Monday, December 29, 2008

Belated Christmas Cookies!

Whew! What a busy month...not so much with the baking, but with work. The problem about working the retail shtick (even specialty retail) is the non-stop work work work nature of the Christmas season. It's been so hectic and exhausting that I had few chances to do much baking this year. Bummer, and now Christmas is come and gone...but that doesn't mean I can't get caught up, not does it? After all, Christmas cookies taste just as sweet, rich, and delicious after Christmas as they do at the height of the season! Therefor may I present to you, Mrs. Santa's Magical Cookies...

Now, these are no ordinary cookies, oh no, these cookies are truly of the magical variety; the recipe of which come not from a mere cookbook, but from the pen of Mrs. Santa herself. Allow me to regale you with the tale of how I came by this recipe...

About five years ago, in the month of December, my family and I were at the Heber Valley Railway Station enjoying the sites and sounds of the old rail station turned museum, when something amazing happened. A sky full of snow danced down from the heavens. "From outside came the sounds of hissing steam and squeaking metal. I looked through window and saw a train standing perfectly still."

Everyone rushed outside to the old platform to see a wondrous train, hung with the holly and the ivy, and garland. I looked at the engine and tried to read the big, white letters but could not make them out amid the steam. We all marveled at the site, wondering what to happen next? Was the train for us? Where would it take us? As we all talked and wondered at the mystery and the magic, a shadow, hidden in the steam, was seen to emerge from the front car of the train. Though most everyone stepped back, not knowing who or what it was, one little girl stood still without fear, looking with wonder at the shadow as it stepped out from the mist to reveal a nice old man, dressed in a conductor's uniform, a warm smile, framed in wrinkles, sitting on his face. He looked like he could be anyone's favorite grandpa. He patted the child on her head, then looked at the crowd.

"Well? You all coming?" he asked.

"Where?" the girl asked.

"Why, to the North Pole, of course!" He said, joy pulsing from his being. "This is the Polar Express!"

I would be lying if I said we all jumped on board without hesitation, but the conductor's warm smile reassured us. What followed is best documented in Chris Van Allsburg's "The Polar Express." As you may remember in the book, cookies and hot chocolate were served, and truly magical cookies the were, as they were made by Mrs. Santa herself. So delicious were those cookie that I could not help but ask for the recipe. After a few minutes, a grandmotherly woman, dressed in a red winter dress, trimmed in white, walked into the car. She came up to me, looked me over, and smiled.

"A cook's heart, pure and good, always striving for the perfect cookie and cake and showing his love and friendship with his cooking. Here you are, young man," and she gave me a red card with a recipe on it, and she walked away.

"The Polar Express is about faith, and the power of imagination to sustain faith. It's also about the desire to reside in a world where magic can happen, the kind of world we all believed in as children, but one that disappears as we grow older.” - Chris Van Allsburg

And it's all true, every letter! Well...most of it, anyway, and here's the very recipe she gave to me, which I have up until recently, kept secret. In the spirit of the season, however, I have decided to share it with the world!

Mrs. Santa's Magical Cookies
by Kay Shean

1½ cups white sugar.
The giggle from an elf

2 cups of brown sugar

Found high on a shelf.

1 pound of sweet butter

A reindeer’s shy wink,

Three eggs freshly chosen,

Fairy Dust colored pink,

1½ teaspoons salt

A wish from a child,

1½ teaspoons soda,

One griffin smile-wild.

6 cups of white flour,

One gallon of joy

The twinkle that’s found

in a small girl or boy.

2 cups nuts if you like them,

if not, leave them out.

4 cups chocolate chips.

Remove all signs of doubt.

2 tablespoons vanilla

A huge dash of love,

A sprinkle of peace

From the wings of a dove.

Cream the butter and sugars, ten minutes for sure,

Mix in the giggle and winks, add the eggs and beat more.

Add salt, soda, flour, fairy dust and the wish,

The griffin’s sweet smile and beat well - What a dish!

Add the chips and vanilla, and nut if you will,

Scoop with small ice cream scooper and your cookie sheets fill.

Bake 350 degrees, 7 minutes ‘til done,

Eat with love, joy and peace and have bundles of fun!

Joyeux Noël, everyone, even if I am a bit late in saying so.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Breaking cheese at Harmon's.

The best grocery store in the area is by far the Harmon's in Roy. An artisan bakery, excellent deli that has some great ready-to-go foods, a great selection of gourmet food stuffs, and, best of all, a gourmet cheese counter! I often find myself at Harmon's on my way home from work, where I loiter around the cheese counter, chatting with John, my favorite of the cheese mongers. And it was fortunate that today I happened up to the counter just in time to watch as John cracked open a whole wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, something I've wanted to see for a long time now.

