December 28, 2009

of sconces and scones

Sometimes a person will say something that's so inadvertently humorous, it's a desperate struggle not to laugh in the poor schmo's face. This is especially important to control when you're in the business of customer service.

Looks good.  Tastes okay.
Many moons ago, I was employed by the cafe of our local Barnes & Noble. I quickly became an ace barista, whipping up a venti half-caf nonfat no-whip caramel mocha at 190 degrees and with two extra shots before you could even repeat that ridiculous order. We always had a mighty impressive bakery case, full of cookies, cheesecake, bars, muffins, scones, and sandwiches. Sadly, it all came pre-packaged and frozen, but hey--we did bake the cookies and scones!

Speaking of scones, I've never liked the suckers. They're either too dry or not sweet enough (or worst of all, both!) for my tastes. Not even our cinnamon scones could do it for me. I recall one lady in particular who was quite fond of our blueberry scones. However, it was extremely difficult to hold back the laughter when she would boldly demand "one blueberry sconce" with her coffee. Had I been raised more poorly, I would've replied, "We're fresh out of sconces, but we do have some lovely candelabra in the back. Can I offer you one of those?"

Is it just me, or does this shot look like Falkor from The NeverEnding Story?
Anybody else see Falkor from The NeverEnding Story in this shot? I surely do.

Yep, we could count on her to bungle it every single time. No one ever corrected her, bless her heart. I'll bet she's still saying it.

This recipe didn't magically make me like scones (or sconces, if you must know), but it comes pretty close to being tolerable. They were plenty fluffy, just not quite sweet enough to meet my sugar needs. Do you have an awesome scone recipe that I should try before I pass the final verdict?

Big Blueberry Scon(c)es
(based on good ol' King Arthur Flour)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup dried blueberries
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a baking sheet.
Whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture is unevenly crumbly. Gently mix the blueberries with the dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, yogurt, and vanilla. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and stir very gently, just until combined. The dough will be quite moist, like cookie dough.
Scoop blobs about 1/4 cup in size onto the prepared sheet, leaving about 2" between each. Brush each ball of dough with a bit of milk for a nice, brown top.
Bake the scones for 20 to 24 minutes, or until lightly browned and a cake tester inserted into a scone comes out dry. Remove from the oven, and serve warm. I required abundant
blueberry jam to make mine palatable.

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR!

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December 22, 2009

playing favorites

Fact: I prefer brown sugar over white sugar. I’ve been known to dig into a bag of brown sugar with a spoon, but I can’t even imagine doing such an act with white sugar. For this reason, I find it a great tragedy that so much of the world has never tasted brown sugar pie.


This is a creation intended for people possessing a powerful sweet tooth. Folks who utter sentences like “It’s just so cloyingly sweet!” and “Those made my teeth hurt!” need not apply. Essentially, what you’ll find with this pie is a soft, creamy, custardy filling replete with rich brown sugar flavor.


As my grandma (the source and frequent baker of this recipe) can attest, the appearance of the pie that comes out of the oven isn’t always predictable. Sometimes it can be runny, while other times it sets up just perfectly. Sometimes there are pock-marks along the surface, while other times it’s completely crater-less.

Regardless of how it looks, though, one thing remains constant—the flavor. A thin thick slice of this sweet treat is a welcome and fitting conclusion to any meal.


As this recipe has been handed down from my dearest grandmother and definitely counts as a family favorite, I'm sending it along to Lynda of Lynda's Recipe Box for the "Family Recipes: Memories of Family, Food and Fun" event.

Brown. Sugar. Pie.
(a recipe from Granny Frannie!)

