake and frosting. I loved the cinnamon flavor – such a complement to the chocolate.

What’s NOT: nary a thing except you’ll have sticky chocolate frosting fingers unless you eat it with a fork! This recipe is a keeper, for sure.

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Cinnamon Chocolate Cake

Recipe By: Am not sure the origin of my recipe – but it’s available online at Taste of Home
Serving Size: 30

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter — cubed
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa — [I used Hershey’s dark]
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
FROSTING:
1/2 cup butter — cubed
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup walnuts — or pecans finely chopped

NOTES: You can triple this recipe and make it in two large-large 11x17x1 pans, but increase baking time by 5-7 minutes.
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the first four ingredients. In a saucepan, combine the water, oil, butter and cocoa; bring just to a boil over medium heat. Pour over dry ingredients; mix well. Add eggs, buttermilk, vanilla and baking soda; mix well. Pour into a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan.
2. Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack.
3. Meanwhile, during the last 10 minutes of baking, prepare FROSTING: combine the butter, cream, cocoa and cinnamon in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until butter is melted and mixture is heated through. Remove from the heat; beat in sugar and vanilla until smooth. Stir in walnuts. Carefully and gently scoop about 6 big dollops of the frosting on the cake, then using an offset spatula, spread over warm cake, all the way out to the corners. If the frosting is hot, it will spread easily enough. Cool completely. Yield: 24-30 small bar-shaped servings. Note: You may also sprinkle the nuts on top after spreading the frosting – your choice.
Per Serving: 263 Calories; 14g Fat (45.9% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 33g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 34mg Cholesterol; 134mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on August 12th, 2016.

kahlua_bundt

For some reason I’ve neglected to add this cake to my blog. Good heavens! I used to make it often when our kids were living at home. It’s made with a cake mix and doesn’t have all that much Kahlua in it, but it’s divinely delicious and decadent. It comes together in a flash.

When I was visiting with my daughter Sara, she decided to whip together this cake and said, “this is your cake; remember, we used to make it all the time.” Sure enough, we did. I think this cake was my old business partner Audre’s recipe. Probably she made it for one of our potluck lunches we had at the office once in awhile. Remember when cake mix bundt cakes were just “the thing?” Everybody was making them, with rum or bourbon, or other types of alcohol additions.

This one is made with a regular cake mix – remember back then, BEFORE the cake mix producers started adding the pudding mix into the cake. I suppose you could use that type in this, then just eliminate the instant pudding. But I like this one the way it is, so we chose not to use that type. It makes a very tender cake, and VERY chocolaty. Sara made this in a jiffy – in her stand mixer she added the box mix, instant pudding, eggs, oil, the Kahlua. Then you stir in the chocolate chips, and into the bundt cake pan it went. Once baked and cooled, I made a very thin drizzle to go on it as it looked a little bare on the pretty platter with nothing. Guess you could use powdered sugar too – easier.

kahlua_cake_cutSara ended up using the new Hershey brand dark chocolate pudding INSTANT mix. It worked just fine, and I’ll tell you, the chocolate flavor was intense. I think when I made it years ago I used a devil’s food cake or a German chocolate mix (one of those has a reddish tinge to the finished and baked cake) and regular Jell-O brand instant pudding. I never buy the regular Jell-O pudding anymore because I’m in love with the Hershey’s dark chocolate one.

If you look at that photo at left, you can hardly SEE the cake it’s so dark. I Photoshop’d it, to lighten it, so you could perhaps see some of the cake texture in the photograph.

What’s GOOD: everything about it. If you like chocolate, and Kahlua, well, you’ll love it all. Very intense chocolate flavor, especially if you use a dark chocolate cake mix and the Hershey’s dark chocolate instant pudding mix.

What’s NOT: nothing whatsoever. If you’re willing to eat boxed cake mixes, this one’s a winner; has been for generations of home cooks! This recipe probably exists in a thousand places on the internet already!

