Archive for the ‘Breads/Baking’ Category

Strawberry Shortcake

May 27, 2018

It’s Spring in Virginia!  And that means strawberries!  I can’t resist them at the farmers’ market.  The season is all too short so you have to take advantage when you can.  I’m constantly looking for recipes.  I’ve also had baking on the brain for a couple of days.  I like to bake, but I don’t do it very often.  Trying to protect myself from eating a whole cake or tray of cupcakes!  Alice Waters to the rescue again.

The shortcakes that we have in the grocery store are bright yellow sponge cakes with a divot in the middle for the strawberries.  It’s kind of a strawberry Twinkie.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve eaten my fair share of Twinkies over the years.  But they aren’t shortcakes.  So, I set out to find a good recipe.  Didn’t take long to make my way back to The Art of Simple Food.

As few ingredients as possible.  That’s what we’ve got here.  And totally versatile. I reduced the optional sugar in the dough so I can use half of these for shortcakes, with a little added sugar on top, and half for breakfast, with a little bacon on top!

Here’s the key to shortbreads, biscuits, pie crusts and the like:  cold butter that stays cold.  That means work quickly and handle the dough as little as possible.  Your hands are hot.  They melt the butter.  You want the butter to stay cold in the making so it can melt in the baking.

Just a few ingredients.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 1/2 C flour
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 4 t sugar (less or none if you want)
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 6 T cold butter cut into little pieces
  • 3/4 C heavy cream

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
  • Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl
  • Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or a knife and fork


  • When the butter is the size of small peas stir in cream
  • Blend lightly with a form until the dough just starts to form


  • Dump it on a lightly floured board
  • Knead just until you can roll it out
  • When it’s 3/4 inch thick, cut into shapes
  • Put the biscuits on a baking sheet and brush with a little more cream


  • Bake 17 minutes, golden brown

Here’s how it went:

I am not fabulous at shortbreads and biscuits.  I don’t make them often enough to get good at it and I don’t have a very light hand in the kitchen. I tend to work these doughs a little hard.  Don’t do that.  It makes the biscuits tough.

I did well with this dough.  Almost.  I read the recipe wrong so I rolled it to a little thicker than 1/4 inch.  Oops.  You can’t mush it all back together and rework it because you’ll get tough biscuits.  So, I cut them all out and then mushed two biscuits together.  To avoid handling them too much I scored the top of one and the bottom of another to help the two pieces stick together.  It worked!


Of course they would be better if I’d done it right the first time, but this was a very good save.  And since I’m pulling them apart to serve them it works pretty well.


I will say that my new oven is a dream come true.  The biscuits have a crisp on the bottom and are fluffy in the middle.  They baked evenly and for exactly 17 minutes.  I couldn’t be happier with it!

I sliced some strawberries earlier today and mixed them with a little sugar.  Then I whipped some heavy cream with vanilla and sugar.  Voila!  Cream biscuits become strawberry shortcake.  Beautiful!



Gooey Butter Cake

April 19, 2013

I’ve been wanting to make Paula Deen’s Gooey Butter Cake for ages.  I never have cake mix in the house so I’ve never been able to do it.  Tonight is a birthday potluck so I decided to give it a whirl.  I’m serving it with Caramel Sea Salt gelato.  I can’t wait!  (In fact I didn’t wait.  I cut a small corner out and ate it while the cake was still warm.  I know, it’s the tackiest thing ever, but it was so good)!

Gooey Butter Cake Butter Cake slice

This really could hardly be easier.  You turn the cake mix into a kind of dough and top it with a cream cheese, egg, butter and sugar mixture that puffs up.  You do have to remember to set the cream cheese out to soften, but you get to melt the butter so you don’t have to worry about setting that out.  I only used half of the powdered sugar called for in the original recipe and that’s plenty.  I was a little concerned it might mess up the texture, but it didn’t.  The topping is creamy and awesome.

