Monday, April 30, 2012

Soft Pretzels

In the late 1970's,  I read an article in "National Geographic for Kids: World Magazine" about a boy from Pennsylvania whose family owned a pretzel company. I was so intrigued. What a lucky boy!

Included in the article was an easy recipe for soft pretzels that my twin sister and I immediately tried. My mom was always so great about giving us free reign of the kitchen. We just had to be sure to clean up our messes.

The pretzels were fantastic. We had never tasted a soft pretzel before and we felt special making something not even available in our small town. Believe me, those pretzels you can now buy at malls and ballparks have nothing on these. Soft pretzels should not be covered in melted butter — Mustard, yes. Butter, no.

These Pennsylvanian pretzels are the real deal. It was after all, the German and Swiss German immigrants, who later became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, who introduced the pretzel to North America.

They are easy to make and my kids now love them as much as I did. I hope you do too.

Soft Pretzels
(Makes about 16 pretzels)

1/8 cup hot water
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 to 5 cups flour
Extra flour
Coarse kosher salt
Baking soda

Heat the oven to 475 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix hot water and yeast until the yeast dissolves. Stir in the warm water and the brown sugar.

Slowly add the flour, one cup at a time, to the mixture, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and does not stick to the sides of the bowl.

Put dough on a lightly floured board. Dip your hands in the extra flour. Knead the dough until it is stretchy and smooth. Push it down and away from you with the palms of your hands. Turn the dough as you work.

Grease two cookie sheets very well. Sprinkle each with coarse kosher salt. Set the sheets aside. Pinch off a piece of pretzel dough about the size of a golf ball.

To shape a pretzel:
  1. Roll the dough into a rope 14 inches long and as thick as your thumb. Bend the rope into a "U" shape.
  2. Cross one end of the rope over the other end. The ropes should cross about three inches from the tips. 
  3. Fold the ends back toward the middle of the "U". Open the ends slightly to form a pretzel shape. Press the ends into the dough firmly.

My now 18-year-old daughter Una drew these helpful pretzel making pictures when she was in third grade.
After the pretzels are formed, fill a frying pan with water. For each cup of water in the pan, add 1 tablespoon baking soda. Bring the water to a gentle boil. Use a spatula to lower each pretzel into the frying pan. Count very slowly to 30, then lift the pretzel onto the greased and salted cookie sheet.

Repeat until all the dough is used. Sprinkle some kosher salt on top of the pretzels and put them in the oven. Bake for 8 minutes or until the pretzels are golden brown.

Ready to be dropped for 30 seconds into simmering baking soda infused water.
Yum! A fresh baked pretzel with yellow mustard.

My daughter Una enjoying a bite.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Macaron Success

My daughter Eleanor with a package of six different flavored macarons: chocolate, coffee, lemon, lavender, strawberry and cherry.

My experiment of splitting a single batch of macarons so I could make different colors worked!

I split one batch four ways to make red, pink, yellow and violet. Then, I split another batch two ways to make coffee and chocolate.

For the fillings, I made a single batch of Swiss meringue vanilla butter cream and split it six ways. To three of the parts, I added a bit of cream cheese and then their flavorings — sour cherry jam, Oregon strawberry jam and finally lemon extract and zest.

English lavender, melted dark chocolate and espresso powder were added to make the final three flavors of fillings.

I've been wanting to make a variety package of macarons for some time now but didn't want to have to make complete batches of each flavor.

I'm excited to try new color and flavor combinations.

Macarons ready to be packaged.
A dozen of colorful macarons packaged and ready to give. Cupcake liners and food safe cellophane bags are the best way I've found to package them.

More Macarons

Chocolate and coffee macarons waiting to be baked. Macarons must set out before baking until a crust develops on top. This is what helps create it's trademark "pied" or foot.

It was on to chocolate and coffee macarons this morning. The fillings are coming!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Macaron Experiment

Colorful macarons waiting to be baked.
My kitchen is vibrant tonight as I experiment with making four different colors of macarons from a single batch.

