Scrumptious Cranberry Nut Bread…

It’s that time of year again. I know this sounds silly but I get a little wave of excitement every time I see bags of cranberries in the grocery store for the first time. To me it’s heralding the holiday season, my favorite time of year.

Immediately my thoughts go to making a cranberry bread. It’s tradition, sort of like making Christmas cookies every year. And each year I fiddle with the recipe a little but I think I’ve got it down to something I really like.

I love the tartness of cranberries and when you combine them with orange juice, orange zest, nuts and all the other regular cast of characters you have in a sweet bread loaf that’s simply heaven. So let’s talk cranberry nut bread…

Lesson Learned 1 – Process the cranberries in a mini food processor: In my estimation this is the quickest way to get the job done with minimal mess. I pulse the cranberries so that I can get some nice sized chunks. You don’t want to pulverize them, that would defeat the purpose of the bread. The pictures below show how I processed them.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use the zest of 1 medium sized orange: I’ve seen different amounts of zest called for in various recipes and I just made it easy and said use the zest of one medium sized orange. That will render a generous table spoon which noticeably adds flavor to the bread. Quit fooling around with measuring spoons on this one. Just use one orange!

Lesson Learned 3 – I adjusted the leavening in my recipe: Again after looking at several recipes I adjusted the leavening (baking powder and soda) for high altitude. I will give you the amounts I used and also the recommended amounts that I saw on various recipes for sea level. As you can see from the pictures my bread turned out great with no cave-in in the middle (which is a result of too much leavening at high altitude). Those of you at sea level – just use the “normal” amounts I listed.

And that’s it. This is one of my all-time Fall classics. I make it every year when cranberries arrive at the grocery store. I hope you enjoy it and please, let me know what you think…

Scrumptious Cranberry Nut Bread...

  • Servings: 1 Loaf
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp. high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking soda (1/4 tsp. high altitude)

1 tsp. salt

3/4 cup orange juice

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

Zest of one medium sized orange

1 egg, room temperature, beaten

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Baking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Spray an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan. In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

In another bowl combine orange juice, oil, zest and egg. Pour into the flour mixture and stir until combined. Fold in the cranberries and nuts until they are all throughout the batter.

Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan and cool completely.

 

 

 

The Best Sausage And Onion Quiche…

I only started making home made quiches recently. Normally I would just pick one up at the grocery store and heat it for either breakfast or dinner. But I found that not only could I control what goes into the quiche, but also the texture and flavor of the quiche is so much better when I make it.  And it really isn’t all that hard if you know a simple few tricks which I will share.

The best thing about quiche is it can be a great dumping ground for leftovers. And there isn’t just one way to make one or only certain ingredients you can use. Making quiche is like painting on a blank canvas – create what you want and it will all be good.

This recipe is about as basic as you can make it. But even with that, my husband said that my homemade quiche is so much better than the fancier ones I’ve been buying at the store. So, I think it’s pretty much home made quiche from now on. But that doesn’t bother me because it really is so simple to make.  So let’s talk easy sausage and onion quiche…

Lesson Learned 1 – Frozen pie crust shells work perfectly for this recipe: Now I’m not saying that you can’t make crust from scratch but why go through all that work when the frozen shells work equally as well. But you definitely have the choice. You can make your crust from scratch, or use the packaged pie crust rounds or get the pie crust shells that are pre-made and frozen. All will work.

Lesson Learned 2 – Cook the breakfast sausage until you see only a little light pink: Remember the quiche is going to bake for an hour so the sausage will continue to cook during that time. I like to cook my sausage first, mix it with the cream cheese and let it sit a little before I put it in the pie crust. I normally use that time to put the egg mixture together.

An 8 oz. tube of breakfast sausage is more than enough. You can go a little lighter on the sausage and only use 4 ounces at a time. We like a lot of sausage in our quiche so I prepare the whole tube and use the leftovers to put in my scrambled eggs for breakfast during the week. But just a warning, if you cook all 8 ounces there will be leftovers.

Also, make sure you drain the sausage on paper towels to get all the grease out before adding it to the quiche. It’s important that the sausage is as dry as possible.

Lesson Learned 3 – Beat the eggs really well: I found if you want the fluffiest quiche you need to beat the egg mixture until it foams. This may take a couple of minutes but it is definitely worth it. When the eggs are that light and airy, so is the quiche.

Lesson Learned 4 – Use a good melting cheese: You can use a wide variety of melting cheeses in a quiche. I like this particular recipe because it pairs a little cream cheese with another melting cheese. I used muenster in this recipe but you can also use cheddar, gruyere, swiss, or mozzarella. That’s the beauty of making a quiche. The choice is yours!

Lesson Learned 5 – I used pearl onions for an extra pop of flavor: You can definitely chop and saute some onions and add it to the quiche. I prefer using frozen pearl onions. You can drop them in frozen and they give a noticeable pop of flavor when you bit into one. Pearl onions are quick and easy.

Lesson Learned 6 – Let the quiche stand for 10 minutes when it comes out of the oven: For ease of cutting you need the quiche to set before you serve. Once you take the quiche out of the oven cover it with foil and let it sit for 10 minutes. The consistency will be perfect and cutting the quiche will be a breeze!

And that’s it. Pretty simple actually – simple but oh so good! Try it and let me know what you think.

The Best Sausage & Onion Quiche

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 9 inch frozen pie crust

1 – 8 oz. tube of breakfast sausage (I used Jimmy Dean)

1/2 cup frozen pearl onions

4 oz. of cream cheese, room temperature

1 cup shredded melting cheese (I used muenster), divided

4 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

2 Tbs. sour cream

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. In a skillet, cook the sausage until only slightly pink breaking up the sausage as you cook it. Drain the sausage thoroughly. Combine the sausage and cream cheese. Set aside.

In a medium size bowl beat the eggs, sour cream and heavy cream thoroughly (at least a minute).

Place the sausage and pearl onions in the bottom of the pie plate. Cover with 1/2 of the cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the sausage, onions and cheese. Add the remaining cheese on top.

Bake for 1 hour. Check the quiche about half way through to make sure the cheese on top is not getting too brown. If it is, loosely cover the quiche in foil for the remainder of the cooking process.

IMPORTANT: Allow the quiche to rest covered in foil for 10 minutes before serving.

 

 

Cranberry Orange Cake Topped With Fresh Plums…

Those of you who followed my blog over the years know that early on in my cooking/baking days I was heavily influenced by the Food Network. The early shows they produced were more about learning to cook and less about cooking contests and road shows. I miss those days. Remember Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee? I really liked that show. I felt Sandra showed people how to take a few simple ingredients, add it to something store bought and make it into something special without all the muss and fuss. In today’s world that is such a gift for the busy cook.

