Category Archives: Recipe reviews

Cake Every Week (or Day)

Winter is a great time for baking.  What better way to warm up when it is cold outside than to turn on the oven and bake something?  Lately, I have been trying to use the oven as much as possible, which means that almost everything we eat these days is either baked or roasted.  This is partly to make up for the fact that not all the burners work very well on our range, so cooking is sometimes a challenge and other times it is downright frustrating.  A full kitchen renovation is in the works, but until the ball gets rolling, I am baking and roasting away.  Thankfully, there is nothing wrong with the oven other than the fact that I could use another one because I often want to make two things at once that don’t require the same temperature.

In the last couple of weeks in particular, I have been focusing on cakes for the sweet part of the oven work.  I made these little blueberry cakes using the last of some jarred blueberry pie filling that I had canned a long long time ago.  It was a good thing the filling was sweet because I forgot to add the sugar to the cake batter.  I blame the computer for that mistake because I was unable to print out the recipe.  I have not made the switch over to using a device in the kitchen, mostly because those devices are expensive and I do not want to risk spilling something on them!  So, I had to shuttle back and forth between the computer in the family room and the kitchen.  Somewhere in there the sugar got left out.  The filling saved the day and it ended up tasting more like a blueberry cobbler, which was fine with everyone here.

After that fiasco, the next sweet bake was a gorgeous Lemon Cake.

Zesty lemon cake for a dreary wintry day.  Only half iced for those of us who do not like icing.  #beautifulfood #cakeeveryday

This is Maida Heatter’s East 62nd Street Lemon Cake with a simple powdered sugar icing over half of it.  Why only half?  Well, not everyone in this house likes icing and I was trying to make it appealing to everyone.  It is a fabulous cake that I urge you to try making.  Don’t be tempted to leave out the breadcrumbs in the pan.  I am pretty sure I had made this years ago, but bread crumbs was not a standard pantry item for me, so I know I left it out.  Trust me, the crust on this cake, not to mention the wonderful way it releases from the pan, relies on those bread crumbs.  I used panko bread crumbs, which is the only kind I have and it was fabulous.

Tea, cake, yarn, beads, pattern, and a new project bag.  What more does a knitter need on a wintry day? #knittersofinstagram #cozywinter

I think I had two slices a day until it was all gone, which was in less than 48 hours.  It’s perfect with tea.  There might have been some clamoring over the last slice; iced or not, it did not matter at that point.  The lemon adds some brightness to these dreary winter days, which we need desperately now that the temps are mostly below freezing and Jack Frost is a regular visitor.

This cake renewed by love for cake in general and the act of baking cakes.  There will certainly be more cake in the future.  Maybe not every day, but at hopefully every week,  And this lemon cake will return for sure.

Do you have a favorite cake?  Tell me about it because if I haven’t had, I will want to try it!

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Day 2: Toffee

Today’s treat is one of my favorite things. From Heath bars to Almond Roca to English Toffee, anything that combines crunchy caramelized sugar with nuts and chocolate is a favorite treat of mine. There are quite a few recipes out there and I considered many of them, but I went back to a tried and true favorite: the Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch Toffee by David Lebovitz.

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It’s easy and pretty quick. You throw everything in a pot and boil until it is 300 degrees. Watch carefully! I looked away for literally one second when the thermometer registered about 290 and when I looked back, it was almost 310! (p.s. read about my favorite candy thermometer here)

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From there, you do a quick pour over some chopped almonds (wear really good mitts to hold the pot; it’s really hot!) and then toss on a bunch of chocolate chips.

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After the chocolate melts and gets spread around, the rest of the chopped nuts and a sprinkling of salt is added.

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It yields a recipe that is one sided in terms of chocolate, but that’s ok by me. I consider the toffee to be the star and the chocolate plays a supporting role. I made a double batch so that we could give some away as gifts and still feel like we had enough to keep for ourselves.

Don’t forget to leave a comment today to be entered into the giveaway! Do you have a favorite DIY gift idea? Share it in the comments so we can all benefit!

Day 4: Imperfect Chocolate Macarons

I’ll admit that after yesterday’s excitement over making a cookie that I had only previously ventured to buy from a bakery may have gone to my head a little. I should have waited a bit before attempting one of the most challenging cookie recipes to get right: French Macarons.

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Oh, macarons, who do you have to so very delicious and beautiful and difficult to make? I have attempted this madness once before, several years ago at Christmastime and I vowed then that I would never try them again. They were lumpy. The batter was difficult to pipe evenly. And I had a sore arm for days from the effort of all the folding and piping. It would be better to just buy them when I wanted one.

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I wish I had remembered that, but this week, I think I may have lost my mind a little. This is only the fourth or fifth incident that has happened to me this week that began with hope, but ended only in disappointment. Apparently, hope really does spring eternal, personally and in the kitchen.

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Ah, well, what can a person do except try to learn from the situation and move on?

So, here’s what I learned.

1. Just because a professional pastry chef tells you that a recipe is full proof, does not mean that it actually is, especially if you don’t follow the directions exactly.