I want to make packages filled with a variety of macarons without having to make a full single batch of each kind. Because measuring carefully when making macrons is so important, this is a risky endeavor. I hope they turn out.

I used my scale to divide the almond meal and powdered sugar into four equal portions (a total of 112.5 grams each). For the egg whites, I whipped them to stiff peaks and then divided them into four portions.

Tonight, I made pink for strawberry, violet for lavender, red for cherry and yellow for lemon. I'll make the fillings tomorrow and let you know how they turn out.

Apricot and Almond Jalousie

Consider making an Apricot and Almond Jalousie the next time you want to impress but need a quick dessert.

Jalousie means "shutter" in French and that's why the slats in this dessert's puff pastry topping resemble the shutters outside a window.

This dessert comes together really fast. All you need is ready-made puff pastry (Look for it in the freezer section of your grocery store. It's usually next to the phyllo dough), some apricot preserves, sugar, sliced almonds and a little beaten egg. Oh, and some whipped cream isn't necessary but a nice accompaniment.

You could also change the recipe easily by using other flavors of preserves. Cherry and almond go very well together.

Don't you love it when the results make something look more difficult than it is —
C'est magnifique!

Apricot and Almond Jalousie
(Serves 4)
1/2 pound ready-made puff pastry, thawed (follow directions on package)
6 tablespoons apricot preserves
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sliced almonds
1 egg, beaten
Whipped cream to serve (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board and cut into a 12-inch square. Cut in half to make two rectangles.

Place one piece of pastry on a wetted baking sheet and brush all around the edges with the beaten egg. Spread over the apricot preserves.

Fold the remaining rectangle in half lengthwise and cut about eight diagonal slits from the center fold to within about 1/2 inch of the edge all the way along.

Unfold the pastry and place it on top of the preserve-covered pastry on the baking sheet, matching each edge carefully to the base. Press the pastry edges together and using your fingers crimp them.

Brush the pastry top with a little water and sprinkle evenly with the sugar and sliced almonds.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until risen and golden brown.

Remove the jalousie from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Serve with whipped cream.

Friday, April 27, 2012

My Favorite Cookbook And Bread

Hands down, my most used cookbook is a now tattered and stained self-published book called "Seasoned with Love." It's my favorite.

The book was written and published in the mid 1980's by German Baptists living in Eastern Washington State. I was gifted the rare book in 1996 while I was working for the Ellensburg Daily Record and writing an article about the community's second book "Bountiful Blessings: A Northwest Cooking Collection," which I also own and treasure.

You can read the article which includes more recipes here.

I'm so lucky to have copies of these books which are filled with hundreds of simple tried and true recipes from "Sour Cream Enchilada Casserole" and "Mother's Crumb Pie" to "Chicken In A Hurry" and "Peanut Choco Parfait Bars."

But, the recipe I make the most is "Honey Whole Wheat Bread." It's moist, high in protein and great for sandwiches. The secret ingredient? — cottage cheese.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread
(Makes 2 Loaves)

3 cups (plus) white flour
2 packages dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup water
1 cup cottage cheese
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

In a  large bowl combine 2 cups of white flour with yeast and salt. Heat water, cottage cheese, butter and honey until very warm (120 to 130 degrees F).

Add warm liquid and eggs to flour and mix well. Add whole wheat flour, oats and nuts. Stir in remaining white flour. Add more if necessary.

Knead until smooth and elastic. Let rise until double.

Punch down and place in two greased 5 1/4 x 9 1/4 x 3-inch pans. Let rise one hour.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from pans to cooling rack. Brush tops with butter.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Whistling, er, Washing While You Work

There's no question about it — without the dishwashers, there would be no Wednesday Community Meal at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

At 8:30 a.m., as soon as the cooking begins, the pots and pans begin stacking up.

Then at 11 a.m., when the doors open for hungry guests, it's plates, silverware, soup bowls and dessert cups on top of the rest.

And, finally, when the doors close at 1 p.m., it's cleanup time and another full hour of work.

It's truly nonstop drudgery. But you'd never know it from the chatter and laughter coming from the dish-washing station. They make it look so easy. I think after years of observation, I've figured out their secret.