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Kahlua Bundt Cake

Recipe By: Recipe came from an old friend, dates to the 1970s or 80s
Serving Size: 18

15 ounces chocolate cake mix
4 ounces chocolate instant pudding and pie filling
2 eggs
1/2 cup Kahlua
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sour cream — or yogurt unflavored (don’t use nonfat yogurt)
12 ounces chocolate chips

NOTES: DO use instant pudding, not anything else. If you use Hershey’s dark chocolate pudding and a dark chocolate cake mix, the cake will be really dark, almost black. You can also remove part of the chocolate chips and add in chopped walnuts instead.
1. Preheat oven to 350º.
2. Beat together all ingredients except chocolate chips. Add chocolate chips when batter is smooth. Pour into well greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake 40-50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean, inserted about 1/2 inch from the center post of the bundt pan.
3. Cool about 10 minutes and turn out onto cake plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when cool. May also make a drizzle with powdered sugar and Kahlua, or simply milk and powdered sugar.
Per Serving: 329 Calories; 18g Fat (48.8% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 40g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 35mg Cholesterol; 309mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on August 8th, 2016.

tres_leches_cake

I don’t know where I’d been, until 2-3 years ago when I first heard or read about tres leches (three milks) cake. I became a fan instantly. Shall I say I must have been on a turnip truck? I was served it somewhere and knew eventually I’d make it myself. But I needed a reason to make a big 9×13 pan full of it. There is a boxed mix for this cake, but as with most such mixes, it is a 4th cousin twice removed, to the real thing, this one, made from scratch.

Making this is NOT all that hard – I bake all the time – so don’t know why I’d put off trying it. But if I’d made it for myself – for some small gathering and only used 3-4 pieces of it, then I’d have had a huge pan of it. This isn’t something you’d want to eat every day for a week. Plan on the scales giving you bad news. As it was, my granddaughter Sabrina, the one who just graduated from HS in early June, wanted tres leches cake for the party her mom and dad threw for her a few days after the graduation. I took all the stuff to Sara’s house (my daughter, Sabrina’s mom) and made it the day before. Most recipes say it’s best if allowed to soak in the three milks for 8-24 hours. I’ve found some recipes that say it only needs an hour or so to soak up most of the milk, but I didn’t want to chance it, so I did do it the day before. It does need to be refrigerated throughout the process.

The recipe I used made a pretty large bowl of the milk-combo, and suggested you not add it all to the cake, but to reserve some to spoon onto the plate when it’s served. Well, with this being a buffet kind of thing, we didn’t do that part, but the cake itself was plenty oozy with milk without the addition. Sara has a cup or more of the milk mixture in her refrigerator. Don’t really know what you’d do with it once the cake is gone! Guess you could make a custard? Or a pudding. In the recipe I used it suggested adding rum, which I did, but truthfully, none of us could taste it. Not at all. We also used a few pinches of cinnamon in the whipped cream, and I couldn’t taste that, either. I guess the milk flavor predominated!

First you make a sponge cake (you know, egg yolks and whites whipped up separately so the egg whites folded in give the cake height and tenderness). Once the cake is baked and cooled, you pour the milks on top – evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and some other combination of half and half, regular whole milk or heavy cream. The milks absorb from the bottom. At that stage the cake is covered and refrigerated. If you happen to have a 9×13 pan that has a lid, I recommend it! I made this in a disposable foil pan just because it was easier for storage (they come with lids too).

I recommend you use an instant read thermometer for the cake – we  used a toothpick and it came out clean after 18 minutes of baking, but it definitely was not done as the center sunk once out of the oven. We were able to use all the cake around the outer edges and had plenty. Sara doesn’t have an instant read thermometer. Cakes should cook to about 205°. This cake had pulled away from the sides, so we thought it was done, but it wasn’t. I’ve included notes in the recipe about this aspect of the cake baking.

The next day you make whipped cream (with sugar and vanilla) and since we were serving a crowd, I cut the cake into small servings (there were other desserts served) and dolloped the top of each with the cream. The cake did sit out at room temp for several hours then, and the few pieces left over went back into the pan. If you were serving this as the only dessert, I guess you could get at least 15 servings out of the pan, maybe more. The cake is rich, so you don’t really want to serve a lot of it, delicious as it is!

Certainly the cake will keep for a few days, but not much longer than that. Eventually the milk mixture will spoil, especially if it’s allowed to sit out, so do plan to eat it up within 3-4 days at the most. As time goes by, the bottom of each cake piece becomes rather unstable because it’s milk-logged. The top half or third doesn’t absorb any of the milk, so when I tried to move the left over pieces back into the baking pan for storage, they kind of fell apart. I learned to only move one piece at a time, then it stayed mostly together.

