Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake Pt 2…

This time of year with all of the Fall/Winter holidays approaching just screams to me cranberry and orange. As a matter of fact I love that flavor combination so much this is the second variety of cranberry orange coffee cake that I’ve posted on this site. To see the original post just click on “recipe”.

There are slight variations to the two of them and both are equally delicious. One you make in a spring form pan with the traditional leavening agents of baking powder and soda and that produces a taller, airier cake. This particular recipe does not use any type of leavening. Rather the eggs and sugars are beaten for an extensive period of time to create a mixture that doubles in size and provides the needed lift for the cake. This particular cake is denser and moister.

Both cakes are equally good, although my husband liked this particular recipe better. Whenever he monitors how much of a finished product I bring to work and how much I leave at home, I know the recipe is a hit. This time he made me bring much less of the cake to work than usual.

So let’s talk Cranberry Orange Coffee Cake Pt. 2…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be organized when you bake: I found the experience of baking much more pleasurable if I do it in an organized fashion. By that I first get out any ingredients that need to be room temperature in plenty of time for them to reach that desired state. Then I read the entire recipe to see what I’m up against. I preheat the oven and prep any pans that require prep. After that I figure out how to organize the assembly process (as in this recipe I recommend making the crumb topping first as you will read below). Then I get all my ingredients out and ready. That usually means getting the dry ingredients together and combined and then moving on to the wet ingredients. After that, everything seems to fall into place.

What you are trying to avoid is stopping to find things and taking time to mix things while other mixtures sit and wait for a long period of time. Think about how making the recipe can flow and organize yourself to make the process go that way.

Lesson Learned 2 – The importance of beating the eggs and sugar for a long time: As mentioned above this recipe does not use traditional leavening agents like baking powder or soda so you need something to provide the lift to the batter. That lift is produced by beating eggs and sugar into submission. By submission I mean you need to beat them for at least 5-7 minutes. That’s why I recommend using a stand mixer for this recipe so you’re not left with holding a hand mixer for that length of time.

I would also time the process and not leave it up to your memory. You will actually see the mixture double in size and become more thick when you beat it for that length of time. That’s what you’re looking for. Be careful. Don’t try to shortcut this part of the process. If you do you will be left with a somewhat flat coffee cake.

Lesson Learned 3 – This cake may need to bake for much longer than the recipe suggests: I was originally thinking this would take between 45-50 minutes. It actually took me 65 minutes, but then again I live in high altitude where everything takes longer to make. The key with this cake, as with all cakes, is having a toothpick inserted in the middle come out clean. If you have some redness from the cranberries on your toothpick that’s ok. But it should be clean of everything else.

Lesson Learned 4 – Make the crumb topping first: I found the entire process of making this cake went much more smoothly if you made the crumb topping first. Other than beating the eggs, this is the most labor intensive part of the recipe. If you make the topping first than everything else seems to go like clockwork.

As with making any type of crumb topping, use very cold butter and a pastry cutter to cut the butter into flour and sugar. The desired result is coarse crumbs as seen in the picture below.

The Desired Consistency Of The Crumb Topping

Lesson Learned 5 – The importance of room temperature eggs: In my baking recipes you will see that I always call for room temperature eggs. Why? The answer is simple. Room temperature eggs blend much more thoroughly into the batter. And that is the ideal. Quite often I hear the reason one doesn’t use room temperature eggs is they don’t have the time to get them to room temperature. Never fear, I have a quick and easy trick for you so you will always have room temperature eggs when you need them. Just click on “tips”.

Otherwise every other step of the process is what you normally expect when you make a cake. This cake, although delicious anytime, is a great recipe for the Holidays. And I guarantee you it won’t be around your kitchen for very long. Enjoy!

Cranberry Orange Cake Pt. 2...

  • Servings: 20-24
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

CRUMB TOPPING:

3/4 cup flour

6 Tbs. brown sugar, packed

6 Tbs. butter, unsalted and chilled

CAKE

3 eggs, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1- 12oz. pkg. of fresh cranberries

Zest of 1 large orange, divided into 3/4 and 1/4 portions

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

Juice from 1 orange (approx. 4 Tbs)

1/4 of the orange zest already grated for the cake

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl combine all the topping ingredients. Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture forms into coarse crumbs. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugars for about 5-7 minutes until thick and doubled in size. Add the butter and vanilla and mix for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the flour until just combined. Fold in the cranberries and the 3/4 portion of the orange zest.

Put the batter into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Spread the crumb topping on top of the batter.

Bake 45 – 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let cool completely.

Combine glaze ingredients and drizzle over the cake.

 

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Frosted Lemon Cookies…

Are you ready for a little Summer melt in your mouth goodness? Well here’s something that fits the bill. During the dogs days of summer you want something light, cool, refreshing… and these tasty morsels are like have a glass of lemonade in a cookie.

The ingredients in the recipe are a little unusual. For instance, you don’t use any eggs just butter and lemon juice – you use powdered sugar in place of granulated sugar – and you mix the flour with cornstarch. Sounds a little strange but the result is what, as a child, I called sand cookies. And although sand cookies doesn’t sound very appetizing, it was my term for cookies that literally melt in your mouth. The combination of ingredients in this recipe creates a melt in your mouth consistency that is amplified when you ice them with the lemon frosting. All I can say is yummo!

So let’s talk iced lemon cookies…

Dough logLesson Learned 1 – Make sure you chill the dough: The consistency of the dough is not like most cookies – it will be softer and stickier. It’s important for the dough to chill in order to form the cookies and bake them off. Divide the dough in half and make two eight inch logs. Cover the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to two hours. My dough was nice and firm after an hour and a half, so check your dough at that point to see if it is ready to go.

Dough logs

These cookies do not have a lot of binding ingredients (there is some butter but no eggs) and so they are more delicate than others. Basically that is what gives them their melt in your mouth consistency. So when they are still warm they can easily break apart. Be very careful when removing them from the baking sheet to the cooling rack. Also be careful when icing them. You can have a love-hate relationship with these cookies. You love the consistency as they flake apart in your mouth but they can also do that in your hand if they are not handled with care. Just take your time with them. These cookies are worth all the care you can give!

