Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Foodie Friday: Glazed Apricot Bars

These bars were a bona fide hit over the holidays.  Sweet, but not too sweet. Moist, but firm.  Easy to make a large pan of them….and they freeze well.  They’re not really a Christmas cookie, but they were special enough to add to my holiday plate of cookies and sweets:


The original recipe was in metric measurements, but don’t worry – I’ve converted it for those of us who don’t measure our butter or flour in grams or our temperature in Centigrade (and if you want to try the original recipe, note that 180C is 350 F, not 250!).  I also doubled the recipe to make a full jelly roll size pan.  And finally, I opted for a family favorite apricot glaze instead of the plain glaze it called for. Love.

Glazed Apricot Bars

1 1 /2 cups butter, slightly softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
2 cup flour
1 1/2 cup dried flaked coconut
16 ounces dried apricots, diced

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray jelly roll (12×17 or 11×18) pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper; spray again.  In large bowl, cream butter and sugar at low speed until well-blended. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Add all remaining ingredients until combined. Pour into pan and spread evenly. Bake for 30-40 minutes. Once cooled, frost with a glaze.

Apricot Glaze

2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons softened butter

Combine in mixing bowl and beat until well-blended. Spread over bars.  It will become tacky, but never completely harden.

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Not THAT list…I leave those calls to the big guy in the red suit.  This is my Christmas confectionary list.  I’ve always loved eating and making sweet treats, so this is the most wonderful time of the year, for me anyway.

This year’s list is a little more ambitious than last, which centered around the tried-and-true recipes of Christmases past.

A few of the standards, like apple cider caramels, pralines, chocolate walnut fudge, toffee for Middle Son and divinity (weather permitting), along with the must-make almond crescents have made the annual cut.  But several new recipes are on my radar (Pinterest) screen, like

Shortbread, both traditional for Swimmer Girl and Double Dark Chocolate
Hidden Treasure Cookies
Apricot Bars
Sugar Cookie Bars with Peppermint Frosting
Sweet ‘n Salty Peanut Butter Cookies
Caramel Shortbread Bars
Red Velvet Peppermint Crinkles
Cinnabon Fudge

All-told, about a baker’s dozen different treats will be making their way into freezer containers and eventually piled onto trays for neighbors, Mr. Official’s work group, and a few friends.  The rest will get eaten by us…some will undoubtedly get filched out of the freezer by sneaky eaters, while others will be served at the end of family dinners.

So what’s on YOUR Christmas list this year?

Happy baking!

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I had intended to post this recipe earlier this month, but time to blog dried up like our pond for a couple weeks.  The pond is still dry, and today I post this with bittersweet feelings:  the very sweet friend who shared this recipe with me is moving with her family to Virginia today.  They are precious people and I wish them the very best in this new adventure, but they will be sorely missed here.

This cake is somewhere between cake and coffee cake (which means a slice is equally good with a cup of coffee after dinner or with the first cup of the morning.)  The cinnamon and glaze is reminiscent of honeybuns, especially if the cake is slightly warm.

Jennifer’s Honeybun Cake

1 box yellow cake mix (Jennifer recommends Duncan Hines)
3 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup oil
cinnamon sugar: 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon + 3/4 cup sugar

1 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons buttermilk or cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9×13 pan and set aside.  Mix cake mix, buttermilk, eggs and oil, stirring until well-blended.  Pour half into the prepared pan; sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the batter in the pan.  Add the rest of the batter and gently swirl with a fork.  Bake for 25-30 minutes or until done.  Mix the glaze ingredients together and pour over the warm cake, then allow to cool before cutting and serving.

For the uninitiated, a honeybun is a preservative- and sugar-laden “snack cake” treat that is best when heated in the oven or microwave.  Here’s a picture of the Little Debbie box in case you want to go in search of one for a side-by-side taste test.  (My money is on the cake winning out, but it’s okay to like the packaged ones too.)

Happy baking!

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Our first home was in a new but modest subdivision at the bottom of a sledding hill leading to the elementary school our boys would eventually attend.  Our neighbors were mostly young families as we were.  In fact, as we were  moving in, another house was going in just across the street, and was soon occupied by Brad & Vicky – a young couple who soon filled it with two beautiful baby girls nearly the same ages as our boys.  We trick-or-treated at each others homes, and spent a little time nattering about families, lawns and other stuff that you talk about with a baby on your hip and toddlers running around your legs.

We lost touch with them when we moved out, but I haven’t forgotten the cake (or the recipe) she shared with me.  It’s quick, easy, cool and delicious – perfect for summer cookouts and picnics.  If you prefer a pure coconut flavor, use coconut milk; if you like the added pineapple flavor of pina coladas, look for non-alcoholic pina colada mix and combine it with a can of sweetened condensed milk (you can use fat-free if it makes you feel healthier.)