What luck! And I gotta tell ya, there is nothing like biting into a fresh sliver of Parmigiano-Reggiano, just taken from the core of the newly broken wheel, to die for. ^_^

(You'll have to excuse the poor photos, all I had was my camera phone. It was better than nothing, but doesn't compare to a real camera.)

A whole wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, about to be opened.

John scores the wheel to ensure an even break.

In go the wedges.

It took some work, but he got them all through the rind.

Out comes, and in goes, the big knife.

Ah, a newly opened canyon of Parmigiano-Reggiano!

John, the big cheese of Harmon's. Sorry, I couldn't resist. ^_^;

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A few minutes of Thanksgiving downtime with an Apple and Prune Tart.

Given that I've just received a few minutes of Thanksgiving downtime after the baking of my apple and prune tart, I thought I'd post a quick picture and the recipe for this delicious baby!

Mmm, rustic and warming. Perfect for the Thanksgiving dessert table!

Apple and Prune Tart

For pastry dough
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 to 5 tablespoons ice water

For filling
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons Calvados
1 cup packed pitted prunes (7 oz), halved
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 pounds tart green apples
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup nut pieces, toasted

1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar

Make dough:
Blend together flour, butter, and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle 3 tablespoons ice water evenly over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.

Turn out dough onto a work surface. Divide dough into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather all dough together with pastry scraper. Press into a ball, then flatten into a 5-inch disk.

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Make filling:
Simmer water, Calvados, and prunes, uncovered, until most of liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Stir together cinnamon, cloves, 2 tablespoons flour, and 1/2 cup sugar.

Peel and core apples and cut into 1/2-inch wedges. Halve wedges crosswise and toss with cinnamon mixture. Add lemon juice and toss to coat.

Finely grind walnuts with remaining 3 tablespoons flour and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a food processor.

Assemble and bake tart:
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a 14- by 18-inch oval. Roll dough loosely onto floured rolling pin and unroll onto a large buttered baking sheet. Sprinkle walnut mixture over pastry, leaving a 2 1/2- to 3-inch border.

Stir stewed prunes into apple mixture and spoon over walnut mixture, evenly tucking prunes between apple pieces. Turn edge of dough over fruit to form pleats. Brush top of dough with milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake tart, loosely covered with foil, in middle of oven 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake until crust and fruit are golden and juices are bubbling, about 30 minutes more. Cool tart on baking sheet on a rack at least 20 minutes before serving.

Now, back to the madness, such as it is. I still have pumpkin butter to make!

P.S. Did anyone else see the Rick Roll they pulled in the Macy's Parade? I think it's a bit late for the meme, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. ^_^


Monday, November 24, 2008

Lubkuchen: Time to put that candied peel to work!

I don't know where I first had the thought to start baking lebkuchen. All I recall is that a few years ago I just had to bake them. It probably had something to do with my springerle fixation and wanting to become more versed in the Christmas baking of the Old World. Those Germans really know their sweets! ^_^

Well, regardless of where the impulse originated, I'm certainly glad it did, as these cookies are Christmas cookies incarnate! Plus they're made with the candied citrus peel I told you about yesterday! (double score!)

Lebkuchen are essentially a soft, German spice cookie (one among many). The base is a nut flour mixture, sweetened with honey and flavored with cinnamon, clove, ginger, and candied citrus peel. Originating in Franconia, Germany, the lebkuchen has had a place in traditional German Christmas celebration since the late 13th century. So the cookies have been around for over 700 years, they gotta be winners with that kind of record!

The recipe isn't hard, and is pretty straight forward. It is also fairly traditional from the sources I've looked at, and the lebkuchen I've tasted in the past. The only real part where I deviate from tradition is that in traditional lebkuchen, you place the cookie dough balls onto oblaten, a thin wafer cookie, which prevents them from cementing themselves to the pan. I've been unable to find small oblaten anywhere but online, and I'm not really keen on having to have them shipped every time I want lebkuchen. Thus I just bake mine on a parchment paper, which works beautifully. You could also do as the recipe suggests and use rice paper.


For nut flour
3/4 cup hazelnuts (3 1/2 oz)
3/4 cup sliced almonds (2 1/2 oz)
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

For cookies
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup mild honey
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped fine-quality mixed candied fruit such as citron, orange, and lemon
4 (11 1/2- by 8 1/4-inch) sheets edible rice paper, cut with scissors into 32 (2 1/2-inch) rounds (optional)

For icing

2 cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons water

Make nut flour:
Finely grind nuts with remaining nut flour ingredients in a food processor.

