Friday, November 20, 2015

Cake Slice Bakers Bake From A New Book

I've really enjoyed being part of the Cake Slice Bakers baking group. Each month we choose from four recipes from our current book. This month we are beginning a new book...Maida Heatter's Cakes. It has plain cakes, fancy cakes, chocolate cakes, layer cakes, cheesecakes, fruitcakes and nut cakes, cakes with fruits or vegetables, yeast cakes and more.

Although the other three recipes sounded wonderful, I chose to bake The Irish Whiskey Cake, leaving out the caraway seeds. I baked the recipe in a small Bundt pan instead of a loaf pan. It makes small slices, so you can have more than one and still feel virtuous. It's the perfect size to share, so it's going on my weekend journey with me. I would have included the oh-so-Irish caraway seeds, but I was out of them. I also forgot to smear extra butter on the hot cake once it came from the oven and I didn't add extra whiskey via wrapping or cheesecloth in the center. Still, it is a lovely cake which Maida describes as having less fruit than the usual fruitcake. I froze mine for a few days, so it was very easy to slice.

This cake was a dream to bake. Although the list of ingredients is long, the making really is comprised of four steps: creaming the butter and sugar, then alternately adding the sifted together dry ingredients and the whiskey, followed by stirring in citrus, raisins, seeds and nuts, then folding in beaten egg whites. I beat the egg whites before starting the creaming since I only have on stand mixer bowl. I set them aside in a different bowl, rinsed out the stand mixer bowl and dried it, then got on with the recipe. The whites were still just fine for folding in by the time I got to them and this way the baking powder had less time to react before the pan of batter was in the oven, too.

Do give this cake a try. Sweetie says that it has a medium density, is not too sweet, and was nicely balance between fruity and nutty. I think that it would go well with a glass of wine or some coffee or tea because, although it isn't dry, it isn't terribly moist either...I guess it's just right.

Not sure I'll have time to type up the recipe, but check out the other bakers at the bottom of the post. The photos link to their posts and one of them may have typed it all up. I'm trying to get this post up at the same time that I'm loading the car to drive to the Sacramento area to visit Natasha and her hubby and do some painting at last. When I get back I'll try to type up the recipe for future reference and so that you, too, can make this delicious cake. I might have some more photos, too. You can also buy the's a great one.

In the meantime, do check out the post of the other Cake Slice Bakers and see which recipe they chose to make.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Babes Bake Flowering Bread

I've never been to Russia, but if the bread there is as delicious as this month's Russian Chrysanthemum Bread, perhaps I should try to get there. Our dear Babe Lien invited us to gather around her kitchen table and make this bread which ends up looking a bit like a flower. It's a filled bread and takes some time, but once you figure out how to fill each dough circle and fold it, it is pretty easy. Just remember, the pointed end goes towards the middle. Do that and don't over-fill the dough circle and you, too, will make a gorgeous, impressive and wonderful treat. The Bread Baking Babes enjoy this sort of bread you?

The recipe we were given calls for a savory filling, but I recently received a jar of cranberry-orange marmalade. It's almost Thanksgiving, one of the few times I have cranberry conserve on the table, so think of this as a seasonal and sweet variation. I included some cream cheese mixed with this year's crop of walnuts from the back yard, chopped fine. They made a great flavor combination. The finished bread is lovely to look at but the star is the dough. According to my Sweetie, the dough is buttery. moist and rich tasting, even though there isn't any butter in it...just milk, egg and olive oil.

The links at the bottom of the post will lead you to at least a couple of pizza savory flavored versions and some closer to the traditional meat-herbs-cheese version. Take your pick, but do try making this. Imagine think slices as a starter for a dinner party, especially a savory version. I think my version would be wonderful for Thanksgiving morning because the house will have some of the fragrance of the Thanksgiving meal but early in the day...sort of a teaser.

The tip to roll out the dough (1/3 at a time) and then let it sit 10 minutes is important. It means that the dough circle will stay at 7.5 cm (about 3 inches) which will allow you to put in enough filling that there will be a nice filling-bread balance. This is what my flower looked like right after I had filled all the petals and put them into place. Because it is a smaller pie plate than standard, I had enough dough left over to make a small tea ring with the rest of the fillings, but if you make a nine-inch one you will probably have about 1/4 of the dough left over or less. You could still make something like a turnover or two with it and the left over fillings, or a sausage roll if you have savory filling left.

Be sure to let Lien know if you bake as a Buddy by November 29th. You e-mail her a photo and a short bit about your experience baking this beautiful bread and she will send you a Buddy badge (very like the badge above) and include you in the round-up.

