fresh picked rhubarb buckle

IMG_7712Rhubarb is not commonly found in southern gardens.  The intense heat and humidity just do not suit the plant well.  In the demonstration garden, we have learned that the best way to grow it is to plant it in an area that does not see the intense light and heat of afternoon sun.  In the back of our vegetable garden, we have a shady area and in it are two rhubarb plants that are a green variety which seem to be better suited to our growing conditions.

When it comes to harvesting rhubarb, I really do not know much about when or how much to take.  Since the one plant has more than tripled in size since the spring and has stalks over an inch wide, I figured it couldn’t be a first year plant and decided to harvest about a third of it.  After all, we would be needing cake for our Saturday morning get together in the garden and a rhubarb buckle made with stalks from our own garden sounded perfect to me.

IMG_7721Color is not generally an indication of sweetness in rhubarb but the manner in which it was grown can be.  Hot house rhubarbs that have been forced are generally sweeter than those grown outdoors naturally.  This crop was pretty tart and I decided to let it macerate in sugar before adding it to the cake.

IMG_7728Having chickens in our own garden has been a wonderful experience.  When we moved into the new house, we added a few more and the littles have begun laying!  We have one Americauna hen who has been laying tiny green eggs.  We haven’t had the heart to crack them yet, but at the rate we are going, we will have to or run the risk of being buried in a pile of eggs.

IMG_7730Buckles are one of my favorite summer fruit cakes.  This particular recipe is so versatile that by making simple substitutions, you can have a completely different cake each time!  This time though, I kept it pretty simple and just substituted rhubarb for the usual sour red cherries.

IMG_7731 The name “buckle” comes from the manner in which some of the fruit sinking while some of the batter rises up during the baking and this can give the cake a “buckled” appearance.

IMG_7732With the final addition of a walnut crumb topping, the cake was ready to go into the oven.

IMG_7736The buckling I was hoping for was not as pronounced and I suspect that it may have needed to macerate longer or I may need to increase the amount of rhubarb in the recipe.  Looks like I will have to make another soon to test the theory!  Despite that, it did make a nice sweet-tart layer of filling between the cake and the crumbs, the perfect treat after spending several hours digging and pulling weeds.

IMG_7739Fresh Rhubarb Buckle

with Walnut-Oat Streusel Topping

makes 1 (8″x 2″) square cake serving 12-16

2-1/2 cups sliced fresh rhubarb

1/3 cup (2-1/2 ounces) granulated sugar

2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) unbleached all purpose flour

4 ounces unsalted butter, softened

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2/3 cup buttermilk

walnut oat streusel topping, recipe follows

In a small bowl, toss the rhubarb with the first listed sugar and allow it to macerate for an hour to produce juice.  Add the flour, toss to coat it evenly and set aside while you prepare the cake.  Make the crumb topping at this time and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease and flour an 8″x 8″ cake pan.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the second listed sugar, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, scrape the bowl after each addition and mix well.  Sift the flour and the baking powder over the batter.  Fold a few times, add the buttermilk and fold completely until no streaks remain.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and level it.  Top the batter evenly with the rhubarb and all of the liquid in the bowl.  Sprinkle the streusel over the cake and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about an hour and 15 minutes.  Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes and then turn it out onto a tray and invert it onto a rack to finish cooling.

Walnut-Oat Streusel Topping

makes 1-1/2 cups

1/2 cup (2-3/4 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 cup (2-1/4 ounces) rolled oats

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1/4 cup (1-1/4 ounces) chopped walnuts

Place the flour, oats, sugar and cinnamon into a small bowl.  Using your fingers, mix the ingredients.  Add the butter and rub the cubes into the dry ingredients until clumps begin to form.  Sprinkle the walnuts over the mixture and toss together to combine.  Use this immediately or store in the refrigerator for as long as three weeks.

The original version of this recipe, made with sour cherries, can be found in my book, Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe

black bottoms; a family obsession

IMG_7691Obsession is a strong word, but in this case, an accurate one.  When I began making these for our bakery (twenty years ago), everyone in my family got hooked on them.  Moist chocolate cake and a rich chocolate chip cheesecake are baked together in muffin cups and the result is a decadent, obsession worthy treat.

My preference is to bake these in giant muffin pans with a cup volume of about 7 oz or 200ml, the ones that are sometimes referred to as Texas size.  Just try not to eat the whole thing by yourself!  This time, I made them in standard sized muffin cups which have a volume of 3.5 oz or 100ml,  but they can be made in any size pan as long as you use cupcake liners.  Otherwise, it is a lot of work to pry them out of the pans.