The cake ends up incredibly rich and yet pretty light and airy.  And the topping is pure decadence – sweet, smooth, buttery.  Yum.  You can search and find several variations on this cake.  If you have the Lady and Sons Cookbook you’ll find a few more.  You can make them chocolate, peanut butter, toffee, pumpkin, banana, etc.  Lots of options.  I plan to check out a few more for future dinners with friends.

These are so rich you’ll want to cut them small and eat two.  Hope the birthday girl enjoys these!

Good?  How could it not be?
Easy? Absolutely.
Good for company? You’ll be the most popular person in the neighborhood.
Special shopping? Nope. You may have all this in the house at any given time.

Gooey Butter Cake


Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 (18.2- ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 large egg
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (1 pound) box confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking pan with vegetable oil cooking spray.

In the bowl of an electric mixer at medium speed, combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well. Pat evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan and set aside.

In a bowl, mix together the cream cheese, eggs, vanilla extract, confectioners’ sugar and butter. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Pour the filling over the cake mixture and spread it evenly.

Bake until the center is just a little bit gooey, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Cut into pieces and serve.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Buttercream and Thai Ginger Salt

February 10, 2013

It’s potluck night!  We had a potluck birthday this week so I volunteered to bring dessert.  Cupcakes are easy to serve and easy to pawn off leftovers.  I had elaborate plans for the frosting so I opted for a vanilla cupcake.  Be aware that my elaborate frosting plans were all foiled by my lack of ability to read a recipe all the way through and see how much time it takes to make said frostings.  Stay tuned. At some point in the future you’ll see a Dulce de Leche frosting and a Salted Caramel frosting.  Hard to complain too much about chocolate though!

P1010063Vanilla Cupcakes 

I love cupcakes.  Love them, but I’m picky about them.  Finding a vanilla cupcake that’s worth eating all by itself is likely to be a lifelong quest for me, but this is as close as I’ve found in a while.  These are light, but not crumbly and they taste like vanilla instead of like nothing.  A good start.  Another nice thing about these is that the tops are flat so they’re easy to decorate if you’re so inclined.  The tops also have something of a crust on them so they can hold up weighty frostings and other decorations.  This may be the perfect party cupcake.

I also love buttercream frosting.  Who doesn’t really?  Again, I’m picky.  Frosting that’s all butter and powdered sugar doesn’t quite cut it any more.  This has plenty of both, but also chocolate, milk, liqueur and vanilla.  I substituted milk for the cream in the recipe and used Bailey’s instead of Kahlua.  I used what I had.  Worked fine.  I have to give credit here to Homestead Creamery.  They made the butter and it’s the best butter on the planet.  I don’t normally use it for baking, but I should always use it in frosting.  Such creamy yumminess. 

Baking is a science to be sure, but frosting is more of an art. For the baking part – be sure you put your eggs and butter out early so they come to room temperature before you use them.  For the frosting – I rarely follow measurements or directions when I make frosting.  Start with the right amount of butter and then add everything else to match your favorite taste and texture.  I tend to go lighter on the sugar than most recipes call for and a little heavier on the real flavorings  – chocolate, peanut butter, what have you.  The most important thing is that you can’t take liquid out so be sparing with it.

What makes these cupcakes extra special is the Thai Ginger salt.  Sweet creamy chocolatey goodness with just a hint of salt and a touch of gingery bite.  The salt was a Christmas gift from a friend.  Very cool.  I love getting unique kitchen stuff!  Kudos to Drizzles in Cape Charles, VA for putting some very cool stuff out there!

Good? Got raves from the potluck girls!
Easy? Not bad at all.
Good for company? Cupcakes are for sharing – mostly
Special shopping? If you can’t find ginger salt use kosher.

