Lemon Angel Food Cake

Last year for his birthday, Aidan requested an angel food cake. This wasn’t actually the first time he made the request, but I managed to talk him out of it in past years, partly because angel food cake seemed boring and bland to me and partly because I was kind of intimidated by the prospect of making the cake. As a rule, anything that involves beating egg whites to various states of stiffness makes me extremely nervous. When I’m dealing with egg whites, I feel like I’m constantly standing on the edge of failure, and I am not a thrill-seeker. Still, Aidan was pretty insistent about angel food being the only kind of cake he wanted, so I got to work.

My first big decision involved buying a pan, which proved to be more complicated than I would have liked. See, angel food is one of those things that bakers seem to have very strong opinions about. And by strong, I mean that there are many angel food enthusiasts who have very specific ideas about the equipment and process one should use to make angel food and who are equally certain that deviating from these methods will result in a really crappy cake. The strongest of this contingent’s opinions revolve around the choice of a pan and the consensus seems to be that the ideal pan should be non-stick, slightly abused/well-loved from years of use, and have a releasable bottom. Basically, if you spend enough time reading about angel food cake best-practices, you will probably walk away from your research feeling like if you haven’t been fortunate enough to inherit a pan from your great-grandmother, you’re screwed.

Nordic Ware Angel Food Cake Pan, via Target.com

The only pan I could find – Nordic Ware Angel Food Cake Pan, via Target.com

The argument behind this ideal pan is that an abrasive surface on the sides of the pan will allow the cake to “climb” higher while baking, resulting in a lofty cake and tender crumb. This makes good sense to me, but the material reality of the situation was that the only pan I could find locally was a non-stick, single-piece tube pan. I thought pretty seriously about ordering a more ideal pan for upwards of $40 and then remembered that I am a broke grad student. So I decided that my cake would have to be motivated enough to climb non-stick pan walls. Having a releasable bottom still would have been preferable, but in lieu of that feature, I put a piece of buttered parchment paper at the bottom of the pan. (I can’t locate an exact source, but I’m pretty sure Martha Stewart told me this was an acceptable thing to do.) Once I ran a knife around the edges of the cooled cake, the parchment paper allowed the cake to slide right out of the pan without and problems and the finished cake seemed plenty lofty and light.

My second big decision was to use Ina Garten’s Lemon Angel Food Cake recipe because I generally trust Ina in high-stakes baking situations. The recipe was a very, very good decision and I would highly recommend it. The cake gets it’s lemony flavor from the addition of lemon zest, but I think you could just leave the zest out for a very good traditional angel food cake. Because I was nervous about the cake turning out, I was especially meticulous about following the recipe instructions. If it said to sift something together over and over, I did it. If it said to add something in half-cup increments, you better believe I measured that shit. If it said to beat something for a minute, I timed it. I don’t actually have a sifter, so I sifted everything by passing it through a fine-mesh strainer, which worked out really well. I’m not kidding when I say dealing with egg whites makes me nervous. But my care was rewarded. The resulting cake was awesome. The crumb was just right and the cake had great flavor—I couldn’t believe that I remembered angel food cake as boring and bland. Most importantly, Aidan was pleased. We ended up sharing this cake with four other friends and it received rave reviews from each one.

Half an angel food cake

I also made up a lemon honey yogurt sauce from this Giada de Laurentis recipe to go with the cake—I left it on the side and let people add it if they wanted it. Honestly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the sauce. The sauce itself was perfectly good but it reminded me of something you might put on top of pancakes or waffles, and I really didn’t think the cake needed anything else. However, everyone else (including Aidan) really liked the sauce and eagerly drizzled it over their cake slices. So when I make this again, I’d probably consider making the sauce as well to have on hand as an option for people.

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Lemon Angel Food Cake (from Ina Garten, original recipe available on Food Network)

  • 2 c sifted superfine sugar, divided
  • 1 1/3 c sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 c egg whites (10 to 12 eggs), at room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest (from 2 lemons)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
  2. Sift 1/2 c of the sugar together with the flour. Sift the mixture 3 more times.
  3. Beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in an electric mixer using a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until medium-firm peaks form. Reduce mixer speed to medium and add remaining 1 1/2 c of sugar by sprinkling it over the egg whites. Continue whisking until the mixture is thick and shiny. Add in vanilla and lemon zest and continue whisking for another minute or so until the mixture is very thick.
  4. Sift a quarter of the flour mixture over the egg white mixture and use a rubber spatula to fold it into the mixture. Continue this process, adding a fourth of the mixture each time, until the flour mixture has been completely incorporated.
  5. Pour the batter evenly into a 10” tube pan (ungreased) and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. It will spring back to the touch when finished baking. Take it out of the oven and invert the cake pan on a cooling rack until completely cool. When cool, gently run a knife around the edge of the cake to help release it from the pan.

Lemon Honey Yogurt Sauce (from Giada deLaurentis, original recipe available on Food Network)

  • 1 c plain yogurt
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Directions: Whisk ingredients together until smooth. Drizzle over slices of cake before serving.

Basic Applesauce (Unsweetened)

Recently, our friends went apple picking and asked me if I would be willing to turn some of their apples into pie. I, of course, was willing, and used several of the apples they gave me to make my standard apple pie recipe. But I also ended up with several apples leftover and decided to go ahead and turn them into some unsweetened applesauce for their toddler, my godson.

This is the first time I’ve made applesauce, and I have three thoughts. First, I really had no idea it would be so damn easy. Second, I had no idea it would be so much better than the bland stuff you buy in a jar. And third, I have no idea why you would want to add sugar to it in the first place.

