Sunday, November 29, 2009

SMS- Golden Almond Fruitcake

After what seems like a very long wait, it is finally my turn to host Sweet Melissa Sundays! For months now, I have flipped through the book trying to decide which recipe I wanted to choose, and like many others, I always seemed to come back to one recipe- the Golden Almond Fruitcake. Despite the fruitcake's reputation, it holds a very dear place in my heart. My grandmother used to make many fruitcakes every year at Christmas and would give them to all my aunts and uncles. My dad in particular loved it and savored every last slice. He used to slice it up, wrap each slice in plastic wrap, and freeze the slices. I think he could make two bundt cakes last until March! My grams died two years ago this spring and our world has been fruitcakeless ever since. We looked everywhere for her fruitcake recipe after she died, but could not find it. So you see, my purpose for picking this recipe is two fold. First, it is to honor my grandmother who is very near and dear to my heart. The second is so my dad can finally have his fruitcake again.

Despite a long ingredient list, the recipe is relatively simple and straightforward. To start I chose my fruits- apricots, cherries, and golden raisins which the recipe suggests and I had on hand. To soak them, I ended up going with the brandy. After searching high and low for almond flour with no success, I did have to make my own. I'm not sure my almonds were ground quite fine enough because I forgot about having to add a portion of the sugar to the almonds when processing in the food processor. I let my mini prep run for a minute or two and figured it wasn't going to get much better than what I was left with. Though I tried to adhere to the original recipe as much as possible, I did have to make one small change. In true Melissa Murphy fashion, the stars of the recipe are almonds and citrus zest. I only had one lemon left in my refrigerator and it was definitely not zest worthy, so I ended up omitting the zest.

Now I have never been very good at reading directions. I tend to read what I think are the important parts of each step and skip the rest of the wording. Case and point- making the almond flour (without the sugar). So when I came to the last step before baking, I saw fold in prepared fruit and nuts. Done. I mixed in my brandy scented fruit and chopped almonds and poured the batter into the prepared loaf pan. I had about ten more degrees before my oven was preheated so I set the loaf pan on the counter and started to clean up. As I was putting the pan in the oven, the phrase "omitting the marzipan would be a sin" popped into my head. I totally missed the marzipan! I quick pulled it out of the freezer and folded it in as best I could.

I must admit, this recipe is nothing like my grandmother's, but it smelled wonderful baking in the oven. It has a very strong almond flavor (with almond flour, almond extract, and marzipan) whose aroma warmed the entire house. The loaf baked pretty close to the entire time specified in the recipe, though I did reduce the temperature a little early because the edges started to brown around twenty minutes into the first baking cycle. I glazed the cake with orange juice because I ran out of brandy when I soaked the fruit. Though now I won't feel like I have to say no when my three year old asks me if she can try it!

The verdict? Well, its definitely not my grandmother's fruitcake so I will have to do a little more searching before I settle on a recipe to make for my dad (ugh! fruitcake isn't something you want to experiment with considering how hard it is to give away). However, this recipe is definitely a keeper. In the preface to the recipe, Melissa Murphy states they have to give a lot of samples away at the holidays to get people to buy the fruitcakes. I can see why she says once they try it they walk away with more than one. My suggestion is if you are going to make it for someone else, don't tell them its a fruitcake! Without the red and green candied cherries, they will never know the difference!

Be sure to see what all the other SMS bakers thought of my choice for this week's recipe. Hopefully, people were not too scared by the choice and exahusted from their Thanksgiving baking!

Golden Almond Fruitcake (p. 18)

For the Cake

1 cup chopped dried fruit (1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces)
1/4 cup brandy, apple juice, or orange juice
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 t freshly grated lemon zest
3 large eggs
1/2 t almond extract
1 t pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup almond flour or 1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t cardamom
1/4 t freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 t kosher salt
1/2 cup whole natural almonds coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (2.5 ounces) marzipan, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces and frozen

For the Glaze

1/4 cup brandy, apple juice, or orange juice
3 T sugar

Pro Tip: To make your own almond flour for this recipe, in a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds with 1/4 cup of the granulated sugar called for in the recipe until it becomes a coarse texture. The remaining 1/4 cup sugar should be added to the butter for creaming.

Before you Start:

Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter and flour a 1 1/2 quart loaf pan.

1. In a medium saucepan over very low heat, heat the dried fruit and brandy, stirring occasionally. When the mixture comes to a simmer, remove from the heat and cover (allowing the fruit to absorb the brandy), stirring occasionally.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitten with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugars, and zest until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the almond extract and vanilla. Mix until combined (At this stage, the mixture will appear slightly broken).

3. If using the sliced blanched almonds, in a food processor fittes with the metal blade, pulse grind the almonds until a very fine flour (as fine as you can get). In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, all purpose flour, baking soda, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt.

4. On low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two batches, mixing until just combined after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the dried fruits along with their soaking liquid. Fold in two thirds of the chopped almonds and the frozen marzipan (it's easy to forget this because its in the freezer).

5. Pour the batter into the prepared load pan and sprinkle the remaining chopped almonds on top. Bake for 25 minutes, then rotate the pan and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Bake for an additional 25-35 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean (Be careful when testing with the wooden skewer. You could poke into a piece of marzipan which will look like raw cake batter on the skewer, so test the loaf in a few different spots). Remove to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes before unmolding the cake onto the rack for glazing.

6. For the glaze, warm the brandy with the sugar until the sugar dissolves (its easiest to do this in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time).

7. Using a patry brush, brush the glaze over the fruitcake while it is still warm. You will not need all of the glaze, but use as much as you like. Glaze the cake at least once, but if you want more, simply wait for each layer to soak in before you glaze again. The more you glaze, the boozier your fruitcake will be. Let cool to room temperature.

This cake keeps very well tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for 2 days. For longer storage, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 5 days. Or freeze well wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum fool for up to 3 weeks. Defrost still wrapped at room temperature.

Monday, November 23, 2009

No Sweet Melissa Sundays

My apologies to Lauren who was hosting this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe. The teflon started to peel off my waffle maker a while back and I had to chuck it. With Christmas right aroud the corner, I couldn't really justify spending the money on a new waffle maker... I'll definitely give the recipe a try once I get one!

Be sure to check out Lauren's blog and see what the other SMS bakers thought! I'll have last week's recipe up shortly. Even though I actually had the recipe done EARLY last week, life has gotten a little crazy so I haven't had time to post it yet.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sweet Potato and Cranberry Hash

I was on the Williams Sonoma site looking for a waffle maker (I think I will pick one up at Macy's instead!) and took a look at some of the fall inspired recipes they had posted. Under the cranberry section, they had this recipe for a sweet potato and cranberry hash. Even though I knew no one else in my family would eat this but me, I decided to try it anyway. I love sweet potatoes and the thought of them paired with apples and cranberries sounded incredible.

Before I went to work yesterday, I baked the sweet potatoes and chopped up the remaining ingredients. The recipe said to cool the potatoes before peeling and cubing for the hash, so I ended up doing that part when I came home. The recipe itself could not be more easy to throw together. You saute the apples in some butter, toss in the cranberries and green onions, add the spice, and add the sweet potatoes at the last minute. The only tricky part is stirring everything once you add the sweet potatoes so they don't turn to mush. I kind of had to toss everything in the pan instead of stirring it.

I have to say, I was very impressed with this recipe. I was a little skeptical about the green onions at first, but they definitely add a little something to the dish. The picture does not do the hash justice, but it was dark outside and my husband was in no mood to wait for me to get a good picture! After being called in to work in the middle of the night, he hadn't eaten since dinnertime the night before. I served the hash with a honey soy gingered chicken which was delicious as well. And as I predicted, I couldn't even get my husband to try it and my one year old poo-pooed it as well. She is not a fan of sweet potatoes to begin with but she did end up picking out the apples and eating them. My three year old and fellow sweet potato lover was at grammy's house last night, but I'm betting it would be too many flavors mixed together for her. I should have halved the recipe because I will probably be eating sweet potato hash for the rest of the week now!

