Category Archives: Baked Goods

Christmas Cookie Crazy: Chocolate-Hazelnut Sables

You can tell something has changed this year.  Just from the simple fact that I’ve actually gotten a blog post out, on time, during the Christmas season, about cookies.20141209_122744

All my loved ones know that for the last nine years I have been 100% Christmas Cookie Crazy.  There was research and there were spreadsheets.  I’d spend hours upon hours making dough and freezing it; then hours upon hours baking as close to Christmas as possible so that the cookies would be given at peak freshness.  People loved them and the more they raved, the more encouraged I was to make and give more.  (I really hope that people weren’t just being nice, because now we’ve been dragged into a vicious cycle.)

James even made this video last year to prepare everyone for the baked goodness:

http://youtu.be/tdk0JoRFgSM

When James and I started dating, he valiantly, like the good new boyfriend he was, offered to help me make the cookies.  You’d think that would have made things easier but no, it just added to my fervor.  Think of what we could accomplish with TWO sets of hands?! Mwhahahahaha!!!

The craze reached a fever pitch last year.  It was year 8 that I had been making hundreds of Christmas cookies and I really went overboard – I made over 400 cookies.  I kept convincing myself that I hadn’t made enough and started new batches or added another kind of cookie to the collection.  I exhausted myself to the point that it wasn’t fun anymore.  I felt incredibly sick and miserable during the romantic, and expensive, dinner out that we had planned.  (It didn’t help that I also had gallstones at the time and didn’t know it…)  And while the cookies did go over well, there were leftovers.  There was cookie fatigue.  It was obvious that I had gone to far.

And so to prevent James from leaving me, I told our families that I would not be giving cookies as gifts this year, because it was simply too difficult for me.  This year, we’re giving out salted caramels and hot cocoa mix.  Hopefully blog posts about those to follow!

However, I simply couldn’t let the season go by without making any cookies at all so I decided to make, bake and freeze two batches of cookies to share with our families.  The smells, chills and sounds of Christmas just engage something inside me that tells me I must bake!  And what do you know – I’m enjoying it again and experimenting in the kitchen.  Behold – Chocolate-Hazelnut Sables.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Sables

  • Servings: yield about 42 cookies
  • Print

Adapated quite a bit from Bon Appetit’s Chocolate-Pistachio Sables

Ingredients:

  • cups (2½ sticks) salted butter, room temperature
  • cups (lightly packed) light brown sugar
  • cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, “bloomed” in 7 TBL of hot water
  • 1 TBL vanilla extract
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 cup unsalted, roasted hazelnuts, crushed with a mallet
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Procedure:

The dough needs to chill for at least four hours before you slice into cookies, so the procedure for these cookies comes in two parts.

Making the dough:

  1. Put 1 cup hazelnuts in a gallon plastic bag.  Seal while pressing out all the air you can.  With a mallet, rolling pin or even a bowl, whack those hazelnuts until they’ve broken into smaller chunks.  Resist the urge to take out all your Christmas frustration and pulverize the suckers – you want small chunks, not dust!
  2. Add 1 cup of chocolate chips to the hazelnuts bag and set aside for later.
  3. Cream butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy, about four minutes.
  4. Add flour, salt and baking soda and mix to combine.
  5. Combine cocoa powder with hot water, adding one TBL at a time and stirring until smooth.
  6. Add “bloomed” cocoa powder and vanilla to dough and mix to combine.
  7. Add egg to dough and mix to combine. (Adding egg to fully mixed dough will avoid any contact with hot bloomed cocoa, preventing the chance of curdling your egg.)
  8. Unroll a large length of parchment paper, about 2 ft. long.  Cut and lay flat on counter or table.
  9. Spoon 1/3 of dough onto parchment paper.  Using your hands, form the dough into a log of relatively uniform thickness – about the size you’d like your cookies to be.  Place the log on the long end of the parchment closest to you, centered.
  10. Roll the dough up in the parchment.
  11. Grab the ends of the parchment with both hands and, with your hands close to the dough, twist several times in opposite directions.  The motion will consolidate the dough into a beautifully round log.
  12. Repeat with the remaining 2/3 of dough to create 3 dough logs.
  13. Store dough in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, so the dough becomes firm enough to slice into cookies.  Alternately, freeze until a later date.  Home-made slice and bake cookies!