See, I tend to err on the side of decadence, and if I hadn’t been planning for this to be eaten by my godson, knowing his parents wouldn’t want him scarfing down something laced with sugar, I would have just defaulted to a run of the mill, sweetened recipe. As it turns out, if you start out with some good fruit, let it simmer for about an hour, and spice it up just right, it will taste perfectly tart and sweet on its on. And it also won’t taste watery and weak like every commercial variety I’ve ever tried.

Apples ready to simmer

So while it’s true that this applesauce is unsweetened, I struggle with calling it “unsweetened applesauce” because that makes it sound like it’s a bland punishment or like it’s second best to a sweetened variety. It’s neither of those things. It’s just a really good, really simple applesauce. My godson scarfed down two bowls the night I brought this over (while refusing the bite of pie he was offered!), so I think he agrees.

Applesauce, finished

The flavor depends in large part on the apples that you are using, so you definitely want to use ripe, in-season apples. I also think a sweet-tart apple will give you a nice balance of flavor in the resulting apple sauce. The apples I used were primarily MacIntosh and Gala apples, but I remember seeing an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they argued that Pink Lady apples yielded the best applesauce. Since I’m giving this batch of applesauce to my friends, I think I’m going to have to go get some Pink Lady apples and make another batch for myself.

Basic Applesauce

Notes: First, I didn’t peel my apples and pureed the skins with the rest of the sauce. This resulted in a slightly chunkier sauce, but neither my godson nor myself had any textural aversions to the skin.  For a smoother product, just peel the apples before you core and quarter them. Second, the ingredients I’ve listed below just indicate the way that I spiced this batch. I erred on the side of more lightly spiced since this was going to be eaten by a toddler. As is, I think the recipe amount of cinnamon and cloves provide enough flavor without overpowering the fruit, but you could easily create a more heavily spiced version by adding whole cloves or even by adding a bit of allspice or ginger.

  • 10-12 small or medium apples (more if your apples are on the smaller side, less if they’re bigger)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  1. Peel your apples, if desired (see the note above). Core the apples and cut them into quarters. Or, if you don’t have a corer, cut the apples into quarters and then cut the cores out. Whatever.
  2. Add 2-3 cups of water to the pot. The water should reach the half point of where the apples are in the pot. In other words, if your apples are about 4″ deep in the pot, you want to fill the pot with about 2 inches of water. You can always add more water if you need it, but you don’t want your applesauce to be too watery.
  3. Bring the water to a boil, and boil the apples on high for 10 minutes. After ten minutes, the apples should begin breaking down.
  4. Turn the heat down to low and add the cinnamon sticks and ground cloves. Give the apples a little stir to incorporate the spices, and then let the apples simmer, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, stirring the mix occasionally. At this point, there will still be some chunks of apple, but the mixture should be starting to look a lot like applesauce.
  5. Take the pot off the heat, remove the cinnamon sticks, and put the applesauce into a food processor or blender. Puree the mix until smooth. Or, if you like a chunkier applesauce, just give the apples a couple of quick pulses.

This recipe makes about 4 cups of applesauce. It will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week in an airtight container, but can also be frozen for several months.

Really Good Chocolate Cupcakes

I am pretty much a baking traditionalist. I like classic flavor combinations, and I like classic desserts. And what’s more, I was raised in the Midwest and so my definition of what constitutes “classic” is largely determined by my Midwestern sensibilities. I’m wary of baking fads (I’m giving you the side-eye, cake pops), and I don’t like dessert hybrids. I love cheesecake, and I love a good red velvet cake, but red velvet cheesecake seems like the kind of thing that would make me wish I was eating my standard cheesecake recipe. I don’t like overly complicated recipes that call for ingredients I wouldn’t normally keep on hand. And I just can’t get behind recipes that involve baking mixes. I mean, if you’re already going beyond simply adding oil and eggs to the mix, then why not just make the whole thing from scratch?

I am guided by two primary goals as a baker: 1) to build up a library of recipes for really great, classic baked goods like chocolate chip cookies and bagels; and 2) to continually focus on improving my technique so that I can do things like make a really good loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread (my current project) or consistently whip up a really good all-butter pie crust. These goals mean that I am content to make the same things over and over and over again without feeling compelled to try something new or raise the bar. That’s kind of boring. These goals also make me a mite snobbish (see comment above about baking mixes). So it goes. The point is that when I acknowledge and stay true to these goals rather than worrying that I should try making marshmallows like all the other cool kids, I enjoy my time in the kitchen more and am generally more pleased with the results of my work.

Of course, all this is a long-winded way of saying: Baker, know thyself. Think about what you like to make and why, and let that guide your baking projects. And also, maybe try weaning yourself off of baking mixes if you haven’t already. Or at least don’t do that weird thing where people mix them with things like black beans or Diet Coke. Because, ew. There’s just no reason for that.

Chocolate Cupcakes

 

This chocolate (cup)cake recipe is one of my go-to recipes, and it gets rave reviews from everyone who tries it. When I eat these cupcakes, I think of the scene in Matilda where the evil headmistress punishes a kid by making him eat a gigantic, insanely rich chocolate cake. I am almost certain this was the recipe used to make that cake. These cupcakes have a wonderfully tender, sticky crumb and the chocolate ganache frosting spread on top makes them out of this world. My theory is that what makes this cake really excellent is the coffee incorporated into the batter. Much like the chocolate stout cake I’ve made before, I think the presence of a bitter agent in the batter helps bring out some of the deeper notes in the chocolate flavor, which balances the sweetness of the cake nicely.