Make dough:
Beat together brown sugar, honey, and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in nut flour at low speed until just blended, then stir in candied fruit.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Arrange rice-paper rounds, shiny sides down, on 2 large baking sheets. Roll level 2-tablespoon amounts of dough into balls with dampened hands, then put 1 on each paper round and flatten slightly (dough will spread to cover paper during baking).

Bake cookies in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until surface no longer appears wet, about 15 minutes total. Transfer to racks to cool.

Ice cookies:
Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl, then stir in water until smooth. Evenly brush tops of cooled cookies with icing. Let icing set, about 1 hour.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Making Candied Cirtus Peel for Lebkuchen

I realized a few days ago that I really haven't done much in the way of Thanksgiving/Christmas/Holiday cookie baking yet. Sure I've done some springerle (and have much yet to bake), but I don't feel like I've been baking the to speak. Thus it was with this in mind that I decided to bake one of my favorite Old World Christmas cookies...Lebkuchen. The only problem, however, was that as hard as I tried, I just could not find any candied orange or lemon peel. Not even the chep, cloyingly sweet, jellified stuff. Oh sure, I found plenty of tubs of premixed stuff. You know the kind, with the atomic green "cherries" you find in cheap fruitcake.

I think not. "I shan't," I declared, "sully the good name of lebkuchen with such a thing." Nor, however, could I go without. So I decided, with the help from some friends at BakeSpace, it was time to take these lebkuchen to the next level with homemade citrus peel!

I know what you're thinking, I must be crazy to first make an ingredient from scratch to the be added to another recipe. Maybe I am crazy, but believe me when I tell you that it's so simple that you will never again resort to buying candied peel.

You need a mere three ingredients to make candied citrus peel. Water, sugar, and your citrus peel of choice. Three simple ingredients that, when combined alchemically, yield this shimmering, sweet and slightly bitter, but always elegant treat.

Candied Orange and Lemon Peel

The peel of 2 oranges (including pith), cut into 1/4 inch strips
The peel of 3 lemons (including pith), cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 cups white sugar
1 cup water

Take your peels and put them into a large sauce pan and cover with water and het on high. Let boil 20 minutes. Drain.

In another pan, combine sugar and 1 cup water over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Heat on high until the syrup reaches 230º F. Add the peels, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Drain.

Separate pieces on a wire rack, sprinkle with more sugar. Let dry for several hours. Store in a cool, dry place.

What about the lebkuchen, you ask? You'll just have to wait until tomorrow for that tasty conclusion. ^_^

Friday, November 21, 2008

Cranberry and Apple Relish

Every year we go and enjoy Thanksgiving with some neighbors of ours, and have done so for as long as I can remember. And also for as long as I can remember, the deep rouge cylinder accompanied the turkey at the table. Yes, ridges and all, on its side sliced up like an analogue to the turkey...the cranberry sauce.

Now don't get me wrong, I think the red cylinder is okay, and has it's place in the kitchen (stir some into your oatmeal with some cinnamon, über délicieux!), but just not at the Thanksgiving table. Try telling that to my family or our friends. Thus it was that a few years ago I decided to try and show them the light and bring to Thanksgiving dinner real, honest to god, homemade, from scratch, cranberry sauce! was a flop. No one touched it, except for a pity nibble from Rita. To ad insult to insult, I was actually ridiculed for making it myself. Joking comments along the lines of, "Traditional cranberry sauce not good enough for ya?" and so forth. I tried again the next year, but yielded similar results. I have therefor decided that though this year I will again make my own sauce for Thanksgiving, I'll just keep it at home, private reserve, if you will.

Most recipes I've tried over the years involve cranberries, water, a lot of sugar and varying spices. All have been either simmered or baked and yield a candy-like sauce that though might good, is also very sweet and often heavy on the palate. I was therefor pleasantly surprised when I found and made this recipe for a cranberry-pear relish on

The relish is completely raw and is simply thrown together in a food processor, so it's fast and easy. I also find that the rawness makes the relish lighter in the mouth than its cooked counterparts. It strikes me as a grown-up variation on the Thanksgiving classic, being nicely balanced with the sweetness of the pear (well, I actually used an apple because that's what I had on hand), the acidity from the orange juice, tartness from the cranberries, and bitterness from the orange peel and pith (yes, you literally throw in an entire orange). It also uses only a half cup of sugar, versus to the one or more cups in previous recipes I tried. I actually used less than that and sill found it plenty sweet to ward off the tartness, especially after a day in the fridge.