Lesson Learned 3 – Chill the cookies once you’re done: I found the best way to enjoy these cookies is when they have a slight chill. The flavor is so light and with the chill it creates a cooling Summertime treat sensation. You’ll find that you can’t eat only one of these flavorful bite size morsels. I guarantee they will be a hit!

Lesson Learned 4 – I used yellow food coloring in the frosting: I used yellow food coloring in the frosting but it’s not necessary. I found it gave the cookies that special look and we all know we eat with our eyes first. I used 3 drops and it created this beautiful lemony color!

Frosted Lemon Cookies...

  • Servings: 4-5 dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

FROSTING:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp. lemon zest

1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

3 drop yellow food coloring, optional

DIRECTIONS:

In a medium bowl beat together the butter and sugar until combined. Beat in the lemon juice. In another bowl whisk together the flour and corn starch. Gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mixture until combined.

Divide the dough in half and shape into two 8 inch logs. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm – approximately 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Unwrap the dough and cut it into 1/4 inch slices. Place slices 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes.

Gently remove the cookies from the pan onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.

For the frosting, beat together all of the ingredients. Spread over the cookies. Chill and serve.

Ready to go into the oven

Icing the cookies

 

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Strawberry Lemon Muffins

I know I haven’t published in a while. It just seems when Summer arrives I find so many things to do outside of the kitchen that I become a little lax in my posting goals. But even though I haven’t posted for some time I think this recipe is well worth the wait.

If you’ve never baked with strawberries before, you’re in for quite a treat. Strawberries have a wonderful light tartness to them when they’re baked that beautifully offsets the sugar in a recipe. Combine that with a hint of lemon zest and juice and you have an incredible balance of flavors.

These muffins require very little effort to make and are decadently delicious. You must try them. So let’s talk about strawberry lemon muffins…

Lesson Learned 1 – Don’t cut the strawberries in too large of chunks: Strawberries give off a lot of moisture when they’re baked so you don’t want large chunks of strawberries in your muffins. That will make the muffins soggy. I cut the strawberries in half and then in half again. After that I cut the remaining pieces in thirds. The picture below gives you somewhat of a perspective on size. Just to the right of center and near the bottom is a strawberry cut in half from top to bottom. You can see the other pieces are smaller by comparison. You want to cut the strawberries into these smaller sized pieces.

It is also very important to make sure the strawberries are evenly distributed in the batter at the very end. Otherwise you might have soggy pockets in your muffins. Take the time to fold them into the batter completely before filling your muffin cups.

Lesson Learned 2 – The batter will be thicker than you think: I was surprised at how thick the batter was in this recipe. But the combination of a thick batter and strawberries creates the perfect balance for a moist and flavorful muffin. All the magic happens in the oven, so don’t worry about how thick the batter is.

Lesson Learned 3 – Fill the muffin cups almost to the top: Many times, especially when making cupcakes, recipes will say to fill the cups about 3/4 full. With these muffins fill the cups almost to the top. The muffins will rise in the oven but not dramatically so don’t worry about spillover.

Lesson Learned 4 – Tips for glazing and storing the muffins: Make sure the muffins are completely cooled before glazing them. I used a “home-made” pastry piping bag to glaze my muffins. I simply put the glaze in a sealable sandwich bag, twist the bag to get all the glaze in one corner and snip the corner squeezing the glaze over the muffins. The result is very professional looking and the process could not be any easier. Below are pictures of my “home-made” pastry bag and the muffins after they’ve been glazed.

These muffins can be stored in an air tight container for up to 5 days. They also freeze nicely. Try them and let me know what you think!

Strawberry Lemon Muffins

  • Servings: 12-15 Muffins
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

3/4 cups sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 large egg, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Zest and juice of one lemon

1 1/4 cup fresh strawberries, diced

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

Zest and juice of 1 medium sized lemon (2-3 Tbs. of juice)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with muffin cups and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Set aside.

Whisk together the egg, vanilla, vegetable oil, yogurt, lemon juice and zest. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Gently fold in the strawberries.

Fill the muffin cups almost to the top. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes then transfer the muffins to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Mix the glaze ingredients together and drizzle over the cooled muffins. Store muffins in an airtight container or freeze them.

 

Sour Cream Apple Bites…

I had a few apples lying around and I wanted to use them. This recipe is a great way to use “older” apples.  The bites come out so moist and tender you’ll be hard pressed to eat just one. You make this recipe in a 9 x 13  pan and that is way too much for me and my husband so I brought them to work the next day. I couldn’t believe how many compliments I got on them although my husband maintains you can put cardboard in a break room where you work and people will devour it. Part of me knows that’s true, but when people go out of their way to say how delicious it was you know you have something special.

Yes, something special, that’s how I would categorize this. And a great way to use apples that are not all that fresh anymore but still very good. So let’s talk sour cream apple bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – This is a pretty straightforward crumble-type recipe: The crust you make for the  base is the same crumble you put on top. This recipe gives you an ample amount for a nice crust and a substantive crumble. Use half of the mixture as the crust and the other half as the topping. Make sure you use all of it, don’t waste a bit.

Lesson Learned 2 – The food processor is your friend on this one: Make sure you use the food processor to shred the apples. If you’ve never used a food processor it’s worth your while to spend a little time familiarizing yourself with one and learning how to use it. It can be a great time saver. There are a plethora of videos on YouTube that can show you all you need to know about a food processor. Here is a handy little video about how to shred food using a food processor:

Remember when you shred the apples for this recipe, all you need do is cut out the core and seeds. You don’t need to peel them. I used gala apples for this recipe and you can see the little red fleck in the  shredded apples in the pictures below. You won’t even notice the peel when eating the bites and the red from the apples gives a nice little pop of color to the sour cream filling.

What I like about this recipe is not only is it insanely delicious but it also is simple to make. I guarantee you that when you make these bites they will disappear quickly. Enjoy this one!

Sour Cream Apple Bites...

  • Servings: Approximately 30 Bites
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Crust and Topping:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. allspice

Filling:

1 cup sour cream

3/4 cup sugar

2 Tbs. flour

1 large egg

2 medium apples shredded

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the crust/topping first. Mix together butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix well. Take half of the mixture and press it into the bottom of an ungreased 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is a light golden brown.

