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

17 December 2014

Bake All the Fruitcakes!

A few years ago, I bought a copy of the DVD Cooking with Paula Deen, The Complete Collection (2005-2012) for a ridiculously low post-Christmas price. I'm not a huge Paula Deen fan, but I've enjoyed many of her recipes and the DVD seemed like a good buy. It collects every page of the magazine from the first issue in 2005 through the end of 2012. It's searchable, bookmarkable, printable ... and (most important of all) contains all the recipes my mother and I shared back and forth when she was still a subscriber. Au Gratin Carrots? Yes. Horseradish Mashed Potatoes? Yes. Mushroom Lasagna? Yes.

And all five totally awesome fruitcake recipes from the November/December 2008 issue! I say totally awesome, but I've only made one of the five -- the fabulous "Tropical Fruitcake" with pineapple, coconut, macadamia nuts, and white rum -- so how can I be sure of the other four?

I guess I'll just have to bake more fruitcakes this winter! The "Traditional Fruitcake" doesn't interest me -- that's the one my mom bakes, so I know it's perfectly fine -- but I'm really looking forward to trying "Plum Ginger Fruitcake" (the batter is infused with green tea!) and "Cranberry Walnut Fruitcake" (because who doesn't love cranberries and walnuts?). Can't quite make my mine up about "Ambrosia Fruitcake" as I'm guessing, flavor-wise, it's supposed to be reminiscent of ambrosia salad and I just remember that my uncle's ambrosia was deathly sweet.

Baking three fruitcakes requires a serious laying on of supplies, so I started totting up a list of ingredients I'd need:
  • 16 cups flour
  • 8 cups sugar
  • 5 cups candied orange peel
  • 4 cups chopped pecans
  • 4 cups sliced almonds
  • 4 cups chopped walnuts
  • 4 cups chopped macadamias
  • 4 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 4 cups candied pineapple chunks
  • 3 cups chopped dried apples
  • 3 cups dried cranberries
  • 3 cups chopped dried plums
  • 2 cups candied citron
  • 2 cups crystallized ginger
  • 2 cups candied lemon peel
  • 2 cups glazed red cherries
  • 1 cup raisins
I already own some of the ingredients, but it's a good thing we're in the heart of Baking Season and so many ingredients are on sale! But where am I going to store it all??

31 October 2014

Halloween Spritz Cookies

My mother used to bake spritz cookies for Christmas every year and, as a child, they were the cookie I loved to hate. They were pretty, yes, but they were horrible little beasts to assemble. My mother had a Mirro cookie press -- the kind you have to turn the handle at the top of the barrel while holding the bottom level with the baking sheet until enough dough has come out to see the shape of the cookie and then you have to carefully lift the cookie press straight up so as not to ruin the design. It never really worked out well when I had the running of it and, when I started baking on my own, I vowed I'd never bake spritz cookies because they were just to darn fiddly.

Yet ... here I am with an Oxo Good Grips Cookie Press. A cookie press I was given for Christmas last year. After I specifically asked for it. Because I am mad, I tell you, mad.

I used the spider, web, and pumpkin cookie disks to shape my Halloween spritz. I thought the web and pumpkin would be the easiest shapes to press, but the webs turned out to be annoying little beasties. Of course, I started with the webs so when they wouldn't come out properly I thought it was because the baking sheets weren't chilled enough! And then I thought maybe the dough needed to be chilled. And then, finally, I decided to try the spider disk ... and the spiders came out perfect from the first!

Stupid webs.

The pumpkins also shaped and stuck to the baking sheets just fine. I don't know what it was about the webs, but they really didn't want to release from the press.

I used the recipe for butter cookies that came with my Oxo Good Grips Cookie Press, figuring the recipe had been formulated especially for the press and was thereby a good starting point ... so I am still a bit grumpy and confused about why the webs were so difficult.

Since I was making Halloween spritz I divided the dough into two bowls and colored it with Americolor Soft Gel Paste Food Colors. I was afraid to use too much black, because my mouth kept telling me the cookies would taste "black" even though my brain knew that was nonsense.

The dough looks rather gray in the photo, but the cookies baked up pretty dark.

The orange was just ORANGE from the get go and didn't bake up any less vibrant.

Overall, I'd say I enjoyed my first attempt at spritz cookies and am looking forward to making more as we head into Cookie Season. The Oxo cookie press does take a little getting used to as using it isn't quite as straightforward as the instructions suggest (I would say I pressed a good dozen duds before I got the hang of it), but know that I've figured out what I'm doing ... it beats the socks of my mother's old screw-style cookie press!

01 October 2014

Figgy-Figgy Fall Bundt Cake

Monday night, I was trying to reorganize my kitchen so that I could finally get rid of the rolling cart that holds all my vinegars, oils, and lunch boxes. I've owned the cart since 1994 (bought it at Ames, yo) and am well past any feelings of guilt about tossing it. Goodbye, cart. Hello, additional people space.