I decorated these particular cupcakes to look vaguely record-ish because they were for a birthday party where our friend was showing off his new turntable and tube amp, letting people share their favorite records all night. Since the chocolate ganache frosting is naturally a dark brown, it was relatively easy to turn it black with some black food dye. Using my signature low-tech decorating techniques, I spread the frosting on, ran the tines of a fork around the cupcake to create the record grooves and then slapped one of those candy melt wafers flat-side up for a record label. I piped a dab of the ganache in the middle of the candy melt and Bam!: vaguely record-ish cupcakes.

Double Chocolate Cupcakes (Adapted from Gourmet, March 1999)

Notes: My major adaptation to this recipe is, obviously, to use it to make cupcakes. If you want to make a layer cake, double the frosting recipe and refer to the original recipe (linked above) for baking times. I’ve tried filling these cupcakes in the past, but wouldn’t recommend it since the cake isn’t firm enough to stand up well to the filling process. I would also highly recommend making these a day in advance since the texture and flavor of chocolate cake significantly improves with an overnight rest.

For the cake:

  • 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 c buttermilk
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla

For Ganache Frosting (simply spread onto the top of the cupcakes, this will make enough to frost the entire batch. However, if you’re the kind of person who likes to pipe on a generous little mound of frosting, you’ll want to double the recipe)

  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I’d recommend using something a little on the nicer side)
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

Make the cupcakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and line a muffin tin with baking cups.
  2. Finely chop the chocolate and then combine in a bowl with the coffee. Let the mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In another large bowl, beat the eggs until they are slightly thickened and lemon-colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer, and a bit longer with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla and melted chocolate/coffee mixture to the eggs, beating until combined after every addition.
  5. Add the sugar mixture and beat on medium until just combined.
  6. Fill the baking cups 2/3 full with batter and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Make the frosting:

  1. Finely chop the chocolate.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted.
  4. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the frosting, whisking until smooth.
  5. Transfer the frosting to a bowl and allow it to cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable. You can speed the process up by putting the bowl in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, although you’ll want to check on it every once in awhile, stirring to make sure its cooling evenly and making sure that it doesn’t become too firm.

Chocolate Stout Cake

Somehow, I’ve already finished two weeks of the new semester and even collected the first assignment from my students. I have a calendar full of meetings and reminders and plenty to keep me busy. Being on an academic calendar is weird because it means adjusting your schedule every few months, but I think I’ve finally made it through this adjustment period. The biggest change this semester is that I’m no longer taking classes. After 20+ years of class after class after class, I’m done (unless I have a temporary lapse in sanity and decide to take another).

Not being in class anymore is incredible. Incredible. I’ve suddenly gained a lot more control over my schedule and routine and I’m not generating to-do lists from cross-listing several syllabi. My work is more focused since I’ve now just got a couple of big projects on the horizon. I’m getting 7 or 8 hours of sleep every night. I’m not too tired to make dinner. My stress-related jaw pain has disappeared. I get to look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas time because I’m not haunted by the terror of finals week. I feel more even and balanced. I feel like a real person.

The most exciting part is that I get the chance to break a lot of the bad work habits that I developed while taking classes. Like pulling all nighters. Or writing papers in one exhausting slog 2-3 day slog. Or expecting myself to be working all the time, feeling demoralized by the thought, and then getting little to nothing done as a result. Also, drinking too much caffeine and not eating often enough and then developing massive headaches. I made a fancy little work schedule for myself where I’ve blocked out spaces of time for discreet tasks like writing, reading, and teaching prep. I’ve tried to realistically appraise my life and made my schedule keeping in mind that I am unlikely to continue doing the same thing for more than two hours at a time, that I won’t get anything done past 8:00 (which sounds late, but is more like my version of 5:00p since I am a night owl), and that I won’t get up any earlier than 9:00a. So far, the schedule seems to be working. I’m writing in the mornings five days a week–I started with 30 minute sessions and am slowly working myself up to 2 hours. I haven’t had the stress of trying to whip up last-minute class plans. I’m continually surprising myself with how much I can get done when I set a finite work time. I’m actually enjoying work.

And the best part is that I have plenty of time for baking and knitting and Netflix watching and novel reading and blog writing. Not that I wasn’t doing those things before, but now I’m not weighed down by the guilt of feeling like I should be doing something else. I much prefer it this way.

I made this cake for a beginning-of-the-semester department potluck. At one point in it’s life, it was an entire bundt cake but this is the only piece that made it back home with me. I take that as a sign that it was well-received. Oh, and someone told me it may have been the best chocolate cake they’d had. So I’m definitely marking this recipe a success.Chocolate Stout Cake

As the name of the recipe suggests, this cake is made with a stout–I used Guinness–and I figured any cake made with beer would be a big hit with academics. The cake isn’t overly sweet but instead has a rich and nutty chocolately flavor. It’s also has a ridiculously moist crumb and the ganache on top is flavored with instant espresso, sending the whole thing over the top on deliciousness. The only tricky part is getting the cake out of the bundt pan. Grease that pan like you’ve never greased a pan before. And if the top of the cake still gets stuck to the bottom of the pan, scoop out the stuck cake bits, mound them up on the top of the cake, and then artfully drizzle your ganache to cover the imperfection. That’s what I did.