There are a few tips I like to share in hopes of guaranteeing success for anyone that makes these.  First of all, use a cream cheese that is dense rather than fat free, whipped or extra creamy.  While that famous brand (named after a Pennsylvania city) is great for spreading on a bagel, it really doesn’t provide the best results for this recipe.  Whatever they do to make the cheese creamy yields a filling that is thin and runny.  During baking,  the chips can sink to the bottom of the cupcake while the cheese floats to the top.  If the filling doesn’t sink in the middle a bit, they just don’t look like they should but more importantly, the two batters bake layered.   The best ones have a cheesecake center with cake on the sides and bottom and just a little of the cheese filling peeking out on top.  Save your pennies and buy the store brand, it will work perfectly!  You can make the filling ahead of time and keep it in the fridge; cold filling is more likely to sink in than room temp filling.

When I make these, I generally use whatever chocolate chips I have handy.  However, if you use mini chips, they will be less likely sink to the bottom like the large ones will.  Keep in mind that either way, the results will be delicious.  Just save the freshly chopped chocolate for a different recipe since the tiny shards will color the filling and make it look more like a chocolate filling.

Want to make these quickly?  Want all of them to be the same size?  Use portion scoops!  Seriously, purchase professional style portion scoops, also called dishers, in a range of sizes and you will not have to worry about the size or whether they will bake evenly.  Depending on what size pan you use, you will need a range of scoops.  For jumbo pans, #12 and #16 will work for the cake and cheesecake, respectively while #16 and #40 will be needed for a standard sized pan.  Purchasing scoops is an investment but if you are regular baker, you will find yourself using these scoops for all sorts of things such as muffins, drop biscuits, cookies and more.  For the best prices and range of sizes, look in a restaurant supply shop or website.

If you do not intend to use the scoops, you will need a 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup measure for the jumbo cupcakes (chocolate cake and cheesecake filling respectively) or 1/4 cup and 1/8 cup measure for the standard sized cupcakes.

IMG_7696

Black Bottom Cupcakes

makes 12 jumbo or 24 standard sized cupcakes

12 ounces cream cheese (see notes above)

1-1/2 cups plus 2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (see notes above)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup unsweetened, natural cocoa powder

1-3/4 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons vinegar-distilled white or cider

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup vegetable oil such as canola or soybean

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line the muffin tins with paper cups and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream the cheese with the 2/3 cup sugar to combine, do not whip it because it will warm up (see notes above).  Add the eggs, one at a time, then mix only enough to combine.  Stir the chocolate chips into the filling by hand and set it in the fridge until needed.

Place a large mesh strainer or sifter into a large mixing bowl.  Add the flour, remaining 1-1/2 cups sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt to the strainer and sift the dry ingredients into the bowl. Using a whisk, combine them completely.  In a large liquid measuring cup, pour 1-1/2 cups water, the vinegar and the vanilla and set aside.  Dump the oil into the dry ingredients and add about half of the water.  Using the whisk, mix it well to create a smooth paste.  Scrape the bowl and whisk in the remaining water mixture.  Whisk it well and using the larger portion scoop or measuring cup (see notes above), divide the batter between the cups.  Top each cupcake with a dollop of the cheesecake using the scoop or measuring cup called for in the notes above.

Bake the cupcakes until they have a little golden-brown color around the edges of the cheesecake and they feel firm around the edges of the cake, about 40-45 minutes for the jumbo size, 30-35 minutes for the standard size. To bake them evenly, be sure to turn them halfway through baking.  Once baked, let them cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes then carefully turn them out and place them on a rack to cool completely.  To store these, keep them in the fridge, but let them sit out a bit to warm up to room temp for serving.  Freezing works well for longer storage; wrap them individually and place them in a closed container in the freezer.  Allow them to thaw in the fridge, still wrapped and then serve them at room temp.  They will last in the freezer for a month, maybe two but I doubt they will ever make it there…

This recipe can also be found in my book, Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe.  

 

there’s gnome place like home…

IMG_7587Long story short, I am staying with mom while she recovers from a fall.  While out in the yard, she fell, broke her leg and had to have a rod inserted to support the bone.  Thankfully, she is well on her way to returning to normal but it will take some time and for the next few weeks, I will be here doing all of the things she cannot do and some of the things she does not care to do, like baking cookies.