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2. Looks aren’t everything. I dreamed of a beautifully smooth cookie, but got mostly lumpy, cracked cookies. Still, they tasted really good, according to the husband.

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3. Macaron batter has to be piped, not scooped. I did remember having trouble with the piping last time, so I thought I would try to scoop them. After all, they would be more uniform, right? Well, yes, they are all the same size, but they are also lumpy and cracked. The last pan that I piped looked better; still not smooth and shiny, but better.

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4. It’s probably best to try the recipe as written once or twice before deciding to double, triple, or quadruple the recipe, like I did. Silly me.

My only consolation in all this is that they really did taste quite good. They are intensely chocolatey, the shells are crispy, and they are nice and chewy on the inside. I filled a few of these with some mocha buttercream that I had stashed away in the freezer.

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Everyone in the house who did not make them loved them. I am disapponted by the way they look, but I will say that these really are pretty easy, very tasty, and quite a treat. They have humbled me and it’s taken me about a day to come to terms with it, but I think in the end that it has been a good experience for me. So, if you get one in your cookie tin, please don’t judge it by its looks alone. Beauty is more than skin deep.

If you would like to try this recipe, you can find it here. Maybe it will work out better for you than it did for me, but if it doesn’t, don’t despair. They will be delicious anyway.

p.s. Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a tin of cookies! We got some wonderful snow yesterday. I love snow. I love how the whole world goes quiet when it snows. Do you like snow? What’s your favorite thing about snow?

Stuck in Summer

Last week, we started school. Our first day of school looked like this.

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Those smiles lasted for most of last week. One of them faded on Friday.

Still, it’s a new week and still a fairly new school year. We’re just getting past the introductory reviewish-type things and beginning to get into the meat of some subjects. All of our sports activities have begun, and other lessons and extracurricular activities are just getting ramped up. Despite all of this, it still feels like it should be summer.

Partly, it’s the weather.

But, it may also be that we went peach picking and still have a heap of peaches to devour.

Peaches are a definitely a summertime fruit, and as long as we have peaches, it will be still summer in this house. I’ve made a lovely Johnnycake cobbler from Baking with Julia. This is one of the recipes I missed with Tuesdays with Dorie while we were on vacation.

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Just ignore the fact that it is getting too dim to take really good pictures after dinner. That cobbler just screams summer, no matter the lighting situation. It was delicious warm from the oven, but could have used more fruit underneath.

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I also tried doing some little baked peaches with an almond crust from Ripe by Nigel Slater. Don’t be fooled by its humble appearance, we loved these and they were super simple to make. You can find one version here. I added some crystallized ginger to the almond mixture, which added a nice kick.

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Oh, I almost forgot, I also made a few of my peach crumb buns. Summer is not summer without these in our house. One of these days, I’ll get around to writing up a recipe for these. Um, maybe next year.

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I still have a few peaches left. Some of these are destined to be bourbon peach butter to help us remember summer in the middle of winter because, despite the weather forecast of 90 degrees for this week, I know that autumn will be here soon. However, while there are ripe peaches in the house, it will still be summer here.

Staycation, Part 3: Baking

During last week’s heat wave, I wondered what in the world people did/do with no air conditioning. Air conditioning is truly a wonderful thing, and I am ever so thankful to live in a house that has it. The air conditioning enables me to turn on the oven, even when it is over 100 degrees outside and still stay relatively comfy.

One day, I made brioche buns with raisins and candied citron. I love making little buns like this. They are just the right size to have with a cup of coffee or tea for breakfast. They are not too sweet and wonderfully soft and fluffy. They also make a pretty good base for peanut butter and jelly.

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I used the recipe for brioche from Nick Malgieri’s book, Bake!: Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking, but you can use any brioche recipe, including the one I posted a little while back.

The next day, I had to feed my sourdough starters, and was looking for something new to try with them. While perusing through my copy of The Bouchon Bakery, I found a recipe for english muffins that used a sourdough starter and a baking method instead of a cooking on a griddle method. That seemed like a good recipe to try.

Unlike some other english muffin recipes, this one makes a super soft, almost batter like dough. It has to be scooped into the rings with an ice cream scoop.

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They rise for a bit and then go in the oven.

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These are the highest/biggest english muffins I have ever made. They looked fantastic coming out of the oven.

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These are easily an inch high and are surprisingly easy to split with a fork.

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There are lots of nooks and crannies to soak up butter and jam. Our only complaint with these is that there is not enough salt in the batter. They taste rather bland without anything on top. They have a slightly different texture than english muffins you buy in the store. They are kind of a cross between an english muffin and a crumpet. When toasted, they get wonderfully crispy on the outside, but are still moist on the inside, which is nice because some english muffins out there turn into hard crackers when toasted. These have a nice springy texture. They are great as a breakfast sandwich, albeit a bit high.

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From start to finish, I made 22 english muffins in about 3 hours. It could have been shorter if I had another set of rings, which I am definitely going to get for next time. Most of that time is just waiting time, so it doesn’t feel too taxing. I will most certainly be making these again, but with more salt and maybe a helping of whole wheat flour to replace some of the white flour.

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