Cranberry-Pear (or Apple) Relish
via Food Network, all credit to them for a wonderful recipe

1 small navel orange
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 Bartlett pear or an apple, cored and cut into large chunks
1/4 to 1/2 cup brown sugar
Pinch kosher salt
3 tablespoons pecans or other nut, toasted and coarsely chopped

Wash and dry the orange. Cut the orange into small wedges, including the peel, and put in a food processor. Add the cranberries, pear, sugar, and salt. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Just before serving, stir in the pecans.

On a related note, I'd like to introduce the newest member of Cogito new Canon SX10 IS!

With his help, I hope to bring you ever tastier blog posts through ever more delicious photography.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cooking with Alicia & Annie: Amish Shoofly Tart

After taking the month of October off from blogging (no reason, really, just didn't feel inspired to type), I have been raised from the post-Halloween grave to blog once again! What has roused me, you ask? It was none other than Cooking with Alicia & Annie's November Blog Event!

The challenge: Choose a recipe from either Alicia or Annie's recipe sites, make it, shoot it, and blog it.

The stakes: The Holiday Baker's Bundle, a collection of collapsible bowls, measuring cups, cookie cutters, etc.

...Bring it on!

I chose the take another crack at the odd-ball Amish Shoofly Pie, a molasses pie of Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch origin. I've tried making this simple dessert before, and had mixed results. The pie was overall good, but the crust (having been par baked before adding the filling) came out, shall we say, "over-caramelized," i.e. burnt.

Now it was time for Round 2, and this time I'd call it a sweet success!

I stayed true to the original recipe except for two things: First, I cut the recipe in half to make one pie, rather than two. Second, I was aching to try my new tart pan, so in lieu of a pie pan, a tart pan it was. I also reduced the baking temps a bit, same with the time.

Amish Shoofly Tart

Crumb Mixture
1 c. flour
6 tbsp. brown sugar
3 tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. molasses
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 c. hot water
1/2 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in the hot water
1 (unbaked) 11" tart crust

Mix crumb ingredients together until crumbs are formed. In separate bowl, mix syrup ingredients together. Pour the syrup into the tart shell, then top with crumbs.

Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 45 more minutes, until the crust is, as Alton Brown would say, golden brown and delicious.

Cool completely before cutting.

If you've never tried shoofly pie, the flavor can be hard to describe. As I ate it, I couldn't help but think that I had tasted this somewhere before, but where? Then it hit me! Shoofly pie tastes remarkably like a S'mores Pop-Tart, only much better!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Springerle season kick-off, 2008.

Yep, I'm at it again. With the turn of the seasons comes a desire to try and, again, perfect my springerle skillz and break-in my new mold, with visible success!

Those who were following my trials and tribulations last year, will remember my ongoing issue with big hollows forming in the cookies (pillowing, as I've dubbed it), and that I had to make some adjustments to the recipe. I think those adjustments have worked well, and I made another change by using extra large eggs, rather than just large eggs. I think the added moisture went a long way to help the dough stay "coherent," you might say. No large voids, no pillows, just a consistent cookie. And look, they grew perfect feet!

Now, the hardest part of all, allowing the springerle to ripen for a week before eating any more of them! ^_^;

Here's the recipe I've been using, along with my alterations...

Whole Egg Springerle
originally published by Sharon Hudgins
"Edible Art," The World and I Magazine, Dec. 2001

4 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp anise extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar*
grated zest of 1 lemon
4 cups all purpose flour*
3/4 tsp. baking powder
Optional: 2 Tbsp. whole anise seed

* First sift, then measure by spooning gently into a measuring cup and
leveling off the top with a knife.

Beat eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed for 10 minutes, until they are very pale and thick. Reduce mixer speed to medium; add anise oil. Gradually add confectioners' sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating continuously. After all the sugar has been added, beat on high speed for 10 minutes longer. Stir in grated lemon zest.

Sift flour and baking powder together into another bowl. Gradually stir into egg mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing with a large wooden spoon until dough is smooth. Transfer dough to a floured pastry board and knead by hand for 5 minutes, until dough is soft and smooth and doesn't stick to your hands. Wrap dough securely in Plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.

Lightly butter (or spray with PAM) two large cookie sheets (not the air insulated variety). Optional:Put anise seed into a small plastic bag and crush them lightly with a rolling pin. Sprinkle crushed anise seed evenly over the cookie sheets.

Lightly dust a pastry board with flour or confectioners' sugar. Break off one-fourth of the chilled dough, leaving the remainder tightly wrapped in plastic (at room temperature if you are working quickly, or return to refrigerator if you not). Working quickly, because it dries rapidly, roll out dough with a standard rolling pin to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Dust top of dough lightly with confectioners' sugar, flour, or cornstarch.

