The truth is there’s a flour shortage out there (there are many more links you’ll find with a simple Google search). While everyone is at home, quarantined and missing their social connections, we are all getting out our mixing bowls and baking up some comforting carbs. I mean, I’m right on board with you. Nothing sounds better most of the time than cheese and carbs, or sugar and carbs, and carbs and carbs, whether it’s pizza, quesadillas, frosted cakes, or pierogis (carbs wrapped in carbs!). I keep hearing rumors about this thing called covid-19, as in the 19 (or more) pounds you’ll gain due to this darn virus!Continue reading
As usual, it’s been a while since I’ve visited this space, and a lot has changed in the world and with me. My baby is now a toddler who is almost two years old! We moved to Sammamish, a city east of Seattle, last fall. I started working full-time (I did some substitute teaching before) at a school in the fall for the first time after giving birth. And now I’m home once again due to school closures from the corona virus pandemic.
This is a weird time, to put it simply. I have been home for a full two weeks now and will be home until at least the end of April. The governor of Washington recently issued a stay at home order (finally) for the next two weeks or more. My husband has been working from home for almost a full month. It makes me anxious and sad to see the way this pandemic is spreading so fast, overwhelming hospitals and disrupting many lives, especially since I feel like I can do little to help. I’m washing my hands. I’m staying home. I’m not leaving my house. That’s about as much as I can do at this point.Continue reading
Sometimes I get a recipe idea stuck in my head, and I have to make it. For the past week or so it has been a fresh orange layer cake, pictured perfectly in my head with its sunshine-yellow hue, tart-sweet flavor, and perfect crumb. I made one several years ago, following the recipe in The Cake Mix Doctor book. You start with a cake mix and “doctor” it up by adding fresh orange juice, zest and the usual eggs and such. I remember that cake fondly and somehow the memory of its deliciousness came back to bug me and wouldn’t leave me alone. Maybe it was because I had three oranges sitting in my fruit drawer, or maybe it was because I had leftover (bottled) orange juice sitting in my fridge, and since I don’t drink OJ these days, it felt like a challenge to use it up.
I ignored the idea for a while mainly because making a layer cake without a real occasion such as a birthday or a party seemed a little extravagant, plus there’s the fact that then there would be a whole cake in the house to eat and I wasn’t even sure if Sam would eat some. I even asked my neighbor, who loves sweets, if she would eat some and she declined. This past weekend, I finally gave in, deciding to make a smaller batch.
The thing is I really wanted a layer cake – not a single layer, not a square cake, a layer cake. What I love about layer cakes is the ratio of cake to frosting or filling, all perfectly portioned out so you can have the perfect bite. So how do you make a smaller batch? You can use smaller cake pans (which I don’t have) or you can do what I did and make one single layer and cut it into thirds (or halves) and make your fraction of a layer cake.
So I did just that. But when I went to stack my cakes, the cake was too dense and moist, and the curd filling I had made wasn’t thick enough, and the layers slipped and slid on top of each other while I desperately tried different ways to fix it. In the end I embraced the fact that it was an ugly cake, but hurrah at least I had made it! (I did not take any pictures of it…)
However, the flavor was also off. The cake I made had the flavor of too much baking soda and it was almost too dense to swallow. So a few days later I decided to try again, but this time I gave up on my layer cake dream and opted for a filled and frosted cupcake instead. The result: perfection. It is so satisfying to finally taste the thing that you craved, even if the original idea changed a little.
This time of year, citrus is at its best, which makes it the perfect time to make these cupcakes. Plus if you live in a part of the country where the earth and trees are brown and barren, the ground is white with snow, or skies are gray, these bright sunny colors arrive at the perfect time of year to add some color to your winter.
Orange Curd Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cake:
- 1 +2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. orange zest
- 2/3 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed or from a bottle)
- 2/3 cup canola oil
- 2 eggs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a cupcake pan with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, sift flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Add orange zest and rub into the mixture so that the zest doesn’t clump in one spot and it infuses the dry ingredients with the orange oils.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs, oil and juice until blended. Add to dry ingredients and stir to combine, being sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
Divide the batter between your paper liners (should make about 14), filling no more than 3/4 full. Bake in your preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
For the orange curd:
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp. orange zest
- 1 tsp. lemon or grapefruit zest
- 2 T. lemon or grapefruit juice
- 1/3 cup + 2 T. freshly squeezed orange juice
- 6 egg yolks
- 10 T. unsalted butter, cold
- pinch of salt
If you have a double boiler, get it out. If not, find a pot and glass bowl that fits perfectly into the top of the pot so that the bottom of the bowl does not go more than halfway down into the pot. Fill your pot with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Make sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water as it boils. To the bowl add your sugar and zests and rub the zest into the sugar to release the flavor. Add the juices and whisk to blend. Turn the water down to a simmer and leave until the sugar begins to dissolve and the liquid is warmed.
