Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies

The current trend of desserts these days is sweet combined with salty.  In creating something with these two opposing flavors, you have to be very careful because not all sweet flavors are complimented with salt.

A salty component on the rise for baked goods is bacon. There is a population of people that cannot get enough of the bacon/sweet combo, but I am not one of them. It is definitely an acquired taste. Caramel,  chocolate and peanut butter are real safe bets when adding the flavor of salt. 

This recipe makes about 5 dozen cookies and combines peanut butter with salty pretzels.  Note that the smaller your pretzels are, the better looking your cookies will be. They should be about 1/4 in length and straight sticks are better to work with.  Also, these cookies do not get real brown, so be careful not to over bake them.  In order for them to remain chewy, 10 minutes in the oven and 2 minutes on the pan cooling is just right.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookies
courtesy of  USA Cookbook via  Elles New England Kitchen

1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs (room temp)
1 cup chunky peanut butter
1 cup salted pretzel pieces
1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter (room temp)
1/2 cup shortening (room temp)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 packed cup of brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 cups flour
chocolate chips (mini or regular for topping)
Coarse kosher salt (for topping)

Prepare baking sheets by lining with parchment paper.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With an electric mixer, beat together at medium speed both sugars with the shortening, butter and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.  This should take about 3 minutes. Then mix in the eggs, one at a time, until combined.  Add in the peanut butter, beating the batter with the electric mixer until smooth. Put mixer away and set aside batter.

In a smaller bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (salt, baking powder, baking soda and flour).  Using a wooden spoon, mix 1/3 of the dry ingredients into the flour.  Continue this process in 1/3 increments until a dough is formed and no dry areas remain.  Mix in pretzel pieces, either with wooden spoon or by hand, until evenly distributed throughout dough.

Take pieces of dough and roll into 1 inch balls.  Place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart.  Using the tines of a fork dipped in water, flatten the balls with a criss-cross pattern.  Then place 3 chocolate chips or sprinkle mini chips onto the cookies, gently pressing into the dough.  Sprinkle kosher salt on top.

Bake for 10 minutes and remove from oven.  Let cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes and transfer to rack to finish cooling.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Glazed Apple Cookies

Out of all the cookies and the ever changing trends in taste, it would seem as if the only cookie with staying power is chocolate chip.  There are very few fruit type cookies at the grocery store these days. There are fig newtons, but those do not taste the same as I remember.

Archway still makes a few big cookies with fruit in the middle, but apparently there are no grocery stores in Texas that still carries their brand.  I was in the mood for a fruit cookie, so I decided to get into the kitchen and make some. Homemade is always better anyway.

The original recipe is below and it makes about 5 dozen cookies.  Should you not like raisins, leave them out and add an extra 1/2 cup of nuts.

Glazed Apple Cookies
courtesy of Baltimore Sun-Nov 28, 2007

1 cup chopped toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts)
1 cup chopped peeled apples
1 cup raisins
1 egg (room temp)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter (room temp)
1 1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tbs and 1 1/2 tsp of milk
1 tbs butter (room temp)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  There is no preparation needed on baking sheets. Cookies bake on sheets without any parchment or grease/butter.

With an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  This should take about 3 minutes.  Then beat the egg into the batter.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients ( baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour).  Take a wooden spoon and stir dry ingredients into the batter.  Once all dry ingredients are blended, mix in milk. Add the apples, nuts and raisins.  Continue to mix with wooden spoon until all is evenly distributed.

Place heaping teaspoons of the batter on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing each cookie 1 inch apart from the others. Bake for 10-12 minutes, making sure that they do not get too dark in color.  The cookies will be brown, but not as dark as a gingerbread cookie.

Once baked, remove and transfer cookies to a cooling rack. As they cool, place all the glaze ingredients listed above in a medium size bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer until no lumps remain.

Take cooled cookies off of rack and place on wax paper.  Then drizzle glaze over the top of the cookies and let set until glaze hardens.  Once glaze is hard, you can store or serve.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Chestnut Pound Cake

The type of chestnuts that most are familiar with are the ones seen around the Christmas holidays.  Then there are also water chestnuts, which are mostly used in Asian cooking.

Some time ago, there was an abundance of chestnut trees in the US. These trees made up 1/4 of all the hardwood tree population in the east.  However, a blight brought over from Asia nearly wiped all of them out.  The future of the chestnut trees are now reliant upon a new species that are blight resistant.

This particular recipe calls for chestnut flour.  In light of the above information as well the fact that chestnut flour is gluten free, I had a little bit of difficulty finding this ingredient.  After some research, I found it can be ordered from or Amazon.

The flavor of the cake is very light so it goes well with tea or coffee.  Like all my favorite pound cakes, this one has a moist and tender crumb.  Simple and tasty with no frosting or filling required.  Also, unlike regular nuts, Chestnuts only have 1% of fat.  For a more attractive presentation, try using a 10 cup bundt pan and adjust the cooking time.