Because shuffling the contents of one cart eventually meant shuffling the contents of five cupboards, I ended up elbow deep (and a bit snarly) in my baking cupboard around nine o'clock. Why had I bought dried figs again? How many packages of raisins does a person need? And lets not talk about the bags of white chocolate chips! And the confectionery sugar! Oh, the confectionery sugar!! Clearly, I needed to Bake Something.

And I did! A dense cinnamon-y fall bundt full of figs, raisins, and pecans. It is more a quick bread than a cake, but you bake it in a bundt pan and "bundt cake" sounds right ... whereas "bundt bread" sounds decidedly odd. My recipe is based on "Healthy Fig Bread" from Nordicware's Bundt Entertaining, but I feel I've made it even more healthy (and delicious) with the use of buttermilk and white whole wheat.


My only complaint is that I can clearly see beige-y flakes of oatmeal among the darker cake and I don't like the aesthetic at all. Otherwise, it's a very tasty cake and a little piece, with a nice cup of tea, goes a long way. I love how the cake is absolutely studded with fruit -- none of that sunk-to-the-bottom nonsense I've had with some cakes and I think some of that success might be due to combining the fruit and nuts with the wet ingredients before adding the dry as this leaves the fruit kind-of suspended. Or maybe I'm just rationalizing baking magic?

Figgy Bundt Cake

A dense cinnamon-y fall bundt full of figs, raisins, and pecans.

Yield: 12-24 slices

Cook time: 00 hrs. 45 mins.

Total time: 01 hrs. 15 mins.

Tags: bundt cake, baking, cake


  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ½ cup chopped figs
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup old-fashioned (rolled) oats
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan. (The cake won't rise much so you're probably okay with an 8-cup pan, too).
  2. In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, and butter. Add figs, raisins, and pecans.
  4. Add flour ("dry") mixture to the egg ("wet") mixture, stirring until dry ingredients are just combined. Spoon into pan.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 30-45 minutes or until a cake tester jabbed into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on rack. Remove cake from pan and cool completely on rack.

As with many quick breads, this is better the next day.

I chopped the figs by removing their stems, slicing them lengthwise, and then crosswise into small pieces. They were very sticky and squishy and yum ... I may have eaten as many figs while preparing the batter as went into the finished cake. Whoops.

This coming Sunday, I'll bake up a bunch of white chocolate and pecan oatmeal cookies for work and that will use up one of the partial bags of morsels. I have only three or four recipes I make with any regularity that use white chocolate and even then they don't use that much ... so I really have no idea why I ended up with so many bags. Oh, I know! Poor organization skills!

20 June 2014

Celebratory Cookies

"Spumoni Chunk Cookies" I made for a retirement party. The recipe starts with Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix and then tarts it up with pistachios, dried cherries, and semisweet chocolate chunks. I've made these cookies several times now, but I admit this was the first time I actually stuck with the recipe -- I've used toasted walnuts or pecans -- because pistachios are not something I usually have on hand. (If you can find shelled salted roasted pistachios, well, good on you. I bought mine still in the shell and, in shelling them, probably put as many in my tummy as in the measuring cup).

I thought I had a bag of Nestle Toll House chunks left from Christmas, but couldn't find them when it came time to bake and ended up buying a bag of Hershey's Baking Melts. Based on the packaging illustrations, I was expecting thumbnail-sized rounds, but opened the bag to find surprisingly big 'uns. A bit too big for these cookies, I thought, so I ended up chopping them in half. Unlike with the pistachios, no chocolate ended up in my belly!

The cherries were the last of the sour (tart) cherries I'd bought for fruitcake last December. They're excellent cherries -- slightly sweetened with a real intense punch of cherry flavor. They look a little bit like raisins once they've baked into the cookies, but once you take a bite you know you're dealing with CHERRIES. There's no confusing these with anything else!

Everyone at the party really loved these cookies and several people asked me for the recipe, only to appear visibly distressed when I explained I'd tarted up a cookie mix. The Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix yields a perfectly fine cookie and, with all the other ingredients added in, the cookie base wasn't a significant player in texture or flavor, anyway. If you want to go all out, by all means do use your favorite from-scratch cookie recipe. I needed to bake quite a lot of cookies in very little time between several other obligations and using a cookie mix saved me from Freaking Out and Baking Angry. No one wants to eat angry cookies.

Anyway, there were 35 cookies at the start of the party and 0 cookies were left at the end, so I think it's pretty clear these cookies were a success!

18 June 2014

Cake Baking As An Act of Contrition

Monday night, I had the house to myself. I had a fairly large to-do list and every intention of Getting Things Done. And then I decided to chuck it all and bake a cake. Because sometimes cake is the important thing. Sometimes, cake is love. Or, at least, an apology.

