Sugar High Friday: Childhood Delights

I grew up in a ‘homemade house’. In large part because we were poor, but also because I was born into a rural heritage of ‘make it do or do without’. My mom sewed most of my clothes, something I didn’t mind when I was smaller, but by high school it was definitely not as cool as Jordache or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans (with the comb stuck in the back pocket, of course!), so I resorted to selecting patterns from Evan-Picone (I’ll bet my mom still has a pattern like this in her vast collection). Although you might not guess we were poor when you considered our menu (broiled lamb chops for Sunday breakfast, anyone?), it was because we grew most of our food and it was abundant. So I came to think that anything ‘store-bought’ or that came in a box was inherently better, sweeter with the magic aura of rarity.  I didn’t recognize it was actually the high fructose corn syrup and preservatives. 😉 This is also why I am not insulted when the Tartlets ask for store-bought birthday cakes. I understand why they’re ‘better’.

I don’t actually remember many sweet treats from my childhood, although I’m sure they were plentiful. I remember each year ordering large tins (like 20 lb or something) of frozen cherries from Agway and how, when I was sent to get some meat or vegetables from the basement freezer, I would sneak them, one at time, from the tin and let it slowly thaw in my mouth but chewing it up quickly before I got to the top of the stairs.  No one would ever know! (Why do kids believe that?!)  I remember when my mom started taking cake decorating classes and we ate pretty cakes. I remember ice cream — homemade, from Brownlee’s stand, or Wiencek’s Dairy Bar (dipped in chocolate or cherry). But, with a look at that tag cloud, are you surprised that one of my favorites was the Pillsbury Chocolate Macaroon Bundt cake mix, with it’s separate packages for cake, filling, and frosting? I mean . . . chocolate. cake. Says it all, right? Pillsbury discontinued their Bundt mixes many years ago but, if you are willing to pay for the memory, Nordic Ware offers a gourmet cake mix line at $11/box. I decided to play with making my own.

My first attempt, pictured above, was with a finely shredded coconut and for the center I first beat two egg whites to a stiff peak, added some sugar and almond extract, and folded in the coconut. While it yielded the picture-perfect tunnel, my coconut was freezer burnt (BLECH!) and the texture was far too dry and flaky. The second time I switched methods and used sweetened condensed milk with a couple of egg whites (not beaten) and the extract and coconut. While the second attempt gave a very good texture and taste, it did not form the pretty tunnel. I actually plan to experiment with this a third time.

For this walk down memory lane, I thank Rachel of Vampituity who is our creative hostess for this round of Sugar High Friday, created by Jennifer, the Domestic Goddess.

Chocolate Macaroon Cake

1 box dark chocolate cake mix
1 small pkg instant chocolate fudge pudding mix
1 1/4 c. water
1/3 c. oil
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

1 1/2 c. coconut
2 egg whites
1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk
1/2 t. almond extract
2 Tbsp. flour

1 Tbsp. melted butter
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. milk
1/2 t. almond or vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour Bundt or other tube pan and set aside.

Beat together cake ingredients for 2-3 minutes, until smooth and thick, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Spread 1/3 of the cake batter into the prepared pan.

Stir together filling until well mixed. Carefully spoon the filling on top of the cake batter, keeping it away from the edges and center of the pan. Spread the remaining batter over the filling.

Bake for 35-45 min or until done. Cool for 10 minutes then invert on rack and cool completely.

Stir together frosting ingredients, adjusting consistency with milk or sugar. Drizzle over cake.


No Problem, Honey

One of Tartlet 1’s favorite jokes is: When is a chef cruel?
A: When she beats the eggs and whips the cream!

My Christmas baking still hasn’t progressed very far as we’ve been wrapping up school work and we’ve had a lot of things on our ‘to-do lists’. So this didn’t involve beating any eggs, just whipping a bit of cream!