While the crust is baking shred the apples in a food processor by removing the core and seeds but leaving on the skin. Combine all of the filling mixture ingredients together except the shredded apples until well blended. Fold in the shredded apples.

Pour the filling mixture over the crust (the crust can be still hot). Crumble the remaining crust/topping mixture over the filling and pat down lightly.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the center is set. Cool completely before cutting into bites. Store refrigerated.

Sour Cream and Apple Mixture

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Out Of The Oven

Sour Cream Apple Bites

 

Cinnamon Roll Bread…

I was intrigued by the idea of a cinnamon roll-type bread and who doesn’t love the smell of cinnamon wafting through the house especially on a crisp cool Fall day? I have to admit, though, that I made this recipe twice with two very different ways of adding the cinnamon sugar filling. I definitely discovered my preference which I will share later in the blog.

The first time I did the filling I made it in a more liquid-type consistency combining the cinnamon and sugar mixture with water. The second time I used a stiffer consistency, added brown sugar instead of white sugar and mixed it with room temperature butter and a dash of flour.

Water based cinnamon sugar mixture

Water Based Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

Swirled Mixture

Swirled Mixture

Although both breads turned out perfectly fine, I have to say that I preferred the the butter blend to the water blend and here’s why. I don’t know about you, but every time I use the method of putting some sort of mixture on top of my batter and blending it into the batter with a knife it never gives me the deep kinds of swirls I want. When I used the water-based cinnamon sugar mixture it provided a nice concentration on the top of the bread but in the center it basically just blended with the bread. You could see the cinnamon but not the more distinct type of swirl that I wanted. (the pictures below show the differences between the two – the one on the left is the bread made with the water based cinnamon mixture and the one on the right represents the butter based cinnamon mixture)

Cinnamon Roll BreadCinnamon Roll Bread

The second time I made the bread I used the butter mixture and not only did I swirl it on top but I divided the batter and actually added it to the center as well. The end result was much better and really permeated the batter with the cinnamon sugar swirls as you can see from the picture on the right above. I can’t say that the water based mixture wouldn’t do the same thing as I did not use the divided batter method with it. But I think the consistency of the butter based filling gave more concentrated swirls versus just blending in with the batter. I would recommend the butter mixture but will put both mixtures in the recipe for you to try for yourself.

Butter Based Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

Butter Based Cinnamon Sugar Mixture

Applying The Mixture

Applying The Mixture

Swirled Mixture

Swirled Mixture

So let’s talk cinnamon roll bread…

Lesson Learned 1 – Be careful not to overcook this bread: The batter in this recipe has a very stiff consistency so it is important not to over mix or over bake the bread. If you do you will wind up with a very dry bread. Depending on your oven, I would check this bread about 5 minutes before the minimum baking time just to see how it is doing. It is very easy to over bake this bread.

Lesson Learned 2 – Regardless of what filling type you use, I would divide the batter and put some both in the middle and on the top: Doing it this way you will ensure more dense swirls throughout the bread and not just on top. Keep in mind there is not a lot of sugar in the batter so you want that cinnamon sugar mixture to permeate the bread as much as possible.

Lesson Learned 3 – If using the butter based cinnamon sugar mixture, use most if not all of it: When I first made it I thought, boy, this is a lot of filling. But if you want the richness of a healthy amount of cinnamon throughout the bread use it all, or most of it at least. You will need to eyeball it to determine when you’ve used enough but feel free to err on the side of more versus less. Although it looks like a lot you need a lot to get a generous amount spread throughout the bread.

Lesson Learned 4 – Make the glaze with heavy cream: I don’t know about you but I can taste a significant difference when I make a glaze with heavy cream versus making it with milk. The heavy cream gives the glaze a thicker consistency and mellows out the flavor of the powdered sugar. But if you don’t have heavy cream lying around and only have milk you can certainly use that. I just think it tastes so much better and richer when you use heavy cream.

Lesson Learned 5 – Making glaze is full proof: There is no secret to making glaze. The biggest choice you will make is what consistency you want. Don’t worry if you think your glaze it too thick or too runny. If it is too thick, add a little more cream. If it is too runny, add a little more powdered sugar. It’s just that easy.

What I really like about this recipe is that you don’t need a stand mixture (I used a hand mixer to blend the butter based cinnamon sugar mixture) and in no time flat you have a fabulous sweet bread.

Be sure to let me know your thoughts regarding the cinnamon sugar mixture. Enjoy this great recipe!

CINNAMON ROLL BREAD...

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Cinnamon Roll BreadBatter:

2 cups flour, sifted

1 Tb. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup white sugar

1 large egg, room temperature & lightly beaten

1 cup whole milk

2 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup sour cream (you can substitute plain greek yogurt)

#1 Swirl Ingredients:

1/3 cup white sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 Tbs. water

OR

#2 Swirl Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 Tbs. flour

2 Tbs. cinnamon

Glaze:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

2-3 Tbs. heavy cream (you may need more depending on the consistency desired)

1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Prepare the cinnamon sugar mixture (either choice #1 or 2) by combining all of the ingredients. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. In another bowl whisk together the egg, milk, vanilla and sour cream. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Be careful not to overmix.

Pour about 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan. Add half of the cinnamon sugar mixture. With a sharp knife swirl the mixture into the batter. Add the remaining batter and repeat the same process with the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Put the pan on a cooling rack. Take a rounded knife and run it along all of the edges of the pan. Let the bread cool for 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and allow it to cool completely.

Mix together all of the glaze ingredients. Drizzle the glaze over the bread. If you do not serve immediately, cover the bread loosely with foil once the glaze has hardened.

Cinnamon Roll Bread

 

Cinnamon Roll Bread

 Cinnamon Roll Bread

Cinnamon Roll Bread

Cinnamon Roll Bread

Holiday Raspberry Walnut Bars…

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. The holidays have been crazy and I haven’t had my usual time to experiment in the kitchen. But to keep in the tradition of trying to post at least once a week, I am going to share a cookie recipe from back in the day.

