Monday, October 6, 2014

Butterscotch Cake with Caramel Icing

I found this Butterscotch cake in a collection of my Great-Grandmother's old recipe cards. I love to try out these vintage recipes, because they are often for goodies that nobody seems to make anymore. I have never heard of Butterscotch cake, so I thought I'd try it out. Pairing it with the caramel icing (a separate recipe found among the old cards) was my idea - I have no idea which frosting she would have put with this cake. I love the icing even more than the cake itself, and I think next time I will try it with a standard butter cake.

Caramel Icing is a wonderful treat and another one of those old things that fell out of favor but now is making a comeback. It actually tastes more like penuche or praline candy than the gooey caramel we think of nowadays. It dries and sets into a coating that is very different from other types of frosting - not fluffy or creamy, but almost like a thin layer of brown sugar fudge on a cake!

Butterscotch Cake:

2 Cups Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Eggs
2 Cups Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Cup Buttermilk

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

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium until fluffy. Add vanilla, then add eggs one at a time, beating on low just until they are mixed in.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Starting with the flour mixture, add the flour and the buttermilk (alternating one then the other) into the sugar/egg mixture on low speed. When everything is mixed in, scrape down the bowl by hand.

Pour batter into the pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool before frosting.

Caramel Icing:

1 1/2 cups Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon flour
1/4 Cup butter (plus 2 tablespoons for later)
1/4 Cup Milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, mix together all ingredients except the vanilla and the extra 2 Tablespoons of butter. Heat over medium and bring to a boil. Stirring frequently to prevent burning, let the mixture boil for a good one minute. (I actually use a candy thermometer and let it reach 238 degrees, but if you don't have one, just make sure you boil it for a good solid minute).

Take off the fire and add in the vanilla and the 2 Tablespoons butter. Cool the mixture, occasionally giving it a vigorous stir, until it is still warm (but not HOT) and has thickened enough to spread. Spread it over the cake, moving fairly quickly because it will set as it cools. It will be a thin coating, not a thick layer. Let it set completely before cutting into the cake.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Baking with Kids: Super-Easy Chocolate Cake!

This chocolate cake is the easiest cake I've ever made, so I make it often with my kids. I love that I can let them do most of the steps themselves, and they get to learn about baking. It rivals a box mix for speed and simplicity, but it really tastes great.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup Sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cold water

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees.
Grease an 8" square casserole dish (for a round cake you can use one 9" cake pan).

Sift the dry ingredients together and stir with a fork until well-mixed. Make three wells in the dry ingredients. Pour the oil into the first well, the vinegar into the second, and the vanilla into the third. Pour the cold water over the top of it all, then stir with a fork until well-blended. Pour into greased pan and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let it cool, then frost.

4 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar
dash of salt
2 Tablespoons milk

Cream together the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt until well-mixed. Add the liquid and beat until fluffy. You can do this by hand since it is such a small batch, you really don't need to use a stand mixer for this.

Have some sprinkles handy for the kids to decorate it!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Lady Baltimore Cake

Lady Baltimore Cake, which was a popular American cake from the 1920's to the 1950's, has some very disputed origins. Like many old American favorites, the beginnings of this recipe and its locale are in doubt. One thing is certain, it does NOT date back to the actual Lady Baltimore, Charlotte Lee (1678-1721) an English noblewoman who was married to Baron Baltimore ("Lord Baltimore") and was the mother of the future Governor or Maryland. Cakes back in her day were not as light and delicate as the "lady cakes" popularized much later. Incidentally, there is a Lord Baltimore Cake, which is a yellow cake.

Anyway, a Lady Baltimore cake is a delicate white cake, layered with a filling of dried fruits and nuts in the middle, then frosted with a fluffy boiled icing.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray pans with cooking spray and line with parchment. This cake will do three 6" or two 8" round layers, so it is up to you whether to make a two or three-layer cake.

Have all ingredients at room temperature before starting:

1 3/4 Cups Sifted Cake Flour

2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Cup granulated sugar
1/2 Cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 Cup milk
1/4 Cup Sour Cream
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
4 egg whites

Mix all dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and stir well (if you have a KitchenAid mixer, go ahead and put it in that bowl and mix on low speed with the paddle to combine.)

Add the softened butter (in small chunks) with the milk into the dry ingredients. Mix on low until combined, then turn the mixer up to medium and beat for about 60 seconds to aerate. Stir the Almond extract into the sour cream and add this to the batter. Mix on low until just combined (about 15 seconds). Add the last of the sour cream and mix on low again, until just combined. Scrape the bowl down good.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a wire whisk until they are stiff but still a bit moist. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter, just until they are incorporated. At first it will look like these two will not come together, since the batter is thick. Keep folding in, turning the bowl as you go. You will still see streaks of white when it is done, that's okay. Immediately fill pans and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until the center springs back when touched gently with a finger.