Vanilla Cupcakes with Whipped Chocolate Buttercream and Thai Ginger Salt



1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 1 muffin tin with cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Whipped Chocolate Buttercream


1 cup good quality dark chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) room temperature salted butter
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon liqueur (I used Bailey’s)
1-2 C sifted confectioners’ sugar (to taste)


Put the chocolate in a large microwave safe bowl. Heat in the microwave 20 seconds at a time. Stir thoroughly after each interval until the chocolate is melted. Cool for five minutes. Add the butter, cream, vanilla, liqueur, and mix on medium speed until the mixture thickens. Finally add the confectioners’ sugar in small batches until the mixture holds a medium peak. Slather the icing over the cupcakes with an offset palette knife.
Sprinkle with salt before serving.

Blue(berry) Velvet Cupcakes

August 20, 2012

I’ve been waiting 2 months to make these and they are worth every minute.  I have a friend who is a big fan of blueberries.  I bought extra berries at the farmers’ market in June so I would have them for his birthday cupcakes.  He’s also a big fan of red velvet cake and of cake that comes in cupcake form.  I decided that there had to be a way to combine blueberries and red velvet cupcakes.  This is what I came up with.  There’s some room for improvement, but they are darned good.

Those of you who know me know how picky I am about my red velvet cake.  Many bakeries put red food coloring in a yellow or white cake and call it red velvet.  Ugh.  Real red velvet cake has a dark and tangy flavor from the cocoa, buttermilk and vinegar that you put in it.  I’ll admit that the cocoa flavor in these isn’t as pronounced as I like.  I’m working my way through a container of regular cocoa so that I can get back to the Special Dark cocoa powder that I prefer.  For these I followed a Paula Deen recipe for red velvet cake, but instead of red food coloring I used the pulp from 3 cups of blueberries.  More tangy deliciousness. 

In order to get some blueberry flavor I had to use about 1/4 cup of blueberry pulp.  Since you only use about 2-3 T of red food coloring I had some extra liquid.  So, I added some extra flower to compensate.  It kind of worked.  The batter was a little thinner than I would have liked, but had the creamy, fluffiness about it that you expect in cake batter.  The cupcakes rose exactly like they’re supposed to and the tops were smooth and beautiful.  Unfortunately as they cooled they contracted more than most cupcakes.  That made the cake a little dense.  More the moist texture of a carrot cake or banana bread than the lightness of a normal red velvet.  But then, what’s wrong with banana bread?  Not much.

These are not easy.  A standard red velvet cake has a lot of steps.  This cake has all of those and you have to deal with the blueberries.  I froze some blueberries when they were in season early in the summer and thawed them for this.  I put them in my food mill to separate the pulp from the skins.  I had to do them in two batches and clean out the food mill in between.  It’s easy work with thawed blueberries. If you use fresh ones your pulp will be thicker, which might be nice, but you’ll have to work harder to work them through the mill.  Of course you could use a food processor, but you’ll end up with some pieces of blueberry skin in your cupcakes.  That’s not a great texture so the food mill is a better way to go.  If you don’t have a food mill, you can absolutely mash the thawed blueberries in a colander or sieve with the back of a spoon.  It just might take a little bit longer.

Now, the frosting.  Oh, the frosting.  God bless Paula Deen’s Grandmother Paul.  This is one of the top five frostings I’ve ever made and it’s wicked easy.  It starts out as a standard cream cheese buttercream:  cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar.  Nothing to it.  And then you whip in some melted marshmallow.  Heavenly.  It’s the lightest frosting I’ve made that still has that distinct cream cheese flavor.  No milk, no vanilla, no liquor.  Lots of yummy goodness.  It doesn’t stand up tall.  It more lays over the top like a blanket.  It does have a beautiful glossy shine. 

These are gorgeous and tangy and blueberry and sweet and wonderful.  Maybe I’m unduly influenced by the lack of desserts in my life lately, but I don’t think that’s it.  I think they’re really that good.  Definitely worth trying again to see if I can lighten the texture a little.  And if not, I’ll eat them anyway!

Good?  Unbelievably good.  And with all the antioxidanxt from the blueberries they’re almost a health food.
Easy? Not really.
Good for company? Most definitely.
Special shopping? Nope.