Chestnut Pound Cake
courtesy of Pure Dessert Cookbook via Technicolor Kitchen

4 large eggs (room temp)
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup dark rum
1 cup or 2 sticks of butter (room temp)
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cup plus 1 tbs regular flour
1 cup chestnut flour

Prepare 2 loaf pans (5 cups each) by buttering all insides.  Then line bottom and sides with parchment paper, leaving excess paper hanging over the long sides.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Take a small bowl and whisk all the eggs together and set aside. Then sift together both kinds of flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Repeat the sifting process 2 more times and set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.  This should take about 3 minutes. Then beat in eggs until evenly distributed.  Put mixer away.

Get a wooden spoon and stir 1/3 of the flour mixture into the batter.  Add half the amount called for of the buttermilk and rum.  Continue to stir batter and repeat the add in process, ending with the flour, until all is combined.

Divide the batter evenly and spoon into each loaf pan, smoothing out top and covering sides and corners.  Place loaf pans in oven on the same rack, spacing evenly apart.  Bake for approximately 50-55 minutes, rotating at halfway point. Cakes are done when tester comes out clean and are golden on top. 

Remove and let cool in pans on rack for 20 minutes.  Then lift out with parchment handles and place on rack to finish cooling.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pom Guava Mini Cheesecakes

Most of us already know the many health benefits of pomegranates or pomegranate juice. Outside of that, this ruby red fruit has been favored throughout history for several reasons.

The Greek believe this fruit brings good luck, fertility and wealth.  It is given as a housewarming gift and is broken on the ground at weddings and New Years.  Early Egyptians were found buried with dried pomegranates. Also, there are several references to this fruit in the bible.

This recipe has pomegranate juice in it along with coconut extract and guava jam. Indulging in these little treats may not bring you all the benefits noted above, but hopefully the tropical flavors will put you in a summer state of mind.

This recipe states that it produces 24 cupcakes, but I had quite a bit of filling left over.  To compensate for this, I have doubled the original amounts stated for the crust.  I wanted to make use of all of the filling.  My total was 36 cupcakes and I was cautious about how much I filled the liners.

Pom Guava Mini Cheesecakes
courtesy of via Foodbuzz 

   Pomegranate Reduction:
1/3 cup brown sugar
24 oz pomegranate juice
2 tbs balsamic vinegar

In a saucepan, mix together the above ingredients.  Then place on medium high heat and let come to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer.  Let cook for about 45 minutes, stirring at 15 minute intervals. The reduction process is done when the liquid is reduced down to a little over 2 cups and is slightly thicker. Set aside to cool.

1 1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp salt
2 tsp coconut extract
2 1/2 cup flour
2 1/2 cup rolled oats

Take two 12 cup muffin pans and fill cavities with paper liners (do not use foil liners).  In a small bowl, sift together flour and salt. Then stir in oats. Pull out a second small bowl and whisk together extract and butter. Pour wet mixture into dry and mix with fork. The oatmeal dough will be very crumbly.

Scoop out 1 tablespoon of the dough and place it into a liner.  Continue with this process until liners are filled.  Then press the dough into a flat disk on the bottom of each liner, making sure it is even. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

1/2 cup coconut or regular milk
3 eggs
2 tsp coconut extract
2 tbs and 2 tsp flour
2/3 cup sour cream
1 cup sugar
3 eight oz packages of cream cheese (room temp)

With an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese and sugar until smooth and evenly distributed. This should take about 2 minutes.  Set mixer aside and take out a wooden spoon.

Add the milk to the batter, mixing with spoon. Then stir in the eggs, blending in one at a time.  Mix in the final ingredients of sour cream, extract and flour to create a smooth batter.

Pour batter into each cupcake cavity, taking care that they are only 2/3 full.  Place in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Use the toothpick test to see if done.  Place muffin tin on a cooling rack and let cool for 5-7 minutes. Carefully remove and let finish cooling in the paper liner by sitting on a rack.  Do not worry if they are cracked, tops will be covered.

   Pom Guava Filling:
8.5 oz guava curd or jam
1/3 cup pomegranate reduction

Whisk both ingredients together in a small bowl.

Once cakes are cool, remove paper liners.  Then spread about 1 teaspoon of filling on the top of each cake and place on a plate or flat surface. Reserve the remaining filling for the frosting.

The cakes are great without the frosting, so you may decide to use all the filling here and omit the frosting.

   Pom Guava Frosting:
1 tsp lime juice
3 tbs coconut or regular milk
2 tsp coconut extract
1/4 cup pom guava filling
2.5 lbs powdered sugar
1 cup butter 
red food coloring (for desired color)

With a electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar for 3 minutes or until it becomes a smooth creamy consistency.  Add all the other ingredients (using only a few drops of coloring at first) and beat until blended. How much coloring and additional powdered sugar you want to add is preference. The icing can be as red or as thick as you want.

