Mandarin Orange Cake

Mandarin Orange Cake   I am a last-minute baker — a procrasti-baker. As such, I am most likely going to make the least complicated sorts of desserts and baked goods. On the occasions I have my act together, I like to make cakes — and even then, I want them to fit my schedule. At one point, I believe, Mandarin Orange Cake — also known as “Dream Cake” or “Pig Pickin’ Cake” — was made from scratch. Continue reading “Mandarin Orange Cake”

Shoofly Pie, with or without gluten

Shoofly Pie

In the dessert world, there is a whole mess of what I like to call pantry pies: pecan, pumpkin, the chess family, derby, custards (like sugar cream), and last but not least, shoofly (or its aliases: shoo-fly, molasses, sorghum, or Montgomery). All of them are good with coffee, exceptional for breakfast, and of course, we all know that they are standards at the Thanksgiving table. 

The least known of this group is the shoofly. While most have heard of it, few, I will wager, have eaten it. Maybe it’s all the molasses, which can be overwhelming, or maybe it’s because it isn’t much known outside of Pennsylvania Dutch country and a few select pockets of the South. Continue reading “Shoofly Pie, with or without gluten”

Grilled Bananas with Buttered Maple Sauce and English Toffee

Grilled Bananas

I quit eating bananas years ago because I would buy them and not eat them. They would sit in the fruit bowl idling away, eventually passing through the different stages of ripeness. I would watch, like a gambler calling another’s bluff, knowing that I had until they turned black to do something with them. It was then that I would convince myself I needed to make banana bread. I even froze them for future use and had a stack of them in the freezer, until one day they fell out onto my wife’s toe and broke it.
Continue reading “Grilled Bananas with Buttered Maple Sauce and English Toffee”

Honest Peach Pie

Honest Peach Pie

I always thought my friend Steven was lying when he told me that over the course of a few years he sold enough of his handmade old timey-looking leather fly swatters at the Indiana State Fair to pay for his log cabin and farm, until I myself moved to the country. Turns out he is a way smarter man than I because when you live on a farm, at some point during the summer, and especially if you have animals, flies are going to invade the house. It is inevitable and it is just a part of country life.

Like any man, I am always looking for the best tool for the job, and at day’s end I usually come back to the one I started with, because only after trying them all do I realize I had the right one to begin with. This is how I have come to understand that the fly swatter is an important time-honored, tried and true tool. One of those that works as well today as it did hundreds of years ago and is so simple even children like to use it.

So a couple of months back, when my KitchenAid stand mixer went down for the count it was like breaking a fly swatter, as far as I was concerned. But lo and behold, I was in the throes of Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand, which I took as a sign. I just had to wonder what would happen if I didn’t run out and replace it immediately, but instead went without and cooked like I did when I first started.

You see, a KitchenAid is like having a bottle of bourbon hidden in the cupboard. I mean really, as long as the bourbon is there you aren’t going to stop drinking, just like if you have a KitchenAid you won’t not use it. But is a mixer better, was my question, than, say, your tried and true, time-honored hands?

A decision was made: I had the shakes, I would go cold turkey and I would cook by hand. Do it the old way. The  “on the fly” theory, I would call it. Now don’t get me wrong — I am no blast from the past wannabe. I like my technology, my cell phones, computers, my gas stove and car — although the car is black. Nevertheless, I am not about to grow a beard sans mustache and ask you to call me Graber. (Full disclosure: I will, on the other hand, sometimes wear overalls because I am the anti-ass. Yes, when you are the anti-ass, overalls and outdoor labor make sense because when you have no butt you can never pull a belt tight enough to keep your pants from ending up around your ankles when working, and while I know overalls are not the best look — although I think they are making a comeback on Etsy right next to the Hobo Wedding — they are practical.)

So, as I was saying, I had always heard rumor that making doughs, breads and pastas by hand made them more tender, gave them a better rise in the oven or a more satiny feel in the mouth. I just needed to know.