Blue(berry) Velvet Cupcakes


3 C blueberries, thawed
2 cups sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon vinegar

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 C powdered sugar, or more to taste
1 cup melted marshmallows


Mash blueberries in a food mill or colander to separate the skins. Save the pulp. Discard the skins.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter, beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well after each addition. Mix cocoa and food coloring together and then add to sugar mixture; mix well. Sift together flour and salt. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Blend in vanilla. In a small bowl, combine baking soda and vinegar and add to mixture. Pour batter into 3 (8-inch) round greased and floured pans or into 2 lined muffin pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes for cake or 15 minutes for cupcakes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from heat and cool completely before frosting.

Blend cream cheese and butter together in a mixing bowl. Add marshmallows and sugar and blend.

Twice-as-Nice Raisin Oatmeal Cookies

July 19, 2012

There’s a lovely man in my office who has an affinity for oatmeal raisin cookies.  I don’t understand it (cooked raisins, ugh), but I’m happy to support it.  This week he moved me from one office to another and got everything set up.  That seemed deserving of a few cookies.  He’s a purist so there was no option to use dried cranberries or add chocolate chips or add icing.  I’m not sure what makes these ‘twice as nice’ exactly, but the texture seemed good and they smelled great.

I only made two changes to the recipe.  You know I don’t monkey with baking recipes very often.  I used 1/2 C butter and 1/2 C shortening, instead of all shortening and I left out the pecans.  I did soften everything on the counter and bring the egg to room temperature.  Those are just general baking tips.  My other tip is to use the paddle attachment on your mixer if you have a stand mixer.  If you use the whisk for the butter, sugar and eggs you’ll just have to switch to the paddle when you add the dry ingredients.  Then mix the raisins in with a spoon.  These raisins have been plumped in water so they’re puffy and slightly fragile.  If you use the mixer to fold them into the batter they’ll fall apart.

These cookies are pretty cakey.  They don’t spread out much they just puff up.  You’ll notice from the photos that I used some of the batter in a baking dish to see if I could use it for bar cookies.  Kinda.  They cakey texture combined with the oatmeal makes it a little hard for these to hold together when you cut them into squares.  So what you have here is puffy cookies with puffy raisins.  If you prefer chewy raisins just skip the reconstituting step.  If you prefer chewy cookies I’d suggest a different recipe.  Perhaps this one from last Fall…

Good? I’m told they are.
Easy? Yep.
Good for company? Sure.
Special shopping? Nope.

Twice-as-Nice Raisin Oatmeal Cookies


1 cup raisins
Boiling water
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt


Combine raisins and boiling water to cover in a small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes; drain, reserving 2 tablespoons liquid. Pat raisins dry with paper towels.
Beat shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugars, beating well. Add reserved raisin liquid, eggs, and vanilla, beating until blended.
Combine flour and next 4 ingredients. Gradually add to shortening mixture, stirring until blended. Stir in raisins. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto lightly greased baking sheets.
Bake at 350° for 11 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Zucchini Bread

July 1, 2012

It’s another scorcher outside so I’m spending the day mostly in the kitchen.  I checked the garden and found a zucchini that’s been hiding under the foliage.  By the time I noticed it I had a 1 1/2 pound squash on my hands.  I grated the whole thing and ended up with four cups of grated zucchini from that one squash.    I used two of them in these two loaves of zucchini bread.  You’ll have to stay tuned to see where the rest ends up. 

There are hundreds of zucchini bread recipes out there.  I made an effort to find one that’s a little more friendly to the waistline than some.  This Cooking Light recipe calls for egg substitute.  That stuff kind of creeps me out so I opted for 2 egg whites and 1 whole egg instead of the 1/2 C egg substitute.  Other than that I followed the directions as written.  The fat and calories in this are reduced by using the egg whites and also by substituting unsweetened applesauce for some, but not all, of the oil.  Honestly it could have used slightly less sugar also.  It’s very moist and very good, but a little on the sweet side.

