Monday, March 11, 2013

St. Patrick's Day

This weekend is St. Patrick's Day, and in the Boston area you can bet it is a party! My area is more than 30% Irish, but the Irish-Americans celebrate even more than the real Irish do. Everybody whips out their favorite Shepherd's Pie recipes and compares the virtues of the different types of corned beef (Corned beef and cabbage, aka "New England Boiled Dinner" is another Irish American thing apparently. My Irish friends tell me that they have Irish Bacon instead of Corned Beef.)

Anyway, this blog is supposed to be about Baking, so I shouldn't go off on too much of a tangent here. I have two great baked items for St. Patrick's Day, one is a real old-time Irish recipe and the other is an American homage to Guinness, that deliciously dark brew. So here are the links if you want to get your Irish on:

Guinness Cake

Granny Mahoney's Irish Bread

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Maple Bread Pudding

I created this recipe for my husband, who loves bread pudding. I had never really cared for it myself, not really liking any of the various "soggy bread" type desserts. But I decided that if I used a good crusty bread to minimize the sog factor and added real maple syrup, I might just like it. Sure enough, I really enjoyed this bread pudding. My caution is that if you like a very "wet" bread pudding, this one may not be the one for you. Use a good hearty bread like Sourdough or crusty white bread. Wimpy sandwich bread just won't cut it for this recipe.

2 Cups Milk
1/3 Cup Real Maple Syrup
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Vanilla
7 Eggs
3 Cups cubed bread (Use good hearty bread that is a little stale, no wimpy Wonder bread for this!)
dash of Nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8 casserole dish. You will also need a larger (9x13) pan for this recipe (to do a water bath).

In a small saucepan, heat the milk to the point where it is just beginning to simmer. Remove from heat. Stir in the syrup, sugar, salt, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Gradually add the milk mixture to the eggs, adding just a little liquid at a time while continuously stirring it into the eggs (this tempers the eggs so the hot liquid does not cook them).
Add vanilla, and give the egg/milk mixture one last good beating to mix.

Pour the egg/milk mixture over the cubed bread and stir well. Let the mixture sit for five minutes before pouring it into a greased 8x8 casserole dish. Dust the top with nutmeg. Place the dish in a larger pan and add 1-2 inches of water into the larger pan (pouring carefully so you don't get water into the bread pudding.) Bake 40-45 minutes, or until it no longer jiggles in the middle when you give it a shake. Cool a bit before cutting (I like to serve it warm, but not hot). This makes 9 regular squares or 12 little squares. Drizzle real maple syrup over the top of each piece when serving. This bread pudding is not overly sweet, so don't skip the extra maple syrup on top - it really makes it just right!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Easy Scratch Cakes

What holds most people back from making a cake from scratch is the time and the extra steps required in many cake recipes. I'll admit that I have several cakes on this blog which are "high maintenance" recipes - Cakes that require special ingredients, or ask you to take extra steps like beating egg whites until stiff then gently folding them into the batter. But have no fear! There are cakes out there (and on this blog) which are TRULY EASY to make! No special ingredients, no extra steps, you don't even have to use an electric mixer if you don't have one. So there is really no reason to use a box mix when you can make a homemade cake quickly and easily. See the links below:

(Substitute Coffee or Water for the Guinness if you want to)

And some Others:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Banana Cake with Sour Cream Frosting

What could be better than the flavor of Banana Bread with the lighter texture of a cake? Sour Cream frosting provides a slightly tangy flavor, which makes a nice contrast to the sweetness of the banana cake. The cake is adapted from a recipe I found on Epicurious a few years ago. The sour cream frosting is something I created to replace the cream cheese frosting the original recipe called for (I am not a big fan of cream cheese frosting).
I recommend making this as a sheet cake in a 9x13 pan. I have tried it as a layer cake, but it is dense and sweet, and just seems too heavy with two layers.
For the Cake:
1 1/3 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Mashed Ripe Bananas (about 3 small bananas)
1/2 Cup Vegetable or Canola oil
2 large eggs
1/4 Cup Buttermilk
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
2 Cups All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and dust with flour a 9x13 pan (or line with parchment paper).
In a bowl, combine the sugar, mashed banana, oil, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Beat by hand (or with an electric mixer on low) until mixture is well-blended.
In a seperate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Add these dry ingredients into the banana mixture, again beating by hand (or on low) just until well-blended.
Bake at 350 for 22-25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool to room temperature before frosting.
For the Frosting:
1/4 Cup Butter, softened
3 Tablespoons Sour Cream
2 Cups Confectioner's Sugar

