Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Holiday Baking: Sweets for the Sweet (and my family!)

January 31, 2012

Okay, so I am way behind on my blogging.  Since I last posted, I’ve tried 5 new recipes, not to mention all the batches of old favorites I’ve cranked out (Sour Cream Cookies and Margarita Cookies were back by popular demand).  I found two of my experiments (Brown Sugar Drops from the Betty Crocker book & Buttery Fork Cookies from the 1001 book) disappointing, so I won’t waste time posting them.  However, three of my holiday dessert projects are well worth the making, so here we go!

The first recipe I want to share is one I made with my dear friend in The Kelly Kitchen just before Christmas, in between giving bottles to her darling twin boys!  She’d clipped this recipe from a magazine and bought all the ingredients, but hadn’t had the time to make it what with becoming a mom a bit quicker than expected, so when I came to visit the new arrivals, we carved out a bit of time for baking while Daddy minded the boys.  I’m not sure which periodical published this one, but it was submitted by Carol Stuber, and it was yummy:  a perfect fall treat!

Caramel Apple Bars

Crust:
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional
Filling:
4 1/2 cups coarsely chopped peeled baking apples (see my previous post for tips on good baking apples)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 package (14 ounces) caramels
3 tablespoons butter or margarine

In a mixing bowl, cream butter, shortening and brown sugar until fluffy.  Add flour, oats, salt and baking soda; mix well.  Stir in pecans if desired.  Set aside 2 cups.  Press remaining oat mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan.  For filling, toss apples with flour; spoon over the crust.  In a saucepan, melt the caramels and butter over low heat; drizzle over apples.  Top with the reserved oat mixture.  Bake at 400° for 25/30 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool before cutting into bars.  We were impatient and didn’t follow that last bit of instruction, and they fell apart into a crumbly mess.  They were still delicious though.

Caramel Apple Bars

This next recipe is one I had done previously, but never posted.  We buy fresh oranges from H & S Citrus every winter.  It is by far the best citrus I’ve ever eaten, and with such good fruit on hand, I decided to try the recipe for Orange Drop Cookies from Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book when my sister gave it to me last Christmas.  They were delicious, so I made them again this year.  It may become a Christmas tradition, but only if I get faster at it.  Once I promised cookies to my niece and nephew, I couldn’t disappoint, but apparently it was an excruciatingly long wait, if the number of times I was asked “Are they done yet?” is any indication.

The cookies have a cake-like texture, and the refreshing orange flavor really comes through.  I recommend using fresh orange juice for both the cookie and icing.  I know it’s a bit more work, but it’s worth it, and you need real oranges to get the rind anyway, so just do it.  🙂

Orange Drop Cookies

2/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tbsp. grated orange rind
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
Orange Butter Icing (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 400°.  Mix shortening, sugar and egg thoroughly.  Stir in orange juice and rind.  Stir dry ingredients together; blend in.  Drop rounded teaspoonfuls of dough about 2″ apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until delicately browned on edges.  Mine always seem to brown quicker.  Watch them closely.  Frost with Orange Butter Icing.

Orange Butter Icing

2 1/2 tbsp. soft butter
1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. grated orange rind

Blend butter and sugar together.  Stir in juice and rind until smooth.

Orange Drop Cookies

The last recipe I want to recommend is one I came across on Facebook.  It has already been blogged far more thoroughly than I could do it, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll just link to it with this recommendation:  make these!  They are the perfect treat for those of you who eat so much cookie dough that you wind up baking very few cookies.  My darling nephew declared them “one of the best chocolate things I ever ate.”

And on that note, I’ll leave you to your kitchens.  I acquired three new dessert cookbooks recently (Chocolate, The New York Times Dessert Cookbook and Miette), so be on the lookout for new experiments to come!  Next on the docket is Chocolate Hazelnut Drops, from the 1001 book.  Wish me luck!

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Baking Challenge: Apricot Foldovers

November 3, 2011

Well, given that my stated goal was to bake once a week, I suppose I’ve failed my baking challenge.  But in my defense, mom came home.  It’s a lot harder to bake when I’m not in control of the kitchen.  But then she left and came back again, so I managed to get one baking project in while she was gone.  My baking will likely be more sporadic now, but I’ll still post recipes from time to time, along with anything else I feel like writing about, so stay tuned.  I enjoy baking (almost as much as I enjoy eating baked goods), and I’ve discovered a lot of very good recipes while doing this, so I won’t be quitting completely any time soon.

This week’s recipe is an old favorite of mine, although I’d never actually made these myself until last weekend.  Mom has made them once or twice, and I beg her to make them again all the time, but she never does.  And now I know why.  They require an enormous amount of time and effort, so I recommend either having a free day to make them, or making your dough and filling one day, refrigerating it overnight, and baking them the next day.  Doubling the batch is also advisable since you’re going to all this trouble anyway.