The recipe makes 2 loaves and takes about 1 1/2 hours start to finish. Of course an hour and fifteen minutes of that is baking so you’re free to do other things.  The loaves are a little on the short side.  If you want bigger slices pour all the batter into one loaf pan.  You’ll likely need to cook it longer if you decide to do that.  The directions say to bake until a wooden cake tester (I use a bamboo skewer) comes out clean.  I recommend that you bake it until the skewer comes out almost clean.  I like my zucchini bread on the moist side.

This is a darn good way to use an abundance of zucchini.  And a good way to get in an extra vegetable too!

Good? What’s not to like about sweet bread?
Easy? Yep. That’s why the call it “quick bread.”
Good for company? The recipe makes one for home and one to share!
Special shopping? Nope.

Zucchini Bread


2 cups coarsely shredded zucchini (use a box grater)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup applesauce
2 egg whites
1 whole egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350°.
Place zucchini on several layers of paper towels, and cover with additional paper towel. Let stand 5 minutes, pressing down occasionally. Set aside.

Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (flour through baking powder) in a large bowl, and stir well; make a well in center of mixture. Combine zucchini, applesauce, egg substitute, oil, and vanilla; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Divide batter evenly between 2 (7 1/2 x 3-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans, and let cool completely on wire rack.

Coconut Cupcakes

April 8, 2012

Happy Easter everyone!  And congratulations to those of you who made Lenten sacrifices – you made it!  One of my Lenten sacrifices this year was sweets. It was easy in the beginning and through the middle of Lent, but the last 10 days or so have been terrible!    So, I was very pleased to be asked to bring dessert to Easter dinner. 

Coconut cake is a big Easter favorite for that crowd, but most folks are trying to limit their sweets so making a whole coconut cake seemed like a lot of trouble for not much return.  Cupcakes are always good and it’s easy to take the leftovers to the office.  Of course not everyone likes coconut so making cupcakes also allows you to vary the frosting and have something for everyone.  I started with a basic 1-2-3-4 cake:  one cup of milk, one cup (2 sticks) of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour and 4 eggs.  Easy.  It’s a nice white cake without a lot of crumb so it’s easy to frost.  The batter is very thick which makes it a little harder to deal with on the cupcake front, but still not too bad.  With a cake like this it’s the frosting that counts.

I did a chocolate buttercream for half and followed a Paula Deen coconut cake recipe for the other half.  The picture only shows a dozen cupcakes, but the recipe actually makes two dozen.  Easy enough to halve it.

So, I have an announcement to make…Today I made Seven Minute Frosting in seven minutes!  And it was perfect!  Clearly an Easter miracle.  In the interest of full disclosure I should confess that it was the second attempt at said frosting.  I made the first batch sans the water and it came out so grainy I had to throw it away.  I was so irritated that I decided to do a whipped cream frosting instead.  I put the cream and sugar in a mixing bowl and mixed for about 2 minutes before I realized that the cream was half and half and would never turn into whipped cream.  Down the sink with frosting number two.  Back to frosting one, attempt two.

I won’t know for sure until I manage to replicate this wonderful fluff, but I think the key here is to beat the ingredients together in the top of the double boiler before you put it on the heat.  Bring the water to a boil while you’re doing that.  Then put the bowl on top of the boiling water pot and crank the mixer up to high.  Seven minutes later a lovely fluff with the most beautiful shine.  Frost your cake or cupcakes while the frosting is warm.  It’ll set up when it cools. 

I added a little toasted coconut to the top and pressed it in just a touch.  That helps keep it from falling off once the frosting has set.  And it adds exactly the right touch to make these a little extra special.  They were a big hit at the family Easter dinner.

Good? So good.  And not just because I gave them up for Lent.
Easy? The cake, yes. The frosting, no.
Good for company? Cupcakes are for sharing.
Special shopping? Nope.