Well, that is what this recipe is all about. I wish I could take credit for this but I can’t. I was at the grocery store looking for something to make, like a quick bread or muffins and I picked up this box of Krusteaz Cranberry Orange Muffin Mix. I looked on the back of the box to see if I could use this to make a quick bread and lo and behold on the bottom right hand corner was the recipe for this cake. All it required was a few extra ingredients, namely almond extract and fresh plums. The picture of the cake looked so good I just had to try it. Needless to say, it was fabulous and very easy to make so I felt I had to share it with all of you. Nobody has to know that this cake is semi-homemade.

So let’s talk Cranberry Orange Cake Topped With Fresh Plums…

Lesson Learned 1 – Pick plums that are not overly ripe: You want plums that are hard. Hard plums are easier to slice and cook beautifully in the oven. It’s very difficult to get good slices with soft plums, even if you have a very sharp knife. The pieces tend to get mushy. So be aware of that.

Also when you cut the plums, cut them like you would an avocado. I found it very hard to get the stones out of the plums. But if you cut the plum all around at the center and twist the two halves in the opposite direction, just like you do with an avocado, the plum halves will separate easily. You may have to dig a little with a sharp knife to get the stone out of the one half (be careful) but the harder the plum the easier that will be.

Lesson Learned 2 – Create the plum arrangement you want on top of the cake on a paper plate first: I found I had to play with the plums a little to create the arrangement I wanted. You don’t want to be doing that on top of the batter. I took a dinner size paper plate and created my plum arrangement on that. When it came time to put the plums on top of the batter I simply moved them from the plate to the cake just like I arranged them. It was a piece of cake, no pun intended!

Lesson Learned 3 – You could also add chopped nuts to this recipe: I did not make it with nuts this time but you could add 1/2 cup chopped nuts to this cake as well. It’s all up to you!

And the rest is easy. Just follow the directions on the box. I’ll write out the recipe here just in case the packaging gets changed. This is a quick, impressive and delicious semi-homemade recipe. I will definitely make this one again. Enjoy!

Cranberry Orange Cake Topped With Fresh Plums...

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 box Krusteaz Cranberry Orange Muffin Mix

2 eggs, room temperature

1/2 cup water (plus 2 Tbs for high altitude)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. almond extract

1 can cranberries (included in the box), undrained

2 under ripe plums, sliced

baking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 350. Mix well the muffin mix, eggs, water, vegetable oil and almond extract. Fold in the cranberries.

Spray a 9 inch springform pan with baking spray. Spoon the batter into the pan. Arrange the plum slices evenly over the batter.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes before removing.

 

 

Apple Cake With Praline Glaze…

There are many reasons why Fall is my favorite time of year. First, I love the crisp Fall air with its milder temperatures. Second, I love the spectacular bursts of colors the trees and bushes provide.  And third, I love Fall cooking and baking. The aromas in the kitchen at this time of year are like no other, from the smell of the first pot roast braising in the oven to the sweet smell of baked apples providing that warm feeling of comfort and home. Fall is definitely the best season of the year.

So let’s start out the season by focusing on Fall baking! I chose this particular recipe because it embodies everything I love about Fall – apples, cinnamon, cream cheese, vanilla… need I go any further. The ingredients scream Fall and the smell of this cake when it’s baking in the oven beats any apples and cinnamon air freshener you could ever buy.

So let’s talk apple cake with praline glaze…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be organized when you make this recipe. This recipe has several components and the best way to make it is to be organized. First, that means reading the recipe thoroughly. Second, and I know this may sound silly, is to create a strategy for putting everything together. When I made this I did things in stages to stay on track and to keep the kitchen from being turned upside down.

The first thing I did was shred the carrots. (If you can find carrots already shredded at your local store you can certainly use them). I used my food processor for that. Make sure you used the shredding disc as shown below.

Cut the carrots and put them into the processor’s feeding tube.

With the processor on, push the carrots down the feeding tube using the round plastic tool that comes with the processor. You will wind up with shredded carrots as seen below.

I am going into such detail about this for a couple of reasons. First to show the correct disc to use to get shredded carrots. You don’t want to use the processor’s main blade for this. Second because this step takes up time and space. I found the best way to stay organized when making a recipe is to see if there are any components that require a machine other than a mixer and determine how using that machine may affect your work space.

Once I shredded the carrots I put them in a bowl, washed my food processor and put it away. If you’ve ever worked with a food processor you know it’s comprised of several pieces and all those pieces needed to be washed. Washing them, reassembling the food processor and putting it away freed up a lot of work space for me – space that I could use to comfortably assemble the other components of the cake.

After using the food processor I put together the cream cheese filling and set it aside, assembled the wet and dry ingredients, greased and floured the bundt cake pan, measured out the pecans (I purchased pecan pieces so I didn’t have to worry about chopping them) and lastly I cut up the apples. I saved the apples for last because I wanted as short of a period of time between when they were chopped and when they were incorporated into the batter. Apples, when cut, will oxidize meaning they will start to turn brown the longer they are exposed to the open air. By cutting them last I still had nice light green apple pieces to put into the batter. There are altogether seven major components of this cake and so the more organized you are the smoother the process of making the cake will go.

The Seven Major Components Of The Apple Cake

Lesson Learned 2 – Check each egg before putting it into the batter: There are four eggs in this recipe and each one should be checked separately by cracking it into a small dish before adding it to the batter. You don’t want to add them all at once just to find you have one bad egg and then have to throw out all the batter. It only takes a few seconds to ensure that all the eggs you’re using are good.

Lesson Learned 3 – For high altitude baking decrease the baking powder by 1/4 teaspoon. The baking soda amount can stay the same.

The major point to consider when making this recipe is being organized. Otherwise everything is relatively simple. I can assure you this cake is delicious. I gave some to a neighbor who said it was so delicious that she wanted the recipe. I’m sure you’ll want to print this recipe and keep it as part of your Fall lineup of baking…

Apple Cake With Praline Glaze...

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy To Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

CAKE

1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, room temperature

2 cups sugar, divided

4 eggs, divided

1 cup canola oil

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

2 generous tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

2 cups green apples, peeled and chopped (2 medium size granny smith apples)

1 cup shredded carrots (2 large carrots)

1/2 cup chopped pecans

PRALINE GLAZE

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup butter, cubed

2 Tbs. milk

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup chopped pecans

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour a 10 inch fluted bundt pan. Set aside.