Pipe icing on the tops of cakes and chill for 1 hour before serving.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Shrimp Cakes

The main shrimp markets in the US are Florida and Hawaii.  However, we all know that there is quite a bit of import and export in the seafood business.

I had recently read an article about how the president of Indonesia stated that their country needs to be less dependent on foreign imports.  They are focusing on building up their internal supply of shrimp by increasing their shrimp hatcheries in Bali.  Indonesia is slated to meet 74% of their internal demand for shrimp in the year 2014.

That brings me to the shrimp cake recipe below which was a published RSVP recipe as requested by a reader of Bon Appetit Magazine.  The cakes are coated with Panko (japanese bread crumbs) and toasted in very little oil. The end result is a very light and crispy cake. Also,the citrus & heat flavors teamed together with the shrimp make the cakes a perfect appetizer for happy hour.

I have only included the recipe for the cakes below, which makes 12 cakes that are 3 inches in diameter.  Bon Appetit also had a recipe for a chili-lime sauce to compliment the cakes. To serve with the sauce, place 3 tablespoons of it on the plate first and 2 cakes on top. You can click here to get the recipe for the chili-lime sauce.

Shrimp Cakes
courtesy of Bon Appetit/Sept 2005

2 cups Panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 tbs Dijon mustard
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt
1 sliced green onion
1 tbs minced fresh cilantro
pinch of ground pepper
4 tbs peanut oil
16 or 1 lb large shrimp (uncooked/peeled/deveined/no tail)

Place all ingredients except for peanut oil, shrimp and Panko crumbs into a food processor.  Pulse ingredients or turn on/off in quick intervals.  Then add the shrimp and pulse again until evenly blended.

Take mixture out of food processor and put in a medium size bowl.  Pour in 1 cup of Panko crumbs and blend with a wooden spoon until all is combined.  Take out a baking sheet and cover with wax paper or parchment paper.  Divide dough into 12 even pieces.  Form each piece into a flat patty, three inches in diameter and place on baking sheet. Put baking sheet in fridge for 10 minutes.

While cakes are chilling, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  When cakes have completed the cooling time, take pan out of fridge.  Then roll cakes in the remaining cup of Panko crumbs, evenly coating each side.

Working in batches, place each cake in skillet and cook for about 3 minutes on each side. More oil may be required between batches to complete frying all 12 cakes. Both sides should be golden brown when done. Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Butter Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

Ten years ago, there was small group of women that got together and discussed their some of the more difficult problems that they came across when baking.  The exchange of information ended up benefiting all because they finally had good solutions to the problems.

The idea emerged that with a bigger group, more could be accomplished. That is how the meetings of the Bakers Dozen got started.  There were 40 people in attendance at the first meeting and they all brought meringue pies.  The topic must have been how to resolve the problem of "weeping" meringue.

Now the club has grown to over 400 hundred members and a cookbook was published. It includes baking tips, techniques along with foolproof recipes.  One of those recipes is for a butter cake with chocolate icing.  This recipe was chosen after they tested over 20 variations for butter cake.

Instead of the making that cake recipe, I converted it to make two dozen cupcakes.  Should you want to make cake, I have noted after the cupcake recipe the instructions for the cake.

Butter Cupcakes
courtesy of The Baker's Dozen Cookbook

1/4 tsp salt
3 cups of flour
1 tbs baking powder
4 eggs (beaten & at room temp)
1/2 lb or 2 sticks of butter (room temp)
1 cup milk (room temp)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease the top edges of each cavity of the muffin tins.  Use two muffin tins with 12 cupcake capacity.  Then place liners in the cupcake holders.

Sift together the baking powder, flour and salt.  Set aside.

In another bowl, cream butter by beating with an electric mixer for 45 seconds on medium power.  Add the sugar in 4th cup increments, beating after each addition. After 1 cup of sugar is beaten in, scrape down sides of bowl and resume adding the sugar and beating.  This process should take about 4-5 minutes.

Take a wooden spoon and fold 1/4 of the sifted flour mixture into the batter.  Then stir in 1/3 cup of the milk. Continue with this process until all dry ingredients and milk are incorporated.  Lastly, mix in the vanilla extract.

Drop the batter into each liner with the use of a spoon or ice cream scoop.  The cups should be 3/4 full.  Place one pan at a time in oven to bake  until tester indicates done, which is about 20 minutes.  The pan should be rotated halfway through the baking time. Remove from oven and let cool in pan 3 minutes, then remove cupcakes and place on rack to finish cooling.

