Lemon Bundt Cake

We had some friends over for dinner at the end of February and decided to try to will spring into existence by making turkey club sandwiches and this lemon bundt cake. We’re just now getting to the point where we have the occasional 40 degree day, so the whole “willing spring” thing didn’t work. But the cake was excellent.

Lemon Bundt Cake via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Looking for a lemon bundt cake recipe turned out to be a little bit of an ordeal. I came across a lot of recipes that either called for weird ingredients like lemon jello mix or were basically a doctored lemon cake mix. Everyone has their own baking perogatives, and using lemon jello in a cake batter just isn’t one of mine. I also found a lot of recipes that rely on lemon extract for an infusion of lemon flavor, which is better than the above options, but still not great. I’ve made cakes with lemon extract before and haven’t been completely happy with the result.

This recipe originally comes from Cooks Illustrated, which you know means that it has some kind of trick up it’s sleeve to get good lemon flavor from, you know, actual lemons. The recipe has you mince your lemon zest to release a little extra flavor and then soak the zest in fresh lemon juice to amp the flavor up even more. It’s kind of brilliant. With this lemon zest/juice mixture added in, you end up with a cake with a definite lemon taste that’s light and fresh. Then when the cake comes out of the oven, you load it up with a double coat of glaze to give the cake some real tang. I would recommend making this a day in advance if you have the time/the willpower to resist. The flavor and texture of the cake both improve with time.

Lemon Bundt Cake via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com 

I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, so I soured some whole milk with (obviously) some lemon juice. The cake turned out well, but the glaze tasted a bit flat so once the glaze was at the right consistency, I whisked in 2 tbsp of melted butter. The butter isn’t necessary, but I thought it improved the flavor of the glaze. I don’t know if it would be necessary if you were using buttermilk—I look forward to trying this recipe again with buttermilk to find out.

Also: I ate this cake every morning for breakfast until it was gone. I regret nothing.

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Lemon Bundt Cake (originally from Cooks Illustrated, found via Carnal Dish)

Note: You’ll need 5-6 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice for this recipe. You should be able to get all the juice you need from the 3 lemons you will zest for the cake, but it wouldn’t hurt to buy a 4th lemon just to be safe.

For the cake:

  • Zest of 3 lemons
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 18 tbsp (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 c sugar

For the glaze:

  • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp buttermilk
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a bundt pan.
  2. Mince the lemon zest until it resembles a fine paste. Combine the zest with the lemon juice in a small bowl and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, combine the lemon juice mixture, the vanilla, and the buttermilk. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolk.
  4. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low and add 1/3 of the flour mixture, beating until just combined. Add in half of the buttermilk mixture and beat to combine. Repeat, alternating the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture until all the ingredients have been combined. Be careful not to over-mix—use a rubber spatula to incorporate any lingering flour.
  5. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared bundt pan. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, about 45-50.
  6. While the cake is baking, whisk together the ingredients for the glaze, starting with 2 tbsp of lemon juice and adding more gradually until the glaze is thick but pourable.
  7. When the cake is done baking, allow it to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, invert the cake directly onto the wire rack. Place a plate or pan beneath the rack and drizzle half of the glaze over the cake. Allow the cake to cool on the rack for an hour. Drizzle the remaining glaze over the top of the cake and continue to cool until the cake is room temperature.
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Beer Bread

The first and only other time I’ve made beer bread, I used a mix that someone gave me as a gift. I don’t remember what kind of mix it was or what kind of beer I used to make it, but while other people really loved the bread, I thought it tasted pretty flat. So when I decided to make beer bread again, I wanted to make sure it had plenty of flavor.

Beer bread via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

 

For this bread, I found a very simple, no-nonsense recipe on Food.com that had a lot of good reviews. I decided to use a bottle of Sam Adams Boston and swapped 1 c of all-purpose flour with 3/4 c of white whole wheat flour. (I had planned to use regular whole wheat flour, but it turned out that I only had white whole wheat on hand.) Thanks to the myriad wonders of winter-time artificial kitchen light, the bread looks a touch neon in these photos, but I was really surprised by the deep golden color the crust and crumb had when they came out of the oven.