Baking the cookies:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Working with one dough log at a time (keep the others in the fridge), unwrap and slice cookies with a serrated knife about 1/4 inch wide.
  3. Arrange cookies on a jellyroll baking sheet, lined with parchment or silpat, 12 or 15 cookies to a baking sheet.
  4. Sprinkle liberally with finishing salt, Maldon recommended.
  5. Bake for 12 minutes total, switching the racks and turning each pan 180° halfway through baking.  Cookies should look dry in the center.
  6. Let cool 2 minutes on baking sheet.  Move cookies to cooling racks to cool completely.

Procedure with Pictures and Anecdotes

I made these cookies twice last year – once to test on co-workers and the second time as gifts.  While people raved, I just wanted a richer, more chocolatey flavor and I couldn’t quite attain it.  To try to maximize the chocolate, I made FIVE changes to this batch: all things I’d learned to “up the ante” on chocolate flavor:

1. Blooming chocolate: I learned this from America’s Test Kitchen – apparently, to get the richest flavor from your cocoa powder, you need to “activate” it with hot water.  Even though the original recipe doesn’t call for any liquid, I added 7 TBL of water to bloom the cocoa.20141207_091017

2. More salt: Salt brings out other flavors – it’s often what’s missing when you find a recipe to be “meh.”  I used salted butter instead of unsalted to increase the salt quotient.

3. More vanilla: Vanilla is often cited as a flavor booster, so instead of the teaspoon the recipe suggests, I added a tablespoon.

4. More fat: The reason that milk chocolate is so popular is because it contains more fat and more sugar than dark chocolate.  So instead of using an egg white, as the recipe suggests, I used a whole egg.  A little more fat to increase the chocolate flavor – and a little more egg magic also helped the dough stayed together better.  I’ve done this with peanut butter cookies as well and I’m very happy with the result.

5. More sugar: I used Toll House dark chocolate chips instead of chopped bittersweet chocolate.  The sugar brings out the chocolate flavor we all know and love while the chocolate chips cut out a whole step of chopping chocolate by hand – not one of my favorite kitchen chores.

The combined efforts definitely gave me a more satisfactory cookies – the dough wasn’t as brittle and I did have a better chocolate flavor.  Still not perfect, but I think my loved ones will enjoy them!

A manageable dough:

I think the addition of a whole egg as opposed to an egg white really gave this dough what it needed to be easier to handle.  While the steps above seem a little complex, and certainly take more time than a scoop cookie, I think you’ll find it’s easier than it sounds.  Pictures to help visualize below.

The log formed with my hands.  I know it… looks gross.  Try to look past that.

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Rolling in the parchment:20141207_095316

Twisting the ends to make the cylinder:

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20141207_095401 Last year, I found that my cookie logs became flat on one side when chilling.  It’s easy to fix by hand once you’ve sliced the cookies, but I thought I must have some vessel that was curved that would help them keep their shape.  And behold – I remembered that I had a baguette pan, which I have never ever used to make baguettes, but that is just the right size.20141207_100353The twist method makes a pretty impressive cylinder.  However, the edges to get a little wonky, as one might expect.  Fortunately, this dough is very forgiving.  I slice the ends to the right width and then just mold those scraggly edges with my fingers.  In some ways, I actually like the look of them better! 20141208_18272720141208_183503

Left: cookie that has been cut from the inside of the log. Right: end slice that has been molded into shape.

Cutting the slices is very easy, especially with a serrated knife (bread knife)…

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Sometimes the knife can’t get through the chunks of chocolate chip or hazelnut and they fall apart.  Never fear!  Just mold them back together with your fingers.20141208_19131920141208_19133420141208_191336Baked cookies:

With a little bit of effort, these cookies are dressed to impress.