It's staying positive and having fun while you work. It's a real team effort and it's a joy to watch.

I'm so blessed to have the best team of dishwashers anyone could ever hope for.

We served 314 meals today but Jay, Bill, Brad, Dave and Steve made it look like a walk in the park.

Thank you for your dedication and inspiration.

Brad, Bill, Jay and Dave pausing for a quick photo
Steve, smiling as he works.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"The Greatest and Easiest" Chocolate Cake

Two chocolate cakes moist enough to be eaten as is or as I prefer — stacked with a peanut butter filling and chocolate buttercream.

 Sometimes the best recipes aren't in cookbook — They're on a package.

Nestle Toll House Cookies, Rice Krispie Treats, Kellogg's Bran Muffins — you know what I mean.

And now add another bona fide hit to those — "The Greatest and Easiest Chocolate Cake" from the package of Trader Joe's cocoa powder.

When I saw the title, I was immediately intrigued. Well, I've made it many times and it's no lie. It's a fabulous chocolate cake and it is indeed easy.

You put all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and beat on high speed for 3 minutes, scraping down the sides once during mixing. Pour into your prepared pans or cupcake cups and that's all there is to it.

But, there is one very very important thing you should know and it's not included with the recipe.  This "dump and blitz" method is only easy if you have a 7 quart bowl (mine is 5 quarts) for your stand mixer or use a big deep bowl and a hand mixer.

Too small of a bowl = big mess!

This cake is so moist, there's no need for icing but if you must, here's the way I like to do it.

I like two layers of peanut butter filling before a final coat of chocolate buttercream. 

"The Greatest and Easiest" Chocolate Cake 
with Peanut Butter Filling 
and Chocolate Buttercream  

3 1/3 cups flour
1 1/3 cups cocoa powder
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoons salt
12 ounces butter 
3 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla 
5 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans that are at least 3-inches deep. (Note: For my cake, I used 2 round 8-inch pans that were 4 inches deep.)

Place all ingredients in electric mixer bowl and beat on high speed for 3 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl once during mixing. Pour into prepared pans. Bake cakes for about 55 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Peanut Butter Filling:
1 1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/3 cup milk

In a mixing bowl, whip peanut butter and butter together. Add vanilla and powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Finally add milk and beat just until the filling comes together and is spreadable. Don't over beat.

Chocolate Buttercream:

3 large egg whites
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of fine sea salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder, dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water, cooled
1/2 cup dark chocolate pieces, melted and cooled

Place the whites in a clean mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar and cream of tartar.

Place bowl over a double boiler on medium heat, stir frequently until the mixture is very hot (120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit).

Move to mixer and whip whites on high for 2 to 3 minutes; turn down to medium low until cool (use the bowl as your guide).

In a separate bowl with a wooden spoon, stir butter to soften.

With mixer on medium/high speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, adding the next tablespoon just as the previous one is blended in. Once all the butter incorporated, add in vanilla, salt, coffee and chocolate whip on high speed until fluffy.

1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, crushed
3 ounces dark chocolate, chopped fine

Chopping the chocolate for garnish

To Assemble:
Once cakes have cooled, set one layer on a serving platter and top with 1/2 the peanut butter filling. 

Add the second layer and top with the remaining filling. Chill the cake until the filling is set.

Frost with the chocolate buttercream and garnish with the peanuts and dark chocolate.

Frosting the cake.

Ready to eat!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Versatile Popover

Popovers should be more popular.

They're as spectacular as a souffle but much easier to make and more satisfying.

Made with just flour, butter, eggs, milk and a touch of salt — they are light, puffy, versatile and delicious.

For a special weekend breakfast, my family likes them topped with fresh berries and drizzled with sweetened sour cream.

But, I've also made them as a side at dinner. You can make them savory by adding herbs and shredded cheese.

