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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

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.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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 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.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

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!

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

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.

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

* Exported from MasterCook *

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.

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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.

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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.

Posted in Desserts, on June 25th, 2016.

pear_cobbler_hazelnut_biscuits

Cobblers don’t always look sensational, but don’t let the appearance fool you. This is one fabulous, must-make-this kind of homey, comforting dessert. Get ye to the store for some pears and do it!

So, even though I promised myself I wouldn’t buy any more cookbooks, last year I succumbed to a fruit dessert one called Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More by Cory Schreiber. I think cobblers are just about my favorite dessert, so to have a cookbook that’s all about such desserts, well, I just couldn’t NOT buy it. I’ve posted two other recipes from this book already, a Peach, Blackberry & Almond Crisp, and a Stone Fruit Tea Cake made with peaches. The crisp was my favorite of the two, but now with this one, I’m not so sure.

My mother used to make a pear pie, a creamy filling (sour cream, I think) with fresh pears. I loved that pie. I should make it – I just don’t make many pies. Any day I’d prefer a cobbler or a crisp. I’m a sucker for ordering one at restaurants if they have it on a menu. But to tell you the truth, I think I’ve been disappointed with every one I’ve ever ordered out. They never use enough fruit. And, without fail, they make them too sweet for me. Anybody else noticed that? Some had good-enough toppings, but restaurants are in the business of making money, so they may cut corners (using a pre-made streusel, for instance, or just plopping a piece of flaky dough on top). But when you make it yourself, you know what goes into it and it’s made with love! Of course.

pears_sugaredI’d purchased a bag of 12 pears at Costco. What was I thinking? Oh my goodness. And yet, I needed to make a dessert for a gathering at my house, and it called for 10 large pears. Bingo! They’d ripened on my kitchen counter for a few days (and I lost one that had gotten bruised, I think). The day I needed this dessert the pears were to perfect ripeness. Yippee. That’s one of the problems with cooking/baking with pears – you can’t predict when they’ll be at their peak, because they’re almost never ripe in the bins at the grocery store. I used 11 pears – but I don’t think you’d want to use any less than 10 – pears wilt/sink/flatten when baked since they’re filled with some water/juice.

So, first you cut up the pears and combine them quickly in a bowl with brown sugar, cornstarch and spices. Don’t go off to talk on the phone – you don’t want the pears to turn brown . . . then they were turned into a large greased baking dish (9×13). Do use ceramic or glass, not metal. Then you mix up the biscuits.

What can I tell you – oh gosh, these biscuits are divine. First you whiz up some toasted and skinned hazelnuts (along with sugar, flour, baking powder and salt) in the food processor until it’s a fairly fine meal. I used the processor to add the butter (the recipe says to use your fingertips or a pastry blender) but I took the lazy way out. Just don’t over-process it once you add the butter. The dough was crumbly and even though the recipe indicates such, I added another tablespoon of cream so it would barely come together. It’s really a very dry looking biscuit. Then you roll it out to a rectangle, cut it into 10 square shapes. Those are slightly overlapped (that’s what the “shingled” means in the recipe title) in the baking dish. The biscuits do completely fill the baking dish with only a tiny bit of fruit peeking out around the edges. See photo. pear_cobbler_biscuits_unbaked

So there, at left is the photo of the cobbler before it was baked. The biscuits are brushed on the tops with a tablespoon of heavy cream. You could add a sprinkling of crystallized sugar on top if you’d like that look. It’s baked (partly with foil on top) and is done in about 55 minutes at which time the biscuits are gloriously golden brown and the filling is bubbling around all the edges. You remove the baking dish to cool, but serving this warm is just about heaven-sent.

pear_cobber_bakedThe book’s author says this is best eaten the day it’s made – but if you absolutely must have some left overs, have it for breakfast, she says. Okay, I did that. It’s not overly sweet, so with a bit of half and half poured over it, oh gosh, it was delicious for my breakfast. If you do have any of it left over, leave it out at room temp (in other words, do NOT refrigerate it) and just cover it with a tea towel. You can also bake this some hours ahead, reheat it in a 300°F oven for about 15-20 minutes. There at right is a photo of the baked cobbler, all golden brown. My mouth is watering since I made this a couple of weeks ago and it was completely gone the next day – I gave some to friends and kept ONE serving which is now in my freezer. Although you have biscuits for 10, when I put it out for people to serve themselves, nobody took a whole biscuit – so you could make the biscuits smaller, or just know that it will likely serve more than 10 people.

What’s GOOD: everything about this cobbler is good. Absolutely everything – the pears, the bubbling sauce, the hazelnuts in the biscuits, the texture of the biscuits. Oh my. It’s a keeper. Do save this recipe, my friends, and make it soon. If you use Bartlett pears, you don’t have to peel them, by the way.

What’s NOT: only that she says it’s not good to keep it past the day it’s made. I thought it was pretty darned good the next day, but that’s what’s in the recipe. Just so you know. Make a half a recipe in an 8×8 pan if you don’t want enough to serve 10-12.