Tuesday, as we were anticipating the arrival of The In-Laws the next day, The Husband called to ask if I could provide a dessert for a party on Thursday he had forgotten about. Although my initial sarcastic response was ‘Sure, honey, I’m not really doing anything this week’, I started thinking of something easy I could make that would still not let him down. The In-Laws weren’t able to arrive after all, but I still went with something simple — a repeat Turtle Truffle Tart. But this is a dessert that stands repeating, and I don’t think I’ve made one for this group before. It looks far more complicated than it is. The base is my standard Shortbread Crust, topped with pecans and caramel and a layer of chocolate melted with heavy cream, all staple ingredients in my kitchen and easy to whip up. *evil laugh*

Mint Chocolate Cheesecake

Historically I have not been a huge fan of cheesecake.  Even now it’s not my first choice in desserts, so I really don’t understand what has gotten into me in the last couple of years: Chocolate Chip Cheesecake with Raspberries, Marbled Cheesecake, and, ever since the fabulousness of the Chocolate Ganache covered Turtle Cheesecake, I’ve been fixated with on covering them with chocolate, such as The Husband’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake, and now this one. Adding chocolate is always good, but maybe it’s just self-preservation — make a dessert you are not totally in love with and then you won’t be tempted to nibble and taste until it’s disappeared! 😛

I actually made this about a month ago and just haven’t gotten around to posting it until now. I made this for our church Thanksgiving Dinner, where there is always a wonderful array of desserts, and why I sliced it in such small pieces — it makes it easier to justify tasting several desserts if none are terribly large! 😉 I didn’t actually get to try this one as it was gone by the time I reached the dessert table, but I have been assured by a couple of tasters that it was quite good. It’s a lovely twist on the mint flavors of the holiday season.

Mint Chocolate Cheesecake

1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cocoa
1/4 c. melted butter

Mix together all ingredients and press into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes or until browned.

4 – 8 oz pkg cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
5 eggs
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1 c. Andes Candies baking bits

Beat cream cheese until absolutely smooth, scraping sides and bottom of the bowl frequently to get out all lumps. Add sugar and stir until mixed. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until well incorporated; scrape bowl frequently. Add cocoa and beat well. Fold in candy pieces.

Pour into prepared springform pan. Bake with a water bath at 325 F for 1 hr or until center is set. Remove from oven and cool. Slip a knife around the edge before releasing the pan.

Chocolate Coating:
1/4 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 c. Andes Candies bits
more Andes Candies for sprinkling on top & decorating

In a heavy saucepan, heat cream until simmering. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate and mint candies. Stir until melted and smooth. Spread over the top of the cheesecake. Sprinkle with remaining candy bits.

Daring With Sugar

Lots and LOTS of sugar!

It’s time for the monthly Daring Bakers Challenge. This month’s hostess, Delores of Culinary Curiosity, and co-hosts Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo) and Jenny of Foray into Food selected Shuna Fish Lydon’s (of Eggbeater) Caramel Cake (as posted on Bay Area Bites). It’s helpful to remember that these are baking challenges, not competitions. And if I already knew how to make all the pieces parts, then it wouldn’t be much of a challenge, would it?!

I’ve attempted caramelized sugar a couple of times in the past and have always ended up with a pan of burnt sugar and needed the hood fan on for a few hours to clean the kitchen of the stench. This time I’m happy to report I was far more successful. Still, the first time I worked on the caramel syrup, I thought about stopping and spread some of the syrup out on parchment paper to cool so I could test for ‘stickiness’ (?? It’s sugar syrup, of course it’s sticky!) and decided to let it go a couple of more minutes and that ruined it. Just a short while later if you looked at the globs on the parchment paper, the early part was nice and clear and shiny and the later stuff was cloudy and dull. I still used that in the cake rather than making new, so it was less syrupy and more sludgy.

For the frosting I decided I wanted to try again with the syrup and this time I wanted to try to make some sugar ‘art’ before I stopped the caramelizing process. The first few bits worked well and I think my biggest mistake was in putting my spoon back in the pan — I think it would have turned out better had I used a fresh utensil, but I’m not sure.  Also, I need to figure out how to keep the temp constant without the sugar continuing to darken.  I have a lot to learn about working with sugar but this little bit of success makes me want to try again soon. After all, desserts just cry out for that ‘Look, honey, fishing line on the cake’ look. 😉 Maybe with practice it will look less like a tangled fishing line mess and more like an intended shape!