The recipe is originally from mom’s old edition of the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook.  I don’t know what edition it is; I couldn’t find a publication date anywhere in it, but by the looks of it, it’s very old.  Whenever it was, home cooks must have had a lot more time on their hands back then, because this recipe is a doozy.  It’s worth the effort though.  These are extremely tasty.  In fact, my usually unenthusiastic mother, who answers every query as to the quality of her sensory experiences with the faint praise “Oh, it’s all right” has declared my apricot foldovers to be better than hers, so I am feeling inordinately pleased with myself.  The pastry is light and crisp, and since all the sugar is in the filling rather than the pastry, they are not overly sweet.  The flavor is very balanced and rich.  Salem ladies can also find this recipe on page 146 of the church cookbook.  Mom included it at my request.

Apricot Foldovers

1/2 cup butter or margarine
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (1 cup)
1 1/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons water
◊     ◊     ◊
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup granulated sugar
water

Cream butter and cheese until light.  Blend sifted flour into creamed mixture.  Add 2 tablespoons water and mix well.  Chill 4 to 5 hours.

Meanwhile, cook apricots according to package directions.  These are ridiculous instructions.  As far as I can see, apricot packages have no directions.  Fortunately mothers do.  Put the dried apricots in a saucepan with enough water to cover them.  Bring them to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer.  Cook them, stirring often, until they soften and fall apart, breaking them up with your spoon as they cook.  Once they’ve cooked down, drain off excess water.  Stir sugar into hot fruit; cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils and becomes smooth; cool.  You want the filling to have a rather thick consistency.  Otherwise it will run everywhere and make a mess.  You won’t be able to work with it.

Divide chilled dough in half.  I doubled my recipe, and I ended up dividing my dough into eighths.  Smaller pieces were easier to work with.  The dough will be very stiff when it comes out of the fridge.  Squeeze and press it between your hands and against a cutting board, working it until it gets softer and more pliable.  Roll out each piece as thinly as you can without tearing the dough.  Cut in 2 1/2 inch squares or circles.  Place 1 teaspoon (you may even need to use less than that to seal them) apricot filling on each square or circle; fold over and seal.  You need to make sure you seal these very thoroughly.  Squeeze the edges together until you think there is no possible way they could separate, because they still will, and the filling will ooze out.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes.

Apricot Foldovers

Enjoy!  You’ve earned it!

Baking Challenge: Coconut Cake

August 22, 2011

It’s two-for-one week here at The Gumball Machine.  I actually managed to bake twice.  I was motivated; I had a guest.  My uncle’s birthday is in two days, and since I won’t be with him then, we celebrated tonight.

I had a coconut cream cupcake from a “gourmet” bakery recently, and aside from tasting like coconut, it was remarkably similar to the plain white cupcakes I bake at home, only it cost more.  Since Uncle likes coconut too, I decided to play with flavoring his birthday cake to try and recreate it.  It was quite tasty, but I don’t recommend using it as a birthday cake if you’re going to have candles.  When Uncle blew them out, coconut flew everywhere!

Coconut Cake

1 white cake mix, plus what it says to add (usually oil, water & egg)
1 tsp butter extract
1 tsp coconut extract
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut, plus extra for top

Mix cake as directed on the package, except add coconut extract and butter extract before beating the batter.  I learned from a professional baker (via a mutual acquaintance) that when using coconut flavoring, adding an equal amount of butter extract brings out the coconut flavor better, so I took her advice.

When the batter is beaten, fold in the coconut.  Bake according to box directions, but watch your baking time.  This baked up faster than I expected.  Allow to cool completely, frost with Coconut Buttercream, and sprinkle shredded coconut on top.

Coconut Buttercream

1/3 cup butter or margarine
4 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
scant 1 tsp vanilla
scant 1 tsp coconut extract
scant 1 tsp butter extract
Additional milk and/or powdered sugar if necessary

Beat butter until fluffy.  Gradually add 2 cups of the powdered sugar, beating well.  Slowly beat in the 1/4 cup milk and flavorings.  Slowly beat in remaining powdered sugar.  If icing is too thick or thin, beat in additional milk or powdered sugar to reach spreading consistency.

Coconut Cake

Happy Birthday, Uncle!

Baking Challenge: Pecan Shortbread Melts

August 18, 2011

I didn’t get around to baking last week since I was too busy simultaneously developing a sinus infection and working overtime, but I’m on the mend now, and I believe cookies will help keep me on the path to good health.  After all, a balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.  A friend of mine slaps his forehead in exasperation whenever I say that, but I still maintain it’s true.

