Monday, August 16, 2010

Altruistic Baking

We went to a friend's house for a BBQ last weekend.  It was close to his birthday, so it was a 'quasi birthday party'.  I remembered (hopefully correctly) that he is a pecan lover, so I decided to find a pecan recipe to make and bring. What can I say??  I'm a giver like that.  I'll leave off the fact that I had a big bag of pecans in my pantry that I needed to use.  They were lovely, by the way.

So, I found the following recipe in my pink "Better Homes & Gardens" cookbook.  By the way, I strongly suggest this one if you can find it.  I've not had a stinker of a recipe out of it yet!

Chocolate-Caramel Bars

1 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. butter
2 c. coarsely chopped pecans
1 c. flaked coconut
1 - 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. vanilla
20 vanilla caramels, unwrapped
2 TBSP milk
1 c. milk chocolate pieces or semisweet chocolate pieces

1. For crust, in a medium bowl stir together the flour and brown sugar.  Using a pastry blender, cut in the the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Press crumb mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 13x9x2 inch baking pan.  Bake in a 350 oven for 15 minutes.  Sprinkle pecans and coconut over hot crust.

2. For filling, combine sweetened condensed milk and vanilla; pour over pecans and coconut.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes more or until the filling is set.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan combine caramels and milk.  Cook and stir over medium-low heat just until caramels melt.  Drizzle caramel mixture over filling.  Sprinkle with chocolate pieces.  Cool completely.  Cut into bars.

Yes, my friends, these bars are as good as they look.  The crust is a brown sugar shortbread.  I used chocolate chips melted on the top, and I used a spatula to spread it and make a layer of chocolate.

It's a good thing I brought them to someone else's house.  I do not think I'd have been able to stay out of the pan.  You could mix and match the nuts and chocolate type, based on your preference, or what's in the pantry.

This one's a keeper for SURE!

On to the next baking adventure........

xo, Shell

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Lovely Lemon

We went over to a friend's house Friday night.  She had made some lemon bars, which are one of my husband's favorites.  On our way home, he asked if I could make him some lemon bars some time soon.  Being the dutiful, obedient wife that I am (I'll wait for you to stop laughing.  No really, I've got all day here..) I decided it would be a good blog post.

I found a recipe in my Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook:

Luscious Lemon Bars

2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. sifter powdered sugar
2 TB cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. butter
4 slightly beaten eggs
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
3 TB all-purpose flour
1 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel
3/4 c. lemon juice
1/4 c. half-and-half, light cream, or milk
Powdered sugar

1. In a large bowl combine the 2 cups flour, the 1/2 cup powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt.  Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press mixture into the bottom of a greased 13x9x2-inch baking pan.  Bake in a 350 oven for 18 to 20 minutes or until edges are golden.

2. Meanwhile, for the filling, in a medium bowl, stir together the eggs, granulated sugar, the 3 TB flour, lemon peel, lemon juice, and half-and-half.  Pour filling over hot crust.

3. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes more or until center is set.  Cool on a wire rack.  Sift powdered sugar over top.  Cut into bars.  Cover and store in the refrigerator.

My notes:
- Let the butter rise in temperature a little, but don't soften completely.  Cut into small chunks to make cutting it into the dry ingredients easier.
- I have never owned a pastry blender.  I use a fork.  It works just fine.
- I didn't have a lemon peel to shred, so I left it out.  It really adds more to the visual than the flavor.
- I used Fat Free half-and-half because it's what I have on hand.

The result.............YUM!  The crust has a shortbread flavor and texture.  The filling set perfectly. 

I think I'll go have one with my coffee this morning.  I'm starting to learn that fruit can, in fact, make delicious desserts. Yes, I know pastry chefs around the world have known this little tidbit of information for decades, but I'm a die hard chocaholic.  My personal growth through this experience is astonishing, don'tcha think?

Thanks for reading!  On to the next baking adventure......

xo, Shell

Saturday, July 10, 2010


We are headed to a BBQ tomorrow night, and I said I'd bring dessert.

It's not hot as Satan's armpit like it has been for much of the country, so I thought I'd actually bake something.

I want cake, and I want chocolate.  So, chocolate cake it is.  I say this like I don't want chocolate cake every day.  Form your own opinions and judgments as you see fit.

I went back to the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook because, quite honestly, it's the only one down from the high shelf right now, and I'm lazy.

