baking, dessert, food, fruit, Holidays

Independence Cake

For family occasions, I am the designated dessert maker. Our traditional Fourth of July dessert is chocolate cupcakes with American flags stuck in them (which I did do last year), but I didn’t have the flags or the chocolate and I wasn’t sure what to do. After turning over and rejecting various ideas (including éclairs), I settled on making a cake.

Surprise, surprise, the recipe I chose is from King Arthur flour (I do love them). It’s a classic, standard American cake, the kind that gets made for birthdays: golden vanilla cake.

It’s pretty much a one bowl cake, but it was more work than I anticipated. Each egg needs to be beaten in individually and the whole bowl scraped down in between each one, to ensure that the cake has enough air, presumably. And my cake had a lot of air: each of the layers domed hugely, making it necessary to cut off the tops. And as the pictures clearly show, there were holes throughout the cake.

To fill and cover the cake, I whipped about 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream with about 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla. I didn’t use quite all of the cream: 2 1/4 cups probably would have sufficed. I also layered the cake with raspberries freshly picked (by me) from my parents’ garden, and blueberries (store-bought). Then I slathered more cream on the bottom layer so there wouldn’t be any gaps.

To make sure the cake dish would be neat after I finished frosting the cake, I put four strips of parchment paper in a square underneath the cake and when I was done, I pulled them away: voilà! Clean cake stand. That’s a trick I got from Cook’s Illustrated. My husband helped me by slowing spinning the cake stand while I frosted, and by helping me with garnish (again, raspberries and blueberries for a red, white, and blue cake!). I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the top of the cake until the last minute, when I decided a star was appropriate to the occasion, and I think it turned out really well.

The cake was moist and kept well. In fact, I think it was perhaps even better the second day. All in all, a satisfying endeavour.

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baking, dessert, food, fruit

Peach Clafouti

It’s peach season! What to do with all those fresh peaches (courtesy of my parents’ fruit trees)?

I looked up peaches in the indices of some of my cookbooks to get some ideas, and I settled on King Arthur Flour’s peach clafouti.

Baking temperature and time: 375°F, 35-40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups peeled and sliced peaches
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a round, 10-inch oven safe pan or skillet (I used a deep pie dish).
  2. Line the bottom of the pan with peaches and sprinkle the brown sugar over them.
  3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Blend thoroughly, and then gradually whisk in the flour mixture, smoothing out the lumps.
  5. Pour the mixture over the fruit and bake for 35-40 minutes until a cake tester inserted into the clafouti comes out clean.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature. I would allow it at least and hour and a half to cool and set.
baking, dessert, food

Snickerdoodles

These are delightfully chewy, buttery cookies, and very quick to make. Even after a couple of days, their texture is still good.

Baking temperature and time: 400°F for 8-10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

To coat the cookies:

  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  1. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together; add the eggs and beat them in.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend. You can chill the dough or make the cookies immediately.
  3. Roll the dough into small balls and roll each one in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
  4. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, bake the cookies at 400°F for 8-10 minutes

 

baking, dessert, food

Cherry Pie

Another summer classic! A cherry pie. I used butter and lard in the crust, and the dough rolled out more smoothly than any pie crust I’ve ever made, and as a result, this pie may be one of the prettiest I’ve made. I brushed the lattice with cream and sprinkled it with sugar.

I am proud to say I pitted about 2 1/2 pound of cherries with my bare hand in less than twenty minutes.

baking, Christmas baking, dessert, food, Holidays

Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

These delicious treats can be eaten fresh or frozen, and keep well, though they probably won’t last long!

Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus 2 tbs melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 package (11.5-12 oz) semisweet chocolate (2 cups)
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Line the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with aluminum foil. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat one stick room-temperature butter, brown sugar, flour, and salt until coarse crumbs form. Pour mixture into prepared pan; press firmly into bottom.
  3. Bake until lightly browned, 25-30 minutes. Let cool for ten minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in the same large bowl, mix eggs, corn syrup, granulated sugar, and melted butter until well combined. Add chocolate chips and pecans; spread over crust. Bake until set, 25-30 minutes. Cool completely in pan before lifting out (using foil to lift).
  5. Cut into 32 bars (8 rows by 4 rows).