IMG_7600Leaving my garden for a month was rough.  We had really just begun to get the summer crops in and there is still much to do to eradicate the bermuda grass.  Here in PA, spring is still in the air and the trees have only recently leafed out.  In case you haven’t visited this blog before, I have posted photos of my mother’s yard before.  In her community, deer are prevalent, and as a matter of fact, there are several grazing in the yard as I write this.  Because they eat everything, including plants that they shouldn’t, mom gardens with things rather than plants.  As you walk the yard, little statues and hidden treasures will become obvious.  Of course, gnomes have a mind of there own and we never quite know where they will pop out and surprise you.  Standing stock still and looking like a statue, you will almost think that someone placed them there on purpose…

IMG_7602Moss grows all over the yard because it is shady and moist.  This little cherub spends his time watching the yard but if he knows what the gnomes are up to, he isn’t telling anyone.  He sits and stares in disbelief as raccoons and squirrels come to the basin to drink water.

IMG_7604This little guy seems to be guarding the front door.  We throw peanuts to him from the deck but he usually lets the squirrels eat them.

IMG_7607The yard is so lush and green right now that the only color that pops out is red.

IMG_7611All over the yard are these tiny blue blossoms, wish I had my wildflower book with me!

IMG_7612When you walk the yard, you really need to watch where you are going, it is easy to step on the residents.  This moon face greets all that visit the pond.IMG_7617It must be nice to have the time to lounge in the woods all day.

IMG_7576Mom is not a big fan of chocolate so I made a batch of crispy lemon cookies with a small amount of anise seeds thrown in for fun.  Since I do not have my cookbooks here to flip through, I used this recipe from Taste of Home magazine.  They really are crispy and for the most part, I followed the recipe except I used fresh lemon zest instead of the extract, threw in a half teaspoon of anise seeds and scooped them out with a #70 scoop.  Because I am unfamiliar with the oven here, I lowered the baking temp to 375 which allowed them to spread out nice and thin but I did have to increase the baking time by 2-3 minutes.  The review, mom tested and mom approved; this recipe is a keeper!

Happy baking and gardening and if I were you, I would keep an eye on those gnomes-just leave them a cookie every now and then, that should keep them happy…

 

just another sunday in paris…a tuesdays with dorie post

img_7409If only I knew what a Sunday in Paris was like; someday… Actually, in this case, it is a reference to a pastry shop in Paris and that is the name of it; Sunday in Paris.  This cake is a specialty of theirs and a favorite of Dorie Greenspan’s which is why she developed the recipe for her book, Baking Chez Moi.  The Tuesdays with Dorie bakers chose this cake for February and it was a great cake for Valentine’s day, or any day that chocolate and peanut butter are appropriate-otherwise known as everyday in my book!

img_7413Peanut butter is not that popular in Paris where Nutella apparently reigns but here in Tennessee, it flies and fast.  We took this cake to a potluck dinner and I came home with crumbs on a dirty tray.  The dark, rich cake reminded me of Drakes Devil Dogs with a hint of peanut butter.  To have enough for the dinner, I doubled the recipe and baked it in a pullman loaf pan to make a tall, brick shaped cake.  We didn’t have any peanuts in the house but while rummaging through the cupboards, I found a Payday bar and chopped some of it up for the garnish on the top.

img_7417This is a recipe I would make again and if you have the book, do not hesitate to try it!  To see what the other bakers came up with this week, visit the website!  To participate, pick up a copy of the book and bake along with us.

granola cake; a tuesdays with dorie post

img_7316Back in September, I learned we were relocating again.  After a few bumps in the road, we have landed back in Nashville and are settling into our new home.  During the move, one of the things I missed the most was being able to bake in my own kitchen and now that I have a kitchen again, I am also baking again!

First up; granola cake.  Actually, this recipe comes from Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan and not only is it the first cake I have baked in a while, it is the first time I have been able to join the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers since we started packing up for the move.  Since we are back in Nashville, we are active with the Master Gardener program and this cake was a great choice for the potluck dinner we have each month.  Having cut the cake into thin slices, I placed the cake on the dessert table and didn’t have any trouble convincing folks to try it!

img_7318The recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate, shredded coconut and granola which all combine to make the flavor similar to an oatmeal cookie with coconut and chocolate chips.  The only thing you need to know, use a good quality granola because it is a large part of the flavor and texture of the cake.  With this in mind, I made a small batch of my own granola rather than buy it.

While I am not posting the recipe for the cake, we do not post the recipes from the book out of respect for the author, I am posting the recipe for the granola that I used in the cake.  This recipe is the one that I made for years when I was working at the Loveless Cafe and I suggest you mix up a batch-it’s that good!

img_7330Granola

This small recipe makes about 2 cups of granola and can easily be doubled or tripled, just store it airtight and use it within a month.  My preference is to use a combination of wildflower honey and sorghum but you can use just one for the total amount.  If you can’t find sorghum, molasses will work but will give it a little more color.

