Friday, September 28, 2012

Cheddar Cheese Pie Crust

In New England, Apple Pie with cheddar cheese is a traditional thing, though most of the rest of the country thinks we've lost our marbles. This is my Great-Grandmother's recipe for Cheddar Cheese pie crust, which I find odd since she was from Ohio, not New England. This crust doesn't taste overly cheesy, so don't be hesitant to make it for any standard apple pie recipe. People who do not like the idea of Apple Pie with cheese will not be put off by this crust because the flavor is subtle. For the best results, use sharp cheddar.

2 1/4 Cups sifted Flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 Cup chilled shortening
1/2 Cup finely shredded cheddar

4-5 Tablespoons ice water

Mix together the flour and salt. Cut in the shortening in two batches with a pastry cutter. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese into the mix and gently mix it into the dough with your hands. Sprinkle the water over the dough a little at a time. You may not use all of the water, so don't put it all in at once. Mix lightly with a fork as you add the water, stopping when the dough is just moist enough to hold together in a ball. Chill the dough before rolling. (I flatten in between sheets of waxed paper).

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Decoding Antique Recipes

Have you ever looked at an old recipe and wondered what the heck "Oleo" was? Or how to make sour milk? Here is a quick guide to some old-fashioned terms you might find on old recipes. Some of these may seem obvious, while others are real stumpers. Some of these you may not have seen because, hey, my ancestors just might have been oddballs.

Oleo = Margarine. It used to be called "oleomargarine" many moons ago.

T (Tbsp) vs. t (tsp) = Shorthand for Tablespoon and teaspoon. It used to be that people would use a capital T for Tablespoon and a lower-case t for teaspoon.

Spry/Lard = Spry was a brand name for Lard. Lard can generally be substituted with vegetable shortening very successfully in most recipes, but there are some recipes when lard really is better (a pie crust for mincemeat, for example). Nowadays many recipes that used to call for lard use butter.

Suet = Beef fat. The only recipe I have seen this in (and used it in myself) is a 100-year-old Irish mince pie recipe. It is also used a lot in traditional British puddings.

Soda = Baking Soda. That one's pretty obvious.

Sour Milk = Milk that has been soured with vinegar. To make sour milk, put 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar into a cup measure, then fill it with milk up to the cup mark. Stir well and let sit for five minutes. Not to be confused with clabbered milk, which is milk curdled with lemon juice. Sour milk can usually be substituted for buttermilk in most recipes.

"Coffee Cream" = No, they don't mean French Vanilla Coffee Creamer! I've seen this in a couple of recipes from the 1940s that list coffee cream where they apparently mean half and half or light cream.

Icing Sugar = Powdered, or "Confectioner's" Sugar

Carnation Milk or Pet Milk = Evaporated Milk. Many home cooks used to write out their recipes using brand names. Carnation is still around, of course, but they make many different milk products these days. In some cases, seeing a brand name in recipes gets confusing because the brand is no longer around or they were a strictly regional brand.

Treacle = Although they are not technically the same thing, if you see "treacle" in an old recipe, it basically means Molasses.

Salad Oil = Vegetable Oil.

Scant vs. Heaping = Pretty self-explanatory - "Scant" means slightly less than what is called for (a scant Tablespoon is just a little less than a full measured Tablespoon) and "Heaping" or "Rounded" means a little more.

"Mix like cake" = When you are making something that is not cake but will be mixing it in the way cakes are usually mixed: Cream butter with sugar, add eggs, then liquid, then gradually add flour.

"Moderate" Oven, "Hot" Oven, etc. = A moderate oven means 350 degrees. It is the "middle" temperature and the most commonly used in baking. A hot oven would be 400-425. A "Slow" oven would be 300-325 and a "cool" oven would be 200.

This is just my own short list of what I've seen come up in my old family recipes. If you are interested in learning more, a really excellent website about food history is The Food Timeline

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Apple Breakfast Muffins

These muffins are not overly sweet, like so many of today's dessert-style muffins are. And you can make this recipe healthier by substituting up to half of the flour with whole wheat flour, reducing the sugar a bit, and adding in nuts if you'd like.

I made this recipe as shown with chunks of apple that were about the size of a dime. I was going to call them "Chunky Apple Muffins." But my kids turned their noses up at the big chunks, so I thought these muffins might be more universally appealing if the apples are diced very finely, so I changed the directions to reflect that.

3 1/2 Cups finely diced apples (If they are very firm you even can grate them)
1 Cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1/2 Cup vegetable oil
2 Cups Flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease muffin tins (or line with muffin papers) for 12 muffins.