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Pear Cobbler with Shingled Hazelnut Biscuits

Recipe By: Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson
Serving Size: 10-12

1 tablespoon unsalted butter — to grease the baking dish
PEAR FILLING:
2/3 cup light brown sugar — packed
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
10 large pears — ripe, but firm (see notes)
HAZELNUT BISCUITS:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup hazelnuts — toasted and skinned
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 ounces unsalted butter — cold, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon heavy cream — to glaze the top of the biscuits

NOTES: All pears require peeling, unless they’re Barlett. If your pears are small, use more. The pears reduce at least a third during baking.
1. Preheat oven to 375°F and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Grease a 9×13 baking dish (not metal pan) with the butter and set aside.
2. FILLING: Rub brown sugar, cornstarch, salt and cardamom together in a large bowl (pressing any lumps).
3. Peel, core and slice the pears (or you may cut the pears into small chunks) into the sugar bowl and add the lemon juice. Stir periodically as you prepare the pears so the flesh doesn’t turn brown. Pour the fruit into the prepared baking dish, scraping out all the juices.
4. BISCUITS: Combine flour, hazelnuts, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped. Then add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of peas, then transfer to a bowl. (Alternately, you can chop the hazelnuts by hand and combine with the dry ingredients, then use your fingertips or a pastry blender to cut in the butter until the size of peas.) Pour in the cream and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened. (I had to add another tablespoon of cream to the dry mixture in order to get it to come together.) The dough may be crumbly and appear very dry, but it will come together.
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently press the dough together to form a rectangle, then roll out in a rectangle measuring 8 x 15″, adding more flour to the board as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Cut the rectangle in half lengthwise, each measuring 4″ x 15″, then cut each long piece into 5 rectangles (to equal 10 altogether). Just slightly overlap the biscuits on top of the pear mixture in a shingled pattern. The biscuits should completely fill the 9×13 pan. Brush the tops with the 1 T. of heavy cream.
6. Cover the dish with foil and bake in the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 35 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden and the filling is bubbling all around the edges. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or just unadorned.
7. STORAGE: This cobbler is best eaten the day it’s made, but leftovers can be covered with a tea towel to be eaten the next day. Reheat in a 300°F oven until warmed through.
Per Serving: 430 Calories; 25g Fat (49.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 52g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 49mg Cholesterol; 306mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on May 28th, 2016.

marie_helenes_apple_cake

Oh goodness, this is so good. So comfort food, and really quite easy.

My last post I shared with you a delicious Salade Nicoise my friend Joanne had made for me when I was invited to her house a few weeks ago. This post is about the dessert – this lusciously moist apple cake. The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan, from her cookbook Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Marie-Helene is a good Parisian friend of Dorie’s, and she’s an editor of a French guide book (and restaurant critic too). But Dorie explains in the copious head notes to this recipe, her friend doesn’t cook from a recipe – everything is in her head and she makes lots of adjustments, so Dorie found it larry_himpossible to write down an actual recipe. So, she went home to her own Paris kitchen and tried. And tried. And finally succeeded in making a cake that is as nearly identical to her friend Marie-Helene’s as she could devise. And what a great recipe it is.

One of the lovely things about this cake is that it will keep, out on your kitchen counter, for a few days. Dorie’s husband claims that the cake is even better on day two or three. I can’t imagine it lasting that long. The cake is not overly sweet, and one of the imperatives Dorie explains is that you must use different kinds of apples, so you’ll have some pieces of fruit that are sweet and tart, firm and soft, all mixed up together.

Joanne’s husband Larry served up the dessert for us so I snapped a photo.

The cake can be served plain, adorned only with some powdered sugar. Or with a little bit of heavy cream to pour on it. Or, a tiny scoop of ice cream, or crème fraiche. Dorie explained that her friend Marie-Helene serves it with cinnamon ice cream, which she thinks is a magical combination. I might have to try it that way. If you don’t want to make cinnamon ice cream, use vanilla, allow it to soften just a bit and mix in a bit of cinnamon. Mix thoroughly then refreeze it to allow the flavors to meld a little bit. Ideally, making it from scratch, I would think you would infuse the cream and milk with the cinnamon so it would permeate everything. Optionally, sprinkle the top of the cake with cinnamon. That might work too.

In any case, this recipe is a keeper. Thanks, Joanne!

What’s GOOD: the chunks of apple shine through, which is exactly what you want in this cake. Joanne used Fuji apples, I think she said, and they hold their shape well as you can see the chunks peeking through the top of the cake. There are lots of apples in it and just enough cake to hold it all together. A divine combination. If possible, try it with the a diverse mix of apples. The cake keeps for several days with no adverse effect – just press some plastic wrap against the cut cake sides. A keeper.

What’s NOT: nary a single thing. It’s a great recipe.