In a small bowl beat the cream cheese and 1/4 cup of sugar until smooth. Beat in 1 egg. Set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Whisk together until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

In a large bowl beat together the oil with the remaining sugar and eggs until well blended. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the oil mixture until blended. Fold in the apples, carrots, and pecans.

Put half of the better evenly around the bundt pan. Put the cream cheese mixture on top. Add the remaining batter on top of the cream cheese mixture.

Bake 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in the bundt pan before removing the cake from the pan.

To make the glaze – in a large saucepan bring the brown sugar, butter and milk to a boil. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and whisk in the confectioners sugar and vanilla until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cake. Sprinkle with pecans.

 

 

Frosted Blueberry Muffins…

This time of year brings an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables to your table. Sometimes its hard to pass them up, especially when the prices are low and the quality is high. And because of that, sometimes I find I buy more than I can actually use. Or sometimes I’m positive I don’t have what I want at home only to find after I buy it I have more than enough in the refrigerator already.

Such was the case the other day when I looked in my refrigerator and found and I had pints of blueberries – way too much for me to use by myself before they spoiled. My solution was to make frosted blueberry muffins…

I have to say I really like this recipe. The muffins are just the right texture and the cream cheese frosting is the perfect compliment to the tart blueberries. So let’s not waste any time and start talking about blueberry muffins…

Muffin Ingredients

Lesson Learned 1 – This recipe make A LOT of muffins: If you’re making muffins for a crowd or have large family the proportions in this recipe will be perfect for you. This recipe can make anywhere from 36-40 muffins, which for me with only two people in my household, was way too much. I didn’t realize how much the recipe made until I started filling the muffin cups. OOOPS!

But the good news is you can easily cut the recipe in half and have a more manageable amount of muffins for a smaller family. Either way, they will still come out tasting delicious.

Lesson Learned 2 – This recipe would also be good using fresh cherries: I chose blueberries for this recipe because they are more readily available during the course of a year and I had some I need to use. But you could also use fresh cherries. All you would need to do is make sure the cherries are pitted and chopped. For the full recipe I would add 4 cups of cherries.

Lesson Learned 3 – I recommend frosting these muffins: The frosting is a great compliment to the tartness of the blueberries. And although you can leave them plain the frosting, in my opinion, takes them over the top.

Lesson Learned 4 – You can also make jumbo muffins: If you’re worried about the amount of muffins this recipe makes try making jumbo muffins. You can make approximately 18-24 jumbo muffins from this recipe. The only difference will be in the baking time. Bake the jumbo muffins for approximately 25-30 minutes.

Other than that this recipe is pretty standard in terms of how it is structured. As always you need to use less leavening for high altitude (cut the baking powder by 1/2 Tbs.) but other than that you mix the ingredients, fill the muffin cups three quarters full and bake.

Since I had so many of these I brought some to hour community happy hour that we have each week. People raved about them. One person told me she only took one home with her and in retrospect she wished she had taken many more. I guarantee this will be a hit when you serve it. Or better yet, just keep them to yourself as a guilty pleasure. Enjoy!

Blueberry Muffins...

  • Servings: 36-40 muffins
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Muffins:

4 1/2 cups flour

2 Tbs. baking powder (1 1/2 Tbs. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

4 eggs

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. almond extract

Zest of 1 lemon

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

3/4 cups milk

2 cups sour cream

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 pint fresh blueberries, washed and drained

Frosting:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1 – 8 oz. package of cream cheese, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups confectioners sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Put paper liners into the muffin tins.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Whisk until combined. Set aside.

Put butter, eggs, vanilla and almond extracts, lemon zest, lemon juice, milk and sour cream into a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until blended. (You can use a hand mixer for this).

Add the dry ingredients and mix by hand until combined. Fold in the nuts and blueberries. Do not over mix.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups filling them 3/4 full. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Let muffins cool on a rack before frosting.

To make the frosting, combine the butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Beat until smooth. Gradually add the sugar beating until smooth.

 

 

 

Luscious Zucchini Bread…

I know, I know, by now everyone has their own zucchini bread recipe. I mean, it’s a must especially if you grow zucchini or have access to a farmers market. It is definitely zucchini time of year, that glorious time when you are so grateful to have your first harvest but by the end of the season are looking for ways either to use them or get rid of them.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me, now that I live in a condo I can’t grow zucchini so I can control the amount of zucchini I am willing to use. So last week when I went to the farmers market I got a couple of them and used one as a vegetable side dish and the other to make a couple of loaves of zucchini bread.

So what makes this recipe better than most. A secret ingredient that I use to up the flavor factor. So let’s talk luscious zucchini bread…

Lesson Learned 1 – The secret ingredient is vanilla bean caviar: Most zucchini bread recipes call for vanilla, as does mine. But I decided to try adding the caviar from the inside of a vanilla bean to try to enhance the flavor. And let me tell you, it really ramped up the taste factor. That’s why I call this zucchini bread luscious.

These days you can buy vanilla beans at your local grocery store but not so long ago you had to go to a specialty spice store to get them. The picture below shows you what a vanilla bean looks like.

Step 1: The shaft of the bean is quite small and kind of hard so you’ll need a very sharp knife to extract the caviar from the pod. First you need to straighten out the pod.

Step 2: Using a sharp knife, cut a slit all the way up and down the bean pod

 

 

Step 3: Pry the slit open with your hands and scrape the tip of the knife up and down the open shaft of the pod making sure to get as much of the caviar out of the inside as you can.

A whole vanilla bean will give you the equivalent of approximately one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Adding this to the two teaspoons of vanilla already in the recipe and it gives a wonderful but not over powering vanilla flavor to the zucchini bread. And that’s what makes it so luscious.

Now can you make this without the caviar? Of course… but I compare this to adding some espresso powder to a chocolate recipe. The recipe would be good without it but with it there is a fuller, richer flavor. Now I will warn you, vanilla beans are expensive, but they are worth it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a food processor to shred the zucchini: Although you can use a box grater, a food processor is a faster and easier way to shred the zucchini for this recipe. One medium to medium-large size zucchini will give you the two cups needed to make the bread. The food processor shreds the zucchini to just the right size so there are small strands in the bread. You don’t want to the zucchini shreds to be too big. They are designed to add moisture to the cake without providing any noticeable flavor. Also, make sure to pat down the zucchini shreds in your measuring cup. You want them slightly compacted.