Beat the butter, sour cream and confectioner's sugar together with an electric mixer on medium for 2-3 minutes. If you want a softer consistency, add another tablespoon of Sour Cream.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Winter Baking with Canned and Frozen Fruit

These days, we can generally get a variety of fruits and vegetables year-round due to long distance shipping and air freight. But buying produce out of season never quite tastes as good, and there is growing environmental concern over the energy used to get that food to us in the dead of winter. For all of these reasons, I try to use fruits and vegetables IN SEASON. Canned and frozen fruits can be a good substitute, especially since they are often picked at peak season before they go into a can or a freezer.

Which fruits are good canned or frozen, and which ones should we just wait to have them fresh? Are there special steps to take before baking with frozen or canned fruits that is different from using fresh? Here is a guide to baking with canned or frozen fruits:

Blueberries - Blueberries are available frozen all year round. They are also available canned, but often the canned ones come in a sweetened syrup. For pies, muffins, breads, and pancakes, I recommend using frozen berries. Spread them out on a paper towel and let them thaw, then use in the recipe as if they were fresh. If popping them into breads and muffins, you often don't even have to thaw them - follow your particular recipe. Canned blueberries (if you can find them in just water) should be rinsed and spread on paper towels to dry before using. I do not like how mushy the canned ones are, so I would only recommend them for items where the filling is all going to mush together like a jam anyway (blueberry bars, etc.) I do not use canned berries for any baked item where I want to see the individual berries (i.e. muffins).

Strawberries - Strawberries are available frozen. They get mushy after they've been frozen, so use them in things where they can be made into a syrup or a jam-like layer in bars and coffee cakes. The other great use for strawberries is to cut or mash them, macerate them in sugar, then puree them. Use this puree in strawberry cakes, cupcakes or buttercreams: Strawberry Butter Cake

Raspberries - Raspberries are widely available frozen. Since they tend to be mushy after freezing, you won't be able to use them as a lovely garnish on cakes, but you can still make them into a filling for bars, cakes, pastries, or to be mixed into frostings. For frosting and cake filling, I actually prefer to use a jar of good-quality seedless raspberry JAM instead. Make sure to get SEEDLESS.

Cherries - Sour cherries (the ones that give cherry pie its signature tartness) are rarely available in my area, even during their brief season. And since I have not found sour cherries frozen in my area, I am always forced to use canned. OreGon brand water-packed tart cherries make a good pie, just drain them and then make the filling according to your recipe. Dark Sweet cherries are widely available frozen, and these are great for baking as well. They are sweet, not tart like sour cherries. You don't always have to thaw them before using, but follow the specific instructions according to the recipe. (For example, if you are making a pie, they will thaw during the macerating phase, so you don't need to pre-thaw them.)

Squash/Pumpkin - You can cook your own and freeze it for later use, but to be honest, I love using canned pumpkin and canned squash. (NOT pumpkin pie filling in a can, but just plain cooked pumpkin or squash). Although it is not difficult to cook them yourself (and it does add a layer of flavor, especially if you roast the squash), canned has several benefits: First, you can always have a can on hand, just sitting in your cupboard, ready any time to make breads, cakes, muffins and pies. Second, it cuts down a lot on your prep time. Cooking pumpkin/squash may not be difficult, but it takes time. It usually adds a good hour on to your prep time. I do cook some pumpkin each year when the sugar pumpkins are in season, but on the whole this is one time when the difference in flavor is not dramatic enough for me to feel guilty about using canned most of the time.

Bananas - You may find bananas frozen, or you can freeze ripe ones yourself.I love to keep some frozen bananas on hand because it is hard to get ripe ones at the store. To freeze them, just peel the bananas and wrap in air-tight bags or a double layer of plastic wrap. Bananas do turn brown, but for Banana bread, muffins or cake this is fine. When you are ready to bake, just thaw and mash the bananas and use according to your recipe. Generally, three small bananas is about 1 cup when mashed.