This is a hearty bread with a dense, chewy crust. Because of its texture, you have to be careful about the way you measure and mix your flour or you’ll end up with a loaf of bread that’s more like a brick. The original recipe recommends sifting the flour, but since I don’t have a sifter, I make sure to scoop my flour into a measuring cup with a spoon and then gently level it off with a knife. Either of these methods will help ensure that you don’t throw off the proportion of dry-to-wet ingredients. As you mix the batter, you also want to be careful to only stir until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Once I had mixed most of the dry ingredients, I actually stopped stirring and started gently turning the batter over in the bowl to find and incorporate any remaining dry areas. Even taking into account those few careful steps, it only takes a couple of minutes to mix the batter up and throw it in the oven.

Beer Bread via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

 

This bread was really excellent–a major improvement from the first beer bread I made. The combination of the whole wheat flour and the lager gave it a rich, deep flavor that had a hint of sweetness balanced with just a touch of bitterness at the end. This particular version of this recipe would go really well with a bowl or chili or beef stew. Next time, I want to try using a lighter beer, cutting back a bit on the sugar, and stirring in some cheddar cheese and scallions.

I’m curious: if you’ve made beer bread, what’s your favorite beer to use?

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Beer Bread (adapted from Food.com)

  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat, but regular whole wheat would also work)
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c of sugar
  • 12 oz can or bottle of lager (I used Sam Adams Boston)
  • 1/4 c butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and grease a 9×5″ loaf pan.
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Pour the beer over the dry mixture (it will foam a lot at first, but it will calm down quickly) and stir together with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are just incorporated. Be careful not to over-mix.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and spread it evenly in the pan. Pour the melted butter over the top of the batter.
  4. Bake for 1 hour, until the crust is golden brown and a tester inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Let the bread cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before cutting.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

This has been the kind of week that demands comfort food and one of my favorite comfort foods is an oatmeal cookie. (Or rather, 2-3 oatmeal cookies.) It’s never a popular choice, but I actually love the classic oatmeal raisin cookie with it’s chewy texture and cinnamon flavor and it’s little bursts of fruity sweetness. But my all-time favorite cookie, hands down, is an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I know I’ve said it before, but I think people really undervalue the wonder that is an oatmeal cookie because, I suspect, the assume that oatmeal cookies only come with raisins. But the power of the baker is the fact that you can put anything you damn well please in your cookie batter. And the wonder of oatmeal as a cookie ingredient is that it gives the prized crispy-at-the-edges-chewy-in-the-center texture with very little effort.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

There are all kinds of recipes for the “perfect” chocolate chip cookie that can involve extra steps or unconventional ingredients. I really like Alton Brown’s “Chewy” recipe, which relies on the use of bread flour, a higher ratio of brown-to-white sugar, and the use of an egg yolk rather than a whole egg. It’s a great recipe that yields fantastic cookies, but it takes a bit more work and a bit more brain power than I always want to put in. If you’re looking at all these “perfect” chocolate chip cookie recipes and you’re thinking “who has the time?” I say: try oatmeal. Not only do you get that coveted chewy texture with less futzing, but if you use rolled oats, you’re baking with whole grains. Feel free to eat those cookies for breakfast. You’re welcome.

I think I’m going to need to make a batch of these this weekend. Here’s to a better week!

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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from BettyCrocker.com)

Note: This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.

  • 1 1/2 c packed brown sugar
  • 1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 c quick-cooking or rolled oats (I used rolled)
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 12 oz chocolate chips (I like to use semi-sweet)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. With an electric mixer, cream together the brown sugar and butter. Add in the vanilla and the egg and beat until fluffy. Add in the oats, flour, baking soda, and salt, mixing until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  3. Using a cookie scoop or tablespoon, drop dough onto an un-greased cookie sheet, leaving about 2” of space between each cookie. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.  Let the cookies sit on the pan for a minute or two before transferring them to a wire cooling rack.