Coconut Cupcakes


Basic 1-2-3-4 Cake

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
3 cups sifted self-rising flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 2 cupcake pans. Using an electric mixer, cream butter until fluffy. Add sugar and continue to cream well for 6 to 8 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and milk alternately to creamed mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Add vanilla and continue to beat until just mixed. Divide batter equally among cupcake liners, filling each 2/3-3/4 full. Level batter in each pan by holding pan 3 or 4 inches above counter, then dropping it flat onto counter. Do this several times to release air bubbles and assure you of a more level cake. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until done.

7-Minute Frosting

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1 tablespoon white corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
2 egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 C coconut, toasted (optional)

Place sugar, cream of tartar or corn syrup, salt, water, and egg whites in the top of a double boiler. Beat with a handheld electric mixer for 1 minute. Place pan over boiling water, being sure that boiling water does not touch the bottom of the top pan. (If this happens, it could cause your frosting to become grainy). Beat constantly on high speed with electric mixer for 7 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Pat toasted coconut on top.

Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Bread

February 18, 2012

It’s a sunny Saturday morning so why I’ve decided to spend it in the kitchen is a mystery.  I cleaned out the fridge, washed the dishes and emptied the dishwasher and then decided I needed to do something more fun.  And potluck is tonight so I need to take something.  It’s vegetarian night at potluck and I volunteered to bring a salad.  Boooorrrr-ing.  No one volunteered for dessert so this might have to suffice.

I had one lone sweet potato in the basket.  Turns out that wasn’t enough to make a whole cup of mashed sweet potato after I cut the yucky parts out.  Fortunately I had some mashed pumpkin in the freezer so I was able to make up the missing half cup.  The recipe also calls for orange juice.  I didn’t have any of that and decided that cranberry juice would be just fine.  I’m guessing you could use water too.  Just something to add enough liquid to make a real batter.  And I left the streusel topping off.  I tasted the batter and decided that it’s quite sweet enough without a bunch of brown sugar on the top.  So, in the end this bread only kind of resembles the recipe that I started with.  Quick breads are versatile that way.

This is an easy recipe.  I did the sweet potato in the microwave in just a few minutes.  See those little bits of sweet potato?  That’s what you get when you use a whole potato instead of canned puree.  I love those, but if you don’t (or if it makes the bread hard to sneak by your kids) you can puree the sweet potato pulp with some of the juice.  Use leftover sweet potatoes if you have them.  Use all pumpkin or all sweet potato or use butternut or acorn squash if that’s what you have. 

This is good stuff.  It’s amazingly light and fluffy.  Most breads of this ilk are a little bit dense.  This is more the texture you’d expect from a muffin.   It’s sweet, but not overly so and you can really taste the sweet potato.  The perfect complement to a glass of Homestead Creamery milk.  This is a bread you could easily serve for breakfast or brunch, plain or topped with butter or cream cheese.  It would also be terrific topped with country ham and served with soup or salad.  And it’s a Cooking Light recipe so without the streusel topping only about 150 calories a slice.  Not bad. Maybe I’ll have 2 pieces!

Good? Oh yes.
Easy? Sure, it’s quick bread.
Good for company? Bread is meant for sharing.
Special shopping? Nope.

Sweet Potato-Pumpkin Bread


1 large sweet potato
1/2 cup mashed pumpkin
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup cranberry juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350°.
Pierce potato with a fork; place on a paper towel in microwave oven. Microwave at high 5-7 minutes. Wrap potato in paper towel; let stand 5 minutes. Peel potato; mash to measure 1/2 cup.
Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine all-purpose flour and next 6 ingredients (all-purpose flour through nutmeg) in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add mashed sweet potato, pumpkin, juice, oil, and egg, stirring until well blended.
Spoon batter into an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Drop pecan mixture by spoonfuls over top of loaf; gently press into batter.
Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pan; cool completely on wire rack.