Monday, November 9, 2009

SMS- Pear Cranberry Muffins with Gingersnap Crumble

This week's recipe for Sweet Melissa Sundays is pear cranberry muffins with gingersnap crumble by Jennifer of Maple and Cornbread. What a great pick! I absolutely love pears and gingersnaps together! A couple years ago I had a pear cheesecake with a gingersnap crust and it was incredible. Ever since then, I have been in love with the flavor combination so I was really looking forward to this one.

The muffins are super easy to make- we have made two other varieties already- but I wince every time I read the recipe and see that it calls for a stick of butter, cream, and whole milk. On several occasions, I have subbed buttermilk for the cream with great success. This time, I had some half and half to use up in the fridge so I ended up using that instead of the cream and subbed the buttermilk for the whole milk. Even though I always have whole milk on hand for my daughter, I thought the buttermilk may help lighten up the density of the muffins. And after much deliberation, I decided to make the gingersnaps for the cumble. Since I was going to be baking for Joy's Operation Baking Gals team this month, I figured an extra batch of cookies couldn't hurt!

The muffins puffed up beautifully in the oven and the smell of the gingersnap crumble was wonderful. I brought them to my in-laws for dinner last night and everyone loved them. The combination of the sweet pears, tart cranberries, and spicy crumble was delicious! I would highly recommend using buttermilk instead of the whole milk since it seemed to lighten the density tremendously. I ended up bringing the leftovers to work today. We'll see how long they last!
I will post my "pictures" of the muffins a little later. As luck would have it, BOTH of my cameras had dead batteries. I thought I could take pictures with our video camera but couldn't figure out how to do it. Out of desperation and frustration I just decided to take a video. I just have to find the cables and figure out how to get the video on to my computer! Hopefully, its not too complicated- it says YouTube compatible right on the camera so I'm keeping my fingers crossed!!

Jennifer- what a great pick for this week! I think the pear is often an overlooked fruit for the fall that PAIRS quite nicely with our favorite fall spices (sorry for the bad pun). Be sure to head over to Jennifer's blog for the recipe and check out what all the other Sweet Melissa Bakers thought.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Halloween Treats (a little late)

So I know its a little late, but these were too cute not to post. I was hoping to do it earlier in the week, but lets just say my body has never adjusted well to daylight savings time!

Ever since my daughter's birthday party this past year, she has been asking to have some of her friends over again. Since we love Halloween so much in our house, I thought it would be a perfect time to have another little get together. And what fun we had! To see her running around screaming with her little friends- so great. Its what I signed up for... I didn't want to go with the traditional candy bags for party favors so I went to to see if I could find any cute ideas. I found a template to make witch hats you could attach to the top of popcorn balls wrapped in green celophane. I wasn't sure about the popcorn but thought I could easily sub out the popcorn for caramel apples. The caramel was pretty wasy to make but took a LOT longer than I anticipated to get to the correct temperature. The one thing that amazes me about candy making is how the temperature will stay in one spot forever and then all of a sudden, it goes up thirty degrees in a minute! Good thing I kept a watchful eye! The recipe said it yielded six apples and there were going to be seven kids, so I also made six chocolate peanut butter apples (before the caramel). Turns out, I could have made a dozen apples easily, so I now have a little pint jar of caramel sitting in the fridge. The witch hats were made out of construction paper and I used ribbon I had left from my sister-in-law's baby shower. All in all, I think they turned out adorable!

For a snack I set out the traditional fruit and goldfish, but wanted to make some sort of cupcakes as well. I saw this recipe for pumpkin cupcakes on Tracey's Culinary Adventures when I was in search of cupcake recipes for my other daughter's birthday and thought this would be a perfect time to make them. The spiderweb design on top was so cute for Halloween! I made them the morning of the party and after reading the recipe I realized the icing was cream cheese icing. Experience has taught me pre-schoolers are not big fans of cream cheese icing and after realizing they would be getting enough sugar on Halloween, I decided it would be better not to ice their cupcakes. I did ice what was left after the party because the cupcakes on Tracey's site were so cute, I had to try it. It was surprisingly easy- you just drag out the icing from the center of three concentric circles. The cupcakes were delicious on their own and no one missed the icing, but the cream cheese icing was great as well. And the cinnamon icing used to pipe the design on top gave a little something extra to the finished product.

Everything was a lot of work, but so worth it! My daughter was very excited about the caramel apples- it was everything I could do to stop her from eating one until after the party- and everyone loved the cupcakes. I'll definitely be making the cupcakes again! The recipe for the caramel apples can be found here and the instructions for the witch hats can be found here. The recipe for the cupcakes can be found on Tracey's blog here.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

SMS Sweet Almond Bread Pudding with Raspberry Sauce

This week's recipe was chosen by Candace of Candy Girl- Sweet Almond Bread Pudding with Raspberry Sauce. I was super excited about this recipe because I love bread pudding! No one else in my house is, so I planned to make about half of the recipe and freeze some of it. I picked up a half loaf of brioche on my way to work on Friday hoping it would be stale by Sunday when I planned to make it.

After reading through the whole recipe earlier in the week, I became less and less excited about the raspberry sauce. It just didn't scream fall to me. And I only had whole raw almonds on hand so I knew I was going to have to make some alterations to the recipe this week. I also had a hard time with the thought of using an entire quart (or half quart in my case) of heavy cream, so I opted for half and half instead. So lets just say I used the recipe as a guide and kind of did my own thing.

The basic recipe is super easy to follow. Heat the cream and sugar, temper the eggs, and soak the bread in the custard mixture. My only snafu was I had just opened a new bottle of vanilla that had a flip cap on it. Not even looking, I squeezed the bottle assuming it had a squeeze top not realizing it had a pour spout on it. I think I ended up with three times the amount of vanilla I should have used! I just crossed my fingers and moved on. Instead of using the almonds, I ended up topping the mixture with sugar and pecans because pecans have become my favorite nut to bake with. I baked the whole mixture for about 45 minutes since it was only a half recipe and it came out perfect.

I tasted a tiny sliver of the bread pudding after it cooled slightly, and oh my goodness was it good. Flavorful (with triple the amount of vanilla) and creamy. It would have been perfect with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream! I did end up skipping the raspberry sauce and settled on a butter rum sauce instead. My aunt used to make something similar with her apple cake and it was delicious! There were a ton of recipes online, so I picked the most fattening and sugary one and went with it (only because I skimped on calories with the pudding). Knowing no one else would want a piece, I waited until my girls went to bed, sliced a piece of the pudding, topped with a nice helping of rum sauce, and enjoyed! Just one word- awesome! I didn't feel like struggling with lighting and my camera so I will post pics tomorrow.

I know bread pudding is probably one of those desserts most people either love or hate, so if you're one of the lovers, definitely give this recipe a go. You can find the original recipe on Candace's blog. And be sure to see what all the other SMS bakers thought of this week's recipe!

Here are my alterations to the original recipe...

-Used half and half instead of heavy cream
-Used pecans in place of almonds
-Omitted the almond extract and doubled the vanilla

And here is the recipe I used for the rum sauce which I found on

1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Butter
2 T Rum (I used Capt. Morgan Spiced Rum)

Combine all ingredients but rum in a saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Continue to boil for another five minutes. Add the rum and combine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's a Boy!