To make cake: line the bottom of two 9 inch cake pans with parchment paper.  Follow instructions above and pour batter into pans.  Bake until tops spring back when touched or when tester comes out clean.  That should be about 25 minutes.  Cool cakes in pan for 10 minutes and invert each onto a plate.  Then peel off parchment and place back on the layers, sticky sides up.  Invert again onto cooling racks, right side up.  Let cool and frost as usual.


2 tsp vanilla extract
8 tbs or 1 stick of butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1/8 tsp salt
3 3/4 cup or 1 lb confectioners sugar
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

Melt chocolate by using a double boiler.  Once all chocolate is melted, take the pan and set aside. Once it has cooled down to being warm to the touch, it is ready to be blended with the sugar mixture.

Blend the butter, salt and sugar by using a food processor or hand mixer. Then mix in the milk and vanilla extract.  Lastly, beat the chocolate into the sugar mixture.

Once the mixture is smooth and creamy, frost cupcakes or cake as desired.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Caramel Streusel Bars

I was watching Cupcake Wars the other day and one complaint that came up often was a situation of disappearing flavor.  The competitor would describe their cupcake as including a particular flavor but upon being eaten by the judges, they could not taste it.

This usually happens when one flavor is so strong that the other flavors just get overpowered by it.  That does not always mean that it tastes bad, but it does mean you have wasted some of your ingredients since they cannot be tasted.

Should you have a flavor that stands out in a recipe, you should list it first in the name of the recipe.  For instance, someone decides to make a recipe for Ginger Pecan Lemon Bars.  They are very much interested in a gingery tasting bar, but the end result is Lemon Bars with a slight taste of ginger and pecan. This is where reading the entire recipe prior to baking can be beneficial.  A lot of times you can judge (based on quantities) which flavor will be prominent.

This original name on this particular recipe had the flavor of cinnamon first, but the real outstanding flavor is caramel.  The bars have a soft, buttery base, creamy caramel center and crunchy topping.  If you love caramel or dulce de leche, this one is a keeper.  Note the units of measure in the instructions because several of the amounts listed in the ingredients are split up when used. This recipe makes about 24 bars and uses a 9X13 inch pan for baking.

Caramel Streusel Bars
courtesy of The Kitchn website

1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbs honey
6 tbs unsalted butter

Ingredients/Dough and Crumb topping
2 tbs dark rum (divided)
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (divided)
3 1/4 cups flour
1 1/8 cups unsalted butter (2 1/4 sticks/18 tbs) at room temp
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon (divided)

Take a 9X13 inch pan and grease the bottom and sides.  Then place a piece of parchment, cut to size 8X18 inches, on the bottom of pan with the excess hanging over each long side of the pan.

To create the filling, put filling the ingredients in a saucepan set over medium heat.  Once the butter is softened by the heat, whisk the ingredients together.  Cook for 15 minutes, whisking constantly.  In the beginning, the butter will not seem like it is blending with the sugar.  As you continue to whisk, the butter residue will soon disappear and the color will change to a dark,tan/brown.  The end result will be a very thick, smooth caramel.
Remove saucepan from heat and set aside.
For the dough, sift 2 1/4 cup of the flour, 1 tsp cinnamon and salt together in a medium size bowl and set aside.  In a separate bowl, beat together 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1 tbs rum and 1 cup of softened butter until light and fluffy.  This should take about 2 or 3 minutes.  Then fold the sifted ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture until doughy clumps are formed.   

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Take 3/4 of the dough and press evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Then scoop out the filling and spread all over the dough, until bottom, sides and corners are equally covered.

Add 1 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of brown sugar to the leftover 1/4 cup of dough and mix together.  Then stir in the remaining tsp of cinnamon, 1 tbs of rum and walnuts.  Once evenly distributed, blend in the 2 tbs of softened butter with a pastry cutter or your hands.  This creates the streusel topping.

Due to the moisture in the dark brown sugar, my ingredient amount of flour (listed above) is more than the original.  The adjustment was done in order to make the streusel crumby instead of doughy.

Sprinkle the topping over the filling.  Place pan in preheated oven and bake for about 35 minutes.  The top will be lightly browned when done. Remove and cool in pan for 15 minutes.  Then slide a knife between the bars and the pan on each short side.  Pull up on the parchment handles and place on rack to finish cooling.

Cut into 2 inch squares for serving.  These bars are tasty at room temperature or a little warm.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I posted my Mint Chocolate Cupcake recipe for St Patricks day, but really missed Mardi Gras.  Even though late, I thought I would post a Cajun recipe today.

Boudin stems from Boudin Blanc dish as served in France.  Boudin Blanc are sausages made out of pork, chicken and veal. Additional ingredients such as milk, cognac and spices add flavor to the meats.  That type of sausage is very perishable and a little expensive to make.

When the French Acadians (today's Cajuns) were pushed out of Britain and arrived in Louisiana, they needed to adapt to the new surroundings. The Boudin Blanc was not a very feasible meal, especially when the main meat for the area was pork.  Pork was the first ingredient used in Cajun Boudin.  Then boudin ingredients evolved with time, with rice being added after it started being cultivated.

