Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

OK, yes, I realize that I'm doing this on New Year's Eve, but I'm headed off to London tomorrow very early (unofficially, I'm co-leading this trip/course) , so I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading the blog in 2007 and invite you back for more in 2008!

Things will likely be quite around here for the next couple of weeks while I'm out-of-town, but things will be back to normal soon enough. Hopefully my digital camera will keep up with me and there will be lots of pics to share along the way.

But until then, I wish you and your loved ones a very happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Guest Recipe: Lisa's Mayan Mystery Cookies

I used to date a man who loved the cocktail hour at wedding receptions; the combination of elegant mixed drinks with a panoply of carefully prepared finger foods proved too irresistible. Forget the cake, or the carefully plated fish-or-chicken entrees, the cocktail hour was where it's at.

After last night, I'm reminded why I agree.

Nancy hosted an end-of-the-year cocktail party last night, replete with lots of little nibbles: focaccia and olives, several wedges from the European cheese shop, shrimp cocktail, grilled mushrooms, pretzels and spicy mustard -- all delicious.

But my lust for sweets is never vanquished so, as soon as Lisa and Kip, two of Nancy's friends, showed up with a huge platter of cookies, I was on them like white on rice (the cookies, not the couple).

Heaped on the tray were scores of dark chocolate cookies, glittering with a light coating of sugar. They had the lovely, heady aroma of cocoa and cinnamon (a combination I love).
Taking a bite, I was rewarded with a tender cookie and a rich depth of flavor -- the chocolate and cinnamon, of course, but also little bursts of pure chocolate, followed by a gentle Cayenne heat. So delicious -- and a nice departure from the usual holiday-time cookie flavors.

I took a few home with me, but they're all gone now: sacrificial virgins to my hungry sweet tooth god.

Thanks to Lisa and Kip for the delicious treats (and the tip about the mechanic!) and to Nancy for hosting a terrific shindig.

Mayan Mystery Cookies (source)

Note: the recipe directs "tuck[ing] about 5 chocolate chips into the center of each one." Doesn't that seem like a lot of extra effort for what's otherwise a very simple recipe? (Lisa thought so, too.)

After thoroughly combining the vanilla into the dough, and just before chilling, I'd fold in about 6 oz. (half a standard bag) of semi- or bitter-sweet chocolate chips, check to see if that was enough chocolate for my preferences, and add more if need be.

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar, plus more for rolling
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon finely and freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 large egg
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Semisweet chocolate chips (see note, above)

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Cream the butter and ¾ cup sugar in a food processor. Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, spices and cocoa in a medium bowl and add to the butter mixture. Add the egg and vanilla and process until the batter is uniform.

Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F.

Using your hands, roll the dough into balls about the width of a quarter. Tuck about 5 chocolate chips into the center of each one. Put some sugar on a flat plate and roll the balls in the sugar to cover lightly.

Place the balls on the baking sheets. Bake for 8 minutes, being careful not to overbake; the cookies should be delicate and soft in the center. Let cool on the baking sheets.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Kicked Up Green Bean Casserole

Kicked Up Green Bean Casserole: pretty, by casserole standards.

I've never been a fan of the traditional green bean casserole but Shane really likes it, so I'll make it on occassion -- most recently, for Thanksgiving. I'm not crazy about green beans anyway, and the regular recipe yeilds a bland-tasting and grey-looking casserole.

For Christmas dinner, however, I set out to find a better recipe -- and I did! Not only is it delicious, with loads of onion flavor, it's creamy and even attractive (by casserole standards, anyway). It only requires a couple of extra steps and ingredients, but it makes all the difference (plus, it actually comes together more quickly than the original). They've taken a casserole I normally turn my nose up at into something I crave in the middle of the night -- or right now, even.

Kicked Up Green Bean Casserole (adapted)

20 oz. frozen French-cut green beans
2 large red onions, finely diced
6 tablespoons butter, unsalted
2 (10-ounce) cans cream of mushroom soup (I used reduced fat)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (6 oz.) can French-fried onions

Blanch the French-cut green beans in hot water for about 3 to 5 minutes, drain and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F.

In a large skillet, saute the chopped onion in butter. Then add the cooled beans and saute for a couple of minutes. Add the canned mushroom soup and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer to a greased casserole dish and top with French-fried onions. Bake in oven for about 10 minutes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!

This month, Lis and Ivonne challenged all the Daring Bakers to create a Yule Log for the holidays. Mine is a few days late -- it's been a hectic month, and the past few days have been especially sad for me because Chester died-- but the cake is finally here: a Christmas miracle.

Please check out all the other beautiful Yule Logs by visiting the links on the Daring Bakers blogroll and, again, happy holidays.

Yule Log

Orange Genoise:

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
pinch of salt
¾ cup of sugar
½ cup cake flour - spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off (also known as cake & pastry flour)
¼ cup cornstarch
Zest of one orange

one (1) 10 x 15 inch jelly-roll pan that has been buttered and lined with parchment paper and then buttered again

1.Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F.

2.Half-fill a medium saucepan with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat so the water is simmering.

3.Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, salt and sugar together in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Place over the pan of simmering water and whisk gently until the mixture is just lukewarm, about 100 degrees if you have a thermometer (or test with your finger - it should be warm to the touch).

4.Attach the bowl to the mixer and, with the whisk attachment, whip on medium-high speed until the egg mixture is cooled (touch the outside of the bowl to tell) and tripled in volume. The egg foam will be thick and will form a slowly dissolving ribbon falling back onto the bowl of whipped eggs when the whisk is lifted. Fold in zest.

5.While the eggs are whipping, stir together the flour and cornstarch.

6.Sift one-third of the flour mixture over the beaten eggs. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the flour mixture, making sure to scrape all the way to the bottom of the bowl on every pass through the batter to prevent the flour mixture from accumulating there and making lumps. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture and finally with the remainder.