What’s GOOD: I love this cake. Period. I like dairy, though, so it would be likely I’d enjoy this. I love the texture of the cake (the sponge part) and it’s altogether lovely. Wish I had a piece right this very minute.

What’s NOT: You do need to plan ahead and then be sure to eat it up within a few days. This cake isn’t a long-term keeper as the milk could spoil.

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Tres Leches Cake [Pastel de Tres Leches or Three Milk’s Cake]

Recipe By: From Smitten Kitchen blog
Serving Size: 18

Butter and flour for cake pan
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch — (30 grams)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 large eggs — separated
1 vanilla bean — split and seeds scraped from pods or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup whole milk
THREE MILKS:
12 ounces evaporated milk
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup half and half
2 tablespoons rum — (optional)
TOPPING:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar — or granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon — or ground nutmeg (optional)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9×13 baking pan, or coat it with a nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch (together, these make “cake flour” without you having to buy it), salt and baking powder. If using a fresh vanilla bean, rub seeds into 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar to disperse them and help release the most flavor.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. With the machine still running, gradually add the sugar (vanilla bean-infused or plain) and beat on medium-high until stiff peaks form. If you haven’t used a vanilla bean, now add your vanilla extract and beat to combine.
4. Add yolks one at at time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add milk and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture, one-third at at time, folding in each addition gently by hand.
5. Pour batter in prepared pan and smooth top. Bake for 18 to 24 minutes, or until a tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Optionally, bake until the temperature in the center of the cake reaches 250°F. The sides may have pulled away from the pan, so don’t rely on that to tell you the cake is done. Let completely cool in pan on a rack.
6. THREE MILKS: In a large bowl, preferably one with a pouring spout, whisk together evaporated milk, condensed milk and 1 1/2 cups heavy or light cream. Add rum, if using. Use a wooden skewer to poke holes all over cake. Pour all but 1/2 cup milk mixture over cake and transfer to fridge, giving the cake several hours but ideally overnight to soak it up. (Save last bit of milk mixture for serving.)
7. TOPPING: Before serving, beat 2 cups heavy cream with 2 tablespoons powdered or granulated sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Spread over top of cake.
8. Serve cake in squares, first pouring a little puddle of reserved three-milk mixture at the bottom of plate.
Per Serving: 374 Calories; 20g Fat (47.7% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 138mg Cholesterol; 198mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on July 21st, 2016.

blueberry_buckle_serving

Gosh, I can’t encourage you enough to make this dessert. It’s off the charts wonderful! Fresh blueberries stirred into a batter, baked with a brown sugar streusel baked on top, then drizzled with a bit of heavy cream.

Some weeks ago I was contacted by Finlandia, the company that produces cheese and butter products in Finland, but it’s imported here in the U.S. to a variety of mostly upscale grocery stores, but also to some Costco stores (not where I live, unfortunately). It’s carried at some Safeway stores and Gelson’s. Anyway, I guess they thought I might like to try some of their products, providing I’d write up something about it on my blog. I said sure, as long as I really liked the product (which I did).

Finlandia shouldn’t be confused with Finlandia vodka or with the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’ musical opus by the same name (it’s beautiful – if you’d like to hear it, check out this YouTube 9-minute segment of it. Or with the annual ski marathon called Finlandia. I think if you live in Finland, the word is used in lots of ways!

They were kind enough to send me 2 packages of salted butter (7-ounces each), 1 of unsalted butter (also 7-ounces) and a package of deli-sliced Swiss cheese. They asked me to bake something with the butter, but I decided that before I did that I should have my visiting family sample the butter and we’d do a taste test.

butter_taste_test

So this was the first step – a taste test of both Finlandia types and my regular go-to unsalted butter from Trader Joe’s. I think this may not have been a very fair test because TJ’s doesn’t profess to be a premium butter. It’s good enough for my regular use, but it’s not anything extraordinary. Finlandia butter IS a premium butter for sure. I had a lovely loaf of crunchy baguette which was a kind of neutral slate on which to taste the butter. I probably shouldn’t have labeled them so they could see what they were eating. My visiting family hands-down liked the Finlandia salted type. They liked it so much the entire 7 ounces was gone in about 20 minutes. I often prefer unsalted butter and I always use it for baking (except the day I made this cake when all I had left was the Finlandia salted type).