Dust the mold to be used with confectioners' sugar and shake off excess. If using flat Springerle boards, press them firmly into the dough, to stamp the designs on the dough. If using a Springerle rolling pin, roll it only once firmly across the sheet of dough. With a fluted pastry cutter, pizza cutter, or sharp knife, cut the imprinted dough into individual cookies, each with a separate design in the middle. (If you plan to use the cookies as ornaments, punch a hole in the top of each with a skewer or matchstick. After baking, put a ribbon or piece of yarn through the hole to hang cookies on the tree.)

Use a spatula to transfer Springerle cookies to the baking sheets, placing cookies 1/2 inch apart Roll, stamp, and cut the remaining dough, re-rolling any scraps, until all the dough has been used. Let unbaked cookies sit in the open air, uncovered, in a warm room (away from children and pets) for 12 to 24 hours to dry thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 275ºF. Bake cookies on the middle rack of the oven, one baking sheet at a time, for 20 to 25 minutes. Watch carefully; don't let them over bake. They should be white on the top and pale golden on the bottom. Immediately remove the cookies from the baking sheets and transfer them to wire racks to cool for at least 1 hour. Brush remaining anise seed (if used) into an airtight container to use for storing Springerle.

When they have cooled completely, put them into the container with half an apple or a slice of bread set on top of the cookies, to make the Springerle soften while their flavor is developing. Cover container tightly. Leave cookies in container for at least 1 week (and up to 4 weeks), changing the apple or bread every few days to prevent mold from growing.

After their flavor has been allowed to ripen, Springerle can be eaten or stored for longer periods in the freezer. Stack them in a plastic freezer container, with a piece of wax paper between each
layer of cookies. Serve Springerle with coffee, tea, or a glass of chilled, not-too-dry, Alsatian, Rhine, or Mosel white wine. Makes approximately 60 two-inch-square Springerle cookies. (yield will vary, depending on size of cookie molds used.)

Note: Springerle cookies can be left totally white, or the designs on them can be painted with edible coloring materials.

Monday, September 22, 2008

New springerle mold.

Readers who were following me last year know well of my struggles with trying to bake the perfect springerle, which yielded mixed results. This year, I intend to keep working on my springerle, and even ordered a second mold from Mr. Gene Wilson.

This time 'round I purchased a smaller mold (2.5" x 3.5") featuring a proud/prancing reindeer/stag. It's Christmassy, to be sure, but I can also see using it for a sort of St. Patrick's cookie, as in the White Stag of Celtic legend.

I'll keep you posted about my baking results. I think it's about time I got to practicing my springerle!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Gingerbread: A spicy, autumnal, kick in the face!

Do you feel it? Can you smell it? It's in the air, growing ever crisper. It's in the leaves, growing ever redder. And it in the cooking, which grows ever more warming. Autumn is upon us! I revel is all things autumnal; the changing leaves, the shortening days, wearing sweaters, the cool, crisp days, and the warm cooking and baking, especially. I love the flavors of autumn. Pumpkin, butternut squash, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, apples, oranges, pears, all of these flavors work in a way that, regardless of what goes on in your life and around the world, well...they make you feel happy.

One of my all-time favorite autumnal sweets (besides candy corn) is gingerbread. Not the cookies (though I love those, too), but the cake. However, I sometimes find it hard to find a suitable recipe. So many that I read extol the virtues of how there is "but a hint of spice," or "a touch of ginger," or "just a touch of molasses" to the flavor. Now, I don't know about you, but when I want gingerbread...I want gingerbread! None of this holding back of flavor. Give it to me full flavored and don't wimp out. I now think I've finally found a recipe that lives up to my demanding expectation, Gramercy Tavern's Gingerbread.

Another wonderful recipe from the folks at Gourmet Magazine, Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread is a dense, almost sticky cake that delivers a kick to the face, as spice and flavor goes. Hell, there's a heaping two tablespoons of ginger in this baby, plus an entire cup of dark molasses. You also get the pleasure of adding a cup of stout beer to the batter, and as we all know, beer makes food better.

I've used stouts in baking before, and yielded delicious results. I've used both Guinness and Sierra Nevada Stout, and both work. However, I have found that Guinness, though great when drunk straight up, does not deliver as much when used in baking. Therefor, I recommend Sierra Nevada Stout, here. It's got more chutzpah, which comes through well when added to a cake batter. You don't really taste the stout so much, but it helps to balance the three cups of sugar (1 cup each dark molasses, dark brown sugar, and white sugar) with some bitterness. It also adds richness to the gingerbread.