Not for me... My sister-in-law is having a little boy in December. I really can't express how excited I am for her because it has truly been a long and difficult road for her and her husband along the way. I won't go into too many details to respect her privacy, but I can't think of any more deserving parents. So, with a lot of help from fellow family, we threw her a surprise baby shower on Friday. Now I love, love, love to cook, but luckily the only thing I ended up being in charge of was hosting the shower at my house and making favors. With two little ones, it can be really difficult to cook for a crowd, and my dad and trusty co-conspirator in the kitchen was away on a fishing trip so I didn't have a whole lot of help to fall back on. So I was kind of relieved to know I wouldn't be in charge of food.

I thought long and hard about what to make for shower favors and decided an edible treat was my best bet. Lets be honest ladies, where do shower favors go- in the trash. So instead of pouring my heart and soul into something destined for the landfill, I went the cookie route. I remembered Lorelei of Mermaid Sweets had made sugar cookie cut-outs with a onesie cookie cutter a couple months back and took my inspiration from her. She was even kind enough to provide me with a recipe for the cookie dough and icing (I really like my sugar cookie recipe but they tend to rise a little which can make decorating them tricky). I hit the internet in search of a onesie cookie cutter and found this really cute site called Karen's Cookies. Not only did they have the onesie cookie cutter, but also ones in the shape of a baby carriage and bib. Best yet, they had a set shaped like feet. My brother-in-law is a podiatrist so these were perfect! And what is cuter than little baby feet?

I baked the cookies early in the week and set out to decorate them Thursday night after my girls went to bed. Just a note, probably not the best idea to start decorating cookies at nine o'clock at night. By the time I made the icing and colored it, it was pushing ten o'clock and I ended up staying up a little past midnight decorating them! But it was well worth it... I had never decorated with flood icing before and was amazed at how easy it was. The icing looks just like what you would find in a bakery. Even though they weren't perfect, I was very pleased with the end result. The only thing I would do different next time is do all the flood icing early in the day, let them dry, and then pipe on the details. Some of the piped icing was kind of absorbed into the flood icing because the flood icing was still wet, but I really didn't have much a choice considering the time!

Everybody loved these cookies. They loved the taste, they loved the icing (I flavored with lemon juice), and the loved how they were decorated. And I was satisfied knowing all my hard work would be enjoyed instead of tossed aside... And my sister-in-law loved them which was the most important part! Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to decorate the feet because I ran out of pastry bags and didn't have any ziploc bags, but the kids at the shower loved them!

I thought I would also share some of our pumpkin creations my daughter and I made as well. Not food, but food related! If you're looking for a safe alternative to carved pumpkins, I love this idea I saw to make candy pumpkins. My daughter picked out which candy to use and I glued the pieces onto the pumpkin using a hot glue gun. Obviously, you have to pick candy that won't melt when the glue hits it and will stay relatively intact once exposed for any length of time (candy corn, M&M's, tootsie rolls, life savers, etc.). We had a really fun time decorating these and I thought they turned out super cute.

Then I decided to get ambitious and wanted to carve the baby's name into a pumpkin for a center piece on the dining room table. I printed out his name on computer paper and then copied the design onto the pumpkin. I had picked up one of those pumpkin carving kits at Michael's and used the little saw to carve the pumpkin. About an hour later and after much deliberation as to how I was going to carve the a's, I finished. Not perfect but still very cute. Later in the day I couln't quite figure out why my hands where aching so bad when it dawned on me that it was from carving the pumpkin! Oh well, small price to pay, right?! At least everything looked nice and everyone had a great time!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Devil's Food Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

This week's recipe for Sweet Melissa Sundays was chosen by Holly of Phe/mom/enon- devil's food cake with peanut butter frosting. What an appropriate Halloween recipe! Any other week and I would be jumping up and down to try this recipe because I love me some peanut butter, but I threw a baby shower for my sister-in-law on Friday evening, went to a surprise birthday party Saturday night, and to a 1st birthday party this afternoon. I am CAKED-OUT!

I whipped up the batter this morning. Very easy except I am not a coffee drinker. Don't laugh at me, but I wouldn't even know how to make a pot of it. So I subbed in hot water for coffee and added a tablespoon of espresso powder. I also decided to make cupcakes instead of a layer cake because I knew we wouldn't be eating any of them. Cupcakes are much easier to give away! And a word about the icing... the recipe calls for a LOT of butter. One of our fellow bakes suggested cutting back on the butter and increasing the peanut butter. I ended up using six tablespoons of butter (its what I had left of a stick), a half cup of peanut butter, and about two cups powdered sugar. It was a little stiff so I ended up thinning it a little with some milk. The resulting icing was perfect, IF you like peanut butter.

I have to be honest, I'm not really sure how the cupcakes turned out. The batter was delicious, but I haven't had a chance to taste the finished product. I am not a big cake person to start with and after the three parties, I couldn't really stomach another bite of cake. But my cupcake carrier is loaded up and ready to go so my husband can take them in to work tomorrow. I'll take them into my work if he forgets! I'll keep you updated and let you know what they think.

Thanks Holly for picking such a yummy sounding recipe! Maybe I'll hold one of the cupcakes back so I can try them tomorrow. Be sure to see what Holly and all of the other Sweet Melissa Bakers thought of this recipe.

Monday, October 19, 2009

KA Cinnamon Swirl Pumpkin Rolls

I hear a lot about KA flours when reading everyone else's blogs, and I always knew they were a source for a vast array of flours. For years, my dad had a hard time getting his hands on graham flour to use in an old family recipe until he finally stumbled upon it on the KA website. But I buy flour in the store and don't really venture too far beyond AP and whole wheat flour, so I never had much of a reason to visit their website. Then I was reading a post by Jessica of A Singleton in the Kitchen for a soup recipe which she served with Garlic Knots. They looked so yummy in the picture and I knew I would be making soup this weekend with the impending Nor'easter, so I followed the link to the KA website. And boy was I surprised- so many different baking products, baking utensils, gadgets, cookbooks... They have EVERYTHING there!

While I was perusing the website, I saw this pan that looked really neat. It was a stoneware dish that was made especially for cinnamon buns and below it they had a link to their recipe for cinnamon swirl pumpkin rolls. Oh my gosh- seriously?! They sounded amazing. So I quickly printed out the recipe and decided to make them for our Saturday breakfast.

The dough could not be any easier. You literally dump everything into a bowl and turn on the mixer with the dough hook. The only thing that makes me a little nervous about recipes like this is you don't proof the yeast. To me there is nothing worse that putting forth all the effort to make bread only to find out it won't rise. But it slowly began to puff up in my oven- phew! The dough was incredibly easy to work and rolled out without sticking to the counter or the rolling pin. I did not have the cinnamon mix it called for so I just brushed melted butter on the dough and sprinkled with a generous portion of cinnamon sugar. I cut into 11 rolls which was much more than the eight the recipe said it yielded (these would be some seriously huge rolls) and refrigerated overnight. I took them out in the morning for the final rise which took about an hour and then popped them in the oven. Oh boy did these smell wonderful when they were baking! The smell of the pumpkin and spices were just what we needed to warm us up on a cold and blustery day. I mixed up the cream cheese icing from the Sweet Melissa Baking Book we used for last week's sticky buns and waited for the buns to finish up.

I was so excited to taste these and had been building them up in my mind all week! Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the end result. I probably shouldn't have made these on the heels of last week's sticky bun recipe because I think I had really high expectations for them. The rolls seemed a little too dry, which could have been a result of the whole wheat flour the recipe calls for. I was also expecting a much more pronounced pumpkin flavor. To be honest, if it weren't for the orange hue of the buns, I would not have known there was pumpkin in them. In all fairness, they were still pretty decent cinnamon buns, just not what I expected. In my opinion, if I am going to go through the effort of making a recipe like this, I want it to knock my socks off.

