Archive for the ‘Recipes’ category

when life brings you lemons, make lemonade—and mini Bundt cakes

February 7th, 2010

mini bumdt at 350I didn’t know who Nigella Lawson was until my best friend Dawn gave me Nigella’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess for a wedding gift nearly eight years ago. Nigella’s lemon Baby Bundts recipe, super simple to make with impressively pretty results, has been an ideal match for any of my three mini Bundt cake pans. (I’ve already admitting to collecting Nordic Ware, so is it a surprise I have the multi, the fluted, and the flowers mini Bundt pans?)

Tonight, I used the book’s photo of white icing dripping off the sides of a mini Bundt cake to sell Carter on having the three Meyer lemons he brought home from Lucy’s tree at daycare to do double duty: make lemonade as intended and make dessert for a Super Bowl gathering tomorrow. Bonus: both offer easy ways to engage kids in the kitchen.

Carter loves to hand-squeeze lemons, using funny enough another wedding present, a lemon squeezer from friends Anita and Cameron. Tonight, I let him cut the lemons in half with a serrated knife for the first time. (Just when you thought I’d forgotten about the child-development skills part of my blog, I’ll point out that hand-squeezing and cutting take strength and coordination, while directing where juice or a knife ends up involves hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness.)

For the cakes, however, I didn’t let Carter handle the zester, yet, even though he asked. I’m still nervous about zesting the skin off my own fingers, so I think we’ll hold off on that. We did talk about what zest is and sniff it, though, for a bit of sensory awareness.

Lots of zest (I use more than the original recipe) and the frosting are key to the cakes being flavorful. This is the first time I’ve doubled the original cake recipe, so feel free to half it. You can also use vanilla yogurt instead of plain. And, according to Nigella, the recipe will also work with just about any citrus, such as orange or lime, so make it you own and let me know how it goes.

One-Lemon Lemonade

Squeeze 1 lemon. A large lemon yielded 1/3 cup lemon juice. Heat the same yield amount of water (1/3 cup) and of sugar (1/3 cup water) in the microwave on high for 2 minutes to make simple sugar. Mix juice, simple syrup, and an equal amount (1 cup) of water to dilute. Chill and enjoy.

Lemon Baby Bundts

1 cup plain yogurt (or 2/3 cup Greek yogurt + 1/3 cup water)
1 1/2 cups butter, melted and slightly cooled
4 eggs
zest of  3 lemons (preferably Meyer)
2 cups flour
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon, scant, salt (2 pinches)

2 cups powdered sugar
juice of 2 lemons

Butter two mini Bundt pans (each with six molds). Preheat over to 325˚F.

Whisk together the yogurt, butter, eggs, and lemon zest in a small mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold with a rubber spatula until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the 12 molds. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the tops are starting to lightly brown and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool cakes 10 minutes in pans before turning out on a wire rack. Cool completely before icing.

To make the icing, sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and add enough of the lemon juice to make icing about the consistency of honey. Pour icing on top of the cakes and allow to drizzle down the sides.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess

anxiously awaiting Christmas cupcakes part 2, or just anxious?

January 23rd, 2010

xmas 1xmas 2Sorry for the weeks-long break between part 1 and part 2 of Christmas cupcakes. No doubt you’ve been anxiously awaiting what now sounds like old news. Anxious just happens to be how I’ve been feeling too much since the break-in. And it really annoys me that not only did the thieves take things dear to me but they’ve also taken away my peace of mind—along with too much of my ability to get things done, like blogging.

My New Year’s strategy was to combat this. “Just show up,” I told myself. So where have I been? Apparently a little lost. No GPS. No Google Map directions. Dead cell-phone battery. Not even a paper map. (Remember those—you can still get them free from AAA.) I know friends and family are nearby, and I have to start somewhere. So here I am. We’ll have to see how well my own sense of direction serves me.

Back to Christmas dinner: Remember that we have pumpkin–chocolate chip cupcakes (really muffins, but let’s not quibble about details). We’ll pick up with making cream cheese frosting and Carter’s reminding me “I can do it myself, Mommy” (no doubt thinking “Thank you very much”). Jeff is much better than I am about encouraging Carter to do things for himself. It’s something I need to think of and do more often, so I handed over the electric handheld mixer. And Carter mixed the frosting.

Now comes Carter’s favorite part: red sprinkles. He did real-time decorating, taking the bowl of frosting and assorted red and green sprinkling options to the table, and custom topping a cupcake for each of us: Grandpa, Aunt Janet, Daddy, and Mommy.

I hope your holidays were as sweet and thoughtful as was my cupcake, and I will be showing up here again. No need to wait anxiously.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add powdered sugar and vanilla, and beat to blend.