Cool completely before frosting.

*I made a two-layer cake, so double this recipe for a three layer cake

1/2 Cup chopped dried fruits (I like dried cherries and dates, but you could use figs, raisins, apricots or maraschino cherries)
1/2 Cup chopped toasted pecans
2-4 Tablespoons of the boiled icing (have the fruits and nuts ready to go and make the filling after you have made the icing)

Soak the dried fruits in warm water or Brandy for about fifteen minutes to soften them. Drain and blot dry. Mix with nuts and icing just before spreading between layers.

I like a standard Seven-Minute Icing for this:
2/3 Cups Sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1/4 Cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1 Egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Put sugar, cream of tartar, salt, water, and corn syrup in a saucepan. Cook, while stirring, over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.

Put egg whites in a mixing bowl. Whip on high speed about 45 seconds, or until egg whites begin to hold their shape. With the mixer on high, slowly pour the hot sugar syrup in a stream into the egg whites and continue to whip for another minute to a minute and a half. Add vanilla and whip about five or six more minutes, until the frosting can stand in very stiff peaks. Frost cake right away.

This is what my cake looked like sliced - messy, but tasty:


Monday, March 31, 2014

Baking with Real Maple Syrup

In New England, March is maple tapping season. Every year we go up to New Hampshire for the Maple Weekend, which is the time when all of the sugar houses give free tours and samples. Syrup is so much cheaper when you buy it direct from the farmers, and you get an amazing variety of choices. You can usually purchase any shade of Grade A (Light, Medium Amber, Dark Amber). Sometimes they will even have Grade B available, which most people don't want, but bakers like me covet.

Tips for baking with maple syrup:
Use REAL maple syrup, and Grade B if you can find it. Grade B is generally thought of as too strong for topping pancakes with, but you want that stronger flavor in baking, since maple flavors can often be too subtle in the end result.

For anything that uses corn syrup, you can just replace it with maple syrup with no other modifications (see my recipes for Maple Pecan Pie and Fluffy Maple Icing).

For other frostings such as Maple Buttercreams you use the syrup in place of the liquid in the recipe (you can decrease the sugar a little to make up the difference, but we are only talking about a small amount here).

You can also use maple syrup pretty much any time you would make a sugar syrup for a recipe.

Use it in custards by substituting Maple Syrup for all of the sugar and some of the liquid in the recipe. has a nice recipe for Maple Custard.

Maple Cinnamon Rolls - brush the dough with maple syrup instead of butter before the sprinkling of cinnamon sugar, then use a maple glaze on top.

For recipes where you want to replace a large amount of sugar with maple syrup, I actually recommend using maple sugar instead, which is made by the same process as syrup, only the sap is boiled longer until almost all of the water has been removed.

Here are some other great recipes using real maple syrup:

What are YOUR favorite ways to use real maple syrup???


Thursday, February 6, 2014

More on the Butter vs. Shortening debate

I did a post a while back about pie crusts, debating whether the flavor of an all-butter crust was preferable to the light tender texture of a shortening crust. Now I want to revisit this debate with other baked goods in mind.

Food, like pretty much everything in our culture, follows trends. The recent trend has been to bake with all butter, all the time. For the most part, I agree with this trend. I am a BIG fan of good quality real butter, and use it heavily in my baking. In fact I use it the majority of the time in everything I bake. BUT I don't think it is totally fair that shortening is getting such a bad rap. There are a few recipes where you would not get the same results from butter.

The major difference in shortening vs. butter is taste, of course. Butter imparts a delicious, creamy richness to your baked goods, whereas shortening imparts no flavor and sometimes a greasy mouth feel. So why not just use butter ALL THE TIME? Well, there are a handful of times when you may want shortening for the texture.

For me, an all-butter pie crust, while flavorful and flaky, is just never as light and tender as a shortening crust. My own personal pie crust recipe uses a mixture of shortening and butter, and no matter what filling I use, I always get rave reviews about the crust.

My great-grandmother's Molasses Cookie recipe uses shortening instead of butter, and they come out deliciously chewy. If you make it with butter they came out kind of crunchy. I am NOT about to mess with one of the best cookie recipes I have ever tasted, folks. So shortening is.

Another cookie from my great grandmother, Rolled Oats Ice Box Cookies (a.k.a. Oatmeal Coconut Pecan) also calls for shortening. Again, it tends to be more crunchy when you make it with butter. Shortening makes them stay chewy like they are supposed to be.