In a separate bowl beat your egg yolks. Once the sugar and juice mixture has warmed, gradually add some, a spoonful at a time, to your egg yolks, whisking the egg yolks as you add (you don’t need to add all of the juice mixture). Once the bowl with the egg yolks feels somewhat warm to the touch, go ahead and add the egg yolk mixture to your glass bowl with any remaining juice and return it to the simmering water. Cook the mixture until it begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon, 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter in small cubes, whisking to melt the butter. Taste and add a pinch salt to bring out all of the flavor.
Once all of the butter has been incorporated, put all of your curd into a medium size bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface to prevent a skin forming and refrigerate to cool. (You will have extra curd so feel free to halve the recipe or save for another use.)
For the orange cream cheese frosting:
- one 8-oz block of cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
- 2 T. fresh orange juice
- 1/2 tsp. orange zest
- 2 cups powdered sugar
Beat the cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and blend on low until sugar is incorporated enough to not fly everywhere. Scrape the sides and beat until well blended.
Once your cupcakes have cooled, take a small spoon and dig out a small hole in the top middle of each one, removing about 2 teaspoons of cake. (Set aside to eat later!) Fill each hole with your cooled curd. Frost with your cream cheese frosting and decorate as desired. Enjoy!
I became a mother almost two months ago and sometimes it still doesn’t feel like it’s real. It’s like how did I suddenly (though it wasn’t really) become a mother? Somehow, it feels like motherhood is something that has to be earned over a longer period of time, not something you can become in just one day when a baby is born. I’m not trying to discredit other mothers, by any means. We have certainly earned the title after carrying our babies in our bodies for 9+ months and going through childbirth, but somehow the title still feels strange. I’m sure it’s just like being married or changing your name in that it’s something that I will get used to over time.
I thought motherhood would make me a different person, but mostly I still feel the same except with a baby. Feeling the same is good of course, as I didn’t want to lose who I was, but I somehow expected this overwhelming feeling of a change in identity. Maybe that also develops over time as I will interact with the world and my baby as a mother.
Of course one of the things that makes me me is my love of food and cooking. In the first few weeks of motherhood I definitely did not have the time or energy to cook and I was grateful to the friends who brought us food and the meals I’d prepared ahead of time to stock our freezer. It was hard enough to remember to eat or find time to eat when my focus was on feeding my baby and getting enough sleep. In recent weeks I’ve felt myself getting back to normal with my desire to get my hands dirty in the kitchen coming on strong. For some reason this week that desire manifested itself in homemade filo/phyllo dough, which I used to make baklava and an apple tart. I enjoyed the process of making the filo dough, though it didn’t turn out as thin as I would have liked, and I was able to use some nuts that were past their “best by” date (they’re still good!)
The baklava I made was based on this recipe here and the apple tart one I made up with a sheet of leftover dough I had. It felt good to get in the kitchen again and create something with my hands, though it certainly wasn’t the same as it used to be. I made the recipe in steps over an afternoon, evening, and morning, with interruptions determined by a certain hungry baby. In the future, hopefully she’ll be helping me to cook.
Apple Filo Tart
4-6 sheets of filo dough, thawed if frozen*
1 large apple of your choice, peeled and diced
2 T. brown sugar
1 T. flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3-4 T. unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Lay your sheets of filo dough on the parchment, brushing with butter every two layers or just on top if using homemade. In a medium bowl mix diced apple, sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Spread the apple mixture in a circle in the middle of your filo dough making sure that the apples are not piled on each other, though don’t be too picky about it. Gently fold the extra filo over the apple mixture and brush the top with butter. You may not use all of the butter.
Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes until lightly browned and crispy. Let cool and cut into slices.
*I used only one sheet of my homemade dough, though it was thicker than the store-bought kind.
Every year it’s the same. November begins and I think that maybe it’s time to start my Christmas shopping, but I don’t. Suddenly I am celebrating Thanksgiving, then December arrives with its daylight quickly dimming and the days ticking away like seconds on a stopwatch. Now here we are: one week until Christmas and I’ve barely started my Christmas shopping. Hello, my name is Erin and I am a procrastinator.