Christmas cupcakes part 1: my take on pumpkin–chocolate chip muffins

January 11th, 2010

Not being much of a pie baker, many holidays back, I went in search of an alternative pumpkin dessert recipe. I found a pumpkin–chocolate chip loaf cake recipe on Epicurious, which reviewers rated highly and suggested making as muffins. Here’s my take on pumpkin–chocolate chip muffins.

Next up: Carter’s take on how cream cheese frosting and red sprinkles transform pumpkin–chocolate chip muffins into perfect Christmas cupcakes.

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin purée
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Put paper liners in muffin tins. Alternatively, coat the tins with cooking spray, or butter and flour them. Note: I used a standard ice cream scoop to portion the batter and had a yield of 16 muffins; I put water in the empty spots.

Sift first five ingredients into a mixing bowl. Cream butter in a separate mixing bowl until fluffy. Beat in sugar, then add the eggs one at a time. Beat in the pumpkin and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients, alternately with milk, starting and finishing with the dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips.

Distribute batter evenly among muffin tins. Bake until the muffin tops brown and feel firm to the touch, and a tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Adaptation notes: The original recipe calls for just 1 cup of pumpkin, 1 1/4 cup of sugar, 3/4 cup of walnuts, and 3/4 cup of chocolate chips. I pulled a Jessica Seinfeld / Sneaky Chef move and added a whole can of Trader Joe’s organic canned pumpkin. I also decreased the sugar to balance out replacing the nuts with a second dose of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips.

Adapted from Epicurious (Bon Appétit, November 2000)

epic failure: the rise and fall of orange-nutmeg popovers

January 9th, 2010

risefallBad omen: Carter describing the orange-nutmeg popovers in the oven as “mashed potatoes shaped like Mount St. Helens.” They looked puffy and yummy, but we all know what happened to the picturesque Mount St. Helens. It’s rare that a recipe doesn’t work for me. The orange-nutmeg popover recipe in Savory Baking just didn’t.

The recipe said to “prick each popover with a small knife to let the the steam escape because this helps them from collapsing.” I pricked. They collapsed.

Did using a blender, instead of mixing by hand, affect the batter’s airiness in a bad way? Was the baking temperature, only 375˚F, compared to 425˚F in other recipes, too low to crisp up enough the popovers? This popover recipe didn’t have any additional notes on popover baking techniques. The popover recipes in BakeWise and Baking Illustrated are much more informative.

Aside from the technical issues, the real problem was the strong, off-putting flavor. For six popovers, the recipe included 1 teaspoon each of salt, fresh ground nutmeg, and freshly ground black pepper, plus the zest of one large orange. The other ingredients were fairly standard: 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 3 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 cup flour.

Jeff took one look at the popover on the plate and requested one of the “puffy” ones. I had to explain that these were the (formerly) puffy ones. He took one bite, put it down, and said “too nutmeggy.” I thought they tasted too salty and peppery but powered through eating one, as I tried to pinpoint the flavoring errors of my ways.

I had trouble leveling off the teaspoons (I used a 1/4 teaspoon to measure because it’s hard to scoop up fresh-ground spices) of nutmeg and pepper because of their rough texture, and I wonder if I packed the spices instead of loosely leveling them, ending up with too much. That wouldn’t explain the salt, though, because I used table salt. If I were to try these again, I would cut all of the spices in half, but keep the orange zest.

I hope my successful popover debut wasn’t beginners’ luck, which I’m prone to. (Don’t ask my brother David about the first time we played backgammon, or my brother Tom about fishing in Virden, IL, for instance. )

I also hope my favorite little baker and budding scientist, who is feeling much better, will help me experiment with another popover recipe this weekend. Carter said to me the other day: “Mommy, I have a hypothesis, and I’d like to do an experiment to test it out.” I asked him if Daddy had told him what a hypothesis is, which wouldn’t be out of character. His answer: “No. I heard it on Dinosaur Train.”

magical popover debut

January 5th, 2010

popoversAs far as I’m concerned, a perfect present is something I really want and wouldn’t buy for myself—like a popover pan (thanks, Dawn!). I’ve never met a Nordic Ware pan I didn’t like (I’ll cop to collecting Bundt pans), and the English popover pan is no exception. I’d never actually made popovers. It sounded like fun, and it is.

The basic batter is super simple—milk, eggs, flour, salt, butter—and should be easy to put together with kids. Sadly, I didn’t get to try because Carter has been recovering from pneumonia and was napping when I mixed up the first batch.

Better yet, though, is watching popovers balloon up like new skyscrapers in the oven. Popover pan cups are 4 inches high, and the batter goes from filling the cups halfway up to towering over the top—demonstrating yet again the magical chemistry behind baking. Carter missed the transformation because he was in the bath, but he was impressed with the result when I carried the pan in to show him.