Lemons / Limes - You can generally find lemons and limes year-round in your grocery store. But if not, a good substitute can be a jar of good-quality Lemon Curd (available in the jam aisle) for making tarts or filled pastries. If your recipe just calls for the juice, bottled lemon and key lime juice is available (usually in the juice or drink-mix aisle).

Apple Butter / Apple Jam -  I am lucky enough to have a couple of family members who like to make jams and apple butters. This year I made a delicious apple butter cake with a jar of homemade apple butter. Apples are widely available raw year-round, but you may find the quality and selection is not good off-season. So using Apple Butter, Apple Jam, or Homemade Apple Sauce may be a better choice druing the winter, depending on what you are baking.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Banana Muffins

These muffins are based on my mother's old Banana Bread recipe, with a couple of very minor alterations. (I have to say that because my mother will point it out when she reads this).

2 Cups Flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup Butter
3/4 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Sour Milk* or Buttermilk
2 Eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large or 3 small Bananas, mashed (you want to end up with about 1 Cup mashed banana)

Optional: 1/2 Cup nuts (walnuts work well for this)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line the muffin tins with cupcake papers (or spray with non-stick spray)

Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Add the eggs and mix in. Add the buttermilk (or sour milk) and vanilla. Add the mashed bananas last (and nuts if using), stirring them in by hand until well-mixed.

Drop into the muffin cups (I use an ice-cream scoop) filling each cup only about halfway.

Bake for 20-24 minutes, until the tops spring back when gently poked with a finger.

*Sour Milk - Sour milk is often found in old recipes and can be used in place of buttermilk. To make sour milk, use 1 tablespoon of white vinegar for each cup of sour milk needed. Just pour the vinegar into a measuring cup, add the milk, then stir and let sit five minutes. It will sour and slightly thicken the milk. For this recipe I used slightly less than 1 teaspoon of vinegar to make the 1/4 cup sour milk required.

Baker's Calendar

I love any excuse to bake, so I have what I fondly call my "Baker's Calendar." This list reminds me of the various holidays, change of seasons, and events coming up. If you're like me, you can use these events as an excuse to try out new recipes and dig up old favorites. Obviously any old weekday can also be a baking day, but these allow you to bake with a THEME in mind! :)

My baking calendar goes like this:

New Year's
Valentine's Day
Mardi Gras
St. Patrick's Day
Maple Tapping Season
Easter/Start of Spring
Cinco de Mayo
Mother's Day
Start of Summer
Father's Day
Fourth of July
Kids' birthdays (mine happen to be summer babies)
End of Summer
Back to School
Autumn / Apple and Pumpkin season
Gingerbread House Season
Christmas / Hanukkah

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Easy Valentine's Day Treats

If you are looking for sweets for your sweetie, but you don't want to get into complicated decorating, here are some treats that look lovely and are pretty easy to make (links or instructions are below each picture):

Nutella Hearts: This one is so simple it doesn't need its own recipe.
Take your favorite sugar cookie dough, roll it out and cut into hearts.
Bake as directed and spread Nutella over one heart, then top with another heart.
Jam Hearts: Same as above, just use good quality seedless jam instead of Nutella.
I like to cut a little "Window" out of half of the hearts (the ones that will go on top)
so the jam shows through like a Linzer cookie. Then dust with powdered sugar.

"Pink Lady" Cupcakes: Using the Strawberry Butter Cake recipe,
make into cupcakes and frost with Whipped Strawberry Buttercream
Red and White Swirl Cupcakes: Make your favorite cupcake recipe and white frosting (I used Whipped Butter Rum Frosting for this - it is tasty and sophisticated).
Get a pastry bag and paint 3-4 stripes of red food coloring inside the bag (from the tip outward). Then fill the pastry bag with the white frosting and choose any decorator tip you like. Pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes and it will come out with both red and white swirls. Top with store-bought heart candies.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Valentine Heart Cookies

There are so many different things you can do with heart cookies for Valentine's day.
Whether you are looking for a very basic cookie or more complex decorations,
here are some ideas for heart cookies:
My favorite thing to do is make some Sarcastic Valentines:
This is actually a Chocolate Rolled Cookie recipe. To do this design, roll out colored fondant and cut it with a heart shaped cookie cutter. Apply it by brushing a thin layer of Karo syrup onto the cookie and gently press the fondant on, then write the words with a food marker or by hand-painting them on with dark pink food gel.