I dove in head first and started out with a couple of yeast breads. One was a very dense whole grain bread and the other was my whole wheat farmhouse loaf. What I noticed right off was the difference in feel.  The whole grain at the end of kneading felt like the wet green block of floral foam that you stick flowers into. You know how when it gets damp and you push on it, it gives a little but seems crunchy and sandy on your hand? The farmhouse loaf is somewhat of a sticky dough and what happened there, how I have come to know the right hydration, is you get barnacle hands. Sounds funny, but these little pieces of dough should sparsely spot your hands and, well, look like tiny barnacles. The wetter the dough, the more barnacles.

I quickly moved on to crusts and the resulting pies have been great. They are more tender, have a better crumb and they aren’t any more difficult to make, although you do need practice to get the feel of it.

The biggest benefit to cooking by hand though is the girls and I aren’t standing there looking at a paddle attachment go round and round, but instead we are getting our hands dirty and learning about different flours and dough. The elasticity, the hydration and all the other technical stuff which, once you know how a dough should feel, allows you to become more confident and more efficient in the kitchen and build an intimacy with your doughs that allows you to make adjustments by intuition.

While I have procured another stand mixer and will use it (probably not for crusts), the one thing I learned that was probably most important and something you will want to remember and just might be the best kitchen tip I can give is: people keep their best liquor hidden in the cupboard and sometimes, maybe that’s where the KitchenAid belongs too.

 Tips for Making a Pie Crust by Hand

1. Never add all the water to the dough that a recipe calls for. Always stop short and, as you work the dough, you will know pretty quickly if it needs more.

2. Use a bowl that is three times bigger than you think you need to keep the flour from shooting over the sides.

3. Don’t over-knead the dough. There should be a quarter cup or so of crumbles that fall onto and around the crust when you dump it out of the bowl onto the counter. Knead the dough a little more to incorporate them and stop. It doesn’t have to be one homogenous and smooth mass. While the dough rests it will continue to hydrate and when you roll it out the rolling pin will bring it together.

4. Rotating the dough 45 degrees between each use of the rolling pin is key to ending up with a round crust.

5. Always place your rolling pin in the middle of the dough round and roll away from yourself, then put it back in the middle and roll/pull the pin towards you.

 

For the crust:

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup lard

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

1/2 cup ice cold water

1. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Place the butter and lard into the bowl. Start by squeezing the flour into the butter and lard and then as things start to blend pick up clumps of flour between your hands and rub your hands together like you are trying to warm them up. Do this until the flour looks like course cornmeal. It is ok if there are some larger pieces of butter still in the mix.

2. Add the water and using your hands knead the dough right in the bowl until it comes together. Remove the dough from the bowl to a counter top and knead it two or three times. Divide the dough in half, pat it into two rounds then wrap in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge 30 minutes or more. If you let it sit in the fridge for two hours or more make sure you pull it out and let it warm up a little before trying to roll it.

3. To roll the crust first dust your counter top with some flour. I then dip one of the dough pieces into the flour bin itself and give it a shake. Place the dough on the counter top and starting in the middle of the dough roll with your rolling pin away from you then put the pin back in the middle and roll, backwards, towards yourself. Now turn the dough 45 degrees so it is oblong and horizontal. Roll with your pin, again, starting in the middle. Continue this process until the crust is 10 to 12 inches in diameter and about an 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Using the rolling pin for support roll the dough lightly around the pin, like a carpet, and place it into a 9 inch pie pan. Roll out the remaining piece of dough.

For the Filling and to Finish

6 to 8 peaches depending on their size, firm but ripe, look for free stone peaches, meaning the pit comes out easy. I used Indiana red havens which are semi-free and if they are

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

juice of half a lemon

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 egg white mixed with 2 teaspoons of water

sugar for dusting

1. Heat the oven to 400˚ Fahrenheit.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanch the peaches for 10 to 20 seconds. Remove them to a bowl. Leave the water on because as you are peeling the peaches you may find a peach that needs to be blanched a little longer. Slip the peaches from their skins, halve them, pit them and then slice each half into 3 pieces.