This is a reprint of a blog I did a couple of years ago. It is such a great holiday recipe that I wanted to give it some prime time, especially now that I have more readers and subscribers. I guarantee you, you cannot go wrong with this recipe. It will be a hit in your holiday cookie baking arsenal!

Raspberry Walnut Bars

Raspberry Walnut Bars

There’s a lot of reasons for this recipe being so popular. First, and probably foremost, it looks so darn delicious. Second, and not known by those requesting the recipe, it is sinfully easy to make. And third, the recipe turns out perfect first time, every time. I can’t take credit for the recipe, it was one I found a few years ago, I simply can’t remember where I found it. So up front I apologize to whomever I am not giving credit to for the actual recipe.

Lesson Learned 1: The hardest thing about this recipe is preparing the pan. The recipe calls for lining a 8 inch square pan with parchment paper allowing some overhang on both sides. Trying to keep parchment paper from popping back out of the pan when you allow for overhang can be tricky. I found the easiest way to make the parchment paper behave is to take two heavy cans of anything and weigh down the paper in the pan while making the dough. That way when it’s time to spread the dough out on the bottom the paper has been somewhat trained and doesn’t jump around as much.

Lesson Learned 2: It is important to follow the directions of using the parchment paper, having the overhang and spraying the parchment paper with cooking spray. I can’t image what you would wind up with if you didn’t. But if you take the time to do it, it comes out of the pan easily and absolutely nothing sticks to the parchment paper.

Lesson Learned 3: This recipe gives you plenty of dough so don’t worry about using it to fill up the bottom. It says to use two thirds of the dough for the crust and one third to dot the top. I found that gave me way too much dough for the top. You need a lot less dough to dot the top then you think, so don’t be afraid to use more than two thirds of the dough for the crust.

Lesson Learned 4: Avoid the temptation to use too much raspberry jam. A nice even thin coat is all you need. Stick to the amount called for in the recipe.

Lesson Learned 5: Depending on how many bars you want to give out, you may have to make this recipe a couple of times. You can make the bars big or small, but the most you’ll probably get out of this recipe is 24 small bars.

I guarantee these bars will be a hit with your family and friends. You simply must try them!

Raspberry Walnut Bars…

  • Servings: 24 Small Bars
  • Difficulty: Easy-Medium
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INGREDIENTS:

Non stick baking spray

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla

2/3 cup raspberry jam

1 cup chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper leaving an overhang on both sides. Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray. (I do this right before I am ready to put the dough into the pan).

In a medium bowl whisk the flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside. Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. (This does take a little time, most people do not do this thoroughly enough so make sure to take the time to make the mixture fluffy). Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture until combined. Do not over mix. Transfer two thirds of the dough into the prepared pan and press down evenly. Spread the jam on top. Crumble the remaining dough and dot it over the jam. Sprinkle the top with the walnuts. Bake until golden 35-45 minutes. Cool completely in the pan. (this is very important).

Holding both sides of the parchment paper, lift out of the pan, transfer to a cutting board and cut into rectangles. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Raspberry Walnut Bars

Lemon Crumb Cake…

Sometimes you just want something quick and easy. This is that kind of recipe. I don’t know about you but there are days when I just don’t want to drag out all the paraphernalia in order to make something that looks and tastes good. This particular recipe requires no stand mixer, food processor, or blender. Just a bowl for the dry and wet ingredients and a small pan to melt butter.

Let’s talk Lemon Crumb Cake…

Perfect Crumble ConsistencyLesson Learned 1 – The crumb topping: Only three ingredients make the topping – flour sugar and melted butter. I found the best result for making the topping is to add 1 additional tablespoon of flour to the 1/3 cup called for in the recipe. That way you get a nice crumble without the mixture being too moist. The crumb topping is easy to do. Just melt the butter and combine it with the flour and sugar. If the mixture looks too dry, add a tiny bit more melted butter. Make sure nothing is dry in the crumble. The picture here shows the perfect consistency.

Add Wet Ingredients To Dry IngredientsLesson Learned 2 – Mixing wet and dry ingredients: The rule of thumb when making a batter you mix by hand is to add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Take a wooden spoon or a spoon/spatula and mix until just combined. Make sure to check at the bottom center of the bowl – that’s were unincorporated ingredients tend to hang out. Once everything is combined, STOP. Over mixing will create a tough cake.

Lesson Learned 3 – Watch the time on this cake carefully: Ok, I’ll admit it – I had to make this cake twice to get it right. This cake, depending on your oven and what part of the country you live in, can bake from 50 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes. And let me tell you, it can go from moist to dry rather quickly. So keep an eye on it. I use a professional grade loaf pan and so my cake baked in 50 minutes. The time you need will depend on your oven and the bakeware you use. Keep an eye on it starting at 50 minutes.

Right Out Of The Oven

Lemon Crumb Cake…

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Topping

1/3 cup plus 1 Tbs. Flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 Tbs. melted unsalted butter

Cake

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 5 oz. can evaporated milk

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 tsp. lemon zest

2 large eggs

Glaze (optional)

1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon zest

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour the bottom and sides of an 8 x 4 loaf pan (if using a nonstick pan you only need to prepare the bottom of the pan). In a small bowl mix together topping ingredients making sure all the flour is coated with the melted butter. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl whisk together the eggs, evaporated milk, oil and lemon zest. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the top evenly with the crumb mixture. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check the cake at 50 minutes. You do not want to over bake this cake.

Cool the cake for 15 minutes in the loaf pan. Remove from loaf pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. The glaze is optional. The cake is delicious with or without the glaze.

Lemon Crumb Cake

 Lemon Crumb Cake

Strawberry & Raspberry Crumb Cake…

I am loving the fact that I’m at the point where I’m not afraid to experiment with recipes or afraid to make changes in them if something just doesn’t look right. And that is the story of this recipe.

I had some strawberries that were in my refrigerator for a while and I wanted to use them before they went bad. So I started researching recipes and found one for strawberry crumb bars. I basically had all of the ingredients so I decided to try the recipe.

The original recipe called for 4 cups of chopped strawberries. After chopping up what I had I found I only had 3 cups. My initial thought was to go to the store to get more strawberries. Then I remembered I had a container of raspberries in the refrigerator as well. So I thought, maybe I’ll just chop those up and combine the two berries.