Vicky’s Pina Colada Poke Cake

1 box white cake mix, baked in 9×13 pan according to package directions
1 can pina colada mix and one can sweetened condensed milk OR 1 can coconut cream*
1 small tub Cool Whip or 2 cups fresh-whipped cream

As soon as cake is done, remove from oven and poke all over with a skewer or piece of uncooked spaghetti (be careful to not break the pasta off in the cake!)  If using pina colada mix, combine with sweetened condensed milk.  Pour it (or the coconut milk) over the cake.  Allow it to cool completely, then cover with whipped cream and chill for at least an hour before serving.

See?  I told you it was easy.

*A word or two about coconut milk, coconut cream and pina colada mix.  Each has a different flavor and consistency, but any of them can work in this recipe, with a little modification.  You will typically find them in the “drink mixers” area (they are non-alcoholic) or in the Asian or Hispanic food sections.  Here’s what they look like:

Coconut milk is pretty watery and generally unsweetened.  If that’s all you can find, you can mix it with a can of sweetened condensed milk.

Coconut cream is thick and sweet.  If it is too thick to spread, thin it with a bit of cream or milk (but only enough to get it to moving.)

Pina colada mix contains pineapple and coconut and can be mixed with sweetened condensed milk to get the right consistency.  Shown here is a 14-ounce can. If you buy a larger bottle, only use just  12-14 ounces and refrigerate the rest.

Happy baking!

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Once upon a time, I figured everyone knew how to make biscuits.  Making a batch of baking powder biscuits was required in order to pass junior high home-economics.  Back in those days, the only options were homemade, canned or Bisquick.  The second two options were definitely not equivalent to homemade biscuits, especially for eating fresh out of hand.The Betty Crocker Cookbook circa 1980

As a wife and mother, I faithfully made my own biscuits from scratch, never thinking much about it.  In fact, I splattered up that familiar page in my Betty Crocker Cookbook and had to pencil in the proportions when the page stuck to the one next to it and pulled off the text when I pried them apart.

Then I discovered that some many of my friends and kitchen comrades really do rely on canned or Bisquick for biscuits.  And some really sneaky ones used frozen biscuits.  I was skeptical, but after trying a few I had to admit the frozen ones were nearly as good as scratch, and arguably a whole lot more convenient.

However after several years and several bags of frozen, I’m reverting back to scratch.  Why? For starters, you pay for convenience – $3 to $4 for a bag of 12 biscuits.  Given that there’s maybe a dollar’s worth of ingredients in a dozen biscuits (and that’s being generous), I can make a whole lotta dough for a little, uh….dough.

And then there’s the “you are what you eat” aspect.  Reading the back of the bag bears little resemblance to the recipe’s ingredients list.

So if you’ve never made biscuits, allow me to share my favorite recipe with you.  I’ve modified it slightly from the original.

(Almost) Betty’s Baking Powder Biscuits

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4  teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons butter (cold)
3 tablespoons shortening (room temperature or cold)
3/4 cup milk (whole or 2% are best; skim or Sweet Acidophilus will work, but the result will be slightly less tender)

Preheat oven to 450. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder and stir together.  Add the butter and shortening and use a pastry blender to cut them in until the mixture resembles the texture of coarse cornmeal.  Add milk and stir gently just until mixed through (do NOT overmix.)

Flour a countertop or large cutting board and plop the dough out. Flour your hands and sprinkle a little flour on top.  Gently flip and flop and fold the dough over on itself a few times – four or five at most.  Pat out with your fingers to 3/4 inches thick.  Use a biscuit cutter or thin-lipped drinking glass to cut the biscuits as close together as possible. Place close together (almost touching) on ungreased baking sheet (a Silpat sheet works great) and gently scoop up remaining dough, pat to 3/4 inches again, and cut remaining biscuits.  Should make about a dozen 2.5 inch diameter biscuits.  You can also form your dough into a square or rectangle and cut square biscuits, which prevents re-rolling the dough. Either way, your mileage may vary slightly from mine.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until tops are golden brown.  Serve with ham, sausage, gravy, bacon, and/or butter, honey, jelly or jam of your choosing.

To make buttermilk biscuits, decrease baking powder to 2 teaspoons and add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda; substitute buttermilk (or milk plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice) for the milk in the original recipe.  All other instructions and ingredients apply.

And I guess great minds think alike. As I was typing up this recipe, I noticed Christy Jordan posted a recipe for sure-fire buttermilk biscuits with a photo tutorial, to boot.  It’s worth taking a gander if you’re new to biscuit making.  I think I’ll give her recipe a try the next time I make biscuits.  And I hope you’ll try making a batch from scratch.  It’s a little effort, but a lot of reward.