This recipe is best made in two days and yields about 12 sausage links.  The pork, liver cooking and grinding was done the first day and the rest the second day.  Also, I chose to use the cellulose sausage casing, which can be purchased through Cabela's.  Cellulose casing is probably the easiest to use. It does not require any soaking time like natural hog casing.

Lastly, should you not want to go through the sausage link process, you can also use the filling and create appetizers called boudin balls.  The filling recipe makes a total of 5 cups. It makes a lot of boudin balls, so you may want to halve the recipe.

courtesy of Homesick Texan Blog

1/2 lb chicken livers
2 lbs pork shoulder (cut into 1 inch cubes)
4 cloves minced garlic
1 bell pepper (seeded and chopped)
1 stalk diced celery
1 chopped medium onion
2 jalapenos, chopped without stems or seeds
2 chopped green onions (green part only)
1 tsp each of thyme, oregano and paprika
salt, black pepper and cayenne to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 servings or 1 cup uncooked minute rice
10 ft of casing sized 32-35 mm (for sausages)
3 cups cracker crumbs (for boudin balls)
enough vegetable oil for deep fryer (for boudin balls)

First day:
Put chicken liver in microwave safe bowl and fill with 1 cup of water.  Microwave for a total of 4 minutes, draining water out of bowl every minute and refilling with fresh water 3 times and then cooking without water for the last minute.  Set aside to cool.

Fill a large pot with 2 inches of water and then add the bell pepper, celery, onion, garlic and pork. Place over  medium high heat and let come to a boil uncovered.  Then turn down to a simmer and let cook uncovered for another hour and 45 minutes.

After the pork is fully cooked and tender, drain and reserve broth for later use.  Mix the cooked chicken livers into the pork mixture. Grind or coarsely dice the meat filling. This can be done with a food processor, meat grinder or by hand with a knife. 

Cover the bowl of broth and the meat filling and place in fridge until next day. 

Second day:
Take the broth out of the fridge and measure out one cup into a microwave safe bowl.  Heat in microwave for 1 minute.  Remove the filling from the fridge and add the heated broth, stirring until no excess liquid is left. Set aside.

Cook the rice as directed on package.Add the rice, jalapenos, thyme, oregano, green onion and parsley to the filling and mix with a wooden spoon until evenly distributed.  Stir in pepper, salt and cayenne according to taste. The filling should be moist and slightly sticky.  If it appears to dry, add in more broth until you reach desired consistency.

To form the sausages, take out sausage stuffer and slide all the casing over the horn of the stuffer.  Push all casing on the stuffer except a few inches.  Tie a knot on the end than push the filling through the stuffer.  As the filling comes through the horn, the casing will have to be guided so air does not form.  My stuffing horn was quite a bit smaller than the diameter of the casing.

As you fill the casing, note that each sausage should be about 5 inches long. At the end of the sausage, twist the casing and then you can resume making another sausage.  The alternative is to twist, cut and tie each end of the sausage to separate so you can cook for individual servings.

Once the links are formed, they can be prepared by poaching in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Steaming and grilling are other options.

Regarding the preparation of the boudin balls, follow all instructions above ending with adding the cayenne. After making meat mixture, fill a deep fryer with vegetable oil and preheat to 350 degrees. Then form all the filling into 1 inch balls, placing each on a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Take each ball and roll in cracker crumbs, placing back on parchment.  Once all are covered in cracker crumbs, drop balls into hot oil and cook until golden brown.  This should only take about 2 minutes.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Date Bar Pie

All of us recognize the "Toll house" name to be associated with chocolate chips, cookies and Nestle.  However, not many know about the history behind this name.

There was a place called the Toll House Inn located in Massachusetts back in 1709.  Then in 1930, a new inn was built under the same name.  Apparently one night the owners wife, Ruth Wakefield, ran out of butter and tried to use chocolate in her cookies. She thought that the oil or grease in the chocolate would make up for the missing butter.  That is how chocolate chip cookies got started.

As time passed,  the inn got sold a few times while the original owners were busy publishing cookbooks.  In 1984, on New Years Eve, the place caught fire and burned.  The fire started in the oven and went up through the oven vent (very laden with grease).  Now all that is left is the sign and several very good recipes.

This particular pie recipe stems from the original date bars as created by Ruth.  The oatmeal cookie crust compliments the not too sweet date filling. It is also a very easy pie to make that does not require a lot of ingredients.  Date bars are not all the rage these days, so a few may not have ever eaten this.  However, as vintage as it is, it will bring back childhood memories for some.