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Now this may sound silly, but this was a big leap for me. In the past I’ve not been one to stray from recipes or tweak them in any way. But I thought, what the heck. I cooked with raspberries before. What harm could it do to combine the two. And so I did.

The original recipe also called for only one beaten egg when making the crust/crumble. When I added one beaten egg, the dry mixture still resembled dry dusty flour. I knew the consistency of crust/crumbles should be dough-like and should somewhat hold together when you squeeze it in your hand. No such luck with only using one egg. So I added another beaten egg and the consistency still wasn’t right. I added a third and finally got the correct consistency. Doing this was huge for me. In the past I would just have gone along with the recipe and wound up with a baking disaster. This time I followed my gut and my baking knowledge and wound up with a great result. So here are my lessons learned on this fabulous recipe:

Lesson Learned 1 – Trust Your Gut: As I mentioned earlier I would always follow recipes to the letter and never deviate even if something did not look right. Now I have to put in a big caveat here. Baking is very different from cooking. Your chances of making a mistake when playing around with the ingredients when baking are much higher but in this case, especially with the crust/crumble, I knew that if the dough did not somewhat stick together when I squeezed it, it would not produce the desired results. But I was also careful. I only added in one beaten egg at a time and with the third egg I put it in a little at a time just to make sure that I wasn’t adding too much. My advice on this recipe is to use two extra large to jumbo sized eggs or three regular sized eggs. Don’t dump them in all together. Put them in one at a time and check the consistency of the dough before you add more. Once the dough somewhat sticks together when you squeeze it, you’re done.

Lesson Learned 2 – This Recipe Can Be Made With Various Berry Combinations: In my case it was strawberries and raspberries but you can make this with raspberries and blueberries or strawberries and blueberries or blackberries and strawberries or whatever combination of berries you have on hand that can be baked. Just make sure you have four cups of berries because you’ll need that amount to adequately cover the top of the cake. Also make sure to try to cut the berries into equal sized pieces. And use caution when combining them with the sugar and cornstarch. Use a folding technique rather than a stirring technique so you don’t overly bruise or rip apart the berries.

IMG_4480Lesson Learned 3 – The Importance of Using Cold Butter: In order to get a flaky crumb crust/crumble the butter needs to be very cold when mixing it with the dry ingredients. Many recipes will tell you to use a pastry cutter or two knives and cut the butter into the dry mixture until the butter is a pea-shaped size. I never seem to have any luck with that process so what I did was put the dry ingredients in a food processor add the cold butter pieces and pulse all of it together to get the consistency you see in the picture to the right. Two things to keep in mind – 1: Cut the butter the very first thing and put it back into the refrigerator while you prepare the berries and dry ingredients. That way the butter will be as cold as it can possibly be when you cut it into the dry ingredients. 2: If using a food processor to incorporate the butter, hold a towel over the opening so that as you pulse you don’t get a cloud of flour coming out the top of your food processor.

Other than these few lessons learned this recipe couldn’t be easier to make and the end result is one truly delicious crumb cake. Enjoy!

Strawberry & Raspberry Crumb Cake…

  • Servings: 16
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup sugar for the dough

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

3 cups all purpose flour

1 cup cold butter cut into pieces

2-3 beaten eggs (extra large or jumbo size start with 2)

4 cups berries cut in evenly sized pieces (I used 3 cups strawberries & 1 cup raspberries)

1/3 cup sugar for berries

4 tsp. corn starch

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease  9 x 13 pan and set aside. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a food processor. Hold a towel over the opening of the processor and pulse to combine. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse the mixture until the butter is the size of peas. Remove the mixture from the food processor and put into a large bowl. Add a beaten egg one at a time and stir it into the mixture. (If the consistency is correct after adding two eggs, don’t add a third). The dough is of the right consistency if it sticks together when you take a handful and squeeze it.

Take half of the dough and put it in the bottom of the prepared pan and pat it down. Carefully fold together the berries, sugar and cornstarch. Spread berries on top of the dough. Crumble the remaining dough on top of the berries.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes. Let cake cool before slicing.

Cut The Berries Into Evenly Sized Pieces...

Cut The Berries Into Evenly Sized Pieces…

Press Dough Into The Bottom Of The Pan...

Press Dough Into The Bottom Of The Pan…

Spread The Berry Mixture Over The Dough...

Spread The Berry Mixture Over The Dough…

Crumble The Remaining Dough Over The Berries...

Crumble The Remaining Dough Over The Berries…

Bake And Enjoy...

Bake And Enjoy…

Baking With Flour and Eggs…

It occurred to me that I added a new category to my website called tips and trick and have yet to write a post under it. That ends today. The purpose of this category is to share some tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way that make cooking and baking easier and better. I am hoping that my readers will also join in with their tips and tricks since I know I’ve still got a lot to learn.

My initial post covers two of my favorite tips, ones that have made a big difference in my baking. I call them knife aerated flour and quick and easy room temperature eggs.

KNIFE AERATED FLOUR:

I’ve often mentioned that my mother wasn’t a very good cook. She simply wasn’t interested in it. But when she did, she was not intuitive and she often made mistakes that affected the outcome of a recipe. One of her big mistakes was how to measure flour. Baking purists will tell you that the only way to measure flour is by weighing it. That may be the case, but I hardly find any recipes that include the weight of the flour in the ingredients. Normally it is listed in cups.

But not all cups are created equal. What my mother used to do is put flour in a measuring cup and then shake it so that the flour would settle. She would continue that process until she got the amount called for in the recipe. Basically she was using packed down flour as her measurement. Not good…

I found the best way to measure flour without weighing it is to use the knife aerator technique. Before I scoop my flour out of my canister into a measuring cup, I take a knife and stir it in the canister to aerate it. Then I put my cup in my canister and scoop out a heaping amount. After that I take my knife and level the measuring cup and voila, I have an amount that parallels weighing it. Easy, quick and recipes tend to work out well using this technique. The only time they don’t is if I need to do a high altitude adjustment. Then I add one to two additional tablespoons of flour and that usually does the trick. If you don’t live in high altitude you don’t need to worry about that.