Chiffon Cupcakes with Chocolate Whipped Buttercream

February 13, 2012

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day when our thoughts turn to…chocolate.  It just so happens that I have a meeting in the office tomorrow too so it’s the perfect time to try out a new cupcake recipe.  I love cupcakes for eating, but I gotta tell you I’ll be glad when real cakes are back in vogue.  They’re a lot less labor intensive and a little more forgiving.  Still, these are charming and most importantly no plates or forks required.

For a while I’ve been wanting to try this Chiffon Cupcake recipe from Alton Brown, but it’s a fair amount of trouble so I’ve held off until now.   I had leftovers for dinner so that left me enough time to take this on.  I mostly steer clear of Alton Brown.  I find him to be pretty condescending and annoying on TV.  This recipe is a little annoying too.  I know it’s supposed to be better to measure dry ingredients by weight than by volume, but let’s be real – that just makes things harder. 

The bother starts right at the beginning.  You have to separate 5 eggs and beat the yolks with the sugar.  Then in a separate bowl you make a meringue with the whites.  The recipe instructs you to mix up the batter in your mixer, then transfer the batter to another bowl so you can use your mixer to whip the egg whites.  That’s a whole nother level of trouble.  If you’ve got a stand mixer and a hand mixer I’d do the batter in your stand mixer and use the hand mixer on the whites.  Oddly enough I find myself without a hand mixer at the moment.  Fortunately I do have an immersion blender with a whisk attachment.  I put the whites in a large measuring cup and used the stick blender.  Just be sure that your egg whites bowl is large enough.  When you whip all that air into them they quadruple in size.  The next bit of trouble is that this batter is so airy that it doesn’t pour out of the spoon very well.  You have to shake it out.  I used a ladle to help measure out the batter so the cupcakes would be the same size.  Don’t do that.  It’ll go faster if you use a large spoon.  You can fill the cups about 3/4 full.  There’s so much air in the batter as it is that they don’t puff up very much.

They are a beautiful golden brown when they come out and the tops are very smooth.  If you’re into fancy decorations these cupcakes will make a good surface for your frosting decor.  Honestly I think this batter baked in a cake pan and cut would probably make lovely petit fours.  They are light as air but seemingly sturdy so I think you could use about any frosting.  The batter isn’t overly sweet so they can take a fairly sugary frosting I think.  Honestly they’d be beautiful with Seven Minute Frosting on them.  Anyway, I’m kind of into whipped buttercream right now so I decided on a chocolate version of that.

I’ll just refer you to the peanut butter version of this frosting for the details, but I do want to share a few things I learned this time around.  If you leave the milk and flour mixture in the fridge to cool it more quickly you should put plastic wrap right down on it.  If you don’t it will get a skin just like pudding.  No amount of whisking will get rid of that skin.  If that happens just peel the skin off and throw it away.  Now, for the chocolate.  Use baking chocolate and not chocolate chips.  Chips have just a touch of paraffin or wax in them to help them keep their shape.  This frosting is way too light to overcome that waxy texture.  Don’t bother with a double boiler.  A glass bowl in the microwave works just fine.  Just melt your chocolate in short intervals and stir it good between intervals.  If you try to melt it all the way down at one time you’ll burn it.  It will actually be done before it looks like it’s done.  You’ll be surprised how quickly the last of the lumps disappear with a few good turns of a spoon.

I haven’t eaten one of these yet.  It seems tacky to show up with 23 cupcakes.  But they’re lovely and really, how bad can they be?  I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Good? Let’s hope so. (Not so much.  Spongy and a little dense.  Frosting rocks).
Easy? Not at all. (And not good enough to make them worth the trouble).
Good for company? Of course. (Choose another cake recipe.  Keep the frosting).
Special shopping? Nope. Standard baking components.