I still like the idea of pumpkin cinnamon rolls and have not given up on them yet! I think I may try to play around with one of my other favorite cinnamon roll recipes or try to tweak this one. You can find the recipe on the KA website here. Oh! And sorry about the picture... its very dark at 6:30 in the morning...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Spiced Pumpkin Cookie Cakes

So I have to admit I was kind of lukewarm about the recipe this week. Debbie of Everyday Blessings of the Five Dees chose Pumpkin Spiced Cookie Cakes for this week's Sweet Melissa Sundays. Now I love, love, love pumpkin desserts but am not a big fan of cake like cookies. I like chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, peanut butter cookies. Cookies that have a slight crunch when you bite into them with a soft chewy center. I knew these cookies would not fall into that category. They seemed more like tea cakes to me, of which I am not a big fan. But Melissa Murphy gave them such an amazing write-up in the preface to the recipe, I had to try them anyway.

I was a little concerned when I checked the P&Q section of the SMS blog and saw that some people were having a hard time getting their hands on pumpkin. Rumor had it there was a pumpkin shortage this year. I thought this a little coincedental because I was buying mums last weekend and the woman at the nursery said almost everyone she talked to about pumpkins said they had a failed crop this year (my dad included). I wasted no time getting to the grocery store to see if I could stock up for the holidays- I think I would break down in tears if there was no pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving- and sure enough, a sign below the pumpkin said there would be a limited supply due to a crop shortage this year. I felt kind of selfish doing this, but I bought ten cans. Yes, ten cans. I spent twenty dollars on pumpkin. My excuse is, I will be the pumpkin fairy come the holidays when they run out and my mom, sister, and aunts all need it. Can't you see me in a pumpkin costume with glittery wings and a sparkling wand? Probably not because you most likely have no idea what I look like, but its a nice thought, right (can you tell we like fairies and princesses in our house?)!

In any case, on to the recipe... The cookie batter comes together very easily. The recipe calls to pipe the batter onto the cookie sheet using a pastry bag, which I did do, but I think you could drop by teaspoonfuls just as easily. After piping out the first sheet of cookies I popped them in the oven. Boy did these smell wonderful baking in the oven! Exactly what I think a cool fall day should smell like. While the cookies were finishing baking, I mixed up the icing. At first I considered leaving the orange zest out because I wasn't sure how it would taste with the pumpkin, but decided to leave it in. When we were growing up my mom used to simmer fresh orange peel with cinnamon sticks and whole cloves on the stove to make the house smell good and thought if the orange worked well with those spices, it would probably taste great with these cookies. And boy am I glad I did! The flavor combination was incredible!

After I finished assembling the cookies, I plated about 3/4 of them and brought them to the fire house in town where my husband was volunteering at an open house. Everbody loved them. When I came home, I gave one to my mom and sister who came for a visit and they loved them. I brought a couple to my in-laws for dessert and everybody loved them. Do you notice a trend here? These cookies are awesome! They are just like pumpkin whoopie pies and who doesn't like whoopie pies? I would highly recommed this recipe. Even though it is a little time consuming due to the assembly process, they are well worth the effort!

Thank you Debbie for picking such a wonderful recipe! It has been very cold and rainy here on the east coast, and this was a great recipe to warm up the weekend a little. Be sure to check out Debbie's blog and to see what all the other Sweet Melissa Sunday bakers thought.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

So I wanted to make something special for our neighbor up the street because they were there when our dog was hit two weeks ago and held her while she was passing. I really wasn't sure what to make. I mean what can you make for a person that says thank you for loving my dog in her last moments when I couldn't be there? It killed me to think of our little Lola lying on the side of the road by herself after she was hit, so I was incredibly relieved to learn they were there with her. Honestly, there aren't any words kind enough or a baked good scrumptious enough to show them how appreciative I am, but after much deliberation, I decided to make a coffee cake I had seen on The Food Librarian several weeks back.

The recipe was very easy to put together. The only reason you couldn't throw it together in less than ten minutes is you have to separate the eggs and whip the egg whites to fold into the batter. But not to do so would be a shame because the resulting cake is substantial like a coffee cake should be, but it has a delicate touch to it. The recipe calls to layer the batter with cinnamon sugar and chocolate chips, which may I add is an outstanding flavor combination! The only mistake I made was using a store bought aluminum cake pan. I deliberated between the deeper pan and the "cake pan", and went with the shallower cake pan. LUCKILY, the batter didn't pour over the sides when baking, but trust me, it was touch and go for a while there. It did puff up enough that I couldn't put the plastic lid on top which was actually a good thing, because I brought the cake up to the neighbor while it was still warm and used the plastic lid to insulate the heat from my hands.

I did make two small mini coffee cakes in a ramekin so I could have a taste before bringing it up to them (I just can't make a new recipe and not taste it before I give it away!). Just one word- DELICIOUS! Like I said, substantial but light and I loved the chocolate and cinnamon flavors. Next time, I may throw a little cinnamon into the batter as well. I would highly recommend this recipe next time you need to bring something to a brunch or get together.

And the one good thing that has come from this heartbreak is I got to meet two wonderful people whom I hope to have a longstanding relationship. Because they were several doors up, we had never met their family, but what warm and caring people. I feel blessed that they have come into our lives.

Here is the original recipe Mary got from The Smitten Kitchen.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Birthday Cake

So I'm finally getting around to posting about my daughter's first birthday cake. I wanted it to be something special, and after making the zebra cake earlier in the week and seeing a post for a rainbow cake on Cookies with Boys, I thought it could be fun to make the rainbow cake. In hindsight, I probably should have gone with flavor for Little H's first birthday, but if anything my three year old and my four year old niece would appreciate it.

I used the basic yellow cake recipe I made for the vanilla oreo cupcakes I baked for her classroom and used food dye to make the colored layers. Warning... making a rainbow cake is messy and uses a LOT of bowls (but well worth it). After carefully mixing all the colors, my daughter and I were ready to assemble. I was very careful in pouring the different layers so one layer of batter didn't mix in with the one beneath it. Instead of pouring the batter into the pan, I kind of drizzled it in. After about fifteen minutes of carefully drizzling, I realized this cake was going to be more of a rainbow swirl than a cake with perfectly layered colors because the rising agent kicked in and the batter was starting to bubble. I hoped for the best and threw the cake into the oven.

The cake rose beautifully, but the one was a little lop-sided so I sliced the domes off each layer. I just used a basic white icing for the frosting. I would have loved to get a little more creative, but time was not on my side. Our errands ran a little longer than expected before the company came and I was left icing the cake at the last minute. So what do you do when you're short on time and you're trying to please kids? Sprinkles of course! On they went...

Like I said, the whole appearance thing is kind of lost on a one year old, but she did manage to get a hand in the icing after we sang happy birthday. I was anxious as I cut into the cake to see what it turned out to look like, and even though it wasn't perfectly layered, it was still cute. Next time, I may use a little more food color to make the colors more intense, but the pastel effect was nice for a baby. I have also come to the conclusion that if you want a layered rainbow cake, the only way to make one is to bake seven different layers. You just can't fight chemistry and physics! Overall, a cute recipe but a lot of work. But my babies are worth it!!!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sticky Buns with Toasted Almonds

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays' recipe was chosen by Jen of Not Microwave Safe, Sticky Buns with Toasted Almonds. Now let me first begin by saying that sticky buns are HUGE in my husband's family and my mother-in-law makes awesome sticky buns. Over the past several years, she has been gracious enough to bestow her sticky bun making skills on me and I have always used her recipe. So I was a little nervous about this one... the recipe has a lot to live up to in our house.

