Archive for August, 2009

Blueberry streusel coffee cake

August 31st, 2009

A giant carton of blueberries has been beckoning me all week to make blueberry coffee cake. Finally, today we had a chance after naptime. (I slept; Carter didn’t.)

Prep time can make or break baking with kids. Because all kids, mine included, have limited attention spans, I like to get out all of a recipe’s ingredients and any required gear before having Carter join me. Time was short today, so I even made the streusel topping in a mini food processor beforehand, rather than by hand with Carter, who doesn’t like noisy appliances (hence, I tend to give by-hand instructions).

I also put out small bowls to measure ingredients over, in case of spillage. Ok, I actually I do that when it’s just me, too, but it’s an extra good strategy when you have a 4 year old pouring salt into a 1/4 teaspoon.

Carter’s favorite step, aside from eating the coffee cake, is sprinkling and spreading the streusel topping.

This recipe comes from Coffee Cakes by Lou Seibert Pappas. (I had the pleasure of working with Lou when I edited Hallmark’s Home for the Holidays—an absolute steal bargain priced at $10.) Her original recipe’s streusel topping calls for 1 cup of chopped walnuts. It also recommends baking the coffee cake in a 350°F oven for 35–40 minutes, but I’ve had better success with a higher temperature and longer bake time, so you keep a close eye out for doneness. (Alternatively, Lou told me she likes to use a convection oven when she’s not timing for a book.)

You can also bake this in a regular round cake pan, but it’s easier to get out of a spring-form one, which does not have to be expensive. I use a Wilton springform pan ($15). 


Blueberry Streusel Coffee Cake

Streusel topping
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk or low-fat plain yogurt
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch spring-form pan.

To make the streusel topping: In a medium bowl or a food processor, combine butter, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Cut butter in with a pastry blender or your fingers, or process, until the mixture forms coarse crumbs.

To make the cake: In a large bowl, combine the oil, sugars, eggs, and vanilla, and beat by hand until smooth. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Beat until smooth. Fold in the berries. Turn into the prepared pan and spread streusel topping evenly over the batter.

Bake 40–45 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack 10 minutes, then remove the pan sides and let cool completely.

Adapted from Coffee Cakes: Simple, Sweet, and Savory by Lou Seibert Pappas

Doll does Discovery Museum

August 29th, 2009

101°F in Palo Alto. Hot enough to fry an egg. Too hot to bake. Perfect for making pretend pizza for Doll (and Mommy), rolling out sculpting clay, and splashing in water at the air-conditioned San Jose Children’s Discovery Museum

I limited Carter to bringing just one toy friend into the museum, and today Doll made the cut. (Pink Bear and Holly Bear kept each other company in the car.)

A note about Doll: I have to give a shout out to Dolls Like Me, a source for “multicultural toys.” In other words, a place where I could buy my son a boy doll with brown skin. They now have a doll of a more famous biracial boy: President Barack Obama.

BlogHer directory debut

August 28th, 2009

I feel like an official blogger. As of today, Baking with Carter is listed on the BlogHer directory! It’s in both the Food and Drink and the Mommy and Family categories. BlogHer is the community site for women bloggers. While the requirements are not onerous (I’m female who has been regularly blogging for more than a month, so I pass), you still need to apply to have your blog added to the BlogHer directory. Then you wait a few weeks for an editor to review and approve it. Today the stamp of approval came through.

Being considered an actual blogger is exciting, but making a commitment to blogging is also unsettling. Why have I voluntarily added to my perpetual, long, and unending to-do list?  As if being a working mom weren’t keeping me busy enough. Time with Carter and my job almost never get short shrift; sleeping and eating (not to mention exercising and spending time with my husband) almost always do. 

I don’t know the answer. But maybe blogging will help me figure it out.

wondering about cupcakes

August 27th, 2009

Does my child watch too much TV? Do I not watch enough?

Carter and I split the last piece of coffee cake this morning. Of course, Carter wanted the piece with more sprinkles. (When Jeff found out all the coffee cake was gone, he declared he’s going to start “taxing” baked goods, setting aside 1/3 of anything we bake, since he keeps deciding too late to have another piece.)

I asked Carter what we should make next. More coffee cake, or maybe muffins? His immediate, emphatic, and specific answer: “Ming-Ming cupcakes.” ???  He then proceeds to tell me that we need to buy yellow food coloring and chewy candies, like the ones at Finley’s birthday party, to make Ming-Ming’s hat.

First, I had to ask: Who? Apparently, I’m not up to speed on the Wonder Pets. Next, I sorted out that he had seen someone on TV make these cupcakes. Jeff confirmed that he and Carter had watched an interstitial about making  Ming-Ming cupcakes and told Carter that making them looked like a BIG project.

