Hamantaschen for Purim

Hamantaschen for PurimEven if you are not participating in a Spiel, you can still make your own Hamantaschen for Purim. And, you can always observe the tradition of sharing sweets with your friends and neighbors.

Hint: they also make a great treat year-round. Read more…

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Science of Cookies
My daughter worked on her science project over the weekend. Thankfully, it did not involve an overflowing volcano. It did involve baking soda…

Her experiment was to see what the difference was between cookies that were baked using butter, margarine, and butter flavored Crisco. And, also to see which one would taste better.

I had my own theories as to how things would work out since I have read a number of articles either online or in magazines about which ingredient produces the best cookie. But, the difference with this experiment is that there were no other modifications to the recipe. All three were made the exact same way except for swapping out the butter, margarine, and Crisco. And, they were cooked for the exact same amount of time.

Her hypothesis that the butter would make the best cookie makes sense. Everything is better with butter. But I was still curious to see the results.

The biggest difference was visual. The Crisco cookie was a photo-ready cookie. It looked like the perfect chunky chocolate chip. The butter and margarine were not as visually appealing. They were kinda flat with chocolate chips sticking up. And the margarine cookie could have used more time in the oven to get a little bit more of the golden color.

The flavor difference was insane. The butter one, as expected, was the tastiest of the three and was crispy on the outside chewy on the inside. Margarine produced a very soft cookie with good flavor but you could tell it wasn’t a real butter flavor.

The butter-flavored Crisco was gross. It tasted like eating a spoon full of chemicals. Now, this may be because we went with the butter flavor. Maybe the regular wouldn’t be as bad? It is, after all, fantastic in pie crust. But, even then I go half Crisco half butter. And using Crisco in biscuits makes some super good biscuits. We were all a bit surprised at how bad that cookie was because it looked so good.

Now, to be fair, there are a lot of ways to make cookies without using butter. Sometimes margarine just makes a better cookie. The key is adjusting the rest of the recipe to get the flavor and results you are looking for.

While none of us were surprised by the fact that butter was the winner, what this experiment did was spark a conversation about ingredients and paying attention to what is in the food we eat. (Why exactly do those cookies that we buy look so good? Could it be the hydrogenated oils that were used to make them?)

And, as we sat there feeling superior in our newfound knowledge and determination to not eat the bad stuff, we ate a few more handfuls of the butter ones ‘cause we wouldn’t want them to go to waste!

So, below is the classic Toll House Cookie recipe from the back of the chocolate chips bag. And, if you wish, you can play around with proportions of butter and Crisco, or just take our word for it. And, here is a link to a recipe from King Arthur Flour that combines butter with shortening for a photo ready cookie.

Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from the back of the chocolate chip bag.

Read more…

Molded Gingerbread Cookies

Molded Gingerbread CookiesProject Cookies

Let’s face it, the world would be a much darker place if we didn’t have cookies. There are thousands of different cookies in the world, and I am on a mission to try them all. A cookie Bucket List, if you will…

I have found that in general, cookies tend to fall into three different categories: Everyday, Holiday, and Project.

Everyday cookies are the ones you can whip up fairly quickly and easily when that cookie craving kicks in and you must have cookies now! These would be your chocolate chip, oatmeal, snickerdoodle, peanut butter (you know, the classics).

Holiday cookies are just that. These are the cookies you make for Christmas, Hannukah, Easter, etc. They are the family favorites or the recipes that are only taken out to be used at special times of the year. These can be drop cookies, bars, biscotti, rugelach, thumbprints, shortbread, press cookies…the list goes on.

Last but not least is the category I call Project Cookies. These cookies are the high maintenance diva cookies. While most of these recipes can generally be found under the holiday heading, these require a heck of a lot more planning and time to make them turn out right, and can have difficult to find ingredients, or they are just fussy to make.

Hence, they have their own category. Examples include springerle cookies, molded shortbread, French macaroons, Swedish Rosettes, any sugar cookie using royal icing and lastly, Gingerbread in molded cookie, house or man form. These are the cookies that take two days to make.

Don’t get me wrong, they are worth it. And I am planning to do little project baking this weekend to get in the holiday mood. I seem to not be there quite yet. However, a batch of Molded Gingerbread Cookies should help me transform into Mrs Claus.

This past November, I gave my sister a springerle rolling pin for her birthday and I will admit I had a hard time giving it away. (I am hoping she will let me borrow it!) While you can obviously use it for springerle cookies it is also fun, and the ingredients are easier to find, to use it for Gingerbread.