Date Bar Pie
adapted from the book Pie, Pie, Pie

3 tbs rum
3/4 cup of water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp salt
3 cups whole pitted dates
1 apple

1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
10 tbs or 1 1/4 sticks of butter

Start with a large heavy saucepan.  Chop all the dates and put in saucepan.  Then core, peel and grate the apple.  Add the grated apple to the saucepan also.  Add the 3/4 cup of water, brown sugar and then salt.  Place saucepan on medium heat and cook all ingredients, stirring constantly.  The mixture should cook into a thick, syrupy filling that resembles the texture of pecan pie filling.  That should take about 5-7 minutes.  Set aside and let cool for 15 minutes.

Then stir in the rum.  If you feel the filling is too stiff, stir in a tablespoon or two of water.  Some dates are drier than others, so the water may be needed.  Set filling aside again.

Butter or grease the pie tin and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Take a large bowl and sift together flour, baking soda and salt.  Add brown sugar and oats, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Then melt the butter in a microwave and pour into dry mixture.  Stir with a wooden spoon, making sure all the butter is evenly distributed. It should be crumbly.

Measure out 1 cup of the brown sugar crumbs and place in the pie tin.  Press it evenly over the bottom (not sides).  Then fill the tin with the date filling, smoothing out with a spoon.  Lastly, sprinkle on the rest of the crust mixture.

Bake pie for 35-40 minutes.  The topping should be a brown, solid crust when the pie is done. Cool in pie tin set on a rack for 45 minutes prior to cutting.  Pie can be served warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Honey Almond Cakes

Most successful businesses start with a person that has a clear idea of what they want and go for it.  I sometimes run across blogs in which the writer asks their readers what should they post about next.  That person probably will end up in the statistics of bloggers that quit after 2 years because they have no idea of what information they want in their blog.

Yes, there are many stories about how someone with very little income became very wealthy in a short amount of time. Most of those people are risk takers with a lot of drive and a positive attitude.

This recipe comes from one such person, Chef Mark Vetri. To date, he has three restaurants in Philadelphia and they are all doing quite well. He grew up in south Philly and then spent a few years at a University.  Then he scraped up a couple hundred dollars and went off to Italy to train as a chef.  Once he arrived back, he opened his first restaurant in South Philly.

The recipe yields 6 individual cakes.  The cakes are quite delicious and since there is only 1/4 cup of sugar in the recipe, it is not overly sweet. The texture of the cake is very moist and dense, mainly due to the almond paste. Also, the warm pineapple sauce/zabaglione is a wonderful addition ladled over the top of the cake.

Honey Almond Cakes with Pineapple Zabaglione
adapted from Bon Appetit/Sept 2005

1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1-7 oz package almond paste (1 1/2 cup crumbled)
2 tbs Frangelica or Tuaca liqueur
2 tbs honey
1/2 cup or 1 stick butter (room temp)
3 eggs

3 egg yolks
3 tbs sugar
6 tbs pineapple juice concentrate
sliced toasted almonds (for sprinkling on top)

Prepare 6 (3/4 cup) ramekins or a jumbo size muffin tin (must have 6 3/4 cup holders) by brushing inside and top edges with butter.  Then place a small parchment round on the bottom of each holder and butter the face up side.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Using a food processor or mixer, pulse together sugar and almond paste.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, sift together flour and salt.  Set this bowl aside also.

Then get a medium size bowl and fill with butter and beat with electric mixer until smooth.  Continue to beat while adding liqueur, honey and almond mixture.  Once completely blended, beat in each egg, one at a time until all is combined and smooth.

Turn off the electric mixer and take out a wooden spoon. Pour the flour mixture into the batter and fold ingredients with spoon until no dry areas remain.  Divide batter equally into the ramekins or muffin pan.  Place in oven and bake until tester comes out clean.  For ramekins, the recipe states about 35 minutes.  I used the muffin tin and it took 25 minutes.  After baking, remove pan/ramekins and let cool for about 3 minutes.  Then turn cakes out onto cooling rack and remove parchment paper from bottoms.

To prepare sauce, whisk together all ingredients in a saucepan except for toasted almonds.  Then place another pan filled with water over medium heat.  Let come to a boil and then turn down heat.  Put saucepan over the pan (like a double boiler) and whisk for a steady 7 minutes.  The mixture should go from a bright orange watery substance to a thicker,foamy lemon colored sauce.

To serve, pour warm sauce over upside down cakes (either warm or at room temp) and sprinkle with toasted almonds.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Cheddar Soda Bread

In this day and age it is very difficult to survive in the farming business by yourself.  However, farm cooperatives have helped this situation quite a bit by using farmers in numbers to cut overhead.

This does not resolve everything because organic farmers have some additional problems. They are threatened with extinction everyday with GMO (genetically modified organisms).  GM foods are a part of big business that the organic farmers want no part of.

Monsanto apparently did not realize this when they attempted to sue Percy Schmeiser for "taking advantage of the GMO technology when GMO seeds crossed over into his crops."  Clearly, Percy did not see it as great technology..more like contamination.