20141209_122707Here you can see the differences in the cookies.  Some turn out picture perfect like the cookie in the top right but, really, I think they all look pretty delicious.  I kinda like the imperfect ones better.

Perfect with a mug of something warm, snuggled with loved ones in front of the fire.  Cookies and Christmas just go together.  I mean, really – what’s Christmas without cookies?

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Banana Oatmeal Muffins – “I’m crazy about fiber”

Two years ago, I moved to Washington, DC to be closer to James.  I got a new job at a company that had a few similarities to my old, beloved position at the Walnut Street Theatre: a casual office with almost all young people my age.  And yet the Walnut had become my home – I knew everyone and felt comfortable being 100% myself, letting my freak flag fly, unleashing my passion for my work and my love of theatre.  The Walnut staff was truly my family.  So when I moved to this new job, I was completely terrified to be in a new place and didn’t find making friends easy.  There was a lot of talk about getting drunk at parties, which is not my thing, and… there was no theatre.  Theatre folk are a special breed of loud and gregarious people and I felt lost without the flamboyant, boisterous personalities.  I was feeling pretty lonely.

One morning, in the office kitchen making instant oatmeal, a very nice co-worker tried to chat up the shy new girl.  “Makin’ oatmeal, Bonnie?”, he asked.  “Wow. So many people in this office eat oatmeal.  I can’t remember the last time I ate oatmeal.”20140814_202533

Bolstered by his kindness to reach out to me, I replied with honesty.  “Oh yeah, man.  I’m crazy about fiber.”

Which lead this very nice chap, who I have had many good interactions with since, to laugh awkwardly… and leave the room.  Great way to make friends, Bon.

Despite this, I’ve never been one to shy away from the subject of fiber and its immense health benefits.  Yes, yes, fine, fiber affects your bowel movements.  In a good way!  Like Taro Gomi famously told us “Everybody poops” and fiber can fix lots of unpleasant digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation.

But beyond that, fiber is like magic.  It can help to prevent lots of diseases like cancer and heart disease and keeps you fuller than white grains, so you eat less and maintain a healthy weight.  But my favorite thing about a lot of fiber-rich foods?  It tastes great.  I’ve been subbing out pasta and white rice for whole grains like farro & barley and I’m so much happier for it.  They’re full of fiber and lend an interesting flavor and texture to my dishes.  Not that I don’t love some white food now and again, but if fiber-rich food actually tastes better – why go without?20140825_120441

The biggest problem I’ve found is with baking.  Baking is an exact science and experimenting with baked goods can be hazardous for the amateur cook – you can end up making something inedible and waste a lot of hours and ingredients in the process.  Replacing white flour in a recipe pretty much changes everything about the chemistry and I’m still learning about how exactly baked goods work in the first place.

However, I knew the internet would have my back.  I scoured the internet for a banana bread (because I had several frozen bananas in my freezer) with a whole grain flour to try.  The best recipe I found, with absolutely no white flour at all, was on Honest Fare and utilized lots of ingredients I had on hand: rolled oats, yogurt, low-fat milk.  I adore banana bread and I adore oatmeal – put together, they must be heavenly!20140825_120540

I tried the recipe exactly as Gabi describes (well, without the addition of walnuts or raisins) and it turned out pretty great – but the muffins weren’t as moist as I would have liked.  I still spread a little butter on them to reach the mouthfeel I wanted, which defeated the purpose of a baked good that I could enjoy AND feel good about eating.

So I thought a lot about the ingredients and considered increasing the yogurt or the milk but, in the end, decided to up the bananas in the recipe from 2 to 5.  Why 5?  Because I had a container of 5 smashed up bananas in the freezer.