3 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup margarine, melted and slightly cooled
3 eggs, beaten well
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
2 regular 9-inch pie crusts or 1 deep-dish pie crust

Prepare the pie crusts per package instructions, or make up your own favorite dough.
In a large bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, and salt. Be sure to break up any clumps of brown sugar. In a smaller bowl, mix together the melted margarine, beaten eggs, vanilla, and milk; beat well. Add this wet mixture to the brown sugar mixture and blend very well with a handheld mixer. Pour into the pie crust(s) and bake at 350F for about 30 minutes for a regular crust, 60-70 minutes for a deep-dish crust, or until set (just a wee bit wobbly) in the middle. Let cool completely before slicing and serving.


HAPPY HOLIDAYS to you and yours!

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December 17, 2009

a gustatory conflict

Have you ever seen someone knock back a shot of melted butter? I have.

Yeah, I took a bite.  I took several bites.
It was at Red Lobster (home of some cheese biscuits that'll make ya want to skip the rest of the meal), and it was repulsive. Don't get me wrong--I enjoy butter as much as the next gal, but witnessing that scene made me squirm in my seat.

On a semi-related note, I was recently reminded of one of my favorite candies when I was growing up--butter rum lifesavers. I really loved their rich flavor. I can recall hearing about a beverage called hot buttered rum and because I want to know everything, I looked up its description. Imagine my surprise (and initial disgust) when I learned that it’s made by beating together butter, brown sugar, and spices and melting this mixture into a combination of rum and hot water. To my mind, that doesn’t sound like a very far cry from taking down a shot of melted butter. Have any of you had hot buttered rum? Is it not as nauseating as I think?

I was recently given a little bottle of butter rum flavoring, and I decided to try it out in some mega-muffins. Would they taste wonderful like those lovely little lifesavers, or would they turn my tummy inside out and upside down like a dose of tepid fat?

Coarse sugar is purdy.
Good news--they’re delicious. The flavor is subtle, but not too understated that you don’t immediately think buttah upon taking a bite. The moral of this post? For once I actually like an artificial flavor much, much more than the real thing. Yes, when it comes to butter rum, I think I’ll stick with candy and baked goods and leave the cocktails (and shots o’ pure fat) to the more psychotic daring among us.

Better-Than-a-Shot-of-Butter Butter Rum Muffins
(alternately, Artificially-Flavored-and-Proud-of-It Butter Rum Muffins)
(based on
these beauties)

Muffins:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon butter rum flavoring

Glaze:
1/4 teaspoon butter rum flavoring
3 tablespoons sugar
milk, if needed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease or line 12 regular muffin cups or 6 mega-muffin cups.
Beat the butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the sugar and beat well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cloves and cinnamon in a separate bowl.
In a third bowl, combine the milk and butter rum flavoring.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with milk mixture, ending with flour mixture and combining only until JUST blended. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes for regular muffins (or 30-35 minutes for mega-muffins) or until golden. Remove from the pans immediately and cool on a wire rack.
For the glaze, combine 1/4 teaspoon butter rum flavoring and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a small saucepan; heat slowly, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. If the mixture gets too thick, add a little milk. Brush the glaze over warm muffins and sprinkle with coarse sugar for a tasty finish.

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December 14, 2009

penuche with panache

Have you tried this thing called penuche frosting? How is it different from caramel frosting or brown sugar frosting? My quick skim of super-reliable sources (you know, things like Wikipedia and Webster's dictionary) leads me to believe that penuche is a fudge-like candy made of brown sugar, butter, and milk. Candy.

Hello, lovah.
So unless you have a thick layer of fudge atop your cake*, cupcake, cookie, or brownie, I think a more fitting name for a topper made from those ingredients would be caramel, brown sugar, or penuche-like frosting--as far as I can tell, they're basically all the same.

*Actually, loving sugar as I do, the prospect of a thick layer of fudgy candy atop my cake sounds rather appealing. But I digress...

How have I gone 26 years without making caramel frosting? It's delicious, divine, decadent, and delectable. I think I've ignored this masterpiece of a cake-blanket because I've always had a bit of an infatuation with cream cheese frosting and usually opt for it over all others. Well, no more. Now it's a battle between the two as to which one most frequently applies itself directly to my derrière.