Put the diced apples into a large bowl and cover with the sugar. Let the apples macerate for about 20 minutes.

In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Stir well to mix thoroughly.

Beat the eggs lightly in a small bowl and stir in the oil. Add the egg mixture into the apples and stir well. Add the flour mixture in and give it all a few good strokes with a wooden spoon.

Fill muffin tins about 2/3 full and bake for 20-25 minutes. Touch them lightly with a finger to make sure they are set in the center.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tangy Pancakes with Camelized Apples

These carmelized apples are so quick and easy to make and taste heavenly. You can put them on top of the tangy pancake recipe below, or use them to top any pancakes or waffles. They would taste great on top of pork chops as well. This recipe makes two servings, so double as needed.

Carmelized Apples:

2 medium-sized crisp apples
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
dash of cinnamon (optional)
dash of nutmeg (optional)

Peel the apples and cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the apple slices, brown sugar, and spices. Cook the apples, stirring often, until they are dark golden brown and the juices have turned into a thick syrup. Make the apples before cooking the pancakes, but don't make them too far ahead - you want to serve the apples while still warm.

Tangy Pancakes:

These pancakes are thinner than regular pancakes, with a tanginess that comes from souring the milk with a little vinegar. These pancakes are perfect with the carmelized apple topping. (For a more traditional pancake, see my homemade pancake recipe in the recipe section.) This recipe only makes about 8 full sized pancakes or 12-16 silver dollar ones, so feel free to double it if needed.

3/4 Cup Soured Milk (put 1 Tablespoon white vinegar in a measuring cup, then pour in milk to equal 3/4 cup. Stir well and let sit 5 minutes).
1 Egg
3 Tablespoons melted butter
1 Cup Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg then add the milk and melted butter. Stir well. In a separate mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients together and stir well. Add the dry ingredients to the milk and egg mixture, stirring just until the larger lumps are gone - do not try to get rid of all the lumps or it will be overmixed.

Pour onto a hot griddle (I like a cast iron pan for this). The pancakes are done when you see bubbles break on top AND the pancakes are starting to look "dry" around the edges.

Spoon the apples and some of the juice over the pancakes.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Brandied Apple Skillet Cake

This spicy cake with a rustic look makes a great Autumn dessert to go with a hot cup of tea. I originally intended for the apples to stay on the bottom of the skillet, baking into the bottom of the cake so that when it is inverted after baking, the apple slices are on top (sort of like a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake). But the batter was not thick enough, and some of the apples mixed into the center of the cake and baked there. I thought about changing the recipe to be denser so the apples would stay on the bottom, but after baking it I really liked the taste and texture, so I kept it as it is.

The brandy is inevitably cooked off, so this is not a "Tipsy Cake." But it mixes nicely with the spices and the apples, giving the cake a delighful flavor, just for grown-ups.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10" or 12" Cast Iron Skillet with shortening.

For the Brandied Apples:
2 Tablespoons Butter (you can omit the butter for a vegan recipe)
2 large crisp apples, peeled and sliced thin
1/4 Cup packed brown sugar
1/4 Cup Brandy

In a separate skillet (not the one you will bake the cake in), melt the butter over medium heat. Add apple slices, brown sugar, and gently pour in the brandy. Cook over medium heat for several minutes until the apples are softened and the liquid has turned syrupy. (If your liquid is still very thin when the apples are cooked, you can remove the apples and thicken the liquid a bit more.) Set aside.

For the Cake:
1 1/2 Cups All-purpose Flour
1 Cup Sugar
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 1/2 teaspoons Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground Ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground Cloves
6 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon Vinegar (white or cider vinegar)
1/4 Cup Brandy
3/4 Cup Cold Water

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and spices. Stir well. Add the oil, vinegar, Brandy and water into the dry ingredients and stir until batter is moistened and larger lumps disappear.

Arrange the cooked apple slices in one layer on the bottom of the cast iron skillet.  Pour the syrupy liquid over the apples. Pour the cake batter over the apples and bake for approximately 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Time will vary depending on the size skillet you use.

When the cake has cooled a bit, run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen it and then invert onto a large plate. sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Autumn Sweet Potato Pie

I love pumpkin pie, and I like it with lots of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and a touch of clove. When I started making a Sweet Potato Pie recently, I just couldn't resist spicing it up like I do with a pumpkin pie. Southerners will see that this vears off the traditional sweet potato path, but I think it tastes delicious! This is the same recipe I use for my Spiced Pumpkin Pie, the only difference is I use sweet potatoes instead of pumpkin (I use the orange-fleshed ones commonly called yams, but you can use the yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes if you prefer). If you want, you could even do half sweet potatoes, half pumpkin.