Molded Gingerbread Cookies
Yield is dependent upon the size of the mold.
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Hearty White Sandwich Bread

Hearty White Sandwich BreadThe Left Overs

I think it’s safe to say that we all have our favorites for Thanksgiving. For some it’s the sweet potatoes or the pecan pie. For others, it’s the stuffing or the turkey. For me, the best part comes afterwards. (Well, after the pie anyway.)

The most anticipated part of Thanksgiving in my world is the leftover turkey sandwich. And there is no question that I am an unapologetic turkey sandwich snob. My husband would prefer to have the entire meal over and over again. Not me. I want a turkey sandwich. (Okay. Let’s not get crazy. I still want some more pie.)

The Thanksgiving leftover sandwich is a thing of beauty. and has taken me years to perfect. Now, I am not saying there is a right way or a wrong way but there is my way.

Here’s how it stacks up:
You gotta start with good bread. The concept of good bread is always a hot debate in my family. There are those misguided souls that prefer super-fluffy white bread with questionable nutritional value, but excellent moisture content. Other, more enlightened sandwich veterans, prefer honey wheat for its nutty flavor and ability to stand up to the fillings. Then there are the black sheep who opt for the tortilla wrap or even the rogue croissant. I shudder…

Next come the condiments.
I am using the word condiments loosely here. Because for my turkey sandwich, the condiments consist of the following: Mayo, a very healthy smear of left over gravy, and a smidgen of cranberry sauce. (Now you see why I may want a more substantial piece of bread!) These three combine to provide a whole lot of flavor, and some much needed moisture—because the stuffing and the turkey get piled on top. (Yes. You read that right. Stuffing on bread. Just go with it…)

With that, you now have perfection on a plate.

Because of my sandwich psychosis, I usually make a couple of loaves of bread for the day after Thanksgiving. I always make Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread. But I have been known to compromise with the white bread lovers by making this Potato flour version as well.

Not only does this loaf of Hearty White Sandwich Bread make fantastic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it also works well with your leftover turkey.

Hearty White Sandwich Bread
Adapted from King Arthur Flours
This recipe works well in a bread machine. Read more…

Spiced Apple Cake with Cinnamon Cider Glaze

Spiced Apple CakeCake Walk

This week I am full-on geeking out.

“Why?” you might ask.
“Because Halloween is Monday,” she said.
“Why would that cause you to geek out?”
“Because I was a history major, and my main focus was Celtic history.”

Still confused? (Buckle up. It’s about to get nerdy…)

The modern day celebration of Halloween has it’s roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which celebrated the end of the summer and the harvest season. The Celts believed that during the festival of Samhain, the spirits of their ancestors would walk amongst the living. Villagers would make offerings of food and wine in order to make contact with the spirits of loved ones who had passed away.

With the good comes the bad. So, for those spirits who were not welcome, the villagers would wear disguises so that they would not be recognized. And the costumed villagers would then lure the evil spirits away with a parade.

As Christianity spread across Europe, the harvest holidays (including Samhain) were basically absorbed into a Christian celebration called the Feast of All Saints and All Souls. So, the food and wine offerings were replaced with soul cakes, which were spice cakes that were baked and given to the poor. They would in turn pray for the souls of the departed as thanks for receiving the cakes.

The concept of Halloween arrived on American shores with the Irish Immigrants in the mid-19th century. Halloween, as we know it, complete with peanut butter cups, Trick-or-Treating, and rubber masks, didn’t really come about until the 1950s. (If you’ve made it this far, thank you. My kids would be rolling their eyes and writhing in pain right now.)

This Friday, my daughter’s school is having their Fall Fest carnival with games, pie eating contests, and the most popular attraction of all…the Cake Walk.

The Cake Walk is basically musical chairs with Devil’s Food. Families donate a cake and the kids walk around in a circle to Halloween-themed music. When the music stops, you find a number. And, if your number is called, you win the cake of your choice. Yee Haw!

Since there is a cake decorating contest to go with it, most people bring Halloween-themed cakes. I, however, will be going the super-traditional spice cake route, as only a card-carrying history nerd can. It will probably be picked last.

Spiced Apple Cake with Cinnamon Cider Glaze
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Read more…

Classic Apple Dumplings

Classic Apple DumplingsHey Dumplin’

Sometimes it feels like we get cheated here on the West Coast. For all of our fantastic weather, outdoor pursuits, great food, and amazing people, we pay a steep price—no real seasons.

Okay, we do get seasons, but it feels like two instead of four. Don’t get me wrong. I love living in the Bay Area, and I know I am lucky to do so.