Russian Chrysanthemum Bread
(1 large round loaf)

Filling: (this is an example. You can make up your own savory or sweet filling. If you want to go vegetarian, think mushroom, bean mash, etc.

500-600 g minced meat (beef, lamb, turkey, etc.)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, chopped
140 g cheese, coarsely grated
30 g butter
100 ml cold water
salt and pepper to taste
spices, to taste
(Note: if you mix everything up and then fry up about a tablespoonful in a small pan, you can see if you life the seasonings or if they need to be changed. )

500 g strong flour/bread flour (with some extra for dusting the board when you roll out the dough)
7 g dry instant yeast
125 ml milk, lukewarm (1/2 cup)
125 ml kefir or yogurt (1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
90 ml olive oil (3 oz.)

1 tablespoon milk
1 egg yolk

Also Needed:
1 round cookie cutter or glass (7.5 cm - about 3-inches in diameter)
large shallow pie dish 28 cm in diameter

Making the Dough:
Mix the yeast and sugar in the lukewarm milk. Mix the yogurt or kefir with the salt, egg, and oil, then add the flour and the yeast mixture. Knead into a supple dough. Shape into a ball and let rest in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a shower cap. Let dough rise for about an hour or until doubled. Keep going...see what you will end up with!

Make the Filling:
Cook the chopped onions and garlic in a frying pan until translucent. Leave to cool. Mix all the ingredients for the filling well (really knead it through). Set aside. (For the filling I used, see the end of the cooking needed.)

Shaping the Flower:
Work with about 1/3 of the dough at a time. Roll it out to a thickness of  about 3 mm. Cover with a clean tea towel and let rest for 10 minutes. This will prevent the dough from shrinking once the circles are cut. Cut out rounds with the cookie cutter. Place 1 tablespoon of filling on each round, spread it out, leaving about  1/2 cm free around the border and sprinkle with some cheese. Fold the circle in half, and fold the two points together. It now looks like a petal. Place in the pie dish, starting around the border with the point of the petal facing to the center. Repeat until there is just a little space left in the middle. Cut three smaller circles and fill them and use that for the center of the flower. Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap or a shower cap and leave the flower to rest and rise for about 45 minutes. Patience...soon you will be eating a tasty flower.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (just a little over 350 degrees F).

Whisk egg yolk and milk for the glaze and brush the bread with it. Place the pan in the oven directly on a rack and bake for 25 minutes. Lower the temperature to 170 degrees C (about 325 degrees F) and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

When the loaf is done, take it out of the oven and the pan, place on a wire rack and let cool. If desired, brush with melted butter while still warm. Let cool or eat lukewarm.

For filling I used 2 oz. soft cream cheese mixed with 2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts, plus about 4 oz cranberry orange marmalade.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Family Recipe Banana Nut Bread

The family cookbook began when my Dad died, over 20 years ago. As part of my grieving for him I began to gather old family recipes and to ask my Mom and siblings to contribute ones they had and to tell me if there were ones they wanted. A little less than a year later we had a family reunion at the beach and I brought a copy for each sibling and one for my Mom. Unfortunately I had neglected to give the printer the page for the index, but Mom solved that by making her own index on the inside of the back cover.

The next version came about because I noticed that Mom's copy was getting tattered and a few other family members told me that theirs were, too. This was not surprising since the books were about 17 years old! Since I was working in graphic arts at the time I decided to create a fancy version with color photos and organized around types of food. The original had been organized around seasons. I like this book a lot except for the paper. It is a pretty glazed paper which makes the photos look great but is hard to write on for changes I might make to the recipes. My solution has been to use sticky notes for changes, which works well.

Some of the recipes in the book, which I called Classic Comfort Food for the newer version (2012) and Family Food in the original version (1995), have been written about in this blog, but some have never been posted in their original form.

This Banana Nut Bread is an example of a great recipe that I have posted variations of but not the original. Even this one is a tiny bit different because the original used all vegetable oil and I used some butter and some oil. Otherwise it is the same and it makes a very fragrant, slightly sweet, very moist bread. I used pecans but walnuts are wonderful in this bread. When I took the loaves from the oven and smelled the lovely warm banana fragrance I was transported back to my Mom's kitchen.

This is an easy quick bread. Make sure to really cream the butter, oil and sugar before adding the eggs and bananas. Mix the batter just until combined once you add the flour mixture. Fold in the nuts with a spatula and you are ready to use the same spatula to scoop the batter into the prepared pans!

