Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lavender Almond Tea Cookies

We all know that Lavender is an herb used in soaps and fragrances, but did you know that Lavender can be used in cooking and baking too? When I first saw a recipe that used lavender, I was intrigued. But I could not find food-grade lavender to buy anywhere locally (Lavender sold at garden stores may be sprayed with chemicals, so don't cook with it). I started growing my own, but you can easily order it online if you can't find it. The thing to remember with Lavender is that a little goes a long way. I happen to love the flavor and aroma, so I don't mind a strong lavender flavor. But many people find it overwhelming, so use it sparingly. This recipe calls for 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons.

These Lavender Almond Tea cookies are light and crispy, with a buttery flavor.

12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) Butter, softened
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Almond extract
1 1/4 Cups All-purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Cornstarch
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons dried Lavender Flowers
Pinch salt

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and almond extract until light and fluffy.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch and salt. Stir well. Add the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and beat on low until blended. Add the lavender last, beating on low just until it is mixed in. Scrape the bowl down and gather up the dough, placing it on a sheet of plastic wrap. Pat the dough to flatten it a bit, and wrap it up in the plastic wrap. Chill 30-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters or cut into squares/diamonds with a knife. Optional: Brush with a small amount of water and then sprinkle with sanding sugar if desired. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until very lightly browned at the edges, about 15 minutes.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Living in New England, I really get tired of Winter after a while. So when Spring finally comes, it is time to celebrate! Here are some great recipes to get you in the mood for Springtime baking:


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Grandma B's Butterscotch Pie

This pie has got to be one of my all-time favorites (I think I say that about all pies, but I really mean it this time!) Butterscotch Pie is so different from other pies that it really surprises people. A layer of thick butterscotch cream filling, a slightly salty cracker crumb crust, and a light and airy meringue topping make this pie dangerously good. While the meringue looks impressive, you could top this pie with fresh whipped cream instead if you prefer. If I am making this pie ahead of time and I know the meringue cannot be fresh, I will choose whipped cream and turn it into a "Butterscotch Cream Pie." Just make sure you cut the slices small, it is very sweet and rich!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1 1/3 Cups Cracker Crumbs (you can use graham crackers, but I prefer Ritz crackers for this - I like a slightly salty crust to offset the very sweet filling)
3 Tablespoons confectioner's sugar
6 Tablespoons Melted Butter

Mix together ingredients and press firmly into a pie pan. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes until just turning golden brown at the edges (it's a little harder to tell with graham crackers, but it should look dry and set). Set aside while you make the filling. Turn oven down to 325.

*NOTE* If you are making the cream pie version (and will not be baking the pie in the oven) you do not have to bake the crust, just chill it in the fridge until set, about 1 hour.

1 cup Brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 2/3 Cups milk
3 egg yolks
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In the top of a double boiler combine the sugar, flour, salt, and milk. Stir the mixture in the bowl while the water boils beneath it, cooking for about 10-12 minutes until the mixture thickens (stir it frequently). Thickening time depends on how cold your milk is to start with. It can take anywhere from 9-14 minutes to get it nice and thick like a pudding. In the first five minutes or so, it doesn't really thicken at all. Once it starts, the thickening goes fast, so watch it carefully and stir constantly once it starts. Once it has thickened, remove it from the heat.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks. Take a small amount of the hot milk/flour mixture (about a tablespoon) and stir it into the eggs. Add another spoonful and stir it in (you are "tempering" the eggs so they don't cook and curdle). Now pour the egg mixture into the rest of the hot milk mix. Return it to the double boiler and cook until thickened some more (about 3-5 minutes) stirring constantly. Take it off the heat. Add in the butter and vanilla extract. Now place a layer of Saran wrap directly on top of the filling (to avoid getting a thickened skin on top). Set aside for about 10 minutes and then pour into the crust.

*NOTE* If making the cream pie version, cool the filling completely in the fridge before filling the pie crust.

4 Egg Whites
4 Tablespoons Sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Beat the egg whites and the cream of tarter with a wire whisk until soft peaks form. Add 2 Tablespoons sugar, beat lightly for about 20 seconds. Add the other 2 Tablespoons and the vanilla. Beat until peaks are very stiff but still glossy. Spread over filling immediately and bake at 325 for approximately 15 minutes, until meringue is set and turning golden brown on top.

Allow to cool to room temp before slicing. Use a knife dipped in hot water to make clean cuts.


Fresh Whipped Cream (for Cream Pie version)
1 pint heavy cream
1/4 - 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

Make sure the cream is well-chilled, (I even chill the mixing bowl and beaters when I make whipped cream). Beat cream on high speed (or vigorously by hand with a wire whisk) until the cream is thickened. Add sugar and continue beating until it can form stiff peaks. Spread it over the chilled pie and then put the pie back in the fridge until serving.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sourdough Pancakes

This is a great recipe for breadmakers who are looking for ways to use up some of that sourdough starter. Sourdough Pancakes are denser than regular pancakes, with a slight tang. You can top them with carmelized bananas (recipe below) or just serve them with real maple syrup or fresh fruit.

Sourdough Pancakes (makes about 20 pancakes depending on size)

1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 Cups sourdough starter
2 Eggs
1/2 Cup milk
1/2 Cup melted butter

Start heating your griddle, especially if it is cast iron, before you mix the recipe. Heating the griddle "low and slow" is best for evenly browned pancakes - If using cast iron, heat it for a good 15 minutes on low or medium low heat.

