double date

As the holiday season approaches, I’m sure these little morsels will come in handy for a baked goodie or two.  For now I placed a bunch into a mason jar and filled it with brandy.  In a month each will have taken on the other flavor and be all the better for it!  If all goes well there’ll be date-cookie and brandy-cordial recipes just around the corner.

autumnal apple crisp

apple crisp

Nothing says autumn like apples, preferably baked with some warming spices and a bit of booze.  Here is a simple apple crisp recipe.

Slice about 8-10 apples into a large bowl; mix with a tablespoon of microplaned fresh ginger, a splash of maple syrup and a scant tablespoon of tapioca flour ~ then place into a buttered 9×13 pan.

In a saucepan, melt a stick of butter with 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup brandy, a squeeze of lemon, a good tablespoonful of cinnamon and several generous grates of fresh nutmeg.  Another great warming spice to add is a pinch of garam masala.  And if I’m using unsalted butter, I will add a pinch of salt.  Pour this mixture over the apples and toss well.

There are many good recipes for crumble topping out there, such as this one from the Barefoot Contessa ~ oats, brown sugar, flour and chunks of cold butter are the key ingredients.  Top the apples with crumble and bake at 350F for 45-55 minutes, until browned and bubbly. If it gets too brown too quickly place a tent of tin foil over the top, loosely so steam freely escapes.

Let sit for about a half-hour before digging in, and don’t forget the ice cream!

super-caramel pineapple upside down cake

pineapple upside down cakeThis is an easy and delicious recipe, almost a spice cake with lovely pineapple sweetness added in.  Great served with softened ice cream or whipped cream, or just by itself with a coffee for breakfast.

ingredients:

caramel topping:

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • about 8 pineapple slices

cake:

  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • small pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • a dozen or so grates fresh nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • splash brandy or rum

directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350F {preferably convection}
  • Generously butter a 9-inch layer cake pan; set aside
  • Make the caramel topping:  in a medium saucepan, melt the butter with the brown sugar; cook on medium-low heat 3 to 4 minutes, until it bubbles into a caramel; remove from heat as soon as possible
  • Pour mixture into bottom of the cake pan; insert the pineapple slices into caramel; set aside
  • In mixing bowl, beat the 2 sticks of butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes, scraping down bowl a few times
  • Add the sugar, one cup at a time, then beat on medium speed for 4 more minutes
  • Meanwhile, sift together the flours, baking soda, salt and spices onto a sheet of parchment
  • Turn mixer to low; add the eggs one at a time
  • Add half of the buttermilk, then half of the flour mixture; add remainder of buttermilk, then the extracts and brandy or rum
  • Add remainder of flour and mix for one minute, then use a spatula to gently fold a few times to be sure batter is combined; do not overmix
  • Pour over the caramel in cake pan, smoothing evenly and gently with spatula; tap pan gently against a countertop several times to release air bubbles
  • Set pan on a foil-lined baking sheet and place on the center rack of oven
  • Bake about one hour ~ cake should appear golden, center should bounce back when pressed with finger and toothpick should come out clean
  • Allow to cool for one minute, then place a serving plate over pan and carefully invert cake onto plate; tap bottom of pan all over before lifting up pan ~ if topping does not release completely, a repair job is easy enough
  • Dust with confectioner’s sugar or frost sides as desired

pineapple upside down cake

Moist, sweet and packed with heartwarming spices!  It would be great with frosted sides ~ maybe a cream cheese frosting for next time.

strawberry rhubarb pie

strawberry rhubarb pieI’m excited to say this was my first attempt at making the classic strawberry rhubarb pie.  I did a quick search online, found tons of great recipes so decided just to use the top results as guidelines: here, here and here.

After absorbing the basic idea, I jotted down some of my personal preferences.  Dark brown sugar is always better in my book; not a fan of flour or cornstarch in a pie so I used tapioca flour from Bob’s Red Mill; not sure how tart I wanted it to be regarding lemon juice.

Since the rhubarb I’d bought at the farmers’ market wasn’t a deep red I assumed it might be a bit too tart for half rhubarb and half strawberries.  So I went less on the rhubarb and held back on the lemon juice.  Maybe in a week or so there’ll be more ripe ones available and I’ll just have to make more pie.