7.Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

8.Bake the genoise for about 10 to 12 minutes. Make sure the cake doesn’t overbake and become too dry or it will not roll properly.

9.While the cake is baking, begin making the buttercream.

10.Once the cake is done (a tester will come out clean and if you press the cake lightly it will spring back), remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack.

Chocolate Buttercream:

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks or 1-1/2 cups) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled a bit
2 tsp. vanilla

1.Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot.

2.Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled. Switch to the paddle and beat in the softened butter and continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Add chocolate and liquor and beat into the buttercream.

Marzipan Mushrooms:

8 ounces almond paste
2 cups icing sugar
3 to 5 tablespoons light corn syrup
Cocoa powder

1.To make the marzipan combine the almond paste and 1 cup of the icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until sugar is almost absorbed.

2.Add the remaining 1 cup of sugar and mix until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

3.Add half the corn syrup, then continue mixing until a bit of the marzipan holds together when squeezed, adding additional corn syrup a little at a time, as necessary: the marzipan in the bowl will still appear crumbly.

4.Transfer the marzipan to a work surface and knead until smooth.

5.Roll one-third of the marzipan into a 6 inches long cylinder and cut into 1-inch lengths.

6.Roll half the lengths into balls. Press the remaining cylindrical lengths (stems) into the balls (caps) to make mushrooms.

7.Smudge with cocoa powder.

Assembling the Yule Log:

1.Run a sharp knife around the edges of the genoise to loosen it from the pan.

2.Turn the genoise layer over (unmolding it from the sheet pan onto a flat surface) and peel away the paper.

3.Carefully invert your genoise onto a fresh piece of parchment paper.

4.Spread with half the coffee buttercream (or whatever filling you’re using).

5.Use the parchment paper to help you roll the cake into a tight cylinder.

6.Transfer back to the baking sheet and refrigerate for several hours.

7.Unwrap the cake. Trim the ends on the diagonal, starting the cuts about 2 inches away from each end.

8.Position the larger cut piece on each log about 2/3 across the top.

9.Cover the log with the reserved buttercream, making sure to curve around the protruding stump.

10.Streak the buttercream with a fork or decorating comb to resemble bark.

11.Transfer the log to a platter and decorate with your mushrooms and whatever other decorations you’ve chosen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Little Holiday Cheer

Every year, the George Eastman House hosts an exhibition of Gingerbread Houses created by people all over the Rochester area. Take a look at some of the lovely creations!

Vosges Exotic Caramel Collection

The fine folks at Vosges (specifically Paige -- Hi, Paige!) sent me a gorgeous Exotic Caramel Collection 18pc 2-Tier Hatbox . And, let me tell you, it knocked my socks off.

The collection features two samples each of nine different caramels with flavors featuring notes of maple syrup, blood orange, peppercorn, or chile, among others. Each confection, however, is anchored by a superb caramel -- rich, complex and satisfying. They are beautiful little candies, both for the eye and the palate.

My favorite, however, was the "Tart" pictured above. Oooh, it is irrisistible. Maybe Vosges will release an all Tart box soon? (I could always ask Santa to pull a few strings...)

Very Cool Tool at a Very Cool Price

I've been tooling around the American Science & Surplus site, which is filled with all sorts of little goodies at very resonable prices, when I came across this:

Butane Beauty
It's stylish, it's handy, it has a slightly menacing look to it, and-truth be told-it's a lot of fun. It's a handheld butane torch, great for everyone: in the lab, under the hood, working with circuitry, melting copper and other metals; heck, a chef can even use it to flambé the dessert. 6-3/4" tall, 1-1/2" dia base, 4" long at the top, with a textured grip, push-button start with safety, and air adjustment to control the size of the flame. Easy to fill with butane, which you'll need to do 'cause no fuel is included. $14.95 each.

A creme brulee torch for $15?!? That's pretty impressive, especially when you consider how much they can go for elsewhere. Not a bad little gift for your favorite chef/pyromaniac on your list.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Pescatore's "World's Greatest Tuna Noodle Casserole"

An email from Mark, verbatim:

It was one of those awkward social mixers at the beginning of my first semester at The University of Alabama in 1990. All the grad students were invited to the home of the one of the professors, so we could get to know each other and meet some of the faculty before the real fun began. It was here that I tasted the world's greatest tuna noodle casserole. The dish came from the girlfriend of one of my new classmates, and she shared the recipe with me. It takes about an hour from prep to serve. It's not a complicated recipe at all, but the results are ... well, the world's greatest. In 17 years, it's never let me down.

1 can tuna (drained)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can peas
8 or 9 oz. noodles (I prefer wide)
1 can french fried onions
3/4 cup milk
8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese

Boil noodles and drain. In casserole dish, mix in tuna, soup, milk, cheddar cheese. Add the noodles, then 1/2 the can of french fried onions. Delicately stir in peas (you don't want them mushy). Bake uncovered at 325 degrees for 25 minutes. Sprinkle remaining onions on top and put back in the oven for five minutes at 300 degrees.


Emeril, No Longer Live

I can't believe it, but the Food Network has cancelled it's flagship show, Emeril Live.

From Changing Courses at the Food Network, NYT 12/17/07:

You can find chef Emeril Lagasse’s name and face all over a dozen cookbooks, 10 restaurants, lines of pots and pans, knives, Wedgwood dishes, spices, salad dressings and pasta sauces, and even a deep fryer.

But as of last week, it will no longer be found on new episodes of his signature “Emeril Live” show on the Food Network. The program taped its last installments and laid off a half-dozen staff members, bringing an end to an impressive 11-year, every-weeknight run.

Viewers will not see a difference for at least a year as the new episodes that have already been taped are shown. But industry executives are scratching their heads over why the network canceled “Emeril Live” — which they speculate became too
expensive for its softening ratings — without having a new deal in place, given the role that his program played in the network’s success.