The next morning we did another taste test, though. My S-I-L Todd frequents Starbucks, and he said they have some premium butter, called Gold, he thought. He brought home a few little Kerry Gold foil-wrapped squares and we taste-tested the Finlandia salted butter with the Kerry Gold salted. It was a mixed result – about half of us liked the Finlandia; the other half preferred the Kerry Gold. In past years I bought only Plugra, another premium butter made here in the U.S., but all of them are expensive.

My visiting family made sandwiches and used some of the Swiss cheese – they liked it just fine, they said. I’m not a fan, particularly of Swiss cheese (unless it’s Gruyere from Switzerland), so I haven’t had but a tiny bite of it. I’d guess if you’re a Swiss cheese fan you’d like it a lot.

With the remaining block of Finlandia salted butter I made this absolutely fabulous blueberry buckle. Oh my gosh it is so good. You simply have to make this!!! What I cannot tell you is if this blueberry buckle would be equally good with any old butter – it was off the charts, though, so I’m happy to say that the Finlandia butter might have had something to do with it. The recipe came from that same book I’ve been touting in recent months, Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More, by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. If you don’t have this book, and you’re any fan of cobblers and crisps, etc. you really need to buy it! I’ve made about 4-5 of the fruit desserts from the book so far and have been astounded with the results each and every time.

What makes a dessert a buckle, you ask? Here – Buckle or Crumble Is a type of cake made in a single layer with berries added to the batter. It is usually made with blueberries. The topping is similar to a streusel, which gives it a buckled or crumpled appearance. This info came from What’s Cooking America.

First I buttered my unusual Kaiser square springform pan (you can use any old 9×9 square pan) but I have blueberry_buckle_batterthis neat pan and thought it might look pretty if I could remove it from the pan to serve it. The batter is not all that different than many – it does contain buttermilk (makes it very tender) and cinnamon and at the last minute you very carefully stir in the fresh blueberries. You don’t want to overdo the stirring or you’ll get a purple cake with oozing juice. The recipe says you can use frozen berries, but leave them frozen when you stir them in or you’ll have the same problem with oozing blueberries and purple cake. Frozen, defrosted blueberries are very liquidy!  My advice? Use fresh blueberries.

Then you sprinkle on the brown sugar – butter – flour – cinnamon mixture all over the top and into blueberry_buckle_bakedthe oven it goes for nearly an hour. I left it in the pan for awhile to cool – then I actually transported in the pan when I stayed with family at a beautiful home in Big Bear (near the lake by the same name) and we enjoyed it after dinner one night, and again for breakfast the next morning. It worked equally well for both meals.

I had planned to make the lemon syrup (even though David Lebovitz who made this too, suggested that the lemon syrup took away from the fruit flavor, but as it turned out I answered the doorbell when I was making it, and the syrup burned up, burned my pan (and it may not recover – down the drain with a good Caphalon pan!), and smoked up my house! I wasn’t about to attempt it again. I loved it just the way it was.

I ended up not moving it off the springform pan as it was really moist, and tender, and I was afraid it would fall apart in the process. So I just left it on the springform base and cut squares to serve it with some cream.

blueberry_buckle_sideview

What’s GOOD: every single thing about this was delicious. The tender crumb (from the buttermilk), hopefully the nice high-end Finlandia butter, the fresh blueberries, the balance of fruit and sugar was perfect. The topping isn’t too sweet, either. Altogether a class act dessert! I’ll be making it again and again. It’s going onto my Favorites list, it’s that good. I think I’d make this without the lemon syrup again – it was just great the way it was.

What’s NOT: nary a thing. It’s easy to make and I just know you’ll hear purrs from everyone. And just as an aside, my only “beef” with Finlandia is that they package their butter in 7-ounce packages. Most U.S. recipe increments relatr to half pound or quarter pound, or call for cubes, half cubes, quarter cubes, from a 4-ounce cube, which makes measuring Finlandia a bit difficult at a 7-ounce cube. I wouldn’t want to have to cut the 7-ounce cube into 7 slices. You’d have to cut and weigh the Finlandia. Not ideal in my kitchen anyway. Using a scale would be best.