3/4 oz light brown sugar

1-3/4 oz pecan pieces

5 oz whole rolled oats

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon sorghum

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. In a heat proof bowl, stir together the brown sugar, oats, nuts and cinnamon, set aside.  In a small pan, combine the butter, honey and sorghum and over low heat, stir until the butter melts and the mixture is heated but not boiling.  Pour the melted butter mixture over the oats and stir until it is combined.  Dump the mixture onto the prepared pan and spread it out evenly.  Bake for about 10 minutes, stir it well and continue baking for another 10 minutes or so.  The time depends on how thin the layer is in the pan.  Keep a close eye on the granola and stir it frequently until it turns a nice deep amber color.  When the granola is the color you want, remove it from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Using your hands-it will still be hot and it needs to be pretty warm for this to work, break up the granola so that it will be free flowing when it cools off.  Gently rub the clumps between your fingers to separate the large lumps-they will be pretty hard once cooled so do not be tempted to leave them in tact.  Allow it to cool completely and store it airtight.

img_7326Want to bake along with us?  Pick up a copy of the book, visit the website and get to work!

last minute cookies; coconut spritz

img_0426If you are like 99% of the people I know, you are in a hurry and trying to get everything done; baking, cooking, cleaning, shopping, wrapping and more.  Even though I am still trying to get my house unpacked from the move, I am also trying to do some holiday baking because it just isn’t Christmas without a small truckload of cookies in the house!  The good news is, that I have found one of the quickest and easiest recipes to prepare.

Coconut Spritz cookies are easy to mix and just as easy to shape.  While the dough can be shaped with a cookie press, it can also be scooped out and pressed with a cookie stamp, a flat bottomed glass or even the palm of your hand.  However, if you have a cookie press, use it, it will save you some time and produce cookies that are consistent in size.  One note, this dough is a bit high in fat and on the soft side.  Like most Spritz recipes, you should press the dough directly onto a sheet pan that is not non-stick or lined with any kind of paper.  While this may go against all you know about cookie baking, if you try to use paper or a treated pan, the dough cannot stick as you press it out and you will spend your time fighting with the press.  Do not worry, after baking, you will be able to get them off the pans by simply letting them set for a minute and then lifting them with a thin spatula.

The coconut flavor mainly comes from the oil so be sure to use a virgin oil that has not been refined and stripped of the flavor.  This recipe also calls for finely shredded coconut and if you plan to use the press, it must be extremely fine.  Whether it is sweetened or not is hardly important but in this case, size absolutely matters! If you cannot find it at the grocery store, try a Latino market, that is where I found mine.

img_7278Coconut Spritz Cookies

makes about 72 pressed cookies

1 cup coconut oil, at room temperature-not melted

5.4 oz sugar (153 g, 3/4 cup)

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large egg yolks

10.75 oz unbleached all purpose flour (305 g, 2 1/4 cups)

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 oz extra fine shredded coconut (14 g, 1/4 cup)

3-4 tablespoons heavy cream

Coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350.  In a mixing bowl, cream the coconut oil with the sugar, vanilla and salt until well blended but do not mix it too long-the oil may begin to melt.  Add the egg yolks and mix to combine, scrape the bowl well.  Stir in the flour and baking powder and then the coconut.  Mix until it comes together.  Add the heavy cream, 1 tablespoon at a time until you have a dough that is soft and easy to shape.  You may not need all of it, and the more you add, the more the cookies spread in the oven.

Using the press, deposit the cookies onto the baking pans, leaving at least 1 inch between them.  Sprinkle the top of each cookie with a little coarse sugar.  Bake until golden around the edges, about 12 minutes.  Rotate the pans halfway through baking.  Let the hot cookies set for a minute then remove them from the pan with a thin, metal spatula and cool completely on a rack.  Store in an airtight container for about a week-if they last that long…

If not using a press, use a small portion scoop such as a #50 scoop.  Dip the top of each ball of dough into the coarse sugar and place onto a pan.  Flatten them slightly with a cookie stamp, the flat bottom of a glass or your hand.  Baking times will depend on the size of the scoop used, watch them closely and adjust the time as needed.

img_7287

Time for pie! A collection of pies for Thanksgiving.

img_7235Each holiday seems to have a specific dessert associated with it.  For me, Easter always brings visions of coconut cakes smothered in shredded coconut, Christmas calls out for cookies of all kinds and Thanksgiving is the day that pies are front and center of the dessert table.  No pie is more synonymous with Thanksgiving than Pumpkin Pie and with the current proliferation of all things pumpkin spice, I have decided not to include it in this small collection of recipes and instead, focus on a few others that are guaranteed crowd pleasers!