Chocolate Stout Cake (from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 1 c stout (I used Guinness)
  • 1 c unsalted butter
  • 3/4 c Dutch-process cocoa powder (I’ve been using Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder in place of Dutch-process)
  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 c sour cream
  • 6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 6 tbsp heavy cream
  • 3/4 tsp instant coffee (I substituted 1/2 tsp instant espresso because it was what I had on hand)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a bundt pan really, really well.
  2. Bring the stout and butter to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Allow the mixture to cool while you prepare the rest of the cake batter.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Beat the eggs and sour cream together in another bowl. Slowly beat in the stout/butter/chocolate mixture and beat until just combined. Add the flour mixture and beat briefly on low speed, using a spatula to fold in the rest of the flour mixture if necessary.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack before inverting the cake onto a plate to remove it from the pan.
  6. For the ganache, melt the chocolate chips, heavy cream, and instant coffee or espresso granules together over low heat, whisking until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the cake.

 

 

Blueberry Oatmeal Quick Bread

Apparently I decided to take a summer blogging hiatus. So it goes. As with all things, it’s hard to get back into something you’ve gotten out of the habit of doing, so I’m going to be very unceremonious and jump back in.

I whipped this bread up Tuesday night when I was done teaching–it was at once a form of stress relief and a celebration of the fact that my kitchen is no longer a million degrees. It’s a simple quick bread dough made a bit heartier through the addition of some whole wheat flour and oats. The recipe calls for a fair amount of almond extract, which I was a little worried about since almond extract has such a strong flavor. I thought about substituting vanilla, but forged ahead with the recipe as written and was pleasantly surprised by how nice the almond flavor works with the nuttiness of batter and the flavor of the blueberries.

Blueberry Oatmeal Bread

This bread is basically a good, hearty muffin in bread form–it’s got great flavor, it’s filling, and it’s not too sweet, making it perfect for breakfast or a mid-day snack. I followed Faith’s suggestion and ate a thick slice of this bread lightly toasted and slathered with butter. Seriously delicious and an excellent start to the day with my morning tea.

Blueberry Oatmeal Quick Bread (Adapted from An Edible Mosaic)

Note: The original recipe makes two loaves and includes chopped almonds and a delicious-looking white chocolate glaze. I cut the recipe in half and left off the almonds and glaze because I didn’t have the ingredients on hand. What I’m posting here will make a single, unglazed loaf.

  • 1 c blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c milk
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tbsp chopped, unsalted almonds, optional (I didn’t have almonds on hand but would definitely add them if I did)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° and grease one 8×4 loaf pan.
  2. If using fresh blueberries, add a rounded teaspoon of the flour to the berries and mix to coat the berries well.
  3. Whisk together both of the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl.
  4. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar. Add in the milk, oil, and almond extract and whisk until well incorporated. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, stirring until just combined. Fold in the oats and blueberries and then spread the batter into the prepared pan. If using, sprinkle the chopped almonds over the top of the loaf.
  5. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the loaf to cool on a wire rack before removing from the pan.

 

Cherry Raspberry Pie

It was 92° today, which set a new record high for the date in our area. Gross. I am not a huge fan of summer and this kind of heat is precisely why. The heat itself is bad enough, but living in a second-story apartment with sky lights in every room with no AC is disgusting and it makes me hateful. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that this isn’t an indication of how the rest of the season is going to play out. Still, now is probably as good a time as any to start digging up recipes that don’t involve the oven. I think this may be a good summer to invest in a set of popsicle molds so I can make these Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles. Yum. And cold.

Anyway. We spent Memorial Day with friends, grilling out but eating inside to enjoy the air conditioning. I decided to make a pie, because pie seems like the kind of thing you’re supposed to eat on summer holidays. My original plan was to make a strawberry rhubarb pie, but when I went to the store, they were out of rhubarb. They were also out of Corona. It was a trip of frustrations. But never mind, I reevaluated my plans, grabbed a bag of sweet cherries and a pint of raspberries and decided to throw them together. The decision to throw in the raspberries was born mostly out of the fact that a single bag of cherries wouldn’t have been enough to fill a pie, and a pint of raspberries were significantly cheaper than a second bag of cherries. I had misgivings when I got home. I was worried that the fruit wasn’t flavorful enough, that I should have kept it simple and only stuck with one kind of fruit, and finally that it was all going to be a soupy mess.

Cherry Raspberry Pie

Luckily, none of my fears came to pass. You can see that part of the crust collapsed while baking, but beyond that the pie was great. For the first time in a long time, I felt like my crust was rockin’ in flavor and texture. I used the same all-butter crust recipe I’ve been using since I started this blog, but this time I added the butter in one stick at a time, which made it easier to cut into the flour and seemed to help in bringing the dough together. (I picked this trick up from my King Arthur Flour cookbook.) For the filling, I used this Sweet Cherry Pie recipe–substituting, of course, part of the cherries for about two cups of raspberries. The raspberries gave the filling a nice tartness that didn’t overwhelm the cherries, but kept the filling from being overly sweet. I’ve been wary of the idea of sour cherry pie, having some unpleasant memories of sour cherries from my childhood, but now I think I need to try it out. Also, this is the first time that I’ve made a lattice top pie (way easier than I expected) and used an egg wash on the pie lid (totally sold–the result is beautiful). We enjoyed the pie with some homemade whipped cream. It was a good day.

Basically, I wish that everything I tried my hand at turned out as well as this pie. Also, I wish we had central air. Oh well.

Cherry Raspberry Pie (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Note: The above link is for the original pie filling recipe. For the crust, I also used Deb’s all butter pie crust recipe, which can be found here along with a great set of step-by-step pictorial instructions. If you’re new to making pie crust, definitely check out her post. It’s been a huge help to me, although you might want to try cutting the butter into the flour one stick at a time. I don’t have a cherry pitter, so I just pitted the cherries with my hands. But I followed the advice offered in one of Deb’s comments and pitted the cherries inside of a gallon-size ziploc bag. It helped contain the mess in a big, big way.