3. Place the peaches into a large bowl. Mix the sugar with the cornstarch. This will help to prevent the cornstarch from clumping. Combine the peaches with the sugar/cornstarch mix, cinnamon, lemon juice and nutmeg. Using your hands gently turn the peaches to distribute the sugar and spices. Remove the peaches and put them into the crust lined pie pan. Pour the juice over the top until it comes 3/4 of the way to the top. You may have more juice than you need. If you have less, don’t worry — it is fine.

4. Roll out the top crust and either cut it into strips for a lattice top or use it whole. Either way brush the edge of the bottom crust with egg white to help attach the top crust. Trim the excess crust. Crimp the crust. Brush the top crust with egg wash and dust with sugar. Place the pie on a sheet tray with edges just in case it bubbles over and because it will be much easier to get in and out of the oven.

5. Bake the pie for 20 minutes at 400 ˚F then turn the heat to 350˚ F and bake another 40 to 50 minutes or until the juices are bubbling and the crust browned. Remove and let cool. Slice and serve cold or warm, with cream or ice cream or just skip and go naked.

Gugelhopf

Gugelhopf

   I love this kind of yeasted cake. They aren’t too sweet but the smell is oh so yummy and they taste really good. A perfect holdiay cake, something special that you will always associate with Christmas or New Years. I would serve it with champagne or better yet, Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine. ( I used a 9 inch gugelhopf mold )

SERVES 8 TO 10
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup whole milk, warm but not over 110 degrees
2 tablespoons honey, mild flavored variety
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, slightly softened, plus more for the mold
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites, beaten until stiff
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
2 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon fine grind sea salt
3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup raisins or zante currants
1/2 cup sliced almonds
confectioners sugar for dusting

1. For the starter you want to combine the milk and honey and sprinkle the yeast over the top and let it bloom. Once all the yeast is hydrated add 1 cup of the flour and mix to combine. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle cream the butter with the sugar. Once it is smooth add the starter and combine it.
2. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. With the mixer running add the egg yolks one at a time only adding another after the previous one is blended in. Add the Grand Marnier, vanilla, cardamom, salt and orange zest.

3. Add two cups of flour and mix to combine. You want the dough to be stiff enough to just pull away from the sides. It should look like the gugelhopf mold in a sense in that you should see pleats of dough with shiny bowl spots. If you need to add flour a 1/4 cup at a time. you should see strands of gluten forming. Mix in the egg whites which will make the dough more like a batter. Mix in the raisins

4. Butter the mold with lots of butter and then sprinkle in the almonds along the sides and top. Add the dough to the mold making sure it is evenly distributed. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside.

5. Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees. Once the dough has risen to about the 3/4 mark on the sides of the mold slide it into the oven and bake it for 30 minutes. Check it and if the exposed cake is browning to fast loosely set a piece of foil on top. Bake another 30 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven and invert the mold onto a cooling rack and lift the mold. Let the cake cool completely. Dust with powder sugar and serve. It is best served the day it is made. If there happen to be leftovers it makes great French toast.

Depression Cookies

Sugar cookies

Yes, I could imagine a cookie just like this being created during the Great Depression.  The nutmeg lends itself to the past and makes the cookie feel like something a grandmother would make for her grandchildren on a Sunday afternoon.  She might also make it when she notices her grandchildren are a little sad.  Whatever the reason they are a cure for depression.  They will bring you out of your funk with a heavy dose of the warm and fuzzies.

MAKES 2 DOZEN

1 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoons nutmeg

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt; if you sub table salt cut it to 1/4 teaspoon

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons vegetable shortening

1 tablespoon honey, something with citrus notes is good

1 large egg

1/2 cup sugar for rolling the cookies

1. Make sure you have an oven rack placed dead in the middle of your oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir it with the measuring spoon to mix.

2. Place the sugar, nutmeg and vanilla seeds into the bowl of a mixer and mix for two minutes to distibute. Turn off the mixer and add the butter and shortening. I use cold, when I squeeze it it just gives, butter because I personally think it creams better. You do not want this to look granular and you don’t want the fat to break out and look similar to cottage cheese either. It should look like ice cream just scooped from the container. Start out on low speed and when the butter starts to cream gradually increase the speed to medium and cream for about 2 minutes total.

3. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the egg and mix to combine. Add the honey and mix briefly.