Food Network executives assert that Mr. Lagasse, who declined to comment, remains a valued member of the family. “All good things come to an end, and it was time to do something new,” said Brooke Johnson, the network’s president. “Right now, we’re figuring out what that something new is,” she said, noting that Mr. Lagasse’s “Essence of Emeril” on the network remains in production.
The article goes on to discuss the Food Network's new strategy, namely getting a piece of the pie (ha-ha) when its stars write cookbooks, promote cookware, etc., etc. Check out this quote from Mario Batali:

“They have decided they are mass market and they are going after the Wal-Mart crowd [...] a smart business decision. So they don’t need someone who uses polysyllabic words from other languages.”

If he's right, this means more Sandra Lee type programming and less Batali quality. More Cool-whip frosted angel food cake, anyone?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Attention Whore

I signed up for Facebook earlier this year and am completely addicted. Why I (and everyone else on Facebook) find updates on all my friends' minutia so fascinating, or why writing "on walls" is fun, or why challenging each other to movie quizzes is so compelling is not something I've fully figured out, but I'm along for the ride.

Anyway, I created a Facebook page for this blog so, if you're inclined, please join up!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Russian Tea Cakes

Sometimes, a cookie is so tasty that, even though you've planned to blog about it, you eat all the treats before you have a chance to take pictures.

These cookies fall into that category. (But Jerry let me borrow his photo -- Yay, Cooking By The Seat of My Pants!)

On Saturday night, we had dinner with a few of the HWS students with whom we traveled to Russia. We had a very nice time, and I especially enjoyed the Russian tea cakes Mandi brought along for dessert. They're sandy little cookies, studded with nuts and rolled in powdered sugar. They accompany a cup of hot tea very well, and are an ideal holiday cookie.

Russian Tea Cakes (source)

1 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 1/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
confectioners' sugar for rolling

Preheat oven to 400-degrees F.

Cream the butter, adding sugar gradually until light and fluffy. Stir in flour, vanilla, and walnuts or pecans.

Roll between hands into 1-inch balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.

Remove from oven and while still warm, roll in confectioners' sugar.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Corn "Fluff"

It's a pretty wintery day here today -- all the area schools have been closed (except MINE) and Shane is staying home from work, so even though I'm probably going in (let's face it, I am) it still feels like a bit of a vacation day. A good time to play catch-up on a recipe I hadn't posted.

I'm not a big fan of corn bread, but I'll wolf down a plate of corn fluff anytime. It's a blend of savory and sweet, with a consistency approximating bread pudding. I especially love the little bits of corn kernels studding the bread.

This is comfort food at it's simplest, and a great side dish for a winter's night meal.

Corn Fluff
one 15 1/4-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
one 14 3/4-ounce can cream-style corn
one 8-ounce package corn muffin mix (such as Jiffy)
1 cup sour cream
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F; grease a glass pie plate or small baking dish.

In a large bowl, stir together the two cans of corn, corn muffin mix, sour cream, egg, and butter. Pour into prepared pie plate/dish.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Yields 6 to 8 servings.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bartons Chocolate commercial

Imagine the Photoshopping I could have done with this image.

This commercial drives me nuts. I've seen about a billion times over the past week and a half, and each time, it irks me even more.

Are they selling chocolate, or are they selling a sexual fantasy involving the women in the commerical (which may or may not include the chocolate)? Because, I've eaten plenty of chocolate in my time, but I've never mouthed it the way these ladies do.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tender Potato Bread: DB Round Three, For Me

It's that time again, folks: posting day for the Daring Bakers! This month, our host, Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups, challenged us to make Tender Potato Bread from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World . Tanna gave us a lot of leeway in our finished product: it could be a loaf, rolls, focaccia. It could be plain; it could be stuffed. It could be braided, twisted, whatever.

The only real rules were that our bread had to be savory (we all needed a break from our sugar highs anyway), the recipe had to be followed as written until the shaping stage and -- here was the kicker for me -- "you must knead by hand."

To remember the process, I journalled the experience while baking on Monday, November 12. My notes appear below.

7:30am: I have Mondays off this semester; it's also Veterans Day today, so the kids have off, which makes this day of seem way more exciting than normal. (Think back to being a kid and having a day off from school. That's the feeling.)

Plus, the holidays are fast approaching. The weather has suddenly turned colder, Thanksgiving is a week and a half away and Christmas will be in a little over a month. We went to a Christkindl Market this weekend and basked in lighted evergreens, delicately painted ornaments, holiday treats, and seasonal music.

I mention all this because, for me, day off + cooler weather + holiday season = hard core desire to bake. I whipped up a gingerbread yesterday just because I couldn't stand NOT to.

So today strikes me as the perfect day to take on this month's DB Challenge. Now here's the thing: I have a definite comfort zone when it comes to baking. Yeast breads are outside of my comfort zone. Sure I've done them before, but when I have to need to bake, yeast bread recipes don't leap to the fore.

I realized, however, that it's not the yeast part of yeast breads that freak me out. It's the KNEADING. With September’s DB challenge, I was able to use the KitchenAid to do all the heavy work.

Not This Time.

No, Tanna is shoving me out of my comfy little baking rut by requiring all the DBers to knead the potato bread by hand. By HAND! WHAT? But my KitchenAid is ... right... there.... and it has a dough hook attachment.

To which I imagine Tanna might say, "Well, you have your own dough hook attachment. It's called 'your hands.'"

Dear God, there is going to be dough everywhere. And it’s going to be sticky, as this dough is, as Tanna writes, “very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before.”


“But don’t worry,” Tanna continued, “leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easy to handle.”

OK, Tanna, I’m putting my trust in your advice. Let’s roll the dice (er, dough?) and see what happens.

I love that these are "all purpose cooking potatoes."