1 double pie crust

For Filling:

  • 2 c pitted sweet cherries
  • 2 c raspberries
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 4 tbsp corn starch
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 tbsp cold unsalted butter cut into small bits
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 tsp cold water for egg wash, optional
  1. Combine the fruit, sugar, corn starch, salt, lemon juice and almond extract in a large bowl. Stir until well combined.
  2. Roll out the dough for the bottom crust, creating a 13″ round. Line your pie plate with the rolled out crust, and trim the sides to leave a half inch overhang.
  3. Use a spoon to spread the fruit mixture into the pie shell, leaving behind most of the liquid that has developed at the bottom of the bowl. Dot the filling with the bits of cold butter.
  4. Roll out the pie lid and lay it over the pie plate (or cut strips from the dough round and create a lattice top). Trim the sides of the dough and use your fingers or a fork to seal and crimp the edges. Cut slits (for steam vents) in the pie lid and brush the pie lid with the egg wash, if using.
  5. Bake at 400° for 25 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350° and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes. Allow pie to cool completely on a wire rack.

Raspberry-Topped Muffins

I like to listen to music while I’m in the kitchen and while I’m working on my laptop. Sometimes, I listen to my iTunes, but a lot of the time I listen to Pandora. I have a handful of very different stations I’ve set up, and for the past week each station has started playing Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and/or “Rhiannon” several times a day. It’s getting a little eerie.

I can hear you calling to me, Stevie Nicks. And yes, I will be your best friend. Next time, feel free to just call.

(Seriously, though. Make sure you watch that video all the way through, both for Stevie Nicks’ intense performance and for the retro videography.)

Anyway, the creative non-fiction class I started earlier this month is over now. On our second-to-last day, I made some raspberry topped lemon muffins to share at our break. I found the recipe through Smitten Kitchen, and it’s one that I’ve made before to share with friends on a road trip to Louisville for a conference. It’s a basic buttermilk vanilla muffin flavored with lemon sugar (that is, lemon zest mashed into a little bit of sugar) and then topped with a couple of raspberries. It’s enough flavor to keep the muffins interesting without it being the kind of taste explosion that a lot of people don’t care for at breakfast. The muffins are really delicious, and I like this recipe precisely because it’s not your typical struesel-topped blueberry muffin. Believe me when I say that I don’t have anything against blueberry muffins–far from it. But it’s nice to have something a little different. Plus, these muffins are particularly nice for these 80° May days since they taste a whole lot like summer.

raspberry topped muffin

You’ll have to excuse this muffin for being a little . . . well . . . homely. I’m not sure why it’s raspberries are so sunken in or why it’s having trouble keeping it’s little muffin clothes on. But this is the only muffin that made it back with me from class and so it was the only muffin I was able to photograph since I forgot to take pictures before I went to class. You should just trust that even in its ugliness, it was a very delicious little muffin.

The striped muffin liner is from a whole gaggle of muffin liners my friend Abby collected for me after I blogged awhile back about running out of them. Now I have a ton, and a whole host of colors and patterns to choose from. It really does feel like dressing my baked goods up. I see many (hopefully prettier) muffins in my future . . .

Just for fun, here’s what I listened to while I was whipping these babies up:

  1. Heart, Alone
  2. Blondie, Call Me
  3. The Bangles, Walk Like an Egyptian
  4. Joan Jett, Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah)
  5. The Go-Go’s, We Got the Beat
  6. Madonna, Material Girl
  7. The Runaways, Rock and Roll
  8. Joan Jett, I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll
  9. Billy Idol, Rebel Yell
  10. Patty Smyth, Goodbye to You

As I write this, Edge of Seventeen just started playing. Perhaps its time for me to take a Gypsy 83-style Stevie Nicks pilgrimage?

What are you listening to this weekend as we kick-off the unofficial start of summer?

Raspberry-Topped Lemon Muffins (from Smitten Kitchen)

Note: This recipe is supposed to make 14 muffins, but I decided to just divide the batter evenly among one muffin tin to make an even dozen. I was able to top my muffins with a 1/2 pint of raspberries and still had a few leftover. But if you want to put more raspberries on the top or make more than a dozen muffins, you might need another 1/2 pint.

  • 1 c sugar, plus 2 tbsp for the lemon sugar
  • Grated lemon peel from 2 large lemons
  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 c buttermilk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 – 1 pint raspberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F and line 12 or 14 (see note above) muffin cups with paper liners.
  2. Mash the 2 tbsp of sugar and lemon zest together in a small bowl until well-combined. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and remaining 1 c sugar. Beat in egg. Add buttermilk, then vanilla, and then the lemon sugar, mixing after each addition until combined. Beat in the flour mixture.
  5. Divide the batter among the muffin cups and top each with 3-4 raspberries. (I used three berries on the top of each muffin.) Bake 30-35 minutes until lightly browned on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Weekend Bagels

I’m in the middle of a creative non-fiction class with Minnie Bruce Pratt right now. It’s a Maymester class, which is a cutesy way of saying that the work you would do over the course of a typical 15 week semester gets condensed over the course of ten (10!) days–4 hours of class a day, five days a week, for two weeks. Plus homework. It’s intense, but it’s also been a great experience so far. Since it’s a writing class, it feels a lot like a day camp version of a writing retreat. Given the pace of the class, which is compounded by the fact that most of us are writing about deeply personal and emotionally heavy topics, I was totally exhausted by Friday. So Saturday was, by necessity, a day of relaxing and unwinding. I stayed in my pjs for most of the day, finished seasons 3 and 4 of The Guild, did some knitting, danced around to Adele, and made some bagels.