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Blueberry Buckle (with optional Lemon Syrup)

Recipe By: Rustic Fruit Desserts (cookbook)
Serving Size: 12

STREUSEL TOPPING:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter — cubed and chilled
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
BATTER:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter — at room temperature
1 cup sugar zest of 2 lemons (use the same lemons for juice in the syrup below)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour — PLUS 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon baking powder — preferably aluminum-free
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon — or 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs — at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk — at room temperature
3 cups blueberries —
FRESH LEMON SYRUP: (optional)
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons lemon juice

NOTES (from David Lebovitz’ blog about this recipe): Adding the lemon syrup is tangy but does take some of the spotlight off the berries. If you omit it, you might want to increase the amount of cinnamon or nutmeg slightly in the batter to give it a little more pizzazz. Other fruits can be used, such as sliced or diced plums, nectarines or apricots. Avoid fruits that are extra-juicy – it messes up the batter consistency. Raspberries can be used in place of the blueberries, or mixed with them. If you want to swap out other fruits, use the same amount by weight or volume as the blueberries listed in the ingredients. You can use frozen berries if you’d like, but do NOT defrost – too juicy. Add them frozen, right to the batter. If you don’t have buttermilk handy, you can put 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or white vinegar in a measuring cup and add enough whole or lowfat milk to equal 1/2 cup (125ml). Stir gently, then let sit for ten minutes until it curdles slightly, and use that.
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Butter a 9-inch square cake pan.
2. TOPPING: crumble together the butter, sugar, flour and cinnamon with your hands or a pastry blender until the pieces of butter are broken up and are about the size of small peas. Set aside.
3. BUCKLE BATTER: In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or by hand in a bowl using a spatula or wooden spoon, cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, stopping the mixer a few moments after you add each egg to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon or nutmeg into a medium-sized bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add half the flour mixture, then stir in the buttermilk.
5. Add the remaining flour mixture, mixing just enough so it’s barely incorporated (there will still be dry bits of unincorporated flour), then remove the mixer bowl from the machine and using a flexible spatula to gently fold in the blueberries in, just until they are incorporated. Do not overmix – you don’t want to smash the blueberries and stain the batter.
6. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top. Strew the topping over the blueberry batter and bake until the buckle is lightly browned on top and feels just set in the center; it’ll spring back lightly when you touch the center. It’ll take about 55 minutes.
7. SYRUP (optional): When the buckle is almost finished baking, make the syrup by heating the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, cooking it until it thickens. It’s done when the bubbles get larger, and when removed from the heat (check a couple of times while it’s cooking), the consistency will be like warm maple syrup. It’ll take about 5 minutes.
8. Remove the buckle from the oven and pour the warm lemon syrup over it, letting it soak in. Serve the buckle when it’s cool enough to slice. It’s good warm or at room temperature. Whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or just a drizzle of heavy cream make a nice garnish, but it can be eaten just as-is.
Per Serving: 312 Calories; 11g Fat (30.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 62mg Cholesterol; 182mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on July 15th, 2016.

moms_apricot_cobbler

Simple, but just plain delicious. Old-fashioned apricot cobbler.

I’ve been on a nostalgia kick lately. To make the pear pie the other day I had to go into my old-old recipe notebook to find it, and while there I saw mom’s recipe for apricot cobbler. Since I’d bought a small box of apricots the other day it seemed a done deal I’d be making this.

Without a doubt, this recipe was born of the depression era. And it’s a very simple concoction, much like the pear pie, except this one is a cobbler. It’s so simple it hardly needs a recipe, but yet it does, because you do have to make the batter with exact measurements. It’s merely a layer of apricots (I made a slightly smaller batch than shown below because I had a pound of apricots – plenty for me) and then a liquidy cake batter is poured over the top. I’m sure my mom made it in an 8×8 or a 9×9 Pyrex dish – I used one slightly smaller.

apricots_slicedThe apricots were perfectly ripe – they’d been sitting out on my kitchen island for about 3 days. One had spoiled, but the rest were still firm enough to slice without going to mush. No need to peel them, thank goodness. Apricot season is so short lived, which is sad.