Salted Caramel Brownies

I try to make it a rule not to buy specialty ingredients for a single recipe, especially if it’s a rather expensive ingredient. But sometimes you stumble across a recipe that makes you forget your guiding baking principles. For this recipe, that ingredient was a $9 jar of flaked sea salt. It was worth it given that these brownies fall squarely in the “to die for” category of baked goods, and I think the salt makes a difference—it has just the right flavor and just the right balance of bitterness that having salt on your brownies tastes wonderfully intentional rather than a terrible baking error. I’ve made these brownies twice now: once for a department potluck and once for a small dinner with friends. They were a hit both times—in fact, the second time, our party of four managed to kill half the pan in a single sitting.

Salted Caramel Brownies via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

These are a grown-up brownie. By that, I don’t mean that kids won’t like them, but I do mean that they hit a very different note than your typical brownie. These are a rich, fudgy brownie with a dark, deep chocolate flavor that is brought out by the coffee called for in the recipe. (Okay, I admit it. I also bought instant coffee just to make these brownies. I regret nothing.) The addition of both the caramel and the salt help to really bring out the bitter flavor in the chocolate, which means that if you are a fan of dark chocolate, you’ll probably also be a fan of these brownies. This a dessert for people who really love chocolate and for people who shy-away from overly sweet things. The basic brownie recipe from the back of the King Arthur flour bag is still my go-to, but these brownies are running a very close second.

Flaked Sea Salt

Now that I have a 9$ jar of specialty salt sitting in the cupboard, every time I think about baking now I wonder: should I make the brownies? I will, of course, keep making these brownies because they are fantastic. But if you’ve got any other recipes or recommended uses for flaked sea salt, I’m eager to hear them!

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Salted Caramel Brownies (Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa)

Note: This recipe makes a 9×13″ pan of brownies, which can be cut into 12 generous slices or 24 smaller servings, making this a good recipe to make when baking for a crowd. My flaked sea salt had some very big flakes in it, so I crushed it between my fingers a bit while I was sprinkling it on the brownies.

  • 2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter
  • 8 oz plus 6 oz Hershey’s semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tbsp instant coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 c plus 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 c plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 5-6 oz of caramel sauce
  • 2-3 tsp flaked sea salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease and 9×13” baking pan.
  2. Melt the butter, 8 oz of chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently to prevent burning. When the mixture is completely melted and smooth, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  3. While the chocolate cools, stir together the eggs, coffee, vanilla, and sugar in a large mixing bowl using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. In a separate bowl, whisk together the 1/2 c of flour, baking powder, and salt.
  4. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Then stir in the flour mixture. With both steps, stir just long enough to fully combine the ingredients. Coat the remaining chocolate chips with the reserved 2 tbsp of flour and then add them to the batter. Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
  5. Bake for 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  6. As soon as the brownies are out of the oven, warm the caramel sauce until it’s a consistency that will allow for drizzling. Drizzle the caramel over the brownies (be generous!) and then sprinkle with sea salt, crushing the salt between your fingers a bit if there are very large flakes. Allow the brownies to cool completely before cutting.

Cinnamon Rolls

I tried making cinnamon rolls two Christmases ago, and they didn’t rise enough and didn’t bake evenly so that rolls in the middle of the pan were too doughy to eat. It was one of my more demoralizing baking experiences and put me off of cinnamon rolls until this past Christmas when I decided, rather spontaneously, to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast while we were staying with my dad. Since I had seven people to feed, I’m very happy to report that these turned out great. To quote my dad: “These are the best damn cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had.”

Cinnamon Rolls via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

These rolls are an adaptation of the Cranberry-Orange Breakfast Buns from Smitten Kitchen. Since these were a last-minute decision (at least, about as last-minute as you can get with a yeasted breakfast dish) and since I was at my dad’s house in the middle of nowhere, I had to do a bit of improvising with the recipe beyond simply using it to make classic cinnamon rolls. I didn’t have any buttermilk so I made sour milk with vinegar. My dad only had active dry yeast, so I proofed it in some warm milk and a pinch of sugar before mixing it with the other ingredients. We were short on eggs, so based on one of the tips at the end of the original recipe, I swapped two of the egg yolks for a single, whole egg.

The biggest challenge was that my dad didn’t have any powdered sugar on hand. I ended up dissolving granulated sugar into some milk, adding a splash of vanilla and a sprinkling of cinnamon in the process. My improvised glaze was still a bit grainy, but it worked well enough and definitely didn’t detract from what ended up being a fantastic batch of cinnamon rolls.