9:20 am: So far, so good, though I’ve only tackled the simple parts of this recipe so far. I’ve peeled, boiled, and mashed the potatoes, added in the reserved cooking water, and am now waiting for things to cool down before adding the yeast.

The original recipe allows you to use the dough in a number of ways (pretty much anything savory) but I think I’m going to go with the focaccia. Mmmm, focaccia. The thought of you will get me through the kneading. I hope.



Mixing the yeast in with the potato/water mixture.

11:55am: Well, I’ve been reminded as to why I hate kneading. The dough gets EVERYWHERE. Stuck to the counter and my hands of course, but also in my clothes, my hair, nearby cabinetry, the bread box (ironically) and even the dog, who stuck close by to catch any scraps that would fall like manna from heaven. Of course, I’m not sure if you can call what I did kneading – more like “Wrestling with the Sticky Yeast Monster.”

Did I mention I hate getting my hands dirty? I do. I’m so lame.

The dough did get easier to handle as I added the flour (at this point, 7 cups) though it is, as the recipe says, “very soft.” The goal with this dough (before the first rise) is for it to be “soft and smooth and not too sticky.” I think I achieved that but the real test for success will be in tasting the final product.

With a little bit of flour.

A little more flour.

Ready for kneading.

So, so sticky. My hands got MUCH dirtier.

After kneading and adding a few more cups of flour.

Jesus God, my kitchen is a mess.

1:20pm: After rising for two hours, the dough is easier to handle, but still very sticky. I used 2/3 of the dough to shape (and I use the term very loosely) a focaccia and topped it with some herbed oil, salt, and sautéed red onions.

It looks amazing, you guys. I hope it bakes up well!

I’m off to the DB blog to get ideas for the dough 1/3 I have left.

Sautéing the onions for the focaccia.

After letting the dough rise.

Kneading the dough again.

The dough starts to become focaccia.

Drizzled with olive oil, herbs, and the onions.

Extra dough ready to become rolls.

5:07pm: Challenge complete! The focaccia baked up beautifully – despite my dropping it face down on the open door of my oven. (Oh well – could’ve been worse!) Fortunately, it held up very well and it was a very looong ten minute wait before I could cut into it.

Mmmm, delicious. The crumb is moist and tender yet chewy and the bread itself is packed with flavor! Visually, it’s very pretty to look at, too.

With the leftover dough, I formed 9 rolls, brushed them with butter, and parbaked them per Mary’s instructions for freezing yeast bread. They look great, and I’m looking forward to baking –and then eating – them.

Post note: the rolls baked up beautifully, though I should have baked them for only 10 minutes, instead of 15, after thawing. They were very simple, and a pat of butter took to them very well.

BIG thanks to Tanna for pushing me past my comfort zone with this recipe. I never would have tried it without you – and the other 200+ Daring Bakers, of course!

The final product! (You can hardly tell I dropped it.)

Sliced (lovingly) into strips. I couldn't believe it, but the kids went crazy for the focaccia.

Baked potato rolls.

Tender Potato Bread

From Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf and something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender focaccia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf.

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold. (For the beginner I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. )

4 cups water (See Note)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

1 cup whole wheat flour

Conversion Chart for yeast:
Fresh yeast 1 oz/ 1 tablespoon = active dry yeast 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon
reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart

For Loaves and Rolls: melted butter (optional)

For Focaccia: olive oil, coarse salt, and rosemary leaves (optional; also see variation)

Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well. I have a food mill I will run my potatoes through to mash them.

Measure out 3 cups of the reserved potato water (add extra water if needed to make 3 cups). Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread in – directions will be for by hand. Let cool to lukewarm – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Allowed to add yeast one of two ways:

Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes.

Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes.


Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.

At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft.

As a beginner, you may be tempted to add more flour than needed. Most/many bread recipes give a range of flour needed. This is going to be a soft dough. At this point, add flour to the counter slowly, say a ¼ cup at a time. Do not feel you must use all of the suggested flour. When the dough is soft and smooth and not too sticky, it’s probably ready.

Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

It is at this point you are requested to Unleash the Daring Baker within. The following is as the recipe is written. You are now free to follow as written or push it to a new level.

Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape the large loaf:

Butter a 9X5 inch loaf/bread pan.

Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:

Butter an 8 x 4 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.

To make rolls:

Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

To make focaccia:

Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.

Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a baking/sheet (no edge – you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C. Bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.

If making foccacia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.

Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes.

Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Let breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

Anchovy-Onion Focaccia

Instead of oil, salt and rosemary, the focaccia can be topped with onions slow-cooked in olive oil or bacon fat, a scattering of chopped anchovy fillets, and flat-leafed parsley leaves.

Alternate fillings, seasons, shapes are up to you.

You must follow the recipe as written until you get to shaping the bread.

If you are new to bread and already your whisks are shaking (or is that your boots), you may bake the bread (or one of it’s variations) just as written.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cinnabons™: Not Just at the Mall Anymore!

Mmm, Cinnabon™.

A few weeks ago, I got an invite from Lis -- did I want to join her and several other food bloggers in a live baking project?

Um, yes!

Lis purchased a "Top Secret" recipe for Cinnabon's™ cinnamon rolls to compare with the results of our recent DB cinnamon roll/sticky roll challenge. After negotiating a convenient day and time for us to start, Lis, Marce, Helene, Sara, Kelly, Chris, Mary , and I got to baking.

The recipe came together quite easily, the only issue being that my dough didn't double in size in an hour. (It's November and my kitchen is cold.) The dough did get a bit bigger, but I probably should have waited for it to grow before proceeding. If I had, I think my final product would have been closer in appearance to the originals! (Well, that and I improvised on the icing as I'd run out of cream cheese. Sigh. )

Still, everyone preferred these cinnamon rolls to the ones from the DB challenge; the texture is much closer to that gooey ideal for a cinnamon bun. So, the next time I need to make cinnamon rolls, I'll go with this recipe, but if I want a sticky bun -- and they were fabulous -- I'd turn to our DB recipe.