To prepare the sweet potatoes:  Pierce with a fork two large or three small yams. Bake in the oven until tender just like a regular potato, 400 degrees for 40-60 minutes depending on size. OR pierce with a fork and microwave until soft (about eight minutes, turning halfway through cook time). Do not boil them or they will be watery. When they are soft, carefully pull the skin off and mash with a fork. I was told by a Southerner years ago that my sweet potato pie was too "smooth" because I had used a potato ricer to remove all lumps - since then I just mash with a fork.

1 flaky pie crust shell, unbaked

1 1/2 Cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes
1 twelve ounce can of Evaporated Milk
1/2 Cup White Sugar
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of cloves (about 1/8 tsp)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/8 Cup Molasses
2 eggs
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix all dry ingredients together in a small bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs lightly. Add the sweet potato to the eggs, then mix in the spiced sugar mixture and the molasses. When it is mixed well, slowly pour the evaporated milk in, stirring to incorporate in gradually (The mixture will be thin). Pour into the pie shell and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 and bake an additional 35-40 minutes, until the filling is set in the middle. (Check the crust halfway through and put foil over the crust if it is getting too brown before the filling is set. Cool to room temperature before slicing with a sharp knife dipped in hot water. Serve with whipped cream.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Top 5 Easy Scratch Items

Alright, when I am honest with myself, I must accept that not everyone enjoys the time and effort scratch baking involves. Sometimes people actually have other things to do.

But the good news is that there ARE some things that are so easy to make from scratch, it's almost pointless to buy them pre-made. Here is my list of things that are so quick and easy, once you make them you won't go back to a box or a can.

Fresh Whipped Cream - This is about the easiest thing you can make from scratch: Put your mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer to chill for a while. Make sure your cream is very cold (I stick that in the freezer for about ten minutes too - just don't forget about it in there). Whip the cream with a wire whisk by hand or use an electric mixer. When the cream just begins to thicken, add in however much sugar and vanilla you would like (my preference is about 2 Tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla for one pint of cream). Continue beating until it forms stiff peaks. Just remember to watch it carefully toward the end, or it will become butter!

Frosting: Why would anyone use canned frosting? It is SO bad. Do people just not know how quick and easy frosting is to make? If you are intimidated by Meringue Buttercreams or Ganaches, you can just whip up a batch of good ol' Butter Frosting (some people call it "American Buttercream"): One stick of room temperature butter, 1 pound of confectioner's sugar, 1 Tablespoon vanilla (less if you like) and just enough milk to moisten it (usually about 2 Tablespoons). Beat with an electric mixer for 3-5 minutes until fluffy. Done.

Skillet Cake - This rivals box mixes for speed and simplicity. Is it my favorite cake? No. But it is pretty good and you can whip it up super fast. You don't have to make it in a skillet, you can use a square baking dish instead. Mix the dry ingredients right there in the pan (don't even bother to sift the flour), and stir them together really good. Add the wet ingredients and stir well. Bake as directed, then sprinkle with powdered sugar or frost as desired. Here is one recipe: Quick & Easy Skillet Cake

Graham Cracker Crust: Manufacturers may be able to put out fairly good pre-made flaky pie crusts. But pre-made cracker crumb crusts are still terrible. Instead, use this simple recipe to make your own: Put crackers in a food processor and grind to fine crumbs. Measure out 1 1/2 Cups of crumbs into a bowl with 6 Tablespoons melted butter and, if desired, a little sugar. Mix well and then press into a pie shell. Chill until set for ice box pies, or prebake the crust at 350 for 10 minutes for cooked pies.

Homemade Pancakes:  Many pancake mixes require the addition of fresh eggs and milk, so it's not much more effort to just make them from scratch. Then you can control the ingredients and choose a recipe you love. This one is my favorite: Homemade Pancakes

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sourdough Chocolate Cake

Sourdough CAKE? Hmm...I found this unique recipe in The Joy of Cooking when I was looking for a way to use up some of my sourdough starter. You can only make so many loaves of sourdough bread before you start looking for other things to do with your starter.

This cake is dense and slightly chewy, with a slight tang underlying the chocolate flavor. It is not as sweet as many other chocolate cakes, which makes it more geared toward adult taste buds. You can add sweetness by frosting it with a rich chocolate ganache or butter frosting, or just sprinkle powdered sugar on top.