I was hoping to make this for breakfast on Saturday morning, so I threw the dough together on Friday after I came home from work. My first and only issue with the recipe came with kneading the dough. It seemed very sticky to me, but I didn't want to add too much flour otherwise the buns can turn out super tough. Luckily, I remembered the group ran into the same issue when they made Bee Stings a couple months ago and I believe it was Wendy of Pink Stripes who suggested continuing to knead the dough to release the gluten in the flour. So I decided to let the mixer do its magic and walked away. About fifteen minutes later I came back to perfect dough. Yeah!

The dough rose beautifully. I had just pulled dinner out of the oven as the dough was finishing so I left the door open for a few minutes and then popped the dough in to rise. About two hours later, it had started to rise above the bowl, so I tightly wrapped it with plastic wrap until I had my girls in bed and I could assemble the buns. When I did get around to putting them together, they assembled very easily. My big alteration to the recipe was I covered the bottom of the casserole dish with chopped pecans and raisins before I put the buns in. I guess this is the more traditional approach to making sticky buns (at least in every bakery around here). I would have loved to try the almonds, but knew my husband would not be a big fan.

I woke up Saturday morning and started the second rise for the buns. After about an hour in the oven with the hot water bath, they were ready to bake. And did they ever smell wonderful in the oven! They baked much faster than the suggested baking time- mine were finished in a little under twenty-five minutes (this is my one criticism of the Sweet Melissa Baking Book- the cooking time always seems to be overstated)- so if you decide to try this recipe, be sure to keep a careful eye on them after the twenty minute mark.

So I know I said I was nervous about this recipe because of how wonderful my mother-in-law's recipe is, but oh were these good! They were different, very tender, but oh so delicious. Full of butter and cinnamon, and I loved the flavor the maple syrup gave to the sauce. I will definitely be making this recipe again! In fact, and don't tell anyone in my husband's family, I think I like this recipe a littler better than the one I had been using.

Great pick Jen- this recipe was a huge hit in our house! If you would like the recipe, be sure to wander on over to Jen's blog. And be sure to check out what all the other Sweet Melissa Sunday bakers thought!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Apple Orchard Pecan Crumble

I always seem to be late these days. I never used to be late! I was the one who was always a half hour early for work in the morning... I would get there just as the doors to the party were opening... I would have to wait ten minutes at the bar for a friend to arrive at a restaurant... And then I had kids. Don't get me wrong, I love my two little girls more than anything in this world, but I am always late now! And very late posting Sweet Melissa Sundays this week.

The recipe for this week was chosen by Christine of Christine Cooks, Apple Orchard Pecan Crumble! There is nothing like a good apple dessert in the fall and I have been looking forward to making this ever since I saw it posted on the Sweet Melissa page. I never got around to making it earlier in the week because I didn't have the apples, and then I was making cupcakes for my daughter's birthday party at school, then the cake for her birthday party with our family, and then we had cake for my niece's birthday party on Sunday... I'm sure you get the idea! But this recipe was not going to escape me! So I stopped at the produce stand on the way to dinner at my parents' house last night and picked up some apples so I could throw it together there.

I would say this recipe is super easy to throw together at the last minute, but it took me about an hour to prep everything before I could get it into the oven. My littlest one was entertained with the tupperware cabinet just long enough for me to peel the apples and then I had to stop what I was doing every couple minutes to chase her away from the steps going upstairs. And then my older one had an accident and I had to give her a bath... And then my niece tripped and took a header into the doorframe...

I only made half the recipe for the filling and used a Stayman Winesap, a Jonagold, and a Macoun apple. Per the suggestion of the other bakers, I made the entire recipe for the crumble. I am so glad I did because the crumb to filling ratio was perfect! I also cut the sugar in half and agree with Sarah of Blue Ridge Baker that you could eliminate the sugar all together if you wanted. I baked the entire thing for a little over an hour or just until the filling started to bubble up around the edges. I didn't want to bake for too long because I like the apples to still be intact after baking.

This crumble was a huge hit in my parents' house. My mom, dad, and I all split a small casserole dish and I sent a medium sized dish into my husband's work. If anyone read my last post, you would know that although my husband loves my cooking, he isn't overly expressive when complementing me. But even he gave it rave reviews last night- twice! This recipe will definitely be a repeat in my house.

Thanks Christine for picking such a wonderful recipe to welcome the fall season! Be sure to check out her page if you would like the recipe. And don't forget to check out what all the other Sweet Melissa Sunday bakers thought.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mongolian Beef

I had starred this in Google Reader several weeks ago after Christine of Cooking with Christine posted it. We are huge fans of Asian food in our house, but we don't normally eat it because A) Making it at home normally requires a lot of prep work, B) Take-out Chinese is incredibly bad for you, and C) there is a severe shortage of Asian food in our area outside of your standard Chinese. I am a huge fan of Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese, but we just don't have it around here. So when I saw this recipe, I had to make it. Its very simple, has only a few ingredients, and uses flank steak which I just recently discovered and love. Granted, its a PF Chang recipe which probably isn't overly authentic Asian food, but like I said, its easy to prepare.

The recipe comes together fairly ease. The sauce was very simple to make and the beef cooks very quickly because it is sliced pretty thin. I served it with rice and broccoli. Normally, I would cook brown rice, but I completely forgot about a starchy side until I was ready to cook the meat. Brown rice normally takes around 40 minutes, so there was no way I was going to have time to make it.

I really liked the flavor of the dish- it has a lot of sugar in it, but it was very tasty. The only thing I would change next time it to use fresh ginger instead of powder. But I forgot to pick it up at the store and the meat had already been defrosted for two days, so I really couldn't wait for another trip to the store. I think my husband liked it. He's kind of hard to get any sort of reaction out of except for going back for seconds. Here is how it normally goes down at the table.

"What do you think?"

"It's good."

"Should I make it again sometime?"

"Yeah- I would"

Sometimes he will say "This is a definite repeat" and then he'll go back for seconds. But he didn't go back for seconds last night which makes me suspicious. Don't get me wrong, I love my husband dearly, he's just not expressive about food. That is unless its about his mom's baked rigatoni recipe. Everytime I make that he says "I love this dinner. And you do such a great job with it!" And then my heart melts...

Here is the recipe if you would like to give it a try...

P. F. Chang's® Mongolian Beef
Recipe from Meemo's Kitchen


2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup vegetable oil
1 pound flank steak (to make slicing easier, put the beef in the freezer for 30-45 minutes to freeze slightly)
1/4 cup cornstarch
4-6 large green onions

For the sauce:

Heat 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add ginger and garlic to the pan. Quickly add the soy sauce and water before the garlic scorches. If your oil is too hot, this may splatter, so be careful. Dissolve the brown sugar in the sauce, then bring the heat up to medium heat and allow the sauce to boil for 2-3 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat.

Slice the slightly frozen flank steak against the grain into 1/4-inch thick slices. Tilt the blade of your knife at about a forty five degree angle to the top of the steak so that you get wider cuts.Coat the steak pieces with a very thin coating of the cornstarch on both sides of each piece of beef. Let the beef sit for about 10 minutes so that the cornstarch sticks.

Heat one cup of oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat until it's hot, but not smoking. Add the beef to the oil and sauté for two minutes, or until the beef just begins to darken on the edges. Stir the meat so that it cooks evenly. After a couple minutes, use a large slotted spoon or a spider to take the meat out and onto paper towels.

Pour the oil out of the wok or skillet. Put the pan back over the heat, add the meat back into the wok or skillet and simmer for one minute. Add the sauce, cook for one minute while stirring. Add the green onions. Cook for one more minute, then remove the beef and onions with tongs or a slotted spoon to a serving plate. Leave the excess sauce behind in the pan.