Thank you, inventor of cinnamon chips.
Folks, this frosting was so scrumptious that the cake beneath it became superfluous. Truth be told, that's a good thing because it really wasn't anything special. Had I not added some cinnamon chips to the batter, it would've been almost worthless. Right now I'm envisioning the glorious apple dapple cake with a smooth and creamy layer of caramel frosting instead of that simple glaze. Yes...

If you're familiar with caramel frosting or any recipe involving boiled sugar, you know how fickle the process can be. This recipe is no exception--if you don't work quickly after whisking in the powdered sugar, good luck spreading the frosting over your cake. You'll have to just eat it from the pot**. I can definitely see how it would be troublesome taking the time to frost a layer cake. Fortunately, all I had to do was dump and spread, and it worked out just fine.

**Once again, not a bad proposition.

Wall o' crusted caramel!
Better than fine, actually--it seems I have a new obsession.

Applesauce Spice Cake with Penuche Caramel Frosting
(based on this recipe)

Cake:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 3/4 cups applesauce
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup cinnamon chips

Frosting:
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk
3 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 13x9-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and the sugars and beat the mixture until it is light and fluffy. Beat in the applesauce and the egg. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and cloves. Add to the butter mixture and stir until combined. Add the vanilla, oats, and cinnamon chips. Stir the batter until it is combined well and pour into the prepared dish. Bake 40-50 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

To make the frosting, heat butter and brown sugar over medium until the mixture comes to a boil about 2 minutes. Add the milk, stir, and bring the mixture back to a boil, then remove the pan from the heat. Let the mixture cool a bit and whisk in the powdered sugar until thickened and smooth, lightened in color, and beginning to lose its sheen. Pour the frosting onto the cake quickly before it hardens and let it cool and set before cutting.

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December 11, 2009

beau who?

Like most people, I enjoy getting free stuff. So when I was contacted by Challenge Dairy and invited to participate in an event bringing attention to their wonderful butter, I jumped at the chance. I hadn't heard of the company before since it's based in California, but I'm here to tell you that we East Coasters have been missing out!


For this challenge, a plethora of food bloggers were divided up into groups and assigned a course--appetizer, entrée, side dish, and dessert. As someone who rarely, if ever, gets or eats appetizers, that's naturally the group into which I was placed. What's more, we were sent several spices from Spice Islands to use in the dish we'd be creating, and I received one I know intimately, one I’ve heard of but never used, and one I'd never even seen (Beau Monde? What's that? In addition to being yet another example of my sheltered nature, it's also a mixture of allspice, bay leaf, celery seed, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, black and white pepper. Just so you know.)! So yes, this was indeed a challenge.

I turned to the potato, a tuber that has never failed me. I thought it'd make an adequate, nay, excellent palette for these unfamiliar herbs and spices, and also for the butter (of course). In hindsight, I realize that the traditional preparation of these pre-meal noshes is to cut them into wedges, but I went the diced route. So the silverware might have to come out early--it's not the end of the world!


To add decadence to deliciousness (and since a fork was required anyway), I drizzled a bit of my truffle oil over the seasoned and roasted taters. 'Twas a fine touch indeed.

And in case you're wondering, Beau Monde seasoning is wonderful--it's just a random and complex blend of some great herbs and spices. Try it out!

Truffled Taters with a Tasty Twist
2 lbs potatoes, scrubbed and diced or wedged
1/4 cup
Challenge Dairy butter, melted
2 teaspoons
Beau Monde seasoning
1 teaspoon
fennel seed
1 teaspoon
ground chipotle chile, more or less to taste
salt and pepper to taste
truffle oil, to finish

Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with foil.
Place the cut potatoes in large bowl. Add melted butter and toss to coat well.
In a little bowl, combine the Beau Monde seasoning, fennel seed, ground chipotle chile, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle this blend over the potatoes and toss to coat evenly. Arrange the seasoned potatoes in a single layer on the prepared pan.
Bake for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden brown. Add more salt and pepper as needed and drizzle with the truffle oil before serving.