So next time you measure flour, aerate it and level it in your measuring cup using a knife. You’ll get a much more accurate amount that way.

Use a knife to level off the flour...

Use a knife to level off the flour…

EASY ROOM TEMPERATURE EGGS:

From watching a lot of professional chefs I’ve learned that using room temperature eggs when baking makes the eggs blend more thoroughly in the batter. The problem is, who ever remembers to take the eggs out of the refrigerator in enough time to render them room temperature. Not me, that’s for sure.

But I recently learned a great little trick that in 5 minutes gives you room temperature eggs. Just put some very warm water in a cup deep enough to cover the eggs (I normally use my 2 cup measuring cup) and let them sit on the counter for 5 minutes. Voila, you have room temperature eggs. I do this all the time when I am baking now. It’s a great little trick and it hardly takes any time at all.

IMG_9778

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BAKING TIPS N’ TRICKS?

I know there are a lot of tips that can make for better results or are amazing time savers. I would love to hear some of yours. Feel free to share and we can all learn from each other! Enjoy!

 

Glazed Strawberry Bread…

NOTE: Here’s my second in a series of re-blogs while I’m in the throws of selling/buying and moving. I hope to be back online with one new recipe a week starting at the end of July. Until then, let’s revisit some of my more popular recipes! You’ve gotta try this one. It is simply fabulous!


It’s been a little longer than usual since my last post. The month of May has many “things” happening like birthdays, anniversaries and of course Memorial Day. I got a little caught up in all of that but now am back to a more normal schedule regarding this blog.

Cut The Strawberries Into Small Pieces

Cut The Strawberries Into Small Pieces

I don’t know about you but this season it seems like the strawberries are more plentiful, sweeter and cheaper. I’ve mostly been eating a lot of strawberries combined with blueberries and raspberries and mixed with greek yoghurt as a special breakfast treat. But I was also interested in finding a good recipe for strawberry bread and I think I’ve found just about the best one yet on a website called sallysbakingaddiction.com.

I liked this recipe for a variety of reasons which I will talk about in my rating and lessons learned. That being said, make sure you make this one – you will not be disappointed.

Rating: A+ to the nth degree! This is the highest rating I have ever given a recipe because in my mind it is the perfect one – it was easy to make, turned out perfectly the first time and the recipe was well written. Yahoo! This one gets the highest honors to date!

Wet And Dry Ingredients and Chopped Strawberries

Wet And Dry Ingredients and Chopped Strawberries

Lesson Learned 1: THE RECIPE. Read this recipe carefully because if you do it will turn out perfectly. In the original recipe, the author took great pains to include the little nuances that so many cooks consider basic knowledge and consequently omit. The recipe is very specific on what you should use not only to create a moist cake but to get it to brown to perfection. Bravo to this cook who took the time to include all of the information you need to know. The recipe I am writing below is my version which includes the original recipe and my adjustments for high altitude.

Lesson Learned 2: THE CORRECT SIZE LOAF PAN. The original recipe called for a 9×5 pan. I used an 8×4 and it worked out perfectly. As a matter of fact I would recommend using an 8×4 for this recipe as you get a taller bread by using the smaller pan.

Lesson Learned 3: OIL. The original recipe called for vegetable oil but I used coconut oil and it turned out beautifully. As a matter of fact, I would recommend using coconut oil if you have it. The cake turned out really moist.

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Lesson Learned 4: ROOM TEMPERATURE EGGS. What I absolutely loved in this recipe was a tip regarding using room temperature eggs. First of all, I’ve always heard you should use room temperature eggs in baking but I never knew why. I found out that room temperature eggs tend to mix more evenly than cold eggs, who knew? But here’s the greatest TIP: If you’re like me and never remember to take the eggs out before you start baking, just take your eggs, put them in a cup, cover them with warm water and let sit for 5 minutes. Voila! You have a room temperature eggs!

Lesson Learned 5: A KITCHEN SCALE. Baking is not like cooking. You need your measurements to be exact in order to get the best results. I’ve found that to be especially the case with flour. If a recipe (which this one does) includes the weight of flour in grams, use a scale and measure the flour that way. It is so much more precise. TIP: If you keep your flour in a canister, take a knife and stir the flour to eliminate any compaction that may have occurred while sitting in the canister. Then put your measuring cup in, scoop the flour out and level it off at the top with your knife. That is another trick to get a more accurate amount of flour in your recipe, although using a scale is the most accurate.

Fresh Out Of The Oven...

Fresh Out Of The Oven…

Lesson Learned 6: COVERING THE BREAD IN FOIL. The recipe calls for loosely covering the bread with foil after the first 30 minutes of baking so the bread will not get overly dark. Great tip! I covered the bread after thirty minutes, baked it for another 20 and it still was not done but uncovered it and baked it for 10 more minutes and it came out perfectly.

Lesson Learned 7: THE GLAZE. This is perhaps the best glaze I ever tasted and I think the reason is that it’s made with heavy cream instead of just milk or water. One place where the recipe differed from what I experienced was in the amount of heavy cream to use. The original recipe called for 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream, 1 cup of confectioners sugar and 1/2 tsp. of vanilla extract. That combination gave me a ball of paste. I wound up using about 6 TBS. of heavy cream and 1 TBS of vanilla extract in order to get the consistency you see in the pictures. It tasted better than any glaze I’ve ever made. Heavy cream is definitely the key to a great tasting glaze.

Lesson Learned 8: MIXING. The recipe cautions not to over mix the batter in order to have a moist cake. This is absolutely true. Pay attention when mixing and just when everything is combined, stop! I was very careful not to over mix and the cake was moist and delicious.

My husband almost ate the whole loaf all by himself, that’s how great this bread is. It is so easy to make and so flavorful. I know you will thoroughly enjoy this recipe! You must try it.

Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion

Glazed Strawberry Bread…

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

BREAD:

2 cups (250g) flour

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

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 large egg, room temperature

3/4 sugar (2/3 cup high altitude)

1/4 cup brown sugar (50g) not firmly packed (high altitude leave an 1/8 inch visible around the rim of the measuring cup)

1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil (you can use melted coconut oil)

1 cup buttermilk (no substitutions)

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 cup fresh strawberries cut in small pieces

GLAZE:

1 cup (120g) confectioners sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4-6 TBS heavy cream

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (If you did not allow for a room temperature egg, place your egg in a container, cover it with warm water and let it sit for 5 minutes. If using coconut oil, put the oil in a pan, melt it and set aside to cool.)  Spray a 8×4 loaf pan with nonstick spray and set aside.