Hm...a second slice is looking good, right about now. ^_^;

Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread

1 cup oatmeal stout or Guinness Stout
1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cardamom
3 large eggs
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Confectioners sugar for dusting

Special equipment: a 10-inch (10- to 12-cup) bundt pan

Accompaniment: unsweetened whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter bundt pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess.

Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour batter into bundt pan and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.

Serve cake, dusted with confectioners sugar, with whipped cream.

Friday, September 12, 2008


A couple of weeks ago I went foraging for elderberries in the mountains in a couple of my usual foraging grounds, and met with little success, collecting a scant 2 cups of berries. This is not to say that I didn't find any berries, I just happened upon them before the vast majority were ripe and thus, inedible. (Unlike other berries, unripe elderberries are, in fact, toxic.) So I decided to give them a couple of weeks and was rewarded with a nice haul, today!

I ended up gathering about 12 cups of ripe berries, which are now chilling in the freezer as I decide what to do with them. Any thoughts? I've made jam before, and elderberry extract to treat friends and family who get the flu, but tonight I find myself without inspiration.

Although...elderberry liqueur is certainly an intriguing thought.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Apple Butter, an Autumnal Preview's still a little ways off, I know, but that doesn't mean I can't indulge in a little bit of Fall in August, does it? I think not! There's just something about Autumn that warms the heart. I guess that's why I love it so much. Plus, it doesn't hurt that the months of September, October, November, and December comprise Grand Tetrarchy of Cooking, what with Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love the flavors of pumpkin, spices, cranberries, cinnamon, cider, and, of course, apples. Thus it is with great joy, and a watering mouth, that I present you with...Baked Apple Butter (on toasted brioche anisée)!

As much as I love apples and apple butter, this is only the second time I'm ever made it. The last time was a year or two ago, when I used the recipe from the Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving. My main gripe with that recipe, though, is that it's all done on the stove, and you have to stir almost constantly while it cooked, lest it burn. It took almost an hour to cook down! My arms fell off...both of 'em! And if your stopped stirring, you were brought back to attention with a searing hot splatter of apple butter to the face. If that wasn't enough you were also instructed to use a food mill to puree the apples and remove the skins, thus took another hour. Then there was the matter of the spices, the USDA's recipe instructs you use a mouth-numbing 1 tbsp of ground cloves. Now, I like my apple butter spicy, but this was just ridiculous!

For these reasons, I went about searching for a similar, though easier, method of making apple butter, and one that used less sugar, too. I wanted an apple butter that was easy, tasty, and erring on the healthier side. And I think I found it.

I consulted many a recipe and combined the elements from each I liked, not the least of which is the fact that it's baked, so you don't have to worry about it scorching, and you only have to give 'er a stir every half-hour.

Baked Apple Butter

4 large Granny Smith apples
4 large Breaburn apples
1 cup unsweetened Apple Juice
1 cup Brown Sugar (or other sweetener)
2 (generous) tsp. ground Cinnamon
1/2 (generous) tsp. ground Cloves
1/4 (generous) tsp. ground Allspice
The ground up seeds of one large Green Cardamom Pod
Generous pinch of Salt

Core and cut the apples into chunks, but leave the skin on. Put apples and apple juice into a large sauce pan and boil over medium heat for 30 minutes.

Set oven to 275°F.

Using a stick blender, blend the apples and skins until smooth. You can also use a food processor or blender, working in batches.

Add the sugar , cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cardamom and salt. Stir to mix well. Pour into a 13x9 inch baking dish, and bake for 3 hours, stirring every half-hour, or until the butter reaches the consistency you like.


- Feel free to use any kind apples you like, in this recipe, it's plenty flexible. I just happened to like the looks of the Granny Smiths and Braeburns today.

- If you can get apple cider, that would work great too. Cider is just yet to make an appearance around here, as yet.

- You can use white sugar, brown sugar, honey, or a sugar substitute. Just aim for a cup's worth. I didn't have enough brown sugar, so I topped it off with the Baker's Blend sugar substitute.

- Don't feel that you must use the cardamom, I know it can be hard to find, for some. I just love the warm, floral taste of the stuff so could I not add it in? ^_^

- Next time, I'll probably add in some lime juice to lend a bit of acidity to the butter, to brighten it up a tad.

- This recipe is not meant to be processed and "put up," so be sure to keep it refrigerated.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cahill's Irish Porter Cheddar

I was at Harmon's today (my favorite grocery store!) and picked up a wedge of Cahill's Irish Porter Cheddar.