You can make popovers in a muffin pan, too, so don’t be scared off by my choice of specialty bakeware. I read a bunch of popover recipes and the key to the “pouf” is high heat. You heat the oven with your baking pan of choice in it with a silver baking sheet or a baking stone under it. Once the batter has rested (another key) and everything is hot, fill the pan quickly, and don’t open the oven door once the popovers are baking.

Jeff appreciated my effort. Carter ate half of one with strawberry jelly and was underwhelmed. He, like me, has an expressive face that doesn’t hide much. I hope he’ll be a little more excited when he feels better and we make them together. I also want to experiment with flavors. I have my eye on Mary Cech’s orange nutmeg popover recipe in Savory Baking. I’ll report back.


1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon oil (for greasing a popover pan; plus 2 teaspoons if using a muffin tin)

In a mixing bowl, whisk the milk and eggs. In another bowl, whisk the flour and salt; add to the egg mixture. Stir with a spatula just until combined; the mixture will be lumpy. Add the melted butter. Whisk until the batter is bubbly and smooth, about 30 seconds. Let the batter rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour, then put it in a container with a spout, if your mixing bowl doesn’t have one.

Meanwhile, put 1/2 teaspoon oil in the bottom of each of the 6 cups of a popover pan (or in each of 10 cups of a muffin tin)—no need to spread around. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven; place the popover pan (or muffin tin) on a silver (not dark) baking sheet or a baking stone on the rack. Heat the oven to 450˚F.

After the batter has rested, remove the pan from the oven and distribute the batter evenly among the cups in the pan—work quickly and keep the oven door closed. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Do not open the oven door! Lower the heat to 350˚F and bake until popovers are golden brown all over, about 15 minutes more. Remove the popovers from the pan and cool them on a wire rack for a few minutes. Best served immediately.

Adapted from Baking Illustrated

healthy cranberry sauce that kids will eat

November 27th, 2009

Homemade cranberry sauce without that much sugar. Not what I would have guessed would be Carter’s favorite Thanksgiving offering, but he served himself up spoonful after spoonful. Pretty surprising considering the tartness and his love affair with salty meats, including smoked turkey breast from Burger’s Smokehouse. (I know it’s not hard to make a turkey, but buying boneless, sliced turkey is easier yet.) My favorite leftovers: turkey and cranberry sauce sandwiches.

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

12.5-ounce bag of cranberries
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
3 strips of orange peel
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries pop and mixture thickens to desired consistency. (While the original recipe says 20 minutes, I do it for about an hour.)

Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves (if you can find them!). Transfer sauce to a bowl. Cool to room temperature (the sauce will set) and serve. You can also make it in advance and refrigerate for up to three days prior to serving.

Adapted from Simple Cranberry-Citrus Relish, Health magazine, November 2007

buttered-up beer bread and boys in the kitchen

November 16th, 2009

To make Trader Joe’s beer bread, add a bottle of beer to the mix and pour melted butter over the top. Lucky for us, Jeff read it as 1/4 lb (full stick) of butter, instead of  1/4 cup of butter (half of a stick). While it’s exceedingly unusual for Jeff to misread anything, the bread tasted twice as nice, with a delicious crisp crust. We had the bread fresh the other day and the leftover toasted (spread with yet more butter) today.

Yesterday, Carter helped me make breakfast. I was so proud when he got out the vanilla and said we should add it to the pancakes. Of course, he also wanted to smell it! Osmosis at work: vanilla isn’t in our current favorite pancake recipe, but he’s heard me talk about/adding it to other pancake recipes. (I put in 1 teaspoon.)

When we didn’t have enough blueberries to make all blueberry pancakes, Carter said we should make strawberry pancakes. (Fold diced strawberries into the batter before ladling onto griddle. Coating the strawberries with batter helps prevent them from getting overly browned. Don’t worry, though, if the fruit gets pretty dark brown; it doesn’t taste burned. Note: It works better to sprinkle the blueberries on top, rather than mixing them with the batter.)

Just like Jeff (albeit unintentionally) made a good call on the butter, Carter made the right call on the vanilla and the strawberries. And I got to enjoy the results. I wonder what the boys will cook up next….

blueberry buttermilk pancakes

October 4th, 2009

Back home and time for Sunday breakfast. Carter agreed he wanted pancakes and even requested that they be blueberry, but he also added, “I’ll just mix the wet and dry ingredients together.” Should I be proud of his baking vocabulary, off-put because he’s curtailing time with me making pancakes, or both?

To be fair, he had just started watching an episode of  Super Why, a PBS Kids show that he discovered on vacation, Jeff recorded for him, and Carter did pause long enough to mix the wet and dry ingredients together. (He rejected my plain metal whisk in favor of the red whisk; kitchen utensils in a favorite color can be  a powerful draw for a young baker.) Plus he knows to not overmix, which makes me proud and also makes for some light, fluffy pancakes.