Cinnabon™ Knock-off Cinnamon Rolls

NOTE: The very savvy Breadchick points out that yeast rise time varies based upon temperature & humidity. She writes, "Here are the rise times I use in the kitchen when I’m working with [Active] yeast: two to two and a half hours for dough to double. Add 1/2 an hour for every 5 degrees below 75F that the temperature is in the place where your dough is rising [...] Add 1/2 an hour to an hour to the expected rise time for humidity over 60%." Please read the rest of her extremely informative post here.


1 pkg. active dry yeast (1/4 oz. size)
1 c. warm milk (105- to 110-degrees F.)
½ c. granulated sugar
1/3 c. butter, melted
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
4 c. all-purpose flour


1 c. packed brown sugar
2 ½ TBS. cinnamon
1/3 c. butter, softened


¼ c. (1/2 stick) butter, softened
¼ c. (2 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 ½ c. powdered sugar
1 TBS. whole milk
¼ tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. lemon extract

For the rolls, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, butter, salt & eggs. Add flour and mix well.

Knead the dough into a large ball, using your hands lightly dusted with flour. Put in a bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. (See note about temperature and humidity affecting yeast, above.)

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough flat until it is approximately 21 inches long and 16 inches wide. It should be about ¼ inch thick.

For the filling, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Spread the softened butter evenly over the surface of the dough, and then sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the surface.

Working carefully from the top (a 21 inch side), roll the dough down to the bottom edge. Cut the rolled dough into 1 ¾ inch slices and place 6 at a time,evenly spaced, in a lightly greased baking pan. Let the rolls rise again until doubled in size, about 30 min. Preheat oven to 400-degrees F.

Once the oven is ready, bake rolls for 10 minutes, or until golden on top. While the rolls bake, make the icing by mixing the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed. Add the powdered sugar and mix on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, then add the milk and flavorings. Mix on high speed again until the icing is smooth and fluffy.

When the rolls come out of the oven, let them cool for about 10 minutes, then coat generously with the icing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Holiday Baking Ideas

Jam & Butter Thumbprints fresh from the oven.

Below, you'll find some of my favorite recipes for the holiday season. I hope you not only find them delicious, but that in making them, you can take time to relax and enjoy the season with those to whom you are near and dear.

Christmas (and every other special day) Cookies

Sugar Cookies & Royal Icing -- Lots of sugar cookie recipes are made to look pretty but taste pretty flavorless. You won't have that problem with this recipe - you can decorate to your heart's content and know that these cookies will both look and taste fantastic.

Chocolate Cookie Cut-outs & Royal Icing -- In a twist on traditional sugar cookies, this recipe lets you decorate pretty little chocolate cut-outs. Decorated cookies are especially dramatic - the icing is a lovely contrast to the darkness of the cookie. I especially love the addition of cinnamon in this recipe (chocolate and cinnamon is not a typical baking combination, and it's a shame) but if you don't care for cinnamon in your chocolate, just leave it out.

Lace Cookies -- It's not Christmas in our house if I don't make these cookies. They're similar in flavor and texture to the Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip cookies, but they are much more elegant. You can leave them as is or, as I do, use them to sandwich melted dark chocolate.

Outrageous Triple Chocolate Cookies -- Words do not do justice to this cookie. It is unbelievably good. If you don't believe me, just ask Lis!

Italian Lemon Cookies -- These are cakey, lemony, and bright. Shake on a few sprinkles to get them into the holiday spirit.

Double Chocolate Cookies -- Flat, chewy chocolate cookies are visually perked up by the addition of M&Ms. Tasty little buggers!

Polvorones de Canele -- these are a twist on Mexican Wedding cookies; they're buttery, just like the originals, but they have a spicy cinnamon hit.

Butter & Jam Thumbprints -- I love these. Such comfort food, and they bake up like glittering jewels.

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies -- Crunchy, chewy, chocolaty, pepperminty: terrific!

Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookies -- Easy to pull together, and perfect for the cookie traditionalist.

Flat-n-Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies -- Everyone needs an all-purpose chocolate chip cookie recipe, and this is mine. I baked these just before a realtor showed our old house to his client and left a plate on the table for them to enjoy. That same day, we had an offer on our house. Coincidence? I think not.

Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Cookies -- My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. These are very thin (crisp at first, and then they become chewy) and their flavor is phenomenal. Between the butter and the brown sugar, they cookies take on a deep caramel or toffee flavor. So delicious they could stand on their own without the chocolate chips, but why would you want to do that?

Bar Cookies

Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars -- If you like pecan pie, think how wonderful it would be to add a little chocolate.

Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies -- 10,000 times better than a peanut butter cup.

Grand Marnier Brownies -- Brownies aren't usually thought of as elegant, but this recipe challenges that notion. Chocolate and orange flavors can be found both in the brownie and its frosting. For an extra touch, drizzle melted chocolate on top of the frosting.

Special Occasion Breakfasts

Cinnamon rolls or Sticky Buns -- Imagine waking up on Christmas morning to the warm scent of cinnamon (or cinnamon and caramel) wafting in the air. Mmmm! Eating these, you could get coal in your stocking and not care. (For a savory breakfast, try this Vegetable and Cheese Strata.)

Baked French Toast with Praline Topping -- Perfect for a holiday brunch, this tantalizing french toast (which is baked in the oven) is loved by all ages.

Faye's Monkey Bread -- Oooey, gooey, sweet and delicious. Yummy in the morning, at afternoon tea, or for a midnight snack.

Raspberry Cream Cheese "Buns" -- From the Magnolia Bakery (which insists on calling these muffins buns...) comes a tender and moist muffin enlivened with raspberry jam. They're fantastic.