So basically, I am all for butter MOST of the time. If a recipe calls for butter, do not substitute shortening. But there are times when shortening is called for and should be used.

Where do YOU fall on this debate? Leave me a comment. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sinfully Rich Brownies

Sometimes what you crave is just a really good, high-quality version of a basic favorite. These brownies have no secret ingredients or funky mix-ins, but make no mistake - they are sinfully rich and delectable. Be sure to have some milk handy!

1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
dash of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease (or line with parchment) a 9x13 pan

Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer. Gradually add in the eggs, then the vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients into the wet a little at a time, mixing after each addition. Stir in the last bit by hand - you don't want to over beat this batter.

Spread the batter into the pan and bake in the middle of the oven for approximately 30-40 minutes. At 30 minutes, start checking on it every two or three minutes, giving the pan a little jiggle. When it no longer jiggles in the center and cracks are starting to appear, the brownies are done.

Let the brownies cool for a while or they will not slice neatly. They can still be warm, but not hot.(They actually slice much more neatly if you make them the night before and serve the next day, but some people really want them still warm.)

You may want to cut them on the small side, these brownies are very rich!

Enjoy :)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Recipe Review - Miss Kay's Hummingbird Cake

I got the Duck Dynasty cookbook as a gift, and whether it was meant as a joke or not, I really do love Southern food. So I decided I needed to make some of the tasty recipes in this book, starting with Hummingbird Cake.
I have always been intrigued by Hummingbird cake. As someone who grew up out West and then moved to the Northeast many years ago, it is not something I had ever had before. What is Hummingbird Cake, you ask? It is a very sweet cake made from an unusual combination of pineapple, bananas, pecans, and a touch of cinnamon, all topped with cream cheese icing. I wasn't sure if this hodgepodge of stuff would just be too many competing flavors, but it worked surprisingly well. The cake stays very moist and the flavors meld into a nice mix that is hard to pin down. Tasters would probably not be able to tell you what is in it until you told them. All in all, this is a good, easy-to-follow recipe if you like really sweet cakes in the Southern style.
Miss Kay's Hummingbird Cake
(Recipe from Duck Commander Kitchen by Kay Robertson)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line with parchment 9" cake pans - this makes two thick or three thin 9" layers, so choose accordingly.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups diced bananas
1 8oz can crushed pineapple
1 cup chopped pecans (plus another cup for garnish if desired)
Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix together the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla, beating by hand until well-mixed.
Mix the dry ingredients into the wet by hand, giving it a good stir to make sure all clumps of flour have been mixed in. Then add the bananas, pineapple, and pecans, gently folding them in just until they are spread into the batter. Try not to overmix this.
Pour the batter into the pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Important note: My layers took 8-10 minutes longer because I made the two thick layers instead of the three thin layers the original recipe called for.  
Cream Cheese Icing:
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
1 lb. confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Beat all together with an electric mixer until fluffy. When the cake has completely cooled, frost the cake, then sprinkle with 1 cup chopped pecans for garnish (I skipped this step as you can see from my picture)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Party Squares

These are very popular in my husband's family. Family legend has it that Aunt Martha was always asked to make these bars for every family function. Mysteriously, nobody else in the family can get them to turn out quite as good as hers. My husband, in a Boston accent he often exaggerates for effect, calls these "Aunt Mahtha's Pahty Bahs."

Anyway, what are they? The bottom "crust" layer is a butter cookie, softer than shortbread but with a similar flavor. The middle layer is melted chocolate chips (how easy is that?) and the top is a sweet layer of crisp meringue.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a Jelly Roll pan 
*Note* I have made these in a 9x13 pan but they turn out a little too thick. The bottom crust is too soft and the meringue does not get crispy like it should. If all you have is a 9x13 pan instead of a jelly roll, make this recipe but use only about 2/3 of it in your pan. If you have a bread pan or something small like that, you could make a separate mini batch in that pan to use up the leftovers.

1 Cup Butter
1 Cup Sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt
2 1/2 Cups Flour

12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
dash of salt
3/4 cup sugar

Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg yolks, vanilla, and whip until fluffy. Add flour gradually, slowly mixing until well combined. Press the dough into a greased jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10-12 minutes, until it is set and beginning to turn golden.

Remove from the oven and WHILE STILL HOT, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top. When they have melted, take a spatula and spread the chocolate around to even it out and cover the crust.

Beat the egg whites together with the salt and the cream of tarter until stiff. Add the sugar slowly and beat again until very stiff (the meringue should lose its gloss and stand in very stiff peaks when you lift the beater up.) Spread over the chocolate to the edge. It will be a thin layer. Return to the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes until the meringue is crisp and starting to brown on top.

Cool in the pan, then cut into squares.