The result was a little disconcerting because I needed to bake my muffins longer but was never able to insert a knife in the center of a muffin that came out clean.  Fortunately, this resulted in cooked-through but insanely moist muffins.  They did not seem to rise very much at all but the taste was delicious.  A baked good full of fiber that you can dig into for breakfast or a snack knowing you’re doing your body good: life is full of surprises.20140825_120504

Banana Oatmeal Muffins

  • Servings: 18 muffins
  • Print

Adapted from the recipe “Yogurt Banana Oat Muffins” on Honest Fare

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup plain, low fat yogurt (I used 2% Fage)
  • 1/2 cup low fat milk (I used 1%)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (I used Turbinado sugar)
  • 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
  • 5 bananas, mashed
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Dry Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oat flour (made from 1 and 1/2 cups ground rolled oats)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF
  2. Combine all of your wet ingredients, including rolled oats and sugar.  Let the rolled oats soak in the wet ingredients as you prepare the dry ingredients.
  3. Pour 2 cups of rolled oats into your food processor and pulse until they’ve reached a flour-like consistency, about 25 pulses – takes 60 seconds!
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the oat flour and the rest of the dry ingredients.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients on top of the dry ingredients and gently fold the mixture together to combine.
  6. Spray your muffin tins with nonstick spray (or similarly grease) and fill each muffin bowl 2/3 full with batter.
  7. Bake the muffins for 22 minutes.  At 11 minutes, rotate the trays 180° and switch the racks of the trays.  A toothpick will probably not come out dry when inserted into muffins – these puppies are moist!

UPDATE: On January 23, 2016, I made these muffins again with 1/4 cup sugar and thought they tasted just as good.  The extra bananas add quite a bit of sugar to the original recipe I adapted.  Also, once I had processed the oat flour, I threw in the walnuts for a few pulses so that the pieces would be smaller for these small muffins.  Worked like a charm!

Pictures and random annotations:

Frozen Bananas: Let’s talk about these bananas, shall we?

When I first made this recipe, I used two frozen bananas, as described in the original, still in their skins.  What an experience!  Although the bananas were perfectly safe and delicious, this process was super gross.

I put the bananas in the refrigerator to defrost and thankfully on the bottom shelf – when I picked them up they were limp and had leaked a brown substance all over the bottom of the fridge.  Gross.20140814_204238 20140814_204358

I cut the tip of banana off and squeezed the fruit into the bowl to combine with the other wet ingredients, along with all of the gross brown liquid that came out of them.

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The bananas will be brown on top, but that familiar cream/yellow on the bottom. Everything is edible.

When I tried this the second time, I used a container of five mashed up bananas that I had frozen.  I similarly defrosted them in the refrigerator overnight, but they were much easier to work with and incorporate into the batter.  I recommend mashing the bananas before you freeze them, but probably best to freeze them in 1-2 banana portions.

Ground oats:

Some illustration to show you just how you’ll want those oats to look.  Also see video for how long you should pulse.

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Combining ingredients:

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Wet ingredients on the left, dry ingredients on the right
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Combined!

Filling tins:20140825_102053 20140825_101641

MOIST muffins – see how the knife was never quite clean when inserted and removed.
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Blueberry Crumble Bars – delicious and … nutritious?

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I’ve long been an advocate that just because you may have put butter and sugar into a fruit dessert, that doesn’t CANCEL OUT the fruit goodness and nutrition.  You just have to admit to yourself that, yes, there’s butter and sugar in there, too.  Mmmmm…. delicious butter/sugar combo…

Since it’s the glory days of summer, when the farmers markets are piled high with colorful delights, I decided this is as good a time as any to try to pack my diet with all the colors of the rainbow, since this will then give me a variety of naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist and the amount of information about nutition on the internet is astounding, befuddling and sometimes downright alarming… and alarmist.  Since my Mom was diagnosed with cancer, I’ve been doing a lot of research about cancer and good health and good nutrition.  Soon after my rampant research began, I’ve made a habit at looking at the website before the headline of the article and only reading from sources I find legit and trustworthy, such as Mayo Clinic, government entities or lauded universities such as Harvard or Princeton.