Cinnamon Sugar Donut Muffins -- Kids especially love these muffins -- which are dipped in melted butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar -- but, c'mon; who wouldn't love that combination?

Yummy Cakes

November Molasses Cake with Fresh Lemon Glaze -- Though the name says "November," the rich, musky notes of the cake -- brightened by the tang of lemon -- are perfect for any cold month.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Cream Frosting -- If you stop thinking about pumpkin after Thanksgiving, this cake will make you change your mind. Its crumb is moist and delicate, and its flavor speaks of cinnamon, ginger and clove (plus pumpkin, of course). If you like frosting (and this one is pretty fabulous) you might want to double the frosting recipe .

Tea & Sympathy's Spicy Ginger Cake -- Created to accompany a cup of tea, its spicy, sweet, and sticky. It's perfect.

Treats -- One Difficult, Two Easy

Fudge -- A classic, and this recipe yields a fudge that is everything a good fudge should be.

Untitled Pretzel, Marshmallow, M&M Project -- Obviously, I still don't have a name for these guys. But use red and green M&M to tie into the Christmas season.

Brown Sugar Chex Mix -- OK, so you're not really baking anything here, but this is too easy -- and too tasty -- to leave out! It's a great little recipe for making in a flash, it's inexpensive, and-- again - very tasty!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's to a lovely Thanksgiving and the start of another holiday season! I hope you have plenty of your favorite foods to enjoy, and even more friends and family to share them with.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Butternut Squash Risotto

This butternut squash risotto an ideal dish for a cold, fall night. Like all good risottos, it's rich and creamy, with brimming with flavor from the chicken stock, white wine, and onion. The squash's flavor takes a backseat in this dish, but clearly, its sunny, bright color is at center stage.

All this needs is a glass of white wine, a good hunk of bread, and a crackling fire in the hearth.

Note: though the original recipe says this serves 4, we got at least 6 servings out of this.

Butternut Squash Risotto (adapted)

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups dry white wine, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground sage
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and grated (about 4 cups)
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan

Warm the broth and 1 cup of wine in a small saucepan over low heat.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, salt, and pepper and cook for 4 minutes. Add the sage, squash and garlic and cook until the squash begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add the reserved cup of wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes.

Add the broth/wine mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring occasionally and waiting until it is absorbed before adding more. It should take about 30 minutes for all the broth to be absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan. Spoon into individual bowls.

Tip: To grate a butternut squash, rub it against the large holes of a box grater, or roughly chop it, then pulse it in a food processor.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On Mashed Potatoes

Click here for this recipe.

The NYT's Dining Section has a great article on perfecting mashed potatoes. It advises cooks to relax: perfect mashed potatoes are easy to make.

Here are the article's pearls of wisdom:

  • Buy potatoes from either local farmers and/or buy “A” grade potatoes, the largest ones available.
  • Peel & cut your potatoes before boiling; this results in potatoes that are more evenly cooked and less waterlogged.
  • Use lots of cooking water and salt it liberally -- but it doesn't seem to matter if you cook the potatoes when the water is cold or when the water is at a rolling boil.
  • Boil the taters until they're very soft. The tip of a pointy knife should go right through the the center, but drain the potatoes before the "get shaggy around the edges, a sign that they are dissolving in the pot." Start getting your butter, or butter and milk, hot and ready.
  • Drain the potatoes well, then steam them right away -- toss them around in the hot pan or over very low heat for a minute.
  • Toss in your hot butter (butter/milk) and get mashing. Use a hand masher "with a flat face, a grid pattern and crisp edges where the potato meets the masher" or pop them into a stand mixer. A "light" mashing will yield fluffy potatoes, while a more thorough one will yield a "creamier, denser dish." Be careful not to go to far, though, or you'll enter into wallpaper paste territory.
  • Taste, season with additional salt and butter if needed, and serve!
Here's a link to the recipe that accompanies the article but if you're looking for mashed potatoes that are OVER-THE-TOP DELICIOUS, give these Company's Coming Mashed Potatoes a try!

Vosges Exotic Chocolate Bars

The very delicious Gianduja bar by Vosges.

A few weeks ago, I picked up Mo's Bacon Bar by Vosges and posted a review. A few days later, I got an email from Paige, who works for the chocolatier, asking if I'd like some samples.

Um, yes please!

Shortly thereafter, a lovely package arrived (repleate with a handwritten note from Paige) filled with an assortment of Vosges' chocolate bars. The box offered samples of the Barcelona, Creole, Gianduja, Naga, Oaxaca, Red Fire, and Woolloomooloo bars.

Both Paige and Tara of But It's a Dry Heat! recommended the Barcelona Bar to me after I'd said I liked the flavor of Mo's Bacon Bar, not the chewy bits of bacon. The Barcelona is a milk chocolate bar studded with sea salt and roasted almonds. It's very tasty, but I was hoping for more of a smoked almond flavor so I was a little let down. (Still, if you like almonds plus sweet and salty notes, this is a great chocolate bar).

The Creole is a dark chocolate bar (70-percent cacao) featuring cacao nibs and "New Orleans style chicory coffee." The deep flavor of the chocolate complements the pungent scent of the chicory; it's not a combination I expected to like, but the components work very well together. It's not a sweet confection but one with a bitter edge; not overly so, but it is definitely there. The chocolate has a sharp snap to it as well.

I knew I'd love the Gianduja bar -- hazelnuts and chocolate? How can it not be loved? The texture of this bar is much softer than the others. I'm guessing this is because the chocolate is blended with hazelnut paste but I can't seem to find a confirmation of this on the Vosges' website. For a bit of added crunch, small almond pieces are thrown in. I can't say I'd be able to tell they were almonds if not for the packaging, but I liked it all the same. Out of all the bars, this was my favorite.