4. Adding the flour in thirds, to keep it from flying out of the mixing bowl, mix at low speed and mix until all is incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.

5. Place the remaining half cup of sugar into a seperate bowl. Line two 12 x 17 baking sheet pans with parchment paper.

6. Using a tablespoon or a number 40 scoop, scoop out some dough. Using your hands roll it into a ball and then roll it around in the sugar until coated. Place it onto the baking sheet. Repeat until you have 12 cookies on the tray. Using a fork, flatten the cookies to about a 1/2 inch thickness.

7. Place tray into the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes. While they are cooking roll and coat the remaining twelve cookies. When the timer goes off check the cookies. They should be browning at the edges but still light in the middle. If they’re not, leave them in the oven for another few minutes. Remove them and let them cool for 3-5 minutes before changing them to a cooling rack to finish cooling. Place the other tray of cookies into the oven and repeat this step.

Rhubarb, Ginger, and Oatmeal Upside-Down Cake

All of my favorite things in one. Fresh ginger goes great with the rhubarb and the oatmeal cake, well, is gooey and tasty. Let it cool at least 20 minutes before slicing. I top it with frothed cream but vanilla ice cream would be great too.

Makes 8 to 10 slices

For the rhubarb:

2 1/4 cups fresh rhubarb, rinsed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

1 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter

For the oatmeal cake:

1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal

3/4 cup boiling water

1/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. In a mixing bowl combine the oats with the boiling water. Add the 1/4 cup of butter. Set aside to cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Gently melt the butter in a 10 inch cast iron skillet. Remove it from the heat. Spread the brown sugar evenly across the bottom. In a large bowl mix the ginger and rhubarb. Spread the rhubarb evenly across the brown sugar. Set aside.

3. In the empty rhubarb bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

4. To the cooled oatmeal add the egg, both sugars, and vanilla. Mix to combine. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined.

5. Spread the cake batter evenly across the top of the rhubarb. Place into the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven when done and let cool for 5 minutes before inverting onto a cake plate. Let cool for 20 minutes before slicing.

Banana Cream Pie

With the impending second storm barreling down on the Midwest it was feeling like more than a three hour tour. In keeping the castaways at ease we dove into a family baking project, used the last three bananas and watched old episodes of Gilligan’s Island.  After tasting this pie I know why the castaways never left the island.

SERVES 6 – 8

For the pie::

1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons corn starch

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 1/2 cups whole milk, do not substitute

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 bananas

For the brittle and whipped cream::

1/4 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped, a good time to toast them is when you bake the crust

2 3/4 cups heavy cream

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar and 1/4 cup of butter in a mixing bowl and combine with a fork until you have a mealy looking mixture.
  2. Pour the mixture into a 9 inch pie pan. Press out the crumbs until you have and even crust up the sides and bottom of the pie pan. Bake the crust until it is beginning to brown and is set. About 5 to 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it cool.
  3. While the crust is cooling combine the corn starch, sugar, egg yolks, cardamom, vanilla and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk until well combined.
  4. Place the milk into a sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. While whisking the egg mixture add a cup of hot milk and whisk. Add the egg mixture to the milk pan and put it back over the heat.
  5. Let the pudding come to a boil and then whisk until thick. Remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter. Pour the pudding into a bowl and set the bowl into an ice bath to cool the pudding.
  6. Place the honey and the remaining cardamom into a small sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Let it boil until it becomes very foamy.(have a cup of very cold water handy and drop a small droplet into the water. It should separate into thin brittle threads) Add the macadamia nuts and stir. Remove the brittle from the heat and pour it onto a greased parchment lined sheet tray. PLace the brittle into the fridge.
  7. Slice the bananas and layer them onto the pie crust. If the pudding has cooled pour it over the bananas. Refrigerate the pie for two hours or more.
  8. Once the pie has set make the whipped cream topping. Either with a stand mixer or a hand mixer whip the cream until it begins to thicken. Add the powdered sugar and the vanilla and whip to stiff peaks.
  9. Chop the brittle.
  10. Pipe the whipped cream onto the pie and then top with the chopped brittle. Serve.