This can be frustrating, because I find the more trusted sources don’t have definitive answers – because there aren’t many, especially when it comes to food.  What doctors have come to a unanimous decision about is that our diets should be filled with whole fruits and vegetables, which not only pack nutrients but fiber and are low in fat & calories which we know lead to obesity.  So I figure getting a colorful variety can’t be hurtful, even if the hype about antioxidants is untrue or exaggerated.  Plus it’s fun and so preeeeeeetty.

(To check out some articles on antioxidants, check out How Stuff Works, National Institutes of Health and Harvard University.)

When doing research about the proposed health benefits of certain vegetation, I learned that blueberries, due to their very deep blue hue, are regarded by some as the most antioxidant rich fruit out there and also incredibly rich in fiber.

Well, how very fortuitous!  I just happened to make a successful batch of Blueberry Crumble Bars for the 4th of July which is, quite possibly, the easiest dessert I’ve ever made, and now look – it’s healthy, too!  😉  Cookie BARS give you huge bang for your buck.  Plus blueberries are at their cheapest right now since they’re in season.

I’ve come to worship at the temple of Smitten Kitchen, a famous blog that all bloggers hope and aspire towards.  Deb takes the time to make everything perfectly for her readers, and we’re so appreciative.  I’ve written out her recipe below and then followed by pictures and description of how it worked when I made it.  Got a BBQ, birthday party or baby shower to go to?  Make these in no time and earn some serious baking cred from your friends.

Blueberry Crumble Bars (ingredients were not changed, but the method was adapted ever so slightly for our convenience.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold salted butter (oops, wait, I did change that – you know how I love salted butter!)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp salt (yep, I added salt, too, like a rebel)
  • 4 cups fresh blueberries
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 tsp cornstarch (I saw some commenters say that they used flour and it worked out fine for them)

Process:

1.  Preheat your oven to 375ºF.

2.  Mix blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, and cornstarch together in a bowl.  Set aside.*

3.  Combine sugar, baking powder, flour, cold butter, 1 egg and salt into a food processor.

4.  Pulse until the mixture looks clumpy (or just let it rip until the mixture is homogeneous, like I did, which also turned out fine.)

5.  Estimate about half of the dough and pat into one layer on the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ pan (be careful of that very sharp blade in there!)

6.  Pour entire blueberry mixture onto the dough layer.

7. Crumble the remaining dough onto the blueberries as a top layer for an ever-so-rustic vibe.  Gently pat the dough down to give the bars some help.

8.  Bake for 55 minutes until the top is delightfully golden.  (I’d start checking on their golden progress at 45 minutes, since all ovens are different.)

9.  Cool the pan on a wire rack until pan is cooled completely.

10.  Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  (I went with overnight, but I bet 2 hours would work.)

11.  Cut into shapes and sizes of your liking!  (I found that cutting the bars just a little more difficult than I an anticipated.  After cutting the shape and size you want, but before removing from the pan, I recommend sliding a butter knife under the bars to loosen from the pan.  That helped the pieces come out completely, with nothing sticking to the bottom.)

Process with Pictures

1.  Preheat your oven to 375ºF.

2.  Mix blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, and cornstarch together in a bowl.  Set aside.*  20140703_194744

*I have found the addition of lemon juice and sugar (even just a tablespoon) to fruit salad to be a secret weapon – it elevates all of the flavors and begins to macerate the fruit, creating a delightful sauce that is great for spooning over cakes like Reenie Cake.  Just saying.

3.  Combine sugar, baking powder, flour, cold butter, 1 egg and salt into a food processor20140703_193733

4.  Pulse until the mixture looks clumpy (or just let it rip until the mixture is homogenous, like I did, which also turned out fine.)20140703_19490920140703_194929

5.  Estimate about half of the dough and pat into one layer on the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ pan (be careful of that very sharp blade in there!)20140703_19560220140703_195555

6.  Pour entire blueberry mixture onto the dough layer. (D’oh!  No picture.  Don’t worry, it wasn’t that exciting.)

7. Crumble the remaining dough onto the blueberries as a top layer for an ever-so-rustic vibe.  Gently pat the dough down to give the bars some help.20140703_20001320140703_200027

8.  Bake for 55 minutes until the top is delightfully golden.  (I’d start checking on their golden progress at 45 minutes, since all ovens are different.)20140703_21010820140703_210131

Daytime pic!  Gorgeous, darling!
Daytime pic! Gorgeous, darling!