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margherita cake with strawberriesI had something else planned for this week’s recipe until I made this simple cake yesterday and served it with strawberries and ice cream.  After smelling it bake and taking a bite, I knew I had to share it sooner than later.

For starters, let’s distinguish Margherita from Margarita.  It’s as simple as Italian versus Mexican.  Pizza Margherita is made with basil, tomatoes and mozzarella to resemble the Italian flag.  Margaritas are a cold mixed drink universally available in Mexican eateries.

Either way you spell it, Margarita or Margherita means “daisy. ” Many Italian recipes refer to this as a “torta.”  So we could call it an Italian Daisy Torte (or cake) if that helps.  One benefit to this recipe, in addition to its awesome taste?  It’s gluten-free, thanks to the potato flour. (Some recipes say you can use half regular flour, but I wouldn’t – the potato flour creates a unique and wonderful texture.)

I used this recipe and converted the measurements for ease of use for American cooks.

Margherita Torta

4 eggs
2/3 cup caster or superfine sugar*
zest of one lemon
3/4 cup potato flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill potato starch)

*The recipe calls for caster sugar, which is somewhere between our regular sugar and confectioner’s or 10X sugar.  You can make your own by grinding regular sugar in a blender or food processer (seal it up tight to reduce sugar dust).  The upside to doing this is you will use less sugar due to the increase in air volume.)  The downside is it  it is messy and adds an extra step. I used regular sugar and just pulled back a tad on the amount I used  – closer to 1/2 than 2/3 cup.)

Preheat oven to 320 F.  Grease a 9-inch pan (I used a springform pan but you can use a standard cake pan if it’s deep enough – the cake will rise considerably as it bakes.) Place a circle of parchment paper over the buttered bottom.

In a mixing bowl, combine eggs and sugar. Beat on medium speed until doubled in volume – approximately 5 minutes.  While it’s mixing, use a micro-planer to zest a lemon; add to the sugar/egg mixture and beat for another 5 minutes.  (Notice how full my big mixing bowl is – from just four eggs and less than a cup of sugar.  Creating that volume by beating the eggs and sugar is key to this cake rising properly, so don’t try to shortcut this step.)
beat sugar and eggs in mixing bowl
Gently scoop 3/4 cup of potato starch into a sifter and sift, then add to batter.  Mix briefly to combine; whip at a high speed for 5-10 seconds to ensure it is evenly distributed through.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes or until top is lightly golden and a cake tester inserted comes out clean.  Top will spring back, but use a gentle touch.

Allow to cool; run a knife around the edge of pan to loosen and remove springform band or invert onto cooling rack. Cut into wedges and serve.
cake ready to serve
We loved it as a shortcake with fresh strawberries and ice cream. The texture is perfectly light and moist, and the hint of fresh lemon flavor is a wonderful counterpoint to the sweetened strawberries.  I suspect we’ll enjoy this recipe a few more times between strawberry and blueberry seasons.  You can also simply dust the top with powdered sugar and serve it plain or drizzle it with a lemon sauce.

I hope you’ll try this wonderful, easy cake soon.  Now that I have a bag of potato flour on hand, I can’t think of a better recipe to use it on!

Happy baking,

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Flourless chocolate desserts have been the darling of the dessert world for several years now.  Served warm (preferably fresh from the oven), their centers are filled with a smooth, dark chocolate sauce.  Balanced with a just-right scoop of pure vanilla ice cream, what’s not to like?

About a year ago, I discovered a cheater short-cut recipe that uses a boxed brownie mix to achieve a similar taste experience in cupcake-size portions.  I tweaked the original recipe to make miniature “bites” with  mini-muffin pans, and the results have been well-received, if the swiftly emptied dessert platters are any indication.

Mini Molten Brownie Bites

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 eggs + 3 egg yolks
1 1 lb, 2 ounce box “family size” brownie mix

Preheat oven to 400.  Grease 48 mini muffin pans with cooking spray; set aside.  In microwave-safe glass bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, melt butter and chips together, microwaving for one minute, stirring, then microwaving for additional time until melted.  (Watch closely and stir frequently – don’t overheat.)

In separate bowl, beat eggs and egg yolks until foamy.  Stir in brownie mix until blended, then add the melted chocolate mixture.  Use a teaspoon to fill muffin pans 2/3 full.  Bake for 8-10 minutes (they will be soft; do not overbake.)  Use a thin knife to loosen each bite and remove from pans.   Place on serving plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar or drizzle with a chocolate glaze if desired.

Happy eating,

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