The cheese is a medium cheddar, but before they press the curd, they mix in Irish porter beer, which creates a beautiful marbled cross section. The flavor is nicely filling, and has just a bit o' bite, with a sweetness from the beer. The cheese also has an interesting distinction in that they use vegetable rennet to form the curd, rather than the rennet from a sheep's stomach, so you [i]could[/i] call it a "vegetarian" cheese, assuming you're a lacto-vegetarian, of course; or like me, an ovo-pesco-lacto-vegetarian. ^_^;

I think that a drink pairing is pretty easy here, Guinness, of course! A pint of Polygamy Porter from Wasatch Brewery would also be a great option.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Potage Luzienne

Some weeks ago, while wandering through Barnes & Noble and enjoying the smell of coffee and paper, I happened upon a jackpot of a find on a clearance table, Under the Sun: Caroline Conran's French Country Cooking. For $5.50, how could I not!? The book is filled with information on the ingredients, foods, and people of southern France, "...from Bordeaux to Nice..." and beyond. The recipes are pretty simple, down-home French cooking, you could say. None of the snooty stuff which often maligns French cooking in pop culture. Recipes include Sautéed Green Bell Peppers and Tomato Salad (Salade de Tomates aux Piments Verts), Cep and Potato Soup (Soupe aux Cépes), Lamb Couscous with Seven Vegetables (Couscous aux Sept Legumes), and Sweet Aniseed Brioche (Brioche Anisée) and so many more. Many of the recipes are accompanied with beautiful photographs, as well.

Tonight, I was set on making the Olive Soup from St.-Jean-de-Luz (Potage Luzienne).

Mmm, hearty, old world, rustic, and tasting of the country of the Pays least, so I'd assume.

Olive Soup from St. Jean-de-Luz
(Potage Luzienne)
from Under the Sun, by Caroline Conran

1 cup dried fava beans, soaked for 2 hours until tender
1 smallish russet potato, peeled and diced
1 large leek, cleaned and sliced thinly
1 cup pitted kalamata olives
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Slices of whole grain baguette, buttered and toasted and sprinkled with salt and pepper

Put the soaked and drained beans, potato, leek, olives, shallots, thyme and garlic into a dutch oven with 4 3/4 cups water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer on low for 1¼ to 1½ hours.

Add slat and pepper to taste, and id you'd like, briefly blend with a stick blender.

Serve topped with a slice of toasted baguette.

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Curried Pineapple Hummus with Herbed Egg Roll Chips

I've said numerous times over on the BakeSpace forums, one of my all-time favorite food reads is 28 Cooks. There, Fiber has posted many a vegetarian (and pescetarian) delight, my favorite of which are her wonderfully flavorful and creative hummus recipes. Her hummuses (hummus's...hummuseses...hummi?) range from Thai Coconut Curry Hummus, to Cirtus Sesame Hummus, to Sundried Tomato Hummus, and Chipotle Cilantro and more. One recipe I made some time ago was her Pineapple Curry Hummus. I loved it and was inspired the other day to make my own variation on this unexpected combination of flavors.

Curried Pineapple Hummus with Herbed Egg Roll Chips!

My version is similar is concept, but differs somewhat in ingredients. Rather than using curry powder, I used red curry paste. Plus I added coconut milk in place of oil, to give a creamier consistency and a more curried flavor. Along side the hummus, I made Herbed Egg Roll Chips, which are relly no more than crispy egg roll wrappers with an some of Emeril's Asian Essence. They are wonderfully crisp and crunchy when you bite into them.

Curried Pineapple Hummus

All the ingredients are approximate, as I was simply adding them to taste. Feel free to adjust them to suit your own palette.

1 can garbonzo beans (chick peas)
1/4 cup pineapple chunks
1 - 1 1/2 tsp. red curry paste
1 - 2 tbsp. coconut milk
Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and go at it until you reach the smoothness that suits you, add more or less liquid (including the juice from the pineapple chunks, if you'd like) to reach your desired consistency.

Herbed Egg Roll Chips

egg roll wrappers
Emeril's Asian Essence (or any other Asian spice mix)
cooking spray

Put a large, cast iron skillet over high heat.

Take an egg roll wrapper and spray it with a bit of cooking oil. Sprinkle with Asian Essence (or your choise of Asian, or non-Asian, herbes). Cook about 1 - 2 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

Allow the wrappers to cool, then break them into chips.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Homemade where's my 85% cacao Lindt chocolate bar?

Throughout all of my time exploring the endless facets of all things food and cooking, one thing has always managed to foil me at every attempt...sugar. More specifically, making candy requiring the boiling of sugar. Time and again, I have failed in my attempts to craft candy and confections alike; but not so on this day...