The view from my dad's back yard--the benefit of living in the middle of nowhere. (Photo taken by Aidan.)

The view from my dad’s back yard–the benefit of living in the middle of nowhere. (Photo taken by Aidan.)

I think of cinnamon rolls as a special occasion food—not the kind of thing you’d eat on a daily basis—and to that end, these were exactly what they should have been: soft, rich, and gooey. They are, of course, sweet, but not the kind of super-sweet that will hurt your teeth or your stomach. This recipe also makes it easy to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast without waking up four hours earlier than everyone else. You mix up and knead the dough the night before, let it rise, roll out and form the cinnamon rolls, and then let the cinnamon rolls rise in the pan overnight in the refrigerator. The original recipe tells you to remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let them sit on the counter for 30 minutes before baking. I wasn’t happy with how much they had risen at the end of the 30 minutes, so I left them sitting on the counter for a full hour before putting them in the oven. The rolls rose beautifully in the oven and baked very evenly.

Cinnamon Rolls via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

This recipe is so good it’s going straight to my best-hits list. I can’t wait to make these again. And again. And again.

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Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

This recipe makes a dozen cinnamon rolls. Although I improvised a glaze using granulated sugar, I’ve included the ingredients for a basic powdered sugar glaze that I’ve used before and would use again the next time I make these.

For the dough:

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 6 tbsp butter, melted
  • 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 3 3/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 packet instant dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt

For the Filling:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 3/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon

For the Glaze:

  • 1 1/3 c powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp milk

 

  1. In a stand mixer, beat together the egg yolk, whole eggs, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and the salt and mix together until just combined. Add the remaining 1 ¾ c of flour. Using the dough hook, let the mixer knead the dough on low speed for 5-7 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth, and moist. The dough should still be a bit tacky to the touch, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise at room temperature until doubled (2-2.5 hours).
  2. When the dough has finished rising, butter a 9×13 baking dish. (The original recipe recommends a ceramic or glass dish, but I had good luck with a basic aluminum cake pan.) Turn the dough out on a floured counter and roll it into a rectangle approximately 18 inches wide and 12 inches long. Roll the dough out so that the widest part of the dough is facing you. Brush the melted butter on the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the brown sugar and then with the cinnamon.
  3. Starting with the side of the dough farthest away from you, roll the dough tightly into an 18”-long spiral. (The best way to get a tight roll is to simply go slowly, making sure to keep the dough taut all the way across as you roll.) Using a serrated knife or dental floss, cut the log into 12 pieces—each piece should be about 1.5” wide. Place the rolls in the prepared baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. (The original recipe says that you can chill the rolls for up to 16 hours.)
  4. In the morning, take the rolls out of the refrigerator and let them sit on the counter for 30-60 minutes before baking. (I let mine sit for a full hour, but I think my dad’s kitchen was rather cold.) While the rolls sit, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When the rolls are ready, bake them for 30 minutes, until they’re raised and golden. If you’re a sucker for precision, they should have an internal temperature of 190 degrees F.
  5. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack. Whisk together the ingredients for the glaze and drizzle over the rolls. Serve while they’re still warm and gooey!

Buttermilk Biscuits

For me, winter is all about comfort foods and biscuits are one of my favorite comfort foods. Biscuits for breakfast? Love it. Topped with honey or apple butter or jam? I’ll have a biscuit with each. With sausage gravy? Yes, please. Served on the side of a great bowl of soup? Yes, again and again.

Buttermilk Biscuits via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I went through several failed batches of biscuits before I came across this recipe from Smitten Kitchen. A lot of biscuit recipes call for things like self-rising flour and shortening, neither of which I keep on hand, and I hate buying special ingredients for just one recipe. (Although I totally admit to buying some rather expensive flaked sea salt to make some salted caramel brownies. Everyone makes exceptions, right?) In addition to using ingredients I tend to have on hand, this recipe comes together easily and makes the best homemade biscuits I’ve ever had.