An easy idea is to make these Nutella sandwich hearts. Use your favorite Rolled Sugar Cookie recipe (a good one I like to use is Cake Central's No Fail Sugar Cookies recipe) and cut into hearts. When cooled, spread a small amount of Nutella on one cookie and cover it with another cookie. Done.

These hearts are decorated with Red and White Royal Icing. Royal Icing gives you a lovely smooth finish and dries hard so cookies are stackable. However, you definitely sacrifice some taste for looks here - Royal Icing is not the most tasty icing around.

These jam hearts are delicious and look like a pretty linzer cookie. Just roll out dough and cut it into heart shapes, using a smaller cutter to make "windows" in half of the cookies. When they are cooled, spread a little bit of your favorite jam on a cookie (I like a seedless Raspberry jam for this) and then cover with the top cookie (the one with the window in it). When you have done all the cookies, dust them with powdered sugar.
 These hearts are made using the recipe for Chocolate Rolled Cookies
Then they are decorated using a Glace Icing which tastes better than royal icing and dries smooth with a nice sheen to it. The downside is that this icing usually takes a FULL day to dry, so plan ahead if you want to use it.

These chocolate hearts are decorated with fondant. You can buy embossing sheets with various patterns on them at your local cake decorating store or online. After rolling out the fondant, imprint it with the embossing sheet (follow instructions on the package, but with most embossing sheets you dust the sheet with cornstarch and then just press the plastic sheet onto the fondant, pressing it in with your hand or a rolling pin). Then cut out hearts from the patterned fondant with a heart cookie cutter that is slightly smaller than your cookie. Apply by brushing on a thin layer of Karo syrup onto the cookie and then smoothing the fondant piece on. The flowers above are also made from fondant put into a flower mold.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Host a Kid-friendly Mardi Gras Party!

Although I've visited New Orleans a few times, it was never during Mardi Gras. However, I loved the food and the music so much, that I wanted an excuse to enjoy it here in New England, far far away from NOLA. So I thought, why not use this fabulous "holiday" as a great party theme?  Since I am a mom, I decided to do a Kid-friendly version of a Mardi Gras Party. Kids have a blast with this theme - they get to try new foods, hear fun new kinds of music, and make masks. Here are some ideas if you'd like to host your own Kiddie Mardi Gras Party:

1) Buy cardboard masks at your local craft store, along with glitter and feathers for the kids to decorate their own masks. This gives them something fun to wear and a cool keepsake to take home.

2) Serve New Orleans foods: Make a pot of Jambalaya ahead of time and then put it in a crock pot to stay warm. Kids may not like Jambalaya, so for them you could serve popcorn chicken bites and call them "Alligator bites." One thing kids will be sure to love is the sweet stuff: King Cake and Pralines can be made the day before, and Beignets can be made during (or right before) the party. For drinks, I serve Cafe au Lait made with Chicory Coffee for the adults and mock Mint Juleps for the kids (made with iced tea and mint). Here are some great recipes to get you started:

I also love Pecan Pralines and they are surprisingly easy to make. Here is a great recipe I use:
 Paula Deen's Pecan Pralines
For Jambalaya and other authentic Deep South recipes, a great source is Deep South Dish

For New Orleans-style Cafe au Lait (Coffee with Chicory) I order from Cafe du Monde. You can also get beignet mix from them if you do not want to make them from scratch. Some specialty stores in your area may actually carry these products so you don't need to order online and pay shipping.

Mock Mint Juleps: Make a pitcher of unsweetened iced tea. Then, in another empty pitcher or a large bowl, place 1/3 cup sugar and a handful of mint sprigs. "Muddle" the mint and sugar together to release the mint flavor a bit. Pour the iced tea over the sugar/mint mixture, then stir. Add more sugar if you'd like, then store it in the fridge. The mint flavor will strengthen as it sits. Garnish each glass with a little sprig of mint when you serve it.

Next, it's time for a PARADE:

Choose some great Mardi Gras Music: We put some Zydeco or Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the stereo and have a "parade" through the house. The adults can give out beads or Moon Pies as the kids go by. It's kind of silly, but the kids have so much fun!

Then, dance dance dance!

How to Make a King Cake

One of the things I love best about New Orleans is the FOOD. Although King Cake isn't my personal favorite of the NOLA foods, it is so quintissentially New Orleans that I decided last year to learn how to make one. This ring-shped pastry is a heck of a lot more challenging than it looks. Since King Cakes are rather time-consuming to make, it's good that Mardi Gras comes only once a year!