Classic Comfort Food Banana Nut Bread

½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 ripe medium bananas, mashed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon wheat germ
3 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup chopped nuts

Beat the oil (I used half soft butter and half oil) and sugar together. Add the eggs and banana pulp, and beat well. Sift the dry ingredients together. Add the sifted dry ingredients, milk and vanilla. Mix well and stir in the nuts.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan (9” x 5” x 3”). Bake in a preheated 3500 F oven about 1 hour. Toothpick inserted in center will come out clean or with a few crumbs on it when bread is done. Cool well. Makes one loaf.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Feeling My Oats

Today's bake is for Sweetie. He has been such a staunch supporter as I have worked on the puzzle of what to eat and drink and what to avoid putting in my gut. Things are improving in that area and I'm feeling my oats, walking more, gardening again, and even putting a coat of paint on an outdoor structure. Oats are also the star ingredient in the cookies I made for Sweetie today.

He has always loved oatmeal cookies, especially chewy ones, so that's what I made. I used a recipe from the old standby cookbook Joy of Cooking, with (of course) a few tweaks. I added some chocolate chips and some dried cranberries and some chopped walnuts. Beyond that, it was just the recipe in the book. Classics become classics because they are good enough to stand the test of time.

So for this fairly flat, chewy cookie the dominant flavors are butter, brown sugar, oats, chocolate, vanilla, cranberry and walnuts. The edges are crisp, but otherwise it is a fairly soft cookie. Sweetie really doesn't enjoy crisp, crunchy cookies.

I made the cookies pretty large, so I ended up with 26 of them and he ate five as soon as he got home!They are that good (and almost gluten free, with only 1/2 cup regular all-purpose flour...since I've decided that I can have a little gluten now and then with no harm...and it does help with the cookie structure.)

Quick Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 36 2-inch cookies
A variation of a recipe in Joy of Cooking cookbook

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
   1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
   1/2 cup granulated sugar
Cream with:
   1/2 cup butter at room temperature
Combine and beat in until smooth:
   1 egg
   1 teaspoon vanilla
   1 tablespoon milk
Sift together and add to the above ingredients:
   1 cup all-purpose flour (I used 1/2 cup gluten free flour mix and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)
   1/2 teaspoon baking soda
   1/2 teaspoon baking powder
   1/2 teaspoon salt
When beaten smooth, add:
   1 cup uncooked quick rolled oats
   1/2 cup chocolate chips
   1/2 cup dried cranberries
   1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Beat the mixture well. Drop cookies 2 inches apart on well-greased cookie sheet and bake until light brown. Remove to a cooling rack soon after taking cookies from oven.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Fresh Cranberries Are Here

There is nothing quite like the taste of a fresh, crisp, very tart cranberry. I hear they grow in bogs in New England, but I find them every fall, like clockwork, in the produce section in one pound bags. There are lots of fine things to do with them from sweet to savory but today I wanted to make cookies, so I found a recipe for fresh cranberry cookies that also have the essence of an orange via freshly grated orange zest and also the mellow counterpoint of white chocolate. Since these are made with butter and regular flour I let Sweetie be the taste tester and he pronounced them to be very good.

The cookie dough itself is similar to what you would find with a chocolate chip cookie, with butter, brown and white sugars, egg and vanilla. When you add the orange zest it changes everything because you get both the fragrance and the taste from that fresh orange oil contained in the zest.

I cut the fresh cranberries with a sharp knife, but I suspect you could also put them into a food processor and pulse a few times and get the same results. But then you have to clean the food processor pieces...a knife and cutting board clean up super fast. I was getting ready to make dinner when I was making these, so quick clean up was more important than ease of cutting.

The white chocolate could be chunks, but I had the chips I buy from the market, so in they went. I used a disher to scoop up the a small ice cream scoop with a curved blade that pushes the dough off the tool so it falls on the cookie sheet. I used parchment paper on one sheet and a silicone mat on the other. It didn't seem to make much difference, so use what you have. Greasing the sheet works fine, too.

These charming cookies are tart from the cranberries, sweet from the chocolate and sugars, crunchy on the edges and soft in the middle. They are an altogether fine autumn cookie for you to enjoy, so make a batch, OK?

Fresh Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies - about 36 cookies
from Betty Crocker's website
1/4    cup butter, softened
1/2    cup sugar
1/2    cup packed brown sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange 
1        egg
2       teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2  cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour
1/2    teaspoon baking powder
1/2    teaspoon baking soda
1/4    teaspoon salt
1        cup fresh or frozen (unthawed) cranberries, coarsely chopped or left whole
1/2    cup white chocolate chunks or chips

·         1 Heat oven to 350°F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray or line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, brown sugar and orange zest on medium speed of the electric mixer until well blended. (The mixture will have the consistency of wet sand.) Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.
·         2 In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to the sugar mixture and stir by hand until almost combined; add the cranberries and white chocolate and stir just until blended.