2 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Butter and lightly flour 10 muffin cups, popover tins or custard dishes.
Whisk together the butter, milk, flour, and salt until smooth. Whisk in the beaten eggs, a bit at a time, until incorporated. 
Do not over-beat the batter; it should have the consistency of heavy cream.
Fill the prepared dishes 3/4 full with the batter. Bake 15 minutes.
Without opening the oven, lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer. Serve hot.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lavender Macarons

My sweet niece Maya asked me to make a cookie that she could give as a birthday treat to her best friend Scully.

So, when Maya was over for a visit this past Thursday, we had a "cookie consultation" and came up with Lavender Macarons.

We chose lavender because we could make pretty violet cookies and experiment with a package of culinary grade lavender that my friend Pam gave me.

The lavender is from Tumalo Lavender Farm in Bend, Oregon ( and according to them, it's great in lemonade, chocolate brownies and lemon pound cake.

Culinary grade lavender from Tumalo Lavender Farm.

So what is culinary grade lavender?
From my research, I discovered that there are four main types of lavender : Mediterranean, French, English and a cross between English and Mediterranean.

It is the English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) buds that are used in cooking.

English lavender is the preferred lavender choice for cooking because of its sweet fragrance and the fact that it's lower in in camphor oil, which is slightly bitter.

I think the macarons turned out great and am looking forward to finding more uses for lavender in my cooking. I hope Maya's treat is a hit with Scully.

Packaged for Maya to deliver to her friend. Cupcake papers and food safe cellophane bags make a pretty presentation.

 Lavender Macarons
180g ground almonds, sifted
270g powdered sugar, sifted
150g egg whites, aged 2 to 4 days in the fridge and then brought to room temperature
100g granulated sugar
violet food coloring

Weight measurements are essential. Usually, I'm casual when I measure as my friends who've seen me make pie dough can attest.  But trust me, macarons are the exception.

Line four heavy baking sheets with good quality parchment paper and set aside. Also, set aside two pastry bags for the piping of the macarons.

Sift together your ground almonds with the powdered sugar and set aside.

It is important to sift together your almond meal and powdered sugar.

Whisk the egg whites (at room temperature) to glossy firm peaks adding the granulated sugar gradually in four parts.  Towards the end of mixing, add the food coloring.

A pretty shade of lavender.

Incorporate the dry ingredients into the beaten egg whites using a large rubber scraper.  Mix well. 
Fold the mixture with the rubber scraper by pulling down the sides and flipping the mixture over. Do this until you have a smooth mixture that falls like a “ribbon” off the scraper.

Transfer the mixture into the two piping bags. Use rubber bands to close the piping bags. Clip the tip of the bags, one at a time, and pipe small quarter sized rounds, leaving 1-inch of space between each because they spread as they set.

Leave to set for about 30 minutes or until the top has formed a crust and is not sticky to the touch.

While they are setting, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. A convection oven is preferable. 

Bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven for about 12 minutes or until the cookie is firm, matte and doesn't wobble when touched.
Leave on the baking tray until cool then lift them all off the parchment carefully. You may need to use a thin knife to help lift them off.

Sort into pairs and fill with lavender buttercream.

Lavender Buttercream
3 large egg whites
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons culinary grade lavender
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of fine sea salt
violet food coloring

In a food processor or spice grinder, grind the sugar and lavender until it is very fine.
Place the whites in a clean mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar lavender mixture and cream of tartar.

Place bowl over a double boiler on medium heat, stir frequently until the mixture is very hot (120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit).

Move to mixer and whip whites on high for 2 to 3 minutes; turn down to medium low until cool (use the bowl as your guide).

In a separate bowl with a wooden spoon, stir butter to soften.

With mixer on medium/high speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, adding the next tablespoon just as the previous one is blended in. Once all the butter incorporated, add in vanilla and salt and whip on high speed until fluffy. Add violet coloring.

After packaging, store the macarons in the fridge until ready to give. Macarons taste best two to three days after they've chilled.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Croquembouche

The happy birthday girl.

When I asked my daughter Una what kind of cake she'd like me to make for her 18th birthday, her response wasn't what I expected.

Her reply: "Could you make a croquembouche?"