I haven't been sleeping very well lately. Some of it is caused by the Hamster Wheel of Useless Thoughts. And some by a tiny bladder. And, yes, some of it is due to The Husband's snoring. Still, there's no good excuse for sitting bolt upright in bed in the wee small hours of the morning and shouting at my best beloved that I am going to murder him if he doesn't stop snoring.

So, this cake? This cake is an apology. Baking it was an act of contrition. There is no crumb of this cake that was designed to please me. Every morsel was assembled with The Husband's tastes in mind. Chocolate sponge -- light, moist, and tender-crumbed. Chocolate mousse -- creamy, light, rich. Chocolate buttercream -- rich, dark, deeply chocolatey. And crunchy Maltesers for garnish, because every cake needs a little bling.

And, wow, did this cake go over well! It may very well be one of the best cakes I've ever baked.

Recipes used or adapted:

25 April 2014

Downton Abbey Spring Tea In The Making

I spent today baking for the library's Downton Abbey Spring tea. Tomorrow's tea. No little panic percolating through my veins, darlings. No, I am just a big bag of terror. Why did I say I'd take on the sandwiches? Why didn't I sit back and wait for someone else to volunteer? Mostly, because there's no-one else. This tea was (mostly) my idea.

Oh, my god, the pressure. The expectation. And I can't even blame Daisy.

It's been years since I baked scones from scratch and even then, they were drop scones. None rolling or cutting required. Just plop, sprinkle with sugar, and bake. I was terrified they'd come out flat and chewy from being overworked, but they're actually pretty okay. Not the cream scone of my teatime fantasies, but good enough for sandwiches.

The sandwich recipe, "Blueberry Heart Scones with Smoked Turkey," from Winnie-the-Pooh's Picnic Cookbook (Dutton Books, 1997), called for a 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter but I went with round because that's the shaped I owned. Anyway, I can just imagine what the Dowager Countess of Grantham would have to say about heart-shaped scones!

Probably something biting about nursery foods.

As the sandwiches seemed a little plain with just smoked turkey and cranberry-orange conserve (actually Stonewall Kitchen's Orange Cranberry Marmalade, because where do you find cranberries in April?) I added a few watercress leaves to each sandwich ... and, with that bit of greenery, they were transformed into something delightful.

I also made "Mini Orange-Pecan Muffins with Black Forest Ham" from the same cookbook. Because the muffins were a bit on the sweet side -- perfect for breakfast with pot of strong black tea -- I spread only the bottom of my test muffin with cranberry-orange conserve and spread the top with Dijon mayonnaise. No watercress garnish for this gem, but I splurged and picked up some orchids blossoms from the produce section to decorate Saturday's platter.

For fear of soggy bottoms, I did not assemble any of the sandwiches ahead of time. I did cut all the scones and mini muffins in half and cut the deli meat into appropriately-sized strips, but I'll assemble everything tomorrow about an hour before the tea starts so that the flavors have a chance to work, but nothing gets soggy. That's the plan, anyway. I'm pretty sure much of tomorrow will be spent in a state of pure panic. Quiet, invisible panic no-one else need be aware of. The ladies will have their tea and party games and, no doubt, a marvelously good time.

If only!

19 April 2014

Lazilicious Easter Cupcakes

It's Easter and you know what that means! Yes, the Internet has exploded with adorable bunny cakes and Easter sweets. Feel you can't compete, but should still make an effort, anyway, because you are a conformist at heart? These cupcakes are perfect for you.

Anyway, go rummage around in your pantry until you find a cake mix. Prepare it according to the instructions on the back of the box. Go back to your pantry and find the cupcake liners. Line a mini cupcake pan with the mini cupcake liners. Fill each cup with a scant tablespoon of batter. Bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool. Repeat until no batter remains. Frost however you like (I prepared a frosting mix leftover from a boxed cake kit I made ... ummm ... last spring). Decorate with Malteser mini bunnies, Cadbury mini eggs, or whathaveyou. Eat.

16 February 2014

Baking for My Love: Lemon Madeleines

The Husband is quite keen on madeleines, but I've made both the madeleine recipes found in Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking and didn't want to start repeating them this early on. (Not that The Husband would mind, but I find it ... uncreative). Anyway, I found a recipe for Lemon Madeleines on the Williams-Sonoma website and decided to give it a try since it's very similar to the two recipes I've tried.

Lemon Madeleines for My Love

And, you know, these madeleines were pretty darn fabulous. Light and mildly sweet, bright, and perfectly balanced between cookie and cake. The recipe made a dozen madeleines and they lasted, maybe, a day in our house. (Once they'd cooled, we found warming them in the microwave for 8 seconds each revived them nicely).