Lesson Learned 3 – You can use shredded carrots in this recipe as well: I chose not to use carrots this time but you can add them as well. Just substitute one cup of shredded zucchini for one cup of shredded carrots. You can also add one cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips to this recipe. Try it a variety of ways and see what you think.

Try this version of zucchini bread and compare it to yours. I’d love to know what you think!

Luscious Zucchini Bread...

  • Servings: 8 Slices Per Loaf
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbs. orange juice

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla bean caviar (the caviar from one pod)

2 tsp. vanilla

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

5 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/4 tsp. baking powder (1 tsp. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking powder (1/4 high altitude)

1 tsp. salt

2 cups shredded zucchini, lightly packed

1 cup chopped pecans, optional

Cooking spray

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowel combine orange juice, oil, applesauce, eggs, vanilla extract and vanilla caviar. In another bowl combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix to combine. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir to combine. Do not over mix.

Fold in the zucchini and pecans.

Pour the mixture into two 8 x 4 inch loaf pan coating with cooking spray. Check loaves at 45 minutes. Depending on your oven they may need to bake anywhere from 45 – 55 minutes. Loaves are done when a toothpick inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean.

Let cool  in the loaf pan for 15 minutes. Remove loaves from the pans and let cool on a wire rack.

Zucchini Bread Batter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homemade Challah…

I’ve always loved home made bread. Who doesn’t? I was never good at making it. And just when I thought I was getting the hang of it we moved to Colorado and altitude. Yuck. Altitude and bread do not mix. Well actually they do, but altitude can add some additional problems. Just what I wanted.

So I decided to take a braided bread cooking class. Am I glad I did. The class itself was a little slow in the participation area, but I came away with one nugget of information that’s changed the whole ball game. So now I’m working on making bread again.

So let’s talk homemade challah…

Lesson Learned 1 – Learning how to know when the glutens in the dough have been developed properly: This was the biggest take away for me from the cooking class I attended. I learned you can underdeveloped, develop and overdevelop the glutens in your dough. Underdeveloped glutens will give you a heavy dense dough that may fall in on you when you bake your bread. Overdeveloped and your bread will be too dry.

So how do you tell? Simple. Just take a small piece of dough in your hand and begin to pinch it and spread it with your fingers. You should be able to work the dough so that it is smooth and paper tin without the dough tearing or breaking.

That was a big breakthrough learning for me especially since I live in high altitude and its tougher to make bread in my climate.

Lesson Learned 2 – Pay attention to the humidity the day you make bread: The higher the humidity the less moisture you’ll need in your dough. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but if you pay attention to these two factors, gluten development and humidity, soon you will just be able to tell if your dough is of the correct consistency or not.

Lesson Learned 3 – Most people don’t knead their dough enough: Once I mixed all of the ingredients together I used the dough hook on my machine and kneaded the dough for five minutes. That, on average, is a good time to test the dough for gluten development. If the dough falls apart it will need more moisture, if it is too gloppy (technical term) it will need a little more flour. Once you think you have the correct consistency do the gluten test I refer to above. Chances are you’ll be right on the money.

Lesson Learned 4 – If your dough is completely stuck on your dough hook, stop your mixer and scrape the dough off: Some people think that if the dough is on the dough hook it is kneading the dough. That’s not true. The dough hook as to be working it’s way through the dough in order to be kneading it. Be mindful that you’re just not having your dough spin around in a circle without actually being kneaded.

Lesson Learned 5 – You can separate your dough into as many strands as you want for braiding: I did a traditional 3 strand braid. You braid it just like you braid hair. The picture to the right shows my strands. In hindsight I should have made the bottom one thinner and all the strands more even in size. In the end it really didn’t hurt anything as you leave the braided bread to rest on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet for at least an hour and the dough rises and sort of fills itself in.

I will admit that this recipe is a little more challenging than what I normally post, but hopefully as a fledgling cook you are confident enough in yourself to try something a little more difficult. This was the very first time I ever made challah and it turned out magnificently. But if you’re does not, go back and try it again because once you master the art of making home made bread, you’ll never turn back.

Homemade Challah...

  • Servings: 1 loaf
  • Difficulty: Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

1 1/8 cup warm water

3/4 Tbs. instant yeast

6 egg yolks, one for the egg wash

2 1/2 Tbs. vegetable oil

3 -6  Tbs. sugar, depending how sweet you want your bread

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

3 3/4 cup flour

1 1/4 tsp. salt

1 Tbs. water for the egg wash

DIRECTIONS:

Combine the water and yeast in a mixing bowl, whisk and let sit for a couple of minutes. Add the 5 eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla and whisk to break up and incorporate the eggs. Add the flour and salt.  If using a stand mixer use the paddle attachment and mix for about 2 minutes. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.

Switch to a dough hook and mix on low speed for 5 minutes (my mixer particularly specifies that whenever using the dough hook do not go above speed level #2. You may want check the directions that came with your mixture to see what they recommend. The speed should not go above medium low).

Use a bowl scraper and scrape the dough onto a floured surface and continue kneading the dough by hand for about 2 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise until it doubles in size, approximately 2 hours.

After the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and cut it into the desired number of pieces you will need for your braids – I made 3 braids of 10-14 inches in length. It is important that the braids are all the same length.

Braid the pieces of dough together and transfer the loaf to a parchment lined sheet pan. Make an egg wash by combining the last egg (you can do the whole egg or the yolk) and the water. Brush the entire surface of the loaf, including the sides with the egg wash. Refrigerate the remaining egg wash. Let the loaf stand uncovered for about 1 hour.

About 20 minutes before baking time preheat the over to 350. Brush the bread one more time with the egg wash. Bake the bread for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for an additional 15-30 minutes (I only needed an additional 15 minutes).

Let cool on a wire rack and enjoy the beauty of homemade bread!

 

Skillet Irish Soda Bread…

There’s no doubt about it, the recipes that are handed down from generation to generation are the best. And sometimes that’s an impossible task as the old fashioned cooks would simply say, “Oh I just eyeballed what I needed and used a pinch of this and a little of that” leaving you to try to assimilate the exact ingredients to recreate the recipe.

This recipe is one of those handed down gems. A neighbor of mine served it at her St. Patrick’s Day party and the rest is history. I remember looking at all the wonderful things she laid out on her table but only eating the soda bread with some fresh Irish butter. It was heaven. I found out later it was her Mother’s recipe and she had been making this for years!