*NOTE I used much less oil for frying the beef. It was probably about 1/4 cup and I used a nonstick frying pan.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Birthday Cupcakes!

So yesterday was my daughter's first birthday. We're celebrating with our family this weekend, but I wanted to do something special for her at daycare. I remembered Tracey of Tracey's Culinary Adventures had posted a recipe for Martha Stewart's one bowl chocolate cupcakes and thought they would be perfect- less bowls to clean after baking! As I was looking for the recipe on her site, I also came across these adorable oreo cupcakes and thought they would be perfect for kids!

Now, we're talking about one year olds, so these were definitely going to have to get scaled down a bit. I thought I remembered seeing the 100 calorie snack packs of oreos in the store, so I figured I could make mini cupcakes and top them with the snack size cookies. When I went to the store, I found out they make whole bags of the bite size cookies which was great because the snack packs tend to be a little expensive. Even better, they now have golden oreo bite size cookies too, so I picked up a bag of those and bag of the chocolate figuring I could make a chocolate and vanilla version. You never know what kids are going to want!

After sorting through all the cupcake recipes on Tracey's site and reading that she wasn't thrilled with the cake in the oreo cupcakes, I settled on the MS chocolate cupcakes and a yellow cupcake recipe while using the theory behind the oreo cupcakes. Both recipes were one bowl cupcakes and I have to say I LOVED them. They were so easy to throw together and there was not a lot of clean-up. The only problem was I had 72 mini cupcakes in the oven and a ton of cake batter leftover! More on this later...

The cupcakes smelled sooooo good in the oven- since they were minis, they only took about 12-15 minutes. After they had cooled and the kids went to bed, I whipped the cream for the topping and piped away. And if I may say so, I think they turned out super cute! My only suggestion here is wait to put the cookies on until the last minute. Obviously, I wasn't too keen on finishing the cupcakes in the morning (I am at least 15 minutes late for work everyday), so I went ahead and assembled everything the night before. When I checked on them this morning, the cookies were a little soft as they must have absorbed some of the moisture from the whipped cream. I don't think the little ones will mind though! I ended up sending in two dozen to the one year old classroom and two dozen to my other daughter's three year old classroom. Certainly too many for both, but figured the staff could have a nice treat this afternoon!

So now for the leftover batter... I remembered seeing a recipe for a zebra cake on The Food Librarian's site and thought what better way to use up the rest of the batter! This way we would have some sort of dessert for my daughter's actual birthday. The zebra cake is assembled by making concentric circles with vanilla and chocolate cake batter. I double checked the baking times on each cake and they were very similar, so I decided to give it a try. Defeinitely check out Mary's post about this because she has detailed photographs about how to pour the batter I didn't have time to take.

When I poured the batter, it kind of favored one side of the pan, but I thought the final pre-baked product looked pretty good anyway. Unfortunately, I didn't preheat the bottom oven, so I had to put the cake on the bottom rack until the cupcakes were done. I think because the heat was uneven at the bottom, the chocolate and vanilla layers on the edge of the cake kind of melted togother. I also should have poured smaller amounts of the batter each time (the original recipe states to pour 1/4 cup at at time but I think I grabbed the 1/2 cup instead). Regardless, the cake was awesome. We served the zebra cake with vanilla ice cream and our kids loved it! I would highly recommend both recipes.

Stay tuned for my daughter's real birthday cake. Hopefully it will turn out the way I envision it! And be sure to check out Tracey's and Mary's sites if you would like the recipes from above.

Monday, September 28, 2009

No Sweet Melissa Sundays... again!

I apologize to the group for not posting again this week and I have fallen terribly behind in my comments to everyone. We went on vacation last week, which was absolutely wonderful. My husband and I took our two girls to Disney World for the first time and we had a blast! Its so fun to see everything through the eyes of little kids. The trip was utterly exhausting but worth every second and every dollar spent.

Unfortunately, our fun came to and end when we came home Friday night and found out our one dogs was hit by a car literally hours before we came home. Evidently the dog sitter dropped both our dogs off at our house a couple hours before we came back and somehow, they managed to pop a screen on our sun porch and squeeze under the gate in our back yard. The neighbors had seen her running around a few hours before, and we found her at the top of our street about an hour after we came home. Fortuntaly, my husband said it was quick and she didn't suffer. But it was agonizing having to tell my three year old because she absolutely loved our little Lola.

You go through so many things in your mind like why didn't we just leave her at the pet sitter for one more night since we were getting back late. Why didn't the neighbor grab her when he saw her. Why didn't we take an earlier flight back. But life is what it is and we can't change what has happened. We had her for seven wonderful years and I'll cherish every moment I had with her. She was such a sweet and loving dog and was always ready to for a good snuggle at the end of the day. She will truly be missed...

This has been a heartbreaking weekend, but I promise to have something yummy up by the end of the week because my daughter's first birthday is Thursday!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Orange Scented Scones

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe was chosen by Robin of Lady Craddock's Bakery. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by her selection this week. You see, she is a personal trainer and this recipe has to be the most fattening one in the entire book. I am not kidding when I say this recipe has no redeeming qualities (unless you add some chopped up fruit to them). These scones are literally fat and flour mixed together to create something called breakfast, or tea depending on where you live.

I absolutely love scones. There used to be this little British tea shop near us that sold scones, and I absolutely loved them. Every couple months, I would stop by and pick up a half dozen of them and a package of fruit pastilles (my roommate in college was from South Africa and she turned me on to them). Delicious! Unfortunately, they have since closed. And talk about timing on their part- I went to buy scones the last weekend they were open only to find a burned out building when I turn into the parking lot. Evidently the restaurant next to them caught fire the night before and it literally burned down to the ground. So they only really lost one day of business and I'm sure there was not that much left in the shop at that point. Lucky for them, not so lucky for me!

Since the tea shop has closed, I have been on a quest to find scones that could match up. There is a little shop in our town called Talula's Table that has pretty decent ones, but they aren't quite as good. Maybe I'm just biased because scones seem to taste a little different when you buy them from someone with a British accent. Then I made this recipe... and I can report with great satisfaction that I think I have finally found something to fill the dark sconeless void I had been previously left with.

I first made the recipe a couple months back when I initially bought the book. I had a brunch after my brother-in-law's wedding and made all these different kinds of scones based on the recipe. I was so anxious the first time I made them, hoping they might possibly hold up to their British counterparts. Thankfully, they did. Everyone at the brunch loved them, including me. Though I felt a little guilty when my mother-in-law's best friend started raving over them as she was telling me how she had just been to the doctor and he told her her cholesterol was too high. But it was a little late at that point!

As for the recipe itself, it is super easy to throw together. I only have one of those mini prep food processors so I had to cut the butter in to half of the flour and then mix in the rest. This time around, I opted to use lemon zest in the first batch instead of orange since lemon scones are my absolute favorite. Some other flavor combinations I have made in the past are lemon-blueberry (my daughter's favorite), orange-cranberry-pistachio (one of my favorites), and apple cinnamon with a cinnamon glaze.

For the second batch, I tried experimenting a little. Remember how I said the recipe is fattening? If you make it as written, there is over a tablespoon of butter in each scone AND it uses cream instead of milk. When I was taking yoga before, someone had told me you can sub-in flax meal for butter at a one to one ratio so I decided to give it a try. I also subbed buttermilk, my wonder ingredient, for the cream. My "healthy" scones rose beautifully in the oven and smelled great, but I was a little dismayed when at first glance, they looked a little dry. I grabbed one off the tray and anxiously broke off a piece to try. I was really hoping they would taste incredibly good, but I am sad to report, I prefer the full fat version much better. However, the flax meal version still passes as a decent weekday breakfast. I had one this morning toasted with honey and enjoyed it. Next time, maybe I will do half butter and half flax meal to see if their turn out any better. I am determined to make them better for me!