“Make” here means “decorate,” not “bake,” as the cupcakes are made from a box, and the frosting comes from a can! Cited prep time is 80 (!) minutes, with the caveat: “This recipe is best suited for parents to make on their own or with minimal help from kids.” The recipe flat out warns: “Ming-Ming cupcakes are a ‘serious’ treat, only to be made and enjoyed by ‘serious’ cupcake fans. Just warning you.” 

Seriously, Nick Jr., thank you for inspiring my kid to bake something new. But next time, could you feature something designed for kids to make? Just an idea, considering your audience.

Results to come.

Great Grandma’s Coffee Cake

August 25th, 2009

Great Grandma's coffee cake decoratedMy mom’s mom was well known for her signature coffee cake, and tonight Carter and I made her recipe. (We halved it because we had only a cup of sugar, which gave me a chance to talk about dividing and fractions.) Even Carter remarked at how easy and fast it is to make. I think that helped keep him engaged in the whole process, as did letting him do several things for the first time.

Carter did the usual—scooped the flour, cracked the eggs (oops! one overboard, it happens), poured the milk. The new technique he learned was how to mix dry ingredients with butter to form coarse crumbs. I had him try using my pastry blender (I love Oxo’s blender with blades) and then I had him try doing it with his fingers, which is a great tactile experience for kids. He liked both ways, and the variety helped keep his interest.

For some reason, Carter is newly entranced with wanting to use the spatula to scrape batter into a pan; he got so excited doing it that he called for Daddy to come watch. He also insisted on sprinkling the topping. Then he put his handprint in the middle. I told him I thought we wouldn’t be able to see it after coffee cake baked, but nothing like an experiment to find out. (Sure enough, telltale ridges remained of his mark.)

When I was checking the coffee cake for doneness, Carter really wanted to use the “needle” (aka a cake tester). I was reluctant because the pan was hot, but I also want him to learn to do these things safely. I put his hand in a long oven mitt that went up his arm and guided his hand, while explaining to check to see if any crumbs stick to it: another new concept. (I can’t recommend the cake tester I have because the metal part too easily separates from its wooden handle, but I do recommend having a cake tester on hand. One of these days, I’ll probably get a Oxo cake tester as a replacement.)

Of course, once the cake cooled, Carter made it his own by adding sprinkles. The candles are for Pink Bear, who celebrates her birthday on a regular basis.

Great Grandma’s Coffee Cake

4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup butter (room temperature)
1 cup milk
3 eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla 

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Butter two round cake pans or one 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Sift together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, combine dry ingredients with butter until coarse crumbs form. Reserve 1 cup of mixture for topping.

To remaining mixture,  add milk, eggs, and vanilla.  Mix by hand until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and evenly sprinkle reserved mixture over the top.

Bake at 400ºF for 35 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

Cornmeal apple cheese muffins

August 23rd, 2009

Carter wanted to go the airplane museum, a weekly request. I wanted to make cornmeal apple cheese muffins, a long-lost, pre-Carter recipe that turned up when I recently cleaned out my stack of recipe clippings. So first we baked, then Carter devoured a muffin on the way to the Hiller—and another two when we got home.

Carter favorite part about making this muffin recipe is that he got to turn a lot of handles: sifter, nutmeg grater, and rotary cheese grater. Equipment notes: I have a sifterwith a handle that you turn rather squeeze, which is easier for Carter (and me!) to use. I’ve mentioned before that we grind our own nutmeg, a personal preference that also gives Carter more involvement. After a few knuckle scrapes with a box cheese grater, I almost always use a rotary cheese grater, which Carter used today for the first time with very careful oversight.

I had only an old newspaper clipping with no attribution, but thanks to Google and Darlene’s Kitchen Pantry, I found out that this cornmeal apple cheese muffins recipe comes from the Apple Cookbook by Olwen Woodier. My yield using an ice cream scoop for a consistent measure was 15 small muffins. 

Cornmeal apple cheese muffins

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup silk (skim, low-fat, soy, or rice)
1/4 cup apple juice or cider
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 medium apple (such as Braebrun, Empire, or Granny Smith), peeled, cored, and finely diced

Preheat over to 400ºF. Grease 12 large or 18 small muffin cups.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, apple juice, honey, oil, and eggs. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquids and the cheese. Stir by hand to barely combine the batter. Gently fold in the diced apples so the batter is lumpy, not smooth. Do not overmix.

Fill each muffin cup about two-thirds full. Bake 15–20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from the muffin cups immediately and cool on a wire rack or serve hot.

Adapted from the Apple Cookbook

Black Russian Bundt cake

August 23rd, 2009

Just this week, two different people mentioned to me how they frequently make the recipe I gave them for Black Russian cake and how it’s always a hit. Since Carter and I didn’t have a chance to bake today, I thought I’d take this change to pass along this tried-and-true favorite, which is incredibly easy to make.