Like a lot of quick breads, biscuits are best when served warm shortly after they are baked. This recipe doesn’t make a ton of biscuits (I think I usually get just short of a dozen), but it does make more than Aidan and I can eat in a single sitting. If you want to avoid leftover biscuits, you can mix up the dough, cut out the biscuits, bake what you’ll eat, and then freeze the rest of the biscuits. I’ve done this by placing the biscuit rounds on a baking sheet in the freezer for about 45 minutes and then transferring them to a freezer bag. You can bake the the biscuits from the freezer, but you may need to add a couple of extra minutes to the bake time.

Buttermilk Biscuits via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

I’ve started compiling a list of my tried-and-true recipes for traditional, crave-worthy baked goods here on the blog. These biscuits are getting added to my archive of Recipes to Live By. I promise that every recipe on the list has been tested (and widely approved) time and again, and I give them all an enthusiastic 5-star rating. Peruse the list and enjoy.

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Buttermilk Biscuits (via Smitten Kitchen)

  • 2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 9 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 c buttermilk
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the top of the flour mixture and, using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a course meal. Add the buttermilk and stir until large clumps begin to form. Gently knead the mixture in the bowl until it just comes together. In general, you want to be careful about overworking the dough or you’ll end up with tough biscuits.
  3. Dump the dough out onto a floured counter and pat into a circle until the dough is about 1/2” thick. Using an inverted drinking glass or round cookie cutter, cut biscuit rounds out. To prevent sticking, I like to dip the edges of the glass in a little pile of flour before cutting each biscuit. When you cut the biscuits out, press straight down without twisting—this will help you get a better rise. Transfer the biscuits to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Leave about two inches of space between each biscuit.
  4. Bake the biscuits for 12 to 15 minutes, until they are golden brown on top. Allow them to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Apple Cinnamon Scones

My semester is done! I’ve powered through the stack of final exams, tallied the final grades, and pushed all the papers that need pushing to wrap up the last 15 weeks of teaching. Of course, I’m still writing and researching and generally chipping away at my dissertation, but the end of the semester means a bit more time for sewing, holiday baking, and catching up on some blog posts.

Apple Cinnamon Scones via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

These scones were a last minute addition to our Thanksgiving menu when I decided the day before that I’d like something special for breakfast Thanksgiving morning. I wanted to use some apples that we had on hand and Aidan wanted scones, and thus began the hunt for an appropriate recipe. I’ve made these apple cinnamon scones from King Arthur Flour before, and they were excellent. Unfortunately, the recipe calls for several ingredients that I didn’t have on hand, and there was no part of me that was willing to brave the grocery store just for scones. Since sour cream was the best liquid I had on hand (it’s weird to think of sour cream as a liquid, but it functions as one in baking), I started looking for a sour cream scone recipe that I could tweak a bit to make apple scones.

Apple Cinnamon Scones via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Ultimately, I ended up adapting a recipe from The Kitchn for Sour Cream Strawberry Scones. I omitted the brown sugar crumble topping called for in the recipe, swapped the strawberries for a chopped apple, and added some cinnamon to the batter. In the end, these scones turned out well and were a great way to kick off our holiday. The sour cream gives them a good flavor and a nice, tender texture. They are only slightly sweet—appropriate for breakfast and not the kind of scone that you would mistake for dessert. If you like a sweeter scone, it would be easy to add a bit more sugar. Perhaps 1/2 a cup instead of 1/4. Using the crumble called for in the original recipe might also make the scones a bit sweeter. The next time I make these, I might also toss the chopped apple in a cinnamon sugar mix before adding them to the batter. Regardless, this is a solid recipe. And the best part is that you can make these scones the night before—just mix up the batter, shape the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and keep them in the refrigerator overnight. I’m looking forward to making it with strawberries when winter is over—perhaps as a way to celebrate the end of the spring semester!