Thank you so much Robin for picking this recipe! Hands down, it is one of my favorite recipes from the Sweet Melissa Baking book so far. If you would like to try the recipe for yourself, check our Robin's page or buy the book for yourself. It will not disappoint you.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Graham Cracker Chewy Bars

Last weekend, my husband was getting together with a couple of his friends from college for a tailgate. I wasn't quite sure what to bring along because food was being supplied, but I felt guilty not bringing anything. So what better to bring than dessert? I was going through my reader when I came across a post from Eliana of A Chica Bakes. She was talking about how so many wonderful recipes come out of the newspaper and one of the papers she referenced was the LA Times. So I popped over to their site and came across what they call Culinary SOS where they publish recipes people request from area restaurants and bakeries. You should definitely check it out because it looks like they have some really great recipes.

As I was going through the site, I found this recipe for graham cracker chewy bars and they were described as being similar to a pecan pie. I thought these would be great for a tailgate and, more important, I had all the ingredients on hand, so I decided to make them. The base of the bars is a graham cracker crust and you top the crust with a pecan graham cracker mixture and bake. As I was making the "batter" for the top layer, I was kind of surprised by the lack of nuts in it. Since the recipe is supposed to be reminiscent of a pecan pie, I thought it would be chock full of pecans. But I thought someone else knew something I didn't. Turns out, I should have trusted my instinct and added more pecans. The flavor of the bars was really great, but I definitely would have liked more nuts in them.

I will definitely make these again, but I think I will almost double the amount of nuts in them. I also forgot to mention that the original recipe calls for dusting the bars with powdered sugar when they have cooled. This seemed a little bland (and messy) to me, so I drizzled with melted chocolate instead. If you topped with mini marshmallows, it would be look a big nutty s'more. Be sure to check out the recipe on the LA Times site as well as the many other yummy recipes! I am eyeing up the Boudin Bakery's Brownies next... with 5 eggs and 3 cups of sugar, they HAVE to be good.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

No Sweet Melissa Sundays

My sincerest apologies to Michelle of Vegie Num Nums who chose this week's recipe for Sweet Melissa Sundays, but there was no perfect pound cake in my house this weekend. We went to University of Maryland's first home football game yesterday, so I didn't have much time to bake this weekend. I considered giving it a shot this morning, but after reading a couple posts, it sounded like the cake turned out a little dry. Plus, it was the last day of the annual Mushroom Festival in town, and that ate up a big part of my day.
Mushroom Festival you say? You got it! Now, before you start jumping to conclusions, mushrooms (the legal kind) have a long standing history around here, and we celebrate them in all their glory every year the weekend after labor day. We proudly proclaim Kennett Square, PA to be the Mushroom Capital of the World. And rightfully so... According to the brochure from the festival this year, mushrooms are the highest ranking cash crop in the state of Pennsylvania and account for 61% of all mushrooms produced in the United States. Not too shabby... And they have grown them around here for years. My husband's father helps run one of the farms here and his grandfather owned a mushroom farm before that. I'll have to see if I can dig it up, but I have this really neat b&w picture of his grandfather loading mushrooms into the back of a truck. So as you can see, mushrooms play a pretty significant role in their family!
In any case, be sure to check out what the other Sweet Melissa bakers thought about the recipe this week!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake

First, my apologies to JoVonn for not baking along last week. I did actually make the muffins but brought them to my sister-in-laws for dinner so I did not get a chance to photograph them. And so so sorry to everyone that I am posting late this week. If its not one thing, its another, right? We went to the beach for the holiday weekend and I did actually make the cake on Monday, but then I could not find my camera cord, and we are having work done on our house... well, you get the idea!

This week's recipe for Sweet Melissa Sundays was chosen by Sarah of Blue Ridge Baker. Sarah has a wonderful blog filled with tasty sweets and creative alternatives for baking with refined sugar. I admire the fact that she does not give her children any refined sugar and would love to do the same with mine, but it would never work in my house. I know my husband would sneak my three year old a doughnut or my mother-in-law would buy her a candy necklace when they were out shopping. Sigh...

Now on to the recipe! I was curious about this week's recipe because I have never had a souffle before and did not know what to expect. I always get nervous baking things like this because you never know how they are going to turn out. The one advantage to this recipe is the souffle is supposed to fall. I had to laugh at myself because I always heard you are supposed to be careful not to stomp around the kitchen when making a souffle so it puffs nicely. I was gingerly walking around the oven with my eleven month old when I suddenly realized the cake was supposed to fall so it didn't really matter! Silly me...

The cake was pretty easy to put together aside from the number of bowls I had to wash after I was done. The cake itself is not labor intensive, but the clean-up certainly was! The only change I made to the recipe was to use raspberry liqueur instead of orange, and I omitted the orange zest. I am not a huge fan of orange and chocolate and I was planning on serving it with raspberries anyway. I popped it in the oven and kept watching it grow higher and higher. I was kind of afraid it may overflow, but luckily it did not. The only thing I found was the cooking time was way off. It said to bake for 65 minutes. I set the timer to 60 and took it out with 13 minutes left on the clock. To my dismay, the one side of the cake had a darkened edge to it and I was really afraid the cake was going to taste burnt. Despite the fact that it was only my family coming over for dinner, I decided to make a cherry pie as well just in case it was overcooked (did anyone read Joy's post this week?). Before you think I am totally crazy, I had leftover pie dough from chicken pot pie I made earlier in the week, so it was not too much extra work.

So what did everyone think? Well, I think the consensus of my family was it was good, but not their favorite recipe (again, did anyone read Joy's post!). Actually, I believe my mom said "the cake is ok, but it's not fair to make a judgement with cherry pie sitting next to it." Interestingly enough, I brought the cake to work the next day and received rave reviews. One woman I work with even went so far as to stop by my office to let me know she thought it was the best dessert I have ever brought in, and that was at ten in the morning! When I tried a smidgen later on, I did find the flavor and texture to be a little better the second day. I am not surprised by this, as in general, I tend to enjoy chocolate desserts more the second day.

While not on my favorites list, I would make the recipe again. And judging from what the other bakers have said, I will stick to the raspberry flavoring instead of orange and maybe even try a hazelnut liqueur. Be sure to check out what the other Sweet Melissa bakers thought, though you probably already have at this point! If you would like the recipe, you can find it on Sarah's blog.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mom's Banana Apple Bread

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe was chosen by Joy of Hot Oven, Warm Heart. If you haven't already checked out her site, you should definitely make a point of doing so. Not only does she have a wonderful way with words, but she has intersting anecdotes about the history of her various recipes.

Joy chose Mom's Banana Apple Bread and I must start by saying I absolutely love banana bread. Its one of those foods that reminds me of a warm blanket on a cold day, a mother's hug, a good snuggle... comfort food! It was fitting that Joy would pick a recipe like this as she seems to be such a warm and caring person. I have to admit though, I went into this recipe a little biased. My dad makes banana bread all the time and I typically use his recipe. I tried a couple other recipes, but always come back to the one he makes. However, the apples seemed like a nice twist and I was intrigued by the choice of spices. I have had cinnamon in bananas foster and nutmeg in banana smoothies, but never together.

The bread is super easy to throw together. It calls for sauteeing the apples before adding them to the banana bread batter which seemed interesting to me. Anytime I have added apples to baked goods, I just throw them in, but I think you sautee them to carmelize them. When I finished mixing the ingredients, I was a little thrown off by how much batter seemed to be in the bowl. The recipe says to use a 1 1/2 quart loaf pan- I have no concept of how big a loaf pan of this size is supposed to be, but obviously the ones I have are much smaller. I doubled the recipe because I had quite a few bananas to use up and I ended up with two nine inch loaves and a bundt cake. This was fine because we had a baptism to go to on Sunday and I thought I could bring the cake to the party after.