In a large bowl whisk the flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon until combined. In a medium bowl whisk together the egg, granulated and brown sugars. Whisk until there are no visible lumps. Whisk in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Make a well in the center of your dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir until there are no lumps. Do not over mix.

Mix the strawberries with 1-2 TBS of flour (this will prevent the strawberries from only staying at the top of the bread). Carefully fold the strawberries into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it out evenly.

Bake for 50 minute to 1 hour. Loosely cover the bread with foil after 30 minutes of baking. Remove foil for the last 10 minutes of baking. The bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Keep the bread in the pan for 15 minutes before removing it. Allow the bread to cook completely before glazing it.

Glazed Strawberry Bread

Glazed Strawberry Bread

Glazed Strawberry Bread

Glazed Strawberry Bread

 

 

 

 

So This Is Christmas…

Oh Christmas Tree...

Oh Christmas Tree…

Christmas Day 2013 and lots to reflect upon. On this day more than any other you think about the many things for which you are grateful as well as precious times past. Those thoughts can bring both smiles and tears as you revel in the holiday spirit but miss those that can no longer share it with you. For me, Christmas is the time to reflect on the past year, the good, the bad and the ugly and to begin the process of creating the hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. So here goes:

All in all, 2013 was a pretty good year. It started out rocky but is ending up positively. In January I began feeling pain and numbness in my legs that took me on a health roller coaster of doctors, vein procedures, physical therapy and finally a diagnosis of spinal stenosis. Scary as it may sound, finally getting the diagnosis and having an operation to fix it is what I am most grateful for this year. Not having pain in my legs and the feeling of having “my old legs” back is a gift I am not taking for granted. I laughed when a friend told me that I basically had a “roto-router” procedure on my spine but call it whatever you want, it did the trick. So this year I am looking forward to being physically able to work on a healthier life style without experiencing pain in the process.

Holiday Decorations

Holiday Decorations

I am also grateful for being retired and now just working on things that I choose to and that I love. Who would have ever thought that I would love working part-time in retail? Not me, that’s for sure. And I am sure that working retail in general could never be something that I would enjoy, but working at Crate and Barrel has been a blast. A great company, great people and working in customer service has really, for all intents and purposes, “cranked my switch”. I have just enough hours to effectively learn the business (I am so enjoying learning the ins and outs of corporate America) but not too many that it prevents me from pursuing my other interests. So it is a win-win situation and as long as it continues to be fun I will do it. And working on the two NRPA schools is really a joy for me. My first love was always teaching and to be able to work on schools that attract the best of the best in the field of Parks and Recreation is a gift I treasure.

I am also so grateful for my friends and to be able to have regular contact with them either the “old fashioned” way, by telephone, or the more popular ways by texting, emailing (although this is becoming less popular these days) and through social media. I love seeing what is happening in their lives and sharing what is happening in mine. To be able to maintain contact with people that I taught some 30+ years ago, colleagues from work days long gone by and new friends made along the way brings untold joy into my life.

The Christmas Village

The Christmas Village

Having had the opportunity this year to vacation with some old friends was the best. True friendship exists when you can spend time apart but, when finally together, pick up right where you left off without regret or awkwardness. We laughed so hard we cried, and we enjoyed each other for who we are now as well as for our past connections. Those friendships last a lifetime and I am so grateful to have those kinds of friends in my life.

I am particularly grateful for a special surprise gift I got this year from a former student. Nothing like getting some Lou Malnati’s pizza and popcorn to bring you back to the good ole’ Chicago days. The gift was totally unexpected and brought about tears of joy, the best kind of tears. This gift was a great reminder to me that it is the small things, the unexpected kindnesses in life, that truly matter the most.

Paying it forward by performing random acts of kindness, that is becoming a tradition for me during the holidays and really should be a year-long tradition. Buying an unsuspecting person their Starbuck’s order and looking at the smile on their face when they were told – that was a good one for me this year. But I think I am going to try to spread this out during the rest of the upcoming year as well. It makes you feel so good to do something for someone, just because, with no expectation in return. That is the true act of giving and what I’ve learned along the way is that giving is just as rewarding, if not more so, than receiving.

Me and My Dad By The Tree...

Me and My Dad By The Tree…

I can’t escape thinking about my parents at the holidays. They were the ones who always went out of their way to make my holidays special. The annual downtown Chicago shopping trips, consisting of a march up and down State Street (always ending at Marshall Fields), coffee and a treat at the Walgreens buffet (yes they used to have one), several walking trips back to the car (my dad’s job) to drop of the myriad of packages and dinner at Millers Pub (always their lamb chops for me). I remember one year my mother having too many of a drink called a “Tom and Jerry”, that was one of the more memorable dinners! We always did our trip on the first Saturday in December and even as an adult I would look forward to doing this with them. These are special, special memories. Needless to say I now miss my parents terribly at this time of year, but I know they would want me to be happy and the best way to honor their memory is to work through the sadness and revel in the joys of the past and look to the future with unrelenting optimism.

The scamp, Cody...

The scamp, Cody…

This was the second year we did not put up a Christmas tree. I can tell you the reason in one word, Cody. Cody is our orange tabby that we adopted in 2012. He is a big boy, tipping the scales at 12 pounds, and he is very rambunctious. We knew if we put a tree that it would wind up on the ground. We were hoping this might be the year we could put it up, but he is still in full blown scamp mode and so we decided against it. Next year there will be a tree for sure, whether it stands or lies down.

And as always there is the holiday baking ritual. This year was an enormous success with two new recipes (caramel butter bars and frosted cinnamon chip cookies) leading the way. I try to make at least one new recipe a year but now I am at the point were I make eight different cookie recipes, all articulated favorites, so it will be interesting to see if next year I’ll have the courage to discontinue one in order to try a new one. There are only so many types of cookies a girl can make before she becomes tuckered out! But seeing the joy in the eyes of my neighbors and co-workers when the cookies come-a-callin’ is worth all the time and energy. This year a plate even made it to a Christmas Eve dinner at the Denver Children’s hospital. I am sure those attending that dinner more than appreciated something made with such love during a difficult time in their lives.