King Cake is actually not a cake at all. The only way to describe it for those who haven't had one is that it is kind of like a giant cinnamon roll shaped in a ring and covered with icing and sugars in the mardi gras colors - purple, green and gold. It is the food most associated with Mardi Gras. There is a wonderful history behind the King Cake, which is summarized nicely by here: Brief history of the King Cake

Traditionally there is a little baby hidden within the cake. The person who gets the baby has to buy the next cake or some say, host next year's party. Getting the baby is also supposed to be lucky. If you want to put a baby in your cake, you can buy little plastic or ceramic ones at most party stores or online. (Ceramic can be baked in, plastic ones should be inserted through the bottom of the cake after it is baked).

This King Cake Recipe supposedly comes from the famous Bakery Haydel's in New Orleans, which is known for being one of the top King Cake bakeries. I cannot swear that it is in fact Haydel's recipe, but it is good!

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
½ cup all purpose shortening
4 cups all purpose flour
2 lg. eggs
1 cup milk (room temperature)
2 sm. packs active dry yeast
¼ tsp lemon flavor
¼ tsp orange flavor
¼ tsp vanilla flavor
¼ tsp butter flavor
½ cup canola oil
½ cup cinnamon sugar

In a mixer at first speed combine 1/3 cup granulated sugar, salt, and shortening until well creamed:

Add eggs and continue to cream. In a separate bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk and add the flavors. Once dissolved add to creamed mixture and continue to mix. Switch to your dough hook attachment and add flour and mix until dough tightens:

Remove from mixer and kneed into a ball. Place the ball in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest in a warm place for 1½ hours.

(While the dough is resting you can mix your colored sugars if you are making them instead of using pre-colored sugars - See below for directions).

When dough has rested roll out into an oblong piece. Brush on canola oil covering the entire piece:

Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar liberally over the whole piece.

Once the dough is covered with the cinnamon sugar and oil, fold it in half lengthwise:

Cut into 3 strips and braid the dough.

Gently roll the dough, (kind of smooshing it into itself) by starting at one end and working all the way down to the other end:

This long piece can then be shaped into a ring like this:

Once shaped place on a baking pan covered with piece of parchment.

Place in a warm area covered with a clean kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rest again until it doubles in size.
You can sprinkle the sugars directly onto the dough before baking, or you can bake it first and then top with the icing and sugars. Make sure to alternate the three colors.

Bake at 370 degrees F for 12-15 minutes until dough is golden brown.
Laissez les bon temps rouler!

How to Make your own Colored Sugar:
3 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp purple food color (try 2 drops red to one drop blue and adjust as needed)
1 tsp yellow food color
1 tsp green food color
Note: liquid colors work best for this, not professional paste colors.

Start by taking one cup of sugar and your yellow food coloring.
Mix by hand with a wire wisk in a metal bowl until the sugar turns yellow.
Pour you yellow sugar into a separate bowl and put off to the side.
Repeat this process mixing green then purple. (By doing them in that order you only dirty one mixingbowl)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Moist White Cake

Delicate white cake is one of the most popular cakes, but it can be hard to find a recipe that is both light and moist. Sour cream keeps this white cake moist, while beating the egg whites and then gently folding them into the batter keeps the texture light and delicate. This recipe is so versatile - you can use the standard Vanilla extract, or vary the flavor by using other extracts like Almond or Anise (see notes below). This white cake would work well as the base for a Lady Baltimore Cake.

3 1/2 Cups Sifted Cake Flour
4 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Sugar
1 Cup Unsalted Butter (at room temperature)
1/2 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
2 teaspoons Vanilla extract*
7 Egg Whites

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 9" round pans with parchment paper, or use paper cupcake liners to make cupcakes. (This recipe makes 34-36 cupcakes)

Put all dry ingredients (Flour, Baking Powder, Salt and Sugar) together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Turn the mixer on low and mix the dry ingredients until they are well blended (If using a KitchenAid mixer, use the paddle attachment).

Add the butter into the flour mixture in small chunks, along with the milk. (It is very important that your butter is soft at room temperature or it will not get incorporated with the flour properly). Mix on low until moistened and then turn the mixer up to medium. Beat for 60 seconds to aerate.