Croquembouche is a classic French dessert which literally means "crunch in the mouth." Made of caramel dipped profiteroles that are filled with rich pastry cream, the dessert is commonly served at French weddings and baptisms.

Well, I of course said "yes" to Una and I'm here to tell you that I conquered the croquembouche and so can you.

The ingredients are basic but the result is fantastic so if you want a dessert that makes a statement, the croquembouche is for you.

I also found it easy to serve. For Una's party, we didn't even use plates. The guests just picked profiteroles off the tower and popped them into their mouths. 

I used pastry chef Gale Gand's recipe that I found on the Food Network site.

One addition I made is that I wrapped a 14-inch styrofoam cone with parchment paper and assembled the croquembouche on it so that I would be certain the end result was perfect, straight and stable.

The styrofoam cone I used to assemble the croquembouche. I bought it at a craft store.

Delivering the dessert to the table. Proof that the cone helps keep things stable!

To garnish the dessert, I made a pretty pink flower out of gum paste and used a toothpick to attach it to the top. Also, please remember to keep a bowl of ice water near you when you assemble the croquembouche with the hot caramel.  Hot sugar can badly burn you. Be safe and enjoy!


2 cups water
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 cups flour
8 to 10 eggs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large
saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt, and sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high

When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Stirring with a wooden
spoon, add all the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated, 30
to 60 seconds.

Return the pan to the heat and cook, stirring, 30 seconds to evaporate
some of the moisture.

Scrape the mixture into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer).
Mix at medium speed. With the mixer running, and working 1 egg at a time, add 6 of the
eggs, stopping after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy and the eggs are completely incorporated. The dough should
be thick, but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out
of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add 1 or 2 more eggs, and
mix until incorporated.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe the dough in big kisses onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

Whisk 2 eggs with 3 teaspoons of water. Brush the
surface of the dough with the egg wash to knock down the points (do not use all the
egg wash.)

Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375-degrees and bake until puffed
up and light golden brown, about 20 minutes more. Try not to open the oven door too
often during the baking. Let cool on the baking sheet. The recipe can be made up to
this point and frozen in plastic bags.

4 cups whole, 2 percent fat, or 1 percent fat milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
12 egg yolks
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk
and vanilla bean to a boil over medium heat. Immediately turn off the heat and set
aside to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until
light and fluffy.
Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain. Whisk
in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture until incorporated. Whisk in the remaining hot milk
mixture, reserving the empty saucepan.

Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high
heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slowly boiling. Remove from the heat
and stir in the butter and any flavorings if you want to make a different flavor like
chocolate or coffee.

Let cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap, lightly pressing the
plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill at least 2 hours or
until ready to serve. The custard can be made up to 24 hours in advance.

2 1/2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water

Dissolve the sugar in a saucepan with the water, making an "X" through the
sugar with your finger to allow the water to slowly soak into the sugar.

Boil to make a light golden caramel then remove from heat. Assemble the croquembouche  immediately.

To Fill Profiteroles:
Poke a hole with a plain pastry tip in the bottom of each cream puff and pipe it full of the custard.

Dip the sides of the puffs in the caramel and stick them together
(approximately 20 cream puffs) in a circle, tops facing out.

Make a second row on top of the first but a bit smaller to draw the circle in and create a tower of cream

Check it from all sides occasionally to make sure it's straight. When it's
finished, drizzle it with caramel all over. You can also stick on decorative elements
with the caramel in the crevices, like candied violets, gold balls, gum paste flowers, sugar covered almonds, etc.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Main Dish Mania

Whew! We served no less than 11 different main dishes today at the Wednesday Community Meal.

We used today's meal as an opportunity to clean our fridges and freezers of all our gleaned odds and ends. Changing the menu so often kept us on our toes but we were able to create and serve 268 full meals by using just some of this and some of that.

Thanks to the generosity of Good Samaritan Hospital, Phil's Meat Market (17 Northwest 23rd Place, Portland, OR)  and Trader Joe's (2122 Northwest Glisan Street, Portland, OR),  our guests left happy and satisfied.