·         3 Drop spoonfuls of dough about 1 inch apart on a cookie sheets. Bake 12 to 14 minutes, until light golden and set around the edges but still soft in the middle. Let set on cookie sheet 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Fall Walnut Honey Cake

We are finally getting some autumn rain, which is a true blessing considering that we have been short on rain for at least four years now. I love autumn and the cooler weather it brings. It has been late coming this year, with lots of days in the mid-80s recently.

While the sun was still shining a week or so ago I gathered walnuts on our back deck. Although I do want the limb of the walnut tree that hangs over the deck to be pruned back, it really is handy that so many walnuts collect on the deck and get properly dried out by the sun, then are easy to collect. After gathering the nuts I just sweep the leaves and husks and broken shells (from the ones that our silly dog cracks with his teeth and somehow gets the nutmeats from) off the deck, ready for the next batch of nuts to drop.

Yesterday I watched some back episodes of Fixer Upper (HGTV) while shelling the nuts. I ended up with about three cups of fresh walnuts!

Since I also had a nice bottle of honey, I decided to make a honey walnut cake and serve it with apple slices that had been cooked in a little more honey. I'm glad that the apples released some juice as they simmered because then I had a little honey-apple juice mixture to drizzle over the top of each serving. The cake is delicious, with just a hint of orange, but it is dry. I just made up a honey syrup with a little orange liqueur in and brushed it on the cake to add some moisture. Will try it this evening and see if it improves the cake.

This is an easy cake to make if you have a food processor. The nuts get toasted, then rubbed in a clean towel to loosen some of the skin. I didn't find that much skin was loosened, so may skip the rubbing part next time, but the toasting add a depth of flavor, so don't skip that part.

I used non-dairy butter instead of the real thing and added a bit of the flour mixture (yes, gluten free flour) to the creaming butter, sugar, and honey so that it would whip better. I also put a tablespoon of the granulated sugar into the food processor, with the rest going into the butter mixture. That extra grit with the nuts helps in getting the nuts to be finely ground but not walnut butter.

This makes a single layer but you could probably double the recipe to make a stunning layer cake, maybe frosted with some maple or caramel frosting. You could also make the syrup (I think it would still be a good idea to brush some on, even for a layer cake) honey-orange and then use an orange buttercream. If you stick with one layer like I did, a side of cooked fruit is nice, but so is a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream. The recipe called for honey coated walnuts to decorate the top, but I skipped that. It would be a nice garnish if you like.

Honey Walnut Cake
from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey
Serves 8-10

1 1/2 cups walnut pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur Flour's gluten-free mixture)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Optional: 10 nice walnut halves and 2 tablespoons honey for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

Spread the walnuts on a sheet pan and toast in the preheated oven for 6 minutes. Cool and rub the nuts in a towel to remove the loose skins.

Grind the nuts in a food process with 1/2 cup of the flour (and 1 tablespoon of the sugar if doing it my way) until very fine. In a medium bowl, combine the ground nuts, remaining flour, baking powder, and salt. Reserve.

In a standing mixer bowl, with a paddle attachment (or with an electric hand mixer) beat the room temperature butter with the honey and the sugar (remaining sugar if doing it my way) until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly with the orange zest and vanilla. Add it in thirds to the butter mixture, beating well to incorporate egg mixture after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared cake pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 - 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

For the optional walnut topping: while the cake is baking, toast ten walnut halves on a sheet pan for 8 minutes . While they are still warm, rub the nuts in a towel to remove the excess skin and place them in a small bowl. Add the 2 tablespoons of honey and stir until the walnuts are coated. Reserve the walnut halves at room temperature to garnish the cake when it is finished.

Cool the cake in the pan for 5 minutes, and then run a knife around the edges and turn the cake out on to a cooling rack, then carefully turn over so that the top side is up. Cool completely. Garnish the edges of the cake with the walnut halves. This cake is nice served with a dollop of whipped cream.

Honey Orange Syrup: If desired, place 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves completely. Add 1/4 cup honey. Heat another 2 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and add 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (I used Cointreau) and stir to combine. Pour slowly over the cake or brush on with a pastry brush until all the syrup is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at least an hour to allow syrup to moisten the cake.