Add the sour cream and vanilla into the batter, mixing for only about 20 seconds to blend it in.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks (Don't beat them until they are dry, though - you want the egg whites to be thick and stiff but still moist and glossy-looking).

Gently fold the egg whites into the batter, using large slow strokes by hand. You will see streaks of egg white in the batter, that's okay, you don't want to overmix it.

Pour into pans and smooth the batter with the spoon to spread it evenly in the pan. OR if making cupcakes, use a standard ice-cream scoop to measure and dispense the batter into the cups. I find that one level scoop is the right size for a perfect cupcake, each cup no more than half full.

Bake 18-20 minutes for cupcakes
25-30 minutes for three small layers (6" or 8")
30-35 minutes for two medium layers (9" or 10")
40-45 minutes for one large layer (12")
***Bake just until the cakes spring back to the touch or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. This cake will not brown a lot, only slightly at the edges. So don't wait for it to brown or it may be overdone.

*If using other flavored extracts, follow this chart:
Almond extract = 1 teaspoon
Anise Extract = 1/2 teaspoon
Rum Extract = 1 teaspoon
Lemon or Orange Extract = 1 teaspoon (also add 1 Tablespoon zest if possible)

Monday, January 28, 2013


Beignets are a New Orleans staple, and they are divine in their simplicity. Beignets are a kind of French donut - slightly sweetened fried dough that is usually served with a generous dusting of powdered sugar or a fresh fruit sauce. The most iconic beignets are from Cafe du Monde, the all-night outdoor cafe in Jackson Square. If you find yourself in New Orleans, you absolutely MUST make a trip there. All they serve is Cafe au Lait and Beignets, but they are always hot and fresh.

Since Cafe du Monde doesn't share their famous beignet recipe (though you can buy it in a box mix if you'd like) I found a delicious and easy recipe from another iconic New Orleans establishment, Commander's Palace Restaurant. This recipe is adapted from their Commander's Kitchen cookbook.

3 Cups All-purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Cup Water
1 Cup Milk
1 Egg, beaten

2 1/2 quarts vegetable oil (or other frying oil - Canola, Safflower, etc.)
Powdered Sugar for dusting

Pour the vegetable oil into a large pot and heat over medium high heat to a temperature of 325 degrees. This will take a while to reach the right temperature, so start it heating while you prepare the batter:

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and mix well. In a separate bowl, mix the water, milk and egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring until well-mixed.

Check your oil temperature - if it has reached 325 degrees, turn it down low while you do the last step to get the beignets ready to fry.

Turn the batter out onto a well-floured board. With a rolling pin, roll the dough to about 1/2" thick. Cut into squares (about 2") or rectangles. Don't worry if they aren't perfectly shaped -they will fry up nicely anyway. You can fry up the little scraps leftover too.

When the oil has reached 325 degrees, drop the beignets into the oil carefully, just a few at a time so you don't crowd the pot. Give them about 2-3 minutes and then gently turn them onto their other side. (It is best to use a long-handled slotted spoon or a mesh skimmer for this.) Give them another 2-3 minutes until they are golden brown on each side. Lift them out of the oil and place on a rack lined with paper towels. Dust each batch with powdered sugar while they are hot, before moving on to other batches.

Between each batch of beignets, check and adjust your oil to make sure you are maintaining 325 degrees.

Serve warm and enjoy!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Variations on Cornbread

Cornbread is generally thought of as a Southern thing. So, being that I grew up out West and now live in New England, I am not going to claim to be an expert on "Traditional Southern-Style" cornbread. But I will provide links to some great Southern Cornbread recipes from other bloggers, as well as my own recipe here.

Cornbread is one of those things that is SO easy to make from scratch, the trick is finding a recipe you like. I searched and searched, making recipes from the back of the cornmeal bag, recipes from various cookbooks, and recipes from the Lodge Cast Iron website (a site a recommend if you love cooking with Cast Iron as I do.) In the end I made up my own recipe, which was kind of a hodge-podge of a bunch of others I had tried.

I adore cornbread and to me there is not just ONE way to make it. I love to taste all the different variations people make. For me it is like a good chili (which of course goes great with cornbread) - Chili is one of those foods where there are SO many different ones, you cannot pin down just one and say this is the only way to make good chili. Cornbread is the same way - it has so many great variations.