I know my mother used to make this with canned apricots; so on a hunch, I went online to look up Betty Crocker recipes, and with only a couple of little changes, this recipe is very similar to a very old-time recipe. My mother’s family were from the Midwest. They didn’t use much seasoning on things and even desserts were simple affairs. I am certain my grandparents had an apricot tree in the farmhouse front yard. My grandma used to do a lot of canning and am sure also that I had this dessert many times over the years. Itapricot_cobbler_ready2bake says the recipe came from Aunt Nora, who was my grandpa’s sister-in-law, widowed early in life and spent 30-40 years as a widow. She was a very sweet lady and I can picture her in her house in Turlock, wearing a frumpy thin, cotton plaid housedress, almost always with an apron on. She was a very good cook, as I recall. At right, the dish with the batter poured into it, ready to go in the oven.

Betty Crocker’s recipe calls for canned apricots, and it also calls for butter. Since my grandparents suffered a lot during the depression years, I suspect the butter got substituted with vegetable oil, which is what was in my mother’s recipe. My mom wrote (her handwriting) underneath my hand-written recipe for this – “May add a little nutmeg or cinnamon, or both . . . Mom.” Gosh I miss my mom. It’s been nearly 19 years since she died. She’d lived a long life (she was 89) but I sure wasn’t ready for her to go.

The only bit of advice I have about this recipe is to use a dish that’s wider than you might think you need – the batter oozes down into the apricots some, and they do soften, but you don’t want too much thickness – of the topping on top – so it’s good to spread the apricots out a bit. apricot_cobbler_recipeThe dough is a tender cake mixture and you don’t want it to be too thick. Betty Crocker’s recipe adds sliced almonds on the top (which would have been nice if I’d noticed that before I slipped the dish into the oven – oh well) and uses almond extract in the batter. The batter completely covers the apricots – you can’t see any visible apricots at all – so you need to trust that the cake part is done. If you want to make sure, take the internal temp of it in the center of your baking dish – it should be about 190-200°F. At left, my hand-written recipe from the 1960’s with my mom’s added note below. Back in those days I used to do most of my writing as printing. There’s probably some psychology about that – I certainly don’t do that now and haven’t for decades. When I started college I started taking lecture notes by writing in caps. Who knows why.

What’s GOOD: if you like plain and simple, then this is right up your alley. I used almond extract, not lemon (I don’t have lemon extract – guess I could have used some lemon juice in lieu of some of the milk) and I liked the almond flavoring a lot. The cake is lovely – soft and tender. It was great with a little bit of vanilla ice cream on top. I think over the years I’ve had it with just a little half and half, or whipped cream too. The cobbler was super-easy to make. Satisfying too.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. This isn’t fancy, or different, or anything like that. Just plain, simple apricot cobbler.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Apricot Cobbler

Recipe By: My mother’s recipe, but she got it from her Aunt Nora, in the 1930s.
Serving Size: 6

1 1/2 pounds apricots — fresh
BATTER:
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon lemon extract — or almond, or vanilla
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Preheat oven to 350°F
2. Cut and slice the apricots and place in an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish. Use a flatter dish rather than one that is smaller, but with taller sides. You want the ratio of apricots to topping to be about the same.
3. In a bowl combine the batter ingredients and mix just until combined. Pour over the apricots.
4. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown.
Per Serving: 315 Calories; 5g Fat (13.6% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 63g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 39mg Cholesterol; 213mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Desserts, Veggies/sides, on June 29th, 2016.

moms_pear_pie

It’s been decades since I made this pie. And it’s SO easy to prepare (well, IF you have frozen pie crusts standing by). You can buy Bosc pears year ‘round now, so anytime could be pear pie season.

A few weeks ago I made an astounding pear cobbler I wrote up about just a few days ago. I don’t exactly post my recipes in order as I make them, but that pear cobbler made me think about a recipe I hadn’t made for decades, my Mom’s pear pie. I had to go hunting for the recipe – it was in my little orange binder that I used when I first began to have enough recipes to save. Some of the recipes in there are in my mother’s handwriting, though this one was not – my mom must have kind of dictated it to me. It’s hardly a recipe, so I had to write it a bit better for posting here.