9.  Cool the pan on a wire rack until cookies are cooled completely.

10.  Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  (I went with overnight, but I bet 2 hours would work.)

11.  Cut into shapes and sizes of your liking!  (I found that cutting the bars just a little more difficult than I an anticipated.  After cutting the shape and size you want, but before removing from the pan, I recommend sliding a butter knife under the bars to loosen from the pan.  That helped the pieces come out completely, with nothing sticking to the bottom.) 20140704_09353220140704_09352120140704_09420020140704_09440820140704_09425820140704_094254

 

 

“Reenie Cake”

I do not like birthday cake.  That light, sponge-like cake that comes in a sheet pan and is decorated beautifully, served at birthdays, served at weddings, served at retirement parties – eh.  It’s not just for me.  I usually decline, much to the HORROR of everyone around me, as if I am making some kind of silent protest or judging them for having cake at 3:00pm.  Yo, I’d dig in, too, if it were something worth the calories.  I feel similarly about cupcakes, even though they do tempt me more often with their creative flavors.  But no – too light, too airy, gone too quickly.

I like a cake that makes you work for it, one that satisfies you completely when it’s done.  A cake that requires a break before complete consumption.

This is because my mother spoiled me (unintentionally) as a child – my whole family, really – by making us Reenie Cake for every single birthday.  When your immediate family is 6 people, that means you get to eat Reenie Cake 6 times a year.  Then you branch out into the extended family (Mom was one of 9 children), because the cake was famous by this point and requested for all types of occasions, and you’ve got Reenie Cake throughout the year.  You are eating tons of Reenie Cake.20140406_145957

My Mom would want me to tell you that the recipe was NOT her own – she got it from someone else, made the cake, and rest was history.  It was demanded to be the only cake we would eat and would be known as Reenie Cake from that point forward.  Sorry Mom and sorry person who gave Mom that recipe – that’s just the way it goes.20140406_145951

So what IS this magical Reenie Cake you must be asking yourself? Truly – it is pound cake.  Simple pound cake, actually.  But, treated as a birthday cake by my mother, it was always frosted.  Frosted pound cake.  Yeah, wrap your head around that for a second.  You see why I never could get behind birthday cake after that?

My sister, Kate, age 2, preparing to eat one of Reenie's miraculous creations.
My sister, Kate, age 2, preparing to eat one of Reenie’s miraculous creations.

We haven’t had many visitors since we moved to DC, so when James’ parents were coming to visit a few months ago, I lost my MIND and decided the apartment must be spotless and that I needed to bake something.  James tried to stop me – he even told his parents so THEY could assure me it wasn’t necessary – but it was useless.  For some reason I decided I needed to get all Leave it to Beaver and have a fresh baked good for his parents.20140406_150102

Around that time, I had made the Buttermilk Brined Chicken and needed to use up more of that leftover buttermilk.  I was also in a very bad place emotionally, really missing my Mom and longing for some kind of connection to her.  Then I realized – I’d never attempted to make Reenie Cake before.  What a perfect solution – and a way to connect with my Mom in a way I never had when she was alive.

Just reading my mother’s instructions was satisfying: she had a way of writing exactly as she spoke and her enthusiasm and honesty simultaneously tugged at my heart strings and cracked me up.  A perfect example is how she tried to tell my sister-in-law how to make the famous frosting: “I used 4 tablespoons of butter (fat kind) and 10 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, approx. 1/3 cup of milk, and 3 – 3 ½ cups of confectioner’s sugar.  I just add the sugar and milk til it’s the right spreading consistency.  It should have also had 1 tsp. of vanilla, but I forgot to add it!”  Oh, how I miss her.