These madeleines get their lemon flavor from a teaspoon of zest so, if you'd like a stronger lemon flavor, I'd recommend swapping the quarter teaspoon of almond or half teaspoon of vanilla extracts out for lemon extract. We thought the light lemoniness provided by the zest was perfect and I doubt I'll change a thing when I make them again.

The recipe is also found in Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Paris so, if like me, you're getting through the bitter dregs of winter by fantasizing about spring in Paris (or Florence or Barcelona), you might want to borrow a copy from your library for inspiration.

02 February 2014

Baking for My Love: Chocolate Madeleines

As the orange madeleines from William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking (revised edition) went over so well, I decided to tackle the chocolate version. The recipes are almost identical, but the chocolate recipe obviously omits the orange zest and adds cocoa powder. Interestingly, it also omits the almond extract and uses a full teaspoon of vanilla. I'm pretty sure red raspberry extract would also work well and I may try that next time. Oh, yes, there will be a next time. I envision a monthly baking of madeleines. Chocolate raspberry madeleines. Ginger madeleines. Lemon poppy seed madeleines. Chai spice madeleines.

Except. I'm baking for The Husband and he's not going to want anything more adventurous that chocolate raspberry. Drat.

*sobs into her floury apron*

Chocolate Madeleines

I found it a bit odd that the two recipes were not found side-by-side in William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking (revised edition), but fell 147 pages apart -- the first in the chapter on cookies and the second in the chapter on chocolate. Why did you do this, editors? All the recipes in the chocolate chapter could easily have been integrated into the rest of the book -- chocolate madeleines with cookies, chocolate opera cake with cakes, etc. Is it simply because chocolate is a big deal to most humans? Am I just being pedantic and weird?

Probably. And, yes.

As with the orange version, this recipe makes twelve madeleines and they are best served warm with a light dusting of confectionery sugar. I found them rather richer than the orange ones -- the orange ones were so light and fluffy and zesty that I managed to eat four without blinking, but the chocolate ones were darkly, deeply chocolaty (surprising, because I just used Hershey's Dutch-processed cocoa) and two more than sufficed with a pot of Earl Grey. The Husband does not agree with me on this and he happily ate five chocolate madeleines with his afternoon cuppa. It's possible that it comes down to chocolate tolerance. If you love chocolate, you'll want to eat all the madeleines. If you don't, then you won't. I'm very much a citrus and berry girl.

19 January 2014

Baking for My Love: Orange Madeleines

I'm a bookish cook, so baking madeleines seems an obvious thing and yet I've spent years avoiding the things because they sounded tricksy and every resource seemed to have a different opinion about what they should be. Mostly, I think, because everyone wants to bake Proust's madeleines and no-one has that precise recipe?

As I don't want to bake Proust's madeleines any more than I want to read Proust, I was willing (purely out of love for The Husband) to attempt the two versions in William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking (revised edition). The Husband seemed quite excited by the idea of madeleines -- they are very photogenic cookie-cakes (cake-cookies?), after all -- and they seemed high on his list of Things I Must Bake.

Since we had too many satsumas on hand, my first attempt was with the recipe for orange madeleines. A thorough read-through of the recipe actually left me feeling quite confident I could bake a decent madeleine -- they are surprisingly simple cookie-cakes -- and I was away.

Buttered, Floured Madeleine Pan

The recipe says to carefully and thoroughly butter and flour ever ridge of the madeleine pan, because the madeleines may stick otherwise, so I buttered and floured as if Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood were looking over my shoulder. And, you know, I think I might have gone a wee bit overboard, because when I went to flip and knock the pan against the cooling rack to release the cookies, they all fell out before I'd even completed the flip. I used a Chicago Metallic madeleine pan and it is, apparently, not joking around about being nonstick.

These madeleines came out looking and tasting just as Essentials of Baking said they should -- perfect little scallop shells of tender, spongy cake. I was so chuffed. We ate them warm, as recommended, with a dusting of confectionery sugar. The recipe makes twelve, which is perfect with tea for two as breakfast and elevenses.

Orange Madeleines

Really, I can't get over how well these madeleines came out and I look forward to baking the chocolate version. While I know a lot of my success has to do with improved baking skills due to time and practice, some has to do with the way Essentials of Baking's is written. It's as if the editors peeked into my brain and then wrote the book specifically for me. The recipes (at least the ones I've read through) all seem quite clear and straight forward and even go so far as to provide instructions for both hand and machine mixing. And amounts are giving in multiple forms of measurement! Honestly, I'm crushing pretty hard on Essentials of Baking.

Orange Madeleines

12 January 2014

Ginger Oatmeal Cookies

I promised one of my coworkers cookies as thanks for all the help he's given me this week, what with so many staff members struck down by winter ailments. I baked him ginger oatmeal cookies as, while he likes cookies, he prefers goodies he can pretend are good for him! Oatmeal is heart-healthy and ginger is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, so ...