Curious about how our menu evolved? Here's the list of our 11 main dishes.
 1. Sweet Chili Ribs
 2. Baked Chicken
 3. Enchiladas
 4. Baked Halibut
 5. Pasta with Marinara Sauce and Sausage
 6. Shepherd's Pie
 7. Sweet and Sour Chicken
 8. A Spicy Vegetarian Entree
 9. Baked Potatoes and Chili
10. Tri-Tip Steak Sandwiches
11. Turkey Sandwiches

It was a busy day!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Combine Recipes To Make The Cake

Don't be afraid to combine multiple recipes to create the cake you want to make.

When I wanted to make a Tiramisu cake for a friend, I was at a loss.  I didn't have a tried and true recipe and I wasn't willing to take a chance with just any old recipe found on the internet. That's too risky!

My solution: Create my own new recipe by combining fail-proof recipes that I know and trust.

To do this, I first researched Tiramisu cakes and devised a plan.
I decided that my cake would need three components.

1.  A white cake flavored with coffee
2.  A mascarpone cheese and coffee filling 
3.  A light and creamy coffee frosting and a garnish of shaved chocolate and 
     cocoa powder

The white cake part was going to be a cinch because I was given the best white cake recipe from my friend Sandi. It was her great-grandmother's and it is simple to make and always moist and delicious.

I decided to double the recipe and make three layers. And for one of the layers I decided to add espresso powder and extra vanilla.

The filling would also be easy. I just needed mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar to sweeten it and more espresso powder and vanilla.

For the frosting, a half batch of Swiss Meringue Buttercream was a no-brainer.  I got the recipe from Julie Richardson of Baker & Spice (6330 Southwest Capitol Highway, Portland, OR) and it is my go to frosting because it's stable, easy to spread and not too sweet. To say I make it 20 times a year is an understatement. Besides topping cakes, I use it to fill macarons and sandwich cookies.

So here's my personal Tiramisu cake:

And here's my new recipe that I'll definitely keep on file:

Tiramisu Cake
1 cup shortening
4 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
6 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups milk
4 eggs
2 tablespoons espresso powder
2 extra teaspoons vanilla

Ingredients to reserve for assembly:
1/4 cup strong brewed coffee
1/2 cup chocolate shavings from a dark chocolate bar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Grease and line with parchment three 8-inch round pans that are at least 2 inches deep. Combine the shortening, flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and vanilla.

Add 1 1/2 cups of the milk and beat for 2 minutes. Add the four unbeaten eggs and remaining 1/2 cup of milk, beat for 2 more minutes.

Divide 2/3 of the batter into two of the pans. Add the espresso powder and 2 extra teaspoons of vanilla to the remaining 1/3 of the batter and pour it into the last pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until done

Mascarone Filling
1 8 oz. container mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat together all of the ingredients and set aside until the cake is ready to assemble.

Coffee Flavored Swiss Meringue Buttercream
3 large egg whites
1/2 cup plus 1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of fine sea salt
2 teaspoons espresso powder dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water

Place the whites in a clean mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar and cream of tartar.

Place bowl over a double boiler on medium heat, stir frequently until the mixture is very hot (120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit).

Move to mixer and whip whites on high for 2 to 3 minutes; turn down to medium low until cool (use the bowl as your guide).

In a separate bowl with a wooden spoon, stir butter to soften.

With mixer on medium/high speed, add the butter one tablespoon at a time, adding the next tablespoon just as the previous one is blended in. Once all the butter incorporated, add in vanilla, salt and coffee and whip on high speed until fluffy.

To assemble:
Place one plain cake layer on a serving plate.

Using a skewer, poke holes in cake. Pour half of the 1/4 cup of brewed coffee over cake, then spread with half of the mascarpone  filling.

Top with the coffee flavored cake. Spread with the remaining mascarpone filling.

Top with the remaining layer, poke holes in cake and pour the remaining brewed coffee over the top.
Before the final frosting, it will look like this.

Frost with the coffee buttercream.