I have a bunch of frozen pie shells ~ a great organic product by Wholly Wholesome ~ that need to be used up so that’s what I did here.  Once the freezer is cleaned out I will get out the food processor and whip up some dough from scratch.

ingredients:

  • one double-crust pie dough recipe of your choice
  • about 4 cups strawberries, halved or sliced
  • about 2 cups rhubarb, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca flour
  • generous pinch cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cubed
  • egg wash:  1 egg + splash milk, beaten

directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375F convection {400F regular}
  • Roll out the dough for bottom crust and transfer to a 9-inch pie plate
  • In a small bowl, combine the sugars, tapioca flour and cinnamon
  • Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture into the bottom crust
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar mixture and lemon juice; toss well to coat
  • Pour the mixture into the pie shell and dot with the butter cubes
  • Roll out the top crust and carefully place over pie; trim edges of both crusts and crimp together, ensuring a good seal
  • Brush crust with the egg wash, then carefully cut several slits into top to allow steam to escape
  • Place on a lined baking sheet and bake on center rack for 20 minutes
  • Turn oven down to 325F convection {350F regular} and continue baking for another 30 minutes or so, until crust is golden and fruit is bubbling

strawberry-rhubarb pieYum!  Lots of oozing just like I imagined it would be ~ and such a pretty deep pink color.

I probably could have used a bit more tapioca but overall it came out really well, even with the slightly unripened rhubarb.  I can’t wait to bake another!

sugar cookies with watercolor icing

sugar cookies with royal icingA few months back I decided to buy a set of watercolors.  It had been years since I painted, and when I did it was with acrylics, so this was a new medium that I looked forward to exploring.

Little did I know, those small discs of pigment would find themselves in a really different medium:  sugar cookie icing!

I was making a batch of sugar cookies and spoke with a friend about how best to color the icing.  She mentioned my new watercolor set, wondering if they were “kid friendly” and therefore non-toxic.  Excited by the idea, I hopped on the computer, went to where I’d bought them on amazon.com and found the manufacturer’s description:

“Ever the gold standard in watercolors, Prang Oval Pan Watercolor Sets offer premium, intense pigments for brilliant color, a unique semi-moist, wax-free formulation … They are AP certified non-toxic and conform to ASTM standards.

Why not? I thought.  It turned into a ton of fun with limitless color possibilities for endless sugar cookies of the future.

This recipe will make about three dozen so if that’s too much it could be cut in half, or the other half of dough could be kept in the freezer for whenever sugar cookie cravings come knocking at your door.

ingredients:

  • 3  cups flour
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 1  teaspoon baking soda
  • 2  sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1  cup sugar
  • 2  eggs
  • 2  teaspoons vanilla extract

directions:

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda
  • In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar for 3 minutes
  • Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until incorporated
  • Add the flour mixture one-third at a time, scraping down the sides of bowl each time
  • When combined into a smooth dough, separate into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour
  • Preheat oven to 350F {preferably convection}
  • Take out one half of dough at a time and roll out on a floured surface until it’s about 1/4-inch thick; cut into rounds or shapes using a floured glass or cookie cutter
  • Place onto lined baking sheets, then refrigerate for about 20 minutes
  • Bake for about 8 minutes or until edges begin to turn brown
  • Let cookies cool on sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to racks to completely cool before icing

sugar cookiesThe royal icing is just as easy.  I use a recipe on joyofbaking.com and learned the technique of “flooding” from their videos.  If you’re new to icing I highly recommend the link above to read and watch.  It really helped me get the right consistency.  I halved the recipe because last time I had a lot left over.

Decorate however you’d like ~ here’s what I did, following the video’s directions:

  • Beat the white of an egg with 1 teaspoon lemon juice until combined
  • Add 2 cups of sifted confectioners sugar and beat until smooth
  • Add more sugar if needed to get the right consistency
  • Separate into portions to add color{s} of choice
  • Place some icing into a small ziploc bag; with a scissor, snip a teeny-tiny hole in a corner ~ really tiny ~ for a disposable piping bag
  • Pipe an icing-border around each cookie
  • Thin out the remainder of icing with a bit of water, and “flood” icing within the borders for a fully iced cookie
  • Using a spoon or toothpick, nudge the flood icing to meet with the borders

If you decide to give the watercolors a try, place some icing in a ramekin, add a few drops of water to the watercolor cake, smush it around with your pinky and drop the colored water into the icing.  Mix thoroughly and intensify or blend colors as desired.  Have fun!

oatmeal white chocolate chunk cookies

oatmeal white chocolate cookiesComfort food has become a popular term in the food world ~ whether it’s a fried egg breakfast, a cheesy casserole dinner or an a’la mode pie dessert ~ there is no denying the heart-warming effect of what we know as comfort food.