I’ve tasted many iterations of soda bread over the years and, to be honest, most of them were less than stellar. There was only one other time that I can remember having fabulous soda bread. That was when I was working at the Chicago Park District and one of my co-workers, Carol Diver, brought some to work. Carol was Irish through and through with an infectious laugh and a heart as big as all outdoors. And her soda bread was to die for. Unfortunately Carol is not longer with us and I’d never asked her for her soda bread recipe. But from then on, her soda bread was the standard to which I held all others. As time went on none would ever compare, until now.

So this time I made sure to get the recipe and with permission I am sharing it with you. I made it the other night and it was just as fabulous as I remember, moist with just the right amount of sweetness. I hope you enjoy this recipe and make it often.

So let’s talk Irish Soda Bread…

The dough did not reach the sides of a 10 inch skillet

Lesson Learned 1 – The size cast iron skillet you use is important:  The recipe I got said it made two loaves and my neighbor said she used a 10 inch skillet to bake the bread. But once I made the dough and put it in my 10 inch cast iron skillet I knew that couldn’t be the case. The only way there would be enough dough for two loaves is if you used a smaller cast iron skillet – probably an 8 inch skillet. With a 10 inch skillet there is only enough dough for one loaf.

With using a larger skillet it will take longer to cook, approximately 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. If you use a smaller skillet I would begin checking it at 45 minutes. You want a nice gold brown on the top. Once you see that you know the bread is done.

Don’t get me wrong, the bread turned out beautifully and was so delicious as you can see from the pictures in this blog.  I just think the directions I got were for a smaller pan than what I used.

Lesson Learned 2 – Do not use self rising flour in this recipe: The second time I made this I decided to experiment and use self rising flour – BIG MISTAKE! The bread did not rise and the top of it looked like a battle had been fought on it, all lumpy and messy looking. And although I baked it for the correct amount of time, it did not cook through and was gooey inside. So take a tip from me, stick with regular flour and you’ll be just fine.

That’s the only advice I have for making this as the recipe is pretty straightforward. And let me reiterate, this is the best Irish Soda bread I have ever tasted since I had my friend’s, Carol Diver’s, bread all those years ago. I know you will enjoy this one!

Skillet Irish Soda Bread...

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

2 Tbs. cold butter

1 1/2 cup raisins

1 1/2 cup buttermilk (you may need to add a little more)

Shortening, to grease the skillet

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325.

Whisk together the flour, sugar salt and baking soda until well combined. Cut in the butter. Add raisins and buttermilk and mix until moist. (You may need to add more buttermilk. I found I needed to add about a 1/4 cup more to get all the ingredients moist).

Lightly grease a cast iron skillet with shortening (use a 10 inch skillet for one large loaf or an 8 inch skillet for two loaves). Transfer dough to the skillet. Brush the top of the dough with a light coating of buttermilk. If desired, cut a cross on the dough.

Bake for 45 minutes for the smaller loaves and 75 minutes for a large loaf. Check the loaves at 45 minutes and 60 minutes respectively to see if you need to add extra time.

Let bread sit in skillet for about 5 minutes after taking it out of the oven. Remove the bread from the skillet and let it cool on a wire rack.

Serve with Irish butter for a delectable treat!

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Easy Chocolate Ganache…

My husband has an incurable sweet tooth. The other day he informed me we had nothing sweet in the house to eat and I was not in the mood to whip up something from scratch. I looked in the pantry and found a box of Duncan Hines decadent chocolate cake mix and told him I would make that. Unfortunately I opened my mouth before carefully reading the outside of the box. Staring me right in the face in clear letters on the front of the box were the words “frosting not included”. Now what… Luckily I thought I might have the ingredients for making chocolate ganache (which I did) so I thought ok, now’s the time to tackle your fears and make it. I had not other choice.

I’m not quite sure why I was afraid to make ganache but I always thought it was difficult and tricky. To my surprise it was unbelievably easy. So I thought I would dedicate this blog to a very simple way of making ganache that turns out silky, luscious and ever so decadent looking, not to mention absolutely incredibly delicious.

So let’s talk making chocolate ganache…

Lesson Learned 1 – There are many ways to make ganache: I am going to share with you the simplest way. The ratio is easy to remember 1:1. Use as many ounces of heavy cream as semi-sweet chocolate. It couldn’t be easier.

Lesson Learned 2 – Cut the chocolate squares into very small pieces: I used a 4 ounce box of Bakers semi-sweet chocolate. With my chef’s knife I cut off pieces and chopped them into small bits. If you decide to go the chip route, I would use the mini semi-sweet chips. You need the hot cream to melt the chocolate and if the pieces are too big that won’t happen.

Chocolate Covered In Hot Heavy Cream

Lesson Learned 2 – You can warm your heavy cream in the microwave: In order to get the desired consistency of the ganache, the cream has to melt the chocolate. So you have to get the cream hot enough to do that but you don’t want to scald the cream. That won’t work either.

Many recipes that I looked at recommended warming the cream on the stove. You can certainly do that especially since it gives you slightly more control in determining when the cream is hot enough. And you can certainly do that with this recipe, although I didn’t. I heated my cream (4 ounces) in the microwave for 45 seconds. After that time I found it still wasn’t hot enough. I heated it for an additional 15 seconds and it was bubbling. I was worried that I’d scalded the cream but I think what happened was the cream had just started to bubble, so I was still ok. The next time I think I’ll just nuke it for 50 seconds straight and go from there.

If you use a larger 1:1 ratio you will need to nuke the cream for a longer period of time. With this you’ll simply have to keep checking it. With 4 ounces I recommend 50 seconds. For larger amounts I would start checking at 1 minute and go from there.

Lesson Learned 3 – Let the chocolate and heavy cream sit for at least 3 minutes: Once you add the hot heavy cream you may be tempted to start whisking the mixture right away. Don’t. The cream has to melt the chocolate in order for you to get the desired consistency of the ganache. Be patient and let the cream do it’s work. I guarantee you it’s worth it.

This recipe makes enough to generously frost one bundt cake, one 9 x 13 sheet cake or one 9 inch round layer cake. So next time you need some frosting try this instead of buying the canned stuff. It looks impressive and it tastes divine!

Easy Chocolate Ganache...

  • Servings: 1 Bundt Cake
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate squares cut into small pieces

4 ounces heavy cream, heated

DIRECTIONS

Chop up the chocolate into very small pieces. Heat the heavy cream in a microwave safe dish for approximately 50 seconds. Test with your finger to make sure it is sufficiently hot to melt the chocolate. If not, microwave at additional 5 second intervals until cream is hot but not scalded.