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Apple Cinnamon Scones (adapted from The Kitchn)

  • 2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 c sour cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 medium apple, chopped

For the topping:

  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  1. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles a course meal.
  2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the sour cream, egg, and vanilla. Add the sour cream mix to the flour mix and, using a wooden spoon or spatula, fold the sour cream mix into the dry mix. When almost all of the flour has been incorporated, turn the dough out onto counter.
  3. Gently pat the dough into a rectangle and sprinkle half of the chopped apple over the surface of the dough. Fold the dough in half and again pat it into a rectangle. Sprinkle the second half of the apples over the surface of the dough and fold the dough in half a second time.
  4. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pat the dough into a large disk about 1” thick. Place the pan in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
  5. Half an hour before baking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the sugar and cinnamon for the topping. When the oven is fully heated, brush the top of the dough with some milk and generously sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the dough. Using a bench scraper, knife, or pizza cutter, cut the scone dough into 8 wedges. Pull the scones apart so that there is at least an inch between each scone.
  6. Bake the scones for 18-20 minutes until they are golden brown and the sides of the scones are firm. Allow them to sit on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring the scones to a wire rack. The scones are best served warm.

Spicy Pumpkin Pie

In the past, I’ve made two different pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving: the fail-safe recipe that comes on the back of the Libby’s pumpkin can and the crowd-pleasing candied pecan pumpkin pie recipe I’ve shared on the blog before. For both of these recipes, I’ve always used canned pumpkin, and doing so has always produced excellent results. I had heard that making your own pumpkin puree could have uneven results and it just didn’t seem worth the bother, especially since I have tasted too many pies made with homemade puree that were not good at all. (Side note: these terrible pies were always made by a special breed of foodie whose righteous fervor for whole,organic, locally sourced ingredients is inversely proportional to their ability to cook. Am I the only one who has encountered this kind of person before?)

I was talking to someone once about making pie for Thanksgiving and when I said that I used canned pumpkin, this person was overcome with a look that was some mix of betrayal and indignation that was so strong that I was convinced that they must think that I used a canned pumpkin pie filling. But no—they just couldn’t fathom that, as someone passionate about baking, I would deign to use canned pumpkin. Oy.

Yes, the pie is reading Mother Jones. Ignore the chewed up part around the edge, which was due to a dumb error on the part of the baker.

Ignore the chewed up part around the edge, which was due to the clumsy hands of the baker.

Last year was the first time I experimented with making a pie with fresh pumpkin. We bought a sugar pumpkin at the beginning of fall because our godson was obsessed with pumpkins. Basically, we bought a pumpkin just so we could watch him carry his tiny pumpkin around the apartment saying “da puh-kin” over and over. After a few weeks, Aidan suggested that we might actually use the pumpkin for something, so I roasted and pureed it following the instructions at Oh She Glows and then baked it into a pie using a Cooks Illustrated recipe that calls for cooking the pumpkin mixture down before baking the pie. The result turned out to be easily the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever made. At first, I just assumed that this was because I had used a different, better recipe. But when Thanksgiving rolled around, I made the same recipe with canned pumpkin and while it was really good, it lacked a certain something that kept it from being the kind of out-of-this-world pie that the first one was. I made this recipe again this year with fresh pumpkin and even though I was a teaspoon short on ground ginger, the pie was excellent.

Fresh Pumpkin Puree via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

And so, since then, my feelings about the canned vs. fresh pumpkin debate have been complicated. Fresh pumpkin can be a wonderful thing, but it’s not the only way to go and it’s not without it’s complications. Canned pumpkin make a really good pie. And what’s more, it’s reliable and does not involve the extra prep work and planning that making your own puree involves. Making your own puree isn’t difficult, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t kind of a PITA, especially if you’re in a high-stakes baking situation or juggling the preparation of lots of different dishes (hello, Thanksgiving).

But making a good puree depends on getting good pumpkins. You need the little ones that are called sugar pumpkins or pie pumpkins. One of the aforementioned terrible pies was made by one of the aforementioned cooking-inept foodies who could recite the many virtues of spelt flour but did not understand that different varieties of pumpkins have different uses. Getting good pumpkins might also involve buying them earlier in the season, and possibly even processing them and freezing the puree ahead of time, to make sure that you aren’t left choosing from a selection of picked-over, dried-out, late-season pumpkins. (I’ll be honest—I bought a can of back-up pumpkin in case the pumpkin we bought this year turned out to be crappy.)