I’d imagine different cultures have different definitions of what makes a food comforting.  Certainly childhood memories are a big part of it.  But even if your mom or granny didn’t bake oatmeal cookies, to me they are on the short list of most comforting foods ever.

Oats and brown sugar are a match made in heaven and for me are what make a great oatmeal cookie great.  Dark brown sugar is the key; its richness gives everything it’s added to a special depth and caramelization.

I’m not a raisin fan so these cookies have other accents ~ white chocolate chunks and any nut that’s on hand.  Today were walnuts, last batch had pecans, both turned out yummy.

ingredients:

  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon each vanilla and almond extracts
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 2-1/2  to 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup white chocolate chunks or chips
  • 1 cup pecans, walnuts or nut of choice, toasted for a few minutes and roughly chopped

directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350F {preferably convection}
  • In a mixer, cream the butter and both the sugars for about 3 minutes
  • Add the egg and extracts; beat 1 minute; scrape down the sides of bowl
  • Add the spices and 1/3 of the flour; beat on low until just combined; scrape down sides of bowl
  • Add the remaining 2/3 of flour one-third at a time, scraping down bowl after each addition; careful not to overmix or dough will become tough
  • Mixing with your hands, gently add the nuts, chips and oats; try 2-1/2 cups of oats first, then add more if desired
  • Refrigerate the dough for 1/2 hour
  • Drop dough, in heaping tablespoons, onto parchment lined baking sheets ~ I make them into balls then flatten slightly
  • Keep cookies 2 inches apart {a dozen cookies per 13×18″ baking sheet should work fine ~ there will be about 2-1/2 to 3 dozen}
  • Bake for about 10 minutes or until cookies turn lightly golden around edges

oatmeal white chocolate cookiesThey remind me of a bowl of hot oatmeal with brown sugar ~ a childhood memory ~ only in a cookie form which is even better.  Breakfast of champions!

I love the almond extract here, it’s a subtle but noteworthy layer of flavor.  The white chocolate adds more vanilla-y sweetness and the walnuts are not too crunchy so everything just blends together.  Wash them down with beverage of choice and enjoy the comfort.

how ’bout a grunt for dessert?

blackberry gruntSome say a grunt is like a cobbler but brace yourself:  the first time I tasted this I almost fell over it was so good.  The dough is made with whipped cream and self-rising flour so it becomes a pillowy cloud of yumminess.

I was handed the recipe to make while working as a prep cook many years ago; the top of the printed out page said “James Beard’s Rhubarb Grunt”.  We were a new casual restaurant in need of a ‘wow’ dessert; this fit the bill both for the customers {so delicious} and for me the busy prep {simple, straight-forward directions}.

Years later I tried to find it online; lots of pages came up but never anything by James Beard.  So I’d like to credit the man who started it all, unfortunately with no link and I don’t know which of his cookbooks to mention…

Today I substituted marionberries for rhubarb since that’s what I had on hand.  So far I’ve used rhubarb, apricot, huckleberry, apple and peach and they all work well.

ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 pounds rhubarb, sliced {or berries or fruit of choice}
  • 3/4 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons sugar, separate
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, whipped lightly

directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375F {or 350F convection}
  • Grease a 9-inch square brownie pan
  • Place the fruit evenly in the pan, then sprinkle with 3/4 cup of the sugar; toss to coat
  • Dot the surface of fruit with the butter cubes
  • Whip the cream, not too stiff
  • Sift the flour, the 3 tablespoons of sugar and the salt into a mixing bowl; gently stir in the whipped cream until it becomes a really sticky dough
  • Use a big spoon {and your finger} to scoop and drop the dough over the fruit; spread gently to cover as much as possible
  • Place pan on a lined baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes until lightly brown & bubbly

gruntYou can cut back a bit on the 3/4 cup sugar if you’re not using rhubarb, but the sugar is what makes the juice thicken.  It also works fine in any shallow pan or dish of comparable size.

I have eaten this warm with ice cream for dessert as well as cold with a cup of coffee first thing in the morning.  Either way it’s delicious, with a unique topping that I really love.