I made this:

Chocolate-Buttermilk Sheet Cake (aka Texas Sheet Cake)

2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 c. butter
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 c. water
2 eggs
1/2 c. buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 recipe Chocolate-Buttermilk frosting

1. Grease a 15x10x1 or 13x9x2 inch baking pan; set aside.  In a medium bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan combine butter, cocoa powder, and water.  Bring mixture just to boiling, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Add the cocoa mixture to flour mixture and beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until thoroughly combined.  Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Beat for 1 minute (batter will be thin).  Pour batter into the prepared pan.

3. Bake in 350 oven for about 25 minutes for a 15" pan, 35 for a 14" pan, or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.

4. Pour warm Chocolate-Buttermilk frosting over the warm cake, spreading evenly.  Place cake in pan on a wire rack; cool thoroughly.

Chocolate-Buttermilk Frosting

In a medium saucepan combine 1/4 c. butter, 3 TBSP cocoa powder, and 3 TBSP buttermilk.  Bring to boiling.  Remove from heat.  Add 2 1/4 c. sifted powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp. vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  If desired, stir in 3/4 c. coarsely chopped pecans.

First of all, that frosting is as good as it looks.  It is like very thin fudge.  If I could shrink myself a la "Honey I Shrunk the Kids", I would have gone for a swim in it.

Since the end product is for a BBQ tomorrow, you'll have to stay tuned to find out how it tastes.  It came out with the lovely 'We live at altitude' dip in the middle.  BUT, the well in the middle would make my fudge frosting laps much easier (if I was, in fact, pocket sized).

On to the next baking adventure.................

Fruit isn't technically dessert

Hi Everyone!

Sorry I haven't posted in so long.  I actually have two posts for tonight, so I'll get right to it.

The title of this post is true.  Technically, I don't consider any fruit based item 'dessert'.  I won't order the 'fruit tart' at a restaurant.  MAYBE pie can count because it is encased in flaky, lardy deliciousness, but that's beside the point.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a few containers of lovely looking blackberries that were $1 each at the grocery store.  I knew we'd never eat them all plain, so I set about looking for a fruit crisp kind of recipe in my cookbooks.  I hit the jackpot in my pink Better Homes & Garden cookbook.

Fruit Crisp
5 c. sliced, peeled cooking apples, pears, peaches, or apricots, or frozen unsweetened peach slices
2 - 4 TBSP granulated sugar
1/2 c. regular rolled oats
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg, ginger, OR cinnamon
1/4 c. butter or margarine
1/4 c. chopped nuts or coconut

1. For fruit filling, thaw fruit if frozen.  Do not drain.  Place fruit in a 2-quart square baking dish.  Stir in the granulated sugar.

2. For topping, in a meduim bowl combine the oats, brown sugar, flour, and nutmeg.  Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in nuts.  Sprinkle topping over fruit.

3. Bake in a 375 oven for 30 - 35 minutes (40 minutes for thawed fruit) or until fruit is tender and topping is golden.  If desired, serve warm with ice cream.

I followed the variation for blueberry crisp with my blackberries:  Prepare as directed, except use 5 c. fresh or frozen blueberries [blackberries] for the fruit.  Use 4 TBSP granulated sugar, and add 3 TBSP all purpose flour.

The result was bubbly and tantalizing (or is that me...wait...)

It was really good.  The blackberries were just tart enough that the end product wasn't too sweet.  I did have it with ice cream, so technically it wasn't ONLY fruit.  I think fruit crisp is a great way to use up fruit in the fridge that's on its way out.  The topping is made with pantry staples.  It's a crowd pleaser, for sure!

On to the next baking adventure............

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A two-fer

Another cruddy day outside means you get two blog posts in one weekend!  Well, that and the fact that I had bananas that were on their way out.

I searched a few cookbooks for a good banana recipe.  I found what I was looking for in my Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, edited by Jennifer Dorland Darling.  I think my good friends Scott & Sarah Patton gave me this many years ago.

Banana Cake
2 eggs
2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. mashed ripe bananas (about 3)
3/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1/2 cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla

1. Allow eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, grease and flour two 8" or 9" round cake pans, or one 13x9 oblong pan. Set aside

2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add bananas, buttermilk, shortening, and vanilla.  Beat on low speed until combined.  Add eggs; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Pour batter into prepared pan(s).