All of us had seconds, then thirds! Carter had two at a time with cherry jam sandwiched in between.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

1/4 cup butter, melted, plus extra to grease pan, if needed
2 cups flour (I use 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup white whole-wheat flour)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, preferably room temperature (for an egg-free version, substitute 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed and 6 tablespoons water)
2 cups buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Optional: Preheat oven to 200ºF. Put in a baking sheet to keep cooked pancakes warm.

Melt 1/4 cup butter and set aside to cool somewhat.

In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the melted butter, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix just to combine. The batter will be thick and lumpy. Do not overmix!

Heat a nonstick skillet over first low then medium heat until water sizzles when dropped on it. (If the pan needs to be greased, use the extra butter.) Spoon batter into the skillet using an ice-cream scoop (yields about 16 pancakes) or ladle. Sprinkle the tops with some of the blueberries. Cook for 2–3 minutes, or until the edges are starting to look dry, batter in the middle starts to bubble, and the bottoms are golden brown. Flip and cook another 2–3 minutes on the other side.

Serve or put in the preheated oven on the baking sheet to stay warm until all the pancakes are made. Serve with maple syrup warmed in the microwave, if desired.

Recipe updated January 3, 2012, originally adapted from Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes from The Cookworks, Food Network

cupcake lessons

October 3rd, 2009

daddy's cupcakes

1) Overfilled cupcake batter bubble over and make a mess—as in, “What’s burning?”

2) To rescue a cupcake after its batter bakes over: Trim top to neaten. Cut the cupcake in half; sandwich cherry preserves in the middle. Serve upside down. Feed husband one. Eat two.

3) Sometimes Carter would rather watch TV with Daddy than bake with Mommy, even when baking is his idea!

Those are the lessons I learned when I made cupcakes—Carter’s idea—the night before Jeff’s birthday last month. (It’s Day 11 on the road: a couple of days of business meetings in New York followed by a New England/Canada cruise with the boys. Obviously, I’m way behind on blogging.)

I used a recipe for 48 mini cupcakes but baked them in standard-size muffin tins. When I came up with 11, I know the math and knew I should have redistributed the batter to make 12. But I was tired after a long day, and it was a lot easier to put water in the last cup. (Water in any empty cups helps protect a muffin pan in the oven.)

Most of the cupcakes came out fine (or good enough to camouflage with frosting). Carter helped frost those for the actual birthday celebration.

Carter did all the decorating. As you can see, we pretty much use the same birthday candles for everyone, whether Daddy or Pink Bear, and we’re out of red sprinkles.

I’m hanging out in Newark and don’t have the cupcake recipe with me. I’ll post it when I get home. The desserts on the cruise were beautiful and delicious—and abundant—but I’m also looking forward to getting back in the kitchen with Carter and baking our own.

beer-spiked chocolate cupcakes

September 14th, 2009

Weeks ago, I signed up to make a dessert for our block party. It was today, but had completely slipped my mind until I got a reminder email around noon. Carter wanted to make cupcakes, which aside from the Linzer cupcakes, I haven’t made very often, so I went in search of a foolproof recipe.

I was reading through cookbooks and searching online, when I came across a five-star recipe on the Food Network site with an intriguing addition: a bottle of Guinness! On one hand, what doesn’t taste better with Guinness? On the other, I had never contemplated putting a bottle of beer in chocolate cupcakes. I don’t know why it works, but it does. (The alcohol cooks off during the baking process, so these are kid safe.)

Topping chocolate cupcakes off with cream cheese frosting also never hurts. Today, that’s what Carter was most interested in because he was making frosting for the first time. He loves to turn the crank on the sifter and hold the electric hand mixer by himself. He also insisted on frosting the cupcakes, which he did very carefully and deliberately, proving that baking is good for helping kids focus. (He had me “finish” them with a little smoothing.) And, of course, in the end, with cupcakes, it’s all about the sprinkles, lots and lots of sprinkles.

Note: Having the ingredients at room temperature helps keep the butter from clumping. If you’re short on time, putting the eggs and the bottle of beer in bowls of warm water speeds up the process.

Beer-Spiked Chocolate Cupcakes

2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 pinches salt
1 1/2 cups (1 12-ounce bottle) stout beer, such as Guinness, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup sour cream, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease or place 24 paper liners in muffin tins.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, combine the beer, butter, and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Mix in the sour cream until the mixture is thoroughly combined. In three separate parts, add the dry ingredients, blending well after each addition.

Pour the batter into the muffin tins, dividing equally to make 24 cupcakes.

Bake for 12 minutes and then rotate the pans. Bake another 12 minutes, or until risen, nicely domed, and set in the middle but still soft and tender. Cool in pans on wire rack.

Adapted from Chocolate Stout Cupcakes, Dave Liedberman (Food Network)

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup powdered sugar
8 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift the sugar into a mixing bowl. Add the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla. Blend until smooth.