Pour cream over chocolate pieces. Let the hot mixture sit for at least 3 minutes. Whisk mixture until cream is incorporated and the chocolate is dark and smooth. Drizzle the chocolate over the top of your bundt cake. Let ganache set for at least 15 minutes before serving.

 

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Mini Cherry Cheese Danishes…

This recipe was born out of leftovers I had from making my Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Cake. I still had some of the cream cheese mixture and cherry pie filling leftover and really didn’t want to just throw them out. I searched online to see if I could get some ideas and found something similar to this and thought, I’ll make some mini cheese danishes.

Apparently a lot of people are using refrigerated dough to makes these types of recipes. I was surprised to find crescent dough “rounds”. I’d never seen them before. I was thinking I might have to take the traditional crescent dough and pinch the seams in order to get the rounds I needed. I was delighted that I did not have to do that work, that it was already done for me.

So let’s talk mini cherry cheese danishes…

Lesson Learned 1 – Working with the refrigerator dough: Using this kind of dough is very convenient but you do have to work it a little bit. I cut the pieces along the pre-perforated edges as best I could (I wound up with 9 rounds and  I should have only had 8 if I followed the perforations exactly – oh well…) and  rolled each piece into a ball. I flattened each piece with my hand and then used my thumbs to create a crater inside the dough. The crater is important because that’s where you put the cream cheese and cherries. Making the crater as deep as possible helps to prevent the cherries from falling off. But don’t worry, if they do once you pull them out of the oven just use a small spoon to push them back on top. Once they cool they will stay put.

Lesson Learned 2 – The cream cheese filling: This recipe was inspired by the cream cheese filling and canned cherries I had left over from making a Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Cake. After I made the cake I had enough filling and cherries left over that I really didn’t want to just throw out. This recipe is designed for that type of leftover. You can make the filling for this recipe versus using leftovers, and I will include the the recipe for the filling I used, but any type of cream cheese filling will do. Plus if you make the filling from scratch you will definitely have too much filling. There have been many times I’ve had filling like this left over and I just trashed it. But even if I didn’t have any leftover canned cherries, another type of fruit could be substituted, like left over apple sauce or apple pie filling. This recipe is a very easy way to use your baking leftovers.

Lesson Learned 3 – The Glaze: As I’ve shared before the formula for glaze is quite simple – a cup of confectioners sugar and 1 – 2 tbs. of liquid (water, milk, heavy cream) and a little flavoring like an extract, juice, and/or zest. For this recipe I used 1/8 tsp. of almond extract and the glaze was perfect.

My husband really liked these tasty little bites. Cover them with plastic wrap or put them in an air tight container and they’ll stay fresh for 3 days, if they even last that long. I know mine didn’t. Enjoy!

Mini Cherry Cream Cheese Danishes

  • Servings: 9
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS

1 can of crescent rounds, I used Pillsbury

Leftover cream cheese filling (note recipe below was the filling I used but if made from scratch is too much for this recipe)


2 – 8oz. packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 Tbs. flour

1 egg, room temperature


Leftover fruit  – I used leftover canned cherry pie filling

GLAZE:

I cup confectioners sugar

1 – 2 tsp milk

1/8 tsp almond extract

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Open the can of refrigerator dough and cut the dough rounds using the perforations as a guide. Roll each into a ball. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hands and create a crater in the center of each with your thumbs.

Place a half teaspoon of cream cheese filling and 2-3 cherries inside each crater.

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.

Remove each danish onto a wire rack and let cool. If any cherries have fallen off during the baking process, spoon them back on top before placing on the wire rack.

Once cooled, make the glaze and drizzle over the danishes. Serve or place in an air tight container. Danishes will stay fresh for approximately 3 days.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

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Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Cake…

What can I say about this one. It is simply over the top. Not only does it taste divine but it’s gorgeous. What more can you ask for from a cake? Now I’ll admit this cake takes a little more work than most but the result is breathtaking. This is possibly the most professional looking cake I’ve ever made. And we know looks are important but bottom line it has to taste good. Well let me tell you in the taste department I would consider this to be divine. I mean what’s not to love – chocolate, flavorful cream cheese, cherry pie filling, vanilla glaze – it just doesn’t get much better than that.

So let’s talk chocolate cherry cream cheese cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be organized when you make this cake: Really you should be organized when you make any cake but this one has so many components to it that your experience making it will be so much more delightful if you plan this out before you make it. Think about this one in stages.

  1. Get everything out in plenty of time that needs to be room temperature. In this recipe that means the eggs and sour cream. No need to worry about the butter because you melt that.
  2. Get the oven preheating. I believe it is better for your oven not only to be preheated but to be at the desired temperature for at least 5-10 minutes so that once you pop the cake pan in you can count on the oven truly being the correct temperature all throughout.
  3. Put together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, kosher salt and baking soda) and set them aside.
  4. Measure out all of the remaining ingredients. I use little bowls to organize what needs to be measured. That way when you come to a certain juncture in the process you are all ready to go. This includes opening up the can of cherry pie filling and measuring out the amount needed. As you do that, try to opt for more cherries than filling as some fillings tend to be more juice and less cherries.
  5. Count out, drain and rinse your maraschino cherries. For my pan I needed 16 cherries, so a small jar of cherries will work just fine.
  6. Assemble the chocolate mixture.
  7. Make the batter by combining the chocolate mixture with the dry ingredients. Now you’re ready to go.
  8. Wait to spray your bundt pan until the very end. For this recipe I recommend using a baking spray with flour. Coat the bundt pan liberally. You want it to be glistening all over before you begin assembling the cake.

Because there are so many components to this recipe I guarantee you will be a lot happier and have more fun making this cake if you organize yourself.

Lesson Learned 2 – Making the glaze: Making glaze for any type of cake or pastry couldn’t be easier. All it requires is some confectioners sugar, some liquid and perhaps some sort of additional flavoring. You can use water, milk, or heavy cream for your liquid and you can use a little extract, juice or zest to enhance the flavor of the glaze. More often than not I use milk as the liquid and in this particular recipe I used a little vanilla extract to enhance the flavor.

Keep in mind you need very little liquid to create a glaze. Normally it works out to about 1 cup of confectioners sugar to about a tablespoon or so of liquid and then, if using a liquid extract, only about 1/8 teaspoon of that. But don’t get bogged down in the measurements. If your glaze is too thick just add a little more liquid to thin it out. If it becomes too runny, add a little more confectioners sugar. Glaze is very forgiving and can be made to the correct consistency with some easy minor adjustments.