Mix dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl, stirring well to make sure everything is blended.

In a separate bowl, stir together the sourdough starter, eggs, and milk. Add these into the dry ingredients and give it a good stir. Add the melted butter last, stirring just until incorporated.

When the griddle is preheated, pour the batter on by the 1/4 cup full (adjust to your own personal size preference). Watch the pancakes to see when they start to bubble. BUT WAIT! Don't just flip them when they begin to bubble - look closely at the edges of the pancakes, and when the edges are starting to dry, then flip them. Give them 30-60 seconds on the second side and then remove.

Serve warm. If you are cooking for a crowd, you can keep them warm on a cookie sheet in a warm oven (200 degrees) while you do more batches.

Carmelized Bananas: Put 1 Tablespoon Brown sugar and 1 Tablespoon Butter in a saute pan. Heat until it begins to bubble. Let it bubble for 30 seconds to make a syrup. Add 2 Bananas that have been sliced into "coins" about 1/4 inch thick. Heat for 30-60 seconds, just until the banana slices have browned a little. (These are not truly "carmelized" per se, because they are not browned until they make their own syrup. But bananas will mush up to nothing if you cook them too long.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Glorious Ganache!

Did you know that Chocolate Ganache is one of the easiest and most versatile Frosting/Filling options for desserts? It is so rich and decadent that most people assume it must be difficult to make. (Also, the word "ganache" sounds awfully fancy, doesn't it? Most people assume French = fussy) 
But with only two ingredients, ganache is actually really simple to make, and it tastes so sophisticated. Check out what you can do with a basic ganache:
 Chocolate Ganache Truffles

Chocolate Ganache as a frosting or filling for cakes

Poured Ganache (which is simply ganache that has not chilled
to the point of being firm yet) gives you a beautifully glossy glaze on cakes.
Basic Chocolate Ganache recipe:
12 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate (use good quality chocolate)
1 2/3 Cups Heavy Cream (use 1/3 Cup less for truffles)
Chop chocolate into small pieces.
In a saucepan, heat the cream until it starts to boil. Turn off the heat and add in the chocolate pieces. With a heatproof spatula, stir the mixture until the chocolate is melted.
Pour this mixture into a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate as directed below:
For Truffles: Refrigerate several hours until VERY firm. Scoop out small spoonfuls of the ganache and roll into balls, then roll the balls in chopped nuts, cocoa powder, cake crumbs, whatever topping you wish.
For thick rich frosting: Refrigerate several hours until firm but not totally hard (4 hours worked for me) check it every hour or so to see if it is the right consistency. If it gets too hard, you can always leave it at room temp or even microwave it very briefly to get it back to frosting consistency. Frost cake. Store the cake at room temp or refrigerated, not it a very warm place.
Poured Ganache: You don't want to chill this very long, basically you just want to get it down to where it is not HOT anymore. If you use it while it is very hot, it will thin out a lot. So what I do is refrigerate for ten minutes at a time. Every ten minutes I check it and stir it, and take it out when it is thick but still pourable. To top a cake with poured ganache, start by pouring it in the center of the cake and spreading outward toward the edges of the cake. I like to let it droop over the sides a bit.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Coconut Layer Cake

If you love coconut like I do, you will love this cake! This is exactly the same recipe as my Toasted Coconut Cupcakes, and there are no adjustments necessary whether you want to make a cake or cupcakes with this recipe. You can fill this cake with a lemon filling (I used a jar of good-quality lemon curd that I bought in the specialty aisle of my local market) or you can use the coconut frosting in between layers for some serious coconut flavor! You can choose to leave the coconut untoasted, but I love the slightly nutty crunch on top of the sweet frosting, so I toasted mine just a little for this cake.

Note: Coconut Milk is usually found canned in the imported food aisle of your grocery store, often with the Asian foods. Do not use Coconut water (which is a beverage) or Cream of Coconut (a sweetened coconut paste used to make tropical drinks).

For the Cake:
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 Cups sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (if using salted butter, omit salt)
3/4 Cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
4 large egg whites
1 cup Coconut Milk (save what is left over for the frosting)
1 teaspoon Coconut extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease (or line with parchment paper) two 9" or three 6" round cake pans.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add in the butter and about 1/4 cup of the coconut milk. Turn the mixer on low and beat just until moistened. Then turn the mixer up to medium and beat for one minute to aerate the batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the egg whites, the rest of the coconut milk and the coconut extract. Mix with a fork until well-blended.

Add the egg mixture into the batter in three batches, mixing for just 15-20 seconds each time until incorporated. Give the bowl a final scrape down by hand, just to make sure any remaining clumps of flour get mixed in.

Pour batter in pans, smoothing the top with a spatula to level the batter.

Bake about 25-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool before frosting.

For the Frosting:
3 Cups Confectioner's Sugar
1/2 Cup (1 stick) softened butter
2-3 Tablespoons Coconut Milk (you should have some left over in the can)
1 teaspoon coconut extract

Place all ingredients into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat all of the ingredients together on low until everything is moistened. Then turn the mixer up to med-high and beat for about 5 minutes until nice and fluffy. The amount of coconut milk you use depends on how soft or stiff you like your frosting.

Place one cup of flaked coconut on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven at 350 for about 6 minutes, stirring it halfway through. Watch very carefully the last two minutes so it doesn't get overly browned - coconut can burn very quickly. Cool.

Frost the cake, then sprinkle the toasted coconut on top, pressing it into the sides.