I’ve been wanting to make bagels for awhile, but have been a little hesitant about the process. It turns out that it’s not any harder than throwing together a loaf of white bread–there’s just a couple of additional steps involved. I was also surprised at how little time was involved making these, especially since I used the bagel recipe in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible which is a book that contains a lot of recipes that take 8-10 hours or that are even best made over the course of two days. I started these around 5 and pulled them out of the oven at 11:30. The recipe begins with a sponge, which you let activate for a bit before you finish and knead the dough. After the dough rises, you shape the bagels, which only sit for a few minutes before you boil them and then they’re ready for the oven.

bagel

When these were done baking, I was more than skeptical. I was convinced I had a flop on my hands. First of all, the bagels just didn’t look good. They got really brown while baking, even though I reduced the baking time by five minutes. They are also, as Aidan quickly observed, significantly flatter than the bagels I’m accustomed to buying. To shape the bagels, I rolled the dough out into snake-like shape and then pinched the ends together in a circle. When they were boiling, a couple of the bagels came undone and then I stupidly tried to pinch them back together post-boil. The result was definitely not pretty. What you see above is the prettiest bagel of the bunch. Second, the bagels felt really hard. They didn’t have the soft, pliable crust I’m used to but felt more akin to a crusty bread. I was sure they would be a disaster. I questioned whether I even wanted a bagel that would be more authentic that what I was raised on. Aidan was surprised that I bagged them up to try in the morning rather than dumping them straight into the garbage.

bagel split open

I’m was really, really wrong because these are damn good. The outside is much chewier than I’m used to, but I realize now that this is a very good thing. And while the inside of the bagel is also chewier, it’s deliciously soft in a way that creates a really pleasing contrast between crust and crumb. These bagels are flatter simply because they aren’t as bready as the bagels you’d buy at the grocery store. I also recognize that these bagels aren’t as ugly as I first thought–they just don’t have the pale crust that I’m used to seeing on a bagel. (I would still reduce my oven temperature the next time around. I think my oven runs a bit hot.) The flavor is also fantastic. In addition to the malt powder that contributes to the distinctive taste of bagels, this dough is seasoned with a bit of black pepper, which doesn’t overwhelm but provides a nice hint of spice. For breakfast this morning, I lightly toasted one of the bagels and topped it with a bit of butter. Best bagel experience ever. These aren’t perfect–I need to work on my shaping technique and play around a bit with bake times and temperature and I’d like to try out these with some different toppings–but this is definitely a recipe that I’m coming back to again and again.

Weekend baking = win. Now back to work.

Levy’s Bagels (from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible)

Note: the original recipe includes separate ingredient lists for a full batch (which makes 10 bagels) and a half batch (which makes 5 bagels). I’ve only included the instructions for the half batch here, but it would be very easy to double the recipe–just don’t double the ingredients for the water bath. Beranbaum warns, however, that if you’re using a KitchenAid mixer to mix and knead the dough, a 5 qt. mixer will only accommodate a half batch. Also, I’ve included the original bake temperatures and times, although I reduced the time by five minutes when I made these. Next time, I think I would reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees since I think my oven runs hot. Also, I realized while typing up this recipe that I accidentally skipped a second rise in the refrigerator. My bagels were fine without it (although perhaps this accounts for the flatness?), but I’ll probably try it next time to see what happens.

Starter:

  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 c plus 2 tbsp lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 c high gluten or bread flour

Flour Mixture:

  • 1 c plus 3 tbsp high-gluten or bread flour (reserve the 3 tbsp to add in while kneading)
  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp malt powder or barley malt syrup (I used malt powder)
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter (to be added when you begin kneading the dough)

Water Bath and Glaze:

  • 2 tbsp molasses or 1/4 c sugar (I used molasses)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/2 tsp cold water
  • Optional: 3 to 4 tbsp toppings, which could include seeds, kosher salt, sea salt, minced sauteed onions, and/or dehydrated garlic chips or dried chopped onions that have been soaked in hot water for a bit.

In a mixing bowl, combine the ingredients for the starter and whisk for two minutes to incorporate air. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the flour mixture (reserving 3 tbsp of the flour to add in while kneading) and gently sprinkle the mixture over the starter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 hours. For even better flavor, let the bowl sit at room temperature for 1 hour and then refrigerate overnight or up to 24 hours. If you refrigerate the mixture, let it sit at room temperature for half an hour before you begin kneading the dough. Allow the butter to soften at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before kneading it into the dough.

Add the butter to the starter and flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon or your hand, combine the starter and flour mixture. When a dough starts to form in the bowl, dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for five minutes. Turn your bowl over the dough and let it sit for twenty minutes. After resting, knead the dough for 10-15 minutes, until smooth and elastic. While kneading, only add in as much of the reserved flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or to the counter. The dough should still be slightly tacky to the touch.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover the bowl with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap, and let the dough rise until doubled, which should take 1-2 hours. Deflate the dough, flattening it into a rectangle, and then fold the dough in thirds (like you would fold a letter) twice. Oil the top of the dough, cover it, and refrigerate it for four hours or even overnight. [Note: this is the step I missed. If I make these again, I might do up to this step the night before, refrigerate them overnight and then finish the bagels in the morning.]