One caveat – don’t use the additional flavoring to thin out a glaze. The flavor can become overpowering if you do that. And lastly, I don’t always have heavy cream around the house, but when I do I use it as my liquid. That is when you get the richest flavor. I just can’t convince myself to buy a pint of heavy cream for the needed tablespoon I will use in a glaze. But it’s all up to you.

This cake is so good and so worth the effort. Try it – I just know you will like it!

Chocolate Cherry Cream Cheese Cake...

  • Servings: 12-14
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 cup water

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1 Tbs. espresso powder

3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature

2 eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp unsalted butter, melted

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

16 maraschino cherries, rinsed and drained

3/4 cup cherry pie filling

CREAM CHEESE FILLING:

2 – 8oz. packages cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 Tbs. flour

1 egg, room temperature

GLAZE:

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 – 2 Tbs. water, milk or heavy cream

1/8 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the cream cheese filling by beating together the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add the flour and egg and beat until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda. Whisk until thoroughly blended. Set aside.

In a saucepan melt the 3/4 cup butter. Add the water and stir to blend. Add the cocoa and espresso powder and whisk until there are not lumps. Add the chips and stir until they are completely melted and the mixture is smooth.

Add the chocolate mixture to the dry mixture and whisk until combined. Blend in the sour cream. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.

Spray a 10-12 cup bundt pan thoroughly with baking spray with flour. Melt the 1 1/2 tsp of butter and pour it evenly into the bottom of the pan. Evenly sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the melted butter. Place two cherries on top of the brown sugar in each of the larger grooves of the bundt pan.

Fill the bundt pan with half the chocolate batter. Spoon in the cream cheese filling on top making sure not to have the filling touch the sides. Spoon the cherry pie filling on top of the cream cheese, making sure the filling does not touch the sides of the pan. (You may have some leftover cream cheese and cherry pie filling). Pour the remaining batter evenly on top making sure to cover the cream cheese and the cherry pie filling completely.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Put a plate over the bottom of the pan and flip the cake out of the pan onto the plate and let cool completely.

Mix together all of the ingredients for the glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cake.

Pour the melted butter evenly over the bottom

Put the brown sugar on top of the butter

Place the cherries in the larger grooves

Layer the ingredients

The cake right out of the oven

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Marble Pound Cake…

I love this recipe not only because it produces a moist, flavorful cake but also because it’s a ton of fun to make.  And the finished product looks as good as it tastes.

I like experimenting with different cakes and when I read about the process for this one I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve made swirl cakes before where you basically have one little cinnamon swirl going through the cake but this way of making a swirl cake is much more dramatic. You create the dramatic swirls by dividing the batter and making one half chocolate and keeping the other half as is. Then you spoon in the batter alternating the colors and use a knife or another similar object and swirl them together. It was great fun (I know I need to get a life…). And the result, as you can see from the many pictures in this blog is a more dramatic density of swirls. It is a fun cake to make and eat.

So let’s talk marble pound cake…

Lesson Learned 1 – The easy way to grease and flour a bundt cake pan: If you’re like me you love the way a bundt cake looks but you dread greasing and flouring the pan. Well I’ve found a way to make that process somewhat easier. First there’s no getting around it you need to grease the pan and pay attention to getting the grease into the many crevices. I usually use shortening to do that. I think I actually use less grease with shortening than I do with butter.

Then comes the flouring part and that was always a challenge because you need to get the flour up as high as you can and with the wide opening of the pan you can get flour all over the place if you’re not careful. Well, no more. All you need do is take some good cling wrap (and I mean the stuff that really clings – we buy ours at Costco and it is restaurant quality grade). Cover the top of the pan as shown in the picture below.

Once you do this you can turn the pan completely upside down and shake it all around and spread the flour easily throughout the entire pan. See for yourself…

After that you simply turn the pan upside down on the counter and tap the sides of the pan with a wooden spoon all the way around. I would do that a couple of times. Then remove the cling wrap from the sides of the pan, lift the pan up and you’ll be left with all the excess flour all on the cling wrap as seen in the picture below…

Then all you need to do is fold up the edges of the cling wrap and toss it with the flour inside. Believe me, this little trick saves a lot of time and mess. You’ll love it.

Lesson Learned 2 – Add the eggs individually and beat each of them for a long time: There is no leavening in this recipe (baking powder, soda). Leavening is traditionally used to make a cake rise in the oven. The only leavening agent in this recipe is the eggs.

Think of an egg as basically having three qualities – fat, foam and fat & foam. The fat is the yolk which primarily serves as a binder. It helps to make batters smooth and moist. The foam is the whites. Beat them into submission on their own and you get light stiff peaks that can be used for airiness in a recipe or to make a meringue.

The particular recipe relies on the fat and the foam. When mixed with sugar (like in a cake or cookie batter), eggs help trap and hold air — not quite as well as whipped egg whites, but enough to give the finished product some lightness and lift. And that’s what you are needing in this recipe. That is why it is important to make sure each egg is blended thoroughly. Do not add all the eggs in at the same time. It never mixes as well as you think and could affect the cakes ability to rise.

Also don’t crack the eggs directly into the batter. Since you are using so many eggs you don’t want to get to the fifth or sixth one and then find out you have a bad one as it drops in. Your batter will be ruined. In order to prevent this, crack each egg into a small dish before you add it to the batter. That way you can make sure you’re not adding a bad egg. I’ve only had this happen to me a couple of times, and it’s not fun. Believe me you don’t want to put yourself into a position of having to toss out all of those ingredients and start all over because you had one bad egg.

Lesson Learned 3 – Alternating the batters in the pan: I think I had the most fun with this part of the process. Once you create the two batters you alternate them by large spoonfuls in the pan.

After that you swirl the batters together being careful not to touch the edges or the bottom of the pan. I used a skewer that I used to grill vegetables. It was long enough and thin enough to give me control and to create some great swirls. Judge for yourself…

You add another layer of alternating batters, swirl again and you’re ready to pop the cake into the oven.

Lesson Learned 4 – Use instant espresso powder to enhance the flavor of the chocolate: In any recipe that includes chocolate I’d recommend adding at least a quarter teaspoon of espresso powder. It brings out the chocolate flavor so much more. Try making a chocolate recipe without it and then make the same recipe with it. You’ll be amazed at how much it enhances the flavor of the chocolate.

What I really like about this cake is it looks as good as it tastes. And I found it fun to make. I loved making the swirls! So try this one and tell me what you think. I just know you’ll love it.

Marble Pound Cake...