Ginger Oatmeal Cookies

Ginger Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Taste of Home
Makes about 24 cookies

½ cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
¼ cup molasses
1½ cups white whole wheat flour [King Arthur Flour's 100% Organic White Whole Wheat]
¾ cup old-fashioned oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp allspice
¼ cup crystallized ginger chips [King Arthur Flour's Mini Diced Ginger]

Combine dry ingredients and set aside.

Beat together shortening and sugar until it is light and fluffy. Beat in egg and molasses. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and mix until well combined.

Roll into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Gently flatten with the bottom of a glass. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or just until set. Remove to wire racks to cool.
This cookies were good -- crispy on the outside with touch of chewiness at the center and very rich with spice. I was quite pleased by how well they turned out and my coworker was very happy.

I have shared this recipe at these delicious blog parties:
Swing by and link up your own dishes!

05 January 2014

Baking for My Love: Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

I gave The Husband a copy of William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking for Christmas with the understanding he would select recipes from the book and I would attempt to follow them. It's very similar to the Cake-A-Month plan I gave my dad umptieth years ago, but includes all kinds of baking and is not necessary limited to one item per month. I couldn't decide, when I bought the book, whether this was the best or lamest gift ever, and even though The Husband seemed chuffed, I'm still worried it's a crap gift.

(Because, if I really loved The Husband, I would be baking for him all the damn time. Wouldn't I? Except when I ask him what kind of cake/cupcake/cookie he'd like, he is not capable of articulating his desires and I get annoyed. Who wants to spend hours baking what may be the wrong cake? At least now he can point at the pictures).


I baked some cookies! Beautiful, golden "Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies" with soft, chewy centers and crispy outsides. I was a bit worried when I took them out of the oven, because they were very puffy and looked nothing like those in the book. But after they'd cooled, they looked more the thing.

Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies

The recipe says it makes thirty cookies and I managed twenty-eight, which was pretty good considering at least two of my cookies seemed monstrously large when compared to their mates. The inconsistency in sizes always amuses me, as I use a cookie scoop and thus they should all be the same. What can I say? I am not the most exacting baker.

Also, I like big cookies (and I cannot lie / You other brothers can't deny ...).

19 December 2013

Improv Challenge: Lime & White Chocolate

When I saw December's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients were lime and white chocolate, I immediately knew I wanted to make a pudding. Essentially, I wanted something like a pavlova -- a soft meringue nest filled with lime curd mousse topped with white chocolate whipped cream and berries. I've never actually eaten or baked a pavlova, but I've made several Eton Mess and what is that but a deconstructed pavlova?

white chocolate & lime clouds

I used King Arthur Flour's pavlova recipe, because their recipe for Angel Kisses (a meringue cookie) always come out well. While the pavlova recipe makes one big meringue, I chose to make five smaller single-serving meringues. If I'd been a bit neater I could have gotten six meringues from the recipe, but I'm not(and probably never will be) a neat baker.

The meringue recipe only needs five common kitchen ingredients and goes together easily so do give it a try if, like me, meringue makes you a little nervous.

Meringue Ingredients
Meringue Ingredients
Unbaked Small Meringue Shells
Unbaked meringues (the baked ones look almost exactly the same)
Lime Mousse

11 oz jar lime curd [Thursday Cottage]
1¼ cups whipping cream
zest of one lime

Put curd into the bowl of your stand mixer with the zest and cream, and whisk until thickened and fluffy. Chill 2 hours. (Whisk in a few drops of green food coloring with the cream, if you like, otherwise the dish will be very white).

Ingredients for lazy lime mousse
Lime Mousse Ingredients
White Chocolate Whipped Cream

2 ounces white chocolate, broken into small pieces [Ghiradelli]
1½ cups plus ¼ cup heavy cream

Microwave chocolate and ¼ cup whipping cream in large microwaveable bowl on high 1 minute or until chocolate is almost melted, stirring after 30 seconds. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature.

Whip the cream in a chilled bowl to soft peaks. Fold in the cooled white chocolate mixture and beat to stiff peaks.

Or, if you have a whipped cream dispenser, pour the cooled chocolate and cream into the container. Replace cap, charge with one cylinder, shake, and maketh with the whip creameth.

white chocolate whipped cream
White Chocolate Whipped Cream Ingredients
Fill meringue shells with lime mousse, top with white chocolate whipped cream, and garnish with blackberries and additional lime zest, if desired. (You will have extra mousse and whipped cream. The mousse will keep. The whipped cream probably won't if you didn't add stabilizer or make it in a whipped cream dispenser).