Right about the time of the onslaught of pumpkin spice laden goods, apples come into season.  While just about every pumpkin pie is based on a creamy, custard based filling recipe, apple pies are much more flexible.  Pumpkin is pumpkin but each variety of apple has its own characteristics and by simply switching out varieties, you can completely change the flavor of the filling.  Personally, I prefer to blend apple varieties to create a full flavored pie that has plenty of juice to keep the pie from being dry and enough heft in the slices to prevent them all from falling apart while they bake.

img_7243The skins of an apple contain pectin, which will make wonderful sauce or jelly, but is tough and chewy once baked, so be sure to peel and slice the apples as you make the filling.  Do not worry about the browning that might occur because the sugar and spice will camouflage the color.

img_7244For this pie, I chose Rome, Cortland and Golden Delicious.  Each one had flesh of a slightly different color.  The yellow hue of the Golden Delicious apples made the slices resemble rutabegas!  The Cortlands were a bit green and the Romes were bright white.  The texture and flavor of each was also different and ranged from crispy and tart to soft and sweet with a lovely scent.  If you aren’t sure of what varieties are suitable for pie, this comprehensive chart from Pick Your Own will be very helpful.

img_7250With my kitchen packed up for the move, my options were limited and I decided to skip the top crust and just go with a streusel topping.  That dome of apples looks a bit ridiculous but the truth is that the apples used for pies always juice out and collapse a bit in the baking.  For this monster, I had two and a half pounds of apple slices in the fillings-something I do not recommend for a 9″ crust!  For a pie that size, don’t go over two pounds.

One other thing I would like to mention, if you are intimidated by the idea of making your own crust or simply do not have the time or desire, don’t make one-buy one!  Usually, I mix up a large batch of dough divide it into the portion, roll out what I need for the pie I am baking and then freeze the leftovers.  This way, I always have a stash of dough to pull from the freezer any time I want to bake a pie.  Because we are in the process of a long distance move, I have run through my stash and had to purchase a crust for this pie.

img_7258A spicy crumb topping is a quick way to dress up a pie and to add a little crunch to the texture along with flavor.  It is also a lot easier to handle than a top crust which makes it the perfect solution if you are not keen on working with pie dough.  The recipe included  with this post is one of my favorite crumb toppings and it works just as well on cobblers, crisps, muffins and coffee cakes as it does on this pie so be sure to keep it handy!

img_7257Crumb Topped Apple Pie

makes one 9 inch pie, serving 8-10

2 pounds fresh apple slices-any variety suitable for baking

8 ounces brown sugar

2 tablespoons of apple (or pumpkin) pie spice or you can blend your own spices by combining 1 tablespoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cardamom and 1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/4 cup all purpose flour or 2 tablespoons corn starch if you prefer starch to flour

Preheat the oven to 350.  On a sturdy baking sheet that will not warp and buckle in the oven, place a sheet of parchment paper and give it a spritz of grease.  Toss the apple slices with the sugar, spices and flour and pour it into the crust.  Cover it with the crumb topping, pressing it down lightly to pack it and to prevent it from falling off.  Put the pie onto the prepared baking pan and bake the pie until the juices are bubbling and have thickened, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Allow the pie to cool until room temp so that the juices set and it will be much easier to slice.

My Favorite Crumb Topping

1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup dark brown sugar (honestly, can be light or white, I just prefer dark)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or apple/pumpkin pie spice blend

1/8 teaspoon baking soda, optional-using it will make the crumbs lighter, omitting it will keep them crunchy

img_7242

To call this a collection, I must include other recipes and these are two of my absolute favorite pies!  Rather than print the recipes here, I am including the links to my food52.com page;  Masala Spiced Pear Pie with a lattice top and Roasted Butternut-Maple Pie with Smoked Pecans

img_4740For the adventurous bakers, this gem from my days as the pastry chef of the Loveless Cafe, a Goo Goo Cluster Marshmallow pie is an unbaked pie but it does require making the crust, a ganache and a cooked marshmallow filling.  While a little time consuming, it is well worth the effort if you are a marshmallow fan, the recipe is also posted on my food52.com page and can be found here.  If you can’t find Goo Goo Clusters, visit the website and stock up or search for a store that sells them near you!