If you do not have Sourdough starter already, this recipe doesn't really justify starting one (but Sourdough bread does!) However, if you are already a Sourdough Bread baker and have starter on hand, this is a really interesting way to use some of it up.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or line with parchment) one 9"square cake pan. For a layer cake, prepare two 8" round pans or three 6" round pans.

1 3/4 Cups sifted all-purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 tsp salt

1/2 Cup (1 Stick) Butter
1 Cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1 Cup Sourdough Starter
3/4 Cup Milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Sift all dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

In an electric mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar on low until combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat for one minute until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat until just combined. Add the sourdough starter and beat on low until combined. Scrape the bowl down. Mix the vanilla into the milk and then add into the batter alternating with the flour mixture. When all the flour and liquid is incorporated, beat for another 30 seconds or so, until well-mixed.

Pour batter into the pans and bake at 350 degrees. Three 6" rounds will take 20-25 minutes; two 8" rounds will take 25-30 minutes; a thick square cake will be 35-40 minutes. The cake is done when it springs back when touched in the center, or when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool, then sprinkle with powdered sugar or top with frosting of your choice. I used Sinful Chocolate Buttercream.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

I adore Peanut Butter cookies, and my kids like chocolate. So one day when I was mixing up some PB cookies, my daughter chimed in with, "Can't we put some CHOCOLATE in there?!" Normally I would just add chocolate chips as a compromise, but I didn't have any in the house. I figured cocoa powder would be a good idea; maybe they would taste like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. So I substituted some of the flour for Cocoa Powder, and I'm glad I tried it - One simple change to a classic peanut butter cookie recipe made them deliciously different!

1 Cup Peanut Butter (Chunky or smooth depends on whether you want bits of peanut in the cookies)
1/2 Cup Butter (1 stick)
2 Tablespoons Shortening
1/2 Cup White Sugar
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 Cups Flour
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda

Optional: Add Peanut Butter Chips or Chocolate Chips, Nuts or Candies (1/2 to 1 Cup as desired)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream the Butter, Shortening, Peanut Butter and sugars with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beating until combined. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda with a fork until well-mixed. Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and beat on low until smooth. Add any chips/nuts you want to at this point.

Roll the dough into balls, then roll balls in granulated sugar. Place on cookie sheet. Press down on the balls with a fork to make the classic Peanut butter criss-cross pattern.

Drop onto a greased (or parchment lined) cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes until the cookies look "set" and the tops are no longer shiny. (It is hard to detect browning with cookies this color). Cool on parchment or brown paper, then enjoy!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The "Reverse Creaming" Method

After seeing this technique take hold and become a growing trend, I think it is time to give credit where credit is due. I saw a reputable cooking show the other night where the baker said, "We came up with the idea to mix this cake a little differently - we mix the butter into the flour." And I thought, "You didn't just come up with that!"

Rose Levy Beranbaum rocked the baking world when her book The Cake Bible was published in 1988. In this book, she shared interesting new techniques for mixing and baking cakes, based on a very scientific approach. She had painstakingly researched cakes, breaking down the process like a series of scientific experiments. She came up with an idea that sounds simple on the surface: Mix the ingredients in a different order for better results - specifically, mix all of the dry ingredients together first, then add the butter into the flour so the fat coats the flour. Doesn't sound like anything revolutionary, but to generations of bakers who had always followed the old "cream the butter and sugar together first" rule, this was almost sacrilege. I remember my mother thinking it was downright crazy. I'm sure if my grandmother had been still alive, she would have rolled her eyes skyward and muttered something about the new generation trying out all kinds of weird things!

After flipping through my much-loved copy of The Cake Bible (with many notes in the margins), I cannot find anywhere that Rose actually gives this method a name. I think that other bakers, needing a quick way to reference this technique, are the ones who called it the "reverse creaming" method. In her initial explanation, Rose describes it like this: "In the traditional method, the butter and sugar are creamed before adding the other ingredients. The method I have chosen for my butter cakes is faster, easier, and virtually eliminates any possibility of toughening the cake by overbeating. Creaming still takes place but in a different way: All the dry ingredients are first combined with the butter and a minimum amount of liquid, which coats the flour before adding the remaining liquid ingredients." (From The Cake Bible, Part 1, page 23)

I have tried this method on virtually every butter cake recipe I bake, and it really does work. I do not use it every time, but I use it more often than not. More and more, I am seeing new recipes come out using this method instead of the old-school creaming method, and when I develop my own butter cake recipes, I usually use this method as well. I imagine there will come a day when new bakers using modern recipes will only be familiar with this technique, and creaming the butter and sugar first will be something reserved for cookie making.

Have you tried this technique? What do you think of it?