Let’s forget the Christmas presents and stressful shopping that goes along with it. You know what I want for Christmas? I want to cozy up on a couch with my sisters and cousins and watch the old movies we used to make when we were too young to be embarrassed by ourselves. I want to bake gingerbread men and women with my mom and make funny scenes using them as the characters. I want to bite into homemade checkerboard cookies, eating each square separately, letting the buttery shards melt on my tongue. I want to sing Christmas songs around the piano, with my Dad playing the keys as we all belt out the songs. I want to wear fleece pants and slippers and curl up with a good book and a good cat (preferably one that doesn’t vomit regularly or wake me up in the middle of the night by pulling threads out of the nice curtains with her claws.) I want to watch White Christmas and have my sisters do a reprise performance of the “Sister, Sister” song from my wedding.
I am very lucky and grateful for the many wonderful people and comforts in my life. I would much rather have the simple gifts of time with people I love and time for the things that I love doing than any tangible presents that could be bought. If you haven’t bought me anything yet, don’t. Next year (maybe starting in October) I’m going to plan to do Christmas a little differently.
While I won’t be spending Christmas with my sisters and parents, I will still do many things on the aforementioned list. I will bake cookies, I will read books (good cat or not!), and I will leap around my living room while listening to Christmas songs. And since all of this list involves doing good for myself, I am also going to do good for others, including some volunteering and finding a way to help in Syria by donating to a reputable charity, as I am horrified by the news I see coming out of there.
I am also planning on taking some of my freshly baked cookies to the neighbors (checkerboards on the list!) I have our family’s favorite rum balls ready to add to the cookie platter. My mom always made these rum balls by the dozens for our family when I was growing up. I remember we ate them happily as kids, despite their strong rum-y taste (or perhaps because of it!). I am surely giving this recipe too late as the balls are best made ahead of time so that they can cure and really absorb the flavor of the rum, but perhaps you can make them now and save them for a New Year’s party. Mine have been ripening for about two weeks now, but I just haven’t gotten the chance to write about them yet!
Admittedly I have altered the recipe a little bit. I wavered between making the vanilla wafers from scratch and just buying them, but in the end, I decided that it was highly unnecessary to make them, and it would ruin the authenticity of the family recipe. I did, however, substitute honey for the corn syrup as I simply don’t use the stuff enough to really want to buy it. I figure that good family recipes are like a game of telephone, anyway. With each person you pass it along to the message changes just a little bit.
May your Christmas be full of comfort, joy, love, and all the things intangible and tangible that your heart desires. And may it also contain some rum balls!
adapted from our family recipe collection
1 cup vanilla wafer crumbs
1 cup powdered sugar + more for rolling
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 1/2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon light corn syrup or honey
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup rum (pick one you would like to drink)*
Start by crushing vanilla wafers in a plastic bag using a rolling pin or pulse in the food processor until they are crumbly but not too fine of crumbs. Measure out a cup of the crumbs. Combine all remaining ingredients with the wafer crumbs in a medium sized bowl and mix together. Add more honey or powdered sugar depending on the consistency. You want it to be a dough that will hold together when rolled into a ball, but not too dry as the wafer crumbs will soak up some of the rum as they sit. Scoop into even golf-ball sized (or smaller) balls and roll in more powdered sugar to coat. Let sit in a well sealed container for at least a few days and up to several weeks before serving.
*They wouldn’t be rum balls of course, but if you really don’t like rum, I imagine these would be splendid with any other alcohol you like. I would think a Grand Marnier, Bailey’s, or Kahlua would be especially good, or even a whiskey of your choice.
These are buttery chocolate shortbreads smashed together with a sweetened thick icing.
Better-than-Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
adapted from the Totally Chocolate Cookbook
2 sticks butter, softened (I used one salted, one unsalted and it was perfect)
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla
1+1/2 cups cake flour OR 1 cup + 2 T. all purpose flour AND 2 T. cornstarch (I used the cornstarch)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1+2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 T. milk or heavy cream
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the cookies, beat butter with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and mix in. In a separate bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until there are no streaks of white. Do not over mix. If it is sticky (which it should be) wrap in plastic wrap in a flattened disc and refrigerate until somewhat firm – 30 minutes to an hour.
Divide the dough in half and keep one half in the fridge while you roll out the other. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and roll until 1/4 inch thick. Be sure to check the dough as you are rolling it out to make sure it isn’t sticking. Flip over and re-flour as necessary. Cut out rounds of dough (about 2 inches) using a cookie cutter, drinking glass, or champagne glass (if you’re feeling fancy). It is very helpful to flour your cookie cutter every few cookies so the dough doesn’t get stuck. Space the cookies apart about a 1/2 inch on an unlined, ungreased cookie sheet. Be careful transferring them as the dough is fragile. I used a thin metal spatula to keep from crushing the edges. Refrigerate the cookies on the sheet until firm again, while you finish rolling out the rest of the dough (10 minutes should be about right). Re-roll scraps and use as much as possible without overworking the dough.