I only have one "rule" that I always follow regarding cornbread: Bake your cornbread in CAST IRON. As I gathered recipes from other cooks for this post, I was happy to see that many of them agreed with this rule. For my small family, I use a little mini-skillet (see pic below), and I like that the pieces come out thick.

Another tip is to preheat your cast iron skillet in the oven until it gets hot. Then add a little oil, crisco, or (if you want to be really flavorful) bacon grease and let it melt before adding your batter. DO NOT ever use non-stick cooking spray in cast iron. Non-stick cooking spray leaves a residue which can only be washed off with soap, and that is a no-no for your cast iron pans.
Here are some great cornbread recipes from my
fellow food bloggers:
Jackie at Syrup and Biscuits shares a wealth of Cornbread
history with her recipe for Southern Buttermilk Cornbread
 Mary at Deep South Dish has a great recipe for Buttermilk Sour Cream Cornbread
Suzanne Renee Covey shared her recipe for Johnny Cake:
In a bowl, 2 T soft butter, 1/2 t salt, 4 T sugar, 1 egg (slightly beaten), 1 t baking soda.
Mix well. Add 1 cup buttermilk, mix. Add 1 cup flour and 3/4 cup cornmeal. Mix well and bake in round pan for 20 mins (or until golden brown) at 400 degrees.
My own easy recipe is as follows:
1/2 cup Yellow Cornmeal
3/4 Cup All-purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon honey or real maple syrup
Optional: 2 Tablespoons Sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
1/4 Cup creamed corn
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees with the cast-iron skillet inside. You can use a small 6" skillet for four thick servings, or a larger skillet (8" or 10") for thinner servings. When the oven is preheated and the pan is very hot, pull it out and drop in 1 Tablespoon of Oil, Crisco, or Bacon Grease until melted. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and stir well with a wooden spoon.

Pour batter into the skillet and put it back in the oven. Depending on how thick your cornbread is (which pan size you use) it will take 20-25 minutes until it is set and turning golden. Test it with a toothpick in the center. Serve while warm with honey and butter.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Apple Butter Spice Cake

If you love spice cakes like I do, this will be one of your favorites. I used some homemade Apple Butter that was given to me as a gift, but you could use applesauce if you don't have apple butter available. This cake has assertive flavors of cinnamon and clove while not being too sweet. It makes a nice brunch item, or serve it with afternoon tea.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 Cup (1 Stick) Butter, room temperature
1 Cup Apple Butter or Apple Sauce
1/2 Cup Buttermilk
3 Eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a standard bundt pan.

(I use the "reverse creaming" method for this, which means I mix the butter into the dry ingredients):
Put all dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices) together in the bowl of an electric mixer. On low, mix until dry ingredients are blended. Add the butter and half of the apple butter. On the lowest speed, mix just until the flour is moistened. Turn the mixer up to medium-low speed (#3 if using a KitchenAid mixer) and beat for 1 minute to aerate the batter. Add the remaining apple butter, stirring it in just until combined.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly with the buttermilk. Add the egg mixture into the batter gradually, beating just for about ten seconds after each addition. Scrape down the bowl and give it one last stir by hand.

Pour into the bundt pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until you can insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean.

Cool a bit before unmolding, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Breads

Breads can be made in any season of course, but in the Winter homemade bread is even better. For one thing, winter foods like soups and casseroles are just begging to be served with some really good bread. And in the wintertime, you don't mind having your oven on for hours at a time.

Making your own bread is easier than most people think. It does take time, but if you plan ahead it is pretty simple to do. And the more you do it, the easier it gets and the better your breads will be.

This week I am revisiting bread recipes I have made over the past year:

Easy French Bread is one of the easiest yeast breads I have found. This recipe is so versatile that you can do just about anything to it - make it savory with some herbs or grated cheese, make it sweet by adding sugar and spices, or just do a traditional crusty loaf.

Sourdough Bread takes a lot of planning ahead (you must make a starter first). But mastering Sourdough is a feat that all bread makers set out to accomplish, and being a native Californian, it is my personal favorite type of bread.

Potato Yeast Rolls are the perfect roll for any dinner menu - so soft and moist that you might just forget about any other kind of roll or biscuit.

Chocolate Beer Bread has a very unusual flavor - you taste the cocoa, but it is only mildly sweet. I like it as an appetizer bread, almost like a pumpernickle.