I went rummaging on one of Mom’s cookbook shelves not long ago, and I came across two intriguing and heretofore unused cookie books:  Cookies (formerly titled The Great Big Cookie Book; not sure why they changed that) and The Ultimate Cookie Book.  I asked for, and received, permission to appropriate these books, and found dozens of recipes I want to try, starting with this one from the “Ultimate” book.

The aroma wafting out of the oven while these baked was unlike anything I’d ever smelled.  It was so rich and delectable I liked this recipe before I’d even tried one, and they did not disappoint once I had.  This is a very crumbly melt-in-your-mouth kind of cookie.  Think Keebler Pecan Sandies, only lighter, not as hard and slightly less sweet.

Pecan Shortbread Melts

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
superfine sugar (I once again ignored this and used granulated; seemed fine [har!])

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Cream butter in a large bowl.  Blend in confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.  Sift flour and salt into creamed mixture.  Blend using wooden spoon.  Fold in pecans.

Shape dough into small balls the size (and shape; more like logs than balls per the picture in my book) of dates, and dredge in superfine sugar.  Arrange on ungreased cookie sheets.  You can put these pretty close together on the sheet.  They spread out slightly, but not much.  I got most of them on one large cookie sheet.

Bake 25 to 35 minutes.  Mine browned lightly on the bottom in 20-25 minutes.  If desired, broil 2 minutes or until lightly browned.  As far as I can tell, this is just for looks.  I didn’t broil most of mine, though I tried it on the last few.  There was no discernible difference in taste.  When done, transfer to wire racks and let cool.

Pecan Shortbread Melts

Uncle Paul evaluates the result of my efforts

So that’s it for this week’s challenge.  Time & health permitting, I’ve got something ambitious in mind for next week.  See you then!

 

No-Bake Challenge: Not to be trifled with!

August 1, 2011

This week’s recipe is brought to you by my Aunt Paula.  I first tried this dessert while visiting her a few years ago, and it was yummy.  Technically it’s not baking since it just involved mixing and layering prepared items, but since I’m the one who set myself the baking challenge, I’m just going to feel free to make up the rules as I go along.  I suppose if you wanted to bake you could make your own ladyfingers, but I suspect that’s not worth the trouble.  I’ve been meaning to try this recipe for quite a while, and given the kind of heat we’ve been having this past week, a cool and refreshing treat that didn’t involve heating up the oven seemed timely.  It is simple and delicious, plus it looks very pretty, so it’s a great dessert to make for company.  Thanks, Aunt Paula!

Aunt Paula’s English Trifle

3 packages ladyfingers
1 jar raspberry preserves
1 package frozen raspberries with syrup
1/2 package frozen whole raspberries
1 large instant vanilla pudding
1 large container Cool Whip
slivered almonds for top

Mix preserves, frozen raspberries (thawed) and frozen whole berries (thawed) together.  Layer the ladyfingers in the bowl, alternating with the raspberry mixture.  Continue layering until all the ladyfingers and all of the raspberry mixture have been used.  Mix the pudding according to the directions on the box.  Pour pudding over the layers, cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate.  Before serving, top with Cool Whip and sprinkle with almonds.

Raspberry Trifle

Baking Challenge: Sour Cream Cookies

July 21, 2011

There is a wondrous place in the mall where I work.  It’s a bakery stand.  It opens every Friday and Saturday.  I patronize this business much more often than I should, and I’ve gotten friendly with the man who runs it because I’m there so much (and because he’s so nice).  He sells pies, cakes and cookies of all sorts, but the one treat I always come back to is sour cream cookies.  They are delicious.  But they’re also a bit on the pricey side:  $4.50 for a bag of six.  I’m usually willing to spring for them since I love them so much, but I’m trying to watch my spending, so I decided to see if I could recreate them at home.  What I turned out today was by no means an exact replica.  I was going to tinker with it a bit to try and get it closer, but my sister and my boss claim they’re better than the ones from the bakery, so who am I to argue?  They were pretty good, if I do say so myself.  The cookie recipe is from my Betty Crocker book, but it did not call for icing, and since the best thing about those cookies is the icing, I tried to reverse engineer it using the ingredients from the label on the last bag I bought.  I just had to guess at the amounts.  The consistency of my icing was slightly thicker and a bit more creamy.  Thinning it with just a bit more water would probably make it run and harden, which would be more consistent with the original I was trying to duplicate.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies

1/2 cup shortening (part butter or margarine)
1 cup sugar (I used 3/4 cup granulated and 1/4 cup packed brown sugar)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg (Fresh grated nutmeg intensifies the flavor.  Microplane!)
1/2 cup sour cream

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Mix shortening, sugar, egg and vanilla thoroughly.  Blend dry ingredients; add to sugar mixture alternately with sour cream.  Divide dough; roll out to 1/4″ thick on well-floured pastry cloth.  A lightly floured board works fine, too.  The purpose of the cloth is to keep the dough from picking up too much extra flour, or so my mother tells me.  Cut with a 2″ cutter; place on greased baking sheet.  Sprinkle with sugar.  I omitted this step, because I wanted to ice them and sprinkle them with sugar afterward, as the bakery does.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Mine browned within 5 or 6 minutes.  Watch them closely.