These lime and white chocolate pavlovas where very light and bright-tasting. Tangy, with most of the sweetness coming from the meringue itself. I'd expected the mousse to be quite sweet as there was a fair amount of sugar in the prepared curd, but it wasn't. It was wonderfully fragrant, though, and made my whole kitchen smell fantastic. I was also rather impressed by the white chocolate whipped cream as the flavor of the chocolate really came through.

These pavlovas are very pretty served as I photographed them, but I admit that when it actually came time to eat them, we found it easier to bash the pavlovas up into small pieces and stir them into the mousse ... Eton mess, all over again.

The meringues will keep indefinitely in an airtight container and the mousse is good for two or three days, so these are easy enough to make ahead.

02 November 2013

He Baked Me A Cake

Saturday night, I came home from work to find the front door locked. I was a bit baffled, as The Husband was clearly home. I knocked, only to be met by unintelligible shouting. Eventually, The Husband let me in, mumbling something about not letting me in too soon. Apparently, he was desperately trying to finish this cake:

Birthday Cake

Yes, The Husband baked me a Victoria sponge for my birthday. He doesn't usually bake and, as he didn't know what any of "the shit" in my baking cupboard was (lots of unlabeled clear canisters only I know the contents of), he went out and bought more baking powder and more superfine sugar and more jam. He was very indignant that he had to go to two different grocery stores as Price Chopper did not have superfine sugar. He "had to go all the way to Stop and Shop" ... as if they are not within half a mile of each other. Adorable man.

To bake this Victoria sponge, The Husband used a mash-up of "Mary Berry's Perfect Victoria Sandwich" and Daniel C Duckett's "Classic Victoria Sponge Cake," because Berry had the right ingredients and Duckett had the right pan sizes. The Husband didn't use Duckett's buttercream, because "WTF? That shit have does not belong in a Victoria sponge!!!" The Husband has strong feelings about cake, you know.

Anyway, totes smashing first attempt. Two golden cake spoons, most assuredly. Sponge was a bit dry, admittedly, but still a good effort all 'round. I mean, look at that:

Piece o' Cake

Is it not a thing of beauty?

17 October 2013

Improv Challenge: Cake & Frosting

When I saw that October's Improv Challenge ingredients were cake and frosting, I immediately knew I wanted to try baking a boozy spice cake using beer in place of water in the mix. I've been wanting to try this method ever since one of my in-the-know coworkers mentioned it could be done with just about any beer or liquor and cake mix.

Ginger Beer Cupcakes w/ Ginger Beer Frosting

Keeping with the season, I used a spice cake mix, baking spice, apple sauce, crystallized ginger bits, and a bottle of Crabbie's splendorous Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Obviously, any beer you like will probably work. I might try this again with Woodchuck Pumpkin Ale in the spice mix and there's Guinness in the basement that would go well in a dark chocolate mix ...

Ginger Beer Cupcake Ingredients

It was my plan to make a dozen cupcakes and an 8-inch round. The round would be for me and the cupcakes would be for work. Alas, I did not grease the cake round well enough and the cake would not come out ... until I banged it really hard against the counter. Then it came out in bits. Well played, cake round, well played.

The cake was still pretty yummy, anyway, and I happily ate bits of it as I frosted the cupcakes.
Beery Spicy (Cup)cakes

Cake Ingredients
1 spice cake mix [Betty Crocker SuperMoist]
1 bottle seasonal beer, at room temperature
1 tsp baking spice blend [Penzeys]
Applesauce (in place of half the oil)
Whatever else ingredients your mix may call for

Cake Directions
Prepare your cake mix following the instructions on the back of the box, substituting applesauce for half or all of the oil and beer for the water or milk.

(I was a bit alarmed by how soupy the batter was but it thickened up considerably during the 2 minutes of medium beating).

Ginger Beer Cupcake Batter

Divide between a 8 or 9-inch baking round and a cupcake pan you've lined with cupcake liners. (It's easiest to fill all the cupcakes first (⅔ full) and then pour the extra into the baking round). Bake cupcakes as directed. Remove from oven. Put cake round in oven and bake as directed.

Allow everything to cool thoroughly before frosting.

Frosting Ingredients
1 cup shortening
½ tsp salt
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 teaspoons ground ginger
6 Tbsp beer
Finely chopped crystallized ginger, as needed for garnish

Frosting Directions
Beat together everything but the crystallized ginger until fluffy. Add additional beer if the frosting seems too stiff to spread.

Use a cupcake corer or small spoon to scoop some of the center out of each cupcake. Fill and ice with the frosting. Decorate with a scatter of ginger.

Ginger Beer Cupcakes w/ Ginger Beer Frosting

The cupcakes were very light and fluffy with an excellent gingery bite. The frosting, too, was nicely gingery and, overall, I was very pleased with how well everything turned out. One of my coworkers said they were the best cupcakes she had every eaten which made me blush, to say the least. (They were good, but not that good).