The back story: Shortly before we were married, so not quite nine years ago, Jeff came home one day and asked me if I could bake a Kahlua cake. Apparently, a woman had brought one to a work potluck. With some probing, I figured out that it was a Bundt cake. I told Jeff, “No, I can’t make one because I don’t have a Bundt pan.” (Of course, why the pan mattered completely puzzled him.)

Shortly afterward, I registered for and we received a Bundt cake pan for a wedding present, and the quest began. I researched recipes online and made a Kahlua cake. But Jeff said it didn’t taste right. Fortunately, at a happy hour Jeff’s coworkers had in honor of us getting married, I met the original baker, who set me straight. It wasn’t just a Kahlua cake, it was a Black Russian cake: vodka is the key ingredient. Not a lot and it can be cheap, but vodka is essential to the flavor. After more researching and experimenting, here’s the recipe that’s become one of my signature offerings.

Black Russian Bundt Cake

1 package plain devil’s food cake mix, without pudding
1 three-ounce package instant chocolate pudding mix
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup Kahlua
1/4 cup vodka
4 large eggs (room temperature)

1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
1/8-1/4 cup Kahlua

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan. 

Combine cake mix, pudding mix, water, oil, Kahlua, vodka, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Beat for three minutes with an electric mixer. Pour batter in the pan and bake for 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan, then remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

For glaze, add Kahlua to the confectioners sugar until honey-like consistency. Drizzle glaze over cooled cake.

sick day

August 21st, 2009

Carter nearly never gets sick. His daycare is the furthest thing from the stereotype of a daycare that’s a petri dish of shared germs. Lucy and her helpers clean twice a day, and I really would feel comfortable eating off her floor.

So why is it that the rare day Carter needs to stay home (a tummy bug visited him in the night), is also the rare day Jeff and I both really need to be at work? Unlike most days, when neither of us typically has meetings that require our presence and we can do much of our jobs from home. (In the same vein, we really don’t do that much socially, either, but inevitably, if we’re invited to do something, like go to a party, we will get at least two other invitations for the same time.)

We split the difference: I stayed home in the morning and drove to San Francisco for my afternoon meeting, missing the first half hour, and Jeff came home for the afternoon, not having finished what we needed to get done. So go the lives of working parents. 

Fortunately, Carter felt completely fine all day. In fact, he had a better day than usual because as he put it he got “special time with Mommy and then special time with Daddy!” And that’s never a bad thing.

decide for yourself

August 19th, 2009

As any child-development expert will tell you, one of the best ways to help kids learn to be independent is to give them lots of opportunities to make their own choices. Baking with kids is perfect for this. Just ask lots of questions and offer lots of chances to participate: What kind of muffins should we make? Which bowl should we use? Do you want to take some muffins to our neighbors?

Once Carter and I settled on making sour cream–maple muffins the other night, for instance, I found myself aware of all the questions I ask him along the way. “Do you want to measure the flour? Do you want to crack the eggs?” And so he scooped and leveled the dry ingredients and cracked the egg for the wet ones. When we had the dry ingredients all ready to go in one bowl and the wet in another, I asked Carter whether we should add the dry ingredients to the wet, or the wet to the dry. He carefully contemplated before going with wet to dry.

Truth be told, often enough when I ask Carter if he wants to do something when we bake, his answer is, “No thanks, Mommy, I’ll watch.” But not always and just as often he changes his mind and joins in. But as I’ve mentioned before, more and more, he’s brushing me aside to do things himself. Soon enough, I’ll just sit back and watch.

odd measures

August 17th, 2009

Gadget alert! For all the recipes that call for 2/3 cup of this dry ingredient and 3/4 cup of that—say, like the banana chocolate chip oatmeal muffins or sour cream–maple muffins Carter and I recently made—it’s especially handy to  have “odd-size” measuring cups.

Odd-size measuring cups are another one of those gadgets that wish I’d bought a lot sooner! I have an All Clad set, which also includes odd-size measuring spoons (2 teaspoon, 1 1/2 tablespoon, and 2 tablespoon), from Williams Sonoma, but just look for a basic set that includes 1 1/2 cup, 3/4 cup, and 2/3 cup to take the guesswork out of measuring dry ingredients in these frequently asked-for quantities. My guess is, pretty soon, they won’t be the odd ones out.

It’s just so much easier for Carter to scoop and level flour 3/4 cup flour with a 3/4 cup measuring cup. Ditto having a 2/3 cup measuring cup to show him how to tightly pack and measure 2/3 cup of brown sugar for the banana muffins. Plus he’s learning about fractions without even knowing it!