Savory Beer Bread is a rustic bread that goes well with hearty stews and chowders.

Cinnamon French Bread is a variation on Easy French Bread, and it makes a great breakfast bread.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cinnamon French Bread

This Cinnamon French Bread is SO easy to make! It is the same as my Easy French Bread with a couple of minor additions. This recipe is a great one for beginning bread-makers. It makes two slender loaves or one very big loaf.
3 1/2 Cups Flour (you can use all-purpose or bread flour) plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons INSTANT yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons Sugar
1/4 tsp each of cloves and freshly ground nutmeg
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1 1/4 Cups Warm water

Cinnamon Swirl Filling:
3/4 Cup Sugar
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon (to taste)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Egg Wash (for crisp golden brown crust):
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon water

Put the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the yeast. Add the salt and stir well. Mix in the melted butter and the warm water, stirring with a wooden spoon until most of the flour has been mixed in. Put the dough on a floured breadboard and knead for about five minutes, working in more flour as needed until the dough feels smooth and not sticky to the touch.

Put the dough ball into a greased bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place free from drafts and let it sit until the dough has doubled, about one hour. (I put my dough in the oven with the oven off - this is a great draft-free place. On a very cold day I might turn the oven on "warm" for just a couple of minutes and then turn it off again before placing the dough inside).

Punch dough down and divide in half (or leave it in one piece if you want one larger loaf). With your fingers, press each half into a rectangular shape.

Brush with melted butter and then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Starting on one of the long sides, roll the dough tightly into a long log. You can taper the ends or push them in to round them.

Repeat with second loaf. Place loaves in the wells of a french bread pan, or lay them on a large greased cookie sheet.

Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place the loaves in a draft-free area and allow them the rise again until doubled (about one hour).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

When the loaves have risen, make diagonal slits on the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Bake about 20 minutes, or until almost done. While the bread is baking, get your egg wash ready:

Beat together the egg white and water. When the initial 20 minute baking time is up, pull loaves out and brush the mixture over each loaf. Return the bread to the oven for another five or six minutes. The loaves should be golden brown and feel hard on the outside. Press on them gently to make sure they don't feel squishy inside. When you tap on them they should give a hollow "thump" sound.


Easy French Bread

Yeast breads don't have to be intimidating, this French bread is SO easy to make! This is a great recipe to use if you have never made bread from scratch before. I always like to use INSTANT yeast because it is easier to use than "active dry yeast" - instant yeast is mixed directly into the flour instead of blooming it in liquid first.

You can add your own herbs and spices to this bread to change the flavor. This recipe makes one large loaf or two smallish loaves.

3 1/2 Cups Flour (you can use all-purpose or bread flour) plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons INSTANT yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1 1/4 Cups Warm water

Egg Wash (for crisp golden brown crust):
1 egg white
1 Tablespoon water

Put the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the yeast. Add the salt and stir well. Mix in the melted butter and the warm water, stirring with a wooden spoon until most of the flour has been mixed in. Put the dough on a floured breadboard and knead for about five minutes, working in more flour as needed until the dough feels smooth and not sticky to the touch.

Put the dough ball into a greased bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm place free from drafts and let it sit until the dough has doubled, about one hour. (I put my dough in the oven with the oven off - this is a great draft-free place. On a very cold day I might turn the oven on "warm" for just a couple of minutes and then turn it off again before placing the dough inside).

Punch dough down and divide in half (or leave it in one piece if you want one larger loaf). With your fingers, press each half into a rectangular shape. Starting on one of the long sides, roll the dough tightly into a long log. You can taper the ends or push them in to round them. Repeat with second loaf. Place loaves in the wells of a french bread pan, or lay them on a large greased cookie sheet. Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place the loaves in a draft-free area and allow them the rise again until doubled (about one hour).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

When the loaves have risen, make diagonal slits on the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Bake about 20 minutes, or until almost done. While the bread is baking, get your egg wash ready:

Beat together the egg white and water. When the initial 20 minute baking time is up, pull loaves out and brush the mixture over each loaf. Return the bread to the oven for another five or six minutes. The loaves should be golden brown and feel hard on the outside. Press on them gently to make sure they don't feel squishy inside. When you tap on them they should give a hollow "thump" sound.