Using a sieve, dust the top with cocoa powder and sprinkle on the dark chocolate shavings.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Now it's your turn. Devise your own custom cake by combining your best recipes and please share them with me.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How To Flood A Cookie With Royal Icing

Here's a quick video with tips on how to flood a sugar cookie with royal icing. It's really easy once you practice a few times. Watch the video and make the "Happy Spring" cookies in the post below.

Cookies To Celebrate Spring

The weather today in Portland was so warm and wonderful that I felt a "Happy Spring" cookie was in order.

These cookies came together super fast — just one batch of my favorite cookie dough (see my "Making The Dough" post from March 29th) and one batch of royal icing.

After the cookies have baked and cooled, outline and flood the cookies with royal icing. Use a skewer to help move the icing to fill the cookies.

Let the icing dry for at least one hour. Free hand your flowers, being careful not to drag the tip over the icing. Always let the icing fall into place.

Add a bright colored center and they're done. Leave your cookies out until the icing is completely dry. Depending on humidity this can take up to 24 hours. Once dry, they're ready to wrap and give.
Happy Spring!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Last Meal Of the R.M.S. Titanic

On April 14, 2012, it will have been 100 years since the R.M.S. Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic, four days into it's first journey from Southhampton, Great Britian to New York City.

The ship went under just hours later at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 passengers.

In the book "Last Dinner On the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner," Rich Archbold and Dana McCauley share the menus and recipes from that fateful voyage.

The First-Class Menu
As served in the first-class dining saloon of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 14, 1912

First Course
Hors D'Oeuvres
Second Course
Consommé Olga
Cream of Barley
Third Course
Poached Salmon with Mousseline Sauce, Cucumbers
Fourth Course
Filet Mignons Lili
Saute of Chicken, Lyonnaise
Vegetable Marrow Farci
Fifth Course
Lamb, Mint Sauce
Roast Duckling, Apple Sauce
Sirloin of Beef, Chateau Potatoes
Green Pea
Creamed Carrots
Boiled Rice
Parmentier & Boiled New Potatoes
Sixth Course
Punch Romaine
Seventh Course
Roast Squab & Cress
Eighth Course
Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette
Ninth Course
Pate de Foie Gras
Tenth Course
Waldorf Pudding
Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly
Chocolate & Vanilla Eclairs
French Ice Cream

This last menu for the first-class passengers might have been ten courses but for me, I think I'd like my last bite to be a bit more familiar and comforting.

I'll take the currant buns from the third-class tea. Here's the recipe from "Last Dinner On the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner."

A batch of currant buns on their second rise. After 30 minutes they can go into the oven.
 Currant Buns (makes a dozen buns)
A staple of an English tea, these buns would have pleased the palates of the many British emigrants traveling in third class.

1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 package active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup warm milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1/2 cup currants
2 tbsp. powdered sugar
1 tbsp. water

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine warm water and 1 tbsp. of the granulated sugar; sprinkle yeast over top. Let stand for 10 minutes or until frothy.

In large bowl, blend together remaining sugar, flour, and salt.

In small bowl, whisk together milk, butter, and eggs. Stir in yeast mixture until combined.

Make well in dry ingredients; using wooden spoon, stir in yeast mixture until soft dough forms. Turn out onto lightly floured board. Knead for 8 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic.

Transfer dough to large greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk. Punch down; turn out onto floured surface; knead in currants. Shape into a 12-inch long log. Cut dough into 12 equal pieces.

Roll pieces of dough into smooth, seamless balls. Place buns on greased baking sheet leaving about 2 inches between each bun. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes

Bake in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Stir together icing sugar and water; brush over warm buns; let cool on rack.
Ready to eat!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Simple Cake

A simple cake can make a big impression.

When I want to "wow" without fussy details, I turn to a moist chocolate cake with fluffy white frosting.

This is the cake I made for my daughter Eleanor's birthday party because it's special and easy at the same time. So when you need a cake but have other things to worry about, make this cake.

My favorite cake recipe comes courtesy of Nigella Lawson. It's "Guinness Chocolate Cake" and it's moist, rich and foolproof. The best part is that it comes together in one pot and is mixed by hand. Easy easy easy.