This recipe comes from Monica Svatek, writing for tastebook.com, and I was introduced to it by way of my sister Isabella. I looked for a link, but the page has been taken down.

My suggestions:

When putting the crust in the pan, use a plastic drinking glass with smooth sides to roll out the mixture smoothly. If you don’t want to freeze the bars, keep them in a cool, dry place.

This is a straightforward recipe that can be made well ahead of time, and I made it last Christmas, where it proved a popular treat.

baking, Christmas, dessert, food, Holidays, Traditions

Grandma’s Christmas Sugar Cookies

Every year at Christmas, my paternal grandparents would drive up to our house and have Christmas dinner with us. Grandma would bring a box full of cookies, the highlight of which were the sugar cookies. She made trees for the boys and stars for the girls, and our names were written on them in icing.

In recent years, Grandma has not had enough energy to make cookies, so I thought I would step into the breach and make them myself. I love Grandma, Christmas, baking, and traditions, so it was a perfect fit!

Basic Sugar Cookies, Grandma’s recipe

  • 2 cups sifted flour (all purpose flour is fine)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter (one stick, 8 tablespoons)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp milk
  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat till smooth and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and milk.
  3. Add flour mixture to the mixing bowl and blend thoroughly.
  4. Chill cookie dough till easy to handle. You may cover and store it in the fridge for one or two days before using it.
  5. Roll dough out to 1/4 inch thickness on lightly floured surface.
  6. Bake at 400°F for six to ten minutes. Never bake longer than ten.

Here are my tips: my dough was sufficiently chilled after 20 minutes in the fridge and 10 minutes in the freezer. I rolled out the dough on floured parchment paper, sandwiching the dough in between two sheets of it. Peel away one layer to cut out the shapes, and just slide the cookies on the baking sheet with the other!

If it becomes too soft, put it back in the fridge. To keep the cookies from expanding too much while baking, refrigerate them for 15 minutes after cutting them out. If the cookies are small, take them out after 5 minutes of baking so they will not dry out. Sugar cookies don’t look done when they are done, so don’t be afraid to take them out when they’re still very pale! They are tricky little things.

Frosting:

  • 1/4 cup softened butter (1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 cup powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1/8 cup milk (2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, or other extract (almond, lemon, etc.)
  1. Cream together butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and milk. Put it one drop of food coloring for a pale frosting.
  2. Add more sugar to thicken or more milk to thin. Put it the fridge for 20 minutes if you want to stiffen the frosting.

I’ve made them for my family, and I’ve made sure to save some for my grandparents. I know Grandma is pleased I’m carrying on the tradition.

Personal

What do you do . . .

when you have the flu?

I think I may be coming down with something. It can be hard to tell, though. Are these the usual aches and pains, or a special, more different kind? Exciting questions for a full and adventurous life.

I have to decided to (try to) ignore the part of my brain that insists if I don’t do something useful RIGHT NOW I am a useless lump of . . . myself? Not really sure where that metaphor was going. Clay, possibly.

But I need to save up my energy and not push it, because it is Thanksgiving next week, and I want to be able to make pie. Three kinds! Currently, my plans are to make pumpkin (not my favourite, but a classic), chocolate pudding (yum!), and apple (another great fall pie). I may cut back if I find I don’t have the energy.

So, I will be resting. I am reading The Luminaries (about the 1860s gold rush in New Zealand–I didn’t even know they had a gold rush! *embarrassed*). I want to listen to Christmas music, but I am forcing myself, as always, to wait until after Thanksgiving. (I am curious though, about when the rest of the world ‘starts’ Christmas–in some stores, of course, it seems to be August).

Other things I like to do when sick, depending on how bad it is:

hand work (embroidery, cross-stitch)

watching favourite TV shows

listening to audiobooks

sleeping! of course

So, two questions: what is your favourite kind of pie, if any, and what do you do when you’re under the weather?

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A picture of one of my Christmas cactus blooms. It obviously doesn’t realize it’s getting ahead of itself, but I don’t mind.