03 February 2013

Banana Bread & The Cookies of Appeasement

Once again, our freezer suffered from a surfeit of bananas. Its salvation? Money Saving Mom's tempting "Freezer-Friendly Chocolate Banana Bread" (subbed peanut butter chips for chocolate). I don't know that this bread actually freezes well as it's going straight to work and into hungry librarian bellies, but it looks and smells fabulous. Indeed, its heady perfume made me feel a bit drunk after a while and I had to remove the loaf to a cupboard while I baked The Husband's Cookies of Appeasement.

Chocolate Banana Bread w/ Peanut Butter Morsels
My co-worker's could not get enough of this bread!

I'd already baked The Husband a beautiful almond bundt cake earlier this week (with homemade raspberry sauce even!), but he was still clearly displeased to come downstairs this morning and discover the delicious baking smells that had finally roused him from his snug nest were not for him. Oh, the betrayal in his eyes! And the scorn he heaped upon my poor, innocent banana bread.

Almond Bundt w/ Raspberry Sauce
Tender almond sponge with raspberry sauce, yum!

So I baked him cookies -- Betty Crocker's "Black Beauties" -- which allowed me to use up the bag of Betty Crocker double chocolate chunk cookie mix leftover from a work event, so yay for that. The cookies came out well, even though I omitted the nuts (meant to replace them with chopped hazelnuts but forgot) and did not dip the baked cookies in melted chocolate (clearly, I do not love my husband that much). They were best the first few hours out of the oven, when biting down on their crisp exteriors released warm, gooey chocolate centers. I suspect that tomorrow they'll just be a bit chewy and The Husband will lose a little of his ardor for them.

Triple Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Can't go wrong with a warm cookie

Oh, fickle Eater of Cookies!

28 December 2012

Of Bread and Napkins

I've been baking bread and sewing napkins. It sounds quite cozy, doesn't it? Very domestic diva. Very Martha. If only. My coping mechanisms for grief seemingly swing between "eat everything in sight" and "reorganize everything in sight." I've been trying to focus on the latter, because the former is really not doing me any good in the long term. I tackled my sewing room just after Christmas and, amongst the never-started or never-finished projects, I found a neat pile of squared scraps I'd meant to make into napkins three years ago.

So, I sewed napkins. Haphazardly and with no good grace. If you look not-very-closely, you can clearly see how my stitches wander around the hem, mostly keeping in a straight line, but occasionally veering off to visit more exciting parts of the napkin.

More Napkins

Whatev. They're napkins. As long as they wipe my face clean and launder reasonably well, it doesn't matter how perfectly imperfect they may be. And I made them to pack with work meals, so it's not as if I'll ever inflict them on dinner guests. (Admittedly, I would burn them and shoot their ashes into space before I let my mother see one).

So. Napkins. I sewed some.

And, yes, I baked bread. A beautiful traditional white sandwich loaf baked in a pan and everything. It baked up right and looks like "real" bread aisle stuff. None of that crusty misshapen "rustic" nonsense I'd been baking.

A More Traditional Loaf

How did I get such a perfect loaf? I ... bought a bag of frozen bread dough at the grocery store! Yes, I did. And I'll do it again. Yes, one bag of five frozen unrisen loaves for four dollars is not as economical as scratch bread, but it's waaay cheaper per loaf than the farmhouse-style white I usually buy (when I buy bread) and easier because I can make one loaf at a time and leave the rest in my freezer.

I do love Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, but I feel it doesn't work well for a household of two. One loaf can last us most of the week, but in order to use up the dough before it goes weird, I feel I need to bake bread two or three times in a week and that just isn't happening and I end up wasting dough. (Also, that tub of raw dough takes up a lot of fridge space).

So frozen dough is pretty okay. I thawed and baked it according to the instructions on the bag and it turned out beautifully. The instructions said "bread is done when it pulls away from sides of pan and sounds hollow when tapped lightly" and, by golly, they were spot-on. My lovely loaf did indeed sound hollow when I tapped it. It did take longer for the dough to rise than I anticipated, but that was because my kitchen side wasn't warm enough. Next time, I'll tuck the dough in the corner by the toaster where it's always (suspiciously) warm and see if that loaf rises faster.

A More Traditional Loaf

(Brushed it with butter as it came out of the oven, because butter makes it better).

11 December 2012

Christmas Time is Cookie Time

So, like everyone else, I've been baking cookies. Nothing fancy this year, because I don't have the motivation or drive for fancy, but I yearn for the comfort of cookies. The sheer homeyness of cookies.