The Naga bar, which I'd had before, features sweet curry and coconut paired with milk chocolate. It's a delicate flavor -- the curry and coconut aren't overpowering, but provide an interesting depth the the chocolate.
I was a little worried to try the Oaxaca and Red Fire bars as both include hot pepper. You can feel the heat in the Oaxaca bar (from its guajillo and pasilla chillies) almost before the chocolate reaches your mouth. And yet, it's not overly spicy but it does tingle the tongue and throat. Like the Creole, it's got a bitter edge.

The Red Fire matches dark chocolate (55-percent cacao) with cinnamon and ancho and chipotle chilies. This bar was not as spicy as the Oaxaca; in fact, while I could taste the chocolate and cinnamon, I didn't even detect the chilies' heat until I swallowed -- then, I felt a warm sensation at the back of my throat. While I like the bar, I'd love to see another one pairing milk chocolate solely with cinnamon -- I'm crazy about that combination (probably born from a childhood love of bear shaped cinnamon butter cookies dipped in chocolate) yet I can't find it in chocolate very often.

Last but not least, the Woolloomooloo bar mixes milk chocolate with crushed and salted macadamia nuts, coconut and hemp seeds. I'm not a big fan of macadamias but I couldn't really detect them beyond their crunch -- at least, I don't think I could. The bar has a raw nut flavor, but I'm not sure if that's from the macadamias or the hemp seeds (I couldn't really single them out, either). The coconut is a presence, too, though it doesn't overwhelm things.
These chocolates are pricey --$7 for a full size or $2.50 for a mini bar -- but they're delicious. The full size would be a great holiday gift for friends or co-workers, and the minis would be at home in anyone's stocking.

Monday, November 12, 2007

November Molasses Cake with Fresh Lemon Glaze

I just had another piece of this lovely cake and here's the thing: it's delicious, but it's supposed to be gingerbread, and it doesn't taste like gingerbread to me.

This is Nigella Lawson's "Fresh Gingerbread with Lemon Icing" recipe and I have to ask, where's the spicy hit? I even doubled the amount of ginger and cinnamon, but those flavors don't jump out at me.

Thinking of this cake as gingerbread disappoints me. But thinking of it as molasses cake makes me happy. So I'm redubbing this recipe (see title above) and enjoying its superb moistness, gentle sweetness, musky molasses flavor, and piquant jabs of brightness from its lemon glaze. It pairs very nicely with a strong cup of hot tea.

Just don't call it gingerbread.

November Molasses Cake with Fresh (adapted from Nigella Lawsons' Fresh Gingerbread with Lemon Icing )

For the cake:
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsps. unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsps. brown sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsps. light corn syrup
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsps. molasses
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely grated
2 tsps. ground cinnamon
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 2 Tbsps. warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour

For the icing:
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1-2 Tbsp. warm water, if needed
lemon zest, optional

Preheat the oven to 325-degrees F and grease and flour a 13x9 pan.

In a saucepan, melt the butter along with the sugar, syrup, molasses, ginger, and cinnamon. Off the heat, add the milk, eggs, and baking soda in its water.

Measure the flour out into a bowl and pour in the liquid ingredients, beating until very well mixed (it will be a very liquid batter). Pour batter into the pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes until risen and firm. Be careful not to overbake, as you want your cake nice and moist.

For the icing, whisk the lemon juice into the confectioners' sugar first, then gradually add the water, if needed. You want a nice, spreadable icing, but one that's not too thin, so go cautiously and be prepared not to add all the water. Add in the lemon zest, if using. Working quickly, spread over the cooled gingerbread with an off-set spatula, and leave to set before cutting.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Brother Boniface's Pumpkin Bread

When it comes to pumpkin desserts, they have to be well spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and/or clove for me to be over-the-moon for them. (I fell in love with masala chai at first sip because it reminded me of pumpkin pie.)

So when pumpkin desserts fit this bill, there are few foods that will make me happier (see Gingerbread Pumpkin Bars, Pescatore's Pie, Pumpkin Spice Cake with Honey Cream Frosting). And when they're not, it's a tiny disappointment.

This pumpkin bread, though moist, flavorful, and lightly sweet, just isn't spicy enough for me. Tasty but not swoon-worthy. But for those who like a more mellow and fall-inspired quick bread (and they're out there), this recipe should fit the bill nicely.

Brother Boniface's Pumpkin Bread (from Southern Living via My Recipes)

4 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
4 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
2/3 cup water
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Beat together all the ingredients-- except the pecans -- at medium speed with an electric mixer just combined. Fold in pecans. Spoon evenly into 2 greased and floured 9- x 5-inch loafpans OR 1 bundt pan.

Bake at 350-degrees F for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean (if baking in a bundt, this may take longer). Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Gingerbread Pumpkin Bars

Before our Halloween/Dessert party, I asked the Daring Bakers for ideas. Peabody suggested I make Gingerbread Pumpkin Bars; she'd just made them with great success.

So, I happily followed her suggestion, and she is so right: these are delicious! Spicy and sweet with added depth from the molasses, they are wonderful. The base is rich and butter, the filling moist and flavorful, while the drizzle adds just a hint of sweetness and vanilla. These are a crisp fall day packed into a tiny dessert.

Peabody thought they could use an extra candied ginger kick, but I like them just as they are. I can't wait to make them again (and again, and again...)

Gingerbread Pumpkin Bars (via Culinary Concoctions by Peabody)

For the bars
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup rolled quick oats

For the filling
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 3/4 cups mashed pumpkin
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs

For the glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 to 2 tablespoons milk

To make the bars, start by preheating the oven to 350-degrees F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar and molasses until creamy. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Reserve 3/4 cup of this mixture and place in a small bowl. Scoop the remaining mixture into a 10″ x 15″ baking pan lightly coated with nonstick spray and press down to form a crust.

Add the oats to the reserved mixture and mix until combined - set aside.