Cut the dough into 5 equal portions and shape the portions using one of two methods. Method 1: Pull the sides of the dough into the center and pinch them together. Make a hole in the center of the dough using your index finger and then gently stretch the hole until it is about 2 1/2″ wide. Method 2 (the method I used): Roll the dough back and forth on the counter until you have a 12″ rope. Twist the dough around your hand until the two rope ends overlap. Roll the dough back and forth on the counter at the point where the two ends overlap to join them. Set the shaped bagels on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cover them with a lightly oiled piece of plastic wrap and let them sit for 15-20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boil. When the water is boiling, add in the molasses or sugar and the baking soda. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, gently add the bagels to the water, boiling two bagels at a time so as not to crowd the pot. Boil the bagels for 1-2 minutes on each side, keeping in mind that the longer you boil the bagels, the chewier the outer crust will be. After boiling, return the bagels to the parchment paper to drain.

Lay the bagels on a fresh piece of parchment on the baking sheet. Whisk together the egg white and cold water. Using a pastry brush, brush the tops of the bagels with the glaze. Brush with a second coat, and if using, sprinkle your toppings over the bagels. Bake the bagels for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 450 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes. (I only did 15 minutes because I was concerned about the rate at which they were browning.) Turn the heat off and leave the bagels in the oven with the door closed for 5 more minutes. Open the oven door and leave the bagels in the oven for 5 minutes. Allow the bagels to cool completely on a wire rack.

Two Realizations and a Recipe

I had a realization this week that has totally thrown me for a loop: I am not a goal-oriented person.

God help me if I am ever driven to find a job in corporate America. I am also disorganized, an anti-people person, and do not own a skirt suit. I totally would not make the cut.

The eagerness with which I set goals for myself is a testament to how deeply I’ve internalized the idea that being goal-oriented is a key part of being a good, hard-working person. This was my to-do list for Saturday. I make lists like this all the freaking time. The text in the picture is backwards, but all that matters is that there are nine items on said list and only two of them are crossed off. One of those two items was to rid my inbox of this semester’s email clutter, and that task took all of ten minutes to complete, which is really the only reason it got done. At the beginning of this year, I wrote a post about my distaste for New Year’s resolutions and set five year-long goals for myself instead. Of the five, I’ve actually started on one–I’m half way through book two of ten in the Vampire Chronicles and pretty damn sure they won’t all get read before the year ends. And before that, I set a goal ten things I wanted to bake over winter break. I finished three.

These are just a couple of examples of years and years of setting and then failing to achieve goals. And every time I recycle one of those unfinished to-do lists, I feel a slight pang of guilt. But mostly I feel like it doesn’t matter. And then I feel a little guilty because I worry I should feel like it matters. But then I come back around to feeling like it really, truly doesn’t matter. It’s an exhausting cycle.

I recently recognized that external motivators–deadlines, rewards, expectations, etc.–simply don’t motivate me. External motivators make me feel like a cartoon dog chasing after a sausage dangling from a stick. I am ornery. I do not need to be given sausage, and I would rather just walk when and if I feel like it. For me, goals are a kind of external motivation. The point is to set milestones that mark some kind of progress or to establish an endpoint where you can feel like you’ve accomplished something. There is supposed to be satisfaction that comes from reaching the end, from achieving the goal. Except that I could give a shit about milestones and endpoints. (Case in point: I have a high school diploma and two higher ed degrees and I have never walked in a graduation ceremony. Sounds boring.) When I think about it, it’s really not surprising that the things I like to do–knitting, baking, writing–all involve an intense focus on the process of actually bringing something into form. There is never joy in the end product unless there was also joy in the process.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because the semester is over, and the summer is now laid out before me and waiting to be planned. But more than that, I’ve finished coursework–the most structured part of my degree program–and am now moving on to tasks that require that I work more independently. On the one hand, I am excited about the way that my time is becoming more my own since structure does not seem to suit me. But at the same time, I’m finding myself a little anxious about continuing to make progress and not just falling into the habit of waking up every morning and facebooking until my eyes bleed. Intellectually, I feel confident in my ability to the work that I need to do. But that nagging anxiety persists, and my first instinct is to try to quell it with goal-setting.

In the past week, I’ve set about a bazillion goals for myself: bake bread every weekend, knit a cardigan every month, teach myself to sew and then make 5 (or maybe 7? 10?) garments before the end of summer, practice yoga four times a week, figure out how to make the best possible iced tea yesterday. It all makes a girl feel a bit manic, you know? And the kicker is that none of these goals actually address the root of my anxiety.

Luckily, my second realization offered some calm. Writing, especially for school, stresses me out, and I’ve said over and over that I wish I could approach writing like I approach baking–with a general sense of fearlessness and appreciation for the process, no matter how tedious. I’m still working on getting there, but I’m also realizing that there may be a two-way relationship in which the way I approach writing might help me reign in the manic goal-making my crafting and baking efforts seem to spur on. When I write, I go through a drawn-out period of trying to think through things–you can call it invention, you can call it pre-writing, you can call it fucking around. Whatever. In this process I do some reading and some research. But more importantly, I find myself jotting down ideas and making lists of concepts or points on little slips of paper that I squirrel away and usually never dig up again. (See earlier comment about being disorganized.) Losing those little slips of paper doesn’t matter so much because I’m not actually capturing things that must go into whatever it is that I am working on. I’m not making a to-do list of writing tasks to accomplish and ideas to cover. What I’m doing is blowing the whole project up like a balloon, expanding it’s dimensions until it seems damn near impossible. The impossible, bloated version of the project is never meant to be the final vision–it’s really just an opportunity to recognize and capture the various dimensions and the various possibilities that a given project could take on. And that’s why just before it all explodes (and usually just as a deadline is whizzing by) I figure out what it is that I really want to talk about, what I really want to explore, what I really want to do. And then it’s on. So all of that list making I’ve been doing–the twelve cardigans I want to make, the bread recipes I want to give a run–aren’t meant to be a project in their own right, but rather a moment of trying to recognize the possibilities and figure out where I want to go from here.