3. Bake in a 350 oven for 25 - 30 minutes for round pans, about 30 minutes for oblong pan, or until a wooden toothpick inserted near centers out clean.  Cool cake layers in pans on wire racks about 10 minutes.  Remove cake layers from pans; cool thoroughly on racks.  Or, place 13x9 pan on a wire rack; cool thoroughly.  Frost with desired frosting.

There's a note at the top of the recipe that says, "For the purist, only Cream Cheese Frosting will do on this cake."  Far be it from me to go against the purists.  So, I frosted with this recipe, out of the same book:

Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla
5-3/4 to 6-1/4 sifted powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, beating well.  Gradually beat in additional powdered sugar to reach spreading consistency.  Cover and store frosted cake in the refrigerator.

A couple of things.  First off, I did not have any buttermilk, so I had to make 'sour milk'.  I felt a bit like a mad scientist.  I think I may have even cackled like one, for the benefit of my 14 year old baby brother who's staying with me this weekend.  The cookbook says to measure out 1 TBSP of lemon juice or vinegar per 1 cup of sour milk needed.  Put the vinegar in the measuring cup, then measure out the milk to equal 1 cup of liquid.  Since I needed only 3/4 c., I had to do some math...(carry the 1...).  I needed 2 1/4 tsp.  The result looked like normal milk, but 'gritty'.  It was weird.

The kids also had great fun poking at the gross bananas (they're sooo squishy!!).  If I have bananas that no one wants to eat, and I don't feel like baking, I throw them in the freezer.  I take them out the night before I am going to bake.  The result is a banana that is completely black on the outside, slimy on the inside.  You can't imagine that we live in a world where you could cook with these things and have the result be something tasty.  But it works!  The batter for this cake was the consistency you expect from a cake batter, quite runny.

I think the cook time is off on the recipe.  At 30 minutes, the top was not brown, and the middle of the cake still jiggled.  I cooked for about 42 minutes.  The result is to your left.

To your right, you'll observe the frosting.  This recipe is superb, and I think it will be my go to for future cream cheese frosting needs.  I used toward the low end of the measurement indicated for the confectioners sugar.  I also added a couple of splashes of milk to make it a little easier to spread.

Below is the frosted cake (I'm starting to feel like a tour guide).  I used the 13x9 pan because I'm lazy.  What can I say?  Our favorite neighborhood watering hole was very generous with their pours last night.

If you love banana bread, you will love this cake.  It is delicious.  It is moist and flavorful.  The only tweak I might make is to add some cinnamon.  I think it would be a great addition to the flavor profile (la-dee-dah).  The cream cheese icing is the perfect compliment.  Here's what a piece looks like:

On to the next baking adventure........

xo, Shell

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Loaf cake on a loafy kind of day

It's a cold & rainy day here in Colorado.  What better way to spend it than baking??

So, I went through my "Little Black Book of Chocolate" again and found a recipe for Chocolate Loaf Cake.  It calls for ingredients that I always have on hand, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Here's the recipe:

Chocolate Loaf Cake

1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. dairy sour cream
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
3/4 c. ground walnuts

Preheat oven to 350.  Beat sugar, eggs, and vanilla until well blended.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt.  Stir into sugar mixture alternately with sour cream.  Stir in chocloate & walnuts.

Pour into greased 9 in x 5 in loaf pan.  Bake in preheated oven 65 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Place pan on rack 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on rack.

A couple of notes:

1. I did not adjust the leavening agent, per my friend's recommendation, even though I live at altitude.

2. I used 'light' sour cream, because that's what I have on hand.

3. I didn't have squares of unsweetened chocolate.  If you find yourself in this predicament, you can use 3 TBSP of cocoa powder PLUS 1 TBSP of shortening per ounce of chocolate that you need.  I melted the shortening in a pyrex measuring cup, then mixed in the cocoa powder.

4. I always consider nuts 'optional' in any given baked good.  If I added nuts, my children wouldn't eat said dessert, and I'd be forced to consume the entire loaf cake myself. That would be unfortunate.  I have not eaten an entire cake since college, and I had my reasons then.  Don't judge.

I had a little helper in my process today. My 9 year old son makes an excellent apprentice. Here he is, measuring out the sour cream.

Notice the excellent technique.  If only I could get him to clean his room with such intense focus!