As banana bread, I still like my dad's recipe better. I think I was anticipating more of a banana flavor, but once this bread sits for a bit, the banana and apple flavors morph into something totally but wonderfully new. I would definitely make this recipe again, but not when I am in the mood for good old fashioned banana bread. Everyone at the baptism seemed to enjoy it- it was gone before we left! My only complaint about the recipe is I think the apple slices were a little too large for the recipe. They kind of pulled the bread down if they were near the top of the batter, so my loaves looked a little lumpy. The slices also pulled away from the cake in some places. Next time I will cut the slices again in half or thirds. And again, I felt the flavor was much better the second day when the banana and apple had some time to blend. I would also like to try to make the recipe with applesauce instead of bananas for a nice fall treat when apples are in season.

Thanks for picking such a delicious recipe Joy! Another winner from from the Sweet Melissa Baking book... If you would like the recipe, you can find it on Joy's blog. And be sure to check out what the other Sweet Melissa Sundays bakers thought!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Camera Question...

If anyone is totally in love with their camera, would you mind letting me know what kind you are using? I used to love my old one but it fell out of our diaper bag in the garage and I ran over it with our car. Needless to say, it didn't survive. I got another one, same brand but different model, and I just haven't been very happy with it. Everything looks either blue or yellow to me. As an added bonus, one of my dogs hairs made its way into the camera lens and I think its throwing off the auto focus. Beagle hair can find its way into ANYTHING! He's so sweet though...

In any case, your thoughts would be greatly appreciated! I don't have as much time to sift through product reviews on Amazon anymore.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SMS Hazelnut Truffles

This week's Sweet Melissa Sunday's recipe was chosen by Annie of Living Life Foodcariously. Hazelnut Truffles... one of my favorite food combinations! I think the first time I fell in love with chocolate and hazelnuts was when my college roommate and I went to France for Spring Break our senior year (I know- France and not Cancun?!). I bought one of the Ritter Sport bars from the grocery store that was just around the corner from the hotel we were staying in and was completely enamoured by it! How excited was I when I found the bars a couple years later when a Trader Joes opened near my parents' house. It seems like they are available everywhere now- one of the benefits of globalization!

The only reason I gave hesitation to this recipe was working with chocolate in the middle of a heat wave. It has been ninety and humid for the past week on the East Coast- not exactly ideal conditions for rolling truffles! But I could not pass up on the recipe. For once I actually had all the ingredients I needed at one time. A lot of people seemed to have a difficult time finding hazelnuts in the grocery store, so I made a point of stopping at the nut shop at the farmer's market. They have a great selection of nuts at very reasonable prices- I found blanched hazelnuts in two pound bags for around five dollars. A steal from what I have read!

I threw everything together during nap time on Saturday and rolled them out on Sunday morning. They were a breeze to make and the rolling went pretty fast using my cookie dough scoop. Since it was so hot, I decided to roll them using rubber gloves. I am not sure why I thought this would make a difference, but it made clean-up a lot easier if anything else. I would definitely consider it for next time! I really dislike having sticky hands...

I am a little short on taste-testers this week since my husband has the stomach flu and my daughter does not like dark chocolate, but my mom and I absolutely loved the truffles! I dropped off the rest of them to my daughters' day care this morning so we'll see what the teachers thought this afternoon. Overall, I thought it was a great recipe, especially considering how easy they were to make, and I will definitely keep this recipe in mind for the holidays. Truffles make a wonderful hostess gift when you are doing the holiday circuit. The only change I may make is to use milk chocolate instead of dark next time. I had also wanted to dip them in white chocolate after rolling them out, but the white chocolate I had on hand looked a little old so I ended up throing it out.

Thanks Annie for picking such a delicious recipe! I would have kept them all for myself if I weren't trying to recover from having the stomach flu! You can check out the recipe on Annie's blog. And be sure to see what all the other Sweet Melissa Sundays bakers thought.

Zuchinni Cake

We have an overabundance of zuchinni in our garden right now and I have been looking for creative ways to use it all. I cubed some of it to make zuchinni pickles (to be posted shortly) and wanted to make zuchinni bread with the rest of it. I wanted to try something different than what I have made in the past and I remembered the Tuesday's With Dorie group had posted a banana bundt cake recipe a few weeks ago. I figured zuchinni could easily sub-in for the banana so I decided to give it a go.

My youngest daughter was up at quarter after six on Saturday morning, and realizing any opportunity to sleep in was lost, I decided to bake! What else would I want to do on an early Saturday morning! I creamed the butter and sugar, walked over to the refrigerator to grab the eggs, opened the door, AND... no eggs! Of course! Why would I ever have flour, sugar, and eggs in my house all at one time. So I packed up my daughter in her car seat and decided to go grocery shopping while the rest of the house was sleeping. Our grocery store is open twenty-four hours a day and I actually find shopping at seven in the morning is one of the best times to go. The only drawback is they don't have all the lights on in the regierated and frozen food isles. I picked up the eggs and everything else I needed for the week and made my way home.

When I got back, my husband and three year old were awake and my daughter was elated to learn we were going to be making a cake at eight in the morning. I think mostly because she knew she would be able to lick the beater before breakfast. After getting everything together, I came to the step to add the yogurt. I was actually prepared for this because I had picked the yogurt up earlier in the week knowing I was going to be making this cake. I pulled the safety foil back from the container to a smell I was not quite expecting and was quite alarmed when I saw purple instead of creamy white yogurt. I looked at the front of the container- Stonyfield Organic Low Fat BLUEBERRY yogurt. I almost cried when I read it. Since when did they start selling blueberry yogurt in big containers! I entertained the thought of making blueberry zuchinni bread but the idea just didn't float with me. I was not about to go back to the store so after a quick scan of my refrigerator, I decided on buttermilk. It is my wonder ingredient and I find it can be used as a substitute for almost any dairy product. So I poured it in and crossed my fingers.

Let me tell you, this cake was really, really good! A far cry from the banana bundt cake recipe I started with, but a new favorite for me. The cake was so incredibly moist and the lemon icing really complemented the cake well. You can barely even see the zuchinni let alone taste it, so you do not have to worry about the cake having any hint of a veggie flavor. I will definitely be making this recipe again! Here is the recipe, adapted from Dorie's original:

Zuchinni Bundt Cake

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
2 Cups Shredded Zuchinni
1 Cup Buttermilk
2 t Lemon Zest
1 Cup Chopped Walnuts (Optional)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 9- to 10-inch (12 cup) Bundt pan.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy.

Beat in the vanilla, then add the eggs one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the zuchinni. Finally, mix in half the dry ingredients, all the buttermilk and then the rest of the flour mixture.

Scrape the batter into the pan, rap the pan on the counter to debubble the batter and smooth the top. Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Check the cake after about 30 minutes - if it is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent.

Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding onto the rack to cool to room temperature.

Optional Lemony White Icing: Sift 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar into a bowl and squeeze in enough fresh lemon juice (start with 2 teaspoons and add more by drops) to make an icing thin enough to drizzle down the Bundt's curves.


  • It was suggested to let the cake sit, wrapped in plastic, overnight to achieve a better flavor. I definitely found this to be true.

  • I had to tent the cake after about 30 minutes.

  • I'm certain plain yogurt or sour cream can be used in place of buttermilk.

  • As a variation, sub in 1 teaspoon cinnamon for lemon zest and top with cinnamon icing instead of lemon icing.

Questions or Comments?

I would love to hear from you! E-mail me at