With the cookie sheets of cookie rounds still in the fridge, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When preheated, remove the cookie sheets from the fridge and bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes, switching racks and rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Cookies should be slightly firm to the touch. Be careful not to over cook them. Since they are already dark, it can be hard to see if they’re done by their color. Let cool and prepare the filling.
For the filling beat the shortening with an electric mixer to loosen it up. Add sugar and half the milk, beating to incorporate. Add remaining ingredients and stir until smooth.
To frost, dab a spoonful of the filling on the bottom of a cooled cookie. Top with another cookie and gently wiggle and smoosh it to distribute the frosting evenly or just spread it on one cookie evenly before putting the second cookie on top. Repeat with remaining cookies. Enjoy with milk. I found this made just the right amount of filling for my cookies, but it depends how much you put on and how many cookies you end up with. You can always measure out the filling and divide it exactly between the cookies.
As a side note: I decided to get rid of the post numbering. Does anyone really care how many “posts” I’ve written? Probably not. If you do, let me know 🙂 Thanks for reading as always.
Do you ever have cookie expectations? You know, you see this delicious recipe in a magazine or a cookbook (or let’s face it – these days it’s on Pinterest!) and you have a certain idea of what it will taste like and look like. And then you make it and it’s not quite what you wanted, but it’s still a cookie.
That’s kind of what happened with these peanut butter cookie bars. I mean they were sweetened peanut butter cookies with peanut butter frosting, BUT they were soft and cakey instead of hard and chewy like I was expecting. Expectations can ruin everything. I made these cookies, excited to see the results and then when I took a bite, it just wasn’t what I expected! I will admit I may have halved the recipe (though not all ingredients) and probably didn’t bake them quite long enough, so maybe I have no one to blame but myself.
Nonetheless these cookies check another cookbook off my Cookbook Challenge. Who knows where I got this recipe booklet called Bar Cookie BONANZA! but I certainly had a hard time picking out which recipe to make. It’s an older book, the kind without all the pretty food photos enticing you to try a recipe. Instead it has simple instructions and titles that require you to actually read the pages as you’re flipping. Oh reading recipes… who does that?
Just kidding – I do 🙂
While I was making peanut butter cookies I figured why not make a jam cookie as well to go alongside it. These simple Jam Crescent Cookies come from another similar cookie booklet simply called Cookies! I’m assuming these two booklets were stuck into my collection at some point in my move to Boston by my mother. Just what I need – more cookie recipes!
These cookies start with what is essentially a cream cheese pie dough. It has a tiny bit of liquid and you will think no way this recipe is right, but if you use your hands you can bring this dough together. The dough is then chilled, like pie dough, to allow the fat to get cold again and then rolled out, filled with jam and sprinkled with sugar. Essentially you have simple (and mini) cookie-pies or even Pop-Tarts!
Bake them, sprinkle with powdered sugar, let cool slightly (that jam can burn your tongue – don’t say I didn’t warn you!) and enjoy! Pair with a Frosted Peanut Butter Bar and it’s like a really sweet (in both senses of the word, Sam) PB&J sandwich.
Frosted Peanut Butter Bars
1/2 cup peanut butter, (at room temperature if you keep yours in the fridge)
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Combine peanut butter and butter until creamy. Add sugars, beating well. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Spread in a greased, 13x9x2 inch pan and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until firm and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool and frost with the recipe below.
1/2 cup peanut butter
2+1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup milk
Beat all ingredients until smooth. Spread on cooled bars.
Jam Crescent Cookies
2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted (plus some for dusting)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup salted butter (or unsalted plus 1/4 tsp. salt) – COLD
1 T. milk (yes that’s it!)
your choice of fruit preserves in some unknown quantity
In a large bowl, combine the flour and sugar and cut in the cream cheese and butter until you have coarse looking crumbs. Add the milk, mix well though do not over mix. Press the dough into a smooth ball (with your hands is best). Flatten dough slightly, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. You can also refrigerate it for several hours or longer, though you make need to leave it out at room temperature for 10 minutes or so before rolling it out if you do.
Preheat oven to 350. Divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll each half out carefully into a rectangle. Cut the dough into roughly similar size squares (the recipe recommends 3-inch). Put 1 tsp. (or less!) of preserves slightly off center. Fold over the dough to enclose the preserves and form a triangle (see photos above). Roll dough toward the point and smooth and seal the edges. Bend in ends of dough to give a crescent effect.*
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until light brown. Remove and cool. Dust lightly with more powdered sugar.
*Without a final photo, some of these instructions were lost on me, but I’m including them for your benefit, in case you’re smarter than I am!