And finally, the biggest issue with fresh puree is that it tends to be more watery than canned puree, and the extra liquid will throw the proportions of your pie filling out of whack. After I pureed my pumpkin, I let it sit in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl for 30 minutes. At the end, I had roughly 2.5 cups of puree and nearly a cup of liquid that had drained away. Draining the pumpkin is often listed as an “optional, but recommended” step to making fresh puree. Looking at that cup of liquid, I’m not sure how optional it is if you want good results.

drained pumpkin puree liquid

In addition to straining the puree to get rid of any excess liquid, cooking the pumpkin down a bit also helps improve the final texture of your pie. That’s one of many reasons why I really love this Cooks Illustrated recipe. While cooking the filling before baking involves some extra steps and dirties a pan, the result is a wonderfully smooth, rich texture.  And while I’m kind of moony-eyed about how this pie turns out with fresh pumpkin, this recipe also works wonderfully with canned pumpkin. This pie has great flavor. If you compare the ingredients list to other pumpkin pie recipes, you might expect the amount of spice in this pie recipe to be overwhelming. It’s definitely well-spiced but it’s not too much—the spices just make a pumpkin pie that tastes truly decadent and rich. The original recipe uses a traditional pie crust, but I like to make pumpkin pie in a graham cracker crust. There are lots of benefits to a graham cracker crust: 1) it’s a delicious flavor compliment to the pie filling, 2) it’s quicker and less fussy than making a traditional crust, and 3) you can invite your favorite toddler over to share the leftover crackers and watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and, in under an hour, you will have made a best friend for life.

I hope you had an excellent Thanksgiving with plenty of good pie!

Spicy Pumpkin Pie via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

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Spicy Pumpkin Pie (crust adapted from Martha Stewart, filling adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Recipe notes: The recipe calls for using a food processor to mix the filling. Each time I’ve made this recipe, I’ve used my food processor with good results. If you don’t have a food processor, you could definitely use a blender, but I don’t see why you couldn’t also use an electric mixer. It might result in a slightly different texture, but I’d be surprised if it were a significant difference. The key thing would be to make sure that you have the mixer going as you start to pour the pumpkin mixture into the eggs so that you don’t scramble your eggs. This is easy enough if you have a stand mixer. If you only have a hand-held mixer, you probably want to enlist a kitchen helper.

In my experience, this recipe makes more filling than will actually fill a regular 9” pie plate. Last Thanksgiving, I increased the graham cracker crust recipe by 50% and made the pie in a spring form pan instead (as if I were making a cheesecake).  This is a good route to go if you like a higher filling-to-crust ratio but it doesn’t look very traditional. You could also pick up a package of pre-made miniature graham cracker pie shells and fill them with your left overs. You could keep your mini-pies as a gift to yourself, but giving a kid their own personal mini pie is another way to make a fast friend. Of course, you would need to adjust the baking times accordingly for either of these options.

For the crust:

  • 12 graham crackers (or 1.5 c of graham cracker crumbs)
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • A pinch of salt (skip this if you use salted butter)

For the filling:

  • 2 c of fresh pumpkin puree or 1 15 oz can of plain pumpkin
  • 1 c dark brown sugar (packed)
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 c heavy cream
  • 2/3 c milk
  • 4 large eggs
  1. To make the crust, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Pulse the graham crackers in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Melt the butter and drizzle over the crumbs. Add in the sugar and salt, if using. Pulse the ingredients together until combined. Dump the mixture into a 9” pie plate and press firmly into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes.
  2. When the crust is done baking, turn the oven up to 400 degrees F.
  3. To make the filling, pulse the pumpkin, dark brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt together in a food processor for about a minute. Pour the pumpkin mixture into a medium sauce pan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once the mixture starts sputtering, continue to cook for another five minutes, stirring constantly to keep the mixture from burning. The pumpkin mixture will be thick and shiny.
  4. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream and milk. I do this in batches, adding half the cream, whisking to combine, adding the rest of the cream, whisking, and then repeating the process with the milk. Return the pumpkin mix to and heat it through, removing it from the heat as soon as it begins to simmer.
  5. Pulse the eggs in the food processor to combine the whites and yolks. With the processor running, slowly pour about half of the pumpkin mixture into the eggs. (I transferred half of the pumpkin to a glass measuring cup for this step for more controlled pouring.) Stop the food processor and add the rest of the pumpkin mixture to the egg mixture. Pulse the filling until everything is mixed well.
  6. Carefully pour the filling into your prepared crust, being careful not to overfill the crust. The pie will settle a bit while baking. After the pie has been in the oven for about 5 minutes, you can carefully ladle some of the excess filling into the pie.
  7. Bake the pie at 400 degrees F for about 25 minutes, until the filling is puffy and appears dry. The filling should still wiggle at the center if you gently shake the pie. Allow the pie to cool on a wire rack.