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

3 cups sugar

6 large eggs, room temperature

3 cups flour

2 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 tsp. espresso powder

1/3 cup hot water

powdered sugar for sprinkling on top

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour a 10 cup bundt pan. Set aside.

Cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar for approximately 5 minutes. The mixture should be light and fluffy.

Add in the eggs one at a time and combine each thoroughly. Add the vanilla and combine.

Mix together the flour and the salt. Add the flour a few large spoonfuls to the batter at a time until combined.

Whisk together the cocoa, espresso powder and hot water. Take half of the cake batter and stir it into the cocoa mixture.

Drop dollops of batter into the bundt pan alternating the chocolate and vanilla batters. Swirl the batters together being careful not to scrape the bottom or sides of the pan. Repeat the same process. (You should get two layers of alternating batter).

Bake for 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.

Cool for 30 minutes before inverting the cake onto a serving plate. Dust the top with powdered sugar.

 

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Skillet Breads – Rosemary Parmesan and Cranberry Walnut…

Nothing in this world compares to home made bread. There is something so comforting about it, it creates that feeling of “there’s no place like home” every time you smell it baking in the oven. And bread baking has progressed over the years from a process that took hours to much quicker and easier methods. To date I have made bread the traditional way (letting it rise over and over for hours and baking in a loaf pan), to making bread in an enameled cast iron dutch oven and now this third way of making it in a plain old cast iron skillet.

I’ve made this recipe a few times before I felt I perfected it and I’ll go through all of that in my lessons learned. But bottom line, even with the few blips I encountered I still wound up with wonderful homemade bread. The two versions I’m going to talk about in this blog are Cranberry Walnut Skillet Bread and Rosemary Parmesan Skillet Bread. Two very different varieties but two wonderful breads.

So let’s talk skillet breads…

Lesson Learned 1 – Use rapid rise yeast and make sure it is fresh: I had a jar of rapid rise yeast in my refrigerator and used it the first time I tried to make this bread. It never rose the way it was supposed to (the jar had been in the fridge for quite some time) and the bread wound up “doughy” as if it didn’t have enough air in it. The second time I made the bread I used fresh yeast and their was a marked difference in how much the dough had risen. Also make sure that you use warm but not scolding water when you activate the yeast. Scolding water will kill the yeast but very warm water will activate it.

 

 

 

 

 

The picture on the left shows the newly mixed dough. The one on the right shows what the dough will look like after it had risen in the bowl for one hour.

Skillet bread requires the dough to rise twice, once for an hour in the bowl and once for a half hour in the skillet. The picture above shows what the dough should look like after it has risen in the skillet for a half hour.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use only a small amount of olive oil to season the skillet and use good olive oil: What I really like about making bread this way is the crust you get from the cast iron skillet. Take a silicone brush and lightly coat the bottom and sides of the skillet. You really don’t want a lot of oil sitting on the bottom. That will give you a greasy crust. And make sure you use a good quality olive oil. I used a garlic infused olive oil when I made the rosemary parmesan bread and a mild flavored premium olive oil for the cranberry walnut bread. If you don’t overdo the oil the crust will have just the right amount of crispiness and will taste heavenly.  Just make sure you use a good olive oil. I prefer the crust in this method compared to the crust you get when using an enameled cast iron dutch oven (in the process you do not oil the pan). That crust, to me, is a little tougher. But don’t get me wrong, both methods produce wonderful bread.

Lesson Learned 3 – Some recipes tell you to cut an “X” in the center (called scoring) of the dough before you put it in the oven – for this recipe DON’T:  I truly don’t think you need to score the bread using this method. When you put bread in the oven it continues to rise and a tension begins to exist between the top formed layer and the softer dough beneath. Scoring is done to assist with the bread rising consistently and predictably during this process.

When I made the rosemary parmesan skillet bread I scored it in the center before I put it in the oven. It created a small crater in the middle of the bread as seen below. It didn’t hurt anything and the bread still turned out fine but I was looking for a more rounded look in the finished product.

When I made the cranberry walnut bread I did not score it in the middle and got more of the rounded look I was wanting.

Lesson Learned 4 – The dough will be very sticky when you go to transfer it into the skillet: I’ve read many versions of how to make this type of bread and most recipes tell you to flour your hands and the dough to successfully transfer it to the skillet. I don’t find that works unless you use a lot of flour and I’m not a big fan of baking a lot of flour into my bread crust.

What I do is take a silicone spatula and work the dough to the edge of the bowl and then quickly move the spatula to get the dough into the skillet. The beauty of this type of bread is that it doesn’t need to look pristine. The more rustic looking the better. And after the dough rises for a half hour in the skillet, many of the imperfections have disappeared. So don’t angst over transferring the dough to the skillet. It’s really pretty simple if you use a silicone spatula.

I couldn’t believe how simple this was to make. The hardest part is letting the dough rise for an hour and a half – the rest is easy. And to me there is nothing like homemade bread. So try one or both of these recipes and let me know what you think…

Skillet Breads - Rosemary Parmesan or Cranberry Walnut...

  • Servings: 12 slices
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

BOTH BREADS:

1 package instant rapid rise yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)

2 cups warm water

4 1/2 cups all bread flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

Olive oil for the skillet

ROSEMARY PARMESAN BREAD ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS:

3 Tbs. of chopped fresh rosemary, divided

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

CRANBERRY WALNUT BREAD ADDITIONAL INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a large mixing bowl combine the yeast and water. Add half the flour and mix together. Mix in the remaining flour along with either the rosemary or the cranberries and walnuts. If some of the flour is still dry add a little extra warm water until the dough is completely formed.

Cover the bowl securely with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

Brush some olive oil on the bottom and sides of a cast iron skillet using a silicone brush. Transfer the dough to the skillet and cover loosely with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise for 30 minutes.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

After the dough has risen the second time put the skillet in the oven. If making the rosemary parmesan bread, sprinkle some chopped rosemary on the top of the bread before putting it in the oven. For rosemary parmesan bread, after 20 minutes remove the bread from the oven and sprinkle the top with the parmesan cheese. Let the bread bake an additional 20 minutes. For cranberry walnut bread, let the bread bake for 40 minutes straight.

Remove the bread from the oven. Using a spatula, transfer the bread from the skillet to a cooling rack. (This should be very easy but be careful because the skillet will be very hot). Slice and enjoy.

These breads can also be frozen. Cut them into two slice or more pieces. Cover securely with plastic wrap. Put pieces in a freezer bag. Close the bag while trying to eliminate as much air as possible from the bag. Your bread will stay fresh for one month.

Rosemary Parmesan Skillet Bread

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