The first batch I made, "Spumoni Chunk Cookies," used a recipe I found on The cookies, which used Betty Crocker's sugar cookie mix as a base, were chock full of dried cherries, dry-roasted salted nuts, and white and semisweet chocolate chips. I admit my cookies don't look quite as pretty as the ones on the website, but they still tasted pretty darn fine and my coworkers scarfed them down as if they were manna or ambrosia.

Knowing The Husband would not touch the spumoni cookies with a ten-foot pole, I made him a batch of Crisco's "Ultimate Double Chocolate Chip Cookies" using white chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips. He seemed pleased with them, but said they were best still warm from the oven. Warming them the next day in the microwave worked okay, but nothing is beats cookies fresh from the oven.


24 October 2012

Good-bye, bananas! Hello, banana bread!

Oh, sweet banana-y goodness in my oven and so much less banana-y goodness in my freezer! There had been too many bananas in my freezer and I was becoming quite annoyed with their propensity for leaping from the freezer whenever I opened the door to fall upon my poor toes. Yes, I could easily have rearranged the contents of the freezer, but baking banana bread seemed easier. Also, it got rid of half the bananas and that is a good thing as the freezer is not for Infinite Banana Storage.

My go-to banana bread recipe is for "Blueberry Banana Bread" from the defunct Genesis of A Cook. I have very real fears the originating blog will just up and vanish one day, so I'm posting my version of the recipe below.

Blueberry Banana Bread

You'll see I've omitted the streusel topping in my version and that's just a time-saving move on my part. Also, the streusel topping is good, but the cake stands up well on its own and doesn't really need the extra bling.

To get 1 cup of banana, I used 6 thawed frozen organic baby bananas. I just let the frozen bananas sit on the kitchen side for about on hour, then snipped the ends off each banana and squeezed the fruit out like toothpaste from a tube.
Blueberry Banana Bread


2 cups plus 1 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tsp Penzeys baking spice blend
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
½ cup low-fat buttermilk
1 capful Penzeys Mexican vanilla
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained, or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl or baggie, gently toss the blueberries with 1 tablespoon of flour.

In a medium bowl, blend flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and baking spice. In a large bowl, stir mashed bananas, buttermilk, butter, vanilla, and egg together. Stir flour mixture into banana mixture just until evenly moistened; the batter will be very thick. Gently stir in blueberry mixture.

Glop batter into a greased 8-cup bundt pan or 9x5 loaf pan. Bake bread in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Let bread cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and turn over onto rack to cool completely, about 45 minutes.
Best served warm with a big mug of tea.

30 April 2012

Consolatory Cupcakes for Breakfast

Over the weekend, The Husband learned a terrible truth -- the prettiest cupcakes are not always the tastiest. He'd gone out Saturday afternoon and acquired sushi and cupcakes, so that I would not need to cook when I came home from work all tired and cranky. The sushi was delicious, but the cupcakes were not. They were yellow cupcakes filled with raspberry-flavored goo and topped with about three inches of pink raspberry buttercream decorated with a mint leaf and fresh raspberry. They were very pretty.

They did not taste good. The cake was dry and crumbly. The filling was the same red goo used to fill donuts -- there was a whiff of artificial raspberry about it, but otherwise it was just overwhelmingly sweet and sticky and red. The vanilla frosting tower was stiff and almost gritty with sugar. Overall, they were simply Unfortunate Cupcakes. I felt sad for The Husband, but it was a lesson he had to learn sometime. You shouldn't buy baked goods based on pretty.

So I woke up Sunday morning with cupcakes and The Husband's happiness on my mind. I had a box of Betty Crocker Fun da-Middles "Chocolate Cupcake with Creamy Vanilla Filling" mix squirrelled away in my baking cupboard since before Christmas. They couldn't possibly come out worse that Saturday night's cupcakes and might make a nice breakfast. Yes, indeed, cupcakes for Sunday breakfast!

It was easy to make this mix as it goes together like every other Betty Crocker cake mix -- eggs, oil, water, cake mix, stir, stir, stir.


Put two tablespoons of cake batter in each cupcake liner.


Add a splodge of filling to each cup.


Top with the remaining batter. The box says it's important to completely cover the filling which was a bit of a bugger for me as my "two tablespoons of cupcake batter" had been a bit on the heaping side and there nearly wasn't enough batter to go 'round in the end.


Since I was using a non-stick pan, I baked the cupcakes at 325°F for 26 minutes and they came out perfect. Not very pretty, mind you, but pretty delicious.

Gooey Cupcake Middle

Fluffy and chocolaty with a marshmallowy middle, these cupcakes were significantly better than Saturday's bakery cupcakes. Which is kind of a sad thing to write, really, but think of all the money we'll save.

Of course, now that I've made these cupcakes, I'd like to try making some filled cupcakes from scratch. I'm thinking that all I really need in order to clone these particular Betty Crocker cupcakes is a good chocolate cupcake recipe and a container of marshmallow cream ...