The experience of making her cake was strongly cathartic in a way I really didn’t expect.  I thought it would be nice, I’d remember her, I’d have yummy cake.  But the act of putting these ingredients together in this exact way brought up really powerful emotions.  When the batter started to come together, I jumped up and down in the kitchen proclaiming to James “It’s Reenie Cake!  It’s Reenie Cake!”  I have so many memories of my mother standing at the kitchen counter mixing together this cake and the pure childlike excitement (that, thank god, I never lost) of getting to lick those beaters and eat Reenie Cake came flooding back.  Even as health-conscious as she was, she could not resist offering us the beaters: she never could resist making anyone happy.  I can picture the look on her face, which was a mixture of bemusement and satisfaction.  The look in her eyes said “oh you’re such a weirdo for getting this excited about batter”, yet her smile hid nothing: she loved to make this weirdo excited.20140404_190241

In such a “Reenie” way, she never wanted Reenie Cake for her own birthday.  As long as I can remember, my Mom always requested Jewish Apple Cake… from the grocery store.  Every year, that’s what she wanted, which became a tradition on its own, and quite easy to accomplish because apples are perfectly in season during my mother’s birthday on October 23rd.  My sister-in-law, baker extraordinaire, had made the cake for her from scratch the last few years.  Below, you can see Mom admiring that masterpiece on the last of her birthdays we’d celebrate together.  I think I know what I’ll be doing to commemorate her this October 23rd.IMAG0510

Alas, when I attempted Reenie Cake, I did not frost mine.  There was not the time.  But now you have my Mom’s recipe above!  I made a vanilla glaze with confectioners sugar and milk (milk, I’ve found, tends to harden faster than ones made with water or lemon juice.)  But even without the frosting, it is a decadent, sumptuous treat that somehow seems as if it’s appropriate for breakfast…

So how can you, too, enjoy this jumping-up-and-down cake bliss?  I’m glad you asked!

“Reenie Cake”

Note 1: I should tell you that, although this is my third (and last) post in my series on buttermilk, Reenie Cake wasn’t made with buttermilk when Reenie would make it.  She’d make it with regular milk and lemon juice.  But I needed to use up the buttermilk, so that’s the only thing I changed about the recipe.  The cake tastes very much the same as I remember.

Note 2: The directions for this cake don’t exactly follow the rules I know about baking.  Yet, I went ahead and made the cake exactly as described and it turned out perfectly.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Procedure: (full instructions here, with pictures below)

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Grease a 10 -inch bundt pan
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together to combine and aerate
  4. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes
  5. Add sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth before adding the next
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until thoroughly combined before adding the next
  7. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between each, until thoroughly combined
  8. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth out batter as evenly as possible.
  10. Bake cake in preheated oven until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, for 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 80 minutes.)
  11. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. Invert cake onto a plate and then return to the rack so that the slightly rounded end is upright.  (This was incredibly hard for me because the pan was still hot so I tried to do it with oven mits on – I wish I had a video to share with you.  I recommend watching some youtube videos before you try it.)
  13.  Cool completely before frosting or glazing (Reenie would cool overnight.)

Procedure with Pictures

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Grease a 10 -inch bundt pan (I used the flat pan, not the kind with the decorative edges, as in traditional for Reenie Cake.)20140404_183347
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together to combine and aerate
  4. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes20140404_18525220140404_185648
  5. Add sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth before adding the next20140404_190003
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until thoroughly combined before adding the next20140404_185705
  7. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between each, until thoroughly combined20140404_190225
  8. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth out batter as evenly as possible.20140404_191417 20140404_191508
  10. Bake cake in preheated oven until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, for 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 80 minutes.)20140404_204247
  11. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. Invert cake onto a plate and then return to the rack so that the slightly rounded end is upright.  (This was incredibly hard for me because the pan was still hot so I tried to do it with oven mits on – I wish I had a video to share with you.  I recommend watching some youtube videos before you try it.) 20140404_211119
  13.  Cool completely before frosting or glazing (Reenie would cool overnight.)20140406_150003 20140406_150058