If you want to be entered for a chance to win one of five $100 gift cards, all you have to do is write a post about the sweepstakes that Challenge Dairy is running. The winner of this sweepstakes wins a pretty spectacular getaway, which you can read about here.

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December 7, 2009

a possible impossibility

What you see before you is known as Impossible Pie. It's called that because there's no crust involved--it magically forms its own.

Haaallelujah!
I think it should be thusly named for another reason--it's simply not possible to eat only one serving at a time.

If you like coconut, you'll like this pie. There's no way around that. It's a fact. Set in stone. Done and done. The top is toasted and crunchy, the innards are creamy, and the nifty crust is chewy. It's a cinch to prepare. Did I mention that you don't have to fiddle with a crust? I actually don't mind playing with pastry, but I have to admit that it's nice to skip it every once in awhile.

Coconut is like nothing else in the entire world.
I'm not sure where this recipe originated, but it's one that the great Mambino has made often and fortunately, she's trained me to make it too. It's usually formed into one regular-sized pie, but in this instance, little baby tarts seemed the ideal way to go. You'd think they'd make nice, individualized portions, but as I mentioned, it's IMPOSSIBLE to stop with just one serving. If you can resist, you're a stronger person than I.

Impossible Pie
(from Mamster)

3 eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups flaked or shredded coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 10-inch pie plate or a muffin tin with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs and add in the cooled, melted butter. Blend in the flour and sugar, then add the milk, coconut, vanilla, and salt and beat until thoroughly mixed. Pour into the prepared dish.
Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until the coconut becomes golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Be sure to cover and refrigerate any remaining pie. Yeah, right. Like there'd be any left.

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December 3, 2009

it's all grandma's fault

The first time I can remember eating an Andes mint was at Christmas around 10 or 15 years ago. My grandma had gotten boxes of them for each of us, and I quickly ate my entire box and never looked back.


The box o' Andes became something of a holiday tradition for Grandma and she made them available every year. Sometimes they were special flavors (I fondly recall a toffee crunch version), but they were usually the classic mint. My love for them has never wavered.

What's your point, Grace? Get on with it already! I'll bet you've seen and probably used the creme de menthe baking chips, but did you know there was a batch of peppermint crunch baking chips as well? I had no idea until I found them in our cabinet at home--hooray for happy surprises, right? They were absolutely made for cookies, so cookies were made.


Baked correctly, the end result is a cookie that's crispy along the outer rim but chewy toward the middle--I attribute this amazing phenomenon to the brown-to-white sugar ratio. Incidentally, in my cabinets, both are (and always have been and probably always will be) the Domino Sugar brand. I must pause to thank Domino for sending me a gift card to use toward the purchase of their terrific products and also direct you to their website, where you'll find lots of great gift and recipe ideas for the holidays. Expect to see more to come in the near future.

The mint baking chips provide a smooth but subtle mint flavor (and a lovely smattering of pink) and the chocolate chips are plentiful enough to satisfy even the most ardent chocolate-lover. There's nothing cakelike about these discs, so don't expect it.


Best of all? I can get my Andes fix without raiding Grandma's stash.

Peppermint Crunch Chunkies
(based on this recipe)(these'd perfect for a cookie swap, no?)

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup Domino® dark brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup Domino® granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup Andes® Peppermint Crunch baking chips
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300° F.
Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until fluffy (about 3 minutes). Beat in the egg and vanilla. Add in the baking soda, salt, and then flour; mix completely. Stir in the oats, Andes® Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips, and chocolate chips.
Scoop out round balls about 2 tablespoons in size for large cookies or 1 tablespoon for small cookies. Place on cookie sheets two inches apart.
Bake for 20 minutes for large cookies or 12-15 minutes for small cookies, taking care not to over-bake.

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