To make the filling, beat cream cheese in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Add pumpkin, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves and mix until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing just until combined. Scoop the mixture over the uncooked base and use an off-set spatula to evenly spread the mixture over the top. Crumble reserved oat mixture over filling.

Bake until the topping is a golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the drizzle, in a small bowl mix together confectioners’ sugar, butter and vanilla. Mix in just enough milk until the mixture will easily flow from a spoon - drizzle over cooled bars.

Friday, November 02, 2007

RRC #9 Round-Up, Up; RRC #10 Announced!

Looking for Sammy "The Candy Man" Davis' influence on Retro Recipe Challenge #9? Check out Dolores' Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity for the sugar-soaked round-up!

Want to participate in the next challenge? Visit Naomi's blog, Straight Into Bed Cakefree and Dried, for all the details on Retro Recipe Challenge #10: Story Book Food!

BIG thank yous to Dolores & Naomi for hosting these challenges! If you would like to host a future RRC, drop me a line at retrorecipechallengeATgmailDOTcom .

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Untitled Pretzel, Marshmallow, M&M Project

These are the easiest, and one of the tastiest, little treats you can make. You can whip up a huge batch in under 10 minutes, and if you bring them to a party, people will love you. There's something about the combination of salty, crunchy pretzels, paired with chewy marshmallows and the sweetness of chocolate that makes taste buds swoon.

The only thing is that I don't have an all-purpose name for them. Sadie came up with Shrunken Monkey Heads for the Halloween Party, but that wouldn't really fly at a Christmas bash, would it?

Got name suggestions? Post 'em in the comments!

Untitled Pretzel, Marshmallow, M&M Project

mini marshmallows
mini pretzels

Place pretzels on a large, flat plate lined with parchment. Place marshmallows in each of the pretzels' holes. Microwave the marshmallow-filled pretzels until the 'mallows swell in size, approximately 15 to 20 seconds.

Pull the pretzels from the microwave and, working quickly, press an M&M into the center of each marshmallow. Allow to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Strawberry Layer Cake

The only time a presentation like this is appropriate is for a Halloween party. Or, maybe, when celebrating Charles Manson's birthday.

My favorite part of Halloween is the candy. Candy makes me swoon. And the opportunity of getting mounds of it simply by dressing up, knocking on a few doors and saying "TRICK OR TREAT!" was always too tempting to pass up. I went every year as a kid (except the one year when I was punished and FORBIDDEN to go trick or treating -- probably the same awful year I had Mrs. Demperio for my teacher) I'm pretty sure I went a few times in high school and I know it didn't take much prompting from my Freshman year college roommate to whip up a headband adorned with paper triangles and go knocking on doors around Brockport. (After that year, I transferred to Marymount Manhattan and, alas, knocking on doors on Halloween in NYC was unlikely to yield the candy I sought. Other stuff, maybe, but not candy.)

So when Shane suggested we throw a Halloween party (and, faced with the challenge of making, and finding people to eat, Bostini Cream Pies) I knew sugar had to be a key factor. The theme was dessert -- all sugar, all the time. (Well, OK -- there were a few savories, but they weren't attacked with the ferocity of the dessert buffet.) Our friends brought tons of treats: Honor made gorgeous coconut pyramids, Phyllis brought warm-n-cozy apple crisp, Jenny baked up her grandmother's apple pie recipe (the BEST apple pie I have ever tasted), Nancy whipped up chocolate decadence cupcakes (frosted orange!) Beth & James plated elegant cookies with rubber tarantulas and Lauren came bearing vanilla ice cream to accompany everything!

As for me, I made the Bostinis, gingerbread pumpkin bars (via Culinary Concoctions by Peabody -- more on that later this week), little marshmallow-pretzel-M&M snacks I don't have a name for (again, more on that later), and this Strawberry Layer Cake. (Also, two giant bowls of Halloween candy, which both the kids and adults put a nice dent in.)

The cake recipe comes from Sweets: Soul Food Desserts & Memories by Patty Piner. The cake is pictured on the cover, and it's what made me buy the book. I'd been looking for an excuse to bake it, and the party gave the opportunity.

Strawberry, though certainly not an unusual flavor, is not one normally found in cake which, I think, is part of this cake's appeal. It's hard to miss -- and not love -- it's vivid pink color.

The cake is pretty sweet, but not cloyingly so (unless you eat a huge piece without a cold glass of milk), and has with the lovely fruity and perfumey flavor and scent of strawberries. It's fresh and delicious. The crumb is tender, yet sturdy enough to stand up to the stiff frosting (though I probably should have added more juice to thin it a bit and make it easier to spread).

Don't be put off by some of the ingredients. Even though the recipe employs cake mix AND Jell-O, the cake doesn't taste like pre-fab factory food. It just tastes very, very good.

My My's Strawberry Layer Cake (adapted from Sweets: Soul Food Desserts & Memories by Patty Piner)

1 (18.5 oz.) box white cake mix (without pudding)
1 (3 oz.) package strawberry Jell-O
1 Tbsp. self-rising flour
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp. sugar
3/4 c. vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup water
5 oz. frozen strawberries, thawed and well drained (juices reserved)


5 oz. frozen strawberries, thawed and well drained (juices reserved)
2 lbs. confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
red food coloring, optional

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees F. Lightly grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans; set aside.

For the cake, combine cake mix, Jell-O, flour, and sugar, mixing well. Add oil. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add water and strawberries; mix well (the strawberries will break up nicely).

Divide the batter evenly between the pans and bake 25 - 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the layers in their pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then unmold each layer onto the racks to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the strawberries, sugar, and butter and beat until smooth and well blended. If needed, add the reserved juice, one tablespoon at a time, until a frosting-like consistency is achieved. If desired, add food coloring, one drop at a time, and blend until the color is uniform.
Transfer the cake layers onto a serving platter one at a time, trimming to level if necessary. Frost between each layer, on top of the cake, and around the cake's sides.