My Icing

1 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted  (you can skip sifting, but you’ll just have to use more elbow grease to get out the lumps later)
1 1/2 tbsp. margarine
1/4 tsp. butter flavoring
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. water

Blend all ingredients until smooth.  Icing is not an exact science.  You can do whatever you want with it.  For a thicker icing, add more powdered sugar.  For a thinner icing, add more water.  If you want it richer, use cream or milk instead of water.  For more intense flavor, add another splash of vanilla.  Make it to suit your tastes.  And always taste it!

Add a small dollop of icing to the center of each cookie, and spread it outward towards the edges in a circular motion with a spoon.  Sift granulated sugar (colored, if desired:  just a few drops of food coloring and a lot of mushing in a Ziploc bag will do it) over the iced cookies.  Allow icing to set.

And now, an anecdote about nutmeg graters, since it sprung to mind as I was grating my nutmeg this afternoon.  When I was young, I went on a trip with my parents, and for some reason we were driving two vehicles.  I was riding with dad, and someone else was riding with mom.  As we drove down the highway, I remarked on all the thistles growing wild along the roads, and dad recited a little ditty for me:

Tender handed touch a nettle,
And it stings you for your pains,
Grasp it like a man of mettle,
And it soft as silk remains.
So it is with common natures,
Treat them gently they rebel,
But be rough as nutmeg-graters,
And the rogues obey you well.

This verse was printed in a dictionary by Samuel Johnson under the entry for “Grater,” and was attributed to A. Hill.  Dad had read it there and remembered it.  In due course we arrived at our destination, dad’s vehicle leading.  He bypassed a choice parking spot to allow mom to park there, but she overlooked this and followed him through the lot.  He exclaimed in frustration, whereupon I grinned at him and said, “Treat them gently, they rebel.”  And he grinned back, his temper for once neatly defused by his youngest daughter.

And so I leave you to contemplate what treat I may concoct next week.  Happy baking!

Baking Challenge: Margarita Cookies!

July 14, 2011

Number 312 from my “1001” cookbook turned out to be a delightfully refreshing summer treat.  These shortbread-like cookies are just bursting with citrus flavor, and are so quick and easy to make!  Everyone in the house liked them a lot, and we’re a finicky bunch.  My nephew, who is a big fan of Guy Fieri and his show “Triple D” on Food Network, took one taste and said they were “killer.”  But no worries; you won’t die.  In fact, they were so good I’m going to bake another batch.  I recommend you double this recipe, because it isn’t going to make nearly as many as you’ll want.  There are two variations:  one with alcohol, one without.  I did the latter since I’ve got a 7-year-old under my roof, but I’ll post both for the more adventurous palates among you.

Margarita Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup superfine sugar (again, I used regular granulated; works fine)
finely grated rind of 1 lime (a microplane is handy for this)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tsp orange liqueur or 1 tsp orange extract (I used the latter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.  Place the butter, sugar, and lime rind in a large bowl and beat together until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolk and orange liqueur.  Sift together the flour and salt into the mixture and stir until combined.  Scoop up tablespoons of the dough, place them on the baking sheets, and flatten gently.  The bottom of a glass dipped in sugar is a simple, non-sticky way to do this.  However, make sure said glass has a flat bottom and is not even slightly concave.  I chose a beer glass I thought to be flat once, but I realized later it was slightly inset after it yielded cookies with a sort of hollow in their bottoms.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until light golden brown.  Let cool on the baking sheets for 5-10 minutes, then carefully transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Icing

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp white tequila OR two tbsp fresh lime juice (again, I used the latter)

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl, and stir in enough tequila or lime juice to give the mixture the consistency of thick cream.  Leave the cookies on the wire racks and drizzle the icing over them with a teaspoon.  Let set.

Join me again next week, when I’ll attempt to unravel the secret of sour cream cookies!

Astute Observations…

June 4, 2011

…from a four-year-old:

“Sometimes boys are just bad and do things girls don’t like.”

Amen, sweetie.

Rock, baby!

July 3, 2010

Scene:  I’m sitting in a plastic wading pool in the backyard with my six-year-old nephew and his dad, surrounded by bits of broken water balloons.  My nephew (who knows his way around an iPod) suddenly sings a fragment of “Fire and Ice” with all the enthusiasm, styling and mannerisms of a stage pro.

Me:  My nephew’s gone pop star!

Him:  I’m singing rock, baby!