The batter was very thick, almost like a banana bread batter.  I had to force it into submission with my spatula.

The finished product looked superb!  It rose in exactly the way I would expect it to!

Here's what it looks like sliced:

How did it taste?  Excellent.  It is not too dry (I attribute this to baking only 60 minutes, and leaving in the pan for 15).  I intend to serve it for dessert tonight with some fresh strawberries and fresh whipped cream.  YUM!

As an aside, it was also most excellent with a nice red wine.  I really like this Pinot Noir.  It's a nice, smooth red at a decent price.  Take note of the glass.  It was one of my mom's, and was the one that I always seemed to choose on our infamous "wine & Scrabble" Friday nights.  Yes, people, my life is *that* exciting.

Thanks for reading.  On to the next baking adventure...........

xo, Shell

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cupcakes can taste good when they're flat

I'm just sayin'...

So, we threw a party on Memorial Day Sunday.  I thought I would try a recipe from my "Little Black Book of Chocolate" by Barbara Bloch Benjamin.

I had all of the ingredients to try to make the Festive Chocolate Roll, BUT, no parchment paper.  And, when I went to find a 'jelly roll pan', there was nothing to be found.  I suppose I have to try a specialty store to find what I need.

SO, I went for the chocolate cupcakes.  Here's the recipe:

1/2 c. unsalted butter, softened
2 c. cake flour
1-1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1-1/3 c. milk, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
Frosting of choice

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease 24 muffin cups and set aside. 

Cream butter in large bowl.  Combine dry ingredients and stir into butter.  Add 1 cup milk slowly and beat until smooth. 

Stir in remaining 1/3 c. milk, eggs, vanilla, and chocolate.  Pour into prepared muffin cups and bake in preheated oven 20 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes, remove from pans, and cool on racks.  Frost as desired.

So, first step, no problem.  I went to my favorite source of cooking spray for baked goods:

Since I live at 6000+ feet, I adjust the amount of leavening agent down (baking soda/powder).  Other than that minor adjustment, I made the recipe as written.  The batter looked amazing.

Unfortunately, the finished product didn't look quite as lovely as the batter.........

Notice the burnt edges, the flat cupcakes.  Pulling them out of the pan was even worse.  Most of the time, the muffin tops fell off the bottoms (if only I could get rid of my own muffin top so easily).

BUT, they tasted fantastic.  They were moist and lovely with a glass of milk.

I didn't serve them at my party because they weren't pretty enough.  My friend, Lisa, told me that she stopped adjusting for the altitude because her cookies and cakes always turned out flatter when she did.  Go figure..

On to the next baking adventure......................

xo, Shell

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Story Behind the Blog

My mom passed away on March 5, 2010 after a 10 year war with ovarian cancer.  It's been a difficult few months as I learn to live in my new version of 'normal life' without her.  I've been thinking a lot about throwing myself into a project.  I wanted it to be something fun that I wouldn't get bored with after a short time.  I thought about training for a marathon or something, but then I got realistic.  I hate to run, so that would get old in about 5 minutes.  Then it came to me.  BAKE!

My mother & I often baked and cooked together.  We threw regular dinner parties, and loved to entertain.

This past Christmas, she bought me the Julia Child cookbook after we watched the movie "Julie & Julia" together.  I told her that I had no interest in trying out all of the recipes a la the heroine of that movie, but I thought it might be fun to try making all of the desserts.

My goal is to make my way through the dessert sections of all of my cookbooks.  I have this one that my sister gave me years ago called "The Little Black Book of Chocolate".  I've never made one single recipe out of it, even though I look at it from time to time.  It's like a dirty magazine for my inner fat girl.

I know I won't be able to bake something new every day, but my goal is to try out at least one new dessert recipe a week.  Since I'm also trying not to look like a manatee at the water park this summer, I'll try to limit myself to sampling a few bites of each dessert.  The rest can be devoured by my children (two tween-aged boys should make good work of a lot of it), and by my husband's office mates.

I'm looking forward to the fun (and irritation) ahead!  I'll post the recipes, and always give credit to the author and cookbook. 

My mom inspired me in a lot of ways.  One thing she always made time for were the things she was passionate about.  I'm hoping that I can channel some of her drive and focus, and hone my baking skills in the process.  Who knows, maybe a career change is in store!