I’m frankly not sure what these realizations amount to, although my sense is that they might be helpful in my ongoing struggle to cobble together a way of working that works (for lack of a better word) for me. Oh, and I should really stop setting goals and find some other way to use up those post-its.

In lieu of more definitive conclusions, I offer you this peanut butter fudge recipe, which was one of the three winter break recipes I managed to make and which has still not been blogged five months later. This recipe is ridiculously easy to make (no candy thermometer required!) and So. Damn. Good. You could make it without the ganache, but it’s hard to imagine turning down the peanut butter chocolate combo. Either way, it’s delicious and simple, unlike my relationship with goals.

Chocolate Glazed Peanut Butter Fudge (Adapted from Sweet Anna at Tasty Kitchen)

  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 5 large marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 c creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1 c chocolate chips
  1. Line an 8×8 pan with tin foil and grease the foil.
  2. In a saucepan, stir together the sugars, milk, and marshmallows. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and stir until sugars are dissolved and marshmallows are completely melted.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter and vanilla. Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared pan, and allow it to cool completely.
  4. For ganache, heat the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate chips in a small bowl and allow it to sit for a minute or two. Stir the mixture until smooth. Spread ganache evenly over cooled fudge.
  5. Refrigerate fudge for at least two hours. Using the edges of the foil, pull the fudge out of the pan and onto a cutting board and cut into 1″ pieces. Store fudge in an airtight container for up to a week (if it lasts that long).

The Chewy

I’m currently in the process of remixing this song. I will call my version “Fell in Love with a Cookie.” The Chewy, more specifically. I fell in love with the perfect chewy chocolate chip cookie.

We don’t have cable, but a while back I had the good fortune of stumbling on an internet conversation about an episode of Good Eats where, true to his food science nerdery, Alton Brown broke down the secret to achieving the perfectly textured chocolate chip cookie for your preferences–either thin, puffy, or chewy. Brilliant. I’ve talked about my preference for chewy cookies before, so you know I had to try his chewy recipe out. And I’m so glad I did.

I used to make cookies all the time–for a long time, they were pretty much the beginning and end of my baking repertoire. While I was in college, I would watch my youngest sister Sarah (who was 2 or 3 at the time) every Friday, and we would almost always make cookies together. (We would also do other things like wash the dishes together where she would inevitably dump water all over herself so she could wear one of my shirts and use the coin-operated dryer at the end of the building. Or play make-believe games where Sarah insisted on being ‘the mom’ or ‘the teacher’ so she could boss me around. I tell you, this kid was born with attitude in spades.) Sarah was an active kitchen helper and always got frustrated when I wouldn’t let her crack the eggs into the bowl. She’d put one hand on her hip, try to grab at the eggs with the other and yell, “I can do it by my own!” The one time she did manage to grab the eggs from me, she dropped them on the floor and then immediately looked at me and said, “It’s your fault.”

Anyway, when I started grad school, I had some kind of cookie amnesia where I seemed to lose track of all my good cookie recipes. I lost the cookie touch. And then when I started baking more seriously, the cookies I made just seemed to pale in comparison to other more delicious items I was making. Cookie recipes are a dime a dozen, and it seems like a lot of them yield good, not great, cookies. Good is not really good enough for me. I had just resolved to start a hunt for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe when Alton Brown’s recipe appeared before my eyes and the search ended before it had even begun. I’ve made this recipe three times in the past month and even Aidan has jumped in to help with the cookie making–this is how serious we are in our love for these cookies.

The Chewy

There are a couple of things that make this recipe distinct from your run-of-the-mill, back-of-the-chips-bag cookie recipe. First, the call for bread flour, which has a higher gluten content to increase the “chewy” factor. (Incidentally, Brown also did a show focused on substitutions where he featured a gluten-free version of The Chewy.) Rather than the 1-1 ratio of brown sugar to granulated sugar that appears in most chocolate cookie recipes, this recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups of brown sugar to only a 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, which results in a richer flavor. The first step of the recipe also calls for melting the butter rather merely softening it and then directs you to chill the dough before baking. And besides yielding truly delicious cookies, it’s the butter content that makes me love this recipe even more–the fact that you can get truly chewy cookie with an all-butter cookie recipe is heartening. Keep your shortening! I don’t want it.

Have any GREAT, not good, cookie recipes to share?

The Chewy (Adapted from Alton Brown)

The original recipe says it yields 2 1/2 dozen cookies, but Aidan and I have been using an ice cream scoop to make really big cookies. With an ice cream scoop, we get more like 16-18 huge cookies. The original recipe also lists the bake time as 14 minutes, which I’ve found too long. 11-12 minutes is more like it in my experience.

  • 2 sticks (1 c) unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 c bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 bag chocolate chips
  1. Melt the butter in the microwave or in a small saucepan over low heat.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
  3. Using an electric mixer, cream together the melted butter and the sugars. (It takes a bit longer than you might expect to incorporate all the liquid from the melted butter. It will look a lot like caramel when you’re done.) Add in the egg and egg yolk, the milk, and the vanilla, beating until well incorporated.
  4. Gradually add in the dry ingredients, mixing until blended. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  5. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill the dough for about an hour.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and scoop 6 cookies onto the pan. Bake the cookies for 11-12 minutes (see the note above). Allow them to cool on the pan for a minute before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.