Anyhow, this bread recipe uses the famous Vermont Cabot cheese which comes from a creamery that is supported by a farming cooperative.  As you can see in the picture, it resembles cornbread.  Do not let appearances fool you because the bread's cheesy interior is quite soft and moist, quite unlike cornbread.

This recipe is just right for those people who do not have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen.  It yields a very good result with very little time. Also, any quality sharp white cheddar cheese will do, Cabot brand is not a necessity.

Cheddar Soda Bread
adapted fromKing Arthur Flour

1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 egg
2 cups grated, loosely packed Cabot sharp cheddar (or white sharp cheddar)
4 tbs cold butter cut into cubes
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and prepare 8 inch square or 9 inch round pan by greasing with oil.

In a small bowl, beat egg with buttermilk and set aside.

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder into a medium size bowl.  Blend the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or cutter until the mixture is crumbly in texture.  Then loosely sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheddar into the flour butter blend and toss, making sure that there are no big clumps of cheese.  Continue with this process in 1/2 cup increments until all is evenly distributed.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cheese dough.  Fold together ingredients until no dry flour remains. Place dough into prepared pan.  With wet hands, spread dough out in pan so dough is even and covering all corners and sides.

Place pan in oven and bake for 40-45 minutes until golden brown.  Loaf is done when tester comes out clean. Remove pan and slide a knife around the edges to loosen.  Let cool in pan for 5 or 6 minutes and then turn out onto cooling rack.  Wait 20 minutes before cutting, otherwise it will be very crumbly.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Key Lime Crumb Cake

I have always wondered where the Starbucks coffee shops gets their baked goods.  Since each store does not order locally, the product must be shipped in frozen from a national bakery as chosen by their corporate office. Most of the stores have the same thing, but sometimes they carry specialty items for the particular state in which they are located. Regardless of location, Starbucks does not carry any freshly baked items.

Even taking that into consideration, there are a lot of Starbucks' copycat recipes on the net.  This means that while we are not loving the frozen baked goods, we are pleased with the concept.  The copycat recipes have turned the original flavor concept of a few of Starbucks baked goods into a better tasting, homemade item.

This Key Lime crumb cake recipe is exactly that.  It cannot be found at a Starbucks in Texas, but it is noted that some of their Florida locations have this cake available.  This recipe is for one 9 inch cake that serves 10-12 people.

Key Lime Crumb Cake
adapted from good life gourmet blog

Ingredients/Lime Filling
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup key lime juice
4 eggs
3 tbs lime zest
pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar

Note that this filling makes 1/3 of a cup too much. You can use the excess filling later or try to scale down the amounts. Scaling down 1/3 is a little difficult, so I have excess.

With an electric mixer, beat all 4 eggs and then place in a saucepan.  Add lime juice, zest, salt and sugar.  Set saucepan over medium heat and cook mixture, stirring constantly with a wire whisk.  Cook until batter thickens into into a pudding-like consistency.  This should take about 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Take out a mesh strainer or sieve and place over a medium size bowl.  Pour lime batter into strainer.  Stir and push mixture through strainer.  Continue until the only thing left in strainer is lime zest and filling is in the bowl.  Then mix the sweetened condensed milk into the filling until smooth.  Then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in fridge for 1 hour to cool.  While this is cooling, the cake batter can be made.

Ingredients/Crumb Cake
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp grated lemon zest
3/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup sour cream
6 tbs unsalted butter (room temp)
2 eggs (room temp)
1 tsp vanilla extract

Grease and flour the inside of a 9 inch spring form pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Set bowl aside.

In another bowl, mix together sugar and lemon zest by using a fork or your hands.  Make sure the zest is evenly distributed into the sugar.  Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  This should take about 3-4 minutes.

With the electric mixer on low speed, beat one egg into the lemon sugar.  Then beat in the additional egg. Add the vanilla extract and sour cream, mixing until smooth. Turn off mixer. Pour the sifted ingredients into the cake batter and stir with a wooden spoon so no dry ingredients remain.  Set aside and make streusel.

8 tbs or 1 stick of butter melted
pinch of salt
1 1/3 cups of flour
1/3 light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Mix together both sugars in a medium size bowl.  Then add the butter until all is combined.  Pour in the flour and salt, stirring until mixture is crumbly.  If your mixture seems too wet, add more flour until it reaches desired consistency. Set aside.

I found that assembly is the hardest part of this recipe since this is not a very thick cake.  Place 1/3 of the cake batter in the pan.  Using a wet offset spatula or knife, smooth out batter to edges in pan.  Make sure all the bottom is covered and batter is even.

Take 2/3 of the filling or if you scaled down the recipe, take all and pour it over the cake batter in the pan.  Smooth it out, leaving a 1/2 inch border on the edge.  The rest of the cake batter is to be spooned out and dropped on top of the filling.  Place a small teaspoons all around the edges and bigger tablespoons to the center.  Again, take a wet spatula or knife and smooth out.  If some filling comes through the top, do not worry because the streusel will cover it.