I followed the recipe for the cake as given with no flavor additions or changes. For the frosting, I added the seeds from a vanilla bean (I like the little black specks!) and a splash of vanilla extract. I’ve never made browned butter frosting before. I can see why people like it on spice cakes, but it probably won’t become a regular feature in my desserts. I added chocolate to the decorating because all the beige was too blah and I like chocolate with caramel.

The cake is dense and moist with a nice caramel flavor.  The nice thing about the cake and frosting is that it could be casual or fancy, depending on how you decorate your final product.  Delores, Alex, and Jenny — thank you for a fun challenge and the inspiration to work with sugar shapes again!

Recipe after the jump Continue reading

Fall in the Country

I’ve been a little too busy to post about all things I’ve been baking and the things we’re doing.  Last week I hosted a Ladies’ Night Out with a Christmas theme as we were preparing for Operation Christmas Child. To get us in the mood, I decorated half of my long table with Christmas things, leaving the other half open for us to work. For our treats, I baked Christmas cookies and set them out in the tins I typically use at Christmas time. I made Russian Teacakes, Almond Balls, Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, Mint Fudge, and a variation on this recipe — I made them with cranberries, lime zest, and vanilla extract rather than the raisins and lemon.

But the Big Deal of the week was a field trip we took with Tartlet 2’s history club. The girls read the Raggedy Ann stories for their group and we visited the Raggedy Ann Museum in Arcola, ate a picnic lunch in a park, and then visited The Great Pumpkin Patchin Arthur. The kids had a great time going through the straw bale maze several times, walking through the flattened corn maze (destroyed by wind), checking out all the animals and pumpkins, and finally picking out a pumpkin of our own.

One of the things I had to do while I was there was stop in the Homestead Bakery and pick up an angel food cake. My cake decorator friend had told me the story of a couple from St. Louis who had selected this angel food cake as their wedding cake and she shared some of the challenges in decorating and transporting such a cake. I was intrigued enough to buy one. What was interesting to me was that there were no ‘plain angel food cakes’ in the store — there were peach, pineapple, pumpkin, chocolate chip, black walnut, and blackberry. I took home a blackberry. It is very good. I’m not sure it would be worth driving 3 hrs for, but it was a good cake!

On the way home, I just had to stop and visit Shady Crest Orchard, for which there is no link because it is an Amish business. I was surprised to find the large metal building at the roadside with a large shopping area, rather than heading down the one lane gravel road to the house and barn that I had visited many times over the years. It’s been two years since I last did any canning and went to Arthur to buy my peaches and pears, so I was amazed at the new market — even with coolers for the apple cider and many treats, fudge being one of their newest. I couldn’t resist trying the Pumpkin Pie Fudge and, with their deal of buy 4 squares get 2 free, I decided to split the box with some Apple Pie Fudge. The apple pie fudge has little bits of dried apples and nice cinnamon flavor. The pumpkin pie fudge is definitely my favorite though. Perfect flavor and the walnuts are nice addition.  The girl was kind enough to include a little knife in the box so we could have a little taste in the car before we drove home. 😉

The kids’ favorite purchase of the day by far was the Cinnamon Swirl Bread from the Homestead Bakery. Tartlet 1 thought it was easily the best bread she has ever eaten. I was fortunate to be able to take a picture of the last two slices before they vaporized. It was very good and the best breakfast of the week.

Recipe Makeover

One of my favorite Pillsbury Bake Off recipes is this one from 1974, a $25,000 winner, although in the printed version I have it calls for two eggs, not three. When I use a cake mix, I typically make it with some variations. Although a mix can be very convenient and I am not completely opposed to using them, I like a cake made from scratch, not with all the preservatives of a mix. So I came up with this variation of a much simpler recipe. When I make it in a Bundt pan, I prefer to cover it with cherry pie filling, but when I make it in a 9×13-inch pan I typically use the fudgy chocolate frosting. I don’t always make this the same way, but this was today’s version.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake (adapted from Francis Jerzak’s Pillsbury Bake Off recipe)

2 1/3 c. flour
1 1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. cocoa
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 t. sea salt

1/3 c. expeller pressed canola oil
1 21 oz can cherry pie filling (regular or ‘lite’)
2 eggs
1 t. almond extract

1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Either grease and flour a pan or spray with nonstick spray; set aside.

Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, stir together oil, pie filling, eggs, and extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, gently stirring until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips. Spread the batter into prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

Either frost with fudgy chocolate frosting while still warm or cool completely and cover with with another can of cherry pie filling or sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Fudgy Chocolate Frosting

3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. milk
5 Tbsp. butter

1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Bring sugar, milk, and butter to a boil, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until completely melted. Spread over cake while warm.

Sign of the Season

Monday, I was helping a friend who had the misfortune to be found by a ravenous army of ants in search of cinnamon buns (they had good taste!).  When she said ‘at least it’s not mice’, I chuckled and heartily agreed.  Then I came home and baked more cinnamon muffins and this chocolate cake for our evening guests. Tuesday morning, you guessed it, I found the unmistakable evidence of rodents in my kitchen. *sigh*

Every year, spring and fall, we have a few that come in the crawl space, shimmy up the gas line to the back of the stove (this, in spite of the steel wool we filled the space with), and think they have found the mother lode of winter food storage right in my kitchen. Mind you, we have traps set in the garage as usual, which has been enough to keep them out of the kitchen the last couple of years, and we have The Cat, which you might think could be a deterrent . . . or that maybe he would actually catch the offending beasts. But, no.  No.  I dub thee ‘Useless, Lazy Cat’.  Meow. (Which, when translated, means, “whatever.  Are you filling the dish with ‘veal and gravy’ and cleaning the litter box or not?”)

So, there has been no baking since Monday.  I cleaned and disinfected, and, so far, three mice have met their demise, to the dismay of our sweet animal lover, Tartlet 2.   She blinks at me with tears, “But how would you like to be killed? He’s just looking for food! He’s just innocent!”  Well, that’s where you are wrong, dear. If he had looked for food outside, where mice are supposed to live, he would have been fine. But he entered MY territory and I will pardon no rodent. I’m cold and heartless that way.

Well, if my mentioning rodents in my kitchen didn’t completely turn you off food, there’s some ‘chocolate pound cake’ to be had.  I bought some milk chocolate chips for something a couple of months ago and had the remainder of the bag in the cabinet (and rodent-free, I will add) and the recipe on the back of the bag for a milk chocolate pound cake sounded intriguing.  Since I had already used part of the bag and didn’t want to buy another, I melted the milk chocolate for the cake and, in place of the other half of the bag to be added whole to the cake, I used a cup of mini semi-sweet chips.  Also, I had some almonds that needed to be used so I used them in place of the pecans and I have to tell you that I think the cake would have been much better with pecans. I thought about using a dark chocolate glaze but didn’t want to overpower the mild chocolate flavor so opted for caramel sauce, instead. That was a good move.

While it is a reasonably good cake, I would much prefer a dark, dense chocolate cake. Still, if you like chocolate, but aren’t enamored with dark chocolate, this cake may be just what you are looking for. I think a little whipped cream would have helped draw out the chocolate flavor too.  I’m giving you the original recipe below.

Milk Chocolate Chip Pecan Pound Cake (from Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Chip bag)

2 c. Hershey’s milk chocolate chips, divided
1 c. butter, softened
1 1/4 c. granulated sugar
3 eggs

2 1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. Hershey’s cocoa
1/4 t. baking soda
dash salt

1 c. buttermilk or sour milk

3/4 c. Hershey’s syrup
2 t. vanilla extract

1 c. chopped pecans

powdered sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. Place 1 c. milk chocolate chips in medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at medium (50%) 1 minute; stir. If necessary, microwave an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, until chips are melted when stirred.

Beat butter in large bowl until creamy; gradually add granulated sugar, beating on medium speed of mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add melted chocolate; beat until blended.

Stir together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; add to chocolate mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating until blended. Add syrup and vanilla; beat until blended. Stir in remaining milk chocolate chips and pecans. Spoon batter into prepared pan.

Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.