Peanut Butter Pie

It took me a year to get around to posting about the Lemon Angel Food Cake that I made Aidan for his last birthday. This year, I’m really upping my game and posting about his birthday treat from this year a mere 10 days after the fact. I am on the ball.

This year, Aidan requested a peanut butter pie, which is significantly easier to make than last year’s angel food cake. Peanut butter pie is the kind of thing that is very accessible even for the non-baker. If you use a pre-made crust, then the only thing you need to do is mix together the ingredients for the filling and let the pie set—no baking required at all. The only important thing to remember when it comes to peanut butter pie is that you can’t use natural peanut butter. You have to use the super creamy, sweetened stuff that you’d spread on super soft white bread. We’re making dessert here.

Peanut Butter Pie via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

The trickiest thing about making this particular recipe is that you make your own whipped cream to fold into the filling at the very end (just to make it a bit lighter in texture). But making whipped cream isn’t difficult—it just takes some time. You can make your life a little easier by chilling your bowl and beaters ahead of time and by making sure that your cream is nice and cold. Really, I highly recommend making your own whipped cream whenever you can, not because I am a whipped cream snob, but because it is a fantastic party trick. Based on my own carefully collected scientific data, pulling out homemade whipped cream to top whatever pie/cake/dessert-ish thing you’ve made for your friends will increase positive reactions and praise by a minimum of 83%. People will act like you are Julia Child come back to bless the people with the gift of good food. And all the while you (and your more whipped-cream savvy friends) will know that you just threw that shit in the mixer and let it go for a few minutes while you sipped a cup of coffee.

Peanut Butter Pie via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

For the filling, I used a recipe from the most recent issue of Food Network Magazine because it was close by and seemed very similar to recipes I’ve used in the past. The original recipe calls for a graham cracker crust and for melting chocolate chips and spreading the melted chocolate on the bottom of the pie crust. At Aidan’s request, I substituted an Oreo crust and then decided to spread some fudge sauce on the bottom of the crust. Before serving the pie, I topped it with some chopped cocktail peanuts and drizzled some more fudge sauce over the top. The end result was excellent and very rich—a great way to celebrate the birth of my favorite person.

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Peanut Butter Pie (adapted from Nov. 2013 issue of Food Network Magazine)

  • 24 Oreos
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 jar of fudge sauce (not chocolate syrup)
  • 1/4 c heavy cream
  • 1 c creamy peanut butter (not natural peanut butter)
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 c whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 c confectioners’ sugar
  • Optional: Chopped cocktail peanuts for topping

Directions:

  1. To make the crust, preheat oven to 350F. Place Oreos in food processor and pulse until you have fine crumbs and the cream filling has completely disappeared into the cookie crumbs. Melt the butter and drizzle over the cookie crumbs. Mix until the crumbs are evenly coated with butter. Dump the crumb mixture into a pie plate and use your fingers or the back of a spoon to evenly press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pie plate. Bake  for 6-7 minutes. Allow pie crust to cool on a wire rack.
  2. Warm the fudge sauce up enough so that it has a spreadable consistency. Spread a thin layer of fudge sauce on the bottom of pie crust. Allow the pie crust to continue to cool as you make the filling.
  3. Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form. (This will be easier if the cream is very cold and the bowl and beaters are chilled ahead of time.) Place whipped cream in the refrigerator until you are ready to add it to the filling.
  4. Beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, milk, and vanilla together until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar 1/4 c at a time and mix on low until incorporated after every addition.
  5. Fold half of the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture until incorporated. Repeat with the second half of the whipped cream. Spoon the filling into the cooled pie crust, smooth the top of the pie, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set (at least 3 hours). Optional: Top pie with chopped peanuts and drizzle additional fudge sauce over the top of the pie before serving.

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.