For a distinct line of key lime running through the middle of the cake the batter and filling should not get mixed in the smoothing process. It is difficult since there is not a lot of cake batter. However, a little mixing will only slightly impair the looks, not the taste.  I am sure we all agree that taste takes priority over appearance.

Lastly, evenly sprinkle the streusel on top of the batter and place pan in oven to bake for about 40-50 minutes.  If using a tester on the cake, only push it in 1/3 of the way down. Otherwise, you will hit the filling and the tester will not come out clean.

Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes and then slide a knife around the edges. Take the outside ring of the spring form pan off the cake.  Place the cake in the fridge for at least 2 hours for filling to set up. Once you are ready to serve, the topping can be sprinkled with confectioners sugar for an extra touch.  Store cake in fridge.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thin Mint Cupcakes

Someone once told me that they liked real mint, not peppermint.  Since there there are about 25 different varieties of mint, it cannot be considered a single flavor and/or plant. The two varieties that are most common to the culinary world are peppermint and spearmint. Those are used in combination to create the mint extract that is found at the store.

Remember the Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies? If those were your favorite, then you will certainly enjoy these  cupcakes. If you take the time to make them today, let the flavors meld for one day.  Then tomorrow you can enjoy a moist chocolate cupcake with a delicious mint butter cream filling that is all topped off with a rich chocolate mint glaze.  I added the shamrock for an extra touch, since St. Patrick's day is coming up.

This recipe is for 2 dz cupcakes. The recipe is exact on the number of cupcakes, but I found that the filling as well as the chocolate ganache topping to be way too much.  I have posted the original amounts below, but I recommend making only half or 3/4 of the recipe for each.

Thin Mint Cupcakes
courtesy of Trophy Cupcakes

2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 tbs of dark cocoa
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cup flour

Grease top edges around each of the12 holders of two cupcake pans.  Fill each holder with cupcake liners.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour in a large bowl (use one with a pour spout if you have it). Stir in cocoa and sugar until evenly distributed. Then beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, milk and oil for 2 minutes with an electric mixer set at medium speed.  Set batter aside.

In a small saucepan over high heat add the water and let it come to a boil.  Remove from heat and pour into batter, stirring with a wooden spoon until combined. The consistency of the batter will be very thin. Take the batter and fill each cupcake liner 3/4 full.

Bake each pan in oven for 17-20 minutes, rotating at the half way point.  The cupcakes are done when tester comes out clean.  Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove and place on rack to finish cooling.

Once cooled, take a knife and core out a center circle of cake from each cupcake.  Then move on to the next step of the filling.

Ingredients/Mint Buttercream (see previous note concerning quantity this makes)
2 cups sifted confectioners sugar
2 tsp mint extract
2 sticks of butter (room temp)
pinch salt
1 drop of green food coloring

Place butter in medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.  Then add 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar and beat for 30 seconds.  Repeat this process with the sugar until all is combined and the filling is light and fluffy.  Lastly, beat in the salt, food coloring and mint extract until evenly distributed.

Take a gallon freezer bag and cut off a small bit of the corner.  If you have a metal tip with a large opening, place it inside the bag, poking out the corner.  Otherwise, you can use the bag as is.  Scoop all the mint filling out of the bowl with a spatula and fill the bag.  Twist the top of the bag, taking the air out and pushing the filling down to the corner.

Squeeze the filling into the center hole of each cupcake, making sure it comes to the top.  After all are filled, take a knife and smooth out the top. The next step is the icing.

Ingredients/Mint Chocolate Ganache (see previous note concerning quantity this makes)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp mint extract
1 tbs butter
8 oz bittersweet chocolate (chopped or chips)

Place the first 3 ingredients in a saucepan.  Then put the chocolate chips into a medium size bowl.  Place the saucepan over medium high heat.  Melt butter and bring mixture to a boil.  Remove from heat and pour over top of the chocolate chips but do not stir.  Let mixture set for 5 minutes without stirring.  After 5 minutes, stir with a wooden spoon until no chocolate chunks remain and mixture is smooth and shiny.

Take each cupcake and dip into the chocolate.  It is only to cover the top part of the cupcake, so do not dip past the liner. Lift out and while still facing upside down, let the excess chocolate drip off the top.  Then turn the cupcake right side up and place on wire rack to let the chocolate ganache set.  It should be set in about 1 hour. I did not have any issues, but if the chocolate gets too thick before you are done dipping your cupcakes, microwave in 5 second intervals to get back to the right consistency. Also, if you decide to place decorative toppers on the center of each cupcake (like I did) it must be done before the chocolate set. I placed mine right after all cupcakes were put on wire cooling racks.