Buttermilk Biscuits – the sexy side of Buttermilk

I want you to try that Buttermilk-Brined chicken so badly (fan of the blog Rudy Basso already has, to much success!) Therefore, I’ve decided to continue the buttermilk love by including a few more recipes to make good use of that extra buttermilk you’ll have in your fridge.  I had the perfect opportunity to make Alton’s buttermilk biscuits at a brunch birthday party for James’ Dad this weekend (Happy Birthday again, Lou!), that I decided to go ahead and share the step-by-step process.

I do believe that biscuits are the best looking baked-good.  You can have your perfectly decorated cupcakes and marbled cakes, just leave the biscuits to me.  I mean – just look at this glamour shot:

20140525_085159

How can you resist?

Biscuits seem incredibly intimidating.  A well-known culinary delight in the south, the flaky layers and light but rich texture seem like they must take hours and some secret ritual only southern grandmas know.  However, from start to finish, the process takes about an hour – including clean-up!  (There’s plenty of time to clean your dishes while the biscuits bake, which is a major encouragement.)

Once we had tried them at home, we decided to whip them up for James’ parents when we stayed with them last year.  Always the most enthusiastic audience for our cooking, James’ Dad told people about those biscuits for weeks.  The only thing more encouraging than an easy recipe and delicious product to show for it is a boost to your ego.

I hope you will take these on at home and impress your friends and loved ones.  Having never made any kind of complicated pastry before, James is now the biscuit whisperer.  We know you can be, too!

Buttermilk Biscuits

Adapted very slightly from Alton Brown’s Southern Biscuits recipe found here

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder (this is more than you think – make sure you have enough!)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter (cut into cubes and kept as cold as possible)
  • 1 cup cold buttermilk

The Process:

1.  Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

2.  Measure out the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk together to aerate (whisking takes place of sifting here, but you can sift if you like.)IMG_2624

3.  Incorporate the cold butter into the flour.  My method is by hand: coat all of the cubes of butter in the flour and then rub the flour mixture and butter together with your fingers.  You want only a few large chunks to remain.  Here’s how I do it:IMG_2626 IMG_2628

4.  Make a well in the middle of the flour/butter mixture and pour in your cup of buttermilk.IMG_2647

5.  Stir until the dough comes together. IMG_2657

6. Flour a cutting board or some wax paper/parchment paper on the counter and turn out your dough onto the floured surface.IMG_2661 IMG_2667

IMG_2680
This is about how much flour you should use in between folds – a little goes a long way.

7.  Using your hands, shape the dough into a square/rectangle and fold the dough onto itself 3-4 times.  Each time you fold and reshape, make sure to FLOUR the top of the dough before folding again.  This step is very important – and the first time I totally forgot.  I had to knead the dough again, adding the extra flour each time so they weren’t too sticky.  Even with this mistake, the biscuits still came out great.  PHEW!IMG_2669

UPDATED video with the correct technique:

8.  Once you’ve kneaded the dough, pat it down so that it measures about 1″ high.IMG_2690

9.  Use your cookie-cutter/biscuit-cutter/glass (we use one sized 2-3″ usually) to cut out the biscuit shapes.  You may need to do this two or three times.  By the third time, I could only cut out one biscuit and just molded the last one the best I could.IMG_2697 IMG_2704 IMG_2710 IMG_2712

10. Arrange your biscuits on a pan for they are touching each other – but not the sides of the pan.IMG_2722

11.  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes (mine only took 15), until they are lightly golden.20140525_084930

12. If you can, eat them while they’re fresh out of the oven – AMAZING.  If not, as soon as they’re cool enough to touch, wrap them in a cloth napkin or dish towel to keep them warm and moist until serving time. 20140525_085138

13.  Be lauded as a baking prodigy, earn the envy of your friends and neighbors – enjoy it, you’ve earned it.