Holiday Cookie Platter

Holiday Cookie Platter

And last but not least, there is always the sojourn to some sort of holiday theatrical production. One year it was to see the Radio City Rockettes perform their holiday extravaganza, another time it was to see a production of my favorite story, A Christmas Carol and last year I saw the stage version of “White Christmas”.

A Holiday Performance...

A Holiday Performance…

This year it was front row seats to see the Denver Ballet perform The Nutcracker. My theatre going friend had never seen The Nutcracker before, so it was an extra special treat. Seeing a holiday production always gets you in the holiday spirit. This has become a tradition that I really enjoy and plan on continuing.

So this was Christmas, 2013. All in all a pretty good one. Can’t say that every year but happy when I can. And as I reflect upon this year, I can only hope that yours had more joy than sorrow, more ups than downs, more successes than failures and was filled with friendship and love. Merry Christmas and to quote Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Everyone.”

The Elves Are In The Kitchen…

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

It’s December 3rd. There’s a winter storm warning, clouds are ominously thickening overhead, the temperature is dropping and so naturally my thoughts are turning toward holiday baking. Making holiday baked goodies is something I’ve done since I was in college. It started out as somewhat of a lark and has now turned into a hard-and-fast holiday tradition. The cookies have to be made somewhat early these days as a batch needs to be shipped to my aunt in Chicago, but making and freezing cookies is just as good as having them fresh. The challenge is deciding what the 2013 cookie menu will be?

There are a few things I know I cannot fool around with, these cookies must be made every year – no questions asked. Namely they are the chocolate dipped sugar cookies, the chocolate chip cookies and the triple chocolate brownie cookies. Over the past couple of years another cookie has almost worked it’s way into must-have tradition status, the cranberry oatmeal cookie.  It is quickly becoming a real favorite with family and friends. My personal favorite has not quite yet  caught on, that is the raspberry walnut bars but I’m sure before long it will become a holiday staple as well. And every year there is an unwritten law that at least one new cookie recipe must be attempted. That’s the law and it must be obeyed!

So with the weather promising that tomorrow will be a day indoors, it’s time to start baking – but before that comes the planning. What will the cookie gift plates consist of this year? At this point a preliminary list has been developed. It is always up for adjusting, except for the big must-have three, but it provides a starting point for the cookie onslaught. So here it is, the unveiling of the preliminary 2013 holiday cookie list (with more additions or exclusions to follow):

Chocolate Dipped Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Dipped Sugar Cookies

THE BIG THREE: (can you see a chocolate theme going on here?)

THE PRELIMINARY MENU:

THE ON-THE-FENCE MENU:

  • Peanut Butter Blossom Cookies
  • Spritz Cookies
  • Any Other Cookie Recipe I See As I Skim Pinterest or Facebook

So there you have it.  It took me two hours and two different grocery stores to amass all of the ingredients I’ll need but at least I have a solid plan for tomorrow, snow or no snow.  As I continue on my holiday baking journey I will post pictures of the cookies along with the recipes and any lessons I’ve learned along the way while making them. Up to this point, the biggest lessons I’ve learned deal with how to adjust these cookie recipes for high altitude. I won’t share those tips unless you ask for them. With over 30 years of making some of these cookies I’d say I have many of them down pat. Some I personally like more than others and I’ll share those opinions along the way. One thing never changes, though, and that is the joy of this time of year and the fun that I have making holiday cookies.

Raspberry Walnut Bars

Raspberry Walnut Bars

Fall – When Ovens End Their Hibernation…

What is it about Fall weather that makes you want to fire up the oven? The manner in which you cook totally changes from Summer’s outdoor grill mode to Fall’s indoor nesting and baking mode. And for me that usually means heavy duty oven time. Think about it. You move away from grilling chicken and steak to making pot roast and casseroles. And I think that is what I most appreciate about Fall – bringing all those marvelous smells back into the house. And if a Fall day also happens to be a rainy day, well then it is an absolute must to fire up the oven!

And so it was yesterday, that killer combination of Fall and rain and I knew I just had to make something. There were only two givens – one, it had to smell wonderful when it was cooking and two, it had to be a recipe I had not tried before. That doesn’t narrow the playing field very much but I happen to love endless possibilities. But how to proceed… hmm…

Then it struck me. My husband and I recently returned from a trip from Santa Fe, New Mexico. While we were there we stayed at a bed and breakfast and each morning my husband would have an English Muffin and a piece of coffee cake. My husband is not a sweets eater but he often talked about how much he enjoyed the coffee cake. The coffee cake had a cream cheese filling and so as I thought about what I would bake I began to think in that vein.

The finished product

The finished product

So off I went to one of my favorite sites on the web, Pinterest, in search of a cream cheese coffee cake recipe. Lo and behold I found one on a website called Bake or Break and like that my decision was made. There was no turning back, I succumbed to the trappings of Fall weather and rain by making a cinnamon cream cheese coffee cake.

As you can see the finished product was great and it tasted divine. I encourage you to try it. Here are some things I learned when making it:  1.) Be aware that it does take some time to prepare because basically you are making three separate things from scratch, the crumb topping, the cream cheese swirl and the cake. 2.) The cake mixture is much thicker than you might think – I poured it into the prepared pan and literally had to spread it out by hand in order for it to fit the entire pan. I thought this might make the cake tough, but it was not. 3.) Be very mindful of the cooking time – it helps to know your oven on this and really on almost everything else you bake. The recipe says to cook it at 350 for 40-45 minutes. Mine was done at 40 and could maybe have been in for even a few minutes less.

But anyway it turned out great – so much so that even though it takes a little more time to prepare it is definitely worth making in my opinion. My husband loved it, my co-workers are getting a treat today, and a newly formed cooking group that I just joined (something for a future blog) will be getting samples of it tomorrow night. So enjoy the coffee cake, it is definitely worth the work. Happy Fall baking!

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Coffee Cake Recipe