Chiffon Cupcakes


5 1/4 ounces cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 large eggs, separated
6 ounces sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5/8 teaspoon cream of tartar


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Place paper liners into 2 (12-cup) muffin tins and set aside. If you prefer, set 12 ovenproof coffee mugs on a half sheet pan and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Place the egg yolks and 5 ounces of the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on high for 2 minutes or until the mixture becomes pale yellow and ‘ribbons’ when lifted. Add the water, vegetable oil and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients and whisk just to combine. Transfer the batter to a mixing bowl while you whisk the egg whites.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar into a clean bowl and whisk on high using the whisk attachment, until it becomes foamy. Decrease the speed to low and gradually add the remaining ounce of sugar. Increase speed to high and continue whisking until stiff peaks form, approximately 2 minutes.

Transfer 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and whisk until well combined. Add the remaining egg whites and fold in gently. Transfer batter into prepared muffin tins or coffee mugs, evenly dividing the batter between the cups. Place both muffin tins on the middle rack of the oven or, if using mugs, place all of them on a half sheet pan and set on the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean or the cupcakes reach an internal temperature of 205 to 210 degrees F. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Whipped Buttercream

Follow the original directions, but leave out the peanut butter.
Add 4 ounces of room temperature, melted baking chocolate to the butter and sugar mixture before whipping in the flour and milk mix.

Coca Cola Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache

February 11, 2012

Tomorrow is the Second Annual No Football Sunday Dinner.  This year the theme is Caribbean, but I couldn’t resist throwing a little of the South in too.  Few things are more Southern than Coca-Cola and buttermilk.  This cake has both. And no, Pepsi will not do.  Not at all.

In most ways this is a pretty standard sheet cake.  Mix your dry ingredients in one bowl; cream the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla in another.  Make sure your butter and eggs are both room temperature when you start.  What’s different about this cake is the mixture of Coke and buttermilk.  When you first start to add it to the batter it might freak you out a little.  The batter will look a little curdled, and frankly kind of gross.  Just keep going.  Alternate the Coke mixture with the dry ingredients, starting and ending with the dry.  It will turn out smooth in the end.  Follow the directions closely.  Amounts count in baking.

Two things about this recipe caused me some trouble.  First, it calls for a 9×13 baking dish.  Now, I have 7 clear glass Pyrex baking dishes.  That’s right – seven.  Not a single one of them is a 9×13.  I’m not convinced I’ve ever even seen one that is actually 9×13.  Annoying.  I decided that the 10×15 would make the cake too thin. I used the 8×12 instead.  Just remember if you do that to increase the baking time. The thicker cake will take a little longer.  The second thing is that, like most cake recipes, you have to grease and flour the dish.  I am constitutionally incapable of flouring a cake pan without getting flour all over the counter, floor and sink.  Can’t do it.  Ugh.  But it’s an important step if you plan to get the cake out of the pan without tearing it up.

Now for the ganache.  This is the easiest cake frosting ever.  Just cream and chocolate chips.  And it’s beautiful – shiny and smooth.  Here’s my tip for frosting a cake with ganache:  remove the cake from the pan and put it on parchment paper. Pour the ganache over it, smoothing it down the sides as you go.  If you do it on your cake plate you’ll have a mess for serving it.  I’m hopeful that transferring it to the cake plate will go smoothly.  Or, if you plan to serve the cake right out of the baking dish, take a straw and poke some holes in your cake.  That way the ganache will run down into the cake. 

I recommend serving it with a little fresh whipped cream on the side to balance out all the chocolate!

I’ll let you know tomorrow how it went over with my guests!

Coca Cola Cake with Chocolate Ganache


1 cup Coca-Cola
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda


Combine Coca-Cola and buttermilk; set aside.
Beat butter at low speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar; beat until blended. Add egg and vanilla; beat at low speed until blended.
Combine flour, cocoa, and soda. Add to butter mixture alternately with cola mixture; begin and end with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended.
Stir in marshmallows. Pour batter into a greased and floured 13- x 9-inch pan. Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven; cool to room temperature.

Chocolate Ganache


1 cup heavy whipping cream
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips


In a medium saucepan, bring the whipping cream to a simmer. Take off the heat and add the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes. Whisk the mixture until smooth and creamy. Pour over the cooled cake.