But, would it be too much to ask that the temperature not be over 100 on the first day of Fall? Seriously, is a little bite in the morning air asking all that much? A few brightly colored falling leaves would be good too…

We got a brief taste of Fall a week or two ago. It was fantastic. There was a cool breeze in the air and a sweater was actually required. I was wearing one while sifting through the piles of fall-themed catalogs and magazines that keep showing up in my mailbox.

All the pumpkin spice recipes and copper kettle pictures have me longing for my boots and scarves. But, I would look like an fool wearing that when it’s 97 degrees out!

One thing I came across did stop me dead in my tracks because it screams Fall and Fall cooking:

While perusing one of the recent catalogs that arrived on my doorstep, I came across this Classic Apple Dumpling recipe—which is different than Baked Apple Dumplings recipe I posted about this time last year. So, you know I had to try it.

For me, apples and apple cider go hand in hand with fall. And I can’t think of a better way to ring in the new season, no matter how hot it is…

Classic Apple Dumplings
Adapted from King Arthur Flours
Read more…

Classic Angel Food Cake

Classic Angel Food Cake with BerriesTaking The Cake

Over the weekend, my sister found herself with a bunch of leftover egg whites. That’s the dilemma when you have a recipe that calls for just the yolks. What do you do with the egg whites? Throwing them out is such a waste. There’s the option of making an egg white omelet, but to me that is the flavor equivalent of the color beige…

My sister apparently agrees, since she showed up at my door with half of a freshly baked angel food cake. Angel food cake is my favorite because I am a dessert carb junkie, and it is just so darn versatile.

Serve it plain with fresh berries and whipped cream, shortcake style, for the perfect summer dessert, or use it in layers with lemon curd and berries for a gorgeous trifle which looks great on any 4th of July picnic table. My sister’s version arrived with a decadent chocolate icing…too hard to resist. How can you go wrong? Angel food cake is even great left plain and toasted for breakfast, cause’ you only live once (and there is little to no fat in angel food cake). Yee Haw!

So, separate your eggs with wild abandon—just don’t throw out those whites. Use them for a higher purpose instead!

Classic Angel Food Cake
Yields about 16 servings Read more…

Peach Hand Pies

Peach Hand PieEasy As Pie

This Sunday I will be hosting a half dozen nine and ten-year-olds for a baking workshop that I donated to our school fundraising auction, and I am actually looking forward to it.

One of my missions in life is to get kids cooking, and being creative in the kitchen. The good news is that these kids want to learn to make their own treats, so I am hoping for minimal batter on the ceiling. That being said, I’m hedging my bets…which means we’re going to make it easy this time around. There will be nothing involving hot sugar or hot oil. Just the thought turns my hair white!

The kids will make use of the gorgeous, seasonal fruit—we will make some mini fruit tarts and a lemon cake, as well as peach hand pies (‘cause nothing is better than pie that travels). Of course, no baking class would be complete without chocolate, so we will be doing something with chocolate, though I haven’t found the perfect option yet…decisions, decisions. All of this in only four hours? No problem.

Although the fresh peaches that are available are just starting to get good, I am going to use frozen for the hand pies to make life easier. Peeling and slicing peaches will take too long. The good thing is we just got some beautiful frozen peaches in from Oregon that will do the trick nicely.

Peach Hand Pies
Makes 6 6-inch circular pies Read more…

Texas Sheet Cake

Texas Sheet CakeYou Say It’s Your Birthday…

Once again, it’s birthday week. My boys, my daughter and I all have birthdays. Of course we also have standards testing, baseball, choir, and student council campaigns. At some point I will have to scale the side of Mount Laundry, too. On top of all that, I am still required to come to work…if I expect a paycheck. I know. Crazy, right? So any birthday celebrations are most likely going to be quick and to the point.

My kids are pretty easy to please. As long as there is a donut cake in the morning, they’re good. Just in case you are wondering, a donut cake is a dozen (or so) donuts artfully arranged on a plate with candles sticking out of them. It’s a tradition. We have a donut sugar bomb breakfast while the kids open their gifts. Breakfast of champions.

I am a little more fickle. I don’t really have a favorite celebratory birthday dessert. I like birthday cake, but I also like birthday pie, and birthday pudding. Birthday crisp is pretty good…and don’t forget birthday waffles or pancakes!

This year, I want one of these beauties for a few reasons. First, they are easy. Second, I have been harboring an insane craving. Third? Pecans, baby…

Now seems like as good a time as any to make one, though it’s pretty easy to come up with an excuse. You just need to make sure you have others to help you eat it, because they feed a crowd.

Texas Sheet Cake
Yields on 18“ x 13” cake
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