The pear cobbler is long gone – I served it to a group and it all disappeared except for one serving that’s in my freezer. But it certainly did resonate in my palate, telling me to eat more pears. Then, in the interim I either read or heard from somewhere that when you’re baking pears, the best ones to use are Bosc. Well, it was too late; I’d already bought 4 Bartlett pears with the thought that I’d make this pear pie. I also bought a package of 2 Marie Callender’s pie crust shells (frozen). I know they’re good; good enough for this pie, for sure. I don’t bake pies very often – always because making the crust is just such a nuisance. That will forever be changed now that Marie’s pie shells are available. Whoopee! I have a number of pies I’d like to make, some that date back to the 60s that I’ve never bothered to include here on my blog. I’d also like to update two pies that are old favorites.

crust_with_raw_pearsSo, this pie. I don’t know the history of it, other than I know it was my mother’s mother’s recipe. My grandmother’s name was Isis, and she was a very good baker. She and my grandfather lived all their lives on a farm in the central valley here in California – in Stanislaus (pronounced STAN-is-law) County, near Modesto. My grandmother cooked 3 meals a day for the entirety of their marriage, I imagine. There were years when there was almost no money (my mother went to junior college, then worked and HAD to send money home to her parents because they might have lost the farm altogether). She had 2 older brothers and 2 sisters, and I expect they may have sent money home too if they had extra during those skim depression years. I have a number of recipes from my grandmother Isis. I recently bought some apricots, thinking I’d make an old time recipe for an apricot cobbler. That recipe might have belonged to my great aunt. Not sure.

Anyway, this pear pie is just so easy to make. I had 4 Bartlett pears (use Bosc if you have them) and after peeling them I just sliced them directly into the frozen pie crust. See photo above. They were quite juicy – maybe too juicy. Then I mixed up the “filling,” which was merely sugar, a little bit of flour, an egg and a jot of vanilla. That was stirred up and topping_pear_piedrizzled all over the top of the pears. See photo at right. I used a spatula to kind of help the topping/filling to cover most of the pears. Then I dotted the top with butter and into a hot oven it went for about 10 minutes. Then the temp was turned down to 325° and baked for another 35-45 minutes, until the filling was golden brown and set.

Letting it cool was essential, and it held onto the heat for quite a while. My mother almost always served this with whipped cream, but you could also use vanilla ice cream. I intended to sprinkle the top of the pears with cardamom, but forgot in my rush to get the topping on the pears. I did use almond flavoring rather than vanilla, however.

Photo here shows the pie with butter dotting the top, ready to go into the oven. pear_pie_ready2bakeI thought this might have been a Betty Crocker recipe, but no. I just searched for it and this is nothing like any of Betty’s pear pies. I’d guess it’s a depression-era recipe because it calls for no other ingredients like sour cream or even any spices. The sugar mixes with the egg and the presumption is that any of the juices from the pears will firm up with the flour added into the filling/topping. The eggy mixture does slip down between the layers of pears and surrounds the pears.

I enjoyed 2 slices, then gave the rest of it to my neighbors, who have 2 little girls with hungry appetites. Both girls do swimming and water polo – the mom is a full time “bus” driver for the girls.

What’s GOOD: if you’re looking for straight-forward pear taste, this is it. Nothing else, really, to distract your taste buds – pears, sugar, a little flour, an egg, flavoring and butter dotting the top. That’s all there is to it. It’s very juicy – if you use Bosc they may not be quite so much so. I actually liked it plain with no topping at all.

What’s NOT: really nothing – it’s easy to make if you have already made pie  shells, or will buy frozen ones. It took about 10-15 minutes to put it all together and stick it in the oven.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mom’s Pear Pie

Recipe By: My Mother’s recipe, handed down from her mother.
Serving Size: 8

1 pie crust (9 inch) — unbaked
4 whole pears — Bosc, preferably
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract — or almond extract
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Peel the pears (if using Bartlett it’s not necessary to peel, but it will look nicer if you do), quarter, core and slice the pears into the pie shell. The pears should gently mound the pie shell (they shrink during baking).
3 In a small bowl combine the sugar and flour, mix well with a fork. Crack the egg into the middle, add the flavoring (almond or vanilla extract) and mix well. Using a spoon or fork, dab the mixture all over the top of the pears. There may be a couple of spots where pears aren’t covered, but do your best. Using a spatula, gently try to spread it over all the filling.
4 Cut tiny pieces of the butter and sprinkle over the filling.
5 Place the pie on a metal baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325° and continue to bake for another 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling looks set. Cool. Serve warm or at room temp with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If desired, add a tiny jot of almond extract to the whipped cream instead of vanilla. You can also sprinkle the top of the pears with about 1/2 tsp. of ground cardamom (not in my mother’s recipe).
Per Serving: 266 Calories; 9g Fat (30.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

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