I made two cakes for Eleanor's party but one layer topped with icing and maraschino cherries looks just as nice.

Chocolate Guinness Cake
1 cup Guinness
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter and line a 9-inch springform pan.

Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan, add the butter in slices and heat until the butter is melted. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and pour into the beer mixture and finally whisk in the flour and baking soda.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Leave to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.

Easy Fluffy Frosting
1 egg white
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup boiling water

Mix all the ingredients except the water in a deep mixing bowl. Add the boiling water and beat until stiff.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Loving Care

We served 235 meals today at the Wednesday Community Meal at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and the volunteers were served one sweet compliment.

The kind words came from a satisfied customer who poked his head into the kitchen and said  "you don't work for free because you are worthless, it's because you are priceless." What a nice thing to say.

He must have felt the loving care all the volunteers put into creating and serving a meal that's satisfying, healthy and delicious.

And, he must have noticed that the volunteers don't skimp on the small touches that can make a meal extra special.

Why not? Because everyone deserves a warm welcome, a crispy crouton in their soup and whipped cream on their apple pie.

We all need to treat each other with loving care.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Soup For Everyone

There was soup for everyone today at the Wednesday Community Meal at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Good Samaritan Hospital is so kind to donate their leftovers and this week they gave us lots and lots of homemade and hearty soup — ham and bean and beef minestrone. Many guests asked for seconds and we were happy to oblige.

In addition to the soup,  we served 206 meals.  A bit of a lower number than usual but not surprising with it being the first Wednesday of April. We consistently feed more people towards the end of the month when money is running out.

Our menu changed quite a few times today so that we could use what we had. It's all about feeding people and preventing waste.

From the Oregon Food Bank, we had apples, eggs, herbs and potatoes so we made a frittata, roasted apples and biscuits for the first group of guests.

Then we had more food gleaned from Good Samaritan Hospital and some from Phil's Meat Market. Our later guests got barbecued chicken, baked chicken, meatballs, beef stir fry or catfish served with rice and a salad.

For dessert there was homemade chocolate banana cake with buttercream frosting.

There was plenty for everyone.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Irish Cheddar Potato Scones

The rainy and windy weather today in Portland, Oregon reminds me of Ireland so I thought I'd share my favorite savory scone recipe. It will warm you up and give you an opportunity to use the homemade self-rising flour recipe from an earlier post.

The scone recipe is from a booklet I bought while living in Coleraine, Northern Ireland called "Step-By-Step Irish Farmhouse Cooking." The original recipe calls for rolling the dough into pretzel shapes and topping with cheese. Instead, I use the drop biscuit method because the less you work the dough, the more tender the scone.  It's also easier.

Irish Cheddar Potato Scones
(makes 8 large scones)

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 cup cold, mashed potato
1 oz. butter, melted
3/4 to 1 cup milk
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (I use Dubliner)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet. Sift flour into a bowl. Add mashed potato and mix. Add melted butter and enough milk to form a soft dough. Drop by spoonfuls onto baking sheet and top each with a generous bit of grated cheese. Bake for 12 to 18 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Serve warm, spread with butter.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Two Flours You Don't Need To Buy

Self-rising flour and cake flour are staples in my kitchen but I never buy them because I can make them myself. It saves me money and it's easy.

Here are the recipes:
Self-Rising Flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Cake Flour
For 1 cup of cake flour, measure out 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Remove 1 tablespoon of the flour and add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Sift two times before using.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wrapped And Ready To Give

 An easy way to package decorated cookies is to use food safe cellophane bags with an adhesive strip for sealing. Look for them at packaging supply stores.

An inexpensive way to make tags is to use a large paper punch. I bought my oval fluted punch at a craft store for $16. That might sound like a lot but it's a one time investment. Tags at the craft store are not cheap and a bonus of making them yourself is that you get to choose the paper and be creative. For the "Happy Easter" tags, I used kraft cardstock paper.

A simple cotton grosgrain ribbon finishes the look. Using a hole punch, make a hole in the cellophane bag and tag. Thread and tie the ribbon and the packaged cookies are ready to give.