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

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Marie-Helene’s Apple Cake

Recipe By: From Dorie Greenspan’s cookbook, Around My French Table
Serving Size: 8

3/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 large apples — peeled, cored and cut into 1-2 inch cubes; it’s best to use various types of apples
A pinch of salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter — melted and cooled slightly
Whipped cream, heavy cream or creme fraiche for garnish

1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F and generously butter an 8″ springform pan. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the pan on it.
2. In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and pinch of salt. Put aside.
3. In a medium bowl, add the 2 large eggs and whisk until foamy. Add the sugar and whisk until well blended about one minute.
4. Whisk in the vanilla and the rum.
5. Add half the flour mixture to the bowl. Whisk until blended. Add half the melted butter, and whisk until smooth. Repeat again, finishing the flour and butter.
6. Using a spatula, fold in the apples chunks.
7. Place in the oven for 70-80 minutes or until slightly golden on the top or a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Place on a cooling rack.
8. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and then run a knife around the edges of the springform pan and then remove it, allowing the cake to further cool. Be gentle with it, as it’s a very tender cake. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired – but only just before serving as it would melt into the cake in a matter of minutes. It’s a very moist cake.
9. After serving, it’s best not to cover it – leave it out at room temp for no more than 2-3 days. You can use plastic wrap or waxed paper to cover cut sides.
10. Originally the cake was served with cinnamon ice cream; lacking that, serve with some whipped cream, pouring heavy cream or a dollop of creme fraiche.
Per Serving: 289 Calories; 13g Fat (41.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 38g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 84mg Cholesterol; 65mg Sodium.

Posted in Desserts, on May 20th, 2016.

choc_dried_cranberry_cake

If you’re a chocoholic, well, this cake is right up your alley. Light sponge cake with only 2 T. of flour in the whole thing. A little bit of pecans ground up to give it some substance (but not much – the cake is as light as a feather), folded with whipped egg whites and loaded with good chocolate and dried cranberries soaked in bourbon.

When I write up these posts, usually I have some reason I’m baking a dessert. Someone’s coming to dinner; or I’m making something to take to a friend; or most often, I’m serving dessert to my bible study group. This time, there was no reason whatsoever. Do I need a chocolate cake to serve 10? Absolutely not! Did I need chocolate cake at all? Nope. But for whatever reason, my head said I should bake something. My bible study group is coming here in a few days, so maybe tomorrow I’ll freeze it and defrost it then. There’s plenty!

The recipe came from Tarla Fallgatter, a caterer and cooking instructor here in the county where I live in California. My friend Cherrie and I have taken innumerable classes from her, but she’s only teaching private group classes these days. Maybe we’ll wangle an invitation to one of them. Occasionally, Tarla posts a recipe on her website and that’s where I got this one.

choc_dried_cranb_cake_sliceThe cake was really easy to make, although you do have to grease and parchment-line a 10-inch springform pan (or a fluted tart pan with a removable bottom). Eggs must be separated and yolks added to brown sugar. Chocolate and butter must be melted and cooled slightly, then mixed in with the eggs. The whites are beaten to firm, with sugar, and gently folded into the chocolate batter, along with the flour/ground pecan mixture. And the dried cranberries. It bakes for 25 minutes, rests briefly, then is removed from the pan and cooled a bit more on a serving platter. I ate a slice warm with sweetened whipped cream on top (see photo). Oh gosh – did it ever satisfy my chocolate cravings. I will tell you, however, it dirties up a whole lot of bowls, pans, measuring cups and spoons. I’ve set them to soak in my sink and will wash them tomorrow . . .

What’s GOOD: the ultimate in chocolate (use good chocolate) and the sponge-factor. I prefer light, spongy cakes anyway (lighter) so this certainly satisfied my cravings. And I almost never turn down chocolate. If you’re going to serve 10, you’ll be serving fairly small servings – just so you know. Loved the texture and the flavor. Altogether delicious. It is a fairly thin cake – just enough, really, as you can see from the photo.

What’s NOT: the only thing I can say is that it uses a lot of dishes, bowls and pans. Maybe I’ll pile them into the dishwasher and be done with it! But, there’s nothing to dislike about the taste of this cake. A keeper.

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

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Bittersweet Chocolate Dried Cranberry Sponge Cake

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, 2015
Serving Size: 8-10

1 stick unsalted butter
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate — chopped
1 cup dried cranberries — or dried cherries
1/4 cup bourbon — or water or brandy
1/4 cup pecans — toasted
2 tablespoons flour
3 large eggs — separated
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar — (for the egg yolks)
2 tablespoons sugar — (for the egg whites)
sifted powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream — beaten with a little sugar and vanilla

1. Place oven rack in middle position and preheat to 350F. Line a 10-inch round pan with a removable bottom with parchment and butter the parchment. Pulse pecans and flour together in a food processor until finely ground. Set aside.
2. Simmer cranberries in the bourbon in a small pan over low heat until cranberries are tender and bourbon is absorbed – about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Melt chocolate and butter in a bowl set over simmering water until completely melted and smooth. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.
3. Beat yolks and brown sugar until thick. Add the chocolate mixture and fold in. Beat whites until soft peaks, add sugar and beat until fairly stiff. Fold one third of whites into chocolate mixture along with the dried cranberries and pecan mixture just to lighten; fold in remainder gently. Turn batter into prepared pan and bake about 25 minutes or until firm. Let cool slightly. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan. Remove the ring and transfer cake (off the parchment paper) to a platter. Dust with sifted powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream.
Per Serving: 337 Calories; 28g Fat (70.9% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 105mg Cholesterol; 34mg Sodium.

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