On this day I set out to conquer the sugar hurdle and attempt a recipe from this month's Bon Appétit, homemade marshmallows.

The recipe is pretty simple, consisting mostly of sugar, gelatin, vanilla, and water, along with a few other things, so the ingredients didn't cause me any consternation. What has always beaten me is the boiling of the sugar. This step, above all others, had me on my toes. One way or another, I always end up with a syrupy, crystalline mess in my pot, rather than a smooth, pourable, syrup. Today, however, I was careful, took my time, and double and triple check my temps. The temperature of the sugar was another issue for me. The recipe calls for you to boil the sugar until it reaches a final temperature of 240° F, which is fine if you're at sea level. Me, however, I live in northern Utah at an altitude of about 4500 feet. Living this high up, water boils not at 212°, but at 203°. This fact has been my undoing on many a baking or candy making endeavor, so I had to make an adjustment. After consulting a variety of sources, I settled on reducing the target temperature by 2° for ever 1000 feet about sea level. Thus I set my probe thermometer to start screaming at 231°. The results speak for themselves. ^_^

They taste just like marshmallows, so I think I can call them a success.

The great thing about the recipe, is that you can probably change out the vanilla for just about any flavor your heart desires, and the imagination can dream. Amaretto marshmallows, anyone? How about lemon, or chocolate, or coffee, or rum? The possibilities are quite intriguing. ^_^

And if you were about to ask, yes, they are wonderful when roasted atop the stove.

Homemade Marshmallows
à la Bon Appétit, July 2008

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup cold water, divided
3 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup potato starch*

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with foil.

Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray. Pour 1/2 cup cold water into bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.

Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cold water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over mediumlow heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240°F, about 8 minutes.

With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in thin stream down side of bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer.

Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with wet spatula. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.

Stir potato starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13x9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab. Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture.

*A food thickener made from cooked, dried, ground potatoes, this gluten free flour is also known as potato flour; available at most supermarkets.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

TSP or TVP...either way, gotta say not bad.

Whether you call it TSP (textured soy protein) or TVP (textured vegetable protein), it doesn't change the fact that the stuff is versatile, easy to use, and, when cooked right, down right tasty.

While at Good Earth Natural Foods a few weeks ago, I was walking through their bulk foods room (where, I might add, you can buy Irish oats, granolas, dried fruits, sweeteners, and flours of every variety at a fraction of the cost of boxed brands) when I spied bags of TSP chunks for a mere 96¢ per bag (about 2.5 cups, raw). Of course, being a flexitarian (90% vegetarian), I am on a constant search for cheap, flexible, and useful sources of protein. Tofu is great, as are beans, lentils, and the like, but more options is always better, thus I grabbed a bag. and went to making a pot of TSP and veggie stew.

The chunks, when raw, were about a half inch or so in size, and wad the texture of remarkably hard croutons, and the just discernible flavor of plain soynuts. Actually, if they could make a less dense version, you could probably use it as a high protein substitute for croutons, hmm...but I digress. As I cooked the TSP in the stew, they softened and took on the texture of a sponge. But...after 45 or 50 minutes of cooking, they did indeed firm-up and have a tender, beefy texture. As for flavor, like tofu, TSP tastes like whatever you cook it with, or use to marinate it, so there are a lot of options. You can let your imagination go wild!

HAve you used TSP/TVP before? Any interesting ideas or recipes? Give us a hollar and post 'em up in the comments!

Hearty Vegetable Stew

1 (16 oz.) bag frozen vegetables for stew
1 (14.5 oz.) can vegetable stock
2 (15 oz.) cans whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups water
2 cups textured soy protein chunks
1 Tbs minced dried onion
2 Tbs each of Worcestershire sauce
pepper, salt, oregano and garlic to taste

Combine all ingredients in a dutch oven or stock pot (3 quart size). Stir well and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes, or until textured soy protein chunks are tender.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The triumphant return!

Joy abounds with the triumphant return of!

Under new ownership, the site is back to its old self, with only a few minor modifications. Rejoice!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Fare thee well,

I awoke this morning to find everything as it usually is in the morning. I went about my rituals of feeding the cat, making coffee, then sipping half of my first cup before taking a shower. After I was dressed I sat down at my computer and clicked my bookmark to, only to be met with this...

Say it ain't so! For the past 18 months, Tastespotting has been an addiction for me, not to mention the best way to see what was the latest and greatest in the foodie blogoshpere.

Thus far there are no further details about Tastespotting's evaporation into the ether.

You will be missed Tastespotting, here's hoping you shall someday rise again from the ashes.